Strict Liability Laws

Has cycling become a part of British life?

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Has cycling become a part of British life?

This article from The Guardian’s cycling blog explores the question of whether or not cycling has become a part of British life, and, if so, just what sort of cycling culture the UK might be said to have. The author describes British institutions like Brompton and Rapha, and holds them up alongside our comical cycle infrastructure (examples herehere, and here), the numerous ghost bikes that line our streets, and the lack of legal protection that British cyclists have compared to our continental cousins.

strict liability map
At present, the UK is out of step with Europe as one of only five EU countries (along with Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Ireland) that does not operate a system of strict liability to protect vulnerable road users.

 

This article was published just over a week after myself and a few members of Edinburgh’s Critical Mass ‘Pedalled on Parliament’ in what has now become an annual tradition. Attracting thousands of participants from up and down the country, the ride is intended to highlight the need for greater investment if Scotland is to meet its cycling and emissions targets by 2020. At the end of the day it was a fun ride, and our sound-system proved to be a great success, but sometimes I think that it would be nice to live in a country where such rides were simply unnecessary.

party on parliament

Hitler the Road Nazi

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Hitler rants about bicycles and reacts to Premier Ted Baillieu’s recent remarks that the registration of bicycles is not feasible.

Nikki Sinclaire (West Midlands European parliamentarian) has echoed Hitler’s sentiment in calling for compulsory cycle registration and helmet use.

Cycle registration is a contentious issue, but to me it seems absurd for anyone to seriously suggest erecting such significant barriers to cycling at a time when there are too many cars on the roads and the nation’s health is so poor.

Some politicians seem to be under the impression that cyclists are anarchists who disregard the rules and their own safety for no particular reason. Although I don’t condone red-light jumping and pavement cycling (two of the most controversial issues), there are strong arguments and hard data in support of the fact that such behaviours are sometimes justified in light of their being the safest options at certain junctions. This being the case, what is perceived as the ‘bad behaviour’ of cyclists is symptomatic of the poor conditions that British bike riders have to put up; not only do we lack the strict liability laws employed to protect vulnerable road users across Europe, but our cycling infrastructure amounts to little more than inconsistent and unenforced dabs of paint.

If politicians like Nikki Sinclaire want people on bikes to behave better then maybe they should spend more time learning about how successful cycling cultures work and less time proposing preposterous new rules that do nothing to protect cyclists whatsoever.

Cycling is not (intrinsically) dangerous

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2013 saw many articles written under titles referring to the ‘dangers of cycling’. A few random examples can be found here, here, here, and here. This one even talks about the ‘terrors’ faced by cyclists on the road.

Indeed, cycling can be a dangerous activity, but this is not because cycling itself is dangerous…

For instance, it isn’t dangerous to cycle without a helmet

no helmets

It isn’t dangerous to cycle without hi-viz
sit up and beg

It isn’t dangerous to cycle with a passenger…

The bike is king of the road in The Netherlands

Dutch bikes - an altogether more civilised way of getting around town.

Looks like fun, huh?

cycling with a passenger

…no matter what age you are!

these guys aren't having too much trouble

Even a couple of passengers (and a suitcase) is no big deal

cycling with two passengers

Cycling with kids isn’t dangerous either
DSC_7251

Riding your bike in the park on a summer afternoon... Such a simple pleasure that is so unreasonably denied to us in the UK

and it isn’t dangerous to cycle with an umbrella

So long as it's not too windy, I find that cycling in heavy rain is actually more difficult without an umbrella.

cycling with umbrella

It certainly isn’t dangerous to cycle next to your friends
children 5 abreast assen oost subjective safety

Even four-legged friends are safe to ride with.

Sometimes up front…
cycling with dogs

…or alongside
alongside

Whether you’re a little bit older…

Gustaf Håkansso
Gustaf Håkansso

a little older

…or a little younger

Vondelpark provides a totally safe environment for kids to ride their bikes

cycling a little younger

…cycling itself is not a dangerous activity.

What these photographs illustrate is how the physical environment affects the relative danger of riding a bike. Many of the pictures also show how good infrastructure is the key factor in determining whether or not cycling is actually safe.

As we move into 2014, I am hopeful that governing bodies in the UK (and elsewhere, for that matter) pick up on the merits of cycling and do what is needed to protect people who ride bikes. At present (and from my perspective), city dwellers face an unappealing trilemma when deciding upon transportation; they can either:

1. Contribute to the city’s pollution and congestion by paying through the nose for a car (+driving licence/insurance/MOT/VED/petrol/parking etc.).
2. Pay to take crowded/crappy (and notoriously unreliable) public transport.
3. Ride a bike but risk their lives by sharing the road with heavy/powerful/fast moving motor vehicles.

If a person is able to ride a bike (i.e. if their health permits it), then it should be in everybody’s interest to support them. Biker riders take up less space on the roads, and so there is less congestion for everyone else; they are not pumping out pollution into the air that we all have to breath; they are exercising their bodies and so easing pressure on an NHS that is currently strained by an obesity epidemic; they aren’t damaging the roads to nearly the same degree that other vehicles do (thus saving tax-payers money); they don’t run people over (and if they do, injuries are usually minor); and last but not least, motor-vehicle dominated cities are noisy and unpleasant places, and so bikes offer a quiet and civilised remedy to this.

I think that cycling is brilliant, not just for the bike rider but for the world. I intend to keep up the pace this year with my campaigning, and I hope to keep you updated with any developments/innovations that might be of interest.

All the best

Dinosaur MPs on Britain’s Transport Committee

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Dinosaur MPs on Britain’s Transport Committee

For the many of you fortunate enough to not view the committee’s near two-hour session about cycle safety on Monday afternoon, I can tell you that there are scarcely enough words to describe how disheartening and shambolic it was. To give you a flavour of one journalist’s reaction, follow this link to see a collation of running tweets from the event.

The session followed the recent deaths of six cyclists in London and saw the 11-member committee first quiz a series of cycling representatives and police, then a trio of bigwigs from the road haulage world, along with Andrew Gilligan, cycle adviser to London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, and an expert from the Transport Research Laboratory.

For the most-part, it seemed as if the MPs were concerned with minor issues. For instance, Sarah Champion (Labour MP) wondered whether helmet use could be made compulsory. How a bike helmet is supposed to help someone crushed by an HGV is something that we might wonder in response… The headphones issue was also raised.

Following this, Jason McCartney (Tory MP) asked if there was a war going on between cars and bikes. His party colleague, Martin Vickers, then asked – and he was being entirely serious – if the panel felt cyclists should “contribute” financially to the upkeep of roads. Yes, that’s right. The road tax question, the litmus test for someone who not only doesn’t understand the very basics about cycling policy but hasn’t the barest minimum of intellectual curiosity about it. Silly enough in a pub conversation. For an MP, let alone an MP on the transport select committee, let alone an MP on the transport select committee discussing cycling, it’s unforgivable.

An extract from a Guardian article on the subject encapsulates some real truths about how cycling issues are addressed by the people in power:

“…when it comes to cycling policy in Britain, we remain, for the most part, in the age of the dinosaur. The odd politician talks an occasional good game on bikes, but look at too many mainstream MPs and we’re right back in the 1960s, where bikes are a toy, or a faddish “pursuit”, perilous and mistrusted, while all must lie down in homage to “the economy”, a narrowly-defined set of interests with motorised pistons beating at their heart.”

Dinosaurs and bikes don't mix
Dinosaurs and bikes clearly don’t mix

Jim Dobbin (Labour MP) then proceeded to regale the committee with a series of anecdotes about misbehaving cyclists and scratched car paintwork before suggesting that currently cycle safety woes could be addressed by requiring cyclists to register themselves and their bikes, and to pass proficiency tests in order to gain a cycling licence.

Although many people may believe that Dobbin’s prescription is a good one, it is worth remembering that not a single country on this planet implements these things for the simple reason that they massively curtail bicycle use. Bicycles don’t have the capacity to be the killing machines that cars and lorries sometimes are, and cyclists don’t produce CO2 or damage the roads to the same degree as motor vehicles; requiring them to be registered and licensed (presumable at some cost) seems a preposterous and misguided contribution to a meeting about cycle safety. And while cycling proficiency is a reasonable issue, no one at the committee meeting seemed aware of the bikeability scheme.

Part two was possibly even more depressing still. The MPs, who had been quite interrogative towards the cycle groups (albeit mainly on irrelevancies) gave the haulage group representatives a far easier time. Jack Semple, policy head of the Road Haulage Association, was left utterly unchallenged when he repeatedly singled out cyclist behaviour as the reason for them being killed by lorries; an assertion for which there is, as far as I understand, no evidence.
What was missing from the committee meeting was an acknowledgement of the fact that cities are changing places. Whereas once they competed on things like skyscrapers and parking spaces, the most desirable cities in the world are now places where there is an emphasis on liveability – a more human-centred approach. People don’t want to live with urban motorways and the noise, congestion, and pollution that they bring with them. The nicest cities are more pedestrianised, with pavement cafes, and safe, communal spaces. They also prioritise (and even incentivise) walking and cycling in such a way as to make them more convenient than driving (just look at Groningen in The Netherlands for the perfect example).

To illustrate this point, it is worth noting that there are three big annual lists of the world’s most liveable cities. Not one of them features anywhere in the UK.
Things clearly need to change, and the mass extinction of political dinosaurs seems to be a necessary first step.

London Cyclists stage mass ‘die-in’

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Following the recent deaths on London’s busy streets, cyclists in the capital held a vigil and protest outside the headquarters of TfL (Transport for London). Despite the cold we lay down next to our bikes and made a pretty bold statement that TfL can no longer ignore.

Vigil and protest combined
Vigil and protest combined – TfL employees watched from their offices.
WP_001959
We’re not just ‘cyclists’, we’re people on bikes.


tfl
tfl 2

A photograph of the event posted by the 'STOP KILLING CYCLISTS' campaign
A photograph of the event posted by the ‘STOP KILLING CYCLISTS’ campaign

London’s die-in was reminiscent of the famous Dutch die-in that took place in the 1970s on the museumplein outside the Rijksmuseum.

The original Dutch die-in
The original Dutch die-in

The Dutch campaign was motivated by the number of people (particularly children) who were dying on the roads. Their protest achieved remarkable things in terms of their infrastructure, and 40 years down the line they are still reaping the benefits.

Dutch solutions to London’s problems aren’t really so radical, and their implementation would only requires a modest degree of commitment from the government.
Look at how they deal with HGVs and roundabouts – surely this sort of infrastructure is desirable for everyone, no?

On a side note, my sister was interviewed by the BBC during the protest, and her vox-pop even made it onto the evening news! I will try to upload a video, if I can find one…

My sister highlighted the benefits of cycling, both for the health of the population and for the environment. She also talked about how
In her interview, my sister highlighted the benefits of cycling for the health of the population and for the environment. She also talked about how poor the infrastructure in London is, and how standards on the Continent are much higher. Needless to say, I am very proud of her.

And the BBCs coverage of the event (my sister at 1:04)…

and another one…

Transport Planners please take note

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Transport Planners please watch this.

Re-blogging this from a friend in NE Lincolnshire

The video shows some pretty dangerous situations that cyclists in the UK have to deal with on a daily basis.
Although the examples are pretty shocking, they are far from unusual.

I think the video speaks for itself and calls for better infrastructure to protect the most vulnerable road users.
The guy in the last shot was actually riding on one of London’s cycle super-highway, and clearly shows how a dab of blue paint on the road does nothing to protect people on bikes.

Look here to compare with how the Dutch deal with HGVs.

John Snow calls for improvements in cycling infrastructure

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25046751

Veteran journalist John Snow is also an avid cyclist.

He has commuted by bike both to and from work every day for the last 40-odd years, and he raises some valid points about the dangers of riding a bike and the inadequacy of cycle safety provisions.

He talks about the probability of ‘big rewards’ for the first politician to re-draw the urban map and prioritise cyclists and pedestrians. In terms of combating obesity, reducing pollution, and making our cities more pleasant places to live, I think I can see why such a measure would be well received.

He states that, as humans, we respond to our surroundings. On the issue of cyclists who flout the law, the point he makes is that good behaviour will come when there are good provisions to protect and facilitate cycling. At the moment, it is a dog-eat-dog world out there on the roads; as the underdogs, cyclists are therefore put in a position of vulnerability, and have to make the most of their situation. Snow doesn’t condone bad behaviour on the roads, but he can at least appreciate why it happens.

Also of interest: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25013438 and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25014296