Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cycle Hire - Fun with Numbers

I notice this morning Serco are digging up Vauxhall Street near the junction of Kennington Lane to put in a docking station.

It's unsurprising there's demand in that area. There's a fair amount of housing, but the cost of the short trip into town by tube is an eye-watering £1.80 each way (Zone 1 only) on Oyster prepaid. Even with daily access (£1/day), cycle hire would save you £2.60 a day, or should you elect for yearly access at £45, you'd save £800 a year, give or take a few sick days.

Even if you lived in Merton (Zone 3), you could profit by getting off the tube at Kennington and cycle the rest of the way. The difference between a Zone 1-3 single (£2.70) and a Zone 2-3 single (£1.30) is - uh - £1.40 each way, so daily-access cycle hire gives a daily saving of £1.80. Again, the thriftier yearly option would net you savings of over £600.

(all calculations based on Oyster prepaid single peak tube fares, 2 journeys a day, 5 days a week/48 weeks a year. Helmets not included.)

Next up, I did a (very unscientific) cycle count at lunchtime, in a half-hour walk around the West End. I counted 25 cycles, of which 6 were hire bikes. It seems not unreasonable to assume that most hire bikers would not have made their journey by bike were it not for the hire scheme, so the numbers indicate the scheme may have increased the modal share by 25% or so. Bear in mind that casual access is not yet available, so demand is artificially suppressed particularly in the middle of the day. What is rather shocking though is how few bikes of any sort I saw being ridden, considering the fact that motor traffic was moving at its usual torpid rate. There are lots chained up to street furniture - Westminster Council can't be bothered with cycle parking because it makes them no money - but on the roads, bikes are rarer than hen's teeth.

Lastly, it seems, according to the Standard's estimable Ross Lydall, Tfl have been indulging in some - er - Enron-style accounting with the numbers of hire bikes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Anti Speed Camera Arguments #5: Questionable Statistical Methods

Yet another in my series of posts debunking the arguments of 'Safe Speed', the anti-speed camera website.

Safe Speed claim here that the case for speed cameras is founded on data that is not statistically sound. In particular, they point to the fact that the 'regression to mean' effect has nother been taken into account.

Very briefly, 'regression to mean' is the effect where if a variable such as the number of accidents at a point on the highway is extreme on first measurement, it will tend towards the average on a second measurement. There is a clear danger that, given speed cameras are sited at accident blackspots, any reduction in accidents in subsequent years may have happened anyway due to normal variations.

Safe Speed note that in the DfT's Three-Year Evaluation Report on speed cameras, selection effects such regression-to-mean effects had not been accounted for. Which is true, and the DfT admit to this (see here) although they also point out here that "An analysis was carried out on a subset of camera sites to estimate the size
of any regression-to-mean effects. Whilst regression-to-mean does appear to account for some of the reduction in collisions at cameras, the safety effects of cameras remain substantial.".

What Safe Speed are not in a hurry to point out is that the possible presence of distortion due to regression-to-mean effects does not show that speed cameras don't work. It merely means that there is some doubt that the  improvement in crash rates can be wholly or partly attributed to the presence of speed cameras. In other words, it's "case not proven" rather than "guilty". Safe Speed are also not keen to point out that cameras are not sited simply because there is a history of crashes at a site. They are sited where the authorities consider that speed has contributed to the cause and/or severity of the crash, and that slowing down traffic would have some benefit. If you do not pick your data points solely on their value, and instead establish an underlying cause for the data points having a high value, regression-to-mean becomes less significant as an explanation for the improvements.

There is one other thing that Safe Speed definitely don't want you to know, because it seriously holes their case below the waterline. There was a further study, over 4 years, which you can buy here if you have a spare £15, or here for free. According to the blurb [my emphasis]:

"The principal methodology adopted for this research was a "before" and "after" study comparing collision numbers at safety camera sites with those at suitably matched control sites. The study design enabled the effects of cameras to be isolated from regression-to-mean and trend effects."

Oh dear. That could mean that speed cameras do actually work. And indeed, the report states: “the presence of safety cameras has reduced the number of collisions involving fatal or serious injury by a statistically significant 21%  (and)…the total number of collisions involving fatal, serious or slight injury by a statistically significant 12%”. (source)

There comes a point where, if you are a scientist rather than an ideologue, you have to let go of a theory when the evidence against it becomes overwhelming. You could be forgiven for thinking that Safe Speed are not an organization that are motivated by road safety and interested in "what works", but instead have a libertarian agenda, and believe that people should be allowed to drive at higher speeds regardless of the safety consequences. It's a shame Britain's roads can't be allowed to be a playground for petrolheads, but it's an truth inconvenient to Safe Speed that a lot of lives are at risk from speeding.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cycling England Abolished

Cycling England is on the list of bodies that will be abolished in the 'Bonfire of the Quangos', according to the Telegraph.

There is no indication that this is a good thing for cycling as it will likely mean less money spent on cycling projects. There are rumours of a Green Transport Fund being set up to take on some of Cycling England's responsbilities, but details and funding are unclear. There are many decent people with unquestionable commitment to cycling working at Cycling England. As yet, there is no plan for what the ConDems are going to do in terms of developing cycling - I've posted before about the minister responsible - Norman Baker - being conspicuous by his silence on the matter, and his boss, Philip Hammond, is known to be completely ignorant of cycling.

That said, I don't think the current set-up has served cycling well. There is a plethora of bodies supposed to be doing things for cycling, all of which have funds but none of which have the authority to make things happen. There were always new initiatives, new pilot programmes such as Cycling Demontration Towns, Safe Routes to Schools, new optimistic targets to double or quadruple cycling by some ever-receding future time, and lots and lots of press releases, but meanwhile where the Schwalbe Marathon meets the tarmac, modal share has stayed stubbornly low. Cycling England, Sustrans, TfL, local authorities and central government have always been involved in cycling, but there's never been a resourced national plan or the framework to make things happen at a local level. The best of intentions on the part of Cycling England and Sustrans have got bogged down in the bureaucratic sands of Traffic Orders and the Cycle Tracks Act, and come up against the immovable objects of car-centric highways departments and NIMBYism. A lot of money got wasted on schemes that never ultimately delivered.

What is needed is a legislative framework and a policy mandate that requires and enables safe, high-quality infrastructure to be built. You won't get that from local councillors who are scared stiff of the local backlash if a couple of parking spaces are moved. You won't get it from quangos who have money but no powers. You won't get it from highways departments which are staffed by people who don't cycle. You won't get it where converting a 20-yard footpath to a cycle track requires a full-scale public enquiry.

It's been too easy for the previous government to devolve responsibility to the quangos, so that it looked like it was taking cycling seriously while making progress at a glacial rate. Only decisive action at a central government level can cause a meaningful increase in cycling. This can only happen if central government sweeps away the labyrinth of bureaucracy and restrictive legislation, and takes full responsibility. Unfortunately, there's no indication that will happen. There is a localism bill which could make it even easier for the local majority to act against the national imperative. Such a bill could enable local residents to block rat-running traffic, enforce 20MPH speed limits or make the area around their local school safer, but I somehow suspect it won't - it will simply cement the car-centric status quo.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Anti Speed Camera Arguments #4: Attitude, driver skill and reponsibility

Another in my series of posts attempting to debunk the anti-speed-camera arguments of

Attitude, driver skill and reponsibility rank high among Safespeed's prescription for road safety. They're not so keen on speed limits, though. They claim: "There's a tendency these days to think that vehicle speed problems in general will be solved by speed limits or by speed limit enforcement. They will not. Too much speed limit enforcement and emphasis is already leading to a reduced tendency for drivers to slow down when necessary." (source)

They argue that given the freedom to develop their driving skills, people will drive responsibly. However, they cite no evidence for this. It could be true for more experienced drivers, but it is young people who are the most likely to crash, precisely because they have not developed the ability to judge risk. The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) report that young drivers crash because of "inexperience and poor judgement in more difficult driving conditions" (source). Young drivers are also more concerned with impressing their mates than driving responsibly. The same IAM report says "factors such as alcohol and peer pressure affect where and how young people drive". It seems unlikely that the driving standards of young people will improve if they are encouraged to drive faster by higher speed limits.

Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum, you have elderly drivers, who are also a high crash risk. It's not responsibility or experience that is lacking in this group. Elderly drivers' senses - sight and hearing - may be impaired as may their reaction times. Do you really want them driving faster?

Now you could argue that without speed limits, drivers are free to select a speed that is appropriate to road conditions. However, that assumes all drivers are capable of doing so, and wish to do so. I've already identified above that young drivers lack experience and judgement, so their ability to determine a safe speed is questionable. Even amongst more experienced drivers, there are different ideas about what is an appropriate speed. You have aggressive drivers, or simply those in a hurry, who will drive faster. Careful drivers, drivers of larger and slower vehicles, those who wish to save fuel and some elderly drivers, will drive slower. It is as much speed differences as speed itself that causes crashes. For a car that is driving 30MPH faster than other traffic, cars in front become a serious hazard. Overtakes are particularly dangerous, and you get more overtakes where there is a spread of vehicle speeds. The more you encourage a speed differential between vehicles, the more hazardous situations you will generate.

It's a nice idea that your average driver aspires to become more skilled and is only held back by low speed limits, but there's no evidence to support it. Indeed, there is evidence that many drivers are deluded about how skilful they are. McCormick, Walkey and Green (1986) asked 178 participants to evaluate their position on eight different dimensions relating to driving skill (examples include the "dangerous-safe" dimension and the "considerate-inconsiderate" dimension. Only a small minority rated themselves as below average (the midpoint of the dimension scale) at any point, and when all eight dimensions were considered together it was found that almost 80% of participants had evaluated themselves as being above the average driver. Recent Department of Transport research (as reported in the Telegraph) said of drivers convicted of motoring offences that "when there is damage or an injury involved it is often interpreted [by the driver] as the fault of someone or something else...The results of the interviews do suggest that these more serious driving offenders see their penalties as a result of bad luck or overemphasis by society on motoring offending rather than due to illegal or dangerous driving on their part".
At Safe Speed, they claim "It is certain that we can improve road safety by improving the road safety culture". They suggest introducing incentives for higher-level driver training. I happen to agree with both of these ideas, but I also believe they are not sufficient. Consciencious drivers should be encouraged to improve their skills, but there is a substantial minority of drivers who are inattentive, selfish, inconsiderate and irresponsible. Those drivers are responsible for a disproportionate number of crashes, and for such drivers, it is only the threat of licence removal that moderates their driving behaviour. It's also naive to think that everyone aspires to self-improvement. For every person who reads books, plays a sport competitively or learns a musical instrument, there's someone who sits in front of the telly every night.

In summary, in Safe Speed's fantasy world, the roads are populated by drivers who, were it not for speed limits, would all be safe, skilful, responsible and attentive. The reality is that the worst drivers are also often the most deluded about their own abilities, and the least likely to take responsibility. It would be great if you could somehow raise the skill level of drivers in general and guide inexperienced drivers safely through the dangers that present themselves on the roads, but there is no evidence that it would be an effective prescription for road safety in the absence of other measures including speed enforcement.

Obesity Costs

Again I find myself posting about obesity, after seeing two new stories about how much cash is being spent trying to cope with this weighty problem. Britain is the fattest nation in Europe. Scotland has the second worst obesity rate in the world (waddling in just behind the US). Scottish hospitals have spent thousands of pounds purchasing specialist beds which can take patients weighing up to 78 stone. Meanwhile, new guidance from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence says the NHS should pay fat people to lose weight.

You would think the penny would have dropped by now. Obesity costs. Not just the bizarre, tabloid-friendly examples I just cited, but the massive routine costs of obesity-related ill-health: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and a whole host of other diseases that are caused or worsened by obesity - gallstones, arthritis, hypertension, back pain, stroke, infertility, joint problems. I could go on, but I think you get the general idea.

Wouldn't it be great instead if obesity could be prevented? Well, it can, by encouraging people to lead more active lifestyles. It would be a good idea to start with the younger generation, given that habits learned in childhood tend to stick. You could get children to cycle to school. That would have the side benefit of reducing school-run traffic, hence saving some of the much-trumpeted costs of congestion. The reason the rate of children cycling to school is actually going down, is the lack of safe cycle routes. Parents don't want their kids cycling on roads with dangerous traffic. This is easily solved, of course: putting safe cycle routes to schools in place is not hard to do.

But the government, it seems, are scared of the tabloid and motor lobby-led anti-cycling agenda. They would rather spend our money on extra-strong beds. They would rather see fat children growing into fat adults who die early from fat-related diseases.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Critical Mass day?

It is Critical Mass day, but it's lunchtime. Total, utter gridlock. Again, Trafalgar Square, and this time it's totally stationary. No-one's going anywhere - except pedestrians and cyclists.

Above, looking north up St Martin's Place. Notice there's no traffic going north because nothing can get round the Trafalgar Square roundabout.

Above - looking south towards Admiralty Arch...

And finally, above, looking down to Northumberland Avenue. The ambulance you see is stationary because none of the cars can get out of the way. Let's hope it's a stubbed toe they're attending, not a heart attack.

The cause? A broken down bus on Waterloo Place. As I walk back, I see a suited businessman abandon his taxi in frustration. This situation arises because London traffic is usually close to saturation levels, so it just takes one incident to create a domino effect. Congestion fans out in all directions, and as junctions get blocked, you have gridlock. As I've pointed out before, this is in nobody's interest, least of all drivers. Even with the congestion charge, there's still too much motor traffic. It's no use blaming private cars, because they make up a low proportion of central London traffic these days. It's mainly taxis, private hire vehicles and commercials (small and medium-sized vans). Unless journeys involving these vehicles are reduced, we'll continue to see congestion on this scale. But at the moment, there seems to be no political debate about how it might be done. So I'm going to start one...


I had my first 'near miss' in a while with a motorcyclist this morning. It was a scooter-rider actually, so maybe I should say P2W (powered two-wheeler). Scooter-riders are generally looked down upon by 'proper' motorcyclists. But I digress. I was making a left-turn from Lambeth High Street into the bus lane on Lambeth Road. There was a female cyclist coming towards me from the right, but I made the turn knowing there was enough of a gap. At that moment, the scooter swerved around a vehicle and into the bus lane, meaning I had to swerve somewhat into the path of the female cyclist.
The scooter-rider was not in a position to see the junction or see whether the lane-change was safe. I'm not too sure if I did anything wrong. I think the scooter was hidden by being in the outside lane of the vehicle, but I daresay if I'd taken a bit longer to observe I might either have seen the danger of the blind-spot, or seen the scooter. (I would have taken longer to get to work, but going via the hospital is slower still).
Luckily, there was no collision, but it did get me thinking about what danger P2W's pose to cyclists in bus lanes. In general I'm pretty respectful of motorcyclists. They understand the danger of being on two wheels, and the motorcycle test is a lot tougher than the car driving test. Motorcyclists are by far the most vulnerable road users in terms of casualty rates, so just to stay alive you have to have a reasonable level of skill. However, motorcyclists do take a lot of risks. I know, because I used to ride a motorcycle. Even a relatively small-engined bike is faster than most cars, and it is very, very tempting to use the power to overtake in tight situations. Because of that, the road scene is changing much more swiftly than it does for a car-driver or a cyclist. On a motorcycle, things happen very, very quickly, and you cannot let your concentration down for a split-second.
The TfL report on motorcycles in bus lanes said that the trial appeared to have made motorcyclists less safe and led to more speeding by motorcyclists, although cyclists casualties were unaffected. I'm not that surprised, because an empty bus lane gives the motorcyclist an opportunity to undertake a queue of traffic, which puts him/her in the worst possible position for a side-road or in terms of visibility to car drivers.

My near miss today would not have happened if P2W's weren't allowed in bus lanes. However, I think the relatively low numbers of motorcycles and pedal-cycles on the roads means a collision is relatively unlikely.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cycle Hire Injuries

It seems like the Daily Mail have done some digging, using the Freedom of Information Act to reveal that there have been 5 injuries since the scheme started. 5 injuries among 500,000 hires isn't a horrific rate, although there is the usual problem with under-reporting.

They quote road safety charity Brake as saying

"Schemes like the Barclays Cycle Hire project are great but some kind of helmet is surely imperative when users have to travel on such busy roads. It must be looked at. Wearing a helmet consequently can prevent some fatal or serious brain injuries."

However, it doesn't quote  the same charity as saying "More than 16,000 people are killed or injured while cycling on Britain’s roads each year. Brake wants to encourage you, through this site, to help us campaign for increased awareness of the dangers faced by cyclists, safer facilities for cyclists, and slower traffic. You can make a difference and save lives!"

Of course it doesn't, because that would spoil the story that cyclists are to blame for their own misfortune for failing to protect themselves. Or at least the cycle hire scheme is to blame. Motorists aren't to blame, of course, and neither is the lack of safe cycle routes, although there are no details of how the 5 injuries were caused, except for the following very sloppy sentence:

"In two separate incidents, the cyclists, who were not wearing protective hear gear, were rushed to hospital where they received emergency brain scans after after crashing in a refuse truck and falling off the hire bikes."

What is 'hear gear'? Is it a hearing aid? What is 'after after'? How do you crash 'in a refuse truck' if you are on a bicycle? I imagine the cyclist wasn't in the refuse truck at the time, and crashed into the truck instead? And the other one fell off due to some unspecified cause? None of this explains the causes of the crashes, but even if it did, I don't think I'd trust the word of a journalist who manages to pack three grammatical errors into a single sentence.
(Note to self: must run this post through the spelling checker to avoid looking a total prat).

The Mail have also failed to think through the idea of TfL supplying helmets. How on earth would that work? Even if you could stop them getting stolen or damaged, I'm not sure I'd want a helmet that was previously worn by hundreds of other people and smelled like a wrestler's jockstrap.

It'll be interesting to see if the other papers pick up on the story: hopefully they'll make a better job of the English if not the politics. It's worth noting that 5 relatively minor  injuries to cyclists would normally not even make the middle pages of a local paper. Getting cycling in the media spotlight is one of the effects I predicted the cycle hire scheme would have...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Parking Fines set to Soar

...according to the Telegraph . Philip Hammond must be regretting his speech about 'ending the war on the motorist', as the fiscal reality of parking enforcement is thrown into sharp focus by the need to cut costs.

Some councils are apparently losing money on parking enforcement. So adopting the far-from-unreasonable principle that enforcement must be paid for out of the fines collected, either enforcement needs to become more efficient (which would likely mean more parking tickets) or the fines need to increase, or somehow the cost of enforcement needs to go down. Given that parking enforcement is generally contracted out, the latter option is not in the control of local authorities until the contract is up for renewal (perhaps depending on the commercial terms).

The option of not enforcing parking restrictions would clearly be problematic. Maybe a council should try it, and people (like Oona King) who like to moan about parking tickets would find out that irresponsible parking causes chaos in a whole area in pretty short order. That would be an interesting excercise, but it would also kill people as emergency services would be unable to do their job.

However, it does seem rather unfair that a parking ticket should attract a fine of £140, whereas a speeding ticket only £60. The principle of  'the offender pays' should be extended to other motoring offences, should it not? If it's unfair that the council-tax payer should have to subsidize parking enforcement, why is it fair that the same taxpayer subsidizes enforcement of laws that are much more important in safety terms? While some parking can be dangerous (for example where it obstructs emergency service access), in general it's just an annoyance. And if you're a cyclist, you notice that parking is very often allowed in cycle lanes, where it causes more danger than perhaps anywhere else.

Dangerous Drivers and Roadsafe London

On my morning ride in today, how uplifting it was to see how some drivers manage to optimize their valuable time by combining their morning commute with various activities.

There was the driver of a black Range Rover who, while stopped at the Plough Lane toucan crossing, decided to read a newspaper (oh alright, The Sun). I was shocked to hear the car behind him impatiently honking its horn and disturbing the reader's concentration. We should be proud that our education system infuses people with such an obsessive love of literature.

Then, at the junction of Garrett Lane and Magdalen Road, the driver of a black double-cab pickup was chatting on a mobile phone. Timely communication is the lifeblood of today's vibrant economy; how important that mobile telephony allows people to take calls during time that would otherwise be wasted paying attention to the road.

Then, on Magdalen Road, a silver Lexus cruised past. The driver was enjoying a sandwich of some sort. Doesn't it make you proud that some people are so hard-working in this country, that they combine their morning commute with breakfast?

I used to report these kind of incidents to the police, via their Roadsafe London website.

"Every careful, thoughtful and courteous road user is put at risk by those who choose to ignore the rules; we need you to help us crack down on these people by telling us about any illegal or anti-social road use"

However, I've never once had a response from the police, so I've given up. I have better things to do with my time than talk when no-one's listening. Anyone out there had a different experience?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tube Car Park Charge Rises

"Soaring Tube car parking costs are 'backdoor fare rise'", trumpets the Standard today. I wish all fare rises were like this! The nice thing about cycling is they've not yet found a way to charge for it or tax it...they just ignore it instead.

Joking aside, driving your whole journey is becoming more attractive, as both fares and the cost of tube station parking rise. Meanwhile, if you have a parking space provided by your employer, you don't even get taxed on it as a benefit-in-kind, and unless you commute into the about-to-shrink Congestion Charge Zone, there is no road pricing. There never was a war on the motorist - the cost of motoring has gone down over the past 10 years - but there sure is a war on the public transport user, and the coming rises in fuel duty won't do anything significant to change the balance.

Maybe a few more people will look at cycling to the station instead, but with the parlous state of cycling infrastructure in the outer London boroughs, as well as the lack of secure cycle parking at stations, they may not look at it very long. For example, Morden tube station has a 120-space car park but no cycle parking.

London Cycle Map Campaign

Cycle Lifestyle, a new freebie mag, has a campaign to create a unified London Cycle Map.

I'm not so sure that it's such an easy problem to solve. The argument goes, why not create a tube map for bikes? The dozen or so official maps are rather cumbersome to carry and confusing to use, and a lot of journeys require more than one map and constant re-folding of the one you're using.

However, the reason the tube map works is that tube travel is a simple business. There are no landmarks on the Tube other than the stations, and the only thing to worry about is your interchanges, which are few on a typical journey. Cycle travel, like bus travel, is a lot more complex. There's more possible routes, and lots of scope to end up on a busy road you wanted to avoid or going in the wrong direction altogether. Could cycle navigation be made simpler?

One factor that I've come up against when trying to navigate through unfamiliar parts of the smoke is the crap state of a lot of the infrastructure. Too many so-called cycle routes involve narrow advisory lanes on roads with high levels of traffic. Outside peak hours, parking is often allowed in bus and cycle lanes. On the other hand, quieter routes may take you through places you'd rather not go at night. In other words, just because TfL say it's a cycle route doesn't mean you would want to cycle it. It would be possible to devise a 'rating system' for different roads, but that wouldn't help much - finding a continuous, high-quality route from A to B is impossible a lot of the time.

The Campaign are pushing Simon Parker's map.It is quite tube-like in its presentation, with colour-coded, numbered routes. Actually navigating with it could be tricky. There are no road names and not many landmarks. Some of the routes involve a lot of junctions, so keeping track of where you are would be difficult. However, with colour-coded street signs, or with a colour-coded line on the road to follow, I can see how the idea could work. Parker's vision is about more than just the map - it is about the network. If that network took you along segregated or low-motor-traffic infrastructure, you would have something very worthwhile.

Unfortunately, without long-overdue regime change at TfL, the vision won't be becoming reality anytime soon.

A last thought. With GPS-enabled smartphones becoming ubiquitous in the near future, maybe there is less need for a map and more need for an app?

UPDATE: This story has been reported in The Guardian here.

Cycle Lifestyle magazine

A new freebie available in print from a small number of outlets, or in electronic form by email subscription.

I nipped down to the excellent Stanford's in Covent Garden to pick up a copy. There was a single one left, buried under a few books. It's a slim volume, 16 pages, with mainly cycle-promoting good-news stories.

They have a campaign going for a unified London Cycle Map, which is my next post...

Traffic Cops - Age-Old Problem

Not the usual reality police-chase stuff - a thoughtful and at times disturbing feature about traffic policing in Sussex, home of rather a lot of doddery elderly motorists. Also featuring, bizarrely, serial offender Katie Price (Jordan) getting busted (geddit) again.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Solution to Gridlock (not)

The BBC has another sloppy, uncritical report which almost looks like an advertisement. It's about a new small city car, which uses lightweight materials and advanced design to reduce manufacturing cost and raw material consumption. Why do the BBC think they can simply regurgitate press releases from commercial companies, lobbyists and pressure groups as if they were news?

The article is full of unsourced and unjustified assertions. This is "a car so narrow that two can drive next to each other in one lane". It's 130cm wide. Lanes are typically 3M wide. That would give nowhere near safe clearance between vehicles at any but the slowest speeds. Motorway lanes are wider - often 3.7M wide - but speeds are higher. Even ignoring this, it's not clear how two narrow cars could be accomodated in one lane - that defeats the point of lane markings. Lanes would need to be re-sized to smaller dimensions, which seems unlikely to happen.

"Such a vehicle would have the potential to prevent gridlock on the world's roads as the number of cars quadruples to 2.5 billion by 2020." How? Come on, get real. Unless cars this size make up the majority of vehicles on the road, I suspect it won't make much difference. If most vehicles are still regular-sized, lanes will be the same size and there won't me much if any increase in traffic density. The stopping distance of a small car is the same as a big car, so the distance between cars will remain the same. Hence the total roadspace required per vehicle will not be significantly smaller, except at low speeds.

"It could also help hundreds of millions of people achieve their dream of owning a car, without depleting scarce resources such as water, energy or steel." What does it run on then, fresh air? No, the fuel economy is stated as 74mpg, which is better than most current cars, but it's not going to offset a quadrupling of the world's car fleet.

Actually, I think this is where car design should be going. Currently, cars are getting bigger and heavier, tyres are getting wider and engine power is increasing, which is largely offsetting improvements in engine efficiency. As a result, with a few exceptions, vehicles are on average scarcely more efficient than they were 10 years ago. That's because car manufacturers market bigger, heavier cars because they're more profitable, while governments repeatedly fail to force fuel economy targets on the manufacturers.
Designing cars with efficiency in mind is an imperative, but it does not mean car-dependency can continue to increase without limit.


Gridlock in the West End this lunchtime. Here's Bedford Street at the junction with the Strand:

And here's The Strand itself, looking east:

The traffic was backed up all the way from Trafalgar Square, the whole length of The Strand to Aldwych. Meanwhile, traffic could not turn right out of Bedford Street, causing traffic to back up, thus snarling up the grid of streets north of The Strand.
The cause of this? The Pope? Critical Mass? No, roadworks on Pall Mall. Well, not exactly: the cause of it is too much motor traffic. There are roadworks every day on the road system; it's a fact of life, and no-one's figured out a way to get rid of them. You could, however, reduce the amount of motor traffic.
These conditions are exacly what might encourage people to hop on a hire bike (or even their own bike) rather than take a taxi or a car. But because motor traffic has free passage along almost every street in Central London, and there are very, very few cycle lanes, there's nowhere for cyclists to get away from the congestion. While congestion lowers speeds, it increases the chances of a low-speed crash, as you manoeuvre your bike through the available space.
If people switched to bikes, there would be fewer vehicles on the road and less congestion. But they don't, partly because of fear of traffic. TfL have got to get it through their heads that in order to use roadspace efficiently, some of it needs to be dedicated to cycling. If they don't, they need to answer the question: in whose interest is the current state of affairs?

Richmond Park - Open Day

I decided to visit the Richmond Park Open Day on the 19th Sept. I elected to eschew the offer of car parking on the field adjacent to Holly Lodge, and cycle. An unconventional choice, I know, but Richmond Park had laid on secure cycle parking:

Unfortunately, this got rather full so some cyclists had to use the overspill parking:

Oh well. At least we didn't have to pay £5 a pop like the car drivers.

It's a measure of how car-centric the UK has become, that Richmond Park, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a National Nature Reserve, feel they have to lay on special car parking when they hold an event, but there is little consideration given to the idea that people might cycle. For the people who work here, ecology is their day-job: you would think that sustainable transport would be of some interest to them.
What is also interesting is the amount of cycling that goes on in the park. I don't have any figures at this point, but my guess is there is probably more cycle traffic than motor traffic, thanks to the pleasant cycle paths. Well, I say 'cycle paths', but they are actually shared paths, so on a busy day, particularly near the car parks and gates, there is a high-density mix of adult cyclists, child cyclists, runners and walkers, all moving at different speeds, and many in their own little world unaware of other path users. You can cycle on the road, if you want to cycle faster, but the roads are never closed to motor traffic during daylight hours, except for the once-yearly London Duathlon. The constant presence of motor traffic, much of which is through-traffic, not only damages the ecology of the Park and the tranquility of it, it also presents a danger to people who want to use the Park for its intended purpose - leisure.
You could understand the Royal Parks Agency being leery of closing the Park to through motor traffic if there were no demand from cyclists, but it's clear that cyclists do want to use the Park. Would it hurt to stop through traffic at off-peak times, when drivers can find other routes? Maybe once a week, on Sunday morning?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Richmond Park - Car-Free

An alarming lack of cars in Richmod Park this past Sunday. Look at this:

And this:

And look at the Roehampton Gate car park:

It was possible to cycle all round the park without encountering motor traffic. You could hear the birdsong. This really is beyond a joke. People should be free to drive through Richmond Park at all times. It clearly should not be closed to motor traffic for sporting activities such as the London Duathlon. The Park isn't there so people can enjoy leisure pursuits such as cycling, running, walking, birdwatching and the like in tranquil, natural surroundings. It's a thoroughfare that is part of the Capital's road system. From the scene on Sunday, you would think the Park is a Site of Special Scientific Interest or a National Nature Reserve. There's a real danger that the area could be overrun by dangerous wild animals if this sort of thing is allowed.
After the Duathlon had finished, instead of the Park being immediately re-opened to motor traffic, it was possible for young children to cycle without fear on the road for a considerable time.
Furthermore, next weekend there will be a Park open day  with "Parking at £5 per car" and a FREE BUS SERVICE! What happened to Zac Goldsmith's famous pledge to quit over car parking charges?

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Transmission

New parts arrived in the post - an 11-28 cassette from the excellent Chainreactioncycles and a pair of TACX jockey wheels for my ancient STX-RC rear derailleur. The jockey wheels are better than the originals, with ball bearings (and in tasteful blue too). I decided to keep the old chainrings as they didn't look too worn and most people on the forums seem to say 'they don't wear out'.
So, new parts plus the new chain fitted, a quick fettle of the adjuster and the shifting's back to good-as-new - no mis-shifts, no jumping, nice and quiet too.

FT cycling article

The FT's consumer magazine, 'Howtospendit', usually more concerned with expensive watches, art, yachts, and the sort of high-end consumer confections you might expect, have turned their attention to cycling.

The more the merrier, I say. Cycling has an amazing ability to cross social boundaries, and continually confounds the prejudices about who cyclists are, what we believe, and what we wear.

(you need IE7+ and Flash 10) to access the content - it's a very slick site)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Half a Million Cycle Hire Journeys

...claim TfL.

The rate is 18,000 journeys a day from the 80,000 registered members. Which by any measure is not bad going for a scheme that is still in 'beta' by virtue of the 'casual user' launch being delayed. The scheme's target of 40,000 hires/day seems within reach. I freely admit I was sceptical about this being feasible and I am happy to be wrong.

What effects will this success have on the scheme, and on cycling in general?

There's a risk that the scheme could become a victim of its own success. Bike shortages and docking station saturation (i.e. can't return the bike because the docking stations in an area are all full) will lead to user frustration. So the scheme will need to evolve to meet demand. It's likely that there will be pressure to extend the hire area into neigbouring boroughs. The limiting factor may well be funding.

It may be that the presence of many cycle hire bikes will lead to a change from cycling being perceived as a minority activity indulged in only by a small number of wierdos wearing strange clothing and threatening to ordinary law-abiding prejudiced folk, to something that is normal (if rather brave) and acceptable. That will make achieving change in favour of cycling somewhat easier. However, it won't of itself lead to meaningful change. For that to happen, there needs to be a political vision in place, and in London that will have to come from the Mayor. So far, no political party with a chance of getting elected has produced anything I find convincing in terms of reducing the fear of traffic, which is the main factor keeping many people from cycling. However, political parties tend to follow public opinion rather than lead it. If people are hiring bikes, or at least wishing they could hire them, public opinion may change. This will be assisted if people grow frustrated with public transport fare rises, and slow and unreliable buses. In other words, if cycling becomes perceived as an alternative that should be available, and should be safer than it is, then change may come.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Docking Stations Boost Property Prices

Yes folks - estate agents are reporting increasing numbers of questions about the nearest docking station to a property, and heightened interest in properties within the cycle hire area, according to the Standard.
Looks like the cycle-hire-related environmental blight predicted by certain Mayfair residents in my previous post may be unfounded. Meanwhile, the blue bikes are becoming a more and more common sight around the West End and other outer-London boroughs are expressing interest in extending the scheme. If people start associating cycling with good things like rising house prices, maybe the political tide is changing in favour of decent cycling infrastructure - it's just a shame, in the words of Liam Byrne, that there's no money left.

Note - I didn't even mention the B word.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The war on Obesity ?

We've got a tragic and growing problem with obesity in this country.

We're not so much climbing the league table as taking the lift to the top. England is fourth in the world, with Scotland in second place, behind the U.S.

According to a report for the Scottish Assembly, obesity among adults has increased by almost half since 1995. It says, "These figures provide little evidence that current approaches to obesity are having any impact".


Meanwhile, the costs are becoming increasing obvious. Not only are many years of healthy life being lost, but we're spending a fortune on treating the many diseases caused by obesity and lack of excercise. The Standard reports today, "the direct cost of obesity and related illnesses to the NHS is £4.3 billion a year". In the increasingly desparate search for a solution, more surgery is being proposed.

But why not address the cause than try to fix the symptoms? It's significant that sedentary lifestyles, along with poor diet, are being blamed for obesity. We're using our cars more, walking and cycling less, but eating the same calorie-rich meals. The problem is too much petrol and too many pies. Yet successive governments still don't understand that if they made cycling safer, more people would cycle, and the cost of safe cycling infrastructure would likely be outweighed by benefits elsewhere, including a slimming-down of that £4.3bn that obesity is costing us.
Fat chance of that because it would be transport investment, not health. Unlike the NHS, transport is not protected from cuts, and anything that encourages people to get out of their cars would be war on the motorist. Real wars kill people. Right now, motorists are killing themselves in ever-increasing numbers through failing to take enough excercise.

How long before the Government realises it needs to cut NHS spending on obesity, not increase it? It can do that by persuading people to walk and cycle more. Instead of which, it's making driving relatively more attractive by increasing public transport fares, making the roads more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians by removing speed cameras and failing to invest in safe cycling infrastructure.

But it's OK folks! Health Minister Paul Burstow to the rescue! Healthier lifestyles was an “ambition” for the Government, he claims. “As part of the Change4Life movement, we are encouraging people to make simple changes, such as eating more fruit and veg, cutting down on fatty foods and being more active.” (Sounds like the same policies that failed so dismally under the last Government.) “Our public health white paper later this year will set out plans to help people lead healthier lifestyles in more detail."

I can't wait.

Anti Speed Camera Arguments - #3 - Concentration and Inattention

The third in my series of posts attempting to debunk the anti-speed-camera arguments of

They claim "It is very well known amongst skilled and advanced drivers that lower speeds demand lower attention, and that lower speeds promote lower attention."

I don't believe this is true. The most boring roads are those with the fewest hazards and distractions, being motorways. Motorways are - guess what- the fastest roads! Conversely, a busy car park has a very low vehicle speed but demands a high level of attention due to very frequent hazards ( cars manoeuvring, people walking to and from cars, children on foot). So there is no necessary correlation between low speeds and a low required level of attention.

However you could assert that driving slower on the same stretch of road in the same conditions is more boring because the frequency of hazards is lower. I imagine this is what they are actually trying to argue. Increased frequency of hazards would demand a higher level of attention, which I can accept.

But what effects does an increased frequency of hazards have on safety?

According to SS's argument, driving faster demands a higher level of attention and therefore there is a lower chance of accidents due to inattention. In their words "If we slow down vehicles over a wide area, particularly if we slow them significantly below the speeds that drivers are currently choosing, we risk increasing accidents due to inattention, poor concentration and sleepiness."

Clearly however, if you drive faster, the decreased risk of inattention may be offset by increased risks due to more frequent hazards. If SS are right, the most boring roads (motorways) would be the least safe, and the safest roads would be country lanes. The opposite is the case. Which is pretty bloody obvious. To take SS's argument to its logical conclusion, in order to make a road safer, you must make it more dangerous.
Now I do not deny that there are psychological factors in play. There is evidence that people adjust their level of risk-taking upwards in compensation if their environment feels safer. But your average driver in particular is poor at assessing risk. Many are unaware of the risks they are taking. Others have a high risk threshold. The point of speed limits and speed enforcement is to protect society from both groups of drivers. 'Safe speed' confuse the actual level of attention of drivers with the required level of attention for a given level of safety. There is no evidence they present that shows that either drivers on average reach the required level of attention, or how the gap between the required level and the actual level varies with speed. They are merely speculating that the the average actual level of attention goes further below the required level if the posted speed limit is lower.

Speed isn't the only factor that affects attention levels. I've identified hazard frequency above. Familiarity is another. A familiar road is likely to cause inattention, you would think. If a driver knows a road, he will require a lower level of attention to drive on it. Should you introduce new hazards such as cars parked on blind corners or spillages just to keep drivers on their toes?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Street Light Cutbacks

BBC news reports that an increasing number of councils are looking at reducing street lighting in an attempt to balance their books.

Good news for their carbon footprint of course, but bad news for road safety. On the BBC TV news this morning, this point was rammed home for me by the street light in the first shot having a cycle route sign on it.

Crashes are extremely expensive, so any money councils may save on their leccy bills will need to be offset against increased costs elsewhere, if the expected negative impact on road safety materializes. I've posted before here  about the fiscal imperative to improve road safety (i.e. safer roads save the NHS and police money and increase the tax take). So here's an idea. Lower the speed limit by 10 MPH on unlit roads? But of course there's a ceasefire in the war on the motorist. If a few more people have to die so we can all save a few minutes on our car journeys, that's a price worth paying. Especially if the victims are those pesky pedestrians and cyclists.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Skyride 2010

My first skyride (previously known as Freewheel). Because it’s such a long way from Merton, in previous years I’d  been nervous about my kids’ ability to cycle 25 miles in a day – 10 miles up to town, 5 miles on the traffic-free roads, and another 10 miles back. The other factor against cycling to Skyride was the lack of a route to central London safe enough to take kids. The alternative – taking the train – seemed risky as there seemed likely to be too many other punters trying the same thing, and limited capacity on trains to take bikes.

This year, we decided to brave it.

Impressions? A nice experience to be around so many cyclists. It took ages to get around the loop, though.  Me and ‘the lad’ tried to weave past the slower cyclists, but pretty soon figured out this was putting us and other people in considerable danger. It was a lot like being in a traffic jam, only in a regular traffic jam on a bike you can normally filter around it or duck down a side-street. With this one, there was no escape!

We saw the aftermath of a couple of accidents. Just cuts, grazes and bruises I would think, and the unavoidable consequence of having so many young and/or inexperienced cyclists in such a small space. 

We stood through a 10-minute Sky advertorial, in the ‘3D cinema’. There was only a couple of minutes of 3D footage, including the Sky logo. I was hoping for a 3D rider’s eye view, hurtling down an Alpine pass, misjudging a hairpin and somersaulting over the Armco barrier, but it was rather tamer than that. Oh well.

My most vivid memory was a little boy on a tiny, tiny bike with tiny, tiny wheels. His feet were pedalling like fury, 5000RPM or so, like Mark Cavendish on amphetamines, and he reached 13MPH according to my clock. Meanwhile he was shouting “MUM! SLOW DOWN!”

Skyride is unlikely to persuade many new people to cycle. It was clearly unrepresentative of real cycling conditions. On the one hand it was too congested, and on the other hand, to get to the closed loop in the first place you have to cycle through some of the least pleasant traffic conditions London has to offer.  Then again, maybe it takes something like this to get peoples’ bikes out of the shed and get the idea of cycling into their heads. I know a few people who talk about cycling to work, but never quite get round to it.

I’d trade this once-yearly extravaganza for year-round better, safer conditions for cycling. Effectively, the whole of central London was closed off on Sunday. That’s a lot of disruption, with knock-on effects out of the central area. Why is it that 364 days of the year, every single car journey is treated as if it were an emergency by TfL, with maximisation of traffic flow being continually prioritised over cyclists’ safety, and yet on Skyride day, for cyclists old Scrooge turns into Santa Claus?
Surely, for the same net amount of disruption it would be more useful to make some year-round changes: close off some residential roads to through motor traffic, institute 24-hour bus and cycle lanes, make more cycle lanes mandatory and wider than the advised minimum, disallow parking in most cycle lanes, allow cycling through most parks and commons, and some segregated lanes.

A last thought. For the most part, the road space was two lanes wide. A single lane of motorway can accomodate 2100 cars/hour. So this road could have accomodated 4200 cars/hour, perhaps a bit more at slower speeds. Skyride had 85,000 participants, so the peak flows would have been what, 20,000 maybe 30,000 bikes/hour? That should give you an insight into how inefficiently we use roadspace in central London, when we allow almost total domination by motor vehicles thereby scaring would-be cyclists off the road.

Boris's Priorities

Boris was waxing lyrical about the tube strike in the Standard today.
The Dept of Transport has been asked to accept cuts "of between 25 and 40 per cent", he says.  "I cannot and will not accept them", he protests. He makes a reasonable case that the reforms to working practices on the Tube will "take advantage of  new technology" to "maximise ever-scarcer resources" with "moderate and sensible reforms". "Don't let these luddites destroy our Tube's future" is his appeal.
Yet he continues to plough onward with the abolition of the Western Extension Zone to the Congestion Charge. This will cost TfL £50M per year in lost revenue. In effect, when it comes to transport cuts, he is part of the problem. And his roads policy is hardly a paradigm of using technology to maximise use of resources. It certainly won't be if it results in EU fines for excessive pollution. Trying to turn the clock back to the golden age of private motoring is not a recipe for building a transport system fit for the coming age of scarce, expensive oil.
Wouldn't it be great if Boris tried to make more efficient use of the roads? The current level of congestion is in nobody's interest, but the fear of traffic is the major factor that stops people using their bikes instead, or letting their kids cycle to school. Without continuous segregated or low-traffic cycle routes that actually get you where you want to go, and don't end leaving the 12-year-old cyclist in 3 lanes of fast-moving traffic (yes that's you, Wandsworth one-way system), we'll stay stuck with roads fit only for a bygone era when motor traffic was light, oil cheap and plentiful and climate change hadn't been discovered. I suggest that in roads policy, it's the luddites who hold sway at City Hall.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

CSH #7 Southbound

Delayed somewhat at the office, so I didn't get on the road till after 6:30 on Friday. As I posted previously, the morning northbound ride was fairly pleasant.experience. The evening ride - what a contrast! Cars in the bus lane, parked cars in the cycle lane, more traffic and more jostling for position at junctions. And more congestion. I saw a couple of cops on bikes on Clapham High Street (always nice to see, although they seemed more interested in chatting to each other than cracking crime). I found the 'Elephant and Castle Bypass' that I'd missed that morning (it's rather well-hidden if you're northbound). It's OK, but only by virtue of being quiet backstreets.  The Stockwell Gyratory needs a lot of work on the southbound side - close to no effort at all has been put in to help cyclists negotiate this tricky multi-lane junction.
Too much danger, too much unpleasant car-dodging even for a seasoned veteran cyclist like myself. And why do the parking restrictions and bus lane operation periods end at 7PM? Some of us don't have 9-5 jobs, you know. And some of us like a cheeky half-pint after a hard day down the salt mines. It's getting dark in the evenings, so after 7PM is exactly the time you need more segregation from motor traffic. Revising bus lane operating times isn't exactly revolutionary, but even this small concession seems to be a step too far the car-centric ideologues at TfL.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Another Boost for Cycling

Segregated lanes? Road safety improvement? More Home Zones? Traffic reduction schemes?

No - it's more tube strikes.

Transmission Knackered

Shifting on my mountain bike failed. Thinking it was the inner cable about to break, I replaced that, but noticed it was actually the outer gear cable which had worn through near the rear mech. So I replaced that. I knew the chain was in need of replacement, so put a new one on and cleaned up the cassette and chainrings. The new chain wouldn't shift properly and skipped over the smaller rear sprockets. So I need a new cassette, rear mech and likely chainset as well.
I think, because I mainly ride the bike fast on-road, I spend a lot of time on the small sprockets and wear them out. I guess this is what you get when you use the wrong tool for the job! So I figure I might be better off either getting a trekking chainset (28/38/48) to replace the mountain chainset (22/32/44), and/or a road cassette (11-23 or 11-25) so I get a better spread of wear over the cassette. But of course I'll then have a bike that's less use off-road, although in practice I almost never use the lowest ratios.

CSH #7

A lovely ride in along CSH#7 today. Another sunny but temperate day, and no problems with cars parked in the cycle lane, or vehicle encroachment into it, for the most part, except for a few buses. Of course this is still summer and the kids aren't back at school yet. Next week, I bet, it'll be a different story. More congestion will mean more drivers (and cyclists) doing stupid things.

For the first time I saw the treatment at the Stockwell Gyratory. TfL have at least done something. There is a 'middle lane' you have to get into, which is protected in part by an island that segregates it from the main traffic lane. So it's better than it used to be. But you still need to drift across the left-turning traffic to get to the 'middle lane', which is a very hazardous manoeuvre (hate spelling that word).

The downsides are the same as they've always been though. At traffic lights and junctions, there are hazards aplenty, mainly from left-turning vehicles. Motorcycles are somewhat of a problem also, because they get to the front of the junction in amongst the bikes. There are sections where you have to mix it with fairly fast-moving traffic. You're never segregated from the traffic except in the bus lanes, and they don't operate 24/7 in all cases. Which I've never understood. If there's congestion, you need the bus lane to speed up the bus journey. If there isn't congestion, there's no particular need for other motor vehicles to have an extra lane. Limiting the hours endangers cyclists, may slow buses, and for the most part doesn't improve motor journey times.

Anti Speed Camera Arguments - #2 - Distraction

Cast your mind back, dear reader, way back to yesterday. You'll recall I'm trying to debunk the anti-speed camera arguments put forward by 'Safe Speed'. I started by addressing the supposed correlation between road death trends and the introduction of speed cameras.
Today I'll look at the idea that speed cameras distract drivers. What case do Safe Speed make?

"Accidents happen when people make mistakes. About 75% of those mistakes are carelessness or inattention." 

Depends what you mean by 'accident'. Most 'accidents' are not due to factors outside the control of drivers, and could and should be avoided. Where do they get 75% from? In terms of inattention, 2003 figures attribute 'driver/rider distracted as a factor in 5.5% of accidents. Does 'Going too fast for circumstances' count as carelessness? What about 'Vision Obscured' - if your vision is obscured you should expect the unexpected and proceed carefully, right? You'll notice I give proper sources and citations for my data. That's because I'm a scientist and I don't expect people to take figures on trust. Unlike 'Safe Speed'.

"About 5% of those mistakes involve excessive speed."
Not according to my previously cited government figures. They say 'Going too fast for circumstances' is a factor in 8.4% of crashes and 'Suspected contravention of statutory speed limit' is a factor in 2.2%. Of course, Government stats are only based on STATS19 forms compiled by the police. Maybe Safe Speed have been able to find a more authoritative source, or do their own analysis of thousands of crashes?
Bear in mind that almost all crashes are less severe and many can be avoided if drivers are going slower.  The slower you go the more time you have to react, and the less severe the impact - that's because of Newton's laws (science again you see). Also, the amount of time the police have to analyse crashes is very limited. Many people lie about or at least underestimate how fast they were driving after a crash, and unless the police can gather any evidence to the contrary, excessive speed may not be recorded as a cause. Therefore it seems likely that there is under-reporting of speed as a factor in crashes.

"speed cameras ... alter the things that drivers pay attention to. Too many drivers now spend far too much time considering ... speed limit compliance and the risk of enforcement. Sometimes ... they are spending precious milliseconds worrying about numerical speed while an unseen dangerous situation is developing ahead."
 Sorry, but this is a stretch. Driving is always a multitasking activity. You need to systematically scan the road ahead and to the side, your mirrors and your instrument panel on a continuous basis, and increase or reduce your speed according to hazards that you observe. Some people, incredibly, can listen to the radio as well, or conduct a conversation with a passenger! You need to take notice of road signs and comply with them, You need to plan manoeuvres. It's essential to be setting your speed correctly. If you cannot monitor and control your speed whilst driving, you probably shouldn't be driving. Are we saying that drivers who are incapable of doing that would be safer if they worried less about their speed? Are they in fact capable of setting their speed correctly without the guidance of speed limits or the threat of enforcement?
Now, I'm not going to say that speed cameras are never a distraction. They are. But the question is whether the momentary distraction of seeing a speed camera and checking your speed represents a greater danger than allowing higher average speeds (recall from my citation yesterday that cameras do lower average speeds).
Let's look at some other factors that may mitigate the distraction. 
1. Most cameras are sited on busy roads. What tends to happen most of the time is you get a moving line of traffic, and the line moves at the speed of the slowest vehicle. That speed is controlled by the camera, so in actual fact drivers don't have to worry about their speed. 
2. Many journeys are along familiar roads. Therefore, drivers know both the speed limits and the location of cameras, so they are less likely to be distracted by them as they are on unfamiliar roads.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Anti Speed Camera Arguments - #1 Deaths and Camera Convictions

You might think, given the current Government's stance against speed cameras, that there was a large body of evidence that they don't work. Curiously enough, I've not been able to find any evidence to that effect from an authoritative road safety source. I'd love for someone to point me at anything relevant.
So I took a look at 'Safe Speed', which is an anti-camera website that has got a fair amount of press coverage, in the hope that there was a good, properly-argued and properly-sourced case.
I wasn't convinced. So I thought I would try to deconstruct their arguments. I'll do this in a series of posts so you don't get too bored. Their arguments can be viewed at .

#1 Deaths and Camera Convictions.

In this section, Safe Speed try to argue that the decline in road fatalities has flatlined, so that the long-term trend in reduction of road fatalities has ceased. They argue that this is correlated with the increased use of speed cameras. There would appear to be a correlation based on the graph they present, but they've cherry-picked their reporting period - it ends in 2002. Since 2002, fatalities have declined from 3127 to 2538 in 2008 (source).
Safe Speed argue that 'if cameras saved lives' there would have been a decline to below 1500 deaths by 2002. However, they do not state their sources, assumptions or methodology, so it's impossible to know how they've arrived at this figure other than by drawing a more-or-less straight line. If only statistical analysis were that simple.
It's convenient that I have the figures for 2008, because that fills in the gap in their analysis. They give the following analysis:
Period               %Decline in Road Deaths (that is, the end total as a percentage of the starting total)
1978-1982                         86.8

1982-1988                         85.1
1988-1992                         83.7
1998-2002                       100.3

But between 2002 and 2008, we have a decline to 81.2% of the 2002 total. What does that work out at per year? 2002-2008 gives an average annual 3.13% improvement. Between 1982 and 1998, there was an average annual 3.03% improvement. Now bear in mind that the period 1982 - 1998 included two recessions, and recessions improve road safety. I am not trying to prove a causal link, but I am pointing out that the Safe Speed's graphs don't extrapolate. It's not possible to conclude from any of these statistics what the effect of speed cameras is. There are many factors that affect crash rates: increases in car ownership, increases in distances driven, a thriving economy, social factors, demographics, increase in foreign drivers, improvements in vehicle safety, highway engineering (including lower speed limits and speed cameras), lower numbers of traffic police, increases in mobile phone use, changes in public attitudes, and so on. Safe Speed's argument is that because they cannot explain the departure from a linear trend with a single factor, it must be down to speed cameras.
Safe Speed's assumption of a linear decline in death rates is clearly flawed. According to them, if speed cameras saved lives then by linear extrapolation there would be no road deaths by 2010. It seems obvious that a linear extrapolation is both statistically invalid and also isn't realistic: speeding continues despite the presence of speed cameras, and there are other factors besides speed that cause road deaths.

According to Devon and Cornwall Safety Camera Partnership, "In the first two years of [camera] operation the number of injury collisions in this area has fallen by 27% and the number of people killed or seriously injured has reduced by 7%. However on those roads where cameras are used there has been a 44% reduction in crashes and a 17% reduction in casualties. Also the average speed of vehicles on the roads has reduced by 12% and the percentage of drivers exceeding the speed limit has been reduced from 64% to 33%." It is very difficult to square that with Safe Speed's world view.

In conclusion, the arguments put forward by Safe Speed to suggest a causal link between the use of speed cameras and an end to the decline in UK road deaths are selective in their use of evidence and use very questionable methodology and statistical techniques. In other words, it is not scientific.

Next, I'll be looking at Safe Speed's analysis of how speed cameras affect drivers.

Cycle Hire Update

The perfect day. Not too cold, not too hot, but sunny, and the kids aren't back at school yet so traffic still at summer levels. Cycling in, I saw hire bikes being moved. In Black Prince Road, I saw that the docking station was completely empty, and there was a van with a trailer loaded with bikes. My guess is that this docking station is a popular start-point for people riding to work in the West End and City - it's a very short ride - and they were about to 'restock'.
As I rode along Tufton Street, I saw another van with hire bikes, and a group of bikes on the pavement. I'd noticed a few weeks back that the Smith Square docking station is full in the morning, and I've read elsewhere about areas where all the docking points saturate in the morning. Have they created a temporary drop-off point on Tufton Street?
It rather looks like the scheme is beginning to be a victim of its own success. The question is, can this success be scaled up? Clearly, more capacity is needed. The problem may be financial. It would be a great shame if the scheme partly fails because users can't rely on getting a bike when they need one.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Oona King - Human Rights and Parking Fines

Oona King jumps on the anti-war-against-the-motorist bandwagon in the Standard today, bleating about the unfairness and inflexibility of parking fines. Now, there are cases of injustice and unfairness, as there are in all areas of law enforcement. But the consequences are usually a relatively small fine. This hardly equates to a gross infringement of human rights, as Oona's article seems to imply. And most motorists can afford it. If they couldn't, there wouldn't be such widespread infringement of parking regulations. If all motorists could be trusted to park considerately, we wouldn't need any parking enforcement. As for inflexibility, this is of necessity. Google 'parking fine', and you'll find a whole industry dedicated to helping motorists wriggle out of their offences.

"Some people are always going to need to drive", Oona gushes, "whether it's the plumber who needs to carry tools or the disabled person with their specially adapted vehicle. These people should have parking facilities and a parking regime that means they can go about their business without fearing a fine for being a couple of minutes late."
In case you hadn't noticed, Oona, there's a blue badge scheme for disabled people. And able-bodied people for that matter, so widespread is the abuse of it. Most plumbers and van drivers can tell the time and can understand parking restrictions. Getting the odd ticket is an occupational hazard. Ain't that terrible? What's your solution, Oona? Create more loopholes and overload the parking appeals process with frivolous cases? Reduce fines and impoverish councils still further? Or just abolish parking restrictions altogether? You don't know do you? You've not thought this through, have you? This is lowest-common-denominator politics, and Oona King has just gone down in my estimation.

What Oona doesn't seem to understand is, the cheaper and easier you make driving, the more people will tend to drive. The reason there is little private motoring in central London is parking is difficult and expensive, and you have to pay the congestion charge. If you make it cheaper and easier for people to take the car, there'll be more congestion. Your plumber will lose more earnings than he's paying in parking fines, because he'll be stuck in traffic more of the time. As for Oona's anecdote about a woman whose car was clamped while her father was having a heart attack - do you want more ambulances stuck in traffic?

M6 Toll Road

An interesting report from the Campaign for Better Transport on the M6 Toll Road. In case you didn't know, this road was built as a commercial venture to relieve congestion on the M6 around the Birmingham area. The gist of the report is that the M6 Toll Road has failed significantly to reduce congestion or improve journey times. In addition, the company running the road has lost large amounts of money despite increasing toll rates above inflation every year.
This research was reported by the BBC, in their usual low-value-added fashion, with no balancing opinion from other sides, which is a shame because I would have liked to hear the Government view on this.
From my personal experience, the report does not paint a familiar picture. I use the M6 to drive up to the Lake District a couple of times a year (one of the few trips I do by car). Before the 'Toll' was built, the section through Birmingham was always horribly congested. Since it was built, I have to say it has improved things enormously for me. I don't use the Toll Road, but clearly I get the benefit of congestion being reduced by people that do. And therein lies the paradox. The toll road, and any like it, will only succeed as a commercial venture if congestion gets worse, yet the point of the toll road is to reduce congestion. In addition, the toll road can only reduce congestion on the bypassed section of road: congestion on the approaches to it will actually be made worse by the presence of the toll road: the bottleneck simply moves (which is exactly what has happened anywhere new road capacity has been built). So it is difficult not to conclude that building toll roads to bypass non-toll roads is an untenable strategy. Given the current climate of austerity in the DoT, privately-funded toll roads are the only way any significant new road capacity will get built, and given the commercial failure of the M6 Toll, I can't see many corporations queuing up to get involved.

Which only reinforces what I've said before: road charging is unavoidable, unless there is no new spending on road-building. However, road charging is politically dangerous, which is why none of the major parties will go near it (the Lib Dems said they would look at it but wouldn't introduce it in this Parliament). So maybe we're stuck with no new road building. Which is no bad thing.