Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Wright Impression (Part I)

I concluded my last blog with a quote from Peter Wright.

Peter had been invited to take part in a phone-in for the Radio 4 programme You and Yours. Herefollows a transcript of the relevant section:

Host: Let me bring in Peter Wright, who we've been talking to earlier on this morning. Peter is a vehicle safety expert but also sadly his daughter died in a cycling accident earlier this year. Peter, what happened in that situation?

PW: It happened early in the morning when Rosie was on the way to work. She was riding down the Pentonville Road in London and at a place where all the traffic is forced to go left down the Pentonville Road--except for cyclists and buses, which are allowed to go straight ahead. She was on the inside. There was another cycle with her--a guy on a cycle--which cleared ahead of her and then I guess the lorry thought ... 'cause he saw one cycle clear ... the lorry turned left into her and ran her over.

Host: We've been talking about Cyclebility--I don't know if you heard the report as it went out--talking about positioning in the road. Do you think that the accident that Rosie had could have been prevented?

PW: I've been to the junction. I've sat and watched what happens at that junction, which is pretty frightening. If I were a cyclist I would find it terrifying. I'm told by the police that there've been 27 reported collisions at that junction in three years. It seems to me that with that awareness that there's a problem, and the awareness of the report that came out a little bit earlier this year from Transport for London, there is a very major problem, and while I think that training and awareness and experience are very, very important for cyclists, I don't think it fixes the problem: it puts all the responsibility onto the people on bicycles and they're the people who always come off worse in a collision and in an accident, and I think there needs to be a more up-to-date approach which there is in other countries such as Holland that recognises that vulnerable road users such as cyclists ... they have to actually build a system that makes it possible for cyclists to use the road network and survive.

Host: And what would you see that system as being?

PW: I think there is total incompatibility between trucks and cyclists. I think it's impossible for cyclists to make eye contact with truck drivers--they're not at the same level. Rosie was on the inside; there's no way she can make eye contact with the driver of the truck. I don't think he did anything other than he was just unaware that she was there: he couldn't see her. I think basically, as in, for instance, Holland, cyclists need to be separated from that sort of traffic, not included in it and effectively have to make their own way through it, particularly in difficult areas such as that particular junction where most of the traffic is forced to turn left but she is able to go ahead.

Host: Peter, stay with us. Let me bring in Philip Darnton on that situation. There is incompatibility, as Peter rightly says, between cyclists and these huge lorries. Should they be separated?

PD: I wouldn't like to comment on the particular case. I know that Transport for London--who are separate from Cycling England--we don't have a responsibility there--have been looking very carefully at the question of trucks, and it is the case that probably the worst accidents--and indeed more than half of accidents--have been ones with cyclists involved with trucks, so I think it's something that really merits very, very careful investigation by experts. I'm certainly not one of those but I absolutely understand the point.

Host: So how can somebody like Peter Wright take this further, or get something done?

PD: Again, that's outwith my area of expertise, I'm afraid. I'm not just ducking the question--I simply don't know.

Host: Peter, what is the situation now? What are you doing?

PW: Well I personally am not involved in that aspect of road safety. However, the organisation I work for, the FIA and the FIA Foundation, is overall involved in road safety. We will be trying to increase awareness within the UK of this particular issue--among others--and really try to sort of get a debate going about the approach to road safety, because we believe that there are some more sophisticated, more up-to-date approaches going on in other places in the world that have addressed these issues and have found solutions that work; and I don't want to understate how difficult it is to carry out these sort of changes, but it concerns me that with cyclists being encouraged to get onto the road ... round about the start of the Tour de France, Ken Livingstone was saying how he hoped that this would encourage cyclists to come out, the six out of seven people who own cycles and don't use them on the road ... I think we have to build a system that is safe for these people before we encourage them to come and make their contribution to reducing global warming. I think that's all correct, but we have to make it safe for them.

A few minutes later, the chap from Cycling England added the following:

I would just to comment, if I may, that one of the things that people are talking about is just how dangerous the main roads are. One of the things that's so vital and has happened in London is that very, very good cycling maps have been produced. It's not just learning how to ride, it's knowing which way to go.

In a letter to me dated 18 February 2002, Mark Watts, a Policy Adviser at the Mayor's Office, explained: 'Publication of the London Cycle Guides in April and supporting publicity will help to increase awareness of the many back streets and short cuts where it is already advantageous to cycle.'

On 13 October 2004, Julie Bernard, Customer Services Manager at TfL Street Management, pointed out to me that the London Cycle Guides 'show routes recommended by cyclists under current conditions (the emphasis here is on back streets), as these routes are less well known, and less obvious--but no less meaningful for that.'

On 6 August this year, the Today programme on Radio 4 reported that a survey of motorists indicates that more than a third of them can't read a basic road map. A thousand drivers were questioned for an insurance firm. Fewer than one per cent knew enough to earn a Cub Scout map-reader's badge.

Our ref: T:CCE/LETTERS/089ra
Date: 22 March 2002

Dear Mr Parker


The review of walking and cycling referred to in [Mark Watts'] letter of 18 February is intended to build on the good work of the past without being afraid to change direction where schemes have been less successful. [Hip, hip ...]

The first stage of the review process confirmed the value of a cycle network. [... Hooray!]

There is widespread agreement on the need to increase coherence and improve the planning, design and implementation of the network, including a clear and consistent signing strategy. [Yessss!]

This means a systematic approach to direction signing, the size and location of signs as well as any additional symbols, colours or coding. [Bravo!]

Given the size and complexity of the cycle network with the River Thames running through it, it is essential that the coding system is flexible, as well as being easily intelligible. [Hear, hear!]

To meet the needs of the very broad range of people who might be encouraged to cycle more requires a clear understanding of the various options, their effectiveness and people's response to them. [Well said!]

Decisions on the most appropriate way to sign cycle routes will be informed by best practice from related systems. [Hurrah!]

[Ahem ...]

Whilst I do not share your conviction that colour coding is the solution, your views have helped to push this issue to the forefront, confirmed my view of the need for good practice guidance but also the importance of market research. [Boo! Hiss!]

Yours sincerely

Rose Ades

On the TfL website now is a quote from Bradley Wiggins, a gold medal winner in the 4km individual pursuit at the Athens Olympics.

He says, 'London is a fantastic city to cycle around--it's pretty flat, usually dry and there are lots of signed cycle routes on quiet roads that make cycling in the Capital a real joy.'

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