Thursday, 18 March 2021

Designed In Risk

One of the staples of the modern media click bait outrage manufactured culture war is the one where a video is shown ostensibly of a "cyclist" doing something "wrong"; often pivoting to a "who was in the wrong" debate.

It must have some positive effect for the organs that spout this claptrap - and by positive, I mean revenue, otherwise why do it? Maybe it really is a culture war, maybe just clicks for ad payments - who really knows or indeed cares; it is a cultural product of ignorance, indifference and mendacity often displayed by the UK media on many subjects.

What is pretty much never discussed is the environment; the design of the highway space, or how the local authority has decided to treat people (regardless of their chosen mode) either through design or more likely, the gradual creep of bad ideas. This week, I am going to have a delve into a couple of click-bait videos and look at them from a Sustainable Safety point of view.

The first video features at the start of a report by ITV into the introduction of London's Safer Lorry Scheme by the Mayor of London which includes the direct vision standard. The actual video is probably a few years old, but thanks to someone having a Strong Opinion on cyclist behaviour, it was tweeted out and you can have a watch of it here and below;

The video shows a group of people cycling away from some traffic signals in a "turn left" lane with a lorry driver moving ahead in what we assume is an "ahead" lane. All of the cyclists get away from the stop line before the lorry driver, but a couple of them appear to be in the lorry driver's blind spot created by the design of the vehicle.

Start of the video - YouTube/ Simon Burrell

Very shortly, the people cycling have moved right (because of the road alignment) and the lorry driver apparently doesn't see what is happening on their nearside and hits one of the cyclists who does a very good job of keeping upright, the lorry driver immediately stops and all concerned come out of the incident intact - although the video goes on to show a verbal altercation between the cyclist and the lorry driver. 

The driver tells the cyclist that he should know not to go up the inside of an articulated vehicle because that's what is in the adverts and the cyclist tells the lorry driver that he should expect people to be on his inside because that's what happens in London.

The incident - YouTube/ Simon Burrell

So who was in the wrong? Well, I'm going to suggest both people in the incident maybe bear some responsibility (rather than blame), the driver's employer bears some responsibility (because of the choice of vehicle and maybe driver training), the lorry manufacturer has some blame for sticking with such a poor design, but most of the "blame" can be apportioned to the highway authority. Not because of any premeditated negligence, more about years of indifference or lack of funding priority for stuff like this which applies to pretty much every highway authority in the land.

We know this incident was in London because of what is said in the video, but because we can see a large river on the right, we know it's next to the Thames and in fact it's the A3220 Cheyne Walk on the eastbound approach to the junction with the Battersea Bridge. The approach in question looks like this;

A good view from 2017

Just before the view in the image above, the road is single carriageway, it flares out to 3 lanes over a short distance with 2 ahead lanes (right turns onto the bridge being banned during the day with a variable signal) and a short left turn lane of about 10 metres long where the lane is marked. The road returns to a single carriageway soon after the junction, although it's a bit wider this side.

For westbound traffic, there is a similar arrangement of three lanes with right turns banned all the time. Traffic leaving the bridge can perform all movements and traffic on Beaufort Street heading south cannot turn right. People on foot get no green man and so this is very much about shifting motor traffic.

In 2008 the layout is a touch different (above) because the left turn would have taken drivers into the Western Congestion Charging Zone and so the markings hint at the need to make a more conscious movement into that lane. Maybe if that marking had been retained, people cycling may have "taken the lane" a bit more.

So, why were the cyclists up the inside of the lorry, despite what the adverts say? The very short left turn is barely usable for drivers because there will undoubtedly be plenty of queues here at peak times. It's a busy cycle corridor and so an open piece of tarmac to get ahead of the traffic is attractive. People maybe don't think about the risk, maybe the adrenaline is pumping because of the conditions and maybe they haven't seen any adverts.

The lorry driver should have had some awareness of the cycles to his nearside. Maybe he didn't check his mirrors enough (there is a downward facing nearside mirror above the passenger door), but it's hard work driving a lorry on roads like this and it's a high level of tasking for anyone to be able to see what is happening at all times from such a vehicle. Maybe the driver's employer should have invested in a direct vision vehicle and maybe the manufacturer should have stopped making lorries like this decades ago.

From a Sustainable Safety point of view, there are some points to think about;
  • We shouldn't be mixing traffic with significant speed differentials
  • We shouldn't be mixing cyclists with traffic at 30mph
  • We shouldn't be mixing cyclists with high volumes of traffic
  • We shouldn't be mixing cyclists with HGVs
  • We shouldn't be providing road layouts which kill people if any party makes an error
So, would dropping the speed limit to 20mph help? Yes, that would assist to a limited extent on a link (the road away from a junction), but it wouldn't deal with conflicts of the kind we see in the video. Even at 20mph, we are are still mixing people with high traffic volumes and we'll still have HGVs on a road like this, although the direct vision standard makes it much easier for lorry drivers to see what is happening on their nearside.

A direct vision lorry with good nearside and forward visibility

What about education? We can tell people to be careful until we are blue in the face. Some will take heed and remember, some will not be exposed to the education and some won't be bothered. People will still make mistakes.

The solution for this junction is to separate people cycling from traffic. It may be that either side of the junction, basic protection does a reasonable job, but people need to be separated in time and space within the junction. I have had a quick look at the CycleStreets collision data tool which gives some startling, but maybe unsurprising results. Between 2005 and 2019, there were 128 recorded injury collisions in the immediate vicinity of the junction. 17 involved death (1) and serious injury (16), with 4 involving cyclists, 7 powered two wheelers, 2 involving pedestrians and 4 involving a car occupant.

With the slight injuries (111), 28% were cyclists, 26% powered two wheeler riders/ passengers, 8% pedestrians. The remaining 38% was pretty much car occupants. It's a junction which doesn't work for anyone in absolute safety terms based on collisions and those outside of cars come off worst. I haven't done any more analysis (this is not my day job), but the junction screams out for action.

There would be lots of different ways to protect people cycling and it would need to be implemented at a network level with motor traffic capacity would have to be given over to other modes. From a cycling point of view, banning general traffic from turning left into Beaufort Street and onto Battersea Bridge and a permanent ban for the right turn onto the bridge would allow cycle traffic to run with general traffic in protected space. Having a slightly set back pedestrian crossing point could also run at the same time with left turning cyclists being held. Right turns for cycling could be provided as two-stage turns.

The image above is a rough sketch. There are other options and ideas, but this to me is something which could be delivered using bolt-down islands and traffic signal works - offered without detailed thought on actual staging and the network level changes needed to perhaps mitigate the banned turns for general traffic. This would provide protection fairly quickly compared with a total rebuild. It's also worth mentioning that emergency services vehicles could of course ignore the banned turns if required.

There is some work planned by TfL at the junction, announced at the beginning of this year. The immediate works are to help pedestrians with a new signalised crossing on the north end of Battersea Bridge along with a permanent right turn ban onto the bridge. This comes after the death of a jogger earlier this year - it's the natural place to add a crossing given people will want to be on the river side. Later this year, there will be further consultation on crossings on Cheyne Walk (which says 2-stage to me) and another over Beaufort Street. There is no indication of works to protect people cycling as yet.


The second video I want to have a look at involves a cyclist turning right across a traffic lane and bus lane and being hit (I think) by a taxi driver using the bus lane. I don't know if the person who posted it was the taxi driver and I can't find a YouTube link, but here are a couple of stills from the video posted by Coltscabs on Twitter;

The video starts with (I assume) taxi driver moving along the bus lane, undertaking a slower moving general traffic lane (above). The Transit-style van in front of the black car has just come to a halt at the keep clear markings.

The taxi driver continues at the same speed and as they draw level with the van, we see the cyclist on the London hire cycle turning right. The taxi driver doesn't brake until the last moment and hits the cyclist. It's only a short video, but the cyclist gets up and at least appears unharmed. We don't know what happened next, although in response to the post, it's pretty much a stream of abuse towards the cyclist.

Again, we can find the location easily. It's the A3 Clapham High Street at the junction with Gauden Road and the blue paint is CS7. Here's a better view of the location from November last year;

The restaurant on the corner to the left of the bus is boarded up in this image and so therefore, I assume it's very recent. The speed limit here is 20mph and so with a half decent level of compliance, it makes crashes more survivable. By my calculations, the taxi driver was travelling at about 17mph which was good news (relatively) for the cyclist.

So again, we're invited to opine "who's at fault"? Maybe the van driver in slow moving traffic was being polite and left a gap for the cyclist to turn into, only to be collected by the taxi driver. Maybe the cyclist took a chance and expected the bus lane to be empty because they saw no bus. Maybe the taxi driver should have been far more alert when moving faster than general traffic with an expectation that people might turn right.

Going back to the Sustainable Safety approach, we have a 20mph speed limit and for people cycling in the opposite direction there is a bit of mandatory cycle lane (which I think has some wands). The bus lane itself is a bit of protection for cycling, but there could just as easily be right turning vehicles and a bus lane-using cyclist colliding. The layout has been around for about a decade and was one of former Mayor Johnson's awful paint'n'signs attempts at cycling infrastructure.

It's hard to see without the raw data, but again, using CycleStreets, there is a cluster of injury collisions around this junction with maybe 60% involving cyclists being hurt. The problems with a layout like this from a cycling point of view is that there isn't a safe place to turn right from. You can't do it from the mandatory lane because of following traffic, so you have to take the lane, you then have to find a gap in two streams of traffic and in a busy situation, you may not be able to see that second (bus) lane.

It's not just this location, it's a common layout all over the place and so the risk exists at every side street. As well as creating lots of risk to people cycling, it's also a high cognitive load for drivers. The solution here is not easy because the bus lane is clearly something to give bus travel an advantage and we have the classic UK problem of stuffing A-road traffic through a local centre.

The image above is roughly the arrangement now (21m or so wide) and so in theory there's space to do lots of different things, but priorities are going to be tough to deal with. 

The option above removes the bus lane and introduces a central median which would be broken at side streets. The buffer between the carriageway and cycle track would essentially be entrance kerbs at side roads and so a right turning cyclist could could pull to the right hand edge of the cycle track (with other cyclists undertaking). When there's a gap in traffic, they can cross to the "shadow" of the median strip and then when there is a gap in the next traffic lane, they complete the turn.

Drivers would also be able to turn into the median gap to make the turn in two parts. Right turns from the side road would be similar. Of course, side streets could also be filtered to reduce the conflicts.

The option above retains the bus lane, but the cycle tracks are a little narrower and the footways are reduced. In this case, right turns from the cycle track would be physically prevented/ discouraged, as would general traffic turning right across the bus lane. General traffic would have to go a different way (probably via a signalised junction into a filtered area) and cyclists wishing to turn right would also be taken a different way (as part of a planned network) or they would U-turn using a signalised or parallel zebra crossing.

This crossing on Lea Bridge Road, Waltham Forest gives cyclists right turning opportunities with a small detour, but avoiding having to cross two lanes of traffic.

In many ways, this is more difficult a problem to solve than Battersea Bridge because it is a street and network issue rather than a junction and maybe network issue.


So, the point of this post is what? First, it's to show that unless someone is really behaving badly, most of the conflict we see on our streets can be traced back to the street design, whether deliberate or not. It shows that people make mistakes and it invites us to consider the question about whether we really do think it is appropriate to think someone should be killed or injured because of human errors.

It also serves to hold the click-bait media to task because they want to boil everything down to a two-side culture war which doesn't serve society or the public good. If they spent more time asking difficult questions of decision makers and those with power to effect change, then maybe we'd see a better public discourse and less noisy extremism. 

This post also serves to remind us that many of the challenges we have is because of the reluctance to tackle motor traffic dominance in our towns and cities. Once we remove the shackle of "traffic neutral", then we have so much more flexibility.

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