Monday, 20 July 2015

When Cycle Lanes Can Be Dangerous

Let's start with two pictures that I tweeted earlier.


Way back at the planning stage of this Bears Way cycle lane myself and others pointed out that having a two way lane on one side was a very big compromise. It would have been much, much better to have a single direction lane on both sides. Now I understand that there were issues with local acceptance of the scheme that would make that difficult. It wouldn't have been easy, but at the time I and others pointed out that it would be likely that cyclists coming in the 'wrong direction' would find the lane too difficult to use, unless, and this was a very big unless, the entry and exit points were very well designed.

My pictures above demonstrate that they are not. They are a disaster. In this one entrance/exit:

  1. Not only do you have to give way to pedestrians who are crossing the road (this is not necessarily a bad thing), but why a give way, and why do cyclists have to give way but drivers do not?
  2. How do you actually get into the lane coming the other way? The hatching suggests that you can't use the main entrance. Instead you need to come in via the pedestrian island. This means you need to stop at the pinch point, cycle/walk onto the island (which is not wide enough for a bike) and then across into the lane.
  3.  The blue paint. I have no idea what this blue paint means. It is dotted along various parts of the lane. It is slightly raised, rough, and very close to the colour of the road. It will certainly not be visible at night.
  4. This is the doozy. As you approach the exit, as a cyclist, you need to start looking behind you. If you see a car behind you, indicating or not, you have to assume that the car could be turning left. Until you know it is safe to continue, you should stop. That's how a give way works. So, this give way effectively removes the normal priority in this situation. Instead of the overtaking vehicle having to yeld to the cyclist, the cyclist mus yield to overtaking traffic. This is, quite simply, a serious accident waiting to happen.
  5. Rather than continue the curbing up until the turn itself, they have finished it early. That creates a lovely sweeping curve that will encourage the drivers to turn fast......into any damn cyclist who doesn't cede to the almighty motor vehicle, will be hit at speed. Nearly all the turns on this lane are sweeping like this. 
Once you are in this lane, it's actually not too bad. Yes there are issues that I've discussed elsewhere, but it does actually make you feel safer (except the weeping turns which I discuss below...). However, this one part of the lane is downright dangerous in one direction, and downright dangerous and awkward in the other.

The upshot of this is, that I and other cyclists are generally choosing not to use the lane. It's very awkward to get into and out of, and by the time I do that (heading north), I'd be half way along the road. I discussed this with the engineer (see my reply on this blog) I pointed out that designing a lane that most cyclists would not chose to use would lead to conflict. And so it was for me recently, just before I went on holiday two weeks ago....

It was pouring of rain, the roads were greasy, and I had two people driving cars who sat right on my backside, and who both shouted at me that I should be in the cycle lane. That is, they justified their driving so close due to me not using the cycle lane that they think I should be using.

Build bad, build conflict.

I can't show you the video yet as I've not had a chance to edit it, but I will do. I had actually thought about reporting one driver to the police it was that bad, but my holiday got in the way. I'll have it up in a day or so.

I did though do a quick calculation. I looked at the speed I average along the length of road next to the cycle lane. I average 20mph. The speed limit here is 30mph. The distance is 0.84 miles. It turned out that if a car is stuck behind me the whole way and sits at 20mph instead of 30mph (no-one would dream of speeding along here...oh no...), then I would hold them up for 46 seconds.

46 seconds.

Now neither of the people driving cars two weeks ago were behind me for the full length of the road. In fact they weren't even behind me for half of it. The reality is that they put my life in danger in poor conditions (sitting 0.3 seconds from my rear wheel) for the sake of 10 seconds..... at most.

Worse than that, when I get out of the way of the second car (I actually GOT out of the way and I pulled right over to the side), they stopped for about 15 seconds to tell me that I should be in the cycle lane, so their own prejudice held themselves up more than I did.

Let me though, be absolutely clear. East Dunbartonshire council took a leap of faith. They have reallocated space from motor vehicles to cyclists and they have done so, as far as I can tell, with minimal impact to pedestrians. Perhaps even with a slight improvement for pedestrians. I really, really, REALLY want to love this. Honestly I do. I'm desperate to be positive about this. I just can't be.

As it stands, it's not crap, it is dangerous.

Change this lane to south only, and take the leap of building a lane on the other side heading north, extend it and do away with the crazy exit give ways and then we would have something that East Dunbartonshire could be proud of. But....and this is an absolutely humungous but.....use designs standards like this, build it like this, make cyclists cede to motor vehicles like this......and I and many other cyclists won't use it. Sorry.

I'll say it again, as it's very, very important....

Build bad, build conflict.

This project has proven the point.

Monday, 29 June 2015

My Day in Court: The Fog Clears

Last week I attended court and at the time wrote a blog on the experience and the outcome, which for reasons I detail in that blog, I thought was wrong. It's well worth a read. I must admit my brain was pretty foggy when I wrote that blog as I had had a long day at court, had been questioned fairly vigorously, and had been on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. That explains why I gloss over a lot of the detail in the blog as it was all a bit mixed up in my head.

It was only when I was heading home the next day that the fog lifted. I was cycling up Crow Road through Anniesland when I suddenly remembered probably the most crucial part of the trial. It hit me like a bit of a brick wall. I must admit when I got home I was pretty livid and as a result I took the weekend to chill out before writing about this. I didn't want to write it in anger.

If you look back at the trial blog, you'll see that the main issue was the identity of the vehicle. The magistrate had brought this up in the summation and effectively directed the defence to follow that line of defence. This was despite the fact that the driver was the only driver of this particular car and admitted driving along that road that evening at around that time, the fact that I shouted out the registration at the time of the incident (i.e. I witnessed it), the fact that the car appearance fitted the car that the registration matched (colour and general type) and the fact that the police, had they been asked, could have confirmed that the shape of the car from the back suggested it was an Audi.

Beyond, reasonable doubt?

However, my memory had cleared and I remembered something quite significant that happened during the trial.

As I was being shown the video the Procurator Fiscal (PF) asked me to recite the registration of the car in the video, and that I had had the incident with. I managed to recite the first four characters, but at that point my mind went blank, and I stumbled. I asked the PF if she could read back my statement to remind me (something I believe I am allowed to ask for). The PF started to look for it. As she did so the magistrate interrupted. He said something along the lines of...'this is not in dispute, is it?' First he looked at the PF and then the defence lawyer. The defence lawyer rose a little and said, 'it is not your honour'. As a result I was not asked to complete my recital of the registration.

There was no dispute.

The trial continued.

It was only at the point of summation, when the defence lawyer was trying to convince the magistrate that the car wasn't close at all, that the magistrate started questioning the identity of the vehicle. The defence lawyer never did during the trial itself. The magistrate suggested that we couldn't be certain that that car was the car being driven by the defendant, and yet the magistrate was the one who had clarified and received an answer that the registration was not in dispute and I was not required to say it in court.

I am therefore, as I am sure you can imagine, very confused as to how this all occurred.

The identity of the vehicle was not in doubt, but then it was.

I have looked into possibly of getting a transcript of the case, but I'm not sure I can, or if it even exists at all. I've seen suggestions that in non-jury trials, transcripts are often not taken/recorded in Scotland. Why?!? So whilst I am pretty angry about this, that's just about as far as it can probably go. Unless anyone knows any different of course!

In the grand scheme of things, my wee court case probably doesn't matter. It's small fish to a centuries old legal system that would appear to still be running things as if it was running centuries ago. However, something certainly conspired against me.

So what exactly is the required level of evidence for a dangerous driving conviction? I'm bu%%ered if I know.

Anyway, it just so happens, I'm off to court again tomorrow. Joy.....

Friday, 26 June 2015

More Court Case Woes

 Recently you may remember that two of my dangerous driving cases were dropped. Unfortunately I still don't know the reasons why these cases were dropped despite chasing this up a few times. I have therefore made the following complaint to the 'Response and Information Unit' at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

I'm not having much luck with cases at the moment....

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have recently been involved in two separate cases recently (case1 and case2) where I was the main prosecution witness and victim. Both were cases of dangerous driving that occurred on the same day whilst I was cycling to work. I recorded these incidents on helmet and rear bike mounted cameras, reported them to the police and was subsequently cited to appear in court for both cases. Both drivers were charged with dangerous driving.

Case case1 was dropped on the day of the trial whilst I was attending Dumbarton Sheriff Court. I was not informed at the time why the case was dropped. Upon calling the the COPFS I was informed that I would need to contact the COPFS via e-mail if I wanted to know why the case had been dropped. I did this on the 19th May 2015.

Case case2 was dropped the day before I was due to attend court. Again I was informed by the COPFS that I would have to e-mail them to find out why the case had been dropped. I duly did this on the 4th June 2015.

It is now the 26th June and I still have not received any feedback on these cases. I am still in the dark as to why these cases, which I consider to be serious in their nature, were dropped. I have sent three e-mails asking for a response for case case1 (I have received one e-mail back saying I would hear back soon, but never did). I have sent two e-mails asking for a response for case case2.

Both of these incidents were distressing for me (you can watch the videos of the incidents yourself Both the drivers in these incidents will be fully aware of why the case has been dropped and yet, despite myself chasing the COPFS up on a number of occasions now, I am still none the wiser.

Through my campaigning work for safer roads for all with Pedal on Parliament ( I have met families who have unfortunately lost their loved ones in road incidents not too dissimilar to the ones in the video above. I know that they feel like I do that the rights of the victims are treated more contemptuously than the accused.

Please can you investigate the COPFS and find out why I have not been passed on the details I have requested and please can you help me gain these details. I have attached the e-mails in question to aid your investigation.

For your information this letter will be posted on my blog ( later this evening with the case numbers redacted.

Best regards

Dr David Brennan

Thursday, 25 June 2015

My Day in Court

Despite what some may think I have never actually been in court as a witness before. Today was the first case that has actually got to that stage.

First, here is the incident itself.

This occurred back in February 2014 and has only now gone to court. The case was submitted to the Procurator Fiscal (PF) by the police with the suggested charge of Dangerous Driving. The PF agreed and a trial date was eventually set to try the driver for Dangerous Driving.

So today I went to court in Glasgow. This morning was mainly spent sitting. Waiting. Sitting. Waiting. It was a long morning. Lots witnesses were getting called and either dismissed or taken into court. Only approaching lunchtime did I hear that my case was going ahead and for some reason had been swapped from court 19 to court 20.

The PF then asked for a quick word. She asked me where my cameras were placed. I pointed out they were on my helmet and, at that time, on my downtube. That was all the PF spoke to me about before the trial.

Soon I was taken through to court and there I was standing in the witness box. There was the judge...actually a magistrate in this case, a clerk, another person who I think was a clerk and who seemed to be just doing some random work on a computer, the PF, the defence lawyer, a police officer and the accused. There was no-one in the public gallery throughout the trial.

First off the PF asked me questions. My name, age, occupation, what happened how did I feel, etc. This was all before the footage was shown. At this early stage I have to be honest, but I felt the PF was nervous, hesitant and unprepared. I was asked about passing distances, who recommended it etc.

At one point I was asked a particular question about acceptable driving. The magistrate then pointed out to the PF that this would only be appropriate if I was deemed an expert witness. The PF was hesitant about this. She was not sure about this at all. The magistrate then suggested that I be removed whilst this was discussed.

When I came back in, though I wasn't told the outcome, it became clear that I was not considered an expert and that my opinion was to be limited to what was relevant to cycling, though saying what was too close etc was ok.

In the video used in court two cars overtaking were seen from the rear camera. These cars gave me room. The magistrate asked if this could have been related to the change in lighting. I suggested it wasn't.

I was asked about my visibility, where I pointed out my lights (2 on back, 2 on front). I also mentioned my hi-vis. Yes this is not necessary, but it wouldn't hinder my case. I did not mention and was not asked about wearing a helmet, although that was probably implied by having a helmet camera!!

We started looking at the footage and after watching all the way through I was asked questions about it. What was happening, where I was, the road conditions and details about the incident itself. During this section we approached lunchtime and the case was ajourned until after lunch.

I treated myself to a roll and sausage!

Back in court the video analysis continued. How did I feel. How close did I think it was, and importantly what position did I ride on the road. This led to discussions of the primary and secondary road position. What it was, why it was recommended and where exactly I was. I was probably in a strong secondary just over a metre out.

Then the PF rested her examination. I have no idea how long it was! At a guess, 30 mins.

Then the defence lawyer started asking questions. He was definitely more assured. I can't remember everything that was asked but there were a few things he focused position....did I agree that my position was an attempt to control the traffic behind me?.... was I wobbling as I went up the hill?.... Did I really swerve at all as the car passed?....and most importantly, how close was the car.

He definitely thought that his strongest defence was the car was not as close as I suggested and that it was in fact perfectly safe. He did point out at one point that I wasn't hit and thus this suggested that it wasn't dangerous. He asked about speed limits. He was keen to point out that the driver wasn't actually speeding and that the speed limit in this area was national (60mph). I agreed that this was true.

He then suggested that what had actually happened was that I had just not expected the car and had had a bit of a fright when the car had passed unexpectedly.

Then the police witnesses were brought in and they were questioned to make sure they had done the interviews etc correctly. They had.

Then, the summing up. This is where it got interesting. The defence lawyer went first. His main line of defence was that the video was not clear enough in demonstrating that the pass had in fact been dangerous. He suggested that it was in fact very difficult to determine how close the car was. Then something unexpected happened....

The magistrate interrupted and said something along the lines of....'my biggest problem is that it is not clear from the footage that it is the accused's car that is in the video.

This very obviously caught the defence lawyer by surprise, as he ummed and awwed for a few seconds. He quickly composed himself and said, 'yes, I was obviously coming to that'. The defence lawyer then focused on the fact that the registration could not be identified, and that thus there was no corroboration.

Hmm. This really surprised me. In the video, right after the incident I shout out the registration. I witnessed the car. I was one point of corroboration. The police earlier had confirmed that the driver admitted driving the car that night. He admitted that he had driven along that road at approximately that time. That was the second point of corroboration. However the focus was on the fact that the car was not identifiable from the video itself.

The PF tried to dispute this, but, in my opinion, very weakly. She pointed out that I said the registration right after the incident and that it was on camera, but this wasn't good enough. I sat there willing her to just say....but there was a!!!!! I saw it. I also said that I remembered the reg even when I had got home.  mentioned this during the trial itself. But no. The magistrate just kept focusing on the fact that from the video it could have been many different types of cars.

The driver admitting being there, and driving the describing the car as a black estate car (I'm sure in my witness statement I also mentioned it was an Audi), and the fact that I had a registration that fitted all of the above, was not good enough in the magistrates opinion. Not beyond reasonable doubt.

And so the judge summed up. He pointed out that two things have to be met to reach a conclusion of guilt. First, what the car was and who was driving it (there was no doubt about who drove that particular Audi as he was the only driver). That was not proven in his opinion. So the driver was not guilty.

The other condition that had to be met was the seriousness of the incident. The incident had to be 'well below' the standard expected of a reasonable driver. On this the judge was very clear.

'Had we been able to confirm your identity beyond reasonable doubt, I would have found you guilty of dangerous driving'

And that was that.

Not guilty.

As we left I saw the the driver looking relieved and shaking his lawyers hand. It seemed this did matter to him. The PF did come out to ask if I understood what had happened. I did. In my opinion she had failed to prosecute properly. I didn't say that. However, it wasn't the defence lawyer who saved his client. It was the magistrate who didn't think there was enough corroboration.

When I went outside the police were waiting to have a chat. They were very surprised by what had happened and could not understand where the issue with corroboration was. They had done their job well, and for that I am grateful. They fully understood that this was not about this one driver, but about the big picture.

It was in my opinion, the wrong decision. However, we must respect the courts decision. I don't personally feel any animosity towards the driver. I'm pretty sure he knows what happened that night was wrong and to be fair he has suffered some punishment. You don't get legal aid for cases such as this, so he will be out of pocket by a fair bit paying for his lawyer. I suspect that he will driver more carefully in the future.

If indeed the driver is reading this, I would be more than happy to meet and confidentially hear his side of the story, perhaps over a beer or a coffee. If you are up for this, feel free to contact me via this blog. Rest assured I have no ill feeling towards you personally.

The important positive that has come out of this is that a magistrate agreed that a close pass can and does constitute dangerous driving. He made that perfectly clear. That should encourage others to report similar incidents and to request they are taken seriously.

Let me know your thoughts, and if there are any lawyers out there, let me know what you think!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Vigilante Ped-Al-Qaeda Nazi Cyclist

Anyone who hasn't been on another planet for the last few days will have seen headlines along the lines of..

Cyclist vigilante nazi scum, declare war on peace loving cuddly saintly car drivers.

OK, that particular headline might be one I have lovingly conjured up myself, but to be fair, it is less controversial than some of the actual headlines that have graced the chip paper over the last week.

I am not going to link to any of them, so if you want to find them, you'll have to search for yourself.  I would ask that you refrain from doing so, as these articles serve two purposes, the first of which is to create controversy and thus to get people clicking through to their website, or buying the paper, thus pleasing the advertisers.

The second reason is that newspapers are struggling. Print numbers are down and online competition for readers is significant. Redundancies at newspapers are not uncommon. The way we consume news is changing and the old guard is fighting for survival.

Prejudice sells.

Of course prejudice of this nature is nothing new. In fact one of my claims to fame (I mean infamy) is that I'm one of the first cyclists (perhaps not the first...) to be labelled a vigilante. I even wrote about it way back in the frontier days of 2008.

My 'proudest moment' in that debacle  was being called by John Smeaton in the Sun Newspaper, Ped-Al-Qaeda.

Happy days....

So, just about everything that has been written is the recent articles has been said before. None of it is new. Prejudice rarely is.

So what's happened to me since 2008. Have a descended into a spiral of vigilantism? Do I now cycle around wearing a mask, pants outside my tights, with a butler back at helmet cam cave?

Hmm, not quite. I'll leave you to decide how I've turned out. However, one thing is certain, I wouldn't be where I am today without my helmet camming. I don't mean that it made me famous and I'm now lapping in the spoils of fame and fortune....Oh no. I mean that I learned so much about cycling, road safety, road infrastructure, and the need for change, and all that came as a result of publishing videos.

Over the years I've heard absolutely every argument against my cycling and cyclists in genaral. I honestly don't think I could be surprised by anything anyone could say. Each time I faced a new argument, I went away and learned the truth behind that argument. There is no road tax. Cyclists rarely hold up traffic. Cyclists do not generally go about terrorising old grannies.

I've also learned that it's not about cyclists at all. It's not even about people on bikes. It's about people. It's about making our cities, and our countryside people friendly and not just friendly to people who are driving a car.

The truth is that the roads don't feel safe when I ride my bike, but they feel safe when I drive a car. The truth is that I've felt my life has been seriously threatened by drivers when I'm on my bike and I've never felt that in a car. The truth is that I've never been threatened, spat at, driven at or shot at, when I've driven a car, but I have on a bike.

So, I'm sorry. I'll be wearing a helmet camera for the foreseeable future. But I will also be doing everything else I can to make cycling safer, either through Pedal on Parliament or otherwise.

If that that makes me Ped-Al Qaeda, then so be it.