Sunday 28 July 2013

Nice Way Code? Nicer to be Safe


Politicians love them. In fact politicians prosper and fall on account of them. It is their bread and butter. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that politicians are great at delivering them.


Now that's another beast. Politicians, as I now understand them (and there are some exceptions to this), will avoid action as much as possible, unless it benefits them in some way. They also much prefer action that costs nothing. Generally, it does not matter if the action is pointless or a waste of time, that doesn't usually matter. So long as the action provides the opportunity for further words, words that include, 'we very much support the development of x as which we can prove if you look at our previous action'. It doesn't matter that everyone derided that action for being a complete waste of time. Politicians know that the general public doesn't have the time or inclination to check all of the politicians claims about the effectiveness of previous action. They know that the public will have to take their word for it, and that is how politics works.

It should come as no surprise then, that this is how it is with cycling.

There have been many, many words.

Cyclists are knocking on an open door....we are investing £54m....we have a target of 10% of cycling by 2020.....we now have a vision of 10% of cycling by 2020...we continue to invest to make Scotland a cycle friendly nation (words that they stole from us)....

However, there has been very, very little action. Small amounts of money...crumbs...are occasionally thrown from the table to keep the cyclists from throwing too many words back. Not that they really listen to any of our words or action anyway.

It therefore came as no surprise back in May this year when the government released some words, telling us that they were going to release some more words later in the year which they would in the future be able to inform the general public, was an action. These words that they were going to release wouldn't be the normal cost free variety, but they would be more powerful words, costing £424,000. They were going to ask us to be nice to one another.

Surely, there would be more to it than that?!?

Later this morning Keith Brown will be in Glasgow to launch these powerful words that will, and I quote directly from Keith here,

... help change behaviour on our roads.
So what are these words? What words can change years of attitudes on our roads? What words can make prospective cyclists take to the streets on their bikes in droves, make drivers realise that cyclists need space, and actually give it to them? What words can do what in many other enlightened nations, has only happened through proper action?What words can save cyclists lives?

Well here they are:

(Note to international readers: The following section may contain traces of sarcasm, something that I understand does not always translate well)


Inspired. Brilliant. Life changing.

Let's soak that one in for a moment.........

Let's all get along. Follow the NICE WAY CODE.

It's certainly a nice graphic. It has lots of nice colours in it which might well represent the different types of road users, coming in all shapes and sizes, and it even has some stars in it too, nine to be exact. Hmm. I'm not sure what that number of stars represents, but that might become clear as the campaign progresses, or, it might just have looked nice. It does look good. There's also the use of capitals that really captures your attention and makes it feel like you have to take notice. It also has some arrows and some white spots in the blue bits. I assume that these represent white lights....or...or...maybe they represent the white lines on the road. Now that is clever!

Mind you, even the casual reader of this blog might just sense I have a very slight niggling doubt about this campaign. There is just something that doesn't work for me......

OK,I'll hold my hand up and admit, I have only seen a short action call about this campaign. I have not actually seen the campaign itself, and for all I know it might be witty, charming, and thought provoking (though I have very serious doubts about this)......

Seriously though!?! Nice Way Code? Be nice to one another?! This isn't a bl**dy Bill and Ted film?!?

Is this the conversation that Keith thinks will be happening in bad driver households across the country?

Mr Bad Driver: Betty, come in here love, there's an interesting advert on the TV
Betty: Ooohh, what's this....Nice way code? What's that?
MBD: They are saying, my lovely, that me passing cyclists too fast and too quickly isn't very nice and that I should be nicer.
Betty: But, don't they hold you up dear? I thought you hated them as they don't pay road tax, they go too slow, they shout abuse at you when you hit them and they wear lycra...
MBD: Apparently, and I hadn't realised this, they are human beings and have families that care about them. Crazy I know, but apparently it is true. So the government is telling me that if I give them a little room, they will be happy, they won't be as dead as before, and I'll be happier to.
Betty: But they wear lycra...
MBD: I know dear, but you know what, that was such a nice wee advert I think I might give it a go tomorrow. Maybe if we all just got along a bit better Scotland would be a happier place.
Betty: Mmm. you are right. And if you are being nicer, then I'm sure everyone else will be too. It'll know, like a virus.... Perhaps it will now be safe for us to go out on a bike and work off the fish suppers...
MBD: Tell you what Betty, lets switch off the telly, pop down to Halfords, get us a couple of bikes and hit the road. Here's to a cycle friendly future!

Stop wasting money! Seriously! Keith and his government have just wasted £424,000 of tax payers money that could have been used to build cycle infrastructure. Sure it would only be one project, but as long as it was part of an ongoing commitment to invest in a fully funded, fully connected, and properly designed network, then it could have actually made a difference.

Mind you, what this 'action' does mean is that when we hold POP3 Keith can come along to the event with his head held high telling us.....'look what I did, you should be grateful'.

Keith, honestly, if I was you I'd find another of those prior engagements to attend. The heckling that Paul Wheelhouse got this year is nothing compared to the words you would have to face.

Friday 26 July 2013

The Ultimate Dual?

The A9.

There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that this road has, and has had a terrible reputation for accidents. There are a couple of reasons for this.

1) It is a single lane carriageway, so when drivers want to overtake slower moving traffic they have to overtake into the oncoming lane.

2) There are junctions where cars come on and off the A9. That means fast moving traffic meets slow moving traffic.

These two issues can be summarised by pointing out that, drivers like to go fast. Let's not beat about the bus here, cars were invented to get people from one place to the next faster than they could do by walking. Yes, there was the horse, but they polluted the place with their poo, Cars are much cleaner......emmmm

Anyway, the point I'm getting at here is that speed is likely to be a contributing factor in nearl all of the collisions and road deaths that occur on that road. Therefore, the answer is obvious....

Dual the A9 allowing the drivers who want to drive faster, to drive faster.

Sorry?! What do you mean that isn't the obvious answer?!?!

Actually, you might be right. Perhaps, there is another solution. Perhaps if we were to apply a technology that has been proven to lower speeds and to save lives, that might be the answer? Nah. Average speed cameras aren't anywhere near as sexy and are less likely to win votes in the North of Scotland, than a sexy, shiny dual carriageway could be. Cynical, me?

However, I'm digressing from the point I want to make.

Lives. Our lives are worth something. In fact our lives and the worth of our lives can be put in a cash value. As part of my work I've been writing about QALYs. That is a measure of the cost associated with the quality of someone's life over a year. It's used in health economic assessments to determine the cost effectiveness of treatments. Yes, its a bit controversial, but there are thresholds on how much the NHS is willing to spend to keep you alive and to provide you with a good quality of life. Generally, if you as a person can gain 1 QALY (1 year of good quality of life) from a particular treatment for less than £30,000 then the treatment is good value.

So like it or not, in the governments eyes our lives have value. QALYs are simplistic, and don't take into account many other value factors that a persons life brings, but it illustrates the point. The government (and the NHS as a result) put costs on our lives. A fact of life I'm afraid.

Last year 9 people died on Scotland's roads who were cycling. Last year 14 people died on the A9.

The A9 upgrade is currently estimated to cost £3bn. The cost of making Scotland a cycle friendly nation is £100m per year. Now it's hard to compare these figures as they stand, as the £3bn figure would be the total cost (of course, it will inevitably cost more). But lets say that 10 years worth of investment in cycling would result in an equivalent life saving effect of dualling the A9 (assuming that dualling the A9 will actually have a life saving effect, there are arguments that it wouldn't). We will assume all the lives are saved in both cycling and the A9.

A9: 14 people per year saved = £3bn:  Cost per life £214.3m

Cycling: 9 people per year saved = £1bn:  Cost per life £111.1m

So in this simplistic analysis it would costs half the price to save a cyclists life than it would to save a motorists life (yes I fully expect people to comment on cyclists not being worth as much...blah, blah, blah)

But, and it's a big but.....the 9 lives saved directly by building cycle infrastructure is but the tip of the iceberg. Cycling is a health providing activity. The more people cycle, the more healthy a nation becomes and the longer that people live and the more economically active those people can be. So if we encourage cycling and make it safer, and more people do it, we will be saving far more many lives than the 9 described above and giving something back to the economy.

I can't think of a way that dualling the A9 will save lives....perhaps a ambulance or two will get to someone quicker.

Of course, if I'm honest, no matter how safe a countries cycle infrastructure is, more people cycling will inevitable lead to more cyclist deaths. But, not only can that be offset by the better quality infrastructure, but it is completely overwhelmed by the number of lives it saves due to the health benefits.

So if our government in any way followed an evidence based approach, and actually thought just a little bit about  what would be the most common sense approach, they would invest in safety cameras for the A9 and use the saving to invest in things like cycling. Saving the lives of drivers, cyclists and importantly, people who aren't yet cyclists but would be if it was safer.


I started this blog a couple of days ago (work and family life kind of gets in the way of my blogging) and in that time something almost miraculous happened. The Scottish Government started investing in average speed cameras on the A9!

I must admit I was taken aback by this when I read it. Look at the article and look at what Keith says.

Average speed cameras systems have a proven track record of reducing casualties and excessive speed and their high visibility leads to better compliance of the speed limit.

Yes, we've been telling you this for ages, and yet you've always ignored that advice up until now. Transport Scotland even quoted the A77 statistics where average speed cameras have been very successful in
delivering a 46% reduction in fatal accidents and 35% cut in serious accidents.

So I have to hold my hands up and say something that I never thought I'd hear myself say.

Well done Keith!

But wait.....all is not entirely rosy in the garden. Keith also says in the same article,

dualling will be the long-term solution to the safety issues on the A9

Ah....... So this is a stop gap measure. I'm going to be honest here and say that to some extent I agree with the police officer in the article who points out that speed cameras alone could still cause issues. I do actually think that there are certain parts of the A9 that would benefit from dualling. Occasional stretches of dual carriageway might reduce (the idiot) driver's stress. But this is not Keith's plan. He wants a lovely, sparkling super fast motorway to replace the A9....sorry, did I say motorway...sorry I meant dual carriageway....

However, looking at things with the glass half full, perhaps, just perhaps, this is the first softening of the transport ministers position. He'd never admit that of course, but you never know. What I think it does show is that if we keep up the pressure, things can change.

I'll be keeping up the pressure.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Careless Driving Conviction

Earlier this year I went through a bad patch of cycle commuting. I had a number of incidents that really weren't nice. Unfortunately this meant that as much as I hate* doing it, and I do hate doing it, I had to report a few drivers to the police.

In fact this year I have reported four drivers. I've never reported four drivers in the one year. This is unusual. It is especially unusual as I have a higher threshold now for reporting than I used to have. It really does seem like the standards of driving are dropping. Whilst I'm not entirely sure why, I wonder if tightening finances are leading to more frustrated people/drivers.

One case is ongoing and is likely to be a long drawn out case. The driver did not turn up at the court to state their plea. They have been charged with dangerous driving. I'll let you know how that goes once it reaches a conclusion, if it ever does. Another case resulted in the driver receiving a warning. The fact that the driver only received a warning had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the policeman felt incredibly sorry for the poor old lady driver. She was very stressed by the whole thing apparently.

I wonder how stressed my family would be if she had hit me.

A third that I reported has......well, I'm not sure if anything has happened at all. The police came, took a statement and...I haven't heard anything since. I do need to chase it up, but it won't be easy as I forgot to take the officers badge number. They were, of course, supposed to get back to me...

The forth, has been significantly more successful. Watch the driver in question below.

It was a terrible piece of driving made all the worse by the fact that the driver lied and tried to blame me. The police decided to send this one to the Procurator Fiscal (PF) charged with Careless Driving.

Now, there is yet another blog in the future that will discuss the issues I have with the PF. I'll save that one for later. However, I eventually discovered that the driver had pleaded guilty to the charge at the first opportunity.

Why? Well, let's be honest here. Imagine I'd gone to the police without the helmet camera footage. Where would this have got to? Nowhere. At most the driver would have had a chat from the police where he would have protested his innocence. Having the footage, not only meant the police took an interest, but that the accused knew there was no point in denying the charge. The footage is very clear.

A short while later I managed to find out what punishment the driver was given.

£175 fine and 5 penalty points on his drivers licence.

I would not say I am happy with that. That would be wrong. I am not happy that the incident occured, I am not happy that I had to go to the police and to chase up the PF (yes, that'll be the subject of the future blog). I am also not happy that someone has had to receive a punishment. I take no joy out of that. What I am happy about is that that particular driver will think again in the future how he drives around cyclists. I'd be surprised if he would want to go through that again. 

What it also provides us with is a benchmark against which to compare future sentencing in similar cases. Yes, I know that every case is different and there may be mitigations, etc. However, it does provide a rough guide.

I've heard many cyclists calling for new criminal laws to be brought in to protect cyclists. I can understand that. However, I don't agree that we need new laws. What we need is the current laws to be correctly applied, and whilst that does occasionally happen, I think it did here, it needs to happen consistently.

What is clear from this episode, is that helmet camera footage works. I just look forward to the day we no longer need it.

*Why do I hate reporting drivers? Well, that's a story for another blog. For the moment I'll just say that, it isn't always easy to be taken seriously, either by the police or more frustratingly by the Procurator Fiscal.

Monday 22 July 2013

Stop the Cyclist Killing

It is with a very heavy heart that I return to blogging having been off on my summer holidays. Since I've been away from the campaigning, a further two cyclists were killed on Scotland's roads prompting a sombre event today where cyclists gathered outside the Scottish Parliament to remember all of Scotland's fallen cyclists.

The location for the gathering, the Scottish Parliament, was chosen to send a clear message to our politicians the people who actually have it within their power to do something. They have the power to,

Stop the Cyclist Killing.

We've now had two Pedal on Parliaments. We've had public and private discussions with politicians. We've had public debate in the media. We've and many others have provided arguments backed up with irrefutable evidence. We've had politicians visiting countries that have 60% city centre modal shares of cycling. We've heard many stories from countries around the world who are starting to realise that cities designed for people are not cities designed solely for cars. We've heard how these cities, for relatively modest amounts of expenditure, are investing in healthier futures and making cycling safer.

So what have we had from the Scottish Government?

We've heard the same old announcement about the same old spending (if hear them mention that £58m which is spread out over several years, doesn't all go on active travel and what is spent on cycling is spent on fluff). We've have the CAPS 2013 action plan that contains no plan for action and no additional funding. We've been told its not up to the government to make the roads safer, its up to the councils. We've been told that the Scottish government thinks the answer to making our roads safer is to ask everyone to be 'a bit nicer, please'.

We've been told that our roads are getting safer.

And yet today, as the cyclists dispersed from today's memorial, we hear the very sad news that yet another Scottish cyclist has tragically lost their life

Yes that's right Mr Keith Brown. Well done. Well done indeed. Our roads are getting safer for you. The roads are getting safer for anyone who is surrounded by roll cages, air-bags, EPS, ABS etc. It isn't getting safer for the rest of us.

One statistic speaks volumes.

4 cyclists killed in 2009.
7 cyclists killed in 2010.
7 cyclists killed in 2011. 
9 cyclists killed in 2012.
9 cyclists killed in 2013.

We still have another 5 months of 2013 left.

Yes there might be more cyclists on the road, but that is the point! The government is acting in a totally irresponsible manner by trying to encourage more people to cycle and not making sure the environment is safe to do so. Should we be surprised that more cyclists are now being killed?

Of course, statistics are one thing, but we have to remember that each death is a personal tragedy. Look at the following photo.

Courtesy of City Cycling Edinburgh

So what? Its just the ghost bike and memorial surrounded by a bunch of cyclists.

Not quite. Look closer. Look closely at the memorial and look closely at the second last line after 2013. That line is very significant to the two gentlemen standing holding the ghost bike. That line represents their father. It represents 79 year old Douglas Brown who was killed in a collision with a lorry last week whilst riding his bike. It represents their own tragic, and totally unnecessary loss. The next line represents Connor Shields, a 14 year old boy who was also knocked off his bike last week, this time by a car. Any age is too young, but 14? Unfortunately today a further line has been added. It represents the death of an, as yet, unnamed woman who was today killed near Drumnadrochit.

I really do dread to think how many more lines will need to be added to that board until the government actually gives a toss.
So Keith and colleagues, don't you dare release another statement telling us how great you are, and how you are working towards making cycling safer. You are not. As things stand, it would appear that all you and your government colleagues care about is your political posturing and your beloved independence debate. People are dying now, and will continue to die until you stop spending money on trophy projects like the upgrade of the A9, where speed cameras would do the same job for significantly cheaper.

Stop the politicking and start acting.

Do we really have to wait until it is one of your loved ones who adds a line to that board?