Wednesday 7 August 2013

The Infrastructure is fine....

I don't always get there fast, but I do usually get there.

No, I'm not talking about my cycling, I'm talking about the way my brain works. I don't even notice my brain working away in the background, but I'm pretty sure it usually is. It's the only way I can explain the fact that the idea for today's blog come into my mind, out of the blue, whilst I swept the kitchen floor.

The infrastructure is fine.

To be fair I'd been working towards the idea from earlier in the day. It started when I tweeted a question to @nicewaycode.

Hi I wonder what your thoughts are on a blog I wrote about ASLs quite a while back. They are a danger.

It's funny, at the time I wasn't even entirely sure why I tweeted that question, except for the fact that I knew that the Nice Way Code encouraged drivers to keep out of ASLs. As you'll see from the above linked blog, I'm not their greatest fan.

Only later, whilst seeping up the various bits of tonight's dinner off the floor, did the whole thing come to me.

The biggest problem with Nice Way Code, and any campaign that tells cyclists what they should do on the UK's roads, is that they all assume the infrastructure is fine.

It isn't.

Let me explain. Let's take the ASL advert above. This one isn't actually aimed at cyclists, it's asking drivers to keep out of the ASL. However, the logic holds.
You will of course have read my ASL blog by now and know that I am not a fan. Of course, I am only one person, but I know from feedback from that particular blog that I am not alone in thinking they are bad for cyclists. In fact, in any civilised cycling nation, i.e. ones that have 60% cycling modal share within their large cities, they just don't exist. There are other more elegant and far safer ways of dealing with cyclists at traffic lights. So the campaign is trying to ask drivers to respect something that isn't fine. ASLs aren't fine.

The red light jumping advice is similarly flawed.

I don't jump red lights. I do admit that some cyclists do. In fact in the past I have chastised cyclists myself, and have used the argument that it reflects on all of us. I actually saw the light (pardon the pun) on that one a while ago. I realised that I do not have any responsibility for other cyclists, only myself, just as I don't have any responsibility for any other drivers when I drive my car.
Some cyclists are, though, idiots (as are some drivers) and they do jump reds unnecessarily.  However, as much as I hate seeing cyclists red light jump, some do it for another reason. By far the biggest proportion of cyclists jump reds just before they start turning green. For them it feels safer to get away before the mad rush behind them as soon as the light hits amber. Personally I don't feel the need to 'leave early'. However, I am not your standard cyclist. I have cycled almost non-stop for eight years. I've cycled on busy roads. Even before I started, I looked up safe road cycling techniques. I learned a set of tools that made me feel safe at most junctions from the start. Mind you when I first started I didn't feel safe everywhere and as a result I avoided some of the busy roads and busy traffic light junctions by....

...riding on pavements.

Yes I fell foul of the next Nice Way.

Some less experienced cyclists choose not to use the pavements. Instead, their safety mechanism is jumping the light a bit early. Why?

The infrastructure is not fine. Cyclists feel the need to get away from the mad rush because they don't feel protected.

I could keep going with nearly all of the slides (perhaps you can do it for me). For example, the don't pass on the left of HGV slide...this one...

..offers some good advice. I never pass down the left of an HGV or large vehicle. But....look at the infrastructure we have (and I'm coming full circle here) and ASLs direct you to pass on the left at the very junctions that you should not pass on the left.

The campaign, no matter what it said around these subjects, was bound to fail. We don't have the infrastructure in this country which is consistent enough or safe enough to base a safety campaign around. What is sound advice at one junction is downright dangerous at the next. Safety for cyclists has been designed out of our roads, not into it.

Sure, you can tell a driver to give a cyclist a bit more room as one of the slides does, but yet again, without proper enforcement it becomes meaningless. How many of us, even with helmet camera footage have been told by the weren't hit, so there is nothing we can do (that's rubbish by the way).

Things are different if you pop over to the Netherlands. You wouldn't have the ASLs for a start. It's rare for people to ride on the pavement over there, because the cycle paths are so damn good you can't help wanting to use them. People rarely cycle down the right (wrong side I know) of an HGV because they are, for the most part, kept separate. Perhaps the only one that would still stand (at all) over there is the red light jumping one. I've saw people jump red when I was over there. However, the Netherlands understands the vulnerability of cyclists and protects them by law, even when they have been daft. Why? Because the benefits of cycling, and putting up with the odd red light jumping cyclist far.....FAR outweigh the downsides.

The whole argument over the Nice Way Code has been pretty heated. Emotions have been, understandably, very high. But in the cold light of day, when you apply a bit of logic I think it is pretty clear. Spending on education just won't work where the environment is designed with only one mode of transport in mind. Get some real investment in proper infrastructure going and yes, advertise away. Then you would have something safe to advertise about.


  1. You'll not see Marx quoted about cycling safety very often but he understood the problem with Nice Way Code in 1859. He wrote "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness." People behave on the roads because of the roads not because they have the wrong ideas in the heads. It's their life experiences that inform their ideas not the other way round. It's the infrastructure.

  2. There are some good points in this post. When I learned to drive, my instructor, knowing I was a very keen cyclist, asked me what I thought about ASLs. He said he'd noticed a fair number of cyclists didn't use them, and didn't understand why.

    I don't like them because the very drivers you pass then try and overtake you again, only they're now annoyed about it and don't give you room. And if there's an HGV at the front of near the front of the queue, forget it. Not worth the risk, and then there's the cars that don't indicate, or look to see if you're there as you approach just as the lights go green.

    You're right, it's an infrastructure issue. If infrastructure was there, we wouldn't need ASLs. It's the "need" for ASLs that causes the issues at lights. And with roads that fill up like the Canniesburn Roundabout during rush hour, who can blame some cyclists for using the pavement? I was always happy enough to use that, but many cyclists simply don't have the confidence to dice with impatient commuters and other traffic and find the whole experience frankly overwhelming - and I don't blame them!

    I'd love to see the chief executive of a local council, or an MP, or a member of the Scottish Government try to navigate through that roundabout twice a day for a week. I think they'd realise it's not all so rosy then.

  3. I'm pretty disappointed at most of their choices. Like you say people don't ride on pavements because they are not nice they do it for their safety.

    And the ASLs, I honestly couldn't care when a driver runs the line a bit. Sure its rude but I can sit in front of him anyway. What would actually be "nice" is remind cyclists that they don't have to go in front of that one car just because they can.

    It's almost as if they did a quick survey, people just named things that were obviously illegal and common (because its easy to get indignant about something that's illegal, other stuff requires justification and thought) and called it research.

  4. It reads to me more like no one left the bubble of bowtie & braces land and actually did some work with real people making real journeys by bike.

    The whole might have a bit more credibility if the campaign about taking a vehicle along a footway (please lets start using that term as the word pavement also applies to the carriageway and FOOTway makes the use of this bit of the road blindingly clear) well if that campaign might also include the 54% of motor vehicle drivers who openly admitted in a YouGov survey that they broke the law and drove on a footway. Oh and that group includes Police drivers using vehicles not on an emergency or crime prevention call, and - rife in Glasgow, Police cyclists using the footway with the road practically deserted - I'm now going to photograph every instance of this I see and ask how this example being set by the Police degrades all efforts made to promote 'nice' road behaviour with regard to footway use.

    If you want some photos of nice drivers, blocking footways, and cycle lanes and Police cyclists riding on footways, I can offer a few to get the ball rolling

  5. This has the ring of truth about it (IMHO ;-)). Except… we are, as politicians and Andrew Gilligan (last night on Newsnight) seem keen to remind us, not going to get adequate infrastructure "any time soon". Which in politico-speak I would read to mean "never". So what's to be done? I don't know, though I suspect better driver training as the AA and BSM are leading on, better enforcement of the highway code and a rethink of road designs by the authorities would be part of it, but not what the Nice Way Code campaign has been doing that's for sure, for all the reasons that have been tweeted and blogged about.

    Anyway, regarding ASLs and passing large vehicles on the right - I wonder what their advice would be here (assuming some large vehicles):

    And two PSs

    1. Looking at YT uploads by helmet cammers, one of the major problems is the Must Get in Front mindset in drivers, which is especially dangerous at pedestrian islands, but also problematic coming up to queues of motor vehicles, junctions, roundabouts etc . Yet so far the NWC campaign has had nothing to say about that. A serious omission, one feels.

    2. the cycling on the pavement one is plain bananas - I'd like their opiinion on whether they would consider cycling on the footway here grown up or not:

    Answer -this was recently converted to shared use by putting up signs at each end but no other modifications. So LAs have it in their gift make cyclists grow up overnght, it seems (or vice versa). (@Dave H - looking forward to your photos on that)

    When I start seeing signs on UK roads like the Dutch one shown on Newsnight last night - "watch out for bicycles, cars are guests", I'll know we are making progress.


  6. There's a cycle lane and ASL just before the left-hand turning to the Morrisons where I do my shopping. On the road, I use the cycle lane because I feel it's safer due to the fact it's a busy road with a 50mph speed limit.

    However, before I come to the junction to go left at Morrisons, whether the lights are red or green, I check behind and ALWAYS move out of the cycle lane and take the lane. I stay behind cars in line and NEVER use the ASL. If I were to filter up the left hand side of traffic and go into the ASL, a driver might think "Oh look, a cyclist - I can accelerate and turn left before he's even clipped in". They'd be wrong. I'm quicker off the mark, my average speed is higher than most cyclists. And I don't 'clip in' (pedals and toe clips only, since I use my bike in all different shoes!). If I use the ASL, it could spell disaster. So I don't do it. ASLs, I think, are traps.

    The previous comments and blog post are dead right. It is the infrastructure and the mindset derived from it that are the issue. This Nice Way Code is absolute nonsense. While it may help, it won't solve the fact that our roads are not fit for the bicycle.