Wednesday, 11 May 2011

78% of crashes involving cyclists are at junctions. Does TfL wimp out of genuinely making junctions safer for cycling?

A few weeks ago I profiled the plans for the new Cycle Super Highway from Victoria to Peckham. Transport for London kindly offered to walk along some sections of the planned Super Highway with me and I touched on some of their suggestions here

TfL has now sent a formal response to my original comments and I thought I'd share those, together with some further comments. The TfL chap who met me is a keen cyclist. His family are cyclists and he 'gets' cycling. And, frankly, it was very nice of him to give up an evening looking at speeding motor vehicles with me. But his response is formal TfL feedback and something I want to comment on in that context.

"I was pleased to meet you last month at Vauxhall Bridge Road, and I am glad you found this informative.....

TfL takes cycle safety very seriously. The number of cyclists involved in serious incidents has reduced in recent years, against a trend of rising numbers of cyclists."

Indeed that's true. The number of cyclists involved in serious incidents has reduced in recent years. But, as Crap WalthamForest points out here, the number of crashes that injure cyclists and pedestrians is generally increasing. I can't find the TfL documents that Crap WalthamForest refers to on the TfL website but fortunately the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety has some back up copies. According to their statistics, crashes involving cyclists were up 15% in 2009 on the previous year. Crashes involving pedestrians, by the way, were up 2% in the same period. Add to that, the fact that this year, 10 people have been killed by motor vehicles while cycling around London. 10 people in less than five months. Last year, a total of 13 were killed all year. So, the trends aren't great.
"We are striving to achieve further improvements. I am sure you are aware of our Cycle Safety Action Plan, which is being pursued in partnership with the London Cycling Campaign, the Metropolitan Police and the freight industry amongst others. The plan may be downloaded [here]"

If I had to pick one thing in the Cycle Safety Action Plan, it would be this statement here:

"Data shows that 79% of casualties were injured at, or within 20 metres of a junction".

Curiously, it is exactly at junctions that the Cycle Super Highways seem to wimp out. At Blackfriars, TfL prioritises 'smooth traffic flow' but only for motor vehicles and not for cyclists or pedestrians.

And at Vauxhall Bridge, the new CS8 Super highway, which has good, wide and useful lanes, as soon as you reach a junction, you're stuck creeping along next to motor vehicles that share your lane. In the picture on the left, that nearside lane is now a left-turn only for motor vehicles. Four taxis were in the left-turn lane. Every single one of them carried straight on.

We go on...

"Some of the comments you have posted do not accurately represent our proposals. At Drummond Gate we are exploring cutting back the kerb by 0.5m in order to achieve a left turn lane of 3.4m as recommended by the Metropolitan Police."

Fair enough. That's possibly the best you can do here, to give HGVs etc a wide enough lane to turn left towards Pimlico here.

"We are also proposing to cut back the island at this junction to provide a 1.5m ahead lane for cyclists travelling towards Victoria.  This addresses concerns raised about cyclists being squeezed on the inside of a left turning vehicle lane. Further towards Victoria we are investigating the removal of a traffic lane, as we are on part of the Vauxhall Gyratory heading south."

There's some good stuff here, for sure. But the 1.5 metre lane still bothers me. Most cycle standards, even in the UK, where we're still fairly rubbish at these things, recommend at least a 2.0 metre cycle lane in these situations to give enough distance between traffic either side of the lane. It'll be fun wobbling along between two HGVs in a 1.5m blue lane, don't you think?

In case you'd like reminding what a 1.5 metre bike lane looks like when it's stuffed between two lanes of motor traffic, here's one TfL made earlier. And then they removed it. Because people kept getting killed.
What flummoxes me is that TfL knows that accidents happen mainly at junctions. And junctions are where the Cycle Super Highways are a consistent let-down.

Whether that's at Southwark Bridge here, at Vauxhall gyratory here, or at Blackfriars Bridge here.

Maybe I'm being too idealistic. Maybe TfL can only squeeze cycle infrastrucure around fast-moving motor vehicle lanes. But, as the original Blackfriars scheme suggests, it is possible for TfL to design plans that slow everything down at junctions making safe cycling and walking a priority instead of speedy motor driving. They just choose not to.
One useful bit of information though. If you look at these plans or the plans for Vauxhall Bridge and Vauxhall gyratory (which are part of the same scheme) and have any comments, then do send them through to TfL. You need to fill out the form on this page here