Monday, 14 September 2009

Another Day - Another Victim

In a depressingly familiar pattern we find the aftermath of a conflict between car and bike, down where Prince Street joins Broad Quay, yesterday afternoon. Thankfully the cyclist appeared to suffer only slight injuries although his bicycle was mangled. The car involved is the white Citroen Xantia N881 WAN between the red and blue tee-shirts. Most of those standing around appear to be witnesses who were good enough to give statements to the police, who turned up promptly, shortly after the paramedic.

I didn't witness the actual incident and I'm not going to speculate about what might have happened beyond what is evidenced by these pictures. We see for example scrape marks on the road surface and some debris (where the bicycle was lying before being moved to the side), suggesting that the bicycle might have been pushed along under the front of the car, consistent with the observed bike and car damage. The police took details from witnesses and the parties involved (the cyclist in the dark tee-shirt and grey trousers; driver in red tee-shirt and blue baseball cap) and will, we must hope, take any appropriate action.

The scene was particularly poignant for me since I had been the victim of a road rage attack just two days earlier at Redland Grove when a motorist harassed me very aggressively, horn blaring just behind me and finally accelerating past at high speed, engine roaring, black smoke belching out, just inches away. I could easily have ended up as the cyclist above or much worse. My crime incidentally was getting in HIS way, the one he and his fellow motorists pay for and on which we cyclists apparently have no right to be.

Needless to say incidents like these are extremely damaging to the prospects for popularising cycling. Individual cyclists often give up cycling as a result of being the victims of such conflict and of course all those who observe such incidents will be dissuaded from considering cycling. So what is to be done? Some argue that increasing cycling numbers will change attitudes and lead to a more tolerant attitude on the part of motorists. But, catch 22, how can we expect to increase cycling in the face of such violence? Suggestions welcome below....


Mike said...

I think we are bound to see many more incidents as cycle numbers increase, which I'm sure they are.

Whilst there is plenty to be done to mitigate this, I think it is important that we acknowledge there will be a degree to which it will be unavoidable, regardless of whether drivers, cyclists, and even the council increase their efforts and abilities.

elizabeth said...

"thankfully the cyclist appeared to suffer only slight injuries" - You must be battle-hardened indeed from a lifetime in the war zone that is Bristol's roads. We came upon the scene of the accident, on what was supposed to be a quiet Sunday afternoon stroll, and later learned that the dazed figure on the ground had been taken to hospital.

Chris Hutt said...

We should hesitate before calling such incidents "accidents". The word "accident" implies a relative lack of blame or intent. We do not know if that was the case.

Certainly in the incident where I was attacked, the third such this year, it was entirely deliberate and had the car, being driven in a reckless and irresponsible way, struck me it could hardly be described as an "accident" even if the intention was only to intimidate.

The police have been persuaded to stop referring to "accidents" and now refer to "collisions", so RTA (road traffic accident) has become RTC. Sadly the Evening Post, amongst others, lingers in the dark ages and continues to use the term "accident" even before any investigation has been carried out.

Docsavage said...

While fools like this are given a platform to promote and celebrate acts of aggression and dangerous driving towards cyclists, we will continue to see deaths and injury on our roads.
(no coincidence that the Mail who publish this drivel, own the evil post)

David Hembrow said...

"So what is to be done?"

Cyclist numbers have never increased significantly anywhere without infrastructure changes. While British roads are designed around making journeys by car the most convenient and comfortable option, British people will continue to drive.

A little infrastructure helps... a little. For big results you really need big changes. It seems there is almost no limit to the extent of this. For instance, the North of the Netherlands has better infrastructure than the South and the West, and the cycling rate is higher here as a result even though the population is spread much more thinly in this rural area.

Chris Hutt said...

Hi David,

I know we've has this debate before but that was a while ago so probably worth rehearsing the arguements again.

Infrastructure change is very expensive, often controversial and takes a long time (decades) to implement. In the UK we have wasted the opportunity to make such changes over last 30 years thanks to the likes of Bristol City Council and now we find ourselves in need of a more urgent resolution of the conflict beteen motor vehicles and bicycles. We cannot wait another 30 years for another generation of highway engineers to fail us.

The fact that there is a general correlation between cycling levels and cycling infrastructure does not mean that infrastructure 'causes' cycling. It may be mainly the other way around or a feedback between the two. My experience is that infrastructure generally follows a growth in cycling rather than vice versa.

In Bristol we have areas where there is little if any 'cycling' infrastructure yet highish (by UK standards) levels of cycling, and areas with quite extensive segregated infrastructure but negligible cycling.

I'm not against investment in high quality, iconic infrastructure but we have to recognise that it would be part of a longer term strategy and what we desperately need is a short term strategy dealing above all with the attitude problem of motorists (for an example of which see the link posted by Docsavage above).

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for correcting my careless language, Chris. You remind me of the way the police and defence barristers refer to violent, unprovoked assaults resulting in grievous bodily harm, as "fights" - and sometimes as "accidents".

Bob said...

The pictured cyclist is a friend of mine, he was hit off his bike on prince street as mentioned above, where it would appear the driver was not used to sharing the road with cyclists, (as he was not from Bristol).

My friend tells me the Driver seemed to become agitated because he was cycling in front of him. They had a verbal exchange, where my friend in the heat of the moment spat in front of the drivers car, (an act he deeply regrets). After which the driver slowed in pace almost to a stop then my friend (the cyclist)who was in front of the car, said possibly the driver was trying to nudge him slighty, but instead excelerated over the back half of his bike, He rode over his right leg and draged him a few metres. As you can see from the photo's on this site.

Lucky the bike stuck under the cars bumper preventing him from possibly being killed. The driver then revearsed back over my friends leg again, this time freeing him but not the bike. which remained stuck under the car, until he retrieved it afterwards.

As you can imagine he was quite shook up by the incident but is very happy to be alive. He has a swallon leg, with friction burns from being dragged on his shoulder, left arm, and also has slight swelling and abrasion to his leg and knee, from where it was stuck between the bike and the bumper of the car.

He has been unable to return to work this week as he is obviouly aching, slightly shocked and sore.

His father is intending to deal with the incident, via the drivers insurance company. Though he himself is unsure what to think or do about the whole palava?

As a friend I would like to thank all of you for documenting what happened on his behalf, and he would also like to thank the kind and decent members of the public and emergency services that came to his aid.

Chris Hutt said...

Bob, thanks for posting that. I indirectly heard a similar account of what had happened but couldn't repeat anything on the blog on the basis of hearsay.

From what you say it seems to me that a serious criminal offence has been committed and that action should be taken on that basis. A civil claim for damages is another consideration of course but doesn't strike me as an adequate response in itself.

If a criminal prosecution is on the cards the matter may be 'sub judice' which I believe may mean that it would be wrong to publish accounts of what may have happened. In that case I may need to remove your comments so perhaps you could advise me on that point.

There is of course a world of difference between spitting on a car and using a car to run someone down. Spitting might be regarded as provocation but can hardly be said to justify the act of running someone over with a car.

A similar thing happened to me last year when a motorist parked across a pedestrian crossing. I complained but he pointedly ignored me. Then I spat on his car in passing, following which he attacked me and punched me in the back of the head.

The police took the view that I had provoked the attack and were clearly reluctant to take it any further, despite there being an independent witness. They eventually tracked down the driver and took a statement but declined to prosecute.

MichelleY said...

Wow. I know I definitely worry when my husband bikes anywhere (we live in London). Something will probably need to be done to make cycling easier and safer and driving less convenient.

Urban Cyclist said...

Had a close one today myself, at the top of Perry Road. An Audi driver with no comrehension of who or what was going on around her turned left into Lodge Street with no prior thought or indication.

Unfortaunately I was on her inside. Fortuantley I managed to throw the bike to the ground, with me on it, before she wiped me out, so I only had a scratched knee, scratched bike and wounded pride. But no damage to her prize Audi, thank God!

Idiots, just ignorant idiots. No comprehension of life outside their steel cage, or what it would do to someone on foot or on a bike. God help us all.

Fonant said...

The cyclist concerned should consider contacting the CTC's Accident Line, or the Cyclists' Defence Fund: this might well be a good example case that they would take on for you. If the car driver had even threatened the cyclist with a gun or knife they'd be in deep trouble. Sadly using a car as a weapon is still apparently quite acceptable, something the CTC want to change.

Pasqua said...

Exactly. As the law stands, if you want to top someone then a car is the best weapon. Some criminals are already well aware of this, and the car has been and is actively used as a weapon, because of knowing how leniently causing death or injury by driving is treated by the legal system currently.

David Hembrow said...

Hi Chris. I think the problem is that the UK has always been looking for a quick fix. I'm not sure there actually is one.

On the other hand, I do agree that a long term strategy is required. This is something the Dutch got right, on the whole. However, where it was got less right there is less cycling. There's an article in the current issue of a Dutch magazine I read about the relatively poor infrastructure of Tilburg, where there is a significantly lower than average (for NL) utility cycling rate.

I've seen "extensive" cycling infrastructure UK style, and I'm afraid it's not a patch on even poor areas here. Also, you write about areas of the city vs. others. Even if what exists in a local area is of really good quality, if it doesn't link with the rest of the city then it probably doesn't provide the utility that it needs to in order to make cycling useful. If it's not useful, no-one will bother with it.

The Dutch did a whole load of city sized experiments in the early days, and amongst other things they found that a network of cyclepaths across a city needed to be quite a fine grid. The figures which were eventually settled on were that primary routes should be at least on a 750 m grid and secondary routes on a 200 m grid across the whole city. Also, these cycle paths needed to go to shops, schools and other destinations. Otherwise there was little effect on cycling overall.

If what exists is not well maintained, or it's full of blind corners, then social safety issues cause people not to cycle. There's loads of this stuff already published.

30 years ago, Dutch cycling had just come out of a decline. The decline was during the years when cycling infrastructure was neglected, even in some cases removed. The rise afterwards was after serious money was put the way of cycling infrastructure. The rise was caused by steadily increasing the quality of the experience for cyclists. This is done by making infrastructure which improves journey times by bike and improves the safety and pleasantness of cycling.

What else is there ? While the Dutch succeeded in growing their cycling rate year on year, Britain's 30 years of "the roads are just fine, we just need more education, more enforcement, to change the words we use to describe incidents, changes to the newspapers" etc. etc. etc. has been accompanied by a continued decline in cycling.

Britain has tried all sorts of half baked things during the last 30 years, all of which have been accompanied by a decline in cycling. Just about the only thing the UK hasn't actually tried yet is proper cycling infrastructure.

Chris Hutt said...

David, I can't agree that we've tried everything but proper infrastructure. All we've tried is largely 'token' cycling infrastructure, traffic calming, traffic management and some education (e.g. promoting lower speeds). With the exception of token cycling infrastructure those developments have generally been helpful to cyclists.

There is a lot more that could be done to bolster cycling, particularly in relation to motorists' behaviour and attitudes, which is the root of the problem.

Nor do I agree that cycling is in decline. In many urban areas, including Bristol, it has grown dramatically in recent years and has had periods of rapid growth before although against a historically downward trend.

I'm not against good infrastructure and as you know I've flagged up several ideas on this blog. But that has to be part of a longer term strategy when we need a shorter term one as well, one that addresses the attitudes of motorists.

I've also mentioned before that the UK is not the same as the Netherlands, notably in that many urban areas, and Bristol in particular, are hilly. This complicates the design of cycling infrastructure immensely because the range of cycling speeds is so much greater than in NL.

My message is that we should note the high design standards of the cycling network in NL but that we should not expect to replicate that here in Bristol.

Jon Rogers said...

What positive steps can we do to reverse the "Car drivers v Cyclists" attitudinal problems?

It is a two way thing...

Reports of cyclists spitting on cars, shouting at drivers, making "gestures", cycling recklessly on pavements or through red lights.

Reports of drivers shouting, gesticulating, hooting horns, driving too close to bikes or even hitting them.

I am sure we can add to both lists.

I was challenged on Radio Bristol about it, and said, "If every car driver who saw a cyclist thought that cyclist could be in a car, and think about the 50 you see going down Gloucester Road every few minutes - and if all of those were in cars, one each - then they would find their journey to work would be very much slower."

Any ideas?

Can we get Nelson Mandela over?!

What about "restorative justice"?

I know that Cycling City is stepping up the marketing and publicity over the next few months - some "positive hearts and minds" stuff would be good.

I have had an officer response on earlier comments here ... "This sounds like an appalling incident .... Although addressing new and potential cyclists concerns about safety is a priority, individual acts of road rage are not. We are planning a campaign in the Autumn part of which will be focussed on Respect for all road users"


Chris Hutt said...

That's a very good question Jon and I'm glad you're asking it. That in itself is significant progress.

The question itself is complex and I haven't the time to do it justice, but I think one needs to look at the roots of the problem to understand it. Only when we have a sound understanding of the question can we hope to get the answer right.

In medical terms (correct me if this is wrong) we need to make a diagnosis. We need first to be aware of the symptoms, but even here we have a problem because the 'road safety' profession have always sought to represent the violence on our roads in terms of 'accidents', things that happen despite the system, rather than intimidation and danger inherent in the system which is how some of us see it.

For evidence of the nature of the problem one could do worse than look at the comments in the Evening Post whenever the anti-cyclist lobby find a pretext. A common theme is that motorists pay for the roads and therefore have preferential rights to use them. Untrue of course but most motorists believe this myth.

Many motorists resent the presence of cyclists on the road, especially when they find themselves held back because there isn't room to pass. This often leads to harassment and intimidation, but the authorities do not want to recognise this because then they might be expected to do something about it.

As for cyclists behaving badly, in my long experience that first emerged in the 1980s as a response to the harassment and intimidation from motorists and the blatant disregard for many road traffic rules on the part of motorists (speeding and pavement parking for example).

I think the attitude was 'what's source for the goose...'. In other words if motorists can get away with flouting the rules then so can I and in doing so I can avoid some of the intimidation. For example if I jump a red light (when there are no conflicting movements) I get well ahead of the 'pursuing' motorsists and reduce the threat from their ill-advised attempts to overtake.

That's by no means a full answer but it flags up some of the salient points, enough to be getting on with I hope. It's certainly an area that merits a much better understanding.

Pasqua said...

"As for cyclists behaving badly, in my long experience that first emerged in the 1980s"

Your summing up of the cnflict between cyclists and motorists is interesting, but a little partial, Chris.

As a non-driver, a sometime cyclist and largely a pedestrian, I have no axe to grind in favour of motorists whatever, selfish buggers.

But if I had a penny for every time I've seen or experienced a cyclist verbally or physically intimidating vulnerable pedestrians like me, then I would be off down the shop for some very fancy chocolates.

The fact is that cyclists are not saints any more than motorists are, and too many cyclists have developed a horrible attitude of self-righteousness and in some cases arrogance. This needs to be faced up to honestly, and cyclists need to be educated, just as motorists need to be educated, to have respect, tolerance and sympathy for often weaker and slower-moving road and path users.

Until people on bicycles accept that we have a responsibilty to behave decently, and not just blame motorist all the time, we'll stay in a vicious, er, cycle.

Chris Hutt said...

You're right Pasqua, cyclists are humans too and prone to intimidate those more vulnerable, but at least they also know what it's like to be on the receiving end so should be more receptive to the idea of sharing the road.

I think cycle/pedestrian conflict is largely a result of cyclists having been to some extent 'forced' off the road by intimidation from motorists and on to what is traditionally the pedestrian domain.

Pedestrians expect to be intimidated by cars on the road and don't think anything of it, but when intimidated by cyclists in what they think of as their domain they naturally resent it.

The whole things a bit like a food chain with lorries and buses at one end and elderly pedestrians and children at the other. We need to assert everyone's right and responsibility to use the road without being intimidated and without intimidating others.

PeteJ said...

There are a significant proportion of pedestrians who appear to feel no need to have any awareness of what's going on around them either, and react with anger and outrage should a cyclist ping to warn of their approach (or even another walker say "excuse me").

The problem is that a proportion of all road users, on any number of wheels or none, are arrogant, inconsiderate fuckwits: blaming their means of transport isn't helpful.

Chris Hutt said...

You're right Pete but there is a big difference in the consequences of such inconsiderate behaviour according to one's vehicle.

A pedestrian wandering out into the road without looking is only 'dangerous' because there are relatively fast vehicles on the road. In other words the vehicles create the 'danger' in the first place and should therefore bear a large share of the responsibility, for any conflict with pedestrians, even if the pedestrian behaves carelessly.

Likewise a 1.5 tonne car driving at 30 mph creates a much greater danger than a 100 kg bicycle and rider doing 15 mph. Based on those figures one could approximate the car-created danger as being about 30 times as great as the bicycle-crated danger, or about 15 times greater even if their speed were the same.

Buses and lorries, being much heavier, create danger of an order greater again. The force applied to a pedestrian (and the consequent damage) will largely be a function the weight and velocity of the impacting vehicle.

Bristol Dave said...

I think cycle/pedestrian conflict is largely a result of cyclists having been to some extent 'forced' off the road by intimidation from motorists and on to what is traditionally the pedestrian domain.

So now motorists are to blame for cycle/pedestrian spats too? God all bloody mighty, does your anti-car arrogance know no bounds?

As a motorist who tries to be considerate in the face of infuriating self-righteous arrogance from cyclists almost daily (in the form of red lights and other rules completely ignored, refusing to keep to the left to allow cars to pass (especially when wobbling at a slower than walking pace up a hill), bikes jumping off pavements straight into traffic without looking, sailing across all three lanes at roundabouts without a care as to what's going on around them, etc) I'm getting a bit fed up of all this one-sided-ness.

And why shouldn't we refer to "accidents"? Almost all collisions on the road are accidental, it's not as if people want them!

Chris Hutt said...

Dave, if you read the account of what happened in this particular case (Prince St) posted by Bob above in the comments you'll see that, according to that posting, this was probably not an accident but a deliberate attack using a car as a weapon.

We do not know how many collisions are 'accidents' and how many involve degrees of deliberate aggression. So it's wrong to refer to examples of such conflict as 'accidents' until that has been determined as a result of an investigation.

I could easily real off a list of examples of arrogance, bloody-mindedness and law-breaking by motorists. Most, as you know perfectly well, routinely break speed limits and park on pavements for starters. Why do you expect cyclists to be any better?

Cyclists are not supposed to 'keep left' to the extent that you may think. They are advised to adopt a position well out from the kerb or parked cars to avoid all sorts of hazards that arise from cycling too far to the left like being hit by car doors being opened or having cars turn left in front of them.

Bristol Traffic said...

>refusing to keep to the left to >allow cars to pass
>(especially when wobbling at a
>slower than walking pace up a hill),

Um, that's not actually illegal, you know. It's like when you are in a hurry but the car in front is sticking to the speed limit. There is nothing you can do except mellow out. Or, like the car I encountered today, try and run the bike off the road while the kids in the back of the car look on in terror about the cyclist that is about 4 inches away from their faces.

Bristol Dave said...

Chris: If enough collisions are deliberate (like I agree this one sounds) to warrant changing the acronym from RTA to RTC then frankly I weep for the future of the human race. However, I think realistically the percentage of collisions that were actually deliberate must be incredibly small, unless you hold the bizarre and frankly insulting opinion I've heard expressed before that when a driver gets into a car then there's "intent" as "cars can be used to kill"

Bristol Traffic: No, it's not illegal, but it's generally not in keeping with the Highway Code which advises you should keep to the left except when overtaking and turning right. It also allows cars to give you more room when they overtake you without crossing over to the opposite lane of the road. I'm not expecting cyclist to rub their wheels along the kerb but at the same time, cycling in the middle of the road preventing anyone from overtaking you is not only extremely selfish but very arrogant, and hardly helping cyclist/motorist relations.

And a car keeping to the 30mph speed limit when you're in a hurry isn't quite the same as a cyclist plodding along at 10mph ;-)

Chris Hutt said...

Dave, the point I was trying to make is that between entirely 'accidental' and entirely 'deliberate' lies a large grey area where elements of deliberate risk taking combine with accidental factors to cause collisions and injuries.

For example if a motorist overtook a cyclist giving less clearance than is required for safety and the cyclist at that moment veered outwards slightly and a collision occurred, it would not be entirely accidental. Some might say it was an inevitable consequence of repeatedly overtaking too close.

I can well understand your frustration at being held up by cyclists, but bear in mind that more often than not this happens because so much of the available roadway width is given over to car parking or squeezing in extra traffic lanes. Most streets have ample width for motorists to overtake cyclists, and vice versa, if only the space was managed to allow this. It is not the fault of cyclists that our streets are badly managed.

Bristol Traffic said...

Sometimes, even when doing only 10 mph, we get far enough out to stop cars getting past because we can see there's oncoming traffic, oncoming junction problems and we do not consider that a car can pass us safely at this point. Yet still they do, making things very scary indeed. But in these situations, stay on the left and the cars squeeze by at 30-40 mph -there is nowhere safe to be.

Case in point, right outside the BRI, heading towards St James Barton and dighton street. On the pavement side you have patients pulling in and out of the ambulance only zone. The road is split into two lanes, RH lane is sometimes a fast way for a car to get to St James B and the the M32, but only if there isn't a taxi stopping there waiting to turn right into the bus station. M32 Car traffic tends to go into that left lane. If you are on a bike too far to left, you get squished between railings and passing vehicles. If you move further out, you piss of the cars. And still have to deal with people who are too impatient to slow down slightly or share the road.

Bristol Dave said...

I appreciate sometimes factors such as parked cars can mean a cyclist is unable to pull over - I was specifically referring to those "reclaim the streets" self-righteous lot who seem indignant at the fact that cars are still even allowed on the road at all that deliberately cycle down the middle of the street when there's plenty of space to pull over. It's akin to middle-lane hogs on the motorway and is very annoying.

Then I hear "Cycling England" (a "fake" charity sponsored by the DfT) are calling for change in the law to make motorists automatically at fault in collisions with riders or pedestrians. The mind truly boggles. Currently, we have a handy thing called "the legal system" with such bizarre concepts as a "presumption of innocence" with only a few exceptions with the burden of proof (e.g. Libel laws which are a legal mess) but yet these morons are proposing to throw all that away. So, if some idiot runs out in front of me - despite travelling at or below the speed limit — I should automatically be held legally responsible when I hit them? On what grounds? Or when a cyclist whizzes gaily through a red light into a stream of traffic, the motorist should be responsible? Under the current legal system, in most accidents involving a pedestrian and a motorist, the pedestrian is at fault. This is because it's usually a drunk person stumbling in front of cars at night, or a child running between two cars having not been taught how to cross a road properly (where's the green cross code man on TV nowadays, btw?). Presumably this inescapable fact doesn't really help them on their campaign to vilify motorists, so a bit of fiddling with (or rather, outright abuse of) the legal system has been called for. I despair.

Chris Hutt said...

Dave, by reclaim the streets I presume you mean Critical Mass which takes place at 6 pm on the last Friday of each month, whereby up to a hundred cyclists ride around for an hour or so taking over a few roads and holding up some motor traffic.

Compare and contrast that once-a-month event with the twice-a-day event whereby motorists bring much of the city to a standstill. You may say that motorists don't intend to bring the city to a grinding halt but that's the effect and they know full well that that will be the effect every time yet continue to participate.

Bristol Dave said...

I actually meant the many cyclists I seem to encounter who don't pull over when they can to let motorists past(which I see as being simple common courtesy). I can't imagine what the thinking behind this behaviour is, other than to infuriate others on the road, which seems like a bizzare action to take given the indignance from cyclists when somebody's blood does boil over.

The "critical mass" lot are just a bunch of - and I choose my words very carefully here - arrogant fucking arseholes. If you want to know who is damaging the relations between cyclists and motorists the most, you only need to look to them. Their sole intention clearly is just to infuriate others on the road, and they're arseholes because of it. I hope they all get punctures and their chains all snap.

You truly have some bizzare ways of explaining congestion and justifying the actions of the above arseholes. To suggest that motorists do the same when they drive in rush hour, and imply the same intentions exist simply because they're daring to use their cars to get to work is just ignorant.

bike hater said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.