Cycling in London, and Cycle Passing Limits

There are a number of cyclists who avidly read this blog. Many of them are critical of the issues I have raised about the standards of cycling in London in a number of articles. It was very amusing to read an article in the Financial Times last Saturday (29/9/2018) by Katie Martin. She is an FT writer and she gives the views of someone who has been cycling to the office for the last nine years.

She said cyclists would be wrong to assume the main threat was cars, and she highlights two others as of importance: the road itself and other cyclists.

Potholes are a major menace to cyclists and she points out that unlike for vehicle drivers, potholes are not just a route to a repair shop, they are a risk to life and limb. I am sure that all road users will agree that potholes have become a major problem as expenditure on road maintenance and proper resurfacing has been cut back by local councils.

But she says an under appreciated risk is other cyclists who are “comfortably the diciest fellow users of the road”. She describes most of them as “infuriatingly rubbish and some would struggle to pass a primary school proficiency test”. She reports that they run red lights, don’t signal before they swing into your path, don’t use lights in the dark and barge in front of you at traffic lights. There is much more in the same vein.

She also criticises pedestrians and car passengers who open doors without looking, but she does not wish to put off anyone from cycling! You can read the full article here: https://www.ft.com/content/b6ffcb9c-c239-11e8-8d55-54197280d3f7 . I hope she does not get too many abusive comments from her fellow cyclists.

Cycle Passing Limit and Disclosure of Evidence

One ABD correspondent has written to the ABD about the fact that he received a Notice of Intended Prosecution about a claimed offence of passing a cyclist too closely in North Wales, which he denies. The police are claiming to have evidence based on a headcam worn by a cyclist but are refusing to disclose the video evidence or even a transcript of a statement given by the cyclist.

Firstly, headcam or dashcam footage can be used as evidence in criminal cases if some conditions are met although the widespread use of cameras does raise the question of privacy. There is effectively none at present on the public roads.

As regards disclosure of evidence, the police certainly need to disclose the evidence if they intend to pursue a prosecution. See this article on Pepipoo for more information on that subject: http://www.pepipoo.com/Disclosure.htm . Perhaps the Police are relying on people accepting a Fixed Penalty Notice rather than going to court to challenge the case, but that would be most dubious.

As regards the distance that vehicle users should allow when overtaking a cyclist, the Highway Code says the following: “Give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car” and “Give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make”. This is somewhat unspecific as some drivers might feel they need not give much space when overtaking another vehicle at slow speeds.

One can see that any prosecution might be difficult based on those parts of the Highway Code. So cyclists have called for more specific limits, e.g. 1.5 metres, or perhaps 1.0 metre on roads with lower speed limits. Ireland proposed to introduce such a law but it was abandoned after realisation that it would create legal difficulties. The Department for Transport is currently considering the matter in the UK.

But in this writer’s view, any specific limit is not sensible. In central London, where streets are narrow, and traffic speeds are low, giving 1.5 metres would not be easy and might simply lead to encroachment onto the opposite carriageway thus creating other road safety risks. Likewise on some of the narrow country roads in North Wales. A wide limit on high-speed dual carriageways or other A-roads may be quite appropriate but equating it to the road speed limit rather than the speed of a vehicle and its size makes no sense. Larger vehicles that create much bigger back drafts are more of a risk to cyclists and drivers of those need to allow more space.

Perhaps the Highway Code should be reworded to try and clarify what is a reasonable passing distance but any specific limit seems unwise because it very much depends on the circumstances. The ABD will respond to any public consultation on this issue if one appears.

In the meantime, it seems some Police Forces are using “Careless Driving” offences to try and enforce specific passing distances and are even offering “education courses” as an alternative to taking the points and fines. That is much the same way as they offer speed awareness courses which the ABD is campaigning against (see our AMPOW campaign at https://www.speed-awareness.org/ ). This is morally and legally dubious and should be strongly opposed.

Roger Lawson

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Quentin Wilson Savages Transport Policies in London

Taxi trade magazine Taxi Leaks have published a very good article by Quentin Wilson on the anti-car legacy of past and current Mayors. It starts by him saying: “To lay the blame for the quality of London’s air on passenger car drivers is a ponderous whopper of some magnitude. Every transport usage survey going tells us that car use in London has actually declined yet congestion and pollution has risen”. He’s certainly right on that point.

He also says “The capital’s road system didn’t become the snarling constipated and polluted ruin it is today without considerable help from politicians and legislators. What we’re now seeing (and breathing) are the unintended consequences of decades of deliberate anti-car policies” and he’s undoubtedly right on that too.

He rightly blames the mess we now have on inept politicians from “I hate cars” Ken Livingstone, through to the current Mayor Sadiq Khan whose latest Transport Strategy Proposals will make matters worse (see http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/against-mts.htm if you have not yet objected),

Quentin also attacks the Congestion Charge for being a poor tax in terms of the revenue it generates, although he accepts that the reason congestion has not improved as a result is from road space reallocation. But that is the excuse TfL give when in reality such schemes are basically ineffective because there is such an excess of unmet demand just waiting to fill up any space left by people deterred by the congestion charge.

Apart from that minor error, the article is a very good explanation of the defects in London’s traffic and transport policies over the last twenty years. The full article can be read here: http://taxileaks.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/london-anti-car-legacyby-quentin-willson.html

Roger Lawson

Party Manifestos and London

Yesterday (25/5/2017), UKIP published their General Election Manifesto. That completes the quartet of the main parties, so it seemed an opportune time to analyse and comment on them so far as they affect transport in London. That is of course the sole concern of this blog so any diversion into wider political issues will be avoided so far as is practical.

UKIP. Let’s start with UKIPs (subtitled “Britain Together”) as that contains more specifics than the other parties and has a separate Chapter on Transport. It suggests they would:

  • Scrap HS2 on the basis that it is unaffordable, will blight homes and will only save a few minutes on a London to Leeds trip.
  • End all road tolls on the basis that they are an unfair burden on the already highly taxed road user. That would presumably include scrapping the London Congestion Charge, the ULEZ and proposed tolls on the Dartford and Blackwall Crossings.
  • They oppose the proposed new Thames Crossing at Thurrock and would move it further east through Canvey Island.
  • They would encourage zero emission vehicles by providing more supporting infrastructure.
  • They would prevent diesel vehicle owners from being penalised through higher taxes and parking fines, but they support a diesel scrappage scheme and incentives for diesel vehicle owners to exchange them for electric or hybrid models.
  • They do not support the expansion of Heathrow Airport and would encourage the expansion of smaller regional airports (such as development of Manston in Kent).

In summary, it’s very much a “pro-motorist” transport agenda.

Another aspect of their manifesto is the commitment to “balance migration”, effectively reducing inward migration to zero over 5 years (and thereafter only a “one in, one out” policy as the media dubbed it). This would of course relieve the pressure in the longer term on the transport network (both road and rail), which suffers from major congestion in London mainly because of massive increases in passenger demand in recent years. 

Conservative & Unionist (“Forward Together”). This party’s manifesto is short on specifics, perhaps because their policies are very much a continuation of existing ones and because they seem to be relying more on the winning personality of Theresa May rather than vote winning policies. But there are a few comments on transport as follows:

  • They will continue to invest £40 billion in transport projects, including: a) HS2, b) Northern Powerhouse Rail, c) Expansion of Heathrow Airport, d) Development of the strategic road network including extra lanes on motorways.
  • They want almost every car and van to be zero emission by 2050, and will invest £600 million to achieve it by 2020.
  • Rail capacity will be increased (but the specifics are lacking).
  • More money to support cycle networks and cycle parking at railway stations will be provided. (How much? It does not say).

Yes that seems to be about it.

Labour (“For the Many, Not the Few”). As one might expect, the Labour Party has a strong commitment to invest more in infrastructure, communications and energy systems. That includes:

  • Completion of HS2 to Leeds/Manchester and then on to Scotland.
  • A new Brighton Main Line.
  • Build Crossrail 2 in London.
  • Bring the railways back into public ownership (i.e. renationalise them).
  • They will cap public transport fares, introduce free Wi-Fi across the rail network and stop driver-only operation of trains.
  • They will support investment in low emission vehicles.
  • On airport capacity in the South-East, they “welcome the work done by the Airports Commission” and don’t seem to rule out expansion of Heathrow if noise and air quality issues “can be addressed”.
  • They will “refocus” the roads building and maintenance programmes on “connecting communities” and “feeding public transport hubs”.
  • There will be a stronger focus on road safety improvement targets with “bold measures” to improve safety standards.

How some of this programme might be funded I will leave others to comment on.

Liberal Democrat (“Change Britain’s Future”). The Liberal Democrats focus on “clean air and green transport”. Specifics include:

  • Support for a diesel scrappage scheme and encouragement of the swift take-up of electric and driverless vehicles.
  • Extending Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZs) to ten more cities.
  • All PHVs and buses in urban areas to run on ultra low or zero emission fuels within 5 years.
  • Reform of vehicle taxation to encourage electric and low emission vehicles.
  • Establish Government run companies to take over Southern Rail and Govia Thameslink due to severe failings of existing franchisees.
  • Proceed with HS2, HS3 and Crossrail 2.
  • Support the takeover of metro services in London by London Overground.
  • They are opposed to expansion of Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick and want to improve regional airports.
  • Design cities as safe and attractive walking spaces.

To summarise therefore, all the parties support the promotion of zero emission (electric) vehicles. They all support more rail capacity in one form or another, but only UKIP would specifically cancel HS2. UKIP is “against” more things as one might expect from a populist protest party whereas the Conservatives have gone more for a “positive vision” with lots of the written equivalents of “sound-bites” using words such as “strong”, “stable” and “prosperous”. Actually interpreting what these fine words will mean in practice can be more difficult. The Labour and LibDem manifestos are very much in their traditional mode and hence might appeal more to their existing supporters than new ones. The impact of any party which might win the national election might be limited in London though as the Mayor is very much a dictator and can introduce his own policies and taxation (disguised as “charges”) to a great extent.

Perhaps it might be better to have a right-wind central Government to control the excesses of a left-leaning Mayor (look at some of the quite disastrous changes under Livingstone). But no doubt readers can all make their own minds up after reading the manifestos which are all available on the web.

Roger Lawson