Thursday, 23 June 2011

Lorries and cyclists, then and now

I have just been sent the following by LCC:
Dear fellow cyclist,
Thank you all for signing and supporting LCC’s biggest ever petition. Over 10,000 signatures were presented to London Assembly members on Wednesday 18 May 2011 at City Hall.
We are really pleased with this progress, however the campaign still has a way to go. LCC urgently needs more donations to keep up the pressure. We are pushing for “on bike” training for lorry drivers to be approved nationally. Then we can urge all 33 London councils to deliver it.
Since I had handy the October 2002 London Cyclist, as I referred to an article I wrote in it in this post, I was leafing through that. In it is an article Be alert to blind ignorance, headed with this preamble:
Matt Seaton explains why both cyclists and lorry drivers need educating about each other's road requirements and practices, and considers the effectiveness of awareness-raising initiatives
Yes. The effectiveness of "awareness-raising" initiatives is very much the point. For I expect in every year of publication of London Cyclist, down more than 30 years, one could have found a similar article calling for these "awareness-raising" initiatives to educate cyclists and lorry drivers about each other's needs. This is one problem, like so many others in the relationship of UK cyclists to other road-users, that just seems stubbornly insoluble, despite all the campaigns and initiatives. If anything, the problem is getting worse. Lorries still account for a majority of cyclist fatalities in London, and, as Futilitarian points out, there is statistically no evidence of any increase in safety through larger numbers of cyclists on London's streets in recent times. (I dealt with the "safety in numbers" theory in an earlier post).

Here is a list of the sub-headings in the 2002 article:
Three mirrors not enough
Putting the stats into context
New awareness camapign
But do the initiatives work?
A change of emphasis
What more can be done?
It's a well-written article, but it all seems so wearyingly familiar. Plus ça change, c'est la même chose.

Well, now LCC is calling for on-bike training to be given to lorry rivers by London councils. As I understand it, even if completely implemented, that scheme would only get the training to those drivers who work for the councils, and maybe to council contractors as well. So not to the majority of HGV drivers, and not to the statistically most dangerous drivers, those of tipper trucks, skip lorries and cement mixers. I don't think it will make much difference, to be quite honest.

And what about all this other awareness-raising, on the other side: campaigns to explain to cyclists what it is like to drive a lorry, by, for example, getting them to sit in the cab of one, on one of these cycle "event days" that proliferate at this time of year? How many cyclists can such exercises ever actually reach? And isn't this tending to put the onus on the cyclist to get out of all possibility of danger, letting drivers "off the hook", ignoring the fact that many lorry deaths are caused by dangerous overtaking manoeuvres that the cyclist is powerless to prevent? (This is what I suspect, though it is an unproveable assertion, as, in such cases, the cyclist is dead, and can't give an account of what happened.) Isn't it all too close to vicim-blaming? Danny (Cyclists in the City) clearly had similar thoughts while writing his post of Tuesday but didn't put them so explicitly. For the truth is, the only way that cyclists can avoid all possibility of being crushed under a recklessly-driven HGV is to leave their bike in the garage and choose another method of transport. No amount of training and "awareness-raising" will protect cyclists from some combinations of hazards.

"Awareness-raising" is one of the great rallying-cries of what I called in a previous post "the environment-issue avoidance industry" that is much of British cycle promotion and campaigning. My question is:
Isn't this all part of a wrong approach, a demonstrably, over time, failed approach, putting all the emphasis on trying to get behavioural change though education, either of cyclists or of drivers, against all evidence that it just doesn't work?

That brilliant servant of the public health agenda, Dr Ian Roberts, of London's School of Hygene and Tropical Medicine, had this to say about road safety education and awareness-raising in a slightly different, but related, context, that of road safety in the Third World:
The problem for public health is that the safety policies the car lobby promotes are not particularly effective in preventing injury.
Their favourite policy is road safety education. Despite decades of evaluation research, safety education has never been shown to reduce road injury rates, a point emphasized by the WHO in the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention. Road user education is favoured by the car lobby because it places the responsibility for road traffic injury squarely on the victim and has no impact on industry profits. Its primary purpose is ideological. It sends the message that road space belongs to drivers, and that pedestrians and cyclists must look out or die. This also applies to children, who account for 300,000 of the 1.2 million road deaths each year.
Awareness campaigns are another favourite. The [Global Road Safety] Commission is currently promoting the ‘Think Before You Drive’ campaign, supported by the Bridgestone Corporation, which reminds drivers to use child seats and seatbelts and to check their tyres. Sensible suggestions though they may be, such exhortations have no discernable effect on road safety. On the other hand, the campaign may improve Bridgestone's corporate image.
So, to return to lorries on the streets of the UK, and their interaction with cyclists, what else can be done, apart from education and awareness-raising? Well, we could start looking seriously at the infrastructure and planning. We could learn from counties that do this better (for example, The Netherlands, which has the best road safety record in the world). We could start to end the situation where cyclists are forced to share road space with big lorries because they have absolutely no alternative. We could put in place more advanced, safer junction designs where cyclists have separate phases and are not mixed up with HGVs doing turning manoeuvres in tight corners. We could take out lethal, cyclist-trapping guardrailing at junctions. We could restrict the movements of large lorries in our cities more, and enforce those restrictions rigourously, though technology. We could put in place schemes on a town and city basis for distributing goods in dense urban areas using the most appropriate vehicles for the purpose, co-ordinating deliveries between businesses, and putting them at times when they will pose least risk to cyclists and pedestrians.

Now this is all a bit more complicated than organising an event where cyclists are asked to get into the cab of a lorry. It takes more organisation, political will, money, planning, and time. And there will be those who will say, "Yes, but the infrastructure and planing changes take decades to make a difference, surely we should be doing now all that we can through education to reduce the number of these incidents in the short term?" The answer is that this is what we have been doing, for decades. simultneously with not making the changes that could, by and large, solve the problem for good. Might that be because campaigners have not lobbied consistently or hard enough for those changes, because they have been so distracted by the awareness-raising agenda?

Cyclists keep dying under lorries. How long before we change tack?

1 comment:

  1. I will say this again, the problem with speed limits, education and "soft measures" is this: it only takes one who disobeys to kill a cyclist. The solution is, as you said it, to remove the danger from the cyclists path (not remove the cyclist from the dangers path mind you).