Friday, 14 April 2017

A question of perception: some thoughts on the Michael Mason case

(Disclaimer: I am in no way connected with this case, except that my partner was a Trustee of the Cyclists Defence Fund, the charity that took this case to court.)

Michael Mason was a lifelong cyclist who was cycling up Regent Street in Central London on 25 February 2014 when he was given fatal injuries through being struck from behind by a car travelling at speed. I wrote two years ago, after a vigil had been held at the site of the collision, and the Metropolitan Police had refused to initiate any legal proceedings agains the driver, that:
If this is allowed to stand without further legal or political challenge, the position seems to be that any good and responsible cyclist cycling in every way within the law can just expect to be be killed by a driver running them over from behind, there need be no rational explanation of the incident, and the driver may just walk away from such a killing with no legal procedure following and a blameless record. The implications are quite horrific for all who cycle on our roads.
As I anticipated then, a rare private prosecution subsequently took place, funded by donations to the Cyclists Defence Fund (CDF). And, as I acknowledged might happen, the jury did take the same view as the police, who did not want to prosecute this case, and acquitted the driver of the charge of causing death by careless driving.

The vigil at the site of the killing of Michael Mason in 2015
Nevertheless, I am absolutely certain that this case should have been brought to court. The CDF doing this brought to light a mass of evidence that was not available when I wrote in 2015. This eye-opening evidence would not have come to light otherwise. It is described in Duncan Dollimore's long blog post for Cycling UK, and this is essential reading as background to the rest of what I write here, or certainly the first nine sections of it (down to the heading There to be seen).

I'm going to set aside here any deficiencies in the police investigation of the case, which may be regarded as serious, and just base what I write on that report of what happened in court, on the evidence that was gathered and presented to the jury. In doing this, I am assuming that the account referenced is a fair, accurate and complete one, as I was not present in court. It is, admittedly, difficult to separate the court case from the administrative cock-up that preceded it. The jury may well have been influenced by knowledge that the police had not wanted the case to go to court, though, as Dollimore's account makes clear, the judge was of the opinion that it was a case that should be tried.

The key points that came to light, it seems to me, are that:

  • Michael Mason, cycling at night with lights and reflectors in a brightly-lit Regent Street, pulled out into the right-hand lane to overtake a stopping bus (as cyclists have to do constantly in UK towns and cities)
  • After he did that he was hit squarely from behind by Gail Purcell's (the defendant's) car, so hard that he was thrown into the air, a large dent was made in the front right-hand bonnet of the car, and he subsequently died from head injuries.
  • Purcell claimed never to have seen him, though she said she heard an impact
  • Purcell did not stop until made to do so by a witness who ran after her and caught her at traffic lights.

These are my reflections:

'Seeing' is an internal fact of a person's consciousness, a product of eye, brain and mind (if these are considered separate entities). No-one other than Gail Purcell can really know whether she saw Michael Mason on his bike before or during the collision, or whether she saw anything that might indicate to her she had been involved in a collision. Whether she saw anything or not is fundamentally unprovable in a court case. I daresay the jury took this view, and acquitted her, choosing to believe her account that she did not see anything, or to give her the benefit of the doubt, given that it could never be proved whether or not she was telling the truth about what she saw. They may even have considered that the fact that she did not stop after the crash tended to corroborate the view that she was telling the truth in claiming not to have seen anything. (An alternative interpretation, of course, is that she was aware of what had happened, and was fleeing the scene.)

However, that a driver should remain on the road when their perception of what is going on around them has been, on one tragic occasion, and could be again, so appallingly inadequate as to allow them to kill a human being right in front of their car who should have been plainly visible, that they should remain on the road, driving, with no sanction, is deeply worrying. Can driving with such deficient awareness be regarded as, by definition, 'careless' driving in the meaning of the law? This jury, and juries in many other comparable cases, have answered this question: 'no'. But are they competent to make this judgement, and where does that leave the protection of vulnerable road users?

I'm no fan of jury trials in general, not just in road traffic cases, but in normal criminal cases. I've been on a few juries, and not been impressed with how the system works. I don't think the British 'trial by jury' system leads to an honest, dispassionate search for the truth. I think jury trials tend to be a kind of costumed masque, a theatrical put-on, where a selection of the general public somewhat selected for their lower than average educational or professional attainments are attempted to be cajoled, or tricked, by slick professional actors into believing stories that are not true, or into believing that true accounts are a pack of lies. The side with the better, more convincing actors has a good chance of winning, whether it is in the right or not.

Juries are not a cross-section of the population. Too many people are able to get out of serving on juries, one way and another, and they tend to be the more intelligent part of the population. Anyone connected with the justice system or the police is barred from being on a jury, as are teachers, doctors and members of the armed forces: together, a very significant slice of the higher-attaining segment of the population. Other professionals seem to be able to argue easily they have responsibilities that absolve them from the duty. Others just refuse to go, and nothing seems to happen to them. So juries tend to be composed mostly of lower-skilled employees, housewives and tradespeople.

In cases of cycling deaths caused by bad driving, this is a particularly problematic situation. It amounts to a motorist being tried by other motorists, by, most likely, rat-running school-run mothers and white van men, who probably do believe that cyclists should not really be on the road, and are responsible for the perilous position in which they put themselves. Such jurors likely put themselves in the position of the driver who, though an 'understandable' lapse of attention, has managed to do fatal damage. Drivers who never cycle just perceive the situation on the roads in a very different way to people who do cycle on the roads, those who do cycle on the roads are a small minority of the population, and it really looks like this affects justice in cases of cycle fatalities. As Mark Treasure has pointed out, of 276 drivers involved in fatal cycling collisions between 2007-14, only 80 received a disqualification. 71% were left free to carry on driving. Just imagine it if all cases of personal harm occurring in the course of robberies were tried by juries of thieves. They would obviously tend to let the defendants off, sympathising with them, feeling that 'Theft is just a thing that you do, a way of making a living, and sometimes thing go wrong, and people get hurt, but we can't help that'. This is the tendency in cases of cycling death.

Clearly mine is a deeply cynical view, but I am supported in the idea that in these cases jury trials are not the best way to get justice by Martin Porter QC, who writes with an inside-knowledge of the system (and a background of course as a cyclist, with involvement in many cases of death and injury to cyclists):
Often these juries acquit after less than an hour of deliberation, even when the evidence against the driver seems very strong. 
Why? One reason appears to be that driving offences seem far more likely than other serious crimes to invoke empathy and compassion from a jury. “There but for the grace of God go I” is not a thought likely to cross many jurors’ minds with murder, rape, terrorism or knife crime. But surveys show that a majority of drivers admit to breaking speed limits, and almost all can probably remember a lapse in concentration or worse when in a car.
The jury in the Michel Mason case took only 17 minutes to reach their 'Not Guilty' verdict.

I can't know what the family of Michael Mason have gone through; I have no connection with them. Nothing will bring Michel Mason back, and nothing will bring back all the other cyclists, pedestrians, drivers and car passengers killed by bad, inattentive drivers. I have no great interest in seeing severe punishment of grossly incompetent drivers like Gail Purcell (though I think removing their licences permanently when they kill would be appropriate): what I do have a great interest in is in moving to a situation, where, one way or another, they don't have such common opportunity to kill me when I am on my bike.

I'm not so naive as to believe any campaigning by cycling or road victims' organisations is likely to get the time-honoured British system of trial by jury changed. I also believe general social attitudes to these questions are very unlikely to change in the short-term (by which I mean in my lifetime). Given when sociologists call the 'normative' character of driving in our society, and the likelihood of cycling continuing to be somewhat 'deviant', democracy is never going to be on my side. I therefore tend to attack the problem from a different direction, as readers of this blog will by now know. I want cyclists out of harm's way. We shouldn't have to constantly do the manoeuvre on busy, dangerous streets that Michael Mason was doing when he was killed, pulling out into the path of drivers who may well be so deficient in their perception of their environment that they fail to see us, and they kill us. There are better systems.

A better system, under construction in Enfield (Photo: Brian Deegan)
A bretter system, under construction in Brent (My photo)
A better system, in use in Lambeth (My photo)
The part of Regent Street on which Michael Mason was killed is but yards from the junction where the current design for Cycle Superhighway 11 would terminate its segregated cycling provision, like that shown above, were that scheme to be built. That scheme is currently one of the many cycling schemes put on hold by Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, over the last year, where construction could already have started. If CS11 were to be built according to current plans, of course it would then be highly desirable, and eminently possible, for it to be extended from Portland Place all the way down Regent Street.

My jury is still out on Sadiq Khan and his Cycling and Walking Commissioner Will Norman. If their lengthy period of stasis on new cycle schemes is being used to gestate a grand new strategy of cycle infrastructure provision that will allow the Mayor to spend effectively the substantial sum he has promised to cycling, then the wait will have been worth it. If, however, their delay is due to political timidity, as Andrew Gilligan seems to suspect, then their honeymoon period will soon have run out, and campaigners will have to start shouting loud against them. Recall that by the same stage in the last mayoralty, Gilligan, as Cycling Commissioner, had already announced a visionary programme. And still there had to be a rush of work in the last year of the Johnson mayoralty to ensure a reasonable amount was built (a rush that Khan seems to frequently criticise as 'disruptive'). I'm not attacking Khan, I'm simply looking at the calendar. It's looking increasingly improbable that he will be able to deliver on his promise of tripling the length of segregated Cycle Superhighways in his term, or even come close.

In one of my most popular (or notorious) posts in this blog, Cycling is dangerous, I wrote the following paragraph, which, six years on, and after quite a lot of positive developments for cycling in London, I still feel has much relevance:
People who get on bikes in traffic quickly realise they have no protection other than their own physical capabilities and wits. They discover that they are totally on their own. Nobody and nothing will protect them, not the Highway Code, not the police, not the Crown Prosecution Service, not the courts. And the roads are often designed to make things as dangerous as possible for them. This utterly uncontrolled, socially anomalous danger of cycling is what makes it unique as a legal activity. Being a pedestrian can sometimes have a similar character, but not for so long, as pedestrians are mostly segregated from traffic. Cycling, for a normal activity, that we would hope would be an everyday one, as opposed to a special one like mountaineering or skydiving, is tolerated by our society as uniquely dangerous.
As seeing is an internal, personal perception, which cannot be proved or disproved, by anyone else, so is the subjective feeling of safety or danger. I started this post by referencing Duncan Dollimore's article on the Cycling UK website. How did reading that yesterday make me feel when I went out on my bike today, on my regular journey on one of London's major roads, the A5, which has all the hazards a major UK urban road can have? It made me more worried about my safety, about cycling. I found myself checking my mirror even more than usual (and I usually do it a lot), wondering, as I pulled out into the outside lane to overtake parked cars or stopped buses, as I must, if that motorist behind me is that one in million who has my number, that one whose perception of what is on the road in front of them, in plain view, is so appallingly deficient that they might just continue on the same course and at the same speed to kill me.

That was just my perception, but perceptions matter.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

A meeting with Will Norman and Val Shawcross

It is nearly ten months since Sadiq Khan won the London mayoral election for Labour, defeating the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith. As readers are likely to know, he promised to meet the demands of the London Cycling Campaign, most importantly including building more cycle Superhighways to triple the provision of segregated space on London's roads in four years, and extending the mini-Holland programme to every borough. Since then, it's all been very quiet. There was no immediate replacement for the last Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, and, other than an announcement that the (largely back-steet and non-segregated) extension of Superhighway 6 towards St Pancras planned under Gilligan would go ahead, there have been no announcements of any definite new plans for cycling. A new bridge across the Thames from Wapping to Rotherhithe, promised by Khan during the campaign, has been mentioned by him often (along with pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, the effects of which on cycling cannot yet be predicted), but other than that, cycling affairs seem to have been in deep-freeze. Of the other two Superhighway schemes consulted on just before the election, there have been non-commital statements on CS11 to Swiss Cottage, which received public approval in the consultation and so is a scheme that was 'ready to go', while the plans for CS 10, the extension to the East-West Superhighway from Lancaster Gate to West London have vanished without trace, with not even any report on the consultation ever published.

Missing in action, presumed dead: the plans for the westwards extension of the East-West Cycle Superhighway
I've refrained from commenting on this hiatus, as the new Mayor needed time to get his feet under the desk, select his team and come up with his own strategy after assessing the results of what the last mayor had done. However, it has been deeply frustrating seeing such a successful programme apparently grind to a halt. Even the work that needed to be completed on CS 3, the East-West Superhighway from Parliament Square to Westbourne Grove that was already programmed, seemed to be taking for ever, with nothing new definitely in the pipeline. The Mayor announced a £770m budget for cycling for the next five years, but how could this possibly be spent?

So we had finally a development last week, when the new Walking and Cycling Commissioner, Will Norman, took up his post, having been appointed in November, and started making public pronouncements. When Andrew Gilligan became the first Cycling Commissioner in 2013, his views  were already quite well known to cycling campaigners due to his press articles, and he had also met many of us and asked our opinions before taking up the job. Not so with Will Norman, who came on this scene as a totally unknown quantity. No-one I have met had ever heard of him before he was given the job. We were told by the Mayor that:
Will specialises in increasing levels of physical activity and participation in sports around the world, working with a range of international organisations... [including the] UN, European Parliament, G8, World Health Organisation and International Olympic Committee... 
Will, who cycles every day in London, has a strong background of working with private and public partnerships, and a wealth of experience in getting people from a wide range of backgrounds active. Before joining Nike in 2013, Will set up a successful social research consultancy and was also Director of Research at The Young Foundation, where he was responsible for delivering multi-million pound European programmes and established a youth leadership organisation... 
At Nike, Will has spearheaded a programme to make physical activity a global policy priority... Among his work has been a partnership with UNESCO and the German Development Agency GIZ to successfully reform physical education in South Africa, bringing activity and sports to thousands of primary school children for the first time since the 1990s.
Others who had applied for the job had been leaders in local government, campaigners, journalists, architects, planners and engineers. The choice of Will Norman was a surprising one, given a slight nebulosity of his connection to the subject in hand, that is, as I would characterise it, physically planning better walking and cycling conditions in London, and working politically to put such plans though the labyrinth of relevant controlling bodies. Still, Andrew Gilligan was perhaps no more obviously fitted to the role when he started, and yet he did achieve quite a lot.

So we were all very excited to hear that, soon after being appointed, Will would speak to a meeting at which we could attend and ask questions. Even better, he would do so with Val Shawcross, the Deputy Mayor for Transport. The meeting was part of the Street Talks programme, started by Bruce McVean and colleagues in a Holborn pub, and later taken over by Sustrans London. It took place last Wednesday at Look Mum, No Hands café. It was completely booked out, and I am sure a much larger venue could have been filled, such was the level of interest. Virtually everyone known for their interest in cycling in London was there, including Andrew Gilligan, the last commissioner, and another transport expert who many thought might get the Commissioner job, Christian Wolmar.

Such was the high level of interest in this meeting people were queueing in the street.
In a packed Look Mum, No Hands
It was apparent really from the start of this meeting there was something of a mismatch between what Shawcross and Norman had come prepared to tell their audience, and the sort of information the audience wanted. The audience was a group of campaigners for walking and cycling. There was no need to explain to them the myriad social, economic and health benefits of getting more walking and cycling in cities. They had also mostly heard the vague talk of 'Healthy Streets' emanating recently from Transport for London spokespeople, and probably seen the cheerful-looking slides before. They wanted details. They wanted to know what this administration would actually do on the ground. They wanted to know why key projects the last Mayor had proposed, CS 10 and CS 11, were stalled, and what would come next. They wanted to know how the new mini-Holland programme (re-christened 'Heathy Town Centres') would look, and be rolled out, and what would happen to the largely failed Quietways programme. They did not get this information, and there was an increasing level of frustration palpable at being given 'motherhood and apple pie' recipes for the healthy city of the future. As Mark Treasure tweeted about 30 minutes into the meeting:
So far I've learned that cycling and walking is healthy and it would be good if more people walked and cycled #streettalks
The Healthy Streets slide you've probably seen before
The chair seemed to believe there would be some sort of debate in the room about the basic desirability of changing the city to enable higher levels of cycling and walking, which showed how out-of-place he was. (Apparently he was an employee of 'The Prince's Trust, whatever that is). It may be worth recalling that the first time Andrew Gilligan had addressed the public after his appointment, he already had a quite specific 'Vision' document he had written with the Mayor to show campaigners, and he was announcing brand-new and highly-ambitious schemes, such as 'Crossrail for the Bike' (which became CS3, and got built), a 'Bike Grid for Central London' (which did not really happen), better Superhighways (which happened at CS3, CS5 and CS6, but not CS1), a 'Jubilee Line Route' from the West End to Wembley (which did not happen), and 'Mini-Hollands in the suburbs" – three of which happened, though only one of which, the Waltham Forest one, is yet really impressive. So compared to all this promise in 2013, the Shawcross-Norman act at Look Mum, No Hands in 2017 was insubstantial indeed.

I asked Will Norman for some details. What schemes would he be bringing forward first? He said he wouldn't make announcements on the programme, as the was going to be a process of analysing where the most demand was in order to prioritise the next phase of cycle network development. He was prepared to say that CS 4 and CS 9 would be consulted on this year. This means that construction on those could begin in 2018. (It is widely believed that CS 9, an East-West Superhighway running through Houslow and Ealing, and Hammersmith & Fulham, will just have to stop at the boundary of Kensington & Chelsea, as the Royal Borough won't allow Cycle Superhighways on its streets.)

The sharpest interest from the audience was on the future of CS 11 and its proposed associated part-time gate closures at Regent's Park. A question on this received the reply from Val Shawcross that Regent's Park was a dangerous place for pedestrians, and so the solution for the Superhighway needed to take this into account. So, you would have thought, she would be jumping at the opportunity to remove rush-hour through-traffic from the park by selectively closing gates. But, no, bafflingly, she uttered these words:
Gate closures will happen if that's what we need to do, but we are looking at alternatives for a safer park.
What could that possibly mean? It seemed that she was considering a segregated track for cyclists. Now, I am one of the world's leading supporters of segregated cycle tracks, as the whole of this blog testifies, but I can't really see how one on the Outer Circle of Regent's Park would solve the problems there. It might reduce traffic speeds slightly, by restricting space for motor traffic, but it would not reduce traffic volume in the park as closing gates selectively would. Of itself it would not facilitate pedestrians crossing the roads. It would not provide the space that the sports cyclists need for their circuits; it would be a disaster for them, as they would be squeezed on to the narrowed road space. The only way to make a track wide enough to cater for utility, commuting and sports cyclists of all types would be to make it the width of the whole road (minus the car parking) – in other words, to go back to the idea of having an unsegregated road, with no through motor traffic on it.

The consulted plan for CS 11 with the proposed part-time gate-closures
No-one campaigning for the implementation of CS 11 wants a cycle track solution in the park. The suggestion of it by Shawcross now might even be seen as a cynical attempt to split the pro-CS 11 lobby by driving a wedge between the utility cyclists, who would benefit from the track, and the sports cyclists, who would disbenefit. A track would do nothing for the pollution levels in the park, which would continue to be a taxi rat-run. Without the closure of Macclesfield Gate, there will still be too much traffic on Avenue Road between Swiss Cottage and the park for it to act as a safe or inclusive Cycle Superhighway. The whole scheme will be ruined. A cycle track on the Outer Circle is a non-starter. Why is Shawcross raising this possibility at all? Why not just get on with the already consulted plan? It makes no sense to say that the safety of park users is a top priority, and then keep the Outer Circle open as a rush-hour rat-run.

Other questions came on development issues such as the Olympic Park, where the cycle infrastructure built on this blank slate site has been highly disappointing, and Old Oak Common, which is another stalled mayoral development project. Again there were no details forthcoming. I don't suppose Norman has had time to look at any of this yet, so it is not surprising. But what I might have expected, reasonably, I think, from him and Shawcross was some more strategic indication of where they would be going in relationship to how cycling had been left by the last administration. What did they think of the facilities that have been built? What did they think had worked, what had failed, and why? What should be improved, what, specifically, are the next steps in making 'London a by-word for cycling', as Sadiq Khan has promised? We really didn't get this. We did get a statement from Shawcross that the Santander hire scheme (AKA Boris Bikes) would not be expanded, as it is too expensive to do so. We didn't get any commitment to review the rather modest target of achieving 1.5 million cycle journeys a day by 2021.

There were some stranger thing in the meeting. One questioner referred to the high-pollution days we have been experiencing in London, and asked, 'Rather than tell people not to go out and take exercise, why can't you tell people not to drive instead?' All the audience understood what this was about, having seen tweets along these lines from TfL, and applauded the question. But Shawcross bizarrely misunderstood, despite lots of people trying to should out to explain it to her. This was a question about messaging, but she interpreted as a question about closing roads locally, or more widely, for 'car free days'. She seemed to be quite against these, cv claiming that 'the science is not behind' trying to reduce pollution by closing roads. There was a ruckus. There was more disbelief in the audience when it transpired that the Chair didn't know what mini-hollands were. It was like being at a debate on medical ethics where the chair had never heard of stem cell research, or something like that.

Shawcross and Norman merely putting to the meeting a broad view on making streets better for cycling and walking, without any firm proposals for particular locations, might have been seen as fair enough, except that the problem was (and I have Shawcross more in my sights here than Norman, as she has been in post for much longer, and is an experienced politician) that they were talking as if they were starting from nothing, as if the last administration had not also had strategy on these things, and had not done quite a bit of good. They were not acknowledging this. They were talking as if an active travel agenda had to be created for the first time ever, and not as if the main issues had been gone into already, and many problems found, particularly with realising such a vision with the fragmentation of authority between the Mayor, the boroughs, the Corporation, the Royal Parks, the Canal and River Trust, other bodies, and opposition from powerful versed groups. They were not telling us how they hoped the new administration might overcome issues that the old one could not, such as the blockages caused by the critically-placed anti-cycling councils in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea.

I had already asked Val Shawcross about CS10, the extension west of the E-W Superhighway, at a meeting last year. She had said then that TfL were 'looking at different options to decide a way forward'. We all know however there are no options other than the plan which was consulted on, to create a cycle track on the elevated Westway, as all the other roads west out of central London are, at least in part, controlled by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. We got no more information on this, leading one to suspect she  and TfL have no more clue about it. The Superhighway has now been built as far as Westbourne Terrace. This is where it was meant to join the Westway. It is now just going to end at the huge, awful junction of the A40 and Harrow Road, where cyclists will have n-where further to go. I am genuinely fearful about this. The Superhighway from the parks will attract many hire-bikes and tourists, who will end up at this point and be abandoned. I really fear bad things will happen at the end of the Superhighway at Westbourne Terrace. Coming up with no solution here is a dereliction of duty on the part of Sadiq Khan and Val Shawcross.
The existing plan for CS3 and CS10, the E-W Superhighway. It now ends in Westbourne Terrace
Nice new cycle tracks in Hyde Park will now deliver cyclists like this... here, Westbourne Bridge, where the Superhighway should have gone on to the flyover, but now will just run out.
Will Norman, from my first brief engagement with him, came across as personable and able to talk to a crowd. He seemed like a nice guy, but I wonder if he knows what he's got himself into. I am worried he could become a fall-guy, the person angry meetings, of similar composition to the meeting at Look Mum, No Hands, shout at over the next three years at as the Mayor fails to deliver on his cycling promises, but who lacks the influence or political heft to do anything about it. The huge advantage that Andrew Gilligan had was that Boris Johnson did back him, and never undermined him, never put him out front to take the flack for decisions he wan't responsible for.

The Heathy Streets agenda that Shawcross and Norman were promoting sounds good in theory, but how will it collide with the political reality of the opposition they will get to any attempts at reallocating space on the roads or changing the functions of roads, demonstrated so clearly by the totally unreasonable opposition to CS 11 and the Regent's Park gate closures, and the numerous failed Quietway schemes around London, where councils didn't believe their residents would support the closing of streets to through motor traffic? It sounds as if the Healthy Streets initiative could easily descend into a programme of uncontroversial prettification. We could easily get the benches, more trees, nice paving, a few extra crossings, and no reduction in motor traffic, and no more high-quality space for cycling. Sadiq Khan has made a much bigger 'thing' than his predecessor of tacking the life-threatening air pollution we suffer from in London, in his speeches, at least. But what has he actually announced after 10 months in the job? He has announced a higher rate of congestion charge on a rather small number of the most polluting cars entering the very small area of the central charging zone. The response so far has not been in proportion to the problem, or the rhetoric, and Shawcross's comments on the undesirability of closing roads as 'Not supported by science' indicates such 'big talking' coupled with political timidity is likely to be the pattern for this administration.

The Quietway routes promised three years ago: only Waterloo to Greenwich has happened in any meaningful sense.
A change from the previous Mayor's policies would be, Shawcross told us at the Look Mum, No Hands meeting, that there would henceforth be a 'hierarchy' of consideration for the streets. Pedestrians would be at the top of this, followed by people on bikes, followed by bus users, followed by taxi users, with private motorists last. I'm afraid I'm not impressed with this talk. I've been listening for a quarter of a century to statements along the line of 'It is the policy of the London borough of Brokenham to priorities the need to pedestrians and cyclists above those of motor traffic'. These empty 'hierarchy' promises are easy to make to rooms full of active travel experts and enthusiasts, and always have been, they but don't often translate into reality in terms of space and junction time allocated on the streets for pedestrians and cyclists. They don't prevent you having to press a button and then wait two minutes before you can cross the road, and they don't prevent cycle lanes being ruled impossible due to a 'need' for parking. In practice, for nearly every real decision about priorities on the streets taken in authorities which have these stated hierarchies, the hierarchy, when it meets other, sharper political realities, suddenly gives way to a need to 'take into account and balance the needs of all road-users'.

I am told, and someone can correct me if it is not true, that there is a room in Transport for London's headquarters (or maybe in City Hall), somewhere at the top of the building, were there are lots of screens and lots of controls. This is the traffic control neve-centre for London. For TfL controlled roads, operators are monitoring traffic and queues, and they are trying to optimise traffic flow. This means the flow of motor traffic, not the flow or pedestrians or cyclists. They are making adjustments to signal timing all the time to try to keep the motor traffic flowing. They are reducing timings for pedestrian crossings where they feel it is necessary to reduce queues of motor traffic. They are explicitly prioritising cars over people. If all this is true, then I expect Shawcross and Norman to go to these people, and tell them, in future, they are going to have to do something different. If they don't, or can't, I am afraid I think we are being told fairy stories about this Mayor's approach to transport.