A road safety question

February 5, 2012

Dear South Wales Police, Cardiff Council’s Road Safety Team and all residents of Cardiff

I am under the impression that cyclist lack acknowledgment as being a legitimate part of the traffic system. This could cause unconfident cyclists to be intimidated and confident cyclists to become arrogant. My impressions have been confirmed as you reported that many local residents raised concerns about cyclist riding on pavements and/or failing to obey red traffic lights.

In addition to this impression, I am starting to develop deep concerns about the polarisation between cyclists on the one hand and drivers and pedestrians on the other. This polarisation could manifest itself in two ways.

Firstly, the lack of awareness for each other’s road position. Businesses and motorist are systematically using cycle lanes and pavements as parking bays, pedestrians are often not expecting cyclists on shared facilities and cyclist thinking they have to ride in the car door zone, in the gutter (secondary position) or even in summer having to dress up as hi-vis Christmas trees.

Secondly, the lack of respect for each other’s road position. Motorists often dangerously overtake cyclists followed by cutting in sharply, the majority of pedestrians systematically ignoring red lights even during rush hour, a minority of outlaw cyclist ignoring red lights and highly skilled/equipped cyclist appearing more arrogant towards cars in order to reclaim their place on the road.
The Times Cities fit for cycling

This polarisation heads towards a culture where cycling is either not recognised as option for mobility, not being recognised as a legitimate activity, or being marginalised to a few minority groups. This is worrying, mainly for maintaining and improving road safety for all road users, but in addition to this, also for making Cardiff a more enjoyable and equitable city for all.

Despite all efforts to improve road safety for all road users, the Department of Transport most recent figures showed that killed and seriously injured (KSI) statistics for pedestrian, motorcycle and car users fell by between one and seven percent in the past year where as cyclist for the same period, however, increased by eight percent, including a four percent rise in the number killed.

These statistics feed my suspicion that the polarisation between cyclist and other road users is counter productive for cycle safety and I am hoping authorities can take action to counteract this trend. On the 25th of January, I was happy to find this leaflet attached to my bike outside Cardiff’s central library with a road safety message. In respect to my deep concerns for the increasing polarisation and decreasing road safety for cyclist, I was hoping to find an encouraging message, but instead read the following:

“In an effort to educate riders of the potential dangers they are creating for pedestrians and other road users, South Wales Police is working in partnership with Cardiff Council’s Road Safety Team to reduce the risk of a pedestrian, cyclist or other users being involved in a collision”

Genuine message? Read again and spot the nuance. This message stigmatises cyclist by hinting they need to be educated because they are the main source of danger on the road. Indeed cyclist can cause injury to other road users, but are you considering ‘a car’ as ‘the road user’? I challenge you to find a statistic that indicates a rider inflicted an injury to a driver. I applaud your attempt to stimulate cyclist to take training in order to gain confidence (further down the leaflet). But saying cyclist need education is failing to recognise that cyclists are legitimate road users.

Moreover, this leaflet highlights all the rules cyclist must or must not obey. I understand these rules are necessary to maintain road safety, however, there is a problem that cyclist cannot obey some of these rules in all cases. By, giving a few examples in the context of Cardiff, I hope to make you aware that there are systematic problems provoking cyclist to break the law.

Rule 64: You MUST NOT cycle on the Pavement.

Some roads are so daunting for cyclist that the pavement is the safer option. Roads with dual, triple or quadruple lanes without cycle facilities where the average speed is above 20mph can be very intimidating for cyclist. If these places are at the heart of Cardiff’s busy centre, it is inevitable that unintended law breaking behaviour is very visible to residents and tourists.

Single lanes with pinch points can also scare cyclist on the pavement. The illustration below is an example where most cyclist will choose the pavement. Where you see the bus, it is clear a cyclist can’t be overtaken. But its not uncommon drivers try to do so at the spot where the google picture is taken. I have found the guts to always take the primary position at this spot but this comes at the price that I am perceived as arrogant cyclist.

Rule 69 You MUST obey signs and traffic lights signals.

Due to improved infrastructure and the increase of dedicated signs for cyclist, cycle facilities in Cardiff are improving. But these improvements are very fragmented and in some cases miss any common sense. I have two examples for this.

The first example where obeying signs becomes absurd is the following. There are facilities in place to avoid the Gabalfa roundabout. But cycling further towards Caerphilly road, the signs will guide you onto the pavement in the opposite direction of a single direction, triple lane road. You can understand cyclist don’t like this. But if it is followed by a sign that makes an abrupt end to the cycle path, cyclist can’t see any logic in obeying signs like these. Moreover as you can see, drivers can not be aware of this and as a result this gives the public an impression that cyclist are law brakers.

Cyclist don’t question the importance of traffic lights, they are designed to allow flows of traffic to cross each other in a safe manner. Segregated cycle facilities are great because cyclist and/or pedestrians can cross each other without having to wait for lights. However, segregated cycle facilities need to link up with the road network. This second example illustrates that cyclist can’t go from the park into Corbett road. Since this google picture was taken, Cardiff Council have made many changes and created a connection to the main road, yet failed to provide cyclist nor pedestrians the option to enter Corbett road. The nearest crossing is 3 minutes walk from this point, one way. Hence many drivers might think crossing cyclist and pedestrians are red light jumpers, however their are no lights in place at all.

Rule 71 You MUST NOT cross the stop line when the traffic lights are red. Some junctions have an advanced stop line to enable you to wait and position yourself ahead of other traffic.

Because cyclist are mainly on the left side lanes, advanced cycle stops provide the opportunity to cut across multiple lanes before turning into a side road. The quadruple lane example mentioned before illustrates advanced cycle lanes are key in allowing cyclist to turn right. Its also great because it gives cyclist the possibility to breathe less polluted air. The following junction below is an example where the advanced cycle lane gives riders the possibility to wait whilst other traffic turns left. This junction is timed to have trafic turning in at the same time. You can imagine it is absolutely crucial for cyclist not crossing the line. But it’s not uncommon to find a car in this advanced cycle lane, note google also spotted the red car. An other aspect of being ahead of traffic is that you know when someone jumps a red light in front of you. Many advanced cycle lane users will be able to tell cars systematically speed up when lights flash amber and as result often jump red lights by split, yet crucial seconds. Jumping a red light on a bike is illegal and can be dangerous, jumping a red light using a motor vehicle is just as illegal but potentially causes a lot more death and injury.

I hope these few examples illustrate that following the cycling rules is not always possible for riders due to poor infrastructure, intimidating heavy traffic or some selfish drivers. Moreover, these unintended law-braking actions give cyclist a bad image. Road safety in Cardiff is everyone’s interest and responsibility. No pedestrian has been killed in collision with a cyclist either on the pavement or following a cyclist going through a red light in London in any of the last ten years. 54 pedestrians have been killed on the footway in collision with other vehicles in London over the last ten years. Cardiff is of total different size but you can see the trend. Based on this and the KSI figures, I have strong reasons to believe the residents’ concerns are based on perceived risk with a strong bias against something they don’t understand, i.e. cycling. I am concerned about this as this could results in inaccurate road safety assessment by pedestrians, cyclist, and motorist.

Cardiff Council has an obligation to facilitate local services such as traffic management and road safety. I know the council has a cycle strategy, did a cycle consultation and has a cycle officer appointed in order to improve cycle experiences in Cardiff. However, since you (South Wales Police, Cardiff Council’s Road Safety Team) distributed this road safety message, I am asking you directly what you are doing to improve cycle safety in Cardiff? I applaud your effort to crack down on outlaw cyclist and the attempt to encourage unconfident cyclist to take training. I am sure you are making more efforts to improve road safety in Cardiff. However is ‘educating’ cyclist the only effort you can make in reducing the risk of pedestrians, cyclist or other road users to be involved in a collision? Many drivers and pedestrians are unaware of cyclist or fail to anticipate to cyclists’ different road behaviour. A small group of drivers are intentionally ignorant to aknowledge cyclists’ rights to use public roads. So can you if your effort to improve road safety, on a regular basis, remind drivers they have obligations and responsibilities in sharing the roads with cyclists and pedestrians aswell.


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