Sunday, 18 June 2017

Risk

People are poor judges of risk. This is being played out in the media following the horrific events they have been playing out to us over the last few weeks.

We've had terrorist attacks in Manchester and London; and then Grenfell Tower Fire this week. Before I carry on, I must acknowledge recognise the enormity of the situations. We have had many people killed and the lives of their families and friends changed forever. With that pause for reflection, I must set emotion to one side and look at how we treat risk.

With the vehicle attacks, the perpetrators chose a very visible and every day way in which to commence their attacks and so the reaction of deploying barriers on bridges across the Thames seems like a reasonable response from preventing it happening again. In fact what has happened is that in particular, people cycling have been adversely impacted every time they cross the bridges - either on cycle tracks getting pinched at control points or by exposure to motor traffic where they cannot escape onto the footway (plus some people will have switched from tracks to road as well).

For people walking, they are also inconvenienced at the pinch points. This happens every time someone crosses the bridges on cycle or foot now. The photos below by Danny Williams and Natalia Marczewska show the situation this has caused at Blackfriars Bridge.



The use of truck-resisting bollards can be seen around government buildings and transport interchanges and I have covered this before, but essentially we again cause problems for every day travel and this disproportionately affects those with visual and mobility impairment. For example, look at this crossing outside the Department for Transport;


If there is real concern about vehicle-based terrorism, then perhaps the answer is to filter the streets to protect more than just the people inside the building rather than impact people every time they use the crossing; or redesign in such a way that drivers physically cannot gain any speed. Of course, we cannot design out acts perpetrated on-street by people on foot which seems to be a little bit of an elephant in the room.

We still manage to kill and injure over 180,000 people on our UK roads each year, not to mention those dying from transport-related air pollution and inactivity from not using or being enabled to use active travel modes. Apart from professionals, campaigners and those affected, we don't get much of an outcry into this scandal. We don't see interim measures being deployed quickly to protect people, we don't see calls to reduce and remove motor traffic from town and city centres. The comparison between a vehicle-based terror attach and every day life could not be starker, even though the latter is more likely to affect you statistically.

In Manchester, the attack was starkly different. The perpetrator set off a bomb he had attached to himself inside the foyer of Manchester Arena. At the point of attack, it's only going to be security personnel who can stop or reduce the impact and so in reaction (at the venue) it will be more searches of bags, metal detectors, body scanners - airport style security in fact. There has been some criticism of the security at the Arena. Perhaps tighter security at visitor attractions is just part of the price to pay - of course, access to buildings is orders of magnitude easier to control and protect than public streets.

Then we have the fire. It's still under investigation, but all of the expert opinion I have read pretty much agrees that the fire should not have spread like it did and many are pointing to similar fires in response to which very little has been done. In fact, the Government has been criticised for a go slow on a building regulations review. Much of the non-expert option is telling us to wait to see what happened and not to jump to conclusions. Frankly, this is making those caught up in the tragedy even more upset and angry.

So what does this all have to do with risk? Fires and crashes can be investigated and causes found (either conclusively or evidence-based speculatively). It is possible to change designs or the design approach to deal with the potential risks; and measures which protect the most people are the best to invest in. Terrorism is much harder to deal with from a design point of view because frankly, there are so many ways to hurt lots of people. The trouble is that terrorism is headline grabbing and so the calls to do something are louder despite individual risk being infinitesimal. By the time anyone tries to bring reason, the media are onto the next thing.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Real Wipeout 2097 Is Rather More Sedate

There's a cheeky little traffic-free path which has been recently opened in Lewisham which wasn't actually a walking or cycling project. Oh yes, and it has a passing resemblance to a 20 year old computer game!

Bolina Road used to be a narrow and dingy cut-through which closed in 2013 to enable a major piece of civil engineering to take place to create a new railway junction on the approach to London Bridge Station in order to remove a bottleneck. Working with Lewisham Council, the opportunity was taken to rework the street passing under the railway to hugely improve the environment. More details are available on Network Rail's website.

The road was recently reopened to just people walking and cycling and the result is awesome. The new path is shared-use (because it narrows at an old tunnel), but it is plenty wide enough. The new bridges carrying the railways are clean, modern and functional, but they really help create a futuristic atmosphere; especially where they are lit with broody blue LEDs.

There is proper street lighting in place and the main route through the street has been machine laid with buff asphalt to really make the use of light and reflection. At night, it may well feel a little lonely, but that's a product of circumstance rather than design which has sought to open up clear views and minimise hiding places. 

The route connects the residential area of Silwood Street and beyond with the area to the front of The Den, Millwall's ground (if you're that way inclined). If you are travelling south, just as you complete passing under the various tunnels, a ramp to the left takes you up onto the Millwall Path which is part of Quietway 1 and so this is a very useful transport link (it really needs some decent wayfinding though).

Anyway, I'll let some photographs do the rest of the talking!














Finally, I'll leave you with a little video;



Saturday, 3 June 2017

Where Does Tiptoeing Get Us?

It's a scalable question I guess, but in applying it to streets for people I think it is something we should ask ourselves on a regular basis.

As we move into summer we see plenty of campaigns to "encourage" people to walk and cycle. We might have a week of action, a special day, a distance or step challenge - you know the sort of thing. This type of activity is part of what are otherwise known as "soft" measures. They don't cost a great deal to lay on, but nor do they address the structural issue with how our streets are designed, built and managed. 

I wonder why walking and cycling get this type of approach as we don't seem to have "bus to work week", "how many miles can you drive day" or "train on Tuesday". Walking has been taken for granted to a certain extent given that in urban areas at least, we have dense walking networks. Cycling has been forgotten for decades in all but a few places and so I guess people don't know where to start with getting it to be a normal and accepted travel mode. What works - encouragement or building the stuff which is proven to be effective the planet over?

What about the politically feeble concept of "balancing the needs of all road users"? I suppose the use of "road" is telling; those using the term generally mean "those driving on the roads" and the use of the word "balancing" means there is no intention to address the structural issue. If we were serious, then we would be using "rebalancing"; that is positively discriminating in favour of engineering measures which actually enable people to have a choice to travel actively. "Balancing" is tiptoeing around the real issues.

Then we get to those opinions which are carefully crafted for the benefit of local newspapers wittering about bad the congestion is in town, or why do "cyclists" always jump red lights or why to "pedestrians" always cross side road without looking (usually supported with an adversarial on-line poll). In their own way, the writers are tiptoeing around the real issues. But hey, the problems are caused by everyone else.

All of this stuff filters into the decisions made at various levels of government; on what our policies will be, where transport investment will be made and which modes of transport will be prioritised. Too often we have campaign groups celebrating paltry stop-start funding or professional institutions limply reacting to announcements lest they upset the consultants and contractors who do very nicely out of the status-quo. It's all tiptoeing around the issue. Keep it on the softly-softly because we don't want to upset people. As far as I can see, real change has come from people getting noisy and refusing to accept crumbs.

This tiptoeing approach has been used in the UK for as long as I have had an interest in active travel (and far longer than that); and it has not been particularly successful if one looks at mode share for walking and cycling over the years. We need to drop back onto the soles of our feet and start stamping. I don't mean that we should go out and be rude or abusive (as tempting as it is), but we need to be firm and consistent in our rebuttals. We should be using our firm rationality to make the arguments against active travel sound as deranged as they really are.

People talk about being in a post fact world, but that it essentially more weedy tiptoeing by people who find it easier to laugh off the baseless nonsense that some of our supposed movers and shakers trump out. We should articulately, firmly and consistently make the case for rebuilding our streets to prioritise active travel. We should not be worried about calling out bad policies or proposals. We should not be scared to confront the decision-makers and challenge their assumptions. We should stop tiptoeing around.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Red Bank Holiday Herring

We're about to have the perfect storm of a pretty good looking Bank Holiday weekend, and the usual predictions of record traffic.

Apart from people wanting a couple of days away from the rat race (and who wouldn't with all the doom and gloom), the predicted spike in traffic is, well, predictable given that lots of people will have 3 days off. Why it is a surprise, I don't know;
Whether it's the early May, late May or August Bank Holiday, the same old news is trotted out as the 2 minutes of research in the links show. As ever, when demand outstrips supply, we get congestion. That's life and we should resign ourselves to sitting in traffic if we choose to drive on bank holidays; it would obviously be daft to add capacity to deal with a few "get away" days a year.

The bank holiday getaway is a red herring because the real story is about the Government's continuing obsession with building road miles on England's strategic network (and the devolved administrations are just as bad) because we know for a fact that this induces more traffic. Beyond the strategic network, people are going somewhere and when they hit towns and cities, there generally is not commensurate road and car park building going on. We know what happens there, we have people sitting in traffic (on the buses too), walking and cycling is awful and most people in power can't escape their own limited thinking.

It's the old personal mobility conundrum in that the easier we make it for people to travel, the further they can travel in the same time. The UK obsession is that roads equal mobility and they are intrinsically tied to economic growth. The downsides are downplayed, ignored or frankly, lied about - just look at the air pollution crisis.

Mobility can be great if we're going to visit a new place for a holiday and in many ways, the stress of the journey is soon forgotten as we slip into the pool, sip our beer or just forget about the daily grind. But for every day journeys, most people are not given a choice; their option is to either run a car or - well if they can't afford to run a car or overpriced public transport, or they don't/ can't drive then few leaders are bothered about them.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Whataboutery!

Why is it hard to discuss active travel publicly without it descending into "whataboutery"; and by that I mean that despite rational attempts to construct a cogent argument in favour of prioritising active travel, we get "ah, what about" in response. 

This common denominator essentially cuts out the use of further facts because the Whatabouter will be unable to provide any data or even a logical discourse.

On Friday, there was a vigil by Stop Killing Cyclists outside Labour's HQ which highlighted the type on money the UK should be allocating and investing in active travel - 10% of the transport budget by 2020. (There is also a vigil planned at Conservative HQ this coming Friday). 

There were tweets on the event and as usual, some London taxi drivers threw in their tuppence worth. This choice comment caught my eye;



In a rare piece of witty (I thought so) chance I was able to recall where I could found a mode share graphic, I tweeted back;



I have blanked out the person I responded to because apart from the fact they have now deleted their account, the words are more important than the person as this is the type of uninformed view people often take. It's also easier to fire rhetoric than engage in productive debate.

Responses to the tweet trod the well worn path of accusing "cyclists" (that out-group again) of jumping red lights and mowing people down; you know how this goes. 

Then we get the the whataboutery which can be found in most threads on the subject.

"What about plumbers who need to get to a job and need their van?"

"What about construction firms needing to shift 10 tonne loads of rubble?"

"What about cyclists who jump red lights"

"What about disabled people who rely on taxis?"

"What about people who need to get to business meetings?"

"What about the emergency services who need their vehicles?"

"What about fixing potholes first?"

"What about traffic congestion?"

"What about people who can't ride that far?"

"What about buses?"

"What about insurance for cyclists?"

Yes, what about those things? Some are very important such as needing to shift construction materials around, having to deal with emergencies and like taxis being a lifeline for people who cannot contemplate active travel under the current conditions (and for those people who could not even if it was all perfect). 

These are important issues which need to be planned and catered for, but please don't conflate this with needing to make accommodation without question - we've tried this for a long time and it clearly doesn't work. The Whatabouters never think of themselves of being part of the problem;

"What about car-lined streets that block ambulances and fire engines?"

"What about construction vehicles or delivery vehicles being stuck in traffic jams full of single-occupancy private cars?"

"What about people parked on the footway blocking someone using a mobility scooter?"

"What about the van driver trying to deliver from a bus stop and now the bus driver can't get into the stop and so the wheelchair ramp can't be deployed?"

"What about people too scared to walk to the shops because of drivers rat-running their street?"

"What about transport poverty - people who can't afford a car or public transport, how do they get to work?"

"What about pollution by the local primary school?"

Well, what about you being the fanatic?