Wednesday, 19 November 2008

This driver hit me

(Above) This driver hit me. No, not road rage. His car hit my bicycle. It was the lowest of low speed collisions but if left me shocked and angry. I was sufficiently angry to take photographs of the driver and car, which I don't normally do. If the pics on this blog normally have an unpeopled atmosphere it's because I usually wait to let pedestrians pass before I take photographs, and I avoid taking pics of lawless drivers because I prefer to avoid abusive or violent confrontation.

It happened last Saturday at about 1 p.m. I thought I'd wait a bit before I blogged about it. To give me time to reflect on the circumstances and return to the location to look at it more closely.

I'd been in Tottenham and I was returning to Walthamstow. I cycled across the Lea Valley, up Coppermill Lane, along St James's Street, and up Courtenay Mews and Cranbrook Mews (part of the London Cycle Network). It was a Saturday and there was heavy congestion everywhere. When I reached the junction with Willow Walk I encountered the traffic backed up along South Grove. No problem for a cyclist, as there is a cycle lane at this junction, which feeds an ASL at the Willow Walk/Selborne Road/South Grove junction. Except that on this occasion there was a car and also a motorcyclist in the ASL.

Both the car driver and the motorcyclist were breaking the law, since The legal status of ASLs has now been clarified and they are now fully enforceable following Parliamentary legislation which came into force on 31st January 2003: Anyone driving a motor vehicle which stops in an ASL when the light is red will be committing an offence contrary to section 38 of the Road Traffic Act of not obeying a traffic signal.

But there was lots of space to the left of the car, and so I pedalled on. Indeed, Where there are cycle lanes and / or ASL’s the cyclist is encouraged to cycle along the inside of traffic queues.

The car was not signalling left. Nor was it turning left. But as I entered the ASL the lights changed. As my momentum took me past the car, the driver moved forwards and he hit me. There was a loud crunch as the car hit my bike. The driver braked and I braked. Shocked, I pointed at the ASL and screamed at the driver "YOU SHOULD NOT BE THERE!"

The driver raised his arm in apology. He knew perfectly well he should not have been in the ASL and that he was at fault. He did not get out of the car. He was plainly embarrassed.

By this time the lights had changed to red again. I dragged my bike to the side of the road to see if it was damaged. As far as I could tell it wasn't. The car had hit the rear frame at low speed. It hadn't touched my leg and it hadn't knocked me off my bike. Maybe the crunching sound was the car panel caving in. Looking at the pics I can see a black smear on the car which I think was the point of impact. I can't tell if the car is dented or if it's just reflections.

I was in a state of mild shock. In the past I've twice clipped the wing mirrors of slow-moving cars which lurched unexpectedly into the cycle lane while I was undertaking them, but apart from those inconsequential events I have never been in a traffic collision before. I was sufficiently angry to take photographs of the driver and his car. The driver was embarrassed and looked away - he had two young teenage girls in the back, who seemed quite startled by the turn of events - while the gormless lawbreaking motorcyclist stared at me.

(Below) The aftermath of the collision, with the lights at red again. And make a note of that white van on the extreme right of the photo. It will be putting in another appearance later in this post.

(Below) The scene of the crime. An ASL with a feeder lane. I'm starting to see why some cycling campaigners refer to these so-called cycling facilities as "sucker-traps". As you might expect from the crap London Borough of Waltham Forest the ASL markings are seriously faded. Even so, there's no real question that this box is for cyclists. And I think the design is deadly, since a cyclist heading straight on up Selborne Road has to swing out right to do so, which means instant conflict with a vehicle in the ASL, even if that vehicle is also going straight on. What caught me out was that the lights changed at precisely the wrong moment.

I thought I'd return to Cranbrook Mews and re-examine the circumstances of my little collision. It was an illuminating experience. In the time I surveyed the ASL, non-compliance by ALL drivers was one-hundred per cent.

I'd just arrived yesterday (at noon) when a cyclist and a car approached the ASL together, at a red light. I managed to take a quick snap (below) before I switched to zoom. The car drove into the ASL, so the cyclist compensated by going beyond the lights and waiting there, a perfectly sensible reaction but one which is technically illegal and can lead to police harassment.

(Below) This more or less duplicates the circumstances of my collision. Except that I was probably about a metre nearer to the car in the ASL. The cyclist swings in front of the car to to go up Selborne Road. Here, the driver who was unlawfully in the ASL can see the cyclist and waits. Whereas the driver who hit me wasn't expecting me to appear on his left.

(Below) The next red phase, the next offender...

Note the angle at which the offending car is positioned. This ASL design is deadly for cyclists who are going straight on.

(Below) The next red phase, the next offender...

I went closer to take more pics, and a bus driver came along at the next red phase and drove into the ASL (below).

I see that Westminster Cycling Campaign took up the issue of bus drivers who abuse ASLs with Ken Livingstone:

The Mayor's response in (2002):

"TfL has pioneered the introduction of a BTEC qualification for bus drivers in London. As part of the qualification drivers will be reminded of accurate stopping distances from junctions. This new qualification will be applied to all new drivers from September of this year [2002], and bus operators are also being encouraged to train [existing] staff to the same level.”

To which my response is: ha bloody ha. Bus drivers generally in Waltham Forest are a lawless, dangerous risk-taking menace (I realise there are exceptions to every generalisation). They jump red lights on a staggering scale, they repeatedly cut me up on my bike, they deliberately and wilfully obstruct ASLs.

Remember that white van on Cranbrook Mews, I mentioned earlier? After I'd cycled on after my little collision, it overtook me on Selborne Road. The driver had witnessed the collision between the driver in the ASL and me. So what did white van man do when he reached the next ASL, just before the bus station. That's right: he drove right into it. (Below)

On another day recently I cycled towards a red light at The Bell corner. I cycled into the ASL. I had it all to myself. But then after about fifteen seconds I had company. (Below) You can see see why increasing numbers of cycling campaigners refer to cycling facilities as cycling "farcilities". You can also see why so many cyclists either position themselves beyond the final white line, or simply cycle across at red.

I would never undertake a heavy goods vehicle or a bus in an ASL. But usually it's safe to do so when it's only a car. On this occasion I failed to take into account the fact that this ASL is situated on a bend. I was lucky: the car which hit me was a tiny, tiny one, the speeds were slow, and the driver braked. It could have been much worse than it was.

The lessons I draw from this are various.

(1) In future I shall never enter an ASL which has vehicles in it.

(2) The Metropolitan Police is institutionally car-supremacist, colludes with lawless drivers and promotes cycling deaths and injuries by refusing to enforce ASLs:

As things stand, the City of London police is the only police force that is actually enforcing the law on ASLs (no explanation was given for why the Metropolitan Police was not). Rose Ades from Transport for London said that in many cases it was difficult to enforce ASLs because there is nowhere for police to pull over vehicles that have broken the law - stopping them in the ASL itself would cause congestion and unacceptable delays to other road users, she explained.

In other words, maintaining motor vehicle traffic flow is more important than the safety of cyclists. Which explains why the Met has such an animus towards Critical Mass.

(3) The sooner enforcement of ASLs is transferred to local authorites the better. If Gordon Brown was seriously concerned about public safety he would rush through legislation at once. I feel far more threatened by London drivers than I do by terrorists.

(4) Many so-called cycling facilities are indeed sucker-traps, which promote the potential injury or even death of cyclists. Undertaking can be potentially lethal, yet the so-called London Cycle Network encourages it across the capital.

(5) As there was no physical injury and no obvious damage to property my collision does not count as a road traffic "accident". I've seen some cycling activists argue that since road casualty figures are going down and the number of cyclists on London's roads is increasing, London's roads are getting safer. This is false logic. To get a true picture of how dangerous the roads are you need to count in figures for non-injury crashes recorded by insurance companies. The number of drivers who crash their cars, or who are crashed into, without any injury, and who claim on their insurance, is vastly greater than the number of drivers involved in recorded road traffic "accidents". You also need to factor in events like the one I've just described, which will never be recorded as a statistic, and will allow someone to claim that this junction is very safe.

(6)A study in 2001 found No significant overall collision saving to cyclists after the provision of ASLs at about 50 sites in London.

Interesting, that.