Wednesday, 1 July 2009

London’s hidden violence

(Above) The lighting column on the far left of this photo, and the railings directly ahead, separating the off-road cycle lane between Beresford Road E17 and Roberts Road from the slip-road off the North Circular (A406), have only recently been replaced, after a driver 'lost control' last summer and demolished them. So I was stunned to discover at the weekend that another driver had 'lost control' at this same location, crashing instead into the next panel of railings, a bollard and a garden wall.

Everywhere I go there is evidence of road crashes that never get mentioned in the media. The local paper has had nothing about this crash, or the recent one on Wood Street E17 (see below). The crash level, both great and small, in the relatively small area of London where I cycle, is phenomenal. And if no one was killed or injured in these crashes then they will never appear in the annual Road Casualties Great Britain statistics, by which 'road safety' is measured.

Chris Peck, the CTC's policy coordinator, argues that cycling is much safer than most people appreciate:

Few people consider it brave to get out into the garden and do a bit of weeding. Yet in reality this is a more dangerous activity than getting on two wheels. An hour spent gardening is more likely to result in injury than the same time spent cycling.

What this argument overlooks is varieties of exposure to risk, which is as variable for gardening as it is for cycling. Judging risk and safety simply by casualty statistics (leaving aside questions of interpretation), is to ignore the very much greater number of crashes which occur on the roads for which no casualty or fatality is recorded. In my view these are just as much an index of danger as crashes involving recorded inuries. And it's a bitter irony that Chris Peck's piece appeared on the same morning as the latest London cycling fatality - that's three cycling fatalities in London in June alone (this one, this one and now this one).

Some evidence for the thesis that more cyclists on the roads of London does NOT equal more safety can be found in this dated but still enlightening article, 'Deaths of cyclists in London 1985-92: the hazards of road traffic' by Katie Gilbert and Mark McCarthy:

The annual number of deaths fell from 25 to 18 between 1985 and 1992. An exception to this trend,however, occurred in 1989, a year which showed a sharp increase in inner London; this increase might be related to more cyclists being on the roads because of the dry summer and strikes on the underground. Each year, and for 1985-92 as a whole, peaks in the number of deaths occurred in the summer and autumn.

Read the whole article here

Bill Chidley:

unless we are very, very, very careful, it seems clear that at least another 3 people will die under the wheels of a lorry/HGV/LGV before the end of 2009. This would make 2009 the worst year for a long time.

(Below) This photograph shows the path of the vehicle which careered off the road. Instead of following the slight bend in the slip road it continued in a straight line, missing the sign on the left (which welcomes drivers to the London Borough of Waltham Forest), demolishing a panel of railings, demolishing a bollard, striking a glancing blow to the 'shared use' sign, and spinning it round (so that the cycling/walking logos are now the wrong way round), before demolishing a garden wall and coming to rest in a front garden.

(Below) The demolished wall of the house on the corner, with the pavement and off-road cycle lane passing around it.

(Below) I was passing Wood Street Library the other day, so I stopped to take some snaps of the aftermath of this smash.

(Below) One of the vehicles ploughed through the safety railings on the corner. Look between the first and second cones and spot the skid mark across the pavement.

Both of these crashes would almost certainly have resulted in the deaths of any cyclists or pedestrians who had been in the way of these vehicles which careered off the road. I would argue that exposure to risk and danger is very high for London cyclists. You can minimise risk over which you have control (by not undertaking lorries, for example) but you cannot necessarily avoid those dangers which are imposed on you at random by reckless drivers. I think such dangers are considerable.