I recently came across Dublin Cycling Stories, which is a series of short portraits of people who use bikes to get around Dublin. These films were made with support from the Dublin Cycling Campaign and Dublin City Council. The site is inspiring in many ways and there are lessons here for Edinburgh. After all, Dublin and Edinburgh are capital cities of a similar size, both are emerging cycling cities, although Dublin is way ahead of Edinburgh, as we shall see.

Where Dublin has got it right, and where other emerging cycling cities should take note, is that the influencers in the city have made it a priority to promote the Cycling Stories as a normal way of life for Dubliners, and not just a fringe lifestyle for the brave few. These short films were made to show the world how gloriously easy, fun and sexy a bike ride can be, what a great idea!

Let’s start with Lisa’s story, the young mum taking her child to nursery …

… this shows that cycling can be easy and fun, something that both mother and daughter enjoy.

Then there is Paul’s story, he uses a bicycle for work …

… as a photographer he has to carry equipment about with him, but he can easily do so by bike and it’s obvious that going by bike has many advantages over using a car.

For a bit of contrast we have Julie’s story…

… she’s a student and tells us about how cycling gives her freedom (and how hills aren’t really a problem).

Next, we have Georgia’s story, showing how easy and sociable cycling can be as a way of getting about the city …

… in Georgia’s story we see clearly how far ahead Dublin is of Edinburgh in terms of infrastructure.

The film shows Dublin as having a connected network of cycle paths, where space has been taken from motor vehicles. Edinburgh is only just beginning to timidly experiment with this on George Street …

George Street, Edinburgh

… although in true Edinburgh fashion, they have only gotten half way through doing it, then downed tools for the Festival. George Street looks great, but doesn’t actually connect with anything at either end and is not part of a direct route to go anywhere, showing a frustrating lack of thought about cycling as a means of transport by the planners (and they call themselves transport professionals?).

Another thing that is different in Dublin, compared with Edinburgh, is evident from the dublinbikes story …

… Dublin claims to have the most successful bike share scheme in Europe. Edinburgh has yet to dabble with a bike share scheme, although such schemes have been real game changers in other cities. Will Edinburgh ever get a bike share scheme?

Well let’s just say that Rob Grisdale, MD of nextbike UK was sighted in Edinburgh yesterday, and he wasn’t here to do the festival (although I am told, he did manage to take in a show or two). So will Edinburgh ever get a bike share scheme? Given the City of Edinburgh Council’s desire to remain stuck firmly in the 1980’s it would seem not, but as Stirling is showing, the council doesn’t have to be in the lead, it could be a forward-looking social enterprise that takes the lead. I am not going to say more here, but there are ideas forming.

Possibly the greatest lesson these films have for Edinburgh (or indeed other cities) is that by promoting positive images of average people using the humble bicycle as a means of transportation, cycling can be used to “humanize” the city. In the last century the coming of the car brutalised our cities, now in the 21st century, civic leaders are starting to recognize the importance of the bicycle to creating living cities of the new millennium – the ones which embrace multi-modal transportation.

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Hardly a week goes by without another victim blaming letter to the papers, the latest was entitled Cyclists must help themselves (quoted below in full):

Wearing a helmet while cycling may be a “peripheral issue”, according to W Henderson (Promote cycling, not use of helmets, Letters, July 27).

However, surely it is highly desirable in urban traffic? We do not enjoy the excellent traffic segregation and social cohesion of “Denmark and The Netherlands”, nor are we ever likely to. The antiquated and cramped fabric of our towns and cities and our unwillingness to think, and spend, boldly – it’s the British way after all – have seen to that.

No-one disagrees that cycling is good for you and should be encouraged and funded more, but if the increasingly shrill cycling lobby insist on their right not to do everything reasonable to be seen and be safe, then “strict liability” – the proposal that in the event of a collision the motorist is presumed to be at fault – cannot be seriously entertained. In particular, the perverse refusal to use high-visibility accoutrements, good lights and a warning bell is unacceptable and stupid. Legislation is the only way.

 

I am saddened by the knee jerk victim blaming attitude expressed in this letter. Repeated studies have failed to find evidence that wearing “Hi-visibility” clothing make any significant difference to the frequency of cyclist or pedestrian road casualties. It is important to note that the UK has one of the worst records in Europe for pedestrian safety. Before anyone said that the numbers of pedestrians killed or seriously injured on our roads is declining, this is entirely due to the fact that people are walking less, once that is taken in to account pedestrian KSI rates are rising.

The evidence from repeated studies of collisions involving motor vehicles and vulnerable road users, that in over 85% of cases it was the drivers that was solely at fault. In under 15% of cases was there joint liability between drivers and vulnerable road users, and in only about 1% of cases was the vulnerable road user solely at fault for the collision.

It really is time that we learned from other countries that there is a better way. All but five countries in Europe (those being the UK, Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Ireland) have some form of “strict liability”. Why is it that the opponents of the current campaign for introduction presumed liability in Scots civil law, are not holding up Romania as a beacon of freedom and liberty?

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The following letter was published in The Herald on Monday 28 July 2014 from a Mr Stewart of Cumbernauld:

I NOTE with interest your report on the sentencing of drivers convicted of killing cyclists (“Motorists who kill cyclists let off lightly“, The Herald, July 22.)

Whilst many of us would agree that sentences for a wide spectrum of offences are inadequate, a figure in the article represent what might be expected: in 54 per cent of cases where a cyclist was killed by a motorist, the driver was charged. Simple statistics would predict a 50/50 ratio of culpability where two individuals were involved; that is, a cyclist and a driver. The law would take its course after an individual was charged and the result would depend on the evidence given in court.

In the article Chris Boardman was quoted as saying “our legal system doesn’t support fully enough the more vulnerable road user and it doesn’t reflect the responsibility people have when they drive a car”. Road users could be said to be more responsible than cyclists in that they have to pass a rigorous driving test and carry third-party insurance. We would all agree that this does not guarantee responsibility, but it is a grounding.

Cyclists, however, are largely not insured and do not have to pass a test of any sort. I can vouch as a driver that many cyclists do not respect, assuming they have read, the Highway Code. Some may have personal accident insurance but what about third party insurance? Can someone tell me why both insurance and a test are not mandatory for cyclists? They, after all, are road users who can err and cause an accident.

Of course cyclists are more vulnerable; what may be a simple bump between cars can easily mean a death where a cyclist is involved. There is equal onus on both to be careful and to abide by the Highway Code. Cyclists freely undercut motorists between vehicles and the kerb. This is one of the major causes of accidents and should not be allowed – except, of course, where there is a cycle lane.

Drivers have a horn, the purpose of which is to let other road users know you are there in circumstance where another may be unaware. In my experience many cyclists do not have a bell and if they do they do not use it appropriately. A bell is not adequate to alert other drivers.

There has been comment recently about presumed liability of drivers involved in cycling accidents, where there is inconclusive evidence. There should be presumed liability of all parties until the evidence or lack of it indicates otherwise, and to prejudice drivers is wrong.

 

This letter is wrong on so many points, but does tell us something about the attitudes which has lead to the lack of justice for vulnerable road users. The first error is the statement that “Simple statistics would predict a 50/50 ratio of culpability where two individuals were involved; that is, a cyclist and a driver”. This statement suggest that both are equally vulnerable which is clearly not the case and there is no evidence to support it. When was the last time you heard of a driver being harmed when in collision with a cyclist or pedestrian? There have been a number of research studies which have shown that in over 80% of cases the driver is wholly responsible for collisions with more vulnerable road users. In less than 20% of cases is there construable negligence by the cyclist or pedestrian, and even in these cases in less than 1% was the cyclist or pedestrian shown to wholly responsible.

Then we have the “cyclists don’t have to take a test and have third party insurance” argument, no consideration as to why that is. The reason the people are required to hold a licence, take a test and has compulsory insurance is because driving is funereally dangerous. That is not to say that cycling is completely safe, on rare occasions pedestrians are killed by cyclists, however, these cases account for only 0.4% of all fatal collision and in all cased the cyclists were prosecuted.

The reason that cyclists don’t have to take a test and have insurance, is because they do very little harm. This can be seen in the premiums which cyclist who do have third party insurance. Members of British Cycling and the CTC have 3rd party insurance cover up to £10m as part of their membership, which cost just £24 or £41 annual respectively. Also a number of household insurance policies offer similar levels of third party cover as part of the bundle, this show clearly that actuaries in the insurance industry believe that cycling poses very little risk to other.

On the other hand the cost of collisions involving motor vehicles in the exceeds £18bn every year. Therefore, society recognises that large, heavy objects travelling at high speeds represent a high degree of danger, and in an attempt to mitigate this all people wishes to use a motor vehicles in public places are required to have compulsory insurance. We are all human and prone to human error, the difference between someone in control of a bicycle weighing <15 Kg and a motor vehicle weighing>1 tonne, is the scale of damage which can be done to others.

While I am about it I might as well deal with the other common comment that cyclists are a danger to other because they ride on pavements and jump red lights. An analysis of police data involving collisions with pedestrians shows that 4% of injuries to pedestrians at red lights were attributed to cyclists, with 96% being attributed to motorists. The same report found that only 2% of injuries to pedestrians on the pavement could be attributed to cyclists, the other 98% were caused directly by motorists.

Then we have statement that “one of the major causes of accidents” is cyclists filtering through traffic, however, there no evidence to support this claim. There are large proportion of collision leading to death or serious injury which take at road junctions, but analysis of police data show that in almost 90% of case the motorist was at fault. Further more the only thing that the Highway Code has to say about filtering through slow-moving traffic, is “take care and keep your speed low” (Rule 88). Also, Rule 211 which tells motorists to “look out for cyclists or motorcyclists on the inside of the traffic you are crossing. Be especially careful when turning, and when changing direction or lane. Be sure to check mirrors and blind spots carefully.”

Finally there is a comment about presumed liability in where he suggests it should be presumed all parties should be equally liable, this is patently wrong, as I have shown above all road users are not equal and vulnerable road users need to be protected by the law. The UK is one of only five countries in Europe which does not have some form of Presumed Liability, the others being Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Ireland. Why aren’t those who oppose the introduction of Presumed Liability pointing to Romania as a shining beacon of liberty and freedom?

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It is well known that, to be healthy in both mind and body, it is important to keep active. As Juvenal (55 – 138 AD) put it, Mens sana in corpore sano. These days there is plenty of advice on how to keep active. My personal preference is for active travel, as it is the easiest way to include regular physical exercise into your daily life. These days, when there is an app for everything, there are of course apps to help you lead a healthy life. One that recently caught my eye is the Human – Activity Tracker, not so much because of the slick graphics on their website (although those are very nice), but more because of the data it has collected and presented in the video below –

 

 

The thing that fascinates me about this is the way it shows us the different patterns of activity across different cities, for different modes of travel/activity. At this point it is necessary to add a caveat about the way that the data have been collected. This app is only available for the iPhone and therefore represents the activity of only a small section of the community, but it is never the less fascinating. See more visual data here, sadly Edinburgh is not one of the 30 cities listed.

 

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From time to time I get e-mails from PR people asking me to write something on this blog. Recently the same e-mail from a PR person (working on behalf of a firm of insurance brokers) has arrived in my in-box from several different directions, evidently several people felt that I might like to write something about it. So what were the contents of this e-mail? Just in case you are interested, here it is:

Hi,

With the relationship between motorists and cyclists often being reported as at boiling point, Policy Expert [a firm of insurance brokers] has just published the results of a survey into differing attitudes between the two – with some surprising results.

Cyclists fared well in the survey overall, with 15% of motorists saying they wished there were more cyclists on the roads, and a further 30% considering them completely harmless.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the survey also found that 35% of cyclists believe they should have insurance to be allowed to cycle on the road, and a third of cyclists would drink and bike, with 31% saying they would cycle after having two or more pints of beer or large glasses of wine.

These, and the rest of the findings are available here: [Link to insurance brokers website]

If you’d like to see the full survey results I’d be happy to send those across to you.

Thanks, let me know what you think.

So what do I think about it? Now, where do I start? Maybe with “the relationship between motorists and cyclists often being reported as at boiling point”. Is this really true? In the real world: No. The media like to play up idea of a “war” on Britain’s roads, but no such war exists. There is however there is a problem with a culture of bullying among a few reckless motorists, and the promotion of a casual disregard for the lives of others by the motor industry and its marketing agents.

Before going further, maybe I should make it clear that there are not two different species, one called “cyclists” and one called “motorists”. There are just people using the roads, everyone has a right to mobility, but there is no right to drive. As I have pointed out on this blog before, the operating of heavy and potentially dangerous machinery in a public place is an activity which is only permitted under licence, and with that licence come responsibilities, something I will come back to later.

Having visited the Policy Expert website and looked at the blog post “Motorists vs cyclists – The Results!”, I wasn’t clear on what exactly the point of this survey of their customers was, I can only assume that is was to find a way to draw attention to their insurance brokering service by suggesting that people need to buy more insurance.

You will notice that I am not linking to the site. This is because I have no desire to give them free advertising or increase their search engine optimisation (if you want to find it, there is enough information provided above to search for it). But having been invited to give my thoughts on the survey, I intend to do so.

According to the PR person: “Cyclists fared well in the survey overall, with 15% of motorists saying they wished there were more cyclists on the roads, and a further 30% considering them completely harmless”. What is that supposed to mean? Let’s just look at a few facts here, on average 3,000 people are killed by badly driven motor vehicles on UK roads every year, whereas fewer than two are killed by recklessly ridden bicycles in an average year (and that’s two too many in my opinion). The simple truth is that cyclists do very little harm to others but motorists have the potential to do a great deal of harm to others (both directly and indirectly). It is the potential to do harm to others that caused Parliament to pass the Motor Car Act 1903, which introduced “the crime of reckless driving”, and imposed penalties. It also introduced the mandatory vehicle registration of all motorcars, and made it compulsory for drivers of motorcars to have a Driving Licence (although the driving test was not made compulsory until 1934). This Act was replaced by the Road Traffic Act of 1930, which in turn also introduced the driving offences – dangerous, reckless and careless driving and driving whilst being unfit and under the influence of drink or drugs (although it wasn’t until 1967 that an alcohol limit was set and testing brought in). The Act also brought in a requirement for compulsory third-party insurance for all motor vehicles driven on the public highway. The reason for these changes? The level of harm done to others by the drivers of motor vehicles. The first death caused by a motor vehicle in the UK occurred in 1896, but it wasn’t until 1926 that detailed records began to be collected (in that year there were 4,886 fatalities, bear in mind that there would only have been a handful of cars on the roads in 1926, compared with today).

However, the PR person tells me that “the survey also found that 35% of cyclists believe they should have insurance to be allowed to cycle on the road”. This is rather curious, why should cyclists be required to have insurance to be allowed to cycle on the road? As I have just pointed out, cyclists do very little harm to others, even the results of this survey suggests that they are “completely harmless”, so why would they need insurance to be on the roads? Well the PR person suggests that this is might be because “31% [of cyclists] saying they would cycle after having two or more pints of beer or large glasses of wine”. Um, so what? Would anyone suggest that people going to the pub and then walking home should have 3rd party insurance? Of course not.

Other findings on the “Motorists vs cyclists – The Results!” site include the admission by 16% of motorists surveyed that cyclists keep traffic levels down. This is at least a small positive, but then it goes on to talk about “road tax”, blithely ignoring the simple fact that Road Tax was abolished in 1936, and that Vehicle Excise Duty is a tax on pollution not on road use. The fact that they bring up this spurious rubbish shows two things, one: motorists have a dangerous and unwarranted sense of ownership of the roads (even when the Road Fund was in existence, 1920 -1936, the majority of the cost of road building and improvement came from general and local taxation) and two: that the people who carried out the survey haven’t bothered to do a bit of basic homework before carrying out the survey, so how can they call themselves “Experts”?

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