Have pavement cyclists got it right?

Six Five cyclists mown down in thirteen nine days. Are unlit red light jumping pavement cyclists actually on the right track?

Unrelated news: sixth law-abiding cyclist mown down in just thirteen days

I started writing this as a response to the interminable ‘Rubbish Cycling’ thread on CCE, but it got long enough (and relevant enough) that I didn’t want it to disappear after another nine complaint posts went up…

Here’s the comment that I was replying to:

Anyway – I personally take it as given that the (majority of) unlit, RLJing and dedicated pavement-cycling students are not being willfully antisocial or criminal; rather that they honestly just can’t figure out by themselves the potential consequences without it being pointed out to them.

While I appreciate that this is a very generous way of looking at the citizens in question, I also think it’s so wide of the mark as to be, well, completely opposite to the true situation.

The significant thing about Edinburgh’s annual influx of students is that it creates a large number of completely new cyclists. Their behaviour has little, I submit, to do with the fact that those cyclists happen to be students.

I can only back this up anecdotally, as someone who is now involved in actively encouraging people to bike to work.

I’ve “buddied up” with at least one colleague who wouldn’t consider descending from the pavement to ride on the road *with me behind them* on the short stretch of 20mph street between Ardmillan Terrace and the canal. (For this, establishment Edinburgh cyclists gave a written opinion that they should give up, and go back to a car-based commute from Livingston to Leith).

The common thread here is that when people approach cycling from first principles, they aren’t necessarily willing to expose themselves to all the inherent risks. They aren’t willing to do so *despite* legislation to the contrary, and not because they need to be reminded or have anything pointed out to them.

80-90% of cyclists, including students, have passed the driving test

It’s naive to suggest they aren’t completely aware of the law.

Cyclist who are not dogmatic ride on the pavement out of a finely judged (and in my opinion not inaccurate) estimation that it will significantly improve their life expectancy. The issue of pedestrians understandably objecting to this invasion of their territory is an externality that cannot be said to weigh in on your life expectancy, so it’s understandable that the pragmatic will ignore it.

I don’t ignore it because I’m powerful enough (in my own head… and because I have a headcam) that I feel confident going head to head with huge motorised vehicles on the roads. I sometimes like to think that it’s because I wouldn’t want to be known around the neighbourhood as a pavement cyclist, but to be honest that isn’t true. I’ve known neighbours considerably older than I who rode on the pavements in my time and didn’t particularly think less of them.

Someone riding unlit is not even making a statement that they don’t believe lights help drivers to see them. What they’re saying is that they believe the chance of being run down is so high with or without lights that they aren’t going to play the game at all.

Was anyone bereaved ever consoled by the thought: “at least they weren’t riding on the pavement”?

Establishment cyclists often express confusion at people who have one or other light missing, or if they have two, so poorly aimed as to be useless. I suspect it’s because they have picked up lights for some reason unrelated to safety in their own minds (a gift, as an alternative to a police ticket, whatever).

Because they don’t believe they are relevant to their safety, their application is understandably haphazard – how are your legally required, can’t-be-replaced-by-ankle-bands SPD pedal reflectors, by the way?

There’s little point trying to tell people that they’d be better off with lights because cyclists are constantly being mown down by inattentive drivers – the whole situation has arisen precisely because they believe they might be mown down either way.

Statistically, cycling on the road is usually said to be safer than the pavement, particularly because of the increased junction / crossing risk. However, this is to completely and utterly miss the point. When you ride on the pavement, undeniably, you’re only at risk on your own terms (if you’re not crossing a side street or crossing the road, you cannot be hit).

In the road, you’re at the mercy of every single driver who is eating, shaving, txting and/or putting on makeup – while eating a bowl of cornflakes – and your life depends on the lowest denominator.

That’s the real difference!

Seceding from the law is a logical response to the rising death toll

I’m not going to draw a position on whether society as a whole is better off when someone rides on a pavement or jumps a red light but remains a cyclist, versus driving around. I don’t believe there’s much chance of persuading the audience one way or the other… (clearly it would be better if this debate wasn’t even needed – but that’s not the reality).

I’ve saved junctions and red lights until last because I think in many ways they are the clearest (but most controversial) example of people taking a decision based on safety, just not based on the law – even if it seems otherwise.

If you believe that you are not protected from death whenever a vehicle passes you in traffic, then a logical strategy is to minimise the number of overtaking movements you experience. Waiting for a green light might mean a bowel-clenching episode where you’re passed by 20-30 vehicles in close succession, any one of which could take your life.

As we’re seeing in London, such vehicles are taking lives every day.

On the other hand, jumping the light probably exposes you to only one or two vehicles making an opposing movement. The chance of being hit by them is less than being hit by the vehicles behind you (because you can actually watch what’s going on as you cycle through the red light and across the junction), at least according to your world view – but perhaps also according to the real statistics.

I don’t think the people making these kinds of calculation are cold or unaware of the feelings of others on the road. It’s just that they are faced with death, or upsetting one or two other drivers (or cyclists who feel tarnished by association) and that’s a pretty easy choice.

Under this arithmetic, it’s even easy to understand people who jump pedestrian crossings. You’re buying yourself 20-30 seconds of time without the possibility of being fatally run over, whereas if you stop, a dozen or more vehicles might charge past your elbow, and if one of them decides to turn left when they’ve put you in their “blind spot”… game over.

If your response to this is “but what about the pedestrians”, I can only suggest you rephrase it to “why aren’t they putting pedestrian comfort above their own lives?” to better understand their position.

Cyclists are far from the last to complain when they see “bad” behaviour by other cyclists.

Yet I think we do ourselves a huge disservice by not attempting to understand what makes people do these things.

It’s silly to complain about the behaviour of others and remain wilfully ignorant of the very real forces that drive them.

You might not be able to understand or empathise with cyclists who fear for their lives, but if so, you’ve only yourself to blame for your eternal frustration.

Cyclists: blinding tail lights make you less safe

You need to be visible – you don’t need to be obnoxious.

Why are we obsessed with the idea that brighter is better?

First, forgive me – put your driving hat on! Do you think the safety of your car could be improved if you drove around town at night with your high beam headlights?

Probably you’d agree that this would be counterproductive (and nobody does it).

So let’s think about the back of your car. Would you drive around town at night with your rear foglight on because you felt it made you safer? No (and again, nobody does this).


What about traffic lights? Making them twice, five times or ten times brighter than they are? (Maybe we could recycle the bulbs from car foglights when they’re scrapped to make traffic lights really hard to miss?)

News flash, people who shoot red lights already know they’re red…

You’ve probably figured out that I’m asking why we don’t seem to apply the same logic to the back of our bikes. There, “the brighter the better” seems to be the rule of the day, and it’s interesting to wonder why.

Rise of the dynamo

From 80’s “never-readies” to the current age of laser death beams, I’d always gone with the flow and bought successively brighter and badder lights for my bikes.

That is until I decided to go for a dynamo when I got into audax a few years ago.

Instead of packing multiple 1W LEDs, in dynamo tail lights you have a design which burns a mere ~50mW (0.05W) and has some clever focusing or diffusing technology. I admit I was unsure – my commuter at the time had three separate Smart Superflash LEDs on the back.

But after countless thousands of miles in all weather and all conditions, from urban streets in rush hour and pub closing time to deserted glens, I’m more or less convinced that drivers can see dynamo tail lights.

In case this is starting to sound like a dynamo commercial… there are lots of great reasons not to use a dynamo!

It’s just that the visibility of the nice steady tail light simply isn’t one of them.

Official product shot of a 500 lumen tail light “in a country lane at 20 metres”. Good luck judging anything as you overtake…

Obnoxious tail-lights are counterproductive for safe cycling

Despite all the obvious counterexamples, people definitely seem to think that brighter tail lights are safer.

A quick Google and you’ll find such gems as “SAVE YOUR Life, Ride Ultra BRIGHT, DAY And night” … followed up by “If you can look directly at the light, it’s not even close to being brite (sic) enough”.

Not only do I disagree, I think that running an epic tail light is actively reducing your safety on the road.

I was driving through Edinburgh recently at dusk when a rider joined the road up ahead. I was some way off, so he was perfectly safe jumping on, and he proceeded at a reasonable pace. Maybe it’s just been a while since last winter, but I found his rear light to be ferociously bright – just painful to drive behind.

Rather than wait behind as we came up towards a pinch point for a railway bridge, I found myself dropping a gear and accelerating hard to get past. I didn’t cut it too fine, but since this is my commute I know that I’d have been shaking my head.

Inevitably, I had to queue to turn right at the T-junction ahead and after maybe twenty seconds the rider had filtered past and I was being blasted by the red howitzer once more. I’m not sure of the brand – it had a regular flash going on but also an off-tempo nuclear strobe effect.

What happened to this rider with the ultra brite light on the next bit of open road?

Let’s just say that neither of the drivers in front of me wasted any time in ripping past him as he climbed the shallow gradient, even though it was tight with oncoming traffic. Neither did I, and neither did any of the cars I caught passing him in the rear-view. I’m probably the only one who felt guilty about it, too.

If this guy bought his light on the basis that it would make him safer, then he really ought to ask for his money back!

A headlight. It is not a tail-light. There are big differences!

There is an optimum brightness for safe riding.

A tail light just needs to be bright enough that motorists notice you (and can account for your course and speed). You blatantly don’t need an atomic tail light to achieve this – just look at the huge number of cyclists who have either no lights at all or the bare minimum.

While I’d never advocate it, casualties from the practice are astonishingly low. If you pop out in your car, you’ll quickly reassure yourself at how easy it is to spot riders with even pretty pathetic tail lights.

After that you’re relying on goodwill, and who ever thought that brighter lights create goodwill?

There’s a strong argument for brighter headlights in safety terms, but tail lights aren’t headlights and there is a vital difference between them.

When you increase the power of your front light, you are incentivising other road users in a way which promotes your own safety – motorists in oncoming vehicles (and those at side streets) have to actively decide that you aren’t as big as you look, and to actively decide to put themselves into your glare when waiting for a couple of seconds puts you out of the way.

Uber tail lights also incentivise other road users, but they do not do so in a way which is beneficial for you. Drivers who find your light unpleasant are rewarded the faster they get past you, and it’s no secret that other cyclists don’t like riding behind Joe Death Star.

Conversely, do you really think that taxi drivers who cut past you in the city’s bus lanes would decide to be more responsible if only you had more photons at your disposal? They’re actually deciding based on a layman’s knowledge of bike lighting that you do or don’t deserve a legal amount of space? Really?

No, it’s simply faulty thinking to imagine that a brighter tail light will get more attention and more consideration from other road users.

You need to be visible – you don’t need to be obnoxious.

Nicewaycode to inspire child abuse campaign?

Rapists and paedophiles don’t like to be singled out. “We need them to listen, so we’ll be targeting the actions of victims as well,” said a fictitious government source.

Children will be told to ‘cover up’ and ‘respect elders’ in ads against paedophilia

“See child, think nun!”, abusers to be told

It’s been an interesting month for families in Scotland as the SNP’s flagship initiative on road safety, the Nice Way Code, has finally hit the streets.

Screen shot 2013-08-21 at 22.27.27
credit: kenjonbro

With the number of Scots killed on their bikes soaring to a ten year high, Transport Minister Keith Brown clearly felt the need to take the bull by the horns and has invested almost half a million of Scotland’s slender £20m active travel budget on a hard hitting ad campaign.

Based on official police data suggesting that motorists are responsible for over 70% of serious collisions north of the border, agency Newhaven have produced a road safety campaign that has been hailed as “startling in its originality”, targeting dangerous drivers with exciting reverse-psychology advertising that focuses on criticism of pedestrians and cyclists.

One ad mocks cyclists who have been intimidated into riding on the pavement, while another admonishes those knocked off their bikes not to make any kind of rude gesture, lest they offend the motorists who are casually putting their lives in jeopardy.

Targeted messages directed at the motorists who are doing all the killing and maiming are almost wholly absent, but this is just part of the campaign’s subtle brilliance, organisers claim.

Screen shot 2013-08-21 at 22.19.41

Approach to be mirrored in bold new paedophilia campaign

Sources close to the government failed to deny allegations that the Nice Way Code strategy could be rolled out on other issues such as rape, paedophilia and sectarian violence.

“We‘re not saying all behaviours are equal,” said one fictitious source, who asked not to be named, “but based on our unpublished research, keeping the tone light and having messages for parents, children and paedophiles alike is the only way to get people to consider changing their own behaviour.”

In response to the suggestion that it just isn’t appropriate to criticise victims as well as their perpetrators, let alone with money from very limited victim support budgets, they said: “Rapists and paedophiles are obviously a hugely important part of this, but all of our testing showed if you single them out, they will not listen. We need them to listen, so we’ll be targeting the actions of victims as well.”

Strangely, justice and victim support groups have not rushed to embrace these new campaigns as readily as the CTC, Sustrans, the IAM and AA have moved to stamp their seal of approval on the Nice Way Code.

Perhaps they have more integrity – or just more backbone?

Don’t build it and they can’t come

You need to have pavements before you can even consider addressing other reasons people don’t choose to walk. Why do people think cycling is any different?

Infrastructure is not sufficient, but it *is* necessary

What lesson should we really draw from Stevenage?

Hang around cycling blogs for any length of time and you will inevitably come across a variation of the argumentum ad Stevenage.

This “dull grey 1950s new town” (waronthemotorist) is a fantastic place to drive: dual carriageways combined with high volume roundabouts make it pretty effortless to motor from A to B (a more local equivalent would be Livingston – it’s hard to believe Stevenage could either be more drab, have bigger dual carriageways or have a lower cycling modal share).

Central Livingston. The bridge is a segregated cycle facility, but who would feel the need to use it?

Stevenage also has a relatively extensive network of segregated cycling infrastructure – and a dismal proportion of journeys being made by bike.

It’s this combination that has led to Stevenage enjoying (along with Milton Keynes) the dubious honour of becoming the go-to argument against infrastructure provision. Literally “we built it and they didn’t come”; the reader is invited to draw the conclusion that infrastructure has at most a small contribution to make to cycling uptake and potentially none at all – it’s just an expensive distraction.

There are all sorts of debates to be had about exactly why Stevenage (or any given piece of infrastructure) may, after construction, not enjoy the level of modal share that we might wish.

The reason people drive is simply that they prefer to drive. The proportion of people who prefer to drive is driven by diverse factors – how troublesome it is to drive, how troublesome it is to cycle, questions of fitness, weather, clothing, personal safety, money, all in a giant melting pot.

There’s not much point picking just one of these things to squabble over.

It should be obvious to everyone that building cycle infrastructure will not necessarily cause a large proportion of people to give up driving and take to two wheels instead. However, it’s critical that all campaigners (and campaign groups like the CTC) understand that insufficiency does not speak to necessity.

There’s nothing more discouraging to me than someone who argues against (or downplays) hard segregated infrastructure for one simple reason:

segregated infrastructure is as necessary for widespread cycling as rails are for railways

Rather than pointing to Stevenage (or Milton Keynes, or wherever) as places that have infrastructure but no cyclists, I’d love to see just one example of a place with widespread cycling uptake but no infrastructure.

Such places simply don’t exist.

It’s tempting to be fooled by recent London surveys pointing to modal shares of 50% or more on particular streets, but that is not comparing apples with apples, since it doesn’t include the huge proportion of journeys Londoners make on the tube, for example, and only a small proportion of roads.

It’s not even clear to me whether the figures count the movement of people or merely the movement of vehicles. (Any argument which relies on giving one chap on a Boris Bike equal weighting with eighty people on a double decker is immediately suspicious).

Regardless, the fact that transport provision in some of our inner cities is so horrendous that people are compelled to cycle despite the risks is no recipe for success anywhere else (“London is not Britain” – in fact, innermost London is not even “London” – the English capital’s modal share is still dismal overall).

“If you build it they may not come” is a true (and trivial) statement. There are lots of reasons not to let your kids cycle to school, besides the risk of being ground to a pulp. But even if you overcame all other issues, if your kids may well be mown down by a dangerous driver, that’s the ultimate blocker.

I’m not sure I would let my kids cycle to school in Stevenage either. However, without segregated infrastructure there would be no chance whatsoever.

Retrofit is not new build

In Stevenage and the other new towns, bike infrastructure was built alongside fast and convenient main roads and, although necessary for cycle use (imagine cycling to school on one of these de-facto motorways) it has not proven sufficient for a high modal share – there is no demand for travel any other way.

In contrast, almost anywhere that cycle infrastructure is retrofitted in 21st century Britain, significant latent demand for cycle use exists, thanks to the terrible experience that is travelling by car (or public transport) in most other places.

The reason that explosive growth on Edinburgh’s segregated facilities hasn’t translated into a high overall modal share is correctly understood as a simple lack of segregated facilities (which can be highly utilised only where they exist) and not that Edinburgh residents have the choice of riding off road but simply choose to drive regardless.

It takes me 30-40 minutes to cycle to work versus an hour in the car and up to 90 minutes by public transport. No smooth-flowing dual carriageways here.

A better analogy of segregated cyclepaths is pavements. It’s easy to point to a town or city with lots of pavements but a low modal share of journeys on foot, but few would try to convince themselves that pavements are anything other than a necessity for any significant level of perambulation. You need to have pavements before you can even consider addressing the other issues around people not choosing to walk.

Build it, and they can come if they want to. But if you don’t build it, they can’t.

This, at least, is straightforward.

Death by trunk road

Do cyclists who ride on de-facto motorways have to accept some responsibility if they are run down?

Contributory negligence by mere presence?

Discussion rages on YACF following the recent deaths of two local riders on an End to End attempt.

I have to admit, slightly uneasily, that when I hear of deaths on the A30 they don’t surprise me.

I have ridden on the A30 (and have quite a lot of experience of riding on trunk roads, including some of the A1 and the A9, the A5 and the A6). On my own End to End attempt some years ago I planned to ride on the A30 for a whole day, but considered it too dangerous when I got there, and took one of the alternative roads instead.


Many of these dual carriageways are physically just like a Scottish motorway, but without the hard shoulder and variable speed limit that you’d “enjoy” as a cyclist on the motorway.

Vehicle speeds are just as high (possibly higher on the A-roads due to reduced enforcement) and traffic volumes on many English A-roads are higher than Scots motorways, in my experience.


It’s hard to imagine many cyclists (even John Franklin) seriously advocating riding on a motorway. Yet there is still a serious discussion about whether people have a responsibility to ride on roads which are identical to motorways apart from the colour of the signs, to preserve cyclists’ de-facto “rights”.

We generally consider cycling on the motorways to be ill-advised on safety grounds, rather than just because it’s the law. The obvious example of stretches of dual carriageway which are upgraded to motorway by making them wider (and thus safer for cycling) is a serious obstacle to the argument that riding on dual carriageways is otherwise OK.

Given the circumstances I won’t dwell on this, although it’s extremely unlikely that anyone related to the recently deceased will also be a reader of my blog (and equally unlikely that such discussion will become more palatable to them after any time period).

Do cyclists who ride on de-facto motorways have to accept some responsibility if they are run down? I’d welcome any thoughts in the comment box below.

Traffic surveys: left indicator use (I of II)

Edinburgh traffic and cyclist safety survey. Under 4% of motorists changing lane used their left indicator…

Because drivers always use their left indicator… right?

It’s old news that the chief cause of serious injury or death amongst cyclists in an urban environment is being caught on the inside of vehicles moving or turning left. Rarely is fault attributed to the driver, despite their self-evident failure to ensure their nearside was clear before manoeuvring*.

As part of a new series of articles I decided to perform CCTV junction monitoring using my HD headcam in central Edinburgh.

The first aim was simply to get an idea of how often motorists actually advertise their intentions in a situation where there is a clear need to indicate: changing from the right lane to the left lane, where cyclists are often to be found.

Think bike! by Beatnic, on flickr.

I picked a busy main road junction with a bus lane almost to the lights, but which has a (rarely used) right filter, to ensure a reasonable sample of motorists changing lane. Recordings were made over two rush hours on consecutive days.

Only a short sample of footage was captured on each day as a proof of concept, but the results are already quite startling:

Just under 4% of motorists changing from the right to the left lane at this busy junction used their left indicator, including 0% of bus drivers.

For much of one observation period the bus lane was blocked by an illegally parked motorist. Surprisingly, none of the Lothian Buses observed during this period signalled left to re-enter the bus lane, even though it would have been easy (given the low traffic speed) for multiple cyclists to pass the parked car and end up on the inside of the driver’s vehicle.

The high fatality rate of left-moving vehicle incidents makes it difficult for investigators to determine exactly where fault lies (unless a camera is worn – see Video Protection On The Roads). However, the idea that these collisions happen due to cyclist negligence despite the best efforts of the driver is certainly not supported by observations such as these.

It’s probable that motorists are a little better at indicating when they actually turn left, but this junction had too high a proportion of straight-on traffic to get a significant sample.

I will follow up with video monitoring of vehicles which actually turn left, taken over a longer period at another suitable junction.

Also, the reader should be aware that one junction on just two days isn’t exactly cast iron evidence (although I have no doubt that long term monitoring would give the same sort of outcome).

Watch this space.

* There are (at least) two recent local examples, one where an academic riding to the University of Edinburgh was crushed by a left-turning Neil Williams Haulage truck, the other when a left-turning Edinburgh Council bin lorry crushed a young man on his way to work: both in broad daylight. I’m not aware of the driver of either vehicle being charged with any offence, but of course it’s possible this was not reported. Whether those drivers would find themselves in the 96% who don’t indicate or the 4% who do is purely speculation.

Video protection on the roads

Police Scotland (amongst others) need to start taking road safety much more seriously….

I have a compact HD video camera which I use routinely when travelling around Edinburgh – always when I use the car and almost always when I travel by bike. Relatively inexpensive, charges by USB with zero hassle and I don’t need to sit through unwanted footage – perfect 🙂

I recently had a near miss at the hands of a driver I subsequently filmed tapping away on their mobile phone; I might not have been so bothered had they not waved their phone under my nose while telling me it wasn’t their problem.

I rang it through on 101 – something you’d think would be an open-and-shut case but which Police Scotland could hardly have been less interested in.

Out of sheer frustration I posted footage of the incident on YouTube and, amongst other channels, it looks like this is going to run in tomorrow’s Edinburgh Evening News [edit: now updated with link – a very positive piece by Jen Lavery].

Although I’ve featured numerous videos on the site I haven’t yet discussed the actual act of filming the streets and thought this might be a good time to do so.

The truth is good for everyone

The main person who is being filmed by drivers with dash cams and cyclists with headcams is the driver/cyclist themselves. From the moment I start the ignition the film starts rolling and my every move is precisely detailed until the moment I park up.

Ditto on the bike. Another driver or cyclist may feature for a few moments but then they’re gone and (mostly) forgotten. Should I hand over footage to anyone the feature attraction is my own speed, positioning and attentiveness.

It might sound daft, but watching video footage of yourself on the roads has a massive impact that you just can’t get any other way. For instance, you keep getting cut up at a particular junction but when you watch the footage back it’s obvious that you’re too close to the kerb and inviting a dangerous overtake.

You slow down to half speed on a cycle track (like the North Edinburgh paths) but you still get a couple of tuts – you can actually watch back and decide whether you were out of order, or if it’s just a spot of NIMBYism from a vexed pedestrian.

A camera also protects you (or condemns you) when things get more serious. I hit an uncontrolled dog recently and there was nothing stopping the owner claiming he had it on the lead and I was “speeding” except the cold hard truth of the video reel. At the same time, if I do nail someone on the paths and we both get carted off to A&E it’s just as possible that the video might be used the other way.

While cyclists seem to get all the press when it comes to cameras on the road, widespread use of recording equipment is coming fast across all vehicle classes.

More than six hundred buses in Edinburgh city centre are continuously filming from multiple angles and this has helped Lothian Buses’ drivers attain an enviable reputation for sensible driving. Goods vehicles, fleet vehicles and an increasing number of private vehicles are following suit. Everyone’s a winner (so long as it’s not your bad habit of texting and driving that’s getting an airing).

Out-grouping and survivor’s justice

Cyclists in particular face a massive uphill struggle for safe treatment on the roads and do not often enjoy the protection of the legal system when things go wrong.

In the worst case scenario, the authorities are left with a corpse and a driver who insists they did nothing wrong (“he came out of nowhere!” “he was in my blind spot” “he swerved and there was nothing I could do”) and as you might expect, justice in these scenarios is in extremely short supply.

Some drivers actually manage to kill twice, such as lorry driver Joao Lopes in London, or Edinburgh’s very own Gary McCourt, and it’s not impossible (in fact, odds are it’s likely) that these two are just the tip of an iceberg of bad driving that often – thankfully – doesn’t have terminal consequences for innocent passers by.

Ask any accident investigator what they’d give for high definition, 60FPS footage of any driver’s actions in the moments leading up to a crash and I wager they’ll bite your arm off.

Infrastructure and public comment

While life is too short to bother with every dangerous manoeuvre you see on the road, video footage can still be very useful for more mundane tasks like harassing your local councillors over a dangerous or substandard section of road, as I’ve tried to do with Edinburgh’s ridiculous “Quality Bike Corridor” and also in the campaign on the redesign of Leith Walk.

A growing number of drivers who speed through Edinburgh’s southside 20mph pilot zone are, unknown to them, being archived in high definition video. Sure, Police Scotland aren’t keen on enforcing 20mph limits but you can bet they will be interested in establishing a pattern of behaviour after any collision (as will drivers’ insurance companies).

This type of crowdsourced data may also be invaluable for targeting any enforcement or infrastructure efforts that come along at a later date.

That awkward thing – evidence

As the number of cameras on the roads increases they are steadily being cited in more and more convictions (and uncounted insurance victories), but the real problem is not the use of video footage in court – the Metropolitan Police have gone on record to say that video footage is helpful in encouraging people to “plead guilty rather than trying it on” and that they have “reduced a lot of time at court”.

Rather, the issue is getting the police and prosecutors to accept and act on documentary footage when it is presented to them – in London a scheme has been established which allows direct video submission from the public that in turn may lead to targeted enforcement or prosecution (with variable enthusiasm) but this has not been widely adopted.

As my own experience shows, it can even be difficult just to get your footage aired despite making a direct allegation to the police. It’s not like these things have to result in masses of paperwork or someone going to jail (there are options like cautions, fixed penalties and the s.59 antisocial driving marker that can be easily applied).

Cracking down on dangerous driving is a no-brainer and a road which is driven on with care is a road that all of Edinburgh’s citizens can enjoy living around and travelling along.

But before that can happen, Police Scotland (amongst others) need to start taking road safety much more seriously.

Cycling in Edinburgh: in photos

T-boned by a driver using their mobile phone, who is completely unapologetic. This is what it means to cycle in Edinburgh.

Welcome, readers of the Edinburgh Evening News.

You’ll likely be wanting to find something you can be abusive about. You’ll probably enjoy my recent article Video Protection on the Roads.

Original article

T-boned by a driver using their mobile phone, who is completely unapologetic even when he realises the whole thing is on video, and waves his mobile in my face while claiming he didn’t see me in my bright cycling gear…

This is what it means to cycle in Edinburgh.


I called this in using the 101 non-emergency police number, but while they did ask me for the registration number, they were seriously disinterested (they didn’t even ask for the time of the incident) and told me that regardless of video footage they would not proceed against the driver.

Update 2

This ended up forming the basis of quite a positive piece in the Edinburgh Evening News.

There is some movement in terms of dialogue with local elements of Police Scotland.


Defies words, really.

From the driving seat: bike lights and reflectors

When it comes to cyclist safety, what’s more effective – a light or a reflector? It’s not as easy as you might assume…

Countless British motorists have badly inflated or worn out tyres, faulty lights or dodgy brakes – a massive 40% of vehicles fail their annual MOT inspection at the first attempt.

When the owners of these cars take to the road on two wheels, it should come as small surprise that they don’t all conform to the letter (or spirit!) of the law.

In this post I present four very short videos to use as discussion points. I’ll take each one in turn before attempting to persuade you to draw the conclusion that I always arrive at following a rush hour drive on a dark winter’s night…

Incidentally, if you’re interested in getting a camera yourself, I’m using (and can highly recommend) this compact HD video camera by Contour.

Light or reflectors?

This video features two riders, one of whom has a rear light (but is still not road legal due to a missing mandatory reflector). The other has no rear light at all. All the same, he is in little danger of going over my bonnet, as you’ll see:

While the video doesn’t completely replicate the driving experience, what I hope to get across here is how visible the unlit rider is – his reflective ankle bands were competing with the second rider’s (perfectly bright) flashing light from hundreds of yards away.

  • Not only is the motion of the leg quite compelling, unlike the second rider’s barely visible pedal reflectors you can see ankle bands all the time, even from side-on.
  • As an added bonus versus lights, the pedals are off-centre (closer to traffic) increasing the perceived width of the bike.
  • We all know that reflectors don’t work when headlights aren’t pointing at them. All the same, between 00:17 – 00:21 you can easily see the rider’s ankle bands despite him being over 45 degrees off-axis. Aren’t modern retro-reflectives efficient?

Like many people, I find it difficult to estimate the distance of a flashing light. This isn’t much of a problem in town, where you can see everything in plenty of time regardless, but it should be thought-provoking that the nominally ‘unsafe’ cyclist might even be easier to place – especially if you’re in the habit of riding outside urban areas or off the beaten track.

The human touch

Contrast the riders above with this one (encountered a few seconds further on). He has sparingly fitted just one reflective band, but on the business side where it will best compliment his light:

Compared to an abstract light -flashing or otherwise- the human motion of the rotating ankle certainly discourages a braindead pass (dehumanising the cyclist to a narrow box-like object to be passed with as little care as you’d pass a traffic cone – if that).

Where does it all go wrong?

The real point of this post was not so much to contrast lights and reflectives (interesting though that subject may be).

Let’s look at our next example, a rider who is, at face value, doing everything right. Yet he’s doing something badly wrong… can you tell what it is?

I imagine experienced riders might have been a little uncomfortable there, especially if you imagine I’m just another white van…

The issue? The rider’s road position was completely indefensive. What’s the point being lit up like a Christmas tree if you’re just going to expose yourself to injury by riding in daft places?

You can see this quite acutely at 00:05-00:10 where the cyclist is actually riding on the double yellow lines – so passive (and so almost “not-there-ish”) that I nearly overtook regardless of the junction coming up.

Spend any time on the roads with an open mind and I think it’s easy to argue that a large proportion of collisions (and possibly the explanation of the great gender disparity in injury rates) comes down to the messages that riders give out – voluntarily or otherwise – and the opportunities for error that they present to the drivers they interact with.

Don’t go taking off your lights, but even if you have them on, please don’t assume that they are particularly important. The rider with only a reflective band, riding a sensible distance from the kerb, would have been a safe bet over the “legal” rider in the third video if I was running an insurance company…

Aussie government funds scientists: find helmets great after all

After the authors’ previous paper was critically panned, is this really the last word on Australian bike helmet laws?

Dance of the academics continues amidst media glee

When everyone already wears a helmet, what’s really causing falling injury rates?

As the fallout from Australia’s failed bike sharing schemes continues, it seems we haven’t seen the last of government-funded research showing that helmet laws are great actually, thanks very much.

Long term bicycle related head injury trends for New South Wales, Australia following mandatory helmet legislation (Olivier, Walter and Grzebieta, 2012) has just made a splash on BikeRadar and various forums after being accepted by the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

The authors, Olivier, Walter and Grzebieta, previously published a paper in 2011 claiming to “end the debate about the effectiveness of cycle helmet legislation”, but which was severely criticised by fellow boffins:

The dataset is unsound. Lesser severity cyclist head injuries, mostly in falls, were compared with high severity pedestrian head injuries in road traffic accidents. In addition, the definition of head injury was broad, including low severity injuries such as scalp wounds and bruising. Despite this, the comparison of pedestrian and cyclist injury ratios does not show a noticeable, sustained improvement for cyclists after the legislation came into force. This adds to previous studies that claimed an effect from helmet legislation, yet upon re-evaluation of the data, a null result was concluded.

via Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation

It seems that Olivier et al are back for another shot, this time using the ratio of cyclist arm:head injuries without that pesky comparison with pedestrian injuries thrown into the mix. They’re also only considering hospital admissions, rather than any recorded injury (on which more later).
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