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Mayor's transport questions and answers, doublethink and other nonsense
23.10.09 by Buffalo Bill

Jack has published the full transcript of the Q & A session on transport issues with the Mayor in the London Assembly, which took place earlier this month. He’s asking for help analysing the answers. There’s a lot of stuff in there about Boris Johnson’s big plan for cycling, namely the cycling ‘super-highways’.

Personally, I think the title ‘super-highway’ is faintly ridiculous. After all, unless the Mayor is planning a major demolition plan on the scale of Haussman’s remodelling of Paris, during which the mediaeval centre was almost completely destroyed and replaced with the imperial boulevards which most people associate with modern Paris, there is little prospect of London cyclists being furnished with wide, straight roads to use, which is the clear implication of the term ‘super-highway’.

There are only a few highways in Central London: Marylebone / Euston Road, Park Lane / Grosvenor Place, the Embankment and perhaps Tottenham Court Road. Central London remains very much a city with a mediaeval plan (or non-plan). I am a very experienced cyclist, and of the roads and streets named above, I would say that only Tottenham Court Road is safe for more sedate cyclists, and the Embankment, particularly the City of London end, where it becomes Upper / Lower Thames Street, has been the scene of several fatal and near fatal collisions over the years, despite the prescence, latterly, of a bike lane.

I also have a big problem with the whole concept of bike lanes, and a ‘cycle network’. I realise that novice cyclists feel safer if there are bike lanes, but I remain to be convinced that bike lanes will actually be ‘safer’. One of the best engineered (in terms of raised kerbs seperating the bike lane from the ‘motor’ lanes, signing, and seperate traffic signals) lanes is the one running down the right-hand side of St Pancras Way. It was here that Conrad DuToit was killed by lorry a few years ago. This is clear proof, it were needed, that even a really well engineered bike lane will not prevent cyclist fatalities.

Just to hammer the point home, the junction where London bicycle messenger Sebastian Lukomski was killed in 2003, Upper Thames Street and Queen Street Place, now has a painted feeder lane up the left-hand side, leading to an Advanced Stop Line (one of those green boxes with a bike painted on it). Earlier this year, a cyclist was run over and seriously injured by a left-turning lorry at this very junction.

Anyway, looking at the Q & A quickly I noticed this:

Superhighways (3)
Question No: 2694 / 2009
Jenny Jones
Can you provide a breakdown of the number of serious injuries andfatalities for cycling casualties on each of the Superhighway routesover the latest available three year period?

Answer from the Mayor:
Based on the current definition of the Cycle Superhighways and not including where the routes leave the public highway (through parks etc.)the following number of cyclist were killed or seriously injured:**
2008 = 8

Which means that of 11 cyclist fatalities in 2008, 8 took place on the proposed ‘super-highways’. In my view, therefore, the millions that will be spent on these ‘super-highways’ will be wasted. There is one innovation in the Mayor’s answers which is the provision of ‘convex mirrors at traffic lights to help drivers of large vehicles to see along the length of their vehicle when turning left’.

Moving back to the down-side, I notice that Boris will not be renewing the funding for the Commercial Vehicle Education Unit, which is behind the ‘changing places’ demos, where cyclists can get into a lorry and see what a driver can see. Despite the fact that the Mayor reckons that this unit has had some success in reducing injuries and fatalities in East London, despite an increase in lorry movements, Boris has pulled the plug, and expects the haulage industry to take up the slack throught the Freight Operators Recognition Scheme. Given that the haulage industry’s representatives opposed the compulsory fitting of the ‘blind-spot’ mirror, I am not so confident.

The London Cycling Campaign is, quite naturally, very hot under their reflective Sam Brownes about this, with my old friend Charlie saying: “it’s difficult to believe that our cycling mayor is disbanding the only police unit in the country that has the power to properly investigate unsafe lorry operators, and bring them up to standards set by Health and Safety law.”

There is also a remarkable bit of doublethink1 in another answer:

HGVs and safety
Question No: 2697 / 2009
Jenny Jones
Could you confirm the number of HGVs stopped by police in London for each year since 2000, the proportion that were found to be driving illegally, any breakdown of offences and the proportion that were stopped by specialist traffic police? How will your future policing priorities ensure that there are additional specialist police available to monitor increased HGV flows that are likely with major construction projects such as Crossrail, Thameslink and the Olympics?
Answer from the Mayor:
The MPS did not, until 2008, keep a record of the number of HGVs that were stopped. Below I have set out the available information requested:

Number of HGVs stopped per year since 2000:
In 2008/09 3,000 vehicles were stopped (all types including lightweight vans). Of these 1329 were ‘trucks’ over 7.5 tonnes.

Proportion found to be driving illegally:
Offences were found in an average 80% of these vehicles. It should be noted that these are experienced officers adept at spotting defects and this is unlikely to be a representative percentage of offences in all commercial vehicles using London’s roads.

Italics mine. Err, how is it unlikely to representative? If there’s not a sufficiently well-trained officer around to spot the offence, it hasn’t been committed? This statement is akin to the famous philosophical riddle: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This statement surpasses even the total nonsense that Boris spouted about bendy buses killing cyclists.

1 Doublethink: ‘The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.’ – Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London, part 2, chapter 9, pp 220

Pink Express rider hit & 'critically' injured by lorry this morning
Guardian story on lorry deaths makes serious error
Perceived danger of lorries - a survey for London cyclists
Two London cyclists killed in two days by lorries
8th female London cyclist killed by lorry?
Daily Mail attacks cyclists, Jenny Jones says write to your MLA
Cycle lanes are convenient for motorists, not cyclists
Cynthia Barlow of Roadpeace on cuts to 'lorry police'
Boris Johnson reduces London cyclists' safety; MPs protest
Female cyclist killed by lorry 16th September 2009

  1. Thanks for the analysis, Bill, balanced and incisive as ever.

    On a technical point, the questions & answers I republished were ‘written’ questions to the Mayor, tabled by members of the Assembly. There was no ‘cyclists question time’ in the sense of an actual meeting where the questions were asked.

    Assembly members table a lot of such written questions each month and the answers are drafted by officials at the GLA and signed off by the Mayor.

    It’s like the difference between Written Questions and Oral Questions in the House of Commons. These here are of the written variety.

    I think it would be a good thing if there was a collective effort on the part of people who care about cycling in London to draft ideas for written questions to the Mayor. Assembly members have to cover a lot of different issues and have few staff – they can’t really be expected to be experts in cycling and so rely on outsiders for briefing.

    I’m sure the LCC and its borough groups already does this but I see no reason why readers of Moving Target and listeners to The Bike Show shouldn’t have their input too.

    Jack Thurston    23 October 2009, 11:07    #
  2. I suppose the comment from the Mayor / TfL about the 80% being ‘unrepresentative’ means that the sample was not ‘random’, i.e. these trained officers stopped vehicles they thought looked dodgy, so it doesn’t imply that 80% of all trucks are committing an offence. But we do know that previous random checks also found high levels of lawlessness, so this answer just reinforces the need for more enforcement, not less.

    Jack is right, by the way – Assembly members like Jenny Jones would probably appreciate suggestions for questions to put to the Mayor. Mine would be ‘What are the twenty junctions in London with the highest number of cyclists killed or seriously injured in the last three years, and what steps are being taken to make these safer for cyclists?’ or something like that.

    — Jim    23 October 2009, 15:13    #
  3. Diane Abbott MP has put down an Early Day Motion about the CVEU being shut down. Write to your MP and get them to sign! bit.ly/41EkrT

    — Bill    24 October 2009, 07:46    #
  4. cycling news for grown-ups..

    good reading, good stuff

    — Darrenger    29 October 2009, 07:46    #
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