Monday, April 25, 2016

Collecting evidence on Old Street cycle-lane and cycle-spaces

Many of you may have seen the roadworks around Shoreditch that lasted a good few months. A lot of enhancements have been made to separate bicycle traffic and stopping positions (around traffic lights) from motor vehicles and pedestrians who extensively use the crossing at Old Street and Great Eastern Street junctions. I pass by the area almost daily, either to commute to work or recreationally as I live nearby. A lof of time and money have bern invested, and the outcome, notwithstanding some design problems (i.e. moving pedestrian crossing further north of the bike crossing is confusing, although understandable given the cycling route via Pitfield Street), is quite successful.
You've also seen me sharing articles and personal thoughts on negotiation of right of way and traffic duties between various road users and perceptions different types of users have on one another. My general thoughts can be summarised as: "a lot of cyclists put a bad name into cycling through careless and selfish rule breaking while many (but a minority of) motor users, primarily motorcyclists, black cabs and white vans are outright disrespectful.
I was just cycling from Bethnal Green to Holborn and saw a black cab pull into the newly painted bicycle box on the left hand lane, slightly further up than the demarcation line on the right hand line to allow cyclists a crucial head start in conjunction with the all new bicycle traffic green light that goes few seconds before cars, a phenomenon new to London but one I was already used to from my times in Denmark and Germany a whole decade ago (thanks for slowly catching up London!) at what is a very busy road junction.
I waved at the driver and signalled he should be waiting at the line before the box. I know from previous experiences and common sende that it is not required of them to do so if they got stuck there whilst on the move from a previous green light. I've also sadly come to accpet deivers turning left do not need to wait for a bicycle on their rear mirror while this was a major offence on Danish traffic and having been on both ends of the stick (a cyclist and a car-driving pizza delivery boy) in Dennark, I saw how important it was... only to see it as a fantasy here. Anyhow, deliberate trespass of bicycle boxes is a serious offence which motorcylists commit all the time and get away with. This black cabbie should have known better.
And knew he did -- his blunt response to me was: "well I'm suprised you didn't contravene like all your mates do!" My calculated response for which I only had a few seconds to devise was to advise him to not be prejudiced and that two wrongs don't make a right. To which, he responded by saying "it's not prejudice, if majority of cyclists do not follow the Highway Code".
The articles and thoughts I'd shared before all signal at the same direction: road users do not trust one another, and both pedestrians and motorised users have less of a favourable opinion about cyclists. Even would-be cyclists suffer from this as they feel the roads are too dangerous, perhaps not necessarily implying potentially hostile behaviour against them but clearly observing the chaos with which the London roads operate. A lot of this bad name has been bestowed upon cyclists by their own attitudes, and this is not limited to contravening red light and annoying both drivers and pedestrians but also disrespecting zebra crossings and just foul attitude towards cyclists altogether.
I was surprised to see, how in Berlin, cyclists take liberty in facilitating pavements and disobey traffic lights -- an argument often put forth by anti-red-light coalition of cyclists in London as 'those rules are made for drivers and cyclists are incentivised to take shortcuts or streamline traffic'. Well, the truth could not be further from it, and for a number of reasons, including but not limited to: the very different cultures of negotiation between road users in the UK and in Germany; the very different road infrastructures (compare London's mainly narrow streets and pavements to Berlin's wide avenues and pavements) and the sheer population density and moving patterns. Despite my limited knowledge of the discussions taking place in Germany, I think they need to debate their negotiations, too, as once I started cycling regularly in Berlin in 2013, having had lived and cycled in London for over 6 years, I found it confusing and challenging.
But that aside, the divide widens and the problem aggravates in a city like London where cycling numbers are going up and the infrastructure is barely keeping apace. In the hierarchical order of risk to road users, it is natural that the cab driver's behaviour and excuse is beyond proportionality. Yet, the responsibility is shared. The reality is his views won't change overnight by simply getting asked by cyclists to respect the demarcation lines. My intervention seemed to help, though, as he stood right before the bicycle box at the next traffic lights where I gave him a thumbs up. It certainly did not help to see careless cyclists crossing red light (one very fast and at a time when pedestrian lights turned green) on the other side of the road, though. The cabbie might have even asked himself why I wasn't picking on and shouting across the road to the other cyclists.
Although the repercussions will vary significantly, the multi-layered responses should be clear and work in parallel: (unfortunately, and as I hate to advocate this) implementation of law should be stricter; all road users should be much better informed and this could easily be facilitated by signage campaigns at traffic lights (just as is being done on buses and other vehicles); road infrastructure should certainly be upgraded faster; and regressive policies, against which I loudly advocated, such as Boris Johnson's move to allow motorcyclists use bus lanes should be reversed as it settled in a culture of motorcyclists continuously growing an unchecked level of self-confidence in breaking the rules.
To put it in the shortest and bluntest way possible: we all have to be a lot less selfish and a lot more selfless.