Three assaults in one hour? Call the police!

This blog came to mind when I went for a bike ride this morning. I was gone an hour.

I still have to review footage from the cycle cameras but three close passes stick in my mind. On top of the criteria outlined previously, I find a reaction of me turning to look at the vehicle as it passes is a good indicator (*) and these three did just that. All three though made me feel the threat of unlawful personal violence (ie being hit with a car).

One, a driver that overtook me with oncoming traffic. Not a million miles an hour, but it was forcing through a narrow gap. Using my criteria it may go unreported but I’ll review the footage, but at the time unnerving.

Two, a taxi driver that overtook me with no oncoming traffic whilst I was alongside parked cars. The gap between the taxi and parked cars was not much more than me. I should have taken primary position but not always possible. The danger here? I could have been car doored with nowhere to go or what if the taxi driver suddenly swerved to the left? In this case it felt the taxi driver had not really acknowledged my existence.

Third, a van. I was cycling up hill, a bit slow as you’d expect. I heard the van approaching me from behind. It stayed behind me as we went through a traffic island but sped round me as soon as I had gone through and abruptly moved in front of me to sneak through the next traffic island. Considering the length of the van I was almost broadsided by this. I made a vocal exclamation.

The point of this? Well. This was a bike ride of one hour. In that time three drivers intentionally or recklessly (more likely) caused me to apprehend immediate unlawful personal violence.

That sounds a bit legalese, doesn’t? Well, it is.

It is the definition of assault. In English Law you do not need to be touched to be assaulted. The threat of violence itself constitutes an offence. “Personal violence” includes simply touching someone. No injury is required. So, if the actions of someone makes you fear immediate personal violence then you’ve been assaulted. It doesn’t have to be intentional. It can be reckless, ie an unintended outcome of someone’s action.

Whilst riding a bike, if a driver’s standard of driving is so poor that they make you fear personal violence (ie being touched in an unlawful way) then that could constitute an assault.

Now, compare these two statements. Let’s say two friends said one each. What would your reaction be? To which one would you say “Call the police!”?

  1. I went for a hour’s walk today. In that time, I was assaulted three times.
  2. I went for an hour’s bike ride today. In that time, I was close passed by three drivers.

(*) So much so I am considering investing in a third camera to go on the helmet to allow footage showing how close they are.

Why do cyclists carry cameras?

I have cameras on my bike now.

I never wanted to be this person.

I had often adhered to the “don’t grass” mentality, the “I don’t want to get anyone into trouble” mentality, the “I don’t want to ruin someone’s life” mentality. But, having cycled more regularly over the last few years, I have been struck (metaphorically, not literally) by the number of times a driver has acted with little consideration for others, be it speeding, using their phone or just driving in an inconsiderate or careless manner. I started thinking: if the driver does not consider the impact (another interesting choice of words) of their actions on me and my life, why should I hold back from reporting something that endangered me and/or other road users.

By not reporting things, we are tacitly condoning it. When you’re out and about, observe drivers. I bet you will see them using their phones, jumping red lights, driving too close to the car in front, cutting corners at junctions or speeding. If they are not reprimanded for such behaviour it will be regarded as normal or acceptable. I decided if I saw something I would report it.

However, the thing that really sent me down this road was the number of times I, directly, have been put in danger by drivers not driving safely.

  1. Close passes.
  2. Drivers overtaking and then immediately turning left in front of me or immediately having to stop (traffic lights or queue of traffic).
  3. Drivers not giving way at junctions requiring me to emergency stop.
  4. Driving through gaps when the obstruction is on their side – I’ve had a white van accelerate towards me, for which the only safe response was for me jump off my bike on to the pavement, in a quiet back street in Ashingdon.

Note – all of the above are covered by the Highway Code in some way.

None of these were caught on film. I was not able to take a note of a registration plate (since trying to save my life takes priority) and if I had, it’s my word against theirs. So the only solution was to install cameras.

But I did decide on criteria for reporting. There’s a process.

  1. I review any video the next day and decide then whether to report.
  2. If offence 1 above, I will consider:
    • the speed and position – if they have slowed and made some room (eg crossing the white line) then it is less likely to be reported
    • oncoming traffic – if none it is more likely to be reported
    • was it a pinch point – if yes, more likely to reported.
  3. Offences 2 and 3 above are usually always reported.
  4. If offence 4, I will consider:
    • the speed
    • how close they were when going through the gap.
  5. Any other illegal act caught on film (eg mobile phone) is a direct report.
  6. In any of these I consider if a professional driver (eg taxi, delivery van, HGV). They should know the law and set an example.
  7. There are, however, two potential trumps. Two potential rules that overrule any of the considerations in points 2 and 4:
    • Firstly, my reaction at the time. If it’s something along the lines of “F@@k me!”, it will be reported.
    • Secondly, if any of these were against my children, it’s an automatic report.

And the thing that vindicated my decision? Today was the first time I went out with cameras. I had my 11yo with me. She joined the road when it was safe to do so and the next three cars (in a row and immediately after each other) overtook me and then her, as we approached a pinch point. The gap between her and the cars was in no way safe. I am yet to review the video but I imagine HM Constabulary will be receiving three reports.

Addendum, 12th November: I had someone criticise me for having a camera. Says I’m anti-car, why am I going out looking for offenders?

I’m not… it just happens while I’m out and about. Ultimately, my camera footage may include drivers offending against other drivers, pedestrians offending against other pedestrians; it may have footage of a robbery. I’ll report anything I see on the footage I feel should be reported. It is there to improve the safety of everyone, not just me, and not just against drivers.

Where do we park?

“Where do we park?” is one of those questions I hear a lot when planning a trip. Needing to know where one can park their car is important but focussing on it also implies a car dependency – at no point has the idea of NOT driving been considered.

Local councils get criticised for not providing parking in town centres, as if the lack of parking prevents people from coming to town even though there’s public transport and walking as options.

But this blog is more about parking on the highway, not the lack (or perceived lack) of parking provision for visitors.

Let me start with a theoretical conversation:

Child: “Dad, can we get a pony?”

Father: “A pony? They cost a lot of money to buy, to look after and so on. A real commitment!”

Child: “But I need one!”

Father: “We have no stables, no proper sized garden. Where would we put it?”

Child: “We’ll leave it outside in the street!”

Father: “Don’t be silly: it’ll be in the way, could be stolen, hurt. We wouldn’t be allowed to leave personal belongings like that on the street!”

Or about this one?

Business: “We’ve purchased 2 tonnes of machinery, costing £10,000, but realise we have nowhere to store it. Can we put on public land?”

Local Council: “No, that could be considered flytipping and you’ll be fined”

Now, replace “pony” and “stables” with “car” and “garage”; replace “2 tonnes of machinery” with “car”.  We wouldn’t leave a pony on the street, we wouldn’t dump machinery on the street, but once it is a car we have no issues with it. 

Cars are expensive, can get damaged when left in public places; there is probably no other item of our personal belongings we would voluntarily leave overnight out in public. We hire storage areas for belongings we don’t have space for at home, but very few think to do it for their car. The expectation is it can be left on the public highway for free.

Parking on the road is permissible  but there are exceptions and no one has a right to a spot on the road. But, with more and more cars on the road in the UK, and 92% of their time is spent parked, parking is a problem. 

Here are some issues parking causes:

  • Reduces road capacity –  a row of parked cars literally takes the same space as a line of moving traffic. There are many streets around me that are wide enough for three lanes of traffic but due to parking on both sides only one lane of moving traffic is possible, turning a two-way road effectively into a one-way street. Indeed, some streets have been made one-way simply because of this. There are also boulevard style streets near me, with two lanes of traffic in either direction. But, parking in the left hand lane means cars simply stay on the right hand lane the entire time, even if just one car is parked.
One parked car in left hand lane. All traffic observed whilst here stayed in the right hand lane.
  • Danger to pedestrians – being forced to cross the road emerging from between two parked cars. As a kid I was taught not to do this, but in my street the entire length of it is parked cars, so one has no choice.
  • Danger to motorists – parking obscures views. When I drive there are number of junctions that require you to turn blind since the parking is preventing you from seeing if anything is coming. 
Taken in line with the give way road markings, note how obscured the view is. Funnily enough, when I went to cross the road, a car was there I had not been able to see…
  • Pavement parking – so many cars are parked on the pavement, even if partly (ie two wheels on the pavement, two on the road). The rationale given is that the road isn’t wide enough and so parking fully on the road would be an obstruction. But, by parking on the pavement they’re still creating an obstruction – to pedestrians, wheelchair users etc. But this gets dismissed, since “they can always go round”.
  • Territorial – people view the bit of road outside their house as their own, when it isn’t. Despite this, people get very territorial about a bit of tarmac.

So what can be done?

In Japan (here’s an example) one has to prove they have somewhere to store their car before buying one. In Singapore  they have to pay a tax of at least 100% its market value plus obtain a certificate of entitlement at a cost of over £20,000. This is just at point of purchase – there’s more taxes to pay each year.

In the UK there is nothing to stop you just buying a car. There’s no expectation for a car buyer to consider where they will store it. When considering the purchase of a car, the cost of storing it (hiring a garage or transforming your front garden into a car port) should be considered..

But ultimately, you should consider whether or not you need a car. If we have fewer cars on the road, parking will become less of an issue.

What journeys do you make? Are they walkable? Could they have been done on public transport?

Is it simply a convenience for you to have a car and if so, how much are you willing to pay for that? If you are not willing to pay for proper storage and assume it is fine leaving it out on the street or on the pavement, where it inconveniences others, then you may wish to consider the thought you are putting your own convenience above those that do not have the choice of buying a car.

How do Cycle Lanes Cause Congestion?

As an advocate of segregated cycling infrastructure, it may seem to be an odd blog title: how do cycle lanes cause congestion?

This blog came to mind when I read this article in the Sunday Telegraph over my morning porridge:

It is a very common argument: cycle lane installed, reduces road space, causes congestion. And you can see the logic – ten cars spread over two lanes, on average, would be two queues of five cars. Make it one lane, then that is a queue of ten cars. Quite reasonable. Obviously, the cycle lane has caused congestion. But there is a flaw in the logic.

It is confusing the cause with something making the symptom worse.

Congestion is a symptom of too many cars on the road. Anything which reduces road space will make the symptom worse. The problem is that we become used to a certain level of traffic. It becomes normalised and we no longer see it as congestion. So, when something worsens the symptom, ie the congestion, we blame that. And thus we ignore the actual cause.

No doubt, many people drive on roads that at certain times of day the journey time is longer. It is just accepted. It’s the norm. How many of us actually stop and think – is it becuase there’s too many cars on the road?

Government statistics show that in 1991 there were 20 million registered motor vehicles in the UK. In 2020, 38.3 million. A near-doubling of vehicles in a period that the UK population only increased by 20%. Road space has not changed much in that time. So, is it really cycle lanes?

In my home town, you can count on one hand the number of segregated cycle lanes (not including “magic paint” and shared space). There’s congestion. What might the cause be? Because it ain’t cycle lanes!

And it’s not just cycle lanes that get blamed.

The advent of Sat Navs has precipitated an increase in rat-running meaning some try to avoid traffic on the main roads by using side roads. This is not much of a problem if it is just one or two drivers with the “insider knowledge” but once Sat Navs came along everyone and their dogs suddenly knew these back routes.

Low traffic neighbourhoods (I prefer people friendly neighbourhoods) are designed to stop rat-running. Of course, this means more traffic on the main roads and so complaints have been raised that they have caused congestion. But, is it not just the fact there are too many cars on the road, but over the last few years that traffic has been rat-running around residential areas?

Some parts of London recently removed their low traffic neighbourhoods on the premise of the congestion they caused. Just search on twitter and you’ll find that after the removal congestion was just as bad – it was just elsewhere.

And my last point – this article points out the Government’s support for the motorist. The Government supports a group of people responsible for the deaths of five people per day. Just let that sink in.

The Avenues, an update

A while back I posted about the Avenues, some roads near where I live. Residential roads, used as through routes. Straight roads, with cars often going well above the 30mph limit. I asked about ideas to improve them.

I have mulled it over and I think one approach would be to stop the Avenues being straight roads. This could be utilised by changing the priorities at junctions. Instead of traffic going along South Avenue, say, without giving way, the traffic gets forced into side roads.

For this to work, the junctions would have to be redesigned, rather than rely on just new road markings. Some of the side streets may have to be made one-way (although with all the parking either side they practically are anyway). A 20mph limit should be imposed as well. The Council should look at the whole neighbourhood and consider how it could redirect traffic so that it is less attractive for traffic that is trying to cut through to avoid main roads.

What this means is, instead of a car driving from one end of South Avenue to the other, potentially at great speed and without having to give way,  the driver would have to slow at the junctions and turn back into South Avenue.

Furthermore, these junctions could be designed to allow non motor vehicles to continue straight – a cut through in the junction for cycles and mobility scooters etc.

A rough sketch of one such junction is below.

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Deaths by Motoring – Essex

A while back I posted about the number of deaths caused by motoring in the UK.

In my local paper today I saw the following article:

This campaign from Safer Essex Roads is welcome but it highlights the current annual numbers of deaths in Essex: 42.

42 deaths each year.

That is one every 8 or 9 days.

Whilst road accidents get reported, there isn’t the shock with the number of deaths. Why not? A death every 8 or 9 days would not be tolerated in a factory so why on the roads?

The A127, an update

Many months ago I blogged about the A127 providing ideas about alternative routes. I have found in recent times, particularly if I have my children with me, that some of the traffic free bits are so pointless it is better to use a side road.

Prime example, there is a stretch of cycle lane, painted on the pavement running between St Mary’s Church and Priory Park. It ends just before one gets to Priory Park and means if you follow it properly you have to cross four lanes of traffic to continue north.

I used to do this and send my kids on along the pavement to reunite at the other side of the junction.

Now, we don’t use that bit of cycle lane. We turn off at the church and go north on Hill Road, turn left into Priory Crescent and get to the junction that way. This route is either completely free of cars or has a queue of traffic at the lights that we can filter through and get in front of.

It is much safer way to get to the entrance of the Prittlewell Path.

How bad must a cycle lane be if it is better to use the road?

Prittlewell Path, an update

Today, the 11-year-old and I went for a ride along the Prittlewell Path.

We decided that at the end we would investigate the footpath that is on the other side of Eastwood Road. You’ll note in my blog about the path, it ends at this road with no indication of where cyclists should go.

The footpath takes you into Belfairs Park and quickly becomes a mud trail, but interestingly, there is a fork: the footpath goes left, meandering thorugh the golf club hugging the Prittlewell Brook, and to the right a well-worn trail through Belfairs Park, parallel to Eastwood Road.

The beauty of this is that there is nothing (legally) to stop us cycling on it and it is obviously cycled on. It leads all the way to the entrance of Belfairs Park, where a shared space path begins. The only downside is that it is bumpy and waterlogged with all the recent rain.

So, why not, upgrade this trail to the standard of the rest of the Prittlewell Path, creating some more traffic free cycling, joining up the Prittlewell Path with Belfairs?

The Prittlewell Path, in general, could do with:

  1. Signage – to indicate where to come off for various things (eg the hospital) and to make the paths shared space to allow cycling on/off the route.
  2. Lights – as mentioned in my older post, there’s no streetlighting. One can buy bike lights that illuminate your way but surely better for some street lighting?
  3. Being traffic free throughout – I note in my older post there is a bit by Manchester Drive that puts you back on the road. This runs alongside a park…
  4. Tiger crossings whenever the path crosses roads.
  5. The extension along the lines mentioned above.

Traversing Bournes Green Junction

I hate this junction.

 

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Click for more detail on Strava

 

It is two roundabouts in one.

The junction is where the A1159 (aka Royal Artillery Way) and the A13 meet. It combines with some local roads. It is two lanes throughout and the traffic comes through fast. One lane becomes a filter off to Wakering Road and so often motorists position themselves for that filtering way too early. Perhaps concerned they won’t be able to get over to the left in time…

It is horrible to drive on, let alone cycle. But some local cycle provision via a shared space path brings you to this junction and I have seen maps/plans to indicate that the idea is for cyclists continue south down Thorpe Hall Avenue. So, this suggests the council expect cyclists to use it.

I will post about the A13 another time. I have already posted about the shared space on the Royal Artillery Way.

I consider myself an experienced cyclist and will brave it, but usually in a taking-first-exit or going straight-across-type route. If I have to do more than that I try to pick a different route. As you will see from my A13 post, when it comes, there is an alternative route to the A13 but involves having to go a long way round this junction and I usually stop to catch my breath once having successfully done it.

Today, I visited it with the mindset of someone new to cycling who may come along the Royal Artillery Way and be unceremoniously deposited at this junction. What would they do?

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Current layout

There is pavement around most of the junction and a path through the middle at one point. However, apart from two of the exits, there are no pedestrian crossings. Not all the exits necessarily need one but I was surprised by the lack of one at both the A13 and A1159 exits.

There is nothing to assist with crossing two lanes of fast moving traffic through the middle. However, you were able to get round the whole junction except if you had to cross Southchurch Boulevard. There was nothing there so I went back on to the road and had to cross two lanes of traffic to use one of the u-turn bits to get back.

I went round the junction a few times in different directions. Crossing the roads at the various points was scary. Often having to look round corners, sometimes having to second guess if a car was about to come round the corner.

What I was pleased to find was two paths that led away from the junction that could be used to join up with my alternative A13 route (that will be discussed in its post, when it comes). Though these are pavement so can’t be used legally.

So, how to improve it?

Whilst shared space isn’t great, the easiest thing would be to make the pavement shared space (including the cut throughs) and to install toucan crossings at various points. Cuckoo Corner is set up like this. I would remove the path through the middle – it is dangerous and I feel if another Toucan was put in place there it would really start to crowd the junction.

Ideally, a redesign of the junction to consider that not only cars use it and to make safer for non-motor traffic. It could be changed into two crossroads, with traffic lights on each. I have generally found cycling through a junction with traffic lights to be safer, since you have less traffic to deal with. Toucan crossings at both crossroads would allow safe pedestrian crossing throughout.

Below are some photos. I also took a video of this for your viewing pleasure. This is at twice normal speed. See if you can spot the bit where a car either did not see my signal or ignored it…