TfL Draft Cycle Safety Action Plan: plenty of carrots but where are the sticks?

Transport for London has published a draft Cycle Safety Action Plan. Comments on the plan are required by December 11th 2009. The plan is good in parts but the emphasis is on voluntary measures, partnerships and awareness raising, when what is really needed is tough action against dangerous driving and facing up to the hard decisions needed to make London a cycle-friendly city.

As has listeners to the show will know, safety is a big concern for London’s cyclists and – importantly – for people who currently don’t ride bikes but want to. The TfL draft Action Plan notes that

In 2008, 15 cyclists were killed, 430 were seriously injured and a further 2,757 cyclists sustained slight injuries while cycling on London’s roads.

While the rate of cyclist deaths and injuries is relatively constant since 2000, the increase in cycling means the absolute number is on the rise. TfL admits that it is not on course to meet targets for cyclist safety:

The current target is to reduce the number of cyclists killed and seriously injured (KSI) in London by 50% by 2010 compared to the 1994-98 average. Current KSI trends suggest that this target will not be met and that further action is needed.

Too right. And with TfL about to release a fleet of 6,000 hire cycles onto the streets of London next May, many of which will be ridden by relatively inexperienced cyclists, there must be people fearing what will happen when someone riding a Boris Bike gets squashed.

The draft Plan is frank about the threat posed to cyclists by lorries and other large goods vehicles:

While Goods Vehicles represent only a small fraction of the vehicle fleet on London’s roads, they are involved in a disproportionate number of fatal collisions with cyclists. Around half of the cyclists killed in London every year are involved in collisions with Goods Vehicles, with about one third of the total being in collision with heavy Goods Vehicles. Not surprisingly this a major source of public and media concern. About a third of the HGVs involved in cycling fatalities are not fitted with side-bars. These are typically vehicles like cement lorries or skip trucks that are exempt from the vehicle design standards because they are used in the construction industry.

It continues,

Analysis of data shows that female cyclists are particularly vulnerable to fatal collisions with Goods Vehicles, While women represent around a third of cyclists, twenty of the thirty-six cyclists killed by HGVs from 2003-2008 were women (i.e. over half the collisions). TfL will pursue this issue to understand the underlying causes and potential solutions.

I read the draft Action Plan looking for action. On lorries/HGVs/LGVs the following is welcome:

We are encouraging the Government to revoke the current exemption from fitting side-bars to some construction vehicles. All HGVs, while operating on the highway, should be fitted with side protection and additional mirrors and/or other safety devices;

To strengthen requirements for mirrors on vehicles, we are also encouraging the Government to extend the retrofitting of Class IV, Class V and Class VI mirrors to include all HGVs over 3.5 tonnes;

However, the overall tone of the draft places heavy emphasis on voluntary measures, partnerships, working together – all very nice – but what is entirely lacking is real meat when it comes to enforcement of rules on commercial vehicles and facing up to the hard choices that are needed to make London a cycle-friendly city.

On enforcement, the Mayor has just scrapped the only police unit that was specialised in spotting illegal lorries and taking action against the drivers and the companies concerned. As has been reported by Road Peace, Moving Target and the CTC, again and again, the Crown Prosecution Service has failed to get serious about the criminal culpability of drivers that kill cyclists – whether through personal liability on the part of drivers or responsibility for ‘corporate manslaughter’ on the part of companies.

On making hard decisions, the much-touted cycle superhighways are looking like a very disappointing waste of blue paint. When I asked Klaus Bondam, the Mayor of Copenhagen, what was the most difficult but most important decision he has made to make Copenhagen cycle friendly he gave a clear answer: replacing car parking space with spacious, segregated cycle lanes. The action plan makes no mention of of these kind of hard decisions that are needed for London to be transformed from a place where we cycle in spite of the city into a place where the city encourages us to ride bikes.

Read the draft Action Plan for yourself and share your thoughts in the commments.

Update: Read a good response from the CTC which notes the draft lacks any mention of 20 mph speed limit zones or the notion of ‘safety in numbers’.