Addison Lee cocks a snook

Addison Lee means to subvert the deterrent effect of Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) by paying them on behalf of its drivers.

But FPNs are not fines. They are an administratively cheap way to punish people who would prefer to pay rather than be prosecuted.

Key point: no one is entitled to an FPN as an alternative to prosecution.

If TfL is willing to stand up to Addison Lee on this, it should ask the Met to prosecute every AL driver caught in a bus lane, leading to criminal convictions and eventual removals of licences. That should restore the deterrent effect.


A Mayor in May

On 3 May we Londoners will elect our new Mayor.

The Mayor of London has many interests. He or she will sit on many committees and pronounce on many things. But the only thing the Mayor actually controls is transport.

Moreover, he is the only elected official who controls Transport for London. London Assembly members can make useful nuisances of themselves. But only the Mayor can actually make TfL do anything.

You will hear claims that this election is about all sorts of things. But there is only one thing it can be about. Transport. It’s what the Mayor actually controls.

We all pay for the streets of London. Yet they are not safe for pedestrians and cyclists. And they will not be safe, convenient or useful for cycling until we elect a Mayor committed to making them so.

There are enough cyclists and cyclists-in-waiting in London to make the May election all about making the streets safe for all.

Londoners on Bikes is putting the cycling vote together. Voting as a block, we have the numbers to get serious commitments from the candidates. It’s never been done before in London. But it has been done in cities such as San Francisco.

The mayoral election decides who controls transport in London. Sign up at Londoners on Bikes, pledge to vote with your bike, and let’s get our streets safe to cycle on.

Campaign rhetoric

Chicane on Martin Way, Merton
Dangerous bends

Merton Cyclists’ report on the failings of their council’s safety audits is magisterial.

While dry, the report repays study for its rhetoric alone. (Printed copies were distributed at the LCC AGM last month.) Instead of moaning about poor facilities for cyclists, the author describes how inadequate safety audit procedures, laxly applied, have created “a diseased road network”. (Remember that phrase.) He points to the £½-million cost of remedying faults on just one road.

The highway engineers responsible for this are not charged with being unsympathetic to cyclists, but being incompetent and negligent in their own profession, with taxpayers picking up the bill for their failings.

This sort of criticism lands hard on professionals. It can ruin careers.

It is a quite separate line from mustering political support for cycle facilities. Enough of it might even yield a push from below at TfL, with engineers insisting on observing their own rules.

Let’s see more of this!

Cars are not the problem. Almost every driver treats me with courtesy and consideration.

Then there are the few who rage. They are encouraged by roads clearly designed to “smooth traffic flow” – so what am I doing there, in their way?

The very large majority of drivers treat me decently simply because they are decent people. They would do so no matter what the condition of the roads. The few hoons (good Australian word that) see things differently. And the visible culture – the infrastructure around their vehicles – tells them they are right.

Cars are not the problem. Drivers are not the problem. Civility is the problem: a few uncivil drivers and a lot of uncivil roads.

Civilising measures (“traffic-calming” in the jargon) such as 20mph limits, mandatory cycle lanes and advanced stop lines are seriously undermined if not enforced. Failure to enforce suggests to drivers that the measures are advisory, are annoying distractions.

We need enforcement to establish the normality of driving at 20mph, of keeping a safe distance from cycles. Most drivers will do this anyway. They do not need to be told. But the hoons – the drivers who endanger us – need help to get this.

The police are not providing it. Recent FoI requests failed to reveal any FPNs issued in London for exceeding 20mph limits. Or encroaching on mandatory cycle lanes.

Private prosecutions are available when responsible authorities fail to act. Besides the usual function of punishment, they remind the hoons what the law is.

Let LCC establish a fund to be used for conducting private prosecutions. If the RSPCA can do this, so can we.

The big difference is that, while neglecting animals is widely vilified and relatively unusual, road rage against cyclists happens all the time. And a worrying number of people think it’s justified – all those Lycra louts.

Here’s a scheme to get best value from scarce funds. Establish a database for evidence. Ideal  evidence would consist of helmetcam recordings with a clear view of the registration plate and the driver’s face, and signed witness statements. Let evidence be emailed to LCC can index the records by registration plate. And, as funds permit, cherry-pick the worst cases for prosecution.

If this succeeds, then to some extent, police forces will be shamed into greater diligence themselves. We will have establishe it is ‘normal’ to prosecute such cases.

We shall also record many, many more cases than we prosecute. But when we prosecute, we should prosecute all the cases indexed for a vehicle, because, sure as eggs, the worst offenders will show up again and again in the records. And we can circulate police forces with an index of unprosecuted incidents, for them to draw on in the same way.

Think of the effect this would have on the current culture. At the moment we have a culture of impunity. Endanger a cyclist, even one with a helmetcam, and you would be very unlucky to wind up in court. But with your fit of pique might be documented and filed, possibly without your knowledge, to come tumbling into court after the next, or the fifth, incident.

LCC could offer courses in how to record evidence. And take a cut on the surge in helmetcam sales.

And that’s to think about.

I was not elected last week as a trustee of the LCC, but things have been moving fast since.

Members approached me after the election, regretted I was not elected, wish to see the ideas pursued. (Not too bad a result from a 2-min presentation.) I promised to pursue  them anyway, just without the ‘mandate’ election would have given me.

Turns out the board’s ideas for the “Go Dutch” run quite close to mine. So co-option to one or two LCC committees seems likely.

Meanwhile there are rumours elsewhere of a ‘cyclists party’ single-issue campaign in the 2012 Mayoral election to mobilise a swing vote to force commitments to cycling onto the winning candidate’s platform. Stay tuned.

One rule to ring them all

Many favour introducing into British law a principle of ‘strict liability’ in adjudging fault in traffic collisions, following common practice elsewhere in Western Europe. This proposal isn’t making much progress. Let’s raise the game. 

As I understand it, absent evidence to the contrary, strict liability presumes the driver of a motor vehicle at fault in a collision with a cyclist. This determines civil claims – insurance – but not criminal proceedings, where it would remove the onus of proof. Its champions argue that French and German drivers accordingly give bikes more road space.

This proposal meets the usual objection. Benefits for cyclists are seen to be at motorists’ expense in a zero-sum game: a win for the cycling minority is a loss for the motoring majority. And why disadvantage law-abiding motorists in favour of cyclists, who ignore the law anyway?

We have to break out this zero-sum game. Time to go large.

Let’s instead advocate a general principle: the greater the danger you pose in a public space, the greater your duty of care.

This follows the Road Danger Reduction Forum line of addressing danger at its source, instead of controlling its potential victims.

Combine this principle with making collisions an offence and we start to get useful consequences. At present, police charge parties involved in a collision only if they find evidence an offence has been committed. Make the collision an offence in itself, and the question changes to – whom to charge?

The principle of greater danger applies. Absent contrary evidence, the lorry before the taxi, the Range Rover before the Mini, the cyclist before the pedestrian. We’re talking here about enforcing courtesy as the minimum standard of behaviour, the strong protecting the weak. And we’re not talking about fixed penalty notices, but criminal convictions, loss of driving licences, and so on.

This not only avoids condemnation as a cycle-specific measure, it responds to a widely expressed desire to prosecute pavement cyclists. Let’s make cycling on footways legal – and collisions an offence. That could unleash in Britain the swarms of peaceful pavement-cycling grannies I see in Japanese cities.

Our culture accepts minor collisions as part of the rough and tumble of the public roads. That is why so many mothers choose to deliver their children to school in a faux-military light truck, to resist intimidation by commercial drivers. Cyclists suffer – and die – in this rough and tumble. Time to end the reign of traffic flow as king.