Crunching numbers

On 13 August 2015, two things happened. The Detail TV released their report on the Road Traffic Collision (RTC) numbers. It is well worthwhile, especially for the map showing where each collision occurred. Rural roads and towns fare badly.

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From DetailData

As if to illustrate that point at 11am, in Ballynahinch, during the town’s market, a pedestrian was knocked down and killed by a six-wheel tipper truck. The driver, perhaps unaware of the collision, drove on but was later arrested.

Incensed at this needless death I took to Twitter. Even with a cursory glance I could see Goods Vehicles are overrepresented in the stats on fatal and serious collisions. Time for the industry to get its house in order, I tweeted.

In other industries serious failings are addressed with tight investigation protocols. As incidents are investigated information is fed back in order the same does not occur again.

If a component of a Boeing 777 fails the entire fleet is grounded, inspected and where faults are found remedial action carried out.

Compare how swiftly the Civil Aviation Authority took action after the Shoreham Air Show disaster, amending rules immediately, long before the outcome of the investigation by the Air Accident Investigation Branch is known.

In response to train crashes safety protocols are put in place meaning that similar incidents do not reoccur and the railways’ good safety record is maintained.

There is nothing in place to learn from collisions with Goods Vehicles on our roads. Each collision is taken as a unique incident, but there are rather a lot of these unique incidents. As a whole they point to a systemic failure to safeguard vulnerable road users against Goods Vehicles. Mark Treasure writes about this much better than I can.

The Detail’s report does not focus on what vehicles were involved in each RTC, but the data set includes vehicle type and casualties. The data set is restricted to all serious and fatal collisions.

It appears NI data back up findings in London.

A quick cross-referencing of the tables revealed the following data for 2014:

There were 20 serious and fatal collisions on footways. One bus, one private hire vehicle and 18 cars were involved. 5 of the collisions had a fatal outcome.

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The Cyclist Menace

Local radio is very fixated on the danger that cyclists pose to pedestrians on footways. It is, however, very unlikely a pedestrian will end up in hospital with a serious injury as a result of colliding with a cyclist.

Only 3 pedestrian – cyclist road traffic collisions were deemed serious by PSNI. Two of these collisions occurred at a pedestrian crossing. No one died. There were 651 serious and fatal RTC in 2014.

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Serious & Fatal RTC 2014

Goods Vehicles

As for goods vehicles. There were 158 pedestrian KSI (Killed Seriously Injured) as a result of 155 serious and fatal RTC. Goods vehicles were involved in 3 RTC, but two of these resulted in a fatality.

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Goods vehicles make up 2.5% of registered vehicles in NI. The percentage of RTC and the share of all vehicles match quite well. But when the two do meet, the outcome is more than likely fatal for the pedestrian.

Pedestrians are on footways, but cyclists must use the road, where Goods Vehicles are.

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Cyclists share the road with goods vehicles and buses

The figures:

62 serious or fatal RTC resulting in 62 cyclist KSI. Goods vehicles were involved in 7 of these. Of these 7 collisions 2 were fatal.

Or to put it more bluntly: goods vehicles make up 2.5% of traffic, but are involved in 11% of serious and fatal RTC with a cyclist. And as with pedestrians the outcome is not good.

The total number of cyclist fatalities in Northern Ireland in 2014 was three. And two of these cyclists were killed by Goods Vehicles.

These are very small numbers, but they mirror findings across the Irish Sea. Goods Vehicles are disproportionately involved in serious collisions with cyclists.

There are many good and conscientious hauliers, but time and again roadside spot checks reveal that many HGV are operated with serious faults or driven by unfit drivers that could put lives at risk.

It is time for government to act reduce the terrible price communities are forced to pay.

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Floored by a door

I am sure everyone has seen this video of a cyclist colliding with a car door in London’s Mile End, losing control and falling in the path of a London Black Cab.

Happily, no serious harm was done. The parked car’s door was dented and the car driver has offered to pay for the cyclist’s expenses.

The cyclist was too close to the parked cars. He should have been further out into the road. But could he have been?

Moments before the road was narrowed by road works. I hear the words of my driving instructor still: the most dangerous place for collisions is just at the end of road works.

Then of course there is the road design. The cycle route is one of Boris Johnson’s magic blue cycle routes. The lane is shared with buses.

It’s main function, however, is a car park. Drivers can use the bus lane as car park for most of the day, but in doing so push bicycle users (and buses) out into general traffic.

International best practice puts the cycle path between the footway and the parked car, leaving a buffer zone for opening car doors. Like so:

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Amsterdam

However:

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Google Streetview of Ormeau Embankment

in Belfast cycle lanes are painted directly beside car parking bays (above) or on-road parking boxes. Elsewhere cyclists are expected to share with buses, but are still threatened by drivers opening car doors:

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Typical parking on Belfast's Lisburn Road

In years past NIGreenways ran a campaign to point out this fatal flaw in Belfast’s extensive cycle lane network; it is a car park for most of the day.

Currently, Dublin bicycle users are running a similar #freethecyclelanes campaign.

Both campaigns show that without meaningful enforcement motorists take a chance on breaking the law and mostly get away with parking illegally.

Avoiding the door zone puts the cyclist in the middle of general traffic. This gif shows very neatly where cyclists are squeezed into a very narrow channel between parked cars and moving traffic.

Belfast’s Lisburn Road has a tidal parking restriction, but this is too hard for motorists to understand.

TransportNI have concluded their tidal restrictions trial in South Belfast and deemed it a success, making the arrangement permanent despite cars obstructively and illegally parked in the bus lane or other sections of the Urban Clearway on a daily basis.

When the trial was announced I wrote in protest saying bicycle users would be in danger of getting doored. Like the bicycle user in the video above. My protest fell on deaf ears. Conall McDevitt, then a MLA, responded saying the trial and new parking arrangements were necessary to support local businesses and retailers. (Despite many examples worldwide of traders seeing a boost to profits when a cycleway was installed.)

The published Northern Ireland Bicycle Strategy spells out clearly cycling is a higher priority than parking cars.

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Very commendable. There remains that suspicion, however, when vested interests, especially local traders with an on-street parking fetish, and safety of vulnerable road users meet, the traders’ interests prevail.