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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for the ‘Road safety’ Category

History strikes again

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bike path 30s

After the Greater London Council was abolished (1985), I managed to secure new employment with the Department of Transport. I went through a competitive recruitment process and was appointed an Economic Adviser (Grade 7) and my first assignment was to the Traffic Policy Branch. I think a lot of that was due to the fact that in the run up to abolition there had been a hard hitting campaign which was pointing out some of the lacunae in the government’s assessment of the task in front of it. For instance the GLC had one man who wrote all the traffic orders for the metropolitan area. After abolition, it looked like there would have to be 32 – one in each borough. Not exactly the great boost to efficiency that was predicted. I also happen to think that someone had a sense of humour since the Under Secretary I reported to at Traffic Policy was called Neville Rees.

Most of my time as the economist of the unit was to try and make some sense out the mess that had become of parking in the capital. The politicians, of course, insisted that it was simply a matter of the market producing the optimum solution. There was no market where the hidden hand could work its magic. There had to be policy and there had to be regulation, but mostly there had to effective enforcement – that had collapsed under the weight of indifference to traffic policing at Scotland Yard.

This is a good story but it will have to wait, because now we turn to what was going on in a quiet corner of the office. There were two engineers who were trying to improve the dreadful numbers of collisions involving cyclists. The cycling lobby was pushing hard for the government to promote cycling. The policy at the time was to resist any promotion at all, since the more people who cycled, the worse the casualty statistics. The engineers were coming up with real, hard engineering solutions. Finding safe routes, better separation and better sight lines at intersections. Their mantra was to make cycling safer – and every time they did more people started to use their bikes. And just to make this perfectly clear, their remit was national, not just London. Two engineers, tiny budget for a small number of carefully selected projects. No actual program to promote anything.

My father had been an avid cyclist. Back in the 1930’s car ownership was low, public transport was plentiful and cheap, but young people used cycles – especially for recreation, sport and commuting. When my Dad was evacuated out to Egham with the Public Control Department of the LCC (1939) , he rode his cycle back to Manor Park every weekend. He could do that because when the great network of road improvements was built – mainly as a way to relieve unemployment during the Great Depression – cycle paths were always added to these new roads. For instance the Great West Road, Eastern Avenue and the East Ham ByPass all come to mind.

When the cycling engineers and I talked about what they were trying to do, I mentioned this history to them. They were pretty dismissive. So imagine my surprise when I came across this article in the Atlas Obscura.  I knew these roads and had tried to use some of them in my own youth. By the late 1960s much of them were being used by residents along these roads to park their cars.

In the years that followed the construction of the cycleways, though, cars became the predominant form of transportation, and the bike lanes fell out of use. Even the Ministry of Transport forgot that it had built them. “Within 40 years, it had been lost in their own department that they were doing this,” says Reid. He read the ministry’s minutes going through the 1960s and found records of ministers saying that they’d never built anything like a bike highway before.

So once again, just like bringing back the trams, or re-opening the railway lines closed by Dr Beeching, Britain is now rediscovering what it lost in the rush to motordom. They could have done it thirty years earlier.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 14, 2017 at 11:00 pm

World Bank: “the number of traffic-related deaths could surpass those from HIV-AIDS by 2020.”

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It is not often that I post these days. And is even less often that I simply cut and paste a press release. But while their headline wasn’t a grabber, that extract I used as the title struck me.

And, of course, for far too many people the whole idea of “road safety” is a bit of a yawn. They tend to be the sort of people who still talk about “accidents”. No doubt one of them was driving the car that overtook us on the wrong side on 49th Avenue at Granville on Monday night around 6pm. Because my partner was not driving at the posted speed but at one suited to the conditions – dark and raining heavily.

Road Safety: More Funding, Coordination Needed for the Poorest Countries

BRASILIA, Brazil, November 17, 2015 – Developing countries can make big gains in improving road safety with more funding and coordination to scale up interventions that deliver proven results, World Bank officials said ahead of a global conference.

Led by Managing Director Bertrand Badré and Senior Director Pierre Guislain, a World Bank delegation will participate in the 2nd Global High Level Conference on Road Safety on November 18-19 in Brasilia. They will discuss with clients, partners, and potential donors how best to scale up action, funding, and overall impact so that the poorest countries can see more progress.

The latest Global Status Report on Road Safety estimates that road deaths have leveled off since 2007. But they remain unacceptably high, at 1.25 million deaths and 50 million injuries a year. This is more deaths than from malaria or tuberculosis; and if trends continue, the number of traffic-related deaths could surpass those from HIV-AIDS by 2020.

Road injuries are the leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 29. Deaths and injuries in low- and middle-income countries are estimated to reduce GDP by 3 to 5%, often affecting the poorest. Since 2010, low-income countries have had higher average road deaths than middle-income countries.  Africa remains the region with the highest death rates as of 2013, at 52% above the global average. All other regions reported a lower rate in 2013, the last year for which data is available.

“Both the public and private sectors need to step up efforts to meet the Global Goals’ ambitious target for 2020: reducing by half the number of road-related deaths” said World Bank’s Managing Director Bertrand Badré. “We must shift from stabilizing to dramatically reducing road deaths. This will require more commitment, scaled-up action, and dedicated funding.”

Over the past 10 years, the World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) has promoted global knowledge sharing and multi-sectoral interventions with support from the UK, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the FIA Foundation. All World Bank road projects today include a safety component, and its lending targeted at road safety has increased more than 300%, from $56 million in FY 2006 to $239 million in FY 2015.

The GRSF seeks to expand its donor base to increase its global impact.  It currently supports 44 projects in 26 countries. The focus includes road safety design and infrastructure, institutional capacity, legislation, policing and enforcement, behavior change by motorists and pedestrians, as well as safer cars and effective post-crash response.

GRSF funding and technical assistance is helping countries achieve significant results, including:

·         Assessment of some 40,000 kilometers of high-risk roads in 13 countries, with potential to save 280,000 lives and reduce serious injuries over a 20-year period.

·         A 35% drop in traffic-deaths on project roads in Argentina since 2011, and an 11% reduction in deaths along project corridors in Nigeria.

·         Better institutional capacity for road safety management in many countries, including Brazil, China, India, Malawi, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, and Tanzania.

·         Regional impact across Latin America through the Ibero-American Road Safety Observatory.

The results show that more hands-on partnership with committed governments, the private sector, and other partners can accelerate change and save precious lives.

We are committed to helping countries halve the number of road fatalities and injuries, and we look forward to new partners who can join us in the Global Road Safety Facility,” said Pierre Guislain, Senior Director for the World Bank’s Transport & ICT Global Practice. “The international community needs to focus on the plight of low-income countries, which have just 1% of cars and 12% of the global population but suffer 16% of total deaths from road crashes.”

Written by Stephen Rees

November 18, 2015 at 11:54 am

Posted in Road safety, Transportation

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All VINs Affected by Takata Recalls Now Searchable

This is a notice I received this morning from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

I know we are not in the US, but I tried my car’s VIN number anyway, which it recognized once I typed it correctly. If you have a car impacted by a recall, then you should hear from the manufacturer, but not everyone is careful to keep their records up to date. The size of this recall is so huge that it may take some time before they get to your car. This a a relatively easy and quick way to find out if you are excluded, which is then once less thing to worry about.

The Takata air bag recall is one of the largest and most complex product recalls in history. That’s why we’re sharing this special update with you: all of the vehicle identification numbers, or VINs, affected by the Takata recall are now loaded into our VIN Lookup Tool on our website, SaferCar.gov.

This means that consumers can find out if their vehicle is part of the Takata recall by simply searching with a vehicle identification number, or VIN, on our website. But we need your help: consumers need to know about this free tool available to them. The VIN Lookup Tool is simple to use and will inform consumers about all open recalls on their vehicle. With the Takata recall, this tool is more important than ever.

Here’s some background information on the recall to share with your followers and fellow bloggers:

Last month, Takata announced a national recall of certain types of driver and passenger side air bag inflators. These inflators were made with a propellant that can degrade over time and has led to ruptures that have been blamed for seven deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide. This recall involves 11 different vehicle makes and roughly 34 million vehicles. That’s millions of people who urgently need to know what steps they should take in order to protect themselves and their loved ones. You can find the full list of makes affected by the Takata recall on our Recalls Spotlight page.

With your help in sharing this safety announcement, you can reach people who may not know that they’re affected by this recall. And, if they’re not under the Takata recall, there may be other open recalls that pertain to their vehicles. Every recall is a serious safety matter, and should always be addressed as soon as possible.

Another great tool is our new video, Understanding Vehicle Recalls. The video explains what to expect if a car is recalled and what to do next. Registering for recall updates on vehicle, tires, or car seats can also keep consumers notified about recalls that matter to them.

The NHTSA VIN Lookup Tool now has all of the Takata affected VINs loaded for searching. Share this message with your followers and help us reach those who may not know if their vehicle is subject to this safety recall.

Don’t forget to follow NHTSA’s new handle for all recall updates, NHTSArecalls.

Forward this on to your followers/readers and encourage anyone interested in vehicle safety to join our conversation on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2015 at 10:02 am

Posted in Road safety

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We don’t need no consultation!

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It is not often I find myself in complete agreement with a spokesperson of the BC NDP. But this evening I heard an interview with B.C. NDP Justice Critic Mike Farnworth on CBC  

“I expected more than a hashtag consultation. I was expecting some leadership shown and some action taken,” he said.

“We know what the problem is. Distracted driving — people texting, people using cell phones while driving — kills people. There’s nothing to consult on.”

BC’s penalties for distracted driving are the lowest in Canada. The BC government thinks it ought to consult on the problem: distracted driving here is now the second leading cause of death due to vehicle collisions, exceeding alcohol but still less than speed.

If you feel so inclined you can be part of the process. That is if you think the paucity of the penalty is the problem.

No doubt after all this song and dance the penalty will increase but nothing much else will actually change. Because the problem is not the perception of the size of the penalty but the perception of the probability of being caught. Most people using hand held electronic devices in their cars while driving know they are breaking the law, but they don’t see it as dangerous. Anymore than they see speeding as dangerous. Or queue jumping, running stale amber lights, parking in bike lanes … and so on. And they know for an absolute certainty that the probability of being caught is about as low as winning the lottery. They still buy lottery tickets of course.

If you could actually catch speeders when they commit the offence you could reduce speeding. Well, we all know what happened to that don’t we. It was unpopular with speeders – so it was dropped like a hot brick. Do you think that the BC Liberals are actually serious about upsetting all those people who continue to take important calls and those crucial text messages they must send? There will be consultation and those angry with other people they see texting will be vociferous. But behaviour will change little if at all. And there will be media events and other hoopla about periodic crackdowns – especially after some well documented collision. Expect a crackdown whenever something newsworthy happens. That probably doesn’t mean your Granny having a near miss on a marked crosswalk.

I suppose I ought to be able to condense that to 140 characters. But I can’t so its a blog post.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 16, 2015 at 8:26 pm

Posted in Road safety

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Hands-free is NOT Risk-free

Written by Stephen Rees

April 1, 2014 at 1:39 pm

BC Highway Speed Limits Review

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Canadian speed limit sign

“A Canadian speed limit sign in British Columbia, taken on the 99 freeway just east of Ladner.” photo by David Herrera on flickr : creative commons license

I first saw something about this on twitter this morning. A journalist wanted me to comment (on tv, this evening) but we can’t make the timing work, though our telephone call did get my mind working. Then – also on Twitter – this page popped up which tells us more about what is intended. The Minister this morning was saying that it is only the limits that are going to be reviewed not enforcement. Which is a pity, in my view. And apparently it is not just about raising limits on newer rural highways

This review isn’t focused on increasing speed limits, rather making sure we have the right speed limits.

So in some cases speed limits might be reduced. Yeah, right.

There is a real problem with speed limits in BC, and that is not the level that they are set at The problem is that too many drivers believe that the speed limit does not apply to them. They have a car which is capable of much higher speeds, and, like all drivers, they know that they are of above average ability. Speed limits, according to this mind set, are merely suggestions for the elderly and those driving older, cheaper models. An even greater proportion of drivers view speed limits as the speed at which everybody ought to drive at, no matter what the conditions. Anyone driving slower than the posted speed is simply trying to get in everyone else’s way and needs to be taught a lesson. So tailgating, honking, light flashing and alarming manoeuvres  are mandated.

Ever since Gordon Campbell secured his personal popularity by abolishing photo radar, the respect for speed limits has diminished. I have written about that here quite often. I have also pointed to the simple facts of physics that when collisions do occur, severities increase with speed. What is a fender bender at 30 km/hr is fatal at 130.  If speed limits are widely ignored – and my experience suggests that is the case, and you can repeat that experimentally by observing the speed limit on any rural highway and count those who overtake you – then it probably does not make a great deal of difference what the posted speed is. The people who drive fast will continue to drive at whatever speed they feel like, because they do not have any need to consider the consequences.

We have, thanks to pressure from a very powerful lobby group (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), reduced our tolerance for drinking and driving. Enforcement has been increased, to the point of actually infringing a number of important legal principles like due process, and stop without cause. Presumption of innocence has long been dead. Attitudes have shifted, and people worry when they drink and drive: not that they might cause a death or severe injury to themselves or others, but that they will be apprehended and have to pay a penalty. And that has affected enough people that places that serve alcohol have noticed an impact on their businesses. It was not enough, unfortunately, to ensure that Gordon Campbell was driven from office when found guilty of drunk driving in Hawaii.

I believe that caving to the loud protests against photo radar has had an equal and opposite effect. Firstly, when there was photo radar, the police announced a margin of tolerance. Ever since there has been a widespread popular belief, that a speed limit sign can have 10% added to it before running the risk of penalty. Not that that was the tolerance level on photo radar, and not that that is now significant. But secondly, the very idea that speed limits need to be enforced is now regarded as some quaint obsession. The police – runs this popular belief – would be better employed tracking down thieves or hooligans, not otherwise Good People who happen not to have noticed either their speedometer or the road side sign. Or that the sign was posted by people more concerned with political correctness than “real” road safety.

Raising speed limits will certainly appeal to a significant sector of the population. But I think those people are more than likely BC Liberal voters already. I suppose there are some Conservatives – and Libertarians – that might be won over. But the rural, car/truck driving longer distance types are already on side. This move will not do anything to win over those who have other concerns, but it does appeal to the BC Liberal base.

The other thing that needs to be noted is that no one is talking about fuel consumption. Higher speeds increase it, which means that emissions increase too: specifically greenhouse gas emissions. We are boiling the planet, and must reduce our emissions – and should have started doing that twenty years ago or more. The science of the impact of human activity on climate change is not in doubt. The need to reduce fossil fuel use is not negotiable. But that is not part of this review. Nowhere is it even mentioned. The only time I can recall that speed limits were generally reduced was the first oil shock. It had nothing to do with road safety – though that was its immediate effect. Every road in the US that had previously not had a posted limit, was now reduced to 55mph. That was designed with one end in view: reduce gasoline consumption. It did, but not by very much apparently, and the need to do that has not gone away. It is now even more important than it was then. But I do not expect that to be of much concern to this government, based on their current obsessions.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Traffic circles bad: cycle tracks good

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The research has a much less digestible title

“Comparing the effects of infrastructure on bicycling injury at intersections and non-intersections using a case–crossover design”

But it is worth reading the whole thing which is available on line

Abstract
Background

This study examined the impact of transportation infrastructure at intersection and non-intersection locations on bicycling injury risk.

Methods

In Vancouver and Toronto, we studied adult cyclists who were injured and treated at a hospital emergency department. A case–crossover design compared the infrastructure of injury and control sites within each injured bicyclist’s route. Intersection injury sites (N=210) were compared to randomly selected intersection control sites (N=272). Non-intersection injury sites (N=478) were compared to randomly selected non-intersection control sites (N=801).

Results

At intersections, the types of routes meeting and the intersection design influenced safety. Intersections of two local streets (no demarcated traffic lanes) had approximately one-fifth the risk (adjusted OR 0.19, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.66) of intersections of two major streets (more than two traffic lanes). Motor vehicle speeds less than 30 km/h also reduced risk (adjusted OR 0.52, 95% CI 0.29 to 0.92). Traffic circles (small roundabouts) on local streets increased the risk of these otherwise safe intersections (adjusted OR 7.98, 95% CI 1.79 to 35.6). At non-intersection locations, very low risks were found for cycle tracks (bike lanes physically separated from motor vehicle traffic; adjusted OR 0.05, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.59) and local streets with diverters that reduce motor vehicle traffic (adjusted OR 0.04, 95% CI 0.003 to 0.60). Downhill grades increased risks at both intersections and non-intersections.

Conclusions

These results provide guidance for transportation planners and engineers: at local street intersections, traditional stops are safer than traffic circles, and at non-intersections, cycle tracks alongside major streets and traffic diversion from local streets are safer than no bicycle infrastructure.

This confirms what I have been saying on this blog for a long time. The type of traffic circle that is so extensively used in Vancouver (and that is where this research was done) is not an improvement. The evidence shows that they actually increase risk. Casual observation will quickly confirm that while some drivers slow down, many regard them as a challenge.

The illustration and caption below comes from the report. Anthony Floyd pointed out on Twitter that this one “(7th/Highbury) is one of the better ones: lots of visibility, rarely a problem there.  The ones a few blocks before, from Balsam right up to Collingwood, are utterly useless and dangerous, however.”

A typical traffic circle found in residential areas of Vancouver, designed to calm motor vehicle traffic, but found to increase risk at intersections of local streets in this study. (A) Photograph as viewed from the perspective of an approaching cyclist. (B) Design dimensions of traffic circle (derived from measurements taken throughout the city). The dashed arrow shows the route a cyclist is required to take when turning left.

I have also seen drivers make left turns simply by going round the circle the wrong way. In a number of locations (such 29th Avenue at Blenheim) the City has added signs saying “Yield to traffic in circle” which has absolutely no discernible effect on drivers on Blenheim – which they regard as the arterial – to the peril of any road user on 29th which also happens to be a bike route.

Time for the City to revise its approach, and if there is no room for a correctly designed roundabout, revert to the four way stop – which at least the locals seem to both understand and usually comply.

The other one is that separated bike lanes reduce collisions for cyclists – no surprise there.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 17, 2013 at 5:10 pm