Author: Andrea

Positive results of introduction of 30kph speed limit in Bristol

The University of West England has conducted an elaborate study of the effects of lower urban speed limits in Bristol. The study looked at individual speed data from more than 36 million vehicle observations and controlled for other factors that might affect changes in traffic speeds, representing a more sophisticated analysis than previous studies of 30kph limits. Bristol Health Partners reports:

The 30kph speed limits in residential areas in Bristol have prevented more than four fatal casualties a year, as well as 11 serious and 159 slight injuries. This is estimated to have saved the NHS £15 million a year

The research also showed average speeds have dropped by 4.3kph in the areas with 30kph limits – a larger reduction than other cities have seen. Speeds reduced in 100 of the 106 roads that the researchers looked at. Critics of 30kph limits often cite a lack of compliance as an argument against the schemes. However, this evidence suggests that, overall, while drivers may not be driving below 30kph, they have reduced their speeds by a significant amount.

Dr Suzanne Audrey, Senior Research Fellow in Public Health at the University of Bristol and co-Director of the Supporting Healthy Inclusive Neighbourhood Environments Health Integration Team (SHINE), welcomed the findings, saying:

“This is vital evidence that 30kph limits are effective – both in preventing casualties and encouraging healthy behaviour in the neighbourhoods where they’re brought in. If more people feel they can walk and cycle around residential areas rather than get in their cars, this brings enormous benefits to health, community cohesion and air quality. 

The introduction of lower urban speed limits is overwhelmingly popular:

The latest YouGov 2017 survey revealed 62 per cent of Bristolians support the limits on residential roads, and 72 per cent support them on busy streets. These levels are very similar to the rest of the UK.

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The Barcelona Superblock of Poblenou

Guest blog by Mark Wagenbuur, editor of Bycycle Dutch
Where once traffic roared you can now hear the pleasant sound of children laughing and playing. The Superblock of Poblenou is a pilot project to show what the city of Barcelona will be like when the plans of the superblocks become a reality. The difference in sound and atmosphere between the streets inside the superblock and the traditional streets in the rest of the city is amazing. It should convince the sceptics that the city streets of the future should not be designed for motor traffic, but for people.

I visited Barcelona late October to be part of an Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC) “focused on how to achieve more liveable cities, which are more sustainable, healthier and safer, through the implementation of new models of urban mobility.” The congress was organised by the Federación Iberoamericana de Urbanistas (FIU) and sponsored by the City Council of Barcelona and the World Urban Campaign (UN-HABITAT). I spoke in a session called “Disputant l’hegemonia cultural al Cotxe” (Contesting the cultural hegemony of the car). Not that the objective would be to get rid of the car completely, but its role in the cities of the future should be completely revised. This congress was not just about Barcelona, but having a living lab so close to the venue meant most delegates got to visit the Superilla del Poblenou as the name of the superblock is in Catalan. This superblock is showing us what cities can be like when you do not design first and foremost for the private car.

I must mention that this was an interesting time to visit Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. There was a noticeable political tension, especially when all the delegates were invited to a reception at city hall, right opposite the parliament building. The plane from Eindhoven to Barcelona was practically empty and so were many restaurants on the boulevard on the Mediterranean Sea, meaning many tourists must have postponed their trip. But while there were a lot of people waving flags and you could see banners on buildings, it didn’t really feel unsafe. The moment that independence was declared, on Friday 27 October, I was already in a taxi to the airport for my flight back.

Barcelona is a city of 1.6 million people; totally different from any city in the Netherlands and yet there are similarities. The city wants to be more for people than for cars. Cars pose the same space issues to Barcelona as they do to any city, simply because cars are so terribly space inefficient. This universal problem leads to a universal search for solutions. Barcelona has a very specific street pattern. A straight street grid with the corner of every block ‘cut off’. This leads to octagonal spaces between the blocks that are as big as a town’s square. This grid was designed in the mid-19th century, before the car existed. These spaces between the blocks were meant as neighbourhood squares where people could meet each other. All that space is now used for motor vehicles, which means a staggering 85% of the city’s space is dedicated to the car.

The city would like to bring back the original purpose of the city space by dedicating some of the octagonal intersections to people again. This is the core of the Superblock plan from the Urban Mobility Plan of Barcelona for 2013-2018. (in English PDF)

I see similarities to the superblock plan and what cities in the Netherlands are doing with parts of their urban areas. You introduce a hierarchy to the city streets. Some are for through traffic and some are only for residential traffic. Through traffic is forced to go around the areas where people live their lives. The difference being that the Dutch areas of the city around which motor traffic is led are much bigger than the superblocks are. With through traffic gone you have a lot less noise and pollution and there is a lot more space to give to people for active travel, recreation and other activities.

This is how Barcelona describes the Superblocks in just a few sentences:

Through the Superblocks program, Barcelona is redesigning the city’s streets to limit traffic and increase the amount of green and recreational spaces available to citizens. The new program changes traditional city blocks into clusters of “superblocks,” where perimeter streets allow through traffic, but inner streets are reserved for pedestrians and cyclists. So far, the city has created Superblocks in four pilot neighborhoods, and by 2019, it expects the program will achieve CO2 emissions reductions of between 20% and 75%. The Superblocks program does not involve major physical changes, which allows for experimentation and reversibility. The project is part of a larger Urban Mobility Plan, a strategic measure of Barcelona’s Climate Commitment, expected to decrease traffic by 21% while extending car-free spaces by more than 23 hectares and adding 300 km of bike lanes. This measure will reduce CO2 emissions by 159,100 metric tons per year.

From the four pilot superblocks I visited the Superilla del Poblenou. It was opened in September 2016. The first measures were cheap and would have been reversible: painted lines, plants in pots and simple seating. But from fall 2017 the city would be building more permanent features here, and I could clearly see that was happening. As you will also see in my video, two children’s playgrounds were almost finished. Indeed, last weekend the children finally got to play in these playgrounds for the very first time. That is really filling the streets with life, as the motto on the banners is “omplim de vida els carrers”, something that not everybody is convinced about. One opponent said the city area is deserted after 9pm and because there are no cars she feels socially unsafe. Apparently, she needs cars to feel safe in the street, an upside-down world view. Another spokesperson of a group opposing the superblocks claims a simple trip became much longer: from 900 metres it increased to 2,700 metres. The poor fellow… But if the superblocks make 900 metre car trips more difficult, forcing people to use alternatives, they serve a good purpose in my opinion.

I think the Superilla del Poblenou already looks very attractive. I have spoken with residents who are very happy with it. They were so proud of their new neighbourhood that they invited a number of delegates into their homes to look at the revived city space from above. Other pilot projects have proven; the more permanent they become the more the resistance wears of. In response to a protest councillor Janet Sanz said: “we will continue to work on your goal, which is to make a more liveable city, the superblocks are the guarantee to having a more human city, traffic calmed and less polluted”.

My video about my trip to Barcelona and the Superblock of Poblenou in particular.

Liverpool City Council passes Vision Zero Motion

On 20th September 2017 Liverpool City Council passed a motion presented by Councillors Sarah Jennings, Lawrence Brown, Tom Crone and Anna Key

“Council applauds the efforts of the Vision Zero campaign to make road safety a high priority in towns and cities around the world.

Vision Zero is based upon the belief that zero is the only acceptable number of deaths and serious injuries in the road traffic environment. It recognises that we humans make mistakes that can end in tragedy while driving and so places the onus of avoiding such tragedies on all those responsible for the total road traffic system.

Council recognises the work undertaken by this authority in recent years to invest in its highways, but notes that the number of deaths and serious injuries due to traffic incidents remains stubbornly high and that since 2010 Merseyside has witnessed a 12% increase in the number of people killed or seriously injured on its roads.

Further, it is widely recognised that working alone, a local authority cannot achieve the desired outcome of zero deaths and serious injuries on its highway network and that joint working among relevant agencies is necessary to tackle the many elements that lead to collisions.

Council therefore welcomes the positive action by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Merseyside to add a fifth item to her list of priorities, namely to “work in partnership to improve road safety”.

Council also notes that the Liverpool City Region Mayor has transport, planning, and investment within his portfolio and is in an ideal position to drive forward the aims of the Vision Zero campaign across the region.

Liverpool prides itself for having been a trailblazer for public health for centuries. As a modern, forward-thinking city we are willing to look at sustainable solutions to health problems facing a growing city, such as, among others, the increased risk of collision between motor vehicle and pedestrian that comes with increasing population and visitor numbers, along with poor air quality: problems which can be substantially addressed through the implementation of concepts such as Vision Zero.

Liverpool should stand as a forerunner with other major cities in the UK such as Manchester and London, Edinburgh and Bristol, and cities and countries around the world including Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, New York, Boston, Toronto and others in embracing this aim.

Council therefore requests the City Mayor to work alongside the Liverpool City Region Mayor, the Police and Crime Commissioner and all relevant agencies in committing support for the aims of the Vision Zero campaign and developing a strategy to achieve the goal of reducing the number of killed and seriously injured on the city’s roads.”

One of the sponsors of the Motion, Green Councillor Lawrence Brown commented:

It’s fair to say that judging by its highways record over the past 5 years or so, Liverpool wouldn’t be the obvious choice for a trailblazing adoption of Vision Zero and everything that means. Removal of almost all of the bus, cycle and taxi lanes combined with the payment of lip service to cycling and walking in the five year, £80 million refurb of the key highways doesn’t create the right mood music for an authority demonstrating a commitment to reducing deaths and serious injuries on the roads. And oh, what a record! Merseyside, dominated by Liverpool, remains worst in Great Britain for pedestrians killed or seriously injured – and worst for child cyclists killed or seriously injured, with a rate five times that of London’s. The figures are creeping upwards when the trend urgently needs to be reversed. The data screams at you, demanding attention to cure the chronic disease of harm to human beings perpetrated by motor vehicles.

But every long trek starts with a single step. Passing a motion at the full Council meeting is certainly a strong indicator that the authority takes the matter seriously. Now it needs to demonstrate that actions speak louder than words, listening to those who have experience of VZ and acting in ways which encourage people to travel safely and sustainably. Will Liverpool succeed in pursuing this far reaching goal? Only time will tell…

Walking and cycling get a huge boost from the World Health Organisation

By John Whitelegg

We have always known that walking and cycling are unambiguously good for individual and community health. Mayer Hillman dealt with walking in a thorough, scientific and policy relevant manner in his 1979 book (with Anne Whalley), “Walking is transport”. He went on to do the same again in “Cycling: towards health and safety” in 1992. We also know that road traffic danger and worries about walking and cycling in and near heavy traffic and often speeding traffic is a huge deterrent to doing something that is intrinsically healthy, inexpensive and supportive of lively, active communities. As is often the case in transport, knowledge, science and evidence is not valued and not a part of decision-making. Anyone who has sat in a Council planning committee meeting considering new car-dependent developments will know that the outcome will be huge increases in car parking numbers, very expensive increases in road capacity and truly dreadful walking and cycling environments.

It is, therefore no surprise at all that walking and cycling are in decline in spite of the very strong and often misleading propaganda that attempts to convince us that cycling is thriving.

The problem we are all dealing with is the deeply embedded commitment in all public policy to promote cars and lorries and demote walking and cycling but perhaps things may now change. This month the World Health Organisation in Geneva, after extensive discussion and consultation, has produced a draft global strategy on physical activity.
This is significant because the WHO is a UN organisation charged with giving guidance to every country on the planet and that guidance will now include ways of boosting walking and cycling, shifting transport spending so that a much larger proportion goes into walking and cycling, urban design to create environments that support physical activity including walking and cycling and 30 kph speed limits.

It is of course possible that such guidance will not have much impact on those who make decisions about transport policy in Britain e.g. the truly dreadful M4 relief road in South Wales at £1.1 billion for 22 km and the wasteful spending of £14 million in Shrewsbury (Shropshire Council) on 2 roundabouts and a new road. Nothing the WHO can do will shift unintelligent thinking in our councils in the direction well-balanced intelligent, health promoting thinking based on Vision Zero and 30 kph. It is still a very good thing that we have the WHO “on-side” and it is up to all those who want to eliminate deaths in the traffic world (Vision Zero) and improve public health to welcome the WHO contribution and to use it where it matters which is in ever council chamber in Britain and in every discussion with MPs and those who would like to be MPs

The WHO draft strategy (Global Action Plan on Physical Activity) can be found here.

Consultation will be open until 22 September 2017.
Member States, UN organizations and non-State actors are invited to submit their comments by email.

John Whitelegg is a member of the WHO Strategic Advisory Network for the Development of the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity

30kph/20mph in Shropshire

UPDATE 18.11.2017 Shropshire Star reports: Shrewsbury Town Council has backed a move to introduce 30kph speed limits in the town.

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It is widely accepted that general 30kph/20mph (not zones) speed limits are an important part of Vision Zero and an important contribution to so-called “active travel”, which means much more walking and cycling and creating healthy streets and healthy communities where streets are transformed from traffic sewers to people friendly social spaces. 30kph/20mph also has a significant impact on reducing death and injury and reducing collisions. This is often summarised in a simple diagram:

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Given a choice of producing a socially rich, healthy environment where people live why would we want to select “5 out of 10 survive” at 30mph (50kph) or “1 out of 10 survive” at 40mph (60kph) when we could have “9 out of 10 survive”?

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Rod Thompson

Fortunately 15 million people in England and Wales now benefit from wide-area 30kph/20mph speed limits. Warrington Borough Council reports a 25% decline in collisions as a result of its 30kph/20mph policy and the Scottish Parliament is considering new legislation to make 30kph/20mph general throughout Scotland on residential roads.

All this stops when you cross the border into Shropshire. Shropshire is a unitary council and very firmly Conservative. Its leaders and councillors refuse to adopt 30kph/20mph.
Its director of public health (Prof Rod Thomson) refuses to recommend 30kph/20mph even though Shropshire has a “worse than England average” rate for KSI (killed and seriously injured in road crashes).

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John Campion

The Police and Crime Commissioner for West Mercia police which covers Shropshire, John Campion, rejects 30kph/20mph.

In public health, transport and policy terms Shropshire is very backward and that is why a group of 30kph/20mph campaigners have organised a Shropshire wide 30kph/20mph conference to be held at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury on Saturday 30th September 2017, 13:00-17:00. This will hear the hard evidence in favour of 30kph/20mph and hear the views of local campaign groups in Ludlow, Shrewsbury, Church Stretton, Oswestry and Shifnal. The people want 30kph/20mph but councillors, the DPH and the PCC refuse to put it on the agenda.

The speakers at the conference include:

  • Rod King MBE – Founder and Campaign Director, 20’s Plenty for Us, the national campaign for 30kph/20mph as the default limit for urban and village streets.
  • Dr Paul Butcher, Director of Public Health, Calderdale Council “The public health benefits of 20mph”
  • Professor Adrian Davis, Evidence & Effectiveness Adviser, Transport Team, Bristol City Council, “20mph and the vision for a healthier Bristol”

The conference will be chaired by Professor John Whitelegg.

The director of Public Health for Shropshire has been invited to speak and he has refused. He has been asked to send a substitute and he has not replied. The Police and Crime Commissioner has been invited to speak and he has refused.

All Shropshire Council councillors and cabinet members are invited. All town councils in Shropshire have been invited to send a delegate. The conference will present the solid scientific evidence around why 30kph/20mph is a major contribution to road safety, reducing road traffic danger, reducing death and injury, improving public health and transforming streets. Speakers will answer questions about enforcement, air pollution and costs and subject to the agreement of all those present we will ask that Shropshire Council as a matter of urgency adopts a system-wide general default 30kph/20mph speed limit.

There are no funds to support this conference. It will nevertheless go ahead. It is definite. We hope to raise the approximate £1000 cost (mainly venue, IT and expenses for speakers) through crowdfunding.

Please consider helping us with this fundraising effort:

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/benefits-of- a-shropshire- wide-conference- for-20mph 

John Whitelegg

UPDATE 19.09.17

Press release, with list of Council areas that have adopted general 30kph/20mph speed limits and the population size of those council areas

Programme of the conference

Editor’s note: It is no coincidence that Shropshire voted 57% for Brexit.

Principles of Sustainable Safety in the Netherlands

Guest blog by Mark Treasure. First published on As Easy as Riding a Bike

The N470 is a main road that runs east from the Dutch city of Delft, connecting it with the city of Zoetermeer. It is 12 kilometres long between the junctions with the A13 motorway (bypassing Delft) and the A12 motorway (which runs between The Hague and Utrecht).

From Google Maps

As can be seen from the map above, it is, effectively, a bypass of the town of Pijnacker, bending south around it. Before this road was opened in 2007, a large proportion of the motor traffic running between Delft and Zoetermeer would have passed through the town. Now all that motor traffic is far away from human beings. This applies both at the large large scale – the way the road is built away from urban areas – and also at the scale of the road itself, where, as well shall see in this post, human beings are kept completely separated from it.

This modern road has been built according to the principles of Sustainable Safety, or Duurzaam Veiling – the Dutch approach to road safety. This programme was only developed in the mid 1990s, so it is relatively recent, but it completely underpins the way roads and streets in the Netherlands, both old and new, are designed and built to maximise the safety of human beings. The N470 is an excellent example of these principles in action, and this post will look at them in turn.

Functionality

Perhaps one of the most important principles of Sustainable Safety, ‘Functionality’ means that every road and street in the Netherlands should have a single function – mono-functionality – and that every region should classify their roads and streets accordingly, either as a

  • Through road – for fast traffic, travelling longer distances, in large volumes. Motorways, trunk roads, bypasses, and so on. Roads humans won’t ‘engage with’, by design.
  • Access road – the ‘end destination’ for journeys – places where people live, work, shop, relax, and so on.
  • Distributor road – the roads that connect up the through roads and access roads.

Quite clearly the N470 falls into the ‘through road’ category. It is a road for transporting people from A to B; it is most definitely not a road that people will be exposed to in any form. There are only three junctions between the outskirts of Delft and Zoetermeer, all turbo roundabouts around Pijnacker, which human beings cannot go anywhere near. It is effectively hermetically sealed away from the environment it is travelling through – walking and cycling are entirely separated, via underpasses, and even other roads are again grade-separated.

Here the N470 goes into an underpass to avoid any connection with a rural access road. From Streetview

Homogeneity

This principle applies to the mass, speed and direction of road users. Heavy objects should not share space with light ones; fast objects should not share space with slow ones; and objects should be travelling in the same direction. Differences in mass, speed and direction should be minimised as much as possible.

We can see these principles clearly in operation in the design of the N470 road. Perhaps the most obvious application of homogeneity is that light objects – human beings – are completely designed out of this road. They go nowhere near it. In fact the photograph below is about the closest you can get.

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The three junctions on this stretch of road – two at the end, and one in the middle – are all turbo roundabouts, and all have total separation between human beings and motor traffic.

The roundabout at the Delft end of the N470 has signs explicitly banning walking and cycling from the roundabout – but really nobody would choose to negotiate the roundabout at surface level on foot, because of a fast, convenient cycle road to the side, that bypasses it completely.

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The roundabout in the middle is another turbo roundabout, again negotiated by an underpass – or, perhaps more specifically, where the road has been built up on an embankment with a bridge.

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And the final roundabout at the Zoetermeer end is exactly the same, with two underpasses allowing people to negotiate the arms of the the roundabout, complete with noise barriers. As with the previous example the roads and roundabout have been built up high so that cycling remains at ground level, at the same level as buildings in the neighbourhood. These are bridges, more than underpasses.

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I did manage to scramble up the bank here to take a photo of the roundabout – narrow lanes with hard physical dividers, combined with heavy, fast traffic, means that this is not somewhere you would want to be on a bike.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-00-49-48Especially when you can bypass it, completely oblivious to the traffic overhead.

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But of course Sustainable Safety applies to all users of the road network, not just people cycling. The road is designed in a way to keep motorists safe too.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-00-57-49Perhaps most notable is the median between the two lanes, that prevents any attempts at overtaking. The speed limit on this road is 80kph (about 50mph) and that applies uniformly to all vehicles, from HGVs right down to small cars. Quite sensibly, if everyone is travelling at the same speed, there can be no justification for overtaking, and the design prevents people from even attempting to do so.

A couple of years ago the DfT raised the speed limit for HGVs on single carriageway roads from 40mph to 50mph, partially on the grounds that it would (allegedly) reduce the temptation on the part of some drivers to indulge in dangerous overtakes. But the Netherlands has solved this problem at a stroke by equalising the limit for all users at 80kph, and by simply banning overtaking altogether on this category of road (and physically preventing overtaking in new road design).

All Dutch roads of this type have a continuous solid line, forbidding overtaking, and an equalised 80kph speed limit

Overtaking presents an unacceptably high level of danger – it involves vehicles occupying the same space but travelling in completely the opposite direction, at great speed. The opposite of homogeneity! It is much safer to ban it, and to simply design it out of these roads altogether. On the N470 all vehicles are travelling in the same direction at all times, and at approximately the same speed. Overtaking conflicts have been removed, as have any turning conflicts, with no motor vehicles crossing the paths of other motor vehicles – because there are no junctions.

Another implication of the principle of homogeneity is that mopeds (which aren’t capable of travelling at 80kph in any case) are banned from these roads, and instead placed on the cycle path, alongside people walking, cycling and jogging. This makes sense according to the principle of homogeneity – their mass and speed is much closer to that of pedestrians and cyclists than it is to the vehicles on the road.

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Forgivingness

Another principle of Sustainable Safety is ‘forgivingness’, which implies pretty much what you would expect from the title. Essentially, mistakes by road users should not result in death or serious injury. Road and street design should account for the fact that human beings are fallible, and will inevitably make mistakes.

We see this principle reflected in a number of aspects of the design of the N470 road. The road lanes themselves are narrow, to help ensure that people do not exceed the 80kph limit, but there are large overrun areas on either side of the road, composed of a concrete mesh.

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Probably not very enjoyable to drive over, but if you do drift off the road, you won’t die.

Naturally, forgivingness also applies to people cycling. It lies behind the systematic removal of bollards from Dutch cycle paths, where at all possible. Bollards are not good things to crash into, and can cause serious injury and death. It is definitely preferable to have the occasional driver venturing (either mistakenly or deliberately) onto a cycle path than it is to have a permanent hazard on it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also means that kerbs and other elements of cycling infrastructure should allow mistakes to happen, without serious consequences.

New cycle infrastructure in the city of Delft, with a forgiving, essentially crash-proof kerb

And, of course, at a higher level, the fact that there aren’t any human beings outside of motor vehicles on the N470 road, or even near it, means that cycling is very safe. The fact that Britain persists with accommodating cycling on busy 60 or even 70mph roads is extraordinary by objective comparison – the consequences of errors and mistakes when you have such enormous differences in mass and speed in the same space will be deadly.

Trucks travelling at 80kph on the right; a father with children in a cargo bike, far to the left. These two should not be combined, for very obvious reasons

Predictability

A better way of expressing ‘predictability’ would be ‘instantly recognisable road design’. The users of a road or a street should understand how they are expected to behave, from the appearance of that road or street. The design should be unambiguous. For instance, if you want motor vehicle users to travel at 20mph, the road or street should look like that, and it should make the majority of users travel at no more than that speed.

From the photographs in this post you won’t need me to tell you that the appearance of the N470 will obviously inform its users that it is a through road! There are no junctions; no interactions with non-motorised users; a median; and a design that suggests a speed of 50mph or so. As already mentioned, the design of the N470 should make users travel at or around this speed – the speed limit should be self-enforcing. Design should lead behaviour – we should not expect people to do unnatural things.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, Sustainable Safety is really about a strategic separation of fast, heavy objects from slower moving, lighter ones, across an entire country, both along roads like the N470, passing through rural areas, but also in urban areas. It is universal.

It is noteworthy that there are multiple cycle routes between Delft and Zoetermeer, all of them completely separate from the road network. Some parts of these are shown below. These cycle routes pass through the places where people actually live and work, while the motor traffic is shielded away from human beings. All these routes are more direct than the N470, or alternative driving routes on the motorways.

The cycle route in and out of Delft

Another route between Delft and Zoetermeer, as it passes under the A12 motorway.

And another route between Delft and Zoetermeer - this one an access road (connecting to a small number of properties) that only permits driving in one direction.

So despite the name, Sustainable Safety is not just about safety, but also about creating more attractive and more pleasant places for people to live, work, shop, and relax. People can still drive, of course, and with great ease, but their journeys will be separated to the greatest possible extent from human beings. It is a bold and ambitious project, but one that, despite only being a few decades old, has had dramatic and impressive consequences. We should be paying close attention.

 

You can read more about Sustainable Safety in a number of places –

Big [Missing] Data

The DfT Doesn’t Know Whose Buses Killed 64 People last Year. The Bus Services Bill Could Change That.

Guest blog by Tom Kearney. First published on The Bus Stops Here

True Ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it.
Karl Popper 
(quote from Matthew Syed “Black Box Thinking)

Regular readers of the Bus Stops Here blog will know that, in addition to campaigning for TfL to end its complacency about Monitoring and Reporting of the Operational Safety of its Buses, I’ve been lobbying our national transport officials to extend the small victories we’ve won in London to the Government’s much-touted (by the well-connected and powerful UK Bus Industry anyway) Bus Services Bill.

As a result of relentless campaigning and skillful intervention by members the London Assembly—in contrast to any other region in the United Kingdom—Transport for London:

  • Publishes Bus Safety Data every quarter clearly identifying the Bus Operator involved, incident location, type of injury, sex and age of injured party, general cause, mode of transport involved, Borough and month of incident occurrence;
  • Makes subscription of its Bus Operators to Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis System (CIRAS) a Bus contract precondition.

These two Operational Safety Monitoring and Reporting practices provide both the public and Bus Operations staff much more transparency and access to data and independent reporting systems which—as has been shown in other transport modes like rail, maritime and air—help underpin a resilient self-reinforcing safety culture.   While I’m the first to point out the manifest deficiencies of TfL’s complacency about the safety of its contracted Bus Operations (remember, TfL was forced to come to the table and agree on both these actions after years of campaigning by crash survivors, bus drivers, London Assembly members and transport professionals), these policies give Londoners much better ability to scrutinise their Bus Operators’ operational safety performance than anywhere else in the country.

Based on last year’s published data, we know that 14 people were killed in safety incidents involving TfL’s Contracted Bus fleet.

With this public information in hand, we thus know exactly which TfL Bus Subcontractor was involved in each fatal incident, and, accordingly, can we build upon this data to construct a showing table showing all 2015 Fatal Incidents by TfL Bus Subcontractor.

Let’s call it TfL’s League Table of Death.

1. Metroline Group Buses = 6 Fatals
2. Arriva London Buses = 3 Fatals
3. RATP Buses = 3 Fatals
4. Stagecoach Buses = 1 Fatal
5. Go Ahead = 1 Fatal

And, if we’re minded (OK, we are), we can use information from TfL’s League Table of Death to investigate even further.To wit:

TfL Bus Subcontractor Metroline (31 Dec 15 Operating Profit £37,586,000, an increase of 8.2% from a 2014 Operating Profit of £34,725,000) and Metroline West (31 Dec 15 Operating Profit £9,775,000, a decrease of less-than-1% from a 2014 Operating Profit of £9,842,000) were—combined—involved in 6 fatal incidents, 5 involving pedestrians and 1 involving the operator/occupant of a motor vehicle, making Metroline the leader of TfL’s League Table of Death.  A little more research will show that Metroline is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Singapore-listed global transport company ComfortDelGro Group, whose FY2015 profits totalled $(Singapore)363.8 million (about UK£214 million).  Poking further around the net (as you do), you’ll find that despite Metroline leading in TfL Bus Fatals in 2015, TfL and our, erm, ‘watchdog’ LondonTravelWatch named Metroline “Bus Operator of the Year” for 2015.

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Like TfL and LondonTravelWatch, just Ingore the 6 People Killed from Metroline Bus Collisions

Tied for Second Place on TfL’s League Table of Death are:
TfL Bus Subcontractor Arriva (for this table, consisting of (a) Arriva London North – YE 31 Dec 15 Operating Profit £26,981,000 an increase of 18% on 2014’s Operating Profit, £22,789,000; (b) Arriva London South – YE 31 Dec 15 Operating Loss of £3,955,000 a 31% increase on 2014’s Operating Loss of £3,018,000; and (c) Arriva The Shires YE 31 Dec 15 Operating Profit £2,200,000 a 59% decrease on 2014’s Operating Profit of £5,405,000) is owned by Arriva PLC which is in turn owned by Deutsche Bahn, the state-owned German National Railway, whose 2015 turnover totalled €40,468 Billion.
TfL Bus Subcontractor RATP/London United (London United Operating Profit YE 11 Dec 15 £5,103,000 a fractionally smaller amount than its 2014 Operating Profit of £5,116,000) owned by Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens the state-owned Paris Region Public Transport Operator, the 5th largest public transport operator in the world with an annual turnover over €5.556 Billion in 2015.
And last (but not least) on TfL’s League Table of Death:
TfL Bus Subcontractor Stagecoach (for this table, consisting of East London Bus & Coach Company, YE 30 Apr 15 Operating Profit £6,437,000 a 260% increase on 2014’s Operating Profits £1,781,000), a UK public company with YE 2016 Turnover of £3.87 Billion and an Operating profit of £228.8 million.
TfL Bus Subcontractor Go Ahead, whose YE 2016 Operating Profit from its London Bus Operations totalled £47.1 million (a 6.3% increase on 2014) and whose revenues across its UK bus and rail businesses total £3,361.3 billion in YE 2016, its UK Bus Business having racked up £100.4 million in Operating Profit last FY.  Readers may recall that Go Ahead—with the full support of Transport for London— fired TfL Bus Drivers who testified against its operational safety practice in court…and lost.  Go Ahead also owns the rail franchise that manages Southern Rail, which has received a lot of unfavourable press. The company’s current Chief Executive David Brown was the immediate predecessor to TfL’s MD for Surface Transport.
Because we have the names of the companies involved in these 2015 TfL Bus Fatalities, we now know that the Private For-Profit Bus Companies are major international corporations, all of whom are extracting profits from the public bus services contracted by TfL.  14 people in London were killed in TfL Bus Safety Incidents involving 5 international transport companies which, collectively, enjoyed an Operating Profit of £125,178,100 running public bus services which our tax payments subsidised and personal our post-tax income purchased too.
When these TfL London Bus Subcontractors’ safety records are evaluated on a “KSI Collision per Bus in Operator’s Fleet” basis, their relative operational safety performance is put into starker relief:

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In addition to being involved with 30% of the 2015 Bus Fatals, two Bus Operators—Stagecoach and Arriva— account for 32% of TfL’s Contracted Fleet and 53% of all KSI Bus Collisions. These two companies also had £66,536,800 in combined profits too.

We know all this because we succeeded in making TfL publish the names of the Bus Companies involved in safety incidents.

 

While I often rail against TfL for being so disingenuous about the quality and timing of its Bus Safety Data, the fact that we have this information opens all kinds of doors to further scrutiny.  Since we know that Metroline had the highest number of fatalities, we can use this knowledge to delve further into its accounts (all of which are available on Companies’ House), actions by its parent company and other issues of interest that might pop up in such research  For example, I was surprised to discover that one of Metroline Rail’s  Director’s owns a Bus together with TfL’s MD for Surface Transport, Leon Daniels. While I suppose there’s no prohibition on TfL Directors co-owning vintage buses with executives employed by transport companies directly related to ones they contract, manage and regulate, the fact that TfL publishes it Bus Casualty Collision Data every quarter means the public can closely scrutinise the private companies providing public bus services and their relationships to the very public officials who contract and manage them…in London.

How about the rest of the country?

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When I recently received this tweet from @SaveOurBuses_UK about the DfT’s 2015 Bus UK Bus Collision Casualty Data, I immediately thought: What a gold mine! 5381 recorded collisions? 64 deaths? 702 casualties? With 15 recorded collisions and 2 serious injuries per day in 2015, I wonder how many incidents involved (e.g.) Stagecoach, Arriva, RATP, Metroline or Go Ahead Buses?
dft-bus-casualty-data-2015

I immediately fired off an FOI to the DfT to see if I could find a national trend to compare with the Bus Operator Safety Performance data TfL had already posted on its website.:

Dear Department for Transport,
In your publication “Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: 2015 Annual Report” Table RAS20001 “Vehicles involved in reported accidents and involvement rates by vehicle type and severity of accident, Great Britain, 2005 – 2015” shows that 64 people were killed and 702 people were Seriously Injured in incidents involving Buses or Coaches in 2015. Kindly provide me with the dates of the incidents, the incident location (or reporting locality) and the name of the Bus or Coach Operator involved in these 2015 fatal and serious injury incidents.
Yours faithfully,
Tom Kearney

The response I received from the DfT shocked even someone as cynical I am about the complete indifference of our public servants to the carnage wreaked by the systems they are paid to oversee:

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You got that right? We only know the names of Bus Operators for 14 of the 64 fatal collisions in 2015.  And we only know that 22% because someone who nearly died from a bus collision campaigned for years to make this location-specific safety incident data public for Londoners.

But we don’t know the names of the Bus Operators involved in the killing of 50 human beings in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Bus Services Bill provides an ideal opportunity for us to consolidate and extend what we’ve achieved in forcing London’s transport authority to collect and publish meaningful operational safety performance data for public scrutiny.

Let’s end the age of Big [Missing] Data and have the Bus Services Bill ensure that all UK Bus Operators and the local authorities in which they operate (for private profit) be made responsible for collecting and publishing critical operational safety data for public scrutiny.

Based on what we know about the 5 international transport companies whose buses were involved in killing 14 people in London last year, we know they can afford it.