This article was published in 2000, in Newsletter 30.
Hurrah for heel-pedallers
I don’t wish to start off my first letter to the Cycling Campaign with a moan, so let me say from the outset how much I have enjoyed my first issues of the Newsletter. It’s a good mix of news, information and campaigning. However, one article in the April-May issue did concern me. This was ‘My Way’, which offered a guide to David Green’s daily commute. In general I found the article well-written and informative, and yet in two or three places the tone of it began to bother me.
I should explain that I recently moved to Cambridge from Colchester and found such a change in attitudes to cycling. In Colchester, despite the great efforts of our local campaign, bike use remained a minority pursuit, and during my daily commute across the town I would meet very few fellow cyclists. By contrast Cambridge has been a revelation; masses of cyclists, not just the lycra-clad Shimano/Carradice/CatEye crew (of which I am a paid up member) but people of all different sizes, with rusty, ill-fitting bikes, unsuitable clothing, riding in the wrong gear. What a liberation! People using bikes simply because it is accepted as the easiest way to get about town. To scorn them as ‘heel-pedallers, saddle-droopers and hard-gear slaves’, people who don’t have a perfectly set up bike and who don’t know how to change gear at the appropriate time, as David does, is to miss the point.
I look on with fondness, rather than with pity, at each of these ‘heel-pushers’, reminding myself that that same foot could just as easily be resting on the accelerator of yet another car.
Traffic lights as speed enforcement
Following on from David Earl’s article (‘Moving (too) fast‘) in Newsletter 29 , it is clear that there is still an enormous amount to be done to make any impact on excessive speed. A recent report from the Transport Research Laboratory [TRL421] establishes just how important this is. This shows both increased speed and an increased spread of speed both cause marked increases in accident rates. This has the effect that drivers travelling only slightly faster than average for the road are enormously more likely have accidents. Slowing down these drivers, those who are speeding, is likely to have a very real effect on accident rates.
However another TRL report [TRL440] makes it clear that speeding is well ingrained. It will only be significantly reduced by a major cultural change, or by effective enforcement. The former seems unlikely for the foreseeable future. The ideas that the government seem to be pursuing on ‘enforcement’ seem to be me to be rather unimaginative.
Vehicle-activated signs, which warn drivers that they are going too fast, are used in a few places. The problem is that most speeders are a perfectly aware of their speed. I believe that a better approach would be stop such vehicles. Lots of modern traffic lights have equipment to detect approaching vehicles. If these could be improved to measure the vehicle’s speed, they could automatically turn the light red if approached at more than the speed limit, forcing the speeding driver to stop.
In comparison with many of the alternatives, this would be very cheap. The post, cabinet, indicators and power supply are already in place. Even if a completely new radar is needed, this is likely to cost only hundreds, rather than thousands of pounds.
I also think that it would be more effective, as its psychology is better. Criminologists reckon that draconian punishments with a low probability of being caught are less effective as a deterrent than a mild punishment with a (near) certainty of being caught. Deterrents are also much more effective if the punishment is immediate.
If, for example, every traffic light in Mill Road was so equipped, any speeding driver would get pulled up every few hundred yards. This seems very likely to be effective. It might even make speed limits below 30 mph practical without further (expensive) traffic calming measures. I would very much like to see this tried out.
I have copies of both of the reports mentioned, which I am willing to lend to anyone interested.
Ian Miller 511943 Ian_Miller@bifroest.demon.co.uk
Report TRL421 The effects of drivers’ speed on the frequency of road accidents was quoted in the 25 March issue of New Scientist. See http://www.trl.co.uk for more information including how to purchase reports.
Report TRL440 is The characteristics of speeders.