The truth behind Hi-Viz

As we all know, High Visibility clothing is seen as a must have safety item for cyclists. With the biggest selling items being jackets and rucksack covers.

High visibility clothing or fabric is made up of a fabric which is bright in colour and often has fluorescent properties, in addition there are reflective strips. The fluorescent properties of the material only work in natural light and the reflective strips only work if a light source is shining on it.

Fluorescent clothing works best during hours of natural light because the clothing ‘converts’ ultra-violet light into visible wavelengths, which makes it appear brighter than other colours and objects. It’s noted that it stands out considerably during poor conditions, such as rain and fog. Light from non-natural sources doesn’t contain much ultra-violet and thus the fluorescent properties of the clothing provide no advantage against non fluorescent clothes.

In most cases, the reflective panels on hi-viz clothing are designed to reflect light back at the source, in a handful of cases the reflective panels reflect light in all directions, this usually weakens the appearance of the reflected light. The more common type of reflective material (known as retro-reflective), reflects light at only a few degrees. So the performance of a reflector can appear very different from the perspective of a lorry driver vs a car driver. As the observation angle increases, the performance of the reflector drops.

So hi-viz is made up of two parts, one being good for day time visibility and one being good for night-time visibility. But they have their drawbacks. With growing numbers for road users being seen wearing fluorescent clothing it can have the effect of making you blend in with others and thus not standing out from the crowd, not the effect you always want. The retro-reflective material only reflects light back at the observer if they shine light at it.

The limits to retro-reflective material can be seen quiet clearly in the pictures below. Due to car headlights shining no higher than the waist of the average person. Any retro-reflective material won’t shine back a strong light because there isn’t much shining on it. In one of the pictures I lower the hi-viz cover into the headlights of the car and quiet clearly there is a difference between the two.

High visibility clothing is obviously great for standing out. After all that is what it is designed for. Cyclists in a busy city have to weigh up the options. At night the Hi-viz jackets and rucksack covers are next to useless unless you have rolling hills. During the day they can help you stand out but if you get into a group of other cyclists you may blend in, which can result in someone miss-reading your speed.

During the day I think it is personal choice about wearing hi-viz jackets, I personally don’t, I would much rather turn my lights on than wear yellow.
During hours of darkness I don’t see the point in wearing hi-viz jackets, it adds limited visibility. You would be much better off wearing retro-reflective on the legs and feet. Not only are these in the headlight zone of a motorised vehicle but they also move as you pedal. Adding in a much more attention grabbing effect.

No Helmets?

Look at these cyclists, on ice and not one of them is wearing a helmet and none of them crack their heads open and die.

I posted this more in jest than an actual representation of not needing helmets.

Recently the Womens Institute has been looking into backing mandatory helmet laws. As adults who have cycling experience, you are unlikely to fall of your bicycle by your self. You are more likely to be knocked off your bicycle by a hard moving vehicle. A collision which involves forces outside of the design parameters of a bicycle helmet.

Just look at the other countries which have mandatory helmet laws, cycling levels have dropped but a considerable amount.

It would be better to target the cause of bicycle accidents rather than try to force people to use protection which doesn’t actually protect you in all circumstances.

Cyclists don’t stop at red

Cyclists are often outed by other road users for not stopping at red lights. But no group is innocent at this.

A TFL study showed that 84% of cyclists in London stopped at red lights, so why is it perceived that we jump red lights?

Cyclists generally cycle through red lights when other traffic has already stopped at them, they cycle slowly, sometimes stop, and check if it’s clear to go. It’s clearly viewable by other road users and in most cases done safely. You get the odd Silly Cyclist who cycles through pelican crossings far too fast and without checking for pedestrians.
Where as other road users generally drive through the amber and red lights just after they have changed, they do it at high-speed and without checking. This can often cause crashes if the light sequence is very tight and you get someone pulling away from the lights early.

Which is worse? Well they are both technically as bad as each other. There is an argument that cyclists do it safely because they wait, look and then go. Where as motorised vehicles drive through the lights at speed and without checking, their vehicles are often considerably bigger, heavier and harder than a cyclist. Doing it safely and slowly doesn’t make it any better. The act of doing something so visibly wrong is damaging to the rest of us that cycle, hence why we are all tarred with the same brush.

Motorcycles in the bus lane

Yesterday TFL announced that motorcycles will now be allowed to use all bus lanes in London.

Previous to yesterdays announcement motorcycle use of bus lanes in London was on a trial basis, the second of its kind. Both trials lasting 18 months and on selected sections. This was to gain an understanding on the effect of allowing them to use the bus lane.

Collision rates in bus lanes in the second trial decreased by 5.8 per cent for motorcyclists and by 8.5 per cent for cyclists when compared with the first trial

Safety in numbers, as long as two wheelers stick together and don’t squabble about the space then I’m sure people will be more aware about us in the bus lanes.

In line with this increased enforcement, the average speed for motorcyclists in bus lanes reduced by 6.5 per cent during the trial, with the proportion of motorcyclists exceeding the speed limit decreasing by one fifth (51 per cent in September 2010 down to 41 per cent in September 2011).

41% of motorcyclists still speeding in the bus lanes? Seeing as how that was enforced by the Police, it shows just what sort of problem we have on our roads. People see speeding as acceptable even with the dangers of the bus lane.

Another study by TfL indicated that journeys made by motorcycles using bus lanes were, on average, more than 10 per cent quicker than those not using bus lanes and 36 per cent quicker than cars

It was quiet clear already to know that using the bus lanes is faster than sitting in a queue of cars. Seeing as how I can often keep up with a few motorbikes and mopeds over a few miles of bus lane and stop starts at traffic lights, 36% faster is a pretty good figure to hear. Now if only a bus lane went from my house to my work place.

As long as motorcyclists are aware that they need to share the bus lane with us (that is a two-way street) then I don’t have too much of a problem with the idea. But if they start behaving like the examples below, it is going to be a problem!

You can find out more information about the previous study here.

Good result for dangerous driving?

Fined £400 + £85 costs and 6 penalty points applied to their license. A good result for some pretty dangerous driving?

The fine is pretty substantial compared to some of the other cases I’ve seen about dangerous drivers bullying other road users. This fine was how ever for failing to nominate a driver.

The registered keeper of this vehicle was sent several letters by the Police and failed to respond to all of them. They were summoned to court for Failing to Nominate a driver and were fined £400 + £85 costs and given 6 penalty points.

It’s a shame the police couldn’t do more work to find out who the driver was a take them off our streets for good. But let’s be honest, this was probably a better results fine wise than if they were charged for dangerous driving. In fact they probably wouldn’t have been charged for dangerous driving, as the CPS pretty much always lowers the driving offence as a standard practise.

So whilst this is a good result, lets not get stray from the issue, the registered keeper may not be the driver in the video. The driver in the video may have gotten away free, we don’t know. The registered keeper could be trying to cover for a friend who may be banned, uninsured or be a wanted criminal, who knows.

You can watch footage of the incident below, the basics of it are as follows.
The driver came too close for comfort as we stopped at some traffic lights, I asked him if he could give me some more space.
The driver replied that it was OK because he hadn’t hit me.
As we set off there is a cement truck to my right and the driver gets closer and closer, my speed stays constant throughout and he edges towards me several times. When he is finally able to squeeze past (and leave me very little room) the driver then slams on his brakes trying to force me into the back of him. Luckily I’m more than aware of this stupid kind of move and I’m able to brake and swerve.

It has to be the worst incident I have had, the only one where I honestly thought I was going to get rammed of the road and potentially die. I feel that it’s a shame that the Police didn’t push more on this to find out who the driver was and get him removed from the streets!

Croydon’s Urban Motorways

As someone who has lived in or around Croydon all my life, I’ve never really noticed it before. That is until it was drawn to my attention by this post.

The post on As Easy As Riding A Bike is looking at a well-known cycling facility on Wellesly road. One that was in fact so bad on the first attempt, it was partially removed and modified. The post mentions how Wellesly road looks very similar to that of a motorway, several lanes of fast-moving traffic, no places for pedestrians to cross and some busses and trams thrown in for good measure. Standing back a little and it clearly divides the town centre in two. On one side you have central Croydon’s shopping plazas and entertainment areas and on the other you have a mass of office buildings, the busy east Croydon train station, Croydon Collage and the Fairfield Halls.

This isn’t the only road in Croydon that has similarities with a motorway. There are several flyovers and multilane roads that were designed in the 1950’s to help motor traffic move quickly from one area to the next. We have Roman Way, Croydon Flyover and The Purley Way for example. None of these roads have speed limits greater than 40mph and like all other speed limits, they are rarely obeyed by motorised traffic.

Roads like Wellesly Road and Purley Way are the kind which today should be very much avoided. They provide a fast and easy route though a busy area, taking away crossings for  pedestrians and providing traffic with the fastest route from A to B. The direct traffic flow with little traffic lights and long sight lines means vehicles travel much faster than they should and provide a dangerous situation for anybody who choose to travel by bicycle.

The centre of the town is pretty much surrounded by these kind of roads and it makes crossing the town by bicycle a difficult and sometimes unpleasant experience. If you have knowledge of the town there are various rat runs you can take to avoid said roads, but they usually involve crossing tram lines at tight angles or cycling through infrastructure which is not maintained.

TFL’s plans for Blackfriars bridge can be compared to these roads, hostile places for everyone that isn’t surrounded by metal, not pleasant to look at or use and certainly not inviting for clean modes of transportation.

If Chicago can do it, why can’t we?

Chicago have installed a protected bike lane that offers plenty of space to cyclists, keeps them visible and safe and it has seen a two-fold in the modal share.

TFL are currently reviewing the superhighways, something which has been marketed as super and safe to use. Unfortunately two cyclists have found out that they aren’t safer than other London roads, RIP.

So Chicago has taken space away from general traffic and given it to cyclists, installing wide cycle lanes, with buffer zones and flexible bollards. The space for cyclists is clearly laid out and is ‘protected’ from other traffic. Obviously a vehicle can go straight through one of those bollards and plough through a bunch of cyclists but that can happen at all kinds of cycling infrastructure. I would say that it was less likely to happen here.

The superhighways that TFL have installed on 4 routes in London are generally a bit of paint, sections of them are on quite back roads or on specific shared use cycle paths and the blue paint (faded in some areas) does clearly show the space that is allocated to cyclists. 90% of the time this space is only wide enough for one cyclist (not taking into account bus lanes) and is very rarely segregated from the general traffic. Watch the video below to see just how close the traffic can get to a cyclist in these blue lanes.

I don’t think installing similar lanes all the way along the superhighway routes is practical, there are certainly places which are quieter and don’t have the space for such facilities (sections of CS3 spring to mind). Sections such as alongside Clapham common still have 2 general traffic lanes with a popular left hook spot. At present motorists rush past as many cyclists as possible and then slow down to take the left turn which can be very dangerous.

Why can’t we implement similar lanes?