Playing billiards with cyclists?


In the game of billiards, points can be scored by hitting the red ball and the opponent’s cue ball in the same shot; that is called a cannon. I wonder whether the equivalent on the road involves hitting two cyclists with one manoeuvre?

On the last day of September in 2013, my daughter and I were cycling to work together as we often do. My journey is 12.5 miles from Bolton to Salford; hers is 15 miles as she carries on into Manchester. We were both looking forward to getting together again after work to participate in the first Manchester “Space4Cycling” ride that was organized by the greater Manchester Cycle Campaign that evening, to draw attention to the need to improve road conditions for cyclists. As it turned out, we had to hire some bikes to join that ride because the ones we were riding soon became unusable after someone ran into the back of both of us in a car.

This blog article looks at what happened, and I try to analyse some things about it.

One of the trickier parts of our journey involves riding round a very large roundabout (technically called a “gyratory”, I believe) at a place called “Irlams o’th Heights”. Two and a half years ago, I wrote a blog article, with video, showing how I negotiate this roundabout, which can be found here. Unfortunately, despite all our best efforts to ride in a safe manner, applying all the principles that are taught in Bikeability training, you can’t prevent certain things happening, and one of those things happened on that day. Since I got a new bike and started cycling to work again last week, I have made one small adjustment to the way I approach this roundabout, but more of that later

The Incident.

You can see on this Google map the route that we take across the Irlams o’th Heights roundabout in a morning. The incident in question happened as we were entering the roundabout from the North. Rather than describe what happened, it is probably better to show you:

I’ve been cycling this route for well over three years now and never had any problem, so it could be said to be at least a little disappointing that this happened.

Here is a picture of the aftermath of the incident:

The Driving

I should say from the start that the driver seemed mortified that this had happened, and became very upset. My daughter was very sympathetic towards her but I find it difficult, myself, to consider something like this as “just an accident”. For my part, I think I was very lucky that my back wheel collapsed as it did, absorbing a lot of the shock and so allowing me to stay on the bike rather than be crushed under the front of the car. My daughter was not quite as lucky; as she was further in towards the kerb, the front wing of the car knocked her off her bike to the ground. But we could say she was very lucky that it was the rear wheel of her bicycle that finished up under the front wheel of the car rather than her legs.

On looking at the video and a couple of stills, I still find myself shocked at the degree of incompetence that was displayed by the driver. This driver was behind us in a queue of traffic for the roundabout, so clearly knew we were there at least up until the moment she started looking right. The following image is a still taken from the video at the moment of initial impact:

The moment of initial impact

Notice the position of my daughter’s bike, somewhat ahead of me. The following picture shows the positions at the point where the car stopped:

The position when th car stopped moving.

You can just see my daughter’s leg at the bottom right of the picture. You can also see the extent to which the front valence of the car is distorted, both in the centre and at the front nearside. As I said earlier, we were lucky this was not far more serious than it was.

There is no doubt in my mind that this was an extremely negligent piece of driving, and it has served to strengthen my belief that the bar is set far too low when it comes to determining whether someone is sufficiently competent to be allowed out on a public road in charge of a tonne or more of powerful, dangerous machinery. However, given that we know there are negligent drivers out there, could more not be done to mitigate such incompetence?

The Road Design

Japanese manufacturing practices, such as those implemented by Toyota, often apply a concept called “poka-yoke“, which is usually translated  as “mistake proofing“. This means designing processes and equipment in such a way that mistakes are unlikely to happen, and recognizes that human beings make mistakes. Similar principles are applied to road design in enlightened countries such as The Netherlands, which recognize what seems to me to be a bleeding obvious principle, that safety concerns should always over-ride those of speed and flow of traffic.

The most obvious way to deal with this, where possible, is to restrict much more severely the freedom of motor vehicles, and reserve a much greater proportion of road space for pedestrians, cyclists, and any other vulnerable road users, preferably providing a physical barrier to prevent even the most incompetent of drivers from coming into contact with them. In the United Kingdom, unfortunately, the principle of “safety first” does not seem to apply, and any efforts to provide for cyclists seem half-hearted and often downright dangerous.

At the place where the driver ran into us, there is what is called a mandatory cycle lane, which means a cycle lane that motor vehicles must not enter under any circumstances. Here is an example of a (silly) cyclist making use of this “facility“:

A cyclist using the mandatory cycle lane.

I hope I don’t need to explain why this is an example of crap design. It’s possible to use the cycle lane to get past the queue of motor vehicles, but it’s not worth dying for. Needless to say, I never, ever use this cycle lane, but instead ride in the centre of the inside general traffic lane, taking my place in the queue to enter the roundabout. This is the practice that is recommended by the Bikeability training scheme in cases where there is no other option than to share the road with motor traffic (which is most of the time in the UK).

Unfortunately, the design of the road layout makes even this approach dangerous. The use of flared entrances and exits to the roundabout make it almost inevitable that collisions will occur here because they encourage drivers to look in one direction whilst accelerating in another:

Bad sight lines

Reproduced from Google Maps

I am in no doubt that this is what happened in our incident and this, coupled with her having the memory of a goldfish, resulted in her accelerating into us from a standing start. One of the principles that I understand is applied to the design of roundabouts, as well as other roads, in the Netherlands is to ensure that junctions like this are arranged at right-angles, with a fairly small radius of curvature on the kerb at the shoulder of the junction. This would result in the two arrows in the diagram above being much closer together so that the driver’s field of view includes the direction they are travelling in, as well as forcing drivers to take the turn more slowly than they would otherwise need to. Whilst this in no way excuses the negligence of the driver in this case, I think the failure of British road designers to apply such principles is bordering on criminal negligence.

Road Justice and The Police

Whilst I hold no particular malice for the driver that ran into us, I did feel that she ought, at the very least, to be required to take some additional training. Some other poor soul might not be quite so lucky as we were should this driver continue to drive without due care and attention. I have reported incidents of poor driving in the past, which have usually involved either rather scary near misses, or deliberate aggression, and am sorry to say I have found the police in these cases to be about as much use as a chocolate teapot. I have written before about what I believe is an ingrained prejudice towards cyclists among the police, and I believe there is also a cavalier attitude in the whole justice system towards dangerous behaviour when it involves motor vehicles.

It was approximately 24 hours before I was able to talk again to the driver on the phone and, whilst she did seem quite contrite, I still felt I ought to follow up with the police, if only to ensure there weren’t any “gotchas” when it came to insurance claims. I actually spoke to the police about 25 hours after the incident. The police line was that because it was more than 24 hours after the incident, they were not able to deal with it other than noting it for statistical purposes. I believe this is not true. I am well aware that a driver who is involved in a collision that involves injury to a person is obliged to report the incident to the police within 24 hours, but it is a long stretch from that to saying that they will not accept reports of incidents outside that 24 hour period and I can find no statement anywhere to suggest that is the case. After all, if there had not actually been a collision, I would certainly expect to be able to report an incidence of careless driving after more than 24 hours.

The other line that the police took was to say that, as there was no actual personal injury (as it turned out, there was, though only minor) it was simply a matter for insurance companies to sort out. This, in my view, is a disgraceful abdication of duty by the police and involves the use of a range of mythical excuses to try to fob off a member of the public. I know this is rather a strong view, but it is born of some experience. After all, this could have turned out very differently, and the driver has displayed quite serious failure to exercise due care and attention in operating a motor vehicle on the public highway. I am sure that an incident of this magnitude on a building site would have resulted in a full health and safety investigation, and some people might be found guilty of criminal negligence. Unfortunately, if it happens on a road, then it just considered “one of those things” – a cost of doing business.

Update: When the STATS19 statistical data for 2013 were released, it became apparent that the incident had not even been recorded for statistical purposes.

How can I reduce the risk here myself?

One of the benefits of cycling with video cameras running is that there is a possibility to learn from things that happen. In this case, there is one thing that I have now started to do differently at this junction, which is to ride even further out than I did before to improve my safety. To people who have not studied the subject, this may seem counter-intuitive but, referring back to the section on the road design, it means that I, and my 95 lumen flashing rear light, are more likely to be in a driver’s field of view, even when they are looking right.

Unfortunately, that can result in some idiotic driver driving illegally in the mandatory cycle lane to try to squeeze past on the inside, such as this driver:

Idiotic driver trying to squeeze past on the inside.

After I signalled this driver to hold back (i.e. to stop acting like a dick-head), he blasted his horn – a clear contravention of the Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002, but I’m sure the police wouldn’t gave a fig about it. This driver is a pathetic excuse for a human being.

Final Comment

As it happens, there is currently a consultation being conducted about options to improve this roundabout for cyclists. I am not really keen on any of the proposals as they stand, but it is quite clear that only total separation of motor traffic from humans such as pedestrians and cyclists will stop this roundabout being a barrier to mass cycling. If we are really serious about it, then whatever happens needs to ensure that the solution is convenient for cyclists as well as safe for all concerned. One of the proposed solutions appears to involve a cyclist crossing 5 different toucan crossings to get between some of the exits, which would be just plain stupid.

Please read some of the other articles for views on related topics.

This entry was posted in Article, Road Justice, Safe Cycling, Salford, Space for Cycling. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Playing billiards with cyclists?

  1. Keith Peat says:

    Nowhere in this long analysis do you ever consider that mingling and mixing with heavy metal machines on the move and operated by complete strangers of widely varying ability, mental capacity and subject to all kinds of pressure, maybe a very dangerous and risky choice.

    Because you have a right not to be killed or maimed is no guarantee that you will not be. This incident has done nothing to disprove that fact..

    • MrHappyCyclist says:

      Ah, KP, never one to let facts get in the way of a good ill-informed rant. You know very well that a pedestrian walking a mile is more likely be killed by a motor vehicle than someone cycling a mile on the roads. However, I do acknowledge in the article that we should be restricting motor vehicle access to the roads. This could easily be achieved by eliminating unnecessary private motor vehicle journeys and save a fortune on health care in the process.

      • Keith Peat says:

        It’s only ranters that call others ‘ranters’. I have no need to.

        Re your stat. Pedestrians and drivers are essential to maintain society. Cyclists cover the distance x 4 of walkers so your mileage stat is a bit selective. As it happens last year’s increase in road casualties was purely cyclist, all others were down.

        What is an ‘unnecessary’ private vehicle journey? It’s about time/load/distance.

        And why ‘private’? All public transport depends on private drivers anyway.

        Please don’t be blinkered and rude too. Even this response isn’t a ‘rant’ but just a response.

        BTW I have now added your blog as a classic of mingling with large pieces of moving machinery. At least I do address the safety issue instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.

        • MrHappyCyclist says:

          The problem, Keith, is that you keep on repeating the same incorrect and misleading nonsense even though you have been told time after time why they are nonsense. Patience starts to wear thin, so I’m not going to answer them again; a little use of Google will find the answers already provided.

          Regarding your nonsense comment about “pretending [safety issues] do not exist”: why don’t you actually try reading this blog site first.

          • Keith Peat says:

            Cite one incorrect misleading comment on here.

            • 1. You claim that cycling is horrendously dangerous, yet the statistics show that it is not particularly dangerous compared to other activities or other modes of transport. Moreover, as you claim to be a road safety expert, you must be aware of those statistics, so you are not simply mistaken, you are lying in order to pursue your own weird agenda.

              2. You claim that particular modes of transport are “essential” whilst others are not. So if I travel to work on a bicycle, that us non-essential but if I make the same journey by car it suddenly becomes essential. Indeed, your assertion implies that going for a pleasure drive in a car is essential whilst going to work on a bicycle is not. It is a journey that is essential or non-essential, irrespective of the mode of transport. You have been told this many times by many people but you persist in repeating your ridiculous assertion.

            • Keith Peat says:

              If you deny the definition of road cycling & dont face it, you are the biggest danger to your fellow cyclists. 5 killed in UK already this month so of course it’s dangerous. Drivers bump into all sorts of things, so wanting to mix with them is a death wish.

              Re your choice of commuting, no it’s not ‘essential’ to the community; it only must have walkers & drivers. You may not like that fact & I am sure that you don’t. But denying facts also makes you worthless to your cause.

              So now it turns out that you are prepared to mislead your followers. You have not cited one false or invalid comment by me so far. Yet told them I have made many.

              Yes as an ex cop, cycling, road safety & driving was my professional expertise & work. What is or was your job?

            • So, KP, you still insist on ignoring the official statistics. Quod erat demonstrandum.

            • Keith Peat says:

              Which ‘official statistics’? Many statistics ignore fact. You can create a stat to suit any argument. Fact is, please quote them to St Peter as you are welcomed through his Pearly Gates. Stats are not stopping the constant death of cyclists.

              That’s what my focus is on but it seems you prefer stats.

            • In particular, the fact that the probability of being killed whilst walking a mile is higher than that of being killed whilst cycling a mile; based on STATS19 data.

    • JM says:

      Wow. As the head of a “Road Safety” group you sure lack a grasp on reality.

      You are right, there is no guarantee that you won’t be killed or maimed, but there is a reasonable expectation. Being subject to pressure and having varying ability while driving is no excuse. If you have sub-par mental capacity and skills then DO NOT DRIVE.

      Should we all just stay off the road because some idiot can’t drive properly? That is not a solution. The solution is to prevent accidents like this happening through training, awareness, policing etc.

      You had best stop driving, as you must realise that although you have a right not to be killed or maimed, you may be T-boned by a lorry. Would that stop you driving? It’s people with opinions like yours which result in MORE deaths and accidents. The attitudes and victim blaming that its someones fault for being knocked off.

      In your reply you did nothing but provide excuses for the driver and put blame on the rider. Its people like you that I worry about, and people that you make excuses for that I worry will turn me into tomato puree on the roads, because I was in their way, taking up all the room on the road that I don’t pay road tax. Fuck you Keith, fuck you.

      • MrHappyCyclist says:

        Don’t waste your time on rational argument. KP seems to be immune to that.
        Whilst I understand the sentiment, please could you try to avoid the swearing and abuse. Cheers.

        • Keith Peat says:

          So you don’t mind risking your life, so long as a driver is to blame for your demise? And you call that rational? Well it’s for politicians to justify their support for your grave dangers, but even more wicked, encouraging young kids to do so too is unforgivable.

        • Keith Peat says:

          Re walking a mile. Yes because most people don’t walk more than a mile yet cyclists average a lot more. Hence more walker casualties within a mile pro rata. But why raise walkers? As I keep pointing out: We must walk to exist.

          Ok I am satisfied that you are determined to deny the needkess risks of cycling; even if it kills you or your followers. I have spent enough valuable time on here to see that you amount to no more than a dangerously blind ideologist who clearly cares not a jot for the safety of people to promote your hobby.

      • Keith Peat says:

        I have not blamed either. Only the crazy scenario you place yourselves in. It defies all logic and self preservation instincts. Humans make mistakes. This woman is just that. Yet the title implies it was a deliberate game. It wasn’t. What is it with you cyclists? You are in a very dangerous place but then complain when it goes wrong? Look at all these examples here. Do you think if these cyclists had paid heed to me they would now be dead or critically injured?

        So read this and ignore it and go out on your bike tomorrow or the next day or the next and I sincerely hope that you too don’t have reason to regret your decision.

        So St Peter says: ‘Come in my son. Your welcome. It was the drivers’ fault.’ Good thinking my man[ good thinking.

    • Mary says:

      Are you arguing that nobody should cycle full stop? I mean, it’s a logical viewpoint, sure, but it’s a bit of an extreme one.

      • Keith Peat says:

        No but when the cycle lobby make massive demands, especially against essential infrastructure then we must face reality. It seems that we are not seeing the definition of road cycling. Then once acknowledging that, the question is: ‘Should I be doing it?’ And ‘Should politicians be promoting it?’

        It isn’t for me to suggest anything. I merely alert everyone to the reality.

    • Hi. Whilst I agree with you assertion about Keith Peat, I don’t want to approve it due to the language. Sorry.
      If you could post a more reasoned reply to him, I’ll happily approve that. Alternatively, we might serve ourselves better by just ignoring the twerp.

  2. Pete says:

    Best way to get the cops to an incident is to tell them the driver is drunk.

  3. Gaz says:

    What a load of bollocks from the police, you’ve just got to keep pushing it. How did you report it to them?

    For example, this case

    I initially reported it on the night but nothing was done till over 3 weeks later (I had to chase up).
    There was no collision
    There was no injury.

    Yet the Met still built a case, submitted it to the CPS and it went to court.

    There is absolutely no reason why this couldn’t go that route apart from half arsed policing.

    • MrHappyCyclist says:

      I only tried to report it via the 101 service, though I did go up the hierarchy a bit to Sergeant level.

      The thing is that I have wasted days of my time on single incidents that went nowhere, so I think that time is better spent working at the problem from the other end, through the GMCC, etc. Things are at least beginning to move here on that front.

      You are quite right, though, that it is simply half-arsed policing with, I think, a bit of anti-cyclist sentiment, albeit subliminal, thrown in. (Look up “Operation Grimaldi”.)

      • Keith Peat says:

        Why not put your money where your mouth is and lay your own summons to the courts? The police have got far more to do than just respond to cycling complaints. These head cams are going to wear very thin very fast.

  4. Sue Booth says:

    Report anything like this immediately with 999. CTC national cyclists organisation membership includes legal advice (and insurance) and log near misses too nationally to lobby government on behalf if all if us.
    It is not about any one road user getting off the road, but mutual respect.

    • MrHappyCyclist says:

      Thanks for this advice.
      I’m a member of CTC as well as British Cycling; in fact, I presented the CTC Road Justice Report to our PCC, Tony Loyd, in August. When I spoke to CTC about help in dealing with the driver’s insurance company, they weren’t interested because (as far as we knew then) nobody was injured. I was rather disappointed with this.
      I am quite sure that, had we called the police, they would not have been interested and certainly would not have come to the scene. Their attitude seems to be that road collisions are merely a civil mater and nothing to do with them unless there is serious injury or death. Again, rather disappointing.
      Finally, calling for “mutual respect” is not working. We need strict enforcement and a complete change in road system design that puts safety of vulnerable road users at the top of the priorities.

  5. Mary says:

    Yikes. Having seen the video from the forward-facing camera, I knew what was going to happen, but I was still really shocked by the speed of the impact shown on the backward facing camera. It must have been incredibly scary and shocking to be hit like that!

    I am a driver and a cyclist and the only accident I’ve ever had as a driver was me doing exactly what that driver did, except to another car – I was looking right at the traffic coming onto the roundabout (going onto the A57/Chester Road roundabout south of Manchester city centre), and didn’t notice that the car in front of me had stopped and so timed where I needed my brake to finish about three foot further forward than it should have been. So I can see exactly how the driver did that, but at the same time, *all* drivers should give cyclists an extra cushion of at least a couple of metres above what we’d give a car, just because we’re so much more damn vulnerable. The driver is incredibly lucky you and your daughter weren’t more seriously hurt.

    LOL at “well, cars are dangerous, cyclists should just stay at home” Keith.

  6. Neil says:

    Hi G
    This is quite a common accident at a roundabout. The driver behind ploughs straight into the car in front. Except in this case it was a bicycle (or two). It sucks the police didn’t take any further action, but they don’t seem to unless there was an injury.
    No action was taken when a car pulled a U-turn in front of me, I ploughed into the side of it. The driver refused to leave details. I was uninjured so no prosecution was taken against the driver (however I did get her details from the police). In retrospect I should have claimed for my wheel to be trued, but I didn’t bother as the hassle it was worth was more than the tenner it cost me. sigh……

  7. EricD says:

    After watching Magnatom’s similar incident, I thought “Flashing red LEDS”, but then I could clearly see yours reflected in her front number-plate !

    Epilepsy could be a worry – a cyclist was triggered when fitting her own lights once.
    I wonder if poor vision is a factor – one can be registered blind, due to ‘tunnel’ or ‘keyhole’ vision, but still pass the DSA test.

    Mirrors ? But then you’re looking 1) ahead 2) right 3) behind. Too much.
    Hearing behind ?

    The thing that struck me is that the silly cycle lane has been allowed to completely wear away. I couldn’t see it at all, let alone guess who has priority at exits, or tell if it was mandatory.
    Bad Council !
    Going to Google Maps, Street View, and turning the imagery clock back to 2008, there was a ‘Give Way’ marking that would stop cyclists in the middle of the exit lane from the roundabout !
    Good thing it had worn away – terrible idea !

    Note that giving the cycle lane priority doesn’t work either .

    It looks like there’s plenty of space for the Dutch system, but I haven’t really thought that through.
    Good luck with the consultation. I know TRL has experimented with Dutch designs, and Bedford tried a weird ‘Turbo’ roundabout.

    Dutch road culture is very different, but solutions are possible.

    • MrHappyCyclist says:

      Thanks again. I agree with what you say.

      The consultation has not gone well. The plans basically boil down to doing what they can without a. spending any money or b. interfering with the flow of the sacred motor traffic. The problem at this specific location will be solved for me in two months time, as I’ve decided to take early retirement so will no longer be making this commute.

      I don’t think the Dutch would apply their cycle friendly roundabout designs on this large roundabout because a. it is multi-lane, and b. it is too busy. They would provide a separate road for cyclists on which motor traffic is not allowed. An off-road facility is effectively what has been decided for here, which is good in principle, but the off-road provision that is planned is crap – basically just allowing bicycles to use existing pedestrian footways.

  8. Keith Peat says:

    I love it. Turning to personal abuse is losing a debate.

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