I know an old lady who swallowed a fly

I don’t know why she swallowed a fly.
Perhaps she’ll die.


I know of a country which painted a line.
I do know why they painted the line!

It was an attempt at getting infrastructure on the cheap. Bike lanes are simply painted lines at the edge of the road, creating a lane for bike riders which is very often narrow and dangerous. One of the problems with these lanes is that they funnel bikes down the near-side of motor vehicles, meaning any bikes going straight on are in conflict with motor vehicles turning left.

People have died.


I know of a country which painted a box.
What a pox, this ‘safety’ box!

To solve the problem of bike lanes at junctions, we could have given bikes proper physical separation and a separate traffic light phase. But that would slow down car journeys by several seconds! So, continuing the cheap pseudo-engineering which the UK now excels at, we devised ASLs – advanced stop lines (or “bike boxes” to some of you).

They painted a box which sent bike riders
right into the blind-spot of HGV drivers.

People have died.


I know of a country which thought that a mirror
would be the solution to carnage and horror.

I know that it’s better than nothing given the current appalling design, but let’s face it – it’s a kludge. Are we hoping that every single lorry driver will remember to check yet another mirror at every single junction? Given human nature, and indeed, human biology, we must conclude that this mirror does not, and cannot, make a junction safe.

They added the mirror to fix the box
(which mixed up bike riders and HGV drivers)
they added the box to fix the line
they painted the line to keep it cheap…

…more people will die.


So what’s next, when we discover that the “Trixi” mirrors aren’t stopping deaths or making bike riding safer? (As the Dutch already know. Via Vole O’Speed.)

It’s a kludge on a kludge on a kludge, like the lady swallowing a succession of animals, each designed to fix the problem created by the previous one, when the real solution is to cough up the fly.

When will the UK stop throwing good money after bad to fix a broken system? As far as I can tell, our street design was created in the 1950s during the dawning of the age of the motorcar, and has only been tinkered with gently ever since.

What we need is a major overhaul of our road design guidelines to make walking and bike riding safe, easy and attractive for everyone.


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6 responses to “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly

  1. This is one of the best blogs on the subject I’ve read. Even more poignent now the deaths have already started this year… I suspect only cyclists will read this and agree, these messages do not make it mainstream. Don’t expect change from your local cycling politicians, expect if from the increasing movement of unhappy cyclists (and their late relatives). That’s what the Dutch did. Let’s start a movement; a two wheeled one, but static. Make them listen. They can’t ignore 1,000 static cyclists outside local government offices in protest, and in memory of the deaths.

  2. PaulM

    You could have a career in musicals!

    Actually I am not sure you’re right about roads being configured for cars in the ‘50s and not much changing since. The first metalled roads were built for bicycles, as Carlton Reid will tell you – in the 1890s bicycles were by and large expensive playthings of the rich and it was bicycling clubs of influential individuals which agitated for improvements to roads so that they could ride them. Mass production no doubt made bicycle cheaper and they thus lost their attraction to the rich and upper middle classes at about the same time as the motor car emerged to become the next exclusive, aspirational purchase – and to have nice roads ready-made for them, which accelerated their adoption mightily.

    Thereafter there has been a continual process of widening and straightening roads to make them capable of taking cars at ever higher speeds. The evidence can be seen all over the countryside, in curious little laybys occupied by burger vans, which were once part of the road which has now been cast to one side as a straighter alignment has passed them by – almost the reverse of the formation of rivers and oxbow lakes. The roads of course may have been straightened because their kinkiness was considered to render them unsafe, but the engineers didn’t take account of human nature, and what I believe the psychos call risk compensation – each of us will drive within our own envelope of risk taking or aversion, and if you make the envelope bigger, then we will all extend our envelope. If roads are now safer it is because cars are safer – for their occupants – due to safety cages and crumple zones and ABS brakes and of course seat belts: an entirely different argument than the old cycle helmet compulsion chestnut.

    But, of course as cars became safer inside they became more dangerous outside. I can remember three decades ago or more, when the first cars with safety cages and crumple zones – Saab and Volvo – came onto the market, it was quickly, if perhaps anecdotally, observed that drivers of these Swedish cars which seemed to have their lights on all the time took greater risks than other drivers. People observed that the tailgater on the motorway always seemed to be in a Saab.

    And while the EuroNCAP standards worked positively on the interiors, all sorts of things about the exteriors went unimproved, and at some stages even got worse. Most cars were, and many still are, really bad news for pedestrians. Mercifully, the craze for bull-bars has gone – were they specifically outlawed, or did their drivers get tired of peeling off the stickers I used to attach to their drivers’ wing mirrors – “Q: what’s the difference between a car with bullbars and a porcupine? A: the porcupine has all its pricks on the outside”

    So, cars are dangerous, roads are dangerous, and drivers are dangerous. I guess the roads and the cars can be made safer through design changes. I doubt much can be done about the design standards for drivers – whatever changes you make to the blueprint eg training, they will always get mangled in the photocopier.

    • Ha! I like the bull-bar stickers. And you, a respectable city gent! Funnily enough I once bought a second-hand car with bull-bars on, but I removed them immediately. Seemed to me that while they may have looked cool, it wasn’t worth the increase in damage they would have done had I hit someone. There were very few bulls in Leeds at the time, too.

      What I meant about the 1950s was that most of the signage and markings seem to have become standardised then (though I may well be wrong about that). Before then it seems that many more signs had words on – “keep left” instead of the white arrow in a blue circle, for example. Either way, the rules which are used to design roads in the UK need a re-write.

  3. Were not struggling against cars, not even gainst car drivers. There’s a global pattern that makes authorities have half-way, timid (or downright dangerous) options to face increasing demands from bike traffic, if they care at all. What is killing cyclist is that no country (not even Holland) has rulers with enough intelligence and courage to recognize how unsustainable car use is in our cities and adapt they politics accordingly. It looks that everybody is waiting for something extraordinary to happen to avoid getting rid of cars for good. (loss of time, no extraordinary projects from car makers, they just want us to buy more junk). What is killing cyclists all over the world are the ideas of social status, “progress”, “speed” and “safety” related to automotive culture.

  4. alex cran

    Excellent article! Bit by bit we can make a positive change.

  5. Pingback: CS2 from Bow to Stratford: Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width (Part 2) | The Alternative Department for Transport

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