Justice and Progress

There’s a lot of anger following the inquest into the death of Michael Mason, and justifiably so.

A driver hit and killed a man who was riding a bike directly in front of her car. For some unknown reason she didn’t see the man on the bike directly in front of her, but the police decided that this was not worth bothering the criminal courts with.

For more information about the case, I suggest you read this piece by Martin Porter QC, who represented Michael’s family at the inquest, this piece by Mark Treasure, and this piece by Evening Standard journalist Ross Lydall.

It’s a sad case, yet one more example of the UK establishment’s acceptance of road deaths.

But it’s also another example of why mixing cycling (or walking) with motor vehicles is never desirable.

Michael Mason was a very experienced rider. According to Ross Lydall’s blog post, he’d been “cycling daily throughout his adult life” – i.e. for over 50 years.

So he’s been riding a bike ever since the Beatles’ first single was released, since Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister.

In short, this guy really knew how to ride a bike.

So if someone as experienced as Michael Mason can get hit and be killed, any of us can. All those tricks and tips you think keep you safe when out cycling on the road? Michael probably had figured all those out before you were even born.

And yet his skill and experience wasn’t enough to save him. No amount of training, experience, testosterone or guile can save you from a car being badly driven. There’s no Bikeability level that will save you from a surprise rear-end shunt.

What would have prevented Michael Mason’s death, however, is a Dutch-style physically-separate cycleway.

Had there been proper cycleways along Regent Street – as there should be – then he would have been nowhere near that car, however badly driven it was. His death should never have happened.

And yet this simple truth still evades many.

The whole “shared space” concept is based on mixing motor vehicles with people walking and cycling, for example.

There’s recently been a glut of “cycling design guides” which suggest that mixing modes is desirable, even at low speeds. (Note: Mixing modes is sometimes acceptable when motor vehicle volumes and speeds are very low, but it’s never desirable.) Often cycling is touted as a way to “tame” motor traffic, while in reality the motor traffic intimidates and discourages people from cycling.

And there are still plenty who believe that becoming “skilled up” to cope with the current conditions is the only way forward for cycling in this country – despite the fact that many cyclists who are killed have a high level of skill.

This awful case shows how badly wrong those people are.

The aftermath of Michael Mason’s death shows us how shockingly lacking the British justice system is.

But the collision itself reminds us how lacking Britain’s road system is, and why it needs redesigning.


People using bikes on a cycleway in the Netherlands. A busy bus route, but bikes and buses are kept apart.

None of these people are at risk of being hit from behind by a car.



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18 responses to “Justice and Progress

  1. Cycling on the Dutch country roads can be as hair rising as in England, but at least they have stricter liability we don’t and it’s up to the victim to provide the driver is at fault, difficult when the Police and Justice system acts if they were the Fifth Column.

    • I really don’t agree with your point here at all.

      Firstly, many Dutch country roads have separate cycleways alongside, or are almost-car-free. (I’ve rarely felt at risk on a Dutch country road, as the volume and speed of motor traffic is a fraction of the typical country road in the UK.) Those roads that don’t have separate cycleways or very low levels of motor traffic need fixing urgently.

      But this isn’t about simply copying whatever the Dutch do – though much of their network is excellent, they still have many failings and weak points. It’s about doing what’s best. The best stuff nearly always is in the Netherlands, but that doesn’t mean that everything there is therefore the best. Some Dutch roads are scary, and that’s not good enough. I want the best.

      Secondly, strict liability is another “after the collision” tool. It’s a tiny bit of insurance law, nothing more. It’s a good thing to have, but it doesn’t really make a difference to most people’s lives. I now live in a country with strict liability, and I can tell you that people still drive like arseholes. I’d much prefer a separate cycleway to prevent an accident in the first place.

      The whole point of this article was that we need to design roads to prevent collisions from happening in the first place. Strict liability doesn’t do that. Separate cycleways do.

  2. There are some Dutch towns which have painted cycling lanes on the roads and they are the same widths as the crapy ones you get here, but these towns are not the ones that the average cycle tourists visits.

    • Michael, your comments will not be taken seriously by anyone who has actually visited and cycled extensively in the Netherlands.

    • Ian

      There clearly are, but pointing out that the worst provision in the Netherlands is similar to our alleged best hardly invalidates the point that we could be much better served.

    • I’ve travelled a lot in the Netherlands and never found a town with no cycling infra at all. Though I’ve not covered the whole country, so perhaps such a town does exist. (Do you have the name of it?)

      But even if it did, that’s completely irrelevant. This has nothing to do with the Netherlands, beyond the fact that nearly all the best infra is found there. It’s the good, proven infra that we’re looking for, it could be in Timbuktu for all I care.

  3. Thank you for yet another thought provoking piece – and for the links to all the relevant, equally calm and well reasoned background. Such a sad, sad case.

    This blog – and the background pieces – has to be seen, read, digested and fully understood by all the Gilligans, councillors, traffic police, road planners etc. Do any of those types of people follow you? How can we best channel the energies generated around tragic stories like these (and there will be others along all too soon) into concentrated, targeted campaigns that have an impact?

    I am pretty sure that pointing to bits of crappy provision in the Netherlands, Michael, only serves to distract us from making any progress towards city and town centres across the UK where pedestrians and bike users are assumed to be the majority of space users and that motor vehicles are designed out. Driving anywhere, anytime, like an arsehole is unforgivable, as is complete inaction by the police. But I can’t even begin to count up the number of system failures we have where a hairdresser from Hertfordshire thinks that the best way to commute to the West End is by car!

    • Bill

      The driver who ran down and killed Michael Mason was in a borrowed motability vehicle. These are exempt from the congestion charge and some parking restrictions, the savings on train /tube fares would be considerable.

      • There surely must be some restriction on loaning out Motability vehicles in such a way? If the owner is going to loan out their car to others, then the other benefits – which are intended for people with disabilities – shouldn’t be automatically granted to an able-bodied friend.

    • Thanks Jerry, I’m glad you liked the post. Some people of small influence do read the blog, but they tend to be limited in their power, unfortunately. There’s some good people at TfL and local councils, but they’re always massively outnumbered by dinosaurs.

      And I have no idea what Michael’s point is, to be honest!

  4. Jenny Jones challenges Boris on the Michael Mason case and gets the usual BS. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVANkYv0csk&app=desktop

    • What a horrible shit Boris Johnson really is. Jones is asking him about a specific recent case where the cyclist’s behaviour wasn’t in question, and he starts banging on about aggressive cyclists. What an utter bastard.

      Thanks for the link though!

  5. Just three weeks ago I was hit as a car turned into a parking space, failed to see me, and just drove into me. I was given no opportunity to brake or maneuver. I was knocked unconscious, spent the next 24 hours in A&E, and have recently found out that the driver will be sent on a “course” rather than go through the CPS & court system.

    In my case, I was in a cycle lane… sandwiched between the road on one side, and parking spaces on my other. Sensible design… not!

    Mine is yet another example of how, in the UK, when we do implement cycle schemes, we some how seem to manage to do it wrong, and in many cases actually make roads more dangerous for cyclists rather than less.

    As cyclists we really need to get behind the lobbying groups and start pushing for change. The more of us that start speaking up and telling our own tales, the more chance there is that local councils will start paying attention and do something about it.

    • Hi Lee, thanks for sharing that, it sounds really horrific. To find out that the driver is then simply put on a course (does this avoid points on licence too?) is literally adding insult to injury.

      The design sounds crap, like nearly all cycling “infrastructure” in the UK (it’s not really worthy of the word “infrastructure”!). The design tells people to cycle, but then puts them in danger. There has to be a push towards better infrastructure, it’s the only answer.

      I hope you’re on the mend and won’t have any lasting damage.

  6. Guides are all well and good but seeing it through to implementation is a big step. Australia has some well thought out and conciliatory guides which address the needs of all users. A high level copy can be found here:
    (titled “Cycling Aspects of Austroads Guides” should the link go dead and people wish to find it in the future)

    The state road authorities have gotten on board and supported this set of guides but new infrastructure continues to be installed without regard for the carefully produced guidance. Separation of transport modes is suggested in most situations but instead the cycle “management” is being used to break connectivity and forcibly reduce the use of paths and roads by cyclists while not providing any new infrastructure.

    I’ve got a rapidly growing blog looking at the reality of what is actually delivered, which is usually just whatever cost effective dressing is convenient to place in any given location.

    • Well it’s standards we need – legal minimum standards which must be followed – rather than guidelines, which are merely advice that can be ignored.

      Even then though, campaigners need to keep an eye on the authorities. As you’ve found, the cheapest, most motor-friendly things usually get installed, which is rarely the best for cycling.

  7. livinginabox

    One can’t help but compare the complete inaction on the part of the authorities regarding investigation and prosecution for the death of Michael Mason and another incident, once again involving death by dangerous machinery. However in this case there was a prosecution, but of course there was no involvement of a motor-vehicle on the road. One might easily conclude there were double-standards in operation.

  8. Pingback: A Study of the Obvious, a Franklin-on-Your-Shoulder, and the Myth of the “Inexperienced Cyclist” | The Alternative Department for Transport

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