Wednesday, November 29, 2006

For they know not what they do! 2

This morning, after a fairly clear run through Balham and Clapham High Street there was the usual jam outside Clapham North Tube. Cars and vans sat waiting to cross the box junction (someone must be reading this blog!) and join the queue running down to Stockwell on the other side.

As I got there a Porsche moved across the box junction as a space appeared. I could see there was room for me as well, so carefully followed him. I then noticed something strange was going on in that car. The driver was holding a piece of A4 paper in his left hand, and something else was going on.

I have mentioned before how riding gives such a good view of what drivers get up to. In this case, as I followed him I could see he was crossing a busy box junction, about to join the tail of a queue, surrounded by bikes and bicycles, with a printout of a spreadsheet in his left hand, and he was annotating it with a pencil in his right hand!

As he got to the other side of the junction, I pulled up alongside him, looked down at him and shouted “You stupid Wanker!” He looked up, and the look in his eyes! I thought he was going to die! That is one of the great things about wearing a Hein Gericke jacket that looks like this –

Everyone thinks you are Plod!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Sirens’ Call

Does anyone read paragraph 194 of the Highway Code?

Emergency vehicles. You should look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police or other emergency vehicles using flashing blue, red or green lights, headlights or sirens. When one approaches do not panic. Consider the route of the emergency vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass. If necessary, pull to the side of the road and stop, but do not endanger other road users.

I end up applying this bit of the Highway Code nearly every day as a day without emergency vehicle avoidance training is rare. However, I am amazed at how poorly other road users behave when they see the lights or hear the siren - maybe there are just not enough questions in the standard written test? Maybe people in London now see and hear so many emergency vehicles they are inured to them? Or is it just that they are stupid, have no idea what the code says, panic, and don’t give a damn anyway?

Today I came across more than my fair share of blue lights. A Paramedic in a car passed as I was on Clapham Common South Side approaching Clapham Common Station. It was heading towards a Vespa ET who was off at Stockwell. [I didn’t see the rider when I got there as there was also an ambulance in attendance and they were presumably being attended to in the vehicle. The bike didn’t look badly damaged so hopefully this was fairly minor.] The paramedic did the good old “let’s drive down the wrong side of the road and cut in just before the traffic island” trick and I had moved well over in front of the other vehicles at the lights to let this happen. All so good so far.

When I got to the point outside Waterloo Station exactly where “Kay” was taken out by a pedestrian I heard an ambulance coming up behind me. I slowed right down and pulled to the left. I didn’t stop but made sure that by sitting on the edge of the bus lane there was plenty of room for the ambulance to pass. Imagine my surprise when pulling up alongside me was a black Jaguar! The Ambulance I had so carefully left space for was left with nowhere to go. It was forced to cross the road, risking the lives of the pedestrians who run out in to the road along that stretch, and squeeze past on the opposite side! I think it was only when the ambulance passed that the cager realised why I had slowed down!

This sort of ignorant thoughtless behaviour is so common of all road users. I see cars simply stop and block the road, cars that pull over without looking who is behind them or to their left. I see cars that insist on turning right because the traffic lights say they can even if it means forcing an emergency vehicle to stop. I have seen pedestrians simply walk out in front of ambulances with lights flashing and sirens blaring forcing them to stop or take evasive action. I have seen scooters sitting at junctions blocking ambulances, I have seen sports bike riders trying to overtake ambulances and nearly being taken out as the ambulance swerves to negotiate other traffic.

I remember once seeing a fire engine reversing into the fire station on the Albert Embankment at the end of a shout. It blocked all four lanes as it did so and the cars and bikes waited patiently for it to finish its manoeuvre. A cyclist then comes along, can’t get past so goes up on the pavement, he then proceeds to gesture and shout at the driver of the fire engine clearly inconvenienced by his minor detour. I can tell you, he got a bit of shouting an gesticulation from me as he went past!

About a year ago I was approaching Tooting when I saw the lights of an ambulance in my mirror. I was nearly at the junction where I guessed it would want to turn left to St George’s Hospital. I stopped well short of the junction so the ambulance could round me and turn left. The cars did the same. Then, with the ambulance 100 yards behind, a Spandex Wally who had already cut me up at two previous junctions caught up. He decided to do the old, “I am a cyclist, I am immune from the law, the Angel of Death can’t get me, I will just move out across the junction during the pedestrian cycle and wait the for the light to change [which I won’t see as I will be too far forward]!

Regrettably, when the ambulance passed me on my right and turned left to pass across in front of me and right over the point where the cyclist was, it saw him in time and stopped. Lights flashing and siren blaring, he stopped, and he waited. He waited and he waited. The cyclist just hung about, making no attempt to move out of the way of the ambulance so it could get to the hospital 200 yards away.

Eventually, a car queuing from the left made enough room by moving forward on the junction so the ambulance could pass the cyclist and drive down the other side of the road to get round him. Of course, by this time the lights had changed and the cyclist wanted to move on and was not happy that an emergency vehicle was blocking his path! What a Prat! And they wonder why they are so despised!

Anyway, enough of the past crimes of cyclists. On the way home today I was passing through the Tibbet’s Corner underpass on the A3 when police vehicle appeared in my mirror, lights and siren, it was going like the clappers. I was in the right-hand lane about to overtake the Stig and a car. I wasn’t going to get through in time and had few options. Slowing would only make it more difficult for the police not to hit me. I could pull to the right and hope the police passed between me and the Stig, but I tried that once before on the Albert Embankment, and despite being on an emergency call, the police pulled over to give me a ticking off for pulling not going to the left and probably colliding with a taxi!

Accelerating was not going to work, the bike is a 125 after all and I was doing well above the 40mph speed limit here and by this time we were coming out of the dip of the subway. In the end I gambled on the Stig having the sense to leave a space, and on the car in front just continuing and not trying to brake or pull over or anything stupid. It was a gamble, I didn’t feel I had a truly safe option, which I didn’t like, but fortunately the Stig was able to leave me enough space, and the police sped past into the dark.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Watch Out, Watch Out, There’s a Pedestrian About!

I have long believed that if I am taken out on London’s roads it won’t be a Chelsea Tractor driven by an idiot chatting on his or her mobile, it won’t be a spandex wally crossing at red, it will be a pedestrian stepping out without looking.

It is something that haunts me and I am always very careful assuming that every bus, every lorry, every people carrier and every Chelsea tractor hides that pedestrian waiting to jump out and try and kill me. Today I saw it happen to someone else.

The Stig and I were riding to work aiming for Waterloo Bridge. We were waiting at the lights outside Waterloo Station when I saw a pedestrian running out from between two buses that had stopped at the bus stop. Coming the other was a motorcyclist carefully passing the buses at about ten miles an hour. We will call the biker “Kay”. She had no chance. The pedestrian took no time to look and just ran straight into her. Kay went straight to the ground with the pedestrian falling on top of her.

The Stig and I immediately stopped and ran over to help. A pedestrian also came over to assist. The perp and the other pedestrian were checking Kay was OK but she was clearly in pain. I asked her what the problem was and she said her ankle hurt. It also looked like she may have hit her head on the ground when she went over. I asked if anyone had a mobile to hand. Mine was switched off under the seat of my bike. So was the Stig’s. Fortunately the bus driver waiting patiently behind our bikes called over to ask if an ambulance was needed. I said that Kay would need one as she had been hurt, and the bus driver radioed for one. London bus drivers get a lot of stick, but in emergencies I have found them to always do the right thing.

To clear the road for the bus and the rest of the traffic the Stig and I moved the three bikes off the road whilst the two pedestrians helped Kay to the pavement, as she couldn’t walk. The Stig gave Kay our names and numbers on a piee of paper in case she needed witnesses. Within a few minutes a paramedic had turned up in a car. He asked me what had happened and then set about examining Kay. As well as the ankle injury there was also some neck pain. Whilst she was being examined I asked Kay for the keys so I could secure her bike. She told me there was a lock in the top box and the Stig and I started looking around for the best place to put the bike where it was not blocking the pavement, and was less likely to get a ticket. After a few minutes of exploring where we could put the bike I looked round and the paramedic had gone, Kay had gone, and so had the perp. The pedestrian who had helped told me that Kay and the perp had been taken to hospital by the paramedic.

Hmm – I now have the keys for a rideable CBF600 with minor damage and no way of contacting the owner and no idea who she is! Fortunately for Kay the bike was fitted with engine protection. This was smashed out of shape but had saved the bike. There was no faring, engine or frame damage visible. There was some scraped mirrors and bar ends, and the most expensive looking damage was some damage to the Givi top box and scratches to the damaged exhaust. Then I noticed that there was a metal tag attached to this huge bunch of keys I had been handed. It had initials, a surname, a date of birth and a mobile number. Great – now all we needed to do was sort out a good place for the bike.

Just as we were running out of options the Police turned up. They were polite and efficient. Took some basic details from the Stig and I about what had happened and made sure they knew how to contact us if they needed to. They asked what had happed to Kay. We guessed she had gone to St Thomas’s as it is just round the corner. They suggested they take the keys after I had put a disc lock on the bike, and they also took a large camera bag that was in the top box that looked like it contained valuable equipment they didn’t want to leave in the box, and said they were going to find out where Kay had ended up. The Police’s view was that the bike should be left where it was, blocking a pavement, and that any ticket would be overturned on appeal! I handed over the keys, and only later realised I had handed over any means I had of contacting Kay to check she was OK.

The Stig and I went on to work, arriving much later than planned, but feeling we had done the right thing. Later in the day I had a meeting in Whitehall, very near Westminster Bridge. It was lunchtime and I thought, maybe I should walk over the bridge to St Thomas’s and check Kay was OK. I was worried she might not have got her keys and camera bag, and was a little concerned that she might not have been able to contact anyone and may need things doing for her.

I have not been to St Thomas’s since an unsuccessful job interview in 1978, so have little memory of the place. However, despite it being a physically unpleasant environment the staff were very good in helping me track down Kay with only her initials and surname that I remembered from the tag attached to the keys.

When I found her she was with her mother and sister. I was so glad she had not been alone. I know from my own experience in hospital following an accident that being there alone is the worst bit. With friends and family it is easy to forget your predicament, but with your own company things tend to tell!

Kay and her Mother were pleased to see me, and I was pleased to find out that she had not broken her ankle, only sprained it, and that whilst she had neck pain, she was going to be sent home soon. I checked the police had given her keys and her bag, made sure Kay knew she could contact the Stig and I should she need to, and went back to work.

I am glad the damage to the bike is not major, but is bound to run to hundreds of pounds to get the bike back as it was before the accident. I am very angry that Kay told me the perp disappeared and will not have to pay the cost of his stupidity.

For the record, (although I don’t really care) I did speak to him about what at happened whilst waiting for the paramedic. He said he had “looked through the bus” and not seen anything and did not remember having time to look round the bus to see if anything is coming. I pointed out that if Kay had been travelling fast he would not have ended up on top of the bike as the bike would have come to rest a hundred yards down the road. The fact that he, Kay and the bike ended up in one heap at the point of impact showed that Kay was moving slowly when he stepped out without looking.

We spoke about his injuries. He had torn his clothing (Kay was wearing full protective gear thankfully) and had a painful buttock and a grazed hand. It was easy not to show too much concern for him. He was lucky, many bikes ride past there at 30mph plus and he could easily have killed and been killed.

When the Stig and I got home we found a message of thanks from Kay on our answering machine. However, the law of karma does not seem to be working today. Having stopped and helped out a biker in distress, the Stig has some hand and wrist pain after trying to lift Kay’s bike single handed, and her electrics were playing up all the way home with no tail lights and no illumination of the instruments but now seem to be OK. That’s an Italian bike for you!

I am sure the Stig will be OK, and Kay is on the mend, but remember where this story started - Watch Out Watch Out – There’s a Pedestrian About!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Box Clever

What is it about box junctions? Why do people just not understand them? Certain tabloid newspapers seem to be trying to run a campaign against enforcement of box junctions. Apparently it is unfair that people who stop on them and block the movement of other traffic can be fined for being stupid.

Box junctions are not difficult to understand. You just don’t go there until you know you can get out the other side. The only exception is turning right when you can stop in the box if you are stopped from turning right by vehicles coming the other way, or because other vehicles are waiting to turn right. That is not permission for idiots to stop in the box because they are turning right and other vehicles block the exit from the junction. Yes – you lot outside Oval Tube Station – I am talking to you!

What does annoy me about box junctions is that often the combination of the box and the sequencing of lights can mean that one exit from the box is permanently blocked leading to no vehicles from one road being able to cross the junction at all. The solution is not to park in the box causing gridlock – instead use the form on TfL’s website in the Roads section to point out why the junction does not work. Keep on listing it as a road fault until the junction is redesigned. If they don’t – write to your councillor, MP, Uncle Ken etc. Actually, it is more fun complaining than it is sitting stationary in traffic!

My biggest problem with box junctions is that there are too few. For example, since the demolition work started on the south side of Westminster Bridge traffic regularly backs up past Lambeth North Tube with bendy buses often sitting across the junction blocking all traffic movement. Why is there no box junction there? There should be – it is an ideal place for one, one that should be properly enforced!