A judge at Oxford County Court criticised the recent changes to the road layouts in Cowley Road as he awarded damages to a cyclist who was injured when a bus pulled out in front of him.
The injured man is reported in the Oxford Times as saying “If I hadn’t turned to avoid the bus, I might not have been here. The road narrows so dramatically, buses have to swing out into the road, meaning their back swings out. Its so dangerous. It is only a matter of time before somebody gets killed”.
The damages award was against the bus company, but the judge said “The constrictions involved in the modification made to the road have certainly not made life any easier for bus drivers and cyclists”. James Styring of Cyclox said that “dangers have been introduced – such as the road getting suddenly wider and narrower”
The works were undertaken by Oxfordshire County Council Highways Department, whose motto is not in fact Unintelligent people doing unnecessary things, badly and at great expense, but ought to be. The works cost £1.3 million and were authorised shortly after a girl was knocked off her bike and killed. In place of a road of constant width with clear sight-lines, they gave us a set of chicanes, with lots of the lines, barriers and bollards so beloved of the deeply stupid.
The problem – one of the problems – with highways officers, is that they have no understanding that the actual causes of accidents are relevant to any decision thereafter. An accident, or a number of accidents, leads to the automatic reaction that something must be done. The primary cause of the accident in which a girl was killed by a bus was that the bus driver was chatting to his mate who was standing by him in breach of the regulations. £600,000 was spent on barriers down the Eastern By Pass after an accident caused by a woman later convicted of dangerous driving in an overladen car. In neither case was there any attempt to relate the remedy to the alleged cause or the cause to the effect.
To the little highways officer the formula is simple. Someone has been killed or injured – we must change the road layout. It does not seem to matter if the actual result is better or – as in this case – patently worse, or whether or not it has any bearing on the accident or accidents. They must be seen to be doing something, anything. Up comes a recommendation, gutless councilors hasten to approve it for fear that they be blamed for the next accident, and there’s another £1.3 million down the pan.
The Oxford Times gives some statistics for the five years before and the two years after the Cowley Road alterations. There were more accidents before than after the changes. Well, there would be – one period was three years longer than the other for a start. Just as importantly, the sample is not large enough to point to any patterns, to allow for inattention or stupidity on the part of one or both participants in the accident, or to remove random mischance as a factor.
Yet Oxfordshire County Council rushed to spend £1.3 million making changes which, put as charitably as possible, have at least as many critics as they have supporters. I wonder what schemes were abandoned or deferred for this. I wonder what the cost-per-accident-which-did-not-happen will be over five years – this is not, incidentally, a meaningful figure anyway, but if the County Council is going to justify expense by reference to comparative accident rates then it would presumably accept that one should go on to relate to the cost to the number of accidents.
Neither the officers not the councilors care very much about the reality. The officers have used up some budget and got a nice big project to add to their CVs. The councillors will stand for re-election on their record as spenders on road safety. The victims are those who just want to cycle safely down Cowley Road and the tax payer who funded it all.