The Transportation Arms Race needs to end: here’s why


I’m going to be honest right out of the gate, this wasn’t a fun one to research, and it won’t be a fun one to read.

28 May 2012 – Mark Brummell, a Southampton cyclist, is struck and killed whilst cycling through Ipley Cross on the edge of the New Forest.

2 December 2016 – Kieran Dix, also a cyclist. Also struck at the Ipley Cross junction. Spends 2 months in hospital before succumbing to his injuries.

At first sight, Ipley Cross is just another regular road crossing. Visibility is good. In fact it’s near enough perfect, with nought but a slight slope on the north east side of the junction to obscure lines of sight. It’s not particularly heavily trafficked, being in the countryside and not on any main routes. To the average onlooker, Ipley Cross is perfectly safe. So why so deadly?

The answer is a long and complicated one, and for a full explanation I highly recommend watching Tom Scott’s video, or reading the article he was inspired by, but the short answer is a combination of physics, geometry, and the reason I am writing this article: the Transportation Arms Race.

It’s no secret that car drivers and bicycle riders are not the best of friends. Indeed, one need only look through any cycling or driving forum and see a plethora of posts complaining about erratic drivers, cyclists running red lights, or all manner of other complaints. But the rivalry extends beyond opinions, complaints, and hatred.

The most likely given explanation is that the deaths of Mark Brummell and Kieran Dix are due to the freak coincidence of the movement of a cyclist aligning perfectly with the A Frame of the front end of a car, creating a blind spot which perfectly hides the cyclist until its too late.

The A Pillar blind spot prevents the driver from seeing the cyclist

These A Frames exist as a safety feature, and admittedly an important one. Glass is fragile, and a complete wrap of glass around the front of a vehicle, whilst not unheard of, is considered dangerous because, in an accident, the entire section of car could shatter. And this is where the issue arises.

It is a common misconception among both cyclists and drivers, that to make travel for one group safer, you have to detract from the safety of the other. To make driving safer, cars introduced A Frames, which contributed to the tragic deaths discussed earlier. To make cycling safer, London introduced separated cycling lanes with raised pavements between them and the regular traffic, reducing space for cars to manoeuvre and forcing them into tighter spaces where collisions and delays are vastly more likely. Even now, the big movement in cutting edge driving technology is for driverless cars, removing the risk of human error at the expense of anything the car’s programming deems acceptable collateral, or simply isn’t accurate enough to notice. (It is important to remember that a bicycle is a fair amount narrower than the cars this programming is going to be primarily made to avoid).

This us vs them mentality creates a transport arms race; a rush to improve safety in your chosen vehicle before the other. Already in Britain we’re seeing an increase in sales of Utility Vehicles, with sales of SUVs accounting for over 20% of new car sales in 2018 according to one report, compared to just 13% in 2015. These vehicles, and others like them, are designed to be as large and solid as possible, meaning that in almost any collision, the other driver, cyclist, or pedestrian is always going to come out of the situation worse off. A cyclist being hit by the average SUV is far more likely to die than if they were hit by a small hatchback.

We have a long way to go before we reach the goal of roads that are truly safe for all who use them, and driver responsibility is a part of that. But until we end the Transport Arms Race and instead work for a network of travel that works for all, that goal will remain an illusion, an unachievable dream, whilst vehicles keep getting bigger, hardier, and deadlier.

And the death toll will keep ticking up.

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