Won’t Somebody Think Of The Pedestrians?

pedestriansLast year, pedestrians accounted for 51% of all fatalities and 37% of all serious injuries on London’s roads.

That’s more than double the number of cyclists, motorcyclists or car occupants killed or injured in the same period. So where are the outrage, the protests and the headlines? Where cyclists have found their political voice and every tragic death is marked by a front page story, a ghost bike and calls for better cycling provision, pedestrian protests have yet to make their mark.

The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) very helpfully produced a report last year on pedestrian injuries and fatalities, so we decided to take a closer look. While the TRL report concentrates on the period between 2006 and 2010 and uses 200 police files on fatalities, the reasons behind the deaths are probably not too far removed from 2012’s 51%. The eight commonest categories of pedestrian fatality break down like this:

  1. Pedestrians on a pedestrian crossing (25%)
  2. Drunk pedestrians (23%)
  3. Pedestrians not on a pedestrian crossing (19%)
  4. Pedestrians hit by buses or coaches (17%)
  5. Pedestrians hit by speeding vehicles (16%)
  6. Pedestrians hit by HGVs (14%)
  7. Pedestrians hit by motorcycles (7%)
  8. Pedestrians hit by vehicles while on a footpath (6%)

So why don’t we see the same high-profile reporting on pedestrian deaths? There are probably several reasons for this, a lot of them around public perception rather than cold hard facts.

Cyclists and motorists both belong to fairly entrenched camps, their perception of each other stereotyped by a lycra-clad eco-warrior at one end and Jeremy Clarkson at the other. It’s a war out there and while both groups are busy arguing on LBC 97.3 about who jumps the most red lights, attention is taken away from the comprehensive cycling infrastructure that’s not being built. Which brings us on to another reason.

To ease the strain on London’s creaking roads and public transport system, the powers-that-be have been actively encouraging us all to get on our bikes and cycle to work. Aside from making sure people can cross a road without getting run over (unless it’s the A12) pedestrians can and have been muddling along as they always did. So there’s no big infrastructure to boast about and, let’s face it, no-one invites a celeb or issues a press release to open a new footpath.

And to play devil’s advocate for a moment, from a statistical point of view, nearly everyone in London is a pedestrian at some point during the day, whereas there are fewer cyclists, so the fatalities are probably proportionately higher in the cyclist camp. Identifying yourself as a pedestrian just means walking to the nearest sandwich shop at lunchtime. Identifying yourself as a cyclist puts you into a whole separate transport category.

Then we come to the blame game. Those drunk pedestrians who accounted for 23% of fatalities — was it their fault they got run over? After all, if they hadn’t been drunk it wouldn’t have happened, surely? Not to mention those people recklessly dashing across the road without using a pedestrian crossing. But in the case of many of the cycling deaths, the perception is that they did nothing to contribute to their own accident. In fact, the biggest crime that most of the cyclists who have died recently appear to have committed is to position their bike on the left side of a vehicle at a junction. Ill-advised, maybe, but hardly reckless.

Last year, the Guardian asserted that it was more dangerous, mile for mile, to be a pedestrian than a cyclist. Full Fact decided to look into this and came to the conclusion that while pedestrian fatalities per 1 billion trips were higher than those of cycling, it wasn’t all that helpful as they didn’t have data on the distance of average cycle journeys vs walking. Ultimately, “the fatality rate alone is slightly higher for pedestrians than for cyclists, suggesting the conclusion depends on what measures you choose to use when measuring ‘danger’.”

But leaving aside the statistics, at the moment, the voice of the cyclist is currently louder than that of the pedestrian and whosoever shouts the loudest gets the most column inches. When we write articles on protests and demands for better footpaths, we’ll know that pedestrians have found their political voice too.

Photo by chutney bannister in the Londonist Flickr pool.

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Article by Beth Parnell-Hopkinson | 796 Articles | View Profile

  • Nicolas Chinardet

    Even by simply looking at the figures above, it doesn’t seem to me that the quality of footpaths is the problem.

    I think that roads and their infrastructure have been for too long built for and around the motor vehicle. I refer you to the 60s from which we haven’t yet recovered.

    The more I think about it and see how so many people (not all, thankfully) turn into mindless idiots the minute they put their hands on a the wheel, the more I think motor vehicles should be curbed in every possible way.

    Particularly in cities, priority should be given to human beings, not metal boxes on wheels. They don’t need to go so fast, and other than in the case of those bringing in goods and materials, they probably don’t need to be there either (public transport should be the first choice).

    It a huge and difficult mind shift that needs to take place. It will need time and political will. I’m not sure we have either.

    • andybrice

      It’s a vicious cycle. The more public spaces are designed to prioritise vehicles, the more unpleasant it becomes to walk around city, so the more people drive, even for short journeys. Then to cope with this volume of traffic, public spaces are designed to prioritise vehicles, and so on.

    • DrPlokta

      You’ve omitted the most important category. People taking away goods and materials (i.e. shoppers) need cars as well as people bringing in goods and materials.

  • CanAmSteve

    In London, the car (and its brethren White Van and HGV) is king. I’ve lived in the US and Canada before moving to London, and like many, I’ve travelled in many other cities.

    No other “civilised” city (IMHO) has such disregard for pedestrians. I have been in London cabs who hooted at pedestrians for the temerity of crossing at a junction. I have been in cabs where the driver swore at a pedestrian at a signalled crossing because he didn’t run as the signals started to flash. I regularly have vehicles (including police cars without flashing lights) overtake others approaching zebra crossings (within the “no overtaking zone” AND fail to stop for me ON the crossing. Police cars! That’s how bad London is.

    There are junctions on Oxford Street and in Notting Hill where there is no pedestrian phase on the signals. Peds are expected to cross three times just to get to the other side, so as not to inconvenience cars. Of course, people just chance it.

    They have Gatsos for speeding, but no one cares about zebra crossings (note the published figures – 1/4 of deaths ON the crossing). Even cyclists get more respect – they are sort of like wannabe cars, so scum, but better than cars to TfL and many drivers (and the London and UK gov’t). What’s the fine for killing someone in a zebra crossing? I think they have upped it to a possible custodial sentence, but it used to be £200 or similar. Sad.

    But only the poor walk. A pedestrians life is apparently worth much less than a car drivers.

    • Dave H

      “But only the poor walk.”

      Oh, I’m not so sure. My personal, very subjective opinion is that walking is the most satisfying and empowering way of getting around London, when feasible. As a pedestrian, I am the master of my own destiny (or at least my journey). I am not enslaved by traffic jams, intentionally obstructive road-layouts or engineering works, and I am only mildly impeded by leaves or unseasonable weather. I do not have to share my space with motorised lumps of metal. Let the others grind their teeth in tailbacks or fight to cram themselves into an overcrowded box, I’ll be walking freely along the pavement.

      Sure, it’s obvious that many people do not have the opportunity to make many of their journeys on foot, but it’s certainly not true that walking is an activity reserved for “the poor”.

      • CanAmSteve

        Agreed. My comment was tongue-in-cheek – but perhaps a perspective from “above” as in Maggie’s observation that a man over 30 on a bus was “a failure”. The class which runs this city and country have little regard for the comfort of the masses. Hyde Park begrudges cyclists but is happy to close vast sections to be destroyed by rock stars or a circus.

  • http://twitter.com/RKWinvisibleman Robert Wright

    I worked out the UK’s fatality rate per billion miles walked versus the fatality rate per billion miles cycled for a blogpost recently. The reason why is obvious if you read the post http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-invisible-visible-man-low-rent-pj.html Essentially, there were 38 fatalities for every billion miles cycled in 2012, against 37.6 fatalities for every billion miles walked. The rate for pedestrians was higher in previous years. So the dangers are very similar. It’s a terrible tragedy that so many are dying.

    Mind you, London’s record in this area, while it should be better, looks pretty good by comparison with New York, where I now live. In London, 134 people died on the roads in 2012. In New York, which has around the same population, the figure was 274 http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-fort-greene-tragedy-londons-missing.html There were more pedestrians killed in New York last year (148) in New York than died in all road crashes in London.

    You’re right, nevertheless, that pedestrian fatalities should get more attention. That is now beginning to happen in New York – but then there were three pedestrians killed on sidewalks on Monday of this week alone, so it’s about time.

    • BethPH

      Thanks, Robert, that’s really interesting!

  • liz

    Part of the problem is there’s not much of a sense of a pedestrian lobby. Most people wouldn’t identify themselves as a pedestrian, whereas cycling often becomes part of your identity. Therefore we don’t really have anyone arguing that councils should fix the large number of junctions with no safe pedestrian crossing, or getting TfL and Westminster Council to address the safety record of Oxford Street, where you’re 17 times more likely to be hit by a bus than any other London street. It’s time for cycling campaigners to find common cause with groups like Sustrans, Living Streets and disability campaigners to make sure that we put people first, rather than continue to jump out of the way of cars.

  • http://gplus.to/casalotti Andrea Casalotti

    It is culture. #NastyBritain is a country where privilege is cherished and preserved at all costs.
    Whereas civilised European nations have a culture of inclusion and not leaving people behind, British culture is exclusive and divisive; everyone jealously keeping their privilege and thinking only about their tribe.
    In no other nation people are labeled and demonised by the means of transport they use.
    CamAmSteve is right: “No other “civilised” city (IMHO) has such disregard for pedestrians. ”

  • mark

    It’s unfortunate that media attention can only focus on one narrow set of problems, but within the progressive cycle campaigning community the problems faced by pedestrians and cyclists are recognised as being the same. The GB Cycling Embassy, and over the last few years the London Cycling Campaign, are focussed on the redesign of our built environment to make it more liveable: liveable streets, designed for people not for motor vehicles. But this largely has been lost in the recent spate of tragic cycling deaths. There has to be a rounded approach to street planning which displaces the motor vehicle and prioritises pedestrians and bicycle users, but it has to be done right. For instance many recent ‘pedestrian friendly’ street makovers in London – such as in Camden, Oxford Street or Cheapside – have actually been detrimental to cyclists as planners have widened footpaths and narrowed carriageways, which just squeezes cyclists into the gutter. The hostile cycling environment just discourages bicycle use but does nothing to reduce motor traffic, which is harmful to pedestrians through risk of collisions and air pollution (which leads to the premature deaths of 4000 Londoners every year http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jun/30/london-air-quality-premature-deaths). Likewise, cycling infrastructure such as ‘shared use’ paths (not cycling infrastructure at all) just generate conflict between pedestrians and cycles and do nothing to reduce levels of motor traffic. Very few politicians or planning departments will take the decision to make things inconvenient for motor vehicle by reallocating road space away from. Good design for pedestrians is good for cyclists and vice versa. The debate around cycling deaths should be a wider one about how we want to live and experience our cities, towns and cities.

  • charming

    I walk four miles to work every weekday through central London – the average pedestrian is absorbed in texting, phoning or ipod listening and has no awareness of other pedestrians at all. They don’t appear to have any social responsibility or spacial awareness about other pavement users, eg walking three abreast, checking themselves in every shop window and have difficulty in walking in a straight line. It appears that because they were brought up by parents with cars they have never been taught how to walk in shared spaces.

    • http://gplus.to/casalotti Andrea Casalotti

      This, I am afraid, is a typical British comment, of someone who thinks the world should be shaped for her/him, and blaming peers or people below his/her perceived status.
      Pavements are not just for walking fast between A and B; they are for meeting people, for watching buildings and shop windows, etc. Rather than blaming people for doing social activities, direct your anger to those who allocate our space to inappropriate means of urban transport, i.e. cars, large lorres, buses, etc.

      • Multi

        Whilst I agree that pedestrians are the invisible in terms of being looked after, stepping out into the road at will without looking is the height of irresponsible. We know all spaces (in London at least) are currently over subscribed therefore usage and behaviour should be adapted to deal with these conditions. Would it really kill to put the ifail down for a split second whilst you observe the road/highway you’re wanting to cross? Probably not. But if a bus has to swerve to avoid such individuals and an elderly passenger falls, or a motorcyclist/cyclist in the process of overtaking said bus get knocked over, may be it will. At what point do people start taking some responsibility for their actions?!

        If it were a child that wandered out without a care for the road conditions EVERYONE would castigate the terrible parent in an instant, yet grown adults are exempt?

        Does not compute.

        • http://gplus.to/casalotti Andrea Casalotti

          Yet again the voice of #NastyBritain, where the roads are designed for the benefit of the killers, and the general populace blames the victims.
          1. Do you know how many pedestrians are killed as a result of their gross negligence?
          2. Why would you design a system that has a death penalty for making trivial errors?
          3. Most of the large vehicles in London do not need to be there. Certainly there is no reason for any vehicle to travel faster than 20mph. These are the measures that will reduce the killings, not straight-jacketing us while we walk.

          • Multi

            I don’t know what you’ve been smoking but it aint doing you any good. My bike has killed very few and stops to give way to other road users as much as is safely possible e.g. people attempting to cross where there is no provision for crossing or motorists trying to pull out of side roads.

            so I am “nasty Britain”? Do I get a badge or a crown?

            Save those pithy titles for the Daily Mail comments section

            1. I have no idea but I do know how often peds step out into the road without so much as a cursory glance as to what my be coming. I’ve been smashed into by a ped that sent me onto the wrong side of the road face first into an oncoming truck. My face smashed the wind screen. I had a green light and had even given a warning shout as to my presence. The individual didn’t even stop to see if was alive.

            sorry…are you justifying people not putting their facebook down for a split second to see what is in the road before stepping into it? What exactly is your argument about people not looking?

            2. I did not personally design the system. I do know London’s horse/cart drawn roads are not built to handle the capacity of todays traffic flow (that includes pedestrians on pavements in many places forced into the road a la Soho). Given this FACT I cannot understand your recalcitrance towards people taking a little more care around one another when using shared spaces. Flesh and bone is no match for 2+tonnes of metal. Until things change the least folk can do is take care of themselves.

            3. I’d be all for 20mph limits in the city. Until such a point come why can’t you get you brain around TAKING CARE WHEN USING THE ROAD?
            You’re deluded if you think having 20 transit vans in place of 1 HGV is sensible, doable or financially viable.
            Unlike Paris there is a lot of stimulation deep in the city hence the trucks everywhere. Outside of the criminally underused waterways exactly how do you think the construction industry will work?

  • http://www.motorcycle-transportationlondon.co.uk/ Albert Youngh

    These figures are really awful and all citizens who are belonging to city traffic and roads should think about these pedestrians. Some bicycle riders have also become victims of fatal road accidents. Please think of them.

  • Marianne

    When I was learning to drive in the Netherlands, my instructor taught me that apart from traffic lights or zebra crossings, there is another rule saying that anyone who “is walking with difficulty” has right of way. That might mean someone who is severely injured, or someone who is very drunk. The reason is not because we love drunk people much more than you do, but because we don’t want pedestrians to die. There is -after all- no death penalty for being drunk or for annoying other people by texting.

  • VIO

    As a London Pensioner, I have yet to be knocked down or ducked to avoid a car (bit of a result….. ). With luck and the wind in the right direction, drivers seem to notice traffic lights (a lotta the time). But the Lycra clad Beauties are another No… Colour blind and abusive is how I find them and they always go through red lights. (Anything for firm, toned thighs I guess !)