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Sunday Telegraph accused of using divisive rhetoric in “death trap” floating bus stops article

Newspaper claims infrastructure puts pedestrians at risk – but doesn’t cite casualty figures backing up that assertion

The Sunday Telegraph has been accused of using divisive rhetoric in an article that claimed that floating bus stops next to cycleways were a “death trap” for pedestrians – although the newspaper did not provide any casualty figures in support of that assertion.

In its article, it claimed that more than nine in 10 cyclists had not given pedestrians priority when they were waiting to cross to floating bus stops it had observed at three locations in London, and quoted a spokesperson from the National Federation of the Blind as saying that they were a “death trap.”

Sarah Gayton, the charity’s shared space co-ordinator, told the newspaper: “Our concerns, our evidence and our accessibility needs have been ignored, diminished and ridiculed for far too long over the inherently discriminatory floating bus stop design.

“We need a complete halt on any new ones being installed, getting the ones installed in lockdown taken out and all the others removed. It beggars belief that they’re still putting them in. This research should be a massive wake-up call. It’s crazy.”

Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, defended the infrastructure, saying: “Bus stop bypasses are a nationally recognised approach for avoiding the dangers of cyclists going around buses into oncoming traffic.

“TfL, like many cities across the country, have integrated this approach into our cycleway programme and we’ve seen a dramatic increase in [the] number of people cycling in the city.

“We are continually working to make all our infrastructure as safe as possible for all road users. All cyclists are required to stop for pedestrians at zebra crossings in accordance with the Highway Code.”

While the article claimed that a number of near misses between cyclists and pedestrians had been observed at the locations in question, a number of Twitter users pointed out that it lacked figures regarding collisions and injuries to back up the assertions being made about the supposed danger being created by cyclists, with one also pointing out the numbers of pedestrians typically killed in a crash involving a bike rider each year, and contrasting that with the number who lost their lives due to motorists driving on the pavement, for example.

Twitter user the Ranty Highwayman, a highways engineer by profession with experience of designing active travel infrastructure, including bus stops, said that the article “both puts the lives of people trying to get around under their own steam under threat and it makes my job as a designer much harder trying to get our streets changed to make it safer for people walking, wheeling and cycling.

“The headline of ‘death trap I,s without foundation because nobody has died,” he said. “This outright lie is designed to sensationalise.”

He acknowledged that some people may have “genuine concerns” over floating bus stops “because they are unfamiliar and that both needs working through with them and a good design response.”

But he added that “The problem is the rhetoric in the piece and the language of some of the people you quote are more widely generating anti-cycling and anti-better streets noise to the point where those who do have concerns are drowned out and they really should reflect on how they behave.

“[Sadiq] Khan is mentioned, but of course, there were many floating bus stops built under Johnson, but the use of Khan is deliberate because it plays to your reader base. In fact, there are floating bus stops all over the country with some dating back to the 1930s,” he added.

Ranty Highwayman also highlighted one in east London that he designed more than 15 years ago, which separates a service road rather than a cycleway from the main carriageway.

Floating bus stops have become increasingly common in the UK over the past decade where segregated cycling infrastructure has been built.

However, they have at times faced opposition, with Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Trust for example launching a petition in 2016 calling for a planned floating bus stop on Westminster Bridge outside St Thomas’s Hospital to be scrapped, claiming that it would put both cyclists and pedestrians at risk.

> Top London hospital tries to block segregated cycle lane

The petition gained a little over 1,100 signatures, and the proposed floating bus stop was built.  

Last October, the NFB joined with 162 other disability groups to call for floating bus stops to be axed, with a registered blind man from Glasgow claiming that they made using the bus “like playing Russian roulette.”

> “Like playing Russian roulette” – Blind people raise concerns about floating cycle lane bus stops

Sustrans undertook a detailed analysis of potential conflict between pedestrians and cyclists at two floating bus stops in Cambridge in 2016 on behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council.

> Floating bus stops improving safety of Cambridge cyclists suggests report

The sustainable transport charity reviewed 28 hours of footage, and said that “all interactions” between road users at the location concerned reflected “safe, normal behaviour.”

It also found that 99 per cent of the cyclists who passed through the location did not have aby interaction with pedestrians.

Some 42 instances in which there was interaction between cyclists and pedestrians were recorded, all of which took place at peak times.

Sustrans said that each interaction had scored either one or two on a five-point hazard scale, although it should be noted that no analysis was performed on interactions between cyclists and blind or partially sighted pedestrians.

At the time, Cambridgeshire County Councillor Ian Bates, Chairman of the Economy and Environment Committee, said: “The report’s findings are particularly pleasing, and give reassurance of the safety benefits offered by this new design of bus stop for Cambridge.

“The County Council is committed to providing safe networks for all road users. I welcome ongoing engagement with disability groups, pedestrians, cyclists and bus operators to see if the designs require any further enhancements,” he added.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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