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"Cycleways delay ambulances" claims paramedic, presenting exactly no supporting data at all

Cycling campaigners have expressed mystification at claims that protected cycleways cause delays to ambulances, when no evidence supports those claims, and data from other emergency services shows new cycling facilities to have had no effect on response times.

The claim was made to the Telegraph by Richard Webber, Communications Director of the College of Paramedics. Webber told Telegraph science and health reporter Henry Bodkin that there was a general feeling among paramedics that protected cycleways are having a negative effect on the ability of ambulances to reach patients.

“We understand the need to segregate cyclists because there have been a number of horrific fatalities, but it can be a double-edged sword,” Webber said.

“You can’t allow it to slow things down for everyone else.”

Where's the data? Oh.

However, Webber also told the Telegraph that NHS data is not sufficiently detailed to discern the extent to which cycle lanes are hampering response times. In which case, it seems unlikely that cycle lanes are affecting emergency response times at all.

In response, Simon Munk, infrastructure campaigner at London Cycle Campaign got straight to the heart of the problem.

"The issue fundamentally is congestion," he said."The safer we can make cycling the less people will drive the fewer cars there will be on the road.

"The best evidence we have contradicts the view of the paramedics."

Munk later told road.cc: "Kerb separation is hardly a reason cars can't get out of the way or that ambulances can't get through.

"We would love to work more with emergency services to ensure design details work for them. But also there is loads of international evidence as to what does and doesn't work they should be drawing on as we do."

That evidence includes data (actual numbers, like the ones the College of Paramedics doesn’t have) from London Fire Brigade.

The London Fire Brigade supplied response times in a Freedom of Information response to questions about the effect of Waltham Forest road closures. The Brigade’s response said that road closures could in theory cause delays, but said: “Road closures are a frequently occurring feature of London’s infrastructure and, so far, they have never caused a detrimental delay to our emergency response.”

Commenting on the data itself, the Brigade spokesperson said: “My review of this performance does not show any sustained degradation in attendance time performance in the borough. … More importantly, performance in Waltham Forest is comfortably within the Brigade’s target to achieve the arrival of a first appliance in six minutes, on average, and a second (where needed) in an average of eight minutes.”

It seems reasonable to assume that if actually closing roads doesn’t delay something as large as a fire engine, then allocating a lane to cycling rather than motor vehicles isn’t going to have a worse effect on ambilances.

As an aside, the FOI request in this case was clearly a desperate fishing expedition to find a genuine excuse to oppose the mini-Holland, and the responder knew this. The Brigade responder wrote: “some of the matters which you have asked me to review require an opinion of the Brigade, and not the provision of data we hold. Under FOIA, you only have a right to the data we hold.”

Paramedics respond on Twitter

The College of Paramedics seems to have been somewhat embarrassed at the way the Telegraph reported this story and the reception on Twitter from cycling advocates.

It tweeted: “Point made to @Telegraph: Segregated cycle lanes save lives, however 'raised curbs' can obstruct drivers from allowing ambulances to pass.

“We are disappointed with how these comments have been reported and request that emergency vehicles are considered when planning highways.”

In its response to consultation comments on the East-West Cycle Superhighway (now Cycle Superhighway 3) Transport for London mentions emergency services and emergency access no less than 30 times.

In the response to consultation on Cycle Superhighway 11, Transport for London said: “We have liaised with emergency services to ensure that they are aware of the proposed changes to the road network and that their requirements have been considered. We will continue to engage with emergency services while we finalise our detailed designs.”

And then there's this, which needs no further comment from me:

Disappointing

It’s disappointing — to say the least — that a professional body whose work depends on the roads didn’t know its members’ needs had been taken into account.

It’s even more disappointing that a professional body in health care feels it’s appropriate to attack cycleways — a proven way of increasing active travel and therefore improving public health — on the basis of no evidence whatsoever.

Finally, a science and health reporter should know better than to base a story on ‘a general feeling’. Henry Bodkin should consider going back to the University of Durham, where he gained a degree in philosophy in 2009, and getting himself a science qualification.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

37 comments

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davel [1696 posts] 5 months ago
6 likes

Nice bit of comment at the end, John.

Looking at his other articles, it seems Bodkin's job title should be 'purveyor of clickbait and study press releases'. Is this the new 'journalism'?

Disappointingly, I couldn't see comments on the *article* on my phone. If there are any, it probably gets a bit of a kicking. Like the Graun, there's more value below the line with the Torygraph than much of the lazy stereotypical shit that passes for content.

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spen [193 posts] 5 months ago
1 like

It's good that the telegraph was able to back up its story with images of emergency vehicles struggling to pass cycling infrastructure, especially the picture at the top of the article!  I think they also knew they would be taken to task for this article so no comment section!

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hawkinspeter [947 posts] 5 months ago
4 likes

It's good that you're calling out their data-less rubbish. Why can't the Telegraph just cut to the chase and put a big opinion piece about how they only want rich people on the roads and bikes are just too egalitarian for their taste? (Not wanting to Godwin this, but Hitler had a very similar hatred of the bicycle from his days of being a WW1 bike messenger).

By the way, "ambilances"? If you haven't got a proof reader, at least use a spell-checker.

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John Stevenson [299 posts] 5 months ago
13 likes

hawkinspeter wrote:

By the way, "ambilances"? If you haven't got a proof reader, at least use a spell-checker.

Thanks for spotting that. Even with a spiel-chucker typos occasionally slip past me. Fortunately, road.cc has loads of brilliant volunteer proof-readers like yourself, who soon put us right!

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John Stevenson [299 posts] 5 months ago
11 likes

davel wrote:

Nice bit of comment at the end, John. Looking at his other articles, it seems Bodkin's job title should be 'purveyor of clickbait and study press releases'. Is this the new 'journalism'?

In short, yes. Budgets are now so tight that reporters aren't afforded the time to do the job properly.

The decline of the Telegraph is a great example of how the desperate rush for eyeballs has destroyed newspapers. Just five years ago it was the largest-circulation and most profitable 'serious' newspaper. A sequence of hopeless management decisions has left it a shadow of the right-leaning but trustworthy paper it once was.

The bigger problem in reporting in general is the assumption that if you can string a few sentences together in some sort of coherent order, then you can write about anything. You can't write about science and health without some sort of expertise and an understanding of what constitutes facts and evidence. Far too few reporters have any sort of science background.

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hawkinspeter [947 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes
John Stevenson wrote:
hawkinspeter wrote:

By the way, "ambilances"? If you haven't got a proof reader, at least use a spell-checker.

Thanks for spotting that. Even with a spiel-chucker typos occasionally slip past me. Fortunately, road.cc has loads of brilliant volunteer proof-readers like yourself, who soon put us right!

No worries, glad to help.

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ktache [627 posts] 5 months ago
11 likes

Huge volumes of motor vehicles delay emergency services.

The protected pedestrian infrastructure have raised kerbs and also railings, does the Communications Director of the College of Paramedics believe these are detrimental to response times too?

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Yorkshire wallet [1434 posts] 5 months ago
7 likes

Perhaps if people stopped taking out cyclists they'd have less to respond to. 

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racyrich [300 posts] 5 months ago
6 likes

'raised curbs (sic)' can obstruct drivers from allowing ambulances to pass.

 

Really? So are driver expected to drive onto the pavement on the overwhelming majority of normal width roads with adjacent pavements?

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hawkinspeter [947 posts] 5 months ago
10 likes
racyrich wrote:

'raised curbs (sic)' can obstruct drivers from allowing ambulances to pass.

 

Really? So are driver expected to drive onto the pavement on the overwhelming majority of normal width roads with adjacent pavements?

Everyone knows that cars can't go over kerbs. That's why you never see cars parked on (or partially on) pavements.

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P3t3 [413 posts] 5 months ago
3 likes

Is it just my twisted sense of humour that wants to suggest that this is the paramedics responding to a threat to their livelihood...?

Note: make sure you have your sense of humour switched on before responding...

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Jeffmcguinness [39 posts] 5 months ago
1 like
hawkinspeter wrote:

 

Everyone knows that cars can't go over kerbs. That's why you never see cars parked on (or partially on) pavements.

To be fair, a single raised kerbline without a pavement may do serious damage to the underneath of any car attempting to cross it.  

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PaulBox [675 posts] 5 months ago
2 likes
John Stevenson wrote:

The decline of the Telegraph is a great example of how the desperate rush for eyeballs has destroyed newspapers. Just five years ago it was the largest-circulation and most profitable 'serious' newspaper. A sequence of hopeless management decisions has left it a shadow of the right-leaning but trustworthy paper it once was.

Spot on John, for years I used to buy the Telegraph every day, mostly for the sport reporting to be honest, but you could pretty much trust the news reporting too. But it's been so long that I now couldn't tell you the last time I bought it.

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scrumpydave [21 posts] 5 months ago
5 likes

From what I see on the roads drivers seem to be getting less and less respectful of emergency vehicles, and I don't think it has anything to do with cycling provision.

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Racing snake [9 posts] 5 months ago
19 likes

I am a paramedic and a cyclist and find this both embarrassing and annoying. The Tory Telegraph has managed to bash both cyclists and NHS workers. 

 

Providing cycling infrastructure saves and improves lives for everyone. 

 

In in my experience many car drivers are myopic, selfish and just plain stupid. 

 

Both cycle lanes and what to do when an ambulance approaches are areas which should be in the driving test.

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1961BikiE [388 posts] 5 months ago
2 likes

Racing Snake - very good point about how to correctly deal with the passage of emergency vehicles should be taught and tested. But then there are many omissions that need addressing in the driving test.

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notjustacyclist [4 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

It seems that both single-minded views are the problem here - looking at both extremes blows things out of proportion.    I expect there are few cases where the design of a cycle lane could be improved in order to account for emergency vehicles.    It is sensible for the design to be reviewed in these cases to be reviewed.    What's the problem?

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davel [1696 posts] 4 months ago
3 likes
notjustacyclist wrote:

It seems that both single-minded views are the problem here - looking at both extremes blows things out of proportion.    I expect there are few cases where the design of a cycle lane could be improved in order to account for emergency vehicles.    It is sensible for the design to be reviewed in these cases to be reviewed.    What's the problem?

The first problem is the inaccuracy and stupidity of blaming road congestion, caused by motor vehicles, on infrastructure for different vehicles. "I can't get my ambulance through this road full of stationary cars because the cars blocking my way can't just drive wherever they like".

The second problem is a dozy twat with a glorified title has opened his gob and this arsewittery fell out, and someone listened.

The third problem is other dozy twats peddled this opinion as news without having the slightest think or attempt at verification.

The fourth problem is hippies who think that wallies who spout unsubstantiated nonsense should be given a place round the table, in the interests of 'tolerance'.

I think that's it.

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John Stevenson [299 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

Racing snake wrote:

I am a paramedic and a cyclist and find this both embarrassing and annoying. The Tory Telegraph has managed to bash both cyclists and NHS workers. 

In in my experience many car drivers are myopic, selfish and just plain stupid. 

Thanks so much for this! Tom Reynolds says much the same in 'Blood Sweat and Tea' if memory serves.

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FatBoyW [235 posts] 4 months ago
1 like

Really depressed to hear the paramedic spokesman given free reign on BBC Radio 5 live Sunday Morning following the telegraph article. They had no balancing view nor any questions about the 'data' used to infer cycling infrastructure just the idiot from the paramedic promulgating this fake news.

Thx BBC - lazy journalism getting everywhere

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StoopidUserName [337 posts] 4 months ago
1 like

The Daily mail also picked this up and apparently (would never visi that  site myself) the comments were full of the usual you know what.

 

The paramedic/his bosses need pulling up on this, anyone know where you would complain about this?

 

and well done john, this should be on the homepage of road.cc, not tucked away in the blogs

 

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John Stevenson [299 posts] 4 months ago
1 like

notjustacyclist wrote:

It seems that both single-minded views are the problem here - looking at both extremes blows things out of proportion.    I expect there are few cases where the design of a cycle lane could be improved in order to account for emergency vehicles.    It is sensible for the design to be reviewed in these cases to be reviewed.    What's the problem?

 

The problem is that first you have to produce evidence that there's a problem. Without that, Mr Webber is just a random schmoe spouting anti-cycling nonsense.

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John Stevenson [299 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

StoopidUserName wrote:

this should be on the homepage of road.cc, not tucked away in the blogs

 

Thanks! It was lead item on the home page for most of the day, and one of today's most-read items.

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BehindTheBikesheds [721 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes

This seems relevant

http://www.roadswerenotbuiltforcars.com/alnessreport/

And with the netherlands reporting a 60:1 benefit ratio with respect to cycling infra spend to health cost savings it's a no brainer, except for those idiots that can't/don't want to accept the truth!

 

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ktache [627 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes
scrumpydave wrote:

From what I see on the roads drivers seem to be getting less and less respectful of emergency vehicles, and I don't think it has anything to do with cycling provision.

Maybe a bit of that, and also not knowing what to do, but I think quite a lot of it is to do with that they stay unaware of the bright flashing blues lights and the very loud sirens for far too long, cocooned and cossetted as they are in the big metal and glass boxes.

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StoopidUserName [337 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
John Stevenson wrote:
StoopidUserName wrote:

this should be on the homepage of road.cc, not tucked away in the blogs

 

Thanks! It was lead item on the home page for most of the day, and one of today's most-read items.

 

ah fair play, I only saw it later initially by twitter so missed that

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brooksby [2583 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

My local 'newspaper' (the Bristol Post) has just picked up on this too.  Despite Bristol having barely a couple of hundred metres of segregated cycle path in the whole city.

I think the paramedic bloke and the commenters below the line on the news sites, are all missing the point that a segregated cycle lane is NOT causing any problems.  British segregated cycle paths have a kerb, not some sort of twenty foot metal barrier.  If motor vehicles are unable to mount a kerb to get out of the way of emergency vehicles then how come so many cars end up parked on footpaths?

Aside from that,  they shouldn't be mounting the kerb to get out of the way anyway.  The HC says "Consider the route of such a vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs. If necessary, pull to the side of the road and stop, but try to avoid stopping before the brow of a hill, a bend or narrow section of road. Do not endanger yourself, other road users or pedestrians and avoid mounting the kerb. Do not brake harshly on approach to a junction or roundabout, as a following vehicle may not have the same view as you."

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brooksby [2583 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
scrumpydave wrote:

From what I see on the roads drivers seem to be getting less and less respectful of emergency vehicles, and I don't think it has anything to do with cycling provision.

Its a related point, but has anyone else noticed how motorists think that stopping to let an ambulance pass means they have some sort of 'get out of jail free' card for going through the next red light (after all, they'd done their civil duty by letting the blue lights past...).

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DaveE128 [916 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
brooksby wrote:
scrumpydave wrote:

From what I see on the roads drivers seem to be getting less and less respectful of emergency vehicles, and I don't think it has anything to do with cycling provision.

Its a related point, but has anyone else noticed how motorists think that stopping to let an ambulance pass means they have some sort of 'get out of jail free' card for going through the next red light (after all, they'd done their civil duty by letting the blue lights past...).

Interesting comment - I think I get what you mean, and some people do seem to use it as an excuse to do things, but if you are driving, and are stopped at the stop line at a red traffic light, and an ambulance is directly behind you, the ambulance isn't able to use the other side of the road (eg traffic jam, dual carriageway), all the other traffic at the junction has stopped to let the ambulance through, would you move forward to let the ambulance get through the junction or wait for the lights to change?  I think I'd very tentatively move forward to get out of the way. It seems the right thing to do to me...

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alansmurphy [875 posts] 2 days ago
0 likes

I think he's suggesting that after the ambulance has passed, that lane of traffic thinks it has free reign for 2 minutes, y'know coz they're inconvenienced. Some will tend to tail the ambulance and ignore lights.

 

I was on a cycle lane, the Cheshire paint of safety, a couple of weeks back and there was an ambulance coming. Nearly got taken out by 2 cars diving onto the pavement at speed!

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