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Mind your speed south of the river

The recent widespread introduction of 20mph speed limits in built up areas has been welcomed by road danger reduction campaigners, but it might turn out to be inconvenient for cyclists. That’s the prospect in the London borough of Southwark, where the council plans to include cyclists and horse-drawn buggies in the scope of the 20mph limit to be introduced at the end of July.

The Borough has long had an unusual relationship with cyclists, until recently refusing to even consider segregated cycling infrastructure because it believed mixing cyclists with motor traffic would help get drivers to slow down. Although new Southwark cabinet member for transport Mark Williams  has said he will reverse this policy, Southwark did for a long time appear to consider cyclists to be mobile speed bumps.

Now, it seems, cyclists are to be included in an initiative intended to reduce the danger to pedestrians from being hit by heavy motor vehicles and not soft, fleshy bike riders.

According to the London SE1 website, the council plans to circumvent the usual exclusion of cyclists from speed limits (which in the Road Traffic Act apply only to motor vehicles) by referring simply to 'vehicles' in its proposed traffic management order.

Although it appears never to have been used foer the purpose of applying speed limits to cyclists, the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 allows for speed limits to be imposed by local acts.

That ‘vehicles’ includes cycles is the same logic used by the Metropolitan Police to prosecute cyclists for exceeding the speed limit in Richmond Park. Carelessly framed traffic regulations refer in part to vehicles, although read as a whole they are clearly intended to apply only to motor vehicles.

As far as we are aware, nobody has ever mounted a serious legal challenge to a cycling speeding fine in Richmond Park. In a response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by road.cc last year, the Metropolitan Police said it was unable to find any record of legal advice indicating the limit applied to cyclists.

In Southwark, the council seems to think that cyclists are just as much of a hazard as motor vehicles (when they’re not using cyclists as unwitting moving-target traffic-calming, of course).

In a response to a member of the public who pointed out that  it was unrealistic to expect unpowered vehicles to be able to accurately monitor their speed, the council's head of public realm Des Waters wrote: "The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 does indeed refer to 'motor vehicles' however since 1984 cycling as a modal share has grown substantially and the council receives a number of complaints from residents – particularly pedestrians – about the excessive speed of cyclists.

"Therefore it would be inappropriate to treat cyclists differently to any other form of traffic and effectively tie the hands of police when it comes to speed enforcement."

The Metropolitan Police seem quite happy to have their hands tied, though. In the Met’s formal objection to the plan, Catherine Linney of the force's traffic management unit said that enforcing the limit would be “unrealistic” and it should not be introduced unless the “look and feel” of the road made it obvious to drivers that the limit was 20mph. The Met apparently believes drivers are too dense to notice dirty great round signs with the number twenty on them.

Linney wrote: "Introducing speed limits where traffic speeds are too high places an unrealistic expectation to enforce on the Metropolitan Police.

"Whilst any reduction in speed is of benefit, the number of offenders will increase significantly in the roads which presently have average speeds of over 24 mph, placing an expectation on the Police for enforcement which we do not have the extra resources to fulfil.

"The Metropolitan Police objects to a 20 mph speed limit on any road in the London Borough of Southwark where the mean speed is above 24 mph.

"We also object to the implementation of the 20 mph limit where it is not obvious to the motorist through the look and feel of the road that the speed limit is 20 mph."

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.

95 comments

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b1rdmn [9 posts] 1 year ago
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 102

I'm going for a bike ride.

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jacknorell [942 posts] 1 year ago
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This should be entertaining

*gets a bucket of popcorn*

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bikebot [1633 posts] 1 year ago
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Honestly not that big a deal. Those using the fast routes such as CS7, or New Kent Road shouldn't be affected, as those are red routes controlled by TfL, not Southwark.

For all the side roads and quietways, I don't care. 20mph is plenty fast enough.

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harman_mogul [208 posts] 1 year ago
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"Look and feel" of the road eh? That is a new one. We have a 20 mph speed limit in the London Borough of Camden. All ignore it (including cyclists). I don't think plod will buy into this.

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IHphoto [116 posts] 1 year ago
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So do I get this right, if motorists routinely go well over 20 in a built up zone then despite what it would do to calm things down the police oppose 20mph speed limits and aren't minded to enforce?

BTW drivers are too dense to notice large signs and even 12ft hight white painted 20 ones on the road in Cardiff and the speed limit isn't currently enforced.

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davkt [40 posts] 1 year ago
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Hang on a minute, are you really saying it won't hurt a pedestrian if they are hit by a cyclist doing 25mph?

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Flying Scot [908 posts] 1 year ago
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Seeing as non motorised vehicles aren't required to have speedometers fitted.......how can this be enforceable?

Surely it's down to the old 'furious cycling' rather than speeding?

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levermonkey [642 posts] 1 year ago
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Can you actually achieve 20mph in Southwark?  39

What with the terrible state of the roads, traffic lights every 50yrds, psychotic bus drivers, Boris bikes acting like random particles and taxi drivers moving to and from the kerb without warning.

I can't wait for the first attempted prosecution.  21

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hampstead_bandit [588 posts] 1 year ago
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@ flying scot

Spot on comment

Bicycles not legally required to have speedometer, and no bicycle speedometer is calibrated to meet any DOT test

Good luck LB Southwark with your dumb ass plan!

Have about actually supporting cycling and getting people out of cars and onto bikes  3

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seven [142 posts] 1 year ago
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Around here the council, which is on the verge of introducing a whole load of new 20mph local limits, has an SLA with Police Scotland to provide adequate plod to enforce those limits. Seems to me the Met is saying in a round about way that they won't enforce it unless someone pays for it. Luckily our council isn't quite like Southwark in that they're not barmy enough to think the new limits can practicably be enforced on cyclists. They're just barmy in other ways.

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teaboy [306 posts] 1 year ago
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davkt wrote:

Hang on a minute, are you really saying it won't hurt a pedestrian if they are hit by a cyclist doing 25mph?

Nobody's saying that. It will hurt significantly less than being hit by a car at the same speed though. F=MA.

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bikebot [1633 posts] 1 year ago
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hampstead_bandit wrote:

@ flying scot

Spot on comment

Bicycles not legally required to have speedometer, and no bicycle speedometer is calibrated to meet any DOT test

Good luck LB Southwark with your dumb ass plan!

Have about actually supporting cycling and getting people out of cars and onto bikes  3

Doesn't matter whether you have a speedometer or not, the law doesn't except ignorance as an excuse.

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levermonkey [642 posts] 1 year ago
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Just had a thought. I know, scary!  4

Usain Bolt averages out at about 25mph over 100m (standing start) and hits a maximum speed in excess of 27mph (60 to 80m).

He's not legally required to have a speedometer either.

"The law is a ass - a idiot" Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist

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seven [142 posts] 1 year ago
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bikebot wrote:

Doesn't matter whether you have a speedometer or not, the law doesn't except ignorance as an excuse.

Not knowing your actual speed is not the same thing as ignorance of the law.

In other words: without a law prescribing a standardised and calibrated means of bicycle speed measurement, any law requiring cyclists to adhere to a certain maximum speed cannot be practicably enforced.

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jacknorell [942 posts] 1 year ago
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bikebot wrote:

Doesn't matter whether you have a speedometer or not, the law doesn't except ignorance as an excuse.

But thankfully, the law as it stands doesn't support Southwark's interesting ideas about a cyclist speed limit. So I can safely remain blissfully unaware of my actual speed (like I really ever hit 20mph anyway).

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Paul_C [393 posts] 1 year ago
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"however since 1984 cycling as a modal share has grown substantially "

pull the other one, for verilly it hath bells on... 20% increase on nothing is still nothing...

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bikebot [1633 posts] 1 year ago
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Paul_C wrote:

"however since 1984 cycling as a modal share has grown substantially "

pull the other one, for verilly it hath bells on... 20% increase on nothing is still nothing...

Modal share is the wrong figure to quote anyway, in TfL's data modal share is EVERYTHING. Tubes, buses, trains, walking, everything!

As a percentage of road users in the centre of London (zones 1&2) cycling is now around a 12% share throughout the day, with almost a quarter at peak hours. There's quite a bias towards commuting rather than social use as it appears to drop away at weekends or evenings

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bikebot [1633 posts] 1 year ago
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jacknorell wrote:
bikebot wrote:

Doesn't matter whether you have a speedometer or not, the law doesn't except ignorance as an excuse.

But thankfully, the law as it stands doesn't support Southwark's interesting ideas about a cyclist speed limit. So I can safely remain blissfully unaware of my actual speed (like I really ever hit 20mph anyway).

I've been following this story for sometime, there's no legal reason at all why Southwark Council or any other can't introduce speed limits against all road users, despite some common misconceptions that this is impossible.

Nor can I see a particularly strong reason to object to such speed limits in the congested central areas of our cities. Lots of groups have had a say in these consultations, to disregard the concerns of pedestrians would be fairly hypocritical when at the same time we're asking for our concerns about vehicles to be listened to.

If someone wanted to introduce a speed limit where it was inappropriate I would object. I have no need or desire to put down times in the centre of London. For reference, I would classify myself as a fast commuter, I can cruise above 20mph when cycling into town fairly easily and I'll pass through Southwark. The fact that I can do that, doesn't mean I have to do that everywhere.

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jacknorell [942 posts] 1 year ago
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bikebot wrote:

Nor can I see a particularly strong reason to object to such speed limits in the congested central areas of our cities. Lots of groups have had a say in these consultations, to disregard the concerns of pedestrians would be fairly hypocritical when at the same time we're asking for our concerns about vehicles to be listened to.

And why, pray tell, would a pedestrian be in the middle of the road where I'm cycling?

Mostly, they have these nice segregated things called sidewalks / pavements to walk on, or cross-walks, that I respect (whenever they're actually in use).

This isn't about pedestrian safety, in fact, cycles are hardly an issue here. Speeding metal boxes are though.

Getting off the soapbox now...!

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bikebot [1633 posts] 1 year ago
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seven wrote:
bikebot wrote:

Doesn't matter whether you have a speedometer or not, the law doesn't except ignorance as an excuse.

Not knowing your actual speed is not the same thing as ignorance of the law.

In other words: without a law prescribing a standardised and calibrated means of bicycle speed measurement, any law requiring cyclists to adhere to a certain maximum speed cannot be practicably enforced.

Yes it can. This is another common misconception.

A car is legally required to have a working speedometer. If a car was caught speeding and it was found to have a broken speedometer the driver would be charged for the speedometer. He would also still be guilty of speeding.

Ignorance of your speed is not a defence against speeding.

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srchar [99 posts] 1 year ago
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After a lovely ride home from work with merely a handful of attempts made to injure me, reading this toss has put me in a foul mood. F*ck this sh*t country.

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bikebot [1633 posts] 1 year ago
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jacknorell wrote:
bikebot wrote:

Nor can I see a particularly strong reason to object to such speed limits in the congested central areas of our cities. Lots of groups have had a say in these consultations, to disregard the concerns of pedestrians would be fairly hypocritical when at the same time we're asking for our concerns about vehicles to be listened to.

And why, pray tell, would a pedestrian be in the middle of the road where I'm cycling?

Mostly, they have these nice segregated things called sidewalks / pavements to walk on, or cross-walks, that I respect (whenever they're actually in use).

This isn't about pedestrian safety, in fact, cycles are hardly an issue here. Speeding metal boxes are though.

Getting off the soapbox now...!

And that's why I'll take on board the request of the most vulnerable.

It's amazing how quickly cyclists who object to these sort of proposals can display the same attitude to pedestrians as that of the worst drivers towards cyclists.

A pedestrian would be in the middle of the road, because he has a right to cross it. Anywhere.

I've seen plenty of pedestrians knocked down by cyclists, the injuries may be a lot less than for a car but it's not something you'll do for fun, and it's a genuine concern for the elderly.

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dee4life2005 [21 posts] 1 year ago
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If they pulled you over and they saw that you had a cycle computer on your handlebars then I'm sure they'd do you, had they clocked you with their radar gun. You couldn't exactly argue you weren't aware of your speed if you had a computer telling you now could you.

So if you get pulled over, hide your computer pronto  3

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davkt [40 posts] 1 year ago
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teaboy wrote:
davkt wrote:

Hang on a minute, are you really saying it won't hurt a pedestrian if they are hit by a cyclist doing 25mph?

Nobody's saying that. It will hurt significantly less than being hit by a car at the same speed though. F=MA.

Well the article hints at it, "Now, it seems, cyclists are to be included in an initiative intended to reduce the danger to pedestrians from being hit by heavy motor vehicles and not soft, fleshy bike riders." 70kg of bike and rider doing about 9m/s is still going to cause one hell of a mess if brought to a dead stop by a pedestrian, and most cyclists I know are rather more bony than soft and fleshy!

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Quince [382 posts] 1 year ago
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The worry is that, as people on bicycles are easier to stop than people in armoured mobility scooters, any enforcement will be focused on the people doing the least harm.

The greatest problem with riding as it is, is being overtaking badly. By allowing the vulnerable road user to travel at speeds at which they cannot be overtaken, the vulnerable road user's safety is improved with little more danger added to the surrounding environment. Especially as they are unlikely to be able to overtake a larger vehicle in front if that vehicle is travelling at the given speed limit. Instead of the larger road user using the smaller as a speed bump, you have the converse, which is a far safer situation all round.

Additionally, in my experience, motorists often treat cyclists less as incentives to slow down and more as moving targets that absolutely must be overtaken, regardless of how far it will advance them in their own journey. They're like the sprint-checkpoint on wheels. Which is not a very good thing for a human life to represent.

Sorry, anyway, I think this is balls. Because it's fundamentally less safe. And that's a stupid thing to introduce into legislation.

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Mountainboy [84 posts] 1 year ago
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Hang on knob-jockeys!
The 20mph figure for motor vehicles wasn't arrived at by magic, I 'guess' it is a speed that would mean fewer pedestrians would be killed/seriously injured in collisions than would be at 30mph?
(please correct me, I haven't studied this, you can probably tell)

So a reasonable speed limit for cyclists would be one that equates to a similar amount of energy/danger/safety to that of vehicles?
So maybe 70mph or so?
(another wild-arsed guess, it's late, I've had wine, can't be arsed trading facts with other bike riders)

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seven [142 posts] 1 year ago
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bikebot wrote:

Ignorance of your speed is not a defence against speeding.

The offence may stand, and in that respect your point is valid, but it becomes moot the second the first person comes along and mounts a challenge to the statute itself. You can't simply make a law that says "it's an offence to step over this here line when you're wearing blue shoes" if the majority of people wearing blue shoes have no reliable means of seeing where that line is. Well, you can, but you won't get very far with it. You either don't prosecute it very often (in which case what was the point of having it in the first place?) or you prosecute freely in which case watch the legal challenges mount up.

I should be clear: I'm not against speed limits for cyclists, if they are enforceable. As things currently stand (and in any feasible near future) they aren't. Certainly not for a single patch of central London. Yeah, this whole street is a 20mph limit; this bit you can ride at 25mph with impunity but fifty yards down the road you might get done for doing exactly the same thing. Not seriously going to happen, is it?

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bikebot [1633 posts] 1 year ago
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seven wrote:

The offence may stand, and in that respect your point is valid, but it becomes moot the second the first person comes along and mounts a challenge to the statute itself. You can't simply make a law that says "it's an offence to step over this here line when you're wearing blue shoes" if the majority of people wearing blue shoes have no reliable means of seeing where that line is. Well, you can, but you won't get very far with it. You either don't prosecute it very often (in which case what was the point of having it in the first place?) or you prosecute freely in which case watch the legal challenges mount up.

As a byelaw, a Council really can propose whatever they want, including banning blue shoes. However, they have to be approved by the appropriate Gov't Minister which is to avoid any conflict with national laws or interests. Presumably Ken Clarke was the minister with responsibility for shoes, and would have intervened in the blue shoe banning proposal.

Most local byelaws that introduce 20mph zones reference the national legislation, Southwark have specifically used their own choice of words to include all road vehicles rather than just motor vehicles, and in law bicycles are vehicles. If that wording is approved by a minister, it's law in Southwark.

The requirements for signage on 20mph zones are significantly simpler than 30mph. However, concerns have been raised in the past about using such signage borough wide. Obviously many more cars than bicycles are affected, not just because there are more motorists, but that the average speed of cyclists in Southwark is already below that limit. If there is any legal challenges, it's more likely to come from a motoring group.

I am interested to see if they will modify their 20mph signage in anyway. Where a 20mph road in a neighbouring borough, joins a 20 mph road in Southwark, the position for cyclists would be ambiguous, and that might be a matter for a legal challenge. The Police in the Richmond Park have signs placed around the road which specifically include cyclists in the speed limit.

Regarding the speedometer defence. You might find a judge has remarkably little sympathy, and tell you bluntly to ride at walking speed if you can't tell how fast you're going. The "how could I know" defence is used in all kinds of area of law and is often very badly received. Personally, I know when I'm hitting around 20mph even without looking at the computer.

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bikebot [1633 posts] 1 year ago
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Mountainboy wrote:

Hang on knob-jockeys!
The 20mph figure for motor vehicles wasn't arrived at by magic, I 'guess' it is a speed that would mean fewer pedestrians would be killed/seriously injured in collisions than would be at 30mph?
(please correct me, I haven't studied this, you can probably tell)

Speed limits were mostly a factor of visibility, road conditions and braking distance so as to avoid an accident happening in the first place. See if you can beat the braking distance of a car on your bike at those speeds. Wet and dry conditions.

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Sam Walker [67 posts] 1 year ago
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Quote:

The Borough has long had an unusual relationship with cyclists, until recently refusing to even consider segregated cycling infrastructure because it believed mixing cyclists with motor traffic would help get drivers to slow down. Although new Southwark cabinet member for transport Mark Williams  has said he will reverse this policy, Southwark did for a long time appear to consider cyclists to be mobile speed bumps.

I am not well enough informed on the doings of the borough of Southwark to comment generally on how they deal with cyclists; the way this is worded does sound callous. But whatever you think of segregated infrastructure, 'roads for everyone' is not unsound reasoning, and suggesting that the council regards us as little more than "mobile speedbumps" may be a tad unfair. To the extent we calm traffic, I think it's a good thing!

The more cyclists on the road the better. You don't have to be a hardcore vehicular cyclist [bias alert: I am] to eventually reap the benefits of encountering more motorists who through experience will be trained to better deal with your presence on the road.

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