The Metropolitan Police are coming under pressure to trial an award-winning close pass initiative similar to one successfully introduced in the West Midlands this year.
The Give Space, be Safe operation, run by West Midlands Police, was introduced to tackle cycling collisions, as well as fear of traffic among those who would like to cycle but don't. Within a few weeks, over nine deployments, officers have spoken to 130 drivers, and say driver behaviour appears to have improved beyond the target area.
Road safety campaigners and police officers at the House of Lords last week questioned why the Metropolitan Police (Met) have not replicated the close pass initiative in London, dismissing claims London traffic is too slow-moving to run the operation. A Camden-based Sergeant was among those who have run successful similar close pass operations.
Caroline Russell, Green London Assembly Member, asked officers from West Midlands Police on Tuesday: “It is wonderful to have police who take this so seriously and I wonder if you have any advice about how we can get the Met to take on the thinking and the way of acting that you have and also the priority?”
London Cycling Campaign Vice Chair, Terry Patterson, asked whether the Met and the City of London will “commit to reversing the trend of de-prioritising traffic policing”.
She said: “We note that the City of London police could make a start around their educational work, working with ourselves and the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) around lowering the risk of collision, which is their stated aim, so I really do think this is something we should be working towards with both the Met and the City of London police.”
Met reveals it tried the operation - but says London too congested
Sergeant Simon Castle, of the Metropolitan Police’s Cycle Safety Team, revealed on Tuesday the Met has tried the close pass operation, but in the areas his team is deployed to – locations where the most collisions occur, in Central London – traffic was too slow moving.
He said: “The only people that passed us were other cyclists. It will come as no surprise to most of us, the cycle is the fastest vehicle; we weren’t getting overtaken.”
However, he added, it may be possible to target other areas outside of Central London, where traffic is faster-moving, as part of a monthly “tasking week”.
He said: “What we’re going to do is have another go in plain clothes, but we might choose somewhere a little less, as you say, dense.” Castle cited Bexley as somewhere with a “depressingly low number of cyclists” which could be tackled.
The Road Danger Reduction Forum’s Chair, Dr Robert Davis, said: “I went on patrol with Sergeant Castle and the cycle safety team and most of the work is done in central and inner London but we have a problem that cycling hasn’t really grown in outer London - it is perceived as more hazardous because you have the higher speeds and you don’t have the safety in numbers effect because you don’t have the numbers of cyclists. Even if there aren’t that many cyclists, we would hope there could be a replication of that.”
Camden Sergeant says close pass operations can work in London
Sgt Nick Clarke, the Police Sergeant for Camden Town and Primrose Hill Ward, who already adopted the close pass operation under his own initiative with no additional funding, after hearing about the West Midlands operation, told road.cc last week he feels it can have wide-reaching effects on driver behaviour across London.
He said: “It can be replicated in London, it’s just [about] the locations that you choose.”
He said while High Holborn, for example, has a high KSI rate (killed or seriously injured) it isn’t possible to run a close pass operation there. However, he said, if you target roads running into High Holborn drivers start looking out for cyclists when they reach those dangerous junctions.
“They get to the point where there’s someone on a Boris Bike on High Holborn who’s at risk of collision; by targeting them three or four miles up the road you’re reducing the risk of that happening,” he said.
No reason why Give Space, be Safe can't be rolled out across the country, say officers
Cycling UK’s Duncan Dollimore asked West Midlands Police officers if there are any reasons the scheme cannot be rolled out across the entire country. He said: “I note the occasional comment that yes ‘WMP are doing this on a busy a road’, ‘it’s a straight road’, ‘its’ different where we are’, the suggestion that in different parts of the country perhaps it might not be appropriate to operate.
“If we just discount the very centre of London for a minute and accept that is slightly different beast as it were, is there any reason you can think of why the scheme you operated can’t be rolled out round most of the rest of the country?”
PC Steve Hudson, an officer behind Give Space, be Safe, said: “I don’t think it matters where it is, I think you just need the will of the officers, and perhaps their supervisors.
“None of this is particularly difficult - if it was it wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.”
He said: “You can upscale or downscale this as much as you like. For example the minimalist approach, you put one officer out on a bike with a camera on, ride them round anywhere, if the offence is committed, they go back to the station, download the footage, send a Notice of Intended Prosecution out in the post and that’s the operation at its smallest level.
“You don’t need anything else. You have a massive social media campaign and local media campaign, saying: officer out in plain clothes, pass too close and you’re going to get the Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP). All your drivers are looking at cyclists on the road thinking is that a police officer, I’d better go round him properly just in case, and that’s all you need to do.”
My online report to Met of close pass has not been looked at 19 days on, making service of NIP impossible. No collision = no action.
— Martin Porter QC (@MartinPorter6) November 21, 2016
Met says road safety a priority
An MPS spokesperson said: “Road safety is a priority for the Met.
“The MPS continually reviews its roads policing operations and activity to help keep London's road network as safe as possible.
“The Met’s Roads and Transport Policing Command, in partnership with Transport for London, has full time cycle patrols to improve cycle safety and prevent cyclists being killed or seriously injured across London. It now has 33 full-time officers, including ten PCSOs. Activity is based around three key themes of Engineering (designing out risk), Education (increasing awareness amongst all London's road users of key sources of danger and risk), and where appropriate Enforcement.
“The Cycle Safety Team reduces cycle casualties by conducting enforcement patrols on bicycle to address poor behaviour by all types of road user who place cyclists in danger. They are deployed to casualty hotspots which are identified through regular analysis. Enforcement activity includes all classes of road user and targets the offences and locations of greatest risk to cyclists. This includes close passing, something all the officers have been trained in.
“The team also delivers the award-winning 'Exchanging Places' programme, which gives vulnerable road users the opportunity to sit in the driver's seat of a lorry and discuss safe tactics for sharing the road with large vehicles. They also assist with a number of engineering projects, from cycle detection technology for lorries to innovative road layout designs.”