Exchanging Places – and why we shouldn’t be doing it.
Just a few weeks ago at Brake's annual reception Sergeant Simon Castle won Brake's inaugural Outstanding Commitment to Road Safety Week Award. A committed educator in road safety, here he speaks about the work he is doing to make London's streets safer through the Exchanging Places programme and why he hopes he won't be doing it for much longer.
“Please, please, please stop promoting hi-viz – we are cyclists, not builders or railway workers.”
This was one response to a picture the MET Cycle Cops tweeted of a goody bag being given away by a construction company at an Exchanging Places event recently. It’s a criticism that we hear from time to time about Exchanging Places: the other is “What are you doing about the lorry drivers?”
Now, I’m quite proud of the Exchanging Places programme. We’ve had more than 20,000 participants and a pretty shocking 97% say that they’ll change their riding after sitting in the driver’s seat for just a few minutes. It was assessed by an independent group of experts and received a Prince Michael International Road Safety Award.
So, you’ll be surprised to hear that I’d love to scrap it.
One day, routes for cyclists will be segregated and not just cyclist-friendly but child cyclist-friendly. One day, lorries will be designed, not with sensors, six mirrors, four cameras and a letter box for a windscreen but with a direct panoramic view for the driver. One day, car drivers who regularly cycle and understand cyclists’ needs will be the norm, not the exception.
Exchanging Places helps today’s cyclists deal with today’s roads. Offering hi viz (we’re not forcing anyone to wear it!) helps some novice cyclists to be a little more visible to drivers until they understand (as experienced riders do) that visibility is as much about where you place yourself as it is about what you wear.
If that’s all we did, though, it would be like telling everyone to lock their doors and windows while doing nothing to catch burglars. So, the Cycle Safety Team has started talking to Transport for London (TfL) about the designs of roads and routes. We’ve been to Queens Circus, the Oval and Cambridge Heath Road to learn from the changes there and to offer our views. We cycle every day, but we’re also advanced police drivers, motorcyclists, lorry drivers and bus drivers, so our views sometimes surprise people. And sometimes upset them, too.
We attend many of the compulsory annual training sessions that lorry drivers have to complete. In London’s Safe Urban Driver module, the drivers spend half the day on a bike with Bikeability instructors. We’ve already driven trucks with lower cabs and heard the outgoing TfL Commissioner, Sir Peter Hendy promise to mandate their use in London when there are enough of them. There’s still scope for further improvement, which is why we’ve asked the Royal College of Art to set their post-grad vehicle design students the challenge of designing an intrinsically safer urban truck.
In our submission to a recent Department for Transport consultation, we suggested that all 15 year-olds should receive adult cycle training as part of the national curriculum. At the moment, they remember Bikeability training in primary school so they think of cycling as ‘kids’ stuff’. Given the skills and confidence to ride at 15, they’d be more likely to cycle at college and into the world of work. If and when they became drivers, they’d be thinking as a cyclist.
And finally, we’re encouraging more people onto bikes. Because many new cyclists will already be drivers, that will improve mutual understanding while reducing congestion and pollution. How are we encouraging them? By doing more than just offering a hi-viz jacket and a puncture kit! By reminding people that cycling is five times safer than football. By riding every day. By talking about the financial, health, and time benefits of riding. By showing people how to reduce the danger even further. And by recognising that everyone’s different: some need a bit more help than others. When this work is finished, I promise – no more hi-viz and no more Exchanging Places!
Simon Castle blogs on all aspects of his job HERE.