How tech will save Croydon’s cyclists

By - Thursday 19th March, 2015

Cycle Alert writer/charity worker Danni Lapham explains how the tech that her company provides might help to make Croydon’s roads safer for cyclists

Photo author’s own.

This month Croydon launches Cycle Alert – a radio-frequency identification (RFID) cyclist detection system for large goods vehicles that helps to reduce blind spot dangers to cyclists and to improve work-related road safety operations.

The system consists of a tag fitted to the cyclist’s bike, wireless low-power sensors on the vehicle and a cab-mounted device to alert the driver of a cyclist’s presence.

The three Cycle Alert RFID components – often referred to as ‘tag and beacon’ – work together to form a communications network between all parties, with the driver being given maximum advance notice of the proximity of a cyclist.

Cycle Alert doesn’t just alert drivers to the potential risk in areas frequented by cyclists – it facilitates a direct warning from the cyclist straight to the vehicle driver, hence empowering the cyclist to make themselves more visible to HGVs.

Cyclist fatalities are obviously unacceptable in an age where the technology exists to prevent them

Cycle Alert’s implementation onto vehicles is just a small part of an arsenal of safety initiatives being effected by Croydon Council – from quiet-ways to traffic orders allowing cyclists to ride on pedestrianised streets – to make cycling safer and more accessible.

The announcement to utilise an RFID technology follows palpable pressure put on the Department for Transport to trial tag and beacon technology, at a recent House of Lords debate into technologies to reduce the number of collisions between HGVs and cyclists.

I had the pleasure of attending Croydon Cycling Forum’s quarterly meeting last week and was encouraged by the warm reception the forum gave to this technological addition to the cycle safety mix.

Of the four cyclist fatalities in London this year, all four can be attributed to collisions with large goods vehicles. The issue, of course, extends beyond London where HGVs are responsible for a fifth of cyclist fatalities nationwide. This is obviously unacceptable in an age where the technology exists to prevent these types of accidents happening in the first place.

Photo author’s own.

Cycle Alert is a proven technology, both in terms of the statistical data it has accumulated on interactions with cyclists during its trials in York and in its independent qualitative research into the appetite and opinions of those using it (I cite the statistic that 88% of drivers gave Cycle Alert a positive rating, with 92% recommending that Cycle Alert be implemented city-wide).

In terms of how tech will save Croydon cyclists, one might say ‘use the product, practice its safer road use instruction and be ‘saved’’. a+b=c, as it were.

But this type of technology could and should be explored way beyond its primary purpose of blind-spot reduction.

Whilst the government is pushing to get more people cycling, I foresee the tech world as intrinsic to investigating the role of tag and beacon technology in addressing this element of the various barriers to cycling, the biggest of these we know to be fear. Whether this fear be perceived or tangible, it is generally acknowledged that in order to make cycling more accessible to all, we need to address this real, human fear factor. And so I would stress that establishing safety effectiveness of a tag and beacon solution in reducing road accidents goes beyond the product or technology itself and has to include the human factor for the vulnerable road user also.

Can a tech solution like Cycle Alert help to avoid these types of accidents and near-misses?

Cycle Alert cites the core of its brand being in its commitment to educating both cyclist and driver on safer road use. Indeed the very nature of the technology uniquely places it as door-opening device for direct engagement with both sets of road user. Does tag and beacon technology have the power to change road user behaviour?

Cycle Alert creator, Peter Le Masurier, would argue that indeed, it does. “The cyclist using Cycle Alert is already looking out for large vehicles, already thinking about he/she will negotiate that vehicle.”

Whilst we engage with a tag and beacon technology in order to help reduce road risk, evidence suggests that in many cases, road risk could be reduced by a change in road user behaviours. Can a tech solution like Cycle Alert address driver/vulnerable road user guidance, in order that these types of accidents and near-misses can be avoided in the first place?

The research is on-going and the conclusions remain to be seen. One thing we do know for certain is that the safer we make cycling, the more people who will cycle; and the more people who cycle, the safer cycling becomes. To this end, technology has a valuable contribution to make, to incentivise, to educate.

The next #Croydon #TechCity event takes place on Thursday 19th March at 7:30pm at 3Space, Croydon. To attend, please sign up here.

Danni Lapham

Danni Lapham

I began at Cycle Alert working as a freelance writer and charity worker, new to bicycling and fearful, though I had previously ridden a moped for 2 years! Whilst working for Cycle Alert, I realised my fears were a text-book example of how one’s perceived feeling of safety can dictate whether a non-cyclist will or will not take to the road.

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  • Stephen Giles

    We do not want the type of appalling cyclist behaviour experienced in London let loose on our pedestrianised streets in Croydon, it is sheer lunacy to even consider it.

  • dreweaster

    Stephen Giles – are you for real? I don’t see anywhere in this article anyone condoning people cycling on pedestrianised streets.

    It’s pretty disappointing to see such narrow minded views – no doubt from a non-cyclist car driver – implying a belief that cars have some kind of ultimate sole right to the use of our roads.

    The long-term impact on both the nation’s health and the environment is dependant on us rethinking our dependency on cars, especially for short, inner-city journeys. We need to encourage people to be out exercising on a regular basis, thus contributing to a reduced burden on the NHS. Combining exercise with the daily commute is such a powerful approach, and we should be doing everything we can to make that as safe as possible for those wishing to do it.

    What we definitely don’t need is ignorant car drivers accusing cyclists of “appalling cyclist behaviour” when, like with most things, it’s very much the minority who are responsible for such a stereotype.

    Are you seriously suggesting that car drivers are not equally guilty of appalling behaviour?

    As both a car driver and a cyclist, I have seen way more appalling behaviour from car drivers than I’ve seen from cyclists. I’ve also had numerous incidents, whilst cycling, of brainless, impatient car drivers taking risks, not with their own life, but with mine.

    I do hope that those in charge of making the right decisions over these matters don’t share the same naive views as you!

  • Croydonian

    Well said, dreweaster…

    Sadly, the fact remains that Croydon is the least cyclable of London’s boroughs and features some of London’s most dangerous roads for cycling (actually, for sheer danger, it’s tied with Enfield). I’m sure the RFID devices are of some value, but given the actual nature of the roads here, it’s going to be a bit of a lost cause. The A236 in particular is a startling bit of anti-cyclist, indeed anti-human design.

    While Daily Mail caricatures like Mr Giles are partly to blame, the lack of a coherent cycling policy from the council is the blocker here. I know, easy to blame the council but in this case it is kind of their job…