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Cycle? Yes! Alas, Guide Dogs charity blind to government inaction

The Guide Dogs quoted in the London Evening Standard headline: Blind people 'terrorised by cyclists on pavements'

The Guide Dogs charity was quoted in the London Evening Standard headline: Blind people ‘terrorised by cyclists on pavements’

This week saw the Guide Dogs charity launch a campaign called #cycleyes — as in ‘Cycle Eyes’ not ‘Cycle? Yes!’ — although the latter is what they spelled, albeit with different punctuation!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best of launches – a flawed survey’s results were highlighted and led to later retractions.

The charity also missed the mark in what the underlying cause of conflict is: poor infrastructure; and how best to put that right: pressing governments to create space for cycling.

So what happened?

The campaign launch on Wednesday saw the media, politicians, London Cycling Campaign and Transport for London come together to promote the charity’s campaign that asks people who choose to ride a bicycle to be aware of – and look out for – visually impaired people:

  1. Pay attention – look to see if the guide dog and owner, or person with a cane are waiting to cross. Remember that they can’t always see or hear you.
  2. If you see the guide dog and owner or person with a cane waiting to cross, use your bell or call out to let them know you’re there.
  3. If the guide dog and owner or cane user are already crossing the road, please stop and wait until they’ve reached the other side.
  4. Do not cycle up behind or around the guide dog and owner, no matter how much space you think you’ve given them. The dog may be startled and get confused.
  5. If you need to use the pavement for any reason, please dismount. Bumping off the kerb onto the road can scare and confuse the guide dog.

It is a good thing to also remind people that not all of us have good vision, hearing or mobility. There is an increasing responsibility on each of us as our chosen vehicle grows*1 in size, weight and speed: more care must be taken to look out for each other on our inadequate road network. However, some cannot look – they are blind – and so the onus is on the rest of us to take even greater care.

SPACE FOR CYCLING

GuideDogs Cycleyes - Twitter tweet for survey participation

Tweet sent by Guide Dogs London on 26 June 2014.

The creation of ‘space for cycling‘, as promoted by grassroots volunteers, cycle groups, the London Cycling Campaign and the CTC, the national cycling charity, would go a long way to reducing the conflict on our roads – including between people that are walking with guide dogs and people cycling.

It would be great to see the Guide Dogs charity help with putting pressure on our local and national governments to create segregated space for cycling – away from motor vehicles and from people walking.

That is, to demand the creation a ‘third lane’ to reduce the conflicts in the first place:

  • a pavement for walking on,
  • a bicycle route mainly for utilitarian cycling,
  • and the main carriageway for faster vehicles.

More enlightened countries, such as The Netherlands, do this already and they see it benefiting people that face more challenges than most of us: Who else benefits from the Dutch cycling infrastructure?

SURVEY SAYS…

The questions in the Guide Dogs survey were supplied but not the answers. Click to read the full survey (pdf document)

The questions in the Guide Dogs cycling survey were supplied but not the answers. Click to read the full survey (pdf document)

Unfortunately, the Guide Dogs campaign was not launched well, and lead to the charity having to retract statements they had made.

Just hours after the launch, that became the story more than the good points that they were trying to get across.

The charity created a survey and asked on Facebook and Twitter for certain people to respond to it – a classic self-selection survey but also one targeted to just those who had strong opinions on the matter.

The charity promoted the results which they claimed showed that a large percentage of people with guide dogs had experienced a crash or near miss with a person riding a bicycle. Worrying if true; and even more reason for the charity to push the government to create a safer road network.

The media picked up – as the charity hoped – on the survey and comments it made about it:

“a quarter of guide dogs working in London had been hit by a bike” — BBC News

and,

“1 in 4 guide dogs in London have been struck by a cyclist, says charity” — road.cc

and,

“Blind people ‘terrorised by cyclists on pavements'”…”Cyclists are increasingly smashing into blind Londoners and their guide dogs” — London Evening Standard

GuideDogs Cycleyes - 5 points

The 5 points that the Guide Dogs charity want you to bear in mind when you choose to cycle.

If these claims were backed up by evidence, then I and many other road danger reduction campaigners had missed a very serious issue that clearly had gone unreported both in the media and in campaign circles up to now.

I asked the charity for the evidence behind the headline: the survey’s questions and the answers given.

Rob Harris, Guide Dogs Engagement Manager for London, kindly provided me with a copy of the survey (pdf document is HERE) but refused to reveal the answers they received, telling me:

We will not be sharing the results of the survey, other than the headline statistics.

That is disappointing – I have asked ‘why?’

The survey questions indicate that the answers may reveal helpful evidence about the issues faced by blind people – case studies, if you will. That evidence could be used by road danger reduction campaigners to lobby for better road networks to reduce conflict.

RETRACTION REACTION

The #cycleyes campaign at the Guide Dogs website was updated with an apology.

The #cycleyes campaign at the Guide Dogs website was updated with an apology.

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

Meanwhile, something clearly was not quite what it first seemed: Just hours after publishing their article, the BBC printed a correction which revealed that the headline claim from the charity’s survey was incorrect. The BBC statement:

Correction: An earlier version of this story said a quarter of guide dogs working in London had been hit by a bike.

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has since said the information it provided was incorrect.

Further details were revealed by the London Cycle Campaign (LCC):

The Guide Dogs website reports that “a short survey of our client group in London showed that of the guide dog owners who responded, 42% had been involved in a collision with a cyclist and 76% have had a near miss when cyclists either ride on pavements or skip red lights at pedestrian crossings.”

These results come from a short ‘Survey Monkey’ form completed by 33 of the 320 guide dog owners in London.

The charity initially did have that information on its campaign page, but I could no longer find it.

A video that the charity released also was taken down (marked ‘private’). The video showed a street scene in London with people at a pedestrian crossing, including someone with a guide dog. It asked if you could hear the people on bicycles. The screen faded to black and you could hear street sounds – mainly motor cars and trucks passing by. I thought it did get across the point of view of a blind or partially blind person; although clearly it was heavily biased towards making out that the only danger faced by people with guide dogs were people cycling on the pavement and going through red lights at crossings.

A marquee was erected in London to launch the Guide Dogs campaign called #cycleyes (photo: London Cycling Campaign)

A marquee was erected in London to launch the Guide Dogs campaign called #cycleyes (photo: London Cycling Campaign)

Others have now dug into the limited details about the survey – including the surprise that out of the millions of people in London that there are just 320 guide dog owners.

John Stevenson, editor-at-large for road.cc, wrote a follow-up article titled ‘Anatomy of a lie: How Guide Dogs London fabricated an attack on cyclists‘ in which he stated:

Perhaps they’d [Guide Dogs] polled a significant sample of London’s 41,000 blind and partially sighted people to find out what problems they had getting around, and been told by a large number that cyclists were an issue. Not so.

The one in four figure comes from a self-selected online survey and represents just 14 people claiming they or their dogs had been hit by cyclists.

The BBC radio programme ‘More or Less‘ which looks into dubious claims, reported on Friday about the flawed survey.

The programme stated in part:

We’ve been looking into this and actually the story gets stranger and stranger… So it’s [the survey] not even close to being a representative sample of visually impaired people and we cannot extrapolate from the survey results.

In the end, the poor fellow at Guide Dogs admitted he wasn’t great with numbers – and we’re not going to disagree with him on that.

The charity has now responded by issuing this statement (at the top of its #cycleyes campaign page):

We apologise if we have offended any cyclists during this campaign launch. A small number of cyclists have voiced their concerns over the size of the survey. Our survey was primarily to obtain case studies for our campaign and gather some specific stories from those who have been hit or had a near miss from a cyclist.

We have always clearly stated that we know the vast majority of cyclists are responsible. This campaign reaches out to them to encourage the whole cycling community all road users in London to look out for blind and partially sighted pedestrians.

Clearly, it is more than just a small number of cyclists voicing their concerns!

LESSONS TO LEARN

Hi-Viz wrist bands were handed out to promote #Cycleyes (photo: Guide Dogs Campaigns)

Hi-Viz wrist bands were handed out to promote #cycleyes (photo: Guide Dogs Campaigns)

The survey and how it was handled by the charity both at the launch and in the controversy that erupted afterwards can be a lesson to other charities and organisations that rely on survey results to get media attention.

In short: be sure of your facts, your math and your statements.

The charity also appeared blind to the underlying root cause of the conflict: the need for governments to fix the road network to reduce the times when its members and people walking, cycling and driving come into contact.

Their statements and subsequent reaction is especially disappointing given the many sponsored cycle rides the charity promotes.

I do hope the Guide Dogs charity will release the answers – as case studies – from its survey so that a stronger case can be made to governments for space for cycling.

Working together on this would be a great outcome from the flawed campaign launch.


DfT statistics 2012 - RAS10012 accidents involving pedestrians and vehicle

(click to see larger picture). The 2012 statistics showing number of crashes involving a pedestrian by severity and vehicle type (including bicycles). From page 81 of the DfT 2012 Reported Road Casualties Report.

* Footnote 1: Crashes involving a pedestrian and vehicle

You don’t generally do too much damage walking into things or other people (thankfully rare); cycling into someone else can be more dangerous (but again is rare); driving into someone is most dangerous of all (and sadly isn’t rare). As weight and speed go up so do the forces acting on the other person – simple physics; plus, the bigger the vehicle, the more there is of it that can hit someone else.

Statistics about the number of crashes involving a pedestrian can be found in the Department for Transport Road Casualities Report 2012 (latest available). Look especially at the row showing number of collisions involving a pedal cycle (389) and car (17,607).


UPDATES

31 August 2014: Comments on the issues.
Cycling on the Pavement:

Red Light Jumping:

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