Saturday, 5 April 2014

What do Victor Veilig and Benni Brems say about Subjective Safety ?

Over the last few years in the Netherlands, small yellow boys, 80 cm tall, have become a more common sight on the streets.

Victor Veilig ("Safe Victor") and his older German cousin Benni Brems ("Benni Brakes") are claimed by the manufacturers and distributors to remind drivers to slow down. Victor and Benni are light in weight and parents are told that they should place him outdoors when their children are playing outside and take him back in again when they are finished.

Advertisement by the insurance company Univé, who offer a free Victor Veilig if you buy their car insurance

Residential streets are supposed to be safe places. Children are supposed to be safe. What's more, children should have a degree of freedom over when they can play outside and not necessarily have to communicate and negotiate their exact hours of outside play with their parents so that the doll can be correctly placed by the road. It's all a bit absurd.

In fact, parents don't take this doll in and out of doors each time their children go outside.

These days, Victor is usually to be found chained permanently to a lamp post. Victor Veilig now has a use which goes beyond what the manufacturers intended. He has become become a negative indication of subjective safety. Victor's purpose now is to show where parents do not feel it is safe for their children to play outdoors. Here are three examples from Assen:

This one is in the new suburb of Kloosterveen. I'm mostly very enthusiastic about Kloosterveen because the overall environment here is good for cycling. For instance, there's a well designed shopping centre and a dense grid of good quality cycling infrastructure which helps a large proportion of children to cycle to school. But it's not perfect by any means. In particular, a mistake was made on this road. This feeder road is quite busy with cars and was originally intended to have a cycle-path. Indeed, for a while there was a temporary cycle-path while final designs were being decided upon. However, residents were given a choice of designs to choose from and the chosen design was without a cycle-path. At least one family finds the situation now to be unpleasant enough such that they do not think their children are safe.

In a 1950s area of Assen, again on a feeder road which carries a few too many cars. There is a primary school to the right of the crossing. Note that this junction has caused problems for a while. There are warning signs here, a raised table to slow drivers and also a pinch point at the crossing itself. This pinch point is itself badly designed as it puts cyclists into conflict with drivers heading in the same or opposite direction. There are two permanent Victors here. The other is hidden by the car in the centre of the image. This area was designed with very little cycling infrastructure and relies upon segregating drivers from cyclists by other means.

In a 1970s suburb, that in which we live. While cycling infrastructure exists in this suburb it doesn't quite make a full dense grid. This road with a 50 km/h speed limit runs the length of the suburb without a cycle-path. It's not much used as a through route because it is bypassed by a direct 70 km/h road and is designed to be indirect in order to slow traffic, however this is still the worst road to cycle along in our suburb. Two Victors have taken up permanent residence here - one blown over by the wind.
Rather than marking a place where children play, these dolls actually show where children do not play.

Look out for Victor Veilig in photos of infrastructure from the Netherlands. If you see him then it's a sign that the infrastructure that you're looking at probably does not meet the standards of parents who want their children to be safe. If a photo of Dutch infrastructure has a Victor Veilig in it or if you look at a street yourself and see Victor then question why he is there. If something is claimed to be a good example but Victor is present, then there is probably a reason why it is not such a good example and it's quite likely not something that you want to be imported to your country.

Read more about successful design for residential streets. Also read more about the importance of subjective safety for a high cycling modal share.

According to some Dutch sources, Victor Veilig was originally seen in the USA. What names does he have in English speaking countries ? Perhaps "Benny Brakes" or "Sam Safety" ? Perhaps even "Jack Jumpsoutofthewayratherquickly" ?

Note that the original Unive advertisement which I embedded above was pulled from youtube, so I replaced it with another example in January 2015.


Tallycyclist said...

This is unfortunate news. But paranoia and scare-mongering is too-oftentimes a very successful tactic in getting people to do or fear something. The US has already been traversing this route for years, and it's already very clear how our society here is quickly devolving into one where young people have very deficient social skills and lack any creativity or independence. Overall there's also a general lack of trust in American society anymore, with the increasingly-pervasive "even the neighbors may be out to get you" kind of mentality.

I've already read several articles recently about parents being arrested for allowing their kids to walk to school without hovering over them, or even because it didn't involve the car. My own elementary school has, in recent years, almost completely fenced-in the playground so kids can't potentially get run over in the back-parking lot of the adjacent hair shop. Wasn't a problem when I was growing up. But kids were still allowed to be kids back then.

As far as cycling, it's very evident that the fear-mongering in Denmark successfully convinced a sizable part of the population to wear helmets.

Robert said...

Victor Veilig visits Britain: