Saturday, 12 December 2015

LHR: missing the fucking point

The entrance to Heathrow is three lanes of traffic. Motor traffic: cyclists are not allowed


That's because what was a cycle lane, got turned into a narrow, high-restricted traffic lane instead.


Notice how, along with the signs for the terminal there's one for "short stay parking"

That is: in order to cope with the number of cars entering the area, including private cars doing dropoff and parking in short stay parking bays. And of course the multi-storey staff parking in the central mess of what just another pedestrian and cycling hating 1970s gyratory.

They have added a "cycling hub"


That's not a hub: its a fucking spoke —and if Heathrow management are proud of it they haven't spoken to a single person who has ever tried to cycle to the airport.

The approach? That'll be on road on the A4


It's worth remembering at this point is that only a few years ago, LHR promised "No third runway".

They lied. They probably had it on a roadmap at the time. This shows that (a) LHR can't be trusted and (b) if you want a binding commitment from them, you need to include a penalty in the T&Cs. If they really had meant "no third runway", the government should have said "you wont mind signing this clause that says £5000 pounds to everyone in the flight path plus £5B to central government".

Because all of this is about profit. Why do LHR have short-stay parking? Because its so fucking profitable. Why do LHR expect government to fund the M25 tunnels, refuse to pony up for Crossrail: it would hurt their profits: "Heathrow has repeatedly said it is not willing to pay more than about £1 billion, though the costs are estimated by Transport for London to be £15 – 20 billion." (source airportwatch)

LHR's business is about flying passengers in and out the airport. They like the hub idea, as it gets more people through: on the planes, in the shops. The airlines and the business love it too.

Those are the business in the "Greater LHR", the sprawl of companies nearby. All notable by their vast car parks, roads of death and lack of cycle parking.

This street view, for example, is facing 180 degrees away from Hatton Cross tube station. There's a tube station right behind, yet a vast car park for staff to drive to.


This is the mindset of every company supporting the 3rd runway: we want more planes near the offices which we drive to.

It's why the airport and the roads around it stand out as the outer london pollution hub (source: war on the motorist)


Yet LHR think their proposal will not make things worse: things are already fucking awful.

What's their vision? NOx is Somebody Else's Problem which will magically go away
  1. Crossrail: this does nothing to discourage the "Greater LHR" staff/business traffic which forms the inner ring of pollution, nothing for the core, nothing for the new and expanded runways. And priced such that it will be a luxury option from the West Country.
  2. Euro6 and EVs on the M4. Euro6 has been shown to be a line. That part of the proposal needs to be taken out of the spreadsheet.
  3. The cycling hub
Which shows that they don't give a fuck, aren't prepared to do anything about it except pretend on spreadsheets that the actions of others will address it.

What's their problem? Failure to recognise that they are the central cause of the pollution, and should act on it.

A key point must be for them to recognise that they themselves are directly and indirectly responsible for all the pollution caused in Greater LHR, and they have to address it.

They need to understand something simple: every vehicle driving on heathrow related business is four less passengers. Make it that simple and they would start to think about what they should do.

Why are any private cars coming into the airport? Why not taxi only and dedicated disabled access (enforced) only, with special dropoff points for outside the central hub? Remove that traffic, converting one of each direction's tunnels into an electric tram the way other airports do, and you boost the capacity of the tunnels, and provide something for the commuters to get on their bikes with. Commuters —because every single staff parking bay needs to go. That's for the executive down: everyone who drives to work is costing the airport three passengers.

The airport could take baby steps immediately

  • impose a toll on all private vehicles driving through the tunnel. A pound would be a start.
  • remove that staff parking
  • fix the fucking cycle access
  • give all staff free bus and tube travel.
  • get rid of the magic paint on the A4 and provide cycle routes for the staff from hounslow that are on a par with what central london is rolling out. If there is room for it in Central London, there's room for it by the A4. Boris has shown that.

Then turn to every business nearby whose livelihood depends on the airport and say "every one of your vehicles costs us for passengers: act". Again: close the car parks, offer free public transport, cycle parking. There's a wrinkle there: company funded train or TfL transport is treated as a taxable benefit, employees pay for it. Staff parking is not. That's something that central government could address, but in the meantime, what few parking bays remain could be billed for at significantly more than the tax-per-day of staff commuting by public transport. That will get people to prioritise.

Those trade unions saying "we need this!" —go to them and say "if your employees need this, they're going to have to stop driving". Make it clear there's a fucking choice.

From the perspective of Bristol —which would benefit a lot more from LHR expansion than Gatwick— LHR need to come up with a story. If there is more than one passenger, renting a car to drive from the city to one of those vast airport rental dropoff points is cheaper than two coach tickets, and avoids sitting in that central bus station which is as awful as a Banksy's Dismaland. LHR hate bus passengers. That's in the central hub, its almost as bad at T4 and T5 where you sit in a little bench and are expected to feel grateful.

If there are three passengers from Bristol, a private hire vehicle is less than those coach tickets; a PHV whose driver will come in early, wait in that short-stay parking and so give you a journey home whose experience outshines anything else.

If you are on a company trip and going for less than five days, you can get from the Bristol/S Gloucs North Fringe in under two hours, drop your car off right in front of the airport for a driver of Purple Parking or similar for them to park off-airport, bring it back to you. Because if you can get a private car right up the terminal -you would, wouldn't you? And of course, in a world of autonomous cars, anyone can do this, reading emails to the airport, sleeping on the way back after a long-haul flight to a new BRIC destination

Today the train from Bristol to Paddington and out doesn't cut it. While the LPAD->LHR stage is fast, you go past the airport and back again, on a train which can stop just outside paddington for 15 minutes because "they weren't expecting a train". And on the return journey, miss your reservation and you'll be fighting with all the reading commuters for space. Currently, the Bristol-paddington-LHR route is a premium option which can go horribly wrong. Crossrail will help with the logistics —but do nothing for the pricing, which will still be more than driving to the airport in a diesel car. With an electric car, the cost per mile will be so low that you really won't bother. And while that may reduce your personal NOx, it will create the M4 congestion which boosts pollution of all the diesels on the road.

Now look at Frankfurt airport, one of the big competitors

  1. The Frankfurt AirRail terminal has its own baggage pickup: you can walk to the terminal and pick up your bags there.
  2. You can check in at Frankfurt central train station, getting issued with a train ticket and the flight boarding card.
  3. You can drop your bags at the station too. At heathrow: its trollies, queuing for elevators, pushing them up slopes, walking about half a mile underground.
  4. If you get a flight with Lufthansa, you can buy a return train ticket to anywhere in germany for 29 €.

Imagine if you could do the same in the UK? At Paddington, Reading, Bristol, and at Kings Cross/St Pancras you could check in while waiting for the next train, get on the fast electric train to the airport, arrive at the station, drop off your bag and walk straight to security. For less than today's cost of a Heathrow express return ticket.

That would transform airport access for passengers from places in driving distance to the airport —suddenly it would be both cheaper and easier to get the train.

Finally, it's notable that LHR cite Paris and Amsterdam as the other key competitors. That's paris which bans cars on polluting days, which is trying to go car free. And Amsterdam, which has so many people cycling that their NOx map doesn't resemble other European cities. LHR need to look at London at a whole and conclude that anything done to reduce NOx and CO2 pollution in the city itself benefits them. If flight is so essential, then they need to think about offsetting flight pollution through a reduction in road pollution throughout the city —and work towards it with TfL.

Do Heathrow see that? Do they look at mainland europe and think "we should copy Frankfurt"? Go to BA and FGW and say "copy Lufthansa or we won't give you extra runway slots". Do they go to the business round the airport and say "what are you doing?"

No they fucking don't. They produce PDF files with the usual "empty road" bollocks you always get, fingers pointing at EURO6 cars, which, when that fails, LHR can say "not our fault", and build a cycling hub in the bit of the airport the furthest from the centre of the airport as it is possible to build.


Monday, 7 December 2015

Cabbies: Tavistock Place is not what will destroy you


This is a letter to taxi drivers. 

It's not going to argue about the merits of Tavistock Place, the Embankment cycle superhighway or the other things coming. You might not like them —you may resent the fact they represent changes to the city that you cannot control, but they won't destroy you.

You face an existential threat. Britain dodged one in the Battle of Britain; humanity dodged one in the Cold War. The dinosaurs encountered one and lost. You? You run the risk of being a historical note -like the Viking colony of Greenland. More likely, the brand of the black cab will remain, just like those other icons: the routemaster bus, policemen with helmets too: something for the tourists to have on postcards and tea-towels.

What is this existential threat? If you thought "Uber" you'd be getting warm —but its more: it's the Internet and the devices attached to it.

When was the last time you popped out to rent a video or a DVD? Do you ever reminisce about going to the video rental store as you sit down in front of BBC iPlayer, Netflix, or Amazon? Do you still take photographs on a camera with a roll of film? If so —you can't take them down to a local camera shop to get printed —that shop will be gone. Along with the record shop and possibly the bookshop. 

They faced the existential threat of The Internet and lost.

Nobody set out to destroy those shops on the high street; it just happened. The new companies brought new opportunities to people, and we all embraced them; those stores were simply collateral damage. 

Thats what threatens you. Not just Uber, but the other companies building the stuff that Uber depends on. Uber needs Apple and google for the smartphones. Apple and google need users attached to their phones. Everyone driving is lost revenue, to these companies. And when you look at how much time people -especially in the US- spend in cars, that's a lot of lost revenue. And what are google working on now? Autonomous cars.

Uber are now valued at more than General Motors. That way more than if they took every single taxi journey on the planet and got 25% commission on that ride. So why the valuation? It's because Uber have general motors in their sights —along with Ford, VW/Audi, and the other car companies.

Uber have a simple ambition: to get the money everyone spends on buying and running cars. Why own one when you have a phone, and whenever you wave it, a car appears? It's the magic wand of motoring. No more need to worry about parking by your house, at your destination. No more maintaining it. And, assuming it's electric: no need to worry about range. You'll tell uber your destination, and they'll bring up a car with the range. If something goes wrong, well, Uber can send a replacement out to meet up. And it'll be their problem to worry about charging points, having vehicles ready at pickup etc.

To Uber then, you may be today's competitor —but you are a stepping stone to their greater goal: to replace today's car manufacturers.

Apple and google? They don't care about you one way or the other. But the phones, the cars they work on, the satnav maps they provide —that's the underlying technology that's threatening your business. And there's nothing you can do about that.

It's not just the scale of these companies you have to fear —it's their growing political power. The cash reserves Uber has means that they can start funding the election campaigns of US politicians. Once they do that, Taxi Licensing Authorities in the relevant cities are going to have anything they've done to block uber reversed, while legislation enabling self-driving cars gets pushed through.

In the UK, London is the big target for Uber: you've got the money, you've got the journeys, and, in the centre, an interesting mix of public transport and high-density destinations they can aim for. Your livelihoods. Get that cash flowing, keep the funders happy, destroy their direct competitors (e.g Lyft), and build a future for a transport company bigger than GM which has no drivers whatsoever.

So what can you do? How do you face down this existential threat?

That's a problem which you and your organisations —like the LTDA— have to worry about. 

It is probably the greatest threat you've ever encountered: it's got the car companies scared, and you've never managed that. 

Get together. Get out your phones and arrange a meeting —not Nokia phones, obviously— they lost to Apple and Google. Drive to that meeting past the streets that had video shops, record shops and booksellers. If you see an Uber driving in a crash, use the camera on your phone, post up the image —but spare a moment's thought to all those people who loved cameras and made a living selling them and the developing and printing business. But get together with your colleagues and work out how to survive.

Can you survive?

Maybe a better question is how long can you survive —and what help do you need to achieve this?

TfL are a possible ally. But you need a compelling vision of a real Taxi for the 21st century: one that doesn't pollute, one that recharges at taxi stands, one that is integrated in a world of booking by phone, touch to pay, co-ordinated booking systems with handoff between you and other cabbies. You might even think about changes to the pricing model.

TfL are also an enemy. It's not just their licensing of minicab drivers, or the fact that they are allowed into the city centre for near nothing, it's their sheer inertia and lack of innovation. You need to take the lead there —but it has to be compelling. "Like it was before Uber" is like a  VHS shop saying "like it was before iPlayer". That time is gone.

You might find the Uber drivers can be your allies here. They are in even more trouble than you. They're not employees of Uber: they are expenses —and there is no space for them in Uber's long-term vision. Start getting them to unionise, to demand salaries and rights, and get TfL to set those minimum standards, and maybe it will level the playing field. 

You need to keep them out the bus lanes. Uber, Google, Tesla and others have their autonomous car's LIDAR scanners scoping them out already; in their home cities, bus lane plans are on hold for this very reason.

Which brings this essay back to us: the cyclists. 

We are not the ones who will destroy your very livelihood.

You may look at changes in the city, at the Junctions of Death, along the Embankment, at Tavistock place, and elsewhere —and resent this change, a change to the city you love and which you can't control. Maybe so: but they are coming so that Londoners on bicycles can reach their destination alive.

None of those cyclists are building autonomous cars with a vision of taking over from the car companies, crushing your business as a stepping stone or a mere side-effect of the vision.

Protest about the changes if you want. Put money into a lawsuit over a conversion of what was essentially coach parking into a safe mass transport option if it makes you feel better. Complain about the cyclists whenever you get a journalist, a councillor or an MP in the back of the vehicle. Go to TfL and try to bully them into changing their plans. But in doing so, you are not only getting distracted from what really is going to destroy you: you are using up money, time and political capital which you need for your fight for your very survival

Maybe, just maybe, cyclist could even be allies.

Do you think we are happy that autonomous driving tests don't seem to include cyclists? Do you think we are happy that Nissan and Tesla want their car in bus lanes? Do you think, as we cycle round Westminster looking for one of its six cycle racks that we are pleased to see recharge docks in a part of the city where the congestion charge exempts them?

At the same time: we want to set off on a journey knowing we will get their alive. We want our children to be able to cycle to school and not worry about them. We will fight tooth-and-nail to preserve what little bits of safe infrastructure TfL and some of the councils are slowly adding to the city. Because we know what matters to us: our lives

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Prepare to fight the electric motoring lobby

It's easy to view "the motoring lobby" as one vast mass of lobbyists, all pushing for the same thing: more roads, cheaper fuel, no parking/waiting/loading restrictions, no road use charges (c-zone, bridges), no speed tickets, etc. And of course: no "unrealistic" pollution controls, such as EURO6 diesel testing in real-world scenarios.

That's a simplistic view —and by identifying the different groups and their agendas, it helps to recognise the threats and opportunities.

Freight Transport Association (and their mouthpiece fair fuel UK): these want the £15B in road upgrades, and may be the main beneficiaries. Along with the fuel escalator freeze and raising of HGV speed limits on single carriageway roads, they're really getting their way these days. The FTA have a conflict of interest related to tipper-truck killings in London. Do they admit that the tipper truck industry, with its pay-per-delivery business model and utter lack of enforced regulation is broken, that more regulation is needed. Or do they blame the cyclists. Take a guess.

HGV truck drivers are, long-term, fucked. Autonomous driving will be easier to roll out on motorways due to the simpler road structure. Given the tangible safety benefits of self-driving trucks versus truck drivers on illegal 18 hour shifts watching iPlayer videos to keep awake —legislation legalising autonomous trucks will target motorways first.  The FTA members own those near-motorway distribution centres, and if they can reduce costs by eliminating those truck drivers, will gain a better return on investment that individual commuters. Destroying those truck driver jobs is going to be a traumatic change for those employees, especially in the US, where its the #1 job in many states. Should the cycling campaigns care? Maybe they should support roll-out of autonomous HGVs as fast as possible, even to the extent of setting a timetable for banning manual trucks.

Uber. Uber want to be able to run the world's largest minicab system without the need to pay tax or perform any oversight of their staff. They'd love to get into bus lanes in London, as Addison Lee desire. They benefit from the fact that there's no per-mile billing of car use in cities. If, say, TfL and other regulatory bodies did use GPS unit to (a) add some such taxation and (b) charge more when breaking the speed limit, we'd see a more realistic cost model along with elimination of that problem which exists outside london: aggressive minicab drivers trying to drive at 40 mph in a shared use bus lane. The licensing authorities should also be more aggressive about insurance. Ideally, they'd actually have some fitness to drive standard —but we know that isn't coming.

Uber drivers are, long-term, fucked. Uber has no loyalty to their "associates" and are funding research in self-driving cars because it will keep their costs down and customers happy. Should we care? Yes, if its goal is increasing the number of vehicles on the road, and if Uber want to get those cars into bus lanes.

The LTDA. These are the representative of everyone who resents a millimetre of space being allocated to survivable cycling in the city. Their view is that they've got a livelihood to maintain, and it is threatened by Uber, congestion, and every attempt to make cities better to live in. The addison lee protests shows that there is common grounds with cyclists over defending bus lanes —but that was because of mutual interest. They don't see the same way about keeping cyclists in lanes away from themselves, or in reducing congestion and pollution by getting people to cycle. A militant organisation with discreet backing from their OMIL users in canary wharf and elsewhere.

Taxi drivers are, long-term, fucked. Self-driving cars will take their jobs away too. As somewhat independent drivers, they don't have their employer actively working to eliminate their jobs (contrast with: Uber, FTA), but the same technical trends hurt them. Short term, they are crippled, especially in London, by the cars they are required to drive. That's the cause of a lot of diesel pollution in inner London —the taxis that they are forced to use. TfL and others need to think hard about how to move them to electric/hybrid. Where there is an opportunity there it may be to work on inductive charging in taxi bays. Rather than have the taxis sit their with their diesel engines running, poisoning the air outside train stations, hospitals and other places, those could be charge points.  Or they could embrace hydrogen fuel early: you don't need nationwide fuel infrastructure for London's taxis, just a few dedicated stations which they can visit.  Yet to think about things like that needs the LTDA and peers to lift their heads out of the daily mail, stop cutting op the cyclists, and think about the future.

SMMT. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders want to sell more cars in the UK. That's all they give a fuck about, and anything related to urban pollution is something they pretend their current cars address —and future cars address even better —including EURO6 diesels. Same goes for safety: future cars won't kill people.

If the dieselgate scandal grows their stance will be predictable —offer owners of dirty diesel government kickbacks/reduced tax on new models. We need to be prepared to respond to that by demanding that diesel owners get the same discount on new bicycles. Want to turn in a diesel car for £1000 of a new car? The owners should get the same government cash to buy bicycles for the whole family, or a season ticket from Woking to central london for a year.

The SMMT are keeping so quiet on dieselgate —they are clearly hoping it will blow over and people will keep buying today's cars.

Where SMMT are weak is that 2016 will be a stupid year to buy a car, especially a diesel one. The next generation of engines are going to have to be hybrid petrol or electric —dieselgate has shown that. Today's electric cars have atrocious depreciation, but Tesla's future models promise to bring costs down. If you want a new car, hold off until then.

Equally critically, self-driving cars will transform what a a car is. Buy a 2016 car and you will have to  drive it yourself. Put off buying a new car for 2-3 years, and you'll have one that drives for you. That's fundamentally different in a way that today's self-parking and lane-tracking models won't come close to competing with. A new car will be obsolete as fast as a windows phone. So will older cars —but if you let them depreciate more, you can put aside money for the new models. Or just buy a 2016 model at a massive discount.

The SMMT dare not admit this, because they depend on sales today. They want their customers to buy a new car in 2016, —and then upgrade to a self-driving one in 2018.

A key problem they have is demographics. Their real customers are getting older; the younger generations are the ones most fucked by global warming -and the most likely to want to not make things worse. That trend towards urban living is even more disastrous. If you live in the inner city, you don't need to commute by car, you don't have space for one anyway. And in particular, you don't have the need to own a short-range commute-only electric car, or the driveway or garage needed to charge the car overnight. Car clubs and maybe weekend rentals are all these people need, which can free up space in the cities. That's space which is going to be fought over. We need to make sure that it goes towards cycling and not charge points or dedicated lanes for electric cars.

The current car retailers are, long term, fucked on a number of fronts. As well as demographics, Tesla have shown that they aren't needed at all. Why go through an independent dealer when you can go straight to the manufacturer? No matter how hard the dealers talk about how they care more, how they offer independence and servicing, online shopping and continuously integrated monitoring and maintenance changes the purchasing and maintenance story. As will self-driving cars. Why drop a car off for repairs when your tesla is booked in for a charge and service at 4am to 6am on a Tuesday evening? It can go and do that itself and a Tesla station 50 miles away. You just don't need those local dealers any more.

The european car manufacturers. These are in trouble but can survive if they adapt fast. They've focused on diesel as the solution, because they know how to make engines, and think they can keep tweaking them. Dieselgate has given the game away. Now they need to play catch-up with tesla and the Japanese manufactures. They're pushing hydrogen powered cars as the future, as it retains those old skills: engines. But it needs a whole new infrastructure in fuelling cars to be rolled out. They'll be asking for government cash to do this: we need to make a better case for uses of the money.

Again, demographics threatens them. They need to keep people commuting from the suburbs to the towns. And there they are also their own worst enemy. Congestion destroys the value in driving. And no matter how hard Audi and others claim their Urban SUVs make being stuck in a traffic jam fun, it isn't.

To survive there they need autonomous driving to make those hours stuck in jams useful. They need to make sure there are parking places in the city for those commuters, short-stay parking outside shops, school runs where you can drop your kids off.

Anything which changes cities for walking, cycling and public transport threatens their very existence. We have no common ground here —we are competing for the same roadspace.

Anything which threatens urban car use threatens them. ULEZ zones, especially any that block out rigged EURO6 diesel engines will say "you can't drive here". Congestion zones rolled out across more inner cities will do for them what they've done for London; made driving into the city centres a luxury. 20 mph limits remove even the illusion that driving in a city is fun, no matter what the adverts say. Expanded resident parking zones (hello Bristol!) even making parking a premium option. It's not a coincidence that the people who hate RPZ parking hate 20 mph zones, and that it's the commute-by-car suburbs who are most up in arms about it.

The secondary motor industry. The petrol stations, the Halfords of this world; the cheaper-than the the approved-retailer garages. They are fucked already. Improving fuel economy (when real) reduces visits to petrol stations. While congestion may increase fuel use, hybrid cars kills that, and if it suppresses driving, even conventional engine'd vehicles will use less. The increasing technical sophistication of modern engines and cars means that home-maintenance is dying —look at Halford's numbers to see this. Look at how those shops selling aftermarket car stereos and alarms have gone. Fucked, all of them.

Common ground? Halford's have embraced cycling. Petrol stations? The supermarkets have fucked them. There are other uses of that city space.

Where we have a new threat is the electric motoring lobby.

These are the car companies sluggishly embracing electric power; seeing it as the way to get round restrictions on urban car use which will be rolled out for pollution reasons. They've gone to central government for cash for the factories, they've gone to central government for the cash-backs on overpriced 2nd cars —and you can be sure they are now going after local governments for special treatment too.

Because it doesn't matter what engine type you have —it still takes the same amount of time to sit in the same traffic jam.

That's why they have their greedy eyes on the bus lanes. There's room for more cars there, and if you can drive in them, you get a tangible benefit in commuter times, in exchange for a car that depreciates faster than a Fiat Pinto. If your car is worthless in five years, you wan't to use that car every day. And of course, with a range of 100 miles that will only decrease over time, that commute is essential to getting those miles in.

TfL are against it, so are Edinburgh Council.

What the electric car lobby can do is brief the press, which is what they do


They also get to the politicians, where they can say "we've invested so much, you've invested so much —let's open up the bus lanes".

They've clearly got to Zac Goldsmith, who now thinks he can retain some green credentials while appealing to the suburban driving voter.

This needs be stamped on fast —as what happens in London will serve as a role model for the rest of Britain.

At least here Oslo is now providing an example of why not. Even though the number of electric cars is <35K, they're filling up the bus lanes enough for their privileges to be slowly reverted, and now they have a plan to make the city centre car free. Those can be used as as arguments, along with the same one used by central government to slash funding for all renewable energy sources, "the cost of electric cars has fallen enough they don't need subsidies"

Even so, those bus lanes will remain a juicy target. For the new electric motoring lobby, and perhaps companies like google and uber, who will be able to say "autonomous cars can replace buses'

That's already happening in the US, where a bus lane near google is being blocked because it won't be needed. You can be confident Google, Tesla, Uber and others did a lot of lobbying there. —and they'll be doing the same in the UK.

What can we do?
  1. There's common cause with the taxi drivers again. They may hate the cyclists, but they hate Uber more.  Some protests outside Zac Goldsmith election events may get that point across -and with both cyclists and taxi drivers there, it'll appear less of a single special interest group protesting.
  2. Ask for the electric car and diesel replacement money. Now. Put out press releases saying "if the government is planning any funding to replace dirty diesels, people should be allowed to buy bicycles and public transport season tickets with it.". Mention the season tickets, so anyone who commutes from south london from distances too far to cycle will be supportive of the idea.
  3. Have quotes ready for anyone in the press who is briefed by the electric car lobby. The TfL and EDC papers are good —they are independent data which shows that bus passengers are hurt as much as cyclists.
  4. Finally, it highlights why bus lanes cannot be considered cycling infrastructure. They last only as long as the next mayor of a city. The embankment bike lanes, the bridge crossings -they will endure. Bus lanes: they have to be fought for, again and again —just so cyclists have the right to cycle behind a diesel taxi with a bus up their arse.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

dieselgate: The death of "clean" diesel

What has Dieselgate shown us this week?

  1. European Car manufacturers don't care about the long-term health of their customers.
  2. You can't do low-end diesel cars that aren't polluting in the real world —or if you do, their power profile doesn't match modern customer expectations aggressive driving
  3. The car manufacturers are prepared to systematically deceive governments and their pollution tests.
  4. Self-regulated tests don't work in this world —no more than the cigarette vendor's smoking trials.
  5. The US government's extended test regime eventually caught this —though it took the threat of the 2016 models being blocked for VW to own up. They must have known about the crime in advance, but were just pretending "different driving conditions"
All claims that diesel cars are getting cleaner are complete bollocks

Cars have not got cleaner, they haven't got more fuel efficient. Instead the car companies have rigged the tests.

The current EU certification regime, models a 1970s driving style, and, being self-certified, has been utterly abused to the point where it is meaningless —in both pollution and mileage. 

Now, what is the good outcome of this? Diesel is doomed.

The fact the mileage figures are rigged for all vehicles is now going to become obvious. Everyone who bought a car based on mileage numbers has been ripped off.

Europe is going to need new tests, and soon. These will have to be strict and done independently. The EPA regime of testing real cars is now the only test process shown to work. There is no way the car companies can defend proposals to test this way, as they can't claim the existing process isn't utterly meaningless. And, they can't put it off.

They won't be able to have nice little meetings with Angela Merkel, Cameron, or Francois Hollande and say "cut us some slack". The politicians will know the situation is metaphorically and literally toxic —and want to put some clean blue air between them and the car companies. Now comes a chance to have some real-world tests, and force diesel cars to become cleaner or get taken off the price list.

Same for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Their September 3 paper,  ‘Air Quality; The Automotive Industry Contribution’ is full of coverage of diesel engines, how EURO6 will deliver a 50% reduction in NOx pollution, and some statements which we now know to be untenable

Under Euro-6, diesel cars are the cleanest in history
-no, they are no cleaner than before. They've just cheated the exams better.

An EU policy review in 2013 confirmed Euro-6 will deliver key air quality objectives by 2020

A review written on the assumption that the car companies weren't lying through their teeth. That assumption is now shown to be false, hence the conclusion untenable.

There's one little mention of cycling in there:
Planning policies, which recognise changing mobility trends in urban areas and offer an integrated range of choices to suit journey needs, including cycling, walking, car sharing and public transport, will also be paramount, and must keep traffic moving.
They do accept cities are changing, but retain that phrase "keep traffic moving", which comes just after "Managing traffic to smooth its flow can significantly reduce air pollution.". That's the old "smoothing traffic flow" bollocks. Well, we can now point to people talking about "Smoothing traffic flow" and say "it's not going to deliver"

The DfT must be in a quandry here. They can't use the rollout of EURO6-certified cars as their roadmap for pollution levels in cities dropping, so they can't hope the pollution problem will go away if they wait long enough. Unless radical action is taken, the cities of 2020 will be as polluted as the cities of 2030 —if not worsened by more road traffic and increased congestion.

They're going to have to act, and that means read that Defra paper on NOx pollution and not say "wait long enough and it will go away". Cities are going to have to act, and they're now able to go the central government and say "you have to fund this".

London could be first, as the C-zone is the infrastructure. In particular, someone needs to look at all the diesel models that scraped in at under 100g CO2/km. How many are really doing that —and if not, is it fair for a diesel car that chucks out NOx pollution to get in free, while a petrol-engined car gets billed? The next mayor of London is going to have to look at that issue, and set a timetable for the end of the diesel exemption, as well as perhaps one for non-hybrid, non-electric cars in general.

Dieselgate has shown the world how dangerous diesel is, and how it won't go away. This is too big an opportunity to waste.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

#Turbogate: the demise of Diesel?

Two weeks ago, Defra snuck out a report saying that Diesels were a key source of urban pollution, that aggressive action was going to be needed —despite the fact that Euro6 cars were significantly less polluting than their predecessors.

It was pushed out on a Saturday, while the labour party elections took the headlines, and primarily got coverage in the bike press. Some of the press coverage called out the fact that car manufacturers could ship cleaner cars in the US showed that they could do more.

It's interesting to wonder why Defra stuck it out on that Saturday. You'd think that this was a significant enough crisis that they'd want to highlight it, to create action. Yet they didn't. Assume there's been some power struggle between DfT "more roads are good", the Treasury, which also believe that more roads are good and clearly chose not to offer any mitigation funds, and the cabinet, who recognised that a crack down on diesels was going to be politically toxic. My delegating it to a local-government level, it's the councils that get the blame —not central government.

Since then, VW's Turbogate scandal has arrive, showing that

  1. Cheating on emissions tests is ingrained into the companies to the extent they deliberately program their cars to cheat.
  2. Claims Euro 6 diesels will reduce urban pollution are bollocks.
  3. European car manufacturers don't give a fuck about the health of European and US citizens —let alone those in other countries.
The final point shows that Diesel car manufacturers are the new cigarette companies: willing to let their customers die in exchange for short-term profits.

Well, turbogate is here, and VW will be in the "who knew what, when" phase. The higher up the company the decision to cheat has gone (or the current position of those who knew of the cheating), the more serious it will be.

The UK and the rest of Europe cannot ignore this. They cannot lie to themselves that diesel pollution will go away as the fleet of cars, vans and buses upgrades. The governments are going to have to rush to do real-world tests, to identify which cars really are the most polluting —and push those that most diverge from the rigged tests to get fixed. It's going to reduce fuel efficiency and performance, so reduce the merits of diesel —but that is fine, because there are alternatives. Petrol and petrol hybrid cars in particular.

This cannot be brushed under the carpet.

And VW? Fucked.

Do you know their  2011-2014 model was only available in the EU in a diesel form. In the US, alongside the rigged diesels, they were happy to sell a petrol version, but here in the UK, diesel only. Models that we now know to be 4-40X more polluting than the US standards. Anyone who owns one of those cars has just taken a hit on resale value. With warnings from Defra of likely restrictions on diesel cars to come, all modern diesel cars are equally at risk —especially while there is suspicion of other car manufacturers cheating. With the EU companies being the ones who embraced diesel the most: VW, BMW, Mercedes, Renault and Peugeot in particular, French and German cars just took a hit. People selling off their petrol cars, on the other hand, are probably going to see an increase in resale value —there's less of them nowadays, and they are about to become more popular.

Meanwhile: nobody in their right minds should be buying a diesel car.

As for cyclists, maybe its time to stage some protests outside VW shops, "stop killing us' would make a good slogan.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

when "cyclists follow the highway code" means "get out of the way"

Twitter is notable in that it allows politicians to engage with their electorate.

Here is Sarah Wollaston, MP, praising the PM for promising the attend the all party cycling working group —and who should come out the woodwork but someone someone with the old "highway code and license" distraction.

yet ask the for more detail on what particular "safety issue" and why not license and tests pedestrians with it, and it comes out that the key reason to single out people on bicycles is "pedestrians on the whole do not block roads".

which gets you into the real meaning of what "follow the highway code is", along with the classic "when I did my cycling proficiency test "anecdote of
"when we learned to cycle we were taught to go single file to safely allow a vehicle to pass'
And that's really it isn't it. You can look at actions of people cycling and point to some that endanger themselves or pedestrians, and make the case for better training. But not use it as a complaint for cycling two abreast, for as the highway code rule 66 says
You should never ride more than two abreast, 
That's right: the highway road says "you can ride two abreast", and even more than three abreast is a "should never", not a "must never"

Which means that anyone who thinks having "cyclists learn the highway code and be tested" is going to have their expectations of not being held up not met.

And why do they say it? It's clearly not about safety, it's purely about the inconvenience caused by having people cycling in front of you, and a mistaken belief that it is beholden on the cyclist to get out of the way of people driving —and because of that belief, irate frustration that all those cyclists in Britain "don't follow the highway code"

Here then, is a message for people complaining about being held up by people cycling:
we are allowed to ride wherever in the lane we feel safe, and if we do that two-abreast, it is still legal. If you find yourself unable to accept this, please return your license to the DVLA with a covering note about your own unwillingness to co-exist with other road users.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

That pittance we promised? We lied. Now fuck off.

Late last year some coalition politicians turned up in Bristol to reannouce old promises of cash and add a few more pennies. Why did they do that?

Generous: they wanted to help our cities. This is maybe one which the Libdems could rightfully claim. Note, however, the cities targeted included those with LD MPs —not just Bristol, but Sheffield.

Realistic: we'd been making lots of noise and they wanted to keep cycling on the back burner during the election. This is probably the thinking of the Conservative party.

Now the election is over the coalition is dead. The cash? It's gone, a "projected underspend". 

Projected underspend? They held out a £10 note and as the councils reached for it, it was snatched away.

How can you expect the councils to have spent the money on anything meaningful when they only had a short time to get their proposals in, the wait for approval, then the slow process of actually designing and building things? When cash comes out on a "spend it now or lose it policy" you don't get well designed schemes. You get minor projects to make junctions worse, paint under parking bays and "mutual respect" bollocks which don't need any design or planning, so can be rolled out in hours.

Well: it's happened. What now?

1. Ask for more.

That's not "ask for our money back", or even a "ask for some figure like £10/head". Because those things can only be negotiated down, and any cutback would savage the plans.

Instead: ask for our fair share of the entire road budget. 10% of journeys? That'll be 10% of the money. £1.5B is the number we should ask for. 

Yes, we'll be laughed at, yes we'll be dismissed. But the key point: our fair share, is valid. The more we repeat it, the more it'll get taken up. It can set the opening position in negotiations, negotiations which will only take the value down. Fine: we will take £1 billion instead. The only way we stand a chance of getting anything serious is by everyone asking consistently and asking for big numbers.

2. Fix the legal system. 

There's funding issues there too, the police and the CPS want to save money. Cycling deaths, pedestrian deaths aren't seen as worth a prosecution. That means our lives are seen as worth defending. What to do there? shout. protest. Make the case. We don't want to see cyclists die, we don't want to be the one. Who hasn't looked at their bike then got on it one morning and thought: is this the day? Is this the day I change from a person to a statistic? Is this the day a policeman turns up at your family's door to bring the news that a loved one won't be coming home? Is this the day I change from a person to a police case that nobody can be bothered to bring to court?

Strict liability is a distraction. What fucking good is it if you've just been run over by a truck? We need something serious in the criminal court.

Prosecutions must begin with assumption of dangerous driving you killed somebody course it was fucking dangerous. Maybe then they can negotiate down to come to careless -let's be precise, death by careless. Oh and let's raise the penalty there too, while treating any decision to drive without a license as a wilful attempt to kill other people. It's not careless if you weren't even allowed to drive.

Near-death incidents caught on camera need to be prosecuted. Again dangerous negotiated down to careless. And for those where everyone agrees the case is too weak for a prosecution that's where ASBOs come in. Give a driver one of those and is actually issued with a warning low-cost one for the police to issue. And if they they endanger cyclists again that's when the car is at risk. Even those bastards are trying to squeeze past or punishment pass you will throttle back once I've had the first warning. And if not : they'll be off the road. The ease of issuing an ASBO and the lower cost means that it should be a default action.

If we are going to ask them for more laws then let's ask for a safe passing distance. 

People will laugh -how can we be expected to give cyclists three feet of passing space? To those who say that you have to get back and say "well what is a safe distance then?" "4 cm?" "4 mm?" "Anything that doesn't actually knock the cyclist off or "clip" as they like to call it in court to minimise the implications and pretend it's no worse than banging a wing mirror against a parked car?". If you "clip" a cyclist then you've actually driven into them. If you did that as you go past you went too close to them —and if you did it deliberately that's attempted murder. Having a legal minimum passing distance will resolve ambiguity on those videos. It will also set the way for how the autonomous car is going to have to pass the cyclist. Because if we don't set those rules self driving cars will go past with centimetres to spare and manual cars will follow them to the millimetre. We need to set those limits now and we need to make them safe.

How will we get the legal standards? We need to get the MPs on board. There's a lot of new ones now that's Conservative as well as SNP. Let's start talking to them. Once you've asked for £1.5 billion asking for some changes in the legal system seems like a nice compromise. It isn't —but it's a starting point.

Demand good infrastructure from councils with vision and competence

As for the infrastructure projects we need a good national standard. We don't want another Sheffield route where the council cites obsolete documents produced by another local government authority as an excuse for junctions that will end up killing someone.

We need mandatory design standards coming out of the Department of transport. How can they deny us that? We have them for roads, we have them for railway lines. You don't have the railway near Sheffield with a different gauge from the rest of the country. We don't have South Gloucestershire making up their own road signs or designing their own roundabouts. National standards must lead the way so that council planners cannot weasel their way out of abandoning you at junctions. And it's those junctions that matter it doesn't matter how good your segregation is on the stray bits it doesn't matter about your floating bus stops if all it does is get you to a multi lane gyratory where only the bold survive.

To get those guidelines we need to push the DFT for them and we need to push back against the council mediocrity. Say no to shite. If you get something shite that's all you get for 20 years. To make things worse, it sets the example for everywhere else. We need better examples. We need council's to be embarrassed about how awful their new work is. We can do that by naming and shaming. Through ridicule and protest getting into the press. And we need to get our house in order by having a consistent message. That includes from Sustrans and the CTC. Something is particularly wrong with Sustrans here: they've gone from an engineering organisation to one that produces the bollocks the councils are happy to build. We need to get them to recognise that their designs are flawed and to move on.

We should also direct the remaining pittance pittance to those councils that are making good use of it. If your council produces shit then don't support their proposals. For example it is better to give it to Bristol then it is to Bath. It's not that Bath doesn't need that infrastructure -it's that they need a nearby city to look at and think "we could do something just as good". If all we have is mediocrity across the country there is nothing good to look at, and designs from abroad can be dismissed as Dutch or Danish culture or reduced to the travesty that is the Bedford turbo roundabout. Restrict it to a couple of towns cities where the council can lead, means that the residents not only get safe cycle infrastructure, they can get one that spans the city. 

As far as English cities go, that means:
  1. Bristol excluding S Gloucs apart from some key routes (railway path, ring road)
  2. Brighton
Let them lead the way and don't waste that limited cash.

Other places? Well, Horsham shows the problem. New roads and housing estates are being built which will implement a ban on cycling for decades. That's anti-bicycle infrastructure. Local groups do need to protest and try and stop those things, and again, our fair share of that road budget has to go into building cycling into the junctions, rather than building it out.

There you have it. Yes they have taken away our money. But it was a pittance that was going to be frittered away by incompetent councils.

So let's not sulk. Let's get angry. Let's get out there. Let's demand our fair share of the road budget a police system that that will protect our lives, and those central government design standards which will stop the mess we get today.