Sunday, 21 September 2014

'Responsible Family Cycling" is what is wrong with Britain's Cycling culture

Spot the common theme

1. The manufacturers of "mid tier" bicycles saying they haven't seen a boom in their product sales. Mid tier is defined as "some form of on-road bike between supermarket and MAMIL", ignoring women roadies and other apparently niche groups.

People are interested in cycling but it's not correct to say cycling is booming in the UK. In our part of the market, which is mainly mums and dads going out for a ride with the family, we haven't seen the same effect. There's not a massive uplift in cycling across the country."

The weather was blamed (this year) for being too hot:

"Without making excuses, if it's baking hot would you go and get on your bike? You would probably want to sit in your garden and have a barbecue.

2. The New Forest NPA trying to think of things to do with the money so the DfT doesn't take it back, and proposing some out-of-forest cycling hub, —and repeatedly using the phrase "responsible family cycling" in their press releases to define what they support: families cycling around not holding up locals or causing any annoyances. It explicitly excludes groups of adult cyclists, and implicitly the notion of "cycling as a transport option".

3. Sustrans promoting "traffic free cycle paths" with books showing their named routes.

The common theme: the notion of cycling as a leisure activity, one that families do sometimes at weekends, often by driving out to some special car-free path so rare it has to have a name.

As such, it epitomises what the "Cycling Culture" is in Britain. for families, its something you can do together —you just have to drive somewhere where the adults feel that it is safe for the kids to cycle.

For Sustrans, it's where to showcase the project they have worked on -the great railway to path conversions, which, lovely as they are, are not the cross-nation car free routes they've envisaged. They are so rare they have names, and so unique in Britain that people do drive long distances to visit them. As a result, work on new routes, such as Chepstow to Tintern, can crippled due to local's fears they will increase car parking pressure, something which has now been held up since at least 2007.
 Think about that: resistance to new bike routes because it will increase visitors wanting somewhere to park. How fucking NIMBY can you get? Yet they have a point: family leisure cycling is about driving somewhere for a safe and pleasant ride. And with projects focused on "family leisure cycling", they fail to sell themselves to locals, who view the cycle routes as an inconvenience rather than an opportunity for their own benefit.

Ignoring the fuckwits at the NPA, Dawes are interesting. As well as their classic tourers (currently out of fashion), some of their bikes seem non-aggressive urban bikes, with baskets and mud guards. But look at some of the others: "Hybrid" bikes, where hybrid means "Comes with shit suspension for for no reason except it is what people have come to expect from a bike that goes along gravel tow paths".

Those are the bikes targeted at "responsible family cycling", which is what, to a large proportion of the country, cycling is viewed as.

  1. Those monday morning "what the fuck are cyclists doing in my way in the rush hour" twitter haters cannot conceive of somebody actually cycling for anything other than a hobby.
  2. The New Forest NPA can't conceive of cycling facilities to benefit locals, so instead are rushing to fritter away their cash on family cycling out of the way of those locals.
  3. The ongoing battle for a Tintern Path where the locals fear those families coming and causing congestion or taking away parking spaces.
  4. Dawes complaining that bike sales were down as families would prefer BBQs.
And think about what that cycling culture isn't about
  1. Families cycling with their kids to school.
  2. Kids cycling to school on their own.
  3. Weekend family leisure rides they can do straight out their front door, rather than having to load up the car and drive somewhere safe to cycle.
  4. Cycling to work being anything other than a niche activity for the bold -usually young male- cyclist.
  5. Mass market bicycles being practical tools, rather than hybrid bikes that are neither a mountain bike or a useful urban bike.
It's not that there's anything fundamentally wrong with family leisure cycling —it is just what we get in Britain is broken. A system has developed wherein the leisure cycling is pushed into the places where the cyclists don't hold up traffic —but instead now the volume of leisure cyclists is itself perceived as the problem.

It has dug itself into a rut of leisure cycling, where the infrastructure and bicycles are optimised to match.

As the Dutch, the Danish and the Germans will point out: it doesn't have to be this way.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

New Forest: Cyclists Fuck off. Official

In June, an article arguing that Sportives are the new Critical Mass —and that the way to get back at the haters would be to go to the Wiggle event, wave your wallet around and bring tourist ££s to the community.

This week the New forest National Parks Authority —which already has a code of behaviour for everyone, and one for organised events, has come out and is planning to hand back £3.7 Million pounds to encourage family cycling round the area by having a boris-bike scheme biased towards leisure use.

That's nothing to do with Sportives, nobody is going to turn up, rent a forest-boris-bike and then do an 80 miler. Few people are going to head down to the forest for a weekend carrying Sky team wear and get changed in it to cycle with the rest of the family for half an hour. Boris Bikes and Sportives have nothing in common except they involve people cycling on public roads.

The NPAs rationale for their decision makes it clear this is because they hate cyclists.
Since the original feasibility study was done and the invitation to tender was issued, the backdrop to cycling in the New Forest and elsewhere has changed significantly.
Actually, nothing major has happened nationally, only locally:
In the New Forest a major anti-cycling sentiment has come to the fore in the wake of large-scale cycle sportive events which have impacted on local people.

True. But what does this have to do with leisure bike rentals?
A fresh wave of concern exists about the safety of on-road cycling. 
From who? People who want to cycle, or people who hate cyclists and are trying to come up with reasons to block these proposals?
Concerns about safety featured prominently in the responses to the recent questionnaire about the proposed scheme, especially amongst those who live and work in the Forest.

That is a metric for sentiment against cyclists in the area, not evidence that cycling in the forest has become less safe.

To put it differently:

1. If no evidence that cycling has got more dangerous  "emerged in timescales parallel to the running of the procurement process" then the safety claim is completely spurious and should be dismissed. 

Because if it hasn't actually got more dangerous, then the safety conditions for cycling in the forest are exactly as they were when the process started. All that has happened is that NIMBYs objecting to the proposal out of their hate for sportives have been using safety as an excuse in their objections.

2. If it has got more dangerous, then this is a situation which the NPA and local authorities must address, not by discouraging cycling —but by making the roads safer.

The NPA should publish their objections. No doubt the haters couldn't just say "I hate them lycra-clad riders we should ban them all", so do have to hide it "I don't think it's safe for people to cycle on the roads"

And the authority has gone along with sentiment, rather than saying "we have a duty to encourage sustainable tourism". Instead they are saying

Some of those who live and work in the Forest hate cyclists and will do anything to stop people cycling in the Forest. We, the National Parks Authority are prepared to acquiesce to their demands, even if it means returning millions of pounds of central government funding which was meant to encourage tourists to visit the area in ways that minimises congestion.

What to do now? There's still the wiggle sportive: get down there and show the haters that you are not intimidated. Make it the cyclists equivalent of Pride Parades.

And now that the NPA are using "perceived cyclist safety" as a reason for cancelling projects, then any proposal that appears to endanger cyclists in the area must be objected to on these grounds. To show them up for being hypocritical wankers that they appear to be.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Lost visions of the 1980s: don't just blame sustrans

The post about the Lost Cycling Visions of the 1980s generated a fair few tweets faulting Sustrans.

Its not fair to blame them for the state of the UK's cycling infrastructure.

Blame them for

  1. Acquiescing to councils that want anti-cycling barriers on routes
  2. Acquiescing to councils that want gravel paths
  3. Approving the bedford turbo roundabout —and continuing to do so.
  4. Producing a set of design guidelines in 2014 that are truly dire
  5. Approving of the London Quietways
But don't berate them for building paths where they could. The real issue is: they didn't get to build paths where people are.

Why not?
  1. Lack of political will
  2. Space in towns considered too valuable for housing and other uses. Indeed, the Bristol-Bath path only got through the late 80s/early 90s precisely because those tram-assessed civil engineers in Avon County Council wanted it retained for their plans.
And why the lack of political will? Not enough people being noisy, and not enough clarity over what they wanted.

If you want someone to blame, and you cycled in the 20th century you know who to blame. Go and stand in a mirror. With your mountain bike.

Mountain Biking may be fun, but it's a sport, not a transport. The early MTBs may have taken mudguards and racks, and offered a sit-up position, but they evolved into suspension toys that are utterly unsuited to most commuting runs. Or at least, they would be in the NL. In the UK they can cope with the dropoffs that paths have, the gravel stretches, the bits where you have to brake hard and veer over in a different direction. People adopted bicycles that worked around the awfulness of UK cycle paths —and called it fun. And the mass market went with them, so hybrid bikes with heavy and mediocre front suspension are common. These are bikes that don't take mudguards, yet sold in the UK as urban, sold at a price that includes those awful coil-sprung forks that do nothing but increase weight. Even worse, the bike-shaped-objects often go for Unified Rear Triangle suspension —who hasn't despaired at the sight of a six year old on solid steel URT bike with a coil rear shock that even  a dedicated DHer would find overweight.

By embracing mountain biking as everyday transport, a large proportion of the UK cycling community effectively got out of caring about the quality of those cycle tracks that did get built.

As for you in the mirror: where were you? Did you accept what was given? Did you believe that the government and councils were going to make things better? Did you rely on others to be the campaigners —and did you know what they were asking for in your name?

Not sustrans then: you. 

Never mind.

Sustrans have to redeem themselves now by focusing on what they are good at: engineering, and pushing back on things that don't work: niceway codes, roundabouts with two-tier provisions that suck for both tiers, barriers on the paths, gravel. They need to recognise that their original goal, was what that 1985 book cited: paths that children, the elderly and families can all be happy using. Only: these paths must be in cities and alongside A-roads, not just somewhere quaint in mid-wales. Because while the NCN82 may be a lovely leisure route, it's not a commuter route. 

And for the people looking in the mirror, feeling slightly guilty over their inaction? It's not too late.

Freewheeler showed us all how dire everything really was; Hembrow an Mikael show how things can be different. tools like twitter help people find each other.

Just like Sustrans, we need to recognise what we want, and shout for it —together

Monday, 11 August 2014

A lost vision of the 1980s

Cyclist's Britain, Richard Ballantine 1985. A £7 atlas on how to cycle round the UK. Routes mapped out, with not a helmet in sight.

Some things stand out. This section would have Hembrow reminiscing about why he left, Freewheeler expressing despair. Read it all

Summary, cycling is under threat, children and the elderly aren't cycling, what to be done

  1. Cycle lanes and ASLs
  2. A network of Quietways with light-controlled crossing of major roads, cut throughs of parks and contraflows
  3. traffic management in residential areas (including road narrowing, landscaping and speed bumps)
  4. off-highway routes, especially welcomed by cycling novices, children, parents and the elderly, calling out the railway path project.
With hindsight 
  1. Cycle Lanes and ASLs: a waste of paint. All they do is encourage drivers to swear at you for not being there.
  2. A network of quietways needs a network and the rat-runs eliminated. Nobody ever did that.
  3. Traffic management? Narrowing and landscaping creates pinch points, and speed bumps don't work. 
  4. Off-highway routes, especially from the railway paths.
This vision sounds good. and the railway path grew to becoming Sustrans. Which is now the obstacle, as they are endorsing quietways which don't kill the ratruns, turbo roundabouts and now gravel tracks that only a subset of bicycles can ride.

Finally, the page covering "Avon". What's changed since then?

  1. The A4174 Ring road no longer stops at the M32, it carries on all the way round to the A4
  2. There's a new crossing of the Severn, and a new branch off the M4 to reach it
  3. There's a new motorway, the M49, from Avonmouth to the Second Severn Crossing.
  4. The railway path continues from Soundwell to almost but not quite the city centre
That's it. Tens to hundreds of £millons on motorways and bridges, new ring roads. And we get: a slightly longer railway path and a sustrans whose endorsements are becoming a farce.

And that railway path is the showcase of the railway routes. It's incredibly popular in gets those children, the families, the elderly, the disabled. But it also highlights that we got what: yellow paint, signposts to back roads and next-to-fucking nothing in terms of cycle infrastructure that's usable.

Paint on the roads: we should come out and oppose that outright. All it does it provide short-stay parking for drivers, and somewhere for other drivers to expect cyclists. ASLs? Nothing. Quietways? Maybe with the cut-throughs —but only if the rat runs are eliminated. But they aren't infrastructure -they can get stolen on a whim, painted out one day, or destroyed by some new building work. And because those things are shit, they don't get the familes out, and they don't get anyone defending them.

What went wrong? Lack of focus, and failure to get the funding. Which means: failure to shout large enough compared to the motorway lobby.

Monday, 4 August 2014

The cyclist-killer bill: why its time to get our voices heard!

More details on the raised HGV speed limits are coming out, particularly that the DfT are saying that it will lead to an increase of KSIs. And who else is going to be involved in that KSI statistic? Go look in the mirror before you do a ride on a rural road.

The DfT are effectively saying "we are prepared to kill cyclists to satisfy the needs of the motoring lobby" -a lobby that consists of the FTA (happy to attend party conferences and talk to politicians), and the general motoring public, whose views are summarised by those of Gemma Doyle MP: don't ever hold us up, even on dual carriageways, and even if you are training for the commonwealth games..

The DfT then think they've got something to keep the politician's lobby groups happy, and for all their voting drivers who view being held up by a lorry from the "natural" road speed limit as a personal affront.

Yet when announcing this they pretended it was a "safety feature"' to sell it on all front: money for the businesses, happy drivers, and less people in A&E and the morgue.

They lied about the safety features.

The DfT report being discussed in the guardian shows that they know they are lying.

Yet the politicians —and this is a political decision— went ahead for the following reason

The lives of cyclists are not considered important

Which from a political perspective comes down to

They felt they would win more support from faster driving than the political cost of allowing a few more cyclists and pedestrians to die.

This shows where we are today. The parliamentary cycling group may publish reports asking for money, but the UK is not only 40 years behind the NL in infrastructure, it is 40 years behind the NL in caring about the safety of cyclists, pedestrians and other "vulnerable" road users.

We can ask all we want for cash, but first the DfT has to care about cyclists lives —which means the politicians have to care.

Which means we have to make them care.

The good news is that there will be an election next year. We need to get organised and make those politicians care, to feel that their positions are threatened if cyclists lives are threatened. Then maybe they will back down from the cyclist-killer bill —and lets start calling it that, shall we? If we keep calling it that, the name will stick, the consequences will be clear.

Maybe they will even go beyond that, and start to look in their wallet.

But first: stop the cyclist-killer bill!

It's lethality not only makes the roads of Britain even more dangerous to cycle, it makes it something that we can publicly campaign against and get our voice heard.

A few thousand cyclists arriving at parliament square demanding money is something that can be dismissed in the press, waved away by the politicians with fatuous words.

But imagine tens of thousands of cyclists, holding mass protests outside the DfT? At rush hour? Imagine cyclists blocking every bridge across the thames. We'd get heard.

And we need to get our voices heard —as if we don't, things won't get better: they will get worse.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

If the FTA gets its speed increase, we want our safe passing law

The government has gone with the FTA lobby -the NRA of the roads- and plans to raise the rural speed limit for HGVs. That is despite the majority of responses being against it. The DfT petulantly said "this is not a poll", before highlighting that the FTA response "represents many". That translates to "we had hoped the majority of consultees were in favour, as they aren't we will ignore that and listen to the FTA as they are the one lobbying for this change".

The change is announced with a claim of money being saved -the FTA's agenda, tacking in a "will save lives" claim to sell it to a wider audience: everyone who drives. As for the cyclists and the horse riders -we don't count. We aren't a big enough group to have any influence on central government at all -and this shows it, as does the pickles parking rules.

Government transport policy changes are being written to benefit drivers and HGV owners, sold as benefits to car owners because they are the ones that matter.

And what do we get? Cyclists Dismount signs.

We need our own laws to push for, to either get them or to force the government to show its hand, to say "we don't care".

In Scotland there is a push for strict liability -but is that really the one to fight for?

  1. It does fuck all if you are dead.
  2. It goes straight up against the "all cyclists are criminals" haters, many of whom are in positions of power.
What then?

Mandatory Safe Passing distances
  1. The highway code already says "should give as much distance as when passing a car"
  2. All the legislation does is change that to a "must give", and sets a distance.
  3. With cameras, cyclists can now provide evidence of the unsafe passes.
  4. Its harder to argue against video evidence of an unsafe pass than it is to push the "careless driving" story, which is a lot more open to argument.
Either someone passes with safe distance or they don't, you can't argue that "they are a churchgoing, charity-giving middle class person who is very nice and just happened to squeeze past a cyclist at a distance which they felt was safe"

It also tells the FTA that they can get their speed limit increase, but in exchange the cyclists get better protection from unsafe HGV passing than we do today.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A council cycling budget without supervision means our peanuts are being stolen

Cycling funding is peanuts off the table -we know that. Highway's Agency: less than £20M. London -promises of funding, but little to show. Scotland: a pittance, even after campaigning.

Yet even that money, the peanuts to keep the complainers quiet, is being stolen from us. Its being stolen by

  • Road designers who can't imagine cycling, treat us like shit and expect us to be grateful for bollocks infrastructure
  • Councils who can divert the money to car and bus projects
  • Councils who can divert the money to vanity projects.

    Crap Road Designers

    If you want to see an example of road designers, look at the new Highways Agency "look at what we are doing for you video". They do acknowledge that dual carriageways are effectively M-ways and you can't cycle on them, and they are proud to show a path alongside -though they gloss over the maintenance budget or the lack of lighting. But the path suddenly ends at a staircase. Instead of saying "this is a barrier to all but fit people on light bikes with no luggage", they stick a rail on and say "look! we've added a rail". So now the stairs are a barrier to all but fit people on slightly heavier bikes with little luggage. You can't push a laden bike up a 35+ degree slope, even with a rail. You can't get a tagalong up there. you can't get a cargo bike. you can't get a trailer. And attempting to get kids on their own bikes up will be an epic of about 10 minutes. 

    Other examples? Look around you. Cycling paint under parked cars (glasgow), off road routes that abandon you when they get bored (everywhere). The whole Olympic "cycling legacy". Wastes of fucking money.

    So its a failure, isn't it? And yet they are proud of this.  Our peanuts being frittered away, junction by junction, by designers missing the fucking point.

    But that pales into insignificance compared to councils taking the money for other things

    Car and Bus projects:

    Anything that improves traffic flow for cars. The Bedford Turbogate Roundabout is a case in point. That Southampton crossing, a recent junction in Cambridge other examples. They are either "improvements" crippled by their inability to impact traffic flow -or worse, actually designed to improve traffic flow. By saying its for "cycling safety", they can take that cash and use it for things they were planning to do anyway.

    Similarly, anything that improves bus lanes can be called cycling money. Its an under-reported fact that bristol did this for the cycling city. The portion of the £22M that Bristol was meant to stump up? They claimed all the showcase bus route work benefited cycling, so got to double count it as public transport funding and cycling improvements. They also directly funded work on Prince Street Bridge in the claim of support cycling, but with a secret plan for bus rapid transit. 

    That's the bridge that appears on Page 8 of the new cycling strategy. -they made one lane walking/cycling only, and the motor traffic one lane, but they clearly did it with plans to remove the pavement on the open-to-motor lane so that they can get Bus Rapid Transit through, something noted by Chris Hutt in 2009 and confirmed in the council planning application.

    Vanity Projects

    This is where the TfL £6M for the TdF fits in. They wanted the money to host the TdF, there were bicycles in there so Boris said "lets use that money". Leon Daniels doesn't give a fuck about cyclists, so he wasn't going to push back. He's not even saying no to that other vanity project, the garden bridge. The only person who may have objected would have been Andrew Gilligan, but he's a mate of Boris and is left being an apologist.

    Even TfL must have realised that this was going to be controversial though -notice how there are no press releases proclaiming how they are funding the TdF for £6 Million, no quotes from anyone about how wonderful this is. No, they knew it would get dissent -but did it anyway.

    Putting it all together

    It's clear from the last few weeks alone that mayors will take the cash for vanity projects if they can, or divert it to projects that benefit car and bus traffic rather than cyclists. And even when it does actually get as far as the cycling team, their incompetence means that it is generally wasted anyway.

    Who objects? Not fucking Sustrans, that's for sure. Not even CTC, in the case of the DfT bridge rail. It has to be us: the citizens, in numbers.

    The fact that sustrans produce such shite design guidelines even excuses those incompetent fuckwits of road designers, lets them produce barely usable mediocracy and then feel smug about it. 

    A better way

    What can be done?

    We need to recognise that the majority of councils are going to waste the money, either on car/bus work or in incompetent engineering. Vanity projects seem centred around Boris, which means all money in London has to be viewed as suspect. And with an anti-cycling management in TfL, its not going to get better.

    Which leaves: focus on one city with an intermittent track record of producing good stuff, give them the funding to produce a joined-up infrastructure, and their staff the training to do it.


    Not S Gloucs, they fit in with the patronising councillors who drive 4x4s and road engineers who produce shit cycle routes as an afterthought. 

    Bristol because with the railway path they have one urban cycle way that works, along with some patchy ones elsewhere. What they haven't done is any serious change to the city centre -and thats where the BRT plans and their centre rework put the cyclists in conflict with the placefakers. The BRT planners also did that shit design on the South Bristol Ring Road, a narrow shared use path. We need to not only get the cycling planners trained, we need the entire road design team to be trained and to care -and that includes the BRT group. 

    We also need that modelling of cycle traffic. Without that you can't say "this increases cycling by X%, so reduces car journeys at peak hours by Y%". If you do look at traffic flow -they invariably refer to those peak hours, so anything done for commuting and school run cycling will translate into a reduce peak flow -eliminate the need for stacking at junctions and the theft of pavements, cycle routes and crossings. 

    And we need to keep an eye on the council, because the council is all to prone to taking away cycle facilities bit by bit.  Every junction doesn't just need to be fought for, it needs to be guarded to keep cycling friendly.

    But in Bristol it may be possible. The cyclists there are more than just students, there's enough of them to have tangible impact on commuter load -provided the inner city can have its cycling routes fixed. That's where the Cycle City fell down. They did new routes to the fringes of the core: festival way to the harbour, concorde way to St werburghs, frome way to easton, Hengrove way to Bedminstrer -but they all steered clear of the centre. For fucks sake, they haven't even joined up the railway path to Templemeads properly. 

    It'll take work, it'll take constant supervision and monitoring, but at least the will is there. Which it isn't in the rest of the country -including S Gloucs.