Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Mail Boris the Blamer Now!

It's not too late to email Boris.

Dear Mayor,

Cyclists are dying at the rate of one per working day, yet nobody is actually doing anything to address this.

You yourself say 'it is too early to point fingers' yet then go on to point fingers at cyclists for breaking laws, listening to music -effectively implying it is their own fault. Then the met go out and start telling people off for not having rear reflectors.

What is killing cyclists is HGVs in the peak hours -tipper trucks in particular. Talking to the FTA about this will take months and achieve nothing, at best a promise to add another mirror in 2-3 years time -something the FTA are already complaining about.

You have been saying "no knee jerk reactions" for over a year. That means you've had enough time to come up with some non-knee jerk reactions. Your staff at TfL appear to be unable to imagine anything. Why not copy some from elsewhere?

  1. Dublin and Paris: A ban on HGVs at peak hours. Even if "flouted', it doesn't mean it has benefits. Speed limits are flouted and yet we still have them.
  2. NY: safe, segregated cycle paths.
  3. NL: investigation of cycle/HGV deaths followed by actions to prevent their re-occurrence
  4. NL: light sequences giving cyclists not just 2 seconds head start, but enough time to clear the junction, even on a slow bicycle.

See? These are actions you can take, which other countries have shown work. Please implement them instead of appearing on talk radio blaming cyclists.

Finally, given your TfL surface staff seem unable to come up with any solution to cycling safety in the city, have you considered replacing some of their senior  management. If you look at Leon Daniel's performance on the BBC london news, even you must have been embarrased. It's either blame them or blame you, and having one set of managers replaced, will motivate the new set.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Boris the Blamer: the elephant in the room

This is probably the worst week in Britain's cycling history -to the extent that that the fact that someone else was crushed to death in London today: this time a pedestrian, was barely a surprise to cycling and road safety campaigners.

But to the families: the police turning up to advise that a loved one was dead will be a shock that will last for the rest of their lives.

The sheer awfulness of this week is brought out by the fact that the Bow Roundabout protest mid-week was protesting the death of four cyclists in eight days.

What would Boris Do? He's blaming the cyclists.

Why would he do this? The obvious answer: he's a selfish wanker who despite the claims that "dutch-style" cycling matters, doesn't mean it. He still thinks that cyclists can survive "if they keep their wits about them", and if not then it's their own fault, "they ran a red light" -which is of course the TfL world view.

TfL have that opinion because they are stuck in two worlds: mass transport -tubes and buses- and the car. Either way it's the big infrastructure projects their civil engineers love: overpasses, tube stations, grand things to be proud of -no shitty little bike lanes for ungrateful cyclists who are always complaining about your work.

With their direct control limited to the main roads, they end up being forced to build death-ways on them, because their overreaching objective "traffic flow" prevents them from building safe routes

To get more cars over per cycle, widen the road at each junction to let two cars through at once, then shrink it down at the far end. Gets cars over, but removes space for  a bike lane at the approach -and at the end you are left fighting for space with whoever is racing to the pinch point.

To get more cars over a junction, there's no time for all way pedestrian lights, meaning walking across more than one road means two waiting periods, then two sprints: slower to cross than a car. For cycling, it means that there is no time in the Bow St junction to have a dedicated cycling session. So the lights give you a couple of seconds head start, not the time you need to actually get over.

Finally there is parking. That's more of a side-road issue, which means the councils -but the TfL seem unwilling or unable to change the focus of the councils -Westminster and K&C councils in particular- to focus on cash through parking. Yet TfL have so much power if they really wanted it: the power to change the lights so that nobody could ever leave K&C, to cross over to westminster.  Those same main roads that break up cycling are a weapon TfL could use to get their way with councils -if they really wanted to. But they don't as they have  shared agenda. The councillors want their free parking spaces, the councils the paid parking, and TfL are happy to smooth the flow to those parking spaces.

That's TfL: stuck in time and collaborating with the councils to do nothing to make cycling safe. They could be changed, but that doesn't just take the time that Andrew Gilligan claims is needed: it takes motivation. It takes someone telling TfL "It's OK to slow down traffic if it encourages a shift to cycling". To instruct TfL to say to Westminster council "we're going to close Westminster Bridge to cars every Sunday -deal with it".

Who is the someone. The person who could is clearly; Boris the Cyclist Killer.

Except Boris the Blamer is again saying "no knee jerk reactions", "get all the facts" and reminding cyclists not to the break the law: with the obvious implicit message: the cyclists broke the rules and died for it"

And yes, he does it because he's a wanker who probably believes it.

However, he has a problem: he's an ambitious wanker.

Ambition one: get re-elected mayor
Ambition two: become leader of the conservative party, and then prime minister.

This week threatens this. Nationally.

Before the spring's elections Boris came round to supporting a "dutch style cycling revolution"

But where is it, apart from a half mile strip to CS2 -which you only get to from the city if you survive Bow Street.

That new segregated stretch is notable as the first TfL segregated superhighway route -but given it was opened the during the "massacre of the cyclists", the launch isn't going be a high point of Boris's second mayoral stint, it's going to be seen as a sign of him being out of touch with the real issues -and not just in London, this is making international news, as well as papers across Britain.

This threatens him because even if he thinks the cyclists are dying for their own failures, he's now exposed to his own failings:

If Boris can't build a bike path, how can he run a country?

It is that which may be the key to getting TfL to change their ways -but he needs to be reminded of this, every single day.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Autonomous cars #2: Speed Limits and other ignored-laws

Previous post #1: If an autonomous car break the speed limit -who takes the blame?

Cycling journalist Carlton Reid, followed up by referencing an article by "Robocar" engineer and evangelist, Brad Templeton, who argues that fears of robocar-related crashes are overrated. He may well have a point given the willingness of todays drivers to make decisions that endanger "overtake cyclists before a corner" with followon decisions that compound the first mistake "I continued ever after seeing the oncoming cyclists".

Robocars are unlikely to suffer from it is the unwillingness to reverse a decision once the situation made it clear it was not the right one. Yet we see that on the road every day: the overtaker who keeps going, the left-hook van driver who, even though they have underestimated the cyclists' speeds, continues to pass and turn. Removing egotism from the decision making process may be progress.

However, the article wasn't actually on the reliability of robocars, but on the moral issue: should robocars break speed limits -and if so, who is at at fault.

Brad actually picks this issue up at one point:
More complex are the situations where breaking the vehicle code is both normal and even necessary, particularly for unmanned vehicles. One must be assertive on some roads in order to get through at all, and everybody does it and nobody is ticketed except in an accident or during zero-tolerance enforcement days.
He has acknowledged that breaking traffic laws is a social norm in many cities, and  rather than saying "it will be impossible for robocars to break the laws", he says "it's complex".  Yet he hints at why the laws get disregarded: because you can. If you only get tickets on "zero-tolerance" days then you can discount the law.

Which is of course precisely why the Daily Mail Fuckwits are so strongly against speed cameras, RLJ cameras and CCTV enforcement of school keep clear zones and bus-lanes. We can automate enforcement of traffic laws today -yet to do so generates a backlash from those who consider being able to break them a human right.

Brad gets into detail on the speed limit issue in another article, where he argues that it should be the right of a robocar to decide for itself what a safe speed is, looking at the two options of speed limits

  1. As with its ancestor, the cruise control, the operator of a robocar can set the car to operate at any speed within its general limits, regardless of the road speed limit. The moral and safety decisions rest with this person.
  2. The vehicle must be programmed to not break the speed limit, nor allow its operator to do so. It must be aware of all limits and obey them. 
I believe the first choice is both better and more likely. It's more likely because the public has a strong love for having control of their car, even if it is automated. Attempts to put in speed limiters by law have all been rejected, and cars are routinely sold able to go much faster than any allowed speed limit. 

That is, he believes that the driver has the right to make the decisions, even though they endanger others more than the driver -and society has  a set of laws because we recognise that the drivers aren't the best people to make those decisions.

Key claims here:

A vehicle limited to the speed limit will be going much more slowly than traffic on most US freeways, and be forced to drive in the right lane. (& arguments against this)
--- Only if the speed limits were not being enforced. If they were, the robocar would be integrated with the normal traffic flow.
"On many roads all lanes are moving faster than the limit. The limited car would become an obstruction to traffic."
-- Only because all lanes are full of drivers breaking the law. I they were all driving legally this would not be an issue
"This less comfortable ride, plus the longer travel time, will create a great temptation to manually take the wheel on many highways." (& increased risk follows)
Again, this only holds if the driver could break the speed limit with impunity. If speed limits were enforced there would be no benefit of manual driving, hence no increased risk. Anyway, surely robocars are about the ability to work while you drive, to not get tired on long journeys (where the speed difference between 70 and 80 mph may actually alter journey times)

Eventually he comes out and  makes his stance clear -and this is a stance of someone who works on robocars at at google-
I believe the math and other arguments clearly show that robocars should be allowed to move faster than the speed limit so long as they are rated suitably safe in the particular conditions, and the bulk of other traffic is also doing this.
This is just the safe speed and 85% percentile bollocks restated. Yet it ignores how the defacto speed limits of a road and a country have evolved: through a failure to enforce the limits and the gradual acquisition of a motor vehicle fleet designed to break those limits with impunity. Now that a majority of British cars are stable and quiet above 80 mph, the drivers and passengers believe that it is not only safe to do so -but their right- and that any attempt to rigorously enforce the speed limits becomes a political minefield.

Finally, Brad comes out and admits the situation we have in cities today: breaking the law is sometimes necessary because everyone else does: Speeding is just one of code violations almost everybody does.
In cities today, "aggressive driving" is often viewed as necessary. Examples: squeezing past bicycles, pulling out half-way across a road to complete a right turn, pulling out in front of oncoming traffic at a roundabout, turning right across the front of an oncoming car.

These are actions that are commonplace in a city, viewed as acceptable to drivers -yet which are some of the actions which are utterly terrifying to anyone trying to cycle in the area.

The "rules of the road" which have evolved in our cities are rules built around  800 Kg vehicles with ABS brakes and fast acceleration -and an assumption that they have right of way over all others

In the UK, the law that gets broken the most must be the "give way to pedestrians when turning" law. Anyone walking would die if they believed this would hold: so what will the robocar story be here? To actually give way to pedestrians? Or to follow the actions of the rest of the motor fleet?

The choice of which driving policies to implement in a robocar is something we cyclists cannot naively hope will be made so as to suit us. It will be made to suit the paying customers, within the constraints of the legal system. If robocar sales are suppressed because they don't drive aggressively enough, because they don't speed on the motorways, then the manufacturers will keep pushing this "we need to keep up with traffic" bollocks, this "everyone does it" rule.

But what will happen over time? Even if the first generation of robocars broke the speed limit, cut up pedestrians and squeezed past cyclists "because everyone did it", will there be some threshold -say when 51% of the motor fleet is automated, when suddenly the "everyone does it" argument becomes obsolete? As at that point vehicles will be driven dangerously not because people choose to drive that way, not because robocars do that way to blend in, but because it is what robocars have been programmed to do -and even when they are in the majority, it is how they will behave.

This is why it is critical that autonomous cars are not allowed to break speed limits in autonomous modes from day 1. If not, a precedent will be set that will remain unchallenged even if the cars form the vast majority of the fleet. There won't be a sudden "75% day" when there are deemed to be enough of them that they have to stop speeding, to stop blocking junctions to make progress, or to start giving way to pedestrians. These have to be done from the outset, so that the robots can set an example for the humans.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

If an autonomous car break the speed limit -who takes the blame?

Autonomous Cars are the great hope of the car industry, ironically, to solve all problems that cars have created: congestion, safety, parking, etc. It's also an obsession with google -maybe in a misguided belief that it will solve problems, more likely that they want to get all those extra hours people spend in traffic -browsing time.

Ignoring the technical issues -will they work- there are legal issues -and that's something cycling and road safety campaigners need to sort out -before the decisions are made for them.

Start with a simple question: If an autonomous car break the speed limit -who takes the blame?

This is a simple question but gets complex fast.  Today, if a car breaks the speed limit, the driver takes the blame. The driver is expected to be aware of what type of road it is, and what extra road signs show restrictions on the mandated maximums: 50 mph, 40, 30, 20. There are even temporary speed limits -those on motorways are still enforced.

It doesn't matter whether speed limits are long-standing, temporary or recent -if you break them, you take the blame.

Yet lots of people do break the limits, to the extent that if you drive round Bristol at 30 mph drivers behind you start to get impatient and then frantic. Drive down the end of the M32, where it's become 30 mph -you'd have a bus go into the back of you.  And as for the M5 to Birmingham: 85 is the minimum speed in the fast lane.

The defacto speed limits of much of S Gloucs and Bristol are higher than what's legal -the reason people drive at those speeds is because they get away with it. Which is why there's so much hate of speed cameras. Everyone views it as their right to drive at 85 mph down a motorway,  35 in town. Speed cameras don't catch one or two speeders -they force the speed limit down by 15 mph.

But speed camera or police camera: driver is always guilty.

Now, what about Autonomous Cars?

If they can be configured to break the speed limit, if there is some "break the law" button, what would that mean? That drivers have the option of telling the car to break the law -and if so, they are liable? But even building such a feature in means the car manufacturer wink-wink providing an overtake option "to use in emergency" -exactly the same way they hint about how cars can drive at 130 mph "in Germany".

The alternative: you can't speed in autonomous mode, you have to go manual -how is that handled? Does the a-car log this fact and speed? They'd have to: because if the car got caught speeding in manual mode, then the fact it wasn't in autonomous mode is something that'd be used by the car manufacturer as a defence.

But what if the car broke the speed limit in autonomous mode? If you are driving there is no excuse for doing so -and you take the hit: points and penalties. What happens in automatic mode? Does Ford or Google take a hit? Does the driver who was reading email get blamed for the actions of their car?

And how does the car know the speed limits?

Drivers have the road and its signed, but a-cars are going to have to rely on digital maps with speed-limit data on it. How often are those maps going to be refreshed? When a new 20 mph zone is rolled out, can a-cars break the limit until they get an update? And who is at fault then? Is it an "oh well never mind" problem? Is the fault of the driver? The map updaters? Or even the council? After all, today's GPS units have a big disclaimer "don't rely on this" -which is precisely what autonomous cars plan to do.

It gets better thought: in france the speed limits on autoroutes changes depending on weather -that's officially, not just "Slow down in the rain" hints.

Nominally then, an automatic car could break the speed limit in france even if the map was up to date -because it wasn't aware of the weather.

These all sound theoretical questions -but if they don't get answered the likely outcome will be "if an autonomous car breaks the speed limit -never mind". That will be especially in the case in changed limits, permanent or temporary. While drivers could get penalised, the fact that autonomous cars break the limits until the maps are updated is something that could become accepted as inevitable.

No doubt car manufacturers will also be pushing for higher limits for a-cars on motorways, say, 85 mph in dedicate lanes. Which is what they will know they have to in order to preserve the defacto 85 mph limit, to sell autonomous driving on motorways.

Yet from a road safety perspective, this question, who takes the blame when an autonomous car breaks the speed limit, is critical.

Because the answer to that will shape the answer to the next question: if an autonomous car kills someone: who takes the blame?

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Level Crossings and red lights

As the govt has just announce 32M for level crossing safety, its worth noting that they have recognised that infrastructure changes are needed, because attempts to change driver behaviour are failing.

Where are the fucking mutual respect campaigns "Be nice to trains and they won't kill you?"

The answer, they've tried, they've failed. Which shows how useless mutual respect campaigns are: if they don't teach people to respect trains, what chance have cyclists.

Why are so many vehicles running level crossings? Why are the numbers up? That is something that the network rail have seemed to miss completely, though the BBC has picked up on it,: Jumping the lights is now a mass motoring offence.

Drivers are used to running red lights -even if they are MPs they do it- and now treat red lights as a hint. The lack of experience of level crossings may also be a factor -they don't look like normal lights- but how can you miss dropping barriers? The answer: you can't, you can instead make a decision to swerve round them because either you are going too fast to stop, or you are too impatient to wait.

It's precisely because so many people run red lights in town that the chance of being stopped has dropped -leaving level crossings last only place where the government cares.

Maybe if RLJing was enforced everywhere, aggressively, railway lines would be safer too

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Surrey, or why do the home counties hate cyclists?

Last week a debate, broadcast on the radio, about cycling in Surrey.

Reviews by Big Blue Meanie and Surrey MTBer. give a view from the cyclists perspective

  1. Claims that cyclists (lycra louts, MAMILs -leisure cyclists explicitly) are bringing the county to its knees by locking the hard-pressed-motorists in their houses on the hundreds of road closures every year.
  2. Claims that the narrow country lanes are too narrow for bicycles and cars, with the implication being: no cyclists.
  3. Claims the cyclists are a threat to horses.
These are all: bollocks.

But they get their airing, they get their national press

The key protester, Ian Huggins,  who puts a sports car on his Change.org page, complains about cyclists stopping him getting to work, at his pigeon shooting business. Yes, thats right: The man who wants to keep cyclists out of surrey makes a living by encouraging leisure uses of surrey. Can he not see how hypocritical it is that he complains about leisure cyclists when his own business model is based on people playing at weekends? No, he can't because he's blinded by his own arrogance: that surrey is for cars

Selected comments from the petition, showing that a recurrent theme is not "the road closures", it is the presence of cyclists holding up traffic, cycling too fast (this is on roads where cars are going faster) and generally coming in from outside.

  • The volume of cyclists riding 2-4 abreast now on our roads is ridiculous & dangerous
  • The bike riders come flying down the lanes, often 3 or 4 abreast at great speed, alternatively, they ride in long lines making it impossible to pass them.
  • "This madness must stop; the roads and public spaces are for everybody, and the needs of some should not outweigh the needs of others. "
  • It's not only the closing of roads that infuriates me, it's the fact that EVERY Sunday we get swarms of these idiots on their precious bikes riding in packs...GET THEM OFF OUR ROADS.
  • Cyclists hav become a pest.
  • Hugely congested roads made worse by cyclists, who pay no road taxes and continually break the law.
  • The numbers of cyclists on our roads, which are not designed for use by cyclists and motor vehicles at the same time:- IS NOW BECOMING DANGEROUS
  • Why should the cyclists completely take over our local roads whilst paying not a penny in insurance or road fund licence.
  • Fed up of lycra clad louts on the local roads
  • kettled in their own homes, unable to pursue their own activities in order to facilitate the amusement of cyclists who neither live nor pay tax here
  • Spoiling the quality of our life in Surrey.
  • We are all suffering owing to the huge increase in the number of cyclists practising for the various events especially at weekends
  • Surrey's narrow lanes cannot accommodate cycles & cars. 
  • This is a problem emerging all over England, not just Surrey. 
  • The cyclists are dangerous and abusive need to be stopped
  • I have moved my horses away from Surrey as it became too dangerous to ride out in the countryside.
  • Monday to Sunday, on most days cyclists are training in this area. The roads are not suitable and during rush hour they cause a major hazard.
  • yet again the cyclists take over the roads
  • County residents are being bullied off the roads byt he rampant fad for cycling
  • I drive daily on the minor roads blighted by groups of inconsiderate cyclists
  • Cyclists present a road hazard and should stick to off road routes
  • They are a serious menace and should be kept inside the M25 
  • Every weekend we already have aspiring Bradleys hogging our roads 
  • Impose a fine for the large groups of cyclists blocking up roads 'practising'
  • The roads are not a recreational facility, we pay for their up-keep so we can drive on them not close them, 
  • We are already plagued by convoys of cyclists riding two or three abreast
  • We have since been plagued all year round by uncaring and unwelcome cyclists 
  • We are inundated with cyclists every weekend
  • groups of cyclists who have no consideration for motorists...Our country lanes used to be such a pleasure to walk or drive along.
The signers view cyclists as outsiders coming in "training" for the big event. They can't understand that the cyclists may be coming out for fun, and that killing the one-day closure events isn't going to make them go away. They also can't seem to recognise that if a road is too narrow for cars and bicycles -maybe the cars shouldn't be there?

All these signatures are a sign of a problem: residents of the home counties who have seen a rise in road cycling emanating from London, one that goes head to head with the residents expectations of their right to drive a crossover-SUV round country lanes at 60 mph. But it is precisely their habits of racing round so fast that has killed everyday cycling in the area, that and the fact that a key role of the home counties is to be extended commuter country for London. They may complain about people from "inside the M25" coming out with their bicycles, but these same people will drive into London -even if now they feel too threatened by cyclists to drive round Richmond Park,.

Anyone who wants to ban cyclists from London from cycling in their county has just lost the right to drive their car in London or any other city. Why should London care that people from Surrey want to drive to work? They've chosen to live out of town -tough. As for people coming out from London at weekends -that's why you have businesses like golf and shooting alongside farming. You can't start being selective about what Londoners do when you come to your area.

This petition goes way beyond Surrey -and as the comments show, it goes way beyond one or two closures. No, it is a sign of conflict between the rural commuters -those who choose to live in the countryside for a quality of life that depends on fast journeys by car, and those who want to cycle round the countryside. Sportives may be the flashpoint, but its clear that cyclists in general are unwelcome.

This is where the BBC's article "Power to regulate Surrey cyclists 'limited'" comes into the mix. It sounds like the residents do want some restriction on cycling, but  as the police say, "we are limited about how much we can regulate cycling which is not part of a race."

Are the police really responding to the petitioners saying "our hands are tied?" That's not a good start.  Because if this Surrey attempt to ban cycling -which is what it boils down to- keeps going on, it's going to get more press, and more of the other home counties joining in. 

The New Forest is clearly another flash point, along with the Chilterns. Near Bristol, it's less inflammatory: there's more space to the south of the city, the cotswolds and then Wales nearby. But even here, the haters will be hearing about Surrey and thinking "we need to regulate them here too"

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

cycling campaigners: dress normal for the photos

In Reading cycling campaigners are rightfully protesting about cycling conditions.

Yet they are sadly, doing this by appearing in photos covered in hi-viz, waterproofs and helmets. Even in space4cycling the flouro vests made an appearance along with helmets.

Wonderful as these protests are -especially the regional ones -all cyclists must stop dressing like this for press events as it makes everyone look fucking wierd to the usual regional press commenter fuckwits!

Even if you normally go for the full commuter regalia of building-site chic, hiviz & reflective, helmet with headcam and a set of gloves, when you are being photographed for the press -be it a mass protest or only one or two of you in front of some shit cycling farcility -take the time to dress like a person, not like a cyclist. Or at least hide the safety gear before the cameras come out.

Why? It makes you look normal. It makes you look like a person, not "a cyclist", member of the outgroups who get all the bike lanes and yet still aren't grateful.

You all need to present yourselves as residents and commuters trying to make your journeys to the shops, workplaces and schools safe for all people, of age groups, rather than the niche that is todays dedicated commuter.

Dress like you would dress in the Netherlands, not how you have to dress to feel vaguely safe going round your current mess of a town or city. For the sake of all the people we are trying to build bike paths for.

Important Update: the comments and tweets imply this is slagging off anyone who wears hi-viz and helmets. As far as the People's Cycling Front are concerned you can cycle round wearing hi-viz, tweed, MTB-style merino wool tops, Daily Mail T-shirts -and whatever head gear you want. If you commute in Bristol, you'll know that waterproofs are usually something to put on most of the year -or at least have to hand. And if you are going to get a bike-specific waterproof, reflectives and yellow bits are an option that may increase the chance of being seen.

For press events, when you are going to be seen in the local papers, put all the bike-specific gear out of sight. You don't want to come over as "the cyclists", just "people who choose to cycle round sometimes". You need the readers to identify with you, rather than distance themselves. Exception: maybe some helmets for the kids so you don't get denounced (even more) for endangering your children.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The FTA: Britain's NRA?

The US Natiional Rifle Association is an organisation that promotes the us of lethal weapons across the USA
that brings death to its county, through
  • Lobbying politicians for support of its agenda
  • Actively resisting all proposals to add stricter restrictions on the possession and use of weapons.
  • Demanding looser restrictions in possession or use of the weapons.
  • Actually helping write the legislation related to the use of their weapons
  • Demanding the right to bring their weapons into places their clearly don't belong.
  • Speaking to the press after deaths cause by the weapons they advocate
  • Consider the deaths of people -adults and children- a price society has to pay.
  • Declaring that the deaths of the victims could be prevented through their training and possession of the same weapons.

If you change the weapon from "firearm" to HGV you find that the Freight Transport Association appear to have the same agenda and tactics.

Lorries, brought into cities and even bus lanes,  "self regulation". Bigger vehicles. No more training requirements, No extra limits on existing Lorries.

A couple of weeks ago we had their press team out blaming the victims on a day someone was killed by one of their weapons. They will have been at all the party conferences, pushing for less restrictions, no doubt express sympathy for the murder of so many cyclists, but arguing that it was the victims' fault -and If they were better trained it would be less of an issue.

And, if Private Eye is to be believed, they've been sitting in for the UK government in EU meetings on the forthcoming rules for large trucks across Europe.

For anyone who says "there is a cycling lobby", well, the new cycling activist groups may be loud, may be generating press -but none of them get to represent the UK government during legislation discussions; none of them get to have a stall at conferences.

Which is why the road lobby gets billions, while the cyclists get crumbs, crumbs that then get frittered away on mutual respect programs -because taking away road space is too hard -and not possible to do if you only have 18-24 months of time to spend everything.

What we do have is the ability to make noise, to approach the MPs in the cities, the MPs in the councils, lobby the new Police Commissioners (a losing battle for the Daily Mail fuckwits who mostly got elected, but still necessary).

And we need to get the press out that make the FTA look bad, to make them feel threatened.

Because if there is one difference between the NRA and the FTA is that the FTA are funded by companies with tangible business goals. And if they start to see that the alternative to making our streets safer is to be blocked out of cities entirely -Dublin style- then maybe they will come to their senses.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

"I can't help it if a cyclist gets in my way"

Today in the Daily Telegraph we not only have a cyclist killer, but one that refuses to acknowledge that any of her actions resulted in the death of a young woman.

Judging by the statements made so far, Dr Helen Measures,

  1. Was driving near Stonor by Henley on Thames on a shopping trip on Monday  15 July,  2012
  2. Was held up by some cyclists on her lane
  3. Overtook them at a blind corner
  4. Was "surprised" to meet some oncoming cyclists
  5. Didn't back off her manoeuvre
  6. Killed one of the oncoming cyclists
  7. Refuses to accept any responsibility

While doing the usual court-sympathy-gambits, "weeping" at the death, saying she herself was "a keen cyclist", she absolutely refuses to accept that her actions were at fault.
  • She was "surprised" to see Mr Pontin and his girlfriend suddenly coming towards her as she rounded the curve in the road, but felt they still had enough room to get past.
  • "I don't know why I didn't see them," 
  • "I felt the safest decision was to continue straight ahead because they were in single file.
  • "If I had been concerned, I would have stopped suddenly."
Rather than admit that you shouldn't be surprised to see anything as you round a curve in the road, she thinks continuing on was acceptable -presumably they were just cyclists- then blames the cyclist for getting in her way while trying to squeeze past them

"I can't help it if a cyclist, with all due respect, falls over as I'm approaching them and comes into my line of travel."You do not make a manoeuvre if you don't think it is safe to do so. Had everyone stayed upright, there would not have been an issue.”

Imagine she'd come round the corner and seen an HGV coming. Would she have braked? Of course she fucking would. Yet just because it was cyclists she felt she could carry on, that it would work out -and instead she killed one of them.

Yet she refuses to accept her guilt.

This woman killed a cyclist who was doing nothing wrong, because she was so impatient to reach her destination she not only chose to overtake blind, she decided that once she'd seen the cyclists, she would continue the overtake. And now she pretends it wasn't her fault.

To add insult to fatal injury, the CPS only has her down from careless driving, so even if this killer is convicted, it'll be a non-custodial sentence (think of the child left on her own), and 3-6 months without the car. If overtaking on a corner and being surprised by oncoming traffic isn't driving dangerously, they may as well repeal a law that is clearly not needed.

LFGSS discuss the death in 2012 -again the surrey commuter problem: drivers expecting speed  round country lanes, and unable to accept the existence of cyclists or the need to overtake them safely.
It ends up with whole stretches of country road that you can race down without dipping below 70mph if you know them well - and you're fine, so long as there isn't a stationary or slow-moving obstruction in the road.
Sounds exactly like what this unrepentant killer was doing.

At the same time,  in coverage of the death and its impact on family and friends, the vice-chairman of Stonor Parish Council wanting a triathlon rerouted, for the safety of the cyclists -rather than attempting to make any attempt to improve safety, such as pushing for a lower speed limit.

The winding country roads of England stopped being a pleasant place to cycle on weekdays some time ago -at least in commuter suburb zones, such as Surrey, the Chilterns and South Gloucs. The rural roads are rural ratruns, and even on a quiet road you fear the sound of a car coming up past, worrying if this will "be the one".

And what do we get: we get the residents of Surrey trying to ban the cyclists.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The school run: Fiat telling the dads to get an SUV

in 1970s, the NL had their "stop the Kindermoord" campaign.

In 2013, what does the UK get? Fiat trying to sell a micro-SUV on the fiat 500 chassis, advocating "city brake control" traction control on their cars "so you can get home safely"

Think about that. The main contribution Fiat thinks can be done for child safety is to make it easier to drive you children to school and back on snowy days.

The main thing Fiat say that you, the father, can do for your children is drive them to school and back in a shiny new car. That your children will be so excited by tinted windows and alloy wheels that they will be pleased to see you. And that your status amongst school parents ('daddy cool' and 'rock up to the gates').

There's a message here: whatever car you are picking the kids up today is boring and unsafe, your children will think you are uncool, and all the other parents will look down on you.

There's another implicit message, one they probably didn't even think of: that you never, ever, walk or cycle your children to school. Instead you "rock up to the gates" -legally or not. That if your old car, without city braking and traction control isn't safe -just think how even less safe it would be if you walked with them to school -or even let them walk on their own.

What the can be done about fighting the millions that get spent in marketing SUVs like this for the school run? Even if papers occasionally write pro-everyday-cycling articles, colour pages are dedicated in every edition saying "drive your kids to school" and "get a new SUV or your own kids will look down on you"

School engagement would be ideal: imposing a walk-zone round the entrance so you cant "rock up to the gates", but instead have to drop the kids off 500 yards away and walk them in.
  1. It eliminates that final stretch of double and illegally parked dropoff cars which make walking and cycling more hazardous.
  2. With a wider parking zone round the school, the parents aren't so likely to park dangerously there either
  3. It cuts back on the whole status game. You aren't showing off your toy to the other parents, just walking in with the kids
  4. It equalises the status game with anyone walking their kids in
  5. It encourages you to walk. With better safety, no status gains and 500m to walk, if you are in the 1-2 mile catchment area, why not walk the whole way.
  6. It rewards cycling because you  can now do the entire journey faster, even at family 8-12 mph speeds
That would be ideal. Unrealistic? Maybe, but it happens sometimes in France. And if some UK schools adopt, then it sets an example for others.

The other tactic: create the social norms that walking and cycling to school is the way to do it. Niceway-style "cycle them to school so your ponies grow up to be healthy horses" isn't going to cut it, but if there a MAMIL group growing up at the school, pull them in: get them to do dropoff by bike before the morning ride, -even if that ride is just the commute. Make it social event with the kids going in with their friends. Maybe persuade the school to do more to reward the kids than give them stickers on a card in walk-to-school week.

Shaping these social norms is going to take some dedication by multiple parents -but it could be the only way to fight back against companies like Fiat selling a lie that a dad needs an urban SUV with traction control to do the school run

Friday, 6 September 2013

@Racfoundation: why so scared?

The RAC foundation have just published a document on costs of fuel.

First, its a PDF file, which shows they are still in a world where they expect people to "print" things before reading them. Quaint and rapidly becoming irrelevant. Maybe its something they expect to print themselves and hand out. But to whom? Because even the politicians will have iPads where they read news on their first class jollies in to London -and PDFs look even worse on a tablet than they do on a laptop or desktop. Whoever their target audience is, it's well, some relic of the past.

Second, it claims that cars are buses

To all intents and purposes cars are public
transport: they carry most members of
the public, most of the time
That's even though they own up that to the people with the least amount of money don't have cars, don't suffer from petrol poverty

In those households in the lowest income quintile (fifth) 48% have no car
100% of the people in the lower quintile have houses to heat, gas bills to pay, electricity bills to clear. If someone who cares about that lower 20% of income's energy poverty, addressing the cost of heating and lighting houses benefits 100% of that group, whereas any change in petrol and diesel pricing is most significant those people who drive a lot -business who can offset it against tax, and people with big-engined cars who drive a lot.

Finally, and this is where it gets to its most ridiculous, it pretends bicycles don't exist.

Here's page three of the sob story:
Number of journeys by car
Of all the trips made in Great Britain:
  • 64% are as a car driver or passenger (main mode)
  • 22% are on foot
  • 6% are by bus;
  • 3% are by rail and Tube
78% of distance travelled by all modes, including walking, is as a car driver or passenger.
Source: DfT National Travel Survey NTS0301, NTS0302
They get the text of those links wrong, but the links themselves to NTS0901 and NTS0303 are valid DfT surveys.

Except what happens if you add the numbers?

64+6   = 70
22+3   = 26
70+26  = 96
100-96 =  4

The numbers the RAC Foundation give don't add up to 100%. Four percent left over? An error? In a paper that is focused on percentages and numbers? Perhaps there's been a mistake and one of the numbers is mistyped, the way the links were?

Time to look at the data, the excel spreadsheet the Dft serve up, with a ready-to-paste chart.

Lo and behold, 2% other, and 2%  bicycle.

Why is the RAC ignoring that 2% of bicycle? Are they scared? Do they want to pretend it doesn't exist? Do they want to pretend that we don't deserve 2% of that 28 billion pounds -560 million? And that walking deserves 6 billion pounds -both out of the road budget and not the HS2 money.

The RAC foundation seem to be hoping that bicycles will go away, that all will return to pre-1973-land, where petrol was dirt cheap and every city was going to be rebuilt the way Leeds was.

Which puts them in very limited company
  1. The ABD
  2. The UKIP
  3. The Department of Transport
  4. Gideon "paddock mortgage" Osborne
The first two are the Kingdom of the Swivel Eyed Fuckwits -a lost cause not worth worrying about, except when other fuckwits like Pickles try to come up with policies that divert bottom-feeding Daily Mail commenters to his party and not the UKIP party.

The other two are trouble -especially with lobby groups like the RAC foundation.

Here we have it then, now its apparent why the document is PDF formatted -it was designed for: handouts at the upcoming party conferences, something they can give away at their lobbying booths trying to make the case that fuel costs are too high and that "something must be done". That something isn't HS2, more likely fracking.

But their lobbying doesn't include that 2% of bicycles: it really is pretending they don't exist.

Which is why everyone should ask them a simple question: why so scared?

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

RAC foundation: Should road infrastructure come from road infrastructure budget or somewhere else?

The RAC foundation seems to be drifting more and more off tangent. For a "research" organisation, well, their blog post seems like a daily mail content generator.

Today, Should cycling money come from road or rail funds?

Here it picks on the fact that Maria Eagle, Shadow Transport Secretary, called for a proportion of the UK road budget to be spent on cycling infrastructure, and calls it out:

Ms Eagle talks only about diverting funding for roads to boost cycling infrastructure. 

See that? The RAC foundation has just come out and declared that none of the billions spent on roads should be spent on bicycles. Instead they question whether HS-2 should be it.

Well, the HS2 economics are bogus, and as the RAC note, you could get everyone in the UK a bicycle and have lots of spare change -£36B to be precise, which would come in handy making it safe to cycle.

Yet why does the RAC seem to be resisting spending money on infrastructure to make it safe to cycle? Is that meant to be completely separate from the many bypasses and roundabouts being built from the £28B spending spree?

Because if they do think that cycling should come out of a separate budget than roads, then why do pedestrians get pavements in most road developments? Why isn't the RAC bemoaning the fact that pavements and zebra crossings come out of the "road budget" and not something else?

The answer is obvious: if the RAC said that HS2 should fund pavements rather than the road budget, everyone would laugh at them. Yet here they seem unable to accept or recognise that bicycles are a legitimate form of transport, and that the money spent on the UK road infrastructure should accomodate them.

The daftest bit is when they come over all defensive and say "is the demand there?".
Another thought, of course, is whether there is or is not the significant latent demand for cycling infrastructure that the suggestion of much more spending on cycling implies. Here, a recently Parliamentary written answer suggested that nationwide only a tiny fraction of journeys are undertaken by bike, and that this is not expected to change significantly for at least a couple of decades, which suggests that spending lots of money on cycling infrastructure is not a good idea.
That parliamentary question is flawed in that it compares #of miles per transport, not no. of journeys, so the long-haul drives would skew the figures. If you look at short-distance journeys the percentage, while atrocious, is less so: we are seeing about 10% of adults cycling per month (again, bogus numbers, but a different way to look at them).

So here's a proposal to the RAC. Why not give the cyclists the exact fraction of the road budget that reflects their use in a region? In central London, that would mean 25% of the spend; in central bristol, probably 10-15%. Spend that money to make cycling safe and a virtuous cycle would kick in: more people cycle, more cycling budget. Eventually it would even propagate to places like S. Gloucs.

Friday, 30 August 2013

CTC: who do they represent these days?

This is not a critique of the CTC membership, nor of their magazine. It is a denunciation of their political approach.

So far this month we have

  1. The CTC endorsing the niceway code -the victim blaming shite from Scotland.
  2. The CTC issuing a welcoming note to the DfT's complete denial of the APPCG proposals. Yes, there's a hint of dissatisfaction, but it doesn't come out and say "a few months after announcing billions to be spent on roads, the DfT confirms it is prepared to do nothing to address the growing numbers of cyclists and pedestrians being killed on our streets, failing to even accept that cycling has a role to play in Britain's transport options, and instead trying to put us off with yet another recycled announcement of the crumbs pushed our way"
  3. It becoming clear that the CTC's school policy "more training needed", is actually at odds with how the CTC staff let their children cycle -because they know that infrastructure is the solution.
Given the CTC claims to represent cycling in Britain -and it is the organisation with the largest membership- it need to look hard at its actions and rethink them. In particular, it needs to stop thinking about the needs of its members -a niche group in a minority activity- and think of the needs of the cities -what will transform them without waiting for the cars to go away.

That comes down to quality infrastructure, which comes down to a government providing serious funding and the technical guidance needed for it. Which they are not going to do with the current DfT policy -so "welcoming" is a complete waste of time. 

The CTC needs to stop with the politeness, and come out with condemnation that makes headlines. The ABD do it after all, and they are three people who won't even let their dog join.

  1. Accept that massive infrastructure changes are the solution.
  2. Push it using the "save the children" argument, instead of "train the children and all will be well".
  3. Condemn failures of the DfT like this weeks announcement.
  4. Refuse to support victim-blaming niceway code campaigns -particularly when they divert funding from the cycling investments we really need.
It's too late for the CTC to re-issue a press release on the DfT report -but not too late for them to have a a harder hitting one ready for any unsatisfactory outcome from next weeks debate. Get the quotes ready from the vocal campaigners -including hembrow, get the the plans ready to double up the campaigning, not be fobbed off with DfT "nothing we can do" toilet-paper-grade reports.

And, the same week, publicly withdraw support for the niceway code on the basis that it is a victim blaming failure. 

There is no time to be wasted trying to politely hint that things could be better: that has been tried for 40 years and done nothing whatsoever.

The anti science, anti-cycling government

A lot of the arguments in favour of cycling are based on health, cost -it will save the NHS billions, and congestion: nobody has any other solution.

These arguments make sense to anyone who looks at the figures.

Except we have a government that doesn't give a fuck about scientific arguments.

This weeks badger cull is an example: the scientists say it won't work and be a waste of money, but it is going ahead. Why? To keep the NFL and rural tories happy. 

Those billions of new roads. No, they don't make sense, but the DfT doesn't care. It wants the money, the politicians the headlines. 

Then there is Fuckwit Pickles. His proposal effectively abolishes double yellow lines, would make driving worse though congestion, and, once the corner shop is surrounded by illegally parked cars, not even let you park near the shops. Yet the fuckwit -and remember this is a fuckwit who claimed for a second home as 37 miles was too long a commute- thinks double yellows should go.

Now we have "speed bumps will save the cities from online shopping". This is so bollocks its clear that Fuckwit Pickle just doesn't like speedbumps and is trying to justify it. Except: online shopping has been hurting out of town stores more -look at the John Lewis results showing reduced sales out of town malls as fuel costs increase. Paying to drive for half an hour each way to wander round a featureless mall? Shop online and pay less? All shops need a reason to be compelling, and speed bumps are not it.

The government is clearly anti-science, anti-evidence. Instead: headline grabbing measures that Daily Mail commenters like. Because those are the voters being fought over; the swivel eyed loons who don't want data, talk about "common sense" instead. Loons who only demand -then discount- data when it's bad news, like global warming. 

This creates a problem for cycle campaigning: we can't expect economic or health arguments to win, not when the politicians and the swivel eyed view cycling as a hobby for eco warriors -not a realistic option for themselves. 

Somehow we need to get the Daily Mail on our side, so the swivel eyed will follow - and then, perhaps, the politicians.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Nicewaycode : wake up, time to die.

Introducing a new law for the Internet

Hembrow's Law: whoever cites Franklin in a debate about cycling loses.

This week the losers citing Franklin are @nicewaycode trying to defend their bus ad:
Cyclecraft author John Franklin is strongly in favour of overtakes on the right unless the nearside lane is free of traffic in a multiple lane situation. 

The correct riposte to anyone who cites Franklin is: so fucking what?

Franklin criticises dedicated cycling infrastructure and claims that having it makes the Dutch lazy. Yet the fact they have that  infrastructure means that they can get to and from their destinations alive, irrespective of age or skill. By denouncing infrastructure and advocating taking the lane, Franklin has got the UK into a situation where about one cyclist a week is dying, yet all the Scottish government is prepared to is divert some of the tiny amount of money dedicated to cycling into an advertising campaign that says, essentially, "do not use what shit pieces of paint we've put in so as to claim that we are cycling friendly -as that  will only kill you"

(photo: Nicewaycode GB)

They have a point: the red-paint routes are shit. The showcase South Causeway cycle route is shit. What is proposed in Leith Walk is an even bigger pile of poo as they are actually spending money on road redesign there -but still producing something shit where there is space for it.

The nicewaycode people are just victim-blaming cyclists for even imagining that the shitness provided across Scotland for them is safe to use.

That "don't go up the left" advert is reflecting what campaigners like pedal on parliament are saying: what we've been given today is shite. The other sign, "maybe", means "maybe if you are fit and brave you could cycle in the traffic"

Which summarises the problem of cycling in Scotland. Except the niceway code fuckwits are just repeating a fact to cyclists, cyclist who, unless this is the first 15 minutes of a bike ride in Britain they will know: cyclists are not welcome.

These bus signs are the cycling equivalent of the Home Office "immigrants go home" racist vans. Here they are instead sticking buses in the bus lanes that cyclists are forced to use as they are the least unsafe par of a road, with a sign on the buses saying "cyclists: fuck off to the Netherlands"

Why are they doing this? Because the MSP with responsibility for cycling doesn't seem able or willing to make cycling a safe transport option in the country, and he lives in the imaginary Franklin Land where he, Franklin and the nicewaycode team can pretend that cyclists will live if they take the centre of a lane, don't run lights, and instead pretend that they are a horse.

Keith Brown, MSP has passed the poisoned chalice to the niceway code agency, with a brief "stop the cyclists running red lights and maybe wankers with a history of killing cyclists won't kill another one then get a light slap on the wrist as a penalty

Those naive fools took the bait -and so are getting vilified and ridiculed for producing what will go down in history as the "what not to do" example for any road safety campaign;  an example whose YouTube videos will be watched and laughed at by media studies students in future courses on the effective use of social media.

Here is the message of the cycling front to the niceway code: stop it before you make things even worse.

Go back to the minister and say "we are spending cycling money telling cyclists to not use the shit you build for them". Say "cyclists ride on pavements as you have provided nowhere else safe for them -and an advert isn't going to change that"

Finally, say "stopping now will save cycle fund money which can actually be used to make cycling in Scotland safer for pedestrians."

Because if you don't: you will just dig a deeper hole for yourself and your paymasters. The more bollocks you put out, the more of a reaction you will get from the cycling campaigners. Eventually those organisations naive enough to sign up: CTC, Sustrans, will drop put -and the publicity from that will mean Keith's spin doctor will be on the phone to you swearing  like Malcom Tucker, blaming you for the press disaster.

Stop now and tell the politicians that Franklin's approach is exactly what left Scotland in the condition it is in: a nation where most sit in traffic jams on their way to coronary heat disease  sounding their horn whenever one of the few cyclist does what Franklin says and gets in their fucking way.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Arise the People!

Imagine a place suffering from congestion problems due to too many people trying to drive vehicles many times the size of themselves.

Imagine a place that is an air quality action area, due to the pollution generated by all those motor vehicles.

Imagine a place with parking problems due to the sheer number of cars trying to park -even for short journeys like a trip to local shops.

Imagine a place with health problems due to the inactivity of the population, where obesity is a growing crisis, where physical exercise has been negleted so long that the residents cannot even walk short distances from where they park, where such problems are not treated with exercise, but rewarded with disabled parking stickers that actualy make it easier to park outside your destination, and free parking is needed for those people who aren't quite there: "There are an awful lot of people who are not disabled enough to qualify for a parking badge and therefore a disabled space, but nevertheless they are not terribly mobile.

Imagine a place where "more civilised" places nearby look on in sadness and despair: how can this place not realise that they have painted themseves into a corner -that their dependency on driving has now created the problems: congestion, pollution, parking -problems which can begin to be fixed if they could get even a small fraction of the people who currently drive. When asked "why don't you follow their examples", the response is invariably some form of "we are different"

Imagine a place where existing cycling facilities are of awful quality and nowhere where people would actually want to go -yet the response to anyone suggesting "add more cycling facilities" is "but the cyclists aren't using the ones they've already got".

Where to take any space away from cars is considered a line that cannot be crossed: "not giving up two free spaces period", because "it's not fair for others"

Imagine a place where those people with the health and obesity problems, the ones who drive everywhere, are unable to recognise that they have options to get around, that rather than view cyclists as "them", they should consider it themselves.

Imagine a place that when the people and their leaders asked why they are not following the lead of the "more civilised places", the response is "we are not like them"

Imagine a place when pressured to put in more cycling facilities, the leaders respond with some empty words that while implying to be supportive of the idea, make it clear that they will not fund anything, that nothing will be done.

Imagine a place where the leaders say that while they support cycling, they have to take into account the needs of "all road users", by which they mean the people who drive, take up the most space, and endanger the lives of everyone trying to cycle -to the extend that they effectively supress cycling.

Imagine a place that is happy to spend money on improving driving, creating "solutions" to traffic problems that merely delay congestion for a few years, but by reinforcing the idea that driving is the way to get round, amplifying pollution and parking problem and making it worse to walk and cycle.

Imagine a place where it is considered dangerous to let the children out to play or walk to school because of the way everyone drives -the school run then creating more congestion and more dangerous for anyone trying to be different.

Imagine a place where the metric of suppressed cycling is the presence of the no-cycling signs on the few places where people can safely cycle.
What is that place?

1. Scotland
2. England and wales
3. S Gloucs
4. Marlborough
5. All of the above

The answer is, of course: all of the above.

For Scotland and England, the "more civilised" places are of course the rest of Europe -not just Amsterdam and Copenhage, but Dublin and Paris.

For S gloucs, the more civilised place is Bristol.

For Malrlborough, the more civilised place is maybe somewhere like Oxford.

It is the same problem across the board. The population has painted themselves into a corner -their choice of transport is not only poisoning the cities it is slowly killing the people who use it, and rapidly killing the people who try to lead a better life.

Marlborough and S Gloucs are simply a fraction of the country-wide ; delve down into individual streets and you will find that how people drive and park in their own roads makes it dangerous for children to play outside their own houses, when they want to visit friends two streets over their parents drive them for fear of their lives.

These are our villages, our towns, our cities and our countries, and they are the process of slowly committing suicide, while any attempt to say "it doesn't have to be this way", is treated with derision, patronising comments and utter inaction.

It's politicians saying fatuous bollocks and doing fuck all -all the way down

This raises an interesting question: how to change things? It's easy to say: focus on the bits that are changing, the inner cities. But why should the places that are theoretically the most dangerous : the busy city with the most people, the delivery vans, the taxis and the buses -the places where cycling is taking off? While the "leafy" suburbs, the dormitory towns, the market towns, the rural villages are getting worse? Because they are. And it is the people who live in them, who drive everywhere, who expect parking to be free and available wherever they go who are the ones we need to change.

We need to change their behaviour. How they get round a city. If they want to cycle, they need to be helped to get around safely -for them to be able to do the school run with their children alive, for them to send their kids out to play without worrying every time they hear a car speed by, where when they send a kid to see a friend round the corner they phone ahead to say "they are coming", and have the far end call in "they've arrived" when it happens.

How to do this? PoP has shown that the Scottish government isn't going to care about thousands of people turning up on bicycles, instead they issue fatuous words of inaction, targets delegated to others, wilful ingorance of safety statistics showing that Scotland is getting more dangerous to walk or cycle round.

The UK spending revew has shown that the English government isn't going to care about thousands of people signing petitions, national paper campaigns, parliamentary groups or warnings from the NHS. Instead they issue fatuous words of inaction, targets delegated to others, wilful ingorance of safety statistics showing that London is getting more dangerous to walk or cycle round.

This goes all the way down from the UK government, to regional govts, to county councils, towns stuck in the dark ages, to streets who complain about how cyclists threaten them, and how penalising them for driving in bus lanes is "persecution".

We need to keep that pressure up the councils -to let them know that their patronising bollocks is just that, that the data is at odds with their claims, that we wont accept the shit that they expect us to be grateful for.

But it isn't going to be enough unless they think they will be penalised at the polls for their inaction.

Press helps here: if the councillors realise there is popular support for change, they may change. The problem here is that those little local papers love local conflict, and cars v bikes makes for popular vitrol. Same for those regional TV news channels that like their phone ins. They'd rather see controversy over change -which is where the Times, the Evening Standard and the Glasgow Herald have to be praised for moving beyond this.

We also need to get out and protest about dismissive legal penalties, where judges forgive drivers for killing people, "a mistake anyone could make", when they impose penalties that are a joke. Whenever a judgement comes in, we need to get out to the court in our bicycles, be ready with quotes and again, that press.

If change isn't going to happen from the top, it has to come from below.

Organisations like Transition Marlbough can focus on the local issues, but its clear that they are still viewed as "troublemakers", not parts of the general population. Idealists; sweet but naive. What else?

Lower down: Street by street. School by school. Workplace by workplace.

Cycle to work looking normal -and offer support to anyone who also wants to do it, emphasise the time savings in the car, the money saved from the drive and the gym.

Cycle to school with the kids -offer support for other parents, and try and do it in convoy -as if a group of parents can marshall the kids, everyone will be happier. Try and get the school to do something about the parents who drive and make that final 300 metres, the school zone, the most hazardous.

Because that is all we have left -and because a more of the population spend even a little time on a bicycle, benefits will accrue
  • They will stop viewing those who cycle as outsiders who can be treated as expendable
  • Their friends and neighbours will stop viewing those who cycle as outsiders who can be treated like shit
  • The more people who cycle on the school run, it will make the school run safer for everyone who walks or cycles
  • If congestion and parking problems can be visibly reduced, it validates the fact that people on biycles take up less space, cause no pollution, can provide tangible benefits to the city.
We do need to get those councillors on board and the policitians. They need to get on a bicycle so they can stop talking about "the danger to motorists from cyclists backing out of cycle hoops at the side of the road. so they can stop with the "safe if you keep your wits about you" quotes, so that they can appreciate the benefits themselves.

Every cycling group needs to get in touch with their local councillor and offer to take them on a bike tour round the city. They need to contact their transport planners and offer to take them round an problem area by bike -to make the issues more tangible.

Because if we don't get out there, to do the groundwork and get their neighbours to the shops by bike, to do the school run by bike, then the fatuous politicans will continue to issue press release containing fatuous bollocks.

Arise! The politicans will have to adapt or die!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Marlboroughgate: who knew what, when? Nothing -now.

We are still to hear back from Cllr "let the cyclists walk" Dobson, but one of his colleagues has posted a comment on our previous article on the Marlborough Bike Rack Debacle, here repeated in full.

Before reading it, please go and sign the wiltshire council petition asking for the cycle parking to go ahead. The more people making their feelings known, the higher the chance there is of a decent outcome.
16 June 2013 15:33

Ok the following views are a pure and personal thoughts of my own and in no way reflect the view of Marlborough Town Council(MTC).
Hi everyone this is Justin Cook responding to your invite to air my view on the cycle racks in Marlborough.

The first any of the new council members heard about the proposed cycle racks were in the first full town council meeting of the new sitting. In this presentation made my Transition Marlborough(TM)it was asked if we could vote through the cycle racks installation in that very same meeting.
Handover of power can always be awkward. More subtly, cancelling anything of the previous government's/council's plans -especially something opposed by either a large group of people or a noisy press- is a low cost means of gaining popularity. You can be seen to reward your loyal supporters, while saving money. Because it is simply cancelling work, it doesn't need anything in terms of planning, so delivers political benefits fast.
It was also agreed by all parties that the particular style of cycle rack could be installed either before or after the re-surfacing work had been carried out on Marlborough High St. This is an important point as there would be no harm in any way to the item if I as a new councillor took some additional time to carry out more research on the item and indeed ask the other parish members in the community their views on the demand for the cycle racks.
Other parish members are clearly not a viable source of information here, not with Cllr Dobson saying the cyclists should walk, and Councillor Margaret Rose, complaining of "the danger to motorists from cyclists backing out of cycle hoops at the side of the road". These are clearly people whose opinions on the matter: cyclists are the other; something to fear. This is the classic cyclists-as-outgroup theory.
I also personally asked my FB site for their views as local Marlborough people in helping me come to an informed and correct decision.

It is also worth noting that Marlborough already has two set's of cycle racks at either end of the High St. I have been keenly checking these racks three times a day (my office is in High St) and have found there to be very little use if any made of them. This in itself does not sway me as i think if we had some well placed cycle racks people would use them and indeed you only have to see the volume of cyclist's we have coming through the High St at weekends to see how this would be used.
Exactly. There are many cyclists in wiltshire at weekends -a revenue stream for places like the tea rooms, if only they were made to feel welcome in the region. That's even without considering the opportunities for people who live in the area to cycle in.
The next important point is the location of said cycle racks.
The initial feeling from TM was that outside the Polly Tea Rooms would be a good idea but there was also advice given from some full time cyclists that having the cycle racks in a high footfall area increased the risks of theft and vandalism.
given a choice between "visible cycle racks where lots of people walk past" and "obscure parking where nobody can see your bicycle get stolen", someone went for the "out of sight" option? Unusual.
There was also the suggestion from WCC that we give up two free parking bays on the the sides of the High St. This i am afraid does not work for the majority as the side bays are the only free parking people have to pop into post office, pick up cleaning etc etc.
Here we come to the crux of the issue. The bike bays were to be on the two sides of the high street -the short-stay parking area. This is clearly unacceptable for "the majority",
This is vital for ongoing economic ease of business in the town and will be protected by me personally in any role that works.
Again, the economic case which seems somewhat weak. It would be good to have some hard data on how much revenue per parking bay the local shops earn. Having bays at a high occupancy rate doesn't guarantee income for the area.

The fact that the shops weren't opposed to the proposals shows that they seem to recognise the value in expanding the capacity of the street to accept more customers -yet the council seems unable to.

Again, it comes back to this outgroup concept. There is the majority -implicitly those those who drive- and the minority -the cyclists - and they are disjoint sets. The idea that someone who has a car may actually opt to cycle in to the high street doesn't occur. Instead it's "the cyclists", categorising people by the transport options they make on specific journeys.
I felt strongly that WCC should give up two paid parking spaces in the middle for the racks to make it fair for everyone. It is worth noting that a particular councillor from MTC is indeed engaging with WCC to this end on behalf of TM and the cyclists.
This isn't necessarily a bad idea. It is better than the "let them walk, they are fit" message. Some requirements here would, obviously, be:
  • Secure parking for bicycles, not the "wheel benders" that provide no security guarantees at all
  • Enough space to actually support parent + child journeys. That means the ability to safely park a bike + trailer. If the layout does not support that, there's a message there, "families are meant to drive".
  • Safe crossing from the bike racks to the shops. 
And of course, a serious attempt by the council to deliver this in a timely manner. This summer is lost already.
My personal experience with business and money is that good research and preperation is key to making good ongoing business decisions that make sense over the long term. What makes my blood boil is quick emotional decision making not based on good research and decision making. Then the inevitable happen's and we need to re visit the item and spend more money upgrading or moving such item. This is a big waste of everyone's money and a waste of time.
That's valid, as long as it isn't just an excuse to make some short-term populist decisions at the expense of the long-term quality of life of the area.

One particular thing to flag up here is that if money is going to be spent improving signage to the existing low quality bike racks -that will destroy the whole "don't waste money on decisions that need to be revisited" argument.
So again i am not against the cycle racks but wanted more time to think it through and come to a good decision for all.

I just want to make sure that the cycle racks go in the best possible place for cyclist's and car users equally as it's not just the cyclist's that have a say in this.
Did the cyclists get a say in where the car parking went? When? What about the pedestrians? So please, drop this "balanced" story, it isn't defensible.
Also i must say that the emotional rhetoric that has been thrown round this is really blurring the lines of good debate and i for one will NOT be rushed into any money expenditure decision by anyone period. I have no problem spending budgets set out for the town but will not be rushed into making decisions based on a emotional volume.
We look forward to the delivery of some well placed, high quality cycle parking, and will visit the region when it arises.

For anyone from Marlborough reading this, thinking "What why should we care what an underground cycling group near Bristol say", we know which of our colleagues in the military-industrial sprawl of the North Fringe live near Marlborough, Calne and Swindon. They don't just expect parking near their post office, they expect a traffic free route from their rural homesteads to work, and end up stuck on the A4174 instead. The lifestyle and transport choices those people have made have a direct impact on the quality of life on residents and colleagues who actually live close their workplaces. These are people demanding millions of pounds spent on new motorway junctions, a widened ring road and new bypasses -which is why arranging for some modal shift for their transport choices matters so much for S  Gloucs.

We don't expect them to cycle to work from Wiltshire to the N Fringe -though if they work in Bath or Swindon, that may be possible. What we would like is them to take the train instead, though as we've seen, First GW don't like bicycles parked at their stations; Swindon is no better. The combination of folding+train -that works.

To close, then:
  1. If you live in town, contact your parish councillor and make your opinions on the matter known.
  2. If you cycle through the area from time to time -and currently feel unwelcome, sign the petition
  3. We shall keep an eye on Marlborough. As part of the commuter catchment area, they come within our remit.
As for the councillors of Marlborough Town: you need to recognise that your actions are visible on a national scale. So far some of your statements "danger to motorists" and "cyclists are fit enough to walk from other side of the high street" have made you sources of ridicule. Please don't dig yourself deeper into a hole. Try to come up with a plan that doesn't just help the existing cyclsits, but encourages people who live in the town to try getting to the high street and back by bicycle and foot, rather than driving there and expecting to find an empty parking space.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Cllr Stewart Dobson, Marlborough "drivers need parking near the shops as they are unfit; cyclists can walk"

Marlborough, over in Wiltshire, is on the easternmost fringe of the S Gloucs commute ring; people do drive all the way from there to the offices on the A4174. They are the ones who have to get to work by 8am, who stay until after 7, who whine about congestion on the M4 near bath.

They are also, perhaps, the people too unfit to walk a short distance to the shops.

This has to be the conclusion to an ill-fated proposal to add bike racks outside some shops in Marlborough -at the expense of a parking space.

The plan was voted down, due to the fact it would take away two free parking spots.

The most ridiculous rationalisation for this has to come from Cllr Stuart Dobson, Marlborough East.
"It is so important, especially in these present financial times, that we do all we can for residents,"
subtext: nobody who voted for me rides a bicycle. People who do cycle are non residents -yet bring no revenue to the shops.
"There are an awful lot of people who are not disabled enough to qualify for a parking badge and therefore a disabled space, but nevertheless they are not terrible mobile.

subtext: we need to feel sorry for the people -the residents- who have to park right in front of the shops, because it is for their health. Even if they don't have disabled badges, they can't walk.
"Cyclists by and large are very active people," he added.  "So I can’t see a problem with them walking from one end of the High Street to the other whereas we would be penalising people who are far from active."
subtext: it is acceptable to penalise those people who cycle. They are not residents/voters after all.

This is possibly the most retrograde piece of thinking there is. Unless he has been misquoted, think about what it means

  1. We should reward the people who drive into the town by providing parking directly outside their destination.
  2. We should penalise those people who cycle in to town by making them park elsewhere and then walk to their destination -so increasing their journey time and inconvenience.
Yes, it is couched in terms of "my residents aren't healthy enough to walk far" and "those cyclists, they are all fit and healthy and can walk a few minutes to get to the shops", but that makes clear the fundamental problem that the NHS has to tackle

By encouraging people to drive everywhere, we have created a nation of obese, unfit and unhealthy people.

Rather than care about the health of his residents, Cllr Dobson is implying that health problems are not lifestyle-related, that they are some random acts of chance. Those people who drive, they only do so because they are unfit. If they were fit and healthy, they'd be cycling instead. Except of course in this time of austerity we need to provide the parking spaces because those fit and healthy people don't bring any money into the city.

This is completely missing the point about Britain's growing obesity crisis: it is driven by a lifestyle that involves no physical activity at all.

Rather than reward these people by providing a parking space directly outside the chemist, they should be ever so subtly trying to get them to do a hint of activity, even it if it is walking five to ten metres from the car to the chemists. That's all. There's lots of car parking nearby -it's only cycle parking that is absent.

According to the government, 61% of adults are obese, 30% of children. This is why the government wants to encourage everyone "to eat and drink more healthily" and "be more active". The policy in Marlborough is going completely against the NHS recommendations, where even adults aged 65+ are encouraged to take part in moderate physical activity for at least two hours a week.

The other thing worth picking apart is the entire economic argument. Two parking bays, 30 minutes free parking. If every visitor used their full 30 minutes, you'd only have 16 visitors per bay in an 8 hour working day. Let's be generous and assume that there's a minimum dwell of ten minutes, but after the ten minutes the visitor can leave at any time in the remaining twenty minutes -with a uniform distribution. That would give an average parking time of 20 minutes. You could say then that there'd be a whole 24 visitors/bay/day, but that assumes that there is no period when the bays are ever empty, which is unrealistic. let's assume 0-10 minutes with again, a uniform arrival time, leaving another average of 5 minutes (a poission distribution of random events would be more appropriate, but it's not that different). The outcome is ~19 visitors/bay/day, or ~40 a day. You could argue about the numbers, but the big one: how long people stay, could be optimistic -as we are assuming that nobody stays above 30 minutes, the nominal legal limit. If someone with a disabled badge were to park there -as they can- they could say for two hours, cutting the daily capacity of that by down by about four vehicles -four customers for the high street.

Now imagine each bay has four sheffield stands. A parking capacity of eight. Being pessimistic and assuming a continuous occupancy of only 50%, you would still get 4x the customers per bay from parked bicycles than you would from parked cars. Even if each cyclist bought half as much as someone driving in -a completely spurious figure- the shops revenue from converting a car bay to a cycle parking bay could double.

the whole economic argument is bogus.

There we have it then. Someone who says "in these present financial times" we should actually reduce the potential customer parking capacity of the high street, and that we should penalise those people who have adopted a lifestyle that make them healthier than those who haven't.

This is worse than being stuck in the 1970s. It is coming up with the most irrational form of thinking you can -which essentially comes down to "we don't want people on bicycles shopping in our town".