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.