Monday, 1 December 2014

The S Gloucs problem: the attitude to cyclists

During the the Bristol "crumbs to cyclists" event, praise was directed to the BB Railway Path: the jewel in the sustrans crown. In strava, a burning line between Bristol and Bath.

What nobody said was that the RP is now closed until march and that nearby residents are sabotaging cyclists detouring the closure. As that is what is happening.

A road bridge is closed for repairs. This was meant to be for 12 weeks, but now the signs say 32 weeks. 

If that had happened to the M32 there'd be outrage, the local press attacking the council and the repair teams. As its the cyclists, nobody gives a fuck. Not the press, not the council, not the repair team.

The cyclists? They get to detour onto roads where cycling is so unusual that they have to put up signs saying "cyclists on the road". Think about that: a warning that there may be cyclists. 

This is near two schools, on roads so narrow that half the cars have to park on the pavement, yet roads a few hundred metres from the Railway Path. There's nary a sign on these roads saying "cycle to Bristol, 30 minutes". Some temporary diversion signs have been put up,  but for the permanent residents there's been no attempt to show them that there is an alternative route to the city that doesn't involve traffic jams, parking problems, waiting at lights and generally having a miserable journey.

As a result, the locals appear to live a miserable life completely isolated from cycling —and viewing cyclists as intruders on "their streets". 

We know this because some of the people are putting down tacks on the detour. This isn't somewhere in the New Forest where a 1000 riders on a sportive are a threat to rural calm. This is an alleyway in one of the UK's showcase "Cycling Cities".

The original detour sent cyclists through this little alleyway. Only it turns out that this isn't "an adopted road", and cyclists are effectively trespassing. The locals, instead of not giving a fuck, or even using the route themselves, started off shouting at cyclists, and have now resorted to putting down tacks on the path.

The council? No attempt at negotiating a settlement -a carrot like getting the roadworks team to pay some compensation, or threatening them with change "we will adopt this road", or a bigger stick "anyone putting down tacks will be prosecuted". 

Instead: a sign asking cyclists not to go down it, some temporary plastic barriers held in place with sandbags, and an extended detour pushing cyclists onto the main road.

That's the road at the the lights, past the queue of HGVs. 

Any cyclist with a hint of self preservation is going to continue to use the alley —which is exactly what is happening. And the locals? They've been putting the tacks down and then brushing the sand from the sandbags on top of them.

This shows the clash of cultures in Britain's "Cycling cities". In the core, you have the people who walk and cycle. In the suburbs, you have people who hate cyclists so much they are prepared to attack them for having the arrogance to want to use a minor alleyway through a dull suburb. This clash of cultures isn't good for anyone trying to cycle through the city, and it isn't good long term. These are the Crews Hole campaigners who would rather be a rat run than a safe walking or cycling route to school. These are the people who resent a few crumbs being thrown at cyclists, and appreciate the £15B of pollution-creation announced list week in the mistaken belief that it will solve any problem other than the balance sheet of construction firms. 

These are the fuckwits that think those parking tickets they get are a fund raising conspiracy by councils, that CCTV bus lane and parking enforcement is cash-creation, that Eric Pickles is talking common sense. These are the fuckwits who drive to the shops round the corner for a pack of cigarettes, get a ticket and then whine. 

And the council, here in the S Gloucs part of Bristol, what the fuck do they do? A few detour signs and a "cyclists please don't use this alley" sign. Not even a cyclists dismount, which would actually be progressive. Just a cyclists "fuck off onto the main road"

What could they do? There's the carrot of cash, the stick of enforcement, the threat of worse "after we adopt it we can make it a through route to cars too". 

More critically, address the conflict by getting the fat-arsed locals out of their cars and on their feeet. They could start to sign up the links from the RP to the shopping streets, stick leaflets through the doors encouraging people to find the path and use it to get into town —or at least as far as Fishponds. But no, this is not Bristol city Council we are talking about, this is S Gloucs council —and S Gloucs Council don't care about cyclists.

This actually shows one good thing about the selective funding of those crumbs for the cyclists. By directing it to a few cities that are actually making some attempt to improve cycling, with engineering teams that can actually do something —and most critically, with a political leadership willing to inconvenience drivers to make their towns and cities a better place to live and work.

Because if not, those crumbs will get frittered away in places like S Gloucs —or worse, Brent.

Crumbs before dinner

Thursday and the politicians meet in central Bristol to announce a couple of hundred million for improving UK cycling over a few years —no guaranteed of continued funding, and such a pittance that it has to be focused on a few towns to show any sign of delivering anything useful

This is the meeting going on, behind the cyclist in the hi-viz and the man smoking

Turn 180 degrees and you see the cycling-in-Bristol bit of the council —all wearing hi-viz themselves. If even the council can't say it's safe to cycle unless you dress up like a christmas tree, then it's not safe to cycle.

And four days later: same politicians get up and show where their promised billions will be wasted. Billions. So that people from London will have the traffic jams on their drive to Devon moved a bit. So that people trying to get on or off a motorway in the north of England will have to weight slightly less. At first, anyway. The S/W of england want that widened A303 precisely because they want the traffic generation. It doesn't matter to them if the existing holidaymakers have to wait 30 minutes on a friday; they want more visitors. The alternative —a good electric train service via Bristol— doesn't get a look in.

That £15B announcement puts the crumbs of Bristol into perspective: a pittance to retain votes in a few cities where the green candidates threaten the libdems. £200M is all the libdem coalition partners could get out of Osborne, enough for their candidates to claim to care come election day. Well, now for those people in the city who have the campaigners come to their door in Stephen Williams's constituency have an answer: how can you promise £15B to road building within four days of £200M for cycling and keep a straight face.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Cycling Mileage: tax deductible even if your employer doesn't care

Those people lucky to earn enough to qualify for filling in a tax return now have the luxury of opting to receive 20p/mile expenses for business miles cycled —even if their employer doesn't support this.

People who don't have to fill in the paperwork can opt to do so if they ask HMRC, at the price of time and possibly some tax return software (here: TaxCalc).

The HMRC guidelines are all about car-based commuting. Assuming everything applies to cycling, the rules are online.

  1. Commute Miles don't count
  2. Travelling between two places of work does count, provided neither of the locations is the employee's home. Except it may count as another permanent workplace and you may not get a refund for commuting to either place

the HMRC guidelines still haven't taken on cyling; all the examples are about driving. Some of their criteria "10 miles" crops up as the minimum for out-of-the-way journeys

It's interesting to consider that neither walking or public transport appears to be suitable for tax rebates. One doesn't count, presumably the other is expected to be refunded directly by the employer

What about cycle-to-work schemes?

They are treated separately, and are viewed as a "company bicycle" during the scheme.
They are expected to be used primarily for journeys to work and other business trips. But: there doesn't appear to be anything saying you can use a different bike for those journeys which are eligible for cycling expenses.

What about somebody else's bicycle?

Probably —provided they aren't company bicycles.

Abroad: yes.

What about Boris Bikes?

No mention. On a business trip from S Gloucs to London, a Boris Bike at the far end could be part of the journey. Would the entire day's fee be something redeemable from the employer, or could you claim 20p/mile for the Boris? It would probably be the former: you can't expect to deduct business miles from a rental car, after all.

What if you are a cycle courier or similar?
If you use your own bicycle, then all journeys between customers appear to count as refundable. Cycle 50 miles a day as a courier, get £10 back. Once you earn enough to become eligible for tax.

What if your employer does give you a rebate?
you appear to be eligible for the difference between what they pay and the 20p/mile value of HMRC

Is there a limit on how far you can pedal?

None listed. You may need to justify the journeys though. A business trip to, say, Amsterdam would probably cover all journeys from hotel to place of work. Cycling from Bristol to London would count too, as they are not trying to distinguish vehicle types:  you get the relief of your transport option.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Death of Plan B

Normally the DfT withholding £1.5M of money for a cycling project would be viewed as a setback for cycling. Not today. Today it is a step forward.

It says: you can't expect money for proposals that do nothing for cycling.

It says: cycling money should not be wasted on normal road maintenance

It says: you can't break your promises on innovative projects and expect to keep the cash.

It says to the New Forest NPA: you made a choice, live with it.

They were so fucking confident weren't they.

Going ahead with the funding would have been the easy way out for the DfT, no paperwork, just a wave and a handshake on some mediocre work, NPA happy, locals happy, local press happy. Instead they actually called the NPA to account and said "you have failed to deliver on your proposal".

This failure of the NPA is going to hurt them long term. Look at the DfT details on the grants proposals, especially page 7 of the application form:
e) Please list any major transport schemes costing over £5m in the last 5 years which the authority has delivered, including details of whether these were completed to time and budget (and if not, whether there were any mitigating circumstances)
They are fucking tainted for a long time. Every proposal for anything from central government is going to take the failure of this project into account, they way they let the DfT down, and its politicians —stopping them from pointing to the project as a sign of their support for cycling. Nobody is going to trust the current management to be able to deliver things; the leadership of the NPA clearly broken.

Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre needs to be called out and have the blame placed on his head. He got into his position purely because of the "bikelash" amongst the verderers.

He is the one that killed the original project. He is the one who said  "The grant has been given and now it's up to us to spend it responsibly and wisely  responsibly and wisely". He took the money for granted and came up with a plan B that did nothing except stop locals in a hurry being held up:

He has cost the region millions, and should be held to account. He may also have brought the management of the NPA into focus as acting out of their remit, and should have his position as chair of the NPA reconsidered. Maybe it should go beyond that and look at the voting structure of the authority as a whole: who does it actually represent?

Next: where does the money go? A lot of other national parks would be able to do something good with it; near S Gloucs/Bristol the Brecon Beacons and Forest of Dean stand out as regions that value cycling and welcome them, rather than resent them. They are close enough to London for easy weekend visits; they welcome overnight guests. (For anyone considering it, the Castle Inn has a bunkhouse next to the pub, XC MTB rides in all directions straight out the door)

Finally, respect to the @forestcyclist. He has shown that we have power, and that we can bring councils and authorities to account —and stop bollocks projects. Which is something all should consider. Many projects that councils propose are worse than useless: they waste cycling money and do nothing, let local cycling groups often accept that because it is all they ever get, and because it appears to be throwing money in their direction. It isn't: it is throwing money away, and the opportunity cost —good cycling facilities— is enormous. Nobody should be afraid to say No! to things that suck.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

"We're not Dutch" Bingo Card

As promised, here's the People's Cycling Front of South Gloucestershire's bingo card for use when reading local press, listening to politicians, local councillors or other people lost in a fantasy world of 1972 when there were four cars a day up the M1 and cyclists tipped their caps at passing drivers after they got out the way for them.

How to play:

  1. take out your bingo card
  2. Every time they say one of the phrases, respond with the recommended answer
  3. When all phrases have appeared, should "BINGO!"
  4. Hand the card to whoever it was that made the final statement in the set.
  5. Take a photograph of them holding the card
  6. Post photo on twitter with the tag #notdutchbingo
If more than one person is playing, each cross out a different entry on the card. 

Friday, 7 November 2014


There's a paper out: Pedal Cyclist Fatalities in London: Analysis of Police Collision Files (2007-2011) Anyone who cycles reading this must feel the fear of being in a followup article, becoming a statistic showing Britain is no less dangerous to cycle than it is today. Each of those numbers represents a death: someone's child, possibly a parent, possibly a partner. Dead.

It's a shame nobody from the BBC read this paper before their week of drivel. They could have visited a different junction every day, a cause of death, with discussion about how to make it safer. After looking at tipper truck left hook they might ask less about helmets; on pinch-point-killings their "mutual respect" story might be different.

Returning to the paper

Not only are HGVs a key form of killing, Tipper Trucks are the death of choice. This is something to highlight in engagements with the FTA and other truck-lobby-groups. It is not all HGVs that kill, it is tipper trucks. But why/

-are tipper trucks responsible for 37% of HGV miles on those routes people cycle? If not, are they significantly more or less?

-22% of HGV drivers had driving convictions. Is that spread evenly, or are tipper truck drivers more likely to have convictions? And how does that conviction rate compare to HGV and tipper truck drivers in general.

These are important details as they would help confirm the beliefs of many: tipper trucks kill more than other vehicle types. If it can also be shown that the conviction history of their drivers is higher, it may hint about their employment standards. If it also turns out that having prior convictions is a significant sign of future participation in a fatal RtC, it shows that the history has to be taken more seriously.

More succinctly: professional 747 pilots are held to significantly higher standards than amateur cessna pilots. The UK/EU standards for "professional" driving does not do so. Actions that would be careless in a car are invariably dangerous in an HGV: something the prosecution and penalties should take into account.

oad narrowing due to parked car is called out for the loss of control and collision with cyclist events. This shows why the parked cars should be between cyclists and motor traffic: a buffer. The WCC "death mall" proposals are the absolute opposite of this: painted into the swerving zones of both traffic directions.

ASLs. ASLs in front of HGVs are where cyclists go to die. If an HGV comes up behind you while you are in one, you would be safest setting off before the lights change. This is not a joke: remember it. 

"Hear an HGV, get the fuck out of the ASL"

This also highlights why ASLs are bollocks. While designed to defend against some actions (left turning cars at junctions), they entrap you into a new one "crushed by HGV drivers who forgot you where there while they were on the phone. " Because yes, "driver on phone" was listed as a distraction in two of the four deaths

Left turning truck: 14 fatalities of 52, slightly above 25%

We've all seen those videos that show the truck turning left over the cyclists. Some of us have even experience the terror of cycling on a road to see an HGV pull up alongside with its indicators on, warning it is about to left hook you. If that ever happens: brake hard and fast. 

Being in the same lane for straight on and turning traffic is listed as a factor —maybe there's not enough cues that the HGV will turn and so people slide up the side of the vehicle. Maybe if you can think you can get at least one vehicle in front of it at the lights it could be justified. Otherwise, better of overtaking.

There's also two cases where the HGV was in the straight on lane to turn left -on account of their size. That shows that HGVs are not suited to Britain's "narrow historic streets". If there isn't room for a cycle path on a road, there clearly isn't room for an HGV to turn.

Death by road narrowing: 7

Seven of these crashes are characterised by the cyclist ‘running out of space’ meaning that the available lane width narrowed forcing the cyclist and truck into closer proximity.
Of these, five crashes occurred at junctions – both the truck and the cyclist were turning left in two cases, turning right in one and travelling straight on in two. The sixth occurred as the road narrowed on the approach to a junction and the seventh crash occurred in close proximity to a pelican crossing on a build-out.

We all know those too. Its easy to say "give way to the HGV", but what happens if you are partway across and a speeding HGV barrels past then swerves in?

Helmets: 42% of the cyclists wore a helmet. Did they work? Clearly not. Did more or less than 42% of cyclists on the route have helmets?

The section on injury locations (p49) goes into detail on where injuries were sustained. Summary: get hit by a speeding car on squashed by a truck and injuries happen everywhere. Helmets do appear to do fuck all. P52 does compare what percentage of non-fatal injuries involved head injures: more than the fatal ones, which tend to be all-body. Even those numbers don't show which did have/would have their severity reduced by helmets. All we can say is the "if a helmet saves just one life" then the argument has to cover full body armour strong enough to survive a 7+ ton truck rolling over it. Just tell the fuckwit making the "Saves one life" argument to put a helmet on, lie down and let a truck drive over it. 

p53 looks at infrastructure in the specific, junction by junction, not london's roads per se. 

ASLs suck

cycle paths that abandon you at junctions suck. Think about this: junctions are the most lethal bit of the roads, yet cycling "infrastructure" abandons you at this, the most dangerous. Why? It's easy to paint something on the straight bits, making junctions safe is hard work AND MAY AFFECT TRAFFIC FLOW.

p57-71: infrastructure improvements

This is a compelling section, not so much due to any innovative ideas, but because they can look at their data and say "how much this would have reduced their fatality set". 

it is very powerful when you can look at proposals -here the WCC "admiral's blender" stands as a highlight and campaigners can tear it apart with data. They can go though a junction and say "which of these documented fatality classes are prevented in this proposal? Which are left? Why have they been left?"

ASLs get special mention here. They propose either a "no vehicle zone" or a special cyclists only phase. A no vehicle zone would just be more wasted paint, more of the tarmac that the police wont enforce. A cyclists only phase, with a cyclist level bicycle green, that is another matter. It would formalise that chance to get out of the way of the ASL. As for claims about traffic flow: the cyclists would be out on a green light anyway, so you can have a shorter green phase for other traffic.

The biggest change the paper calls out is designing trucks for safety: positioning the driver, mirrors, automatic sensing of cyclists, better side guards, etc. Yet this is precisely what is being postponed at the EU level. And UK cyclists can be confident that were the UK to leave the EU, better truck safety is not something a new "sovereign" government would bring out.

And mutual respect? 

The authors call out cyclists needing more experience of driving, especially to understand cornering. It may also give the riders more appreciation of how cyclists aren't that visible at night unless lit: the strength of headlights effectively darkens the rest of the street to the driver. Maybe side lights should be mandated again for that very reason.

Drivers are encouraged to recognise that cyclists do need to position themselves safely, being in the lane is not "arrogant" or "rude", it is where they need to be on many roads, especially if there is trouble ahead. Which is something the paper doesn't call out: drivers of vehicles need to be less obsessed about the bike in front and look past them to what is next, then decide whether to bother trying to overtake. Maybe that is something 20 mph zones will bring about, reduced benefits from passing, leading to increased patience. Maybe, but you still get impatient wankers and they are the ones that will kill you.

To summarise then,

This paper provides harsh detail on the actions that result in the death of people in our streets, people killed because they decided to cycle to their destination. These deaths could have been prevented.

We know that because the numbers from other countries show this. What the paper does is go into detail in London and highlight case-by-case where recorded deaths would be reduced. Which now gives ammunition to call out bollocks infra for what it is.  Anyone proposing bollocks -and here the new westminster Mall of Death proposal stands out- can be called out to show how their proposals will avoid the causes of death recorded here. Hint: ASLs don't cut it.

For the CSH proposals, it makes it a lot easier to defend the embankment plans against bollocks coming from Westminster, maybe even shite from the City of London. It's notable that the westminster plans never discussed safety at all, just said cyclists want "clear and convenient" routes. The fact that those few people who do dare to cycle across London are at risk of death doesn't show up on their radar. All they care about is their limo rides from Westminster to the City, then on to London City Airport for their weekends in Monaco with their fellow one-percenters.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

S gloucs first cycling protest ride!

S Gloucs is spending its government transport cash on "eliminating pinch points" at busy junctions, where "pinch points" means "bits where drivers sit round for more than usual". There is nothing in their proposals for this —a topic for another day, but which the message from S gloucs council is pretty much "Fuck off you cyclists and stop bothering us"

It turns out they didn't even fucking bother with safety audits. As a result, Richard Burton is calling for a protest ride on Friday:

From: burton richard
Date: 20 October 2014
Subject: SGlos road schemes A38/M5 junction PROTEST RIDE

The sorry tale of woe that is SGlos continues, and as if ignoring all their own policies and government guidelines wasn't enough, we've found out that the Safety Audits weren't conducted properly and did not consider cyclists or pedestrians, despite the government guidance on safety audits specifically demanding that they were.

This is a very important junction for cyclists, with alternatives requiring a detour of four or five miles.  There have been at least 10 cyclist collisions at this junction in seven years, but this is a considerable underestimate and the real figure is probably double that.

We responded to the council's consultation and were ignored.  We raised a petition with 437 signatures, and it has been ignored.  We've asked the local MP, Jack Lopresti, to take action, but the council won't respond to him.  It's time for action!

There will be a protest ride at 1600 on Friday 24th, riding between the Aztec West roundabout and the motorway junction.  It won't be long, just enough for the media to get some good shots and to interview some cyclists.  Please come along if you can make it, we really need the support to show the strength of feeling about SGlos' continued utter incompetence.

This is important. Even people from Bristol should come up if they can —to highlight how shit S Gloucs treats cyclists, even though it is really part of the extended Bristol. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

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

Spot the common theme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

New Forest: Cyclists Fuck off. Official

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

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

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

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

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

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

To put it differently:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

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

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

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

Blame them for

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not sustrans then: you. 

Never mind.

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

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

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

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

Monday, 11 August 2014

A lost vision of the 1980s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 4 August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

They lied about the safety features.

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

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

The lives of cyclists are not considered important

Which from a political perspective comes down to

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

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

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

Which means we have to make them care.

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

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

But first: stop the cyclist-killer bill!

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 27 July 2014

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

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

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

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

And what do we get? Cyclists Dismount signs.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

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

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

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

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

    Crap Road Designers

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

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

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

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

    Car and Bus projects:

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

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

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

    Vanity Projects

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

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

    Putting it all together

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

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

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

    A better way

    What can be done?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    Saturday, 28 June 2014

    Turbogate: the fuckup that keeps on giving

    The Bedford Turbo Roundabout was already a fuckup-in-progress as soon as it was announced the cycle crossings at the roundabout exits were to be marked "cyclists dismount". Still, there were at least going to be the barriers to reduce cyclists being cut up by aggressively driving cars choosing straight-through routes

    What's interesting is that -as David Hembrow regularly observes- the worst parts of Dutch Road infrastructure are being picked up and hailed as fantastic. Shared space is one example, turbo roundabouts the next. Not only are they mediocre bits of the NL roadspace, when brought to the UK they don't come with the rest of the system: bypasses and road blockings to reduce traffic flows into the shared space and viable alternative cycle routes for the roundabouts.

    The South Gloucs shared space project ended up resulting in the Great Wall of Filton: a barrier added to stop motorcyclists getting through, and out of fear of pedestrians being hit by speeding cyclists. Even on a back road converted from a rat-run to a quiet road, cyclists aren't welcome.

    The Bedford Turbo Roundabout is a mess spiralling down into a blatant abuse of cycling money. Sustrans should be backpedalling manically, using the death of the barriers as a way to exit without admitting that the original design was flawed the moment those blue "cyclists fuck off" signs appeared on the designs. Instead they are making things worse, issuing press releases claiming victory. If this is a victory, it is about as good as one as Blair and Bush's in Iraq, the one only those two still pretend was a a success.

    It's not too late for the cycling groups to recover from this one. They need to go the council and say "no cycling cash unless the new proposed DfT signage "elephants feet" crossing goes in and those Dismount signs go out", with some raised road to indicate right of way alongside the belisha beacons. That's imperfect, but an improvement on the current debacle. Could we get it? Not while Sustrans is still giving its support.

    Which is why Sustrans needs to be kicked into shape. They have got a good engineering department, and have apparently helped with some of the Bristol infrastructure development. But their campaigning group has got stuck in the late 1990s, giving the seal of approval to unacceptable mediocrity that is never going to encourage mass cycling.

    They need to look at their goals and come with a nice metric: cycle routes good enough both for the 8 year old with their grandparent -and the commuter in a hurry. What is being proposed on the turbo roundabout doesn't suit either -and instead is theft of cycling money to improve traffic flow.

    We get next to nothing for our infrastructure anyway -now the roundabout builders are stealing it in exchange for some cyclists dismount signs, with Sustrans saying "It's OK, take all of it". If the Bedford Turbo Roundabout gets to keep the cash, every civil engineer with a photo of a motorway junction on their wall be looking at their local cycling funding and thinking "How many cyclists dismount signs do I need to add to get that money for my junction?". Every project going over-budget can see the money and think "what little do I need to do get Sustrans approve me taking it".

    And the worst part? Those civil engineers think they are doing the cyclists a favour. They will think the turbogate roundabout is an improvement; they do think that an unlit underpass with barriers and dismount signs acceptable facilities. And they will think that cycling groups that whine about this are ungrateful. Why do they think that? Because Sustrans encourages it.

    Sportives are the new Critical Mass

    Critical Mass rides grew as a form of protest, for cyclists to say "We are allowed here too". They've been controversial -in New York, very much so; then there was the Olympics Critical Mass.

    Are they effective? Who knows. But they make a point -they are a chance for the cyclists to get out together and say "there are enough of us that you have to pay attention to us and our needs"

    Cities are slowly coming round to see this. In Bristol, with Infrastructure. In London, with words. In Bath with putting on hold "improvements to the urban realm", and in glasgow with patronising bollocks.

    Outside the cities though, things are different. There's the semi-rural commuter belt of many cities -S Gloucs and North Somerset being Bristol's examples. Here in S Gloucs, the council still thinks they can add more suburbs without congestion, without having to spend any money on cycling infrastructure other than a few more Cyclists Dismount signs on the A38.

    As for North Somerset, it's "improvements" are so bad they make it to the BBC, and not even Sustrans will lend their support.

    As for elsewhere, Magnatom's daily near death videos show the reality: the roads may look like country lanes, but they are really rural-rat-runs, where drivers think they can drive at 60 mph and will overtake any bicycle holding them up -irrespective of the benefits or safety of their action.

    Which is why we have to move beyond just protesting about conditions in the cities, and start protesting about conditions outside them.

    And where better to start than The New Forest.

    The New Forest, Britain's newest National Park, is now a park governed by a committee of cycling haters. As the article says "After the meeting members cited the need to tackle the problems being caused by huge cycling events in the area.". That's the big traffic issue in the area. Not the vast traffic jams on summer weekends, nor the number of New Forest Ponies getting killed by cars. No, it's the cyclists, where the most absolute exemplification of this is the Wiggle Sportive Series, Spring and Autumn.

    This is the one where three times already people have sabotaged the race. Where local councillors put up posters denouncing the ride. And as usual, there's a local paper stirring things up.

    The New Forest Haters seem to have their central power base in the Verderers, who can apparently choose the date and location of their pony round-ups  to bring them into direct conflict with the next pre-planned cycling event.

    Their attempts to impose "codes of conduct" are the next issue. They've had a general one for a while,  which isn't too bad -apart from (a) its narrow view of cycling as a leisure activity and (b) its "no cycling two-abreast" demand

    Clearly it is only cyclists that hold up cars -but it shows that it isn't just sportives that are perceived as a problem. It is just that the Wiggle sportive represents the ultimate travesty of those UKIP-voting cyclist-haters who start fuming the moment they are held up for 15 seconds by a bicycle.

    The charter for sportives somewhat more controversial. While most of it is about how to set one up effectively, anything that covers "riding two abreast" or -in the original draft- "riding as a peleton" being a bannable offence, show that holding up drivers is one of the key troublespots. Yes, for two or three days a year it happens, But has anyone tried to drive round the new forest on a saturday in august? It's almost as bad as trying to drive down the M5 over the Avonmouth bridge towards Cornwall on a Friday evening between now and September -you'll get held up by peletons of caravans, with tailbacks of them queueing to get into every service station. Nowhere do you hear residents of S Gloucs or commuters from Portishead to the North Fringe demanding a code of conduct for Caravans. But in the New Forest, cyclists represent outsiders, and are clearly resented all year round for holding up cars, and clearly hated at sportives.

    And with the recent coup at the New Forest Park Authority, things will only get worse.

    What to do? We could all just go somewhere where we are welcome. There's a wiggle event in the Cotswolds soon, one down in the Mendips mid-August. While some people may resent the cyclists, they aren't going to sabotage the race. The main hazard would be getting into trouble on the Cheddar or (worse) Deer Leap descents, but the organisers have wisely made them climbs. Road riders who want pleasant days out should consider attending.

    But to give up on the New Forest -that would be to surrender; to be chased away by tack-dropping, mud-spraying cyclist haters who would love to declare "Victory!" if events get cancelled.

    Which is why there's another action: make a stand, go to the New Forest ride. Stay somewhere local, eat out local, and make it clear that you are only visiting the area for the ride. Follow the bits of the charter that are polite, and don't leave empty gel packets everywhere. But not ride two abreast on roads too narrow for a car to overtake without changing lane. They'll have to suffer on that one. Welcome to Britain: share the road or fuck off.

    Sunday, 8 June 2014

    Car manufacturers: swapping one myth for another

    Business Week, April 2014: "Convertible Car Sales Have Plunged as Image of Fun and Freedom Dims".

    Those photos and 30-second adverts showing a happy couple driving their open-top car along though an empty county lane, or a gritty bond-esque man  gear changing aggressively as he forces his sports car through alpine roads? Dead. The customers have realised this is bollocks -as much as those banking adverts that show a friendly bank manager at a local branch greeting you, the customer. Banks have been shown to lie about the products they sell, from mortgage types to insurance, while the fact that the "dream of the open road" turns out be "the myth of the open road" is obvious to all.

    There's fuck all romantic about sitting in a motorway flyover with nothing but three lanes of traffic jam ahead of you -which is why the M4 junctions 1-3, Bristol M32 or Spaghetti Junction never show up in adverts. Cars are no longer status symbols, they are things to sit in while you suffer in traffic jams.

    As the BW article says," in the U.S. and Europe, the biggest convertible markets, are opting for more pragmatic vehicles as the automobile wanes as a symbol of social status. "

    VW dropping the EOS, Peugot abandoning their open-top yous/. The only people who haven't realised that the dream is dead are the Daily Mail article writers -and even there the usual haters in the comments lay into the story as being bollocks.

    This is leaves the car vendors with a problem: how to sell cars. And what better than another dream? What better than admitting that your drive will be stuck in a traffic jam -but saying with our urban SUV, the fact that you spend 2 hours a day and £80 a week stuck in traffic won't matter.

    As this Audi Q3 advert claims
    Calm, Serene, Don't you just love rush hour
    There's no such thing as a bad journey in the Audi Q3. With its elevated driving position, DAB digital radio and Audi Music Interface, you're always happy behind the wheel. Even whilst queuing behind a long line of traffic.

    This is absolute bollocks and someone should complain to the ASA about it.

    Because we know what people driving Audi Q-series SUVs end up doing: driving into shops while trying to run cyclists over.

    Where is the "happy behind the wheel" there? Where is the "Calm?" Where is the "serene?"

    To close the advert, the copy editors say "The Audi Q3. A great place to be"

    More accurate would be "The Audi Q3. Just as shit for driving around a UK city as any other car -but a better place to be than the on a bicycle just in front of the Audi"

    Thursday, 5 June 2014

    Autonomous Lorries may aid safety -but so would EHS enforcement

    Self-driving cars are going to be as much a solution to cities' problems as e-cars. They still take up space, they still need parking and they still will be full of cylist-haters who will resent being held up by bicycles.

    If there is a benefit, a self-driving car probably isn't going to squeeze past with 3 cm to spare. Probably. But at the same time, the car lobby will be telling stories about how wonderful it will be -and how the government just needs to spend a bit on infrastructure to help. As well as the millons already promised on charging bays, access to bus lanes is going to be the other one. No doubt they could code it up nicely, "reward early purchasers", and maybe even explain how it could be congestion aware, the auto-cars allowed into the lanes under central management when traffic is heavy and no buses due. But they will still treat cyclists as shit, still blame them for holding up e-cars, and pretend that they don't cause pollution or congestion.

    It's also going to take a long time for any portion of "the private vehicle fleet" to go self-driving, until then the safety benefits will be low. We can get an estimate of the times by the resistance car manufacturers have shown to any mandatory "safety feature" (i.e. risk transference feature): ABS, airbags &c. The vendors wanted them to be premium so that they could charge lots of money for people who wanted it, and keep selling price low for people that didn't. Overall it kept the market big and the profits high. Mandatory safety features hurt sales at the bottom and profits at the top. Bear that in mind when someone praises self-driving features like volvos that look ahead: its a premium feature because they can bill some people from it, even though lives are a lot more likely to be saved if all vehicles had it.

    The other example: the eight year delay on rolling out truck safety features in the EU. This is a major setback -lives will be lost at the expense of profit. But it represents an opportunity

    Rather than wait eight years for the safety features proposed today -we should say: in exchange for the delay, we want integrated autonomous safety features too.

    HGVs do a lot of miles. Banning them from cities at peak hours is the fix that will save the most lives without hoping for any EU legislation to deliver changes on the streets. But even after a ban, they still nearly hit people on roundabouts, squeeze past cyclists on A-roads, run people over "I mistook him for a bollard" , "I didn't expect a cyclist to be there", etc. As HGV drivers work long hours -and regularly fake their log books- fatigue is an issue.

    Making HGVs safer would save more cyclists lives than making all private cars autonomous. As about 50% of the causes of cyclist death, improvements there have the best return on investment. So what could we do with autonomous HGVs that would save lives

    1. Speed limiting co-ordinated with area speeds. 40 mph road: 40 mph maximum speed. No doubt the HGV transport companies will complain about this, but they are really arguing for the right to break the law.
    2. Enforcement of no-HGV signage. If the signs say "no", the trucks shouldn't go.
    3. Safe distance maintenance. That's motorways as well as normal roads. the HGVs can keep the stopping distance in front of them, and as they speed up, back off more. This is what drivers are meant to do, but never do: the more "professional" they get, the more aggressively they drive.
    4. Automated pedestrian and cyclist detection: if its in Volvo cars, it can go into Volvo trucks.
    5. Collaborative convoys. M-way convoying could be partially automated. Maybe it could be fully done to the extent that the drivers could sleep. There's risks there, but if it downgrades hours on the M5 to rest hours, they may be more alert in town.

      Are these unrealistic? No. Google cars can do 1-4 already. What do you think they can do in five years? In eight? If the EU is delaying safe trucks by eight years, we should go back and say "fine, we want the safety features a modern car will have in 2022, not features proposed for HGVs in 2014".

      And until then? Given how many truck drivers don't even seem to have hands free phone kit, truck companies need to care. That means Healthy and Safety legislation has to apply to trucks. Why aren't lorry companies fined if their drivers are caught texting while driving? Why, given automatic GPS tracking of trucks in become common, aren't speed limit violations being auto-reported to the police? HGV shipping companies -and worse, tipper truck companies- have built business models about dodging laws whenever they can. EHS enforcement could get them to care. And once that happens, maybe they'll actually want autonomous HGVs before the EU tells them to.

      Wednesday, 28 May 2014

      Question for any councillor blocking cycle infrastructure as "cyclists break the law"

      The recent Cambridge blocking  as cyclists break the law" shows the attitude of councillors to urban change. Yes, they pretend it is a postponement, but they are presumably planning to delay it until the grant expires and then go "a pity. We didn't actually block it though"

      For anyone whose councillors ask this -or any press covering such an event- here are the questions we recommend asking
      1. Which transport modalities does this "no new infrastructure without breaking any laws" policy apply? 
      2. Which specific laws are covered by it?
      3. What percentage of a transport user group have to be breaking these law before the policy comes into effect? Equally importantly, if the percentage of a transport user group can be shown to fall below this threshold, will your policy be revoked automatically?
      4. What is the sampling method used to determine the percentages of non-compliant users. Is it a full census of all transport users, a survey of a valid subset of users selected at random across the region, at specific times and days -repeatedly?
      5. If there are transport modes that are not covered by the policy -why not?
      6. If we can provide evidence that a tangible percentage of the users of other transport modes break the same or related traffic laws -will you consider expanding your "no infrastructure without compliance" policy to those transport modes?
      7. What if we can provide evidence that the existing users of that transport mode are -within your region- killing and seriously injuring themselves and more vulnerable other users of the regions's infrastructure -such as pedestrians?"
      8. If it is clear that you are favouring some transport modes with preferential treatment -providing the majority of cash for new infrastructure, allocating most of the finite road-pavement capacity in the region, why is this the case? Why have you chosen to explicitly focus on one subgroup of transport modes -the one shown to endanger others the least?
      9. If you are merely "delaying" a decision, is the plan to delay it past the deadline for a grant and then pretend that this was unintentional, bemoaning the fact it happened.
      10. If the central government funding falls through due to your delaying actions -will you be happy to present this fact to your electorate as and defend this outcome? 
      11. Assuming the existence of this policy becomes a topic for national coverage as well as regional, are you prepared to publish all the data and reasoning behind its adoption -and defend it?
      Finally, and this is a followup:

      Why are you such a fuckwit that you hate bicycles, assume that all cyclists are criminals -and that are not your actual voters? Do you really think it is wise to step on the toes of a group of road users who are fucking used to being treated like shit, yet still fucking hate it when some wanker politician comes out, paints them all as a group of lawbreakers, then refuses to make any attempt to actually make it safer for the cyclists to get round the city -and so perhaps even expand the number of users

      Why are you such a fucking hypocrite given that most pedestrians and cyclists are killed not by their own actions, but by those of drivers? On roads where laws on urban and rural speeding are broken so regularly that vehicles who drive in compliance with the limits are usually resented by the queue of cars behind them? Why do you not block all funding of any improvements to aid driving -even if it is just a "traffic flow improvement" at a junction, while national lobby groups actually advocate breaking laws -speed limits in particular. 

      Did you really fucking think that your statements weren't going to be on youtube within an hour, that you were going to come over as the kind of swivel-eye that lurks in the bottom of local press articles or in the team writing the bit of the UKIP election manifesto that even Farage is now disowning as being bonkers? 

      Do you think your "delay, not deny" strategy until the grants or financial year runs out is not going to be noticed. Are you hoping to kill the project and then pretend to be sad about the outcome "this was done before our concerns were fully addressed", trying to point the finger at central government instead of you petty and hypocritical actions?

      What are you going to do when local campaigners actually put their names in the hat for election in your ward, highlighting your fucking hatred of anyone who rides a bike, using a party name that explicitly calls you out for endangering cyclists by blocking infrastructure improvements funded by central government? Are you ready to have to stand up at every husting and defend your policy -again and again, as people from the audience put their hands up and ask questions that embarrass you to the extent that you start regretting ever having uttered those fateful words?

      Saturday, 24 May 2014

      Subcritical Mass

      In Maidstone a developer is proposing that the traffic congestion side effects of a proposed development by narrowing a pavement and taking away a shared use bike path, "take away the pedestrian cycle paths across the northern gyratory bridge to create an extra lane for traffic"

      This shows the sheer cynicism of property developers, who really don't gieve a fuck about the health of the livability of the towns they want to "develop" -be it the health of the high street or the health of pedestrians.

      All they want is fat lazy people to drive to the supermarkets, stock up on whatever crap they want to eat, drive home and then watch TV until the next time to stock up. If its one of the people they want to sell a flat to they probably care that the customer doesn't die of CHD before the mortgage is paid off -though as that's really a matter for the concern of the mortgage lender, they probably don't give a fuck about that either.

      Bridges are the choke points of cities. If there's a river, you either go over it or under it -or you don't cycle to your destination. They are even worse than dual carriageways, where there's often a wait-for-ten-minutes-pig-pen crossing. Bridges are all or nothing.

      In London, the bridges are key places where cyclists are threatened -think Blackfriar's Bridge. Similarly in Bristol the BRT2 proposal wants  to take away one of the safer River Avon crossings for bendy-buses. It's precisely because those bridges are so valuable for all forms of transport that people working on car traffic flows, or bus rapid transport fanatics in city planner offices (yes, West of England Partnership -that does mean you) look at the current bridges and say "we can increase the capacity of this bridge by taking away the walking and cycling options"

      In London, there were enough cyclists across the city that even when a fraction turned up, it was enough for high visibility mass protests. In Bristol, plans by the WoEP BRT-lovers got the protests out on the Bristol-Bath route, but for BRT2 things have been more subdued. The smaller routes have less mass use -but its those routes that join up the city and create the integrated routes you need for a cycle infrastructure.

      Lose the bridges and you lose the integrated routes forever. Lose the integrated routes and your city will never be safe to cycle.

      If London cyclists need to keep coming out to remind TfL of their responsibilities, if even Bristol has its work cut out -imagine what it is like in towns with less cyclists. There simply won't be enough people to oppose the plans, and the plans will go through. What protesters do come out will appear to be a few oddballs who don't deserve any space on roads they don't pay for.

      S gloucs is generally a lost cause -if it has strengths it is

      1. There's cycling support from Bristol, both commuters into the city, and to the North Fringe.
      2. The main cycle route -the railway path- is joined up to Bristol and Bath, so can't be taken away on its own. All SGloucs can do is paint random give way signs, put up the odd chicane (and remove them, except at the school crossing), and do nothing in terms of street lighting or signing access to the path from the roads nearby.
      3. the cycle path by the ringroad (the unlit one, with the dodgy crossings and leaves on it) is raised enough away from the road that it isn't easily converted into another lane of the A4174. If that wasn't the case -it'd probably be gone by now, converted into a pretend sustainable lane with a 2+ sign that cyclists could also use -along with HGVs.
      Bath? The A4 London Road shows the council's view: an ASL is all the cyclists need, and residents parking matters more than off street cycling. It took protests for the council to even think of cyclists, and even there you get half-hearted proposals from road planners that resent being told what they should be doing.

      Smaller towns get it even worse. Maidstone shows what could happen -to see it in action today look at somewhere like Southampton, where their council's street 'visions' never show a bicycle, or Weston super mare, where they take pride in their mediocrity, adding bike paths on new roads purely to say the works address "all transport needs", when in fact the cycle route is so short and shit nobody would touch it

      And here lies problem. Cycling numbers are falling outside London, Bristol and a few other densely populated cities -and even there the takeup is patchy.  This has got the smaller towns into a vicious circle
      1. the number of people driving creates pressure for action on reducing congestion
      2. the sole solution to congestion that anyone can conceive is more traffic lanes
      3. the sole space for these lanes in places where there is no room to expand is the side of the roads -the footpaths and what mediocre shared use paths there are
      4. as these were already shit paths and not part of an integrated route, they weren't used enough to make cycling a normal activity
      5. the aren't enough people to stand up for the paths, so they get taken away
      6. more people end up driving
      Is there hope? Maybe in the medium-size cities, maybe with local regions within the smaller towns.  WSM is a lost cause for now. Bath could be improved -it is a town with many students, it's not great to cycle round, but it's not so awful you fear for your life everywhere. It's connected up with bristol via the RP, it's got the Twin Tunnels. What it lacks is a good option by the A4/London Road that doesn't involve crawling along the overcrowded towpaths -not a commute option, especially in winter- or burning thighs on the hill climbs above the A4. Then there's the gyratories by the train station, and that mess in the centre. 

      Cyclists of Bath: follow Bristol and London -as if you can't, places like Southampton and Maidstone are fucked!