Monday 29 October 2012

We'll dispose of your bicycle for you.

This on Homerton Street, Cambridge.

Note if you park a car in the wrong space down there then it will, according to the signs by the parking spaces, be clamped. Your car will not be permanently taken away from you, it will not be 'removed and disposed of'. You can't do that with a car, you'll end up in all sorts of trouble. I suspect that even threatening to do so would land you in a whole world of hurt.

Note that parking in the wrong place down there means physically taking up what may be a disabled place, it can mean physically blocking someone with a disability from being able to use the site. And the signs say you'll be clamped if you do that. Thats right, if you park a car in the wrong place they'll make sure your car STAYS in the wrong place. It'll remain blocking the space. But if you lock your bike up against a tree (which is of course in the middle of the roundabout on Homerton Street - not in the road or obviously somewhere blocking access - in face not obviously a problem at all) then it will be 'removed and disposed of'. They will take your bike away and 'dispose of' it.

Now I'd have thought that implies permanently taking someone elses property. Which is theft. Thats what I'd have thought. But I'm not a cycling lawyer so what do I know?

Thanks Encore Estate Management, really good of you to single us cyclists out for special treatment. Really nice. Remind me never to have the slightest thing to do with you.

Shopping by bike - vote with your D-lock...

I went down to Hughes electrical shop at lunchtime. We want a new stereo for the kitchen, I always used to get kit from Hughes when they were up on Burleigh Street, now they've moved it made sense to see how they're getting on down where they are now, Cherry Hinton Road.

Burleigh Street isn't bad for cyclists. A good example of compromise between different users of the space - I mean that without intending any sarcasm or criticism. Its sort of 'pedestrianised', in that motor vehicles can't go up and down most of it (or the adjoining Fitzroy street), and its closed to cyclists between 10:00AM and 4:00PM, Monday to Saturday. This is a very busy pedestrian route during shopping hours, but for commuting its also a handy throughfare. And its also got loads of cycle lock spaces along its length - that sounds silly (whats the use of a bike lock you can't ride to?), but there are several side street access points to Burleigh Street and Fitzroy Street, its easy enough to ride on to the street and push the bike to a locking space. Do some cyclists flout these rules? Of course they do. Does anyone ever get hurt? Not to the my knowledge. And with ample local, independent shops, charity shops and some chains (and close access to the Grafton Centre), its really one of the more useful places in Cambridge to know about - alongside Cambridge Market its a place you're likely to shop at if you live here, although its off the beaten path for tourists.

Hughes used to be there. Cracking little small chain of electrical retailers, with the rarest commodity of all - knowledgeable staff.

So I went down to Cherry Hinton Road, where they've moved to. Now Cherry Hinton Road is a motorists heaven - places to park, wide lanes, more or less straight, utterly unpoliced, an entirely hostile place to be a cyclist. I was also disappointed to discover that while Hughes have somewhere to pick up by car, there is nowhere to lock up my bike. Nowhere at all. There's a domestic railing and street sign down the road, but if I actually want to buy the new stereo then I'll have to go back with my bike trailer, and if I lock that up there I'll completely block pavement - I can't do that. The chap in the shop directed me to their side alley and the railing therein; naturally its got a 'no cycles' sign on it, and as the railing belongs to another building I won't be able to use it. I'd also be blocking access if I did that.

So how the heck do I buy this stereo from Hughes? The short answer is that I can't. I suppose I could call in a favour from a friend and get a lift by car, but frankly that'll take hours (this is Cambridge after all, only a fool would choose to drive in to the city). I could leave the bike and trailer out front, but I'm confident that this being Cherry Hinton Road, it WILL get nicked. The simple truth is that without somewhere to lock up my bike I'm not going to shop there - I'll go and test the kit out on Wednesday, but unless they can give me  a better option for where to lock up I'll be forced to thank them kindly and go home to buy the stereo online. Not what I want to do but if they want my custom, shouldn't they accomodate my desire to shop by bicycle?

Hughes will join my (thankfully short) list of retailers I've gone to look at by bike and resolved never to return to because they don't want me there. If they wanted me there, if they wanted my business, they'd have bike locks. So that means you, Notcutts at Horningsea - last time I the best I could find for locking to was a flimsy wire fence. It means you, Screwfix. How the heck can you sell steel frames to lock bikes to but not actually have any installed yourself? Thats inexcusable. It now also means you, Hughes. Sorry. Was nice knowing you, but you decided you don't want me any more.

Bluntly, I'm not just a cyclist. From a retailers point of view, I'm a consumer. Why alienate me by not giving me a safe place to lock up my bike?

Thursday 25 October 2012

Could we all stop apologising please?

I'm assuming, if you read this, that you're a cyclist.

I'm also assuming that other people know you're a cyclist.

If those two assumptions are correct then I know you've had this conversation. You'll have had it when you've ridden to work or to the pub, to the shops or to anywhere you're then talking to non cyclists. Perhaps you had this discussion as a reault of saying you got cut up or intimidated by a motorist, maybe it started when you were actually knocked off your bike by an inattentive motorist. It cold even just happen because you were taking off your cycle helmet. Doesn't take much.

You know the one.

"Oh, and those cyclists without lights..."
"Yes, and they never wait at red lights..."
"They're always on the pavement..."

The idea seems to be that an appropriate response to ANYTHING to do with cycling is to raise such complaints. At you. Such unprovoked ranting will frequently be accompanied by generally sympathetic 'we're totally in favour of cyclists' platitudes, usually shortly before laying in with yet another misnformed meander into 'road tax' or insurance.

I'm going to ask you to do something rather radical next time this happens.

I'm going to ask you to stop apologising for things that are neither your fault nor your responsibility.

Don't say 'but thats not me'. Don't say 'yes, thats right, but I don't red light jump'. Don't even say 'you have a point about riding on a pavement, I'd never do that.'. Stop it, you're falling in to their unintentional trap. You are reinforcing their prejudice against us by giving them the impression we ARE collectively responsible. If you apologise or even acknowledge being linked to these other cyclists then the people you're taking to will go away from this discussion with their preconceptions vindicated.

So do something else. Don't do what you'd normally want to do. Don't play nice. After all, in bringing these unrelated (and for the most part harmless) misdemeanours to your attention, your critic isn't playing nice. Why should you?

Here are some alternative responses:

"Gosh, really? A cyclist? On the pavement? Slaloming around all those parked cars? Good for him, hopefully he'll catch up with all the motons on the path and kick their teeth out".

"A cyclist? Going through a red light? Hardly surprising with the number of feckwits who'll try to squash him when the lights change. Good on him for realising that."

"You saw how many cyclists without lights? You saw how many cyclists without lights? Wow. I guess lights don't help after all. Thanks."

"Oh, just fuck off. Why are you bringing this shit to me? Do I complain to you about every driver in the cycle lane each and every speeding moton on the motorway? No? Then I stand by my earlier 'fuck off'".

Look at this another way. A black guy walks into a bar and complains to his white mates therein that he's been abused for being black. His white mates wouldn't dream of saying 'mind you, I saw a black guy keying a car a while ago'. They'd never do that because to do so displays simple, unremarkable prejudice; its not considered reasonable or rational to blame an individual of any racial group for the crimes of others, even by implication. And ultimately the aforementioned bellyaching about cyclist 'crimes' is just that; they're blaming us for these offences by association and using that as justification for their own prejudice. Thats how prejudice works, it feeds upon itself to maintain intensity.

Racists don't believe they're racist. Bigots don't proudly declare they're bigoted. Sexists don't shout from the rooftops that they're sexist. To these folk their prejudice seems rational and reasonable; of course, the more enlightened among us can readily cut to the chase and send them packing when they come out with such intolerance in otherwise polite company. Why the hell aren't we doing that with prejudice directed against us?

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Gilbert Road - Revisited

Ages ago I posted some thoughts on Gilbert Road to my old Livejournal blog, here and here. I sort of forgot about that old blog because the Livejournal interface is so bad that I moved here instead, but its still there for anyone who wants a look.

I mention this now because Freewheeler has, in his joyfully scathing blog, quoted me here. Apparently Gilbert Road is used by CTC as an example of 'best practice', and folk across the country suddenly seem keen to point out everything thats wrong with it. And in response a few others are keen to point out everything thats good with it. And I find myself, all of a sudden, in the middle of that.

So lets have another look at Gilbert Road, a year and a half on. How good is it really?

I rode it yesterday, and I'll go and have another ride on it later with the camera. I'll add a link to the footage here when I youtube it. You'll see if you go and ride it that for the most part its not dreadful - for a UK cycle lane its wide (1.7m). Its surfaced well and only a fool would say that its not a better ride than it was.

My issue with Gilbert Road is not, and has never been that the new lanes are not better. I'm not opposed to all on-road cycle lanes - sometimes thats not the worst solution! But here? On Gilbert Road, in Cambridge?

Lets put this into context. We're not a minority. Half of the populace ride a bike regularly, we account for upwards of a fifth of all journeys. We're mainstream. But we're also flatlining - stats for cycling in Cambridge have been similar since at least the '90s. So despite Gilbert Road cycle lanes, extended bike parks underneath City Centre car parks and cycle lanes on many roads, we're going nowhere. It is demonstrably true that cycling is making no advances in Cambridge, not matter how often Cambridge Cycling Campaign and the County Council smugly pat each other on the back because 22% or so of journeys are made by bike. Success such as would be measured by increasing share has not happened.

So I think we should ask a very obvious question. Who is the investment in cycling infrastructure for, and why do we make that investment? Is it for those who are already cycling, or is it for those who are not?

If its for guys like me, who ride their bikes come rain or shine, all year, Gilbert Road is great. But frankly I would ride the road with or without a cycle lane; why invest in me? Why spend money on facilities to encourage me to do something I'm doing anyway? I'm not the target audience for such facilities; you won't increase cycling modal share by being nice to me. You'd have to physically bar me from the roads to keep me from riding on them.

So lets assume that Gilbert Road changes were for those too scared to ride on it before. Lets say they were all about making the road feel safer for people who previously rode on the pavement. If Gilbert Road worked then there would be practically no one riding on the pavement any more, right?

This is where we see the real failing in an inadequate cycling facility. Now that we have improvements in Gilbert Road, and a cycle route on Milton Road (one giving way to each and every side road, slaloming through pedestrians who share it), cyclists choosing to ride on the pavement instead or who continue on the pavements after the unlabeled end of the shared use facilities are 'antisocial', and our councillors have declared war on them. Note, they didn't say that clearly the cycle lanes have failed if there are still lots of people on the pavement (which seems an obvious conclusion to me). If you don't use the cycle lane because its not safe or if you ride on past the unlabelled, invisible end of a cycle route, you're an antisocial law breaker and the Police have been instructed to deal with you. Its your fault. Not the fault of those who have created a facility thats still not good enough for you to feel safe there, nor is it the fault of those who have utterly failed to make a joined up, useful cycle network. Hopping on to the pavement because there are cars illegally parked on Gilbert Road and getting out of the cycle lane into the steady stream of rapid traffic isn't appealing? Tough titties, we're sending the Rozzas out to get you, cyclist scum.

You can't measure the success or a facility by asking those using it. You deem such a facility a failure if some still fear to do so. There are still many who ride on the pavement on Gilbert Road, therefore that facility has failed. Bottom line is if we measure by results Gilbert Road isn't good enough.

Which brings us back to what we should have had there.

Its a wide road. There is ample room for fully segregated cycling routes there, but after a decade of campaigning Cambridge Cycling Campaign settled for third best. I've dealt with that in the blog posts linked to at the top. Bottom line is that this route was the best that Cambridge Cycling Campaign thought they could get, and they really must answer the key questions raised by this facility. Namely, if we're not, In Cambridge, here and now, going to hold out for the best facilities for cyclists, then where, and when? And who are these 'facilities' for if they have failed to increase modal cycling share, and if they act as a catalyst for  punishing cyclists who are merely trying to remain safe?

The politics of road use in Cambridge have failed us. Why should cyclists now continue playing nice if it leads to failure?