Wednesday 28 November 2012

Cyclists Front of Cambridge?

It has been suggested to me by whoever tweets for Cycling Embassy of Great Britain  that we need a new cycling campaign organisation in Cambridge.

(as an aside, I joined up with CEofGB online, and promptly forgot all registration details - they're a jolly good bunch, don't entirely agree with each other on everything as far as I can see but then where would the fun be in that?)

Anyway, do we? I mean, do we need a bolshy, vocal, cycling campaign group here?

Anyone got any thoughts?

Monday 26 November 2012

Regent Street/Lensfield Road re-design?

Ideally I'd like to see most cycle facilities in the UK be off-road, wide, well surfaced, protected, direct, prioritised over side roads, etc. But that ain't happening yet.

We're primarily seeing roads and junctions considered with cyclists at least in the back of the minds of road planners - conceptually better than us not being considered at all, but still not at all good enough of course. Here's a classic example. This is the proposal for how Hills Road/Regent Street/Lensfield Road junction might be changed.

At present that junction is a killer - its congested, with far too many lanes of traffic squeezed in. Cars turning in any direction give no space for cyclists - and the cycle lanes that exist on Regent Street/Hills Road either disappear many yards before the junction or randomly appear on your exit from it - they're badly surfaced, barely wide enough, and so regularly chock full of cars, buses or taxis as to be frequently un-navigable. Here's what it looks like on Google Maps:

View Larger Map

looking towards Regent Street from Hills Road - the plan is to reduce this
to two lanes for cars but, strangely, not give any room to anyone else...

It will come as no surprise that at present this is one of the most hazardous junctions for cyclists in Cambridge. It has big, wide sweeping corners to allow motorists to accelerate rapidly into the yellow hatched area - it therefore has two traffic speeds, static and far too fast. Cyclists can either wait in long lines of motorists who will try to muscle through them when the lights change or they can squeeze through gaps barely wider than they are to the front, wait in front of the cars, and at least put themselves in a place where the motorists have to knowingly kill them rather than carelessly pancake them on the curbside.

Here we've actually got rather wide roads, lots of space to design features to make this an excellent place to ride your bike or walk through the city. Right? When looking at this junction its obvious what needs to be done - we need to reconsider how the space is used and put pedestrians first, cyclists second, bus and delivery drivers third and cars fourth. We need to prioritise the safety of the most vulnerable and least polluting, and we need to tame the cars that turn this into a more of a survival lottery than a civilised junction.

Clearly there's no space for bikes on Regent Street... At least, not
according to the new plans
You will of course be unsurprised to learn that proposed changes to the junction do not do this. There are some changes that have passing resemblance to good infrastructure, but that does not stand up to analysis. The junction is still smooth and fast - designed by motorists, for motorists. Pedestrians still have pointless extra distance to travel to get to crossings designed to corale them away from the cars - taming the car is clearly more than we can expect.

And cycling? Look, there are advance stop boxes. You'll have to scrape the paint of the buses and cars between narrow lanes of traffic to get to them; we're not actually taking any road space and giving it to you, we're simply putting a box at the front of the traffic and pretending we give a damn. I mean you won't be able to get to these bike boxes in anything like safety, and on current record they're not enforced anyway - they'll have cars in them when you get there. And from these boxes there's no evidence of an advance phase on the lights for cyclists - you can battle your way to the front and then f**k you. You'll have to put up with cars turning left through the space you're in, or wrestle across the traffic that wants to go straight on through you while you're turning right. And heaven help you if the lights change when you're stuck between two vans as you're shuffling towards the ASL - we'll send out a man with a mop to wipe you up. Well, we would if you weren't a cyclist. We'll let the hedgehogs eat you. Not that a hedgehog has the least chance of surviving this road either.

What would you like here - an ASL for squeezing between the
taxi and the lorry, or reduction to one lane for cars and one for bikes?
I can't imagine what would possess planners to pitch this as a good design for cyclists, and I rather hope that Cambridge Cycling Campaign respond in a far more critical way than they've sometimes done. This isn't any kind of improvement for us - its re-branding a positively vile sea of cyclist and pedestrian mangling tarmac in such a way as to put a sheen of caring on it. It won't change anything, it won't make anything better. It exists purely to make it look like they're helping us.

What we need at this junction to make it safer is quite simple - direct, protected cycle lanes with their own light phase to allow transit for cyclists in space sufficiently safe that they will not feel pushed on to the pavement merely to survive. Direct routes for pedestrians - that means sorting out the wide, sweeping corners that currently encourage motorists to act as if they're indestructable. And lets be realistic about how long pedestrians need to cross the road - its unacceptable to tell people they'll either have to stand on a traffic island for several minutes or sprint in between the cars, all for the sake of making the motorists wait another few seconds.

This junction, as it currently stands and as it would be after these changes, is for motorists. Anyone else using it would do so under their sufferance - and that is short sighted nonsense. Lets have a braver, more realistic proposal for a junction that would be genuinely safe for pedestrians and cyclists. This proposal? Rubbish.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Angry, am I?

Angry cyclist? Me? Like feck I am.

THIS guy is angry.

BBC - Television BY motorists, FOR motorists

A short note on the news report on BBC Breakfast today about rural cycling. Good stuff from the Sustrans chap (decent quality segregated rural cycle routes are a good thing - but with respect guys, that one in Cambridge is rather more in the suburbs than the countryside), not such good stuff from the journalists.

Not an alltogether bad report, but as is so often the case in news from a network run BY motorists, FOR motorists, it shied away from the bleeding obvious - cyclists going about their reasonable, legal business on rural roads are being mowed down in increasing numbers by motorists who are irresponsibly and illegally going too fast.

And its that simple. The highway code is a simple enough document containing the excellent rule telling us to drive as such a speed such that we can stop in the distance we can see - you can be driving under the speed limit and STILL be going too fast to be driving legally. Thats a key requirement especially on hedge lined rural roads where there could be a stray sheep, a deer, a fallen tree etc. around every corner. Its good advice, and if you ignore it and hit something that you ought to have missed then its your own fault. If its a pedestrian or a cyclist that'll make you a killer.

And yet we've got an article on the dangers of rural cycling (which is for the most part motorists driving so fast they can't miss you, driving with an illegal lack of regard for the safety of others) which completely failed to address this key point.

So, once again the BBC pay lip-service to cycle safety without at any point addressing the key problem. Whats killing ever more cyclists in the UK is dangerous drivers. Lets not over complicate things. Lets not dodge the problem. Lets tackle it.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Victim Blame - How much is not too much?

Pondering on a aspects of typical 'road safety' campaigns lately, and of course on the standard pitter patter of stupid comments about cyclists not having lights. And I wonder - how much telling cyclists to take care is okay, and how much is victim blame?

I'm prompted by two stories - one showing yet more back-pedalling from the 'Stupid Twats', the other about an event that appears to be a classic example of targeting the victims rather than the cause of accidents. This also came about as the result of a discussion with some Cycling Twitterati, who chose to use the (very emotive) example of victim blame in rape to highlight why concentrating on perceived mistakes of cyclists rather than the cause of the overwhelming majority of injuries (motorists!) is offencive.

We're treading on emotional ground here. Let me begin by saying that I'm not interested in belittling anyone who has suffered from rape, sexual abuse or assault. I do not blame the victims for what happened,  'she/he was asking for it' or any bullshit variant thereof can not reasonably be used to excuse or mitigate such acts, either wholly or in part. Similarly, I don't seek to offend through comparisons with cyclists being injured on the roads - nor do I wish to cause offence to cyclists who believe that the endemic victim blame we see in the analysis of cyclist injury can be reasonably compared to how sexual assault was/is thus treated...

Oh for fecks sake. I don't want to offend you, okay? But I'm not going to beat myself up if I do. So there! Gordons alive, must be something wrong with how a subject is handled if even I'm worried about upsetting...

Right, thats out of the way.

The question here is not whether 'victim blame' is okay. Of course it bloody isn't. And where you encounter it you should remorselessly squash it. Victim blamers deserve a good verbal slapping.

The question is how much focus there can be on victims if we're trying to reduce the incidence of whatever kind of incidents we're talking about, and whether a similar or greater focus on the gross causes of such incidents is needed to put this in a credible context.

So back to the old 'she was asking for it' defence. Clearly thats bullshit. I acknowledge that. Still, were I to be asked whether a young girl should walk around city centre bars in a swimsuit, I'd say probably not - its not 'asking for it', but one might argue that such could increase the likelihood of getting into a bad situation. Wouldn't be her fault if that happened, but it would be stupid to ignore risk factors.

But thats as far as we can go. Should someone say to me 'there's too much rape going on, we're going to get the police to stand outside and talk to girls telling them to dress more appropriately', I'd be taken aback. Surely, I'd respond, thats missing the point entirely; yeah, maybe girls in min-skirts ARE more often in that situation, but oughtn't we be dealing with the rapists rather than the victims? I mean, are we not taking a small statistical factor and blowing it up out of all proportion, ending up in a rather twisted victim-blaming scenario? Its quite gratifying that while there are still a few dinosaurs who continue with their outright nasty blame of women for rape, most of them have been required to shut the fuck up by a society that has begun, in recent years, to come to its senses.

Lets get back to cycling; we know that not having bike lights IS linked to some incidents. Various reports put it at about 2% of KSI (killed and seriously injured) cyclists. We also know that motorists are to blame for 70% or more of cyclist injuries; it appears to me that we ought to expect that if police and assorted local and national bodies with an interest in road safety want to reduce the number of cyclist injuries they'll concentrate on the big causes; motorist inattention, dangerous driving.

So one wold assume that the main focus for cyclist safety IS those drivers who risk our lives? One would assume wrong. In fact you struggle to find any campaigning aimed at motorists, who are after all causing the bulk of cyclist injuries - its all about blaming the cyclists. ALL we do is blame the cyclists. We don't have concerted campaigns aimed at motorists, we don't have the Police stopping drivers passing cyclists too close; we've got Police stopping cyclists to talk about lights, even (in the example in Portsmouth) where those cyclists already have lights. This is an astonishing level of victim blame.

Now I don't mind if someone gives the simple, fair advice that cyclists should have lights at night - that is after all the law, so long as its within a context where the overwhelming risk factor (bad motorists) is acknowledged. But thats ALL we get. There is no emphasis on the 70%+ of cyclist injury caused entirely by motorists. This isn't like suggesting to girls that wearing revealing clothes in rough bars is maybe not the best plan, this is essentially putting ALL of the blame on cyclists for something that SOME do wrong, which is causing 2% of injuries, while COMPLETELY ignoring factors that cause the enormous bulk of problems. 

Please excuse me for extending what I myself find to be a distasteful analogy; this is ignoring the rapist and blaming the victims. This is ALL that our Police, local authorities and most media do. Through their incessant focus on trivial contributory factors leading to actually quite rare cyclist injury, the very small number we're responsible for, they demonstrate that they blame us for the crimes of others against us. Whether this is through simple ignorance or prejudice against cyclists really doesn't matter (I tend towards it being ignorance); it is fair and reasonable that cyclists should be angry about this. Few enough resources are spent on our safety such that we can be justifiably angry when they're mis-used in such a way as to reinforce negative portrayals of us through this incessant victim blame.

So next time you encounter someone making one of these common 'victim blame' mistakes, please don't carelessly compare this with blaming a rape victim - yes, its similar, but you're into an emotive-subject-labyrinth and you don't want to end up doing intellectual back flips to avoid causing offence. But please do deal with this persons misguided attempt to 'help' in the way it deserves - harshly.

Edit: Oh, the cascade of victim blame keeps on rolling in. Motorists; are you blind? Then support our campaign to give out free hi-viz to cyclist so you can see them better!

Monday 19 November 2012

Dear Police Commissioner - updated

Dear Sir/Madame,

Here goes... Here's my first draft of a 'model' letter to send to the new Police commissioners to get in first with a request to get them on-side with serious, fair cycle safety in policing. Not at all happy with this draft yet, but its a start - comments welcome.

Congratulations on your recent appointment to the role of Police Commissioner for (insert name of county/police force area here).

I would like to take the opportunity to request that you consider certain priorities in policing in xxxx, specifically with regard to issues of importance to vulnerable road users.

Where dealing with these issues, I'd like you to consider hard statistical evidence for what is or is not a problem. For example, while I'm sure we'd all accept that a cyclist out at night should have the neccessary lighting, we know that a very low percentage of cyclst injuries are caused by cyclists not being lit. Something in the region of 2% of cyclists KSI (killed and seriously injured) are from incidents thus attributed, a proportion so small as to be difficult to accurately measure.

Thus when determining how to spend resrouces to make roads safer for vulnerable road users, I would like to ask you to look further than naked requsts based on individuals own perceptions - however compelling such accounts appear to be. I'm sure that you, like me, have a desire to use policing resources prudently to have as great an impact on road safety as possible. So please consider the following.

As I'm sure you're aware, there have been numerous studies into the causes of cyclist and pedestrian injury on our roads, and such studies vary all show that around 70% or more of cyclist injuries are solely the fault of motorists, whereas in the region of 7-20% are attributed to cyclists. In fact, even if we look at the specific things cyclists are so often accused of (cycling on the pavement and red light jumping) we see that these issues, while annoying, are not major contributory factors in cyclist or pedestrian injury statistics - pedestrians are far more likely to be killed or injured on the pavement by motorists than by cyclists.

With this in mind, I'd like to know what your policing priorities to improve safety for vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists) will be - I would hope that your priority setting would mirror the real issues we have on the road based on rational, statistical analysis of risk factors. Could you please provide me with some information regarding what you aim to do in this area?

I will of course be happy to provide reference for any data quoted in this letter, and if there are any issues you wish to discuss regarding cyclist safety I would be happy to help.

Yours sincerely...

So, what do you think? How can this be made better?

Edit 1: Have changed it a bit to focus more on 'vulnerable road users' rather than just 'cyclists', and put a broader sweep on the stats. Still unsure about putting full reference to studies in.

Edit 2: Accepted fair wrist slap for confusing 'incident' with 'accident'!

Police Commisisoners - What do we want out of them?

Okay, the Police Commissioner elections came and went. I voted, turns out I'm in a tiny minority (but not as tiny as the number who voted for the winning candidate, fewer than 4% of electorate selected him here in Cambs.).

So we're stuck with this position being a real thing.

What do we want out of these Commissioners? And how do we go about getting it?

We can be pretty sure that the Blue Rinse brigade have already started penning letters complaining about cyclists being in the way, being all over the road, not using cycle lanes, going through red lights, being all over the pavements, killing kittens, summoning the elder Gods and generally destroying Humanity. We know that said Fogey-Squad are out t get us. We know that they're numerous, they're malicious and they're barking mad, and we also know that democracies do tend to cave in to such people. So policing now being 'democratic' an argument could be made that we also need to get just as organised and just as assertive.

So I'm posting this as a starting point - what do we do? Do we need a concerted campaign to write letters demanding what we want? What DO we want? Simply, what do we do?

Monday 12 November 2012

You evil, victim blaming scum.

UPDATE: Ride-smart campaign has been removed. See Update 2, at bottom of post.

Seen this?

Okay, there are some stupid cyclists out there. I know that. You know that. We all know that. Its not under discussion. Name anything humans do and, likely as not, there are some people do do it badly. Get over it already.

Here we've got a website devoted to telling cyclists what they're doing wrong, linking those errors to 3,000 KSI (killed or seriously injured) on our roads every year, and to 19,000 accidents. Now whoever wrote this site (and when I work it out I'll update this blog entry) sounds, on first analysis, like they have a point. On further analysis however... lets think, what phrase does this guy keep using... 'Stupid Twat'. Well, lets consider.

First things first, the site uses video footage from youtube, without linking to those who uploaded those films or asking permission. Says at the bottom 'we never saved their usernames and couldn't track them back'. Really? There's always the comments box; its not hard to track down the owner of any of those videos. And you've got the audacity to call other people stupid twats? Wow. I mean, just, wow. Great start there.

We'll let that go for now though. I'm sure the owners of those videos will be in touch if they care. And I should think they might.

Lets lump the specific claims together. Lets start with the whole concept that cyclists are causing accidents in which they get hurt. Well, turns out that cyclists are not to blame for 93% of their own injuries. So we've got a cyclist safety campaign concentrating on a rather small proportion of accidents. Literally, add up all of the things this childish website focuses on and you're still ignoring more than 9 out of 10 of cyclist injuries.

In fact most of the claims there are, individually, such small contributors to cyclist injury as to barely show up in stats. Listen to music at a reasonable volume while riding? The evidence is that isn't not a big deal at all.

Jump red lights? Well you're in a minority. And depending on conditions you might be safer doing so. Turns out doing so doesn't much show up in accident stats anyway.

On to claims about cycle helmets... Sheesh, lets not go there. Lets just say a half inch of polystyrene foam must be amazingly comforting when an articulated lorry is crushing your ribcage.

So this is a campaign erroneously blaming cyclists for accidents primarily caused by motorists, sickeningly mis-portraying the real state of play on our roads?

We could do without this kind of victim blaming nonsense.

So, dear readers, if you were to apportion the title of 'stupid twat' to anyone, can you think of any website owners who may deserve it?

Update: Superb bit of work at Wheels, Pedals, Person hilighting who seems responsible for this crap.

Update 2: Oh look, having seen that he's in the wrong. Chris Michael, Director of Technology at Karmarama, the company responsible for this vile campaign, has tweeted lots of apologetic tweets to folk. All 18 at time of posting look like this but to various twitterers.

Well I'm glad that sickening site has gone, but lets be clear; I do not accept your apology Mr. Michael. I will do so when you put the same effort in to combatting the actual, quantifiable, major risks to cyclists as you did with your pathetic victim blaming slur of a site. You, Mr. Michael, have some making up to do. Do it.

Friday 9 November 2012

Quit it with this 'mutual respect' rubbish

Been a tumultuous time for cycling in the news. First news broke that Wiggo had been hurt in a collision, then that team GB coach Shane Sutton is in hospital following a collision (get well soon chaps, your contributions to UK sport cycling are inspirational). And then a never-ending cascade of nasty directed towards cyclists on social media sites (as discussed here by Calrton Reid).

One of the messages that has been tweeted and re-tweeted, stated over and over again and basically repeated as a dogma is that whats missing is 'mutual respect'. That somehow cyclists and motorists should all just 'respect' each other and then we'll have some kind of road-nirvana tarmacaddam love-fest.

That message is vacuous crap.

Honestly, do you really think cyclists don't 'respect' motorists? A motorist is surrounded by sharp metal, gleaming glass, unyielding plastic and a heavy engine full of pistons churned by flammanble poison. Can anyone, hand on heart, say that the problem here is cyclists don't 'respect' that? Of course we bloody do. And if we don't choose to do so we're mercilessly bullied to the kerb to enfoce the perception we MUST respect motorists. We do not, at any time when using the road, have any real opportunity through our actions to demonstrate disrespect to motorists - except perhaps through a few choice hand gestures. And I'll wager that such gestures are 95% of the time reactive rather than proactive. Our choice of safe road position is NOT a show of disrespect, its an attempt to survive.

On the other hand, motorists can EASILY choose to show disrespect to cyclists, and the number of examples of motorists doing so on camera (how many helmet-camera riders on You Tube now?) or just on Twitter is staggering. We encounter it over, and over, and over, and over again. A staggering number of motorists will use the excuse of Brad Wiggins getting hurt to express this 'disrespect' or, more likely, utter hatred and a vile wish for us to be murdered.

So please, can you all take your 'mutual respect' and go feck yourselves? I DO respect motorists as fellow human beings, and I am forced to respect the enormous disparity in how much harm they can do to me compared with how much I can do to them. All I ask in return is for that to be returned, but I can say flat out that this does not happen.

This bland implication that there is more that cyclists must do to 'respect' motorists before we deserve not to be maimed or murdered in ever increasing numbers... Gosh, if that doesn't bring a little bit of sick up to the back of your throat, I don't know what will.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Dear John Lewis,

Hi. Yesterday I went in to your store in Cambridge to buy a new computer printer. Not a cheap game, I spent best part of £200 in your store. My old one, being a Kodak, is broken. Don't buy a Kodak.

I hitched my bike trailer up and rode in to town. When I got to the Grand Arcade Cycle Park it was full, I had to wait to get somewhere to lock up my bike and trailer. The sign outside for the car park (I note that motorists get a nice flashy sign telling them if there is space; cyclists get an unlabelled basement) told me there was loads of space there.

I walked up stairs to your second storey computer department, along the full length of the shopping centre, bought my printer, and headed out again. Thus I had to carry my (heavy, bulky) printer all the way back.

The comparison with how I'd have fared by car is interesting. I believe you've got a 'customer collections' desk by your little side entrance; I've frequently seen cars illegally parked in the bus stops next to it with folk collecting goods to put in the boot. There's also the entrance to level 3 of the car park right next to your computer department, and while I was there I couldn't fail to spot people walking straight out and straight to their cars stopped right at the doors.

Now I know that as a cyclist I can be expected to be fitter and harder working than a typical motorist, but come on John Lewis, do I really have to hump boxes the full length of the shopping centre and through a cramped basement built for far fewer cycles than are typically locked up there? Have you even considered that half of all people in Cambridge have a bike, that a fifth of trips here are made by bike, and that in making needlessly hard to get goods out of your shop by bike you're going to lose trade?

The bottom line is that next time I need a 'big ticket' item I'm going to the Beehive Centre. Where there are bike racks by the doors of your competitors shops. There are several pieces of homeware I'll be needing shortly; this is very shortly going to cost you that trade.

Will you, please, do something to make collections of big ticket items by bike (cargo bikes, bike trailers etc.) feasible?


A frustrated (currently) ex-customer.

Monday 5 November 2012

Cyclist Hater Type 4: The Codger

We've already discussed cyclist haters types 1, 2 and 3 (the Brat, the Beamer, and the Gripper). If my readers will indulge me once again, I'm going to address Type 4. The Codger. And for the first time I'm going to encourage you to actually show some sympathy for the hater.

Codgers, as you might expect, are usually older. But just like there are old Brats there are plenty of young Codgers.

Codgers hate us because we're DANGEROUS to them or ourselves when we ride on cycle routes or roads that they might want to drive on or walk on. They are usually quite obsessed with this fear, and will at any opportunity try to subvert any discussion related to cycling to share this irrational fear. The most influential Codgers even want to change the law to deal with us. Many of them are retired, they've got the time and the know-how to turn up to countless council meetings and police consultations, ensuring that we're constantly portrayed as the enemy of all that is decent on the roads.

In fairness to the Codger, being hit by a cyclist on the pavement can cause life changing injuries. In rare cases it can kill. And to kill another person through ones own negligence is unacceptable. No one would, in this regard, argue otherwise.

So the problem with Codgers isn't that anyone would support antisocial or dangerous cycling. The problem with Codgers is that they are loud, they are persistent, and they are barking up the wrong tree entirely.

Cyclists do kill on pavements. On average you can count the annual number of fatalities thus caused in the UK on one hand. Sometimes one finger. It would take 151 years for cyclists to kill as many people on the pavement as are killed on the pavement by motorists in a single year.

Available stats do not back up the Codger, but if you think that means we can simply write off the Codger as a crazy mentalist then you're mistaken. 'Subjective safety', yell the cycle campaigners pleading for more and better routes for cyclists, when trying to get people to understand why we don't want to ride on the road that is statistically rather safe. Well, quite. But that means we can't condemn the Codger for feeling endangered by cyclists who are, after all, near silent. We can quite reasonably point out that they're wrong, that their fears are out of proportion to all real risk, but to hinge our responses to codgers on that while simultaneously arging in favour of better facilities so we feel safer smacks of hypocrisy.

That said, lets think about who these Codgers are and, perhaps, we'll get closer to understanding why they put their rather naive arguments forward.

A Codger will frequently claim to be 'keen cyclist myself', a sure fire sign that they might have a bike in the back of the garage or the shed, but that it rarely sees light of day except perhaps for a quiet weekend ride in summer. These folk aren't cyclists, and they're not instinctively cyclist friendly. To them, we're 'other', we're strange social outliers who are wierd and frightening. And, bluntly, the motorists who are 150 times more likely to kill them on pavements than we are, aren't. The motorists speeding down their roads are just folk that they know (or folk that they are), whereas the cyclists are either yoghurt knitting hippies or dangerous cyclopaths. Make no mistake; their fear is not borne out of any rational assessment of risk, it comes from ignorance and prejudice.

But fear it is nonetheless, and its wrong for us to ridicule the Codger for being afraid of us, however disproportionate their fear is. The solution? Let them see you're human and give them a fair response. Appease their fears. Humour them while pointing out, politely, that they're wrong. Let them rant, if it helps them, but don't miss the opportunity to turn their rants around on them and demonstrate their arguments are based on ignorance and/or prejudice. Because, ultimately, we'll only really silence the Codgers by curing their ignorance and defeating their prejudice.

Shopping by Bike - the painful truth

Last week I had a little rant about bad cycle provision at some local shops.

I took a couple of days off after that; I never seem to use up holiday and I had a lot to do. Perfect chance to actuall do the shopping I needed to do, including picking up a new stereo from Hughes. Clamped the bike trailer to the bike (the hybrid), and set off towards Cherry Hinton Road.

Continuing roadworks on Hills Road aren't a problem if you're quick and agile on a bike. With a trailer on my slow bike I'm neither. So where the bike lake ended with a sign across saying 'cycle lane suspended' at a three-way set of temporary lights, I found myself being loudly berated by a taxi driver as I signalled to come out at the second time the lights changed. He just wouldn't have it that I had business coming out of the bike lane, despite a barrier across it.

Up over Hills Road bridge to the junction with Cherry Hinton Road. Now at that junction, turning left, I maintain that the red lights cannot possibly be meant to apply to the cyclist cut through lane on the grounds that they are positioned BEHIND where you are at the white line. It is not possible to see what colour the light behind you is. You're meant to give way but not to wait at red. If someone could tell that to the BMW driver who sounded his horn at me all down Cherry Hinton road I'd appreciate it.

Got to Hughes, found my way to their back door car park where there was nowhere to lock my bike that wouldn't block the fire escape. Oh, well.

Picked up Stereo. Took it home. Home leg only slightly better. Stereo be dead on arrival; CD player wouldn't work. Shit happens.

Phoned store to resolve it, worked out I had to take it back. Repeated same trip to shop, only this time 4 miles there through hostile traffic with the stereo and 4 miles back without. So 16 miles with trailer, 8 in the rain, no stereo. I was somewhat irritated at wasted morning.

Credit where its due; guys at Hughes were sympathetic and resolved to get another one out from their depot and deliver it to me the next day (someone on the way home from work would drop it off). Fantastic service - I've spent a heck of a lot with Hughes over the years and they want to retain a relationship with a good customer. Ten out of ten for that. But I can tell you straight out, next time I need some electronics, I'm not shopping there by bike. I'm shopping online, and I'm getting stuff delivered.

I passionately believe in shopping with small retailers. I believe in shopping in places like Hughes where the guys working there really do know their stuff. But, flat out, I'm not riding with a trailer through extremely hostile traffic to a retailer who isn't offering me somewhere to safely lock up. Next time it'll be an online order, and lacking the personal service you get from a good local shop I'll probably go with the cheapest supplier.

The result of failing to make shopping by bike an appealing, sensible prospect is that future purchases will result in all the money disappearing from the local economy. It won't go to local shops, it won't support local jobs, it won't pay local business rates or wages. The local Councils who have so utterly failed to give me good routes to ride on and the shop that has failed to provide somewhere to lock up my bike have basically told me that they don't want my custom. So they won't get my money.

Ultimately, cycle route provision is a very simple financial choice. Good provision, you get more cyclists, who spend more money. Bad provision on hostile roads and you discourage us, we stay home and our money goes elsewhere. Guys, if you don't support us to shop by bike, if local authorities and retailers don't do more for us, then you are losing money. Its that simple.

As I've mentioned before, half of Cambridge rides a bike. We account for over a fifth of all trips. But practically no one shops by bike for bigger purchases, because while this is a town with a certain amount of cyclist provision, that provision is shockingly bad, ill joined up and unworkable.

Want my custom? Cater for my needs. Ain't rocket science.