Monday 30 December 2013

The Great Cycle Route That Isn't. Part 1.

Yesterday I started thinking aloud in this blog about the kind of route that we want to ride on - namely, more or less direct routes rather than all round the houses.

As luck would have it there is EXACTLY the kind of straight line route I'm talking about from the centre of Cambridge to the Science Park - its actually a straight line following the route of a Roman Road. 

I'm fibbing slightly - only most of it is a Roman Road, when that old route gets up as far as Kings Hedges it disappears under a couple of streets and reappears as a ridge next to some playing fields, and again as a green lane running for miles from behind Cambridge Regional College. The route in red is the straightest route you can plot from the science park rear entrance (and hence the Busway) to the City Centre without bulldozing homes.

The route outlined in red on the left is a busy one, many cyclists use all or some of it if they're commuting from Arbury, Orchard Park or Kings Hedges to the City Centre, and as many or more use it to get up to the back entry into the Science Park, one of the major sites for employment here. There are also numerous schools on or near the red route I've drawn. Basically if you sit out on Roxburgh Road at commuting time you'll see a heck of a lot more bikes than cars!

Now you'd think, just looking at that route, that it would be a great route to encourage people to cycle on and that proactive City and County councils would have done their best to make this as good for cycling as they can. For the most part it is well signposted for cycling - but, regrettably, any help cyclists get more or less ends there. In fact, most of the supposed 'infrastructure' that lies on this line is worse than useless.

But don't just take my word for it. This is what you see on leaving the science park.

 Looks okay, you're out on to the guided busroute, but you need to get across that and across Kings Hedges road. And thats where it all starts to go pear shaped. You're suddenly faced with this...

Why, yes, now that you ask that IS a narrow chicane with a hundred and eighty degree turn in it. And yes, as it happens, at busy commuting time that really CAN be very difficult to get a whole load of cyclists and pedestrians through. 

But it gets better! Get through the chicane and you've got this splendidly well surfaced section, a narrow gap through a fence and no dropped curb on the other side. Oh, sorry, did I say better? I meant to say that we're meant to go feck ourselves. 

Naturally this isn't even a junction on Kings Hedges Road. We have no way on to the road, we have no way over the road. We. Do. Not. Exist.

If you get over the road, you're now on a cul-de-sac that goes past Daily Bread, at the end of which the way on to the far too narrow shared use path across the field is naturally usually completely blocked by parked vehicles (like the little van there on the right, a City Council van, is blocking it in this image below).

Still, credit where its due. You're okay for a bit after that, the shared use path is narrow but you can always ride through the mud instead when the dog walkers don't block you off entirely. And then there's a triky bit on paving stones with a blind corner thats terrible at school dropping off time with parents quite reasonably expecting to use buggies with their younger kids, and you're back on the road.

A mini-roundabout later and you're on Roxburgh Road. That always looks like this, except when its sunny, in which case its dry and equally impassable on the pavement - so much so that you're often going to be swerving around pedestrians who can, literally, not get down the paths. Incidentally, Police, City and County Council demonstrably think this is just fine

At the end of Roxburgh Road there's a cut through - looking back towards Roxburgh from the other end we see that yes, its handy - its just a shame its got 3 different surfaces on it and a lamp post at the end located such that you can't safely get through if there's a pedestrian.

You've then got a little twisty bit on to Arbury Road where, naturally, we've no provision for cyclists, and you're turning left on to the Roman Road proper - Carlton Way. There IS a cycle lane off road there. Well, its the pavement actually, and there's the occasional picture of a bike on the ground or on a sign. And to add spice there are a couple of ninety degree corners thrown in to the mix. At its best, this is it:

Thats a short section right in front of the school where its wide enough and properly segregated. And no, past the lamp post it doesn't continue in a straight line, you immediately turn left, then right - two right angle turns because the on street drop off points for motorists there are more important than you. 

Civilisation or, as some like to call it, gritting in winter, promptly ends at the junction with Gilbert Road up ahead, which we have to cross to go on to Stretten Avenue - this is by far the worst part of any commute. Its not so much that its narrow in places, its more that there are parked cars on both sides restricting us to space for a single lane of traffic - and the commuting motorists coming AT us expect us to get out of the way, those coming from BEHIND us expect us to be out of their way so they can overtake and brake sharply for the next speed hump, and those parking their cars on Stretten Avenue taking the place of residents as they drive off for work don't give a damn, you're just in the way. Here's what its like during the quietest part of the year:

At the bottom of Stretten Avenue you've got a zig-zag corner thats lethal when its icy. 

Most likely at the bottom of Stretten you'll cross by the Church and turn left on to Searle Street (also ungritted) and pop out on to Chesterton Road at the Job Centre - you're in the City! Or you could take the cycle route up behind the County Council offices - that will however mean riding up some steps.

Now this is more or less a straight line. Its on suburban streets where there's plenty of scope to make this into an excellent cycling route. Yet its horrible!

This route cannot be the best one for motoring - there are multiple cut-throughs that are only available for cycling, and its mostly littered with speed humps. It could, however, be one of the most cycled routes in Britain - the question I want to address in my next post on the subject is what we need to do to make it in to that. 

Sunday 29 December 2013

Give us good, straight bike routes!

The Romans knew a thing or two about transport. They understood that it can be hard and tiring, so they tried to build straight routes to connect locations - hardly surprising because mostly folk would've been walking, and people want to walk the shortest route between two points. The roads in Britain that still follow Roman routes are very often easy to spot by their conspicuous and convenient directness.

Somewhere along the way far too many folk stopped travelling in straight lines - they got in to cars which started clogging up our cities in such a way that those straight routes didn't make sense any more. In fact we started expecting to drive all around the houses on one way systems to get where we're going, but that's kind of okay when you're not burning your own biological energy. Its no more 'effort', its just a little more time - and as there are so many of these cars clogging the roads it wouldn't be any slower anyway. 

But those of us who get around by bike or on foot are still rather Roman. We can't really be doing with these crazy systems designed to take us way out of the way before getting us where we're going. So if you tell us that a route is quieter to ride on, its only another couple of miles, we're probably going to want to slap you. Rather like when a road junction describes a series of wide, sweeping curves for cars to motor round at high speed but which require pedestrians to travel another 50 or 100 yards - no one wants to do that, they just want to walk in a more or less straight line to their destination.

Now when it comes down to it all we want as cyclists is for the direct route to where we're going to be safe to ride on. We don't want to be told that there's another quieter route to go on, as that is always going to be way more effort than we feel the need to expend. We can even get quite resentful when presented with such 'alternatives' - resentful in a way that a motorist will only see as selfishness. But that rather ignores the lessons of millenia - people burning their own energy want to go in a straight line. The worn down footpath directly across a field, the Roman road, the short cut or rat run. Cyclists aren't the ones causing the congestion that necessitates motorists be held up by one-way systems and crazy bypass routes, don't expect us to be sympathetic when you suggest we should suffer the restrictions caused by and necessitated for motorists.

The bottom line is that the straight line routes we (quite reasonably) want to use need to be safe and convenient for cycling, otherwise most potential cyclists will be clogging up the crazy road systems in cars. And where they're not, out transport network utterly fails cycling. I'm going to expand upon these thoughts more with some examples of pretty clear straight-line routes in to Cambridge that are anything but good for cycling. But for now, feel free to let me know what you think about my starting premise - am I right that all it is we want as cyclists is to go from where we are, to where we need to be, safely and without a detour that feels like it could take us to Belgium and back?

Thursday 19 December 2013


I've been rather startled by reaction to my last blog post.

All I can say is, well, shucks. I didn't think it was that big a deal. But thank you all, really, for your kind words (here and on twitter) regarding this. It means a lot. 

When it comes down to it I got a close pass of a kind thats familiar to most of us, and it was one of the rare occasions I use a helmet cam, and it was an even rarer occasion of the police taking the report seriously. I don't know if this sets any kind of precedent or if it really should give us hope for more of the same. I hope it does, I doubt it, but time will tell.

Was the punishment enough? No, of course not. But its more than the big heap of nothing we normally see, and thats a good thing.

All I'll say is keep at it guys - whether or not this IS part of a change in how things will be will only be something that we can judge in retrospect. And I'll tell you for nowt - unless we get more active, unless we make more complaints and take yet more of these things to the police nothing will change.

This is not a call to arms. But if you can use the fact that we got a result this time to convince your local police that they really can get this through the CPS to the courts, then I'd be delighted. Good luck!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Close overtake - 3 points, £60 fine, £220 costs

:UPDATE: I've been contacted directly by one journalist and indirectly by another, asked to talk about this. For what its worth, I think I've said all that I really need to say on the subject. And while I get that it can be viewed as news, I can't bring myself to go further with the story because I consider the case against the other guy to be closed now. Naming (and shaming) someone who has been up in court and admitted what he did rather further than I want to go; I have no personal animosity towards the guy so I've declined to name him to journalists. That doesn't mean they can't persue this via. court records or the police, it just means I can't bring myself to do that to him.

Way back in March I posted this.

For those who don't want to click through that, here's the footage of what happened on the 27th of March, and a quick description will follow...

So I was passed closely and I'd say aggressively. In the uncompressed footage its easier to see his mobile phone.

I had tweeted this to PC Gedny who was at the time tweeting as 'road safety cops' or some such, on behalf of Cambrideshire Constabulary. His response was pretty negative.

Afterwards Cottenham Cyclist raised this with a local police Sergeant (who I shan't name because discussions with him weren't public, so I shan't point out who it is as I don't know if he'd want that) who he's been building links with to try to get policing to become more cyclist friendly, he got in touch and suggested I should report it. So, I did.

A few days later I spent a couple of hours at the station, made a statement, gave them the original footage copied to disc, and then started waiting.

Eventually this came to court on the 13th of December, at Cambridge Magistrates. It was all a bit confusing - it had been scheduled for Peterborough Magistrates, I got the message on I think the Monday of that week that it would instead be in Cambridge because both I and the defendant live here. But somewhere along the way he either didn't get the message or it got confused and he still turned up in the wrong city.

I gave my evidence, he'd already pleaded guilty to phone use but not guilty to driving without due care and attention - and just as the magistrate was deliberating with the two other folk up there someone ran in to the court to say the defendant was in the wrong city! Two hours later his bus arrived in Cambridge, we reconvened... after another delay as he wanted his mum to be there.

Delays continued as he wanted to change his plea, then I was told maybe I wouldn't be needed, then I was in giving evidence. I must say the old ladies who run the witness or victim support in there as volounteers are diamonds and I can't praise them enough. In the room were me, prosecution solicitor, magistrate and two folk with her, someone sitting in front recording, someone else with a monumental pile of paperwork, usher, defendant, his mum and another lady who were if I'm honest giving me dagger like stares. I said my bit of evidence, the footage was reviewed 3 times, and as the defendant neither wanted to question me nor refute my version of events I left (not wanting to sit with his folk!).

Yesterday I got a letter with the result - he pleaded guilty to phone use and driving without due care and attention, he's been fined £60, given 3 points on his license, and has to pay £220 in costs. So yeah, a result... 

But I dunno... Basically that result cost me a day and a half of my life. And its not that big a result. It won't be in the papers, it won't make news, its not going to act as a deterrent to anyone else. So do we really have to teach each driver, individually, that they need to treat us as human beings?

I'm left in two minds. Yeah, got the guy, he'll know better now (or you'd hope he would) but was it worth it?

I can find no reference to earlier examples of helmet camera footage used in obtaining a conviction in Cambridge. I didn't anticipate dancing in the street, but I'd rather hoped that it would feel like it had been unquestionably worth it. Now? I just don't know.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Cambridge Cycling Campaign... Catching Up?

Its not actually 'the campaign', its Martin. Who is currently top cat of the campaign, and a decent chap from the three or four times I've talked to him. One of a bunch of good folk involved in the Campaign. But are they going to be able to drag the rest of the campaign group into the modern era of cycle campaigning?

Martin makes some good points re. London. Its encouraging that he wants to take cycling in the same kind of direction here (and I'm delighted he's saying a similar kind of thing I've been saying, although I've not always been as polite or eloquent about the campaigns campaigning style.)

The big questions now are whether the campaign will follow what Martin is saying, and what kind of campaigning style will go with that. I think they've been rather hamstrung of late by earlier responses to schemes like Perne Road, and while I think the kind of activism we're seeing in London is a powerful tool its rather a big step from where we are here in Cambridge right now - we've not even got a critical mass movement. 

I still maintain that as things are Cambridgeshire County Council are anything but a pro-cycling body - Labour councilors mistakenly think we're toffs, Tories think we're scummy plebs, half of the liberals don't think about us at all and recent reports show that UKIP councillors may not be the kind of folk for whom thought comes naturally. They will not give us what we need, they have no interest in us and with the current politics here we're not going to get what we need (which is continuous, safe cycle facilities going along the routes that actually link us to where we want to go, rather than all round the back streets on indirect routes to places we seldom need to reach). I maintain that as the current politics of the county fail us we need to change things, as we're now seeing happening in London. I wonder, does the Campaign still consider that stance "shouting from the sidelines and being grumpy"? Its a long road ahead, but it seems to me that London is starting down that road. Are we? 

Tuesday 10 December 2013

I had an accident...

...and I'm suffering.

Hurt my nose and my eyebrow, there was blood. Not a lot, but enough.

I suppose its my own fault, after all I wasn't wearing a helmet. And that would probably have saved me. Collision occurred as I was going through town - I wasn't paying enough attention, I was looking at the change in my hand when a lady hit me from behind, propelling me forward. I wasn't wearing hi-viz or anything so I can't blame her. I broke the fall with my face. And a door frame.

A door frame, you ask? In the road? No, I was on the pavement. I was walking, you see, and I stopped. And a few moments later a little old lady bumped me from behind, I wasn't as well balanced as I may have been, and I went face first into the edge of a door frame. Bruised and bloody nose and head. 

Naturally, when you're walking you don't wear a helmet. And the result is that when you fall you'll hurt your head.

Pedestrians and motorists make up the bulk of head injuries. Yet we seem to obsess over cycle helmets. 

The moral of this tale? Don't stand in the way of little old ladies, they'll kick your ass. Oh, and if you want to wear a cycle helmet, thats fine. But try to understand the risk, in perspective. 

Thursday 5 December 2013

What if VED really was Road Tax?

VED isn't a road tax. No, really, it isn't. I'm not even getting in to that here.

But lets suppose for a moment (as I did on twitter yesterday, conveniently storified by a very nice person) we're in a parallel dimension where VED really does pay for the roads. And that its considered fair and reasonable that people pay proportionally for the wear and tear their vehicles inflict thereon. 

How much should cyclists pay? 

We can do a few back of an envelope calculations to get how much we'd be expected to pay into context. 

Lets begin by looking at the relative damage we do - usually this is worked out by a fairly simple formula - for each doubling of mass you multiply the harm done by 16. 

If a cyclist weighs on average 75kg (thats inbetween average woman and average man), we can get to a round-ish number by saying the average bicycle could be about 15kg. So we're putting 90kg worth of damage down on the roads. Thats very likely so low that other than the physical surface atoms of the paving, we're not going to be reaching the kind of load that reaches an activation energy to cause any damage at all, but we'll stick with it for now.

Depending where you are in the world cars tend to be different masses, but a workable average is about 1500kg. Multiplying up, 90kg x2 is 180kg, then 360kg, 720kg, 1440kg... We've got to double the mass 4x to get an equivalence.

Someone recently told me he'd paid £200 VED, so lets say thats average. Sounds about average. If the average car costs you that much, we divide by 16, 4 times, to get to £0.003.  

But lets flip it around. Often we hear people saying they'd like cyclists to pay SOMETHING towards the roads. So shall we say a tenner? Proportionally you'd pay £655,360 for a car.

I found a stat at the RAC saying there are 34.5 million motorised vehicles on the roads, and from the utterly reliable source of twitter I've seen a figure of about £10 billion per years on road maintenance in the UK. Do the maths and thats about £290 per person.

Back calculate from that and, based on road damage alone (ignoring the fact that cyclists are probably not damaging at all), and the 3 million (according to CTC) regular cyclists in the UK would pay 0.4p per person, per year. Or all together we'd be paying £12,000. 

There are two simple conclusions to draw here. Firstly its absurd to suggest that cyclists should pay 'road tax'. It transpires that its even more aburd if you do the maths. And, secondly, just dealing with road wear and tear alone, VED ain't high enough. Want cyclists to pay 'road tax'? Then start paying a fair share for your car!

Saturday 30 November 2013

Cyclist Hater Type VI: Cyclist Myself...

I'm not in to tribal cycling. I'll ride my chunky hybrid, my road bike, or my funky old racer happily enough. And I don't for the most part care about how other people ride their bikes or what they ride, so long as its not doing anyone any harm its their own business. Or if they've got a basket on a carbon road bike or something, then I might worry. 

But that's not how the 'I'm a cyclist myself' sees things. This is probably one of the most annoying types of cyclist hater. The 'I'm a cyclist myself' thinks that he (and its normally a he, but you encounter some females) is speaking from a position of authority because 'I'm a cyclist myself'. In this way he's more dangerous than the Brat or the Codger. He's not a Gripper nor does he normally have the capacity to reach as many with his ill informed whinging as the Trollumnist does. Perhaps the closest relative of the 'cyclist myself' is the Beamer.

The 'cyclist myself' wants to criticise other cyclists for how they ride. Well, criticise is perhaps the wrong word - they really want to blame other cyclists for the ills we collectively suffer. And interestingly enough it almost doesn't matter how the 'cyclist myself' rides - thats less important than the simple truth that their mode of riding is RIGHT. And other ways of riding a bike are WRONG. Here's a mish mash of the kind of offensive, sickeningly wrong wank you might hear from one of them.

Its hardly surprising so many cyclists die on the roads, they're not in effective primary position, its their own fault. I'm a cyclist myself. And then they get in the way of the traffic, what do they expect to happen when blocking the lane? Speaking as a cyclist, I have to say I'm shocked when I see cyclists with helmets that don't fit properly, its worse than not having a helmet. And they shouldn't be allowed out with a helmet on it makes cycling look more dangerous for cyclists like myself. And we cyclists really believe in having lights on even when its not dark, that person who isn't dressed in tinfoil and dayglo isn't a cyclist, they're just a person on a bike (POB). Its not even a bike, its rubbish, its a bike shaped object (BSO) that a keen cyclist like myself...

Now this kind of malicious crap is just as bad as you get from a Beamer. Its just as ignorant of recorded accident causes, and every bit as victim blaming. 

It transpires that yes, there are things a cyclist can do that are dangerous. But lets be clear - if you add them all up together that still accounts for a very, very small proportion of cyclist deaths and serious injuries. What kills and maims cyclists? Motorists. So lets just cut the crap, and quit the infighting Mr. 'cyclist myself', you're speaking out of your lycra clad arse. Quit the victim blame - yes, the other cyclists might be doing things you disapprove of, but 'correct' cycling (whatever the hell that is) is not some kind of moral crusade we're all involved in. Okay, if you want to pass on some advice on good cycling or on etiquette between us I'm fine with that, but can you not stop short of accusing other cyclists of being somehow lacking because of how they ride?

How should we deal with folk who rain hate down on us as cyclists themselves? Well its quite hard to do so without risking hypocrisy. Its worth pointing out the reality that accidents we suffer are relatively rarely due to our own actions, and that such incidents are enormously, almost comically outnumbered by those caused by motorists. 

But perhaps its better to just remind yourself and the hater that neither you nor they speak for all cyclists, and that while we can view whatever advice you like as useful in finding a way to survive on a crazy, hostile road network, ultimately this is all missing the point - we need a road system designed such that what should be viewed as trivial errors by cyclists are not answered with a death penalty. Ride how you like, but quit pretending that the deciding factor in cyclist survival is acting precisely as you do. You're not that special, even if you are an opinionated little git of a cyclist yourself.

Monday 25 November 2013

Telegraph Post in Middle of Lane!

So you've just finished building a road. Its lovely and smooth, a decent enough route, but its rather lower than another road next to it so you'll be blinded by oncoming vehicles. Oh, and there's a telegraph pole in the middle of this route on which you'll be thus blinded. Obviously the local road authority will be in a desperate hurry to move said pole out of the way, because there's no way that can be a good road?

Not if its a route intended for cyclists it won't.

Maybe dangerous roads are not inevitable?

It strikes me that recent campaigns to tell cyclists to ride safely, especially in the wake of catastrophes we've seen in London, aren't only a reflection of our innately victim blaming road culture. They're also a symptom of conservatism in road design and management.

There's an inevitability to traffic, at least people think there is. To congestion. To the fact that you've got heavy goods vehicles and busses 'competing' for space with cyclists (what a crazy notion, that such a complete mismatch should be viewed as a competition). There seems no other way than to adapt cyclists to the hostile environment they're in, and maybe just accept that some of them will die as an unavoidable consequence of them just being there.

The logical conclusion to this is that we tell the police to go out and warn them. We target cyclists with road safety advice. We tell them to be more responsible, ignoring the fact that riding responsibly is not measurably less hazardous than most of the 'irresponsible' riding being targetted.

So the truth of road statistics we have, of course, doesn't back up this action. But we can't persuade motorists to drive more carefully - how people drive is just how they drive, bad motoring is a constant against which cycling has to be viewed. And we can't make the roads safer, there's not room what with all the cars and everything. So cyclists will just have to be told. And pedestrians? Well we'll put up railings to keep them safe, and we'll direct them on longer routes to walk to get them where they're going. A detour of 50 yards to get to a crossing isn't a problem, its safer. Why would they want to cross where its dangerous, why are they putting themselves at such risk by crossing in the wrong place when a detour would only be a few minutes at each of the six junctions they've got to cross. Whats that? Victim blame? Okay, its a small percentage we're talking about, but surely saving ANY life is worthwhile?

The problem with this argument is that its horseshit. By which I mean its thick, smells bad, and surprisingly spreadable. Everyone just believes it without question - very few people look at our road network and say 'hold up a moment, if we managed this route for pedestrians then these rounded junction corners would be squared off and they could cross right here - we could also have a cycle route across it, so then people wouldn't be in such danger. Then there would be fewer cars, so less congestion, cleaner air, safer streets...

Brits are innately opposed to big changes. We're suspicions of people telling us to change how we do things - and we're slow to question our own priorities - we'll just ignore thousands of deaths if that doesn't fit in with how we see the world being. Apply that 'logic' to our roads and look what you get. 

Our problem is that what we require for safe cycling is just a little bit different to what we have. It requires change in how we look at and use our roads. Its change for the better - but 'change' is never viewed as a good thing in Britain, especially on our roads.

Changes in road management are few and far between - we have to grasp the nettle each and every time another road, junction, crossing or resurfacing happens and require that this one is as good, for us, as it can be. No more half measures, anywhere, at all. Time to show people that change isn't frightening. There is no alternative.

Friday 22 November 2013

Its the little things Police say that reveal so much...

A few comments from the Met. Police Commissoinner have rather reminded me that people often get the BIG stuff right when talking about cycling, but reveal their innate attitudes toward how things are and should be on the roads via the little things.

Take, for example, these comments from the aforementioned Sir Bernard Horgan Howe.
"Of course some people don't have the choice, economically.
"If you've got someone who can't afford to take a car into the congestion zone, if they did, you can't park it anyway.
"I understand why they take the choice, [but] it wouldn't be mine."
So cyclists are paupers who can't afford to drive or who aren't important enough to warrant their own parking space, eh Bernie? Trouble with your offensive generalisation is that it is, as ever, wrong - TFL data shows that cyclists in London (thats where you are Bernie, in case you're confused) have higher than average income. So while yes, undoubtedly cycling makes enormous economic sense, most cyclists are not driven to this because they have no other economic choice - the majority are doing it because its the best way to get around in a congested city. Will the Met never learn that stereotyping gets them in to trouble?

So we're paupers, basically. We cycle because we're poor, at least thats what the Mets boss thinks.

Closer to home I'm reminded of Inspector Poppitt of Cambrideshire Constabulary. While its gratifying that the people who answer tweets on behalf of the local police will be telling him to get his language right and stop saying 'road tax' I rather think that they could also do with getting 'vehicle excise duty' correct.

In itself a little error in terminology mightn't be such a revealing thing - although this does reinforce a very damaging myth. Its when we go and look to see what else Inspector Poppitt has to say about road policing that I start to worry (in that link you'll see that Inspector Poppitt basically wriggles out of accepting that he should police pavement parking).

It isn't always the big statements that tell us things - everyone in every position of responsibility will say that they support cycling, that cycling is a good thing to be encouraged. They'll say that they support the rule of law, that people should obey the law and act responsibly to make the lot of pedestrians better. Scratch the surface though, and it transpires that really caring about the needs of cyclists or pedestrians is a rare thing among the motoring classes.

Oh well. I suppose I can always walk down the road dodging vehicles next time the pavements are blocked by parked cars that there is no public interest in dealing with. If as an impoverished cyclist I can afford shoes, that is.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Perne Road - Cambridge Cycling Campaign Response

You may recall this post where I talked about a frankly terrible misappropriation of cycling funds to pay for changes to lanes for motorists.

As far as I can tell Cambridge Cycling Campaign went right down to the wire when getting their response in. It can be found here.

If you've read this blog for a while you'll know that on occasion the Campaign have been pretty good with such responses. And you'll also know that I'll criticise them if I think they're not going nearly far enough.

This time they're decidedly 'meh'. I mean they're not outright supporting a bad scheme. They're offering qualified 'meh'. Really.

The gist is grudging support. Sort of. Maybe. If the details are right. So you can see why I'm saying 'meh'. The bit that for me is most revealing is quite early on:
We strongly share the view of the Cycling Team and other officers that this will be an opportunity to demonstrate that roundabouts built to Dutch geometry will work in the UK, that the traffic will not grind to a halt, lorries will not get wedged and they will perform safely and efficiently. This will make it easier to get improvements at junctions like the Sainsbury's roundabout where there is both space and the need to put in a segregated path around the perimeter.

This is a bad scheme - its taking a vast sum of money from various pots, all supposedly meant to be for cycling, and spending most of it on nudging motorists slightly differently around the roundabout, renovating a tired, run down road layout using cycling funds without giving us what we really need - safe, continuous segregation. What we get is a slightly different geometry but we get extolled to get off the fecking road and share with pedestrians who don't want us in the restricted space available for them, giving way three times crossing lanes of angry traffic that will simply never give way if we're turning right. And of course if we don't choose to use those cycle routes we WILL end up being bullied by motorists who think we should - thats what happens when you install a bad cycle route, we're then stuck between a rock and a hard place. This utterly invalidates the entire scheme - and should not have been the basis for providing conditional support, it is grounds for complete rejection. Spending cycling money renovating things for motorists is unacceptable.

But this grudging support for a bad scheme (which comes across as a bit 'meh') rather shows that the Campaign itself thinks it is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Reject this and risk better schemes not appearing elsewhere?

The bottom line is that this is how Cambridgeshire County Council want the Campaign to act. This is how they have always relied on the campaign acting - they want to give us bad facilities so they can spend the swag on motorists as they always have, threatening to remove the carrot held out in front of the Campaigns nose. And over, and over again the Campaign have come out in support of bad schemes because they fear things will be worse otherwise.

Yeah, maybe the Sainsburys roundabout WILL be better than this one. But it will have nothing to do with this - we know that geometry works because its been tested many times elsewhere, it would be obtuse to demand proving the same thing yet again. Its being trialled not a million miles away by TFL. And I believe the Netherlands is merely at the far end of the A14. 

It seems to me that the Campaign resolutely refuses to draw a line in the sand - no more half measures, no more bad facilities. From now on if you're spending cycling money then put. us. first. Yes, thats what the Campaign won't say.

Listen Cambridge Cycling Campaign, if you keep rolling over then the County will keep doing this. We won't get what we want for as long as they're go-to cycle campaign group fail to stand up for what we need. I put it to you once again (I have been asking you this for years); if here and now in Cambridge we do not hold out for the best then where, and when will we do so?

When you answer that then you can possibly defend supporting bad schemes like this. If this is 'the one' that means 'the next one' MUST be top quality then you can support this scheme with a clean conscience. Sorry guys, there are so many people in the campaign who I think are great, and personally I've got a lot of time for the committee members I know. It pains me to say this, but until you entirely withdraw support for schemes that do not demonstrably put cyclists first, what is Cambridge Cycling Campaign for?

UPDATE: Oh, look. The TFL roundabout entirely fits in the space taken up by the Perne Road roundabout - utterly invalidating the claim that this geometry needs to be further trialed. Cambridge Cycling Campaign - You. Have. Been. Had.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Cambridge Cycle Campaigning 2034

Indulge me if you will. This is a speculative piece about what we'll be saying in 2034, assuming we continue with the kind of crap we're seeing on our roads now. Its a worst case scenario, or at least approaching that - its a warning against cheering on the kind of crap we're offered. 


Looking back at cycling in the UK since I first started this blog, I'd like to be able to say now where it all went wrong but, really, thats rather difficult. What is viewed as a great heyday for cycling back in 2020 was really nothing of the sort, and what we now call 'peak bike' was just a demographic passing through at the time. A now dispirited, angry, ageing demographic.

I think we laid the foundations for our failure back in 2012-2015. Thats when we needed to hit harder - numbers were on the up and campaigners talked about a 'cycling revolution' happening in London and in other major cities. Even then, Government projections were for cycling to fall (as it has done) in the intervening time, but at least then there were a few scraps of money given our way to improve facilities - we needed to fight harder to get what we really needed.

While the Dutch were going further and further with fully segregated infrastructure, we remained static. In Cambridge, key battles we lost were at the Catholic Church junction, Perne Road and Cowley Road (2012, 2013 and 2014) - more of the same old crap was branded as 'high quality' and we didn't do enough to challenge that. In London investment in 'cycle superhighways' dried up a little later after accusations that they were unsafe, and the project failed to deliver a meaningful rise in cycling. Specific investment was frittered away on nonsense that barely benefited us at all - as a result cycling in Cambridge continued to stagnate outside of the city centre. Cycling 'facilities' that were too awful to contemplate simply weren't used, these useless routes (such as the shared use facilities that were briefly put in around the Perne Road roundabout) became known as Curtis Ways (named for the head of what was then the County Council in charge of roads in Cambridgeshire who famously stated that the County could not go 'all the way' for cycling at the Catholic Church Junction); this became synonymous with wasted money, with councillors angrily cutting budgets in response to the widely predicted failures of these schemes. 

Ironically, although we said these changes would fail to increase the number of cyclists, and while we complained at the misappropriation of cycling funds for them, their failure was used as evidence that the whole idea of cycling facility investment was a waste. The failure of bad schemes was proof that good schemes couldn't work - and yes, it does take an unwholesomely stupid set of councillors to come to that decision. This was the era of the Tories running scared of UKIP.

As a result funds dried up by 2020; not just in Cambridge, but across most of the UK. While numbers of cyclists remained buoyant in London and Cambridge a little longer than elsewhere, we've been in a slow decline ever since.

Looking overseas, in stark contrast with the UK we see that the Netherlands and Denmark in particular, through continued investment in cycling, have remained among the healthiest, slimmest nations in the developed world while our former obesity 'epidemic' became the 'health crisis' we see now. We're living shorter, less healthy lives than our parents - with obesity due to inactivity linking in with the harm caused by ever worse smog around our cities killing more now than even smoking did in the 20th century. 

So where are we now? We're suffering the result of generations of failure - we still know what needs to be done but we're fighting an ever harder battle against a population for whom active travel is no longer even a thing. We're now battling against a population whose parents and grandparents simply didn't walk or cycle - even the bad cycle lanes we had have mostly reverted to car parking because even our police forces don't want to enforce parking, its too unpopular with people who only see the world through their windscreens.

The solution? Sadly most have voted with their feet. Or, rather, their ever more obese arses - cycling is now a niche activity even in Cambridge, policed by angry motorists who are willing to enforce their hate on us at every opportunity, a practice effectively condoned by police inactivity. As our climate tumbles out of control, token efforts of cyclists to do the right thing are viewed with even more hostility by a populace in denial of the harm they're doing to themselves, each other, and the world about them.

Where next? God only know.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

A Tale of Two (or Three, or Four) Assaults. As reported by Cambridge News

Oh, Cambridge News, you never really fail to get cycling stories wrong do you?

Yesterdays report about an 'Angry Pensioner' who assaulted a cyclist by emptying dog shit over him is a great example. Lets break the article down - I've been dropping sections into Word to do some word counts.

The article starts with what happened - 108 words. Simple to describe, it is unambiguously an assault, and the facts are summarised from what the magistrate would have heard.

Then we've got what the court decided - 27 words. Again, not a lot to say here - pay for dry cleaning and given a conditional discharge. Go away and don't do it again!

We then get a comment from the victim - 155 words or so summarising who he is and what he said. Nothing particularly contentious, it turns out having dog poo tipped on him in a scenario where there's nothing he can reasonably do in response other than phone the police is really rather distressing so he'd like that not to happen. I can't find anything in that to take issue with - I'm sure everyone would agree with him.

Then we get to the biggest part of the article - following a sentence that slips in the fact that its a shared use path so the cyclist had every right to be there - we get 198 words of mitigation or, as it really reads, feeble excuses from the person who committed the crime. So thats more of a platform for the perpetrator than for the victim, in fact the assaulter gets more than the victim and the magistrate combined. And she's given the last word too, saying its ridiculous that this went to court (taking it to 228 words for 'her side'). 

It is unquestionably the case that Cambridge News has provided a platform for this criminal. The story is overwhelmingly biased towards this persons justifications for her illegal act.

Now lets compare this with how the same rag covers other assaults - ignoring for the moment sexual assaults such as this where no platform is provided for the criminal - if I put 'guilty assault' in to the search box at CN I find that the next report of a court case I find gives no space for mitigation from the guilty party.

The bottom line here is that if you assault a cyclist in Cambridge, and lets be very clear throwing dog excreta on someone is as hazardous as it is unpleasant, Cambridge News will provide a platform for you to explain why you've done so. You'll get the opportunity to justify yourself to the public, with equal prominence to the victim of your crime. The News will do this out of the mistaken view that you need to 'balance' the view of a criminal with that of a victim if, and only if, that victim is a cyclist. Because they won't do that for other assaults.

Cambridge News hates cyclists. Sometimes I don't even think they know they're doing it - but no one 'balances' reports of racist assaults by reporting crass justification for the crimes. Thankfully no one any longer reports rapists saying in court that she was 'asking for it' as if that explains anything. But cyclists? Apparently assaulting us is different.

UPDATE: I don't want to labour the point, but some of the things being left in the comments section are just astonishing. Copied two here straight from above linked story from Cambridge News.
My daughter who is 9 was told by this woman "to watch out next time" as she was passing her on this path. If you actually go there you'll see no one whizzing round on their bikes, kids from the local school use it very respectively and mums/dads are usually not far back. This woman has been throwing sticks, shouting abuse etc... for far too long. If she doesn't like cyclist why is she always out with her dog when it's school run time. She abuses people then keeps quiet for a while and comes back and do it again. This article is so one sided it's painful maybe the journo should speak to the community involved. Telling your kids to stay clear of this mad woman just because they are on bikes shouldn't happen.

My childrens (twin boys) first experience of this woman's unstable mental health was when they were 7 years old, when she verbally assaulted them as they were very courteously cycling past her, I was with them (they are now nearly 13). Since then there have been many other instances, including Ms Currall stepping in front of one of them whilst he was ON THE CYCLE LANE, cycling down the bridge on Shelford Road, Trumpington, fortunately my son was alert enough to swerve to avoid collision, again I witnessed this myself. The residents of Trumpington have been putting up with this behaviour for a long time. Most children who take that route to school are told to avoid her. This is also not the first time she has physically assaulted someone. She has gone too far! It surprised us all that she had a bag of dog poo with her because again for years she has been seen to leave her dogs poo on the pavements. This is not about bullying a pensioner.

UPDATE 2: Another brand new article about a cyclist (actually a pedestrian pushing a bike) assaulted. This time THE ENTIRE STORY is about 'mitigation', i.e. the story is all about the pathetic excuse given for an outright assault. This cyclist hating chip-wrapper just doesn't let up; it rains more shit down on us than the above mentioned pensioner ever will.

UPDATE 3: Cambridge News didn't even search through their own files, or so it seems. The chap found guilty in Update 2 (the story which really only covers his excuses) appears top be currently banned from driving due to having been found over the limit, having previously been banned for drink driving. And rather than mention this is a person with a simply disgraceful record on our roads, the 'News' merely chose to detail his excuses for why he got out of a car and assaulted a cyclist.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Motorist and Cyclist Crackdowns - Compare and Contrast Coverage in Cambridge News

Sometimes its possible to see how Cambridge News troll for hate against cyclists with great clarity by comparing how they treat near identical stories involving cyclists and motorists. And we have recently had perhaps the most obvious example we could wish for.

On the 7th of November there was a simple, matter of fact report covering 727 motorists stopped by police for a range of offences. I should think its quite hard to stop a car, its slow, it takes space and time, and you just can't always tell whether someone is breaking the law by using a mobile phone as they flash past at 50mph. Not that any of this is reflected in the story - we've got the number who were stopped, a statement from plod saying they do this, and thats about it. No discussion of whether people were made safer through this, no random opinions from people who want to express a view, its a simple statement of fact.

But lets compare that with another story on the 8th of November relating to yet another crackdown on 'danger' cyclists. I won't go in to how counterproductive or pointless this exercise is - how 70% of cyclist injuries are caused entirely by motorists and a mere 2% by cyclists without lights - thats been covered here and in countless other places before. What I want to look at here is how the two stories are covered.

So £1500 worth of fines were handed out to cyclists according to the story. That'd be 30 fines of £50 each, with another 10 cyclists being talked to. So rather trivial compared with the 727 motorists caught above - who at £50 a shot would have paid out more than £36000 of course (not in the headline - and it would have been a heck of a lot more than that too). 

But apparently lots more ('scores') of cyclists could have been caught but for the time it took to deal with each one - no doubt true. Interesting that same point wasn't made for stopping motorists, stopping each of which takes much longer than stopping cyclists. So if scores of cyclists were missed, obviously hundreds of motorists were missed.

I note that we've also got quite a lot of coverage of excuses given by cyclists in this story for not having lights - like they've been stolen or the rider has been surprised by how quickly it has got dark (both entirely credible in the first couple of weeks after the clocks have changed in a town where even things bolted to your bike can get nicked). And these credible reasons are set up for us to mock - the only reason for this being that they're stated by cyclists. But the best line, from a special, is this one:
“It is very frustrating. People also think a light on their bag is enough, but it must be on the frame of the bike.”
So the police are being sent out to stop cyclists with perfectly visible lights displayed in a slightly erroneous way. And thats something that the article leaves entirely unchallenged - its supportive of spending police time on dealing with riders whose lights are entirely visible, who are not demonstrably endangering themselves or anyone else. It doesn't even question this.

Make no mistake - Cambridge 'News' isn't what it claims to be. Its not a newspaper, its not a news source - its an anti-cyclist, pro-motorist lobbying group. Occasionally its quite subtle about it, but don't lets pretend that cultivating the friendship or good will of this part of the sewer press is worth our while. It has again declared itself the enemy of cyclists in Cambridge.

Still not convinced? Well wear a helmet, they should be compulsory, the police commissioners son saw some people with poorly heads because they didn't wear helmets. No analysis, no discussion of the problem with dealing with mere anecdotal evidence... Trolling. Nothing more, nothing less.

Hey, Cambridge Cycling Campaign - we need a city wide policy for the complete alienation of this cyclist hating institution. Enough is enough - you've picked specific journalists at that paper who you won't talk t any more, but we're past that. Its policy of that paper to rain hate down on us whenever they can. We need a plan of action. Are you up for this or will you go on collaborating with your enemy?

Thursday 7 November 2013

Response to Rod Liddle 'War on Cyclists'

I thought I might end up writing a response to an article in the Spectator today, but on reflection it isn't worth it.

Its not because there aren't lots of good, solid responses out there already. There are. Its more that the article is, from beginning to end, pathetic trolling by numbers. Its a bad article, averagely written and almost entirely un-researched; if its an opinion piece then its an uneducated opinion piece.

So instead I'm going to put something far more worthwhile and relevant in this space.

Here are two chickens playing with a ball with food in it. You'll note one of them can't work out how to get grain out of the ball - she's STILL showing greater capacity for creative or original thought than Liddle.

Monday 4 November 2013

Smug? Cyclists? No. But we have every reason to be.

If you read cycling blogs you'll be aware that Kate Hoey MP has been busted for jumping red lights in her car. This in itself wouldn't be a news story for cyclists to get their teeth in to, but she's on record as having lambasted us for doing so and called for ever stiffer penalties in response. We're also accused by her of being smug, of course; ironically I could describe cyclists responses to her conviction as probably the smuggest thing I've seen from bike campaigners for many years!

But this brings us back to the whole 'smug' thing. We're often accused of this - whether its Melanie Phillips trolling for the Mail, or Brendan O'Neill wasting space that could have had real journalism in it in the Telegraph this crap is all over the place. It isn't just Kate Hoey - we are very often accused of pomposity and smugness, usually by people who will then go on to have a go at us on the grounds of how hard what we're doing looks or how dangerous it is. So we're smug about how miserable we must be. Apparently.

I don't need to refute the claim that we're smug - its nonsensical. The idea we're feeling a certain way towards motorists rather implies that why we cycle is somehow all to do with them, and this is simply untrue. Why we cycle clearly isn't why they think we cycle - we're not dealing with a fair assessment of our own emotional response to motorists. What we're seeing is a projection of how they think we can fairly and reasonably be - and resentment of that borne from basic jealousy. And as the very act of sitting on a bike makes us visibly different, its easy for them to clump is all into the same arbitrary, critical grouping.

But lets look closer still. Why are we meant to be smug?

Well, we're getting to our destinations faster than they are. We're not held up by traffic like they are. We're also getting some exercise, saving money, avoiding injuring other people, not contributing towards pollution, locking our bikes up for free, taking up less space on the road... Heck, sounds good to me! I really should be smug - I'm doing everything right. 

The truth is I don't ride for any of those reasons - I ride because its a fun and practical way to get around. I don't do so out of some feeling that it makes me comparatively better than a motorist - in fact my choice to cycle has got nothing to do with the motorists around me. It isn't about them - its got nothing to do with them. The fact that they think of me as 'smug'... How am I showing smugness towards people whose activities are nothing to do with mine?

If I am smug its because I'm engaging in an activity that doesn't make me so angry that I have to start inventing an emotional response that simply isn't there in others. When I ride past dozens of motorists, catching red eyed, resentful stares or even protracted soundings of the horn as I take a position in the advance stop box in front of the traffic, maybe I SHOULD feel smug. But I don't. 

Heck, maybe that means we really are better than them...

Monday 28 October 2013


It turns out mostly we got away with it.

Nothing like as stormy here as across most of the South of England, I gather some trees are down across some parts of Cambridge but the worst damage I saw was a 'let' sign blown out of the ground. I hear that out in the exposed parts around the city it was much harder work cycling in this morning - but it was pretty calm by our (delayed) ride out this morning at 8:30 (yes, we both put our ride off for a while due to local news reports making it sound like ragnarok).

What was most surprising was how many motorists obeyed the advice to 'leave it until later' - at rush hour there were way more cyclists on the roads than motorists (as opposed to slightly more, as is usually the case) and, frankly, that was fine. It wasn't even that windy here by then. 

The down side of this was, of course, that there were fewer cars so those that were on the roads were being driven faster, often giving less space while overtaking at higher speed. So what we gained in a lack of traffic we lost in that traffic being horrid. 

On the whole Cambridge copes pretty well with wind and storms - except for the fact that the city is basically so flat and ill surfaced that there can be an horrendous problem with standing water in places. But the individual motorists in Cambridge? They're no better at slowing down for wind and wet roads than they are at clearing the snow off their cars. The typical scofflaw attitude we're used to continues on through spells of bad weather.

Frosts of Winter to look forward to now. What joy.

Friday 25 October 2013

Advice for New Cambridge Cyclists

Earlier in the week Local Secrets gave us a really naff article with 'advice' for new cyclists. They took it down quite quickly after a storm of criticism, but I'm afraid they haven't yet gone further and really looked in to writing a decent set of advice for newbie cyclists in town. So, without further ado, here's my attempt to enlighten those taking to two wheels in Cambridge...

Cycling isn't just the best way to get around in Cambridge, its the iconic way to travel here. Think Cambridge, think bikes. If you possibly can, getting around by bicycle is simply how we do things here - and I hope that you'll enjoy riding around as much as the rest of us do.

Don't feel like you need to read loads of advice on how to ride here - mostly, if you've been on the roads of the UK for any time at all you already know the basics. If you can ride a bike, get yourself kitted out and off you go. Its no more complicated than that.

But if you do want a bit more on the subject first, please read on.

Things to know for cycling in Cambridge...

(1) The Commuter Peloton
You won't be alone out on the roads, especially if you're running late for starting work or a lecture at 9:00 AM. Cambridge is the most cycled city in the UK, and you will be one of thousands of cyclists getting to their destinations. Don't be spooked by being in a crowd of other riders - just follow some simple steps and you'll be fine. Don't accelerate or brake hard in a big group of riders - don't try to surge hard and brake, it's simpler and safer to keep cool and keep your place in the crowd. If you MUST pass, then do so on the right like any other overtaking vehicle would, you won't startle other cyclists that way. In fact, generally speaking, undertaking another cyclist in the left is a very bad move - if they swerve in towards the kerb or turn left without indicating you're both screwed.

(2) Riding with friends
The highway code says you shouldn't ride more than two abreast. That is fine, usually, but its not going to happen on Kings Parade at five to nine in the morning, where you'll be in a massed crowd of cyclists all over the place. And its not going to happen in the heavy traffic on Mill Road! Generally its okay to ride alongside a friend if you're on a quiet road - its polite to move aside (usually the rider on the outside slipping in behind the rider on the inside) if anyone faster (like, a car driver) wants past - but often that isn't necessary if the road is wide enough for safe overtaking without. Just look out though - just because its legal, and even when its perfectly safe, this can get a certain amount of aggression from motorists.

(3) Where to be in the lane
We have a few cycle routes in Cambridge where you're fully out of the traffic, but I'm afraid not many. That said, the greens and commons around the city are (mostly) fine for riding, and if you can incorporate them into your commute you'll have a more relaxed start to the day than if you only come along the roads! 

Where you need to be on the road is a tricky question - many experienced cyclists advocate a 'primary position', meaning near the centre of the lane to dissuade overtaking without the car behind coming out and around you. Some motorists, if they don't have to swerve to miss a cyclist who is in the gutter, won't do so - so you'll be passed with millimetres to spare, and if this makes you wobble in to the kerb you could be done for if you then fall in to the traffic. This is partly why the 'primary position' is used. So keep a safe distance from the kerb; just don't be a dick. If you can move aside to safely let a faster vehicle go, do so. But where and when its safe is YOUR call, not the guy behind you. 

(4) The law
Yeah, yeah, you know, red lights and stuff. Obey them except when its going to be flat out dangerous not to - so if you're heading to a light that is changing and you hear the car behind revving in a way to make it clear he's going through you might be forced to yourself. Or if you have a great big lorry pull up alongside you at the lights so the driver can't see you, don't be a martyr because you don't want to break the law. Its almost always safer to obey the traffic lights - and it certainly pisses people off less, but use your judgement. Never go through a red light just because you want to, only when you must for safety.

Bike lights are also a requirement when its dark - typically when the street lights come on but when its cloudy you'll want them earlier than that. And yeah, they're a hassle, but if you're knocked off without them then you'll struggle to get the motorist held responsible, even if he did see you. Odds are bike lights won't be deciding factor in whether you have an accident, but this is a law that IS enforced here, and however inconvenient having lights seems its less of a hassle than going to the Police station. And when you get out of the brightly lit city centre you'll certainly be a bit more visible with lights.

Oh, and one way streets. If you get it wrong once in a while when you first move to Cambridge, thats quite understandable, very often the shop exits and college entrances don't have any signage to say which way you can go. But if its a city centre route thats only wide enough for one vehicle and the cars are coming at you, take the bloody hint. And next time have a look for the signs to be sure.

(5) Security
Your bike will be stolen if it isn't locked. I promise you. So lock it up, securely.

(6) Maintenance
When you push your bike forwards, holding the handle bars, check that the brakes stop the bike. If they don't you need to get them fixed - this really matters, you never know when you'll have to stop in an emergency.

Get some oil and get a bike pump that works. Trust me, you'll enjoy riding a lot more with tyres that are pumped and a chain that isn't fighting you. And take your bike in to one of the shops in town for a check up once every few months or whenever something seems wrong - you'll save money this way. A wobbly wheel might be fixable, but not after you've been riding it making it worse for weeks. 

(7) Other gear
Helmet? Hi-viz? Yeah, if you like. You can worry yourself daft over things like this - probably won't hurt, but don't assume they're the biggest factors in staying safe. Gloves will be invaluable when its cold and if you're going to ride in the rain a lot think about getting a good waterproof, maybe even waterproof trousers.

(8) Other road users
Mostly they're not out to get you.

Some of the 'professional' drivers will take more liberties than you'd think - taxi drivers and bus drivers have really tight schedules, so watch out for them taking risks. They're also sitting behind the wheel of their vehicles all day, so they're angry for a lot of the time.

Drivers can't always see you. Rule of thumb is that if you can't look a motorist in the eye, they can't see you. So don't go up the side of big vehicles, its really dangerous.

Pedestrians who live in Cambridge know to look out for bikes. Pedestrians who are visiting probably don't - they're listening for cars but not for you, and they're probably looking up at the buildings rather than at the roads. They'll step right out in front of you - look out for them. Just because they're not looking where they're going doesn't mean there's any excuse for hitting them.

And thats it. It turns out you already know most of what you need to know to ride a bike in Cambridge. Have fun!

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Cambridge 'local secrets' know naff all about cycling...

UPDATE: Presently links to the article I'm discussing here come up as 'no record found'. So it looks like it has been taken down.

Do you know what would be better than just taking it down, Local Secrets? Taking it down and replacing it with good cycling advice instead of the nonsense you were saying yesterday. Maybe with an apology.

I've been intermittently a fan of 'local secrets' here in Cambridge. They point out places to go and can get you discounts, and they have the occasional interesting article up on their website.

But I'm afraid that, for the moment, I'm not a fan. At all. Why? Because of this.

Almost everything about this road-war article masquerading as advice to cyclists is offensive. Where its notr offensive its condescending or outright dangerous.

For example...
Keep to the left. I know, surprising in the UK, isn’t it, but really – KEEP TO THE LEFT. Please don’t cycle in the middle of the road. 
No. In every important respect you are wrong - cyclists are advised by professional instructors and, for example, by British Cycling, to 'take the lane'.

But it gets better... 
Don’t cycle two/three/four abreast. For the same reasons as Number 1 really – you’re in the way, basically, of those people who want to get to where they’re going more quickly than you. 
I rode to through town in what could best be described as a commuter peloton this morning. About of 30 of us coming down past Kings, and I counted 15 at the lights at the end of Chesterton Lane. We could indeed be in single file, but we're the predominant form of traffic, why should we? How are we making things more convenient to others if we're the only traffic that can get through the lights because we're narrowing in to single file?

More importantly, if one rider is 'taking the lane' in primary position, as they of course should on many roads (despite the erroneous advice in this article) then there will likely as not be room for a friend to be in 'secondary' position, and you're taking up exactly as much room! Riding two abreast is legal, safe, and entirely reasonable on most roads, most of the time. 
If you know you’re going to turn right at the next road, position yourself towards the right of your lane. 
Nope. Position yourself according to road conditions - sometimes you need to be to the right of the lane, or you may need to claim the centre space on the lane if there isn't room to be safely undertaken to your left.  
Stop at red lights, level crossings that are closed and such-like. All those things aren’t there to annoy and irritate you but to save your life.
Not only is this condescending (ignoring the fact that IAM figures show third of motorists admit to jumping red lights), its missing the point that sometimes its safer to jump the red light.  Yes, really, it can be - do you want me to sit in the space left by an articulated lorry that has pulled alongside me, positioning me in his blind spot? You want me to stay within the law where doing so risks my life? Well tough titties, I'm not going to. I'll obey the red lights so long as in so doing I'm not risking my life, and I defy you to find any police officer who'll put his hand on his heart and say I shouldn't break that rule if the alternative may be death.
Glow like a Christmas tree.
The bulk of cycle accidents in Cambridge happen in daylight. Moreover, TFL figures show in the region of 2% of cyclist injuries and deaths are due to poor or no lights. I agree, we should have bike lights in the dark, but making a big deal out of this misses the point. It isn't poor lighting hurting cyclists, its poor driving.

I won't go in to the helmet nonsense, yeah, they might help in some accidents, but this kind of trite claim that a 'helmet saved my life' is all too common. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't, but emphasis on helmets is pretty naff really. Be informed, read this. 

Sunday 20 October 2013

Cambridge News Trollumnism. Again.

Background to this story; someone turned up at a council meeting and hated on cyclists. They opposed the idea that people should be able to cycle in the city centre of Britain's most cycled town at all, with special reference to us being allowed to lock up bikes there.

This was based on the problem of cyclists being silent so blind people may struggle to be aware of us. 

To the best of my knowledge there has never been a complete ban on cycling through the middle of Cambridge - restrictions on cycling in the city centre prior to 2005 were incomprehensible, with some roads being banned for cycling for some of the time. Near identical roads, with similar numbers of pedestrians, were handled differently - with few repeat signs within the area thus restricted such that you could lock your bike in the city centre somewhere and re-mount later with no reason to believe that such wouldn't be allowed. It didn't work - which is why we replaced that with a city centre 'pedestrian zone' in 2005, with gated routes that allow cyclists through and signs saying 'drivers and cyclists look out for pedestrians' (I worry about those - are they telling motorists pedestrians are fair game elsewhere?).

Now, one person stood up in a council meeting and called for this to be rescinded. One person who, really, would benefit from exactly the same thing cyclists would - sufficient good cycle parking facilities such that bikes don't restrict pedestrian walkways, and clear, safe, designated routes for cyclists AND pedestrians to minimise the risk of conflict. We're on the same side. Whats more, for many folk who don't get around so well bikes are an invaluable mobility tool. Heck, Cambridge even has an excellent bunch of folk offering advice and try-outs on specialist bikes for this.

Now, this isn't newsworthy. Someone dislikes cyclists and uses a public platform to say so - not news. Some cyclists are inconsiderate and that gets some peoples goats - no more news than any other 'x' folk sometimes annoy 'y' folk. Its a complete non event. 

Calls for a fresh ban on cycling in Cambridge city centre have been made – because of “inconsiderate” riders
There you have it, right there - one person complaining. Calls for a ban. Singular request, immediately conflated to plural 'calls'. 

The rest of the report makes it clear that this. is. not. a. story. The reporter knows this - yet there it is, the inflammatory headline, sufficient to make it look as if we're at the centre of an epidemic of antisocial cyclists mowing down disabled folk.

Lets be clear - in drumming up false hate between the disabled and cyclists, Cambridge News is the enemy of both groups. We want the same thing - why is it that the Cambridge News doesn't?  This isn't news - its a footnote of a council meeting yet somehow because its anti-cyclist its a full story in the local paper. So much is said at such meetings, much of it isn't reported. So many views are expressed - the majority barely get a mention. Yet one person wants cyclists banned from the city centre and thats a whole news story?

Get a sense of proportion Cambridge News. And try to become part of a community rather than a troll for hate amongst it. You don't have to be so damned divisive to report the news.