Thursday 28 March 2013

Police Ignore Dangerous Overtaking

Edit: Update to this story HERE

This was the day before yesterday, on Milton Road. Specifically at a junction where Police have been told to prioritise antisocial cycling. As you'll observe from that link, coming in the other direction there are other distinct dangers!

Anyway, wrap your eyes and ears around this.

I'm not an every-day bike camera user. Don't take it out most days in fact - its too much hassle, the point of cycling is to have an easier, faff-free life. But when take it out I'm sure to capture something peculiar - the old lady who cycled through four successive red lights the other day being a fair example (footage not good enough to youtube).

Here I was in the correct lane to go straight on - the left hand lane takes you up Gilbert Road. There isn't an off-road cycle path to be on here - if I want to go straight on, I have to be in the right hand lane as otherwise left turning cars will quite likely crush me. You'll also note I was heading to the left-half of the lane I was going in to, rather than on to the shared-use path that suddenly appears to the left. I hope that the presence of parked cars all over it and the give-way at side roads you can see towards the end of the footage make it clear why that is.

I couldn't really be anywhere else - did I deserve a viciously close overtake by someone leaning on his horn to intimidate me? I'd have said not.

I could take this to Plod. I tweeted it at them, I've even picked out the chap who does road safety stuff for Cambs Police online. He's not particularly sympathetic as far as I can tell from his responses. I've taken more of these things to plod in the past - last time I was made to sit for an hour in the station and no one came to take any report, I think the lady at the desk didn't give a crap. Insisted over and over that if there's no contact there's no incident which is of course flat out untrue. The time before a couple of PCs came round to view this one and said it wasn't that bad. On another occasion appointments to come and see footage were missed by local plod who said they would rather come and see it than me bring it to the station. So I no longer report things like this, or this. The police aren't interested, but as they know they can't turn around and flat out say 'go away' to someone reporting the law being broken they ignore you or just do nothing about it. They bury these incidents by taking no action, hiding behind bland platitudes and insisting that they care about the safety of cyclists. By failing to act on dangerous driving they essentially decriminalise an act that can so easily kill.

Bluntly, we're all busy people and we only have a limited amount of free time. I can't keep wasting hours of my life taking evidence to a police force who show through their actions that they are effectively opposed to cycling in Cambridge. They of course tell you otherwise, like most other police authorities and councils who have a pro-cycling policy enacted through persecution, victim blame and failure to allocate the slightest safe road-space for cycling. But don't kid yourself - they're not on our side.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Cycle Infrastructure in Cambridge - Outsiders Perspective

I couldn't get to the Cycle Infrastructure Safari on Saturday, but it has been interesting to see how folk from outside Cambridge responded to things here. For the moment I'll pick out two resposnes, one from the Ely Cycling Campaign and the other from folk at the CEoGB.

I find it interesting that the two groups have come to very similar conclusions - we have some decent stuff here in Cambridge, we're at least thought about by planners, but its very clear what planners want us to do. They want us to take circuitous routes around the city that take us from nowhere near where we're likely to live out to miles from where we're likely to work. And while there are some cunning cut-throughs and comfortable bridges (which, when you know about them, take lots of time from your trips and genuinely make cycling much more convenient) we're more or less stuffed if we actually want to go from A to B in anything like a straight line - the facilities that really work for us are widely separated and tend to be aids to permeability than actually routes as such. When it comes down to it the few cycle routes that exist on main roads are uniformly crap. At their best they're Gilbert Road, and thats so good that cyclists en masse prefer the pavement instead.

Were I to looking to be critical (not that such is the nature of this blog, you understand) I'd say its a pity that this safari was on an out of term snowy Saturday rather than a week-day term time morning. The difference between the two is staggering - I can't stress enough that Cambridge is two different cities. Its not 'town' and 'gown' any more - I doubt whether that was really the case here anyway (thats much more of an Oxford thing). The two Cambridges are the quiet, almost sedate, affluent little city with peaceful roads and nice, happy cyclists that you encounter during the Easter and Christmas holidays and on Weekend mornings in the snow, and then there's the every-day kill or be killed commuter hell in which cyclists are hated in direct proportion to their numbers - and our numbers are greater here than anywhere else in the UK. This is a monumentally congested little city - make no mistake, the motorists resent the oxygen we breathe as it could instead have powered their engines. What looks like a reasonable cycle lane on Easter morning looks a hell of a lot less appealing when Mummy is dropping Tarquin off at school in the Range Rover she's muscling along the cycle lane in. But despite that its great that folk from other cities came here for a poke about - and came to similar conclusions to most of us here. Namely, it ain't all bad in Cambridge - some things we're doing well. But we're still not getting it right.

For me, the big question is how big a net gain (if any) we have when we accept each new bit of nearly-good infrastructure. Historically Cambridge Cycling Campaign have been a well meaning sort of folk who have failed to hold out for the best - they have always accepted things being slightly better. The problem I have with that is that, predictably, 'slightly better' is treated as 'gold standard' - these minor improvements that do make our lot better are seen as all we can have. We're utterly failing where we really need to get improvements. These little tinkerings at the edges of the problem are all well and good - but each one takes us further from the victories we actually need to make Cambridge into the cycling city we know it really can be. Our powers that be think we can be fobbed off with marginal gains while utterly failing to re-allocate any real road space towards our safety, expressing shock when anyone dares criticise this failing strategy. As I've said before, this is good for the cycle campaign groups, maybe not quite so good for cyclists. 

And where the best on offer is below a standard that we can reasonably accept if our goal is reducing danger, does the concept of what is reasonable behaviour from cycle campaigners change?

Monday 25 March 2013

How do you like your council candidates grilled?

Cambridge City Council hasn't got proper elections this year - the LibDems will be breathing a sigh of relief as they were crucified in the last two City elections and the only thing allowing them to keep control of local committees has been the Mayors casting vote - and the Mayor was a standing down councillor. Still, thats local 'democracy' for you, frequently an oxymoron. Next year? LibDems controlling Cambridge after that seems extraordinarily unlikely right now.

We do have County elections though. Unfortunately the Tories know they can put up any fool with a blue rosette across most of the county so they frequently do. As a result we've got a county devoted to climate change denial, car centric planning and insanely expensive bus routes that bypass the main roads without ever attaining the average speed thereof, and even the cycling champion they have picked waves the flag for failure and leaving in place murderous roads implemented to dissuade us from riding on pain of death. When  even their cycling champion is anti-cyclist in such a way one might be tempted to vote Yellow, but if I'm honest the Liberal Democrats have been almost as bad, nodding through anti-cyclist measures such as prosecuting us for merely trying not to die, being more keen to tell children to play in traffic than they are to give us genuinely safe cycling facilities. I honesty don't know how they sleep at night.

I'd talk about Labour but I think there are only three of them and they're basically anonymous on this subject. And on others for that matter.

Now thats the venom out of the way; suffice to say our county council hates cyclists and does its best to fail us while spending supposed road safety cash on 'improvements' that are nothing of the sort. They collude with our frankly obsessive cyclist hating Commissioner as he directs the Police to quite aggressively target us while effectively motoring infractions. County councillors are demonstrably delusional regarding cycling.

But just because they've always been crap and those there now have stated a clear intention to continue lacking ambition for cyclists despite Bozza and his vision for London, doesn't mean we shouldn't grill the new batch of wannabes to see whether we can, for a change, get better. 

So... How do we formulate questions for our wannabe councillors? Where do we start? How do we ascertain whether they're just giving us the same shitty platitudes they've always given us about prioritising cycling while not actually doing so? 

I throw this question open...

Thursday 21 March 2013

Are Quiet Rides Uneventful?

I would just like to say that nothing happened on my ride in this morning.


Well, obviously thats a lie - one moment of riding a bike on the road followed another, I got to work, and  of course its simply impossible that 'nothing' would happen, that implying a strange state which would seem impossible given the laws of physics as we understand them.

I'm saying that for a ride in Cambridge it was uneventful.

An articulated lorry overtook me in Arbury Road and pulled back in close enough to make me brake a bit before stopping at the red light clearly visible only seconds ahead of us. I suppose having my wits about me meant that nothing came of that. Then there was the taxi bombed straight through a red light at the end of Arbury Road as I was slowing down to stop at it - but I heard him coming, saw he was giving me space and had an escape route. A BMW driver later got agitated because he wanted to turn left through the space I was using to also turn left in - I mean really agitated and clearly mouthing obscenities at me when I turned to look at him from in front of him while we were both stopped at the red light around that corner. A driver on a mobile phone was edging into an advance cycle box I stopped in, nudging forward moment by moment until I shouted "OI!" at her.

But I also have some good stuff to relate - I made eye contact with a driver approaching the roundabout on Milton Road, signalled to turn right, claimed main lane from absurdly hazardous cycle lane where the motorists nearly all turn left through the space you need to go straight on from the end of the lane, gave him thumbs up and he waved. Later a motorist with forethought slowed down for three cyclists including me to vacate the cycle lane that currently comes to an abrupt end for road works down on Chesterton Lane (I was indicating - but still, most motorists wouldn't do that). And while the taxi driver in town had priority at the mini-roundabout I stopped at, he waved to thank me anyway.

Now what strikes me about recounting the story of such 'uneventful' journeys is that they're not really  uneventful. Take that tale apart and re-tell it and you've got a potentially lethal overtake from an HGV, road rage from a BMW driver who needs to calm down before doing himself or someone else harm, a red light jumping motorist who were I not aware of could have killed me, and cycle facilities completely disregarded by motorists on mobile phones and road workers who put us at great risk without providing any alternative safe facility. As cyclists we must become more or less immune to the background level of rage, murderous contempt for our safety and plain idiocy of motorists. And we do so to such a staggering extent that  serious hazards to our welfare fade into the background - without doing so we couldn't get back on our bikes and ride home. Indeed the standard of driver behaviour we so commonly experience on our roads is so poor that when someone does something right or acknowledges our thanks for simply not killing us (why is it that cyclists seem expected to routinely thank motorists who simply fail to break the law?) we're surprised.

Looked at this way, I wonder whether what sets apart the 'cyclist' from other people is that we have the capacity to disregard such risks, or to get over them faster than others? Is this what sets us apart from those who get into a tin can every day to drive the same distance we ride? Am I a cyclist rather than a bus rider because I have the capacity to let go of all 'mundane' near death experiences?

Talking to folk who don't ride bikes its pretty clear that its the aggression, the close overtakes, the constant stream of crap that like this that puts them off. I think we simply have to face the reality that until we make our road system 'cyclesafe' as The Times puts it, we'll continue to be seen as the oddities that, perhaps, we have to be.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Close Overtakes - They are not careless.

I can't help but be baffled by the commonly held belief among folk in the UK that close overtakes from motorists, on cyclists, are 'careless', or due to 'not having to move out and taking the straight line'.

In my opinion this is complete nonsense.

I mean, lets look at some of them. Here's the first UK one I find by searching youtube, from userkmcyc.

That wasn't careless. It was an exquisitely judged act of aggression. You can't be showing no care or careless judgement if you're passing within a hairs breadth of a cyclist on the road - to do so requires much more attention than passing with a safe margin of error. This wasn't careless, it was an intentional close overtake. The motorist knew he would be passing the cyclist very close, and either intended to do so to frighten the cyclist or didn't care sufficiently that this would be the inevitable result - we can't even for an instant accept that any adult on the road would not understand that such is terrifying.

Lets pick the next one from a different user. This is a chap with the rather fetching youtube handle of 

Again, is that careless? No of course it isn't - the motorist, in this instance one in charge of a dirty great big HGV, has accurately picked the location of the cyclist in the carriageway to within a few inches and chosen to drive something with a massive side wind, in wet conditions, so close to the cyclist that he feels compelled to stop. He's scared the crap out of the poor chap. Unless he's got absolutely no capacity to empathise with other human beings he knows that will be the impact of what he's doing.

This is the same pattern we see again and again with these incidents. The motorist maybe doesn't want to pull out further so consciously chooses to pass close to the cyclist to avoid being in to the other lane... The motorist maybe wants to teach the cyclist a lesson for being 'too far out'.... Possibly he's bored and doing it for his own entertainment. In effect it doesn't matter why the motorist has chosen to overtake like this (here an example from roadieeeee which also hilights how naff bike infrastructure can make this problem worse rather than better).

On every single example I see, the motorist has chosen to overtake closely. They're not forced to do so - the world doesn't end if they hold back a short while, he has consciously chosen to make the aggressive choice of overtaking within a couple of feet or even a few inches of the cyclist. Far closer than is reasonable - and as human beings they are fully aware of how terrifying this is. What do people tell you when you ask why they don't ride? Its not safe. Why isn't it safe? Motorists pass too close - this is perhaps the single greatest problem we have in getting greater uptake of cycling on our roads, intentional close overtaking of cyclists.

Lets be clear - the claim that this is careless or due to poor observation is not credible. They're carelessly but accurately judging nearly killing us? Pull the other one.

Lets get a bit of sense into this discussion - close overtakes are on purpose. Whatever the desire behind that intent may be, the act itself doesn't just happen because they're not paying close enough attention. This is, on every occasion, on every road, intentionally risking the lives of cyclists. Hey, Police, do not accept any excuse for this. Of any sort. Ever.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Catholic Church Junction - Failure Planned

Today plans substantially like that but with the slight improvement that we might get advance lights for cyclists were approved by the County Council.

Or in other words they aim to spend £900k, including £450k supposedly earmarked for safety, on nothing of very much interest to cyclists. No reallocation of road space. No safe routes. On one of the most serious cycling accident blackspots in the city and they couldn't even paint cycle lanes on all the wide, open approaches.

So another failure for the consultation process - apparently about half of those who expressed a view supported this proposal so thats okay then. With so few concessions for safe cycling this will neither encourage more people out on to bikes nor will it make the junction safer - an advance stop box with advance lights that I can't get to because of two solid streams of traffic is of no use to me. But more important than that is that once again this plan fails to take into account those who really would benefit from a genuinely cycle friendly scheme - those who don't cycle because the roads are too hostile. This doesn't tame the road space - it doesn't even change it very much.

Once again I find myself wondering who cycle facilities are for. They're not being built for me - I'd need to be physically restrained to keep me from cycling. Faffing about a bit making the roads trivially less hostile for me and my kind... So what? Really, so fecking what? I'm not the target audience here.

I'm struck by a comment attributed to Councillor Curtis, the County Council Cycling Champion. Apparently "we can't go all the way this time". This time? On what occasion did our county council go 'all the way' for cyclists? It sure as hell wasn't on Gilbert Road, where there is ample space for truly high class cycle infrastructure but all we got was slightly better cycle lanes. Its not on Milton Road or Arbury Road where the police target cyclists at the unlabelled end of a shared use path to stop them riding on in safety where they  must instead ride on a killer of a road. Certainly not as you ride down towards Mitchams Corner where the cycle facilities disappear wherever you may need them. Nor on Mill Road where we've not only got no cycle facilities but the 20mph limit must be regarded as a joke by a police force who flat out don't enforce it. We be talking about the Guided Bus Cycle path that spends so long under water cyclists are forced to ride on a hazardous bus track because, quite literally, there is no other alternative route?

The truth is that in Cambridgeshire we never go 'all the way' for cycling. Not ever. There is no example of a road where we've put cycling first, where getting safe cycling has been the top priority. We're always way down the list, which means we're left with a derisory patchwork of bad to passable infrastructure joined together by lethal junctions. Outside the reality bubble that is Cambridge City Centre we quickly revert to being just as bad as everywhere else in the UK, as evidenced by how few people cycle in to Cambridge from outside the City. I'm forced to ask why we even have a cycling 'champion'.

Our supposed Cycling Champion didn't go 'all the way' for cycling because he, like the rest of our County Council, is failing the cyclists of this county, and in so doing failing to tackle congestion, pollution and obesity. Our County Council are therefore failing everyone within the county - they fail to give us the fair choice to ride safely, because ultimately they do not believe in cycling as a form of transport.

And after all this? Cambridge Cycling Campaign (who to their credit opposed this abysmal scheme) and the County Council will revert to smug back slapping. And there will be no substantial improvement, at least at this junction, for another generation. Still, drums up business for the NHS, I suppose.

Monday 4 March 2013

Cambridge News Still Hate Cyclists

Sadly, they're at it again.

It started with this news story here. Cambridge Cycling Campaign said many things to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. It would have been great for the main headline in the paper to be about how our local cycling campaigning body went down to London to give evidence, how the cycle campaign group from a pretty small city went to Parliament to provide evidence because Cambridge is viewed as getting a lot of things for cycling right, and being the only city in the UK you can arguably name as a success story for cyclists also hilights all of the other things we still need to do to improve things. No matter what the outcome of the enquiry representation there by CCC is a good thing - for Cambridge, for cycling.

But no. The headline they chose to lead with was all about one small part - the suggestion that hatred directed purely on the basis of people choosing to ride bikes ought to be considered 'hate crime'. To argue otherwise has always seemed obtuse to me - prejudice is prejudice, it doesn't matter WHY someone chooses to act aggressively or insultingly based on an arbitrary characteristic, if they choose to do so they're committing a moral wrong which we can define as a legal wrong if as a society we choose to do so. To exclude a grouping based on the fact that they don't deserve the protection other groups get is in itself a simple and crude display of prejudice and there is no rational or moral argument to do so. All that aside, this wasn't the big picture on display, it wasn't the main message anyone following the enquiry would have taken from Cambridge Cycling Campaign presenting to the enquiry.

This seemed almost like another hit and run troll, especially as accompanied elsewhere on the site by a more balanced (but way more low-key) article on the subject. But Cambridge News weren't done with us yet. Not by a long way.

A day or two later we saw this story. Wow. Cyclist assaulted in what looks like a brutal road rage incident - but for some reason the story appeared three WEEKS after the incident. Conveniently cashing in on the 'argument' that had been sparked by the first story on cyclist hate being defined as a crime. And although it sounds brutal, although it sounds utterly terrifying, the victim in this incident felt the need to add further to the story in the comments section:
I've just had a quick browse through the comments. For the record: - I had front and back lights, they were functional and they were switched on at the time of the incident. The photograph in the article was a pose taken 3 weeks later by a Cambridge News photographer after the newspaper contacted me asking to run the story. - The person I was in the process of overtaking started overtaking the person in front of him without checking to see if there was anyone behind or next to him. I rang my bell to warn him but he just kept moving into me so I had no choice but to move into the carriageway. - I expressed regret to the reporter about flipping my finger but he omitted this in his article (presumably because it doesn't help fire up controversy, which sells papers). - In any case, you have to understand that the driver arrived very suddenly (was clearly speeding) and honked repeatedly (I'd say at least 5 or 6 times) right next to a group of cyclists, none of whom were swerving erratically nor taking up much of the carriageway (I was out by 1 foot at most according to a colleague who was cycling behind me). This is a pretty aggressive act, especially in the UK where honking is so infrequent. - Given the assailant's subsequent actions, it is clear that he was an intensely violent person. Intensely violent people often behave aggressively while driving so I don't think anyone should be in any doubt that his initial behaviour was provocative and aimed to intimidate a vulnerable group of cyclists on the road.
Lets strip the crap out of the article - a cyclist overtaking another cyclist found himself in a pickle when the other cyclist pulled out. He would have had a split second to decide what to do to avoid a collision, and he pulled out further. Was he right to do so? Probably - if the cars also trying to pass are allowing a margin of error as required by the highway code it'll be safe, but it might give the motorist the willies. Did he handle it ideally from that point on? At this point I don't care - nothing else that happens - gestures, words - can possibly justify physically assaulting him. Nothing. This is not open to discussion, if the motorist assaulted him there is no justification or mitigation for that. At all. Do not justify statements to the contrary by addressing them - they can only come from people who believe, fundamentally, that a cyclist deserves to be assaulted for being in the way - a strong argument in favour of the 'hate crime' label being applied here. And this chap deserves to be better treated by the journalist covering the story than he obviously believes has been the case.

Conveniently CN used this story to hilight the whole cyclist-hate-crime thing three weeks AFTER the incident happened and immediately after cherry picking 'cycle hate' from Cambridge Cycling Campaigns contribution to the APPCG.

But wait, it doesn't end there. Presumably being aware that Cambridge News were whipping up more cyclist-hate, Cambridgeshire Constabulary apparently called for calm after the incident. I can't immediately find said call for calm among local plods press releases, mind you. But thats not what this non-story is about is it? Just read this bit...
Tensions between cyclists and motorists have been played out in other attacks.
In June last year, a taxi driver clashed with three cyclists in Hills Road – with one rider ramming his bike into the cab.
The incident happened as taxi drivers claimed clashes with cyclists were increasing, as road users in the city jostle for space.
And in April last year a cyclist assaulted a motorist in a road rage attack at traffic lights in Milton Road
Yes, the same paper did unquestioningly report that a cyclist had rammed a taxi driver. So someone with no kind of protection rode a flimsy metal object into a ton or more of gleaming hard metal and glass. As if that might achieve something other than self harm. And they're re-reporting these incidents why, to balance out the fact that someone was on the receiving end of a terrifying assault? What? You can only report a cyclist being assaulted if you also come out with equal or greater abuse thereof?

Cambridge News, you've got prior form. But you've gone further here than before - way further. With this incessant trolling for hate you have declared yourselves the sworn enemy of cycling and cyclists in Cambridge - you are not PART of the problem of cyclists being hated here, with your inflammatory coverage you seem intent on become the greatest component of that problem. You hate us, thats fine - just be open and clear about it.

And Cambridge Cycling Campaign? For as long as you collaborate with Cambridge News, how can you possibly claim to be a force for good in this city?