Tuesday 30 April 2013

Cambridgeshire County Council Elections - Summary

It would be fair to say that I've only scratched the surface - I've picked out two candidates from each party to base my analysis on. If you're interested, here they are again:


I'll go and look at a few of the minority party candidates and independents next, but for the moment, there it is.

I'm surprised to be relating that the Greens are comically inept in this area. It really pains me to say that. 

The Tories and Labour are about as bad as each other - the former having the odd good candidate but reverting to type with others, and the latter being full of platitudes but no substance or shape to their policies regarding cycling - they want to be seen as pro-cycling without throwing us the slightest scrap of actual policy. 

UKIP. Oh, UKIP. How you've made me laugh. At you. Not with you. 

And the Liberal Democrats? Well in Cambridge they're about to get crucified. Maybe thats why they're finally getting their policy right on cycling. I can only hope that they carry some of this through to how they do things at the City level, although I won't hold my breath. Best of a bad lot, truth be told.

The bottom line? Politicians, even at councilor level, are very good at saying a surprising amount, without a great deal of substance. 

County Elections - Who to vote for 5: Greens

You might assume that Greens and cycling go together like organic tofu and tie died pashminas. And I suspect even before looking at Cambridge Cycling Campaigns survey that they'll be making positive sounds about cycling, but will they have good, solid, realistic polices for us? 

Here I should also declare an interest - I voted Green in the last general election. Environmentally, I'm a green. I like many, but not all, of their policies.

Locally the Greens have had a torrid time of late - they've lost City council seats through bad election results and a shameful election time defection to Labour (and that councilor has stood down now - sorry Adam, good riddance, I hope that the shame of what you did keeps you out of politics forever). 

We haven't got a candidate here in Kings Hedges, so I've got to go over to Arbury before I find my closest Green - one Stephen Roger Lawrence.

As we can see, he's off from the gun claiming cycling credentials:
Cyclist since 1981 - commuted for some years - use a bike daily, and commute out to Hauxton once a week. I have two bikes.
 Great start. And does he want cycle facilities to new developments so folk can get in to Cambridge:
In short, yes
Simple and to the point, although some thoughts on how you'd do it would be good.

But unfortunately then he's gone a bit weird. The first banana skin question, re. evidence based policing. Does he support it?
 "Evidence-based" is the word. Also "based on levels of danger". However, people have their own priorities. Blitzes are popular, and do also work (viz success with bike lights). So we should say "the evidence suggests this" and "but peoples' preferences are this" so "as a compomise we'll do this". Ie as educative as possible, without IMO being judgemental. We do have to police our community together, after all.
Dude. What are you smoking? The question wasn't that complicated - should policing be evidence based and should it be based on where the real dangers are, should it be about how people are actually getting hurt? Or is the populist approach going for blitzes on this and that the right way? If there are compromise positions between evidence based and prejudice based policing can you give us examples of how to reach them? Sorry, I've read your answer five times now, and I still don't know what you're saying.

He's then said what we'd expect him to say regarding cycle routes (he likes them). So thats all good then. But I'm afraid he's off with the fairies again in a minute. Fairly simple question from Camcycle:

Do you support major development of the A14? What do you consider the effects on Cambridge would be if or when this were done? What measures would you support to ameliorate negative effects on cyclists of any traffic increases in Cambridge that this might cause (estimates have been made of a 30% increase)?
Or, in other words, many folk want the A14 to become ever more a motorway in all but name, bringing even  more cars at peak times, so how would you make it okay to ride here under those circumstances. His response:
 My response to the A14 is that it is primarily a problem with freight. Therefore the solution involves moving "swap-body" traffic on to the rails, using a proprietary system such as Modalohr or CargoBeamer, with terminals located near Harwich (I think this is where most swap-bodies come from - Felixstowe is for containers) and the Midlands, to name the first two.
 Felixtowe? Felixtowe? What the hell is the relevance of that to whether or not pumping ever more cars into Cambridge makes the roads here un-rideable? You've completely not got the point of the question, and it isn't clear that you understand the problem. He then goes on to support 20mph (although oddly prefers 25pmph), but really he's a bit limp if I'm honest.

Honestly Greens? Is that the best you can do? I mean, where's the plan? Whats the overall shape of cycling policy? What I want out of a Green party is to look for a shape to your policy; where would cycling in Cambridge be 5 years from now if you won? 10 years? Where are you going with this? Do you even have a clue what you want to achieve?

Okay. So far, so limp. Lets wander down to another ward and see if the others are the same; a chap called Shaun Peter Esgate is standing there. Another long time cyclist, but for some reason he finds the question of whether cycle facilities for new developments are a good thing rather complicated. Goodness knows why. And on evidence based policing? 
Increased traffic policing of dangerous road users in the city could be effective if enough resources could be diverted for finely targeted actions. The dangerous incidents which have been highlighted in the press over recent months are usually over in seconds and unless they result in injury need to be witnessed by police officers for any action to follow.

...well, your guess is as good as mine. I have no idea what he wants, he's answered some other question entirely.

And if you think thats bad take a look at what he things about Bozzas plan in London and whether we should go for it here:
 I can't say that I know enough to comment.
And on cycling and public health?
This question is a bit broad but Green Party policies address these issues and consider them to be primary concerns.

So why the hell are you standing for election then if you've got neither knowledge nor your own opinions? In short, what are you for Mr. Esgate? The rest of his comments are blandly supportive of cycling without ever giving us an idea what the Greens want to do.

To be brutally honest, these responses disappoint but don't surprise me. Nationally the Green party have become a dynamic and exciting political force, putting forward creative and sensible policies on councils where they've either become the main opposition or part of the ruling block. Caroline Lucas has been a stalwart in parliament, and if there is any justice they'll go from strength to strength under their inspiring new leader. It should however be noted that none of those people or places have any link to Cambridgeshire, where I'm afraid the local Green party have more or less fallen to pieces and stopped being anything like a coherent political unit. 

Is cycling an issue for you? Indeed, are there any issues you care about? Sorry, but the Green party here in Cambs is not for you. You wouldn't have thought it possible they could be so limp and uninspiring.

County Elections - who to vote for 4 - UKIP

This party present perhaps the biggest problem for those deciding who to vote for. Its not that anyone with half a brain-cell thinks that a UKIP government would be a good thing, its that in many ways their local candidate selection processes epitomise localism - as far as I can tell all you have to do is fill in a form and you're a candidate. How else can you explain the fact that no two UKIP candidates seem to have the same policies, on nearly anything?

But that means that its perfectly feasible for a UKIP candidate to be spot on with regard to cycling. Possible, if perhaps not very likely.

Now I've got to go as far as East Chesterton to see the nearest UKIP candidate who responded to Cambridge Cycling Campaigns questions, a Peter Burkinshaw. Quite a tough ward for UKIP that one - Ian Manning vs. Clare Blare is the fight we'll all be watching, it's looking like a LibDem - Labour battle. Manning ain't a bad chap and has a good record as a councillor, but as you know the Liberal Democrats are about as popular as the clap in a boarding school. UKIP usually get squeezed out - for me the question is whether thats because of the party or the candidate. Lets look see how he answered the questions...

Now, on the subject of cycle provision in and around new developments:
You are asking for benefits paid for by other road users.
I would prefer more car parks.
Gosh. Okay... So he doesn't understand how the roads are paid for?  We have to assume these candidates are being genuine, so for the moment at least lets assume he isn't taking the p1$$.

On to the key (for me) question of evidence based policing:
Cyclists are by far the most undisciplined road users.
On several occasions, I have had to stop or dodge cyclists riding through red lights when
crossing at pedestrian crossings. More police attention to cyclists would be useful.
Cars are not a danger to other road users, provided they in turn act sensibly.
It should be borne in mind that motorists have to pass a driving test. Cyclists are not tested for competence or knowledge of road signs and traffic lights.
So, no. He doesn't support evidence based policing, he supports policing based on his own prejudice. Show him data that demonstrates few harmed by bikes and hundreds harmed by cars, and he doesn't care - he's had to dodge cyclists you know, bloody cyclists coming over here ruining our country, bugger off back to Bikeland or wherever the hell you come from.  I don't know, youth of today, wasn't like that when I were a lad. You could tear down the roads at whatever pace you like, they knew their place then you know, these uppity cylists. Now they want jobs, houses, the right to vote, bloody cyclists.

Is the stuff Bozza is doing for cyclists any good? Would he do it here? Do we even have to ask?
No. This proposal amounts to theft from the people who pay to use roads and the benefit given to those who don't.
Oh, of course. Because there's a road tax which goes into the road fund, and anyone who says otherwise is just some namby pamby weirdy beardy yoghurt knitting liberal who wants to steal from hard working, oppressed motorists and spend the money herding lentils into their yurts.

Now you could be temtped to give up on his ranting right about now. Don't, you'll miss some comedy gold. I mean, put this in context; this was a survey done by Cambridge Cycling Campaign to help those who look at their site (more cyclists) decide who to vote for. This candidate has been so staggeringly dumb as to insult those people - he hasn't even tried to sugar the cyclist-hating pill he's trying to ram down our throats. 

We've then got assorted 'cyclists don't pay' kind of comments so why should we get facilities, a vow that nothing should be done on Orchard Park to fix badly linked up facilities that won't even cost the County Council anything (this is just spite!), an insistence that the Milton Road shared use facility is okay if cyclists stick to their half (much of this route doesn't have 'halves' and isn't segregated in any way; thats why its called  'shared use' Mr. Burkinshaw... The clue is in the name. Do you see what they did there? 'Shared' use?). He answers a question about the Green Dragon bridge with anecdotes about cyclists abusing him on another bridge entirely (I'm increasingly thinking they're abusing him because they know who he is - its not general abuse he's getting from idiotic cyclists for being in the way, I think people might know who he is and they're being highly specific in their insults), before closing with this absolute corker:
Why are there cycle tracks on Hill's road on both the road and footpath?
Road space is required for motorised vehicles who pay for it. It shouldn't be wasted on people who don't.
Just for your information, I walk to most places in Cambridge, but you should bear in mind that if everybody cycled, there would be no roads to ride on.
What is "sustainable transport"? Is it using things that other people pay for?
It transpires that Mr. Burkinshaw is wrong in every possible way. There are cycle tracks on Hills Road on the road and the footpath because for reasons best known to the County Council designing one high quality facility is too hard, they'd rather give us two poor ones. Road space isn't paid for by motorised vehicles; such things are inert lumps of metal that pay nothing. Road space is paid for mostly via council tax, which we all pay. VED covers fuel efficicney;  if you don't want to pay it get a Prius or a Nissan Leaf or any of the other low emission vehicles. Roads were not built for cars. Sustainable transport is using things you've paid for but doing less damage to the local and global environments... 

Wow. This guy has set out to alienate half of the population of the city - the half that regularly cycle. He's got half the potential electorate he might have had - he's going to lose. This has made local news, its had national comment. I was talking to a proud UKIP supporter from well outside that ward (from Milton in fact) who has stated that he'll never vote UKIP again after this. Mr. Burkinshaw, your frothing at the mouth, misinformed cyclist hate has ballsed this up for you. You. Are. Going. To. Lose. Why would anyone seek to make absolutely sure they can't win?

I was going to say 'lets not be too harsh on UKIP, look, here's their nominee for Gamlingay who is like a breath of fresh air' but Mr. Burkinshaws comments are so stupid that I feel like I've had myIQ beaten down by a mallet and I don't believe that UKIP deserve further coverage.

In conclusion, I flat out don't care which ward you're in - a vote for UKIP is a vote for the party that provided a platform for Mr. Burkinshaw. Vote Tory, LibDem, Labour, Green, even Loony if you're in Bar Hill, vote anyone but UKIP. 

When you put a cross in the UKIP box, angels weep for you. Their kind of stupidity is infectious - like head lice or the zombie apocalypse plague. Don't catch it.

Monday 29 April 2013

County Elections - who to vote for 3: LibDems

Yeah, yeah, I know, you hate them. Nick Clegg and all that. I take your point. They're about as popular as public lice. But this is a local election, about local issues. Lets hear them out. At least our local candidate in Kings Hedges has bothered to reply to Cambridge Cycling Campaigns Survey, so thats one up on the Tories.

I'm sure I remember hearing that the LibDem candidate here, Neale Upstone, vowed that he never wanted to be a councillor again after last time. Maybe I'm wrong. Either way, after he's stated he cycles about the place he comes right out with the goods when asked about cycle provision for new developments:
Yes. In particular, I believe dedicated off-road routes are the only mass transit solution as shown in Europe.
Okay. I'm on board with that.

Then on evidence based policing on road issues:
Broadly, yes. I think safety should be the priority, injury accidents whether injury drivers, cyclists or pedestrians have a massive impact on people's lives and a cost to taxpayers. I think we need to start talking about *dangerous* anti-social behaviour (both driving and cycling) and prioritising that over pestering teens in hoodies.
The incident on Hills Road could well have been me having caught up with a reckless driver and made my views on their speeding known. The police response when reporting the threats from the passenger who got out and 'in my face' should not have been "it's better to ignore speeding drivers". My response: I'll be ignoring what you said as I want our streets safe for children, and I will not live in fear of bullies.
So, you agree with the idea that we should be policing such things but that we should be putting more effort into the things that are most dangerous? Excellent. Spot on.

He's clear on what kind of cycle provision we need, he's direct and unequivocal regarding the problems faced on Orchard Park... He wants clear improvements on Milton Road but chickens out of condemning the police as they deserve for how they've targetted cyclists there (shame). Bloody hell - a local politician speaking no-nonsense good stuff about cycling. We should have him stuffed.

Is he a one off though? Lets pick another one. Arbury is next closest to here so lets see what the candidate there, Daniel Stephen Levy has to say.

Its a bad sign when he responds to the question about cycle facilities in the new developments thus:
Safe, high quality cycle routes are going to be an important part of the infrastructure needed to support growth in Cambridge and the surrounding areas. The Liberal Democrats are already seeking to have £8m invested in cycling and the Chisholm Trail. If elected I would support this measure.
However, investment in other forms of travel, including facilities for pedestrians and frequent, reliable bus services will also be needed. As a councillor, I would seek to find the best possible balance between all these various facilities.
Really? In response to a cycling question you're going to go on about some idea of 'balance' between public transport, pedestrians and cyclists? Would you start waffling on about pedestrians if the question were about the A14 or cyclists if it were about train services? No, of course you bloody wouldn't. This insane concept that improvements for cyclists must somehow be contextualised by changing things for everyone else too has even sunk into the LibDems it seems.

His response on evidence based policing is even worse:
I fully support evidence-based policy making, but I'm not sure I agree with the rather strange definition of the term that is given in the question. If something is evidence-based then it should be based on all the available evidence, not just the bits that fit with a particular agenda.
Agenda? What? The question is simple enough, should the evidence (for example how many people are harmed by different activities) lead police priorities - thats not some suspicious or peculiar agenda, and that you believe it is speaks volumes about your own peculiar world view. Flat out, why would you want to set police priorities other than on evidence? Why is this something candidates find so hard to grasp?

He goes on to give out entirely the wrong message on cycle facilities - we've got ample wide enough roads across most of the city, I'll simply not have it that routes of identical width in Holland have space for cycle lanes but here in Cambridge they don't. And his reticence to come right out and support high quality facilities for new settlements isn't so much short sighted as outright stupid. And I'm afraid, its down hill from there.

Bottom line is that the two candidates I've looked at are as different as chalk and cheese - Upstone gets it, Levy doesn't. Upstone understands that you can be pro-cycling without being anti-anyone else. Levy doesn't. Upstone gets that we're interested in making things better for cycling and that this in turn reduces congestion and makes for a safer environment for pedestrians. It is unclear whether Levy does.

In short, you might consider voting LibDem if cycling is an issue for you. But corner your candidate and pump him for information first. As a party, the local LibDem group clearly are not pro-cyclist (the City Councils dreadful record shows that to be true), but there are some among them who are spot on.

So if you've got a good LibDem candidate and the thought of Nick Clegg betraying every principle you hold dear doesn't make you feel physically sick, they might be the party for you.

County Elections - who to vote for. Part 2: The Labour Party

You might expect me to be a fan of Labour, being a native of the Peoples Republic of Gateshead. And I have met some cracking Labour councillors; regrettably I've also met a fair few folk who knew they'd win with a red rosette so did nothing of interest, at all, ever. So I'm quite happy to say that I 'get' Labour, but I also know they've got as many bad candidates across the country as any other party.

So, lets look what they've been saying in response to Cambridge Cycling Campaigns survey this time round.

I met our Kings Hedges labour candidate when she was doing a walk about the ward with some of the City councillors. Fiona Onasanya seems okay, but catching her unaware I got the rather startling answer from her that she's no fan of the 20mph speed limit. It was amusing watching the City councillors she was with hilighting that as its Labour group policy she actually supports it. 

Unlike the Tory candidate in Kings Hedges she did reply to the survey. Which is a good start.

She starts off making the right sounds about cycling infrastructure and pedestrian routes being important, which is easy enough of course. But unfortunately, when we start getting to meaty questions like this one:
Do you support our view that traffic policing, of all groups of road users (cyclists, drivers, etc), should become a greater police priority, and that this should be evidence-based, namely based on the relative levels of danger presented by each such group?
...she simply doesn't answer properly...
Enforcement action by the police is most effective when accompanied by education and other measures to ensure good behaviour by all road users including cyclists and drivers. 
Speeding cars, bad driving and poor behaviour by some cyclists come up on the doorstep quite often and it is important to address concerns expressed and ensure good understanding between different road user groups including pedestrians.
So, I don't get it, does she support the view that policing priority should be evidence based, on relative levels of danger, or not? Because it doesn't look like it. That reads like some wishy-washy fence sitting mutual respect fallacy nonsense. Sorry, thats a big black mark against our Labour candidate right there. Still, plenty of questions left, shall we see if she redeems herself?

The one about whether or not the candidate supports doing things here along the lines that Boris Johnson has got going on in London, thats a good one. And an easy one to answer too. So what does our candidate say?
We support a new Cambridgeshire bike plan, including:-
learning from Dutch towns and country cycling and;
radical thinking, given similar needs (and flat topography) in Cambridgeshire.
So... What? Radical thinking? Doing WHAT? And learning WHAT from Dutch towns? What do you actually want to do? What lessons are there still to learn from the Dutch? Haven't we learned by now, is not the problem one of implementation rather than knowledge? Sorry, thats another cop out answer.

There follow a few more questions to which Fiona Onasanya makes the right kind of noises, frustratingly without ever committing to what she wants done, before dropping a monumental clanger. The question is simple enough, but oozes with righteous anger from the Campaign:
Do you agree that the shared-use paths along Milton Road are in general highly unsatisfactory, and that proper cycling provision should be provided, maintaining priority at sideroads? Do you condemn recent police action to ticket cyclists using pavements on Milton Road that join up with shared-use areas, despite no white lines or clear signs being present to delineate clearly the section where the status changes?
This of course refers to the fact that  Cambridge Police took to staking out the unlabelled end of the cycle route on Milton Road to catch unwary cyclists who had no reason to believe they couldn't ride there, and to councillors outrageous decision to target cyclists who didn't want to face near death like I did. Her answer was:
I feel unable to agree or disagree with the statement that "the shared-use paths are in general highly unsatisfactory" as this is a subjective question and without having specific responses from frequent users (both cyclists and pedestrians) of the paths in question it would not be fair or right to comment. I will however seek more information in respect of police action.
Hang on... Subjective? You've just been talking about Dutch standards, and you must surely know that the Milton Road route doesn't come anywhere near that. You've told us what you want to aspire towards and now when given a crystal clear example that falls miles short its 'subjective'? Are you kidding? It is a major route used to get towards Kings Hedges - if you want to represent the ward you should know it. You're standing for election, and lets be honest we all know you're very likely to win (right now the LibDems are so unpopular that Labour could nominate a gazebo, and it would win) but you're only going to find out about police priorities NOW? That is not good enough. That isn't good enough at all. 

All in all I'm unimpressed. But lets be fair - lets look at another candidate from Labour. I'd go to Arbury but no response from Labour there, so lets go look in East Chesterton to see what the gloriously named Claire Blair has to say. 

Again, she makes the right noises regarding cycle routes, but once again completely bottles it on evidence based policing:
Talking to people frequently on the doorstep speeding cars and poor behaviour by some cyclists come up quite often and it is important to address those concerns. At the same time enforcement action by the police is most effective when it is side by side with education and other measures to promote good behaviour by all road users.
Either copped out again or both candidates I've looked at here utterly failed to understand the question. Neither looks good. She then repeats the same mantra about learning from Dutch towns (so she's way behind the understanding reached in London like the previous candidate is), and while she makes some decent points about the requirement for a new bridge she also fails to get it on policing of Milton Road (saying that shared use facilities are often unsatisfactory without referring to THIS shared use facility... why not?). 

Labour candidates are trying to win cyclists votes by saying things that sound good but are, at best, meaningless. But mostly their answers are evasive, if not downright patronising. It pains me to say it, but if cycling is an issue for you in Cambridge in this election, there is no way you can support Labour. The two example candidates I've picked, if representative, prove that cycling isn't even important enough for them to have learned the issues before replying to the Cycling Campaigns survey. 

Pathetic. Just... pathetic. Labour, you have no plan for cycling here. You have no policies. You have no idea. Wake up and smell the chain lube - you're monumentally failing on this issue, and it pains me.

County Elections - who to vote for. Part 1: The Tories

Credit where its due, Cambridge Cycling Campaign have done very well with their cycling survey for this election. Excellent stuff.

Now I've no intention of going through the pros and cons of each party; you really vote for the candidate, rather than the party, but its interesting that there are some very clear party trends on display. I'll summarise by giving a couple of fairly typical responses from each party, and give a few thoughts. I'll try to give responses from the ward I live in, Kings Hedges, but where that person hasn't responded I'll have to go further afield.

Lets start with the Ruling Party on our County Council, the Conservatives. Needless to say that the Tory candidate, Anette Karimi, is one of those folk doing their party duty by standing. They know they'll not win, so we've had no campaign literature, nor any calls, and she's not responded to the survey. Nor have candidates for Arbury, East or West Chesterton, Histon and Impington... Not really engaging much it seems. 
Got to go as far as Market ward to get someone who has responded; Sheila Lawlor.

Now Dr.(I think) Lawlor  is making the right noises, at least to begin with.
Cycling is my main means of transport in Cambridge, and has been all my working life, ever since I moved here to do my PhD at Sidney Sussex College. I use my bike to go everywhere in and about Cambridge, as do my husband and son. As a family cycling is essential to our life in Cambridge...
...I agree that cycling routes tend to be more cost-effective than heavy infrastructure. Yet cost is not the only reason for encouraging cycling: the environmental, aesthetic and cultural benefits cycling brings Cambridge versus other modes of transport are enormous. One reason for the building of cycle lanes that I would stress is safety: as our roads become busier it is vital that we ensure there are high-quality routes on which cyclists can travel safely.
Now I won't argue with any of that, although I do wonder about anyone throwing around their Ph. D. in the first sentence of any survey, especially in Cambridge. I get suspicious of anyone doing that in politics.

She then goes on to talk about enforcement, again making some of the right noises. I can't help but warm to her when she says things like this:

It's not enough to bring in measures like speed limits but fail to enforce them: my residents' group has evidence that the 20mph speed limit is not being observed. Increased traffic policing is one way I'd tackle this (using evidence as a guide to focus resources efficiently), but while policing can certainly deal with the symptoms of the problem, it cannot remove the root cause.
So far so good. Makes some good sounds on the Catholic Church junction without ever coming right out and saying the current plan makes a mockery of our safety, and then ends with this:
 We need to be honest about road use in Cambridge, stop trying to please everybody and focus on what sort of a place we want our city centre to be. Do we want it to be a calm and safe environment for those who live and work here, or a free-for-all thoroughfare plagued by heavy traffic? I am campaigning for the former, and if I succeed, then cyclists will have a fairer share of the roads in town (although residents will still be able to drive when they need to). I have been campaigning since 2008 on local issues. I advocate a 21st Century vision of roads in Cambridge one in which heavy traffic – lorry, bus, car – decreases in the centre; one which supports those who live and work here; and above all, which allows those who cycle and walk, to do so in safety.
Okay, this is all good, but I found her a little short on detail. Ten out of ten for intentions - maybe four out of ten for giving us details of how you want to achieve this. Pretty good actually.

Now before we get carried away, lets have a look at another candidate: John Michael Ionides, standing in Trumpington.

In response to this (quite reasonable) question from the Campaign:
Cambridge is seeing massive housing growth, with tens of thousands of new journeys into the city expected daily. Given that building tunnels, knocking down houses, or providing new public transport is very expensive, would you agree that creating very high-quality cycling routes to encourage new people to cycle offers by far the best cost-benefit ratio for transport improvements that facilitate growth of the City and surrounding areas?
...his reply is:
This is a highly leading question that fails to consider the complexity of the issues.
Yes. Really. Thats his reply.

The counter-point to that is no it isn't. The question is very simple - is provision of routes that encourage cycling a cost effective way of getting people in and out of the city?  Is it a leading question? Somewhat, in that its from a cycling campaign and about cycling (what did he expect?), but not considering the complexity? Then tell us what you think the complexities are Mr. Ionides, because from where I'm sitting its a pretty bloody simple issue. Are routes that are safe and pleasant to ride on a good and cost effective idea if you start fro the premise of wanting more folk to cycle, yes or no?

He then goes on to answer a question about policing based on the hazard brought to others by different classes of road users with:

This is another highly leading question. I have done considerable survey work within Trumpington in the past that suggests that the options are by no means as clear cut as the question implies, particularly where pavement cycling (a significant issue in areas such as the High St near Alpha Terrace) is concerned.
Leading question? What, policing based on the harm caused rather than some s41t someone imagines is the case? Evidence based policing doesn't appeal to you because..?

Lets skip over the two questions he answered with what appears to be identical text, and on to the Catholic Church question which is:
Which should have greater priority: safety of people cycling, or flow of motor vehicles, e.g. at junctions like the Catholic Church junction?
He has answered with:
 The question has only listed a couple of the possible points to be considered. Many other factors need to be considered in junction design.
And now he's lost me. The question is very simple - what matters more to you, safety or traffic flow? He's completely failed to answer, he's dodged the question entirely, presumably to avoid going against party line.

 But lets look at his final word on the survey:
I feel that this survey is considerably weaker than those in previous years. Many of the questions are leading or include unrealistic simplification of complex problems.
In addition, there is an emphasis on highway-based solutions to increasing cycling uptake - and it is far from clear that highway issues are limiting cycling uptake for many demographic groups. It would be nice to see an appreciation of schemes that tackle the problem form other angles, for instance the County's own Cycle to Work scheme.7
Okay... So you're saying that we're just not giving enough love to the County Council who haven't managed any serious increase in cycling (which in Cambridge is flatlining, while rising elsewhere in the UK), and you're seriously suggesting that emphasising safety of cyclists is oversimplifying? In every single way, in every important respect, I find this quite abhorrent. What a horrible way to trivialise our safety; to imply that making a junction safer for us might not be as big a priority as we'd like because its complicated, what an abhorrent viewpoint. And to compound that with flag waving for a demonstrably bad council... Well, you've pinned your colours to the party flag Mr. Ionides. Good luck to you, but you'll go down with that sinking ship I'm afraid...

In conclusion, I can say that there do seem to be some relatively sane Tory candidates, and in any council election coming across as a compassionate, relatively sane person is part of the battle. And then there are candidates like Mr. Ionides who I find, from that survey, to be rather useless if I'm honest. 

So far, so bad. Lets move on to another party with the next blog post, I'll do Labour...

Showing 'respect' to motorists?

Something I often encouter is claims that cyclists don't show respect on the roads. This is repeated, parrot style, over and over to the point where it sounds like it might even be true. Repeat the same fallacy often enough, people start believing.

This has got me thinking, what does it actually mean?

I've previously dealt with the 'mutual respect' fallacy, a dangerous myth perpetuated by those whose innate lack of understanding constantly leads them to the flawed concept that the correct position between 'right' and 'wrong' is somewhere in-between. Those who seek consensus between going about your business in a harmless fashion and some other fiction where to do so presents a problem.

But this is different; apparently we don't show enough respect on the roads.

The means by which we should show respect rather escapes me. Do they want us to wait in traffic with them? I mean, would we be showing respect by staying the same place in traffic rather than passing them? So, then we'd be adding to the queue of traffic, and the motorists would take longer to get through each junction, and we'd merely be slowing down our journeys for no gain, for anyone? I'm meant to stand there breathing in their traffic fumes while they wait in traffic out of respect? 

Do they want us to show respect by maybe cycling passively in the gutter? I'm meant to respect them by riding in a way that increases risk to me, again for no real gain for them? Simply put I'm getting to my destination faster than they are; I can move to the edge of the road to make their overtakes faster and closer, and then catch them up at the traffic lights anyway, but then they'll just do it again. I'm not showing disrespect by cycling safely nor am I in any way adversely affecting their journey times.

I suppose I could ride dangerously in the gutter AND wait in traffic, encouraging lots of dangerous overtaking while not getting to my destination. I could do that. Why that would be showing 'respect' I don't know.

How precisely can I ride with 'respect'? I'm not showing disrespect when I use cycle lanes, nor by using the road where the cycle lane is outright dangerous. I'm not being disrespectful when I turn right or left at a junction or pick the lane I actually need to be in. In short, nothing I'm doing is demonstrating a lack of 'respect' for other road users. I'm riding to get where I'm going, I'm not expressing an opinion about drivers as I do so.

Does 'respect' mean I have to get the hell out of your way because you're more important than me? Does 'respect' mean I should be the hell out of your way? Am I meant to show 'respect' by smiling at you? JUST TELL ME WHAT THE FECK YOU WANT WILL YOU?

Ultimately the whole 'respect' thing is a myth - borne from the weird sense of entitlement many motorists have. They want us to 'respect' them by showing subservience - the idea that we're showing disrespect by merely cycling comes from the false idea that we should at all times be beneath them. That they've got an automatic right to more than we have because they're cars and we're bikes. Everything about this tells us whats wrong with our motoring culture - its law of the wild on our roads and the way they see it there's a food chain. And we're meant to be at the bottom.

Hey, motorists, respect has to be earned. Start earning it by understanding that simple fact.

Monday 22 April 2013

Because this needs sharing...

...I mean, this REALLY needs sharing.

As far as I can tell this guy wasn't prosecuted.

Incident reported to police

Went in to Parkside Station on Friday to report an incident. Won't talk more about said incident because I have no idea whether or not that is appropriate now. Suffice to say someone passed info about one of my youtube vids to the police and they see enough there to be worth looking in to.

I think however I'm safe making a few general reflections.

I suspect the Sergeant I was talking to knows about this blog; he's quite sensitive to the criticism that local police receive on cycling issues. I can see why. They're regularly lambasted here and elsewhere for being anti-cyclist. And he doesn't think its entirely fair. Again, I see why - he doesn't feel any animosity towards cyclist in general. I've talked to him about various things before and I think he's a decent chap. If he's reading this (I won't name him, that would seem oddly unfair on a good bloke doing a hard job) then I really hope that we're seeing a new chapter in Cambridgeshire Constabulary getting policing of cycling and related issues right. This is all good stuff. 

But lets strip out the fact that he's a decent sort (as I think are most police here) from the realities of living and cycling in Cambridge.

I have had good and bad experiences of local police. All of the good experiences I've had relate to being a resident in a community which isn't bad but which has had its problem families. I'd say that they didn't get everything right with those issues (I'm sure they'd agree), but they regularly handle monstrously difficult, complex situations and you'll never get everything right. All in all I'd say that the Police have never been the weak link in the chain when handling such issues - I'm pretty much happy with them.

Lets think through the bad experiences now.

I've gone to the police with eye-witness reports of a motorist getting out of their car and assaulting me. I was told that it wasn't an incident because I wasn't hurt.

I've gone to the police twice with reports that taxis had intentionally nudged me from behind. Was told on the first occasion that if there is no damage there is no incident, on the second I was taken aside by a sergeant and told that I was viewed as an eccentric.

I've had the lady on the desk at Parkside take down the details of a collision until such a time as I added the fact that I was a cyclist, then she entirely lost interest. 

I've phoned 999 because a guy was actually threatening me with violence after hopping his bike off the road in front of mine; I was told that its not an RTA if its between two bicycles.

I've stopped at light changing to amber to let two PCSO's across; rather than just cross they chose to be sarcastic at me about cyclists stopping at lights.

I've had an argument with a PCSO who was telling a child little older than a toddler that they should be riding on the road. Yes, to paraphrase, go and play in the traffic.

I have, twice, been stopped by Police constables for riding entirely legally on streets where they are unaware that two way cycling is permitted. 

I have reported cars parked in cycle lanes to the Police only to be told they don't deal with this, the City Council do - said body told me that the County Council should deal with it, and naturally enough they direct me to the Police. It transpires that NONE of them give a crap, nor do they respect citizens who do sufficiently to just come out and say that they'll each do nothing about it.

I have taken video footage to the police, of motorists intentionally swerving in to the space I'm using. And they haven't been in the least interested.

I'm critical of how our local police handle cycling. I'm openly and unashamedly critical. And I think I've had good reason to be. Some of the policing choices made here have been barking mad - operation Pedalo for example completely failed to deal with the major hazards to our safety - it was just the annual publicity-stunt crackdown given a funky name. And staking out places where there is no reason to believe that the cycle lane has ended should be treated as a national scandal. Our Conservative Police Commissioner is quite obviously a rabid cyclist hater with no concept that policing FOR cyclists might yield as great or greater gains than policing OF cyclists.

The evidence, to me at least, is clear enough. It may be the case that a lot of Cambridgeshire Constabulary are not opposed to cycling. It may even be true that many of them ride to work (as I was told on Friday). But I should think its also obvious to anyone paying attention that @cambscops are institutionally anti-cyclist. While I wholeheartedly welcome any suggestion that things are getting better, a decade of negativity can't be overcome with one event.

But I'm not one to wallow in negativity. No, really, I'm not. I'll view this as a new beginning - the years I've now spent saying 'Don't bother reporting that to Cambridge Police, you're a cyclist, my experience is they don't give a damn' are behind me, for now. Welcome to a world of actually reporting the criminals who endanger me. 

How do you think things will go?

Monday 15 April 2013

The OTHER rules of the road

I was looking at the lady driving a beamer stopped behind me. I was waiting on my bicycle behind another car that was, like the beamer, illegally in the bus and cycle lane. She liesurely got out her phone to check her texts, carelessly inching forward, before looking up at me and angrily shouting "WHAT?". I got to pondering that there is too little acknowledgement that there are other 'rules' for using our roads that are simply not normally recorded in the normal way. They aren't written down in law, they're not even in the highway code - they're assumed by a minority to be 'consensus' view, i.e. 'everybody knows that'. And where it is observed by this minority that others are breaking those rules, they're all too ready to enforce them.

So, for example, speed limits. Motorists, for the most part, don't believe that speed limits apply to them. You can go further and find many examples of motorists who believe that you should "do the speed limit" or you are somehow breaking the rules - if you're not doing 30mph (or more) then you're 'holding up the traffic' and you're in the wrong somehow. 20mph doesn't apply at all. Heck, speed cameras? They're just for taxing you mate, they're just a con to get money out of us honest otherwise law abiding speeders.

Then there's traffic lights. If you go through amber thats okay - I mean, yes, the highway code says stop if its safe, but I mean if you have to accelerate hard to get through thats fine. And then if the light changes red you're already going fast so thats fine, you can go through after red as long as its only been a couple of seconds and you're going fast. So long as you don't go through slowly and carefully overtaking cars, thats okay. Bloody cyclist stopping at that amber light held be up. And then they've all got the audacity to go through at red.

Mobile phone use? Well if you're only going slowly. Or stopped at the lights. Or just using it for a minute. Whats your problem? Excuse me I'm on the bloody phone, shut up and stop banging on the underside of my car.

The unwritten rules of the road are the ones that don't work when you've got more than one type of road user. The slightly less assertive older driver is the object of scorn, even hate. A cyclist unable to maintain 30mph is seen as the problem, rather than those impatiently refusing to obey the law as it relates to their interraction with vulnerable road users. The driver parking wholly on the road so as not to obstruct the pavement (do any of them actually exist?). The irony of these 'unwritten' rules is that if you're obeying the actual rules to the letter you can still be viewed to be in violation - and worthy of contempt, hatred, scorn or even amateur enforcement by use of the car.

But it doesn't end there - the highway code is littered with things that just aren't real. Did you know according to the highway code you're not meant to go into a bus lane or a cycle lane if you need to overtake/undertake traffic that has stopped to turn? Thats not a real rule though. It doesn't apply to ME. And you can't form a queue in a bus lane just because you really want to turn left into the shopping centre ahead. Well you can, just because its illegal doesn't make it wrong.

Now the problem with this attitude, the fundamental problem with it, is that its bollocks.

These colloquial rules, these assumed shared beliefs, are nothing of the sort. They're fine if everyone is driving a similarly powered vehicle with a similar degree of competence and confidence. But that isn't reality. Even if everyone was in a car, in the same sort of car, it wouldn't work. What we're really saying with these 'rules', what we actually accomplish when the Police simply ignore rule breaking when its endemic rule breaking like this, is that law of the jungle should operate. That those who don't like this systemic 'within our agreed rules' bullying (and it IS bullying) should just get the hell off our roads - its hardly surprising that the UK lags so far behind for walking and cycling.

Crudely speaking, if you don't abide by the unwritten rules of a bullying large minority, and if those rules are not in any way challenged by law enforcers, then you're nobody. Or, legally speaking, you may as well be. Cyclists can obey the written rules of the road or not, it doesn't matter. Lights, red lights, riding on the pavement, none of this makes the slightest difference really - we're not hated for any of those things. We're hated because we break the rules of the road that no one bothered to write down.

And why did no one bother to write them down? Because you, dear moton, dreamed them up.

Thursday 11 April 2013

A funny thing happened...

...on the way home from work yesterday.

I got to this junction here:

View Larger Map

I was on the road (avoiding an utterly awful shared use facility which randomly ends after the junction with no sign, which is why the police stake it out to catch you - there is no possible way you can know that you can't legally ride from a random undrawn line on the pavement). You'll see a hedge in front of the house in the image above - in front of that the shared use path continues until just around the corner where it mysteriously ends - there is no sign, the path doesn't get narrower, before and after its unlabeled end the quality of riding on it is exactly the same. It is a wide, sweeping corner with pretty good visibility.

As I approached there was a cyclist going not very fast on the shared use lane - as I saw him he was half way across the road to the left (Highworth Avenue). A woman was walking in the opposite direction - past the hedge you can see in the image.

Plenty of room for both to pass each other. Heading straight towards each other. No need for confrontation or any kind of grief. Cyclist looking where he was going, as far as I could see. Younger chap, typical hybrid bike. Woman didn't look like there should be any problem for her - maybe in her 50s, walking comfortably.

I couldn't immediately explain what happened next. 

While the cyclist was still at good 10 meters away, the woman threw herself in to the hedge. The cyclist was over on the right side of the path already, to give her ample room, she was over on the left, the probability of any collision at this location where the cyclist could legally ride his bike was approaching zero - one of them would have had to intentionally gone at the other. It was safe, with a wide margin of error and complete comfort.

He looked quizzically at her in passing, I was a little behind and stopped to see what was wrong with her - was she having some kind of 'turn'? 

She went on to rant at me about ****ing cyclists running her off the path, we're all ****ing ****s who should be on the ****ing road... You get the message.

I guess this is an example of a freakishly unpleasant human being who is willing to inconvenience herself such that she's got some kind of story to tell about ****ing cyclists. Its part of joining in with the herd-mentality - I felt like my IQ was dropping every moment I spent there so I told her I'd seen everything and before considering sharing her tale with the media or police my own account of the event would also be online for anyone to read within 24 hours - I was the only witness to the event and my interpretation was that she's an ignorant bastard trying to exploit an unfair stigma against cyclists to get a rider who was doing nothing wrong into serious trouble, and as there was no way she was hurt from this or any way blame could be attributed to the cyclist she was only doing it for her own twisted amusement.

There is no moral to this tale - other than the fact that if anyone tells you there is no war on cycling they're missing the point. There is - folk like this deranged, sociopathic woman are fighting it. And you know what the bitch of it is? Despite the fact that her claim that a cyclist riding at her to run her into the hedge is flat out absurd, she'll go and whine at her mates all about it and they'll believe her - the demonisation of an outlier social group is simply part of how morons like that operate.

Cyclists, look out for each other. Times like this, it really matters.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Cambridge Cycling Campaign - Why are they shy of the County Council?

UPDATE: Cambridge Cycling Campaign published their bi-monthly newsletter recently, which included some good stuff on the Catholic Church Junction, and some not so good stuff on their relationship with the media and the County. I've added comments thereon to the bottom of this post.

I don't lie awake at night wondering how I can wail on Cambridge Cycling Campaign. But sometimes they do try to prod me into it.

I don't dislike them. There are good, well meaning folk there, and some of their recent statements have been spot on. A good example would be their response to this woeful proposal for the Catholic Church Junction - I thought that their comments were very good. A little less forceful than I'd be where our lives are at risk (and lets be clear - cyclists WILL suffer serious injury and/or death as a result of our County Council refusing to prioritise us in any meaningful way at this junction), but the Campaign have covered the facts well there I think.

And there are things only a group like Cambridge Cycling Campaign can do - they get to planning meetings and council meetings and report back what happens that is of relevance to cyclists - they go through planning applications presented and put forward what they see as a cyclists set of priorities. The time and, crucially, person-power they can bring to bear on these areas is invaluable. I want to make it absolutely clear that I'm not anti-Cambridge Cycling Campaign. But there are times when I can't help but wonder what the hell is going on with them and why they're so wedded to holding out the bike cap and begging like some Dickensian pity figure.

Take this example here showing a not atypical response from the Campaign. The County Council do not give give a flying feck for the lives of cyclists - the very best facilities we get out of them are demonstrably not good enough. This is a bunch of social and economic extremist councillors who don't understand that being pro-bike is not being anti-car - for whom victim blame is the normal way of dealing with cyclists, hiding behind the 'mutual respect' fallacy and crying foul when exposed as speaking complete crap. Cambridgeshire County Council is an entirely car-centric organisation with no interest in cycling or cyclists, made up of councillors who want to fob us off with sub-standard or non-existent infrastructure while directing the police to target us for merely trying to stay alive.

This County Council is not about to have a Road to Damascus change of heart and start treating cyclists like human beings. They aren't going to invest in safe roads for us, they're going to continue fannying on wasting money on changes that don't much help us. So why is it Cambridge Cycling Campaign are so afraid of treating the County Council as what it is - the enemy not merely of cyclists but of anyone who wouldn't render down their first born child to extract another couple of litres of diesel?

Possibly they think they've got more influence by being chummy - the Catholic Church debacle clearly shows that isn't the case. Yeah, we get the odd improvement, but are we getting what we need? No, we clearly aren't. Seriously guys, are you actually afraid that these minor improvements aren't going to happen because you speak out against what is otherwise an anti-cyclist regime? Are you that afraid of what happens if you're seen to publicly tear shreds out of people who hold cyclists in contempt anyway?

Lets compare Cambridge, supposedly cycling capital of Britain, with our actual capital London. In London 10,000 cyclists got together in a well organised demo. Then the flashrides have made headlines. In fact London cyclists, through tireless direct demonstrations, have achieved the greatest pledge for a cycling infrastructure package in the history of the UK. And in Cambridge? We get a trivially less shit junction at monumental cost to the road safety budget and cut-through routes that help us make journeys we wouldn't make because they fail to grant safe access to the roads we actually need to use.

What works best, direct activism or quietly chipping away? Cambridge Cycling Campaign, I want to love you, but you are being left behind. And therefore cyclists in Cambridge are being left behind - your presence makes getting County to take anyone else seriously basically impossible, they routinely and uniformly refer to you as THE cyclist group -  and, frankly, bizarre twitter outbursts don't endear you to anyone.

Can we call it quits? Do you want to start again and tell us all why you don't see the County Council as what they clearly are - an institutionally car-centric, anti-environment, anti-cyclist bunch of crazy ass nutters? Or, at the risk of using an emotive term, are you going to continue on your softly-softly collaborationist path?

UPDATE: It seems that not all are happy at the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. I'm going to quote from their newsletter, a passage from here, by Martin Lucas-Smith.
As explained in the next article, Cambridgeshire County Council has decided to prioritise car traffic over cycle safety at the Catholic Church, the site of many collisions in recent years. Cyclists will remain unsafely squeezed in, and the opportunity to increase levels of cycling has been rejected.
The junction designs attracted an unprecedented amount of debate within the Cambridge Cycling Campaign committee. Some of us (myself included) argued for a complete, outright rejection of the plans in their entirety. The compromise reached was to state very clearly that the plans do not go far enough – and that we expect the County to do much more. The scheme is better than the current junction design. It will slightly improve things for those cycling towards the junction from Hills Road.
You don't have to be an expert at reading between the lines to see that there are factions at Cambridge Cycling Campaign - one is clearly in favour of holding out for good infrastructure and rejecting idiotic wastes of money by bike hating councillors who resent us for scratching the undersides of 'road tax' paying Tory-mobiles. The other faction fear that standing up to this crap will lead to us being left with less than the scraps on offer, and they will boast quite literally for years on end about past triumphs such as all the other crap facilities we've wasted public money on.

I can't see how it isn't clear to everyone at the Campaign - when the maximum on offer is less than the minimum we should reasonably accept, its time to change your strategy to extract more from your enemy - and if the County wasting half a million quid of cycling safety money on a couple of tins of paint to put another bad cycle lane on a killer junction while spending the rest of it on faster access for motorists doesn't show that they are our enemy, I can't think what would.

I doubt whether Martin reads this, but if you do, can I just point out that while you see it as a good working relationship with the County, they've just f***ed us. Again. Time to change strategy. What worked in London will work here. Up for it?