Tuesday 25 June 2013

Sunday 23 June 2013

Camridge News are the real Raving Loonies...

Cambridge News have taken to posting 'news' stories an old guy for using, within the law, the only route available for him to get out of his village on his mobility scooter. Thats the bottom line of this blog post - a guy with no reasonable alternative is the subject of troll-baiting ridicule in the local rag. He lives out in Bar Hill. That could be a really nice place, except for the fact you can't get in and out of it. Here it is, have a look at it.

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So you can see there's one road if you want to get to Cambridge, the A14. Okay, you could take a detour of tens of miles and go via Longstanton, Willingham, Rampton, Cottenham, Histon and Impington to get back to the A14, but thats a monumental distance by any means other than a car!

There is in theory another route - there's a footpath/bike route. And you can see from the entry way to it, its not inviting:

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Not an easy surface to ride on, at least on a narrow tired bike. But if you do decide to brave this track on a mobility scooter you're buggered - you're pretty much not going to get it through the barriers.

Although Bar Hill is only four or five miles away, so far as many people in Cambridge are concerned it may as well be on another planet. After all, do you want to walk or cycle a monumentally long route to get to somewhere that has a giant Tesco and very little else? No? Thought not.

Of course the A14 is an 'A' road, you're yelling. Just use it! You're only excluded from motorways, which this isn't... In name anyway. But in all but name, it really is a motorway:

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This is the main road in to the North of Cambridge. If you're coming from Bar Hill its the only road to Cambridge - you can cycle it legally or you can use a mobility scooter on it, but its terrifying. I'm a ballsy cyclist, but unforgiving, unremitting, rapid, hostile traffic with no escape route for cyclists terrifies me out of using it. You'd have to even cross the entryway to the M11 - there isn't even a safe layby to ride in, there is no route whatsoever to avoid a slanted crossing of lanes of traffic doing 70mph. And as for the 'clover leaf' junction... In what is allegedly the UK's cycling capital this monstrosity of a road is the most effective barrier to cycling we have. Live in Bar Hill? Then its very unlikely you're a cyclist - don't believe me? Here, go look. Pretty much no one cycles commutes from Bar Hill.

So there's your context. By any reasonable standards Bar Hill is right on our doorstep - but its almost completely inaccessible. You'd think any reasonable local newspaper in the cycling capital of the UK would be aiming to change that. You'd expect a campaign to make the place accessible such that you could walk, cycle, or use a mobility scooter to get from there to Cambridge. You'd assume that our local journalists would be on the side of the locals, especially of the older folk who might not get around as well as the rest of us. But no. Oh, no.

They've rather laid in to the chap who thought he might use the A14 to get to Cambridge by mobility scooter.  Not just once. They've done so twice. So two whole articles (one of them apparently using most dubiously sourced images unrelated to this event, which have subsequently been removed), without at any stage mentioning that Bar Hill is effectively cut off for this guy. No 'look how dangerous this is, lets get a safe route sorted', no good, solid campaigning to change things for the better. Not even a hint that there might be a better solution than just mocking the guy. Yeah, the guys a character. Yeah, he stood for the loony party. But you're headlining your article with 'Monster Raving Loony Man...'? Because he doesn't choose to be stuck at home due to hostile roads designed with the brief of excluding anyone not able to do 70mph?

I'm forced to ask why there is such a lack of empathy from Cambridge News journalists. Are they actually lacking in empathy for anyone who isn't a motorist? Does someone really only have to use the road in a way other than motoring to be worthy, in their eyes, of ridicule?

Or is this something even more sinister. Has the Cambridge News finally moved on from mercilessly trolling for anti-cyclist hate, and are they moving on to those with mobility issues? Whatever the reason, once again the Cambridge News has disappointed. Actually, no. They haven't disappointed me. They've sickened me. They've disgusted me. 

What next Cambridge News? Going to find a kid with learning difficulties and mock him for failing his exams? Maybe you'll find a blind person and ridicule him for crossing a road on his own. Or will you now try to make this okay? Seriously, why not actually cover this as an example of a bad road that demonstrates the need for us getting routes that people other than motorists can actually use? Or, in your eyes, are those of us who aren't motorists not really people?

UPDATE: I won't claim its because of this blog (it seems unlikely...) but I see CN are tempering their stance slightly with this (thanks for heads up Hesterkw). Doesn't change the fact that this snotulent rag laid in to a guy who used the only road available to him to make a journey on his disability scooter - come on guys, by all means temper the content of a ridiculous trolling article, but acknwledge your sickening error when you do so. Want to make Cambridge better? Want more readers? Then campaign FOR the people of Cambridge with articles that really get to the heart of our problems, in this case the fact that Bar Hill is effectively almost out of bounds unless you're in a car. Want to exist purely on the edge of decent debate in this city, visited mostly by those who want to reaffirm their own prejudices? Then keep on trolling.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Manifesto for Cycling Facilities part 2: Cycle Facility Maintenance and Management (in progress)

All cycle facilities must be maintained at a level to allow cyclists of all competence levels to safely use them. This includes:

1. Removal of litter and debris - regular cleaning as would be expected of roads, and timely response to reports of broken glass are essential
2. If the route is parallel to or alternative to any road, then gritting should be as if for that road, i.e. if the road alternative is on a gritting schedule, the same schedule must be applied to the cycling facility
3. Foliage that obscures vision or narrows the cycle route should be regularly cut back to keep the lane clear
4. Trees, bins, signs etc. have no place within the cycle facility any more than they do in the lane of a road - a cycle route with a tree in it is not a cycle route
5. Temporary road signs must not be placed in cycle routes - information for passing motorists is not as important as safe passage for cyclists
6. Surface maintenance such that passage for cyclists of all skill levels is required
7. Drainage of cycle routes is essential - if it is reasonable to anticipate flooding then it is not a cycle routes
8. Labels indicating where the cycle lane is and priority over side roads must be maintained - this is especially crucial where roads cross the cycle lanes as motorised transport rapidly wears out the paint
9. Enforcement of use of cycle lanes is of paramount importance - no parking of motorised vehicles can be allowed, and this must be rigidly enforced with the exception of vehicles repairing the road, and emergency vehicles. This effectively means that the law as it stands must be enforced.

Monday 17 June 2013

Manifesto for Cycle Facilities. Part 1. Cycle Lane Quality (in progress)

Following on from my previous post, this is another 'knock these ideas around' kind of post. Going to list what I think are the parameters for safe, effective cycle routes. I'll update this as other suggestions come, and I'll add other posts for maintenance, enforcement, etc.

The purpose of cycle lanes is to:

1. Create a safe space for all cyclists to use.
2. Encourage a greater uptake of cycling in the UK, with a target being 50% modal share of journeys being by bicycle.
3. Be both pleasant and convenient to ride on - facilities must be attractive to novices and experienced cyclists alike.

To achieve this, we must consider many factors; I propose that we set 'gold' standards for cycle facilities and judge them based upon whether they meat this standard.

The 'gold' standard for cycle infrastructure should aspire to includes:

1. On all busy routes, fully segregated facilities where cyclists are protected from motorised vehicles without creating a threat to pedestrians.
2. Sufficient width in either direction to allow safe overtaking.
3. A surface appropriate for comfortable riding up to 30mph
4. Priority over side roads equal to that of the road the route runs parallel to, i.e. if the route runs alongside a road which has priority over a side road or driveway, then the cycle lane must also have priority.
    (a) This must be enforced with signage, route design, or clear lane markings
    (b) This must be labelled with 'give way' signs reinforce cyclists priority.
5. All routes must be continuous - cycle routes which disappear as road space becomes more pressing are of no value to cyclists.
6. Smart segregation at junctions, including:
    (a) Cycle friendly roundabout design
    (b) Advance stop positions for cyclists and advance light changes where full segregation not possible
7. Clear labelling of cycle facilities, including
    (a) Coloured road surfaces to ensure cyclist and pedestrian safety
    (b) Clear indication that motorised vehicles not be in cycle facilities
8. Engineered solutions to keep cars and other motorised vehicles from parking in cycle lanes
9. 'Strategic' inclusion of all cycle routes to create a network of safe, pleasant, and real life journey types
10. Corners on cycle routes must be engineered such that they are legally and safely navigable by cyclists of varying skill levels - extreme angles must be avoided except where unavoidable.

Cycle Lane Manifesto

I've been pondering of late why cycle campaign groups so often fail to get us the facilities we really need for mass cycling in the UK, and it occurs to me that there are no real 'red lines' here. By this I mean that no matter how bad cycle facilities are, there are sufficient cycle campaigners who see 'something is better than nothing' as a reasonable stance.

I disagree with this claim. I think that most cycle routes in the UK are so bad that they actively discourage cycling. If you encourage cyclists on to 'safe' routes that are actively dangerous then you'll end up putting cyclists off. Such routes should, at all times, be opposed.


Help me out. I want to compile a 'cycle lane manifesto'. Join in on Twitter using #CycleLaneManifesto, or reply here. Give me your thoughts.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Cycling Summit - Herding Cats.

I am baffled by nearly everything thats happening with regard to a cycling meeting announced by Cambridgeshire County Council.

On the face of it they've hit the jackpot with an excellent idea. We've got the Tour de France coming next year, and while the Council knows they come in for a certain amount of stick, I think they'd rather not. Their transport officers have the unenviable task of trying to reconcile the needs of disparate groups of people who mistakenly believe they're in conflict with each other. Where they get things wrong is they side all too often with the demands of motorists, who think that 'lanes' equate with 'capacity' which makes for a shorter journey, when in reality all it gives us is soul sapping congestion and angry motorists blaming cyclists who are forced to use hostile roads actively designed to kill us. I'm not saying their hearts are in the wrong place, but only a fool would argue they're not getting things wrong for cyclists when you look at junctions like this and roads like this.

I think the council staff themselves want not only to be SEEN to be working for cycling, there is a nucleus who actually do want to make things better. They're not bad folk! So they've set up a sort of meeting/evening conference thing next month and invited those active in cycling campaigning to come along. I think they want to set out their vision, and they want feedback. What could possibly be wrong with such an idea? Surely this is an excellent plan? Get the stakeholders in and talking with each other in a constructive way, what could possibly go wrong? Heck, surely if we can present a united 'give us great segregated facilities' front we might actually get somewhere? 

There are really two campaign groups in Cambridgeshire who stand out. Well, there's one, (Cambridge Cycling Campaign). And another one (Ely Cycling Campaign) that stands out a lot less but has made some serious progress of late with some excellent, clear thinking. Both have decided NOT to go to the meeting. Sounds utterly absurd. De-values the whole thing. Why would responsible and generally compliant campaign groups boycott an event designed to give them and other cyclists a say?

The reason? Because its in Swavesey. No, the good folk at the Ely Cycling Campaign didn't know where it was either: 
An invitation to a Cycling Summit where we could get excited about next year’s Tour de France coming to Cambridgeshire, and suggest Ely to be an ideal place to get put on the route. This Summit would be full of speakers, workshops and forums where we were meant to talk about getting the next generation cycling, infrastructure, education and taking the current interest in Cycling in general to the next level.
Then I see the location. Swavesey. Where is that? I Google it. OK, so it’s a village between Cambridge and Huntingdon just north of the A14. I don’t drive, so how do I get there? Two hours by bus, no way, buses stop in Ely at  around 4pm like they do in Central America. I can get a train and take my Brompton, still an hour’s bromton ride in the dark back at 10pm and it looks pretty lonely on that busway.
This (I think quite reasonable) stance, that any location chosen for a cycling meeting should be readily accessible from the major population centers by public transport, has brought Cambridge Cycling Campaign out in sympathy (this from Twitter): 

We've declined the invitation, as impractical for you & others to get there;hope @CambsCC can move it
I'll confess I was rather put out when I first heard about the location. I don't fancy a 10 mile bike ride home on a school night, in the dark, even on the relatively protected Guided Busway. But I was wrong about public transport from where I am - the Guided Bus runs late enough for me to get back safe and sound for my bedtime, although a bit late. And I guess there would be enough of us on the night ride back to make that quite a laugh too. But from Ely? Frankly for many folk thats a hell of a bike ride; without a car its practically un-doable. 

And the organisers? They're baffled. One posted on Twitter saying he thought folk would be happy to be invited - and I'm sure they ARE happy to be invited, but with the best will in the world I can't agree this is a good choice of location. The Ely folk tell us that the council folk suggested they could car-pool to get there; no, the irony wasn't wasted on any of us.

There's a sort of Twitterati Clique of Cambridge cyclists forming. I think some of us will probably be going - I actually have sympathy for the organisers because they'd have probably faced the typical criticism they get from the yokel councillors out in the Cambridgeshire sticks who think that the county is dominated by Cambridge. So they've gone for somewhere more 'central'; ironically any location in Cambridge or Ely, towns with railway stations, would have been LESS Cambridge centric, in that those from further afield would have had a heck of a lot more options for getting there.

I support Ely Cycling Campaigns decision not to go. I support Cambridge Cycling Campaigns decision to support them by not going either. Does that mean I should also not go? Actually, I could go either way on that one...

Monday 10 June 2013

Why do some cyclists get more close overtakes?

Pondering on riding my fun old BSA sport racer all last week, and also riding that and my chunky Giant hybrid over the weekend, and my recent experiences remind me of various things I've considered here before.

Its fairly obvious to me that on my racer I get way more close passes than I do on my hybrid. Whether its because I look more hunched down, more like some road-warrior cyclist, I don't know. I'm not dressed any different (I ride in civvies rather than lycra). Its not because I'm going faster - mostly the traffic governs my speed. But this kind of crap seems to be almost daily when I'm on my racer.

I don't get many close passes when I'm on the hybrid. It happens, but they're far less frequent. And they're rarely as brutal as the one above.

The idea that close passes are an accident or due to not paying attention is a brutal lie - its not even a misinterpretation of events, its an outright, barefaced, unbelievable lie. A motorist who passed you within inches didn't do so by accident, they accurately judged how closely they could pass you, and they don't give a shit that any wobble from you (which can happen - a gust of wind, a pothole, etc.) could have seen you go under their wheels. They'd then argue you were 'all over the road' because of an six inch deflection from your course, and the courts will probably believe them.

The evidence for this being a lie is that how a cyclist behaves, what he or she wears, even gender of the cyclist can have an impact on how closely we're overtaken. Don't take my word for it, read this. Thats backed up by my own experience of riding - the more competent I look the worse I'm treated. The idea that these bullying close passes are anything other than intentional is thus shown to be a complete lie - the motorist who passes you closely knows what they've done, they've done so on purpose.

So we have clear evidence that close passes are not careless - they're either massively insensitive to our feelings and welfare or they're malicious. They're certainly hazardous and they're the reason I most commonly hear for folk choosing not to cycle.

Now I know that some reading this might suggest that the obvious thing to do is always ride the hybrid bike. Ride the bike that gets me treated better on the road. Truth of the matter is that bike isn't the best one for lots of trips - the old racer is far more efficient for short commutes in good weather, and for longer rides the road bike wins every time. But more to the point I shouldn't have to second guess motorists by modifying my actions to nullify their law breaking - nor should any cyclist be compelled to ride less efficiently to merely avoid what is no better than hate crime. Always an emotive comparison I know (and one I usually shy away from), but you wouldn't tell a raped woman she'd been asking for it. This is one of those 'line in the sand' things; treating us badly because we're cyclists, or because we're a particular 'type' of cyclists, is bang out of line. We shouldn't ever have to accept that. Yet we do.

So I'm forced to ask; has anyone, anywhere in the UK had experience of the police taking action against a motorist solely for an intimidatingly close overtake of a cyclist? Or is it the case that, across the country, the police are through their inaction effectively colluding with the bullies? 

Thursday 6 June 2013

And this is where I could have died today...

You won't have forgotten about it if you're a regular reader here.

This junction here.

The one I'm approaching in this video:

Nowhere else I can really be in this lane - I'm not far out into the lane, but its so congested on the other side there simply isn't room to safely overtake wherever I am in the lane. Doesn't really matter anyway, the traffic ain't moving much so there is no point in passing me. What'll govern how long the motorists spend on the road is all the other cars, not waiting a few moments to safely pass a cyclist.

You'll note that there isn't anything in the plans to give us extra space on the approach I was on. There is space to build that in, of course, but thats needed for cars. After all, they have to be able to inch forward to queue slightly further on. Thats important you know.

We might get advanced stop boxes.  But no way to get to them. 

We also might get some advance lights. But ultimately it'll be the same meat grinder of a road set up as it is now, because the County Council do not believe in putting the safety of cyclists ahead of saving moments from car journeys.

You know what, Cambridgeshire County Council? You can give us as many cycle routes as you like; if we've still got to ride roads like this to get to our destination, you'll still see cycling failing to gain any more ground in Cambridge. Any trip is only as good as its worst junction, look how bad the run up to this one is.

I can't stress enough, sufficient motorists hold the safety and welfare of cyclists in complete disregard such that engineering solutions MUST be better than we're offered here. Anything short of that? Our road planners and those who favour motorist convenience over the safety of cyclists are complicit in every incident, every injury, and every death caused.

Damn pavement cyclists.

Always injuring pensioners.

You can't go out for a walk without some lycra lout mowing you down.

And after causing damage they just ride off.

Its a wonder anyone dares walk anywhere at all.