Tuesday 30 July 2013

So-called 'Niceway Code'

I've addressed victim blame before, and I've also talked at length about the mutual respect myth. Twice, in fact.

So where do we end up if we fail to learn from those lessons? My dear friends, we end up in Scotland.

Or, rather, we end up where Scotland is now. With the flagship pile of pointlessness that is Niceway Code. A campaign that aims to make roads safer by politely asking everyone to be nice.

Now don't get all uppity because its the Scottish and not us. This same attitude is prevalent across our local councillors here too, but thankfully they haven't the brains or the resources to turn it into a 'campaign'... yet.

The problem I've got regarding Niceway Code isn't that I don't believe people should be nice on the road. The problem is, to use a phrase I so frequently resort to when analyzing government policy on cycling, the message is vacuous crap. We're going to deal with the fact that 70% of cyclist fatalities and serious injuries on the roads can be blamed solely on motorists by asking cyclists to be nice? We're saying that cyclists being rude is a contributory factor in motorists mowing us down?

Fuck that. 

Nearly all of the things we're supposedly doing that are so offensive aren't causing accidents. The bottom line? Someone annoying you by breaking a rule that has no impact on safety (accident stats show thats the case for red light jumping, something Niceway Code have hilighted as an issue without correctly relating it to safety) is not something you can morally equate with endangering people with your car. It makes no moral sense, it makes no statistical sense. It. Is. Wrong.

But more important than that, this reinforces the idea that we're all somehow collectively responsible. You are contributing towards the prejudice which fuels aggression and hatred directed towards us on the roads on a daily basis, so-called Niceway. 

Even if that were not the case, are we seriously arguing that the people intentionally driving too close, too fast are amenable to this kind of gentle persuasion? They know what they're doing. You're asking them to politely pass us at 50mph within three feet of us? 

The idea that there is moral equivalence between cyclists and motorists ignores the fact that the power and therefore hazard posed by each is not equivalent - accident stats back this up. It may seem appropriate to ask cyclists for a bit of give when also asking motorists to stop endangering us, but the reality is we have nothing to give - most of us don't jump reds, we don't ride on the pavement, and even if we did thats irrelevant - all of those factors combined still only amount for a few percent of all cyclist injuries.

I suppose from behind the windscreen wipers of your car this could look like a good idea. From anywhere else? Its expensive, counterproductive, victim blaming nonsense.

Monday 29 July 2013

Cambridge Junctions - designed BY Motons, FOR Motons.

I got to wondering about road space at junctions in Cambridge today, and why it is that we're given so little of it. 

I was actually at the junction of Chesterton Lane and Magdalene Street. I was about third in the queue of cyclists, with another half dozen or so waiting, all crammed in to a narrow bike lane. The traffic to our right was of concern - some cars going straight on, a bus behind me with most of the cyclists waiting behind... I could count half a dozen motorised vehicles including a bus and a dumper truck.

So the cyclists outnumbered the other vehicles by two to one. All stuck in a cycle lane approximately 1.5m wide - with the other vehicles taking up a lane thats about 2.5m wide. So, crudely speaking, if everyone were lined up there would be 12.5cm per bike, and nearer 42cm per motorised vehicle. So the cars and vans are worth about three and a half times what the bikes are worth, just considering road space. This is pretty typical of bike commuting in the middle of Cambridge. Seriously.

But its worse than that - the bike lane is way over on the left, there is no advance stop line. And naturally while much of the traffic goes straight on to Northampton Street some will turn left. Crudely 1 in 5 of the vehicles waiting to turn left actually indicate to do so while queuing at the red light - so if you're cycling straight on its a lottery. And don't even think about turning right and heading up Castle Hill - there is no route to get there from the cycle lane. It can't reasonably be done; the space we've been allocated is inadequate for safe riding. 

Think we cyclists are hard done to? Try crossing there as a pedestrian.

Want to make Cambridge cleaner, safer, quieter, more friendly and basically better for all who use it? It ain't hard. You won't be seriously inconveniencing anyone in a car by prioritising safety and convenience of cyclists and motorists, their journey times are really governed by how many other cars are waiting at the next red light, and the one after that, and the one after that. Don't give them extra lanes at junctions, make those junctions safe enough for everyone else. And quit pretending that on-street space should be handed over, for free or nearly free, for parking. You bought a car and have nowhere to store it? Well you should have thought of that before you bought it, shouldn't you?

The bottom line? We're still prioritising the convenience of motorists over the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. We're rationing safe road space to anyone who isn't protected by a metal cage - it turns out in Cambridge all the nice words spoken about cycling don't mean a damned thing and we're still not given safe facilities.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Cycling Advertising - What is it selling us?

I'm a huge, huge fan of Vicky Pendleton and Chris Hoy. I admire their talent and hard work - their riding on the velodrome over the years has been inspirational. If I were listing British velodrome cyclists who have had the biggest impact on the sport, I'd put their names up there with the great innovators Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree. Those guys pushed bike design on so far as to make the sport they left behind almost unrecognisable (indeed they pushed so hard some of their innovations were banned!) - but Hoy and Pendleton transcended from being lycra clad sports stars into being people who are looked up to outside of their sport - such an achievement in UK cycling.

But their time as world beating athletes is over. Couldn't last forever, and in their wake is a whole new generation (actually multiple generations!) of world beaters. So what next for these superstars of the track?

An obvious thing to do is to put their name to a range of bikes. I should think that there's a lot of good advice available to them, and that they've had a chance to be involved in designing and devleoping the bikes they're endorsing - and the choices they and their partners have made succinctly demonstrate what I most hate about the UK bike trade.

For the ladies we have Pendleton bikes. I do like them - and having a look at them in the shop the quality of the comonents is pretty good. They ought to be comfy to ride and they're pretty robust. They're old fashioned looking 'ladies' bikes - by which I mean most of them are step-over to give room to wear a skirt, they're sit up and beg, etc. But don't take my word for it. Here's a typical bit of blurb from Halfords:
The Somerby is part of the first all-female bikes range created purely for women and offers a stylish yet practical way to get into cycling. A unique design from Britain's first lady of cycling, Victoria Pendleton, the Somerby offers maximum comfort for the modern female combining feminine touches with a sense of timeless style making it perfect for fitness or fun.
If its an old style ladies bike for ladies you're after, this mighe be for you. Go and test ride one. Be under no illusions; if you're a chap, you're not the target market. But thats fine, after all we've got our own icons of sport just itching to offer us something comfy for our own man bits. Haven't we?

Lets look at the Hoy range. Well they're not immediately saying 'comfort'. But okay, lets pick one out:
The Sa Calobra is a true all-rounder that’s as equally at home racing as it is in a sportive or longer weekend ride, capable of handling typical UK roads or Spring Classic terrain. In the saddle you will find the Sa Calobra offers a fast, nimble ride with a confident and reassured character, effortlessly carving through sweeping corners and willing you to pedal faster on the open stretches. A 100% monocoque carbon fork, thin-wall slim seat stays and a tapered top tube maintains rider comfort while the front end of the bike retains plenty of rigidity for power transfer and a quick handling response.
Looking through the specs of this bike, its a fine looking machine. Stiff, fast, light, its a good looking toy for fast commutes. If thats what you're after, go test ride one. I wonder if its a little over-priced for what it is, but if I were in the market for such a bike I'd test one out and find out for myself.

I can't help but be struck by how different these bikes are; when we look at the riders, the two finest spandex clad speedsters of their era, epitomising the greatest in British sportsmanship and desire to win, with the most advanced velodrome sprinting bikes ever seen. I can't help but be drawn to the fact they're marketing very different products. And its not because they're bike snobs - Chris Hoy came into cycling from BMX and Pendleton from grass track racing (I believe), they both know (indeed have demonstrated) that you want different kinds of bikes for different jobs. You wouldn't take the carbon wonders they won Olympic medals with out on to the roads! There's a very particular gender bias in marketing the two ranges.

Now I'm fine with blokes wanting to ride pretty solid utility bikes. And I'm fine with ladies wanting speed machines. But thats not what the folk marketing bikes want us to want.

Don't believe me? Watch this afternoons stage of the Tour de France (or any stage of a great tour) on Eurosport and watch the adverts. Or go in to most of the mainstream bike shops and pick up the sales literature, see what there is targetted specifically at women, and whats targetted at men.

Men are meant to want to be the assertive, fast, dominant roadie types oozing machismo from every chain link as they speed off to do important things. Or they're meant to want proper hardcore mountain bikers. It seems that we're not meant to want a comfy sit up and beg city bike. There are womens road bikes of course, but the range of womens frames available, especially in smaller sizes, is something I've often heard women roadies complain about.

Women are meant to want to ride sit up and beg bikes with a fitting for a basket, perhaps with room for puppies in it. They wouldn't want to ruin their lovely dresses with oil or anything like that. Oh, and they're not in any hurry.

The bottom line? Yes, there are gender differences in frame geometries - if you ride a ladies road bike and a mens road bike of supposedly similar size you'll spot this. And most women prefer the ride you get on a ladies road bike, most men prefer the ride on a mens bike. Its more comfy. But the decision as to HOW we ride isn't a gender issue - some women will be better served by a road bike, some men are riding in a way that would be better accomplished on a Dutch bike. But we're not being marketed bikes that way - the bike market is gender driven, we're being sold a cycling myth that doesn't exist. 

If you're reading this then odds are you're a cyclist with views on what you want to ride already - but imagine you're coming in to cycling anew. You've seen some ads, you go into a bike shop... How do you choose what you want? I suggest that marketing strategies of bike manufacturers in the UK are failing such people, and we're so far from having a genuine bike culture that there isn't an easy way in to cycling that isn't tainted by this crap.

I don't want to criticise Hoy, Pendleton or any of our other inspirational sport cyclists. But I do wish they'd take a stand against this gender driven marketing nonsense. Not with their whole bike ranges, but perhaps a few models. But these bike ranges are symptoms of the problem - how we're meant to ride is seen in the UK as a gender thing. How do we fix it?

Friday 12 July 2013

Cycling and Gender - How do we fail men AND women?

I've been lambasted by all sides. I'm public enemy number 1 and even good friends have really upset me over this.

The reason? 

It all came about when I ran in to two ladies representing Breeze Sky Rides at the Cambridgeshire Cycling Summit. Someone had the sense to realise that if you organise a social bike ride and try to get loads of folk to come, what you often get is a load of blokes in lycra who want to discuss wheel builds, chain sets, alloys and heart rates and then want to race each other (although they'd never admit it). The atmosphere of these rides can easily be daunting, and, bluntly, you sometimes don't get many women along. You get even fewer at the next event. And this is true right the way through from University clubs all the way to rides for real grown ups - male dominated, competitive, and far too much spandex. Too many 'cyclists', not enough folk who just want to ride a bike.

British Cycling with their sponsors Sky came up with Breeze rides. Female only rides, without any pressure to talk bike technology, and to appeal among those into being more sporty they've had endorsements and participation from UK cycling legends like Vicky Pendleton, Lizzie Armistead and Jess Varnish. Social, non-competitive, fun, but also showing some of the cream of UK cycling talent. 

Excellent marketing - I mean its got everything. Pardon the phrase, but if you want to be a 'girly girl' and ride in a frock on a pretty bike, you'll find role models for that in amongst the stars of UK cycling, top profile cyclists will show you how to do it with panache. If you want to be a sporty rider we n the UK have got many of the best in the world of both genders to look up to and some of the female ones are turning up to encourage you to ride. And if you want to be anything in between or just turn up for the social event, here we've got one which manages to be that without being a race. And talking to some of the ladies who were involved, its clear that its organised by people with a passion for safer roads with more people riding on them - and it looks like, at least from the numbers turning up, they're doing very well. Its a start.

I should add that I've upset folk of both genders in saying I think this is a great idea. Men have pointed out its sexist, women have called me patronising for saying I think its great. Well, sorry, but I DO think its great.

So what do we have for men? Well, there is an obvious argument argue that's 'everything else'. All the rest of bike promotion in the UK has been aimed at men, in a mannish sort of way for males to be all masculine on the roads, like chaps are meant to be. And if they don't want to ride because its not safe? Well they should tough it out then, and learn that being assertive will solve your problems. Seriously. Thats the bulk UK cycling campaigning since, oh, I dunno, at least the 1970s - and while thats not especially appealing to most men it seems from the figures we have for cycling uptake that it has been even less appealing to women. 

You probably think the above paragraph is moose kidneys. I won't bore you by droning on about usenet and cycle forum discussions about cycling, but effectively the driving force in cycling has been people who already cycle - folk who grew up on Cyclecraft, whose attitude was (and is) that a good cyclist is a fast, assertive cyclist boldly taking lane wherever, and that the right way to get more people riding is to enforce on the motorists around you your right to the lane. Dominant position. Primary position. Eschew cycle facilities because they make us all less assertive, less dominant....

Dominant. Primary. Assertive. Bold. Fast... Oooh baby...

And if you don't like it? LEARN to like it. Me MORE dominant. More primary. MORE assertive. MORE bold. Use MORE speed. Yes. Yes. Oh yes. 

This is reflected quite neatly in the statistics - covered elsewhere very well already (but I'll come back to this in more depth in another post, time permitting).
 "Only one in four people who cycle once a week are women. Two per cent of the female population cycle once a week compared with 6% of men." And perhaps most worrying of all, "The number of women cycling once per week has decreased by over 35,000 in the last three years."
This year, British Cycling did a further survey to find out what was discouraging women from riding, and the results cited "safety concerns, lack of knowledge of routes and having no one to cycle with."
So female participation rates for cycling are woeful - not only are there fewer women cycling, they ride shorter average distances and they ride less frequently. Whats even more worrying is some reports show it is more dangerous for women to cycle our roads. The most shocking statistic is the number of women killed by lorries - despite there being fewer women than men riding, a way higher proportion of women die in accidents with goods vehicles.
In 2007, a leaked report by Transport for London's road safety unit noted that 86% of the women cyclists killed in London between 1999 and 2004 collided with a lorry. By contrast, lorries were involved in 47% of deaths of male cyclists.
The study was blunt in its conclusions: "Women may be over-represented in (collisions with goods vehicles) because they are less likely than men to disobey red lights."
By jumping red lights, it said, men are less likely to be caught in a lorry driver's blind spot, whereas less assertive cyclists who wait at the lights just in front of a lorry are at greater risk as they cannot be seen by the driver.
Or in other words, all this 'assert yourself' stuff, the entire basis for most UK cyclist safety for decades, is failing women more than its failing men - facts on the ground are very simple, we've failed to get women cycling even more spectacularly than we've failed to get men cycling. And the message for how to ride safely on hostile roads is even less likely to get to women than to men. As a result people die.

But for women I think maybe Breeze rides we're finally seeing the start of turning that around - its the start of a movement that could change that. The acceptance in the UK that cyclists want safe routes, direct, car-free routes is finally filtering through at least to some transport authorities. The message is being heard, if not much acted upon. And schemes like Breeze (and the wider Sky Rides) are at least beginning to get people out on bikes to give it a go in a safe, competition and assertiveness-free environment.

What about the men? Yes, we've got a specific deficit in women cycling, but the rate of cycling among men in the UK is also woeful. If there is a marketing approach that works for women, is there one that would work with men?

Bluntly, 'man up', the driving dogma of 30 years of cycling campaigning in the UK, doesn't work as an agenda or a phrase. You may be offended by it - associating 'assertiveness' etc. as traditional values associated with masculinity gets peoples backs up, but the 'achievement' of this approach is that 3 times more men ride than women. You may just not like this dogmatic approach - but whatever else, you'll not very likely be persuaded by it. I guess there are some blokes it will work on - but basically this has been the entire strategy in the UK for years. As a result, we've got a dreadful rate of cycling take up in the UK,  mores so among women than men. But we've got schemes looking to address that for women. So what about the men?

What would get more men riding?

I've got more thoughts to go in to the next blog post on the subject - specifically about how cycling products are marketed to each gender, and how THAT is failing men more than its failing women. But for now I really just want to pose the question - what, if anything, should be the approach to get more men cycling? Breeze rides (Cycletta) is a worthwhile start for women, and of course more and better cycling facilities work regardless. But if there is a specific approach thats working for women, is there one that could work for men? Men only rides (or 'races' as they might tend to become)? Social riding for chaps? Or something else

Monday 8 July 2013

Spoke and Wheel Cycle Route Plan

Regular readers will be aware I'm naturally cautious around Cambridge Cycling Campaign. Their support for schemes like Gilbert Road, for example, means that we'll be faced with bad facilities for decades to come. It took a hell of a push by cyclists outside of the committees of the Campaign to reverse Councillors awful choice to treat cyclists trying not to die in that vicinity as anything other than criminals, and we can attribute part of that to councillors viewing children still too scared to use the improved facility there as antisocial.

But they come up with some good stuff. Their position on the woeful scheme at the Catholic Church Junction was pretty near spot on

This is another excellent example. Lets actually plan a cycle network. Not just the odd lane here linking two places that don't need linking. Not just one good route linked to other good routes by junctions so heinous councillors are left scratching their heads that the number of cyclists here hasn't much gone up. Lets plan this properly - with radial and orbital routes. Or, to risk sounding catchy, lets call them spokes and wheels.

You need spokes so folk can get to the city rapidly and safely. These are the prime ways in for commuting and out to get into the villages. Then there are wheels to take you around the city safely and rapidly - please quit asking me to navigate a labyrinth of back streets or badly surfaced off-road routes in the sticks to stay safe. The 'wheels' should be at various points distant from the city centre - from one mile up to perhaps 12 miles away. Then you can pick a route thats more or less direct and safe from anywhere to anywhere. Give me quality infrastructure thats well labelled, well surfaced and wide enough to ride on and I'll be happy.

Will it happen? Well, the problem I think we'll face is that our county thinks that its £16million in 5 years spend on cycling is impressive. It thinks nothing of wasting cycle safety money on junctions re-designed with the sole intention of keeping motorists happy - so even this £16million figure is dubious. So will they adopt this eminently sensible approach? I doubt it.

Seriously, a county council who don't automatically include cycling in existing road re-design projects, who can't even put cycling first where there are injury hotspots? Why would they back a plan like this? What room is there for cycling strategy when there appears to be lack of general transport strategy?

I dunno. Call me a cynic, but isn't this the kind of legacy that our County should leap on board with? Whats the betting that the actual legacy will be some cruddy little 'look out for cyclists' signs on the actual TdF route?

Friday 5 July 2013

Cambridgeshire County Council Cycling Summit - my reaction

Met some good folk last night. Reacquainted with more good folk. Sometimes its nice to be reassured that most folk are, basically, decent. Also reacquainted myself with some who I try not to mix with very often. But hey-ho. Not many of those.

I'm talking about Cambridgeshire Cycling Summit, organised to bring together everyone with an opinion and knowledge on cycling in the county to discuss 'legacy' of the Tour de France coming here a year from now. 

Legacy, you ask? From a one-day visit of a cycle race, admittedly the biggest cycle race in the world but nonetheless a race that uses roads we've already got? Yes, legacy. We're going to have one. In austere times inspirational events can't just be that - they have to have legacy. Fair enough then.

You can see why the City and County councils here are so keen to reinforce this idea of legacy. While in theory Le Tour isn't going to cost Cambridge money, its clearly a hell of an upheaval for the city. We don't know where, precisely, it'll start in Cambridge but we can pretty much guess there'll be some picturesque aerial shots of colleges, the Backs, you'd think maybe the Gogs, and during this time major arteries into Cambridge will be closed and the town will be rammed full of 400,000 or more visitors. Traffic chaos all due to some bloody cyclists who think they own the road, I can see the headlines in the Cambridge News now. 

So this event then. Some talks from folk associated with the County Council to start with, who strangely thought that telling us they'd spent £16million in 5 years would demonstrate they care - in light of the £1.5billion announced for A14 I'm unconvinced (looking round lots of others were blinking in disbelief). Presentation from a teacher at Swavesey college talking about a rather good scheme to turn some waste ground into somewhere for kids to have fun on and learn to ride well, on some pretty damned solid mountain bikes the school has raised funding for... You know the kind of stuff. Some kind words, some cracking enthusiasm; a prelude.

Then the meat and drink of it - workshops for cyclists to bash out what they want as 'legacy'. Cycle campaigners, activists, enthusiasts and busybodies all basically want the same thing - safe roads to ride on, to get more folk out on bikes. The sporty folks think that more sporty things will encourage more people out on bikes - I agree, but thinking back to last years Tour that effect didn't really work as well as you'd hope. Lots of folk went and bought shiny new road bikes (bike shop folk told me blokes of a certain age were their main market) but they were mostly gone from the road by Spring. Other folk were saying lets have as a legacy a commitment to high quality infrastructure - my thought is that it could be branded 'Le Tour' quality with a minimum allowed standard for width, continuity, actually linking villages up to towns out in the County (point especially well made by Ely Cycling Campaign) etc. Getting kids safe routes to school, enthused others. Lets close roads to motorised traffic sometimes, a particular favourite from Jim Chisolm of Cambridge Cycle Campaign.

Lots of ideas all centred around the same theme - getting folk cycling is good, motorised traffic being too close, fast, unforgiving and just plain unpleasant is the main problem. I've got a lot of sympathy for the folk there really into racing and sport cycling - I agree that regular sporting events on the roads of this county would be a fantastic legacy, and its an achievable goal, but a lot of other folk there don't give a damn for the sporting aspect. Shame.

Will it happen? Probably not. I think what we'll get is the same local politicians who oppose good cycling infrastructure based on the lie that Cambridge hasn't got the space and that its making the same futuristic errors we saw in the '50s and '60s (I'm talking about you Colin Rosenstiel - a name cycle campaigners could use as a synonym for 'defeatist' were it easier to spell) continuing to give voice to those who will always put one extra parking space over the welfare of a hundred cyclists. I fear council officers (who clearly have fine  intentions) will end up pointing at yet more bad facilities telling us that its the most realistic result we can get. Folk like him are ten years behind the public debate on cycling - we've had the infrastructure discussion, we all now agree that safe routes to ride on are key. Catch up, Councillor - everyone, but everyone who has an interest in growing cycling in the UK wants safe routes to ride on now and that means good width, good surfaces, continuity and priority over side roads. Get with it or, with respect, get out. We're no further to answering the fundamental question - if here, now, in Cambridge we can't get the best facilities then where and well will we do so?

Closing remarks were from our Cabridge MP, Julian Huppert, who talks a fantastic game on cycling while just occasionally contradicting himself. He co-chairs the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, which gave us a finding in their report that A-roads need safe cycle routes along and across them, yet he's still undecided on whether this applies to the most contentious route into his constituency, the A14. Come on Dr. Huppert - and fight our corner for cycle access on the A14 before this issue discredits your stance on cycling. How can you argue that nationally while holding back locally? Why would anyone outside of Cambridge listen if you don't make the case here?

But all that said, this event takes us in a new direction - the intent they had was to engage. To hear us. Over the next few months we'll find out if they listened - I hope they did and I hope to see a step change in delivery on cycling projects in the county. Its possible. Its do-able. Maybe this was the start? Well, we can dream.

A worthwhile event? Yeah, I think so. I hope so. 

Thursday 4 July 2013

One Show - the BBC get it right!

...but we're all watching The Scottish Player (if you say his name its bad luck) playing tennis instead.

I'm referring to this little gem on the One show last night:

Whats going on? I mean, great stuff with Ade Adepitan talking about cycling but NOT having to talk about his own paralympic sport, positive discussion about cycling on peak time television without a single irrelevant whinge about red light jumping or road tax, no one blaming cyclists for accidents caused by motorists, and honest portrayal of how you feel riding in traffic without anyone over-stating it?

I mean, whats WRONG with you BBC? You don't do cool, well presented, level headed, thought out and balanced articles on cycling. Ever. I mean, this is probably the best cycling article I've seen on the BBC. 

But this is the Cambridge Cyclist blog. I don't do unbridled positivity. Helmets guys? While pootling along at walking pace? Did the health and safety goblin poke his hideous green proboscis in?

That said, I thought Ade Adepitan came across excellently. Eloquent chap and every time I see him on the goggle box I wonder why he's not on the goggle box more often. And Carlton Reid - not bad either mate. 

For once I find myself breaking into a broad grin at a BBC article on everyday cycling in the UK and what could, indeed should, be.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Cycling Summit - What do we want?

Cambridgeshire County Council Cycling Summit is being held this week. No doubt you're assuming that I'm going to be a grumpy so and so about it, but that isn't my intention. No need to get grumpy unless there is a need to be grumpy, like the summit being held in the middle of nowhere or something. You know, somewhere that sounds like a really good idea if everyone is going to be driving there but is going to be a real challenge by public transport. Oh...

That aside, I think its fair to put forward what goals I think we should have. I've made a start to that with the Cycle Lane Manifesto posts here and here. Frankly I think that the biggest question our County Council must answer (a question that I believe Cambridge and Ely Cyling Campaigns must address) is a very simple one. 

Cambridge (and the surrounding county) are ideal cycling territory. Its flat. Its dry. Demographically Cambridge is the perfect cyclist city - it is dominated by the University, it is compact, its got lots of small, technologically advanced companies in surrounding cluster. In short, if we're not going to install top quality cycling facilities as standard here, and now, then where and when will this happen? We're in the midst of what we're told is a cycling revolution yet we're frittering away what funds we have on bad schemes that don't link up to form a greater whole that encourages cycling. So if we're not going to do it now, when? Why NOT now? And why should cyclists sign up to anything but the best?

Despite a more or less apathetic approach from county and city councillors here (who think that its appropriate to target cyclists who break the law because the roads are lethally dangerous) Cambridge is our cycling capital. A higher percentage of trips are by bike than elsewhere. What a fabulous platform to become not just the best in the UK, but a world leader for cycling. We have that within our grasp - if we can get where we are with crap infrastructure where will we get if we do it right?

Does the County share that vision? Yes or no. If not, what IS the vision the County has? Where is cycling in 5 years time? Where is it 10 years from now? 20 years from now? 

There are some specific areas I think we can look at to get into this. A good one is the A14 - we're allegedly about to spend £1.5bn on it - so that means safe, segregated cycle facilities that for the first time link Bar Hill and other villages along the A14 to Cambridge to give rapid, safe transit for cyclists, pedestrians and mobility scooters..? Yes, and cycling is demonstrably something the County takes seriously, or no, we're all mouth and no trousers on cycling?

A few simple, easy questions really. Is the county serious on cycling or are they all hot air?

Monday 1 July 2013

A14 Downgraded. For Cyclists, at least.

Apparently its happening, this A14 upgrade. I say 'apparently' because we've been here before - about this time in the last parliament we were getting an A14 upgrade too and that didn't happen.

This time we're getting it though. No, really. Unless the whole point of this announcement is to put it after the next election so Labour kill it because there's no money, like the Labour party did with their announcement before the last election. Oh, and it'll be new-spangled hi-tec too - cameras will enforce a toll. Hooray, you're all saying, something to look forward to, a bunch of half asleep motorists trying to pay a toll with their smartphone as they juggle the steering wheel and a hot coffee too. 

Consider whats being proposed for the route in to Cambridge. According to the above news stories, we're looking at three lanes in either direction, with four in each direction in the run up to Cambridge. Yes thats an A road with four lanes in either direction. Why, no, now you come to ask, there ISN'T any provision for ANYONE who isn't in a car. Thats right, if you're on a mobility scooter or a bike, our road planners would like you to go and feck yourself; you're not welcome on this A road - you can legally use it but they're designing it in such a way as to make that as near an impossibility as they can.

The A14 is a motorway in all but name. This plan turns it in to one of our busiest, noisiest and dirtiest motorways - the idea is we're going to move the traffic more efficiently along the road and ram it up at each of the bottlenecks that currently cause delays. Or, in other words, we're increasing the capacity of the road but doing less to reduce journey times than we would by getting people out of their cars onto other forms of transport. We've given up on policing to keep the A14 as it currently is 'safe' for motorists because thy can't, as a rule, be trusted; we're going to give them more tarmac to overtake each other to get stuck in queues on the way into the city. We're giving up getting people on to their bikes and on to the bus - we're surrendering to the car. 

Lets be clear - offering cyclists very long, alternative routes to the A14 heading through half a dozen villages, adding many miles to a journey because an A road has been made too hazarous to ride on is not a solution. By all means widen this major road, but as part of the scheme give us safe, segregated cycleways alongside - at least as far as Bar Hill, ideally as far as Fenstanton or Huntingdon. There is massive scope to reduce the amount of traffic on the A14 if we can get cycling rates from Bar Hill to Cambridge (currently approaching 0%) up to the average for trips in the City - 20-25%. Its only three or four miles away - the equivalent distance of Arbury down to Addenbrokes, a perfectly achievable cycle commute. 

The A14 needs improving. Improving it only for cars, while being welcomed vocally by our local politicians and journalists, excludes a large proportion of people in Cambridge who choose to travel by a greener, healthier, and quieter mode of travel. This actually takes the A14 from being at the outer limit of common sense for cycling and makes it into a complete physical barrier. 

Will any of our news reporters and/or politicians realise the political mileage there is for them in standing up for cyclists? Hey, Julian Huppert, what about you? You claim to be pro-cycling, why aren't you fighting our corner on this one? How about the big man on the county council these days, Martin Curtis, going to grow a pair and demand that cyclists are for once a priority or is this yet another example of a scheme where you can't go 'all the way' (or in fact anywhere at all) for cyclists? 

As we approach the next general election, lets get real with this kind of campaign; we're not just cyclists, we're potentially a powerful voting block who are being ignored. Or, rather, marginalised.

Want my vote? Lets discuss what you'll do to make the A14 safe. For me.