Friday 30 August 2013

Cambridge Motorists Are not in a Pickle

Interesting to see that this news story is getting quite a bit of attention from cycling aficionados across the UK.
A Cabinet minister has lashed out at Cambridge’s high car parking charges and warned councils not to force the transport choices of the “elite” on the rest of the population.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles told the News this week that his call for local authorities to ditch their “anti-car dogma” very much applied to the city and said efforts to improve cycling provision should not completely override concern for motorists.
Mr. Pickles is implying that we're favouring cyclists in a way that not only disadvantages motorists, but actually completely overrides their concerns.

Lets just take a moment to think that through. Is Cambridge a place that actively seeks to put cyclists first, even to the point where motorists will be actively disadvantaged?

Well we don't expend any effort to prevent people parking on the pavement or in cycle lanes. We can't even keep cars off cycle bridges that cannot physically be used to carry them. Our current road 'improvement' projects do not give us high quality cycle facilities, and fail to prioritise cycling over any form of car use at any point. Indeed road space allocation does not reflect the number of road users using different modes of transport, with cyclists being massively disadvantaged in this regard. Expenditure on cycling over the entire County is a trivial fraction of spending on one road, the A14, from which we are effectively excluded. On those rare routes that SHOULD be good for us, even removing barriers to pleasant riding thereon is viewed as strangely controversial. On roads with high cyclist accident rates, and very high cycling rates in general, we still fail to put them first in junction design, selling cyclists out by spending specific cycling safety money on sub-standard facilities. 

The local police force do not consider crimes against cyclists (close passes, intimidation or theft for example) worthy of recording or demonstrating clear-up of. They do however think recording incidents of people throwing things at cars is important. Our police commissioner is openly ignorant on the rate of cyclists breaking the law and the risks associated therewith, but still chooses to target us. Hardly surprising that our police force will sometimes stake our cycle lanes that end with no warning, where transferring on to the road is neither rational nor safe, and arrest cyclists who can't possibly know they're breaking the law.

Getting councillors to take the issues cyclist face seriously is an uphill struggle. There are some good eggs, but all too often trying not to die is seen as antisocial, and they set the police on us for it. Many of our councillors seem to want to be nasty to cyclists out of some misguided sense of balance.

This is a city where private companies publicly threaten to destroy your bicycle and no one in any position of authority in the City or County Councils, or the Police, cares. Where even the cycle routes raised as gold-standard by our authorities are not considered safe enough by school children who instead choose to ride on the massively wide pavements and grass verges that could be used to make the route genuinely top quality.

Mr. Pickles bases his argument, it seems, on conjecture and the fact that if you park in a short stay car park for a long time its quite expensive. Yes, Mr. Pickles, thats because its a short stay car park.

No fair analysis of Mr. Pickles argument shows him to be correct. If you ever see Cambridge without windscreen wipers in the way you can't possibly agree with Pickles.

But lets not be too unfair on him. Maybe he just needs another perspective - on the absurdly remote chance you read this Mr. Pickles, I invite you here, to Cambridge, to come out for a ride with me. We'll tour about a bit, see what you think after that. If anyone has his ear, pass this on to him.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Copy of pavement parking letter sent to our PCC

Not a very interesting post this. Just FYI - a copy of the letter I've just sent to our PCC.

Dear Sir,

Thanks for taking a few moments to discuss the problem of pavement parking today; good to see you out and about even if, ironically, the brightly stickered PCC car was itself parked on the pavement in the centre of Cambridge today.

I have previously reported the issue of pavement parking, where pavements aren't just parked on but blocked, to the City Council, to the County Council and to the Police. I've ended up playing quite a merry game - the County advised I should talk to Police, Police said try the City, and the City said talk to the County council. This rather elegant game of citizen ping-pong is the time honoured way for our two councils to avoid taking responsibility, but inclusion of the police in his is particularly special. Since then I've had the County tell me its technically their job without actually doing it, and the Police say they'll look at it case by case although its not clear what, if entirely blocking the pavement isn't enough, would be enough for them to do something. 

I would contend that whenever a car is parked on the pavement it has likely been driven there, and this is an offense. I would further state that whenever a car is regularly found to be parked on the pavement we can be sure that is has been regularly driven there. 

Pavement parking makes the street environment unpleasant and dangerous. Walking around into even light traffic is unpleasant - the knock on effect of this is that elderly and disabled pedestrians are disadvantaged. I would also suggest that this encourages motorists to drive far more rapidly on the road - as a cyclist, I would rather ride on roads with legally, rather than illegally, parked cars.

I have used a relatively new resource (Shapeyourplace) to bring this to the attention of police and councilors  but it is quite clear that Cambridgeshire Constabulary do not care - as I think will be clear from reading Inspector Poppits responses here:

I would like to make the streets, especially close to where I live, safer and more pleasant. I find that the Police are not my ally in this. As a cyclist and a pedestrian I really do think this matters - as a concerned citizen I think it also matters that this law is so widely flouted.

It is obvious that cars being driven, regularly, on the pavement are a problem. The act of driving on the pavement is illegal. Can we get this enforced please?

Yours sincerely,

Thursday 8 August 2013

Does threatening a cyclist count?

You're unlikely to have missed the news about Mary Beard and others receiving rape and/or death threats via. Twitter. Obviously news like this should shock us all.

In what started off as a campaign to get another woman on to a British bank note (not unreasonable - while I'm uncomfortable with any example of 'positive discrimination' I accept it has its place) abusers on Twitter have gone as far as to threaten extreme violence. This tells us various things - most obviously that some people are arseholes. Like we couldn't have guessed. And the Police have taken this very seriously.

Before continuing I'll share a pet hate - these threats do not come from internet trolls. A troll is someone who posts to get a response - usually it'll be something to inflame an argument or to get a response. Threatening violence or death is not trolling - its far more serious. A troll is basically a harmless net-denizen. These people are not harmless - there is no context in which threatening death is considered okay.

Or is there?

The context of that question is pretty bleeding obvious in this blog isn't it?

The truth is cyclists get death threats quite frequently. Sometimes generically against all of us, often against individual cyclits. And do the police give a rats ass about it? Do they hell. 

I agree with those who seek to brand all such threats as unacceptable. There is something intensely sinister about the thought process that could lead anyone to think that these threats are okay - and we should oppose them wherever we can. And it frankly shouldn't matter who the subject of those threats is. But it does.

People are posting threats to murder cyclists. Over, and over, and over again. And the only time action is taken when there has actually been a road incident. Even specific threats made to specific people will be mostly ignored by police when brought to the attention of site admins and the police (please forgive me for not linking directly to such threats - generally they're frightening, ill expressed and deeply offensive and I'm not wanting to give them publicity here. You'll find them on Youtube comments of most helmet camera cycists from time to time, you'll certainly see them on Twitter).

I'm not asking why threatening to kill a feminist is treated as a serious crime, I'm asking why threatening to kill a cyclist is not? Bluntly, why do the Police believe that we cyclists deserve it but vocal (and reasonable) feminists should not be subject to the same abuse?

The only reason for ignoring such threats is that perhaps it is assumed we're bringing it on ourselves. If you go to the police and say 'this guy threatened me' but then admit you were poking him in the eye then they would be unsympathetic. Is that what the police think? Do they equate the act of cycling with intentional provocation? Are we assumed to being this on ourselves just because of how we travel? Is this an assumption we are collectively responsible such as we're seeing from the vile and unwholesome Nicewaycode campaign?

How do we turn things around such that we're not seen as having it coming? How do we become 'humans' rather than 'targets'?

Monday 5 August 2013

Niceway Code - No, really, its NOT a parody.

Although you might think it.

Here's the kind of rubbish they're coming out with now.

Here we're being compared with horses. They video is asking motorists to treat us like we're horses. So apparently we're going to ignore the fact that there are hundreds of reported incidents where motorists scare or injure horses and blandly assert that cyclists need to be treated likewise irrespective of whether thats any good.

I really don't want to be treated like a horse. I want to be treated like a person, on a bicycle. And if you think anything else is appropriate you can go fetlock yourself. I am not a horse.

Well it can't get any worse, can it? I mean, they'd not actually go further with stereotyping us in a negative and insulting way?

Oh, yes, dear readers, they would...

So lets get this straight, a woman goes through a red light while riding her bicycle, somewhat less than a second after the light has changed, and somehow we're all held responsible for that. 

Because of something someone else did we're going to be asked to all bear the burden of that, and rather than dealing with the fact that motorists portraying us all as red light jumpers on the strength of this one incident are simply showing prejudice, we're going to have public information films reinforcing the false perception that we are collectively responsible for the crimes of others based merely on the form of transport we choose?

We're going to spend a fortune on adverts targetting cyclists jumping red lights despite the fact that such results for something in the region of 2% of cyclist deaths and serious injuries (KSI), and in so doing we're going to reinforce the atrocious misconception that we're responsible for road accidents while ignoring the 70% of cyclists KSI entirely caused by motorists?  Oh, and we're going to show a teacher mocking a child who of course dresses like a freak because he's a cyclist, and thats what cyclists do?

This is offensive. This panders to, rather than stands against, the prejudices that allow motorists to get away with endangering, even injuring or killing cyclists. This isn't a public safety campaign or an attempt to improve manners on the road, its a cynical campaign to mock, ridicule and victimise cyclists. Publically funded by motorists, for motorists, its a cynical ploy to give them an even better argument against cylists.

I wonder whether Scotland will soon be launching equally offensive campaigns to target hate against people of different sexuality, race or religion? Maybe a anti-racist campaign using the Black and White Minstrels? Fagin from Oliver Twist to speak out against anti-semitism based on the negative Jewish stereotype? Or does crass stereotyping and victim blame now only apply to cyclists?

Scotland, road safety campaigners around the world are laughing at you. Not with you. 

Friday 2 August 2013

Another Exciting Avenue for Dissing Cyclists!

I'm referring in the title to our county wide community website, Shapeyourplace.

Primarily its a place you can post data relating to things happening in your locality. It can be a suggestion that trees should be planted here, pavement parking is a problem there, and you can rest assured a friendly local police or council officer will be along shortly to tell you that they're going to do nothing whatsoever to enforce the law.

But its more than that. Its also a great place to complain about cyclists who are just minding their own business.

This contribution is has a familiar ring to it. Talking about 'perfectly good cycle paths or lanes' that cyclists are choosing not to use, instead being 'selfishly in the middle' of the bus lane. So the writer concludes 'we should ban cyclists from using them' or just not have bus lanes.

But this is the best bit:
But evewn after proviidng perfectly good cyclepaths and without forcing them to use the cyclepath, there will still be the odd ‘I have a right to use the road’ stickler who will insist on staying on the road at 2mph all the way to the top. This is not an anti-cyclist rant, more an observation of a problem or two to see if anyone else has noticed any of these or can come up with better solutions without getting aggressive.
Hang on, not aggressive? Are you really saying that the cyclists using the road are 'sticklers' but this isn't an aggressive rant? You're going to try to convince us that cyclists are going more slowly than walking pace spcifically to slow the bus down but you don't want us to view you as anti-cyclist? 

Okay, I don't want to be too critical of this individual, but I do see this as an excellent example of the kind of nonsense we're so often accused of. It probably hasn't occurred to the writer that there's more to a cycle route being good than whether it exists. It needs to be wide enough, yes, but it also needs good visibility for those entering, a good surface, space to overtake, access to other routes that link in to it, safety at junctions, priority over side roads, and to be well laid out. If I'm going to have to turn off the route at some point and turn left across the road I'll probably have to be on the road. If the surface isn't sufficient to allow me to cycle at my normal cruising speed then then I can't ride on the bike lane. And if at the end I'm abandoned with no serious way on or off a roundabout then sorry, but I'll use a road.

I also don't really want to be in a bus lane. I've got to take a position in said lane such that the bus can't squeeze me off the road - that means the bus will end up being delayed behind me. Its unavoidable, but if junctions from the off-road lane are dangerous for me, and the bus drivers on the bus lane have a tendency to pass frighteningly close, thats the only option available to me.

The evidence for this? The fact that cyclists choose to be on-road rather than on the cycle lane. The idea that we're just being contrary or exercising our rights out of principle is nonsense. No one chooses to ride a bicycle in front of a bus for fun, we're doing so because the other options don't work.

It would be nice if people who aren't cyclists stopped assuming the worst of us when we're just trying to get from A to B. How long until we break down that prejudice?