Monday 30 December 2013

The Great Cycle Route That Isn't. Part 1.

Yesterday I started thinking aloud in this blog about the kind of route that we want to ride on - namely, more or less direct routes rather than all round the houses.

As luck would have it there is EXACTLY the kind of straight line route I'm talking about from the centre of Cambridge to the Science Park - its actually a straight line following the route of a Roman Road. 

I'm fibbing slightly - only most of it is a Roman Road, when that old route gets up as far as Kings Hedges it disappears under a couple of streets and reappears as a ridge next to some playing fields, and again as a green lane running for miles from behind Cambridge Regional College. The route in red is the straightest route you can plot from the science park rear entrance (and hence the Busway) to the City Centre without bulldozing homes.

The route outlined in red on the left is a busy one, many cyclists use all or some of it if they're commuting from Arbury, Orchard Park or Kings Hedges to the City Centre, and as many or more use it to get up to the back entry into the Science Park, one of the major sites for employment here. There are also numerous schools on or near the red route I've drawn. Basically if you sit out on Roxburgh Road at commuting time you'll see a heck of a lot more bikes than cars!

Now you'd think, just looking at that route, that it would be a great route to encourage people to cycle on and that proactive City and County councils would have done their best to make this as good for cycling as they can. For the most part it is well signposted for cycling - but, regrettably, any help cyclists get more or less ends there. In fact, most of the supposed 'infrastructure' that lies on this line is worse than useless.

But don't just take my word for it. This is what you see on leaving the science park.

 Looks okay, you're out on to the guided busroute, but you need to get across that and across Kings Hedges road. And thats where it all starts to go pear shaped. You're suddenly faced with this...

Why, yes, now that you ask that IS a narrow chicane with a hundred and eighty degree turn in it. And yes, as it happens, at busy commuting time that really CAN be very difficult to get a whole load of cyclists and pedestrians through. 

But it gets better! Get through the chicane and you've got this splendidly well surfaced section, a narrow gap through a fence and no dropped curb on the other side. Oh, sorry, did I say better? I meant to say that we're meant to go feck ourselves. 

Naturally this isn't even a junction on Kings Hedges Road. We have no way on to the road, we have no way over the road. We. Do. Not. Exist.

If you get over the road, you're now on a cul-de-sac that goes past Daily Bread, at the end of which the way on to the far too narrow shared use path across the field is naturally usually completely blocked by parked vehicles (like the little van there on the right, a City Council van, is blocking it in this image below).

Still, credit where its due. You're okay for a bit after that, the shared use path is narrow but you can always ride through the mud instead when the dog walkers don't block you off entirely. And then there's a triky bit on paving stones with a blind corner thats terrible at school dropping off time with parents quite reasonably expecting to use buggies with their younger kids, and you're back on the road.

A mini-roundabout later and you're on Roxburgh Road. That always looks like this, except when its sunny, in which case its dry and equally impassable on the pavement - so much so that you're often going to be swerving around pedestrians who can, literally, not get down the paths. Incidentally, Police, City and County Council demonstrably think this is just fine

At the end of Roxburgh Road there's a cut through - looking back towards Roxburgh from the other end we see that yes, its handy - its just a shame its got 3 different surfaces on it and a lamp post at the end located such that you can't safely get through if there's a pedestrian.

You've then got a little twisty bit on to Arbury Road where, naturally, we've no provision for cyclists, and you're turning left on to the Roman Road proper - Carlton Way. There IS a cycle lane off road there. Well, its the pavement actually, and there's the occasional picture of a bike on the ground or on a sign. And to add spice there are a couple of ninety degree corners thrown in to the mix. At its best, this is it:

Thats a short section right in front of the school where its wide enough and properly segregated. And no, past the lamp post it doesn't continue in a straight line, you immediately turn left, then right - two right angle turns because the on street drop off points for motorists there are more important than you. 

Civilisation or, as some like to call it, gritting in winter, promptly ends at the junction with Gilbert Road up ahead, which we have to cross to go on to Stretten Avenue - this is by far the worst part of any commute. Its not so much that its narrow in places, its more that there are parked cars on both sides restricting us to space for a single lane of traffic - and the commuting motorists coming AT us expect us to get out of the way, those coming from BEHIND us expect us to be out of their way so they can overtake and brake sharply for the next speed hump, and those parking their cars on Stretten Avenue taking the place of residents as they drive off for work don't give a damn, you're just in the way. Here's what its like during the quietest part of the year:

At the bottom of Stretten Avenue you've got a zig-zag corner thats lethal when its icy. 

Most likely at the bottom of Stretten you'll cross by the Church and turn left on to Searle Street (also ungritted) and pop out on to Chesterton Road at the Job Centre - you're in the City! Or you could take the cycle route up behind the County Council offices - that will however mean riding up some steps.

Now this is more or less a straight line. Its on suburban streets where there's plenty of scope to make this into an excellent cycling route. Yet its horrible!

This route cannot be the best one for motoring - there are multiple cut-throughs that are only available for cycling, and its mostly littered with speed humps. It could, however, be one of the most cycled routes in Britain - the question I want to address in my next post on the subject is what we need to do to make it in to that. 

Sunday 29 December 2013

Give us good, straight bike routes!

The Romans knew a thing or two about transport. They understood that it can be hard and tiring, so they tried to build straight routes to connect locations - hardly surprising because mostly folk would've been walking, and people want to walk the shortest route between two points. The roads in Britain that still follow Roman routes are very often easy to spot by their conspicuous and convenient directness.

Somewhere along the way far too many folk stopped travelling in straight lines - they got in to cars which started clogging up our cities in such a way that those straight routes didn't make sense any more. In fact we started expecting to drive all around the houses on one way systems to get where we're going, but that's kind of okay when you're not burning your own biological energy. Its no more 'effort', its just a little more time - and as there are so many of these cars clogging the roads it wouldn't be any slower anyway. 

But those of us who get around by bike or on foot are still rather Roman. We can't really be doing with these crazy systems designed to take us way out of the way before getting us where we're going. So if you tell us that a route is quieter to ride on, its only another couple of miles, we're probably going to want to slap you. Rather like when a road junction describes a series of wide, sweeping curves for cars to motor round at high speed but which require pedestrians to travel another 50 or 100 yards - no one wants to do that, they just want to walk in a more or less straight line to their destination.

Now when it comes down to it all we want as cyclists is for the direct route to where we're going to be safe to ride on. We don't want to be told that there's another quieter route to go on, as that is always going to be way more effort than we feel the need to expend. We can even get quite resentful when presented with such 'alternatives' - resentful in a way that a motorist will only see as selfishness. But that rather ignores the lessons of millenia - people burning their own energy want to go in a straight line. The worn down footpath directly across a field, the Roman road, the short cut or rat run. Cyclists aren't the ones causing the congestion that necessitates motorists be held up by one-way systems and crazy bypass routes, don't expect us to be sympathetic when you suggest we should suffer the restrictions caused by and necessitated for motorists.

The bottom line is that the straight line routes we (quite reasonably) want to use need to be safe and convenient for cycling, otherwise most potential cyclists will be clogging up the crazy road systems in cars. And where they're not, out transport network utterly fails cycling. I'm going to expand upon these thoughts more with some examples of pretty clear straight-line routes in to Cambridge that are anything but good for cycling. But for now, feel free to let me know what you think about my starting premise - am I right that all it is we want as cyclists is to go from where we are, to where we need to be, safely and without a detour that feels like it could take us to Belgium and back?

Thursday 19 December 2013


I've been rather startled by reaction to my last blog post.

All I can say is, well, shucks. I didn't think it was that big a deal. But thank you all, really, for your kind words (here and on twitter) regarding this. It means a lot. 

When it comes down to it I got a close pass of a kind thats familiar to most of us, and it was one of the rare occasions I use a helmet cam, and it was an even rarer occasion of the police taking the report seriously. I don't know if this sets any kind of precedent or if it really should give us hope for more of the same. I hope it does, I doubt it, but time will tell.

Was the punishment enough? No, of course not. But its more than the big heap of nothing we normally see, and thats a good thing.

All I'll say is keep at it guys - whether or not this IS part of a change in how things will be will only be something that we can judge in retrospect. And I'll tell you for nowt - unless we get more active, unless we make more complaints and take yet more of these things to the police nothing will change.

This is not a call to arms. But if you can use the fact that we got a result this time to convince your local police that they really can get this through the CPS to the courts, then I'd be delighted. Good luck!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Close overtake - 3 points, £60 fine, £220 costs

:UPDATE: I've been contacted directly by one journalist and indirectly by another, asked to talk about this. For what its worth, I think I've said all that I really need to say on the subject. And while I get that it can be viewed as news, I can't bring myself to go further with the story because I consider the case against the other guy to be closed now. Naming (and shaming) someone who has been up in court and admitted what he did rather further than I want to go; I have no personal animosity towards the guy so I've declined to name him to journalists. That doesn't mean they can't persue this via. court records or the police, it just means I can't bring myself to do that to him.

Way back in March I posted this.

For those who don't want to click through that, here's the footage of what happened on the 27th of March, and a quick description will follow...

So I was passed closely and I'd say aggressively. In the uncompressed footage its easier to see his mobile phone.

I had tweeted this to PC Gedny who was at the time tweeting as 'road safety cops' or some such, on behalf of Cambrideshire Constabulary. His response was pretty negative.

Afterwards Cottenham Cyclist raised this with a local police Sergeant (who I shan't name because discussions with him weren't public, so I shan't point out who it is as I don't know if he'd want that) who he's been building links with to try to get policing to become more cyclist friendly, he got in touch and suggested I should report it. So, I did.

A few days later I spent a couple of hours at the station, made a statement, gave them the original footage copied to disc, and then started waiting.

Eventually this came to court on the 13th of December, at Cambridge Magistrates. It was all a bit confusing - it had been scheduled for Peterborough Magistrates, I got the message on I think the Monday of that week that it would instead be in Cambridge because both I and the defendant live here. But somewhere along the way he either didn't get the message or it got confused and he still turned up in the wrong city.

I gave my evidence, he'd already pleaded guilty to phone use but not guilty to driving without due care and attention - and just as the magistrate was deliberating with the two other folk up there someone ran in to the court to say the defendant was in the wrong city! Two hours later his bus arrived in Cambridge, we reconvened... after another delay as he wanted his mum to be there.

Delays continued as he wanted to change his plea, then I was told maybe I wouldn't be needed, then I was in giving evidence. I must say the old ladies who run the witness or victim support in there as volounteers are diamonds and I can't praise them enough. In the room were me, prosecution solicitor, magistrate and two folk with her, someone sitting in front recording, someone else with a monumental pile of paperwork, usher, defendant, his mum and another lady who were if I'm honest giving me dagger like stares. I said my bit of evidence, the footage was reviewed 3 times, and as the defendant neither wanted to question me nor refute my version of events I left (not wanting to sit with his folk!).

Yesterday I got a letter with the result - he pleaded guilty to phone use and driving without due care and attention, he's been fined £60, given 3 points on his license, and has to pay £220 in costs. So yeah, a result... 

But I dunno... Basically that result cost me a day and a half of my life. And its not that big a result. It won't be in the papers, it won't make news, its not going to act as a deterrent to anyone else. So do we really have to teach each driver, individually, that they need to treat us as human beings?

I'm left in two minds. Yeah, got the guy, he'll know better now (or you'd hope he would) but was it worth it?

I can find no reference to earlier examples of helmet camera footage used in obtaining a conviction in Cambridge. I didn't anticipate dancing in the street, but I'd rather hoped that it would feel like it had been unquestionably worth it. Now? I just don't know.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Cambridge Cycling Campaign... Catching Up?

Its not actually 'the campaign', its Martin. Who is currently top cat of the campaign, and a decent chap from the three or four times I've talked to him. One of a bunch of good folk involved in the Campaign. But are they going to be able to drag the rest of the campaign group into the modern era of cycle campaigning?

Martin makes some good points re. London. Its encouraging that he wants to take cycling in the same kind of direction here (and I'm delighted he's saying a similar kind of thing I've been saying, although I've not always been as polite or eloquent about the campaigns campaigning style.)

The big questions now are whether the campaign will follow what Martin is saying, and what kind of campaigning style will go with that. I think they've been rather hamstrung of late by earlier responses to schemes like Perne Road, and while I think the kind of activism we're seeing in London is a powerful tool its rather a big step from where we are here in Cambridge right now - we've not even got a critical mass movement. 

I still maintain that as things are Cambridgeshire County Council are anything but a pro-cycling body - Labour councilors mistakenly think we're toffs, Tories think we're scummy plebs, half of the liberals don't think about us at all and recent reports show that UKIP councillors may not be the kind of folk for whom thought comes naturally. They will not give us what we need, they have no interest in us and with the current politics here we're not going to get what we need (which is continuous, safe cycle facilities going along the routes that actually link us to where we want to go, rather than all round the back streets on indirect routes to places we seldom need to reach). I maintain that as the current politics of the county fail us we need to change things, as we're now seeing happening in London. I wonder, does the Campaign still consider that stance "shouting from the sidelines and being grumpy"? Its a long road ahead, but it seems to me that London is starting down that road. Are we? 

Tuesday 10 December 2013

I had an accident...

...and I'm suffering.

Hurt my nose and my eyebrow, there was blood. Not a lot, but enough.

I suppose its my own fault, after all I wasn't wearing a helmet. And that would probably have saved me. Collision occurred as I was going through town - I wasn't paying enough attention, I was looking at the change in my hand when a lady hit me from behind, propelling me forward. I wasn't wearing hi-viz or anything so I can't blame her. I broke the fall with my face. And a door frame.

A door frame, you ask? In the road? No, I was on the pavement. I was walking, you see, and I stopped. And a few moments later a little old lady bumped me from behind, I wasn't as well balanced as I may have been, and I went face first into the edge of a door frame. Bruised and bloody nose and head. 

Naturally, when you're walking you don't wear a helmet. And the result is that when you fall you'll hurt your head.

Pedestrians and motorists make up the bulk of head injuries. Yet we seem to obsess over cycle helmets. 

The moral of this tale? Don't stand in the way of little old ladies, they'll kick your ass. Oh, and if you want to wear a cycle helmet, thats fine. But try to understand the risk, in perspective. 

Thursday 5 December 2013

What if VED really was Road Tax?

VED isn't a road tax. No, really, it isn't. I'm not even getting in to that here.

But lets suppose for a moment (as I did on twitter yesterday, conveniently storified by a very nice person) we're in a parallel dimension where VED really does pay for the roads. And that its considered fair and reasonable that people pay proportionally for the wear and tear their vehicles inflict thereon. 

How much should cyclists pay? 

We can do a few back of an envelope calculations to get how much we'd be expected to pay into context. 

Lets begin by looking at the relative damage we do - usually this is worked out by a fairly simple formula - for each doubling of mass you multiply the harm done by 16. 

If a cyclist weighs on average 75kg (thats inbetween average woman and average man), we can get to a round-ish number by saying the average bicycle could be about 15kg. So we're putting 90kg worth of damage down on the roads. Thats very likely so low that other than the physical surface atoms of the paving, we're not going to be reaching the kind of load that reaches an activation energy to cause any damage at all, but we'll stick with it for now.

Depending where you are in the world cars tend to be different masses, but a workable average is about 1500kg. Multiplying up, 90kg x2 is 180kg, then 360kg, 720kg, 1440kg... We've got to double the mass 4x to get an equivalence.

Someone recently told me he'd paid £200 VED, so lets say thats average. Sounds about average. If the average car costs you that much, we divide by 16, 4 times, to get to £0.003.  

But lets flip it around. Often we hear people saying they'd like cyclists to pay SOMETHING towards the roads. So shall we say a tenner? Proportionally you'd pay £655,360 for a car.

I found a stat at the RAC saying there are 34.5 million motorised vehicles on the roads, and from the utterly reliable source of twitter I've seen a figure of about £10 billion per years on road maintenance in the UK. Do the maths and thats about £290 per person.

Back calculate from that and, based on road damage alone (ignoring the fact that cyclists are probably not damaging at all), and the 3 million (according to CTC) regular cyclists in the UK would pay 0.4p per person, per year. Or all together we'd be paying £12,000. 

There are two simple conclusions to draw here. Firstly its absurd to suggest that cyclists should pay 'road tax'. It transpires that its even more aburd if you do the maths. And, secondly, just dealing with road wear and tear alone, VED ain't high enough. Want cyclists to pay 'road tax'? Then start paying a fair share for your car!