Monday 31 March 2014

Dear Political Candidate/Local Party

If you represent a political party in Cambridge the you're probably reading this in response to a tweet or email I've sent you.

Please accept this invitation to say what you want about cycling or cyclists in Cambridge. This is a simple invitation for you to say whats on your mind on the subject in the run-up to the local council elections. Feel free to say what you like on the subject re. policies, cycling in and around Cambridge, plans for expenditure... in fact anything directly or tangentially related to cycling.

Send this to me by email (get my address by commenting here or asking on twitter, I'll oblige) and I'll turn your comment into a full post here. I won't edit it in any way other than to format it for the blog, but I will leave comments open so people may ask further questions of you or say whats on their own minds. 

I will of course publicise your comments here, and encourage others to do so also.

Thanks in advance,


Why not campaign for what we really want?

Historically I'm also shouting at the sidelines

I've often said of Cambridge Cycling Campaign, there are some good people there, and there are some things that can only be achieved by having the kind of dedicated people who have the time and energy to turn up to council meetings, dissect reports, etc., but so often they seem to fail cyclists of this city - and I rather fear that they're at it again.

Case in point - the new proposals for Hills and Huntingdon Roads. I responded to these schemes in my previous post. If I may take the liberty of quoting myself:
This is so close to being an excellent scheme. But strip away the sci-fi shiny presentation? Its a classic example of Cambridge cycling provision. Just not quite good enough to encourage non-cyclists to ride. We're good for cycling by British standards - this is another example of Cambridge not seizing the opportunity on a global cycling provision stage.
There really is a lot to commend these schemes - but for reasons outlined in that post I wouldn't give unqualified support to them. Nor, I would hope, would any cyclist - the scheme is good, but why the heck would we not be up front in saying it could be better? Why wouldn't we lay out what we really want rather than accept this as is when it only comes close?

I was talking to a few Camcycle folk on friday, prior to riding in to a tree on the monthy social CamRideHome (this isn't unusual for me - I've ridden in to the Cam, the Trent, the Lune, and half a dozen trees over the years while distracted by whatever tasty things I can see nearby to forage). They're very positive about the scheme, even to the extent of having got postcards made to hand out in support. One of them was eager to point out to me that if cyclists oppose this scheme we might not get it at all. Is that still how we're doing this? We support things that aren't as good as we want because otherwise we won't get anything? 

I don't recall motoring campaigners asking for motorways that aren't quite wide enough to overtake or which, inexplicably, are surfaced with peanut butter. Or rail lobbyists asking for stations to be open every other Tuesday except during lent. In fact I can't immediately think of any lobby group, of any sort, who feel that they mustn't rock the boat. This isn't how to successfully negotiate for anything - and this apologetic attitude is in part to blame for the UK cycle lobby failures over the last half century. Its time for a change. You're happy-ish with the proposals as they are? Fine, you can go in to a consultation with that stance but accept that what is going to happen is everyone else will campaign for what they REALLY want and what we'll get is a compromise closer to their desired outcome than to ours. Aim higher and we'll get closer to what is proposed than we will by merely supporting what has been offered to us.

The County Council are not going to dump a scheme like this because cyclists say 'its good but it could be better - we want to engage to make it exactly what we want rather than just not quite'. They're not going to run screaming because we don't don cheerleader outfits and wave our helmets around like pom-poms every time one of them farts. Quit being paranoid that presenting the case for what we want would get us viewed as some bunch of subversive, ranting anarchists that councillors could easily cast aside - its ridiculous, and that approach never succeeds. 

The bottom line? This scheme isn't bad - there are some issues with the crossings, the lanes aren't as wide as we'd need if we're going to be overtaking kiddie trailers between raised kerbs, they're hilariously limited in terms of only being one side of Huntingdon road and not even all of it - but they could point the way for how we might implement good cycle infrastructure across the City. But that is in no way stated or implied at any stage in the consultation. To overtly state that such schemes set a benchmark for how cycle provision can and should be done here wouldn't cost the County a single penny more and would send a clear message not just in Cambridge but across Britain - that the success of this scheme be viewed as demonstrating a desire for implementation of similar on both sides and along the whole length of the route when funding becomes available must be a minimum requirement for offering support. This isn't opposing the scheme, its not  a 'rant', its constructively criticising a scheme that looks good on the video but which on analysis might be so much better.

Martin, its time for Cambridge Cycling Campaign to realise that its not there to be the cheerleaders of almost. That approach needlessly restricts what we can achieve. And you need to quit being quite so tetchy with cyclists who won't join in with this unambitious stance - here's a thought, why not bring Camcycle into the modern era of negotiating for top quality infrastructure rather than just not quite that? Its crazy that those who are asking for the best outcome for cyclists 'rant' as they are  'shouting form the sidelines' - get with the program, Cambridge Cycling Campaign.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Huntingdon Road/Hills Road scheme - response.

I'm sorry, I've been putting off replying to these County proposals here.

Here's a fly-through of whats proposed. I don't fly, so I'll walk through it in the text below.

Spiffy space-age graphics make everything look so nice, don't they?

First things first - we do need to improve those routes, but why such short sections? And why, on Huntingdon Road, just on one side? Great, give us segregated infrastructure to take us to places of work out there, places where people live, but what about the return journey? If its only good on one side then its not good enough. 1 out of 10, right there, you've let cyclists down completely if you only make half of their trip safe. And if you're going to do it, do the whole road. Do the whole length of it. Don't give us piecemeal provision any more - make cycle routes for whole journeys, not small parts thereof. Any cycle trip can only be as good as its worst junction.

Now, on to the thorny subject of 'floating bus stops' such as you'll see 50s into the above video. Bus chaps think they're crap but then they would, wouldn't they? Its their job to get for the best for buses, not whats best all round, and as such comments from Stagecoach need to be taken with a pinch of salt. I'm not opposed to the floating bus stops but quite obviously we need to get wheelchair and baby buggy access right, and the idea of putting the bus stop on the pavement rather than on the floating island is folly - we can't have pedestrians milling in the cycle waiting for a bus or crossing en masse at the approach of a bus, thats not good for pedestrians or cyclists. Or the bus drivers waiting for the sorry mess to sort itself out, for that matter.

Move forward to 1:15 and you'll see the second place where things start to fall down. Yes, plenty of room for cyclists there, but I promise you, telling an inexperienced or vulnerable rider that they need to pick the middle lane of three with a car either side of them will not work. I know plenty of supposedly confident adult cyclists who will not ride over Hills Road bridge in either direction because of the employment of this non-solution. Doesn't work, won't work, fix it.

After that junction we move from a lane separated by a kerb to a raised lane. Clearly full segregation is better - the double yellow lines won't stop delivery drivers parking in the cycle lane (neither the Police nor the County police this at all well), meaning cyclists will have to go around, on the road. Down a kerb and up a kerb, with a parked vehicle restricting space and visibility. This is a half measure, and should be removed from the scheme - give us proper segregation, lets not go to such pains and fail on this point. 

Move forward to 2:17. What the heck is this? Crossings are good, but how am I meant to ride this? Are we meant to get two way bike traffic between the gap there? Am I going to be looking pedestrians in the eye as they wonder whether I'm turning right before or after the zebra crossing, with them thinking I'm playing chicken as I turn in to the narrow part at the last moment, eyeing up pedestrians, cars behind on my right and oncoming cyclists who may or may not be turning at the same time? Or do you want me to stop entirely and cross like a pedestrian? Come on guys, there has to be better than this available. Move on to 4:10, and you'll see that whats meant to happen is that the motorists are meant to give way to us there. Why would they? You're saying I look, indicate right and the motorists will stop? Will they hell as like. You're treating cyclists like third class road users with this dreadful crossing idea. Its badly thought out and obviously dangerous to the point where it'll look safe because no one will use it as you envisage.

On to Hills Road (4:50) - the lanes simply look too narrow. You want to segregate off the cyclists into a route only wide enough to ride single file with a kerb preventing cyclists overtaking each other, on a major throughfare? That simply won't work. Wider. Space to overtake. Some cyclists travel three times the speed of others - this is normal, legal, and reasonable. Accommodate that.

All in all these schemes look really shiny in the footage, but the devil is in the detail. We need provision to turn right at all of the turn offs to places of work, from all the curbed lanes - is that included? We need junctions that really do allow us to get across without spooking pedestrians and without playing chicken with motorists coming up rapidly behind us.

This is so close to being an excellent scheme. But strip away the sci-fi shiny presentation? Its a classic example of Cambridge cycling provision. Just not quite good enough to encourage non-cyclists to ride. We're good for cycling by British standards - this is another example of Cambridge not seizing the opportunity on a global cycling provision stage.

Edit: As pointed out by Hester below, mostly the lanes we're looking at are 2.1m to 2.7m wide. If we're going to put kerbs in place to segregate cycle lanes from the main road, we absolutely must make them wide enough to allow overtaking - 2.1m won't allow that. 2.7m will BARELY allow it. Make them wider if they're kerbed off otherwise this won't work well.

Edit 2: Anna has commented below that with the iron-mongery you get at the edge of roads, we could end up with hazardous, wet drain covers, man holes etc. in the kerbed off cycle lanes. I suggest that before sayng 'yes' to this scheme we must require that these are removed to the main carriageway.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Motoring - the most dehumanising activity

I was struck by a story at the BBC this week. I'll post the first part of the story here:
The fake body of a dead cyclist has been left on the side of a dangerous stretch of road in Belarus as part of a police safety campaign, it appears.
The scene was set up to look like a hit-and-run, with a mangled cycle and tyre tracks left near the dummy. But officers found only nine people stopped out of 186 cars that drove past, news site says. Occasionally, an officer posed as a concerned passer-by, to flag down drivers for help. "Sometimes this worked," the website reports.
So out of 186 motorists, 9 stopped because there was a body on the road. And many people wouldn't even stop if someone was trying to flag them down to help.

Let me rephrase that - out of 186 people who happened to be driving, only 9 felt sufficient empathy with their fellow human beings such that they stopped to assist someone who was injured.

Now we can write this off as crazy foreign stuff, in a place most of us know less about than we should (but what we do 'know' is bad) - is it somewhere so lawless that you'd be expecting a trap, we might ask? There's just no way any of us when faced with such a scenario wouldn't stop and help. Is there? Heavens forbid we accept that this is a fair summary of motoring...

I'm reminded of so many other stories that are eerily similar to this one. For example, 6% of motorists went out of their way to kill animals using their cars. Not animals that they might subsequently eat (although I can't immediately think of a less reasonable way one might hunt than by mowing animals down with your car), or animals that present any kind of hazard. This is people killing animals using their vehicles because they want to, no other reason. Shits and giggles. And when we look at the number and severity of hit-and-run incidents where motorists hit a cyclist or pedestrian and drive off it beggars belief. This is happening all the time - you're not safe from this on pedestrian crossings or even on the pavement. Thats hitting another human being, with a gargantuan gleaming lump of metal and glass, and just carrying on like it didn't happen.

It would be absurd to go looking for complex, difficult phenomena to explain this when we really don't have to - there's an answer right in front of us. The linking feature, the thing that binds all of these things together, is the car. All too high a proportion of car drivers lose a little bit of empathy with anyone not in a car. It seems that so many of them take on a little of the persona of their vehicles - they resent control of their speed (hence the large majority break speeding laws), they resent anyone on the road who isn't another car driver even when they're taking up less space than a car, in fact they get strangely arsey that anyone else on the road might think that they are in fact a car themselves. Yes, really, they're that far gone - they hate us for thinking that we're cars, even though they themselves are just people like we are. They're so invested in their motorist identity that they don't differentiate between themselves and their vehicles, and they see our presence as a threat to the moton hegemony. This branches out in to an insane belief we're not giving them their due respect or that we are in some way smug, often supported by a lack of any understanding why we cycle and projections based on their own self perceived inadequacies. They are 'normal', we are not, we owe them visible subservience.

Rules on our road only work when everyone agrees that they matter - but to come to that conclusion requires that we have the capacity to see situations from other peoples point of view, specifically from the perspective of the person who could get hurt as a result of our transgression. If you're a motorist, that means 'the other guy'. As I have often hi-lighted here, the vast majority of injuries on our roads are caused by motorists - the very people who we can demonstrate show the least empathy for other road users - and if directly studied we can see that far too many motorists show no compassion or, worse, a desire to cause harm.

This is the great flaw in the thinking behind transport in our modern world. By favouring the most dehumanising mode of transport we increase risk for anyone not using that mode - if you're not driving, you're at greater risk, so most people choose to drive. After a generation or two of that we've planned housing, work, shopping, health etc. solely for those who drive - anyone else doesn't really count, they're just weird. The result is a horribly dysfunctional car-dominated dystopia. 

We're living in the future. Its worse than we'd feared.

Friday 14 March 2014

What do we want out of supermarkets?

Tesco have come out with yet another boring sales pitch at motons. Get money off when burning money in your car engine. Yaay.

Nothing new in this of course, there have been various vouchers-for-cheap-fuel at supermarkets for years. Initially supermarket chains had deals with particular petrol station chains, but then when the supermarkets started opening their own flammable poison boutiques they started plugging their own in what a cynic would call a distinctly anti-competitive means of using market dominance in one sector to gain ground in a second. 

This is all well and good - and I have no problem with other people being given special offers that I'm not interested in. To a point. But there comes a moment when I start to wonder whether they really want my custom. At all. Ever. 

You can get fabulous reductions at supermarkets if you shop smart. Multi buys, giagantic bulk discounts, three for two, BOGOF... All well and good if I haven't got to get that in to my rucksack. I suppose I could take the bike trailer down, but then the locks aren't really good for that - and then I'd have to leave all my stuff in the trailer while I take the trolley back for my pound deposit. And its not like he boot of a car, it doesn't lock, so this isn't very appealing either.

In fact I can't immediately think of anything that supermarkets in the UK are doing to attract me, as a cyclist, in to their shops. While the PR departments of Sainsrose, Asco, Tesburies, Morrisons and Spencers and the likes will all insist that our custom is valuable and they want to make sure that all customers have good access, its abundantly clear that we're at the bottom of their priorities list. I'd go so far as to say that their desperation to be car friendly more often than not actively excludes us.

I mean its not like most of them have good bike stands. I mean among the vast acres of car parking for untold hundreds of cars you might, at best, find space for a few dozen bikes. And thats in Cambridge where we're half the population; across most of the country they provide almost nothing. They don't have any discouts for cyclists, or pedestrians for that matter. Some might have free or subsidised bus services, but even that isn't common and its no use to me.

So what do we, cyclists, want out of supermarkets? And how ought we set about getting it? I'm open to suggestions.

Monday 3 March 2014

Work hard and get a car!

Following from my last post about what makes a motorist a moton I find that we have fertile ground in Top Gears recent 'cycle safety' film. 

I don't see any need to further rehash what has been so eloquently ridiculed elsewhere, nor do I wish to engage in more childish name-calling. The problem with Top Gear is that if you strip away the bluster, name calling is all you're left with, and no amount of reasonable points refuting claims therein carry as much weight as the wit and 'humour' with which they retort. I would suggest that Chris Boardman really ought to have realised that and simply refused to be part of this. You're a great guy Chris, but what did you expect to happen?

I could take some time looking at the kind of claims that we see on Top Gear and link them to Motonism as alluded to in my last post, but I should think its fairly obvious - by ignoring facts and cynically sticking with bullying humour in defence of a well planned, well thought out car-libertarian stance Clarkson, May and Hammond have become the poster-boys for the Moton movement. An old motorist friend of mine who spends more of his time asserting his heterosexuality than one might think necessary has told me that if he absolutely had to have sex with a man it would be Hammond. Yes, he's even thought about it - this program takes Motonism past dogma and in to fetish - and they've frequently reinforced the forbidden 'fetish' aspect through their own far too frequent, disgusting rampant homophobia

Clarkson manages to epitomise the most irrational part of this anti-anyone-who-isn't-a-moton rage with 'work hard and get a car' quotes such as we've seen recently (and further back - he isn't good at originality). In that one statement he manages to say that because we're cyclists we're poor, we're poor because we don't work hard. This isn't a joke - its an arrogant, sneering insult that intentionally mis-states both why we cycle, who cycles, and makes light of the reality of the real poverty that many thousands of people in the UK have to face since the financial meltdown (where private debt of better off people was nationalised, such that now the poorer are made to pay through lower wages and squeezed benefits). This isn't just a motorist not getting why we cycle - its a politically motivated, thought out reinforcement of multiple stereotypes designed to denigrate anyone who isn't part of Clarksons gang.

Back in the '70s or early '80s it might have seemed a good idea for a black comedian such as Lenny Henry to work with a racist comic. It wasn't. It really, really wasn't. By providing a platform for these folk we make their 'humour' acceptable.

Chris Boardman has done a lot for UK cycling. Being involved in this was a gaffe of Bernard Manning proportions. What the hell did you expect to happen?