Friday 17 April 2015

Fair and Proportionate Road Safety

Motons portray cycling advocates as somehow unbalanced in their view of road safety and, from that, imply that our joy from being on two wheels somehow unhinges our minds. Far be it from me to state that unlike them our brains are far enough from our arses to not be thus influenced, even when riding on cobblestones, but I would like to address 'fair and proportionate.

Lets keep it simple - lets assume that the attention given to cycling and motoring should be proportional to how people are killed by cyclists/motorists. 2,000 people or so are killed by motorists, per year, in the UK. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but its a good round figure to start with. While each such death is an unmitigated tragedy, statistically this pales into insignificance against the number of people killed by the air pollution, which largely results from our road traffic, estimated to be 60000 or more per year.

There are numerous articles linking obesity to driving, I shan't bore you with endless links, but this is a phenomenon visible across the developed world. The less physical activity we take, as a society, the fatter we collectively get - and the most direct correlation is found in motoring. More than 30000 obesity related deaths occur in the UK every year - but lets be generous and say that despite the evidence of a direct causal link between driving and taking next to no exercise, we'll only blame 25% of those deaths on driving.

So driving costs us, give or take, 69,500 lives. Per year. In the UK. Yeah, I know you're going to say 'but some of that pollution comes from Europe!'. It does, and much of ours blows over there too, and the balance is absurdly in our favour with the prevailing wind in this part of the world. 

Now on to cycling. It transpires that cyclists kill so few people you can barely find them - its something in the region of 1 per year. 

So just in terms of body count, if we're going to take a proportionate view of people dying as a result of road transport, we should pay 1/69,500th of the attention to cyclists. And the rest to motorists. To put that another way if we put out a message about road deaths, once per day, every day of the year, then we should talk about the harm cyclists do once every 190 years, concentrating on motorists all of the rest of the time.

The truth is that anyone asking for such a discussion to be 'proportionate' while insisting that we talk about cyclists is an idiot, a bigot, or both. Don't be suckered in to accepting that 'there are faults on both sides' or 'yes we should be more responsible'. If they drive, and you cycle, you have the moral high ground.

Monday 13 April 2015

Cambridgeshire Hates Cyclists.

Two things prompted the rather provocative title above.

At lunchtime, I was on Fitzroy Street. Its pedestrianised from 10-4, but you do get some delivery vehicles and the odd cyclist there. Two PCSO's walked right past a van coming down the road towards them, making a beeline for a cyclist who was well behind the van, stopping him and making him dismount.

I've got to ask, in what universe is it worthwhile Cambridgeshire Constabulary ignoring a van driving through a pedestrianised area and instead targetting a cyclist? Had the cyclist been careering down the road bowling babies out of the way they'd have had a point - but he was going more slowly than the van. It wasn't even particularly busy - the cyclist presented no risk, to anyone, even himself. I can only assume that they've been specifically tasked with dealing with 'antisocial cyclists', and that they'll continue to ignore cars on the pavement and in pedestrian areas, as they always have. Cambridgeshire Constabulary have some great folk doing hard jobs, but both institutionally and culturally they are a barrier to safe cycling. And their commissioner, an old-school Tory foisted on us by fendlanders who now seem to veer from Tory to UKIP in the political spectrum, is right at the heart of this.

The second event requires a brief history of the finest example of Cambridgeshires near-legendary clusterfuck attitude to transport.

We used to have a railway line, to St. Ives, and while it closed to passengers in the '70s it was still intact and used for freight until the 1990s. More recently its been dug up and replaced with a pig ugly concrete gutter through which buses can travel more slowly than trains did even in the 1800s, averaging a slower speed than the parallel A14, but at the cost of over £150 million. As a result it hasn't particularly lowered journey times and hasn't reduced traffic on the A14 at all. More recently, because transport thinking is so progressive and joined up, we've seen approval to open a new railway station at one end of the old railway route - so we've got a train line ripped up and replaced by a bus, with one end of it having a new train station. Naturally they're making sure that cycling or walking to this station is as shit as possible, although Cambridge Cycling Campaing made some suggestions for improving this. As of last update, it looks like any concessions to anyone not in a car amount to polishing the turd of an access route rather than flushing it down and starting again. Make no mistake, if you want to get to this station by bike our planners aim to punish you for it.

Still with me? They built a vastly expensive gutter for buses to go more slowly than they can on the road, instead of a train line, and they're opening a train station at one end of it so having a railway line there would clearly have been a dreadful idea. Best of all, they did it like circus trained monkeys. It was done so badly that 5 minutes after ploughing an ugly ditch down the route, they've got to do it again. Yes, thats right, its been built so badly lots of it needs digging into and fixing, at another massive (tens of millions of pounds) cost, because it seems that its getting dangerous.

There is one saving grace to this insanity - the cycle track alongside it. This ought to be a truly brilliant facility - and it is, for the 10 months or so per year that its not flooded, and so long as we ignore the chicane barriers across it that exist to stop motons ruining it. Yes, thats right, sections of it are under-water for a significant amount of time. Yes, it was designed that way rather than with raised sections on stilts because its only cyclists and we don't matter. No, that wouldn't be acceptable for any other mode of transport. They wouldn't even consider that for a road, or any kind of pedestrian access route.

But its busy when its dry. Except of course that they close it with little notice, no signs before you get to the closed bits, and no diversions of any sort. I suggested via. twitter that signs were needed, that diversions should be put in place, but no. Our County Council only view this now as a 'maintenance track' - why would you tell cyclists you're going to be closing a maintenance track?

Bottom line? Even when they sell us a facility like this, they don't look at it as transport. To argue it was built for cyclists would be to tell a bare-faced lie. They view it as an add on, an inessential thing you can close at short notice where the users time doesn't matter enough to provide advice on alternatives, where there's no need to signpost to users that they should get off the route and go a different way. I met cyclists lost at the closure in Histon on Saturday, not sure where to go and with no knowledge of where the route would open again, and I'm sure there were riders coming in from the other side also finding that there was no notice given for any kind of detour. 

Bluntly, Cambridgeshire County Council is run by and for motorists who do not believe that cycling is a real form of transport - you wouldn't close even a quiet suburban route without signs being up for weeks warning people. So why is it okay to close a major cycling route like this? I accept, closures can happen on any facility - but this was planned in advance, and a clear decision was taken to ignore requests to signpost this in any way.

I conclude that Cambridgeshire County Council don't give a tuppenny toss for cyclists. And this is the irony of cycling in Cambridge - UK's cycling capital is at the heart of a county that is hostile to cycling. 

Enough of this. I put it to you, Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridgeshire Constabulary, that we'd all be better off if you were just honest. Enough of pretending you're on our side - you're not. You never have been. Be open about that and we can discuss what we all really want to change. But at present we're all involved in a valueless debate because while you don't respect our views or our mode of transport, you're not open about this, you pretend to listen while ploughing on with an evidently anti-cyclist agenda. Enough. Stop wasting our time and out yourselves as what you really are - then we may be able to make progress.