Saturday 30 January 2016

Local Politics in Cambridge: Them, and Us

I'd like to say that cycling is a unifying thing in Cambridge, that local councillors understand that short of bulldozing streets and widening roads and junctions, the only way we'll increase capacity into this city is by favouring walking, cycling and public transport over private cars. I'd like to say that. I can't though.

The truth is that treating any of our local parties as cycling friendly would be a mistake. Mostly, like local politicians across the country, they're effectively voted in because they're long standing members of the social clubs of whichever party is least hated nationally - it is quite literally the case that in Cambridge whoever is in government does progressively worse in local politics through their term (with a tendency for the Liberal Democrats to be less thoroughly crushed than they are elsewhere).

I know, I sound thoroughly defeatist here, but I've just seen too much crap from them. Here's the ex-mayor (Labour) having a right go at cyclists. Here's another Labour one who won't even give a straight answer to a question to cyclists 'like you' who simply want a road to be safer, a councillor who wants to give greater priority to storing cars on public land for free than cyclists not being endangered. Listen to how angrily she says 'not just cyclists like you!'. It ain't just the red rosettes though - here's a yellow one making extraordinary generalisations about cyclists jumping red lights somehow having a kind of entitlement to road space - sadly even councillors with good records on cycling like Ian Manning will close ranks around party pals like that and defend them - political affiliation is more valuable to them than principle. But we already knew that - sorry guys but my contempt for the local Liberal Democrat party knows no bounds. Even when you do the right thing, after Rosenstiel I cannot just assume you're doing it for the right reason.

And where you get red and yellow together? They tell us to go and play in the traffic or they'll set the cops on us. People not using a facility isn't, to them, evidence that the facility isn't safe. Its evidence that children should be forced to use it on fear of prosecution. Want to ride in a way that just means you stay alive? Thats antisocial

But heck, I want this blog post to be balanced. That's difficult as the Tories are extinct in the city so I've got to go to County Councillors. Here's a Tory being almost as yellow as a Liberal Democrat by floating the stupid idea of charging cyclists a congestion fee as if its some nameless advisers plan and not him channeling his inner Clarkson. And a gentle reminder that at County level the Tories leveraged hundreds of thousands from Cycling funds to spend on junctions for cars. Yes, that's when our 'cycling champion'  Councillor Curtis maintained they couldn't go 'all out for cyclists this time' - presumably he meant some form of target practice because there's definitely no other time the went 'all out' for our benefit.

Bluntly, local politicians in Cambridge are as crap for cycling as councillors are across most of the country - the main difference is they've got a kings ransom to spend on upgrading our city to keep it competitive. Ought we trust them to spend it on anything for us that isn't crap? Well, I don't. I can't. 

Far too many of them hate us, you can tell from the barbed comments and passive aggression aimed at us in the links above. And the rest? Well all we can do is make more noise and be a bigger pain in the arse than the blue rinsed, retired cyclist haters who've endless time to mob resident and council meetings. But don't put me in the 'hopeful' camp.

Friday 29 January 2016

"Cyclists are just as dangerous as cars!" Nope.

We're often asked to accept some kind of parity between cyclists and motorists with regard to how much harm we can do. "Cyclists are just as dangerous as cars" and other such crap. Its nonsense, of course, for all sorts of reasons, and it doesn't take a genius to understand why.

Kinetic energy. We've not got very much of it. Really, we haven't. Stay with me here, we're going to do some maths.

Kinetic energy, in Joules (J) is calculated by taking half of the mass of an object (in kg) and multiplying it by velocity (in meters per second) squared. So a car, lets say 1500kg, travelling at shall we say 40mph (just shy if 18 meters per second) has 238,814 J kinetic energy. Lets say a cyclist is 90kg with the bike and is travelling at a rather rapid 15mph, that works out at 2023 J. Or, in other words, the car has 118.5 times more kinetic energy than the bike.

This all assumes of course that when you're hit by the vehicle, its still going at full speed and thats the whole story. If you're hit by a car its actually likely to be worse - you bend in the middle, you see, and your head will therefore be travelling MUCH faster when it hits the bonnet. And while much of the cyclist/bike equation is just a squishy as the pedestrian, every single component of the car is harder and less breakable than your fleshy bits are. But despite this, a cyclist would somehow have to overcome more than two orders of magnitude difference in nastiness to be as dangerous as a car. This is why thousands of people are killed by cars, but cyclists cause fewer UK deaths than trouser donning accidents do.  Bluntly the cyclist would probably have to cover himself and his bike with chainsaws to catch up with the harm a car can do.

I wanted to work out a good comparison for this, and the first thing I came up with was comparing a gun shot to a paper airplane. That doesn't work though - paper planes fly much more slowly than you think even if you put your back into it.  A bullet with a muzzle velocity of 1000 meters per second and a mass of 0.0042kg has a kinetic energy of 2100 J. A better comparison is a tennis ball struck by a good amateur, flying at 60mph - this has 98 times less kinetic energy than the bullet (21.37 J, travelling at 26.8 meters per second and weighing 0.0549kg if you must know).

So there you have it - if someone tells you that being hit by a cycle is as dangerous as being hit by a car, or that cyclists are as hazardous as cars, tell them they're talking shite. To compare being hit by a car to being hit by a bike is mathematically comparable to comparing being hit by a bullet to being hit by a tennis ball. 

So, what do you fancy? Bullets flying about on the roads or tennis balls? I know which I'd rather be hit by.

Sunday 17 January 2016

Plans for Arbury Road part 2

Yeah, okay, there are some nerds like me who see this stuff online and respond. But the folk running the shops on Arbury Court don't know about it. The neighbour didn't know anything about it. Friends and colleagues close buy don't know anything about it. Seriously, no one knows anything about it other than local politics or transport nerds - we're deeply into 'Beware of the Leopard' territory with this.

So I feel like I've got to say a few things more about the proposed scheme for Arbury Road. 

Lets start with the South end of Arbury Road - no, not the South end of the scheme, I'm talking about the entire South side of the road from Arbury Court down to Milton Road. We're offered nothing - there are no improvements for cyclists or pedestrians. None. Nothing. Nada. So from the outset this scheme fails. City Deal money is allegedly meant to get us better infrastructure to facilitate rapid economic growth of the Cambridge cluster - a cycle facility that fails to connect the main roads together isn't that. At all. So my bottom line is that if we're not getting good facilities along the length of Arbury Road then I reject this scheme in its entirety - we're past the point of begging for scraps, our local authorities must take cycling seriously enough such that our entire journey is safe.

So, here, we need to see a good facility for cycling along the length of Arbury Road - and yes, that means sacrificing on street parking outside a few houses such that thousands of people can have a safer road. Roads aren't for storing cars on, they're for safe transit, and my safety is not less important than your parking space. Kids going to School from the South end of Arbury Road deserve to get there alive just like the kids from the other end. 

Moving up to where the scheme actually starts (ignoring, for the moment, the gross reality that this scheme is already a failure for not connecting the length of Arbury Road) the on-road cycling facility starts out being quite good - and you know what? If we can, within budget, get a good on-road facility on the entire length of Arbury Road thats great. If we can't, there's ample opportunity to give us something probably better and almost certainly cheaper along this length of the road. The suggested lanes need to be at least 2.5m width, not the 1.8-2.1m suggested. Not wide enough, not good enough. 

Regarding the junctions, we just can't close Mansel Way to cars. Sorry, but there it is - its the way to get to the supermarket and the other small shops on Arbury Court, and closing it would only mean sending more traffic up to Mere Way and back down to the shops a longer route. And Mere Way will, I think, play a vital role in the future of cycling in North Cambridge. By all means turn the signals off (that complex junction is genuinely brutal right now) and give clear priority for traffic on Arbury Road (including the cycle route!), but closing Mansel Way won't make Arbury Road quieter. Honestly, the single best thing we could do with that junction would be to get rid of the Mansel Way lights and reduce the traffic to 1 lane Northbound on Arbury Road.

I would also hope it goes without saying that we need the cycle lane to continue across the opening of Campkin Road - what the hell is the point of the proposed cycle route that disappears as soon as we most need it? Come on guys, do it right or don't do it at all.

The middle section? Well its okay, if the route can be wide enough without destroying probably the oldest hedges in the Ward - and if there is to be cutting of any of that hedgerow I want to know what replacement habitat will be created, and I want plans to do it properly in place and underway before we start changing the road layout. 

The last section is likewise okay if the lanes really are wide enough - which I doubt will happen. But removal of the mini-roundabouts is probably a good idea.

Take a step back and ask what Arbury Road will look like - it'll still be long, straight, and without traffic control measures such as traffic islands, the chicane and the mini-roundabouts how people will drive this? Fast, thats how. It is therefore vital that the cycle lanes are fully segregated and wide - anything less will just turn them into pointless bits of painted off tarmac in a faster road thats more hazardous to ride on. Speed up the road and the right place to ride is more central in the lanes where you're more visible - so unless we get cycle lanes at the wider end of the spectrum I can't support removal of the traffic calming measures.

Lastly, look at St Catharines Road to Kings Hedes Road... There's nothing for cycling and little of note for walking there. Changes suggested in the earlier proposal seem to have been forgotten entirely, and crap though they were they're better than nothing. Take the plans for that end of the road away and start again - this route would, I anticipate, be the main route to cycle to the City from Orchard Park, and if we want people to view that as a good way to commute then we can't have a brutal junction like that dissuade them right at the start of their journeys.

In short, this isn't a bad scheme in parts but its unimaginative and can be improved by (1) guaranteeing the quality of cycle facilities, (2) talking to the people who use the shops, library and facilities in Arbury Court about how they get there to assess the impact of closing Mansel Way which will, I suspect, need to stay open to cars, (3) getting the impact on our hedgerows assesed early on to determine what can be done to protect local biodiversity, (4) starting from scratch to design access for cyclists and pedestrians at the Kings Hedges Road junction. But all of this criticism ignores the elephant in the room - the scheme fails entirely if it doesn't make the whole of Arbury Road safe to cycle. 

I cannot support this scheme as it stands. It won't reduce car traffic congestion, it won't make the route safe to cycle except for peculiar journeys that start and finish on Arbury Road.

But I also can't support a scheme like this until the consultation reaches those affected - right now it isn't.

Tuesday 5 January 2016

Plans for Arbury Road. Still Crap.

Arbury Road. Its longish, its straighish, its got a 20mph limit but, basically, its a racetrack, on which motons gun their engines to get as fast as possible from one inevitable hold up to the next. Its a killer road. And the only reason it doesn't figure even higher in the list of dangerous roads for cycling in Cambridge is because so few people dare to venture on to it, at least compared with other roads in this city.

Its not the first plan we've seen to 'improve' it for cycling and, in fairness, this is marginally better than the last pile of crap, which was notable mostly for its total lack of imagination and for swiping some of the cash to re-surface some pavements across a park on the pretext it might make them slightly less bollock shaking to ride on. I came up with some suggestions for doing things rather better, which are here and here, but in summary there's a simple way of making a wide, safe, fast route parallel to most of the stretch of Arbury Road thats being looked at, and no one seems to have the nouse to see whats already there on the ground.

The new plans are linked to in three glorious PDF files here. And yeah, they're sort of better, but they're still shit - the plan, in its full colour entirity, completely misses the point.

For a start, they only deal with the North end of Arbury Road - which means the long, straight stretch blighted with parked cars isn't covered by this. Whats the bloody point of making half a road better? We need to make this route appealing to commute all the way down, to connect with anticipated better facilities on Milton Road. Any cycle journey is only as good as its most hostile section, so why the hell leave half of Arbury Road just as hostile as it is now? 

I cannot stress enough just how bloody stupid this is - yeah, it'll be a nice touch to make the other end of Arbury Road better, but there's -no need- to put on-road cycle lanes along much of that when there's ample space off road (as described in my suggestions linked to above) to create a truly, fully segregated facility. I don't care for a 1.8m or 2.5m cycle path on road when I can have a better one off road - and there is ample space for that all the way from Campkin Road to the School.

By all means spend money on the frankly terrifying junctions. But for the love of handlebars why the hell are we doing nothing along the Southern end of Arbury Road?

Give us an off-road route as I've outlined North of the Campkin Road junction, and real segregated cycle lanes along the South of the road. Yes, that'll mean losing some car parking, but it'll also mean its safe to cycle. And this scheme saves the hedges on Arbury Road, the Hedges of Kings Hedges. The official one doesn't.

Anything less than that? Then this isn't a scheme for cyclists, its a scheme to appease the guilt of councillors.