Thursday 18 February 2016

Cambridge Cycle Point - Britains first multi-storey bike park

I paid my first visit to Cyclepoint this morning, and I really liked some of what I saw.

Sorry, everyone else has been way more enthusiastic than I am about this. Don't get me wrong - its going to be really useful for commuters. And its a massive improvement on the bike racks that used to be under the linden trees on the edge of the old car-park, where (according to Cambridge urban legend) they placed the bike parks so that the aphid shit fell on them after motons repeatedly complained about sticky paintwork (yes, aphids shitting sugary stuff like rain from linden trees is a thing, look it up). We're not twisting our ankles on coarse gravel to squeeze into a space where there are no more spaces. Its immeasurably better than it was.

But I don't get why its what it is. Have a look at the video and think about it...

Access is currently through the area that seems to be an eternal building site around the station - its not clear that we'll be able to ride right up to the bike park when its done but I live in hope.

First things first - I don't want to dismount to enter a bike park. There it is. When its quiet there's plenty of room to ride in, its dumb to ask anyone to dismount. Would you tell motorists to dismount and push at the car park entrance? No? Well bugger off with your dismount sign, you're an idiot if you think thats worth having. 

You'll notice I was on my Elephant Bike, a big beast for sure but not an over-sized steed. As you'll see, all of the spaces on the ground floor which it was anticipated might be left for big bikes and old folk were full of pretty normal sized bikes. All of them. And they're ludicrously laid out, if you push a big bike round to find a space you'll be lucky to get it out without clattering other bikes. And this is when when we get to the most inexplicably silly part of the design. The stairs. 

Yes, the stairs. Stairs that have to be shallow enough so someone can push a bike up the ramp next to them, so they're shallow enough such that riding up really wouldn't be all that big a deal - stretch it out a little longer and it would be an absolute doddle to ride up and down them. But, no. Stairs. In a bike park. Presumably because we just can't have something that's indisputably good.

Upstairs its fair to to say that the raised racks are massively better than the old ones outside were - but to be honest a pile of bricks and a good spring would have been better than those. They're quite easy to use if you've a light-enough bike without a basket on it but in a million years I'd never get the Elephant up on it. There were some 'ordinary' slots free though, so I'd have been able to lock up had I needed to. Whether that'll still be the case as the place really picks up (after half term!) may be another matter!

So, not bad all things considered, and I'll look forward to it actually being finished. Very close to getting things just right - but there are some things that need to change.

Firstly, while I don't imagine it'll work I'd like to see some signs telling people to put lighter bikes up stairs and up on the higher racks, to leave some spaces for cargo bikes, big bikes, old folk, etc. Secondly, the lift-up racks will need maintaining in all sorts of ways that the outside lift up racks weren't. Moving parts are great if looked after. Thirdly I think the layout downstairs is failing already - you'd not build a car park such that its physically impossible to wheel a car out without clattering in to another, it makes no sense that to do so with bikes. 

But all in all? Massive improvement, a hugely needed facility and one that'll be interesting to watch in use. If only it wasn't for those bloody stupid stairs.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

The Aged Nimby. Enemy of all that is good.

The whole City Deal thing in Cambridge has really brought to the forefront the key battleground between reasonable, sensible people who simply want to get where they're going with the minumum of hassle and one of the most dangerous, angry and unstable demographic in this city or any other - retired old farts.

The argument goes something like this.

Normal Person: I'd like to get where I'm going without spending twenty hours per week commuting. To achieve that I'd like there to be a route that isn't totally congested with cars burning fuel just to sit still - that means we need to re-evaluate how we use some of our road space. Oh, I'd like my children to be able to breathe without the air being made toxic by all those cars too.

Nimby: But I'm not going to lose my parking space and some of us NEED our cars to get where we're going.

Normal Person: Your parking space thats outside the front of the driveway on your house thats worth, what, a million and a half quid? The one in addition to the two parking spaces on your own property? And from which even if you want to drive somewhere you can't because the road is full?

Nimby: But that would mean cutting down the TREES and turning this all over to buses and cyclists and not old, world hating FARTS like us!

Normal Person: Yeah, but we can select better trees to create better public spaces - besides, no one can do anything fun in those spaces now because they're entirely dominated by cars, meaning no one can cycle, the bus takes just as long, how is your way going to solve anything!

Nimby: RIGHT THATS IT. I'm writing to my councillor, repeatedly, and petitioning, and making sure that everything is run by and for old bastards like me.

Don't take my word for it. Have a look at these people here. Do you need to even read the article to know that they tell you they want to make the road safer and better for bus users and cyclists but basically oppose every measure that might achieve that? That they'll probably chain themselves to their parking spaces rather than see anything done to make the road safer for thousands of people who use it?

The problem here really is very simple - in Cambridge, as elsewhere, there's a resident population of people in and around the city who are basically doing okay. They're usually old, have huge wealth in their homes. and they resent anything that might change, well, anything. They 'care' that everyone who's younger than them is basically fucked over by their generation and priced out of the cities, out of home ownership, and into long, soul destroying commutes, but they care more about keeping things as they are. And they seem to have endless time to dominate council committee meetings, to reinforce the stale prejudices of blue rinsed nimbys on councils. They'll get indignant that dull, stunted, boring trees might be cut down to make way for a way more creative and suitable plating scheme which would also make the roads safer and cleaner for everyone involved. So there will always be an idiot councillor willing to make dick-ish comments to play to them in the audience.  

But the key point, the unspoken take home message from everything they bring to local politics is that the Nimbys offer no solutions to any problems that we have. All they bring is an aversion to change, any change, even one that won't make their lives measurably different in any way. That a change benefits someone else is enough for the Nimby to oppose it.

You see the thousands of poeple queuing on routes like Milton Road, Histon Road and Arbury Road up and down the country? The ones who drove to get a bus or then to cycle, and who spend an hour, two hours a day to commute to their 40 hour per week jobs and the same time home again? The one's who, because the older generation climbed the property ladder and used Nimby planning rules to pull that ladder up after them don't have the time or energy to even be aware of whats happening in transport planing? They're the ones the doddery old curtain twitchers are fucking over with their lame opposition to transport improvements. It isn't just the cyclists who they only have platitudes for, its everyone who isn't them. Its you. Its me.

I put it to you, dear reader, that we need to impress upon our politicians, local and national, that the old farts will die eventually - stop running our entire country for them before that happens, or we'll have no truck with you after. You want us to trust you? Then listen to those who represent the future. 

Thursday 11 February 2016

The Foraging Bike. How depressing.

I'm a cyclist.

And a forager.

There, I'm outed.

Forager, you ask? Why are you saying that here? Whats that got to do with the price of rhubarb? Nothing. Except that cycling and ferreting around in the woods for food are an almost perfect synergy - they're both great practical, thrifty, healthy, simple and easy ways of making your life better. So one would think I'd look rather kindly on this. But I can't, I just can't. I'm drawn to it as something that I feel should delight me, but which completely misses the point.

If you can't be bothered to look at the link, its a foragers bike. Its a solid, old fashioned design, no doubt well made and well appointed. Its branded River Cottage, thats the telly chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall chap who years ago made 'A Cook on the Wildside' and whose chunky River Cottage cook-books sit un-opened on the shelf opposite the Aga in your middle classed friends kitchen (and which are among my own most used cookery books - River Cottage Cookbook is genuinely an inspiration and if the self-sufficiency lifestyle is one you dabble in are truly invaluable). 

I really have got a lot of time for HFW. I never really warmed to his telly programs, but I'm not a big fan of cooking on the googlebox - its his books that are so good. His approach to good ingredients, animal welfare, seasonality and sustainable cooking is spot on. Genuinely brilliant. And I do love a good solid bike. But such a bike is the precise antithesis of what you want for foraging.

I usually take my chunky old hybrid bike foraging. Its not a glamorous bike, but its got wide tyres and a tough frame - its more mountain bike than fast commuter. And I take a pocket knife (usually a mushroom knife), and a rucksack containing paper and plastic bags. And I'll bungee a basket to the pannier rack. What I don't take is multiple baskets (although they're great if on foot), pans, a portable stove, chopping boards, bottles, and a positive armoury of cutlery and knives. Bluntly I'd rather have the carrying capacity to bring back a good haul of mushrooms, greens or fruit. The other advantage of such a bike is it'll cope with any kind of slope, I can lift it over a fence or a style, I've carried it over rivers, its good on mud, and best of all it cost me under three hundred quid, about eight years ago. It didn't cost me the best part of four grand like this one would. 

I dunno, maybe I'm just being a grumpy fart, but this thing gives me the shivers. Yeah, foraging is sort of aspirational, about finding high value ingredients and impressing your assistant bank manager friends. But its also about adding tasty, nutritious, exciting and free things to your diet. Likewise, 'cycling is the new golf' and has been for so long its better to say that cycling used to be golf. But its also the cheapest, simplest, lowest impact means of getting from place to place. To combine foraging and cycling in a package that comes to pennies shy of £4000 and which comes with more accessories than a spoiled girls Barbie is to so completely miss the point of both as to be laughable.

Riding a bike to pick wild food has been the means by which I've eaten well through the parts of my life when I've been skint. There were times I was struggling to pay rent but I could still have a good dinner almost for free - and now the conflation of cycling and foraging is branded, packaged and sold for a kings ransom? Fuck no.

This, I suspect, isn't the bike of a committed forager or a practical cyclist - its a sign that both activities have now transcended the mere practical, and are aspirational. Want to keep up with the Jones's? This is the bike for you. Put it in the garage behind the Prius, and drive the Landy to work.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

New Cycle Park - Epic fail bodge job.

I know, it was the day before Groundhog Day that I last touched on this subject, and its the day after now. Sorry. I let myself down. 

Regarding the opening schedule for the new multi-storey bike park at the train station I'm not the only one to think that Greater Anglia are muppets.

This should be good, it should be a gloriously good bit of publicity for Greater Anglia and a fine day to be a cyclist in Cambridge (well, other than the fact that its strangely out of the way and you've got to take your bike up stairs raher than ride up a slope) - but it isn't. Instead we've got a hurried change-over from a crap temporary facility to a nowhere near completed new bicycle park. Seriously, its not even close to being finished.

We've got a temporary cycle park rated for 1,260 spaces but which is frequently over-full, replaced with only 1,500 spaces in the not-finished new park - so its a small increase, but not an increase at all if the cyclists currently using every last railing near the station are instead shoved into there. And they will be - our coppers are already colluding with developers to move bikes near the station on the most vague pretexts. The temporary facility is being closed down at 10:00PM on the 15th of February. The new cycle park opens at 6:00AM on the same day - meaning that people arriving earlier on that day will not be able to lock bikes up anywhere because they'll be removed. It also means that anyone who regularly has a multi-modal (train-bike) commute who isn't working that day is boned.

There's meant to be a bike shop. That isn't opening for months. The type of two-tiered bike parking installed has been changed with no consultation. The hotel is months away... Seriously, why open this, at all, now? What have cyclists done to earn your wrath guys?

This isn't an imagined, theoretical problem. This will cause a lot of inconvenience for a lot of people.

So you're all wondering, why?

Why would a train company involved in building a great big cycle park (1) cock it up and open it little bit at a time, and (2) use the opening of this place as an opportunity to pick a fight with cyclists?

The simple answer is nobody knowsThe part of their website that should give us details is now dead.  I'm told that they're not answering emails from Cambridge Cycling Campaign. They're directing people to contact their customer services for advice, clearly because telling people to give some sap in their call centre a hard time over something they're in no way empowered to do anything about is better than, oh, I don't know, not being a dick to your customers.

Either they've got bulldozers coming in to the temporary bike park the very next morning, in which case they've engineered a changeover so badly that I wouldn't trust them to organise a toddlers sock drawer, or they're just being dicks to their customers. Come on Abellio Greater Anglia - which is it?

UPDATE: I've just got off the phone with Abelio Greater Anglia press office. They've promised to call me back. Does anyone have any questions to ask if/when they do?

UPDATE 2: A nice chap called Paul from Abelio Greater Anglia just called me back.

I'm rather afraid that the news isn't all good. But its not all bad either.

They maintain that they've not consulted on the two-tiered stands but that the ones they've chosen are 'more premium', allowing more secure bike locking to answer the concerns from the Cycle Campaign. I put it to him that perhaps they could have consulted, he said that a letter to the Campaign is in the works. Consultation after-the-fact isn't particularly useful, but never mind. After the debacle of two-tier racks in the temporary bike park I remain highly sceptical that the new racks will be good - and anyone who's had to help other cyclists get bikes down that are jammed above their head height will probably agree with me.

Regarding the short changeover, they're putting notices up. And you can email their customer services. And there'll be some people on the ground advising. This, for me, is the really contentious issue. Unless you're a bike-politics nerd or you use the station every day you could very easily turn up on, say, the 12th or 13th to go away for a few days and only discover at the very last minute that if you leave your bike there it'll be taken away. Paul explained that they don't own the land that the temporary bike park is on, and that the developers need access the next day - hence bringing forward the opening of the new bike park incomplete. But I do feel that its the ordinary, bike riding customers who are being squeezed out in this.

Bluntly, there is no distinction between long and short stay bike parking - they're the same place. The long-stay folk turning up in the run up to this changeover will have problems. I tried calling their customer service number and my advice to you is don't - never ending options on an automated system, none of them appropriate for bike parking.

This could have been good. In my view, it remains a hell of a bodged transition process. Its perfectly feasible that people will get caught out, and it is eminently foreseeable that this could happen. All I can suggest is get out and tell your friends and colleagues that this is going to happen - it oughtn't be necessary, but at this stage what other choice do we have? 

Monday 1 February 2016

Greater Anglia Trains bodge job on new bike parking

What I wanted for this blog post was to be positive and cheerful and all flag wavey for cycling and cycling facilities in Cambridge, and I wanted to be rather a giggly fan-boy at Greater Anglia and the new cycle park. I don't want to be overly negative here, I mean they're about to open the CyclePoint bike locking park which will be cool. 3000 spaces? Much better than we've had there before, even though for some reason they want us to take our bicycles up stairs (I mean, seriously, why get so close to giving us a great facility and then screw the pooch like that?).

But I suppose it was too much to ask of Greater Anglia that they don't go out of their way to screw this up. Seriously, all they've got to do is open the new facility and put signs up saying that in a couple of weeks the old one will be closed so shift your bikes - you know, give people who maybe cycle once or twice a week to get used to the idea, maybe give those who've gone off on holiday a chance. But no, that'd be too simple.

Here's a bit of their press release which was, I gather, embargoed until this morning and subsequently shared by Al from Cambridge Cycling Campaign:

Yes, really. 

They're putting some flyers out in the hope that people see them, but if you lock your bike up there on the 15th having missed that news they'll take your bike away. So on the day it opens you've got to use the multi-storey or they'll break your chain and take your bike away.

Whats that you ask? Why don't they leave the temporary bike park open for, say, a week, with signs in place pointing at the new one and a date and time to shift to the new facility? Wouldn't that be a great way to make sure that they don't end up looking like spiteful loonies, you know, not having a go at the occasional cyclists who will have missed the message, or the folk who maybe cycle a couple of times a week who just don't know? 

Well the simple answer is because Greater Anglia are showing us that they don't want to avoid conflict with cyclists. They're up for a barney - they don't respect their customers, and if those customers are also cyclists they positively resent us.

So please, Greater Anglia, I'm sure you'll see this - show some flaming common sense. Or if you can't do that just accept that you should demonstrate common courtesy and leave both bike parks open for, say, a fortnight. Its good business sense and its good publicity.

Or are you actively looking to alienate your customers?