Monday 26 September 2016

THINK! Safety campaign. Moment of Genius?

Yes, its shit.

But as well as being shit, for reasons more than adequately explained elsewhere, is it, very quietly, a work of complete genius?

Obviously there must be no ambiguity in a simple safety message - if we're riding or driving along and an overtaking vehicle swerves in to us, or if we're at a junction and another road user pulls up on our right to turn left through the space we're in, then the other guy is in the wrong. Its that simple. 

But out there on the road, out in the wild, where life is complicated and full of consequences? Yes, its still that simple. The other guy is in the wrong. Don't be bloody stupid.

If, however, we bimble up the inside of a massive vehicle that's turning, and he pulls through the space we're in, we're in the wrong - I'd argue that such an error is not one that should be worthy of a death sentence, and that engineering and design consideration needs to be given to reducing the harm from such incidents, but I don't think that detracts the idea that such is a bad idea.

And that's where this video sits - the intention, the wordy approach, would be to tell us not to ride up the inside of massive vehicles, whereas the video shows a scenario in which, if we're generous, the events leading up to the incident are ambiguous. It looks like the truck comes past the cyclist and turns left through him. The video is entirely at odds with the message, and comes across as horrific victim blame. I get all that.

But maybe that IS the message. In the real world the cyclist will be blamed whether its his fault or not - there's often no other witness in incidents where the cyclist gets killed, and if the only eye witness is the driver the chance of a prosecution is slim. Were you riding along, minding your own business when a toe-rag turned through you and killed you? Haha, we're the Department for Transport, and we stand with the motor lobby in blaming YOU!

Is this video, unintentionally or via a moment of sublime genius, set up as a way of communicating just how hostile we are towards cycling in the UK? Is this actually telling us - 'you do nothing wrong and we'll still bend facts to blame you'? Is the Department for Transport funded Think! campaign actually aspiring to a work of tremendous and subtle art, turning the very act of trolling into a cunning tool for bringing transport inequalities to the public eye? The Man will read ambiguity into your death to find a reason to let the other guy off, so look the fuck out. We're coming for you.

Superbly trolled. Wonderfully executed. Masterfully unpleasant.

Naah, forget it, I'm obviously talking shite. These folk aren't that clever, its just crap.

Friday 23 September 2016

New Crap Cycling on Arbury Road

So far... Well, I want to say so far so good, but it isn't.

Its better than it was, but I can't help thinking that this misses the point.

The plan for Arbury Road cycle provision was always so incomplete as to make the scheme almost valueless. Seriously, if you're not going to make whole journeys safe then don't bother, I'll hold out for the whole of Arbury Road being done thanks. This short section isn't a staging post towards that - its a staging post towards us being directed off down a side road that might be taking us nowhere near where we actually want to go unless we're making very specific journeys to very specific places. A way for councillors to pretend to give a shit about cyclists without pissing off people who want to continue storing their cars, for free, on the road.

But despite this piss poor plan to fail from the outset, its still worth asking - is this first section in itself good enough?

No. It isn't, Not by a long way.

There are three potentially dangerous sections. 

Firstly, if you're heading North towards Kings Hedges Road, you're boned. I mean, literally, you've got to cross multiple lanes of hostile traffic - and they don't hold about there when the lights change, if you're trying to get kids home from the school to Orchard Park you might as well just walk. You hear the car horn sound as I'm trying to get away from the lights? Do you fancy that while riding with your children? No. Of course you don't. There's also no way on to the shared use facility off to the left from there - so if you're heading either way down Kings Hedges Road or straight over on to Orchard Park it doesn't matter, you're abandoned. Complete, absolute, fail. Just don't even bother.

Secondly, you'll notice after I've turned round and come back on to the new section, there's a sort of angled bit, you're not on a ramp taking you down to road level, its also angling to the right - its oddly surfaced. Its relatively smooth but will, when its frosty, be terrifying. Right where the new tarmac starts we will (not might, WILL) see people slide off into the road when we get hard frosts or snow. And its so completely needless. Just make it slope down properly, it isn't that hard. 

Third, you can see at the end of the South bound section where I'm heading back to the mini-roundabout, a car driver can more easily cut through the cycle lane than actually use the roundabout as its intended. You can see from the video that I'm wise to whats happening and can moderate my speed - how do you fancy riding home from school with your kids at a spot like that? How many times do you think a parent will put up with that before giving up? 

Bluntly there has been little imagination shown here, its good along much of the length of it but at either end it fails catastrophically - and with only the slightest change in thinking this could have been very good. At the South end the mini-roundabout needs to be gone and the transition from cycle lane to road sorting out. As it stands now motorists will do as the guy in the video did - drive straight through the bike lane. Not good enough, it needs re-assessing. Urgently. And at the North end we need an advance light for cyclists leaving the scheme, and simple priority on to cycle facilities on Kings Hedges Road and to Orchard Park - the route needs to be safe for whole journeys, not just as far as the first junction.

Disappointing. It should be great. Its not. I'm left sort of hoping they just give up on the rest of the scheme rather than more of this crap.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Obligatory Helmet Opinion Piece

There will be another more reasoned and less sweary post about bike helmets at a later time. In the mean time if you're offended by things like swear words then this post is not for you...

Of late I seem to be addressing several of the cycling issues that just will not die, like whether or not sport cycling influences mainstream riding behaviour, bike licenses, etc. And now it appears to be time to jump feet first into the one that pisses many cyclists off the most.

Fucking helmets and people who don't much cycle trying to force their fucking arguments on us. Don't expect this to be yet another well researched, reasoned, thoughtful and referenced demonstration of the bleeding obvious fact that bike helmets reduce the uptake of cycling while not particularly reducing injury rates, about risk compensation and brain stem injuries and all that bollocks. You want that? Just fucking google it, the internet is already full of articles that make that point, don't ask me to flog that dead horse for you. I'm not into that, go and satisfy your fetish elsewhere you kinky bastard. 

I don't care if you ride wearing a helmet. Or not. I don't. Seriously, its not my business so stop expecting me to have an opinion about it. Its an almost perfect example of your actions affecting you and not me or anyone else for that matter. If you feel the need to denigrate others for wearing a helmet or not, or otherwise doing shit that doesn't affect you, at all, you've got problems. Deal with them, don't bring them to me.

So, yes, I accept the argument that at an epidemiological level bike helmets offer little, and that at a personal level whether or not to wear one depends on a number of factors. And I accept that as such its really just a personal choice. If you want to wear a bike helmet, great. If you don't, fine. Its a handy platform for a helmet camera, and that alone is reason enough for me to wear one sometimes. I also wear one if I'm going properly off-road or in icy conditions where the most likely fall is a slow one of my own engineering.

But here's where the controversy really comes in to it - compulsion vs. opposing compulsion. No one, but no one argues its never ok to wear a helmet. I want to make that absolutely clear - this is a discussion that is often portrayed as pro-helmet vs. anti-helmet, but that is not true at all. No one is telling you that you must never wear a helmet. The entirety of the argument 'against' helmets is simply one in favour of choice to wear a helmet or not. There is no 'anti-helmet' movement. It does not exist - there is merely the desire not to be compelled to wear personal protective equipment of marginal worth and an understanding of the net negative impact of such across a wider society.

Conversely there's an active, insidious and genuinely demented pro-helmet lobby - and they frequently portray those who don't agree with them as anti-helmet. I'd like to say they're naive but really that seems needlessly generous to those responsible for what I believe to be a cynical and dishonest portrayal of the points put to them. For the most part their narrative is better served by pretending that those who disagree with them want to deprive you of your right to be safe and your right to wrap your child up safe. Its a lie. It is not erroneous, its a flat out lie. They know better, they're frequently told better, and they still come out with this lie.

When you're discussing an issue with people who will portray your opposition to compulsion as a desire to ban their personal preference, and such is the argument you'll invariably encounter, you're not in the kind of mutual respect territory conducive to reasonable discourse. Helmet bigots are not rational or reasonable and their argument is not based on an intelligent analysis of the available data - its an emotive, angry position based purely on anecdote reliant victim blame and othering of injured cyclists - one can easily blame those one sees as 'other' for anything bad that happens to them, whether it their fault or not. 

Don't keep tediously banging on about choice with these people - be honest with them that you know what they're doing. Don't keep demanding that they accept the published data, they won't. Published data doesn't trump dogma. Use your imagination for a nanosecond and you'll think of dozens of examples (religions, climate change denial, UKIP, Beliebers, Sunderland fans, etc.)

Roll around with pigs, get covered in shit. Its that simple. Tell them, tell them again, then tell them what they are. And thats it. 

Thursday 8 September 2016

Car Overturned on Road. Cyclists to Remain Frightened.

The tone is dreadful of course, designed to attribute no agency to anyone involved. No, Raymond, the car did not flip. The driver somehow managed to overturn the car in a 20mph section of straight road with good visibility in dry, warm conditions. I'm fairly sure that the car did not flip itself over like an amorous terrapin sliding off a chip shop pie.

But this is only half of the story. The top end of Arbury Road, a section close to Kings Hedges Road, is currently closed to put in bike lanes and make some other improvements, as the first part of a disappointing upgrade. This upgrade, it transpires, stops some distance before this incident. We're due to get the other end of Arbury Road improved, somewhat, but there are no plans to make cycling to the Milton Road junction more appealing. If you're trying to get to the Behhive Centre to work or shop, tough, you'll be left on a long, straight, allegedly 20mph race track where somehow or other cars magically invert themseves, parked cars block lines of sight, and close, aggressive overtakes are the norm. Do you live off that end of Arbury Road and want to cycle to school? Tough titties, cyclist scum, we don't care about your welfare.

In all of Cambridge there is not a better example of the scorn our local authorities show to cyclists than this abysmal plan to make half of a major throughfare safe for cycling - this supposed improvement that does nothing to make whole journeys safer can not and will not encourage more people to ride in to Cambridge. 

A bike trip is only as appealing as its most terrifying part - and you plan not to improve this section where motorists flip their cars over. Why, dear road planners, do you even bother with this nonsense?

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Cyclists vs. Runners

This is another of those 'belt it out before work' type posts.

I spotted a tweet thats been picked up by bigger feeds like ukrunchat, and its worth a ponder:

The answer is simple enough really. Lots of cycle facilities are rather mediocre 'shared use' pavement routes. Sometimes they're better signposted from the road than they are from the pavement, so if you primarily use the pavement at one of these locations you may not even have seen such signs. Its also very often the case that this provision suddenly ends with no notice - so you're riding perfectly legally down a shared use path, then you're suddenly riding illegally, but with no way of knowing this.

But cyclists do break the law and go on the pavement to avoid frankly terrifying road conditions - and this is acknowledged in guidance originally issued alongside the capacity to issue fixed penalty notices. To paraphrase - chill out, the cyclist is just trying not to get killed.

But lets take a step back and, for a moment, just compare the risks brought by each. Remember, we can determine the kinetic energy of an object simply enough, half mass times velocity squared, and a cyclist at 15mph has about 2000 J. 

A runner, going shall we say 8mph and unencumbered by the mass of a bicycle so, shall we say 80kg, thats a little over 500 J. Yes, the cyclist can bring more bang in a collision, by about four times - not by the orders of magnitude difference we see between a cyclist or pedestrian and a car. Lets also say, though, that a cyclist on the pavement is going more slowly than a cyclist on the road would be, a fair assumption considering how bumpy and congested with street furniture our pavements have become. At that speed we're only looking at about 1250 J - two and a half times more energy - we're down to the kind of differences where the specific type of collision becomes very important in determining what the real risks are.

We really should reflect that while understanding the numbers still show its better for cyclists and runners not to mix on pavements, that there are very few injuries thus caused is a fair reflection of the fact that the actual risk of this is low. Do you want cyclists off the pavement so you can run there without worrying about it? Great, I'd like that too - what you need to do is pester your local authorities and central government to build segregated infrastructure that facilitates this.

Thursday 1 September 2016

Letter from Olympians - pretty close to spot on!

Just a couple of quick thoughts before I dash out to work.

This is in the news. Open letter from British Cycling, being widely promoted by Chris Boardman, about Olympic cyclists calling for an increased spend in transport cycling (to a still modest 5% of transport spend).

So its from British cycling and its notable that there aren't many names from the velodrome cycling team not there. Some no don't want to get into anything political, some have done so and got stung by saying stupid things before, maybe a couple of them don't agree. But I think it more likely from assorted tweets and instagrams that some are also just way too busy doing media and indeed just partying after another successful Olympics.

The only thing I'll add is that you can't just throw cash at transport cycling - it can go wrong. You've got to have oversight that leads to sufficient quality infrastructure that actually makes a change and, all too often, cycle funds sit there in local authorities bank accounts until they can leverage them to fix junctions for motorists. UK councils leverage cycle infastructure funds for generic road building/fixing projects, they don't leverage generic road funds for cycling.

So if this is to be anything other than cosmetic, it has to have just a little bit more detail - the funds have to be protected and targeted towards high quality infrastructure.

Otherwise, I have to say, this is tremendous news. Good stuff, British Cycling!