Saturday 22 October 2016

Cargo Bike at Cambridge Homebase

As readers of my blog will be aware I'm not one to hold back from criticism when I think local retailers are letting us down. When we're off out shopping or to catch a film having somewhere to leave our bikes and being able to get directly back to them afterwards matters - I'm looking at you, Vue Cinema and the Grafton Centre - stop locking your front doors before all the films finish if you want our custom! Somewhere safe to lock up and access such that I can get in and out with shopping is a minimum, but this is Cambridge and I'm always looking out for those retailers who provide a bit more for cyclists.

Getting big stuff home is sort of the final frontier of cycling provision. For me that usually means access with a bike trailer on my ex-posties bike, but not everyone has the luxury of owning a cargo carrying bicycle. Yeah, I suppose you could use one of the short-term car hire companies (assuming you can drive), but would you want to get as angry and fed up as all the folk you pass every day sitting stuck in their cars? Doesn't sound fun to me.

If you're shopping at Homebase on Newmarket Road you've got a great new option. They've just got hold of a cargo bike you can borrow. This one here...

I had a chat with the folk in the store today, and it seems that this is a very new scheme. Its got a label on the front telling us its from London Green Cycles, and its built to take a load - the staff were telling me that they were training to use it by carrying colleagues around. Seriously if you've never ridden a Christiania its worth getting hold of this bike for a while just to have a go, they're rock solid but very rideable. 

The deal is simple enough, you pay a £50 deposit (which you get back - using it is free!) and you've a few hours to get your stuff home in it. I'd be tempted to get all my other shopping home at the same time and leave my own bike locked at the shop. The Christiania has its own locking mechanism, making it essentially hassle free.

At the moment, the scheme is new so the shop is sort of feeling its way in to things. I did ask about booking in advance but the response was a little wooly - presumably if it becomes popular they'll have to sort that out soon enough. 

I'm impressed, Homebase. Good stuff. Thanks!

Monday 17 October 2016

Cycling - the Great Equaliser

Bikes can be expensive.

And they can be cheap. Like, really, really cheap.

While one could get uppity about how much of a waste of money the carbon fibre delight linked at the top is for anyone other than a professional road rider, or snobbish about the 'bike shaped object' illustrated from Cambridge market, I think both exclamations miss the point.

Cycling can cost you, basically, more or less whatever you want to pay in its initial outlay. And then for just a few notes you can keep riding - the occasional repair or, if you paid a tenner, some free time and the willingness to scavenge more parts, will get you where you're going. It can be very expensive or it can be free.

The weird idea that cycling is for posh people, rich people, paupers, young people, men, women... Its all complete crap. Cycling is for everyone - if you've a tenner or a million quid, its for you. Its the great leveller - get a bike, any bike, and ride it. And thats all you've got to do.

Self Driving Carpocaplypse?

Why yes, that is a silly, clickbaity title. Thanks for noticing. But, sorry, it is true.

Lots of cycling folk have commented on self driving cars. Some are enthusiastic, talking about the flaw in car design being the meat-pack in control, and how having machine like reflexes at the heart of a computer driven miracle of modernity will save cyclists lives by spotting cyclists earlier and reacting faster. Others have been rather more pessimistic. Auto-cars will of necessity require cyclists be excluded from road space such that robotic abominations against nature can reach maximum efficiency in dystopian nightmare of hyper-connected communication.

I think that both argument's have some merit. Humans do tend not to look where they're going, so having a machine do it isn't a bad idea. And yes, there's a risk that the most efficient use of space is one where every vehicle 'thinks' basically the same - but I think that the take-up of autonomous cars (stupid name, lets call them auto-cars or something) will be slow enough such that they'll have to have programming to work around other vehicles from the outset.

What worries me more is that, conceptually, they have to be designed to kill pedestrians.

Imagine, if you will, the typical urban main-road. You know the sort. Its the main road of a market town that should be charming but isn't because all you can see and hear is cars. Or a city street with four lanes of drivers going nowhere fast but conspiring to make the route un-crossable. You eye up the first motorist, he doesn't give an inch, you keep walking to the quarter of a mile away crossing hoping that a gap will appear, but it doesn't. No matter how often you think you've made contact you can never see a way across all four lanes. Maybe you make a dash for it - only to get half way across and stand there terrified until a softer-hearted driver grudgingly lets you cross. 

What stopped you from crossing? Are the drivers morally superiority so you're showing them deference? Do they have a greater right to get where they're going than you do? No, of course not - the dominance of motor vehicles in public space is only possible on one basis. The very real, ever present, and utterly terrifying threat of violence. You can't cross the road, even when the drivers gain nothing from stopping you, because the motorist can kill or maim you, and is not absolutely required by law not to do so. There isn't sufficient legal or moral pressure on the motorist to ensure the safety of pedestrians crossing the road such that we can step off the pavement. Drivers are bullying you not to cross.

Imagine the same road full of auto-cars. Intelligent, safe, auto-cars that are designed to spot pedestrians who want to cross, or who have entered the road space, and therefore to stop. Now imagine what the impact of that is in a crowded city centre. Come on, be honest, do you walk way up the road to the crossing point and back up to where you want to go or do you just step out and stop the traffic to get over?  Keep your imagination fired up for a moment longer - now there's not just you looking to cross, there's a stream of people wanting to cross the constant, terrifying maelstrom of traffic. If that stream of people know that they each of them can stop the cars, don't they just do that? At their own leisure, when and where they choose? Of course they do.

Can you now think what that'd be like in the car? Travel sick doesn't even begin to cover it. You'd get nowhere, you'd be forever stuck in the city centre at rush hour - and in those cities where the evening revelers merge into the homeward-bound commuters, you might be there all night. 

Bluntly, the only way we'll be able to make auto-cars work is if we intentionally program them to risk killing people. If we don't give them the capacity to prioritise getting a passenger home over the safety of those outside the cars, they'll fail. They won't, and can't, work.

We already know that Mercedes Benz are designing cars that'll kill those outside the car if it saves the person inside the car. That is the only way this technology can work.

Be afraid. The autocalypse is coming. And its one where pedestrians come last.

Monday 10 October 2016

The Problem With Treating Us Like Cars... that we're not.

I've always been an advocate of riding assertively where we have to do so to remain safe on our roads. It just makes sense. If we've got to claim the lane in a road to make it clear that this isn't a good place to overtake safely then yeah, whatever, go for it. Its not like there's a better choice.

But I'm not a car. My bike isn't a car. In riding that way I do not, as I am so frequently accused of, acting like I think I'm a "fucking car, mate". I don't appreciate the way that people respond to cyclists riding this way, by referring to us as being like cars. I ride assertively because its a safer way to ride, but I don't like that it means that people think I'm being a dick for riding as if my vehicle is somehow the same as theirs. And I'm annoyed that I'm even discussing this in terms of the perceived heirarchy in road users.

I've been increasingly of the opinion that adapting cycling to fit the road space available is the wrong way round. Not just that we're getting it wrong with regard to how we build cycle facilities as add-ons to road space, at the margins, at the edge, both physically and in terms of funding, but also with how we handle the whole question of cycling. 

Imagine, if you will, a road network without cars. Built for cycling and people getting around burning cake rather than petrol. What would it look like? And how does that differ from what we actually get? It would connect places directly and simply. We'd have straight lines rather than be taken all round the houses like cars are - there wouldn't be one way systems (which necessitate driving a greater distance but reduce journey time by lessening conflict at junctions), and those on the main cycling route would have priority over side entrances (which all too often doesn't happen for bike routes). Junctions would be simple - we wouldn't have to cross multiple streams of traffic in weird, odd directions to avoid the nastiest bits for cars.

There wouldn't be many traffic lights. Really busy routes might need them, but for the most part we'd have a 'make eye contact and cross' rule, as we sort of informally have on shared use routes we have already. Cyclists would rather slow a bit to let people pass than have to stop entirely, its so much easier continuing on your way.We'd ride somewhere towards the middle of the lane, all the time, and it wouldn't be considered weird. We'd do that so that pedestrians wouldn't be worried about stepping out in front of us.

I think where I'm getting to is that while roads weren't built for cars, they've been so heavily modified in favour of everyone being in a car that the few who aren't have to act as if they are to avoid being killed, but we're resented for acting that way anyway because we're not in cars. The paradox of vehicular cycling - we ride in a way that reduces danger at the expense of increasing conflict.

We need to back up a bit and maybe stop JUST demanding more and better cycling facilities and ask what whether we're really missing the other thing that we ought to be asking for - to be treated like cyclists, rather than either a modified form of pedestrian or an inferior car. This doesn't only impact on the kind of route we ask for, its also about how we should be asked to behave on the roads. Dare I suggest that perhaps that design for cyclists and the culture we would expect thereof might make a better road transport system for everyone? Maybe, for the good of pedestrians and cycclists, we should be demanding that everyone does things our way, rather than the way that motorists want? 

I guess this touches on other questions I've asked here before - whats the point in us obeying rules set up to facilitate better motoring at the cost of our own safety and convenience? Is it really worth suffering the wrath of motorists rather than riding slowly and tentatively on a wide pavement that we're legally un-entitled to but much safer on? Is there really any point in me stopping at a red light if the driver behind will be angry that I'm there anyway, and probably try to run me off the road as I enter the junction ahead?

Is fighting for a transport culture that enshrines cycling culture worthwhile? And how would we redesign roads to facilitate this?

Thursday 6 October 2016

Cambridge City Deal, Road Closures, and What the Protests Mean

Well, its all over the news here in Cambridge.

Seriously, by reducing the normal rush hour traffic from stop-start acceleration averaging at walking speed to a smoother pace of motorists who've got out of their cars and walked, they've proved beyond any rational doubt that except perhaps for the disabled private cars have no sensible place in the commuter mix in Cambridge. 

I faced a longer delay on my bicycle due to a film crew on Kings Parade (more of that god-awful Grantchester thing I should think, where for some reason every journey in Cambridge involves a rugged vicar riding past Kings on a sweet old bike with the saddle annoyingly far too low) than anyone who rode past this paradoxical event has reported.

So, whats it all about? Well, its all about Braess paradox. Old hat, really, look it up on Wikipedia if you've never heard of it. Closing some roads means some people choose to travel via, a different mode or route, so those who still drive might face a longer journey but a shorter journey time, thus actually burning less fuel, wasting less time, and polluting less. You move from the individual competetive choice of route that creates a god awful mess of junctions to a collaborative, more efficient routing. It isn't controversial to anyone who's ever looked at the impact of road closures on traffic modelling. 

The truth is I don't know whether the specific closures suggested are the right ones - and neither do the protestors, because (correct me if I'm wrong) the modelling hasn't been shared yet (if, indeed, it has been done). I support the proven principle behind such closures but I question whether these are the right ones - and I'd like to see the supporting evidence for the specific measures suggested before supporting or opposing. You know, give me the evidence to decide. Why the fuck is that controversial? Unfortunately this makes my approach radically different to these protestors, who are just another subdivision of the NIMBY movement against change in Cambridge

Truth be told the protestors have no alternative suggestions and don't have evidence against the current plans. There's talk of setting up a traders lobby group against them (but not, apparently, FOR anything else), and councillors are saying 'we're listening'. So the NIMBYs win this round.

What does this protest mean for the wider city deal and for activism in Cambridge in general though?

Firstly it means getting off your arse and protesting works. Unfortunately its always easy to get people to protest against something, its very hard to get people marching FOR something else. Fear is a better motivator for protest than anything else. So we're going to continue to see protests against, well, more or less any kind of change that the City Deal wants to look at, and that sort of de-values rational, evidence based criticism as it is drowned out in the noise.

Secondly it means that where activists are neither united nor vocal, it'll remain easy for City Deal and for Councillors to ignore them. I'm looking at you, @camcycle. You saw that actually quite trivial critical mass campaign this morning? That wasn't us. That was motorists gaining a victory over a process actually set up to benefit them - holding an on-foot peak commuting time critical mass. You want to be listened to like they are? Then we have to act like they do, we have to mobilise - but for as long as you're the ones at the top table for discussions on behalf of cyclists who for the most part are not your members but who the City Deal and the County allow you to speak on behalf of such activism can achieve nothing because they'll do what the County has always done - point at you as representative and maintain anyone else is fringe. We're past reasoned discussion - what do you say, Critical Mass, Milton Road? 

Cycling oils the wheels of Cambridge transport. Without us, if so many didn't ride, the city would grind to a halt, and yet we're taken for granted because we don't stand up for ourselves. Enough. City Deal stands at the brink of failure because short-sighted NIMBYS oppose every version of positive change. Come on guys, who's up for it? 

Tuesday 4 October 2016

One Plain Clothes Cop on a Bike, with a Camera

Again our local cops are coming out with not such a bad message. Yeah, driving while using a mobile phone is a distraction, and its far too common wherever people have mobile phones and cars.

Its good that our cops are occasionally prosecuting for this, but a rate of under 100 per month across the whole county barely scrapes the surface - if I walk down Downing Street I'll see a dozen of the motorists lining up for the Grand Arcade car park on their phones, and thats every single time there's a queue. And we're saying that catching less than 3 a day is something to boast about? No. It matters that they're distracted when inching along in traffic that pedestrians expect to be able to safely cross between, and I think the few moments when traffic starts to clear and the driver accelerates are among the more crucial ones in preventing accidents.

Its not an under-statement to say that if you drive while fannying about with a phone in Cambridgeshire you'll get away with it. You can consider yourself incredibly unlucky if you're caught, its statistically such a freakish event.

But I don't see why it has to be that way, especially in and around our cities. If I can see motorists on their phone, and if I can film them whenever I put a helmet cam on, so can our coppers. 

So I propose the following two ways our cops could make a massive difference to road safety in our city. Pick either guys, but both would work well. 

Firstly, get your staff who bike commute helmet cameras and to ride to work wearing civvies. Once a week pick out, say, the top 20 incidents from each rider (close overtakes, motorists going through red lights, mobile phone use) and send out notices to those drivers. There you go, off the belt, 20 extra notices served, per cop commuting by bike, per week. Oh, what if you don't get 20 on film? Yeah. Right. You're having a laugh.

Secondly, make it one cops job per day, doesn't have to be the same cop, in fact it would be better to have a rota, to ride around Cambridge or Peterborough with a camera on. Again, in civilian clothes (CID is a thing, right? Coppers In Disguise?). Send a notice to every motorist they find on the phone, jumping lights, passing too close, or driving aggressively. Should't think that in a few hours you'll ever fail to catch hundreds of offenders. One copper per day will put the stats for your entire force to shame.

We're already seeing other forces do similar - come on Cambridgeshire Cops, you can and really should do it too.

And if you don't want this staggering rate of prosecutions for the good of cyclists and pedestrians? Think about your stats. Bluntly, if you're anything other than the enforcement wing of the motoring lobby you'll do it just because you want stellar rates of prosecution. 

Monday 3 October 2016

No, Camcycle, gritting cycle paths isn't a gender issue

I like Robin Heydon, he's a good bloke, and I think he's taken Cambridge Cycle Campaign in, generally, the right kind of direction.

There are a couple of areas I disagree with him though. One of those is his continuing belief that anything positive can come out of his writing articles in the Cambridge News. Its a newspaper with a long-standing habit of trolling for and thus encouraging, ant-cyclist hate, tucking a cycling blog away in its pages is more about maintaining a facade of decency than actually providing a decent, balanced news resource. Trolling sells advertising, its why journalists are now primarily content providers rather than gatekeepers of news.

Another is the content of his most recent post therein, in which we're asked whether gritting cycle paths is a gender issue. Lets delve through Robins reasoning:

There are 63,000 people who I think are being discriminated against in our city of Cambridge. These 63,000 are the girls, women, and ladies of our city. Our sisters, our daughters, our mothers and grandmothers, our partners, fiancée or wife. People we know and care about
You what now? Wow, I'm up in arms. They're discriminating against all the women? The girls? All of them? Thats not ok. Sort 'em out! Tell us more, Robin. Won't have this in my city, lets sort this out!

But can policies on roads be discriminatory? Could the councils be accused of actively discriminating against women? I would hope that we would not have politicians who do this, yet I fear that this is exactly what happens. Let's just take a couple of examples.
They're telling women they can't ride bikes in Cambridge? They're making it so they can't choose what to wear while riding? Thats fucking disgusting, lets storm Shire Hall and tell those bastards where to stick it.

 Does the way that we clear snow and ice from roads discriminate against women? Well, we know that women are more likely to ride a cycle or walk to work than drive a car. In Cambridge, for example, 46 per cent of people going to work are women, yet 49 per cent of women cycle or walk to work compared with 47 per cent of men. Ok, that is more women cycling or walking than men. Similarly, 28 per cent of women drive to work but about 32 per cent of men. That means more men are driving than women. So let me ask you a simple question: if you wanted to be equitable, wouldn't you clear the cycleways and footpaths from ice and snow before you did the roads? Wouldn't that be equitable?
What? You're saying that although within 1% of 48% of men and women ride bikes or walk to work here (pretty damn near the same number, such that its questionable whether there's any significant difference) we need to start treating active transport as a gender issue? Well, ok, I get what you're saying, but your data is wafer thin, and your claim to this being significant seems dubious. There's little reason to believe there is a significant difference between the two.

Your next data - 28% of women drive to work but 32% of men - we're looking at 2% either side of 30% then? Dude, how accurate is this data because 2% either side of a number isn't immediately convincing me of anything. I want to see a very low error figure for that data point to be convinced that the two numbers are statistically different.

I'm assuming that the rest of the people working have to get to work. You haven't cited data on how many work at home so I'll assume you've made a good, fair comparison and excluded that from your numbers. We can't compare mode of transport of people working at home so its probably best to leave them out of the figures here. If they're not going on foot, by bike or by car they must be getting the bus or the train, and that leaves 23% of women, 21% of men - and of course people getting the bus also need the roads gritted.

So for gender parity do we need to grit the roads to be sure that we're not disadvantaging women who get the bus? We need to grit the roads, rather than the cycle routes, because sexism?

Some of your other points (gritting cycle routes means people use them through winter and that those who ride on them don't get injured so often) are spot on. And I entirely agree that we should be ensuring the safety of those engaged in active transport - its a no brainer that more people driving rather than cycling or walking when the weather is frosty will make the roads more congested and more dangerous just when we need that not to be the case. But come on dude, this isn't a gender thing. There are gender related problems in cycling, but we need to view them in context. There are problems with how cycling is sold to men and women. But we need to keep our heads screwed on when looking at statistics.

Robin old chap, this is a specious argument. You're taking tiny differences in numbers that don't clearly show what you want them to show and making yourself look daft. Don't do this, please. Don't.