Wednesday 22 February 2017

New Hedge for Arbury Road, facilitating cycle lane

Hyper-local (Cambridge) interest post here. So if thats not your thing, walk on, you'll find this dull.

Brief version - cycle lanes will be extended further down Arbury Road, which may necessitate removal of the rather nice old hedge. It has been suggested that mature plants could be sourced to put in place, this being a site thats rather exposed to traffic but worth protecting to shelter homes from the main road and to retain wildlife habitat. I propose that re-planting should be conducted utilising local knowledge of what thrives in this part of Cambridge, with specific reference to the history of the site.

Longer version - Arbury Road is brutal. I mean, its a horrible road to cycle - it should be a quiet little suburban route but its not, the 20mph limit isn't observed there and councillors instruct the Police to target cyclists who seek refuge on the pavement (rather than motorists forcing them to do this) with the dogged determination only possible in those who've just not thought anything through. So if this means we really MUST move the mature hedgerows, then if thats what we have to do to keep people safe then so be it - but as a local interested in having a high quality local environment I'll engage to get the best results.

Now the hedge should be glorious, but it isn't - it hasn't been maintained very well and gaps haven't been filled. Its good wildlife habitat though - but we can make it better. There's some whispering that re-planting with mature-ish specimens may be possible, so I'm choosing to see this as an opportunity rather than a problem. We can certainly manage the site better than it has been done, and if the hedge is planted sensibly we could get a much, much better outcome than we have now. I think that should be the goal whenever we re-develop roads.

So, what do we want in our hedges in Kings Hedges? Here are my first thoughts...

(1) Hedging plants to create a suitable barrier

This is the backbone of hedging, urban or otherwise. A hedge is a structure to delineate a line, and if it can't hold its own in this regard its not fit for purpose. I would therefore propose that a large proportion of the hedge be hawthorn, alongside other native species that are common in hedgerows in this area - blackthorn, hazel, elder, dogwood and field maple. 

(2) Hedging plants of particular local interest

This part of Cambridge was once orchards, and you get the occasional remnant left in hederows, including this one - there's a greengage tree, probably Cambridge Gage, in the hedge, and there are a couple of plum trees that have the look of growing back from root-stock about them. I propose re-planting with more of these - the greengage is a very 'cambridge' tree and its particularly suitable to keep some here as a reminder of local heritage. I'd also add that apples are incredibly common in hedges in Cambridgeshire, so we should aim to add some crab apples to the mix and, most importantly, the one apple variety that defines North Cambridge called Chivers Delight - formerly one of Englands best selling apples, originating very near to here, and worth preserving locally. Cherry plum and bullace are also common in hedges in North Cambridge, far more so than in most areas, so I'd certainly want those represented too.

(3) Under-story planting

We lost a lot of local biodiversity when the Guided Busway was built, and this is an opportunity to bring some of it back. I'd like this project to encompass finding local cultivars of dog-rose, as well as black and red currants, gooseberries (all common on the overgrown old railway line before it was re-developed), alongside three cornered leek, crow garlic, cow parsley, sweet cicely (locally rare but found in this hedge occasionally) and other appropriate wildlife friendly plants. I'll be looking closely at the hedges along Arbury Road over the next few weeks to see what precisely is worth saving from the under-story.

(4) Specimen Trees

I think we all like the occasional tree in a hedge allowed to grow majestically big, and I see no reason not to plan for this. Such trees provide shade, stature and when mature offer a whole ecosystem in themselves. So we should plan for this now - currently the specimen trees close to those hedges are sycamore, but I'd favour linden or plane in this location - they grow at a manageable rate and respond well to pollarding.

I'll add images and further thoughts to this as I go... Bare with me, this is still thinking aloud, but I think the bare bones are here.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

Dear PCC... (copy of email to Police Commissioner)

Dear Mr. Ablewhite,

I've decided to send my concerns to you by email rather than await a phonecall something like a month hence - in my experience planning a call that far in advance tends towards going wrong, and I think perhaps doing this in some written form might be better. A surgery appointment to talk to you in person before that would involve investing more than two hours travel time each way - a five hour round journey for a fifteen minute meeting doesn't immediately seem to represent a good investment in time.

Last November I reported this incident to the Police.

Now one would think that there would be an online reporting system for incidents like this - fill in a form, leave a link to the evidence, job done. But there isn't, and as I've previously been told that there isn't even a regularly checked email address I phoned 101. After a protracted delay I got through to someone who suggested I might come in to Parkside at the weekend with a text link to the video footage. She seemed most put-out at the idea I should want to email evidence, and that maybe if someone has taken to driving like a maniac through the centre of Cambridge its perhaps something to be dealt with with a certain element of urgency - perhaps contacting the driver and having a word quickly (while he still remembers what he did) would prevent him doing so again while further charges are prepared? In fact, couldn't this act be life saving? 

She hung up. I complained, an officer with badge number 8333 looked at this and accepted that such a request to relate evidence via. email isn't unusual and this could be done. Getting to this point wasn't easy though, and involved significant telephone tag with officer 8333.

I had also tweeted a link to this footage, which was then taken up by a local political blogger who shared it, and two local city centre councillors phoned a local police officer who in turn contacted me to say he'd seen this and was looking in to it.

So the route to getting this reported was phoning, failing, phoning again, complaining, tweeting, getting re-tweeted, someone else phoned a named police office who then got back in touch with me to say he'd look in to it. 

Officer 1594 said he'd had a word with the driver and would submit a file for consideration of crimes for prosecution.

Months passed, I enquired as to what had happened (I know that the wheels of justice turn slowly) and was told that the incident had been handled with a verbal caution (hence not even formally) and that "It was noted from your footage that numerous cyclists numerous cyclists were travelling the wrong way in the one way system, towards the driver of the car and you and this factor was considered to complicate further action".

Obviously I looked closely at the footage after this - I could see I'd been passed within inches in a two-way (for cycling) section, I could see the motorist mount the pavement perilously close to several pedestrians, I could see some very dangerous close overtakes of cyclists, the driver going through sections of road labelled for cars, taxis and cyclists only, four other cyclists on film expressing concern as to the drivers behaviour including two who confronted him directly before I said anything to him, the aggressively revving his engine in response to one of them and I could see that the driver was on the phone at the wheel of the car, and there are no examples of cyclists on road going the wrong way on the one way system. None. Not a single one. But even if there had been, it is entirely unclear to me why this ought to have any bearing on any of the motorists actions - another oncoming cyclist doesn't make mounting the pavement ok. 

I complained, and again found myself in an absurd game of telephone tag lasting another day. Eventually officer 1547 phoned and, well, was unsympathetic. I mean, he was keen to tell me that they wouldn't prosecute and wouldn't explain why - but agreed to go and look at the footage after I explained at length, and got back to me later saying that yes, they'd refer this on hopefully for prosecution.

At the core of this ridiculous, convoluted pathway of events is the simple reality of a motorist behaving in a shocking way, scaring the life out of people who were doing nothing wrong, genuinely endangering people. It has to be simple and easy to report such things, especially with clear video evidence, and it is imperative that our police service enables rather than confounds attempts to do so. In short, reporting a crime and getting it taken seriously needs to not be a matter of willpower. And at no point should there be reticence to prosecute over claims of someone else doing a tangentially related thing wrong in video evidence - a demonstrably incorrect claim at that.

Can I suggest that throttling the numbers on reported crimes by making it hard to get reports taken seriously, and cutting back on prosecutions by simply misrepresenting evidence reported to the constabulary are both shameful ways to behave - it isn't much to ask that clear video evidence be viewed fairly and acted on. May I further ask that you look in to this not simply as an operational but also ethical consideration - why should it take fortuitous retweeting and dogged persistence to get a crime taken seriously?


Tuesday 14 February 2017

Cambridge Cops - Dreadful Response to Dangerous Driving

UPDATE: Well they called me up and started to explain why they weren't prosecuting. So I made a fuss because imho this footage is crystal clear. They went to have a look, tacitly admitted they'd been wrong, and are sending this off with recommendation to prosecute. What a bloody palaver - how the hell have I got to a point where I've got to pester the coppers to take action in clear, simple, direct video evidence like this?

Regarding this incident in November...

I was told at the time this was filed to the CPS. I was told yesterday it was dealt with by a verbal (hence not a formal) warning. That just isn't good enough, so I've sent this email (below) off, raised this with the PCC, and will push for better.

Dear (x),

I'm deeply worried about this.

There are no cyclists on road going the wrong way on any one way sections anywhere in the video. One is pushing a bike the wrong way on the pavement, one or two may be riding on the pavement. There are cyclists going the opposite way in front of Next there, but of course as you'll know that is two way for cyclists. I also fail to see how that would complicate things if prosecuting for close overtakes, driving on the pavement, going through a taxi/bus/cyclist only section, using the mobile phone while driving or just the sheer level of dangerous, aggressive driving. In fact I don't see why thats relevant at all - because some other people are doing a specified thing wrong (which is demonstrably untrue) its hard to prosecute him? That makes no sense, sorry.

How many times does the driver break the law in the video? The resolution is a verbal (i.e. informal) caution? Sorry officer, thats genuinely sinister - you've got rock solid video evidence of multiple laws being broken, and multiple members of the public visibly and audibly distressed by this but its not enough to prosecute him? I dob't believe that, and I don't accept it.

Please direct me to your process for reviewing this.


Thursday 9 February 2017

Dear Cambridge Police - We Need to Talk Mobile Phones in Cars

Dear Cambridgeshire Constabulary,

Not all laws are the same - only an idiot would insist that they are. There are some legal infractions that are worth your time, and some that aren't. Technically its illegal to be drunk in a pub but you're not going to stop that. I came home from work with a pen in my pocket last week, and I didn't (yet) take it back. So technically thats theft, and I do believe I could in theory I could face up to 10 years in prison for that. But looking at my desk I can also see one of my own pens, it'll probably never wend its way back home, so I think that things balance out reasonably well. Its not a law that needs hard enforcement all of the time.

There are some laws that really are worth enforcing, and some areas of law enforcement I think need more attention from you. And some where I think you're maybe putting too much emphasis on the wrong thing.

Mobile phone use at the steering wheel is something you're not making any inroads on and I think you should try harder. You're just as aware of recent high-profile court cases revolving around this as I am, and I have no need to remind you that this is highly dangerous. But literally every day I see this over and over again - in fast moving and slow moving traffic. Your message hasn't got through. This morning I stopped counting at around a dozen, and yesterday (a day I took out my GoPro) I recorded three in close succession, and even went as far as to report them to you:

I'm not saying you should be turning up with blue flashy lights every time this happens - but if I can record dozens of these on any trip why can't you? Each one of these drivers could have had a fixed penalty notice served, by post, from back at the station. You have the legislation, you have the enforcement powers, you have the moral right, practical skills and technical ability to do so, and with almost no effort and little police time you'll be serving dozens of such notices, maybe even hundreds, every week from just devoting a couple of hours of one PC's time. Ride at rush hour, in Cambridge, in 'plain clothes', with a GoPro. 

I know you'll be thinking that this is controversial but, really, it isn't. All the other motorists in the queue of traffic looking at the car in front stuttering forward rather than moving smoothly, they all know that the driver in front isn't really paying attention. All of the law abiding motorists (the ones we really should be looking out for) want the rule breakers off the road - and I promise you, the cyclists and pedestrians will support you in this too. 

If I want to report these incidents its really time consuming and quite hard, and the level of feedback received is next to nil. I have no idea if such reports get anywhere, you relate whether or not the motorists are fined, served any notice, or prosecuted. Seems sort of thankless. But I also sort of resent the fact that its incredibly easy to record this crime but you're not doing it. Look at the response from the first and third motorists on phones in that film. I almost never say anything to motorists when I see this - I did so here because I wanted to show what the response almost always is. They're scornful of being told that they're breaking the law and continue to do so - they don't believe that this law is important enough to obey, they don't have any reason to think that what they're doing will get them into any trouble so they continue to break it. And the result is they keep doing it - and people die on our roads as a result. You are not providing a deterrent against breaking a law that is killing people - isn't it time you did?

So are you up for this? If not, I do feel you need to justify why you're letting hundreds of law breakers get away with an easily detectable crime. 


Cab Davidson (Cambridge Cyclist Blog)

Monday 6 February 2017

The Cost of Parking - To Everyone Else

We've got a car. We usually don't, but right now we've got one for various reasons. This will most likely be a temporary hiatus in an otherwise unblemished car-ownership free lifestyle for us. Its not used most of the time, it isn't for commuting (thats what bikes are for) and a key selection criterion was that it would fit on the driveway without blocking the garage door so we can get in and get bikes out - the car is stored entirely in our space. 

Our neighbours have cars. On one side they keep the car in their garage. On the other, a larger family has I think at last count 3 cars, no driveway, and no garage, so they take up an awful lot of room on the road and pavement storing their stuff. Which seems a bloody liberty to me. Right across Cambridge and indeed across the suburbs throughout Britain this is an issue. Roads designed for the the storage of a few cars without too much trouble now have dozens of private vehicles clogging the place up - this means crossing is a challenge, playing there is a complete impossibility, and frankly its ugly and dehumanising. The people storing cars there are taking from the rest of us, for free - by which I mean that space is a joint asset, it belongs to all of us whether we drive or not, whether we want to walk, play, ride or drive along there.

The blight of fly-parking is so prevalent that at almost any open forum between Councillors and residents its one of the most frequently aired concerns. And there will be an old codger, probably with a beard, who wants to blame commuters, immigrants, parents, cyclists, you name it anyone but the old codgers. The result may be a 'residents parking zone', which resolves nothing for anyone who isn't a fly-parker. So you've stopped people parking there so you can, but the net result is a road thats still hostile to anyone crossing, walking down, riding along or playing in? How is that better for anyone but you? Bluntly, why are you more important than anyone else? Oh, you're old, you hate people and you have a beard, is that it?

You may own a car. You may own a cycle. You may not have either. Your ownership of the road, including the nice convenient bit close to your home, is not greater than that of anyone else in the UK. You have no specific right to that space. The road by your home was not primarily designed such that you can keep your stuff there. Through that effective privatisation of pubic space you're taking the rights of others away purely for your own gain, and that you may expect to do so for free is, frankly, ludicrous.

Take my neighbours with 3 cars. I could go and pay for a standard shipping container to be stored in the street, and that would be every bit as valid. Whats that, they need their cars to go to work? And? Seriously, why are you making that my problem? Its got nothing to do with me, I gain more from my back street having clear lines of visibility for people to see where they're going without cars blocking the way for any other kind of use. And I'd gain more still by having a shipping container I could maybe rent storage space out in - heck, there could be a hairdressers salon in there, it could create jobs. It could make me, and others, money, and end up paying business rates. Whats that, you say, the road isn't for that? Its not for me to store stuff in? Yes, thats my freaking point.

We need to move past accepting the bland assertion that storing private property in public space is always alright. It isn't. If your life choices have led you to a point where such is a necessity for you then you made bad life choices - and thats your problem, not mine. Want to store your stuff in public? Lets decide on the optimal amount of space to set aside for that in a suburban street and then charge accordingly, so that we only see that much space used up. It'll be a street-by-street calculation, but the profits for beleaguered local authorities across the UK are substantial, and we'll see a huge improvement in our streetscapes (safer, cleaner, faster - better for everyone not too selfish to put their own storage needs first) as a result.

Motorists, start paying your way. Its really that simple.