Thursday 18 July 2019

'Weaving in and out of traffic'

Is there a phrase or term in psychology or sociology for a phenomenon whereby the mechanism by which a minority copes with a hostile environment created by a majority is as a result demonised?

I ask because I can't think of a better way of describing how people get so very angry about us 'weaving in and out' of traffic.

I mean its a constant complaint. You see it literally all of the time. And its a senseless, stupid thing to say. 

I'm addressing this mostly at you, motons. Here's the problem - there's traffic and it isn't going anywhere. Its probably not going anywhere at all, although its just possible that it just isn't going anywhere fast. And while I have a certain amount of sympathy for you stuck in the ceaseless, smoke belching, global warming creating traffic prisons of your own devising, I don't care enough for your problems suffer the same fate. I mean, yeah, I get it, you don't want to be there. I don't want you to be there either, what you're doing is delusional and irresponsible and you should be fucking ashamed. But I don't immediately get why that should be my problem.

So I'll go around the right of your car. If there isn't room on that side, I'll go around the left of your car. I mean I'd rather you all just got together and choose which side to leave us space on, but you stubbornly won't do that so I've sometimes got to go around on the right and then switch to the left. I should once again point out I can only do this when you're not (or at most barely) moving. Otherwise I can't do it, but then again if you're actually moving I don't need to. 

And yet, despite the fact that you, the motorists, created the problem, I mean you created the only problem here, the one you're suffering from, you're angry with me? I ask you, fairly and honestly, just whats fucking wrong with you?

There seems to be a set of unwritten rules among motorists that you're somehow all in it together and its the same for everyone. But for some reason you think it applies to those of us who aren't contributing to the problem? Why? Why is it you require, for your own happiness, that you drag us down into the same shit you're suffering with?

Is this just some fundamental principle of out-group psychology? I mean I can see parallels in how the coping strategies of other groups just looking to get by when people are giving them a hard time. Although here I think it might be different in that we aren't just surviving motons shit, we're doing better than them because they can't get their shit together. Because they've created a road environment that fucks everyone, but mostly themselves, and we're able to get through it, are they primarily angry out of sheer jealousy?

The truth is, I think, that they're angry and we're visible. We're a minority seen to be transgressing the rule that we've all got to be miserable as fuck and wasting time, money and resources polluting the planet and not getting anywhere.

In truth all motorists need to do in the situation where we're 'weaving in and out between traffic' is go and fuck themselves. Bluntly. They made the roads this way, all we're doing is making the world a bit better. 

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Jumping Red Lights - when and why I do it

One of the constant bellyaches from cyclist haters and idiot victim blamers is red light jumping. The idea that in some strange way a Moron sees another cyclist who isn't you jumping a red light and that's why they give you a hard time when they see you afterwards. Its nonsense, as anyone who has read any psychology at all will be able to explain.

But at the core of this is the idea that we must not ever jump red lights. only an idiot would say that we should ignore traffic signals. But to maintain that we must never jump a red light goes beyond idiocy and into suicidal stupidity. From a cosy, closeted view that never sees the world without windscreen wipers and a rear view mirror in the way its easy to pretend this is an absolute principle but don't be fooled, it isn't. At some stage when out on a bicycle you too will jump a red light for a valid and fair reason. The road network is so given over to dangerous motorists that by obeying the rules we can be put into extreme danger if we don't.

I don't intend to produce an exhaustive list of reasons, I'm only listing those that come to mind for why I sometimes have to go through a red light. Feel free to add as many more reasons as you like in the comments. But I am going to go through the times and reasons I sometimes go through red lights. tl;dr version: because I don't want to die.

...because a driver behind is going to kill me if I don't

This is one of the most common reasons, and it will be familiar to many of you. You're heading down the road at a fairly decent lick, probably covering your brakes because there's a light ahead of you and it could change. It goes amber with plenty of time for you to stop at the red light. But there's a car accelerating behind you, and from the sound of it you know the driver isn't planning to stop. 

You've got two choices. Stop and hope the driver behind won't kill you, or keep going and know that he's not going to kill you. Go through the red light and survive or hit the brakes and, with any luck, the driver behind is aware enough to stop. 

I've lost track of the number of times I've run a red light this way. It must be dozens, if not hundreds of times. And on every single occasion the car behind followed through on red - I've never mistakenly gone through a red light to avoid being run over and for the car driver behind to demonstrate that no, he wasn't willing going to kill me.

I'm not going to die under someone's car wheels just to stubbornly be right about obeying the law.

...because its understood by motorists that I should

There are some junctions here where if I don't go through a red light and cross the road on my bike on the pedestrian phase, drivers waiting behind become positively hostile. The best local example is the junction of Arbury Road, Union Lane and Milton Road, a four way intersection with lights for all ways on and a pedestrian phase. And almost every cyclist held up at the lights goes on the pedestrian phase, if the lights haven't favoured them sooner.

Is this naughty? Sort of. Its harmless, the space to ride across is safe enough, but you're still jumping a red light. The question really is, why not wait for your own green phase? I invite you to try it. 

You see, the cyclists going on red aren't holding any of the motorists up. If you wait for green then anyone in a car behind you IS (in their flawed opinion) held up for a few moments while you get away. Whereas all the other cyclists who headed off before you, through the red light, haven't held them up. Which exposes the cyclist waiting for a green light to hostility from ignorant motons who just won't have it that they need to wait their turn to get through. I've had some horrendous encounters at that junction because I've obeyed the law. The end result? I'm not waiting at a red light just to put up with some half wit threatening me for doing so. I'm going off with the other cyclists who don't suffer the implicit threat of murder under the angry wheels of an idiot. 

...because the road is designed without regard to cycling

This is another one best shown by example. If you're riding on Victoria Avenue in Cambridge towards Mitcham's Corner, you will most likely find yourself wanting to get off the road and on to the cycle route and shared crossings across the junction. Reasonable enough, its a shorter, faster, and less hostile route that doesn't require you to take the very centre of a lane of traffic to prevent motons encroaching on you from both sides. You get to the red light, but unless you're lucky and the bike box doesn't have a car in it you're left on the left kerb needing to cross a stream of cars to get where you're going. And they've only got a short light phase to get into the junction, they're not going to stop and let you past. Its not bad if you hit the junction on a green light and can get straight through - but that never happens.

Your other option is to go around the outside of the cars, through the red light, and straight on to the off road facility. Yes, its designed so badly that without breaking the law the safer cycle facility is inaccessible unless you go through the red light.

I mean I could ignore the cycle route and ride in completely the wrong lane holding my right arm out to cross two lanes of traffic hoping someone lets me out (they won't) to go the long way around a hostile road junction, that for once motons will show the slightest bit of respect to a cyclist there (they won't). But for the sake of going through a red light and breaking the law for all of about a yard of distance, screw that. I'll go the safer way.

...because the bike box is full

We've all seen this one. You're passing a long stream of car traffic to get to an advance stop box for cyclists, but when you get there its full of car drivers. You have the choice of waiting to their left (and if they'll turn left through you, you'll die), on their right (if there's space, but there won't be - and if they turn right through you, you'll die) or in front of them on the other side of the white line. Illegal, but visible and safer. I mean yeah, I could just legally wait in a stupid place and die, but that's not going to happen is it?

...because a lorry has pulled alongside 

By far the biggest killer of cyclists is large vehicles turning left through them. Many savages in the press like to blame cyclists for this, but most often if you find yourself in this situation its because as soon as the cab of the lorry has pulled alongside you the driver just forgets you were there, and then you're in danger. 

If a lorry pulls alongside me at a red light, or even right up behind me to put me into his blind spot, I'm not going to wait there just to prove a point. I'm going to ride forward until I can comfortably make eye contact with the driver, and I'm going to make sure he's seen me. I'm not going to get myself killed just to win moton brownie points by not jumping the red light. I didn't design the road in such a way as to make it potentially lethal to me - you're going to have to put up with me adapting my behaviour to make myself safer. 

...because the sensor hasn't seen me

Thankfully this is less common than it was, but it still happens. You ride to a light that is meant to be triggered by a vehicle on top of it, and you wait. Maybe other lights change and other people get a phase, but you don't. And you realise that maybe its your alloy bike, or you've maybe not lined your ride up on the right part of the road sensor. So you shuffle about a bit, and the lights change for other people again, and it becomes apparent you're going nowhere.

I'm not going to wait there all night in hope. I'm going to wait until I can see its safe and I'll ride on. I don't see I've got any other choice. make space for an emergency vehicle

A while back I was approaching the red light at the end of Bridge Street, with heavy traffic on the other side of the road blocking that lane all the way around the corner. I heard a siren, glanced back, there was a police car coming. I went past the knot of pedestrians on the pavement, through the red light, and hopped the bike onto a quiet bit of pavement I could see ahead before waving the police car through.

Amazingly someone on the other side of the road stormed out through the heavy traffic on the other side, waving a walking stick at me and yelling for going through the lights and being on the pavement. I think you'll agree it takes a very special kind of dick head to argue its better to block emergency vehicles than to go through a red light.

...because someone is threatening me

So you've had someone yelling abuse at you on the road, and there's a red light ahead. You don't want to face continued hostility, and you don't see any reason they should be allowed to project their own inadequacies via. the medium of a car engine and the relentless gleaming metal and glass box they're in. You get to the red light, they're stuck in traffic. Be honest - why the hell wouldn't you ride through and get out of their sight if you can? You aren't obliged to put up with someone abusing you and threatening you, and if you need to take the law into your own hands to escape them? I won't argue against that.

So there you have it - my short list of reasons I've broken the law and gone through red lights. I know, it is an inconvenient truth that on a hostile road network we are forced to sometimes bend or even break the rules to avoid being killed by the idiots who the rules are set up to control. But there it is - I'm not spending time recovering in hospital because I want to demonstrate how virtuous we can be, and I'm not having it that going through a red light in any circumstances where I'm putting myself at greater risk if I don't do so is wrong. 

Bluntly I suggest that anyone telling you otherwise should be invited to take a long walk off a short pier. You don't have to take their shit. 

Friday 12 July 2019

Cambridge Transport Policy - How NOT to do local government.

Sadly I'm going to have to split this up into multiple blog posts. There's too much to absorb in one go, and its a developing situation changing very rapidly. A friend of a friend of a friend suggests that there have been some leaks from some of the authorities listed below that will be hitting the web in a few weeks time - so the state of things is currently fluid. Stick with me, please.

Cambridge is often heralded as unique in Britain, in that more people cycle here than elsewhere. And thats certainly true, although the numbers aren't as great as some would have you believe. In my view thats only one of the many ways this city is different to the rest of the UK. There is also strong evidence that we have the worst local government stratification in the country, and that this is completely ruining any hope of ever having an effective transport policy.

To explain why, one must look at the organisations involved. 

The City itself is operated by Cambridge City Council. Its currently Labour run although as things stand its hard to know whether that majority is safe going forward, especially with coming boundary changes. When you drill down into it you find that the local Labour party is as divided as it is everywhere else - we've got hard red Trots like Dave Baigent and Kevin Price (I can make a case for him being the second worst councillor Cambridge has ever had), essentially they're hard nosed Corbynistas, and we have notorious cyclist haters like Gerri Bird, all the way to pragmatic modernists like Carina O'Reilly. And this has bubbled over into petty deselections of councillors to apparently balance the wings of the party. The idea they might have a unified or intelligent transport policy is extremely far fetched.

But in a way that barely matters because the transport authority is the County Council. And that authority is made up of a few labour and liberal democrat councillors mostly from Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, but is dominated by a comfortable majority of red in the face Tory fruitcakes representing rural and fenland constituencies where a monkey with a blue rosette would win. So thats who they put up, the most frothing at the mouth, swivel eyed, nasty Tory who passes muster with the local associations seemingly more interested in the petty hurt they can inflict by executing Tory dogma than anything else. Until recently the only challenge they faced was UKIP, so now they're effectively unopposed. If they have any interest in Cambridge at all its how to fleece us for council tax to then spend giving immigrants a harder time in the Fens, and how they can maintain car access for hate filled geriatrics who had their souls sucked out by Thatcher. Suggestions to them that cycling and walking are important is likely to get you shot through the lungs. 

Then we have South Cambridgeshire. That was a Tory stronghold but spectacular mismanagement gave the Liberal Democrats a way in. So far they haven't done much - in itself sufficient reason for cynicism, and they've really flopped when faced with intransigent road engineers who are making a right royal mess of the arterial road through their area. But they're there. And thats as much as we can say for them.

And lastly there's East Cambridgeshire, a council so ineffective it fights over folk festival parades. Its a bizarrely run, car-centric place in which an unsustainable free parking in the historic city of Ely means that you can neither walk nor breath safely there. At least its Tory/Libdem contest, but as its a contest fought for control of a freakishly car dependent part of the county I hold out no hope of any improvement. 

So four different local government bodies all with their own transport priorities? Oh, no. We're not done. Not by a long way.

Because having at least two, even three layers of local government in each location wasn't enough, our local councillors agreed with central government to have a directly elected mayor who covering the needs of the frothing at the mouth UKIP fenlanders, the cosmopolitan and complex city of Peterborough, and the professors of Cambridge who can show mathematical proof of Plancks constant but if you boil carrots and potatoes in the same pan it blows their minds. Big ask - squaring the circle of a bus and train city, the nations cycling capital and a county that would render down their own children for another gallon of diesel.

The mayor is and will, as far as we can see, always be a Tory - which upsets the Labour/Libdem City of Cambridge. And because its so safe its very prone to cronyism, with the rate at which the mayor shovels cash into the coffers of his mates seemingly showing now bounds. They Mayor has plans for reforming our transport in the city, but he'll probably just blow all his cash on posh headquarters and severance pay.

And last, but oh my gosh no means least, because things weren't complicated enough and we weren't blowing enough cash on 5 layers of squabbling local government (district or city council, possibly a parish council area, the mayoral authority, county council and of course the elected police commissioner) we also have a massive body of good old fashioned quangos shoveling money into endless consultations but very little solid infrastructure work. It was called Cambridge Cit Deal but that became so toxic they renamed it Greater Cambridge - yeah, they say its because that was more inclusive, so at best the rebranding might seem convenient. And they have their own plans and views, and ever more absurd and peculiar ways of feigning democratic mandate for an entirely un-elected body.

Needless to say, this city doesn't have a transport policy, nor a coherent development policy. We're a hub for economic growth and in a very short time the city has grown beyond all expectations, and continues to expand. And at the top? More of a bun-fight than an authority. The Mayoral plan is different to Greater Cambridge, which isn't reflected by what the County wants, and the City don't agree with any of that. While the Districts have their own priorities too.

What a mess. What a pity. What a monstrous waste of resources, having endless overlapping consultations from needlessly repeated local government positions. 

I'll go on to detail how plans of the City Deal and the Mayoral authority differ (and indeed why each is, independently, pathetic) in future posts. But for now, I can conclude that there is no way that the current system can work. Strip away all but two of these layers of government, divide the total number of councillors by 3 and make that a full time job. It would be cheaper, faster, comprehensible, and might actually get something done. 

Monday 8 July 2019

Arbury Road - Camcycles inexplicable love affair with Greater Cambridge?

In the last couple of years Cambridge Cycling Campaign (often quaintly and trendily known by their twitter handle, Camcycle) have been, on the whole, better than they were. While there has been the occasional weird outburst, and their rabid enthusiasm for the underwhelming eponymous trail remains peculiar,  they have at least no longer got a convicted child assaulter on the committee, and I've talked to Robin (still their chair, I believe) about the support Martin gave for the crap facility on Gilbert Road,and he didn't get it either. There are some excellent, committed, positive people there who deserve our appreciation.

So what the heck is he going on about here? Why did he choose this pooch to screw?

All I can think is that he didn't really know Arbury Road, or how people rode in this part of town, before the new lane was constructed.

Ocado delivery driver dangerous to cyclist and pedestrians
The background - Arbury Road is the oldest named route in the City, connecting Chesterton to Arbury Camp, which has had some occupation since the neolithic era. And since Orchard Park was built there the site has culturally reverted to that state. It is, like many roads derived from old drove ways, long and mostly straight, the result being that many choose to drive far to fast on it. The modern road can be divided into two main sections. South of Campkin Road it is fast, narrow, with parked cars all the way down one side and occasionally blocking the pavement on the other side too, essentially limiting it to two very close streams of vehicles with no room for safely overtaking cyclists. Not that this stops them. And North of Campkin Road, it isn't much wider but there is (and has always been) a hedge down one side and little parking on road on the other.

City Deal (sorry, that name had become so toxic they renamed themselves Greater Cambridge) has existed in a constant state of existential crisis since it was founded, needing to find ways of shovelling cash into schemes as fast as possible. Hence it has wasted no time in throwing money into shovel ready schemes and the black hole of consultation. And it noticed that building a cycle lane on the North end of Arbury Road would be relatively uncontroversial. So they did.

And... Well, where it is, it isn't bad. If you came at this without knowing this party of the city at all you might think this was great. You would look at the kids riding on this new lane and think its a revelation. But thats incredibly naive.

One of the multiple off road routes parallel to the new lane
The reality in Kings Hedges is that the estate was built at the end of the 1960s in a tremendously forward thinking, progressive way. It was made difficult to drive through the estate but easy to walk or ride, with the result being that a lot of journeys within the estate are made on foot or by bicycle. Conversely no attention was paid to this in much of the rest of the city, meaning that places like Kings Hedges that are great to ride around in are terrible to ride of to anywhere else. The result? You see plenty of kids riding to school within the estate, people riding or walking to the local shops or park, but the rate for commuting by bike is lower than in other parts of the city. 

And true to form Greater Cambridge ignored this. They ignored the simple means by which the same scheme could have been delivered cheaper, faster, with less disruption, with less ecological damage and with a better end result. Because that didn't fit the bill of spending enough money to secure the next tranche of government funding. And what we now have is a highly visible route that accomplishes next to nothing for those who live in Kings Hedges or indeed anyone else. 

Bus stop filled around one minute from every 10
In itself, it isn't bad. In parts. I mean if you ignore the fact that the two bus stops are used by a service that is due every 10 minutes, meaning that for about 10% of the time during the day its actively dangerous. And that there is no physical separation so that delivery vehicles are, all through most week days, blocking either the pavement or the cycle lane. But it doesn't take you anywhere. The primary school already had good provision, and the new cycle lane stops before you get to the part of the road thats most dangerous.

I would say that Greater Cambridges decision to build this white elephant of a scheme that will not increase the total uptake of cycling in the City but may in fact only get people out of the estate and on to the main road is deeply cynical, and that is clearly demonstrated by the fact that where you actually need protection the cycle route disappears. In theory you might turn right, head through the older estate and ride to town there, but of course if you're heading to the Beehive Centre or any of the shopping or employment locations on Newmarket Road the scheme is valueless. The truly terrifying part of Arbury Road has been left entirely untouched by this - no one who was dissuaded by the traffic on the North end of Arbury Road will be persuaded to brave the much worse traffic on the Southern half.

Cycle lane ends - at the worst possible place
Of course its possible that you might be heading North from Kings Hedges towards Orchard Park, or up on to the Guided Bus Route to go to the Science Park. Well, the latter is unlikely, as its the wrong direction and we've another more direct route (that could really do with an upgrade) if you work there. So you're presumably heading to the A14 bridge, going to Histon or Cottenham, or just up to the hotel on Orchard Park? Its an odd one but lets humour that idea. You ride up Arbury Road heading North and you see some good facilities - the new crossing, for example, is good... 

And then you end up at the end of Arbury Road, the junction with Kings Hedges Road. Where you're meant to do what, exactly? Well there's a shared use facility off to the Left there heading off up Kings Hedges Road. Its crap and gives way to the side roads without any sensible signage, of course. Or you can go straight across acres of hostile car dominated tarmac without any specific cycling provision at all. Its like someone vomited all the bad ideas they had on one junction, it has nothing to commend it. Or you could go right where there's a shared use route to cut the corner on to Kings Hedges Road which is, in that direction, lethally dangerous. I genuinely don't know what they have in mind that we should do here - are we just meant to disappear because there isn't a cycle route any more? Kings Hedges Road at this point has four hostile lanes for fast cars with motorists mentally preparing for or coming down from the 70mph high of the A14. They aren't looking for cyclists, few ever want to ride on or across it. 

End of Arbury Road. Well? Now what?
Robin old chap, you've done some good stuff with Camcycle. But if you think this scheme is good you've been suckered. Its a pointless scheme that won't get anyone new cycling, it'll just get some of the people who were already riding to ride on a slightly different route. It doesn't do enough to make whole journeys better, and by concentrating on the (relatively) good section of the road instead of the brutally hazardous end, this is merely a cynical way of digging holes to pour money into them. No one whose journey was bad has now got a good enough journey as a result of this cynical scheme. I lament that you've been taken in by this. You should know better.