Wednesday, 9 April 2014

20mph zone already failing in Cambridge

Well we've got it now, at least in North Cambridge, and its crap.

Its crap because our police force have no intention of enforcing it. They never did really, so councillors who believe in the 20mph limit and some residents go together to set this as a police priority in Cambridge North Area, at one of the regular committee meetings where such things are set - and subsequently the Police have said they'll only enforce 20mph limits in exceptonal circumstances (or 'never' if they're honest).

So we've got a 20mph limit coming in across Cambridge. This is absurdly popular, despite the 20mph limitation of not being imposed on some of the more hazardous roads. The only stalling point appears to be our police force; even Graham Bright, our Police Commisioner who is a notorious anti-cycling, pro-motor lobby apologist for bad road policing is in favour of policing this.

So democratically elected councillors call for it. Our MP is in favour of the 20mph limits. Our 'democratically elected' (fogey with a blue rosette chosen by fenland villages, to be exact) police commissioner wants it enforced and the people of Cambridge when polled are overwhelmingly supportive of it. Yet the Police don't particularly like it so they're not enforcing it. So when I ride my bike home through 20mph roads at approaching that speed later, I'll be forced against the kerb by angry motorists who still think doing 35mph is okay.

This isn't right. This is not right, at all.

Now what do you call it when the Police force pick and choose which laws to enforce and who to enforce them on? When the very clear demand exists to enforce a law but the Police refuse to do so because they don't want to? Not wishing to sound hyperbolic, but it ain't a democracy.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Air pollution incident - where do I collect my cheque?

We're in the middle of a severe air pollution incident in England. Actually I'm slightly put out because it hasn't rained here and whenever there's one of these foreign dust falling from the sky incidents I seem to miss it, and apparently the cause is that we're being deluged with dust from Africa and pollution 'from the continent'.

There was a lady on tellybox this morning standing by a main road in Birmingham, with thundering articulated lorries belching oily black death, cars spluttering out plumes of cancerous toxins and buses coughing up an early, soot clogged demise. I didn't see any cyclists during the news article - I assume the BBC had them all shot to avoid ruining the delicious irony of the piece. The reporter was talking about how the air is bad because of the weather and because of the Sahara. Presumably she and her camera team then each got into their cars and added no further air quality problems because we can, apparently, blame them on the Sahara. And perhaps the French. Almost certainly the French.

Its hard not to be struck by the apparent hypocrisy of this - if you're part of the problem, which is that you're one of the millions of people sitting in their pollution machines complaining that there are too many people in pollution machines clogging the roads in front of you, you probably oughtn't be complaining about air quality quite so much. But for this to be genuine hypocrisy there has to be, at some level, some understanding that you're the cause - and here the much over-used 'cognitive dissonance' factor comes in to play. Its the same one as 'its too dangerous for my kids to walk to school because of the cars, so I'm driving them'. Once again, somehow the obvious culprit, our dependence on motorised transport to fulfil our daily needs, can't possibly be to blame. The disconnect between our actions and their consequences is staggering.

News and, oddly, weather reports back this up. Its not about cars, its about strange weather not blowing the pollution away. Its not about carbon particles in the air, its about the Sahara. Its not NOx gases created in the near unimaginable heat and pressure of the internal combustion engine (or 'portable death fire' as it could correctly be termed) reacting in sunlight to form brown nasty shit that makes the horizon look like a chocolaty mess, its about foreign air slowly drifting over East Anglia.

We have VED and fuel duty for a reason, but they're not working. Our air is too dirty to allow us to safely breathe, a problem we've been ignoring for so long that our whole country is being taken to court over it. Actually if only we had been just ignoring it - we've been caught out allegedly trying to cook the books over it - our politicians don't seem to understand that 'not getting caught' isn't the same as 'not having a problem'.

So I wonder, is it time to take VED a step further? Ought fuel duty be used for what its meant to be for? Perhaps we should consider, if these are indeed meant to be to ameliorate environmental harm, should we perhaps make the polluter pay those who aren't polluting? 

I cycle to work. Where do I collect my cheque?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Hills/Huntingdon Road, Cambridge Cycling Campaign response.

Not as bad as I'd feared...

I mean, at least there's a requirement from the Campaign that the County must make a clear statement that there is an intent to improve other junctions on these roads, and a statement that both sides of Huntingdon Road should be done (although no request that the County states that is someting they aspire or plan to do - why not?). 

And, frustratingly, the Campaigns support for this scheme is not dependent on getting the lanes wider than the 2.1/2.7m specified nor on getting said comment from the County that this is a first step rather than job-done.

Better comments from the Campaign than I'd have expected following Martins portrayal of my criticism as coming across as a rant - but I'm afraid not really asking enough of the County Council for my tastes. I think Cambridge Cycling Campaign need to hold a more credible threat of not supporting a scheme like this if (a) its not explicitly stated that this would, when funding is there, lead to more of the same and (2) without some stated minimum standards being clearly laid out in conditions for support (for example width).

I still don't think that agreeing with the plans rather than asking for more from them is a good bargaining position (as I've explained) - many more consultation responses will be telling the County to water this down, without a pull in the other direction it seems not impossible that, as ever, we'll be stuck with a bad compromise that the Campaigns opening strongly supportive comments will be taken as supportive of. 

But its going the right way. Just need to be a bit more so.

Like I've always said, there are some good folk at the Campaign. I wonder if anyone may be holding them back from really letting loose with what they think?

Monday, 31 March 2014

Dear Political Candidate/Local Party

If you represent a political party in Cambridge the you're probably reading this in response to a tweet or email I've sent you.

Please accept this invitation to say what you want about cycling or cyclists in Cambridge. This is a simple invitation for you to say whats on your mind on the subject in the run-up to the local council elections. Feel free to say what you like on the subject re. policies, cycling in and around Cambridge, plans for expenditure... in fact anything directly or tangentially related to cycling.

Send this to me by email (get my address by commenting here or asking on twitter, I'll oblige) and I'll turn your comment into a full post here. I won't edit it in any way other than to format it for the blog, but I will leave comments open so people may ask further questions of you or say whats on their own minds. 

I will of course publicise your comments here, and encourage others to do so also.

Thanks in advance,


Why not campaign for what we really want?

Historically I'm also shouting at the sidelines

I've often said of Cambridge Cycling Campaign, there are some good people there, and there are some things that can only be achieved by having the kind of dedicated people who have the time and energy to turn up to council meetings, dissect reports, etc., but so often they seem to fail cyclists of this city - and I rather fear that they're at it again.

Case in point - the new proposals for Hills and Huntingdon Roads. I responded to these schemes in my previous post. If I may take the liberty of quoting myself:
This is so close to being an excellent scheme. But strip away the sci-fi shiny presentation? Its a classic example of Cambridge cycling provision. Just not quite good enough to encourage non-cyclists to ride. We're good for cycling by British standards - this is another example of Cambridge not seizing the opportunity on a global cycling provision stage.
There really is a lot to commend these schemes - but for reasons outlined in that post I wouldn't give unqualified support to them. Nor, I would hope, would any cyclist - the scheme is good, but why the heck would we not be up front in saying it could be better? Why wouldn't we lay out what we really want rather than accept this as is when it only comes close?

I was talking to a few Camcycle folk on friday, prior to riding in to a tree on the monthy social CamRideHome (this isn't unusual for me - I've ridden in to the Cam, the Trent, the Lune, and half a dozen trees over the years while distracted by whatever tasty things I can see nearby to forage). They're very positive about the scheme, even to the extent of having got postcards made to hand out in support. One of them was eager to point out to me that if cyclists oppose this scheme we might not get it at all. Is that still how we're doing this? We support things that aren't as good as we want because otherwise we won't get anything? 

I don't recall motoring campaigners asking for motorways that aren't quite wide enough to overtake or which, inexplicably, are surfaced with peanut butter. Or rail lobbyists asking for stations to be open every other Tuesday except during lent. In fact I can't immediately think of any lobby group, of any sort, who feel that they mustn't rock the boat. This isn't how to successfully negotiate for anything - and this apologetic attitude is in part to blame for the UK cycle lobby failures over the last half century. Its time for a change. You're happy-ish with the proposals as they are? Fine, you can go in to a consultation with that stance but accept that what is going to happen is everyone else will campaign for what they REALLY want and what we'll get is a compromise closer to their desired outcome than to ours. Aim higher and we'll get closer to what is proposed than we will by merely supporting what has been offered to us.

The County Council are not going to dump a scheme like this because cyclists say 'its good but it could be better - we want to engage to make it exactly what we want rather than just not quite'. They're not going to run screaming because we don't don cheerleader outfits and wave our helmets around like pom-poms every time one of them farts. Quit being paranoid that presenting the case for what we want would get us viewed as some bunch of subversive, ranting anarchists that councillors could easily cast aside - its ridiculous, and that approach never succeeds. 

The bottom line? This scheme isn't bad - there are some issues with the crossings, the lanes aren't as wide as we'd need if we're going to be overtaking kiddie trailers between raised kerbs, they're hilariously limited in terms of only being one side of Huntingdon road and not even all of it - but they could point the way for how we might implement good cycle infrastructure across the City. But that is in no way stated or implied at any stage in the consultation. To overtly state that such schemes set a benchmark for how cycle provision can and should be done here wouldn't cost the County a single penny more and would send a clear message not just in Cambridge but across Britain - that the success of this scheme be viewed as demonstrating a desire for implementation of similar on both sides and along the whole length of the route when funding becomes available must be a minimum requirement for offering support. This isn't opposing the scheme, its not  a 'rant', its constructively criticising a scheme that looks good on the video but which on analysis might be so much better.

Martin, its time for Cambridge Cycling Campaign to realise that its not there to be the cheerleaders of almost. That approach needlessly restricts what we can achieve. And you need to quit being quite so tetchy with cyclists who won't join in with this unambitious stance - here's a thought, why not bring Camcycle into the modern era of negotiating for top quality infrastructure rather than just not quite that? Its crazy that those who are asking for the best outcome for cyclists 'rant' as they are  'shouting form the sidelines' - get with the program, Cambridge Cycling Campaign.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Huntingdon Road/Hills Road scheme - response.

I'm sorry, I've been putting off replying to these County proposals here.

Here's a fly-through of whats proposed. I don't fly, so I'll walk through it in the text below.

Spiffy space-age graphics make everything look so nice, don't they?

First things first - we do need to improve those routes, but why such short sections? And why, on Huntingdon Road, just on one side? Great, give us segregated infrastructure to take us to places of work out there, places where people live, but what about the return journey? If its only good on one side then its not good enough. 1 out of 10, right there, you've let cyclists down completely if you only make half of their trip safe. And if you're going to do it, do the whole road. Do the whole length of it. Don't give us piecemeal provision any more - make cycle routes for whole journeys, not small parts thereof. Any cycle trip can only be as good as its worst junction.

Now, on to the thorny subject of 'floating bus stops' such as you'll see 50s into the above video. Bus chaps think they're crap but then they would, wouldn't they? Its their job to get for the best for buses, not whats best all round, and as such comments from Stagecoach need to be taken with a pinch of salt. I'm not opposed to the floating bus stops but quite obviously we need to get wheelchair and baby buggy access right, and the idea of putting the bus stop on the pavement rather than on the floating island is folly - we can't have pedestrians milling in the cycle waiting for a bus or crossing en masse at the approach of a bus, thats not good for pedestrians or cyclists. Or the bus drivers waiting for the sorry mess to sort itself out, for that matter.

Move forward to 1:15 and you'll see the second place where things start to fall down. Yes, plenty of room for cyclists there, but I promise you, telling an inexperienced or vulnerable rider that they need to pick the middle lane of three with a car either side of them will not work. I know plenty of supposedly confident adult cyclists who will not ride over Hills Road bridge in either direction because of the employment of this non-solution. Doesn't work, won't work, fix it.

After that junction we move from a lane separated by a kerb to a raised lane. Clearly full segregation is better - the double yellow lines won't stop delivery drivers parking in the cycle lane (neither the Police nor the County police this at all well), meaning cyclists will have to go around, on the road. Down a kerb and up a kerb, with a parked vehicle restricting space and visibility. This is a half measure, and should be removed from the scheme - give us proper segregation, lets not go to such pains and fail on this point. 

Move forward to 2:17. What the heck is this? Crossings are good, but how am I meant to ride this? Are we meant to get two way bike traffic between the gap there? Am I going to be looking pedestrians in the eye as they wonder whether I'm turning right before or after the zebra crossing, with them thinking I'm playing chicken as I turn in to the narrow part at the last moment, eyeing up pedestrians, cars behind on my right and oncoming cyclists who may or may not be turning at the same time? Or do you want me to stop entirely and cross like a pedestrian? Come on guys, there has to be better than this available. Move on to 4:10, and you'll see that whats meant to happen is that the motorists are meant to give way to us there. Why would they? You're saying I look, indicate right and the motorists will stop? Will they hell as like. You're treating cyclists like third class road users with this dreadful crossing idea. Its badly thought out and obviously dangerous to the point where it'll look safe because no one will use it as you envisage.

On to Hills Road (4:50) - the lanes simply look too narrow. You want to segregate off the cyclists into a route only wide enough to ride single file with a kerb preventing cyclists overtaking each other, on a major throughfare? That simply won't work. Wider. Space to overtake. Some cyclists travel three times the speed of others - this is normal, legal, and reasonable. Accommodate that.

All in all these schemes look really shiny in the footage, but the devil is in the detail. We need provision to turn right at all of the turn offs to places of work, from all the curbed lanes - is that included? We need junctions that really do allow us to get across without spooking pedestrians and without playing chicken with motorists coming up rapidly behind us.

This is so close to being an excellent scheme. But strip away the sci-fi shiny presentation? Its a classic example of Cambridge cycling provision. Just not quite good enough to encourage non-cyclists to ride. We're good for cycling by British standards - this is another example of Cambridge not seizing the opportunity on a global cycling provision stage.

Edit: As pointed out by Hester below, mostly the lanes we're looking at are 2.1m to 2.7m wide. If we're going to put kerbs in place to segregate cycle lanes from the main road, we absolutely must make them wide enough to allow overtaking - 2.1m won't allow that. 2.7m will BARELY allow it. Make them wider if they're kerbed off otherwise this won't work well.

Edit 2: Anna has commented below that with the iron-mongery you get at the edge of roads, we could end up with hazardous, wet drain covers, man holes etc. in the kerbed off cycle lanes. I suggest that before sayng 'yes' to this scheme we must require that these are removed to the main carriageway.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Motoring - the most dehumanising activity

I was struck by a story at the BBC this week. I'll post the first part of the story here:
The fake body of a dead cyclist has been left on the side of a dangerous stretch of road in Belarus as part of a police safety campaign, it appears.
The scene was set up to look like a hit-and-run, with a mangled cycle and tyre tracks left near the dummy. But officers found only nine people stopped out of 186 cars that drove past, news site says. Occasionally, an officer posed as a concerned passer-by, to flag down drivers for help. "Sometimes this worked," the website reports.
So out of 186 motorists, 9 stopped because there was a body on the road. And many people wouldn't even stop if someone was trying to flag them down to help.

Let me rephrase that - out of 186 people who happened to be driving, only 9 felt sufficient empathy with their fellow human beings such that they stopped to assist someone who was injured.

Now we can write this off as crazy foreign stuff, in a place most of us know less about than we should (but what we do 'know' is bad) - is it somewhere so lawless that you'd be expecting a trap, we might ask? There's just no way any of us when faced with such a scenario wouldn't stop and help. Is there? Heavens forbid we accept that this is a fair summary of motoring...

I'm reminded of so many other stories that are eerily similar to this one. For example, 6% of motorists went out of their way to kill animals using their cars. Not animals that they might subsequently eat (although I can't immediately think of a less reasonable way one might hunt than by mowing animals down with your car), or animals that present any kind of hazard. This is people killing animals using their vehicles because they want to, no other reason. Shits and giggles. And when we look at the number and severity of hit-and-run incidents where motorists hit a cyclist or pedestrian and drive off it beggars belief. This is happening all the time - you're not safe from this on pedestrian crossings or even on the pavement. Thats hitting another human being, with a gargantuan gleaming lump of metal and glass, and just carrying on like it didn't happen.

It would be absurd to go looking for complex, difficult phenomena to explain this when we really don't have to - there's an answer right in front of us. The linking feature, the thing that binds all of these things together, is the car. All too high a proportion of car drivers lose a little bit of empathy with anyone not in a car. It seems that so many of them take on a little of the persona of their vehicles - they resent control of their speed (hence the large majority break speeding laws), they resent anyone on the road who isn't another car driver even when they're taking up less space than a car, in fact they get strangely arsey that anyone else on the road might think that they are in fact a car themselves. Yes, really, they're that far gone - they hate us for thinking that we're cars, even though they themselves are just people like we are. They're so invested in their motorist identity that they don't differentiate between themselves and their vehicles, and they see our presence as a threat to the moton hegemony. This branches out in to an insane belief we're not giving them their due respect or that we are in some way smug, often supported by a lack of any understanding why we cycle and projections based on their own self perceived inadequacies. They are 'normal', we are not, we owe them visible subservience.

Rules on our road only work when everyone agrees that they matter - but to come to that conclusion requires that we have the capacity to see situations from other peoples point of view, specifically from the perspective of the person who could get hurt as a result of our transgression. If you're a motorist, that means 'the other guy'. As I have often hi-lighted here, the vast majority of injuries on our roads are caused by motorists - the very people who we can demonstrate show the least empathy for other road users - and if directly studied we can see that far too many motorists show no compassion or, worse, a desire to cause harm.

This is the great flaw in the thinking behind transport in our modern world. By favouring the most dehumanising mode of transport we increase risk for anyone not using that mode - if you're not driving, you're at greater risk, so most people choose to drive. After a generation or two of that we've planned housing, work, shopping, health etc. solely for those who drive - anyone else doesn't really count, they're just weird. The result is a horribly dysfunctional car-dominated dystopia. 

We're living in the future. Its worse than we'd feared.