So Long, And Thanks For All The Pish

 

Flipper: Charming, funny, been dead for decades and still more familiar to the public than Cycling England

Last Friday, road.cc reported that Cycling England now looks certain to be abolished as part of a Government cull on quangos (or ‘quasi autonomous non-governmental organisations’ to give them their full snappy title).

Christian Wolmar, writer, broadcaster and member of the board of Cycling England anticipated this by writing a very strong open letter to Norman Baker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport outlining why he thinks this is a very bad idea. He outlined the fact that Cycling England runs cycling proficiency in schools and various projects across the country on a pathetically small budget annual budget of £60m (other transport modes get £15.36bn) and a lot of help of volunteers. All strong stuff but I bet Norman Baker MP thought exactly the same thing as I did;

Christian Wolmar is part of Cycling England??!! 

I’d imagine that hardly anyone outside the cycling World knows that Cycling England even exists and cares even less what it stands for. Cycling England, like CTC are great for the already converted but utterly crap at projecting out to the non-cycling  public who couldn’t give a hoot what a Cycling Demonstration Town is, or indeed how cycling would benefit them.

Cycling England was never going to set the World alight on a meagre budget of £60m per annum (Honda’s ‘Impossible Dream’ advert cost £4.5m alone for perspective). Above all, if Cycling England is a Quango then its foundations were always going to be shaky. Despite having origins far earlier, Quangos will be seen as a Blairite Government mechanism and detested by the public at the best of times (despite many of them doing deeds very much to the public good).  The point of this post is that I believe there must be wholesale reform of the Department for Transport with sustainable transport modes not only being brought ‘in house’ but also receiving a far more integrated share of the transport spend.

Cambridge Cycle Campaign has set up a website (savecyclingengland.org) to bring attention to Cycling England’s good works and to appeal against its abolition. Listed below are the key points:

  • Bikeability: …. the nationwide cycle training scheme, teaching children (benefiting around 300,000 per year) and adults to cycle safely and responsibly, at a time when there is an enormous need to encourage healthy lifestyles, promote safe use of roads, and give children freedom;
  • Cycling Demonstration Towns: Enabling over 2.5m people in 18 towns around the country to benefit from considerably increased levels of infrastructure funding to make roads safer and cycle-friendly, to get more people on their bikes;
  • Health-related projects to promote cycling as a means of addressing the obesity epidemic and tackling sedentary lifestyles;
  • Professional support for Local Authorities to ensure that practitioners on-the-ground get cycling right;
  • Creating design standards and guidance available to highway engineers;
  • Railway/cycling integration, getting train companies to take cycling seriously
  • Events and projects all around the country (including Bike Week), ranging from education initiatives, promoting cycling to minority groups, travel planning for businesses and much more.

All fairly good points until you realise that cycling as an overall transport mode still languishes in its single figure percentage glory. I would like to tentatively make the following points;

  • A personal preference this, but return the name ‘Bikeability’ back to ‘Cycling Proficiency’ so the public instantly knows what it is. This is, after all, a country that still thinks ‘Road Tax’ exists and I’ve never heard cycle training referred to by the general public as ‘Bikeability’. Also, if it can be claimed that ‘Bikeability’ brings cycle training up to the 21st century, how about the DfT giving new cyclists safer, 21st century roads or decent segregated cycle infrastructure based on a Dutch model to cycle on? Otherwise parents will never let children out on their bikes and gain some freedom, fitness and fresh air as it continues to be perceived as a dangerous activity.
  • Drop the Cycling Demonstration Town nonsense in favour of national policy. Otherwise the money will continue to be swallowed up by Councils desperate to plug other holes in their budgets or ‘Consultancy Fees’.  If Brighton & Hove is a ‘Cycling Demonstration Town’, then Milton Keynes is an ‘Architectural Treasure Trove’.
  • There must be proper design guidance on cycling infrastructure based on more robust models (such as the Netherlands). This is not a push to create a fully segregated cycle network but where Cycling Infrastructure is installed it has to meet minimum criteria, that is way and above the dangerous and appalling standards we have currently. Above all the Department for Transport has to integrate sustainable transport into its remit and stop using car-centric policies, particularly for urban areas (for example, favouring blanket 20mph speed limits across residential areas thereby linking the generally ignored School Zones with the streets that children are going to be walking and cycling in from).
  • There needs to be far better promotion of the benefits of walking and cycling. This should be coordinated better with other Government Departments such as the Department for Health – instead of health professionals banging on about things they don’t know, such as the misguided belief that sticking helmets on people will solve everything, they can bang on about things that they do know, such as cycling being a healthy activity.
  • I thought railway/cycle integration meant being able to take a bicycle on a train to allow passengers (sorry, customers) to get to their destination door to door with minimum fuss – One transport mode complimenting another to increase scope and versatility. The railway companies however believe that putting up cycle racks at stations is the only answer and gets them off the hook, whilst praying that everyone buys a Brompton. Rail companies will never take cycling seriously until it becomes a condition of the franchise or is legislated.
  • I believe that every time Philip Hammond releases a report or statement, it must be called ‘The Hammond Organ’.

We needn’t push for the last one.

In summary, I don’t doubt at all the fantastic abilities and knowledge of Christian Wolmar, or indeed Phillip Darnton, the very amiable Chairman of Cycling England. I just think its time for cycling to stop being treated at arms length by a Government Department that hasn’t a clue what sustainable transport or road safety is yet is in its best interests to do so if it’s to achieve anything close to integration. The good folk of Cycling England and all cyclists across England and the rest of the British Isles deserve far better than the current structure.

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Cycle Campaigning Simplified No. 2 – ‘Road Safety’

Of course, they're sitting far too close to a rural road. They need high-viz and eye protectors and...

A curious one this. You probably thought road safety meant safety to all road users. You may have given a lot of thought to your local area and how difficult it looks to get around by bicycle and how dangerous it seems just to get to work or the shops. Being a nice, sane person, you want to do something about it like start a campaign group. Welcome to the insane World of Road Safety.

The whole concept of road safety is fundamentally flawed for these very simple reasons; Motorised traffic is treated as though they were on the roads first, the motorists themselves think that they exclusively pay for the roads. Therefore cyclists and pedestrians are merely guests that have to take all safety precautions necessary for what is increasingly regarded as a dangerous environment. The fact that cyclists and pedestrians were there first, that motorists don’t pay for the roads and that, unlike motorists, cyclists and pedestrians actually have the right to be there tends to get completely and utterly overlooked.

The Government, the Department for Transport and Councils across the land bang on about their commitment to sustainable transport and road safety where of course what they actually mean is a commitment to sustainable transport and road safety as long as it doesn’t annoy the ‘poor beleaguered motorist’ (voters) and the motoring lobby. A motoring lobby that advertises extensively in all national and local newspapers, radio and TV stations (also sponsoring documentaries – nice touch and what you need for unbiased subject matter).

The result is that if a car crashes, the road ‘engineering’ is examined and yet incredibly, no-one questions the car. There is widespread approval amongst the general public for schemes such as 20mph in urban areas (thereby linking school zones which are generally ignored with the residential areas that children could walk or cycle in from) or speed cameras and yet these are seen as part of an arsenal in the ‘War on the Motorist’. No-one questions that metal boxes weighing a ton traveling at speed is a problem that needs to be directly addressed. Instead, the onus of road safety falls on the most vulnerable, requiring helmets and high visibility tabards. Why?

If you are in a campaign group you will find that Highways Engineers will be all too happy to shovel you off the roads in the name of road safety but onto barely converted pavements with bicycle symbols on them, rendering cycling even more dangerous and circuitous. You will only find out about these plans when its too late and the work has been designed, signed off and programmed. Another thing you’ll notice, and a fundamental failure of Government, DfT and Councils is that at no point is space ceded by motorists. This has got to stop.

I’ve come to regard cycling as the beaten partner in the relationship of road users; cyclists are sometimes subject to verbal and physical abuse from bigger, more powerful assailants. Cyclists are often made to feel that the deaths and serious injuries that occur are their fault and if they get hit they only have themselves to blame.  Cycling has to consider itself lucky to get its tiny amounts of housekeeping money. The assailant in all this portrays themselves cunningly as the victim manipulating facts to allow them to continue killing and injuring with relative impunity. Finally, there’s the fact that cyclists keep going back for more, being faithfully and hopelessly devoted.

It’s time to find a new lover. Maybe something a bit more exotic and European. Dutch or Danish maybe?

A Cleaner, More Sustainable Worthing

'....and Worthing has its own H&M! Just like the one in Brighton and Guildford and.........'

Our cycle campaign group is at the moment finalising its response to West Sussex County Councils Local Transport Plan (LTP3). This will be the guiding document for county transport policy over the next 15 years. The word ‘sustainable’ is mentioned 68 times throughout its 103 pages

However, Paul Holden reports today in the [Brighton & Hove] Argus that, 

‘Shoppers could be helped by cheaper parking rates from January 1.

Worthing Town Centre Initiative is planning to inject New Year competition into parking, currently dominated by NCP.

The TCI intends to run the 180-space surface civic centre car park, off Stoke Abbott Road, on Saturdays.

Prices have not yet been finalised but it is believed the charge will be 50p an hour for up to five hours.

NCP charges £1.60 for an hour in the main multi-storey car parks and £8 for five hours.

However, it costs just £3 a day to park at the edge-of-town Teville Gate multi-storey and £2.50 for the neighbouring Broadwater Bridge surface car park, both run by NCP.

Town Centre manager Sharon Clarke said legal paperwork was now being completed after months of talks.’

Well done! Let’s encourage more traffic into the town with all the added pollution, stress and aggression of motorists trying to grab those cheaper spaces!

Surely it would have been a little bit easier to promote walking and cycling into Worthing (after all, unlike nearby Brighton & Hove, Worthing town centre doesn’t have any hills). It would work massively to this towns long term sustainable benefit (there’s that word again!).

Business chiefs and the Worthing Chamber of Commerce clearly haven’t worked out yet that if someone drives a car into town, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to fill it to the roof with goods. Encouraging walking and cycling ensures that local money stays local. People suddenly have money to spend on goods and refreshments as opposed to petrol and parking.

CTC in its document ‘Cycling: A Local Transport Solution’ lists the benefits to economic growth

  • Promoting cycling tackles congestion.  A lane of a typical road can carry 7 times as many bicycles as cars.[i]
  • Making town centres and residential areas cycle-friendly enhances their attractiveness, boosting property values and retail vitality.  It also supports local businesses, and maximises the “agglomeration” benefits of enabling businesses to locate close to one another.
  • Reducing the oil-dependence of our transport system is good for our energy security and our balance of trade.
  • There are also economic benefits due to improved health, e.g. reduced health-care costs and absenteeism, and improved productivity.

[i] Botma & Papendrecht, Traffic operation of bicycle traffic. TU-Delft, 1991.

The Wife, The Boy and I like walking about town and actually quite like the fact that the car parks are about the same price as an average shop at Tiffany’s as it’s quite an effective deterrent for us. It means we get some excercise, we get some bracing sea air and we’re not needlesly clogging up the town for what is essentially a 1 mile journey.

How many more cars do we have to try and cram into what could be a fantastic seaside town before the powers that be realise that it’s time to look forward?

Very nice after a cycle into town. And you'll burn it off on the way home.

Cycling – Pleasure or Pain?

'I like cycling around Basingstoke'

I cycle to work. I cycle 12 miles to work to be precise. My route takes me from the seaside town of Worthing to metropolis of Brighton & Hove (a ‘Cycling Demonstration Town’ would you believe?) I cycle along the A259 coast road amongst the huge Lorries bound for Shoreham Port and the cars on the work and school run and the vans with the obligatory England flag fluttering forlornly from their roofs.

I cycle around those that turn suddenly without indicating, amongst those that desperately need to make a phone call on the move, avoiding the car doors opening and the buses that overtake to suddenly remember that they are in fact buses and need to pull over once in a while in front of me.

The question is, do I enjoy cycling, or do I enjoy the struggle?

I cycle nearly every day, I go to to cycling meetings and forums, I buy the latest cycling periodicals, I write on internet forums, I write this brilliant blog and enjoy reading the wonderful blogs and opinions of other cyclists. 

But when was the last time I really enjoyed my cycling for nothing more than just cycling?

Two occasions sprang to mind; the first was during the summer when I would bring out the Mountain Bike and in the evening I’d occasionally commute home along the South Downs Way – beautful countryside stretching away to the north, the deep blue sea to the south and other cheerful people on the trail. The other was when I occasionally cycled to my parents which takes in the Downs Link (Shoreham by Sea to Shalford, Surrey) in its 37 mile entirity – beautiful countryside and other cheerful people on the trail.

When I worked as a CTC Information Officer, with the exception of the wonderful Lands End – John O’Groats route pack, the most popular route sheets requested were for exotic items such as Cycling in the Netherlands, the North Sea Cycle Route and the Danube (all traffic free to varying degrees).

Why is traffic free only associated with leisure? Why can’t more road space be given to decent  infrastructure such as the Netherlands that shows cycling off for what it can be? Direct, quiet, fast or slow, healthy and above all fun. I’m not saying that all Britain should be segregated – as has been pointed out to me recently, Highways Engineers have been trying to shovel us off the road for years leading to the dangerous, poorly designed rubbish we have today. Indeed, I could take Sustrans National Cycle Route 2 if I wanted a relatively traffic free option for my commute, but it’s either too narrow, or I have to dismount, or it goes around the houses (and that fully operational port).

This country needs to drop the empty platitudes and actually start getting serious about sustainable transport through removing private cars from the equation, reducing speed limits in towns and installing decent (and by that I mean Dutch and not UK designed) infrastructure where applicable. In short, making the simple things in life like riding a bike or walking to work or the shops actually achievable and attractive for the masses [again]. Until then, commuting will always be associated with pain rather than pleasure.

Cycle Campaigning Simplified No 1 – ‘Section 106 Money’

 

Please Sir, I want more crappy cycle infrastructure.

 

Yesterday evening I attended a local cycle campaign meeting where we were lucky enough to have the County Cycling Officer present. She kept quoting ‘Section 106 monies’ for cycling schemes as there clearly isn’t a direct budget for cycling at the moment.

In case you may have attended cycle forums or meetings yourself and heard this phrase without fully understanding what it means, or you’re curious to find out how cycling budgets really work, I’ll try and define it below.

Wikipedia Definition

‘Section 106 (S106) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 allows a local planning authority (LPA) to enter into a legally-binding agreement or planning obligation with a landowner in association with the granting of planning permission. The obligation is termed a ‘Section 106 Agreement’.

These agreements are a way of delivering or addressing matters that are necessary to make a development acceptable in planning terms. They are increasingly used to support the provision of services and infrastructure, such as highways, recreational facilities, education, health and affordable housing.

..Matters agreed as part of a S106 must be:

  • relevant to planning
  • necessary to make the proposed development acceptable in planning terms
  • directly related to the proposed development
  • fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the proposed development 
  • reasonable in all other respects.

A council’s approach to securing benefits through the S106 process should be grounded in evidence-based policy. ‘

Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club Definition

It allows a Council to shift its already meagre cycling budget to other more ‘pressing’ things (like pothole repair) with the promise of lots of Section 106 money for new facilities. Thus cycling infrastructure in many Local Authorities is at the mercy of pockets of cash dotted around the area, linked to where new developments are. If you’re lucky, they will try and build facilities that tie in with their ‘Cycling Strategy’, which might be an overly long, verbose document that’s woefully out of date  as they couldn’t commit funding or resource to update it.

When you start asking the Local Authority as to why you are just relying on Section 106 money they may launch into Middle Management spiel about cuts and times being hard. When you point out that cycling budgets were miniscule when times were good, there usually follows a bit of an awkward silence. If you are in a campaign group, the term ‘Section 106’ may have been used a lot recently, particularly when the recession first kicked in and the Local Authorities realised that they had a lot of capital tied up in Icelandic banks.

This type of funding is piecemeal at best and is just one of the wonderful reasons why we have the poorly designed, sketchy and dangerous infrastructure that exists currently.

Beyond the Sky Ride

 

Cycling. It's a sport apparently.

Yesterday was the London Sky Ride. A large circuit was closed off to all motor vehicles so cyclists could enjoy a traffic free ride around the sights of Central London. Approximately 85,000 people turned up for this event. I was there by accident; The Wife and I were staying in a hotel on Victoria Embankment overnight for our first wedding anniversary and completely forgot it was on until we saw the side roads being closed off. We checked out and decided to stroll to Victoria Station to burn off the Full English Breakfast and witness the spectacle.

The first instantly noticeable thing was that the vast majority of cyclists were wearing helmets. This also didn’t go unnoticed by many of the bemused European tourists that were also going for a stroll. They don’t need this sort of event in mainland Europe. If they want to go somewhere on a bicycle, they get on a bicycle and go somewhere. Sometimes the infrastructure is sublime; sometimes it’s almost as bad as ours. Above all, the bicycle is generally regarded as transport requiring no special safety kit. It’s a perfectly normal thing to do (just as it was for older generations in this country).

The Sky Ride website gushes, ‘Cycling is already one of the fastest growing sports in the UK and with our encouragement we want to help people understand the thrill of getting back in the saddle. We want to get more people healthier, fitter and happier and have set ourselves the target of getting one million more people on a bike by 2013’. I’m sure they mean one million people attending their events across the land as opposed to achieving a significant modal shift in transport terms. They clearly regard cycling as a sport,which is hardly surprising considering they sponsor a professional road racing team. It’s something that requires buying lots of specialised kit. It’s a lifestyle choice made by you, the consumer. It’s cycling™.

BACK TO REALITY!

The Wife and I strolled along  the edge of St James Park to the side of Buckingham Palace where one of the exit/access points was for the Sky Ride circuit. It you needed proof of the very sharp contrast between traffic free and traffic choked cycling, it was here. Look back down Birdcage Walk for happy people out for a relaxed ride (as you would see on segregated facilities across various European towns and cities). Turn toward Victoria Station down Buckingham Gate for occasional cyclists starting to look a little bit desperate as they mix it up alongside fast moving cars and vans (as you would see in all British towns and cities). Particularly parents trying to herd their brood alongside a tide of Audi’s and Volvo’s before giving up and using the pavements.

Last night thousands of bikes were probably returned to sheds to collect dust. This morning’s cycle commute also coincided with the beginning of a new school term so the roads returned to resembling a Blues Brothers car chase. The two can be reconcilled with decent, segregated cycling infrastructure designed and built to a Danish or Dutch model. Then everyday can be a Sky Ride. No lycra or helmets necessary. Just happiness.

Crap Cycle Lane IV

Yes, crap fans, here is the next exciting installment of Crap Cycle Lane II where we take you from the Magic Roundabout down to the sea!

Nice if you're The Stig. Crap if you live here.

As a postscript to the roundabout, West Sussex County Council completely resurfaced it a couple of months ago. This beautiful new surface is coupled with the fact that they didn’t narrow the profile to accomodate a proper cycling facility with the potential for slowing traffic down. This means that at night you can hear the screeching tyres of ‘hot hatches’ speeding around what is a residential area with two schools and a clinic. For some reason, people accept this.

Better than Hampton Court maze

Anyway, let’s cycle to the sea British Infrastructure style! Firstly use the shared use facility and into what should be a nice residential road, pleasant for cycling.

Worthing Cycle Superhighway

Alas, I’ve found that ‘recommended cycle routes’ also tend to be ‘rat runs’ and so it goes with this fast straight piece of road, perfect for the motorist in a hurry. Just add parked cars and novice cyclists for a beautiful slalom!

Whoosh!

I’m going to have to hurry things along as there’s a lot to get through (which I find a bit odd for a simple cycle ride to the sea). Having crossed a fast chicane and taken a quick detour through a housing estate you continue south down this road to another junction and on to a tunnel under the railway line

Nearly at the tunnel!

You can nearly smell the sea can’t you?!!

NEARLY at the tunnel!

To pass under the railway you have to skirt a Trading Estate first. The occasional blue bicycle signs should take your mind off the massive trucks swinging in and out.

The Tunnel of Love. And Urine.

Don’t forget to dismount! Dismounting and walking are an essential part of cycling in the eyes of a Highways Engineer. 

Cycling was easy and convenient once upon a time

This is where it starts to get interesting. Once back on board your trusty steed you cross the road here and pick up the first cycling contraflow lane.

It's incredible what paint can do

Over the busy road…

Pointless

What’s this?! A new road layout for cyclists?! the sign of course is alerting motorists that this is the only place where they have to be aware of cyclists, despite there being a cycle contraflow lane along the road.

Ta da!

As you continue on to the sea (if by now you can remember what a ‘sea’ looks like) you will notice to your left a reasonably nice contraflow cycle lane….

They nearly got it. If it went anywhere.

Why they couldn’t realign the road so the layby was on the right with the contraflow on the left I’m not quite sure. It fizzles out at the end of this short residential street too. I think it’s to get cyclists somewhere near the hospital nearby. If someone opens their car door without looking you can take a more direct route.

Welcome to.....a dual carriageway

At the end of the residential bit, I think cyclists heading south either have to pick up this 30mph dual carriageway or cross in front of any vehicles swinging in plus the cycle lane and on to the pavement to a pelican crossing on the right. The cycle route continues over the other side. How you get there is a little vague, but that would have involved thought from the engineers. Instead we have the same thought process that came up with a 30mph dual carriageway being a good idea for a town centre.

Suicide

Above is a close up of where you would have to cross.

Lots of space for fast traffic. Perfect for Town Centres.

The picture above is looking North from whence we came. On the left is the shared use path from the pelican crossing. Please note that no space has been ceded by motorists, who still enjoy loads of space to speed into and out of town. In the Netherlands, they might have reduced the traffic flow to single carriageway, provided a decent, wide cycle path segregated from pedestrians, added planting and even additonal parking for residents. But this isn’t the Netherlands.

You might as well dismount again...

At the end of the cycle path you cross the roundabout entrance to pick up the road to the right and start the push (quite literally!) along the final furlong! Well, done for making it this far!!

Nearly there!

The road you’ve just entered is 20mph and is two way past the car park entrance on the left up to the busy Royal Mail sorting offices on the right where a natty little cycle contraflow has been added! Let’s take a look!

Worthing Sorting Office. Which will worsen when Royal Mail stop using deliveries by bicycle.

Yes! The entrance at the other end has an entrance for cyclists only that cuts right across the entrance to the busy sorting office. Perfect for the novice cyclist looking to gain a bit of confidence.

In all its glory!

All we have to do now is turn left out of this road (cyclists can’t turn right here anyway despite a Library and the Town Hall being nearby) and head to the sea!

Well done!

All you have to do is cycle down this 20mph road (which is blatantly ignored by motorists), along the bus/cycle lane through the pedestrianised bit and you are finally at Worthing Pier!!

Then go home, pack your bags and head to Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Grongingen to find out how the Council should have done it.

Happy cycling!