Meetings, Walt Disney and Disturbing Childs Play

So, the second meeting of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain took place in Manchester last Saturday. On the train up I ended up chatting with a potential cyclist or what I like to call a ‘WALT DISNEY’ (Would Actually Love To. Danger Is Stopping Nearly Everyone Y’know). I would have pressed him further on why he didn’t cycle but more pressing matters were on his mind. He was an AFC Wimbledon supporter on his way to Manchester City’s ground for the play off against Luton Town with the winner gaining promotion to the football league. All the Luton Town fans got on at Milton Keynes Central and the atmosphere was packed but surprisingly convivial. I was the only one with a Brompton.

I was looking forward to this meeting for ages, partly because in my 38 years on this planet, I had never been to Manchester [and for which I must hold my head in shame] but also the Embassy has received some excellent support (not to mention the fantastic logo design) from the North West. It was organised by Mr C of MCR Cycling and it was lovely to meet other wonderful bloggers such as Naturally Cycling Manchester & Sheffield Cycle Chic, local cycle campaigners and welcome representation from Inclusive Cycling. The Infrastructure Safari led by Mr C to and from the venue was quite psychedelic as we took a trip through a kaleidoscope of different types of cycle facilities that had been clearly shoehorned into a car-centric area. It was only a 10 minute ride but we saw shared use off road paths, on road with-flow cycle lanes (with cars parked in them), shared use pedestrianised areas, some not bad, some clearly designed by someone on LSD and Windowlene with no continuity or priority on any of it.

A few Ambassadors on a Manchester 'Infrastructure Safari'

A lot was discussed. In fact it was a pleasurable problem trying to stick to the agenda. The minutes will be published very shortly but four points I’d like to mention are as follows:

  • I’ve just paid my deposit and will be chasing up others soon for a trip to the Netherlands to meet David Hembrow and go on one of his study tours. If you are free on the week beginning 21st September and would like to go please let me know by email as soon as possible (thecyclingjim@gmail.com) as I close the book at the end of this week. All people that have already committed will be given further instruction by email for what will be a very worthwhile trip (as it was in this instance).
  • The Embassy website will have an official blog where people can submit material. This is partly to keep the ideas flowing and the website fresh but also because Embassy followers have written personal blog posts in the past to suddenly get leapt on by others wrongly assuming that they are speaking officially on behalf of the Embassy and their words are Embassy policy.
  • The constitution was altered slightly and then ratified. People were nominated for posts and these will be published in the minutes. I officially became Chair and I would like to thank everyone for allowing me the chance to serve.  A further motion was carried unanimously that I should be Cannonised despite being Church of England and still alive. I was then unanimously carried through the streets of Manchester through cheering crowds being the hero that I am. Actually, I might have dreamt the last couple of bits. I had spent a lot of time on the train. Sadly, I could only spend a few hours in Manchester which is no time to meet such nice people. I vowed to return for one of these.
  • It looks as though the next venue will be Newcastle. This will be confirmed along with the date

The following day, The Wife, The Boy and I went for a stroll along Worthing Prom. One of The Wife’s friends has bought a toy that attaches to the front of a buggy. The fact that The Boy keeps pressing the button that plays ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ isn’t the most annoying thing about it…..

A Very Windswept Boy using the same equipment that most people presumbly use to pass their driving tests in the UK these days

…….it basically resembles the plastic dashboard of a Smart Car or the Kia range. I don’t wish to sound ungrateful of course. Anything that keeps The Boy amused for hours on end is happily recieved. Luckily I’ve bought one of these (with seal of approval from Mumsnet no less!) with one of these so The Boy isn’t quite so windswept on lazy Dutch Bike rides along the seafront – the correct & civilized way for a young child to see the World.

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Of Manchester Meetings and Man Made Madness

 

Firstly, for the second meeting of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain we are heading up to the North West for an afternoon in Manchester. Details are here.

Key topics to be discussed are:

The Constitution, which you can view here in draft format.

Governance – as we need to nominate and agree the board.

The agenda is here.

If you can’t make it, but have something you would like to say on any point in the Agenda, or wish to become part of the Board of Governance of the Embassy, please contact me directly by email on thecyclingjim@gmail.com for mention in the meeting.

Again, many thanks to Mr C of MCR Cycling blog for organising. Hope to see you there.

Anyway, now for motoring infrastructure news. According to Road.cc

People in Glasgow will next weekend be given the chance to walk, run or cycle on a new facility built in the city at a cost of £692 million, and it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – the facility in question is the northern extension to the M74 motorway, running through the south-eastern suburbs of the city, which is due to open to motor traffic in June.

This stretch of motorway is only 8km long. That’s approximately £90 million per km of motorway.

Another road project that’s reaching completion is the A3 Hindhead Tunnel. This is an area that means a lot to me as I was raised nearby in Elstead and used to take my old trusty Mountain Bike there frequently. People were given the chance to walk through the tunnel, last weekend. 10,000 missed the opportunity and were very upset according to BBC News. You can see pictures of the walk courtesy of this slightly too enthusiastic blog.

It opens to motor traffic [only] in July, replaces the last remaining stretch of single carriageway road [outside London] on the A3 making it a motorway in all but name and runs for 1.9kms at a cost of £370 million. That’s about £195 million per kilometre.

The reason I mention these schemes is that I would like to draw your attention to these pictures.

Shared Use Path on A259 & junction of Gardner Road, Fishersgate, Nr Brighton & Hove
 

This is on the A259 about a mile toward Brighton from this stunning sustainable transport solution. It is on the junction of Gardner Road and where I would peel off to start cycling up to where I work in Hove. The junction has been altered and has this wonderful shared use path alongside it.

Entrance to Gardner Road, but wait! What delights are in store?
 

I shall be covering this section in a future post but I wanted to show you this piece de resistance of quality British craftsmanship at its best..

Wonderful. So discreet it just blends in with road.

The sunken hole they are covering up is at the precise point the shared use path joins Gardner Road at a 90 degree angle, giving the cyclist a chance to either stumble across the entrance of the junction carrying along the A259 to greater delights, or just break their neck trying to join Gardner Road. It has been like this for weeks.

The point is that dangerous, circuitous, badly designed and implemented drivel like this is continuing to appear at an alarming rate, making cycling look attractive to no-one and I view this as a real problem. Often, such as in the example just given, it encourages pavement cycling as people are just going to use any old pavement regardless of the status that the local authority has bestowed upon it. What’s worse, the general public will get the idea that this is what local cyclists asked for, that riding a bicycle is a peripheral activity and therefore an imposition on the more serious matter of motorised traffic flow, and can lead in extreme cases to harassment from motorists of bicycle riders [quite rightly] electing to use the road instead.

In this instance, like many others, it sends out a clear message as to what the Government and Local Authorities really thinks about cycling. In West Sussex, they have pleaded poverty to cycling groups again stating that there is no money in the pot. This is despite the Council highways budget for 2011/12 being set at £49.4 million which amounts to an increase of £4 million. (Source: WSCC Leaflet ‘Your Council Tax – Your money and How We Spend It’)

In the Netherlands, more people cycle because the Government both nationally and locally have consistently sent out a clear message since the 1970’s that cycling is taken incredibly seriously. Their solutions are not always perfect but the results are undeniable.

Here is a film of a party of Australians going on a Study Tour of Cycle infrastructure around Assen with David Hembrow. His blog post here.

The Embassy is not about trying to put segregated cycling infrastructure everywhere as that hasn’t been done anywhere else in the World. Nor do we believe that a cyclist should cede the right to road primarily because it shouldn’t even be an issue – they are public highways paid for by the public for use by the public (and thanks to Carlton Reid for highlighting reasons why). We do however believe that the rubbish that passes for Cycling Infrastructure in the UK must stop. It is an international joke with the worst possible punchline.

The Embassy believes that where infrastructure is implemented, it must be of a high standard utilising best practice from Europe and beyond as opposed to guidelines that are open to abuse. After all, they have examples of proven success and have had decades to make all the engineering mistakes for us. Above all, cycling needs to be regarded as transport receiving a far more deserving spend of the transport budget, sending out a clear message that riding a bicycle is valued with all its clear benefits acknowledged ranging from health and wellbeing to pollution and social mobility (according to a census taken recently where I live in Worthing, approximately 23% of the local population don’t have access to a car).

If the nation pleads poverty, think of the M74, the A3 Hindhead Tunnel and if that’s not enough the Highways Agency could overspend by £1 billion on widening the M25.

There’s money out there alright. Let’s give local campaign groups something to really fight for instead of the watered down dross and petty excuses to then be told it’s what they asked for and, no, they can’t see the safety audit. I’d like to be able to apply for tickets to walk or cycle along wonderful cycle infrastructure in the UK prior to opening. An asset that attracts all types of cyclist, benefits all and is safe and direct. I’m not holding my breath for the moment so I’m doing  this instead later in the year.

See you all in Manchester!

Bicycle Film Scenes 1 – The Empire Strikes Back

Cold Beer - Quite refreshing it is.

With sincere apologies to George Lucas…

EXTERIOR: DAGOBAH – HIGH STREET — DAY

Luke’s face is upside-down and showing enormous strain. He stands on his hands, with Yoda perched on his feet. Opposite Luke and Yoda are a line of cars parked in a Mandatory Bicycle Lane. Luke stares at the cars and concentrates. One of the cars lifts from the ground and floats up into the air.

YODA: Use the Force. Yes…

Yoda taps Luke’s leg. Quickly, Luke lifts one hand from the ground. His body wavers, but he maintains his balance. Artoo, standing nearby, is whistling and beeping frantically to mimic the road conditions.

YODA: Now…the car. Feel it.

Luke concentrates on trying to lift a second car. It rises a few feet, shaking under the strain. But, distracted by Artoo’s frantic beeping, Luke loses his balance and finally collapses. Yoda jumps clear.

YODA: Concentrate!

Annoyed at the disturbance, Luke looks over at Artoo, who is rocking urgently back and forth in front of him, bleeping something about ‘road tax’ and ‘Darth Hammond’.
Artoo waddles closer to Luke, chirping wildly, then scoots over the edge of the street. Catching on, Luke rushes to join him. Even more cars have appeared with a delivery van mounted on the pavement. Pedestrian crossing ‘Build Outs’ have appeared in the road bringing conflict in the Force.

LUKE: Oh, no. We’ll never do it now.

Yoda stamps his foot in irritation.

YODA: So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you
nothing that I say?

Luke looks uncertainly out at the street.

LUKE: Master, moving cars around is one thing. This is totally different.

YODA: No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.

LUKE: (focusing, quietly) All right, I’ll give it a try.

YODA: No! Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Luke closes his eyes and concentrates on making the street better for people.
Slowly, the cars begin to disappear and the pavement starts to move out.
It slows for a moment and then slides back, trees disappearing and cars reappearing once again.

LUKE: (panting heavily) I can’t. It’s too big.

YODA: Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hm?
Mmmm.

Luke shakes his head.

YODA: And well you should not. For my ally in the Force. And a
powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. It’s energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we…(Yoda pinches Luke’s High-Viz tabard)…not this crude matter (taps his helmet). You must feel the Force around you. (sweeping gesture) Here, between you…me…the bicycle…the Sheffield Stand…everywhere! Yes, even between this land and decent cycling!

LUKE: (discouraged) You want the impossible.

Quietly Yoda turns toward the High Street. With his eyes closed and his head bowed, he raises his arm and points down the street.
Soon, the cars and van sink into the ground as Artoo beeps in terror and scoots away.

The entire street becomes one level with a bicycle street marked with wider pavements for pedestrians and droids. Trees grow quickly along the new narrower thoroughfare and tables and chairs appear outside cafés. Yoda stands on a bench and guides fresh, white table cloths over the café tables. A glass of frosty cold beer and a bowl of dry roasted nuts appear on the table nearest him.

Luke stares in astonishment as people of all ages start walking and riding all types of bicycle slowly down the street, using the shops and cafes and smiling at each other. He walks toward Yoda, who is dabbling beer from his aged lips.

LUKE: I don’t…I don’t believe it.

YODA: That is why you fail

Pause

YODA: And take off that brightly coloured safety gear. Off-putting it is.

Crap Cycle Lane VI

…it even has shade.

 

Welcome crap fans and what have we here? Is this the portal to another sublime cycling dimension? A Velocipede Valhalla, if you will.

..the idea being that the Patient Transport vehicle knocks you over and then takes you and your bicycle to hospital. Which is nice.

 

Don’t be stupid! This is the UK! This is Brighton & Hove in the UK to be precise, which became a Cycling Demonstration Town in 2005 (in the same way that Milton Keynes is an Architectural Treasure Trove). The local campaign group Bricycles, despite doing a very good job with the Green Party in protecting some of the only passable infrastructure in the City, are under no illusions about the Council they are up against.

(This from their excellent website. The last paragraph could be about any cycle scheme by any Local Authority in the country).

Anyway, I digress. We are in the North Laine area which is choc full of independent shops and a pleasing diversion from the usual fare that passes for a British High Street these days. If this network of narrow streets was anywhere else in mainland Europe, the motor vehicle would have been designed out creating a more pleasing atmosphere for shoppers, residents, pedestrians and bicycle riders alike. Sadly, like every other Highways Authority in the UK, Brighton & Hove remains glued to the 1980’s game of ‘Let’s See How Many Cars We Can Possibly Cram Through Here As If Our Lives Depended On It.’

Here it is again without vehicles.

The bridge at the top is the main concourse for Brighton railway station. One way traffic can cascade down the hill, under the bridge where it becomes two way. Traffic coming up the hill has to turn left by the No Entry signs. Except you, that is, dear bicycle rider! Yes, a special contra-flow cycle lane has been combined with a Tommy-Simpson-Mt-Ventoux tribute hill climb. Quite impressive considering the designers probably had no idea who Tom Simpson was.

Motor traffic heads off up this easier gradient for either the seafront or the gyratory by the Railway Station.  Let’s take a closer look at the contra-flow on offer to us.

The light at the end of the tunnel. What the entrance to Heaven might look like with a crappy cycle lane.

The cycle lane is slightly elevated from the traffic lane with a relatively good finish. The gradient is very steep, however.

And this is where it stops. The traffic lane is still one way at this point so the bicycle rider, already on a steep gradient either has to dismount (which is the default for British Cycle Infrastructure) or meander into oncoming traffic turning into this road that provides a nice little rat run to the A23. Or collapse off your bike as a tribute to the great Tom Simpson and yell the mythical words ‘Put me back on the bike!’ (again, the default of British Cycle Infrastructure).

Brighton Station. Excellent access if you're a taxi driver. Utter bile for everyone else.

This is the cycle lane and railway station concourse in context. The barriers to the left are closed as work is being carried out to renovate the canopy. That area would normally have lots of bicycle stands which are incredibly well used. Which begs the question as to why bicycle (and pedestrian and wheelchair) access is so utterly appalling?

If you wish to find out more about the late, great Tom Simpson, BBC4 recently showed a brilliant documentary called ‘Death on the Mountain: The Story of Tom Simpson’ which hopefuly they will show again (if we all nag them enough). His Wikipedia entry, is of course, here.

If you wish to see how cycling infrastructure can be designed and built correctly in a manner that doesn’t dump you in oncoming traffic or leave you guessing with all the tension of an Agatha Christie novel as you approach a junction or ask you to get off and push every 10 metres, then yet again, here is a film from Mark Wagenbuur.

and here is another one showing junction design the Dutch way.

We continue to ignore the tried and tested, proven success of Mainland Europe at our peril. Tom Simpson moved there (the Breton fishing port of Saint-Brieuc to be prescise) as he knew it had a better cycling culture and would improve his chances of success. Strangely, I think I know how he felt.