Etape du Crap

My last post plundered some of the wonderful images sent in to the Warrington Cycle Campaign for their ‘Facility of the Month’ pages (and to reiterate, buy the book and send it to your local Highways Authority. Proceeds to CTC’s Cyclists Defence Fund).

In September 2001, this wonderful Turning Circle/Bicycle Layby/No, I actually have no idea what they were thinking either, was Facility of the Month. It is in the Campaign’s home turf of Warrington.

Yesterday, it surfaced again in the Daily Mail (and thanks to Lazy Bicycle Blog for the heads up). I was quite glad to see that ‘Silly Season’ has returned a little bit in the face of a potential humanitarian crisis in Libya.

It is the latest example in a long line of questionable planning decisions by councils – a cycle lane measuring just 15ft long.

Cyclists using the roads of Warrington, Cheshire, are apparently supposed to use the semi-circular track to help them get ahead of drivers.

Alternatively, this road to nowhere could have been designed by local pen-pushers to help cyclists execute a U-turn on a leafy avenue which runs between the Stockton Heath and Appleton areas of the town.

The spare-lane has been cut into the verge, covered in tarmac before a white cycle symbol was painted onto it – presumably to make sure there was no doubt as to who this strange example of highway planning was for.

The highway blunder was spotted by DSA Licensed driving instructor, Dave Horgan of Horgis School of Motoring.

‘The council need to think twice before putting up confusing signs and this sort of thing is an example,’ he said.

‘This is one of the reasons it costs so much to learn to drive nowadays.’

I’m a little stumped as what Mr Horgan’s comments mean as this nugget of infrastructure doesn’t appear to have been signed, has been sitting there for 10 years as forlorn as a Verve album and is probably ignored by motorists driving past as though their cars will detonate if they drop below 50mph. I also feel that there may be other real and pressing factors as to why the cost of a driving test has risen so much such as Middle East instability or the fact that insurance is seen as peripheral to many motorists yet operating a mobile phone is essential.

Anyway, Tuesdays post along with the above mentioned article got me thinking further about interesting ways to highlight the drivel that Councils have been getting away with for years in the name of ‘sustainability’. The sort of stuff that allows them to produce brochures and plans that gloss over their jeopardising cyclist and pedestrian safety and not understanding the bicycle as a simple and effective mode of transport.

I would like to suggest organising a bicycle race using a particular British town or city’s cycle infrastructure ONLY. I originally wanted road cyclists to be involved but that would probably be suicidal for them and their bikes in particular so maybe just mountain bikes instead – after all, many ‘Town Centre Links’ or ‘Greenways’ are not too dissimilar to ‘North Shore’. If held on the weekend, it may have to be abandoned due to parked cars. I believe however, if it took off, that it should be called ‘Etape du Crap’ or even ‘Crap Etape!’ (said in exactly the same way children would say ‘Crackerjack!’) although feel free to chip in with your own suggestions. In fact, if you commute and you get to an awful bit of cycle infrastructure, just yell ‘Crap Etape!’ before riding it. Passers by may wonder what the Hell you’re doing but at least you might feel better.

'...and the peloton steams over the tactile paving toward the...oh, bugger'

Just a thought.

In the meantime, here’s another post from Mark Wagenbuur via David Hembrow’s ‘View from the Cycle Path’. Please note that even when a full-blown construction project is on, the temporary cycle lanes are better than most British cycle infrastructure. Even when just a diversion, I would like some of what they’re having.

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Go for Launch

An inviting seaside path. Inviting to what, I'm not quite sure.

Well! Apologies to Lo Fidelity Readers for the gaps between postings but in the end family matters and Chairing the Embassy took precedence. I realised that I wouldn’t be able to keep the usual stunningly high standards that you’ve come to know and love on this blog.

On Saturday September 3rd the Official Launch of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain will take place. We shall be launching our key policies and there will be a photo call, but it’s more of a chance for like-minded people to get together for a picnic and chat about how Great Britain could have a stab at decency if it really tried. We already have a combined Mission Statement and Manifesto plus a wonderful ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ document for your perusal and we shall be handing out print versions at the event.

It’s been wonderful seeing things develop; the entries to the Summer Poster Competition have been superb (there’s still time to enter!) and due to popular demand our webmaster has  lovingly set up a shop for you to buy stuff incorporating the logo lovingly created by our Manchester Consulate. I’ve been informed that we’ll have a Zazzle shop available too for those requiring cheaper stickers. Advert over.

I’ll personally be happy when the policies are launched as it finally gives us the clarity we require. Let me try to very briefly explain my personal viewpoint…

Basically, despite fairly good documents like this, Councils and Highways Authorities across the land have been building stuff like this, this and this which is basically this. Usually, the only time local campaign groups get to see designs for stuff like this, this and this is when the design has already been signed off and programmed for construction but now the Councils and Highways Authorities can tick the box that they have consulted with cyclists. The designs are often slightly less dangerous than this, look like they were designed with this whilst on this and often put these in direct conflict with these. Local people then think local cyclists asked for this, this and this and councils then produce documents basically portraying themselves as this, even though they are simply paving the way for more of this.

Experienced cyclists through the years have tried to ignore stuff like this, this and this, rightfully claiming that they have the right to the road even though they sometimes get this for not using this if it’s nearby despite this.

I set up this because, like others, I started to look at stuff like this, this and from this chap and wondered what sort of forcefield must be in existence in the North Sea to stop us adopting ideas and methodologies that led to a culture of this, this or this. Their methods are not always perfect, and it would be wrong to suggest that it could be picked up and transplanted wholesale. However, the approach (along with other countries) that has proven success in delivering this, this and this has to be a bit better than this, this and this. I believe that Councils have to be stopped producing this as a matter of urgency (don’t forget, in times like these, they have a greater excuse to plead poverty despite saying the same to cyclists when times were good). It is not about putting cycle infrastructure everywhere. There is a raft of measures to be considered in terms of traffic reduction, speed restriction etc. But if we don’t do something to a decent standard, and think in terms of coherent network instead of piecemeal ‘solutions’ that act like a Band-Aid on a laceration, then cyclists using the open road in the meantime will get continuing and unwarranted abuse as more junk gets built and the bicycle will continue to not be taken seriously as a mode of transport. I cannot think of a single facility in the UK that could be used safely and comfortably by experienced cyclist and 10 year old alike guaranteeing continuity unless it occurs by accident in the form of converted railway lines. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right with no more potential for conflict with more vulnerable groups.

Phew! I’m paraphrasing a bit but that’s a personal basic outline.

Anyway, I hope you can make it.

Footnote 24/08/11

As I was gracefully peddling in this morning through the glorious British summer murk, it occured to me that this post carries a lot of rib-tickling crap infrastructure images from Warrington Cycle Campaign’s ‘Facility of the Month’ page on their website. It is therefore only fair and proper that I not only recommend you go back every month to find out ‘how not to do it’ , but also buy their book (it is also available from decent local high street booksellers so you can buy a copy and then wander over to your County Council Highways Department infoming them that they are a published joke available internationally). Royalties go to the worthwhile CTC’s Cyclists Defence Fund

Advertising and Marketing

Goedendag! Sorry, just trying to get in a few Dutch phrases before heading off on the Embassy study tour with David Hembrow to see how the Netherlands designs cycle infrastructure for people who wish to ride bicycles from A to B. In the UK of course, we design cycle infrastructure for people who don’t wish to ride bicycles from A to B unless it’s via Q. In fact, our cycle infrastructure  isn’t really of benefit to bicycle riders at all, but at least it could be appreciated by people who like Abstract Art or Improvisational Jazz or Crack Cocaine.

The always lovely Lazy Bicycle Blog  has beaten me to it but it’s always good to spread the word. The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain has launched a poster competition to coincide with its official launch in September. Obviously, having started up just 6 months ago, we are very much in our infancy so we ask those dedicated to the cause to create a poster from a photo or piece of artwork that they think best represents the aims and aspirations of the Embassy. Unbelievably, we’ve already started to receive entries which made me choke appreciatively on my afternoon tea and Fererro Rocher. I can’t enter being Chair of the Board so here are a couple of ideas I made up earlier…

I acknowledge that I’m not the most experienced or talented digital artworker and the second one in particular comes from what will become known in future years as my ‘Sarcastic Period’. However, I hope it inspires people who are also inept at slick imagery to just come up with something that conveys a simple message on what improved infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians with all its subsequent benefits would mean for you or your school or your community.

On the subject of advertising and marketing, I would like to look at a couple of other campaigns, one from the UK and one from the Netherlands to see the difference in aims and aspirations. Firstly a Cinema advert by CTC called ‘CycleHero’ in 2007 as part of a wider campaign highlighting the link between cycling and combating climate change.

From the CTC website,

‘The cornerstone of our project will be a Cinema commercial to create awareness and make people really stop and think about Climate change issues. We plan to have our advert in cinemas in the early summer period to maximise the opportunity to encourage more and more people to take their bike from the garage and go for a ride. The film will be supported by a Public Relations campaign to spread the message further and we plan to work with local CTC groups to develop a series of national and local rides, events, meetings, workshops etc, to help involve cyclists and the wider local community in publicising the issues.                                          

‘The CTC film and its accompanying materials will use cycling as a positive image to raise awareness of and attitudes towards climate change. The project involves all those who already cycle regularly as well as those occasional and lapsed cyclists whose bike is waiting in the back of their shed. Cycling is a smart choice. Cyclists are aware of the challenges of climate change and realise, that by cycling, they are not only having fun, staying healthy and enjoying a social / sporting friendship, but also at the same time improving global sustainability. Now is a great time to spread the word.’

Indeed. I think it’s a very well made commercial, particularly for something so pro-cycling in the UK. Alas, I have a couple of issues with it. Firstly, you can hear a marketing check list being ticked off as it moves to its sun drenched climax; sexy woman – check, climate change bad – check, motoring bad – check, children – check, cool person to engage youth – check, elderly person – check, majority in helmets to pass the Advertising Standards Authority check, representatives from different races and creeds – check and so on. Secondly, the ‘hero’ dresses up to look like someone who Robocop might consider if trying out Internet dating.

There is an instant disconnect with the audience as they are being preached at about climate change (never preach to a British audience) and that there is a difference between cycling to a beautiful traffic free cliff top and the dangerous traffic choked hell holes that the audience sees day in day out. I don’t blame CTC for any of this as they must have had to make an advert with a climate change theme as part of the funding conditions. I actually think they did incredibly well because as people who only eat, drink, sleep and breathe cycling, it’s incredibly difficult to see the World any other way, and I’m sure they had great fun making it. In a way, we will encounter the same issues at the Embassy. We feel that we have the best answer to take to the general public. The trick is in how you actually convey that message.

The second ad comes from the Dutch Cycling Union (Fietsersbond) as featured on Lazy Bicycle Blog and Munchenierung

I love this advert, I really do. Marc at Amsterdamize has just informed me that the pay off at the end  (for those that can’t speak Dutch. I can now count to 10 and order a round of drinks sounding like a Dutch Sean Connery) is “Cyclists encounter a lot of obstacles. The Cyclists Union clears the way. Become a member!” Sadly, such a positive outlook would be torn to shreds in Britain. Everyone is wearing normal clothing without helmets for a start which would mean an instant fail with the ASA. The protagonist is also stunt riding with a Devil-may-care attitude that the Daily Mail would state is the dangerous, irresponsible way that all cyclists in the UK behave already (although ‘dangerous’ and ‘irresponsible’ are words that would also describe their take on journalism).

If you reckon you can do better, get your poster to the Embassy. You don’t have to use models or climate change messages or stunt riding. Simplicity is the key, just as getting to the shops or work should be.