Seaside Safaris with Transport Titilation

Bicycles on the Pier – Vintage Postcard of Deal, Kent

If you aren’t doing anything on Saturday 18th August, why not pop down to the South Coast of England as I’ve decided to lead a Seaside infrastructure Safari and you’re all welcome. Yes, even you.

It will be a very leisurely run between Worthing and Brighton, stopping frequently for chats about infrastructure of different qualities and, weather permitting, we can stop for a picnic midway on the beach and a drink or two afterwards. There is a high probability that it will run from Worthing to Brighton as opposed to vice versa due to the strong chance of a prevailing tailwind straight off the sea which, as I find on the daily commute, makes an 11-12 mile jaunt between two seaside resorts a little more pleasant. There shall be a Twitter Hashtag available for those in more distant lands that wish to follow us in spirit and all pictures and data shall be added to the wonderful Cycling Embassy of Great Britain Wiki as well as CycleStreets.

I intend to show you some of the interesting facilities that I face (or could face if I was a bit more into Masochism) on a day-to-day basis such as this, this and this as well as some gems such as this, this and the ultimate Grand Finale – the wonderfully progressive (if slightly flawed) diamond that is this. I am currently working on a map for you to link to which will be available shortly as the route is pretty simple with lots of talking points and genuinely nice sights. It’s a cycle ride by the sea – what’s not to like?! It will also go up on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website.

The reason I’m letting you know early is because, if you are a campaigner, Sustrans Ranger, Local Councillor etc in the Brighton [& Hove] & Worthing areas and would like to help talk us through various bits of infrastructure and how they came to be, please contact me and we can sort out the timetable of the route. If you can’t make it, but would like me to read anything out, please also get in touch. My contact details are at the bottom of the About page, and it would be lovely to hear from you, especially if you’d just like to come along of course.

Finally, I sometimes read out the questions at a quiz held occasionally at a pub in Worthing as I have a beautiful speaking voice. Apparently. However, last week I was tasked with compiling the questions. I would like the George Cross as I dropped this nugget into the General Knowledge round…

Although ‘Road Tax’ is still used as a colloquialism, it was in fact abolished in 1937. Which famous politician abolished it?

(For more details on the answer to that question, I wrote here and of course Carlton Reid is custodian of this gem of a website).

Because I was dressed like ‘one of them’, which is funnily enough how I look when on a bicycle, it was simply an interesting talking point as opposed to me being manhandled into a Wicker Man in the pub garden (it would have been outside because, despite the obvious Health & Safety hazard, you also can’t smoke inside a British public premises anymore).

The Daily Mail unveiled it’s simple Manifesto addressing cyclists, gypsies and crime.

And finally finally, the family car was taken away for its annual MOT test earlier this week. Despite the car being 10 years old, the startled mechanic informed us that not only did it pass with no complaints but the emissions tests came out far better than newer cars. Probably because it barely gets used.

Old Shoreham Road

20120618-224907.jpg
Norman Baker MP at the grand opening telling the one about two nuns riding down a cobbled street. Maybe. A passing aeroplane made it difficult to hear.

Well, the construction work has finally come to a close on Old Shoreham Road. Firstly, to remind you of the scheme, here are the consultation plans for the eastern end (BHASVIC means Brighton & Hove Sixth Form College)

..and the western end

…and the two posts I wrote during the construction period are here and here.

Below is the Old Shoreham Road stood close to the Dyke Road Junction looking west whilst the path was in construction

An old Old Shoreham Road looking West

And this is how it looks now…

As you can see in the new photo above, the line markings have been painted except the centre line. I have been reliably informed that the line will not be painted immediately as part of a road safety trial to see if traffic speed drops as a result. You will also note that the cycle lane starts away from the Dyke Road junction. I assume this is because the original purpose was to link the schools and colleges and BHASVIC to the right so, job done. Below are a couple of photos of Chanctonbury Road with its bit of cycle permeability

…and this it now…

Junction with Chanctonbury Road, now with shared use area

Stone setts announce (albeit vaguely) that we are entering a shared use area. This to me poses problems, especially when you consider the Belisha Beacons indicating the zebra crossing just ahead.


On the plus side, the central ‘holding pen’ with guard railings has been removed which is a definite improvement. However, cyclists are going to have to negotiate around the Belisha Beacons and pedestrians are going to be needlessly on guard as they cross the road. I personally would have extended the zebra crossing across a cycle path that I would have continued right through. That way there is no ambiguity or confusion, particularly for partially sighted pedestrians. The tree marked the edge of the old carriageway anyway – I assume that the designers wanted to give the feeling of widening the pavement at this point but in doing so they may have increased the potential for conflict.

The radii at junctions have been tightened considerably to slow traffic making left turns reducing further the chance of a collision.

Stencils were made to get the message of continuity across in a fun, graffiti way in lieu of coloured paint. These were spray painted on the approach to each side turning, presumably because people on bicycles need a little bit of time to adjust to not being treated as second-rate citizens. Cars I encountered waiting to pull out all waited patiently behind the ‘give way’ markings.

Not quite Banksy but a good way to get the priority message across
My Brompton as a guide to path width. And it’s all for bicycles.

Another criticism of the cycle path is the way it becomes shared use on a railway bridge, as illustrated in the picture below, just beyond the tree. Even here however, space has been taken from the main carriageway to keep the shared use area as wide as possible and, with the sight lines so good, it just requires a little common courtesy, which should be mandatory in an area where people live and go to school anyway.

Cycle Lane rejoins the road as a mandatory bike lane before junctions

One of the particularly interesting features of this scheme is the new phase on the traffic lights installed on the two main junctions. There is an auxiliary bicycle light that turns green a few seconds before the main lights to give cyclists a head start

I think it’s an attempt to replicate the this type of light seen below, which I photographed on the David Hembrow Study Tour in Assen and Groningen last September..

In Assen, cyclists and pedestrians are given their own separate phase as opposed to optimistic head starts. I assume there had to be compromise in the British version so as not to impede on ‘traffic flow’ (although that is conjecture). It will take a while for British cyclists (and motorists for that matter) to adjust to even this simple change in signalling but it is an improvement from just an Advanced Stop Line. My slight concern is – does it really give a more nervous cyclist time to make a right turn before motor traffic comes steaming through in the opposite direction? In the interests of infrastructure nerdism and the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, I filmed the lights in action, just for you.

Overall, I personally think this is an excellent, progressive scheme. It is not perfect – there are problems as outlined throughout this post (as usual with a British scheme it’s the conflict points) but these can be remedied. At least they didn’t build a narrower track which would then cost a prohibitive fortune to widen. Cycling along this facility, just for a short while, it almost felt as if the Netherlands or Denmark has infiltrated this little part of the South Coast and this was also reflected by the variety of people I saw using it including parents with young children which was encouraging. The width of the vast majority of the track means that, unbelievably [for Britain] people can ride side by side to chat, casting my mind back to seeing groups of Dutch children and young adults cycling to school and college in social groups (always important) or groups of elderly people out for a mid-morning ride to the shops and a natter. To me, this is a crucial element of making the bicycle look inviting to the masses as opposed to part of a heads down specialised sporting rat race it often becomes here.

I cycled London Cycle Superhighway 2 (Bow to Aldgate) in its entirety on Tuesday evening on my way back from a presentation in Stratford. It just felt like optimistically placed blue paint allied to a too narrow segregated path and confusing lights at Bow Roundabout. At no point did it feel as though any attempt had been made to improve the lot of cyclists at all in terms of comfort or safety on what is still a hysterically busy thoroughfare. It was like eating a McDonalds Big Mac Meal – a lot of money had been spent on branding and advertising but after trying it, I was left still feeling hungry. However, the Brighton & Hove scheme has actually taken considerable space from motorised traffic. They have made the bicycle look like an inviting mode of transport that is taken seriously. To be fair, it’s obviously nowhere near as long as the Cycle Superhighway, but it doesn’t give itself an undeserved grandiose name either.

The Old Shoreham Road should be an easy win, being the former A27 but it has been many years in the formulation and execution. I have to doff my hat (in lieu of a helmet) to those who had the determination to see it through. I now incorporate this into my commute (which is now an almost totally segregated route within the Brighton & Hove city boundary).

On that note, I’m thinking of doing an Infrastructure safari on a Saturday in July covering this and other Brighton schemes followed by the ride that I would normally take as my commute followed by a ride around the best and worst of my adopted home town of Worthing. Here is a picture taken from my commute this evening..

Looking toward Worthing Pier

If you’re interested, do let me know. Just bring suntan lotion and money for a pint of beer and 99 ice cream (with flake).

Localism for Dummies

A Wet Parliamentary Bike Ride

Last Tuesday morning, I put on my Cycling Embassy of Great Britain approved attire (just a regular suit for a regular activity) and attended the Annual All-Party Parliamentary Bike Ride, which is now in its twelfth year and is a prelude to Bike Week. Despite the wretched weather, there was a respectable turn out of MP’s (also in Cycling Embassy of Great Britain approved attire) including Norman Baker again (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport).

After the ride, we assembled in the Houses of Parliament to listen as Mr Baker spoke about how wonderful cycling is and took questions (I recorded it for YouTube and it should be going out shortly if you can contain your excitement). One of the key points he made was that cycle campaigners should not be afraid to approach Government Departments other than transport. This, in a way, makes sense; after all riding a bicycle is healthy so the Department for Health should be actively promoting it, it could get kids to school so the Department for Education should be actively promoting it and it is good for the economy where high quality infrastructure would bring rewards both locally and nationally to the exchequer so the Treasury should be actively promoting it. The problem is that we are pretty hopeless at the ‘high-quality infrastructure’ bit – the very thing that has been proven to have success overseas in getting the masses on their bicycles with increased subjective safety. So I guess that brings us back to the Department for Transport, who should be actively promoting it.

Cycling has always been about ‘Localism’ and ‘Big Society’ with local campaigners and activists that have been bashing their heads against the wall of local democracy for years (and for free). This, for me is where the problem lies; it’s all well and good giving local authorities ‘the right tools’ with devolved powers, but what if they don’t know what to do with them (or don’t even want to know). It’s like giving a group of primary school children ‘the right tools’ to design Britain’s successor to Trident – many will be keen as mustard and will give it their best shot. The results they come up with, whilst thankfully not feasible, will be all the more wonderful as a result and fascinating.

…and then it comes back down and blows everything up, Daddy. Next week we’re redesigning Bow Roundabout to give it lots of pretty lights….

The results that local authorities come up with for bicycles are usually far from wonderful and although we’d be fascinated to know how they arrived at their conclusions, local campaigners are usually locked out. It’s as though they are left staring through the railings at some sort of nightmare-ish Willy Wonka factory churning out pointless pavement conversions. Except their Council Tax helped pay for the nightmare.

Where ‘Transport’ and ‘Sustainable Transport’ collide (Worthing, West Sussex)

What’s worse is that when Councils across the land started to make austerity cuts, we didn’t need a crystal ball to predict that the position of Cycling Officer would be the first to go thereby cutting what is usually the only gateway between local campaign groups and the local authority. Worse still is that many councillors are actively hostile towards the humble bicycle, who view it as a symbol of non-aspiration to ferry the great unwashed along the gutter or an imposition to progress in their local area (particularly to the golf club). After all, bike parking doesn’t bring in parking fees, the most consistent issue in any local newspaper. In many cases, asking a Council to organise a consistent quality cycling policy is a bit like asking Nick Griffin to organise the Notting Hill Carnival.

I’m certainly not against localism. There are Local Authorities that are trying at the very least to understand the bicycle and just what a bewilderingly diverse mode of getting about their patch it is. But I personally believe that there has to be stronger guidance from Central Government in terms of consistent infrastructure standards, policy and funding which is at best piecemeal and often utterly soul-destroying for local campaigners. I still cannot fathom why ‘Transport’ and ‘Sustainable Transport’ are still treated as separate entities – We build a major road scheme and then apply the sustainable bits at the side or as an afterthought, which is why it needs to be integral to the Department for Transport, as opposed to a quango whose flame can be snuffed out as easily as Cycling England.

Everyone, from Local Authorities that haven’t yet realised the real benefits of the bicycle from more energised workforce & schoolchildren, better local business and increased tourism (or ‘Localism’) to local campaign groups (or ‘Big Society’) deserve far better than this.

West Sussex County Council Gets It Kind of Right. Accidentally.

Absolutely no space for decent cycling provision here. Oh, no siree…

A little while ago, I wrote this post on the National Cycle Network Route 2 between Worthing & Brighton. More specifically, this point where the approach to a junction opens out to 3 lanes heading westbound into Worthing on a 30mph road, perfect for putting your foot down, sticking your finger up to ‘the man’ (or ‘society’ as I like to call it) and competing in testosterone fuelled gladiatorial combat for the road ahead. This stretch of cycle path runs along a converted pavement (sorry, ‘shared use facility’) and is wide enough to intimidate pedestrians or for two cyclists to pass with enough space for a Kleenex tissue, laid side on, between handlebar ends.

However,  extensive gas main works needed to be carried out recently and something so extraordinary occurred that West Sussex County Council and their private contractors could actually be praised for….well, kind of helping cycling a little bit, albeit on an accidental technicality. Firstly, this is how it looked before…

A Cavalcade of Crap

Anyone on a bicycle would have to negotiate a weird slalom of street furniture before picking up the segregated narrow cycle path along the beach. And here is a close up…

A Close Up of the Cavalcade of Crap

To reiterate, this is a National Cycle Network route. The on-road cycle path terminates in a left turn arrow directing a bicycle rider to cross a shared bit of pavement (coloured red) to then pick up the segregated route into town. The bi-directional seafront path is barely wider than the on-road strip of green paint you can see in the picture above but is always far more pleasant than the road and you get the bonus of a beautiful sea view.

However, when the road works had been completed and the barriers cleared away, just look at what they’d done….

Yes! They had realigned the street furniture to allow easier passage for cyclists (and even pedestrians as cyclists were no longer weaving about and the sight lines had improved)!

Still crap in Global infrastructure terms but Hosanna!!

…and the picture below is looking back towards Brighton, also showing what I meant earlier about the on-road path terminating in a left turn.

Staying with the photo above, what I personally would have done was reduce the carriageway to two lanes (one right turn, one straight ahead), removed the pedestrian refuge and widened the seafront path to not only improve the comfort of cyclists, pedestrians, parents with pushchairs and mobility scooter users (of which there are many in Worthing) but you could even add planting to create a far nicer and sustainable gateway into Worthing. After all, the road is 30mph all the way from Worthing to Brighton.

West Sussex County Council has yet to wake up to the genuine benefits to tourism and local businesses that the bicycle could bring as it remains stuck in a Thatcherite time warp. It provides cycle facilities that constantly look like they were designed as an afterthought or the result of a drunken bet, even despite the highways budget going up this year. That said, I wish to acknowledge that this realignment of street furniture is an improvement however trivial or accidental it may be.

Of course, for every positive action, there’s always a negative reaction, which is why a sculpture was installed right in the middle of the cycle path just round the corner.

Normality is resumed.

Scenes From My Commute

Lancing Boat Club

I was cycling my merry way home this evening as I usually do along the seafront from Brighton to Worthing. The Sturmey Archer 3 speed was ticking away like a pacemaker made for Bez from Happy Mondays and the sea breeze was slowly caressing my slowly dwindling hair. Just outside Worthing on the edge of Lancing Beach, I normally encounter this…….

It’s obviously a skip, but it was placed right in the middle of the cycle path to prevent access to the neighbouring greensward by Gypsies and Travelling folk who are despised in Britain slightly more than cyclists, although it’s a very close call. The Daily Mail rule of thumb is that cyclists don’t pay Road Tax (which hasn’t existed since 1937) but Travellers don’t pay any tax (allegedly). We ignore the fact that Vodafone and other large corporations get away with not paying their fair share to the tune of billions because in modern Britain its just easier to pick on minorities. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I came across this…..

The structure on the left already had the seating stripped out to remove the homeless people who would sleep there occasionally and had been given a shiny new coat of red, white and blue, I assume due to the forthcoming Jubilee celebrations. In the patch of brown where the skip was there is now a shiny new blue sculptural bollard  announcing that you are now entering or leaving Lancing Beach.

Unlike the other black columnar art installations you can see, there is nothing reflective at all on it. The picture above shows a bit more context – like the fact that cyclists following the path from Worthing have to do a 90 degree right turn (there is a high white wall just set back to the right) so as they accelerate away, provided they haven’t hit any oncoming cyclists or pedestrians, they can collide with the art installation. The words ‘Lancing Beach’ can be the last thing they remember as they gracefully slip into unconsciousness, with the gentle crashing of waves to keep them company. It’s all part of the rich kaleidoscope that is riding a bicycle in Britain.

Go West, Look East

This weekend marks the AGM of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and will be held in Bath & Bristol (details here). Since the Embassy started last year, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to be shown around infrastructure ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous via the Scottish (which at times also veered toward the ridiculous). Although we shall be kicking off with a leisurely jaunt along the Bath Bristol Railway Path which I’m really looking forward to, the pace will only quicken when we discuss what we are as an organisation and where we’re going.

The reason is simple; it could have been a predictable year in cycle campaigning. Some additional decent momentum with LCC and their Love London Go Dutch Campaign building up to Mayoral elections followed by the Parliamentary Bike Ride followed by Bike Week with its accompanying optimism of rising numbers of cyclists followed by everyone going on their holidays and then the cycling numbers receding as Autumn takes hold.

But on 4 November 2011, Mary Bowers, a 24-year-old Journalist for the Times was knocked off her bicycle and to this day tragically remains in a coma. And The Times decided to do something about it.

To say the World of cycle campaigning as a result lurched to breakneck speed would be bordering on reckless understatement. Cycling was suddenly thrust beyond the realm of cycling magazines, blogs and internet forums and out far, far into the public domain. Every day brought a new initiative, pledge or commitment from politicians and officials in National and Local Government. There were excellent protest events organised such as Pedal on Parliament in Edinburgh and of course London Cycling Campaign’s excellent ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ ride, both remarkably well attended considering the atrocious weather that usually marks the transition to a British Summer. Thanks to The Times Cities Safe for Cycling campaign, I make the suggestion that more was achieved for cyclists than established campaigns had been trying to do for years [through no fault of their own, I hasten to add].

Or has it? Now that the dust has cleared, the protest rides ridden and the best Parliamentary china has been cleared away, I’ve listed below some of the key points and achievements extracted from a report by the jolly nice instigator of The Times campaign, Kaya Burgess.

‘….Support

Nearly 40,000 people have signed up to The Times’s ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Opposition leader Ed Miliband, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson and Mayor of Salford Ian Stewart have all backed The Times’s campaign, while Cambridge, Brighton and Leeds councils have all voted through official support and ten cities back the campaign. A host of famous names also backed the campaign in the first few weeks.

A Westminster debate saw 77 MPs attend a debate on cycle safety.

Cycling becomes a major issue in the London mayoral elections. A cycle-specific hustings is hosted by The Times and Sustrans for the five main candidates.

About 45 per cent of all regular cyclists are aware of The Times’s ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign.

More than 10,000 people take to the streets of London and Edinburgh in support of cycle safety.

Minicab chief John Griffin, boss of Addison Lee, pledged his support to the campaign after angering cyclists.

Lorries

Crossrail refused entry to 31 of 253 vehicles bringing building materials to sites because they failed safety standards imposed to protect cyclists.

The Department for Transport are discussing with insurers whether incentives can be offered to hauliers who fit their lorries with extra safety equipment to protect cyclists.

Construction companies are also exploring ways to improve cycle safety.

Leading engineers call for every bus and lorry to be fitted with sensors to protect cyclists and pedestrians by 2015…

…Dangerous junctions

At least 85 per cent of councils (366 of the 433 councils in Britain) contain a dangerous cycling blackspot, according to 10,000 points nominated by Times readers.

Transport ministers promise to study the cycling blackspots nominated on the map and investigate ways to improve them.

Safe cycle lanes are to be made law in Wales, with plans to force local councils to develop and maintain safe routes.

Local councils no longer have to seek permission from Government every time they install a rear-view “trixi” mirror at dangerous junctions, due to pressure from The Times.

A scheme in Paris allows cyclists to turn the near-side corner of a T-junction at a red-light. Similar schemes in Britain could give cyclists their own short green phase to allow them to get a head-start from lorries and HGVs.

Futuristic projects to build elevated, enclosed cycle lanes would cost a prohibitive £38 million per kilometre. But less hi-tech projects have been constructed at a far more economical cost, such as elevated tracks in Copenhagen and pedestrian and cycle-friendly bridges in Cambridge.

National audit

Polls conducted by The Times revealed much about the habits of drivers and cyclists, while more than 10,000 submissions were added to a reader-generated map of Britain, showing where the most dangerous spots for cyclists can be found.

Funding…

….A £100 million annual fund to finance cycle infrastructure should be set aside, according to leading transport charities. But the £4.9 billion Highways Agency budget has already been cut by 20 per cent.

Transport for London received £15 million in the Budget to put towards improving dangerous junctions.

The Labour Party will consider adopting parts of The Times’s ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign, including the call for more funding, in its own manifesto, during its policy review in autumn. Voters credit Labour as the party which has responded best to cycle safety concerns.

Copenhagen has undergone a £77 million cycling makeover in the past decade, with another £28 million earmarked for upcoming projects. This far outstrips spending in the UK.

Training for cyclists and drivers

The Times revealed that councils are failing to claim millions of pounds in funding for children’s cycling, putting pressure on councils to improve on last year’s figures, when fewer than 200,000 children took a cycle training course funded by their local authority.

There will be guaranteed Bikeability funding for the whole of this Parliament.

Speed limits

Cutting speed limits to 20mph in trial areas showed a 50 per cent reduction in the number of cyclists killed or serious injured, and a 60 per cent reduction in casualties among child cyclists.

The Scottish Parliament has called for more 20mph zones in response to cyclist fatalities north of the border.

The AA throws its weight behind calls to extend 20mph speed limits.

Business involvement

Norman Baker, the Transport Minister, promoted The Times’s call for more corporate sponsorship in promoting safe cycling.

The incoming mayors of both Liverpool and Salford have pledged to explore bike-hire schemes in their cities, following the model of the Barclays Bikes in London.

Cycling commissioners

A House of Commons inquiry into cycle safety heard demands for David Cameron to appoint a cycling tsar to represent the needs of cyclists in government.

Boris Johnson, in securing re-election as London Mayor, pledged to appoint a cycling commissioner.

The Times’s call for every city to have a cycling commissioner won government support after a Westminster debate on cycle safety.

The new Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, also pledged to appoint a cycling commissioner…….’

By the way, here is The Times’s ‘Cities Safe for Cycling’ Manifesto

Great stuff (especially when you consider the timeframe) but you will note that there are a lot of pledges, ‘calls for…’, ‘explores..’ and reviews but as to whether this will turn into firm action (and more crucially, funding for that action) remains to be seen. I personally still remain severely sceptical about the state of infrastructure in this country which is the best chance we have of increasing numbers of everyday cyclists through subjective safety. This is why I feel that there will always be a need for a Cycling Embassy of Great Britain as long as it never deviates from its core mantra of ‘Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure [to aid and assist training, promotion et al]’. Even when other groups launch campaigns pushing for Dutch Infrastructure such as LCC, or start holding policy reviews about ‘Going Dutch’, we should still be there to assist or support if needed but mostly developing our knowledge base and demonstrating what ‘Going Dutch’ actually means as a benchmark. We should all know only too well that to deviate or go for compromise will force us down the wrong road (pardon the pun) again with yet more crap infrastructure. And no cycling organisation wants that. Much of our current infrastructure continues to be a published joke, designed and built with the same result as a Toddler group given the chance to design the successor to Trident. However if it starts to join up in their idea of a network, cyclists right to certain roads could be brushed aside as easily as Cycling England. And don’t think it can’t happen.

NOT to be confused with the West Sussex County Council Sustainable Transport Plan

People are still signing up to the Embassy website, making generous donations and giving some excellent reasons for joining which is fantastic and I thank you personally for placing your faith in our fledgling organisation. I shall be reading out some of the reasons at the AGM (not giving names or details away of course) as they really warrant a listen. Above all, we need fresh input (and a new Press Officer) so please, please come along and help shape our destiny. Some good ideas have already been submitted for discussion and it won’t be the same without you. I’ve even ordered nice weather for you so you have no excuse.

After having a think on the Brompton this morning (I’m commuting 24 miles a day on the Brompton at the moment in training for this in case anyone wants to pop along for support), I was trying to think of a metaphor or some such that best summed up the frustration of taking perfectly good ideas from Europe and getting them back to Britain.

Me at the front at an earlier Smithfield Nocturne after stampeding through the pack like Bonnie Langford on Amphetamines

Suddenly, the classic ‘Penguin Game’ from ‘Jeux Sans frontieres’ leapt to mind. Take a look and imagine Britain enjoying playing in Europe, not taking it that seriously and getting tangled up occasionally but when a good idea tries to get carried back it either gets spilt, spoilt or upset in some way. The coloured water represents Dutch cycling infrastructure. But I think you guessed that already. I know it’s not a cycling clip but enjoy one of my favourite TV moments and see you in beautiful Bath & Bristol this weekend.

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 6 – British Cycle Infrastructure

Apparently, Brooks also dabbled in Surrealism whilst developing their prototypes before they settled on a traditional leather saddle.

According to Wikipedia,

‘Surrealist works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur…’

‘As they [Surrealists] developed their philosophy, they believed that Surrealism would advocate the idea that ordinary and depictive expressions are vital and important, but that the sense of their arrangement must be open to the full range of imagination…’

Although the epicentre of the Surrealist movement is cited as Paris immediately following, and as a reaction to The Great War, I would argue that Highways Authorities in Great Britain in the late 20th/early 21st centuries are a worthy successor through their Surrealist installations across the land, never short on elements of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non-sequiturs.

Ceci n’est pas une cyclepath (Pease Pottage, West Sussex)

One would have thought it simple to design for the bicycle. After all it’s so simple, a child can use it. A surrealist juxtaposition forms because Britain excels in making the most complicated mode of transport simple and the simplest modes of transport complicated.

Warrington Cycle Campaign started it’s always entertaining ‘Cycle Facility of the Month’ back in March 2001. They even have a book out first published in November 2007 (proceeds to CTC’s worthy Cyclists Defence Fund). The problem is that it’s a few years on and highways authorities across the land either still haven’t got to grips with the bicycle, or simply see the bicycle as an imposition to progress, or are utterly hostile to the bicycle based on prejudices that really shouldn’t be lurking in any professional environment. Local cycle campaign groups are only usually consulted when the plans are programmed for construction so even if they object it’s too late. But at least Officials can then say that they’ve consulted with those ‘cyclists’ whilst rolling their eyes and ticking another box.

No funny caption, just marvel at the surreal incompetence (from ‘Facility of the Month – January 2012)

When a new road is constructed, motorists are drawn to it because it offers speed, directness & quality of surface. It is often touted as the ‘solution’ to a problem that nobody seems guilty of creating but that doesn’t matter anymore because thanks to the new road, the problem will never, ever occur again. Apparently. When a new cycle path is constructed, cyclists shy away from it because they don’t need surrealism on the way to work or school. They are often ponderous, indirect and are often barely converted pavements with poor sight lines, overgrown vegetation and of course pedestrians, who are probably wondering what they did to deserve such Hell.

There are four classifications of cycle infrastructure in Britain [as I see it based on observations at local cycle campaigning level]:

Dirt Cheap

Usually a ‘Town Centre’ route from an outlying suburb where you may get to your end destination in under three days – Directional signs only. Inexplicable Dropped Kerbs also fall into this category.

Cheap and You Should Consider Yourselves Grateful

Usually a ‘Town Centre’ route from an outlying suburb where you may get to your end destination in under a day – Combination of directional and ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs, some converted pavements and on road cycle-paths (paint only) – some of it possibly paid for by Section 106 money if it runs past a new development. Tactile paving is provided to catch bicycle tyres and trip the elderly (even more lethal in snow). This is to fulfill standards that the designer might have glanced at. These facilities are defied by lycra clad experienced cyclists who correctly and pointedly use the road next to it. They are often armed with cameras to record abuse from motorists who think they should be using something that Salvador Dali couldn’t have thought up even after an evening on Lambrini. Some ‘safe routes to schools’ often fall into this category – great ideas but the children still have to dress so they are visible from Neptune and are no match for a Land Rover containing children that are more important, apparently.

Ridiculously Expensive [According to Comments Section in Local Newspaper].

This is generally a scheme that has had money donated from an external source such as Sustrans. This fact of course goes straight over the heads of local newspaper letter writers and Wetherspoons Pub Frequenters who never let things like cold, hard facts get in the way of prejudice. Schemes vary from more expensive ‘Town Centre Links’ as mentioned above, ‘Railway Station links’ where at the end of a hard ride we are supposed to have a post-coital cigarette at seeing the amount of cycle parking provided (some of it under cover), converted paths through parks and lightly converted canal paths with strange gates at either end looking like the entrance to Narnia complete with dog walkers. Also Beeching-era railway lines that make great cycle paths by accident. These former railway lines will get incredibly muddy in winter but the thought of tarmac horrifies local residents who claim it urbanises the countryside. Although they’d think nothing of it being destroyed for a relief road it if it aided congestion.

F*ck me, HOW MUCH!!

The above phrase is often spoken by both cyclist and member of the general public, but for differing reasons. Still far, far cheaper than a road scheme, this is where we enter Grand Designs such as ‘Cycle Superhighways’. Although the latest iteration of Superhighway has proved to be incredibly successful, this is often the most tragic of categories as, particularly outside London, so much is often promised and some political will has been found before the cold hands of compromise and lobbying strangle the usefulness out of it, resulting in the worst possible outcomes. This category also includes well used segregated bi-directional cycle paths that are in reality for unbelievably narrow people or the population of Lilliput, often going from somewhere to nowhere because they aren’t part of a decent, coherant network. These are generally routes that people currently use and would use because they follow the desire lines for the commuting public. As a result, they are generally heavily trafficked and therefore the stakes (and costs) are considerably higher. A lot of the money would have been spent on Feasibility Studies alone.

And we still haven’t mastered junctions.

British Cycle Infrastructure is the result of the end users being treated like flies on a cow – consistently being swatted away as tiny annoyances and occasionally being given dung to feast on (that’s also cheap to purchase). If you look at a Dutch Streetscape, you are often under no illusion what local and national Government thinks of the bicycle. It is also easy to conclude what local and national British Governments think by looking at our streetscapes and this is yet another factor which, to the general public, makes the act of riding a bicycle as appealing as Badger Baiting with Peter Andre. This is yet another reason that makes the simple act of riding a bicycle continue to be seen as a peripheral, specialist and potentially dangerous activity (no movement ever got anywhere telling the general public how they should be feeling. If it looks dangerous, then that as they say is that).

Having said that, I do wish to acknowledge at this point that we do have excellent cycle training and trainers in this country doing invaluable work (often for free). I am making the argument that infrastructure done correctly would amplify their efforts a great deal. It’s also worth acknowledging the biggest irony that, thanks to organisations like CTC, there are reasonably good cycle infrastructure guidelines already out there.

I leave you with a film I made for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (our AGM is later this month – be there!!); the first three clips were shot on a David Hembrow Study Tour of Assen and Groningen whilst the final clip is of my everyday commute between Worthing and Brighton. When I arrived at the ferry port in the Netherlands, to make a train connection, I cycled the 37km from Hook of Holland to Rotterdam with a friend without consulting any maps or GPS and without hi-viz, helmets, hassle, fear or intimidation. Now think about the last time you rode a bicycle in the UK. Yes, surreal isn’t it?

Please also see:

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 1: Class

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 2: Culture of Fear

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 3: DANGER!

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 4: Driving is Easier

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 5: Bicycle Maintenance