Cycling Embassy of Great Britain: A Personal 6 Month Audit

It is six months to the day since the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain started on a cold, cloudy day in Central London. Personally I believe that, at the very least, it has provoked debate about the future of cycling and cycle campaigning in the UK which can only be a good thing. For that alone I’m very happy with the way things have progressed.

Mark Ames speaking at the inaugural meeting. Lovely speaking voice.

Since then, things have developed at a steady canter (as befits a purely voluntary organisation with a wide selection of day jobs). However, it would be fair to say that I’ve easily spent over half of my time trying to placate other cycling organisations and representatives. In the end I published a blog post for Cycling Mobility outlining our position and my only regret is that I didn’t write it sooner.  When a new organisation starts out, there will always be a lot of bluster, rampant enthusiasm and even anger at what has gone before. By questioning the very nature and direction of cycle campaigning in the UK, we were always going to make waves.

erm...look what my 14 month old son spelt out for me in the bath....I had nothing to do with this, I just found it. Honest.

Here are some personal thoughts and news on how the Embassy is developing;

  • The board is now in place with myself as Chair (unanimously voted in by strategically waiting until everyone had drank a fair amount of alcohol before instigating the vote), Sally Hinchcliffe as Secretary, Anthony Cartmell as Webmaster, Geoff Rone as Treasurer, Mark Ames as Press Officer with Chris Page completing the team alongside massive help from Joe Dunckley and David Arditti .
  • WE ARE LAUNCHING OFFICIALLY IN SEPTEMBER. THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN.
  • The Combined Manifesto and Mission Statement has recently been bolstered by our Frequently Asked Questions document. Thanks to Sally for that. She has written a thriller so this kind of thing was always going to be right up her street.
  • Our Manchester Consulate were very quick on the ball in creating what to me is still the piece de resistance – our shiny logo. This will be the centrepiece of some lovely merchandise available soon. I’m still pondering about requests for Embassy flags for people to put on bikes to look like Ambassadorial vehicles. I’m open to further suggestions.
    Lovely, isn't it? It's the only bicycle symbol in British history to incorporate mudguards.
  • The wiki is continuing to develop with some extremely good contributions from helmets to Dutch Cycle Infrastructure to Subjective safety. Some Embassy members are off to the Netherlands on a study tour organised by David Hembrow to collate further information and social history to better grasp how the Dutch got to where they are now with cycle infrastructure fit for all ages, styles and speeds. Being a wiki, it is of course open to contributions from all. If you’d like to help join the research, please let us know.
  • We now have a bank account and PayPal is fully operational. I can put in that £80.56 now.  I’d like to thank all those that have contributed thus far, it really is going to be a massive help in the future. Don’t stop now though!
  • Some may have noticed I’ve added Crap Cycling and Waltham Forest to our front page blog roll. Whatever people say about him/them/her, we have made the same transition in cycling belief. To me, it is a blog that represents the primal scream of cycle blogging and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an influence.
  • David Hembrow has kicked off the first of what I hope will be many more brilliant guest blog posts. If you would like to contribute with anything from cycling to school with your children to cycle infrastructure and the built environment, please let me know.
  • In April, I was kindly  invited by Movement for Liveable London to give a talk. The suggestion was for something based on ‘I Want What They’re Having – How the Rest of the World is Achieving a Cycle Revolution’. The end result is here.
  • In June I was also invited to the Annual Parliamentary Bike Ride and appeared in a film about Blackfriars Bridge by Carlton Reid. I’m no stranger to this event, having attended as a CTC member of staff a few years ago, but it seemed to me then, as now, that it was simply a symbolic event with lots of nice, well-meaning people who were allowed into a room in the House of Lords to be told how wonderful cycling is………and that’s it, see you next year for Bike Week 2012 (which will probably be even more divorced from basic utility cycling due to Team GB and the Olympics). Such events are pleasant, good-natured affairs. I even had an amiable chat for a lengthy part of the ride with the very nice Julian Huppert MP. But that’s it. It was very well organised and nice to be there though!

The reason I saved Blackfriars Bridge until last is because something very big is happening in Central London at 6pm this evening. This is the Embassy Press Release which, I’ve just been informed, features in today’s Evening Standard. Please, please give it your support. Massive credit is due to Mark Ames. and indeed the London Cycling Campaign. Further detail may be found here, here, here and here.

Why is the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain concentrating on such a London-centric issue? Well, it’s because, to me, TfL are the carbon copy of any highways authority across the land designing dangerous drivel, more often than not with minimal consultation with the end users. Quite often there are designers, engineers and technicians within these organisations who would quite happily design something wonderful that benefitted all, but sadly can’t due to political masters committed to ‘smoothing traffic flow’ and quite often shovelling pedestrians and cyclists together safely out-of-the-way in the name of progress, or on ‘Superhighways’ that rewrite the dictionary definition of the word ‘super’. How many more people would TfL like to die before they finally get the fact that a change of approach in a city made up of people might be required?

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If TfL’s Feats Create Unpleasant Streets, Then That’s More Lame.

From London Se1

‘Mayor of London Boris Johnson has ruled out making the current temporary 20 mph speed limit on Blackfriars Bridge a permanent measure despite a vigorous campaign by cyclists.

Mr Johnson was questioned at City Hall on Wednesday by Green Party London Assembly member Jenny Jones who put to the Mayor the findings of a 2008 Transport for London report which recommended a 20 mph limit on several Thames bridges.

“My information is that the general speed [on Blackfriars Bridge] is nearer 12 miles an hour, therefore a speed limit of 20 mph isn’t necessary and could be a serious impediment to smooth traffic flow,” said the Mayor. “I’m not convinced of the case for this.”

He added: “I do think more work needs to be done on cycling over Blackfriars Bridge … speaking as someone who uses that route the whole time I am very much familiar with the problems of the cyclist on Blackfriars Bridge and I am working with TfL to try and sort it out.

Ms Jones pressed the Mayor on why he was ignoring the findings of the report prepared by TfL in 2008. The Mayor replied: “I am told that it does not represent the best advice and therefore I am not pursuing it”.…..’

Danny, writer of the excellent Cyclists in the City blog provides an update here, and my favourite pedalling pugilist, Freewheeler, pulls no punches in his synopsis here. They think it’s war. And I agree.

To me and indeed the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, the ‘Battle of Blackfriars’ has ramifications way beyond London which is why we have supported the London Cycling Campaign wholeheartedly. Our Press Officer (and flashmob ride Rabble Rouser) Mark Ames published a blog post for the Embassy site a couple of weeks ago in which he wrote the following,

‘……All eyes in London are on Blackfriars Bridge, but why is this issue important to the whole of the UK and not just London? Because Transport for London are governed by a rule called the Traffic Management Act 2004 which states that TfL’s obligation is to ensure the expeditious movement of traffic on its own road network; and facilitate the expeditious movement of traffic on the networks of others. This is all well and good, but how is TfL interpreting this rule? But does ‘traffic’ include people on bikes, people on foot and people on buses – people who have jobs to go to, shops to spend in, schools to teach at? The law is explicit on this issue: “traffic” includes pedestrians, cyclists and “motorised vehicles – whether engaged in the transport of people or goods.” (Traffic Management Act 2004, Section 31, and DfT Traffic Management Act 2004, Network Management Duty Guidance, DfT page 4, paragraph 10).

But TfL’s Draft Network Operating Strategy (May 2011) explains how this Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) objective is actually translated into reality:

The key measure for smoothing traffic flow set out in the MTS is journey time reliability .(p14)

And how is this measured?

Journey time reliability scope includes all classes of light good vehicles, Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV’s) and cars. (p14 – footnote 2)

So there you have it; pedestrians don’t count, buses and trams don’t count, cyclists don’t count. If you’re not in a car, you just don’t count. Figures via Cycle of Futility blog.……’

When I was a child (and a bit bored), my friends and I played a game where we tried to cram as many of us as we could into a phone box. It would appear that TfL along with all Highways Authorities across the land also enjoyed the same game. The problem is, they’re still playing it. In this exciting new updated version, the children (ironically) represent motorised traffic and the phone box is a ‘strategic road network’.

I think that the whole approach is incredibly anti-social. In any urban area where people live, work and play the car should have its place but the people come first. In the UK the people have their place but the car comes first and it is to the nation’s detriment in every way.

In a talk I gave for Movement for Liveable London last April, I spoke about TfL’s strategic red routes. To me, painting double red lines down a busy road merely amplifies the sense of urgency in the streetscape; these are not places to walk or cycle or shop or stop and talk with friends and family. These are places where you have to get through as quickly as possible, I assume to the next traffic ‘hot spot’.  

The red paint signifies the red rag to a bull. People get flustered when placed under the pressure of playing TfL’s high stakes game. Tempers flare, road users punch other road users and mistakes are made, sometimes with tragic (and needless) consequences.

Many non-cyclists would probably rather do this than cycle through a UK town or city

To all bicycle riding and walking Londoners; please take part in TfL’s Draft Network Operating Strategy Consultation. The deadline is tomorrow. Further details on the excellent Cycle of Futility here.

I’m off on a study tour in the Netherlands in September with David Hembrow. The main reason is to weep openly at infrastructure provided by a nation that is actually capable of designing for such a simple and effective mode of transport and gives a toss about its people. Another reason is to do further research into how they got here from the car-centric Netherlands of the 1970’s. Although Mr Hembrow has written a very good blog post on ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ (Stop the Child Murder), there doesn’t seem to be much else on the social changes that occurred (even less in English).

My point is that there needs to be an emotive element that can engage all Londoners in the case of Blackfriars and the UK public in the case of villages, towns and cities across the land.

For the moment, I would like to suggest (and this is me speaking personally about an idea I had this morning and not on behalf of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain) creating a special day where all cycling & pedestrian groups can unite to lay a wreath and hold a memorial service at TfL headquarters to remember all cyclists and pedestrians that have died in London as a result of TfL’s skewed logic. Then we can head along to Department for Transport and do the same for all those that have died in the UK needlessly as a result of a Department that refuses to take travelling by pedal or foot seriously and make these simplistic modes of transport simple.

I personally believe that it’s time we started to make this personal and poignant.

Words and Pictures

The police escort arrives to give me my Guard of Honour to the Houses of Parliament. Oh, and escort some MP's and Lords and yadda yadda yadda.

Last Wednesday, I caught the train up to London for the Annual Parliamentary Bike Ride which is the promotional prelude to Bike Week. As I was taking my Dutch Bike along, I had to catch the first train out of Worthing to beat Southern Rail’s [non-folding] bike ban which operates between 7-10am. I then cycled along Victoria Street, round Parliament Square (fine for me on an upright Dutch bike but I wouldn’t expect my mother to cycle this comfortably – unless she was actually a reasonably fit man aged between 18-45), over Westminster Bridge taking the vaguest of vague left turns into Belvedere Road toward the start point at the London Eye.

Carlton Reid interviewing Ed Clancy. He'd just interviewed me which was all the work he had to do really.

This is an event organised by CycleNation and ex-colleague Adam Coffman of CTC in particular. The great and the good of cycle campaigning were there including London Cycling Campaign’s new Chief Executive Dr Ashok Sinha. The ride was to take us over Blackfriars Bridge where Carlton Reid made this film.

We cycled along the Embankment, past Buckingham Palace and on to the Houses of Parliament where Norman Baker (MP for Lewes, East Sussex and Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department for Transport) took questions before dashing off to catch a train.

Cycling over Blackfriars Bridge. It's quite pleasant and relaxing with a police escort. Some decent infrastructure and a maintained 20mph limit will do.

 It was all very nice but that’s all it was. I’m all for devolving power but it needs the Department for Transport to treat the bicycle seriously as a mode of transport and keep a grip on Local & Highways Authorities whose main mission seems to be making cycling look as inviting as a timeshare in Tripoli. Councils across the land are continuing to build pitiful infrastructure whether cycle campaigners want it or not and the Local Transport Fund is not going to help that – if anything it will only encourage them to paint more bicycle symbols on pavements. The Monday before the Bike Ride, I wrote a blog post for the new Cycling Mobility magazine outlining my views on this and more here.

What I really cannot understand is why this country continues to ignore the Netherlands and Denmark – countries that have had proven success in creating bicycle cultures, that have made lots of mistakes since the 1970’s when developing its infrastructure and learnt from them now using a mixture of solutions to achieve modal shares we can only dream of over here if we continue the way we are. Maybe I should have asked Norman Baker on the study tour I’m going on in September.

The day after I was commuting to work and the puncture fairy visited me..

Bicycle repair in Shoreham by Sea

 In a former life I would have thrown my arms in the air, sworn a lot, replaced the inner tube as to engage in repair would lose valuable time in my cycling rat race (time was always against me when I cycled quicker for some reason), sworn again as I get grease from the chain and derailleur onto my work clothes in my super dooper courier bag etc etc. This time I just set about the gentle art of bicycle repair, reminded by the advice given to me by Stefan Petursson when I purchased the bike from Amsterdammers in Brighton. The conversation went like this;

Stefan: (put on your best Icelandic/Dutch accent here) ‘you know the best way to repair punctures on a Dutch Bike?’

Me: (put on your sexiest British accent here) ‘No’

I was at this point expecting to hear some incredible tip known only by the Dutch Peoples – maybe something treasured & carried over from generation to generation by word of mouth

Stefan: We pump the inner tube up like so…….and we listen.

I closed my eyes in a half wince/half flinch way. This advice was of course nothing new to me. But in that instant it made me realise that I had been taking the commute far too seriously with all the kit and speed and competitiveness and the subscription to Cycling Plus. By buying an upright utilitarian bike, I had yet to realise that things were about to get a lot slower and far more interesting. Again, this is not to discredit other forms of cycling as we are all part of one big family. But since riding the Dutch Bike my life has become simpler and cheaper and more spontaneous with more freedom and time for thought as a result. Exactly as cycling should be.

Lancing Beach just off NCN2 looking back toward Worthing. I can think of worse commutes.

Obviously they are not everyone’s cup of tea but quite why we ignore Dutch & Danish bikes (and indeed classic British roadsters too) as well as their infrastructure standards is quite beyond me. In the UK, mudguards are still regarded as an accessory! In Wimbledon Fortnight!! Madness, I tell you.

All the Fun of the Fair

Apologies that it’s been a while since I last posted but things have been very, very busy at Lo Fidelity Towers. The Boy has teeth pushing through with a vengeance which is bad enough for the poor little mite but they’re also deciding to make their push every morning between 2.30 and 4.30am. As a result, I look as though I’ve been punched in the face yet happy to be punched in the face as I weave the Old Dutch Bike through the school run stationary traffic.

On the cycling front, I’m soon to be guest blogging at Cycling Mobility magazine and my first post explaining my vision for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britian goes out on Monday. It’s probably too diplomatic, but I’d rather not get flailed alive by people getting the wrong end of the stick.

As I’ve stated before, riding a Dutch Bike gives one a lot of time to think. Freed up from the heads-down-Tour-de-France-peleton-of-one that is the default for British Cycle Commuting I can take great gulps of sea air and look at stuff such as the fun fairs setting up along the seafront. In a way, there are many aspects of fun fairs that, for me, have similarities with cycling in Great Britain…

The Carousel

Like Close Encounters of The Third Kind. But in Bognor.

 The fun fair carousel is a bit like the ongoing ‘Battle of Blackfriars’. TfL and the Conservative Assembly members are crammed into the control booth, with Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ blasting out so loud, they can’t hear the screams of the people on the ride. ‘Do you want to go faster?’ they keep yelling over the tannoy. From time to time they will try and alter the angle and spin. Occasionally someone tragically and needlessly dies or is injured as a result of poor maintenance or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time but that doesn’t matter to TfL. Just keep the punters going faster and faster. If they crank up that music nice and loud, they don’t have to hear a thing.

For further reading on the Blackfriars Bridge debacle I strongly recommend the London Cycle Campaign website this brilliant post by Cycle of Futility, I Bike London and of course, Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest

The Arcade Coin Machine

It’s mindless, but still better than watching ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ on every level

I admit that I used to love playing these machines on family holidays in the 70’s and 80’s. I believe that these machines accurately represent local and national government spending on cycling. The money that you are looking at through the glass represents the transport budget. You put our money in hoping, often in vain, to get something back in the way of investment for cycling and sometimes some pennies drop out. Sometimes you can hear money drop but it doesn’t make it to you. That’s your local authority syphoning off yet more money for pothole repair to ease traffic flow, or maybe a strategy document that might as well have been written by Ken Dodd on ecstacy.

Dodgems

Due to Coalition cuts, this might be the new driving test.

To some, it’s a fun way to pass five minutes. I agree, but I would go one step further and say they should be re-branded from ‘Dodgems’ to ‘School Run’. The fact that the lady in the foreground  has let her childs hands on the wheel may occasionally happen in real life as it allows a parent to answer a mobile phone call. After all, cars practically drive themselves these days, don’t they? Also, children learn from a very early age that as long as they are encased in a car or car like object, they’ll be safe if they collide with anything else.

The House of Mirrors

Again, more fun than ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ on every level.

The House of Mirrors is supposed to be a maze like puzzle giving a vision of alternate realities to our own. I also think it represents the Vehicular vs Segregation debate. It’s just an illusion. Vehicular Cyclists are all rough, tough fellows who like exhaust fumes and would regard cycling along the A40 Westway as a mere bagatelle. Segregationalists are only people that would have segregated infrastructure everywhere including the drives leading up to their houses. Then you leave the House of Mirrors to realise that we are in the same reality seeing the same thing, that the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany does not have segregated infrastructure absolutely everywhere because even they will say that that is a bloody stupid idea and what we all really want is the difficult mode of transport to reflect that difficulty and the easiest modes of tranpsort to reflect that ease for all ages and gender, just like in continental Europe that have proven success in obtaining high bicycle modal shares with lower casualty rates. Obviously there will be different views, but I simply cannot believe we are still ignoring what’s been occuring across the North Sea. Since about 1975. Funnily enough the ideas for current Great British cycling infrastructure came from a House of Mirrors. Actually, I made that last bit up, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I got all that from cycling past a fun fair on a Dutch Bike. Mind you it was into a headwind.