Cycle Campaigning Simplified No. 2 – ‘Road Safety’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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London Cycle Superhighways

Two of the London Cycle Superhighways opened at the beginning of the week to a guarded response. Obviously a scheme like this (which cost £23million in total) is going to invoke a broad spectrum of emotions.

For the purposes of this blog post, any reference to these new routes will focus on CS7 which runs from Merton to the City. This is because when I lived in London for a while I used to cycle from Morden to Camden Town every day which would have taken in much of this new cycle route. I had no trouble on this route with motorists, partly because most of the time I was passing stationary traffic. It is, as you can imagine, a very busy route and therefore will feel intimidating to the novice cyclist.

Route_7_Superhighway_21.05.10

It is all too easy for the experienced cyclist [in the UK] to feel sceptical about the scheme and even easier to pick apart TfL’s Utopian vision of a carpet of blue filled with relaxed, happy cyclists. We know all too well the diabolical levels of infrastructure that exist already (and for which Local Authorities must hang their heads in shame). However, I would like to tentatively offer the following observations;

Some have criticised the fact that CS7 uses the A24, a main thoroughfare into Central London. I would imagine TfL did this for the following reasons:

  • If one of the aims was to create a modal shift from car to bicycle, putting this revised cycle lane on a major thoroughfare with cyclists perceived to be making better progress would assist in this shift.
  • If the ‘Superhighway’ was projected on a route taking in quieter residential roads, for example to the east of the A24, then all those people living to the west would have to make their way across the A24 to get to it. It is better for residential streets to feed into a cycle route. Also, if it is on a major road, it will pass more shops, schools, transport interchanges etc.

I’m pretty sure the cycle paths are blue to match those used in Copenhagen  (obviously the colour. Not the design and engineering standard). It’s pleasing that TfL have used their branding to keep it recognisable and simple for novice cyclists and although it’s flattering that Barclays saw the colour and thought that big banking could be associated with the humble, egalitarian bicycle, I sincerely hope this is not the beginning of some form of PFI initiative.

Although Transport for London (TfL) would have consulted extensively with the Boroughs, they must have consulted with cyclists at some point regarding the design and layout. I would like to know at what design stage this consultation with the end users took place. From experience, cycling groups generally see the plans when the construction work has already been programmed giving little or no scope for change. Although I’m sure TfL consulted form the start, it would be interesting to read what feedback they received purely for other councils and cycling groups to take note. (If you want to read about a consultation excerise that went well to cheer you up, please read here)

If it gets more people experiencing the pleasure and freedom that cycling brings than that’s wonderful as if they really are just tarted up ‘Crap Cycle Lanes’ then they should get loads more feedback on how to make them work. This would be fantastic as normally it is experienced cyclists that get consulted and even then only rarely. There needs to be a broader range of people giving feedback from all levels of cycling experience, all ages and ethnic origins.

Although there have been attempts at a London Cycle Network before with differing levels of success, I’d like to think of this latest venture as Cycling Infrastructure Version 1.0. Maybe there will be an upgraded version in the future that not only gives a fresh coat of blue paint but also a raised curb separating cyclists from traffic and pedestrians. Maybe the future version will tackle the issue of cars and vans parking in them (often lawfully, it must be said). Crucially, maybe a future version will give greater clarity at junctions with, dare I say it, PRIORITY (although that will probably come with Cycling Infrastructure Version 90.0).

In conclusion, I tentatively applaud Transport for London for at least giving it a shot and trying to be progressive. As long as they actively encourage and are transparent with feedback, learn how to listen and look to examples set in Copenhagen and Amsterdam we may see that cycling utopia yet. London and indeed the rest of the UK, has everything to gain from making this work and making it an exemplar.

For views from the front line, I recommend Real Cycling, London Cyclist, Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest or Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph.

Crap Cycle Lane III

Yes, Crap Facilities Fans, welcome to the next instalment which is a real saucy seaside shocker!

 You may have noticed a common theme running through the crapness you have seen so far here and here. Pavements are being converted bringing all the non-motorised forms of transport into direct conflict.  Yet nothing is done to the roads. We never see the road space being ceded to pedestrians, cyclists, mobility scooters or wheelchair users. We never see road markings and street furniture being removed forcing motorists to slow down and actually think about what they are doing. It’s as though we want anti-social forms of motoring and higher casualty rates in our villages, towns and cities.

 The following junction is a prime example, and it’s a shocker as it’s on a major part of Sustrans’ National Cycle Network. It is on the NCN 2 running between Brighton and Worthing.

Here is the approach from Brighton. The road is the A259. Bear in mind that although the road on either side of the junction is single carriageway, here it opens up to three lanes (two to progress to Worthing and a right turn lane). This gives motorists ample opportunity to try and overtake at speed or just put their foot down because the road opens out.

Note that the pavement (sorry, ‘Shared Use Facility’) doesn’t open out. In fact, it gets very narrow at this point with foliage and beach huts to the left.

Here is the cluttered approach. There is an on road advisory lane that feeds in from the right – this is I assume for those that preferred to stay on the road to this point. Although the Shared path is wider further back, it is still not for the faster commuter or road cyclist as there are entrances to properties along it. Please note that absolutely no attempt has been made to realign the street furniture resulting in a slow, narrow and dangerous slalom. Pedestrians are also feeding into this from the pelican crossing.

To reiterate, this is National Cycle Network Route 2.

And this is it from Worthing.

Now you’ve had time to reflect you can cycle on to Worthing. The path here climbs slightly to give a glorious view of the sea (and the road below) but it is a narrow segregated path which is slightly too narrow for two cyclists to pass.

My humble suggestion is as follows; Narrow the approach to two lanes, remove the central pedestrian island if possible and extend the shared use path out, with additional planting. After all, the traffic was single file leading up to the junction from all directions. It would make this gateway to Worthing more pleasant for local residents, pedestrians, cyclists and slower, safer motorists.

In fairness, I have no doubt that Sustrans did the best they could with the resource open to them. I also have no doubt that they would have been told blankly by the Highways Department (the Fascist wing of any County Council) that there would be NO WAY that space could be taken from motorists and that it would cost too much anyway.

This same department also designed the cycle facilities I’ve highlighted in earlier posts. Please can someone stop them? I don’t care how or by whom. They are operating without any formal consultation route with cyclists which is badly needed as they clearly aren’t cyclists. The end result is like having a motorway network designed by the Chuckle Brothers.

Copenhagen and Amsterdam are just across the sea, yet they seem on a different planet.