The People’s Transport

'...yes sir, I even have to wear High-Viz to operate this stand in case you walk into me whilst I'm holding a biro'

So Edmund King, President of the Automobile Association and keen cyclist, is heading an initiative to give away 5000 helmets along with Hi-Viz tabards in Central London today. The aim of ‘Cycle Safety Day’  is to hand out this safety gear to people using Boris Bikes (in case you’re wondering why they’re just focussing on London), I assume to protect them from AA members and their van drivers.

Carlton Reid has the full story on Bike Biz and you may also read accounts in Road.cc and Bike Hub.

Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize has also spoken out:

“While it’s great that the AA president is also a cyclist, this is merely another case of placing the responsibility on the vulnerable traffic users instead of tackling the rampant bull in our society – the automobile. It also sends dangerous signals that bicycle helmets are effective in collisions with cars, which they’re not. They’re not even designed for that kind of impact.

“If the AA wants to be taken seriously, it should consider promoting motoring helmets and, for example, fight for strict liability and back initiatives like the Dutch one of making external airbags on cars to protect pedestrians and cyclists a standard accessory.”

Whilst I’m sure that Mr King is acting with the best intentions, and I have nothing against him personally at all, this sends out all the wrong messages for cycling. At best his move makes the simple act of riding a bicycle look far from simple. It tells the public that the only way you can get from A to B safely on a bicycle is when dressed up as a cross between a coal miner and Liberace. At worst it looks like a cynical move by a motoring organisation that wants cyclists to act as mobile reflective road signs  to allow for easier motoring. It looks like a move to enforce the burden of responsibility on to the most vulnerable road users. It looks like a move to justify insurance companies (such as the AA) not having to pay out so much if the cycling victim in a road accident isn’t wearing a helmet. Basically, it’s treating cycling like a stubborn stain that won’t go away.

As stated before on this blog, if we have arrived at a situation where grown men and women feel the need not just to armour themselves to ride a bicycle, but to put surveillance measures on that armour, then something is severely wrong with riding a bicycle in this country. What hope is there for our nations children that wish to cycle to school?

What’s really bizarre is that for all this debate and argument on what’s best for British road safety, no-one seems to be even daring to look North or East across the North Sea where real proven, tried and tested solutions may be found. The Netherlands and Denmark have had 2 to 3 decades of developing infrastructure for riding bicycles. They have made mistakes, have learnt from those mistakes and are still learning.

So, back to basics. Here is a film from Mark Wagenbuur regarding a country that  acknowledges that far more people young and old, rich or poor will have access to a bicycle than a car and therefore makes that a priority, as any civilized nation should. Please note that helmets and hi-viz are regarded as irrelevant, as is the need for lycra. Also note the children cycling, not just to and from school, but also popping home for lunch completely independently. Please note that this country currently has the best road safety record in the World.

For those of you that instantly think ‘it can’t be done’, the Highways Agency recently revealed a [potential] £1 billion overspend on the M25 widening project. That’s £1 billion on just one road scheme, which is almost double the £560 million of ‘local transport’ funding that’s been cast out to the provinces. The real money is there alright. Also the infrastructure solutions available to us have been tried and tested, and then some. The picture below is from the always wonderful blog of David Hembrow.

They're just taking the piss now.

It shows a bin placed near a school in Assen so kids don’t even need to slow down to dispose of the rubbish or litter the local area. That’s right, the Dutch have even created the perfect synergy between bicycle rider and rubbish bin. No helmets in that picture either.

We need to make cycling normal again. We have to return it as a mode of transport. In normal clothing.

Mikael Colville-Andersen sometimes refers to ‘Citizen Cyclists’. This is the masses using the bicycle as a simple tool to get from A to B without the need to resemble a carnival float. This is for people who don’t regard themselves as ‘cyclists’ per se but just use the bicycle by default shorter journeys because it is easy. They are not regarded as engaging in a specialist activity or being part of a sub culture. They are just people getting to the pub or the shops but on a bicycle. In the UK we have gone out of our way to make the most difficult mode of transport easy and the easiest mode of transport complicated and it is to this country’s detriment in every way.

I don’t believe the phrase ‘Citizen Cyclist’ would work in the UK however as it has communist, revolutionary connotations that the British might find a little unpalatable (when I started a campaign group in Worthing called ‘Worthing Revolution’, I was asked the change the ‘Revolution’ to ‘Revolutions’ as ‘Revolution’ sounded a bit too….well…..Revolutionary for a seaside town).

Instead, I would therefore like to propose ‘THE PEOPLES TRANSPORT’ as a way of pitching the bicycle to the 97% of people who don’t know that they’re regular bicycle riders yet. Seeing as more people in the UK can walk or use a bicycle than drive a car, then surely improved access for those two modes should be prioritised. Especially as motorists don’t pay for the roads. At the moment, the People have their place but the car comes first as opposed to how it should be – that the car has its place but the people come first. We can’t keep sticking little hats and bright clothing on people in the hope that this will make things better. It’s just not cricket (cricket actually requires armour, take it from someone who knows).

If the Government can commit to the idea of a bicycle being a mode of transport, if the AA can stop putting the burden of responsibility on the vulnerable as opposed to its members,  if we can implement a range of infrastructure measures that are decent, fast, direct, that opens up communities and is fit for our children and other more vulnerable members of society then we can hold our heads high once more, without a helmet. To me, being able to buy a bigger car (with AA membership) doesn’t make us a decent, civilized nation. Leaving it in the driveway and exercising the freedom to walk or cycle to the local shops does.

A bit rambling I know but that’s the beauty of Dutch Bike riding. Lots of thinking time. Probably too much really.

Advertisements

Dunkirk Spirit

‘Dunkirk Spirit’ dates back to the Dunkirk Evacuation in 1940. It’s a phrase used to describe the British public’s ability to pull together and overcome times of adversity. It’s a dogged, backs-to-the-wall phrase requiring Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ to be played whenever it is invoked. It is a phrase that I believe accurately describes British cycle campaigning over the last 30 years. 

There seems to be an alarming increase in the amount of discussion regarding the compulsion of cycle helmets. Earlier on this year, Jersey voted to make cycle helmets compulsory for under 18’s. The same idea is being mulled over for Northern Ireland. As I have written before on this blog I am not anti helmet but definitely pro-choice. I wear a helmet on my 24 mile a day commute, partly to put my wife’s mind at ease and partly because of the real problem which is that driving standards are sometimes shocking. There is compelling scientific data to promote both sides of the helmet argument. It’s a massive debate that always throws up a lot of emotion, so for now I strongly recommend the website of the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation.

However, my view is as follows; if we honestly believe that putting protective clothing such as helmets or high-viz tabards on people should be considered as the best way forward for something as simple as riding a bicycle then we have collectively failed. The Government has consistently failed to deliver on sustainable transport policy, Local Councils have consistently failed by installing infrastructure that is often a poorly designed, dangerous insult to cycling, Highways Authorities have consistently failed by upgrading main roads to the point that they become effectively unusable for cyclists and pedestrians whilst providing no decent alternative, Road Safety groups have consistently failed to address what the real issue is regarding road safety, motorists have failed with their scant regard for other road users in the self-important belief that they own the roads, cycle campaigners and campaign groups have all consistently failed by entering a protracted dog fight that is ultimately doomed to failure. The ‘War on the Motorist’ is already over without a meaningful shot being fired and yet still produces thousands of dead and injured. As I look at an AA road atlas, I still note that one can drive to all points of the British Isles without let or hindrance. Cycling to all points is a different matter.

When I worked for CTC as an Information Officer, I realised that we were very good at speaking to the already converted (as you would hope with a membership organisation for cyclists) but the wheels fell off when appealing to non-cyclists to consider it. There is a systematic failure to appreciate that we have lost maybe two generations to the pull of a more sedentary lifestyle with all it’s paranoia about everything Outdoors, computer games and snacks. They now perceive cycling as a dangerous activity and expect to be carted everywhere in a metal box, increasing their chance of ending up in a wooden one early. Cycle training and pushing for the right to the road is all very well but when the public sees cyclists in helmets and high-viz clothing, it’s not going to make them rush to the bike shop.

The point of today’s post is that I believe it’s time to let go. It’s time to stop doggedly hanging on in there in the vain hope of achieving parity with the motor car. We look to countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands where the benefits of cycling are not only fully understood but taken very seriously.  And then we settle for a cheap, pale, despicable imitation that fizzles out when it requires thought from the designer, such as a junction or roundabout. We have websites and books laughing at these efforts, yet no-one is being brought to account.

Helmet wearing must be regarded as the benchmark of absolute last resort for the Government and highways engineers. We have to be effectively campaigning for a decent, segregated cycle network to Dutch and Danish standards that renders all protective clothing an irrelevance, and normal, stylish (in my own opinion) clothing a necessity. This of course, also means segregation from pedestrians (why can’t they have some quality too?). Let’s make cycling enjoyable again as opposed to a dogfight.  

In conclusion, we have to Copenhagenize if we are to see any meaningful increase in cycling levels in this country, and to make our living areas more liveable. It can be done, contrary to popular myth and to find out how I recommend the blogs and websites below for bedtime reading on best/worst practice.

Anything by Crap Walking & Cycling in Waltham Forest

Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic, both by Mikael Colville-Andersen

David Hembrow’s brilliant blog, particularly here and here

The Highway Code (Rules for Cyclists) – The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club Version

Please find below the ‘Rules for Cyclists’ as outlined in The Highway Code adapted by me to give more accuracy (in my humble opinion).

59 Clothing.

You should wear

• a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened. It won’t necessarily help, but will make motorists think they can drive like lunatics around you because you are ‘protected’ and make cycling look much more dangerous than it actually is, putting everybody else off cycling. Which is exactly the desire of motor companies (like Volvo and Fiat), that funnily enough actively promote helmet use.

• appropriate clothes for cycling. Avoid clothes which may get tangled in the chain, or in a wheel or may obscure your lights. Do NOT wear lycra as that is very, very bad and our obese society will judge you for some reason.

• light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light because normally they can’t be bothered to look for you unless you’re lit up like a Mardi Gras carnival float

• reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark for that extra nerdy/librarian look

60 At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights lit. It MUST also be fitted with a red rear reflector. White front reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen. Flashing lights are permitted but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp. HOWEVER if your bike has been stolen or cost £20 at a car boot sale and you merely wish to get to the bookies/public house (Wetherspoons ONLY)/next crime scene then why are you even attempting to read this? [Law RVLR regs 13, 18 & 24)]

61 Cycle Routes and Other Facilities.

Use cycle routes, advanced stop lines, cycle boxes and toucan crossings unless at the time it is unsafe to do so. Use of these facilities is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills which you will need lots of because the facilities are normally designed by someone having an epileptic fit. But they can make your journey safer IF you are the last person on Earth and even then they are a waste of time and space.

62 Cycle Tracks.

These are normally located away from the road, but may normally be found on footpaths or pavements. Cyclists and pedestrians may be segregated or they may share the same space (unsegregated). When using segregated tracks you MUST keep to the side intended for cyclists (until another cyclist approaches when you both suddenly realise it’s too narrow) as the pedestrian side remains a pavement or footpath. Take care when passing pedestrians, especially children, older or disabled people. Everyone will drift into the cycle lane for no reason, usually plugged into a phone. Always be prepared to slow down and stop if necessary as they wander about aimlessly. Take care near road junctions as you will have difficulty seeing other road users, who will not notice you. You might as well be using the road instead of this poorly designed, dangerous drivel. Otherwise it’s like given the choice of watching either Love Island or Big Brother. At gunpoint.  [Law HA 1835 sect 72]

63 Cycle Lanes.

These are marked by a white line (which will be entered by ALL other road traffic) along the carriageway. Keep within the lane when practicable through all the sunken drain covers and broken glass. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users which will be ignored. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer if you are in Copenhagen or Amsterdam or Groningen or Germany or anywhere else EXCEPT the UK.

64 You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement UNLESS the Council has painted a white bicycle on it. There is a difference APPARENTLY. [Laws HA 1835 sect 72 & R(S)A 1984, sect 129]

65 Bus Lanes.

Most bus lanes may be used by cyclists as indicated on signs. Watch out for people getting on or off a bus. Be very careful when overtaking a bus or leaving a bus lane as you will be entering a busier traffic flow and the bus driver thinks he/she is at Le Mans. Do not pass between the kerb and a bus when it is at a stop UNLESS you’re unbelievably thin.

66 You should

• keep both hands on the handlebars except when signalling or changing gear or sticking the finger up at yet another example of incompetent driving

• keep both feet on the pedals UNLESS you are trying to do a really cool trick to impress your friends to justify owning a BMX whilst in your 20’s.

• never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends. You’ll get abuse from motorists that confuse ‘a country drive’ with ‘Paris – Dakar Rally’ anyway.

• not ride close behind another vehicle UNLESS it’s slowed down just after overtaking you for a sudden turn or speed camera or police patrol car.

• not carry anything which will affect your balance or may get tangled up with your wheels or chain such as barbed wire, which MAY be the only thing that stops motorists passing so closely.

• be considerate of other road users, particularly blind and partially sighted pedestrians. Let them know you are there when necessary, for example, by ringing your bell if you have one. Try using common courtesy, which is an ancient craft that died out years ago.

67 You should

• look all around before moving away from the kerb, turning or manoeuvring, to make sure it is safe to do so. Give a clear signal to show other road users what you intend to do. This will be ignored.

• look well ahead for obstructions in the road, such as drains, pot-holes and parked vehicles so that you do not have to swerve suddenly to avoid them. Leave plenty of room when passing parked vehicles and watch out for doors being opened or pedestrians stepping into your path, particularly heavy users of mobile phones, the lemmings that they are.

• be aware of traffic coming up behind you. They know not what they are doing.

• take extra care near road humps, narrowings and other traffic calming features . They are supposed to improve road safety. In reality, they turn something as simple and easy as riding a bicycle into some form of gladiatorial combat and were designed by the person that devised the course for ‘Extreme Wipeout’.

• take care when overtaking. Wave to stationary traffic and smile to indicate you are passing them safely. This should cheer them up no end.

68 You MUST NOT

• carry a passenger unless your cycle has been built or adapted to carry one. Those carefree days are over, apparently.

• hold onto a moving vehicle or trailer UNLESS you are going for £250 on ‘You’ve been Framed’ or you live in Hill Valley.

• ride in a dangerous, careless or inconsiderate manner. The Daily Mail thinks you will anyway but ‘dangerous, careless or inconsiderate’ also describes their take on journalism.

• ride when under the influence of drink or drugs, including medicine UNLESS it’s quite nice. [Law RTA 1988 sects 24, 26, 28, 29 & 30 as amended by RTA 1991]

69 You MUST obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals. That means NOT breaking red lights. The wearing of a replica professional team kit does NOT make you immune from all traffic laws. You know you are doing wrong because of the self-righteous yet furtive look you always have when you’re doing it. FAILURE to comply means ALL OTHER ROAD USERS INCLUDING LAW ABIDING CYCLISTS and SOME OTHER PEOPLE I’VE JUST THOUGHT OF have the right to abuse you. [Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD reg 10(1)]

70 When parking your cycle

• find a conspicuous location where you think it can be seen and passers-by can ignore.

• use cycle stands or other cycle parking facilities wherever possible and do NOT let the vandalised bicycle already there with the kicked in wheels put you off in any way.

• do not leave it where it would cause an obstruction or hazard to other road users although they will find some reason to moan whatever you do.

• secure it well so that it will not fall over and become an obstruction or hazard UNLESS outside the Daily Mail offices (Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT)

71 You MUST NOT cross the stop line when the traffic lights are red. Some junctions have an advanced stop line to enable you to wait and position yourself ahead of other traffic. They will generally have motor vehicles waiting in it. [Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD regs 10 & 36(1)]

Road junctions

72 On the left. When approaching a junction on the left, vehicles will turn in front of you, out of or into the side road. Just before you turn, check for undertaking cyclists or motorcyclists. Do not ride on the inside of vehicles signalling or slowing down to turn left despite the fact they just overtook you at speed.

73 Pay particular attention to long vehicles which need a lot of room to manoeuvre at corners. Be aware that drivers may not see you. They may have to move over to the right before turning left. Wait until they have completed the manoeuvre because the rear wheels come very close to the kerb while turning. Do not be tempted to ride in the space between them and the kerb. In fact, if you see a lorry indicating or making a turn just STOP for goodness sake. The World is a brighter place with you still in it.

74 On the right. If you are turning right, check the traffic to ensure it is safe, then signal and move to the centre of the road. Allow for BMW drivers that will still overtake you even in the middle of your manoeuvre. Wait until there is a safe gap in the oncoming traffic and give a final look before completing the turn. It may be safer to wait on the left until there is a safe gap or to dismount and push your cycle across the road. No-one is going to stop as motorists are always in a terrible hurry for some reason.

75 Dual carriageways. Remember that traffic on most dual carriageways moves quicker than the speed limit but it’s acceptable because they are all experts [in their own opinions] and when an accident occurs, it is clearly a problem with the road. When crossing wait for a safe gap and cross each carriageway in turn, like Mark Cavendish on MDMA and Lucozade. Take extra care when crossing slip roads. Bear in mind the Highways Agency don’t actually want you there at all, yet can’t put a proper segregated route in because that involves thinking and doing stuff.

76 Roundabouts can be hazardous ONLY if motorists are about and should be approached with care.

Roundabouts

77 You may feel safer walking your cycle round on the pavement or verge. If you decide to ride round keeping to the left-hand lane you should

• be aware that drivers may not easily see you as they will be tuning into a different station from Radio 2 as we’re all supposed to hate Chris Evans now.

• take extra care when cycling across exits. You may need to signal right to show you are not leaving the roundabout and that you exist

• watch out for vehicles crossing your path to leave or join the roundabout or do whatever they bloody well like

78 Give plenty of room to long vehicles on the roundabout as they need more space to manoeuvre. Do not ride in the space they need to get round the roundabout. It may be safer to stop and go to a nearby pub to wait until they have cleared the roundabout. And then a couple of other lorries after that.

Crossing the road

79 Do not ride across equestrian crossings, as they are for horse riders only. Do not ride across a pelican, puffin or zebra crossing. Dismount and wheel your cycle across EVEN if you are wearing a hooded top with the hood up smoking a B&H on a ‘Mountain Bike’ where only the wheels are working.

80 Toucan crossings. These are light-controlled crossings which allow cyclists and pedestrians to share crossing space and cross at the same time. They are push-button operated. Pedestrians and cyclists will see the green signal together. Cyclists are permitted to ride across and will inevitably get in the way of a pedestrian who will write to the local paper because they are a bloody stupid idea.

81 Cycle-only crossings. Very rare. Cycle tracks on opposite sides of the road may be linked by signalled crossings. You may ride across but you MUST NOT cross until the green cycle symbol is showing. Try to ignore the hatred simmering from the motorists you’ve stopped as you’ve added about 10 seconds on to their journey time. Do NOT forget to press the ‘Wait’ button again on the other side as courtesy to other cyclists who may be approaching. Somewhere. [Law TSRGD regs 33(2) & 36(1)]

82 Level crossings/Tramways. Take extra care when crossing the tracks (see Rule 306). You should dismount at level crossings where a ‘cyclist dismount’ sign is displayed. Then feel a little foolish when you see the replacement bus service pulling out from the station car park.

The next exciting installment is here

Helmets and Accidents

According to the Bikeradar website, Swedish car company Volvo have teamed up with a ‘top sports protection specialist’, POC, to develop a new children’s cycle helmet.

Recently promoted at a primary school in the Netherlands, the bright orange lid has sparked controversy, with critics accusing Volvo of hypocrisy, stating that “Volvo introduces helmet to protect against Volvos” and comparing their promotion of the cycle helmet with Smith & Wesson introducing children’s bulletproof vests.

Volvo have also been accused of using the lid as a cheap ploy to market their new pedestrian safety detection system. Critics point out that this is only available as an option on one model, the S60, which undermines the company’s claim that safety is their paramount concern.

I’m going to leap off the fence here and say that that I agree with the critics for four fundamental reasons;

1 Firstly, it must be a duty to make motorists more aware of vulnerable road users. Particularly as they have more right to be there than motorists as Vehicle Excise Duty hasn’t paid for the roads since 1937. If it takes 20mph speed limits in residential areas, or more innovative approaches to streetscape design to keep speeds down in urban areas than so be it. If motorists can’t keep their foot off the accelerator where children are about than that option will have to be removed from them. Cycling isn’t a dangerous activity, believe it or not.

2 If we made helmets compulsory for our children, it will have a negative effect on child take-up of cycling, like everywhere else this has happened. If we don’t make the streets safer, then obesity will get them in the longer term. The health benefits of cycling outweigh the dangers many times over. The speed of traffic would probably rise too with less cyclists on the roads. The cyclists that remain will venture out wearing protective helmets thus making it OK to drive like a lunatic around them and a downward spiral is set in motion.

3 Sometimes, dare I say it, our children will ignore what we say to them. One day my son may want to cycle to the local shop to get some sweets. He may think ‘it’s only 2 minutes away. I don’t need a silly helmet. Who cares that I have to wear one and dad told me to’. If we made helmets compulsory and your child gets hit by a car whilst not wearing a helmet, there may be no hope for compensation if a head injury is sustained as your child will be negligent. Consider the amount of times you did things as a child without your parent’s knowledge and consent if you still think I’m wrong.

4 Volvo feel the need to make everyone else wear a helmet (probably pedestrians too if they had their way) because their cars are so tank-like they show no consideration for anyone or anything else in the outside World. They are basically encouraging their consumers to drive their products like wankers (‘It’s OK to drive like a lunatic! We’ve put helmets on everyone outside, even children!).

I’m not against helmets but I’m definitely pro-choice and if you decide to put a helmet on your child than great (just check the bike over first too). It’s essential as a civilised society that we have to make the roads safer first for everyone instead of wrapping people up in cotton wool. For the record, I wear a helmet on my 24 mile a day commute (partly because no-one in Brighton & Hove can drive correctly) but I respect your choice not to wear one.

You may be wondering, dear reader, why I may be showing a little animosity towards motorists despite being a car owner myself. The week before my 10th birthday (Halloween 1982) my father was driving my mother and I home from a birthday party. He needed to turn right on a junction of the A3 (it has a flyover now). This meant crossing over the northbound carriageway. A VW hatchback came hurtling around the corner and smashed into us side on. We were in a transit van and not wearing seat belts as they had not been made compulsory. The Police at the time said had I been wearing one I probably would have been decapitated. This is because the force was so great I took the passenger door with me and hit the A3 head first. A helmet may have saved my life or given me a spinal injury as well. Who knows? What I do know was I ended up with a multiple fracture of the scull and my leg was ripped to shreds. My hand required extensive stitches.

The thing is I thought my hand required stitches because I logically believed that any person would probably stick their hand out to protect themselves if they hit the ground. You’d be wrong, dear reader. I only found the truth out this year from my mother. I needed stitches in my hand because motorists were getting so impatient at us for having a nasty car smash, they started to drive their way through the wreckage and someone drove over my hand. Let’s reiterate; a motorist drove over the hand of a 9 year old unconscious boy lying in the road after a massive smash (the car that hit us was doing 70mph according to the skid marks).

All involved, I’m pleased to report, made a full recovery. My belief that motoring brings out the worst in people and is the most anti-social, selfish thing you can do remains unchanged, however. Ride a bike instead, dear reader. I can even recommend a helmet for you, if you so choose.