Right! First things first. I shall be leading a seaside Infrastructure Safari from Worthing to Brighton on Saturday 18th August. We shall be meeting at Worthing Railway Station at 12.30pm to give everyone a fighting chance of making it down to the South Coast. The pace shall be leisurely with frequent stops to discuss, take photos and sometimes just laugh at various cycle infrastructure issues throughout the route.
Everyone is welcome to join me and I shall ensure that there is a pub at the end (more details on that nearer the time) with a chance to stop for snacks en route.
Anyway, apologies for not writing in a while, dear reader, but my wife and I decided to head to Corfu and Paxos for a week. My Mother in Law stupidly volunteered to look after our son for a week so we could get away for a bit. Although we love our son above everything else, opportunities like this do not come readily. This led to a flurry of research and planning from my wife probably not seen since the planning of the Apollo 11 Mission.
We decided to go to Corfu City for an evening. It has a population of around 30,000, it serves as Capital for the region of the Ionian islands and is very, very beautiful feeling Venetian in character. Whilst wandering around a park (next to the only Cricket pitch in Greece – a legacy of British Empire on the Island), I spotted some vague, ethereal lines painted on the wide pathways, barely visible in the simmering Ionian heat. ‘What’s this?’, I thought. It would appear that modern Britain may have left a legacy too in the form of really average cycle lanes. Since I arrived back in Britain, I encountered these rather good blog posts here and here explaining in more detail what cycle infrastructure was installed in the city. I can only comment on what I saw, which was by sheer chance and I have captured for you in the pictures below. I was going to mention to my Wife how I should have brought a tape measure to check the widths of the path but she might have accurately, firmly and, on balance, correctly kicked me in the testicles.
Yes, a car parked beautifully across the lane! I encountered this at almost every access/egress point making it an equally hilarious experience for wheelchair users, shoppers and parents with buggies.
So, we have seen vague paths which are a bit narrow in places with even more vague signage, cars parked blocking them and pigeons everywhere. Actually, reading that line back, I’ve just described London with the heat turned up.
I strongly recommend you pay the island a visit.The chilled beers also have the Lo Fidelity seal of approval. Infrastructure nerds in particular have a pretext now, if one were needed.
Firstly, apologies to Lo Fidelity readers for the non-posting as of late. The Wife has been plagued since childhood with a condition leading to abscesses in her leg and in particular at the base of her spine. There’s a lot more to it than that but she has just had her eleventh and hopefully final operation which means she might be able to sit down without discomfort for the first time in years. I’ve been tending her and The Boy over the last week and a half as, at nine months old, he is not getting any lighter to carry.
The Wife cycled as a child and her parents were keen cycle tourists. She is always enthusiastic about me cycling and cycle campaigning and does her best to look interested when I ramble on about cycling and cycle campaigning. However, she is adamant that she will never cycle again, partly to the pain and discomfort up until now and the potential to trigger something bad as a result of getting on a bicycle again. She says, quite reasonably, that I should be happy that she’s produced a son to eventually go cycling with. She’s right of course and I’ve accepted that as far as The Wife and cycling is concerned, some things are just not meant to be. In turn, she has accepted that I don’t really like her great love, which is swimming (basically I run like a Dolphin and swim like a Cheetah). The upshot of all this is that she walks everywhere, often with a pushchair for added humour – if you thought facilities for cyclists were bad the UK, I’m getting a taste of my own medicine as she points out the long list of failings for pedestrians with pavement parking, poorly applied work roads and crazy paving. I’ve suggested that she starts a blog called something like ‘Crap Walking in Britain’. She says she’ll think about it.
The Embassy is, at this moment in time only three weeks old with Governance and formal policies to be agreed that hasn’t formally launched yet. However, I know the following applies;
It was never, and will never be our intention to relinquish cyclists’ right to the road. There seems to be a fear that as soon as someone calls for better infrastructure in the UK, that this will somehow lead to cyclists being banned from the public highway. Personally I accept those fears to a point in the wake of such a car-sick Transport Secretary. However, crap infrastructure continues to be built by Councils who’s Modus Operandi is not to improve the lot of the cyclist, but to clear them off their ‘Strategic Road Networks’. Maybe a situation will arise that’s even worse than Carlton Reid’s vision; that cyclists get shovelled off the roads to the crap that exists already without reform of the guidelines. Now that’s scary. I would envisage the Embassy working in tandem (pardon the pun) with organisations such as CTC as well as Cycling Embassy of Denmark and Fietsberaad so we push for better infrastructure standards based on Dutch, Danish and German best practice, whilst campaigns that enforce the right to the road led by CTC and ipayroadtax.com, continue to fly their standards. Whatever happens, I personally believe we have to cull the crap to enable mass cycling and those that joined the Embassy just want to try something new.
As far as antagonism goes, when a new campaign group starts up, it’s always going to ruffle a few feathers. I sometimes take the microphone as a Comedy New Act (you can’t call yourself a Stand Up Comedian until you’re regularly playing the Comedy Store or Live at the Apollo and you have a DVD out). Sometimes when you first walk out on stage, the collective tension and excitement in the audience builds to a point that someone will suddenly scream something out – not a heckle or anything nasty, but the excitement (coupled with alcohol) has triggered a sudden outburst. They are probably nice respectable people, holding down nice respectable jobs and for that flashpoint, the situation has run away with them. When the cycling public turned up at the Embassy start up meeting, there was a lot of pent up excitement, frustration and anger at what has passed before which also appeared on people’s blogs. However, Embassy policy is not going to be born of frustration and anger either, from blog posts or otherwise (just the excitement at trying something new). Anger is best left to the experts!
When the Manifesto and Policy Documents are agreed, clarity should follow and then people can praise and criticise. Agreed governance will also bring accountability. On one cycle forum, people have already speculated that the Embassy is a shadowy part of the road lobby and that I’ve got my head up my arse. The first point certainly isn’t true and the second point would put my back out and we have had quite enough back problems for one family, thank you.
Finally, and particularly if you live in and around Brighton & Hove, one of the only pieces of decent cycle infrastructure costing £550,000 looks set to be removed at double the installation cost. Funnily enough, this is to ‘improve traffic flow’. Details are here along with a petition, which I urge you to sign.
Today’s post has a bit of London-centric feel to it (if you hadn’t already guessed by the title and picture with rib-tickling caption). This feels a bit strange as I’m typing this in my home in Worthing to the melodic sound of nesting seagulls and an 8 month old boy who has reached the stage of Picking up Bright Object and Banging It Against Another Bright Object.
Firstly, the start up meeting of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is nearly upon us which will be held here. It turns out that Saturday 29th January is also the birthday of Mikael Colville-Andersen, creator of all things Copenhagenize and Cycle Chic. If he would like to attend, I may stretch to buying him a couple of drinks. Oh, alright, a couple of drinks AND a cupcake with a candle in it.
The Agenda is available here and our draft Manifesto and Mission Statement are also available for download from the Cycling Embassy website, so you may peruse and comment. The meeting will be followed by an informal chat and then an ‘Infrastructure Safari’ where we shall be taking in the delights of cycle facilities Transport for London style. The route is going to be the creation of Mark from ibikelondon (many thanks). On a related note, I am going to organise an Embassy field trip to the Netherlands later this year where we can go to Groningen and bemuse the locals as they watch a group of British tourists openly weeping.
Also, I would also like to remind Lo Fidelity Readers that have any connection with the City of London to write to the City before February 21 and object to the City’s local implementation (transport strategy) plan. According to Danny, scribe of the Cyclists in the City blog,
‘The reason is that the last LIP in 2005 resulted in only three submissions from cyclists with the result that, well, not much happened. So far, we’ve generated over 50 this year and want to encourage several hundred responses.
The City has the money to make a massive difference to cycling in London. But it’s transport plan is full of worrying compromise. For example, it undertakes
1) To ensure no increase in average journey times for car drivers (i.e. cars and taxis will continue to dominate the City’s streets)
2) That cycle infrastructure will be built with the needs of all road users in mind (i.e. forget improvements for bikes)
To my mind, this is a manifesto for car drivers, not for sustainable travel or safer roads.
Contrast the City LIP with Southwark, which explicitly states that car speeds will be subject to improvements for cyclists and pedestrians.
As you are probably aware, I recently decided to put my money where my mouth is and purchased a Dutch bike (Batavus Old Dutch) for my daily commute between Worthing & Brighton. Here are some initial thoughts from my notepad into riding a utility bike for utility purposes;
One of the first things a Briton will notice about a Dutch bike is the weight. Some Americans like to wax lyrical about old Cadillac’s and T-Birds – this is the bicycle equivalent. However, you will be comparing it to every other bike you’ve owned when you were a ‘serious’ commuter and that’s when you realise that you will never be followed by a team car or presented with a bunch of flowers and kissed by a beautiful woman on a podium because you made it to your office in a ‘Personal Best’ time. The rules change utterly as soon as you pedal away on a Dutch bike or roadster.
The riding position is far more upright with nice wide handlebars. I found myself discovering new and interesting leg muscles I never knew existed.
If you are making the switch from a road bike to a Dutch bike or roadster, a major problem will be training oneself to slow down. These bikes are built for utility with gentle speeds. I found for the first few outings I was still getting quite sweaty before I realised that I was subconsciously matching my previous pace which is lunacy. Cycling in heavy traffic makes me pedal faster for some reason, as though I’m being goaded back into the rat race. To escape the hoi polloi, I’ve started using more sections of the National Cycle Route 2 between Brighton & Worthing (most notably, the Shoreham to Worthing stretch). Free from traffic, one can relax, slow down and enjoy the view. For the commute home in the dark, the integral front light is never going to compete with Shoreham Lighthouse but I’ve found that it creates strangely romantic ‘mood lighting’ when cycling along the traffic free route with no street lights. Just the lights of Worthing Pier in the distance and the crashing of waves below an inky sky.
You will become familiar with an occasional quiet jangling sound when you’re cycling a Dutch Bike. That’s because the vast majority have an integral lock which means you put your keys in to release the lock and take them out when you reach your end destination. This will be quite hard for many Britons to grapple with –in our Culture of Fear, we like keys trussed up in the inside pockets of a courier bag or another secure place. Bear with it though as this is one of the first steps to relaxing and enjoying your cycling. I had to smile when I got to my front door and had that frantic 20 seconds of checking my pockets to locate my keys before I realised that I had to lock the bike to release the keys to unlock the door to unlock the bike to get it through the house. Less haste, more speed.
The other area that would put British cyclists’ teeth on edge is if you elect to ditch carrying luggage on yourself and purchase some panniers instead. You will need to purchase Dutch panniers if you, like me, end up with a bike with a heavy-duty rack – these can carry a massive load (in my case, up to 16 stone, or a smaller sized British motorist that campaigns against speed cameras if you like). This is because they won’t take standard pannier clasps. However, Dutch panniers are robust and generally cheaper but they remain fitted to the bike at all times…..see, the Culture of Fear has kicked in again, hasn’t it? The idea is that you can go shopping with your bag for life and then just slip it in the panniers and pedal away. The bike really is your beast of burden.
I’ve been using my Dutch bike for far more chores around town. Because it has an integral lock, mudguards, integral lights (often powered by hub dynamo) and a big shiny bell, all you need to do is hop on and go about your day.
The other factor that allows you to go about your day is that you must ONLY wear normal clothes. You wouldn’t wear lycra to drive a car (unless you’re driving to the gym or you are a superhero from the dreams of Philip Hammond MP). You become a person on a bike as opposed to a cyclist.
Not only have I put the lycra away for a leisure cycling day, I’ve also decided to ditch the helmet. This combined with being on a large, upright graceful bicycle in normal clothing with wide load panniers has resulted in being given a surprising amount of space and courtesy by passing motorists. A complete overhaul of British Cycle Infrastructure to bring it in line with the Netherlands, Denmark and parts of the USA wouldn’t go amiss however, just so everyone gets a decent choice in how they travel as opposed to just the few.
Oh, and lots of elderly people will walk up and talk to you about your bike which is pleasing but Worthing has a lot of elderly people.
A more technical review will follow if or when the smile wears off. To summarise however, it is the sheer joy of discovering a different type of cycling that harks back to a more civilised age that I have to doff my hat to (in lieu of a helmet). This is not to discredit other types of bicycle or cyclist – each style has its merits from fixed wheel to racing to touring to mountain bike and it’s just part of one big family. However I firmly believe that utility bikes in their various forms have the greatest potential to make our family very big indeed.
I leave you with yet another video of the Rush Hour in the Netherlands. This one is simply entitled ‘Bicycle rush hour in the dark, ‘s-Hertogenbosch’ by ‘Markenlei’. His other stuff on YouTube is well worth a look if you are British and can stand looking at happiness for a few minutes. Enjoy.
Along with the eight schemes announced by the Chancellor last week, work will therefore begin on a total of 24 schemes as a result of the Department for Transport’s spending review settlement.
The schemes given the green light today, subject to statutory processes, will deliver major upgrades to relieve congestion at the following locations either through widening or managed motorways schemes:
The following key local infrastructure projects were also confirmed, subject to a best and final offer from local authorities:
– A new single carriageway bypass which will ease congestion in Sefton and improve access to the region’s motorway network;
– An integrated package of sustainable transport improvements in Ipswich including improved bus facilities and walking and cycling routes;
– Improvements to M5 J29, east of Exeter, providing access to new housing and employment areas;
– A bypass to the north of Lancaster, connecting the port of Heysham to the M6;
– Improvements on the A57 east of M1 J31, near Todwick;
– A new road in Taunton to provide additional cross-town capacity and access to areas of brownfield land; and
– A new bus station and associated transport improvements in Mansfield.
In addition, the Transport Secretary announced a pot of over £600m of funding for further local authority projects. Local authorities will be invited to bid for this funding over the next few months. Councils will be challenged to consider the cost, scope and possibility of local funding when bidding.
The Government believes this competitive process will ensure that the greatest possible number of schemes, with the best value for money, will be able to proceed, facilitating economic growth and providing jobs across the country.
Philip Hammond said: “Whilst we have had to make some tough choices, I am pleased that spending on transport was treated as a priority for the Government in the Spending Review.
“This Government sees transport as a key driver of growth nationally and in the regions. So I am delighted to be able to give the green light to 24 new transport projects and a fund worth over £600m for many more schemes to bid for.
“Taken together, this investment will not only bring benefits in terms of reduced congestion, shorter journey times and more efficient public transport, but also provide a vital economic boost. For every pound we spend on Highways Agency schemes, on average we will get back £6 of benefits and in many cases there are even higher returns for local authority schemes.
“Transport is vital to securing the UK’s long term prosperity. That is why these schemes are so important and why I will continue to argue for investment which delivers long term benefits for both the travelling public and the economy as a whole.”
The Government also announced that the Highways Agency will continue work on developing a further 14 schemes in preparation for them to start in future spending review periods, as funding becomes available, and will review the design of a further four with the aim of finding a best value solution.’
I like the way in the detailed motorway plans, the hard Shoulder being used to increase traffic flow becomes a DYNAMIC Hard Shoulder! At least until someone breaks down. One shudders to think what cycling improvements have been planned for Ipswich.
History has shown us beyond doubt that building more roads and increasing capacity of existing roads just creates more traffic with the resultant knock on effects to surrounding areas. This has been common knowledge since the A40 Westway via the M3 Twyford Down to the A34 Newbury Bypass. However, Mr Hammond is oblivious to all this, just as the public enquiries were for many road schemes and ‘improvements’ through the years.
‘… Sustrans has reacted strongly to Hammond’s announcement.
Jason Torrance, Sustrans’ Policy Manager, said:
“Sustrans is dismayed that the Government is missing a golden opportunity to put right a broken transport system, despite its green promises.
“The Secretary of State for Transport proudly boasts that his lengthy list of road transport schemes bring benefits of £6 for every £1 spent. But sustainable transport schemes that encourage active travel offer much better value, at £8 for every £1 spent. And they directly address the congestion issues that today’s announcement claims to solve.
“And there are other benefits. Given that 1 in 20 UK people are now being treated for type 2 diabetes and 1 in 10 for obesity – both illnesses that are exacerbated by physical inactivity – improving the health of the nation, and tackling the costs attached to that, has to be seen as critical. With this in mind not prioritising walking and cycling should be unthinkable.”’
The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club does not regard this as reacting strongly. In fact it’s barely reacting. Personally, I’ve written stronger letters to the Worthing Herald. The CTC website is showing no reaction at all. Anyway, that’s another debate.
Not content with building more dangerous roads, they seem to have entered the spirit of Halloween with a bit too much vigour on a site that is bound to scare children (and more importantly their parents) making cycling look like a dangerous activity and putting them off.
Here is an example ‘gory story’;
‘The girl who didn’t dress bright in the dark
She always liked to look her best
So didn’t wear a nice bright vest
Or any clothing that was bright
When she was out at nearly night
But traffic couldn’t see her see
And now she isn’t so trendy
A car drove right into her guts
And covered her with bruisy cuts’
I’ve checked and I still can’t find anything informing parents that when they drive, they are in control of a heavy vehicle that can maim and kill if not driven correctly, and that they have a duty of care to the children of others, not just their own.
The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would like to start a campaign of its own;
Make Hammond History Reshuffle the Kerfuffle!
Obviously The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club wishes Mr Hammond no harm (although we would like to drive really close to him at speed if he ever gets on a bicycle). We feel that there must be wholesale reform of a Department for Transport that’s not entering the spirit of the twenty first century with their belief that ‘sustainable’ means ‘bigger roads’ or ‘electric cars charged by fossil fuels’.
We suggest getting brown wristbands made up to represent the utter dung cyclists have had to put up with and will have to endure now that many speed cameras have been switched off and Cycling England disbanded with no viable alternative and cycle infrastructure thrown to the provinces that couldn’t design a cycle facility if their lives depended on it.
Who would have thought that something as simple as cycling could be made to look so dangerous, complicated and strangely irrelevant in the wake of ‘progress’? Oh well, if ‘Make Hammond History’ doesn’t work there’s always ‘Make Baker Better’. The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club is open to ideas.
Yesterday evening I attended a local cycle campaign meeting where we were lucky enough to have the County Cycling Officer present. She kept quoting ‘Section 106 monies’ for cycling schemes as there clearly isn’t a direct budget for cycling at the moment.
In case you may have attended cycle forums or meetings yourself and heard this phrase without fully understanding what it means, or you’re curious to find out how cycling budgets really work, I’ll try and define it below.
‘Section 106 (S106) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 allows a local planning authority (LPA) to enter into a legally-binding agreement or planning obligation with a landowner in association with the granting of planning permission. The obligation is termed a ‘Section 106 Agreement’.
These agreements are a way of delivering or addressing matters that are necessary to make a development acceptable in planning terms. They are increasingly used to support the provision of services and infrastructure, such as highways, recreational facilities, education, health and affordable housing.
..Matters agreed as part of a S106 must be:
relevant to planning
necessary to make the proposed development acceptable in planning terms
directly related to the proposed development
fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the proposed development
reasonable in all other respects.
A council’s approach to securing benefits through the S106 process should be grounded in evidence-based policy. ‘
Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club Definition
It allows a Council to shift its already meagre cycling budget to other more ‘pressing’ things (like pothole repair) with the promise of lots of Section 106 money for new facilities. Thus cycling infrastructure in many Local Authorities is at the mercy of pockets of cash dotted around the area, linked to where new developments are. If you’re lucky, they will try and build facilities that tie in with their ‘Cycling Strategy’, which might be an overly long, verbose document that’s woefully out of date as they couldn’t commit funding or resource to update it.
When you start asking the Local Authority as to why you are just relying on Section 106 money they may launch into Middle Management spiel about cuts and times being hard. When you point out that cycling budgets were miniscule when times were good, there usually follows a bit of an awkward silence. If you are in a campaign group, the term ‘Section 106’ may have been used a lot recently, particularly when the recession first kicked in and the Local Authorities realised that they had a lot of capital tied up in Icelandic banks.
This type of funding is piecemeal at best and is just one of the wonderful reasons why we have the poorly designed, sketchy and dangerous infrastructure that exists currently.
‘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.