Cycle Campaigning Simplified No 4 – Highways Departments & Cycling Officers

St. Ig - The Patron Saint of County Council Highways Departments

WARNING: THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS AN OFFENSIVE ACRONYM

In the same way that the Department for Transport had Cycling England to keep at arms length at national level, so it holds with Highways Departments and Cycling Officers at County Council level.

From a cycle campaigning perspective, Highways Officers are often like Mrs Mainwaring in Dad’s Army; often spoken of but never seen. You will however be familiar with their work all around you from stunning seaside paths to safe, direct town centre links. You get the chance to comment when these incredible schemes have already been designed and programmed to be built. This is called ‘consultation’ to compliment their range of extensive sustainable strategy consultation solutions, as we have seen before.

You may be lucky enough in your campaign group to get a visit from the County Cycling Officer. This role has to be the most tragic in Local Government; if they were put anywhere else in the World of cycling, they would be a valuable asset as they are usually very nice, proactive people with an exhaustive knowledge of cycling infrastructure. They probably thought they could join their council with a view to changing things for the cycling good before encountering deeply car-centric Local Councillors and a Highways Department that sees cycling infrastructure as something poor people or vegans with a fetish for beads might use. The job role ends up being a combination of Harbinger of Doom and Eunuch. They are sent to cycling forums and meetings for the following reasons;

  • to explain why the crappy scheme set out before you is being built and why you should consider yourselves lucky to have it.
  • because the highways departments know that the schemes are crap and can’t be bothered to hear feedback, however constructive, for future schemes as cyclists demands will only push project costs up and goes against their training.
  • to explain why the entire cycling budget has been cut and is now reliant on Developers money.
  • to tell you why your hopes and dreams of a modal shift toward to cycling using proven continental methods will never happen. This will be told with a simmering, but castrated fury (Male Officers) or a simmering, but close to tears look (Female Officers).

It would be wrong to say that all Highways Departments are hostile to cycling and walking; some are certainly hostile, but many simply don’t know how to cater for other non-motorised transport modes (that ironically were there first). Cycling doesn’t fit into their engineering education with all its computer generated models and road enhancement guidelines. As a result, they shovel cyclists off the roads onto converted pavements, thinking they are doing the right thing in the name of road safety, without taking any road space from motorists. Cycling, as a result, becomes more dangerous and unappealing to the masses. Cyclists choosing to remain on the roads (that they also pay for) sometimes get verbal or physical abuse from motorists and simply face a more dangerous road environment due to motorists not expecting anything else to be there.

In summary, I like to affectionately call them Councils Utilising Negligent Transport Schemes and I think you should too. A wonderful example of Councils Utilising Negligent Transport Schemes may be found in Waltham Forest and for Councils Utilising Negligent Transport Schemes at their worst across the UK, you must visit Pete Owen’s magnificent compilation for Warrington Cycle Campaign here.

Deepest apologies for the harsh acronym. But I’m right.

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Did Philip Hammond MP Watch Too Much Thunderbirds As A Child?

 

What Philip Hammond MP would look like if he were a puppet and.......wait a minute..

Philip Hammond MP, Secretary of State for ‘Transport’, gave a speech this morning to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. In it he outlines very big plans. Very big plans indeed.

I used to love Thunderbirds when I was a child and I’m now positive Philip Hammond did too as it‘s the only way to explain his childish policies. Its futuristic World was one of bombastic visionary schemes – huge supersonic aircraft carrying thousands of passengers, Mega Atomic Power Stations, Pink Rolls Royce’s zooming along empty wide fast motorways. In Hammonds World we see Mega Super Fast High Speed Rail Links, Ultra Low Carbon cars zooming along efficient road infrastructure, all powered by Atomic Power Stations.

Dr Mayer Hillman in his brilliantly pragmatic book How We Can Save the Planet outlines how a popular misconception to global warming is that we can somehow develop our way out of the problem. That technology will save the day like some sort of International Rescue. Mr Hammond’s speech this morning contained the following,

 “…….. let’s not forget that over 80% of all journeys are undertaken by car and Britain’s roads represent our greatest investment in transport infrastructure. Clearly, while motoring was synonymous with carbon production, it couldn’t be a major part of Britain’s future transport plans.

But the idea that the only solution is to force people out of their cars is pessimistic, outdated, Labour dogma. This Government is supporting the ultra-low emissions technologies that will see the carbon output of cars plummet over the next two decades.

Drawing fuel, not from petrol pumps, but from an electricity grid which Chris Huhne is determined to make one of the greenest in Europe. The Coalition has signaled its commitment to de-carbonising motoring by confirming, ahead of the spending review, grants for R&D and generous consumer incentives for every ultra-low emission car sold.

Putting our trust in technology, and our country at the forefront of the green-motoring revolution. The first new-generation electric cars will appear on Britain’s roads early next year and the first volume British-built electric vehicles will roll off the production line in 2013.

So motoring can again become part of our future transport planning, as the greening of the car saves it from extinction and that means we can end Labour’s indiscriminate war on the motorist as we focus on the real enemies – carbon and congestion.”

These words are as astounding as they are absurd (and I’m sure many blogs today will be picking them apart) but the worst aspect of his speech is in what he didn’t say – You may be wondering where walking and cycling feature in all this. They are after all the most cost effective, clean, easily available forms of transport we have. The fact he made no reference to these transport modes at all in his speech (supposedly extolling the virtues of sustainable transport) is as telling as it should be alarming.

In an earlier blog post I discussed how the set up of Cycling England was flawed and its passing could be regarded as a good thing. However I wrote that in the hope that cycling would be brought back in-house within the DfT and receiving a more deserving share of the transport spend. Even if cycling does move back, the future looks very bleak indeed in the wake of such an obviously car-sick Government Department. The fact that walking and cycling improves the nation’s health, produces no carbon or noise pollution, allows people to engage with their surroundings and neighbourhoods and is the most effective way to get through towns and cities seems to be lost on dear Hammond. Also the fact that infrastructure is cheaper with a better rate of return. And that walking and cycling is more fun and the increased fitness makes you better in bed (that last bit is my opinion but I’m sure you’d all agree).

When Thunderbirds was created, it was a brave new World; the Apollo missions were under way, new materials were being discovered, soon one could fly from London to New York in three and a half hours – and look elegant puffing on a cigarette whilst you flew beyond the clouds. In Thunderbirds World you didn’t need to walk or cycle anywhere as technology could take you to wherever you wanted to go. That World has long gone in a plume of supercharged 4-star exhaust fumes but clearly left a mark on our dear Hammond who clearly loves all the science involved.

Which is why the Coalition cut funding for scientific development and research. Oh well, I’m sure the motoring lobby can step in to help. FAB!

So Long, And Thanks For All The Pish

 

Flipper: Charming, funny, been dead for decades and still more familiar to the public than Cycling England

Last Friday, road.cc reported that Cycling England now looks certain to be abolished as part of a Government cull on quangos (or ‘quasi autonomous non-governmental organisations’ to give them their full snappy title).

Christian Wolmar, writer, broadcaster and member of the board of Cycling England anticipated this by writing a very strong open letter to Norman Baker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport outlining why he thinks this is a very bad idea. He outlined the fact that Cycling England runs cycling proficiency in schools and various projects across the country on a pathetically small budget annual budget of £60m (other transport modes get £15.36bn) and a lot of help of volunteers. All strong stuff but I bet Norman Baker MP thought exactly the same thing as I did;

Christian Wolmar is part of Cycling England??!! 

I’d imagine that hardly anyone outside the cycling World knows that Cycling England even exists and cares even less what it stands for. Cycling England, like CTC are great for the already converted but utterly crap at projecting out to the non-cycling  public who couldn’t give a hoot what a Cycling Demonstration Town is, or indeed how cycling would benefit them.

Cycling England was never going to set the World alight on a meagre budget of £60m per annum (Honda’s ‘Impossible Dream’ advert cost £4.5m alone for perspective). Above all, if Cycling England is a Quango then its foundations were always going to be shaky. Despite having origins far earlier, Quangos will be seen as a Blairite Government mechanism and detested by the public at the best of times (despite many of them doing deeds very much to the public good).  The point of this post is that I believe there must be wholesale reform of the Department for Transport with sustainable transport modes not only being brought ‘in house’ but also receiving a far more integrated share of the transport spend.

Cambridge Cycle Campaign has set up a website (savecyclingengland.org) to bring attention to Cycling England’s good works and to appeal against its abolition. Listed below are the key points:

  • Bikeability: …. the nationwide cycle training scheme, teaching children (benefiting around 300,000 per year) and adults to cycle safely and responsibly, at a time when there is an enormous need to encourage healthy lifestyles, promote safe use of roads, and give children freedom;
  • Cycling Demonstration Towns: Enabling over 2.5m people in 18 towns around the country to benefit from considerably increased levels of infrastructure funding to make roads safer and cycle-friendly, to get more people on their bikes;
  • Health-related projects to promote cycling as a means of addressing the obesity epidemic and tackling sedentary lifestyles;
  • Professional support for Local Authorities to ensure that practitioners on-the-ground get cycling right;
  • Creating design standards and guidance available to highway engineers;
  • Railway/cycling integration, getting train companies to take cycling seriously
  • Events and projects all around the country (including Bike Week), ranging from education initiatives, promoting cycling to minority groups, travel planning for businesses and much more.

All fairly good points until you realise that cycling as an overall transport mode still languishes in its single figure percentage glory. I would like to tentatively make the following points;

  • A personal preference this, but return the name ‘Bikeability’ back to ‘Cycling Proficiency’ so the public instantly knows what it is. This is, after all, a country that still thinks ‘Road Tax’ exists and I’ve never heard cycle training referred to by the general public as ‘Bikeability’. Also, if it can be claimed that ‘Bikeability’ brings cycle training up to the 21st century, how about the DfT giving new cyclists safer, 21st century roads or decent segregated cycle infrastructure based on a Dutch model to cycle on? Otherwise parents will never let children out on their bikes and gain some freedom, fitness and fresh air as it continues to be perceived as a dangerous activity.
  • Drop the Cycling Demonstration Town nonsense in favour of national policy. Otherwise the money will continue to be swallowed up by Councils desperate to plug other holes in their budgets or ‘Consultancy Fees’.  If Brighton & Hove is a ‘Cycling Demonstration Town’, then Milton Keynes is an ‘Architectural Treasure Trove’.
  • There must be proper design guidance on cycling infrastructure based on more robust models (such as the Netherlands). This is not a push to create a fully segregated cycle network but where Cycling Infrastructure is installed it has to meet minimum criteria, that is way and above the dangerous and appalling standards we have currently. Above all the Department for Transport has to integrate sustainable transport into its remit and stop using car-centric policies, particularly for urban areas (for example, favouring blanket 20mph speed limits across residential areas thereby linking the generally ignored School Zones with the streets that children are going to be walking and cycling in from).
  • There needs to be far better promotion of the benefits of walking and cycling. This should be coordinated better with other Government Departments such as the Department for Health – instead of health professionals banging on about things they don’t know, such as the misguided belief that sticking helmets on people will solve everything, they can bang on about things that they do know, such as cycling being a healthy activity.
  • I thought railway/cycle integration meant being able to take a bicycle on a train to allow passengers (sorry, customers) to get to their destination door to door with minimum fuss – One transport mode complimenting another to increase scope and versatility. The railway companies however believe that putting up cycle racks at stations is the only answer and gets them off the hook, whilst praying that everyone buys a Brompton. Rail companies will never take cycling seriously until it becomes a condition of the franchise or is legislated.
  • I believe that every time Philip Hammond releases a report or statement, it must be called ‘The Hammond Organ’.

We needn’t push for the last one.

In summary, I don’t doubt at all the fantastic abilities and knowledge of Christian Wolmar, or indeed Phillip Darnton, the very amiable Chairman of Cycling England. I just think its time for cycling to stop being treated at arms length by a Government Department that hasn’t a clue what sustainable transport or road safety is yet is in its best interests to do so if it’s to achieve anything close to integration. The good folk of Cycling England and all cyclists across England and the rest of the British Isles deserve far better than the current structure.

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?

Middle Age Men In Lycra – So What?

 

Freddie Mercury. A Man who knew how to rock in bib tights. Sort of.

 

In July, the Government published its National Travel Survey data. It confirmed that cycle use has increased to the highest level in decades. What was greeted with surprise was that the key area for growth was the highest income bracket. What I personally found surprising was that people found this surprising. The highest income bracket has always produced keen cyclists, some of whom have represented cycling interests in the Houses of Parliament. Intelligent, well paid people have long known that the velocipede is a civilized, no nonsense form of conveyance and that the simplest ideas are always the best.

At about the same time, Mintel, a market research firm published its own report (Bicycles in the UK 2010). It points out what cyclists and other handsome, intelligent people have known for years; that most adult cyclists are motorists too. This creates a problem for mainstream media and marketing companies. It makes it more difficult to compartmentalise ‘Cyclists’ & ‘Motorists’ as they are essentially one and the same.

However they were instantly thrown a lifeline; the report produced a new type of cyclist and even gave them an acronym. Step forward the ‘MAMIL’ or ‘Middle Aged Man In Lycra’. This is a cyclist in the 35-45 age bracket that may own…wait for it…. two cars!! They are more likely to read broadsheet papers, shop at Waitrose and have a household income of £50,000 per annum. They’re twice as likely to be male as female (which was a surprise to me as I had no idea that a woman could be a ‘Middle Aged Man In Lycra’ but there you go).

As if by magic the two agencies of cyclist hatred (BBC News and The Daily Mail) leapt onto this, in particular the suggestion that this upsurge in higher end bike sales is a “noughties version of a mid life crisis” and is the modern equivalent of buying a flashy sports car. Only they could put negative spin on a person buying a bicycle. Focussing on this group conveniently sidesteps the bigger story which is that more people are cycling generally.

In reality there are many factors at play; the explosion in the amount of charity bike rides and organised events such as ‘Sportive’ rides has probably helped fuel this surge along with better coverage of events such as the Tour de France and the Halfords City Centre race series, both shown on ITV4. The success of Team GB and the escapades of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish cannot have gone unnoticed. Women now have incredible role models in Victoria Pendleton, Nicole Cooke and Shanaze Reade on the BMX track.

If middle aged affluent men want to spend thousands of pounds on a new bike for sporting pursuits then good for them and even better for the local bike shop they buy it from. I’d rather they did that then get a new set of golf clubs or donate the money to UKIP. Welcome to the family. Other cyclists may sneer but if it means more people out and about enjoying themselves on bicycles (even if just on a Sunday) then that means less badly driven sports cars on our roads and increased road awareness.

The report adds that consumers like cycling because it gives them ‘health and wellbeing, a sense of community and environment’. I would add ‘a chance to reflect that The Daily Mail is just a middle class tabloid equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan’.

It also states that cycling “lacks some of the less acknowledged selling points favoured by car drivers: personal safety, comfort, style, convenience and speed”. The bicycle provides all that if used safely and correctly. A Stannah Stair Lift  also provides all that if used safely and correctly but we’ll cover old age at a later date.