Crap Cycle Lane VI

…it even has shade.

 

Welcome crap fans and what have we here? Is this the portal to another sublime cycling dimension? A Velocipede Valhalla, if you will.

..the idea being that the Patient Transport vehicle knocks you over and then takes you and your bicycle to hospital. Which is nice.

 

Don’t be stupid! This is the UK! This is Brighton & Hove in the UK to be precise, which became a Cycling Demonstration Town in 2005 (in the same way that Milton Keynes is an Architectural Treasure Trove). The local campaign group Bricycles, despite doing a very good job with the Green Party in protecting some of the only passable infrastructure in the City, are under no illusions about the Council they are up against.

(This from their excellent website. The last paragraph could be about any cycle scheme by any Local Authority in the country).

Anyway, I digress. We are in the North Laine area which is choc full of independent shops and a pleasing diversion from the usual fare that passes for a British High Street these days. If this network of narrow streets was anywhere else in mainland Europe, the motor vehicle would have been designed out creating a more pleasing atmosphere for shoppers, residents, pedestrians and bicycle riders alike. Sadly, like every other Highways Authority in the UK, Brighton & Hove remains glued to the 1980’s game of ‘Let’s See How Many Cars We Can Possibly Cram Through Here As If Our Lives Depended On It.’

Here it is again without vehicles.

The bridge at the top is the main concourse for Brighton railway station. One way traffic can cascade down the hill, under the bridge where it becomes two way. Traffic coming up the hill has to turn left by the No Entry signs. Except you, that is, dear bicycle rider! Yes, a special contra-flow cycle lane has been combined with a Tommy-Simpson-Mt-Ventoux tribute hill climb. Quite impressive considering the designers probably had no idea who Tom Simpson was.

Motor traffic heads off up this easier gradient for either the seafront or the gyratory by the Railway Station.  Let’s take a closer look at the contra-flow on offer to us.

The light at the end of the tunnel. What the entrance to Heaven might look like with a crappy cycle lane.

The cycle lane is slightly elevated from the traffic lane with a relatively good finish. The gradient is very steep, however.

And this is where it stops. The traffic lane is still one way at this point so the bicycle rider, already on a steep gradient either has to dismount (which is the default for British Cycle Infrastructure) or meander into oncoming traffic turning into this road that provides a nice little rat run to the A23. Or collapse off your bike as a tribute to the great Tom Simpson and yell the mythical words ‘Put me back on the bike!’ (again, the default of British Cycle Infrastructure).

Brighton Station. Excellent access if you're a taxi driver. Utter bile for everyone else.

This is the cycle lane and railway station concourse in context. The barriers to the left are closed as work is being carried out to renovate the canopy. That area would normally have lots of bicycle stands which are incredibly well used. Which begs the question as to why bicycle (and pedestrian and wheelchair) access is so utterly appalling?

If you wish to find out more about the late, great Tom Simpson, BBC4 recently showed a brilliant documentary called ‘Death on the Mountain: The Story of Tom Simpson’ which hopefuly they will show again (if we all nag them enough). His Wikipedia entry, is of course, here.

If you wish to see how cycling infrastructure can be designed and built correctly in a manner that doesn’t dump you in oncoming traffic or leave you guessing with all the tension of an Agatha Christie novel as you approach a junction or ask you to get off and push every 10 metres, then yet again, here is a film from Mark Wagenbuur.

and here is another one showing junction design the Dutch way.

We continue to ignore the tried and tested, proven success of Mainland Europe at our peril. Tom Simpson moved there (the Breton fishing port of Saint-Brieuc to be prescise) as he knew it had a better cycling culture and would improve his chances of success. Strangely, I think I know how he felt.

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Living the Dream

Wow, Ambassador! The DfT only handed out Digestives....

Firstly, I would like to thank all those who messaged me on this blog or emailed me privately expressing their support for the idea of an independent Cycling ‘Embassy’ for Great Britain. Whatever happens, it will be based upon the Cycling Embassy of Denmark as I believe we need the same model here in the UK. The ball has already started rolling and a volunteers forum will be starting up as an information exchange/meeting point. The URL has been confirmed and I shall release details shortly (thanks very much to a very willing and able volunteer. The first of many 🙂 ).

An early Mission Statement is as follows

An Embassy, free from the burden of history, legacy and ties, created to work in partnership with fellow organisations and charities in Great Britain, mainland Europe and around the World trading ideas and experiences in how to promote cycling and make cycling infrastructure work in urban and rural contexts.

To develop relations with private companies already committed to Green & Sustainable values and promote the truth that cycling can produce a fitter, healthier, happier workforce saving billions in ‘sick’ days to the British economy.

To lobby relevant Government Departments that cycling is a solution to transport congestion, noise pollution, carbon emissions, deaths and serious injuries on our roads, obesity and illnesses from more sedentary lifestyles, stress and expense.

To politely correct the Department for Transport that ‘Sustainable Transport’ actually means walking, cycling and public transport as opposed to spending further millions on expanding the road network which will only sustain more pollution, deaths & serious injuries and congestion, like the decades that preceded. The idea is to make something sustainable for future generations to inherit.  A bigger M25 isn’t it.

To redefine what Road Safety in the UK means by working with relevant groups; to highlight what the real dangers are, to enforce a duty of care to the most vulnerable and promoting prevention, rather than cure. This will be through a raft of measures including reduced speed limits in urban areas and changes in streetscape design to put community needs before those just travelling through them. We will strive to create an environment where helmets and other forms of protective wear are seen as unecessary as opposed to essential. We will strive to make riding a bicycle as easy as riding a bicycle.

To work with local authorities and relevant parties to redefine Cycling Infrastructure Design Standards in the UK and bring them in line with best practice in partner countries. ‘Hierarchy of Provision’, although well-meaning and correct in principle is too open to abuse or compromise by practitioners that know little about the requirements of cycling (or indeed walking) yet may wish to know more.

To encourage better communication with exchange of knowledge and ideas between architects, transport planners, designers & engineers as to how to get more people cycling [and walking] and improving access for all to town & city centres and transport interchanges. Also working out what makes decent cycle infrastructure work and how it benefits society as a whole.

To protect cycling proficiency for children and adults. It is an essential skill that did us very well in the past, as it can again in the future.

To have fun. It’s why we started cycling in the first place.

Obviously I now throw the floor open to suggestions as it’s now or never. As I look out across the still snowy South Downs, I acknowledge that this is going to be a quiet month as far as cycling news and blogging is concerned which gives us a chance over the Christmas period to reflect on the wonderful cycling experiences we’ve all had through the changing seasons of 2010 and set out the stall for 2011.

I am firmly of the belief that there needs to be new way in cycle campaigning; this is not to say that what has gone before has failed. It is simply outmanoeuvred by a car lobby that can market itself as green when accused of polluting and portray itself as a victim when attempts are made to call it to account over danger and subsidy. Cycling England, for all its faults, cost approximately £200,000 p.a. to run. Honda’s ‘Impossible Dream’ advert alone cost £5 million. They really want to sell cars, even if no-one can actually afford them right now.

It’s time to cast off the lycra and put on the charm. More plans follow and please feel free to join me for the ride which may be painfully short or wonderfully long. The doors of the Embassy will be opening shortly and you are welcome if you wish, fellow Diplomats. But don’t nick all my Fererro Rocher, I don’t care if it is Christmas.

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.