Well, Fancy That! No 2: Children will be Children

The Dutch even have bins like this by every school because they actually understand that children are lazy little sods…..sorry, I meant the future. That the children are our future. (Picture: David Hembrow – Go on his study tour and try this bin yourself – click on the picture for further details)

Just before I set off for David Hembrow’s Study Tour in The Netherlands late last year, people jokingly said to me, ‘don’t forget to put aero bars on your Dutch Bike’. I thought these were quasi-hilarious jibes about the aerodynamic qualities of my Dutch Bike or lack thereof. It wasn’t until I was enjoying a coffee and looking out of a delightful Dutch Bed & Breakfast window one morning that I actually understood what they meant – amongst the legions of young people cycling to school and college were bikes with aero bars fitted onto them. Although they were probably to assist in persistent headwinds (as some students cover quite a distance on their commutes from outlying suburbs and villages), they were also remarkably handy for resting ones arms on to use a smartphone for social networking – an essential pre-requisite to youth. Indeed the infrastructure provided allows all ages to cycle in groups and chat away which is social networking at its best. There were no shouts from motorists, and I assume no-one froths at the mouth in the local or national newspapers either. Basically, the Dutch have created an environment where their children can be children and don’t have to pay anything like the ultimate price if they make a mistake. I think that’s very honest, civilised and quite incredible.

This situation came at a cost. The Netherlands and the UK both saw widespread decline of the bicycle from the 1950’s as the car became the symbol of modernity. A lot of old cycle infrastructure was ripped out to make way for such progress. The result? In 1972, a total of 3264 people were killed on Dutch roads, and in 1973, 450 road deaths were of children, mostly travelling to and from school. Since that point, and partly due to the launch in 1973 of the ‘Stop De Kindermoord’ (‘Stop the Child Murder’) pressure group along with the OPEC fuel crisis, the Dutch gradually took the decision to return to the bicycle and acknowledge that the car has its place but people come first. Nearly 40 years on and Britain is still struggling with this concept to its detriment. More on ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ can be found here, here and from this excellent film.

If the Famous Five went for a bike ride in today’s Britain, they would find a landscape ripe for adventures, but not necessarily children’s adventures. If they were actually allowed out in the first place on their own, there would still be the odd patchwork quilt of fields and woods to enjoy (but not to play in of course. They’ll only create trouble). Swallows, Sparrows & The International Space Station would see our pubescent peloton venturing down country lanes due to their Hi-Viz and helmets. The motorists won’t of course as they steam through at jolly impolite speeds. Eventually, sweaty and defeated at trying to have adventures in a Britain ruined by ‘progress’, they head home for lashings of Ginger Beer. Or Crabbie’s, probably.

Look at that. No lights, no Hi-Viz, no helmets and I bet they don’t have any plastic bags to clean up after Timmy the Dog….

Another contentious area where child and adult Worlds collide is that of helmet compulsion. Annette Brooke MP is leading the latest well-meaning but misguided charge, no doubt following on from Bradley Wiggins, who uses his bicycle to win major sporting events as opposed to buying some milk or getting a library book. Before we take a glance into this emotive side issue, I’ll just give you my ‘official’ stance.

I fully appreciate why people feel compelled to wear cycle helmets in today’s hostile British road environment. However we must strive to create conditions where helmets and protective clothing are seen as irrelevant as opposed to essential. If adults currently feel compelled not just to wear cycle helmets and high visibility clothing but also to put surveillance measures on their helmets in the form of cameras, then what hope is there for our children wishing to simply cycle to school? It is not really the most cordial invite to a mode of transport that should be everyday, safe, even a bit boring and not classified as an extreme sport.

Even Evel Knievel paused for a moment to consider cycling around Guildford.

Note, that like the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, or indeed CycleNation and CTC, I am not anti-helmet but anti-compulsion for cycling as transport. On this, all cycling groups stand united.

However I have a confession to make; when I cycle with my two and a half-year old son on the Dutch Bike, I put a helmet on him. I do this not because of safety concerns but because I feel that I look like a bad parent if I don’t with scathing looks and comments (mainly from people who don’t cycle yet but do like writing letters to local newspapers due to anger management issues from not cycling). I don’t wear a helmet for the simple reason that when I used to wear one when commuting from Morden to Camden Town in London, it was like a subconscious cloak of invincibility. As a result, I put myself in road positions that were at best, daring. At worst, lethal. I’ve often observed since that people who wear a helmet ride as though they will need a helmet. Without a helmet, I don’t put myself or any passengers in that danger in the first place. Also when off the bike, my son has received more bumps to the head than Laurel & Hardy in his short toddling career. I assume I’m a bad parent for not keeping the helmet on him at all times but curiously no-one seems to be having a serious debate on this.

I’m now going to give out a piece of information that I think has been lost in this debate but it always helps to remind ourselves.

Children don’t always do what you tell them because they are children.

Imagine that helmets were made compulsory for children under the age of, say, 16. One day my son will want to cycle to a local shop to buy sweets, just like his Dad used to years and years and years and years and years ago. He may realise that his cycle helmet is upstairs in his bedroom and he just can’t be bothered to get it as the shop is only 5 minutes ride away. Even if I made him put it on, there’s nothing to stop him taking it off again when out of sight because it doesn’t look cool (or whatever the word is these days). If you didn’t do anything naughty or without your parents knowledge when you were younger, then you are deluding yourself. So, he cycles off without one and because putting helmets on everything and hoping for the best allows the powers that be to ignore the real issues of road safety, he gets hit by a real issue in the form of a car. Not only would we have the emotional turmoil of an injured child (or worse) but also the legal and social ramifications of him not having a helmet on. This to me is needless insanity, especially allied to the fact that the real answers for keeping children (and indeed all ages) safer, are a simple ferry trip away.

There is of course excellent cycle training available in this country. I did so well in my cycling proficiency in the late 1970’s, I got a copy of the Highway Code as a prize. The bicycle is a very liberating experience for a child and Bikeability (as it is now known) is enjoying a large takeup today. However, a report was published in March this year that you probably haven’t seen. It was written by transport consultancy, Steer Davies Gleave, for the Department for Transport called Cycling to School

This is from the conclusions,

‘Overall this report shows the level of children cycling to school in the last five years has remained stable. There have been small increases in the actual numbers of secondary school age children cycling to school between 2006 and 2011 across the UK. However, this has been almost matched by a very small decline in the proportion of primary school children cycling to school.’

Where there were rises in Secondary Schools, there had been a concentrated efforts on cycle training in the Primary Schools that feed the Secondary Schools in question. There are of course all kinds of variables & factors to take in account when viewing the data. Generally however, I believe that a lot of excellent training is going to waste. We can train all the children we like to cycle on our current road system but if it looks dangerous (especially to the parents) or there is one close pass from a motorist then that, as they say, is that. The bike heads off to the shed to come out maybe at officially sanctioned events such as the Sky Rides or Boris Johnson’s latest elegant parlour trick to avoid addressing the real road safety issues, ‘Ride London‘ – the biggest irony being that although a safe traffic free environment is created, helmets and hi-viz are de rigueur.

Here is a film by Mark Wagenbuur of children cycling to school in Culemborg in The Netherlands. I just want to show this as it deftly addresses the issues touched on in this post; no safety equipment (even students occasionally giving friends a lift in on their rear racks – could you imagine that happening here?!), cycling as groups for greater social safety and also quality time to chat and share gossip. Above all decent infrastructure, that goes where people need it to go, combined with 30kph roads to create segregated routes (ie routes that could not be completed or would take longer by car).

We have created a nation that is still debating 20mph where people live. A nation still debating curtailing someone’s right to drive like an idiot around others. A nation still building cycle infrastructure that is often a dangerous insult whilst ignoring examples that work probably due to fear of cost despite continuing to build ever more expensive and intimidating streetscapes. A nation that expects its young people to stick on a helmet, some hi-viz and hope for the best. I think that’s spineless, uncivilised and quite despicable.

Children will be children. It’s a pity that the adults are behaving even more childishly.

Well, Fancy That! No 1: Nice Things Cost Money

Somewhere, Beyond The Screen…

These are not a Hazards. They are the Dukes of Hazzard. The driving standards in Hazzard County are quite tepid compared to modern Britain.

According to Wikipedia…

‘Hazards are sometimes classified into three modes:[1]

  • Dormant – The situation has the potential to be hazardous, but no people, property, or environment is currently affected by this. For instance, a hillside may be unstable, with the potential for a landslide, but there is nothing below or on the hillside that could be affected.
  • Armed – People, property, or environment are in potential harm’s way.
  • Active – A harmful incident involving the hazard has actually occurred. Often this is referred to not as an “active hazard” but as an accident, emergency, incident, or disaster.’

The Times, as part of its excellent ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ (#cyclesafe on Twitter) campaign, has created a map where people can select a particular area and plot specific junctions, roads or routes that they find hazardous for riding a bicycle whilst stating why. Already plotted are places where a hazard has become an accident, emergency, incident or disaster (based on Department for Transport’s 2010 data).

They [sadly] only need a few more to make it to the 10,000 entries milestone so I urge you to go online and have your say. If you can, have your say on major thoroughfares such as Trunk Roads near where you live that you might ride as they are the most direct routes but won’t due to the perceived risk involved from high speeds to traffic volume. Bicycle riders are entitled to use these, despite many being Motorways in all but name, but because they lack high-grade separated paths alongside them favouring instead rather ‘optimistic’ bicycle signage at slip roads, subjectively they are as practical, comfortable and family friendly as an Annual Naked Bike Ride across Siberia. You won’t find many pinpoints on trunk roads like the one close to where I grew up (A3) not because they’re safe (although with decent sight lines, steadier curves and gradients, in theory they should be) but because only the quick and the brave will use them.

There are more active ways to get involved in campaigning on Saturday 28th April; firstly the Pedal on Parliament in Edinburgh

It has been organised by a diverse [and lovely] group of cyclists from around Scotland (including the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain Secretary, Sally Hinchcliffe) following calls in the Scottish parliament for action on the Times campaign. They request your presence at the Meadows at 2pm for a 3pm start to cycle a  1.5 mile route to Holyrood, before a mass picnic. There will be ‘feeder’ rides from outlying areas of the city. If you are Scottish or just happen to be living in Scotland but above all care about cycling in Scotland, please attend.

On the same day in London is The Big Ride

This is part of LCC’s ‘Love  London, Go Dutch’ campaign, calling on the Government to place the same emphasis on cycle safety as they do in the Netherlands. They have a petition which, at this time of writing, has amassed 33,797 signatures which is a marvelous effort from LCC staff and all the volunteers that have been out on the streets gathering support.

They’ve even made a film…

To add to the long list of things to protest about, The Times reported on the 16th that John Griffin, the founder of Addison Lee, wrote to his 3,500 drivers telling  them to use the restricted lanes and promising to pay any fines incurred. This is part of an ongoing campaign for private hire vehicles to use bus lanes. This story has already received good coverage in CycaLogical and Cyclists in the City. Lest to say, when I lived in London I used to cycle to Camden Town from Morden and then Brixton every day, I found Addison Lee drivers to be the most memorable, often driving like the Blues Brothers on Amphetamines. They still stick in my mind, years later.

And, on the subject of sticking, the BBC reported earlier this week that a study has found that traffic pollution kills 5,000 people a year in the UK, with 2,200 in London. What is Boris Johnson’s solution, I hear you cry (or choke). According to this excellent post from Vole O’Speed,

Johnson’s “solution” is to put pollution suppressants in front of air quality monitors, so reducing the number of occasions on which the PM10 value is reported to be breached and reducing the number of smog alerts, both preventing the public from being warned of the dangerous conditions, and attempting to circumvent the discovery of legal breaches, and application of fines. This is what the Campaign for Clear Air in London, a non party-political organisation, condemns as “public health fraud on an industrial scale“. And as the MP for Brent North, Barry Gardiner, said in a Tweet yesterday: “Boris’s pollution suppressors near air quality monitors is like putting breathing apparatus on the canary in the mines!” 

It reminds me of a nursery rhyme I tell my two-year old son

Mr Johnson went to London
in a smog filled hue
he stepped in pollution
and thought the solution
was to buy a big job-lot of glue

I may have changed the words slightly.

The Winds of Change

The Future. For Britain. In 1992. And now again, apparently.

I was cycling to work this morning through very thick sea mist. The ‘March winds’ have not really materialised here on the South Coast. The winds of change are definitely picking up however.

At the beginning of March, I went to Portcullis House to represent the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain at the Labour Cycling Summit, chaired by Ban Bradshaw MP and Maria Eagle MP (Shadow Secretary for Transport). This was triggered by The Times ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign. All the usual suspects were there from safety campaigners, road designers, local government and road users, including HGV operators. It was remarkably cordial and some good points were made such as the need for systemic change in the training of future engineers to stopping thinking car first and foremost. I made the following points:

  • That The Times ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign is an incredible effort that should be acknowledged for, at the very least, taking cycling issues ‘out there’ far, far beyond the realm of Cycling groups and internet chat rooms.
  • That current cycling infrastructure is great if you like ‘abstract art’ (always good to get an early laugh in).
  • If adults need to not only put on body armour to commute to work but also put surveillance measures on that armour, than what hope is there for our nations children wanting to cycle to school?
  • Whilst there’s a lot of incredibly hard work done in the name of Bikeability (which I personally believe should change it’s name back to ‘Cycling Proficiency’. It is a life skill, not a jolly sounding activity) along with Sustrans ‘Safe Routes to School’, there needs to be a quality network of routes to get the 98% considering cycling again through methods with proven success such as those used overseas. Otherwise, parents may indeed ride to school with their children but instead of going on to the shops they nip back and get the car out, due to lack of dedicated ongoing route, lack of subjective safety and the very act of riding a bicycle looking like an overly complicated specialist activity.

What was particularly pleasing was that there was no political point scoring and it was accepted that whatever happens from here on in, it is a cross party issue.

Last week, I went to the House of Commons to represent the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain at the launch of ‘The Summer of Cycling’ which any organisation, group, shop or magazine can support. All the usual suspects were there in cycling and cycle campaigning. “It’s always the same bloody people” someone quipped (and no, for a change it wasn’t me). It has a shiny new website that will develop as the week’s progress with a facebook page and twitter feed. The premise is simple; if everyone that rides a bicycle pledges to get someone who would not normally ride a bicycle to ride a bicycle then the amount of people riding bicycles would double. Simplest ideas are always the best and all that.

At this point, I would normally write something with distain about promotion being one of usual the soft options we always settle for in campaigning to the detriment of everything else because it’s cheap. However, it would be sheer lunacy to not to get some extra promotional mileage out of the Olympics being held in Britain this year, particularly with the success already achieved on road and track. It helps that Philip Darnton is at the helm. He not only has the uncanny ability to sniff out a fiver in a force nine gale – essential for cycling in Britain as it currently stands, but to amplify the meagre funding that cycling in Britain has come to expect through the years, with Cycling England being the classic example.

Summer of Cycling is run for the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (on which the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain sits) and was created by 23 organisations late last year. It was confirmed at the meeting that Minister for Transport Norman Baker has pledged £20,000 for this venture (slightly less than the list price for a Volkswagen Tigua Crossover 2.0 TDi 140 BlueMotion 5 Door) with another £70,000 going to Bike Week (slightly less than the list price for a BMW 750i 4 Door Saloon).

This lunchtime marked the 2012 Budget delivered by George Osborne. Cycling is mentioned in the official document twice.

  • [The Government] is committed to tackling congestion, improving connectivity and supporting cycling in and around London. The Government will explore the case for using the Planning Act 2008 to streamline the planning process for the proposed additional river crossings in East London, for example at Silvertown, which will reduce peak period delays and congestion in the area……In addition, the Government will grant £15 million to TfL for investments in cycle safety, which will include improved provision for cyclists at junctions across the capital under consideration in TfL’s cycle safety junction review’
  • 2.255 London cycle safety grant – The Government will allocate £15 million to TfL for investment in cycle safety. This will include improved provision for cyclists at junctions across the capital currently under consideration in TfL’s Cycle Safety Junction Review.

In the same document, £56 million is going to the Bexhill-Hastings link road. Which is slightly more relevant to me as I live in Sussex and not London. I’m not sure what the implications are for the rest of the country.

This very week, the idea of privatising the roads was presented in a speech by David Cameron to the Institute of Civil Engineers. Some commentators were quick to say on Twitter that it was just a smokescreen mainly to detract from the NHS and Social Care Bill and partly because there are many that are convinced that we have reached ‘peak car’. At War with the Motorist believes we shouldn’t worry as cyclists about it anyway as it will only affect Trunk Roads (Motorways in all but name) and Motorways. I personally believe that the Income Tax changes were the smokescreen and what we are actually seeing is a nation three years into a deep recession with a deeply car-centric Government that thinks ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ is a challenge as opposed to a warning.

I can’t help but feel that the proper stuff that will actually succeed in enabling consistent mass cycling is as far away as it ever has been. At least people are starting to listen now and act. High quality cycle infrastructure will cost serious money – nice things generally do. Surely it’s better to get the right measures in now and get to put an end to the well meaning but crap facilities being built in our name as opposed to seeing more roads being made increasingly unusable with no safe, quality alternative. Or new private or publically built roads having the usual dreadful or non-existent provision. It’s always cheaper to get it right at the design stage than to retro fit afterwards.

The winds of change are certainly blowing. But not quite hard enough to clear the mist yet.

London to Glasgow

Well, doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?! I know it’s a month since my last confession to you, dear reader, but every time I sit down to compose a blog post of great intellect, mirth and wit about bicycles or a bicycle related subject, something momentous happens in the World of cycle campaigning. As a result, as far as blogging is concerned, I’ve just sat back and watch events unfold partly because there are other bloggers who clearly have more time on their hands to produce superior stuff but also there has been plenty going on at the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain too.

Last Friday afternoon, I boarded a train at Brighton to head to London Victoria. I then cycled through Central London via the West End to Euston Station.

I’m sorry but although as an experienced cyclist, I personally find riding through London an absolute hoot on my Brompton, I still think it’s unnecessarily unpleasant. Actually, it’s like ‘It’s A Knockout’ on bikes. People unfamiliar with cycling in London can replicate the experience by doing the following:

  1. Drink a pint of very strong Expresso
  2. Dress like a brightly coloured robot with helmet and any light you can find. A thousand-yard stare also helps if you wish to look ‘advanced’.
  3. If you have a car with garage or carport, ask a neighbour round to sit in the car, start the engine and leave it running whilst leaving the garage door closed
  4. Try and cycle around the car as fast as you can, trying to squeeze through the gap between the bodywork and the wall whilst getting your neighbour to open the driver’s door occasionally in front of you and/or shout abuse.
  5. If you’re allowed, paint the garage floor blue before carrying out 1-4 to replicate a ‘Superhighway’.

That’s cycling in London. Especially in rush hour. To me, anyway.

Today however (22nd February, 6.30pm) there’s going to be a ‘flashride’ past the Palace of Westminster on Parliament Square – yet another area of London that could be fantastic, particularly in an Olympic year with a massive influx of tourists. However, like most other places of historic importance, we like to showcase our treasures by demonstrating how much traffic we can force for that adrenalin fuelled, fume clogged, pointlessly stress inducing atmosphere essential to the full British experience. The flashride is being held ahead of a Parliamentary debate the following day on a campaign created by The Times called ‘Cities Fit For Cycling’. This is a campaign inspired by Mary Bowers, a young news reporter at The Times who was run over by a lorry on Friday, November 4th and sadly remains in a coma to this day.

Whatever the views of experienced cyclists and cycle campaign groups about this initiative, there is one fact that must be always borne in mind.

This is how the general public views us.

In that respect, I found it fascinating; Firstly, that all of a sudden cycling was thrust ‘out there’ into the public domain, far, far beyond the cycling internet forums and blogs and conferences with all the opinion that followed. Secondly, it clarified the fact that [in Britain] the line between sport cycling and utility cycling is completely blurred to the public eye.  As a result it made sense to talk about helmets and even helmet compulsion (even though they don’t even feature in The Times eight point manifesto) as a galaxy of cycling stars stepped forward to imply that racing around a track or leading the final sprint in the Tour of Qatar or the Race Across America is exactly like riding a bicycle to the local shop to buy a loaf of bread.

Track racing. Totally relevant - if this was the '800m Sprint to Garage Forecourt to Buy Last Bunch of Flowers for Mothers Day'

Anyway, from Euston I caught the train to Glasgow Central in readiness for Saturday where I attended the first Scottish Consulate and Infrastructure Safari. For those new to this blog, a Safari is where one goes for a bike ride to hunt cycling infrastructure. Some of it may be fairly good, whilst some of it is guaranteed to be a contender for the Turner Prize. When I first said to friends that I was going up to Glasgow, I got knowing looks and tapped noses from people who assured me that I was going to get my face gently smashed in because of my beautiful Surrey accent with a slight tinge of Radio 4 Continuity Announcer – probably a good reason to take a helmet. However, Glasgow proved to be wonderful, the weather proved to be fascinating, the beer proved to be delicious and our hosts led by Dave ‘Magnatom’ Brennan were very hospitable & amiable indeed. Sadly the puncture fairy also to decided to visit – I was informed that it was either due to the mystical geological layer of green glass that the city sits on, where it sometimes protrudes, glistening through the pavement and towpath. Or it was all the smashed glass, common to many town and city centres where puncture fairies go out on the piss.

I shall write about Glasgow in a separate post, partly because there is much of interest to the City and Suburb Infrastructure Buff and mostly because I have to split things in to bite size manageable chunks. In the meantime, if you are in London this afternoon/early evening, please go to the ride and give your support.

and then you go and spoil it all, by saying something stupid like….

I was sitting at home last night minding my own business when I got sent this nugget by the good folk of Spokes – The Lothian Cycle Campaign via Twitter. It is from FACTS, The Transport Professional’s Magazine (issue 65, 2011).

Now, I know there are many within the haulage industry that are doing their best to alleviate the tragic and needless suffering that occurs on our roads on an all too frequent basis with some particuarly high profile and dreadful incidents in London recently. In fact I bet there are many in the industry that care more than the Tory Assembly Members that walked out of yet another meeting that just happened to have the issue of cyclists safety on the agenda (and let’s be frank here, they don’t give a shockingly shiny shit about bicycles or people that use them).

However, it doesn’t help matters when Phil Flanders  (Scottish Director – Road Haulage Association) settled down last June/July to write something joyless & slightly moronic like this….

(I have added links, either to articles referred to or to stuff that I think will calm you down. I seriously advise you open this link in a seperate window and enjoy the soothing music whilst reading the following)

“There have been a spate of accidents involving cyclists and lorries recently and as usual the lorry is the big bad bogeyman. It reminded me of an article I read last year in New Zealand where they have a similar problem. It appeared in the New Zealand Herald and was written by Eric Thompson. He refers to a report mentioning that Mercedes-Benz Vice President of Safety Engineering, Ulrich Mellinghoff, told a road safety conference in Melbourne that mixing bicycles with motorised traffic was an ‘unsafe practice’ that needed changing.

A public road with motor vehicles is no place for a cyclist, no matter how they bleat about having every right to be in the same place as a car. A cyclist will always come off second best in an accident with a motor vehicle. No matter whose fault it is, in any type of motor versus pushbike altercation it’s not going to take a rocket scientist to work out who’s going to end up in the back of an ambulance.

He suggests that for road safety reasons:

All pushbikes must be fitted with rear-vision mirrors – as other vehicles are required by law;

All pushbikes must be fitted with indicators, or a similar device – as all other vehicles on the road are required by law.

They can only ride single file on a single lane road unless overtaking as other vehicles on the road are required by law;

Be fitted with headlights that must be on at all times as other two-wheeled vehicles on the road are required by law.

All bike riders must pass a road-license test as are all other people who venture out on public roads;

All pushbikes must be registered and pay a road tax – as all other vehicles on the road are required by law. They should be able to get a reduction for low emissions!

I would go further and add that all must have adequate insurance for any accidents they cause and maybe even liability insurance for those who knock people down.

Those cyclists, and there are many, who play their iPods or other types of mobile music should also be charged for committing an offense of cycling without due care etc etc as they have no chance of hearing any vehicle approaching and are totally unaware of what is going on around them.

Some have started to fit small video cameras to their helmets. If you are unfortunate to upset them on the roads they will report you to the authorities and will have evidence of whatever it was that you did. There are cases of this already where the police have taken action!”

I won’t dwell on what we have just witnessed as it’s difficult to know where to start and he is of course entitled to his opinions. I hope the music helped. To try and deconstruct such ill-informed guff is as futile as trying and mop up the River Thames with a J-Cloth. Maybe this is what happens when the Conservatives get in power and organisations such as the RHA get a little bit over excitable.  I wonder if he has any children or grandchildren that try to cycle and whether he brainwashes the freedom and happiness out of them? Lest to say come in Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Littlejohn and all others who have inflammatory views for money, your time is clearly up.

Jeremy Clarkson - Must now be classified as 'a bit tepid'

Remembrance

Today is Armistice Day in the United Kingdom.

On Sunday it will be marked, as always, with a march past the Cenotaph on Whitehall in London and at Memorial services across the land remembering those that have gallantly given their lives in serving their countries. My Grandfather served in the Royal Corps of Signals and was decorated for his valour on the D-Day beaches in 1944. However, he didn’t die gallantly fighting for King and Country crossing mine strewn beaches under enemy fire. In the early 1980’s he was hit by a car whilst using a pedestrian crossing and the resulting shock sent him back into a World filled with those very intense memories that broke through the dam of his subconscious. He was to spend the rest of his days at Brookwood Hospital (formally referred to as an asylum. It was closed in 1994 to make way for ‘luxury housing’). He was to lose any recollection of who I was.

Tomorrow morning, Mark Ames (Press Officer of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and writer of ibikelondon) and Danny Williams (writer of Cyclists in the City) will lead a ride, dubbed the’ Tour de Danger’ visiting Transport for London’s 10 most dangerous junctions. In London alone 14 cyclists have died so far this year. This is not just a London-centric problem and it would be foolish to pretend that Transport for London is acting unlike any other Highways Authority in the country. TfL and indeed London cyclists are
finding out the hardest way possible
that painting the same crap blue changes nothing.

The ride sets off from St Mark’s Church, The Oval, Kennington SE11 4PW at 10.30 prompt and shall be taking in such sobering sights as the Kings Cross junction where 24 year old fashion student Min Joo Lee was tragically killed recently. They will be having a tea break on Hyde Park Corner so do take your own refreshments and take in the Formula 1 cornering and acceleration of the traffic as it dabbles in gladiatorial combat for the correct lane. If you have children, try to imagine them cycling round it to get to school if you like. The ride will end at Look Mum No Hands! Bicycle cafe located on Old Street.

This is not a protest ride. It is simply a chance to meet and discuss what could be done at each junction to make things easier for cyclists and pedestrians – it is supposed to be the centre of a civilised city after all.
To take photos, to catalogue thoughts and to send the resulting report to TfL to ensure that they have been warned.

So here’s to those that have tragically died in the simple act of trying to get to their destination by bicycle or on foot or indeed by car. Here’s to Highways Authorities deluding themselves that deaths have fallen as a result of the design of their roads as opposed to the design of the cars and the increasingly hostile environments created just for them. Here’s to the children that might read about children going off on adventures on their bicycles in paperback books but never experience the freedom and liberation themselves. Here’s to a country that still thinks that traffic flow equals progress and that a humble, efficient, egalitarian, zero emissions vehicle is an imposition to that progress.

Personally, I wish to storm the Danish and Dutch beaches and take their readily evolved ideas and incorporate them as our own. Cycle Training and 20mph zones are vital cogs in cycle campaigning’s grand endeavour – they are common practice overseas too. These are people that are already out there trying to make a real difference (I’m still feeling the benefit of passing my Cycling Proficiency 30 years ago). However, if we keep giving Central and Local Government the option of cheaper ‘soft’ options, particularly as far as infrastructure is concerned, they are going to keep taking them without committing to the harder stuff that will keep people out on their bicycles. Designing a decent junction that can be used by all safely seems to be the stuff of legend that would require the work of the Enigma machine at Bletchley Park. If this country can keep discussing High Speed Rail 2 (and let’s face it, the £32bn quoted is not going to be the final construction cost), then the money is out there for a cheaper mode of transport that is simple, clean, and available to people of all abilities, ages and budgets. That way we don’t have to keep approaching the bicycle with a sense of Dunkirk Sprit.

Cycling Embassy of Great Britain: A Personal 6 Month Audit

It is six months to the day since the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain started on a cold, cloudy day in Central London. Personally I believe that, at the very least, it has provoked debate about the future of cycling and cycle campaigning in the UK which can only be a good thing. For that alone I’m very happy with the way things have progressed.

Mark Ames speaking at the inaugural meeting. Lovely speaking voice.

Since then, things have developed at a steady canter (as befits a purely voluntary organisation with a wide selection of day jobs). However, it would be fair to say that I’ve easily spent over half of my time trying to placate other cycling organisations and representatives. In the end I published a blog post for Cycling Mobility outlining our position and my only regret is that I didn’t write it sooner.  When a new organisation starts out, there will always be a lot of bluster, rampant enthusiasm and even anger at what has gone before. By questioning the very nature and direction of cycle campaigning in the UK, we were always going to make waves.

erm...look what my 14 month old son spelt out for me in the bath....I had nothing to do with this, I just found it. Honest.

Here are some personal thoughts and news on how the Embassy is developing;

  • The board is now in place with myself as Chair (unanimously voted in by strategically waiting until everyone had drank a fair amount of alcohol before instigating the vote), Sally Hinchcliffe as Secretary, Anthony Cartmell as Webmaster, Geoff Rone as Treasurer, Mark Ames as Press Officer with Chris Page completing the team alongside massive help from Joe Dunckley and David Arditti .
  • WE ARE LAUNCHING OFFICIALLY IN SEPTEMBER. THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN.
  • The Combined Manifesto and Mission Statement has recently been bolstered by our Frequently Asked Questions document. Thanks to Sally for that. She has written a thriller so this kind of thing was always going to be right up her street.
  • Our Manchester Consulate were very quick on the ball in creating what to me is still the piece de resistance – our shiny logo. This will be the centrepiece of some lovely merchandise available soon. I’m still pondering about requests for Embassy flags for people to put on bikes to look like Ambassadorial vehicles. I’m open to further suggestions.
    Lovely, isn't it? It's the only bicycle symbol in British history to incorporate mudguards.
  • The wiki is continuing to develop with some extremely good contributions from helmets to Dutch Cycle Infrastructure to Subjective safety. Some Embassy members are off to the Netherlands on a study tour organised by David Hembrow to collate further information and social history to better grasp how the Dutch got to where they are now with cycle infrastructure fit for all ages, styles and speeds. Being a wiki, it is of course open to contributions from all. If you’d like to help join the research, please let us know.
  • We now have a bank account and PayPal is fully operational. I can put in that £80.56 now.  I’d like to thank all those that have contributed thus far, it really is going to be a massive help in the future. Don’t stop now though!
  • Some may have noticed I’ve added Crap Cycling and Waltham Forest to our front page blog roll. Whatever people say about him/them/her, we have made the same transition in cycling belief. To me, it is a blog that represents the primal scream of cycle blogging and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an influence.
  • David Hembrow has kicked off the first of what I hope will be many more brilliant guest blog posts. If you would like to contribute with anything from cycling to school with your children to cycle infrastructure and the built environment, please let me know.
  • In April, I was kindly  invited by Movement for Liveable London to give a talk. The suggestion was for something based on ‘I Want What They’re Having – How the Rest of the World is Achieving a Cycle Revolution’. The end result is here.
  • In June I was also invited to the Annual Parliamentary Bike Ride and appeared in a film about Blackfriars Bridge by Carlton Reid. I’m no stranger to this event, having attended as a CTC member of staff a few years ago, but it seemed to me then, as now, that it was simply a symbolic event with lots of nice, well-meaning people who were allowed into a room in the House of Lords to be told how wonderful cycling is………and that’s it, see you next year for Bike Week 2012 (which will probably be even more divorced from basic utility cycling due to Team GB and the Olympics). Such events are pleasant, good-natured affairs. I even had an amiable chat for a lengthy part of the ride with the very nice Julian Huppert MP. But that’s it. It was very well organised and nice to be there though!

The reason I saved Blackfriars Bridge until last is because something very big is happening in Central London at 6pm this evening. This is the Embassy Press Release which, I’ve just been informed, features in today’s Evening Standard. Please, please give it your support. Massive credit is due to Mark Ames. and indeed the London Cycling Campaign. Further detail may be found here, here, here and here.

Why is the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain concentrating on such a London-centric issue? Well, it’s because, to me, TfL are the carbon copy of any highways authority across the land designing dangerous drivel, more often than not with minimal consultation with the end users. Quite often there are designers, engineers and technicians within these organisations who would quite happily design something wonderful that benefitted all, but sadly can’t due to political masters committed to ‘smoothing traffic flow’ and quite often shovelling pedestrians and cyclists together safely out-of-the-way in the name of progress, or on ‘Superhighways’ that rewrite the dictionary definition of the word ‘super’. How many more people would TfL like to die before they finally get the fact that a change of approach in a city made up of people might be required?

If TfL’s Feats Create Unpleasant Streets, Then That’s More Lame.

From London Se1

‘Mayor of London Boris Johnson has ruled out making the current temporary 20 mph speed limit on Blackfriars Bridge a permanent measure despite a vigorous campaign by cyclists.

Mr Johnson was questioned at City Hall on Wednesday by Green Party London Assembly member Jenny Jones who put to the Mayor the findings of a 2008 Transport for London report which recommended a 20 mph limit on several Thames bridges.

“My information is that the general speed [on Blackfriars Bridge] is nearer 12 miles an hour, therefore a speed limit of 20 mph isn’t necessary and could be a serious impediment to smooth traffic flow,” said the Mayor. “I’m not convinced of the case for this.”

He added: “I do think more work needs to be done on cycling over Blackfriars Bridge … speaking as someone who uses that route the whole time I am very much familiar with the problems of the cyclist on Blackfriars Bridge and I am working with TfL to try and sort it out.

Ms Jones pressed the Mayor on why he was ignoring the findings of the report prepared by TfL in 2008. The Mayor replied: “I am told that it does not represent the best advice and therefore I am not pursuing it”.…..’

Danny, writer of the excellent Cyclists in the City blog provides an update here, and my favourite pedalling pugilist, Freewheeler, pulls no punches in his synopsis here. They think it’s war. And I agree.

To me and indeed the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, the ‘Battle of Blackfriars’ has ramifications way beyond London which is why we have supported the London Cycling Campaign wholeheartedly. Our Press Officer (and flashmob ride Rabble Rouser) Mark Ames published a blog post for the Embassy site a couple of weeks ago in which he wrote the following,

‘……All eyes in London are on Blackfriars Bridge, but why is this issue important to the whole of the UK and not just London? Because Transport for London are governed by a rule called the Traffic Management Act 2004 which states that TfL’s obligation is to ensure the expeditious movement of traffic on its own road network; and facilitate the expeditious movement of traffic on the networks of others. This is all well and good, but how is TfL interpreting this rule? But does ‘traffic’ include people on bikes, people on foot and people on buses – people who have jobs to go to, shops to spend in, schools to teach at? The law is explicit on this issue: “traffic” includes pedestrians, cyclists and “motorised vehicles – whether engaged in the transport of people or goods.” (Traffic Management Act 2004, Section 31, and DfT Traffic Management Act 2004, Network Management Duty Guidance, DfT page 4, paragraph 10).

But TfL’s Draft Network Operating Strategy (May 2011) explains how this Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) objective is actually translated into reality:

The key measure for smoothing traffic flow set out in the MTS is journey time reliability .(p14)

And how is this measured?

Journey time reliability scope includes all classes of light good vehicles, Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV’s) and cars. (p14 – footnote 2)

So there you have it; pedestrians don’t count, buses and trams don’t count, cyclists don’t count. If you’re not in a car, you just don’t count. Figures via Cycle of Futility blog.……’

When I was a child (and a bit bored), my friends and I played a game where we tried to cram as many of us as we could into a phone box. It would appear that TfL along with all Highways Authorities across the land also enjoyed the same game. The problem is, they’re still playing it. In this exciting new updated version, the children (ironically) represent motorised traffic and the phone box is a ‘strategic road network’.

I think that the whole approach is incredibly anti-social. In any urban area where people live, work and play the car should have its place but the people come first. In the UK the people have their place but the car comes first and it is to the nation’s detriment in every way.

In a talk I gave for Movement for Liveable London last April, I spoke about TfL’s strategic red routes. To me, painting double red lines down a busy road merely amplifies the sense of urgency in the streetscape; these are not places to walk or cycle or shop or stop and talk with friends and family. These are places where you have to get through as quickly as possible, I assume to the next traffic ‘hot spot’.  

The red paint signifies the red rag to a bull. People get flustered when placed under the pressure of playing TfL’s high stakes game. Tempers flare, road users punch other road users and mistakes are made, sometimes with tragic (and needless) consequences.

Many non-cyclists would probably rather do this than cycle through a UK town or city

To all bicycle riding and walking Londoners; please take part in TfL’s Draft Network Operating Strategy Consultation. The deadline is tomorrow. Further details on the excellent Cycle of Futility here.

I’m off on a study tour in the Netherlands in September with David Hembrow. The main reason is to weep openly at infrastructure provided by a nation that is actually capable of designing for such a simple and effective mode of transport and gives a toss about its people. Another reason is to do further research into how they got here from the car-centric Netherlands of the 1970’s. Although Mr Hembrow has written a very good blog post on ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ (Stop the Child Murder), there doesn’t seem to be much else on the social changes that occurred (even less in English).

My point is that there needs to be an emotive element that can engage all Londoners in the case of Blackfriars and the UK public in the case of villages, towns and cities across the land.

For the moment, I would like to suggest (and this is me speaking personally about an idea I had this morning and not on behalf of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain) creating a special day where all cycling & pedestrian groups can unite to lay a wreath and hold a memorial service at TfL headquarters to remember all cyclists and pedestrians that have died in London as a result of TfL’s skewed logic. Then we can head along to Department for Transport and do the same for all those that have died in the UK needlessly as a result of a Department that refuses to take travelling by pedal or foot seriously and make these simplistic modes of transport simple.

I personally believe that it’s time we started to make this personal and poignant.

Words and Pictures

The police escort arrives to give me my Guard of Honour to the Houses of Parliament. Oh, and escort some MP's and Lords and yadda yadda yadda.

Last Wednesday, I caught the train up to London for the Annual Parliamentary Bike Ride which is the promotional prelude to Bike Week. As I was taking my Dutch Bike along, I had to catch the first train out of Worthing to beat Southern Rail’s [non-folding] bike ban which operates between 7-10am. I then cycled along Victoria Street, round Parliament Square (fine for me on an upright Dutch bike but I wouldn’t expect my mother to cycle this comfortably – unless she was actually a reasonably fit man aged between 18-45), over Westminster Bridge taking the vaguest of vague left turns into Belvedere Road toward the start point at the London Eye.

Carlton Reid interviewing Ed Clancy. He'd just interviewed me which was all the work he had to do really.

This is an event organised by CycleNation and ex-colleague Adam Coffman of CTC in particular. The great and the good of cycle campaigning were there including London Cycling Campaign’s new Chief Executive Dr Ashok Sinha. The ride was to take us over Blackfriars Bridge where Carlton Reid made this film.

We cycled along the Embankment, past Buckingham Palace and on to the Houses of Parliament where Norman Baker (MP for Lewes, East Sussex and Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department for Transport) took questions before dashing off to catch a train.

Cycling over Blackfriars Bridge. It's quite pleasant and relaxing with a police escort. Some decent infrastructure and a maintained 20mph limit will do.

 It was all very nice but that’s all it was. I’m all for devolving power but it needs the Department for Transport to treat the bicycle seriously as a mode of transport and keep a grip on Local & Highways Authorities whose main mission seems to be making cycling look as inviting as a timeshare in Tripoli. Councils across the land are continuing to build pitiful infrastructure whether cycle campaigners want it or not and the Local Transport Fund is not going to help that – if anything it will only encourage them to paint more bicycle symbols on pavements. The Monday before the Bike Ride, I wrote a blog post for the new Cycling Mobility magazine outlining my views on this and more here.

What I really cannot understand is why this country continues to ignore the Netherlands and Denmark – countries that have had proven success in creating bicycle cultures, that have made lots of mistakes since the 1970’s when developing its infrastructure and learnt from them now using a mixture of solutions to achieve modal shares we can only dream of over here if we continue the way we are. Maybe I should have asked Norman Baker on the study tour I’m going on in September.

The day after I was commuting to work and the puncture fairy visited me..

Bicycle repair in Shoreham by Sea

 In a former life I would have thrown my arms in the air, sworn a lot, replaced the inner tube as to engage in repair would lose valuable time in my cycling rat race (time was always against me when I cycled quicker for some reason), sworn again as I get grease from the chain and derailleur onto my work clothes in my super dooper courier bag etc etc. This time I just set about the gentle art of bicycle repair, reminded by the advice given to me by Stefan Petursson when I purchased the bike from Amsterdammers in Brighton. The conversation went like this;

Stefan: (put on your best Icelandic/Dutch accent here) ‘you know the best way to repair punctures on a Dutch Bike?’

Me: (put on your sexiest British accent here) ‘No’

I was at this point expecting to hear some incredible tip known only by the Dutch Peoples – maybe something treasured & carried over from generation to generation by word of mouth

Stefan: We pump the inner tube up like so…….and we listen.

I closed my eyes in a half wince/half flinch way. This advice was of course nothing new to me. But in that instant it made me realise that I had been taking the commute far too seriously with all the kit and speed and competitiveness and the subscription to Cycling Plus. By buying an upright utilitarian bike, I had yet to realise that things were about to get a lot slower and far more interesting. Again, this is not to discredit other forms of cycling as we are all part of one big family. But since riding the Dutch Bike my life has become simpler and cheaper and more spontaneous with more freedom and time for thought as a result. Exactly as cycling should be.

Lancing Beach just off NCN2 looking back toward Worthing. I can think of worse commutes.

Obviously they are not everyone’s cup of tea but quite why we ignore Dutch & Danish bikes (and indeed classic British roadsters too) as well as their infrastructure standards is quite beyond me. In the UK, mudguards are still regarded as an accessory! In Wimbledon Fortnight!! Madness, I tell you.

Dispatches from the Edge

Well, spring is definitely in the air and a young mans thoughts turn to…cycling. Well, a slightly older man anyway. This week has seen perfect weather for riding a Dutch Bike through the Third World of Cycling that is the UK. A gentle cooling breeze and gorgeous sunshine tempered slightly by the exhaust fumes. This is also my fourth month of riding without a helmet which has been liberating. It must be said however that now I’m riding a civilised bike in a more civilised manner, I’m not putting myself in dangerous situations. Also, I can’t help but feel that if a car collided with me, the car would come of worst against the Beast that is the Old Dutch.

Firstly, the Embassy news;

  • Due to the work, family and friends commitments of me and the rest of team, we are pushing back the launch date. 1st April probably seemed easy in the wave of Euphoria that accompanied the start up meeting on 29th January. However, April Fools Day is also a date that can backfire greatly in PR terms, particularly with regards our naysayers. We are instead aiming for Wednesday June 22nd which is slap bang in the middle of Bike Week (venue to be confirmed). This will go up on the Embassy website.
  • A Wiki has been established and material is being slowly added. It involves a lot of work (particularly as it’s coming from volunteers) but the results are very good indeed. A massive thanks to those that have contributed so far and we are always open to more volunteers stepping forward to contribute.
  • I have been receiving a lot of messages from people that love the new logo as it represents the everyday bike. Again, a very big thanks to our representatives that put the MAN in Manchester, Mr C and A2BJim.
  • People have been contributing too financially. Thanks to all that have dipped in to their pockets thus far. If you believe in our beliefs, you know where to click.

Other news

As far as the budget is concerned, I was going to write something big and profound but what’s the point when you have wonderful articles such as this from Joe Dunckley and of course Caroline Lucas.

My quick view for what it’s worth is that the Conservatives are still locked in the totally misguided belief that the motor vehicle is the key to jobs, prospects and prosperity. And they have also relaxed planning laws which will just result in more sprawl requiring more roads. The mountain we have to climb politically makes Mont Ventoux look more like the South Downs. I don’t think these measures are deliberately anti-cyclist because quite frankly I don’t think we even feature on their radar.

We’re that sporty thing people do in funny clothing. We’re the thing you put bikes on the backs of cars and drive miles to find somewhere to do safely. It’s that thing that Companies, Councils and even Governments mention in their literature showing an airy-fairy commitment to a greener future without actually doing anything. But the bicycle doesn’t actually count in societal terms. The bicycle just isn’t taken seriously other than being a counter-cultural curiosity and a hindrance to ‘progress’ at best. At least with more people cycling and walking, we don’t have to bomb quite so many countries to the tune of billions and commit our brave armed forces to secure oil……..sorry, I meant facilitate a regime change to create harmony for its peoples through a fair and democratic process.

Anyway, speaking of idiocy, I leave you with this nugget of an article from Celia Walden writing in the Daily Telegraph.

‘I nearly killed a girl on Monday. She was cycling in front of me around Hyde Park Corner in 1950s shades and a pretty floral dress, so caught up in reveries of herself as the heroine of a French art-house film that she swerved into the middle of my lane without signalling. There was no helmet, of course, and no high-visibility gear – which would have marred the whole sunny tableau. The worst accident she could think of was that her skirt might flutter up to reveal a charming pair of white cotton knickers. That she might be spatchcocked across three lanes hadn’t crossed her mind: the Fair Weather Cyclist prefers not to think such morbid thoughts.

I had wanted to confine my rage to the FWCs – currently the most dangerous strain on the roads – but I fear that may be impossible: basically I loathe all London cyclists. Like the café-goers who sit out on our narrow pavements stoically sipping cappuccinos in a haze of toxic hydrocarbons, these people live in a fantasy world. To them, Leicester Square is the Piazza Navona and our dual carriageways the cobbled backstreets of the Last of the Summer Wine. Traffic signals don’t apply to London cyclists, up there as they are on the moral high ground with their officially endorsed sense of righteousness. Sociologically, polls have shown that they tend to be a preening, upper-middle class bunch. They use words like “pootle,” and cycle home “smashed” from the pub. If Marie-Antoinette were alive today, she’d have a bike – with a sweet little Cath Kidston basket.

No, on reflection, 1950s floral girl is not the most pernicious cyclist out there. At least she, after a near-death experience with a London bus or the onset of a little light drizzle, will permanently withdraw from the roads. As we near the Olympics and our new velodrome is completed, there will be a growing breed of young male racers to worry about. And of course this lot are so confident on the roads that they will all be plugged into their iPods, calmly humming “lalalalala” along to Sasha Distel as that articulated lorry indicates left. …..’

Obviously she’s never travelled around a town or city in Mainland Europe with just a bicycle where the powers that be and the people actually give a toss. God knows what possessed her to write such angry, prejudiced drivel. Oh, no wait! She’s married to Piers Morgan, I KNEW there had to be something wrong with her! Phew! That’s that one solved. Enjoy the sunshine  gentlemen and ladies of course if you dare with Celia Walden behind the wheel.

Stylish Woman On Bicycle. Very bad apparently (Photo: Copenhagen Cycle Chic)