Smokescreen

Road.cc reports this week on ‘crackdowns on so-called anti-social cycling, with initiatives targeting bike riders who commit transgressions such as ignoring red traffic lights and cycling on the pavement under way in cities such as Chester and Bath, while councillors in Middlesbrough are calling for police there to tackle the problem’.

As a cycle campaigner I certainly support such moves to a point. I passed my cycling proficiency in 1979 and have always carried the mentality that the safest place to be on the road is moving with the flow of traffic obeying all signs and signals. As soon as you break lights or hop on the pavement then in my opinion not only are you being selfish but you’re just creating more problems for yourself where you can be prosecuted (if caught by the law) or sued for damages. The Highway Code isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly a passport to relatively stress free cycling.

However, I wrote ‘to a point’. Many councils paint bicycle symbols on pavements, calling them ‘Cycle Infrastructure’. This conveniently gets cyclists off the roads and leaves those that persist with the roads open to abuse. The roads become more dangerous with fewer cyclists about and then everyone scratches their heads as to why novice cyclists would use pavements that don’t have cycle symbols on them too. I would class this as an irritant as opposed to something requiring such heavy handed levels of policing. My point is that if this level of policing is part of a wider clampdown in the name of road safety, then what is being done about the far greater problem of motorists breaking the law?

Not much, it would appear. In the same week, RoSPA (the organisation that originally set up Cycling Proficiency), along with CTC have issued a joint communiqué to councils that are considering turning off their speed cameras to reconsider.

We also read that Cycling England, a Government quango set up by Department for Transport with responsibility for Cycling Proficiency (or ‘Bikeability’ as it’s now known) may be abolished. The worst case scenario would see an end to cycle training in our schools with no-one able to administer it and a Government no longer wanting to support it.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond is said to be “far from convinced that it would be a good thing” to reduce the UK’s legal drink-driving limit and is set to reject an expert review that recommended that the country fall into line with the lower levels found in several other major countries in western Europe.

I can’t help but feel a that there is a little bit of a smokescreen going on here covering the fact that no-one is prepared to tackle the really big issues that kill and seriously injure every day. Making an example of cyclists that break red lights and ride on pavements is all very well. But speeding, drink-driving or mobile phone use whilst driving creates far more havoc for our society and its emergency services. Yet it’s ‘Demon Cyclists’ or ‘Lycra Louts’ or, even worse, ‘Middle Aged Lycra Louts’ that hit the headlines. Or Jon Snow being trailed by that tabloid Ku Klux Klan, the Daily Mail. Road safety, particularly for its more vulnerable users, is clearly no match for the motoring and drinks lobbies! 

Another recent example of victimising groups and creating a smokescreen is the surge of interest in ‘dole cheats’. These fraudsters are fleecing the innocent taxpayer of billions! That’s all very well, and £5 billion a year is certainly a problem. But what about the high level tax avoidance of the rich that’s costing the nation (it has been estimated) £50-60 billion a year? Again, the bigger issue disappears behind a smokescreen because it’s too difficult to face and the lobbying too powerful.

Think what could be done if that £50-60 billion went directly to cycling! A fully segregated cycle network could be created across the country linking villages with towns, children with schools, adults with shops and places of work. I have a dream, Brothers and Sisters. You’d have a lot of change out of that money too.

There’ll be a smokescreen though. With all the money snaffled by ‘consultancy fees‘ and used to plug other holes in Government & Council spending, so we’ll end up with this, this and this everywhere. Again

I draw two conclusions; firstly, this country simply doesn’t know how to deal with something like cycling because we have been so primed for ever bigger roads and car use that we cannot get our heads around catering for something so blissfully simple as riding a bicycle. As a result, it will always be treated like a stubborn stain that won’t go away unless there is a culture shift. Secondly, and pardon the language, but self confessed motor loving Philip Hammond MP seems to be about as much use as tits on a bull. I hope the lobbying perks are worth it.

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Horticulture and Road Safety

According to todays Independent on Sunday, cash strapped Councils are looking to innovative planting schemes to slow motorists down be changing their perceptions.

..”Norfolk County Council planted 200 trees in four villages – Martham, Horstead, Mundesley and Overstrand – in an effort to reduce average speeds by two to three miles per hour and cut accidents by 20 per cent. There had been 20 crashes in the rural spots over a five-year period.

Mr Hallett said the initiative, which supports carbon reduction and is the first of its kind in the UK, was about changing the environment to alter motorists’ perspectives. The planting of trees and hedges is designed to reduce speed “by playing with the driver’s peripheral vision”. One technique involved placing trees – at decreasing distances apart – on the approach to a village, tricking drivers into thinking they were speeding. “If you are staying at a constant speed, your peripheral vision [which takes in the trees] is giving you the impression you are going faster,” explained Mr Hallett. “People hit the brakes before they hit the village.”

Another method was to plant trees “so that it looks like the environment is closing in on the driver”, he added. The road remains the same width but trees are planted on a “lazy diagonal” that gets narrower towards the entrance to the village….”

I worked in commercial horticulture for five years and support this type of scheme wholeheartedly. Trees and plants can assist in all sorts of unusual situations. A Crataegus Prunifolia hedgerow, for example, can be planted as an excellent deterrent against burglary. The touring cyclist traveling through France will be familiar with the beautiful avenues of Plane trees along the roadside and further planting on exposed roadsides over here could act as an unwittingly good windbreak and landscape enhancement.

As far as road safety is concerned however, I would argue that these solutions don’t go far enough. I would like to make a couple of tentative additions of my own to their inventive arboricultural arsenal;

The Yellow Petunia Speed Camera Hanging Basket

A very nice Health & Safety yellow, wouldn't you say?

This is a great opportunity for towns and villages to combine their ‘Britain in Bloom‘ budget with road safety. Just plant oblong boxes with Yellow petunias to look like the backs of speed cameras and hang them on grey poles. It combines a topical matter with gardening and could give Alan Titchmarch the inspiration to write a decent novel for a change.

The Accident Black Spot Daisy Chalk Outline

Like this. But with daisies instead of chalk.

Where there is a high casualty rate, just plant beautiful daisies as a replica chalk outline in a nearby grass verge or meadow. Add Michaelmas Daisies across the head to create a baseball cap effect where there is a higher than average amount of Citroen Saxo’s in the area.

The opportunities are endless! I would personally advocate the ‘Palm Trees Falling Across The Road If Someone Triggers The Speed Trap In A Thunderbird 2 Runway Type Scenario’ but you might as well switch the cameras back on for that kind of money.

The War on the Motorist

Consider the plight of the poor beleaguered motorist.

For years they have had to put up with ever bigger roads; dual carriageways, road widening, ring roads, inner relief roads, orbital roads & bypasses. Some motorists have interests such as gardening or archaeology yet found themselves having to drive ever increasing distances to see nice pretty landscapes and places of interest because lots of other people also liked driving and needed to be accommodated on ever bigger roads destroying more and more pretty landscapes and places of interest. How dreadful.

Some motorists occasionally enjoyed nice walks or cycle rides for short journeys to the post office or school but the bigger roads sliced through the bridleway and footpath network so they didn’t link communities anymore. So more people had to drive on the bigger roads and get in each others way. Apparently, people who might have considered a walk or a cycle ride also started driving as they considered the new bigger roads to be more hostile, adding to all that congestion. Well, really!

Many had to drive all the way out to the outskirts of towns to get their shopping (as walking around lots of shops is tiresome when you can’t park outside each and every one of them), ripping up more of that lovely countryside and archaeology beneath. No wonder Time Team only ever had three days!

All have had to endure the fact that motoring in real terms is as inexpensive as its ever been. Apparently, only they pay for the roads and should have exclusive rights to them. Many have had entire seconds added to their journey times due to the intrepid few that venture out on bicycles or on foot, the fools! How dare these peasants get in the way when motorists have spent thousands of pounds on their mode of transport?

They have had to endure speed cameras with their bright yellow paint and repeated warning signs. They have had money ruthlessly taken from them when all they did was break the law. How petty is that?! Why aren’t they catching the real criminals?

We needn’t worry though. Philip Hammond, the new Transport Secretary has recently ended this onslaught on the motorist. Thank God! He’s axed the funding to the speed cameras meaning that local authorities fall like a house of cards in the rush to switch them off despite objections from those little people that don’t know what they’re talking about like local residents, road safety groups and police chiefs. Anyone would have thought that right wing motoring groups lobbied hard and portrayed motorists as the poor victims in all this. Surely not! After all, they only kill and seriously injure a few thousand every year!

It now transpires that some motorists in Oxfordshire are speeding again now the cameras have been switched off. Gee!! What are the odds??!! It’s probably all these ‘expert’ motorists driving at speeds that they consider appropriate as opposed those nasty speed limits imposed to reduce the chance of death and serious injury. It’ll be alright though because those that walked or cycled in these spots will be put off due to the increased danger so there will be even less distraction.

If the ‘War on the Motorist’ has ended, then this must surely mean that they can now stop killing innocent civilians?Hurrah! The war is over! If a War had actually been declared on the motorist than I can only describe the state declared on pedestrians and cyclists as ‘genocide’ or ‘a holocaust’ as they impede the march of progress and are cleared off the streets. Well, if we’re going to wildly exaggerate, we might as well try and take it to a logical conclusion. Wars are things that happen in far away lands. Yet motoring has the higher death and casualty rate. Shouldn’t it be the ‘War from the Motorist’?

I Have A Dream…

25 years ago, some friends and I, aged between 13 & 15 decided to go for a bike ride. We packed sandwiches and flasks of squash into bags and cycled from our home village of Elstead, Surrey to Bury Hill, West Sussex. We had intended to cycle further to Arundel or the sea but we decided to quit while we were ahead. We had cycled 40 odd miles (including the stout climb up the South Downs) and had another 40 to get home. The freedom was exhilarating.

The majority of our route was on A roads and it was still a pleasure. We were cycling outside of rush hour on a week day; drivers were courteous, when a lorry slowed down behind us we pulled over to let the driver pass safely and he thanked us with a wave and a toot of the horn. We did all this with no helmets, no high-viz and without fear. Little did we know that Mrs Thatcher and the road building lobby had other ideas.

25 years later, cyclists can still use A Roads (they have a right to) but they aren’t exactly filled with pleasure, unless you’re the Marquis de Sade. Many have been ‘improved’ and ‘engineered’ to the extent that they have become dual carriageways – motorways in all but name that now bypass the very communities the original roads were meant to serve.  They have become incredibly hostile environments for anything that doesn’t have a motor attached to it. It’s strange to think that you can’t cycle in or out of a seaside town such as Worthing due to the A24 being a fast dual carriageway unless you’re Mark Cavendish on amphetamines. There isn’t even a consistant path at the side for pedestrians or horse riders either.

Cycling as a result has become a very schizophrenic activity; on the one hand experienced cyclists claim that we must assert our right to the road and that if enough people do it we will reach some sort of tipping point or critical mass. Others believe that this will never happen all the while that cycling is increasingly perceived as a dangerous activity and that cycle lanes or shared use facilities are the way forward. 

All very engaging stuff, but I would like to propose another way in the same vein as the Conservative road building policy of the 1980s and 1990s. I don’t mean London Cycle Superhighways or the National Cycle Network. No way. That’s for wimps!!

I want Town Planners and Highways engineers cowering in my wake as I pursue with extreme prejudice Cycle Mega Highways across the land as much as 5 metres wide!! I want them to be fast (or slow. It’s not a race), direct, with priority at junctions. Yes! Priority at junctions! I want ruthless planting of hedgerows and trees to act as windbreaks and encourage wildlife (that won’t get run over). I want to see people of all creeds, colours and ages riding to work and school with stupid grins plastered across their faces. I want to see the mass burning of High-viz tabards and helmets when people realise that cycling isn’t a dangerous activity and that they had been lied to by the motoring lobby and ‘road safety’ groups. I want the designers of ‘Shared Use Facilities’ and other crap cycle infrastructure put in large wooden stocks placed at the side of the Cycle Mega Highways to remind them constantly how it should be done. I want all ‘Cyclists Dismount’ and ‘End of Route’ signs melted down and turned into statues of Tommy ‘Angel of the North’ Simpson, Beryl ‘Angel of the North’ Burton, Sir Chris ‘Angel of the Track’ Hoy and Victoria ‘Angel of Angels’ Pendleton.  I want people’s house prices to spiral upwards out of control when a Cycling Mega Highway stampedes nearby with its deafening levels of peace and quiet and obscene levels of fresh air. I want residents to attempt claiming compensation from the RSPB when the sound of birdsong starts becoming too much. I want pedestrians to worry about whether they’re wearing any deodorant due to no cyclists brushing past them on the pavements. I want towns and cities to become liveable and civilized again! I want local businesses, cafes and farm shops to enjoy rampant good trade due to happy people cycling past and local money staying local. I want the Chancellor to say at a budget ‘we don’t need to raise spending on the NHS because you’re all so fit and stress free. We’re diverting money instead to the treatment of the Top Gear fan base as they’re not getting any younger either.’

Like this. But a bit smaller.

Above all, I want a proper legacy for my son and his children to enjoy. Not a sloppily converted pavement. Nor a strip of paint that fizzles out at the precise moment a cyclist would need it most. I mean a proper sustainable transport network. And I bet it would cost less than the proposed High Speed Rail Link too.

Some people say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. Please look at this brilliant blog entry from David Hembrow comparing British & Dutch streets.

Speed Cameras

A new report from the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) and the Drivers’ Alliance (DA), or as I like to call them, the Jeremy Clarkson Reliance Alliance (JCRA) collates for the first time the full figure for fines raised through speed cameras in 2008-09.

According to their press release, ‘The report features full data for local Safety Camera Partnerships and Magistrates’ Courts for all areas of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. With the boom in speed cameras and speeding fines in recent years the issue has become highly controversial, particularly among motorists’.

I bet it has, I bet it has.

‘The report concludes that British policy should follow the good example of Swindon, which scrapped its speed cameras in 2008 with apparently no increase in road casualties as a result’.

I bet it does, I bet it does.

Amongst its key findings are the following:
– A total of £87,368,227 was collected in speeding and red light offences caught on speed cameras in the financial period 2008-09 in the UK. This also includes fines from magistrates’ courts for speeding offences and neglect of traffic directions in 2008. So don’t speed then and pay attention.
– The total includes £65,748,850 from fixed penalties detected by cameras operated by safety camera partnerships in England and Wales. It doesn’t matter who operates the cameras, they were caught speeding.
– It also includes £19,214,594 in fines from magistrates’ courts for speeding offences and neglect of traffic directions in calendar year 2008 in England and Wales. So don’t speed then and pay attention.
– It also includes £1,641,630 collected for speeding offences by the Scottish Courts in 2008-09. So don’t speed then.
– It also includes £763,153 from fixed penalties detected by speed cameras in Northern Ireland. So don’t speed then.
– The road casualty rate has declined at a slower rate since speed cameras were introduced in the early 1990s, compared to the rate prior to their introduction. It can be estimated that 1,555,244 more road casualties occurred between 1991-2007 than would have if the 1978-1990 trend had continued. Complete speculation. If I’d made it to the newsagents and got my lottery ticket on the Saturday before Christmas 2007, I might be a millionaire.

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
“Motorists have long suspected that speed cameras are more about raising money than keeping the roads safe. These findings show that the state has been squeezing a fortune out of people using these cameras, but if anything the rate of reduction in casualty numbers has slowed. The whole country should follow the example of Swindon, which has scrapped cameras altogether. People are sick of being fined under the guise of road safety.” If you drive properly, you don’t get fined. It’s that simple.


Peter Roberts, Chief Executive of the Drivers’ Alliance, said:
“Speed cameras have been a false hope in improving safety on British roads. Close statistical analysis of road casualties shows that, since speed cameras have been the main driver of road safety policy, the road casualty rate has not gone down at the trajectory expected. It is time to rethink road safety policy so that it has broadened focus, not solely based on speed. No more speed cameras should be funded by local authorities and existing speed cameras should be removed.” Which basically means “We want to drive like The Stig. Please remove the cameras because when we saw an advert for the Vauxhall Astra on ITV3 during ‘Midsummer Murders’ and it clearly depicted it speeding through city streets and nothing bad happened. Another advert clearly showed all roads being as clear as a Scottish Glen with no pedestrians, cyclists or any other life apart from Hondas”.


This is a bit weak by anyone’s standards. The simple fact is that if you’ve been caught breaking the law, you pay a fine and/or get points on you licence. They are not a cash cow. Casualty rates may not have come down at the ‘trajectory projected’, but they have still come down (they even created a graph depicting this). Cameras are large, usually painted bright yellow and have warning signs alerting you of their presence. If you get caught you really have only yourself to blame as you clearly can’t drive according to the correct speed limit and road conditions (and please remember that they are speed limits, not speed targets). I guess a bad workman always blames his tools. The fact that £87.3m has been collected in fines on Britain’s roads means there are A LOT of bad workmen.

The brilliant Roger Geffen, Director of Campaigns at CTC, issued this excellent statement.

“CTC supports both a substantial increase in traffic policing and the use of speed cameras – it’s not an ‘either-or’ situation.

“Contrary to media mythology, around three quarters of the public supports speed cameras, and for a very good reason: they save lives and make our streets safer, particularly for pedestrians, cyclists, children and older people. These groups are disproportionately the victims of irresponsible driving on our roads and streets.

“Speed is to blame for around a third of all road fatalities. Nobody likes to put a monetary value on a human life, yet the Department for Transport does just that. They say that cost to society of a death on our roads is £1.7M. On that basis, the cost to society of the 740 people killed last year by people driving too fast was a cool £1,200M.

“So there can be no justification whatsoever for these self-appointed representatives of ‘drivers’ and ‘tax-payers’ whingeing about £65M of fines being taken from criminals. If they don’t like the laws of the land, let them argue for higher limits – we think most decent-minded people will strongly disagree. But to argue against the enforcement of society’s rules, designed to protect human life, is simply beneath contempt.”

So drive properly then.

Helmets and Accidents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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