Go West, Look East

This weekend marks the AGM of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and will be held in Bath & Bristol (details here). Since the Embassy started last year, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to be shown around infrastructure ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous via the Scottish (which at times also veered toward the ridiculous). Although we shall be kicking off with a leisurely jaunt along the Bath Bristol Railway Path which I’m really looking forward to, the pace will only quicken when we discuss what we are as an organisation and where we’re going.

The reason is simple; it could have been a predictable year in cycle campaigning. Some additional decent momentum with LCC and their Love London Go Dutch Campaign building up to Mayoral elections followed by the Parliamentary Bike Ride followed by Bike Week with its accompanying optimism of rising numbers of cyclists followed by everyone going on their holidays and then the cycling numbers receding as Autumn takes hold.

But on 4 November 2011, Mary Bowers, a 24-year-old Journalist for the Times was knocked off her bicycle and to this day tragically remains in a coma. And The Times decided to do something about it.

To say the World of cycle campaigning as a result lurched to breakneck speed would be bordering on reckless understatement. Cycling was suddenly thrust beyond the realm of cycling magazines, blogs and internet forums and out far, far into the public domain. Every day brought a new initiative, pledge or commitment from politicians and officials in National and Local Government. There were excellent protest events organised such as Pedal on Parliament in Edinburgh and of course London Cycling Campaign’s excellent ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ ride, both remarkably well attended considering the atrocious weather that usually marks the transition to a British Summer. Thanks to The Times Cities Safe for Cycling campaign, I make the suggestion that more was achieved for cyclists than established campaigns had been trying to do for years [through no fault of their own, I hasten to add].

Or has it? Now that the dust has cleared, the protest rides ridden and the best Parliamentary china has been cleared away, I’ve listed below some of the key points and achievements extracted from a report by the jolly nice instigator of The Times campaign, Kaya Burgess.

‘….Support

Nearly 40,000 people have signed up to The Times’s ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Opposition leader Ed Miliband, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson and Mayor of Salford Ian Stewart have all backed The Times’s campaign, while Cambridge, Brighton and Leeds councils have all voted through official support and ten cities back the campaign. A host of famous names also backed the campaign in the first few weeks.

A Westminster debate saw 77 MPs attend a debate on cycle safety.

Cycling becomes a major issue in the London mayoral elections. A cycle-specific hustings is hosted by The Times and Sustrans for the five main candidates.

About 45 per cent of all regular cyclists are aware of The Times’s ‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign.

More than 10,000 people take to the streets of London and Edinburgh in support of cycle safety.

Minicab chief John Griffin, boss of Addison Lee, pledged his support to the campaign after angering cyclists.

Lorries

Crossrail refused entry to 31 of 253 vehicles bringing building materials to sites because they failed safety standards imposed to protect cyclists.

The Department for Transport are discussing with insurers whether incentives can be offered to hauliers who fit their lorries with extra safety equipment to protect cyclists.

Construction companies are also exploring ways to improve cycle safety.

Leading engineers call for every bus and lorry to be fitted with sensors to protect cyclists and pedestrians by 2015…

…Dangerous junctions

At least 85 per cent of councils (366 of the 433 councils in Britain) contain a dangerous cycling blackspot, according to 10,000 points nominated by Times readers.

Transport ministers promise to study the cycling blackspots nominated on the map and investigate ways to improve them.

Safe cycle lanes are to be made law in Wales, with plans to force local councils to develop and maintain safe routes.

Local councils no longer have to seek permission from Government every time they install a rear-view “trixi” mirror at dangerous junctions, due to pressure from The Times.

A scheme in Paris allows cyclists to turn the near-side corner of a T-junction at a red-light. Similar schemes in Britain could give cyclists their own short green phase to allow them to get a head-start from lorries and HGVs.

Futuristic projects to build elevated, enclosed cycle lanes would cost a prohibitive £38 million per kilometre. But less hi-tech projects have been constructed at a far more economical cost, such as elevated tracks in Copenhagen and pedestrian and cycle-friendly bridges in Cambridge.

National audit

Polls conducted by The Times revealed much about the habits of drivers and cyclists, while more than 10,000 submissions were added to a reader-generated map of Britain, showing where the most dangerous spots for cyclists can be found.

Funding…

….A £100 million annual fund to finance cycle infrastructure should be set aside, according to leading transport charities. But the £4.9 billion Highways Agency budget has already been cut by 20 per cent.

Transport for London received £15 million in the Budget to put towards improving dangerous junctions.

The Labour Party will consider adopting parts of The Times’s ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign, including the call for more funding, in its own manifesto, during its policy review in autumn. Voters credit Labour as the party which has responded best to cycle safety concerns.

Copenhagen has undergone a £77 million cycling makeover in the past decade, with another £28 million earmarked for upcoming projects. This far outstrips spending in the UK.

Training for cyclists and drivers

The Times revealed that councils are failing to claim millions of pounds in funding for children’s cycling, putting pressure on councils to improve on last year’s figures, when fewer than 200,000 children took a cycle training course funded by their local authority.

There will be guaranteed Bikeability funding for the whole of this Parliament.

Speed limits

Cutting speed limits to 20mph in trial areas showed a 50 per cent reduction in the number of cyclists killed or serious injured, and a 60 per cent reduction in casualties among child cyclists.

The Scottish Parliament has called for more 20mph zones in response to cyclist fatalities north of the border.

The AA throws its weight behind calls to extend 20mph speed limits.

Business involvement

Norman Baker, the Transport Minister, promoted The Times’s call for more corporate sponsorship in promoting safe cycling.

The incoming mayors of both Liverpool and Salford have pledged to explore bike-hire schemes in their cities, following the model of the Barclays Bikes in London.

Cycling commissioners

A House of Commons inquiry into cycle safety heard demands for David Cameron to appoint a cycling tsar to represent the needs of cyclists in government.

Boris Johnson, in securing re-election as London Mayor, pledged to appoint a cycling commissioner.

The Times’s call for every city to have a cycling commissioner won government support after a Westminster debate on cycle safety.

The new Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, also pledged to appoint a cycling commissioner…….’

By the way, here is The Times’s ‘Cities Safe for Cycling’ Manifesto

Great stuff (especially when you consider the timeframe) but you will note that there are a lot of pledges, ‘calls for…’, ‘explores..’ and reviews but as to whether this will turn into firm action (and more crucially, funding for that action) remains to be seen. I personally still remain severely sceptical about the state of infrastructure in this country which is the best chance we have of increasing numbers of everyday cyclists through subjective safety. This is why I feel that there will always be a need for a Cycling Embassy of Great Britain as long as it never deviates from its core mantra of ‘Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure [to aid and assist training, promotion et al]’. Even when other groups launch campaigns pushing for Dutch Infrastructure such as LCC, or start holding policy reviews about ‘Going Dutch’, we should still be there to assist or support if needed but mostly developing our knowledge base and demonstrating what ‘Going Dutch’ actually means as a benchmark. We should all know only too well that to deviate or go for compromise will force us down the wrong road (pardon the pun) again with yet more crap infrastructure. And no cycling organisation wants that. Much of our current infrastructure continues to be a published joke, designed and built with the same result as a Toddler group given the chance to design the successor to Trident. However if it starts to join up in their idea of a network, cyclists right to certain roads could be brushed aside as easily as Cycling England. And don’t think it can’t happen.

NOT to be confused with the West Sussex County Council Sustainable Transport Plan

People are still signing up to the Embassy website, making generous donations and giving some excellent reasons for joining which is fantastic and I thank you personally for placing your faith in our fledgling organisation. I shall be reading out some of the reasons at the AGM (not giving names or details away of course) as they really warrant a listen. Above all, we need fresh input (and a new Press Officer) so please, please come along and help shape our destiny. Some good ideas have already been submitted for discussion and it won’t be the same without you. I’ve even ordered nice weather for you so you have no excuse.

After having a think on the Brompton this morning (I’m commuting 24 miles a day on the Brompton at the moment in training for this in case anyone wants to pop along for support), I was trying to think of a metaphor or some such that best summed up the frustration of taking perfectly good ideas from Europe and getting them back to Britain.

Me at the front at an earlier Smithfield Nocturne after stampeding through the pack like Bonnie Langford on Amphetamines

Suddenly, the classic ‘Penguin Game’ from ‘Jeux Sans frontieres’ leapt to mind. Take a look and imagine Britain enjoying playing in Europe, not taking it that seriously and getting tangled up occasionally but when a good idea tries to get carried back it either gets spilt, spoilt or upset in some way. The coloured water represents Dutch cycling infrastructure. But I think you guessed that already. I know it’s not a cycling clip but enjoy one of my favourite TV moments and see you in beautiful Bath & Bristol this weekend.

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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.