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.

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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.

Go for Launch

An inviting seaside path. Inviting to what, I'm not quite sure.

Well! Apologies to Lo Fidelity Readers for the gaps between postings but in the end family matters and Chairing the Embassy took precedence. I realised that I wouldn’t be able to keep the usual stunningly high standards that you’ve come to know and love on this blog.

On Saturday September 3rd the Official Launch of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain will take place. We shall be launching our key policies and there will be a photo call, but it’s more of a chance for like-minded people to get together for a picnic and chat about how Great Britain could have a stab at decency if it really tried. We already have a combined Mission Statement and Manifesto plus a wonderful ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ document for your perusal and we shall be handing out print versions at the event.

It’s been wonderful seeing things develop; the entries to the Summer Poster Competition have been superb (there’s still time to enter!) and due to popular demand our webmaster has  lovingly set up a shop for you to buy stuff incorporating the logo lovingly created by our Manchester Consulate. I’ve been informed that we’ll have a Zazzle shop available too for those requiring cheaper stickers. Advert over.

I’ll personally be happy when the policies are launched as it finally gives us the clarity we require. Let me try to very briefly explain my personal viewpoint…

Basically, despite fairly good documents like this, Councils and Highways Authorities across the land have been building stuff like this, this and this which is basically this. Usually, the only time local campaign groups get to see designs for stuff like this, this and this is when the design has already been signed off and programmed for construction but now the Councils and Highways Authorities can tick the box that they have consulted with cyclists. The designs are often slightly less dangerous than this, look like they were designed with this whilst on this and often put these in direct conflict with these. Local people then think local cyclists asked for this, this and this and councils then produce documents basically portraying themselves as this, even though they are simply paving the way for more of this.

Experienced cyclists through the years have tried to ignore stuff like this, this and this, rightfully claiming that they have the right to the road even though they sometimes get this for not using this if it’s nearby despite this.

I set up this because, like others, I started to look at stuff like this, this and from this chap and wondered what sort of forcefield must be in existence in the North Sea to stop us adopting ideas and methodologies that led to a culture of this, this or this. Their methods are not always perfect, and it would be wrong to suggest that it could be picked up and transplanted wholesale. However, the approach (along with other countries) that has proven success in delivering this, this and this has to be a bit better than this, this and this. I believe that Councils have to be stopped producing this as a matter of urgency (don’t forget, in times like these, they have a greater excuse to plead poverty despite saying the same to cyclists when times were good). It is not about putting cycle infrastructure everywhere. There is a raft of measures to be considered in terms of traffic reduction, speed restriction etc. But if we don’t do something to a decent standard, and think in terms of coherent network instead of piecemeal ‘solutions’ that act like a Band-Aid on a laceration, then cyclists using the open road in the meantime will get continuing and unwarranted abuse as more junk gets built and the bicycle will continue to not be taken seriously as a mode of transport. I cannot think of a single facility in the UK that could be used safely and comfortably by experienced cyclist and 10 year old alike guaranteeing continuity unless it occurs by accident in the form of converted railway lines. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right with no more potential for conflict with more vulnerable groups.

Phew! I’m paraphrasing a bit but that’s a personal basic outline.

Anyway, I hope you can make it.

Footnote 24/08/11

As I was gracefully peddling in this morning through the glorious British summer murk, it occured to me that this post carries a lot of rib-tickling crap infrastructure images from Warrington Cycle Campaign’s ‘Facility of the Month’ page on their website. It is therefore only fair and proper that I not only recommend you go back every month to find out ‘how not to do it’ , but also buy their book (it is also available from decent local high street booksellers so you can buy a copy and then wander over to your County Council Highways Department infoming them that they are a published joke available internationally). Royalties go to the worthwhile CTC’s Cyclists Defence Fund

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.

All the Fun of the Fair

Apologies that it’s been a while since I last posted but things have been very, very busy at Lo Fidelity Towers. The Boy has teeth pushing through with a vengeance which is bad enough for the poor little mite but they’re also deciding to make their push every morning between 2.30 and 4.30am. As a result, I look as though I’ve been punched in the face yet happy to be punched in the face as I weave the Old Dutch Bike through the school run stationary traffic.

On the cycling front, I’m soon to be guest blogging at Cycling Mobility magazine and my first post explaining my vision for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britian goes out on Monday. It’s probably too diplomatic, but I’d rather not get flailed alive by people getting the wrong end of the stick.

As I’ve stated before, riding a Dutch Bike gives one a lot of time to think. Freed up from the heads-down-Tour-de-France-peleton-of-one that is the default for British Cycle Commuting I can take great gulps of sea air and look at stuff such as the fun fairs setting up along the seafront. In a way, there are many aspects of fun fairs that, for me, have similarities with cycling in Great Britain…

The Carousel

Like Close Encounters of The Third Kind. But in Bognor.

 The fun fair carousel is a bit like the ongoing ‘Battle of Blackfriars’. TfL and the Conservative Assembly members are crammed into the control booth, with Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ blasting out so loud, they can’t hear the screams of the people on the ride. ‘Do you want to go faster?’ they keep yelling over the tannoy. From time to time they will try and alter the angle and spin. Occasionally someone tragically and needlessly dies or is injured as a result of poor maintenance or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time but that doesn’t matter to TfL. Just keep the punters going faster and faster. If they crank up that music nice and loud, they don’t have to hear a thing.

For further reading on the Blackfriars Bridge debacle I strongly recommend the London Cycle Campaign website this brilliant post by Cycle of Futility, I Bike London and of course, Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest

The Arcade Coin Machine

It’s mindless, but still better than watching ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ on every level

I admit that I used to love playing these machines on family holidays in the 70’s and 80’s. I believe that these machines accurately represent local and national government spending on cycling. The money that you are looking at through the glass represents the transport budget. You put our money in hoping, often in vain, to get something back in the way of investment for cycling and sometimes some pennies drop out. Sometimes you can hear money drop but it doesn’t make it to you. That’s your local authority syphoning off yet more money for pothole repair to ease traffic flow, or maybe a strategy document that might as well have been written by Ken Dodd on ecstacy.

Dodgems

Due to Coalition cuts, this might be the new driving test.

To some, it’s a fun way to pass five minutes. I agree, but I would go one step further and say they should be re-branded from ‘Dodgems’ to ‘School Run’. The fact that the lady in the foreground  has let her childs hands on the wheel may occasionally happen in real life as it allows a parent to answer a mobile phone call. After all, cars practically drive themselves these days, don’t they? Also, children learn from a very early age that as long as they are encased in a car or car like object, they’ll be safe if they collide with anything else.

The House of Mirrors

Again, more fun than ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ on every level.

The House of Mirrors is supposed to be a maze like puzzle giving a vision of alternate realities to our own. I also think it represents the Vehicular vs Segregation debate. It’s just an illusion. Vehicular Cyclists are all rough, tough fellows who like exhaust fumes and would regard cycling along the A40 Westway as a mere bagatelle. Segregationalists are only people that would have segregated infrastructure everywhere including the drives leading up to their houses. Then you leave the House of Mirrors to realise that we are in the same reality seeing the same thing, that the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany does not have segregated infrastructure absolutely everywhere because even they will say that that is a bloody stupid idea and what we all really want is the difficult mode of transport to reflect that difficulty and the easiest modes of tranpsort to reflect that ease for all ages and gender, just like in continental Europe that have proven success in obtaining high bicycle modal shares with lower casualty rates. Obviously there will be different views, but I simply cannot believe we are still ignoring what’s been occuring across the North Sea. Since about 1975. Funnily enough the ideas for current Great British cycling infrastructure came from a House of Mirrors. Actually, I made that last bit up, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I got all that from cycling past a fun fair on a Dutch Bike. Mind you it was into a headwind.

London Cycle Superhighways

Two of the London Cycle Superhighways opened at the beginning of the week to a guarded response. Obviously a scheme like this (which cost £23million in total) is going to invoke a broad spectrum of emotions.

For the purposes of this blog post, any reference to these new routes will focus on CS7 which runs from Merton to the City. This is because when I lived in London for a while I used to cycle from Morden to Camden Town every day which would have taken in much of this new cycle route. I had no trouble on this route with motorists, partly because most of the time I was passing stationary traffic. It is, as you can imagine, a very busy route and therefore will feel intimidating to the novice cyclist.

Route_7_Superhighway_21.05.10

It is all too easy for the experienced cyclist [in the UK] to feel sceptical about the scheme and even easier to pick apart TfL’s Utopian vision of a carpet of blue filled with relaxed, happy cyclists. We know all too well the diabolical levels of infrastructure that exist already (and for which Local Authorities must hang their heads in shame). However, I would like to tentatively offer the following observations;

Some have criticised the fact that CS7 uses the A24, a main thoroughfare into Central London. I would imagine TfL did this for the following reasons:

  • If one of the aims was to create a modal shift from car to bicycle, putting this revised cycle lane on a major thoroughfare with cyclists perceived to be making better progress would assist in this shift.
  • If the ‘Superhighway’ was projected on a route taking in quieter residential roads, for example to the east of the A24, then all those people living to the west would have to make their way across the A24 to get to it. It is better for residential streets to feed into a cycle route. Also, if it is on a major road, it will pass more shops, schools, transport interchanges etc.

I’m pretty sure the cycle paths are blue to match those used in Copenhagen  (obviously the colour. Not the design and engineering standard). It’s pleasing that TfL have used their branding to keep it recognisable and simple for novice cyclists and although it’s flattering that Barclays saw the colour and thought that big banking could be associated with the humble, egalitarian bicycle, I sincerely hope this is not the beginning of some form of PFI initiative.

Although Transport for London (TfL) would have consulted extensively with the Boroughs, they must have consulted with cyclists at some point regarding the design and layout. I would like to know at what design stage this consultation with the end users took place. From experience, cycling groups generally see the plans when the construction work has already been programmed giving little or no scope for change. Although I’m sure TfL consulted form the start, it would be interesting to read what feedback they received purely for other councils and cycling groups to take note. (If you want to read about a consultation excerise that went well to cheer you up, please read here)

If it gets more people experiencing the pleasure and freedom that cycling brings than that’s wonderful as if they really are just tarted up ‘Crap Cycle Lanes’ then they should get loads more feedback on how to make them work. This would be fantastic as normally it is experienced cyclists that get consulted and even then only rarely. There needs to be a broader range of people giving feedback from all levels of cycling experience, all ages and ethnic origins.

Although there have been attempts at a London Cycle Network before with differing levels of success, I’d like to think of this latest venture as Cycling Infrastructure Version 1.0. Maybe there will be an upgraded version in the future that not only gives a fresh coat of blue paint but also a raised curb separating cyclists from traffic and pedestrians. Maybe the future version will tackle the issue of cars and vans parking in them (often lawfully, it must be said). Crucially, maybe a future version will give greater clarity at junctions with, dare I say it, PRIORITY (although that will probably come with Cycling Infrastructure Version 90.0).

In conclusion, I tentatively applaud Transport for London for at least giving it a shot and trying to be progressive. As long as they actively encourage and are transparent with feedback, learn how to listen and look to examples set in Copenhagen and Amsterdam we may see that cycling utopia yet. London and indeed the rest of the UK, has everything to gain from making this work and making it an exemplar.

For views from the front line, I recommend Real Cycling, London Cyclist, Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest or Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph.