Friday, December 31, 2010

Transport and Democracy in Westminster and the City

Because I don't live in Westminster, I don't get to vote in the council elections there. However, because I work there and cycle there, I'm a daily victim of the state of the cycling infrastructure (or lack thereof). What Westminster does (or doesn't) do with its roads system affects the rest of London. Given that we have an elected London Mayor and Assembly, it would seem logical for transport policy to be decided at that level. After all, many journeys cross borough boundaries - that's the nature of travel. Yet Westminster's anti-cycling and pro-car policies largely negate any improvements for cyclists in surrounding boroughs.

I also don't get to vote in the City of London. The City has a literally mediaeval system of governance that bears little resemblance to a democracy. It also has pretty mediaeval cycling infrastructure.

The Westminster and City electorates are not representative of London as a whole so why should they be dictating how London's surface transport should be run? Transport in these two areas has a disproportionately large impact on the functioning of London as a whole. Surely it's time for the roads system in these two areas to form part of a London-wide strategy administered by the London Mayor and Assembly?

(Of course, that would not of itself improve London cycling much as TfL would be in charge, but it would remove one of the obstacles.)

Ravensbury Park Wandle Trail Improvements

The Wandle Trail, truly our #1 top-of-the-list very favourite Merton cycle route, runs through Ravensbury Park. A couple of the bridge decks are made of a coarse galvanized steel mesh that is not only devilishly slippery and unpredictable in the wet, but also is liable to do you a serious injury if you fall off as a result of a slide, which is likely as the approach angles to the bridges mean you'll be steering when you get to the metal deck.
Luckily, whoever is responsible for the path (I think Sustrans) has now topped the mesh with a timber layer. This is still slippery in the wet, but in a much more predictable way, and it won't be like falling on a cheese-grater.

De-cluttering in Kingston

Looks like a Kingston driver has done his own 'de-cluttering' in Tudor Drive. These dangerous road signs are a menace and another reason why 20MPH zones should be removed. No doubt the driver's journey in the recent icy conditions was absolutely necessary: it could have been a trip to the local shops or maybe taking the kids to school.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

No More Motorbikes in Bus Lanes?

In Ealing, at least. Some reports are coming through that Ealing Council are about to scrap the trial of allowing motorcycles in bus lanes.

It appears from the independent study into the London-wide trial period that safety has decreased. Collisions involving both motorcycles and pedal cycles increased during the study period. Motorcycles had seen a (fairly predictable) increase in collisions with other vehicles where the motorcycle was in the inside lane. The danger is that motorcycles are undertaking the main traffic lane, so a car turning left or changing lanes and failing to observe properly will take the motorcycle out in the classic 'sorry mate I didn't see you' collision, often caused by poorly-adjusted or broken mirrors, 'privacy glass', mobile phones, satnavs or other distractions.

The study also showed that the number of motorcyclists exceeding the speed limit increased which wouldn't help. The combination of a fast-moving biker in an unexpected place and a dozy motorist is a lethal combination.

The obvious conclusion to draw is that because safety has decreased, motorcycles should not be allowed in bus lanes. However, the increase in speeding notwithstanding, there's evidence to suggest that it's 4-wheelers  that are causing the increase in collisions. So would declaring the trial a failure be blaming the victims? After all, although motorcycles are powered vehicles and their riders are usually better protected than cyclists, they're the most vulnerable road users based on their KSI (killed/seriously injured) collision rate. I'd suggest the way forward in safety terms would be to close off side roads along roads with bus or cycle lanes, as this is where the collisions happen. The key is to keep cars, vans and HGVs out of the bus lanes. It's these vehicles that kill both cyclists and motorcyclists.

This is a cycling blog, and I'm not going to make a case for keeping P2Ws in bus lanes. I think the trial was wrong-headed because it gives a group of motorized road users special privileges, which seems to be Boris's tactic to buy votes. Motorcycles are better than 4-wheelers for congestion, but they score pretty poorly on emissions, and offer no health benefits, so on that basis there's no good reason to favour them, especially if there are safety disadvantages for cyclists. However, if cycle campaigners zero in on motorcyclists, I fear we're letting ourselves be distracted from the real menace, which is 4-wheeled vehicles.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cycle Registration

First, a bit of history. Cars were first registered in the UK as a result of the Motor Car Act 1903, which introduced compulsory registration of cars, licensing of drivers (although there was no driving test) and a new offence of 'reckless driving'. It also raised the speed limit. The provisions came about partly because of the need to identify cars involved in accidents and crime, and because of the death, injury and intimidation motors were inflicting even back then.

Bear in mind that the bicycle predated the motor car by some years, yet registration of cycles had not been introduced.

Registration for cars makes sense because a car has exception powers of escape. A driver can cause a serious or fatal crash and still be able to leave the scene, it being impossible for anyone on foot to stop the vehicle. The driver is also somewhat hidden from view, particularly if the vehicle is being driven fast. Also, there is the need for the vehicle to be kept in good mechanical condition, hence the MOT test which needs to be correlated with the vehicle's identity. Lastly, registration helps against vehicle theft.

How would registration of cycles work? If it worked in the same way as car registration, where a registration number is displayed on a number plate, it would become easy to identify the cycle and the rider, in the event of an offence (either a road traffic offence or cycle theft) being committed. However, there are some clear practical difficulties. There is no obvious way of displaying a registration plate on a bicycle. For a plate to be readable at any distance, it would need to be a considerable size, and would need to be firmly affixed to the cycle. The obvious place to put the plate would be on the rear rack, but many bikes don't have one. Under the saddle would be possible, but it would likely be obscured by clothing. It could be on the frame perhaps, like the advertising panel on an old butcher's bike, but that would interfere with water bottles, D-locks and the like. The number plate could be in the form of a sticker affixed to the frame, but it would likely be too small to be readable at any distance, and in any case could be easily obscured by the riders leg.
To counter theft, there are voluntary registration schemes already in operation, but they don't rely on a large plate.

How would registration of cycles be paid for? To have a centrally administered system, with registration plates or marks that are difficult to falsify would be expensive, and the costs of registration could easily exceed the price of a cheap bike. Cycles are relied on as transport by some of the least well paid workers, and it would be unfair to expect them to pay for registration retrospectively. It seems likely that the cost of setting up a registration system would fall at least partly on the taxpayer.

What would registration of cycles achieve? In theory it would make cycle theft more difficult, because of the need to change the cycle's identity. There are people who want cycles to be more identifiable in the event of a traffic offence being committed. However, having a registration plate on a car isn't particularly useful unless there has been a serious crash. Try reporting a car jumping a red light, speeding, mobile phone use or even dangerous driving and the police won't prosecute the offence unless there's been a collision; prosecution for similar offences is hardly more likely for cyclists, so registration won't make any difference here, except possibly as a deterrent. Registration doesn't seem to deter many car drivers from breaking the law. In the event of a crash caused by a cyclist, the cyclist is likely to be injured, and in any case it is easy for a member of the public to stop the rider leaving the scene.
What about other crimes committed by criminals on bikes? It's true that the cycle can be used as a means of escape, but it's not much more use than simply 'legging it': a fit and alert member of the public could stop a cycle from leaving the scene of a crime. As a means of attack a bike's pretty useless, as likely to injure the rider as anything else.

There are very few deaths or serious injuries caused by cyclists. In an average year, one or two people are killed by cyclists, and that includes all types of incident including those where the cyclist was not at fault. There's no particular reason to think that this number would be significantly reduced by registration. However, there is good reason to think that registration would act as a deterrent to cycling. All over Britain, there are millions of rarely-used cycles in peoples' garages. Will people be prepared to pay to register them? If not, then they won't be used at all. So the owners won't be able to try cycling to work, or try cycling to the shops, or go out cycling with their children or grandchildren. There will be a clear barrier to people getting into the habit of cycling, and thus fewer cyclists. Given the health benefits of cycling, it therefore seems likely that more people will die or be disabled by the diseases of a sedentary lifestyle than could ever be saved by a registration scheme.

Cycle registration is a concept that is tossed around by people who don't like cyclists, don't respect other peoples' choices and in the main aren't terribly clever. They haven't thought through the benefits, drawbacks, costs or practicalities, because if they had, it would have rapidly become apparent that it's a pretty stupid idea (unless you want to suppress cycling, in which case it's a very good idea). Unfortunately, such people seem to hold an inordinate amount of influence in this country...

Abbey Road Zebra Crossing Listed

The iconic zebra crossing in Abbey Road,  has been listed, which should protect it from transport officials like those in TfL, who don't like the idea of pedestrians getting in the way of motor vehicles, wish they would get a bloody move on, and would really prefer if they didn't cross the road at all.

This is just in time, because councillors wanted to move the crossing, made famous by the Beatles, claiming that "tourists flocking to be snapped on the road are causing crashes". Councillors Lindsey Hall and Judith Warner (both Conservative) should read their Highway Code. In it, they'll find this:

"Zebra crossings. As you approach a zebra crossing
  • look out for pedestrians waiting to cross and be ready to slow down or stop to let them cross
  • you MUST give way when a pedestrian has moved onto a crossing
  • allow more time for stopping on wet or icy roads
  • do not wave or use your horn to invite pedestrians across; this could be dangerous if another vehicle is approaching
  • be aware of pedestrians approaching from the side of the crossing"
 In other words, it's not the tourists causing the crashes, it's drivers failing to observe the Highway Code, which is after all the law of the land. Rather disappointing that our elected representatives have such a weak grasp of the laws they're supposed to be helping to uphold. Maybe they should request a clampdown on dangerous driving at this location rather than trying to suppress tourism, but that's a big ask of car-obsessed Westminster Council.

Unfortunately, the attitude that zebra crossings are A Bad Thing has caught on in highway engineering circles. Zebra crossings give pedestrians right of way, make drivers liable in most cases in the event of a crash and aid pedestrians' passage at the expense of motor vehicle flow. That's why they need to be replaced by "Pedestrian Refuges" which do very little to help pedestrians cross, and are dangerous for children. They are especially dangerous for cyclists, because they cause a pinch point where if you're too far to the left an impatient motorist will cut you up in a botched and ill-judged overtake, or if you're brave enough to 'take the lane', you're in danger of getting honked at and verbally abused if the driver behind has seen you, or rear-ended if they haven't (your fault: you should've been wearing a high-viz jacket you irresponsible fool).

Cash For Cycling in Richmond

London's Mayor has allocated funds to cycling projects in Richmond, Surrey.

£50,000 will be used for shared routes and making parts of the Thames towpath suitable for both pedestrians and cyclists, and TfL will also use £90,000 to complete Richmond’s cycle network by creating lanes and off-road paths.

Note that Richmond enjoys rather higher levels of cycling than other London boroughs. I've not turned up any analysis as to why, but it could be related to the Thames towpath and Richmond Park both having reasonable-quality off-road routes. I'd be interested to hear from any Richmond cyclists with opinions on the matter.

Parking Wars

The Standard reports "Councils across the capital are to wage war on drivers...increasing the cost of residents' parking by up to 150 per cent and ramping up the cost of on-street parking."

"In the worst case, residents in Barnet will see their resident permits rise from £40 to £100".

So that's...ah...£60 a year? Hardly in the same league as tuition fees. If this is war, students are facing genocide.

Let's look at what your Barnet resident gets for their £100 a year. 10m2 of asphalt, regularly resurfaced, administration of the residents' parking scheme and  parking patrols to enforce restrictions. Where in London can you rent any serviced 10m2 for 30p a day? To give you a comparison, a central London car park will charge you around £30 a day. An onstreet parking space in Knightsbridge will set you back £300,000. Of course, Barnet is cheaper than Knightsbridge, but land is worth a lot more than £150/m2 which is the price implied by the parking charge (£550/m2 is about the average cost of land in London), and that's ignoring the maintenance and services that come with the parking space. As Freewheeler has pointed out, the cost of works to create parking spaces can work out at £10,000 per bay. If I invest £10,000, I'll expect a return of at least 5%, so on that basis, the parking space should cost at least £500 a year as a commercial proposition (again, ignoring the services and maintenance).

Now you could argue that being council-tax payers, the residents of Barnet already paid for the streets. Except that around half of London residents don't own a car. So why are they being forced to subsidize a service they don't use, and suffer from in terms of the road danger, congestion, noise and atmospheric pollution that it brings?

Isn't it good to know that the sedentary car-owning lifestyle continues to enjoy lavish subsidy, while healthful activities such as  free swimming, school sports and cycling are all being cut back?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Transport: Low-Carbon Transition

The Low-Carbon Transition Plan, drawn up by the previous Government, defines how different sectors of the economy are expected to reduce their carbon emissions by 2020. It relies very heavily on de-carbonizing electricity generation and reducing domestic emissions through home insulation programmes.

These two programmes are necessary because those two sectors accound for a lot of carbon. What's a little surprising though is how little the Plan has to say about transport. What de-carbonizing of transport is planned by 2020 depends mainly on the EU's upcoming  95g CO2/km average emissions standard for cars, and a similar standard for vans. There's no real strategy to reduce the amount of travel by car. There is a plan to "source 10% of the UK's transport energy from renewable sources...primarily...sustainably-produced biofuels."

This plan is clearly the path of least political resistance. It centres on the easy targets where there is the least
amount of convincing of the electorate to do. However, it is also a lazy plan, and a plan that is dangerous for the economy. It is lazy because it puts off decarbonizing of transport, which must happen if the UK is to reach its longer-term post 2020 targets. It fails to start the hard work of convincing the electorate that car dependency is not in our long-term best interests. The plan is dangerous because it leaves Britain in an insecure position in terms of oil supplies. It does next to nothing to tackle oil-dependency in transport. The Low-Carbon Transition Plan is in danger of leaving the UK very vulnerable to fluctuations in the oil price. The oil price is already higher than the government was predicting it would be by this time, and there are real downside risks if the oil price becomes volatile. Some observers say that 'peak oil' is already with us, and the oil price could rise substantially as early as 2015. Yet when 2020 comes, we will barely have started to tackle the problem of oil-dependency in transport.

Private cars are in physical terms one of the easiest ways to reduce carbon emissions, because the average private car is very inefficient, and more efficient cars are already on the market. All the Government needs to do is make the tax regime more favourable to lower-emission cars. Right now, in the UK lower-emission cars are at a premium compared to similar models. For example, consider the Ford Focus range:

Focus 1.6 Petrol (Zetec) 159g/km £15845

Focus Econetic 104g/km £16895
Focus Econetic Start/Stop 99g/km £17345

You can see that the highest-emitting model is considerably cheaper in terms of list price, which gives a perverse incentive which is not compensated for by the higher VED.

As well as addressing vehicle emissions, the Government could also do things to tackle car dependency.

It wouldn't be hard to tackle motor vehicle dependency in the public sector. Currently, there's no real effort expended on examining whether journeys by local authority, police, NHS and other public-sector staff are actually necessary or if they could be achieved by public transport or by cycle. There's evidence that police on cycles can be more effective than officers in cars. Local authority staff in London by definition make journeys within a distance that is easily cyclable. All this should save the taxpayer money as well as reducing our national carbon footprint. There's just as much scope in the private sector for improvement, if only the Government would give the right signals and incentives. If they did, UK businesses could reduce their costs and be in better shape for the era of more expensive energy.

Then of course there is the vexed question of the private car. Can the Government do anything about private car use? I'll address that in a separate post.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cycle Hire Stereotype

Ross Lydall comments on the typical Cycle Hire riders being "posh-boys" - he says according to the TfL Travel in London Report, "a majority of users are white, male and earn more than £50,000 a year, with 68 per cent aged between 25 and 44."

I don't think that stereotype is helpful. For starters, we already knew that 75% of cycle hire users are male. We also know that cyclists tend to be from the more affluent social groups, and we know that the majority of people in central London are white. So the profile of the average cycle hire user is probably little different from that of the average cyclist in London.

There's nothing exclusive about Cycle Hire. Anyone can hire a bike, providing they're in posession of a credit or debit card. It would be great to get more people using the bikes, but to do that we'd need to tackle the barriers to cycling of all sorts in London - this is not a class issue, a race issue (Irish names aside) or a gender issue. It is an asphalt issue, a segregation issue, a road danger issue.

How Green is Your Electric Car?

There's a very useful dashboard here that gives the carbon content of UK electricity at any given moment of the day. The figure given is the full 'source to socket' value, and includes emissions from mining, fuel transportation and grid losses. It then goes on to compare electric cars charged with that electricity with the 'well-to-wheel' emissions of a few petrol and diesel interal-combustion-engined (ICE) cars, which includes both tailpipe emissions and emssions from refinery, extraction, crude transportation and so on.

At 15:30 today, the carbon footprint of 1 KWh was 664g. At that rate, the emissions of a Nissan Leaf were 102g/km, compared to a Toyota Prius (the best ICE car, albeit a hybrid) at 107g/km. A Mitsubishi iMiEV (electric) gave 66g/km, but this is quite a small car. A Mini E (electric) gives 81g/km, whereas a Mini diesel emits125g/km.

On this basis, even in the middle of the day when electricity demand is high, electric cars would appear to give significantly lower CO2 emissions. There are a few other things to consider however.

1. The 'last megawatt problem. If you plug in an electric car, you are increasing the load on the grid. At some point additional capacity will be spun up to cope with the load, and that is likely to be the highest-emitting generation capacity. Therefore, correct accounting means you should assume that the electric car is essentially coal-fired, which increases the attributed emissions significantly.

2. Most drivers of ICE cars struggle to get anywhere near the manufacturers' claimed fuel consumption and therefore CO2 emissions. That's partly because of poor driving habits (sudden acceleration, excessive speed, poor anticipation), and partly because the headline CO2 figures are obtained by experts in a lab rather than in the real world.

3. Currently there is little information on how achievable are the manfacturers' claimed ranges for their electric cars. Like claimed tailpipe emissions, they are subject to all sorts of real-world factors, such as using the heater/demister/air conditioning.

4. The figures given for electric cars don't seem to take into account charging losses.

Once again, the environmental case for electric cars charged using current UK electricity is some way from being compelling, unless you ignore the 'last megawatt problem'. While you are unlikely to be making CO2 emissions worse by buying an electric car, it is by no means a passport to guilt-free motoring.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Conditions for Cycling in Merton

Conditions for cycling in Merton are pretty bad at the best of times, but today they were a little bit worse than usual.
On the plus side, the average speed of traffic in the Merton Park 20MPH zone dipped below 20MPH for the first time since records began.
On the minus side, it was a tad slippery and finding your bike in Wimbledon town centre was a bit tricky...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Should've stuck to Dangerous Driving

What almost none of the mainstream media have reported (with the exception of the Metro) is that the vicious nutter who knifed two police officers in Ealing was wanted for recall to prison after being released early. His crime?

Causing death by dangerous driving.

I've not been able to find much trace of reporting of his original offence or conviction on the internet (except for an ITV News tweet),  although I did see it in the print edition of the Standard I think.

That's probably a measure of how little importance is attached to road deaths. Contrast that with the saturation coverage his current offence is getting - not that the coverage isn't deserved. But the media and the judiciary should consider that there is a strong correlation between dangerous driving and other criminality, as this case illustrates. If you fail to treat causing death with a motor vehicle as seriously as causing death with a knife, this is what you are likely to end up with - criminals with no respect for human life free to walk the streets.

Another dangerous driver, Mohammed Ibrahim, has made the headlines in the past few days - again, not because he's a killer of a 12-year-old girl, but because he's an illegal immigrant. I'll let the doughty Freewheeler give you chapter and verse on that one.

When will these criminals ever learn? If they stuck to dangerous driving, they'd still be treated as respected members of society. After all, accidents happen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shared Space

 The marvellous new concept in highway engineering circles is the Shared Space, which is pretty much the new name for 'road' except that it has less stuff like barriers, kerbs, bollards, signs and lights to keep cars from crashing into obstacles like cycles and pedestrians. The idea being that if you introduce uncertainty as to who belongs where in the road, drivers are less clear of their entitlement and more likely to give the road their full attention and other road users more consideration. The old certainties on which we could rely, when men were men, and a pedestrian's place was on the pavement, are being consigned to history and replacing them is a confusing new cross-dressing order where anyone can randomly wander around the street at will.
At War With the Motorist has pointed out that Shared Space is pretty much an admission of failure. All the traffic control and engineering innovations of the past 50 years are being declared obsolete and swept away.
It's interesting to think that there are spaces shared between cycles and pedestrians at the moment, such as London's South Bank, which the authorities want to - erm - unshare. There's also spaces shared between cycles and cars (the technical term is 'roads'), which are the reason many people think cycling on roads is 'too dangerous'.

Sharing is a great concept, but it presupposes that the parties sharing are more or less equal in power, and there isn't one group of bullies in the playground that are so much bigger and tougher than the other kids that they are able to intimdate their way to the lion's share of what's on offer.
The reason pavements work is everyone is of more or less equal strength and weight, and each individual is usually not capable of inflicting much damage on another (at least, unintentionally). Because of this, there's a protocol that's respected by almost all pedestrians, except on a Friday or Saturday night.

As soon as you introduce cars into the shared space, the dynamic changes. Even if most drivers act with care and consideration, it only takes one or two before pedestrians are anxiously looking about, grabbing their childrens' hands and scurrying to the side the every time they hear a car engine. So you get a 'scared space', not a 'shared space'.

However, it does appear that shared spaces have a better collision record than normal roads. Why? Maybe it's a reflection of how badly-designed roads have become, rather than 'shared spaces' being ideal. Roads have become places where the presumption of right of way heavily favours the driver, and the consequences of collisions are distributed almost exclusively onto the most vulnerable road users.

I'm going to suggest that shared space is actually a nonsense concept. It's used to justify spending a fortune on York stone slabs, granite setts, and generally digging up the road and giving it a makeover to keep highway engineers in a job. All you really need to do is get rid of the traffic. This is borne out by the DfT Shared Space Project Appraisal, which says "The willingness of pedestrians to use a Shared Space as intended depends on a combination of vehicular speed and flow and possibly on the relative flow of pedestrians to vehicles. The more favourable the conditions, the greater the tendency for pedestrians to occupy the space ...the percentage of pedestrians walking along the road reduced as vehicle flow increased. This study also found that the most influential factor on pedestrians’ willingness to walk in the road was the speed of motor vehicles...Many Shared Space schemes aim to increase the space available to pedestrians...The extent to which this is successful varies with the flow, and most particularly speed, of motorised traffic."

You got that? Vehicular speed and flow? So to create a space that pedestrians will use, what you need to do is get rid of the traffic. The rest is just gravy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

BBC gets the Electric Car News Late and gets it Wrong

Here at Cycalogical, we've been banging out about electric cars for a while, and now the BBC is coming to the party.

The BBC interviewed "motoring journalist Kevin Haggarthy", who claimed that the Nissan Leaf would cost "£23,000 that means you're actually paying £18,000". WRONG. the £23,000 already includes the Government subsidy of £5000.

He also claimed that if the 220M cars in the US were all electric, it would take 34 times the current generating capacity of the US to power them. Eh? That doesn't sound right to me, in fact it sounds wrong by a couple of orders of magnitude. Just based on current carbon emissions, the whole transport sector isn't 34 times bigger than the power generation sector. But of course I'm just an amateur blogger, not a professional journalist, so what do I know? (I think he probably meant 34 times the current renewable generating capacity, but that's not what he said)

Come, on, BBC, you've got to do better than this!

Cycle Superhighway Incident - CSH 7

Police had blocked off the A24 just before Stockwell yesterday.

It was unclear exactly what had happened, and the cyclist appeared to be OK and was talking to a police officer. The silver car was stationary and appeared to have been involved.

However, it does illustrate a hazard. The car was likely making a right-turn into the side road on the left of the picture. The car would have had to wait a while for a gap, and cyclists coming down the blue lane may not have been visible to the driver. There's clearly a case for banning turns into and out of the side roads, as these junctions pose a significant threat to cyclists on the CSH, particularly to cyclists who think the blue lanes give them any sort of protection.

Cycle Hire - Megadock Waterloo

TfL announced yesterday that a new 126-space docking station at Waterloo has been unveiled on the day that more than two million journeys have been made on the blue barges.

Good news of course, although latent demand is such that a hundred docks isn't going to make a huge impact.

Another 'fascinating fact' is that in 10 days, casual-use hirers have already made over 9,500 journeys. That's only 1000 a day, a bit of a slow start and not enough to make a significant contribution towards the target of 40,000 hires a day, but the winter weather and long hours of darkness have rather mitigated against mass take-up.

Black Cabs and London Air Pollution

The BBC reports on the London Mayor's strategy to limit black cab emissions. As this blog has pointed out before, Boris has a very relaxed attitude to air quality, and it seems that none of the measures is actually going to kick in before 2012. According to Martin Powell, the Mayor’s Advisor for the Environment, "from 1 January 2012 no black cab over 15 years will be licensed to the same year, the Mayor is also introducing a tough new standard for all new taxis entering the fleet, while from 2013, at the latest, all cabs will have to have two full MOTs each year". Note that the MOTs can be done at a local garage rather than an inspection centre, which raises the possibility of fraudulent evasion of the emissions standards.

I'm a little confused by the BBC's assertion that

"The mayor's proposal is expected to reduce airborne PM10 emissions in central London by around 13% by 2011 and by about a third by 2015, compared to 2008."

None of the measures mentioned take effect until 2012. Any reductions by 2011 would be due to measures put in place by the previous Mayor. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if emissions increase in 2011 due to abolition of the Congestion Charge WEZ, and more vehicles being exempted from the congestion charge.

Another thing the BBC appears to have got wrong is its claim that
"road traffic is responsible for about 80% of airborne pollution in central London, with black cabs contributing 20% of this."
The Mayor's draft Air Quality Strategy says "In central London where the [pollution] hotspots are, taxis are a particular problem, accounting for 35 per cent of emissions from exhausts".

Given the Olympics is being held in London in 2012, the city is in serious danger of being embarrassed by its air pollution and may have to take drastic measures to alleviate it, including - perish the thought - banning cars.

As a measure of how watered down the taxi proposals are, the BBC reported that "the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) welcomed the move", which seems a pretty good indication that it doesn't go far enough. "An LTDA spokesman said the policy targeting old black cabs was a 'good compromise between bringing the improvements we all want and avoiding the serious financial hardship that the 10 year age limit...would have inflicted on the taxi trade' ". (For "serious financial hardship", read "a couple of quid a day"). Never mind financial hardship, what about the hardship of the estimated 50,000 people who die every year due to air pollution? Note that the Mayor seems to have ditched his original 10-year taxi age limit that was originally scheduled for 2015. A new zero-emission taxi won't be mandatory until 2020, and even then with the 15-year age limit, other factors remaining constant it will be 2027 before half the taxi fleet is zero-emission.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tell me what I already know about why people don't cycle

A new report from the Department of Transport has been published. It's entitled "Climate Change and Transport Choices" and you can read the whole thing here. It's mainly a survey of public attitudes to transport in the era of climate change.

There is some good news. The general public at least seem to accept climate change as real, and have some idea what they need to do about it.

In the 'Cycling' section, I could have written most it from my armchair without the bother and expense of going out and asking people. A very small number of people are 'regular' cyclists, about 12% riding a bike at least once a week, and only 3% cycling to work/school/college. Safety concerns are - surprise, surprise - a major barrier to cycling. "Of those who were able to cycle, a clear majority agreed that they would ‘find cycling on the roads stressful’ (63%) and that it was ‘too dangerous to cycle on the roads’ (60%) and that they ‘would cycle (more) if there were more dedicated cycle paths’ (52%)."

One really interesting aspect is the rate of recidivism - people who tried cycling, but then quit. "This suggests that for every three people who had started cycling to work, two had reverted back to using their car or van."
This indicates that 'soft measures' - cycle training, cycling promotions, persuading people to cycle - on their own are likely to have a poor long-term success rate. The survey did not ask why people relapsed, but seeing as this blog deserves the Mystic Meg award for correctly predicting most of the survey, I'll have a guess: people try cycling, and after one too many near misses, they decide that discretion is the better part of valour.

What would work, however is building more cycle paths.52% of people agreed that they "would cycle (more) if there were more dedicated cycle paths".

So there you have it. Yet more of your taxes spent on getting the answers we already know to questions that have been asked before. It is crystal clear what needs to be done to get more cycling. Spend more money on decent, segregated infrastructure and less on surveys, advertising, marketing, white paint, Comedy Cycle Superhigways and 'Cyclists Dismount' signs. Now don't get me wrong: there's certainly a place for training and cycle promotion, but it is not a substitute for infrastructure. Subjectively safe infrastructure is an investment, and it advertises itself on a permanent basis at zero ongoing marginal cost. Without the infrastructure, you might as well be trying to market diving holidays in shark-infested waters.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chelsea - 4x4 capital

Apparently Chelsea has the highest proportion of 4x4 SUV ownership in the country. A poll showed that 17.8 per cent of vehicles in SW3, in Kensington and Chelsea, were 4x4s. Nearby W8 was next with 17.4 per cent. And guess what, that pretty much matches the Congestion Charge Western Extension Zone area which Boris is intent on abolishing.

4x4s are useful if you own a farm or need to venture off-road. But we know already that 99% of SUVs never get their tyres muddy. Indeed, they're usually shod with summer road tyres, so they're not even much use off-road or in snowy conditions.

And they're not harmless. They pose a significant hazard to pedestrians and cyclists, both because of their poor pedestrian safety performance and because their size obstructs a pedestrian's or cyclist's view of the road (especially with the near-ubiquitous privacy glass). A full-size 4x4 typically emits nearly twice as much CO2 as an average car, making ownership in the age of climate change a pretty irresponsible indulgence. That fits with the manufacturers own research which shows 4x4 owners are self-centred, insecure and vain.

Is it the Government's job to tell people what to drive? It's a bit difficult to argue the contrary given that we can't meet our carbon-reduction commitments without decarbonizing road transport. The new 'showroom tax' and VED rates introduced by the Labour administration have not had the desired effect: 4x4 sales have actually increased. That's unsurprising because anyone who wants to spend £30,000+ on a car that struggles to better 20MPG is unlikely to be troubled by a £950 increase in purchase price. It's no use the Government pretending that the SUV market sector is small either: 4x4s and MPVs account for one in eight cars sold. It'll take a lot of electric cars to offset that.

The government needs to manage out the urban 4x4. Why? Because climate change will affect everyone. We're all in it together. It is divisive and iniquitous to allow one group of people to 'opt out' of their responsibility for mitigating it. Allowing 4x4s as a vanity purchase rather than a necessity sends a clear signal that the Government is happy for people to continue to aspire to a high-carbon lifestyle.

Who's going to buy an electric car?

I'm going to keep on padding away at the Government's core policy of relying on electric cars to reduce transport carbon emissions. Not because I think that electric cars are a bad thing, but because I don't think the policy has been thought through.

The first problem to solve with electric cars is you have to get people to buy them. There are a few - very few - in London, mainly because they are congestion-charge-exempt. This is a very specialized and very small market, and now that the number of congestion-charge-exempt conventionally-fuelled cars is increasing, it's a shrinking market.

There are many problems with electric cars. They have a short range. They are expensive, even with the £5000 government subsidy. There's insufficient charging point infrastructure as yet - the UK currently boasts 200 charging points. In the eyes of the public, the technology is unproven. Although reliability is likely to be better than internal combustion engined (ICE) cars, the public don't know that yet.

The economics don't even stack up that well. Although the cost-per-mile of the electricity is low, this is offset by the high electric car purchase price, and depreciation is an unknown.

People who actually buy new cars are not, generally speaking, sufficiently motivated either by economics or by the environment for those considerations to overcome the factors that count against electric cars. The fundamental problem is that although most car journeys are less than 50 miles, the electric car with the best range, the Nissan Leaf (other than very pricey models like the Tesla) will only allow a round trip of 100 miles without recharging. So if I live in London and want to drive to the seaside for the day, I can't do it. Furthermore, research shows that 'range anxiety' sets in long before the maximum range is reached. Convenience, flexibility and freedom from worry have got to be key factors for car buyers. So key in fact that most people take them for granted. People assume that a car gives them the freedom to spontaneously make a journey without worrying about whether they will get there (and back). Most people won't buy a car that only has a range of 100 miles in the same way that they won't buy a lawnmower that can only mow half their lawn. A 2-car family is a potential buyer, where one car is used as a short-journey runabout. But is such a family likely to spend £24000 on their second car? Because that's the price of a Nissan Leaf including the Government's £5000 discount. £24000 would buy a brand-new Ford Focus diesel that is congestion-charge exempt and has zero VED, plus 10 years worth of fuel.

If the Government is going to persuade people to 'go electric', it's going to need carrots (incentives for EV ownership) and sticks (disincentives to ICE vehicle ownership). It seems to have ruled out sticks with its 'no more war on the motorist' agenda. The only carrot on offer is the £5000 rebate, but even with that the electric car is considerably more expensive than the diesel alternative. There are few special privileges that come with electric vehicle ownership, except for the warm glow that you're not destroying the planet as much as you would with a petrol car.

An additional alternative is the 'plug-in hybrid' which has a petrol motor that kicks in to give extended range when the battery runs down. However, these are likely to be even more expensive than pure EVs, so once again they don't stack up in economic terms. Plug-in hybrids are also heavier and therefore less efficient than pure EVs. Plug-in hybrids also have higher running costs (because the petrol engine needs regular servicing, and because you will be using the petrol engine on longer journeys) and are less reliable (because of the petrol engine).

So it's difficult to see EVs going mainstream unless a number of the following conditions occur:
  1. The Government build out enough charging infrastructure, knowing there will be little return on investment for some time to come;
  2. oil prices rise enough to shock people away from fossil fuels;
  3. electric car prices become competitive with ICE cars; 
  4. battery technology improves enough to give better range at a reasonable price.
 Is any of this likely?

The Government have a programme to support charging-point buildout. An oil price shock will likely come too late: you cannot replace large numbers of ICE cars overnight. Electric car prices may well come down and battery technology may well improve, but there's no Moore's Law in operation.

In summary, it looks rather like the Government aren't doing enough to promote EV ownership.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thames Materials kills again

Not a cyclist this time, not that it makes any difference to the victim.

A Japanese businessman aged 51 was killed on the A4 at Chiswick when a 32-ton lorry smashed through the central reservation and hit a taxi...The 44-year-old driver of the lorry in Tuesday's crash is in custody after being arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving.

A spokesperson for the haulage firm said:
“We are very sorry about both cases. We are working very closely with police to try to understand what happened. It has been very hard for us as a company.”

It must be hard running a company when your employees are in jail.

Lack of Political Will

Good piece from Freewheeler on how there's actually plenty of space on a lot of roads to allow segregated cycle paths to be created.

So why don't councils do it?

I've suggested previously that local councillors, even if they understand the arguments, don't see votes in cycling, in fact quite the opposite. They believe cycle facilities will play badly with local residents, particularly if the facilities in any way restrict the way they drive or park their cars. I've also suggested that local authorities don't have enough staff that understand cycling; that highways departments are hampered by a car-centric culture, and even where there is a cycling officer, his/her influence extends about as far as a mole can see.

But you don't have to take the word of deranged cycle bloggers: TfL's official report into cycling in outer London makes exactly this point. In the section "Barriers to cycling in Outer London", it lists

"Lack of political support – especially where cycling levels are low – not perceived as a mainstream solution".

It elaborates further:

"Lack of political support to prioritise cycling measures is the number one barrier to borough delivery cited in research interviews for this report. Promoting cycling and re-allocating road space to cyclists is not generally considered to be a vote winner. The prevalence of car use in Outer London makes the promotion of cycling above other modes of transport politically difficult in many boroughs. Lack of support is a theme that runs through a number of barriers to the delivery of effective cycling initiatives and so makes it a significant barrier to overcome. Without political support it is difficult to prioritise cycling schemes or develop a coherent cycling strategy and this limits the funding and staff resources directed towards cycling initiatives."

It then goes on to say that there is a  "Lack of adequately trained, experienced and   motivated staff to implement effective schemes in the borough"

And yet Norman Baker together with the rest of the Coalition think that 'localism' is the way to deliver cycling: they are going to delegate the decisionmaking to boroughs that have, in TfL's words, a "lack of political support" for cycling and a "lack of adequately trained, experienced and motivated staff". It's rather like delegating responsibility for race relations to the BNP.

Cycle Superhighways - how to do it, Copenhagen-style

Copenhagen is planning to launch their first two cycle superhighways at the end of 2011, reports the Independent. City bosses might like to take a trip to London, so that they can learn a few lessons. Unfortunately Copenhagen is a very hostile place for motorists, and City planners still haven't learned the lessons.

"Copenhagen's roads are overloaded with people who want to ride their bicycles in all kinds of weather...jammed bike paths will be widened up to four metres (yards) on either side of the road"

[the] goal is to hike the percentage of suburban commuters cycling to and from the city from the 37 percent it is today to over 50 percent by 2015.

Synchronised traffic lights prioritising bicycles over cars will bring riders from the suburbs into Copenhagen "quickly and safely,"

Bike highways will "make life even more difficult for motorists and easier for cyclists."

They really haven't got a clue, have they? The cycle superhighways need to be narrow, not wide. No wonder the roads are overloaded with cyclists! Prioritizing bicycles over cars? How is that going to help traffic flow? How are people going to drive 400 yards to the shops? If these Scandinavians get their way, people will stop dying from obesity and air pollution and there will be a serious problem with an expanding, aging population. TfL's people need to get over there right now and save them from themselves!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

City Cycling

A good article from the Standard's Ross Lydall, quoting the Cyclists in the City blog. It seems that the disobedient population of London are causing significant problems by cycling in considerable numbers into the City, getting in the way of motor vehicles and generally disrupting the traffic flow.

Let's look at how people travel in the City. According to TfL figures for 2006/07 to 2008/09, the percentage of trips originating in the City by main mode was broken down as follows:

Rail 19%
Underground/DLR 27%
Bus/tram 7%
Taxi/Other 6%
Car/motor-cycle 3%
Cycle 3%
Walk 35%

These are old figures. With Cycle Hire and the general increase in cycling since 2006/7, cycling will account for rather more than the 3% share given above. The City's own official predictions are that cycling will increase by a further 30% or so between 2010 and 2013.

Even using the unmodified figures above, cycling makes up 25% of all road-based private transport. It's not unreasonable to think it will be above 30% by 2013 based on the City's predictions.

Does cycling get 30% of the priority or 30% of the roadspace? Does it get a weighting of 30% when road users are consulted or when the strategy is drawn up for highways, or when roads projects are planned? I'll give you a clue - the answer isn't 'yes'.

This is not just a City problem. The councillors and highways department bureaucrats in boroughs all across London are very happy in their car-centric comfort zone. They like to pretend that no-one cycles, or on the rare occasions that they consider cycling, that it can be 'fitted in' around the more important modes of transport. This position is becoming more and more untenable as the number of cyclists rises: on many key routes the number of cycles approaches the number of motor vehicles at peak times.
It's clear that current roads are designed almost exclusively for motor traffic, and this isn't adequate for today's cycling levels. Yet roads should be designed to accomodate, and to encourage, the future increases in cycling that the Mayor is targeting. The population of London is expected to rise, London's air pollution and carbon emissions need to come down. So there's three good reasons why the authorities should be encouraging cycling. Meanwhile,  London's public transport is unreliable, bursting at the seams, and becoming increasingly expensive, so it's no wonder people want to cycle.

And yet still, in a feat of willful blindness worthy of Lord Nelson, the authorities "see no cycles".

Cycle Hire Software Woes

We like London Cycle Hire.

Some of the problems with it have been unavoidable, or at least forgiveable. Predicting demand is difficult to do, and shortages of bikes and docking station saturation are symptoms of the enthusiastic take-up by users.

However, we don't like the computer systems that run it.
There's been a long-running saga of software glitches that have plagued the scheme from its inception, which have been exacerbated by poor customer service.

Registration (or customer acquisition) is a well-known problem in software development and has been solved many times. In the Cycle Hire case,  it's a simple case of capturing billing details, payment method and a couple of preferences. There's really no excuse for getting this wrong, yet users experienced various problems, from being unable to use a name with an apostrophe (for example, O'Reilly), to problems activating the key.

Users who requested multiple keys ended up getting double- or triple-charged even when they only hired one bike. It's pretty obvious how the customer would expect the system to behave: you should get charged for the number of bikes you hire. Yet they got the business analysis wrong and ended up with truly bizarre behaviour, and - a cardinal sin - overcharged the customers.

After such a troublesome launch, it's understandable that TfL wanted to get the bugs ironed out before the casual user rollout. Yet again they failed. Embarrassingly, Kulveer Ranger was unable to use the system at the press launch, and he was not alone: on the launch day itself, Serco reportedly had to scramble engineers to each docking station to fix the problem manually. It's not like the system had been overwhelmed by demand - this was one of the coldest days of the year.

I'm not going to point the finger here. We don't know the root causes, we don't know whether the software folks had adequate time and resources, and we don't know what conditions they were working under. But that said, there is a pretty comprehensive catalogue of significant failings here, and TfL need to be answerable to the public for what has gone wrong.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Human Experiments

According to the Declaration of Helsinki, "the well-being of the individual research subject must take precedence over all other interests".

So it's a little worrying that four speed cameras on South Yorkshire roads have been switched off on an "experimental basis". We already know what the result of the "experiment" will be - in a similar exercise in Oxfordshire, the incidence of speeding increased 88%. And there's a pretty well-established correlation between speeding, and, well people dying in crashes.

Should the authorities be "experimenting" with people's lives? Is this not, like, against their human rights and stuff? Oh sorry - I forgot. The right to drive is the most sacred, inviolable human right of all.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Coalition Solves Congestion

Trouble-making blogger Cycalogical has been calling Coalition policy into question, suggesting that raising rail fares and abolishing the London Congestion Charge Western Extension Zone could increase road traffic levels.

Today, the Coalition hit back, revealing the solution to the problem: the flying car. Owners will be able to execute a vertical-take-off manoeuvre at the first sign of a traffic jam.

The Transport Secretary said: "Obviously, these cars will be expensive at first, as with any new technology. That's why we'll be offering generous consumer incentives for every car sold, funded by a levy on train fares. We'll be investing to build out a network of landing pads. We're putting our trust in technology so motoring can again become part of our future transport planning, and ending Labour’s indiscriminate war on the motorist as we focus on the real enemies – public transport and congestion."

Lighter Evenings on the Way?

It looks like common sense could prevail in the move to change Britain to Central European Time (CET). The bill passed its second reading by 92 votes to 10. If you're worried about a move to common sense from the Coalition, don't worry - it's a private members bill. From an environmental point of view, the move should reduce road deaths and carbon emissions, but it's also good for businesses such as pubs and tourism.

Boris in Court over Air Pollution?

EU law requires action to ensure air quality doesn't deteriorate to dangerous levels. Unfortunately, Boris doesn't let such trivia bother his tousled head, as we've pointed out on several previous occasions. Scrapping the twice-yearly taxi emissions check and delaying enhancements to the Low Emissions Zone have damaged air quality, as will abolishing the Congestion Charge Western Extension Zone (WEZ), which is expected to lead to a 12% increase in traffic.

And WEZ abolition could end up in court in an action threatened by members of pressure group Clean Air in London.

Boris Johnson has said "I fully support the principal objective of Clean Air in London which is to seek the improvement of the environment and public health". Well that's nice, although it's rather stretching the definition of "fully support". Clean Air in London has described Johnson's air quality strategy as "regressive, unfunded and inadequate".

Commuters Quit Trains for Cars

The secret plan to reduce train overcrowding seems to be working. The Metro reports a survey suggesting one in four commuters will be deserting trains, many taking to their cars to avoid the new year's rail fare shock. Others plan to move house or find a new job.  Of course,  if this actually plays out in reality, the sheer weight of additional traffic will cause massive congestion in many places, hitting businesses and those who have no real choice but to drive. Road casualty figures will likely rise, as commuters rat-run through residential areas and past schools. Interestingly, the survey suggests cycling won't increase.

Some of this may be bravado on the part of commuters, but it won't take much of a switch to the roads to cause gridlock. What then? Will they rush back onto the trains? This is the trouble with the Coalition's transport policy - it isn't really a policy at all, in the sense that a policy is directed towards achieving some sort of desirable end-state. What they're doing is sending confusing messages to the travelling public - giving them the price signal that they should switch from the greenest transport to the dirtiest option. Nice work lads! And they're doing nothing to make cycling more attractive either, although at least that's not getting more expensive.

Duh! Did Philip Hammond actually think about any of this when he allowed such massive rail fare rises? Does he actually think through the consequences of any of his policies?

Friday, December 3, 2010

London Emissions Update

The EU ‘Euro-V’ emissions law comes into effect on January 1st 2011, which means it'll be illegal to sell new cars that are not compliant with the Euro-V emissions standard. Many cars already are of course, as the manufacturers are given a while to bring their products up to the new standards before they come into force.

What does Euro-V mean for Londoners?

For one thing, it means cleaner diesel vehicles, so over the long term this will help reduce particulate emissions , although if there is a shift from petrol to diesel (as there currently is), this effect will act in the opposite direction as diesels are still more polluting even when Euro-V-compliant.

The other effect is that Euro-V-compliant cars with emissions below 100g/km will be exempt from the congestion charge. As all cars will now be Euro-V-compliant, and an increasing number fall into the exempt <100g/km band, this means more and more people will be exempt from the charge. As I've pointed out before, this is amounts to an abolition of the charge by stealth and can only be bad news for congestion, and therefore for emissions.

Meanwhile, the Mayor has proposals to introduce age limits for taxis and minicabs to ensure the most polluting of these vehicles are removed from London's roads subject to consultation with the taxi and Private Hire Vehicle trade. The proposal is for a 15 year rolling age limit from 2012 and a
10 year rolling age limit in 2015. The Mayor will also work with the industry to develop a zero-emission
taxi by 2020. Needless to say, cabbies are none-too-keen on this idea as there's no upside for them. However,although it's likely that this move may put fares up a little it's unlikely to bankrupt anyone: the additional depreciation works out at a few pounds a day. If it does reduce the market for taxi services, this would be good news for emissions given they account for over 20% of PM10 emissions. Needless to say, it'll be 5 years before the proposals begin to take effect, and presumably 10 years before the last non-Euro-V-compliant vehicles head for the scrapheap, so this typical of the Mayor's torpid response to the air quality problem. The final Air Quality Strategy will be published "later this year".

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Phoning is the new Driving

According to the RAC, the number of self-admitted 'phone-drivers' has tripled in a year.

The number of motorists who admit to taking calls and sending text messages while on the road has tripled in a year, rising from 8% to 28% and 11% to 31%.

More than one in five of motorists (21%) admit they are likely to check a social media alert from applications such as Facebook and Twitter while driving.

But it's OK folks, don't get all vexed:

Almost half (46%)* of all motorists who receive calls when they are driving claim not to be distracted by them, and 47% believe texting on the road does not divert their attention from driving.

These same drivers are also fine to drive after 5 pints of lager and a couple of spliffs. In fact they're better drivers because they're more relaxed and mellow. They are also much better drivers than average so can drive at any speed with absolute safety, can leap tall buildings with a single bound and are exempt from the traffic laws that apply to ordinary mortals.

Which is why the police should turn a blind eye to these very technical breaches of the law which are really victimless crimes, if indeed they should be crimes at all. They need to be cracking down on lethal killer-cyclists instead.

30MPH too fast for children to judge

Children can't judge accurately speed of vehicles travelling faster than 20 mph, say boffins at the Royal Holloway University of London. This won't come as a surprise to you if you have kids. They're pretty clueless about crossing roads. They wait for the road to become completely deserted before they cross, or if not, it's more or less down to blind luck if they choose a good moment to cross.
Which is on reason why 20MPH limits are important, and why it's even more important that they're enforced: the drivers tooling along at 30MPH+ are the ones whose approach rate the kids can't judge, and the ones that will do the most damage in the event of a collision.
The police complain they "don't have the manpower to enforce" 20MPH limits. Of course not. They have far better things to do than hang around saving childrens' lives. They need to be on Clapham Common making sure those lawless cyclists don't step out of line.

Cluttered Streets - Cluttered Thinking

'De-cluttering' is the latest buzzword in street design circles. You rip out all the unnecessary signs, guard rails, advertising hoardings and street furniture to create a 'naked street' exactly as God intended.

Eric Pickles and Philip Hammond are the latest to add their weight to the 'de-cluttering' campaign. Considerable weight in Pickles' case. He said:

"Our streets are losing their English character...we are being overrun by scruffy signs, bossy bollards, patchwork paving and railed off roads – wasting taxpayers' money that could be better spent on fixing potholes or keeping council tax down. We need to 'cut the clutter'.

"Too many overly-cautious town hall officials are citing safety regulations as the reason for cluttering up our streets with an obstacle course when the truth is very little is dictated by law. Common sense tells us uncluttered streets have a fresher, freer, authentic feel, which are safer and easier to maintain."

However, it's not all the fault of over-zealous council officials. Traffic signs exist in large part because they have to be present for motoring law to be enforceable, and have to be of a prescribed size and in the right location. There is a huge variety of signs because there are a huge number of restrictions enforced by motoring law. This arises partly because a significant number of motorists can't be bothered to drive or park with care and consideration for others, and partly because there are simply too many vehicles. To manage the traffic levels in modern tows you need speed limit, no entry, one-way, no motor vehicles, parking restrictions and all the plethora of signs that decorate our streets, along with bollards to physically stop drivers going where they ain't allowed. Then there are direction signs. These have to be large so that motorists can see them. And of course, crossings, because otherwise motorists will run pedestrians down.

Pavements are cluttered with dangerous obstacles because so much of the available street space is used for traffic lanes and parking. All the street furniture (much of it related to motor traffic) is squeezed onto narrow pavements along with the pedestrians.

There is one siimple reason streets are cluttered: the presence of significant motor traffic. If you disallow parking and through traffic, suddenly you don't need most of the signs, many remaining signs can be smaller, you don't need bollards or railings, you have much more space available for pedestrians and useful street furniture, and the street is a more pleasant and less dangerous place. If you encourage people to use active travel, they'll be fitter and healthier as a result.

What you cannot do is make public transport expensive and inconvenient, cycling unsafe and unpleasant, do nothing to discourage driving, and then complain how cr@p the streets look.

But even English Heritage don't seem to understand this simple concept. Their 'Save Our Streets' campaign ("a campaign to return England's streets to places where people want to be, where all street users are accommodated and where communities thrive as a result") doesn't even mention the idea that cars responsible for much of the clutter, and indeed are the clutter. Or that their presence intimidates the other "street users" out of their way onto the narrow, cluttered pavements.  Their guidance for traffic measures are:

"Traffic calming measures should fit sensitively into the street scene as though they were part of the original design of the area.
  • adopt a minimalist approach. Physical measures should involve minimal visual interference with the established street scene
  • use traditional material such as asphalt and granite setts. Coloured surfaces are usually unnecessary and undesirable and should be avoided
  • confine road markings to those essential for highway safety"
If you have 'traffic calming ..and physical measures that involve minimal visual interference" then guess what? Motorists won't see them. They'll crash into them instead, and complain that it's somebody else's fault. As for "coloured surfaces...are unnecessary", what colour should the yellow lines be? And which road markings "are essential for highway safety" ? Does that include the 20MPH repeater signs that are necessary because motorists are too busy gassing on their mobile phones to notice the speed limit?

Now don't misunderstand me. I like very much the idea of de-cluttering. But you cannot do it with the current presumption in favour of motorists that "if there's no sign, it's legal". Otherwise, de-cluttering is more likely to intimidate than to liberate.

London Barclays Cycle Hire - 'Pedal Power' report

The Transport Committee of the London Assembly have issued their report on the Mayor's headline cycling schemes: here's some analysis of what it had to say about Cycle Hire. I also identify two critical issues that the Transport Committee failed to spot.

It seems the scheme has been a hit with users.

In terms of the shift to Cycle Hire from other modes of transport, TfL predicted:
5% shift from cars;
20% from the tube;
32% from buses;
34% from walking.

The reality (as measured by survey) has turned out somewhat differently:
<1% from cars;
20% from the tube;
8% from buses;
7% from walking.

However, you'll notice TfL's numbers add up to 91% and the survey's to only 36%. Therefore there must be serious questionmarks over what conclusions can safely be drawn from the results. Effectively, we don't know what the other 64% of users were doing before the scheme started. It could be that the survey could have been better-designed. The important thing is that the scheme is being used. Clearly it will take some pressure off other transport modes and the presence of the bikes on the streets helps legitimise cycling in the public's mind as a transport mode.

The various delays to the initial launch and the 'casual user' launch have cost the scheme significant revenue, as have the teething problems with the software and administration.
Phase one of the scheme was originally scheduled for May 2010. This was to have enabled members and casual users to use 6,000 bikes at 400 docking stations with over 10,000 docking points. It was anticipated that they would make 30,000 trips per day in year one rising to 40,000 trips per day each year thereafter.
Currently, registered users are making, an average, 15,000 trips per day. TfL has reportedly netted £1.9 million of income from charges, being just 10 per cent of the amount it expects to generate by March 2011 (£18.7 million). To generate the shortfall from casual users in the wintertime seems optimistic.
Another factor is that casual users may have the effect of redistributing bikes, which Serco are currently having to do. So the absence of casual users may have added redistribution costs, suspended revenue from the casual users, and possibly also limited the availability of bikes to registered users.

The report was very critical over the lack of transparency over funding arrangements:

The costs and funding arrangements for the cycle hire scheme remain opaque. TfL has not told the Committee how much Barclays has paid to date for its branding of the scheme. The argument that all details of the relationships between TfL and Serco and Barclays are confidential is not a compelling one. The details of these deals determine how much of the costs of the scheme have to be met from farepayers at a time of huge pressure on TfL’s finances. It is in the public interest for these details to be made available to the Committee. This would be in line with the Mayor’s commitment to transparency about public expenditure.

Main gripes were:
  • Problems with registration, charging customer service
  • Unavailability of bikes

There are a couple of issue the Transport Committe haven't picked up on.

The report doesn't have much to say on safety, and what little it does say is only concerned with objective safety and the small number of minor incidents that have occurred. The Transport Committee must address the subjective safety of the scheme. Central London is a very scary place for cyclists. There are very few cycle facilities, traffic calmed roads, or 20MPH speed limits, and motor traffic has virtually unlimited access to almost all roads. This adds up to an unpleasant and frightening experience especially for inexperienced cyclists, and it surely must act as a deterred to people using the Cycle Hire scheme. For the Transport Committee to fail to identify this issue is inexcusable.

A further issue is related to the inadequacy of the road network for cycling. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen cycle hire users trying to get around the traffic queues on The Strand. Some of them walk their bike on the pavement, others try (and usually fail) to filter through the traffic jam, some try to cycle along the central reservation. This kind of thing makes journeys slow and difficult. As I've pointed out before, the whole road system is designed only with traffic flow in mind, hence the preponderance of cycle-unfriendly no-entry and one-way streets. If the Mayor is serious about maximizing cycle hire as well as increasing the modal share of cycling in general, he cannot continue to allow roadspace to be designed for the exclusive use of motor traffic, when cycling makes much more efficient use of it.Again, why has the Tranport Committee failed to identify this issue?

Katie Price Banned

Unfortunately just banned from driving. For 6 months. Apparently she was being pursued by photographers (what? surely the other way round?) After a string of driving offences she has 13 points on her license and even Mr Loophole couldn't persuade the judge to show clemency...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cycle Superhighways - 'Pedal Power' Report

When the motorways were first built, they were not designed with single lanes, a 40MPH speed limit, roundabouts and frequent poor-quality junctions. That's because the vision was to provide a new, safe, fast means of travel that would accommodate increasing demand for some years into the future.

That's why the Cycle Superhighways are so disappointing. They sound like cycling's equivalent of a motorway. The reality is more like a badly-planned B-road.

The Transport Committee of the London Assembly have issued their report on the Mayor's headline cycling schemes: cycle hire and the CSHs. I'm going to concentrate on the CSH section of the report and pick out the juiciest, most flavoursome bits. Some of the material has been covered before in my report on the Transport Committee meeting here.

"The Committee’s review shows users of the cycle superhighways are experiencing various problems. In some places the blue cycle lanes are too narrow, occupied by other vehicles, disappear at busy junctions or are covered by parked vehicles...The Committee has found far less enthusiasm from new cyclists for the cycle superhighways. Many are concerned about safety and a lack of respect from other road users when using the cycle superhighways...There is a need to modify the approach to developing the future routes and to improve their features to ensure they are much safer and more attractive for new cyclists."

Yes, we know this already, and it was all so predictable. Leaving aside the tendency of some motorists to occasionally break the Highway Code, why would anyone expect motorists on some of the busiest roads in London to change their behaviour if they're not required to by law? Why shouldn't they park or stop where it's permitted? Why shouldn't they drive where it's legal to do so? In many places, all we have is blue paint with no legal status. While many motorists behave with consideration, it only takes a few selfish drivers to cause enough intimidation to make cycling very unpleasant.

"there are virtually no measures to reduce motor traffic volumes or speeds."

This point highlights exactly why the choice of route was so poor. By picking the A24, TfL set themselves a difficult problem, but I suspect it wasn't even a problem they had any intention of solving. For CSH7, I suggest TfL never intended, and still does not intend, to reduce traffic volumes. Therefore, it was set up to fail from the start. There's simply too much traffic on the A24.

Sustrans has highlighted that the greatest barrier to Londoners cycling, or cycling more, is fear of traffic yet the cycle superhighways generally follow busy arterial roads and provide no or minimal segregation from traffic. It therefore concludes that in their current form the cycle superhighways have limited scope to facilitate an uptake in cycling, particularly by new cyclists.

Exactly. Now it would be fair enough if the CSHs goal was simply to make existing cycle routes safer for existing cyclists, but it's failed even to do that. To spend £150M+ on measures that don't significantly increase total numbers of cyclists, and simply move the existing ones around a bit to a different route, is grossly profligate.

TfL has reported on lessons learned from the pilot cycle superhighways. These are largely about ensuring the features of the cycle superhighways are put in place more quickly. They include allowing more time to implement traffic orders to ensure more mandatory cycle lanes and considering suspension of parking and loading during peak hours on some parts of the routes.

Note the weasel words: "considering suspension of parking"; "some parts of the routes". They still don't get it. Any route is as good as its worst part. Without a firm commitment to minimum standards, the routes will fail to attract new cyclists.  Now, TfL have some justification in complaining about the ridiculous bureaucracy involved in traffic orders. But their response, it appears, has been to silently given up. It could (and should) have complained loudly that traffic orders take too long to chase through the system, put the traffic orders in to remove parking spaces and implement parking/loading restrictions, and wait for them to get rubber-stamped. But instead, it's left the parking spaces there and put in advisory lanes. Does TfL have any follow-up plan to correct these problems? I suspect not, and to my knowledge they have not claimed otherwise.

[TfL said it] had to be pragmatic and practical. It needed to deliver the cycle superhighways in good time, at reasonable cost, whilst balancing the needs of all road users. It would never satisfy everybody.

Wait. 99% of London's roads have no cycle facilities worthy of the name. The Cycle Superhighways were supposed to be the "balance". They were specifically to satisfy cyclists, who are a group who are not satisfied anywhere else. But whenever TfL came to a tough decision on the CSHs, with one or two exceptions, they opted to maintain motor traffic priority and flow at the expense of cyclist priority and safety. That is not balance. Note that on many parts of CSH7 at peak times, the number of cycles approaches or even exceeds the number of motor vehicles. Given that a cycle is a much more efficient use of roadspace than a car, the logical "balance" would be to favour cycles. But for TfL, cycling is more of an irritation than a transport mode. The "real" transport mode is motor traffic, and its flow must be preserved at all costs. This would be defensible if all motor traffic were essential journeys that cannot reasonably be undertaken using another mode, but a lot of it is simply able-bodied people in private cars and taxis. And, of course, there would be fewer people taking their kids to school in cars or driving to work if there were safe cycle routes they could use.

The Committee would like to hear from the Mayor and TfL on any further steps that could be taken to develop the cycle superhighways. They should explore the scope to develop a ‘Bike Grid’ which could join together the cycle superhighways in central London by providing improved conditions for cyclists on some central London roads... TfL has reported that it has not linked the cycle superhighways in the centre because of the huge dispersal from the routes.

This "dispersal" idea is disingenuous. No road system takes the user direct from their starting point to their destination by the most direct line. The point is to provide a reasonable density of safe routes that take cyclists from the CSHs to each part of the central area. This is not an impossible task. Central London is full of minor roads that would be ideal for cycling if they weren't set up as one-way labyrinths and used as rat-runs by motor traffic. This is partly Westminster's fault of course, but rather than recognising the fact there is a great need for safe cycle routes in the central area, TfL seem to be in denial about it.
In any case, the "dispersal" notion is actually false in the case of CSH8. This ends at the Lambeth Bridge roundabout. The majority of users will be continuing on toward the West End and the City, through the nightmare gyratories of Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square. It's obvious that CSH8 should continue to Waterloo Bridge and beyond.

In summary, TfL take a lot of criticism from this report, and so they should. Bear in mind the Transport Committee are hardly a bunch of revolutionary zealots. Virtually from the word 'go', there have been attempts to lower expectations of the Superhighways, but even in relation to these unambitious goals they've failed to hit the mark. The Mayor has bet the farm (and £150M+ of public money) on the CSHs doing something 'revolutionary' for cycling, and the public have a right to expect results. So far, it's not looking good...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cycle Not-so-Super Highways

Reported in the Standard, a survey for the London Assembly Transport Committee revealed that 60% of cyclists said they felt no safer on the superhighways than they did on ordinary roads.

Almost two thirds said the routes were not respected by motorists who regularly drove in them and parked in them

Just one per cent of cyclists said they started cycling specifically because of the superhighway scheme.

Hardly a ringing endorsement then, but all of this was totally predictable - and was widely predicted. Cyclists don't believe TfL's fairy story that you can just wave a blue paintbrush and magic away the danger. While there are some good people working at TfL who understand cycling, it's clear they don't have any significant influence, and the bad decisions to allow parking and even driving in the blue lanes, to not bother with junction treatments, to prioritize motor traffic at the expense of cycle safety, have show TfL to be an organization that cannot deliver cycling infrastructure. Cycling is not in TfL's DNA. It's time the Mayor set up a new organization with a direct reporting line and real clout to deliver the remaining superhighways, so that we don't waste taxpayers' on more of the same.

New Wimbledon Railway Path

There have been some works on the railway path that runs on the north side of the main railway line from Wimbledon to Raynes Park.

It appears that this path is being widened to form a cycle path. About time too! This has been planned for twenty years. When complete, it should be the best thing Merton has done for cycling in, well, 20 years. It should give cyclists a more-or-less traffic free route from Wimbledon to Raynes Park, and onwards to the A3 along the existing Coombe Lane segregated cycle path. There'll still be a couple of irritations:

1. It'll be necessary to cross Lower Downs Road. Here, it would be perfectly possible to install a cycle-priority crossing. Given that motor traffic is single-alternate-line here, a crossing wouldn't significantly impact on traffic flow.
2. Raynes Park itself is still very compromised from a cyclist's perspective, with a mess of shared pavement and the odd 'dismount' sign, but with the Railway Path in place there'll be more incentive for the Council to fix it properly (in the unlikely event of any spare cash being found).
3. There needs to be a proper link between the Wimbledon Chase cycle path and the Railway Path. Currently the choice is to go over one of the pedestrian bridges, which means hauling your bike up a flight of steps, or Lower Downs Road, which is a busy road with no cycle facilities.
4. There need to be links up the hill to Wimbledon Common.

But it's progress, the like of which we've not seen for many years. At this rate, by 2200, we might have a decent cycle network in Merton.

Public Health

The Coalition will be publishing its long-awaited Public Health White Paper later this week.

It's expected to continue the theme of localism: in other words, palming the responsibility off onto local government.

Dr Frank Atherton, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, quoted on the BBC, said:

"It feels like we are coming home. Most public health directors are comfortable with being back in local government. This is where the power is to influence all those environment factors, such as housing, leisure and transport, lie and so the potential to really make a difference is definitely there."

The other trend expected to be in the White Paper is 'nudge': creating the right environment and encouraging people to make the right choices.

Getting people to make the right choices is the hard part however. Habits die hard. Large numbers of people, indeed large numbers of increasingly large people, continue to smoke and eat fatty foods despite previous public health campaigns. People don't want to stop eating chips or chocolate even though they know fine well the harm it's doing to them. But a lot of people do want to cycle. With cycling, the hard part of persuasion is already done: if you provide decent, safe cycle routes then people will cycle. In addition to the public health benefits, there's valuable contributions to reducing pollution and carbon emissions.

From a cycling perspective, it does make sense to have transport, the environment and public health under the same remit, as the benefits impact on all those spheres.

There are a couple of problems however. First is the lack of money. Without ring-fenced funds, will local authorities prioritize public health, and cycling in particular, above the local election 'hot buttons' of convenience of driving and parking, education and rubbish collection? Second, will they take the tough decisions that are necessary to establish a usable cycle route network?  Third, an integrated cycle network has to cross borough boundaries. With boroughs like Westminster so anti-cycling, surrounding boroughs will be limited in what they can achieve.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is making some of the right noises. "We have got to arrive at a point where politicians stop just telling people how to be healthy but actually help them to do it, which is about positive steps on supporting people on things like physical activity as well as necessary interventions," he told the Today programme. However, cutting programmes such as cycling, school sports,and  free swimming for children and the elderly are rather at odds with 'supporting physical activity.

We can't allow the Coalition to make noises about public health without actually delivering. Cycling is in many ways the easiest and cheapest way to get lots of people to increase their level of physical activity, because a lot of people want to do it and are only held back by fear of traffic. But it won't happen by magic and it won't happen without a change away from the failed approaches of the past. You can't grudging accommodate cyclists in narrow lanes in gravel-strewn gutters on busy roads and expect more people to cycle. You can't expect them to wobble around pedestrians on narrow shared pavements. You can't expect them to 'share the road' with multiple lanes of HGVs. You need to make cycling attractive and subjectively safe. You also can't expect local highways departments to change their lifelong habits of treating cyclists as an irritation rather than a transport mode, any more than you can expect a 20-stone smoker to suddenly become a triathlete. There are people in local government who 'get it', but the establishment for the most part is institutionally anti-cycling and car-centric, and without a serious culture makeover they won't be able to deliver. That's what the Public Health White Paper must to address if it is to succeed.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Government Car Service - Parking Fines

You'll remember back in the early, optimistic days of the Coalition, Cameron insisted that Government ministers should ditch their chauffeurred limos and use the tube instead, in order to rebuild trust in politicians following the expenses scandal. Six months on, the Indie reports that the Government Car Service has run up record parking fines, which DOUBLED compared to the same period in the previous year.

A Government Car and Despatch Agency (GCDA) spokesman said "security risks" were the reason for some of the tickets.

Maybe someone can explain how "security risks" have doubled in the space of a year. So much for rebuilding trust in politicians. (Funny how the GCDA didn't get abolished in the Bonfire of the Quangos).

Air Quality

The Government has published a Command Paper containing their response to the Environmental Audit Committee's (EAC) 'Air Quality' report. You can read it here.

Let's have a quick taste of the choicest morsels:

Transport policy must change dramatically if the UK is to meet future targets and reduce exposure to air pollution.

Yes, that seems pretty obvious really, but what this report doesn't say is that the change to transport policy must reduce car and motor vehicle use dramatically. Otherwise people will die. Unfortunately the Government are more concerned with preserving people's freedom to drive how and where they like than the health problems of a few wheezing whingers, or the climate problems of our great-grandchildren.

The Government must explain the role played by brake, tyre and road wear in generating particulate matter and research the impact of road surface particulate matter on air quality.

It's well-known that brake, tyre and road wear contributes a very significant amount of particulate matter. However the Government's policy of encouraging speeding by removing speed cameras ensures this problem will get worse: the faster you drive, the faster your brakes and tyres wear.

We are looking at all options for how to further reduce air pollution from transport. For example, on the 28 July, the Secretary of State for Transport confirmed that motorists will receive up to £5,000 towards the purchase of an ultra-low emission car from January 2011. The grant will reduce the up-front cost of eligible vehicles by 25 per cent, capped at £5,000, and will be open to both private and business buyers.

This will help reduce NOx and diesel particulate emissions over the long term (although it won't reduce tyre/road wear), but it's extremely expensive and unlikely to have much effect in the short term.

Much can be done at a local level to change patterns of behaviour and encourage more sustainable travel, and the Department for Transport recently announced important changes to local transport funding which will allow local authorities to set their own priorities, and challenge them to find ways to facilitate sustainable transport modes.

Yes, except there's plenty of evidence that some local authorities don't understand sustainable transport, don't care about it and regard it as a political liability. There seems to be very little to stop local authorities spending 'sustainable' money on bypasses or simply maintaining existing programs, given the savage budget cuts they have to make.
We expect local authorities to bring forward packages of measures that could address a number of key challenges, including tackling local air quality problems.

Exactly my point. You 'expect', but you're not making them do anything.

At local level a number of locations have been exploring the effectiveness of ‘Smarter Choices’ measures on behaviour change. Darlington, Peterborough and Worcester recently trialled targeted promotion of sustainable ways to travel to reduce reliance on the car. Overall in the towns involved, car trips decreased by up to 9% with significant increases in walking, cycling and bus use.

And this is exactly the kind of thing that will happen less, as you're lumping all funding together in one 'sustainable' fund which councils can pretty much spend how they like.  To reduce pollution and carbon emissions you need to reduce motor journeys. It really is that simple. Yet the Government have axed Cycling England, which instigated the Darlington Cycling Demonstration Town project. Air pollution is part of a wider public health problem, to which cycling is potentially a solution, or it would be if the Government promoted it.

The NHS Carbon Reduction Strategy (for England) recognises that improved air quality is a benefit both for patients and the wider population and that active travel, such as more walking and cycling, leads to reduced health risks and improving air quality.

Exactly my point. It's not rocket science, so why aren't you doing it?