Friday, February 26, 2010

Left-turn on red

Boris is proposing a trial to allow cyclists to turn left at red lights (after giving way of course).

There is one very good justification for this. Being amongst traffic at a junction as the traffic lights change is very dangerous. It's much safer if you can get away from the junction before the traffic. That's why we have Advance Stop Lines (not that motorists observe them for the most part). Now you could argue that allowing a left-turn on red will encourage cyclists to take more risks. That's possibly true, but really risky cyclists will be jumping the lights anyway. Putting cyclists more in control of the risks we face has got to be a good thing, both from a philosophical and a practical perspective.

There is one question in my mind, however. What does a left turn actually mean, in reality? Let's look at a couple of scenarios:
1. 4-way cross  roads. Simple enough you would think; if there is no traffic crossing and the light is red against you, you may turn left. But there's no reason why you can't turn left and immediately make a U turn, and another left turn, is there? If not, you've just gone straight on, without breaking the law. How shallow does the 'U' have to be before you've broken the law? I imagine you would have to actually leave the road by crossing the white line on the left-hand side, but of course not all junctions have such lines.
2. T junction, aproaching from the bottom of the 'T'. Simple enough, you can make a left turn against the red light, but not a right turn.
3. T junction, approaching from the left of the 'T'. In other words, you are on a major road, and a road joins from the right. There's no 'left' turn as such, so presumably going straight on is not allowed? But topologically, it is no different from the previous case. Consider if the T is not completely straight, and the major road has a slight deviation to the left - does that count as a left-turn?

Anyone got any ideas?

Police Enforce ASL

Yes, you read that right!
This morning as I rode in, at the roundabout on the south side of Lambeth Bridge, there were two cycle-mounted officers in plain view. I asked one of them if they were here to enforce the ASL and the cycle lane, which are usually blocked. "We're giving them [drivers] a talking to" was the response. No fines or 3-point endorsements then. Contrast that with Westminster's rabble-rousing £100 fines for cycling offences.

This location is normally completely blocked up with traffic at that time in the morning rush-hour, but today, for some reason, it was very quiet. Not only was the usual traffic gridlock not in evidence, there were fewer cyclists as well. I have no idea why. So the officers were rather wasting their time...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Active Travel Strategy (more of the same...again)

Government ministers have launched an Active Travel Strategy, aimed at increasing the amount of cycling and walking.
Before you break out the bunting, it says all the usual stuff we know already about how cycling and walking are the key to happy, skinny people and world peace. Unfortunately, having spent all our money on the Iraq War, there's not much left to spend on cycling. And what little there is left for this initiative (£12M) will be spent on cycle training.

Research shows the reason people don't cycle is because of safety concerns. Cycle training is fine, and can make nervous cyclists more confident, but first, you need safe routes for people to cycle. The Active Travel Strategy aims include "Cycle parking at or within easy reach of every public building." In Merton, there is no safe, legal way for me to cycle with my kids to either of the two swimming pools, even though there's plenty of cycle parking at both. It really isn't rocket science! We need to remove the hazards from cycling. We cannot train our way round the problem.

The Active Travel Strategy document gushes on about the progress made in the Cycling Demonstration Towns, in particular Darlington which achieved a 113% increase in cycling modal share. However, you need to dig a little under that headline figure before you conclude that cycling is going to double across the nation thanks to this Strategy.
1. Darlington put in place "infrastructure measures to create a city centre ‘pedestrian heart’ and development of seven radial cycle routes." Where are the infrastructure measures in the national Active Travel Strategy? I found one: "Through Cycling England, DfT is funding 250 safer links to approximately 500 schools". There are about 21,000 schools in England, by the way.

2. Darlington started from a modal share for cycling of 1%. You can't get much lower than that. Even now, it's only 2% (113% of bugger all being not much), which is about the national average, which remember is among the lowest in Europe. You could read the figures another way: it took 3 years of investment to get 1000 more people cycling.

3. Darlington is small and flat. It's only 4 miles across. Why anyone who lives there has a car is a bit beyond me.

Now, I've not seen or ridden the Darlington 'radial routes' so I don't know how good they are. If they're any good, maybe more people in Darlington will 'get it'. But on the other hand, the 113% increase in modal share in terms of the number of people actually cycling is so low, it could be down to the Hawthorne effect.

I've seen too much of this. Central government write a lot of words, and give a small amount of money to a variety of charities who don't have the authority to do anything in terms of infrastructure. Building cycle routes fails at the planning stage, because if you move just one parking space, residents and businesses are up in arms and councils usually cave in. Because the charities cannot build cycle routes, the money gets spent on bike racks, training, marketing, promotional leaflets: anything but the infrastructure that's necessary for long-term change. The Government need to quit writing strategies and start mandating Councils to achieve an increase in modal share for cycling. They need to give them the authority to build proper cycle routes for cyclists, rather than for the convenience of motorists.

Well, guess what, a few people seem to agree with me - take a look at this .

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Breathe easy in Kensington and Chelsea?

Kensington and Chelsea are considering raising the parking permit surcharge on diesel cars according to the London Evening Standard.
Diesels generally emit higher amounts of particulates and nitrogen oxides, which are the main cause of London's appalling air quality.
However, diesels also emit 20%-30% less CO2, so any displacement of diesel with petrol vehicles is bleak news for the planet as a whole.

What difference is charging Kensington and Chelsea residents a few quid more to park their cars going to make? Absolutely none, I predict, unless the charge is punitive, which it won't be.

Boris Johnson's decision to postpone the next phase of the Low Emission Zone is part of the problem, as is his decision to scrap six-monthly emissions checks for the huge fleet of black cabs.

The Mayor's draft Air Quality Strategy says "The majority of PM10 emissions from within London come from road transport. A surprisingly high proportion comes from tyre and brake wear, which is difficult to tackle. In central London where the hotspots are, taxis are a particular problem, accounting for 35 per cent of emissions from exhausts". So there's your problem right there then - that'll be the same taxis that are now not facing six-monthly emissions checks.

I'll be taking a closer look at Boris's solution - the Air Quality Strategy - later...

Monday, February 22, 2010

A24 Cycle SuperHighway - to - be

Instead of my usual quiet back-roads commute which I've refined over many years, I decided to brave the main A24 road from Merton into The Smoke today.
The A24 will be one of the first Cycle Superhighways, so I figured I'd do a 'before and after' comparison.

First impressions:
At 8AM, it was busy, but not as busy as I'd expected. It was possible to make fairly good progress, and only a few areas where the traffic was backed up significantly. There's not much parking on the route, and there are a number of bus lanes and the occasional cycle lane.
The main problems are these:
1. My computer clocked it as being about a mile shorter than my usual route, but not much quicker. Bear in mind my usual route is slow, because being on back roads, there is a lot of stop-start due to junctions. The A24 suffers from a huge number of traffic lights (which are all red of course). Because I don't jump them, they were each costing me significant time.
2. It's not pleasant. It is a busy, urban arterial road, 4 lanes of traffic in many stretches. You really wouldn't choose to cycle on it. I can't see that changing even with lots of blue paint...

Car versus Bicycle - relative efficiency

I replaced a headlamp bulb on my car at the weekend. The bulb is a 55W bulb. There are two of them, of course, which makes 110W in total.
The mean power output of a cyclist on the flat stages of the Giro d'Italia is 132W (source). Now, bear in mind these are world-class athletes in a race; your average commuter or club cyclist won't be producing anywhere near that.

In other words, it takes more power just to light a car than it does to power a bicycle.

A typical 1.6 litre petrol engine will produce a maximum power output of around 75KW. Of course, the engine isn't delivering anywhere near its peak output most of the time, but it does give you an idea of how incredibly inefficient cars are for moving people. Even at 1/10th of that power, 7.5KW is still roughly 2 orders of magnitude greater than the 'bicycle engine'.

It's not surprising either, given the physics. An average small-medium car weighs about 1.3 tonnes (1300kg). An average bicycle weighs 13kg. An average reasonably fit person, maybe 75kg. So in a car, 95% of the engine power (and therefore 95% of the fuel) goes on propelling the car rather than the load. That's 5% efficient. Bear in mind the engine is not even 50% efficient, so there is a truly huge waste of energy. Even with a full load of four people with luggage, the efficiency is unlikely to get above 25% (again ignoring engine inefficiencies).

With a bicycle, the ratio is pretty much the opposite. 80% of the power is being used to move the load rather than the vehicle. You could argue that the human body is an inefficient engine, but don't forget a) a completely sedentary driver in a car still needs to eat; b) people need excercise to stay healthy. So the car driver would need to expend the calories that could be used to propel a bike in other ways .

The Strand, WC2

The Strand is a major east-west route between the West End and the City, and in common with Victoria Embankment, it has no cycle lane. It does have a bus lane, so why am I complaining?
Because in the westerly direction, going towards Trafalgar Square, the bus lane is permanently choked with traffic during the day.
Now, you might point out that The Strand is too narrow to accomodate a cycle lane.
Let's take a look..

Above is the view looking east, from Charing Cross Station. There's a wide island in the middle of the road. Plenty of space here then, as there's no pedestrian crossing at this point.

Above, a little further east, still in front of Charing Cross Station. Plenty of room for a righ-turn lane for taxis. It's worth noting that the easbound carriageway is not usually congested - above was taken on a weekday lunchtime.

Here's the view looking east from a point just beyond Charing Cross Staion.Plenty of room here for lots of bins where people can get rid of the free papers they collect on the tube and their hamburger boxes from Mucky D's, plus room for a taxi rank. Bear in mind the station has taxis and is only 10 yards away. Maybe the more obese customers of McDonald's can't walk that far?
Just beyond the taxi rank, you can see a phone box. Who on earth uses phone boxes these days? Well, I suppose they do have a couple of purposes - 1. amusing the tourists; 2. advertising for prostitutes.

Above, further on, another  bin, a  phone box, and a security van parked outside a bank...


Above, a little further on, yet another bin, two quaint old phone boxes ...


Above, just before Adam Street. Room for another bin, set well back from the kerb, and a couple of shop advertising boards. On the corner of Adam Street, the cafe with the striped awning has tables outside on the pavement.

Now, I'm not suggesting that it would be an easy task to put a westbound cycle lane on The Strand. But I am saying that the argument that 'there's no space' doesn't hold water. There's space for everything, it seems, bar a cycle lane.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is an accident waiting to happen, as I've described before. Let's take a closer look at what the hazards are, as you approach from The Mall:

As you can see above, as you approach Admiralty Arch, there's no cycle lane, despite this being one of the widest roads in central London. There's loads of room. Fortunately, the motors tend to keep away from the kerb so normally there isn't a problem filtering up the inside of the queueing traffic. There's an offroad cycle lane further up The Mall, although it's quite well hidden, with a few very small discreet signs.

Finally, just before Admiralty Arch, there's a cycle lane that takes you through the Arch (above). It ends as soon as you exist the arch, though.

Above, a typical scene where The Mall enters the roundabout below Trafalgar Square. The ASL is full of the Pride of London, the black cab. Note also, there's plenty of roadspace in the middle. What often happens is, not only is the ASL blocked, but there are motorcycles blocking the cycle filter lane on the left of the road, so you can't filter to the front. 
Below, the view from the same point, looking east towards The Strand:

This roundabout is pretty lethal. There are three lanes of traffic, and multiple exits from the roundabout. So you can't just pootle round the outside. If you are trying to go on to The Strand, as many cyclists are, you have to cross three lanes of traffic. The logical thing would be to take a cycle lane across the central island you see on the right of the above photo. This would fit in well with the existing traffic light controls around the roundabout. A similar arrangement is already in place at Lambeth Bridge. This would at least get cyclists out of the rough-and-tumble of the roundabout.

Here is the view from Cockspur Street looking east:

Another wide, wide road, with a wide, wide pavement, but too narrow for anything but a 1m advisory lane. Note the bus has entered the ASL.
Above, the island separating lanes leading into and out of The Strand. This again could be used for a cycle lane.
The Trafalgar Square area has a very high cycle count, and is also very busy with traffic. If there's one place in Westminster where decent cycle facilities would pay dividends, it is here. But the council have done absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ban Car Adverts?

LCC's Tom wants to restrict car advertising.

I really hate advertising. Not just car advertising. It would be OK if adverts just told people about stuff they needed, or sold stuff on its merits. But advertising is largely about generating a desire for things that people didn't know they wanted, associating brands with sex, making people feel inadequate if they don't consume until they have racked up the Greek national debt. You need soft-close doors in your kitchen. You need 5 blades in your razor. No, make that 6. You have no friends unless you have a Vodafone mobile contract and drink Carling lager. You're too fat (must be all that lager you drink). Smoking's cool. Your phone's an embarrassment. You need a horse on your shirt, some blokes name on your pants. And you need another credit card to pay it off. Advertising works by making people unhappy and selling them something to make them happy, till they've got no money left. And then they're really unhappy.

But cycling is just as guilty of this consume-for-the-sake-of-it attitude as any other sector. You've got to have the right clothes, the right bike, the right name on your frame, the right wheels, the right groupset. 9-speed, 10-speed, 11-speed, it's like razors. Make sure you only have 2 chainrings though. Unidirectional carbon fibre. Electronic gear shifters. You don't need it! It's a fucking bike, for chrissake!

It's not car advertising that stops people riding bikes. It's crap cycling infrastructure. 

If you advertise cycling, it'll be like chocolate fountains and all the other stuff cluttering up Britain's garages. People'll try it once and realize it's crap. You need cycle lanes first, safe ones that go places people want to go.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Richmond Park Car Parking Charges - Browner than Thou

You can tell it's election time. Amid the furore about Richmond Park introducing a car parking charge, the political parties are falling over each other trying to prove how  how they're on the side of the poor put-upon motorist. Here's the consultation document, by the way.

Now, it is a fact that motor traffic is not compatible with the environmental aims of the Park. It would be fair enough if the candidates were suggesting that there are better ways of mitigating the impact of motor traffic than the parking charge, but they're not.

Both incumbent Susan Kramer, for the oh-so-green Liberal Democrats, and arch-green guru Zac Goldsmith oppose the charges, and they don't have a Plan B. It's doubly ironic that on his website, Zac has a "Campaign to Protect our Green Spaces".

Meanwhile, Wandsworth Council's leader complained that "public transport options into the park are non-existent" and "visitors to the park have no choice about taking the car".

Well that's hardly surprising! That's because Wandsworth council, along with TfL and the other Councils around Richmond Park, have done precisely bugger all to reduce traffic through the park, make viable bus routes to the park (less than 2% of visitors currently arrive by public transport - source ), or decent-quality cycle routes where parents could take their kids. Don't forget, they've had since 1996 to do something, when Dame Jennifer Jenkins' report identified traffic in the park as a serious problem. 14 years, and not a sausage.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not a fan of the parking charge either, because it lets the rat-runners who use the Park as a convenient short-cut, thereby polluting the park, killing all manner of wildlife, and damaging the tranquility of the park, get off without paying a penny. That's perverse, and as a measure to reduce motor traffic, it is fairly close to useless. I don't think many people will switch from their cars, because the charges aren't high enough. They're proposing £1/hour. The bus fare for a family of 4 would be £2.20. In fact, the Traffic Impact Assessment says that "the cost of a ticket is unlikely to deter many visitors". This is in direct contradiction to the Consultation Document which says "we hope the charges will encourage visitors who can to travel to the park by public transport, by bicycle, or on foot."
The other effect is that if local residents and other visitors who currently use the free car parking are displaced, that will make more parking available for visitors. In other words, the parking charge could actually increase the number of visitors arriving by car.

To be fair to the Parks Agency, they have a tricky job. There's a huge population within easy reach of the Park, and the sheer number of visitors put pressure on the natural environment. Because so many people are used to driving to, and through the Park, and because of the generally car-centric nature of British society, any attempt to curtail access for motors will meet with a perfect political storm, regardless of the scientific evidence that motor traffic is harming the Park. There is no upside for Councils surrounding the Park, who stand to lose votes if they speak against motor traffic in the Park.

A24 London Road/Central Road junction, Morden

Now here's a real brain-teaser. See if you can figure this one out...

This is the view looking north up  A24 London Road from the Central Road junction. You can't cycle onwards on the pavement up London Road - there's a No Cycling sign. You can't join the road because a) there are metal barriers blocking your way and b) even if there weren't, you would have to cross four lanes of traffic and the central reservation. So your only choice is to do a smart turn round back the way you came (helpfully indicated by the direction sign). Enjoy your trip.

Let's take a look at  the same signpost, looking south...

.So that's clear enough. You can cycle to the left of the green triangle. Or maybe to the right of the green triangle. But you can't get to this signpost in the first place, because it's No Cycling up to that point.You can't just hop onto the pavement here from the road either because of the metal barrier. In other words, you have to sort of magically appear at this point. That's why Merton Council have connected the signpost to the Floo Network. The other end comes out at Wimbledon Station, Platform 9 3/4 . That's magic.

Looking back north up the A24 from where the railings end, here's the view...

You can see the road is wide enough to accomodate parking spaces outside the school. But not wide enough for a mandatory cycle lane of recommended width - the lane is just about a metre wide, and advisory.That's not magic. That's crap.
In fact, it's dangerous. What do you think is going to happen if you're cycling up the hill towards this parking space, with two lanes of traffic doing 30MPH (really officer?) outside of you? The cars will probably be accelerating towards the green light at the junction, just as the hill has slowed you down. Pull out to get round the parked cars, giving them a wide berth - you don't want to get doored - there could be a car in both lanes bearing down on you, neither giving way and you get rear-ended. You'll notice the pavement is plenty wide enough to accomodate a shared path, and the road is wider than it needs to be. And don't forget, just to the right, at the entrance you can see in the picture, is a school. A school, the kind of place fat kids go by car every day because there's nowhere safe for them to cycle.
So there you have it. Dangerous, illogical, useless. Cycling, Merton-style.
(Oh, and things get no better round the corner in Green Lane)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Daily Mail cyclophobia (again)

If you wrote an article about a minority group, suggesting they were muggers, lawbreakers, out-of-control, knocking down old ladies, ridiculing their dress, selectively mixing anecdotes and statistics to give a picture of an group worthy of hatred and contempt, you'd quite rightly be accused of hate crime.

For some reason, stereotyping cyclists is fair game, at least in the Daily Mail. Because it's 'opinion', it's somehow OK. Now, I am sure Petronella Wyatt is upset about her mother's accident. I'm sorry her friend thought it was funny. Maybe she should get some new friends. But this article doesn't read like a plea for safer roads. It reads like unreasoned prejudice. Cyclists are drunks, muggers, and when they are victims of crashes it's their own fault.  However, on safety, Wyatt suggests "Given the increased number of accidents involving cyclists, a change in the law that will force them to take a proper test and abide by a specific highway code is long overdue."

She hasn't thought this through. First, is there really an increased number of accidents involving cyclists? She moves from anecdotes to conclusions without bothering her readers with data or citations. For that matter, is there an increased number of accidents that are the fault of cyclists? On the latter, it's not true according to this DoT study. But let's ignore the facts for a moment (she does). Does it follow that legislation would fix the problem? On what basis? If it is on a safety basis, there are approximately 2 people killed by cyclists per year, compared with around 3000 by motors. If you want to improve safety, legislating on cyclists would not appear to be the best place to start. You might want to enforce the existing Highway Code properly. It's not as if your average mobile-phone using, speeding motorist abides by it (or even knows it), so I don't know why you would expect higher standards of from cyclists, with or without legislation. What would a 'specific highway code for cyclists' look like anyway? The existing Highway Code covers that stuff already, and has specific sections covering cycling.
What Wyatt overlooks is the fact that most adult cyclists (in common with the rest of the population) already have driving licences. Maybe there should be a 'motorcycle-style' test for cyclists. The problem with this argument though is that motorcycists have more accidents than any other group, despite their higher level of training.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Peak Oil

There's another report out predicting the end of the world as we know it; oil-addicted economies facing armageddon. You know the sort of thing.
Only this time it isn't a bunch of loony environmentlists, it is a respected group of business leaders!

The only surprise really is that this should not come as a surprise. Remember the oil price shock of 2008, which saw prices of $130/barrel? The fact that it fell back to current levels of around $70/barrel is mainly due to the recession reducing demand. World economic policy is still based around the idea of limitless growth, and both the developed and developing worlds' appetites for oil are growing. What isn't growing enough is oil supply. One effect of the recession and the reduced oil price was reduced oil exploration, and the oil yield from existing fields is less each year. You don't need a degree in economics to predict what's going to happen when the major economies emerge from the effects of recession into growth again.

Even if you ignore climate change, peak oil means we need to decarbonize our economy or face a situation where an increasing proportion of our wealth is going to countries with less than savoury regimes. In a nutshell, energy insecurity. We're a net importer of oil, having pissed our own supplies out of the tailpipes of our Range Rovers.

If we act now, we still have a prayer of limiting the worst effects of the coming oil price shock, without inflicting massive pain. The government need to act now to ensure we have a transport system fit for purpose with oil at $200/barrel or more. They need to invest in renewables, in insulation, in fact in everything that the climate change lobby has been calling for for over a decade.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Whatley Avenue, Merton

Running parallel to Bushey Road, Whatley Avenue is an altogether more pleasant way of cycling west towards New Malden. The road itself doesn't have cycle lanes but generally speaking it's quiet enough. However, there are a couple of really annoying and potentially dangerous features.
First is the crossroads with Martin Way. Martin Way - apart from having one of the world's worst cycle lanes, which I'll blog about in due course - is busy enough to make crossing it difficult and dangerous. Which is why Merton Council have provided a light-controlled crossing - just kidding, of course they haven't! Here's what they've done:

First thing, see above, just before the junction, you're expected to make a right turn onto the pavement. Not only will cars behind you not be expecting such a maneouvre, you're also at risk from traffic turning into Whatley Avenue from Martin Way. Imagine trying to make such a turn with a couple of children.
Ok, so you've made the turn and stayed alive. Follow the cycle path round and you're at Martin Way:

Yes, a dismount sign! There's a refuge in the middle, but it's totally inadequate - no attempt to restrict traffic speed through the crossing point, and the refuge is too narrow to protect a bike unless you turn it sideways. There's helpful signs on the road telling you which way to look though.
So you've crossed Martin Way successfully, you continue on the path:
Yes, another Dismount sign awaits you, and you have to make another right-turn, with its attendant dangers, back onto Whatley Avenue.
At this point, Whatley Avenue is a cul-de-sac. The road surface is pretty atrocious but at least it's quiet. At the end, there's a path across Cannon Hill Common to Grand Drive (below).


As you can see, it is a rough (very rough) narrow gravel track, and gets very muddy in wintertime. Once you're at the end of the track, you emerge (still in the common) onto an access road. Again this is in very poor condition (below).

Note the gates you see are not open 24hrs, so you need to bunny-hop over the kerb and through some more mud between the gates and the post on the right-hand-side there.
OK, now you're at the junction with Grand Drive. Grand Drive is busy road, and again there's no crossing. There is a pedestrian refuge just to the right, but that does more harm than good (more on that later).

The cyle route takes you right onto Grand Drive and then immediately left into Coppice Close. This is a busy 30MPH road, quite narrow, and narrowed even further by the island, so the chances of getting rear-ended here are not insignificant.

Travelling in the other direction, emerging from Coppice Close and then turning left to the common, it is even more hazardous:
In this direction on Grand Drive, the island is place just where you need to slow down to make the left turn, so there is an even greater danger of an impatient driver making an ill-timed overtake just before the island and cutting you up, or rear-ending you.

To summarize: this route could be OK. Whatley Avenue isn't a problem, it is the fact that Merton's planners haven't got a clue about what the hazards are. When there's a busy road, they just give up and go home. It could be so much better. At Martin Way, there should be a light-controlled crossing, or at the very least a proper junction with traffic calming before it that allows cyclists to wait in the middle without needing to swerve onto the pavement and dismount a couple of times. It really isn't rocket science. Grand Drive is admittedly trickier, because it is quite narrow. Here, the central island needs to be removed as this is clearly a danger. There should be a cycle-priority crossings, and cycle lanes and traffic calming. Highway engineers might bleat about traffic flows but this should not be an issue, as traffic has to wait at the Bushey Road junction anyway.

Bushey Road, Merton

Bushey Road is the main road leading from Merton to the A3.
It is blessed with a segregated cycle path. Unfortuately, it is another path that isn't connected at either end to anything remotely cycleable...
Below is the start of the cycle path. The sign is rather hidden behind a small tree, and it's not even clear what the sign refers to.

The problem is the approach to the path (below)
You have to cycle along a length of two-lane dual carriageway. As you can see above, the black car is in the left-hand lane, so there's actually plenty of room to continue the cycle lane back to the junction with Martin Way. But that would be no fun, would it?
At the other end of the cycle path, you have this:
You emerge onto a 40MPH tw0-lane dual carriageway. The lanes are quite narrow here so don't expect the motors to give you any room.
So there you have it - completely useless. Good job there is an alternative way of getting to Raynes Park...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Morden Park, Merton

Morden Park is a large area of parkland, including sports fields, a pitch-and-putt golf course, and a central area including a swimming pool and Morden Registry Office.
Just the kind of place that local people might cycle to.
For the cyclist, it is a confusing place.
Approaching from Merton Park, you emerge from Poplar Road South to a set of traffic lights:

No cycle facilites here, though - no cycle crossing, no signs, no apparent right of way and no cycle lane toward the park, even though the road, Links Avenue (below), is wide enough. You can see there's an ASL on the opposite side of the road, so it's clearly intended as a cycle route. But you wouldn't want to cycle with your kids on this relatively busy, 30 MPH road.

The logical cycle route would go left into the Links Avenue cul-de-sac, and into the park on a path. However, there is no signing. The cul-de-sac is a forbidding place, with broken glass, abandoned, vandalized buildings and cricket nets that don't look like they've been used since W G Grace played. From The Links Avenue cul-de-sac there is a wide tarmac path at the side of the Park that would be an ideal cycle path (below). But this didn't occur to Merton Council, who clearly don't want the graffiti artists and drug users to be disturbed by rowdy cyclists.

At the end of this path, things get better. The path continues across the Park, and there's a Shared Use sign (below). But remember, up till that point, there was no cycle path. Hold that thought - I'll come back to it.

Look back along the path (below) and you'll see on the back of the Shared Path sign, that old favourite, a dismount sign, in case you were in any doubt about the intention.

Continue on the path and at the end, there's guess what - another dismount sign, along with the traditional metal barriers just to ram the point home (below).

So what now? You could turn left back towards Morden, if you fancy your chances on the attractive dual carriageway A24 (image below). There's a narrow advisory cycle lane. You can't easily turn right across the A24 because the central reservation blocks your path. If you were going to the swimming pool or registry office you'd continue right along the pavement a short way, but there's no shared path signs. You're expected to walk.

So back to that shared path. Remember there was no cycle path leading to the start of it? There's no route on from the end of it! What is the point of a path that goes from nowhere and to nowhere? Welcome to cycling, Merton style!

Tax Payers Alliance are Soft on Crime

Quoted in an article about fines for littering being levied against smokers who drop cigarette butts, in the Doncaster Free Press, the TPA say:

"On- the-spot fines can be a useful tool against people dropping cigarettes...But certain authorities seem to use them for revenue raising rather than law enforcement, which damages the legitimacy of these fines."

Sorry, I don't get it. Damages the legitimacy? How can it be illegitimate to fine someone who litters? So we should go easy on littering? That's not going to deter it - and council tax-payers will end up paying more taxes to pay for street cleaning! I thought the TPA were against taxes. You would think if there were an opportunity for law-breakers to pay for the consequences of their actions, rather than leaving the poor old taxpayer to pick up the tab (you see what I did there?), it would be a no-brainer. Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of the TPA...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What's wrong with the London Cycling Campaign?

I like this Crap Waltham Forest blog. It's well written and raises a lot of important issues. But I'm not sure its criticism of LCC is justified.

The thing is, the LCC is the only game in town. Could the LCC do some things better? Probably. Could the LCC have more effect with a more hard-line strategy? I'm not so sure. There is no point in making a lot of noise if no-one is listening. The media, and the general public are at best pretty ambivalent about cycling and they don't really 'get' the idea that something needs to be done to change the transport status quo. Shouting a lot about the Netherlands won't change that. Being right simply isn't enough. The cold, hard reality, which political parties understand only too well, is that media strategy is key.

In my view, it is political will that is lacking. All political parties in England today slavishly follow public opinion. They don't want to upset 'Middle England'. Good politics should be about leading public opinion, in the knowledge that real change will always meet with resistance. We need someone with vision, and the political means to make the vision a reality. We've had 12 years of a government that claimed to be in favour of changing the balance of transport policy, but never followed through on the promise. I don't see that the LCC could have done much about that.

So what of Boris Johnson, the Superhighways and the Cycle Hire Scheme? It is easy to see the flaws in these schemes: the Superhighways are not much more than a blue makeover of existing cycle lanes, and Cycle Hire provides bikes but nowhere (well alright, nowhere safe) to ride them.
But here's the thing - flawed they may be, but they will generate cycle journeys, and they will generate media interest. And what may, just may, happen is the following: people will die on the Superhighways. Tourists will die on hire bikes. That will make the news. There'll be an outcry over the carnage, there'll be finger-pointing and safe cycle routes could become the flavour of the month.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Speed Cushions Don't Work

Speed cushions are several small speed humps installed across the width of the road with spaces between them. The idea is that wider-tracked vehicles like buses, ambulances and fire appliances are not slowed by them.

In 30 MPH areas, they have some effect in slowing down traffic, but in an increasing number of areas, particularly on cycle routes, the limit has been lowered to 20 MPH. Speed cushions don't work in 20 MPH zones. They don't slow down other wider-tracked vehicles like goods vehicles, vans and 4x4s, they don't even slow down a lot of cars. This Islington Council document says "speed cushions are less effective in reducing speeds than full width road humps". According to this report by Rob Gifford of the Parliametary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, to achieve a mean 'beweeen hump' speed of 20MPH, cushions may not be appropriate without other measures.

Speed is not the only issue with cushions. As I've pointed out before, and as Freewheeler points out, they encourage drivers (and riders) to aim for the gaps between the cushions and adopt an incorrect, dangerous road position. In other words, cushions can actually make a road more dangerous for cyclists.

According to Brake, they cost about £2000 per set of cushions. So the cost per mile, with one set of cushions per 100 metres is about £36,000. A lot of money for a measure which is at best less effective than other alternatives, and at worst results in more danger.

Now, one justification I have seen for speed cushions as opposed to road humps is that emergency services response time may be impaired by road humps. I don't buy that argument. There's no evidence for it that I've seen. General traffic congestion on major roads is likely the main determinant of response time. But rather than address congestion, council and Highways Agency planners and traffic engineers are part of a political system that ignores the consequences of over-dependence on cars and the attendant congestion and pollution. They wilfully turn a blind eye to the fact that people are dying because ambulances can't get to and from incidents quickly. They also turn a blind eye to the fact that very large numbers of people are dying because of road crashes and because of traffic-generated pollution, not to mention heart disease and cancer, the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. They blame it on road humps instead.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Morden Hall Park, Merton

Now this really is a highlight for the borough's cyclists. Well-maintained, wide paths, beautiful landscape, car free. This is what cycling should be like. Would it be churlish to note that it's the National Trust rather than Merton Council that are responsible?
There is one niggle: at the junction that takes you over the tram tracks to the Wandle Trail, there's this side trail:

No 'no-cycling' sign, you'll note. But at the junction with Morden Road, you've got this:

There really is no reason I can fathom for the presumption against cycling on this path. The path is rarely used by pedestrians, who normally walk through the park. If you were coming from Dorset Road, this is the logical place to access the Wandle Trail cycle route. The other access point has you going quite out of your way to the south, over a ridiculous sheep-pen crossing. But we wouldn't want to encourage cycling, would we?

St Helier Avenue, Merton

Just in case anyone thinks I only blog negative things about cycling in Merton, there are occasional highlights. Like Morden Hall Park. Or St Helier Avenue (above, taken on the east side looking north).
Compare this with Green Lane - another wide road with plenty of space, and they've got it right this time. Car parking is out of the way, on the road, and there's a segregated path. There's not many pedestrians getting in your way and good visibility. It's not perfect, of course; the bus stop at the south end is not well-sited, and at the side roads the priority is against you. But those are minor gripes - you could almost be in Holland.

Green Lane, Merton

Merton Council have recently been tinkering around with the cycle lanes on Green Lane, and they've made a dog's breakfast of it.


Turn left from London Road into Green Lane, and the first hazard you encounter is this:

There's a large concrete island in the middle of the road that makes the road so narrow that you can see the painted bike has been worn away by the passage of cars. Maybe that's a warning to would-be cyclists? Probably, because next you have this:

Notice how narrow that cycle lane is. It's about 1 metre wide. Notice also how close it is to those parked cars. If you cycle down the middle of the lane, you could get 'doored'. Notice also how close to the cycle lane the van is driving. This cycle lane is a very dangerous place to be. Let's see if it gets better further down:

Nope. Same narrow lane, same lack of door zone, different van but just as close...but look in the middle of the road at that vast expanse of grass verge, with a path down the middle:

and looking the other way:

Now usually the excuse for crap cycle lanes is there's not enough space. They can't get away with that one here. There is acres of space - literally! Merton Council could have done any one of a number of things. They could have moved the car parking out into the road and created a split-use pavement with a cycle lane. They could have created a cycle path in the central green area. But why do that when you can create something crap and dangerous that no-one should have to cycle on. And pretend that you've created a world-class cycling facility. No wonder you don't see a single bike in any of those photos.

Morden Hall Road/Morden Road Roundabout

St Helier Avenue is one of the better cycle features in Merton. Things get a little confusing when you get to the roundabout with Morden Hall Road/Morden Road, however.

Coming north on the west side of St Helier Avenue there is a shared-use path, taking you round the roundabout, across Central Road. Then there's this junction with Bayham Road:

Now there's a few interesting features here. The first is the 'no-entry' sign, preventing traffic on the roundabout from rat-running up Bayham Road. For a cyclist there is nothing to suggest that you cannot turn left into Bayham Road. But there is a 'one-way' sign further up, so that motorists coming down Bayham Road to the roundabout won't be expecting oncoming cyclists. Secondly, the 'give way' line on the road is at the roundabout junction, not just before the cycle lane crosses the road. That's not correct by the Highway Code, as normally the traffic coming from the right on the roundabout (or in this case cyclists on the pavement) should have right of way.

Having crossed Bayham Road, you can continue on Morden Hall Road, and just past the sheep-pen crossing you encounter this:

What on earth is going on here? There is a Dismount sign, but then immediatly a right turn onto the busy Morden Hall Road. Why would you dismount here? But in fact, 20 metres further on, past the bus stop, the shared path continues. So in fact, given that there's no 'No Cycling' sign here, the shared path does in fact continue past the bus stop. Yet the path doesn't narrow. There's no reason to dismount. In fact it would be stupidly dangerous to leave the shared path at this point, into two lanes of accelerating traffic, so why are the road markings suggesting you do so?

OK, so let's backtrack a bit and cross Morden Hall Road at the roundabout via the sheep-pen crossing. Having crossed, looking south we have this:

Yes, another Dismount sign - no, wait, TWO dismount signs, separated by 10 metres or so! So having dismounted, you have to dismount again? Now I'm really confused! But in fact, if you go onwards to the second Dismount sign, and look back, this is the view:

That's right - the section you just dismounted for is in fact a shared-use path!

OK, so we've just gone past two dismount signs. But there is no 'no-cycling' sign, so in fact you can continue on the pavement - given that Dismount signs are advisory only. Continue left down Morden Road on the pavement - still no 'No Cycing' sign, which is good, because Morden Road is very dangerous indeed to cycle on. Just before you get to Morden Hall Park entrance, look back and you see this:

Yes, it was shared-use all along. No dismount signs going the other way...however, at no point along the shared-use path is there anything to warn pedestrians that it is shared-use.

It's no wonder some people are whingeing about pavement-cycling - it's perfectly legal here, although you wouldn't know it!
According to a Bristol City Council report to the audit committee, it is the local paper's fault that they may not achieve their 'Cycling City' target of doubling the number of people cycling by 2011.

Now I have some sympathy with the idea that the media is not generally cycling-friendly.

But doing anything in terms of improving cycling provision means you come up against a plethora of hostile vested interests. Most people don't cycle, and most people don't like change. Therefore, most people won't like change that favours cycling, especially when it might cost them money, or parking spaces, or roadspace, or pretty much anything. People alway focus on the impact on them rather than any wider benefits. Of course, if you ask people if something ought to be done about traffic congestion, or road safety, or obesity, chances are they'll be in favour of it, because they don't see the potential disadvantages for them.

Which is why councils need to state what their policy is, and follow through with it. By all means consult and minimize any undesirable side-effects, but don't let vested interests derail the policy. I blogged about this problem before in the context of Biking Boroughs. If you let the media damage your policy, then you've failed. But that's why a lot of cycling project do fail - they allow parking in cycle lanes, they don't reallocate roadspace, they don't do anything that might upset anyone, and they end up spending a lot of money pleasing no-one, least of all cyclists.

PS - Green Bristol Blog does a far better job of covering the background to Cycling Cities than I ever could.

Trinity Road cycle route

Trinity road is part of the cycle network in Merton, and runs between The Broadway and Queens Road. (map)

Typically though, no-one who cycles or who understands cycling has apparently had input into the cycle route design in this area. In case anyone at Merton Council are interested, here are the problems that you face if you actually try cycling on Trinity Road:

There is a 20MPH speed limit, but it is not well-enforced and is widely ignored. There is some attempt to calm traffic speeds by installing chicanes. These chicanes are actually hazardous for cyclists. What often happens is that an impatient, speeding driver will see a cyclist and attempt an overtake, failing to anticipate the chicane. The driver will see the chicane too late, brake and swerve into the chicane, cutting the cyclist off, or even hitting the cyclist. Parking is allowed on both sides of the road. Because the road is narrow, cars again will tend to overtake and swerve into your path if there is an oncoming car.

You'll notice in the picture, the red car nearest the camera has parked on the pavement, presumably because the owner is worried about cars swerving into and out of the chicane and crashing into his cherised motor.

The sad thing is there are some very quiet roads nearby - Kings Road and Stanley Road - which would make ideal cycle routes. But they are part of a complex system of one-way roads (designed to discourage rat-running), so cyclists are forced into using the most dangerous route (Trinity Road) unless you are prepared to navigate through the one-way system and considerably lengthen your journey. It would be a simple matter to allow cycling against the flow on these roads.

So, in summary, Merton Council's treatment of these roads actually discourages cycling. Nice work, lads!