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?

Clapham Common - Saturation Policing

Over the past month or two, there've been a few visits of law enforcement officials to Clapham Common. It seems there have been a few complaints about cycling on the Common.

First of all, cycling on Clapham Common is legal, provided of course that you observe the usual rules of the road, give way if necessary where indicated and so on.

This morning, I thought I'd wandered into a student fees protest. There must have been a dozen officers on the Common. It was a rather comical sight, with all the commuters cycling ridiculously slowly. One of the officers stopped me - I had committed no offence by the way - and advised me of the fact that I needed to give way at the 'give way' line a few yards ahead. Fortunately, I have a reasonable acquaintance with the Highway Code, so I was already aware of this fact. The officer gave me a leaflet.

Further on, an officer was advising a dog walker whose dog had wandered on to the cycle path that 'if your dog was hit by a cyclist, it wouldn't be the cyclist's fault'. He didn't advise him that this could cause a serious accident (not in my hearing anyway).

At the other end or the path, an officer was helping a female cyclist fix a puncture. Nice touch.

I have no problem with the law being upheld. In fact, I support it, but it has to be done without fear or favour, in an even-handed and proportionate way. I don't see police in the 20MPH zones where speeding is endemic (ostensibly because they don't have the resources to enforce the speed limit). I don't see police advising motorists that they need to give way at a 'give way' line (try walking across a road junction in Merton and see if you don't get run down). I don't see police advising motorists in the Trafalgar Square Advanced Stop Line of its true purpose. I don't see police stopping motorists busting the red light at the toucan crossing in Plough Lane, or speeding along the Morden Road, or overtaking where there's traffic calming. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. So why do I see the highest concentration of police in a place where there's little lawbreaking of any consequence? I'm not aware of any serious incidents on the Common.

It is rather hard for cyclists not to detect any suggestion of bias in law enforcement if complaints from a small number of dog walkers and local busybodies attract more police than a Masonic Convention, whereas the daily intimidation, lawbreaking, serious injury and occasionally death that is meted out to cyclists attracts less response than a Greek Government bond issue.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Narrow Street - Well-Behaved Cyclists

Surely some mistake. The residents of Narrow Street have kicked up a right old kerfuffle about the Comedy Cycle Superhighway going down their street with all the -er- noise, danger and disruption that will cause.
So the Mayor duly dispatched a crack police hit-squad to monitor the situation and here's what they found:

"As part of our investigation, traffic officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Cycle Task Force
were deployed to the area on 28th October, 1st and 2nd November during the morning rush hour.
Officers determined that cyclists along the route were adhering to road regulations, with no
evidence of speeding or cyclist/pedestrian conflict."

Funny how when it's cyclists clearly NOT breaking the law or causing intimidation, the police are down there before you can say "Territorial Support Group". Yet in the 20MPH zones in Merton where speeding is endemic, you're more likely to see a Siberian Tiger than a speed gun.

Roadsafe London

The indefatiguable Cycling Lawyer reports that Roadsafe London don't just ignore your reports of dangerous driving - it just looks that way because you get no feedback beyond a spam email.

I had given up using the site, but if as m'learned friend indicates, letters are "sent to the registered keepers of the vehicles concerned", then I'll start using it again.

Cold enough for ya?

I can't be bothered to see what the Daily Mail comment boards have to say about the current cold snap, but I'll bet a pound to a penny there's more than a few saying it's further proof there's no global warming. But the Guardian reports 2010 will likely be the warmest year since 1850, and the next five years could see faster warming than hitherto predicted. This last research is by eco-nutters the US Naval Research Laboratory, and  Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Another prediction the Guardian makes is that this is "expected to silence global warming sceptics". Here's my prediction: Hell will freeze over before that happens.

Dangerous or Just Newsworthy?

A refreshingly media-critical piece from the BBC about how the media distorts reality by ingoring the commonplace and highlighting the unusual or bizarre.

"When considering societal problems over the long term, news-worthiness is often in inverse proportion to frequency. If problems become commonplace, they are not new - so do not qualify as 'news'. This means the media often guides politicians to focus on less serious acute problems at the expense of more serious systemic problems." 

So road crashes seldom make the news, while rail crashes always do, in spite of the fact that far more people die on the roads. So the public's attention is focussed away from the more deadly problem.

Cycling is somewhere in between. Cycle deaths are unusual enough to make the news from time to time (at least the Evening Standard), but not unusual enough for any in depth analysis or for any calls for 'something to be done'.

But here's the thing. It is in the media's (and particularly the BBC's) gift to correct this perspective. With new media there isn't the pressure on space or the need for a set number of stories every day to fill up a newspaper or TV show. Blogs and websites free the media from the deadline-driven culture of the dead-tree era. It's possible to present statistics and analysis about the commonplace in an engaging way. So why don't they do it?

Well, funnily enough, the BBC are happy to report mundane matters like speeding or parking tickets with regularity. That doesn't fit the theory. Surely the BBC don't have a secret agenda?

How to Ride Safe ?

Aussie researchers have identified that drivers were at fault for most cycle accidents (*gasp*) in a survey in which cyclists were given head-cameras to record their rides.

There were only 13 riders and a 4-week period involved, (and it was 'down under' rather than in the UK) but there's some important lessons to learn if you want to stay safe, in terms of the causes of collisions and near misses.

This kind of research is difficult to do. If you analyze collisions rather than general riding, your sample is likely to include more unsafe riders. There's a risk that giving people head-cams will change their riding behaviour, but it's instructive nonetheless.

Some of the 'safe' behaviours identified were:
  • Checking left. Don't assume a vehicle will give way.
  • Riding more defensively around cars.
  • Being particularly vigilant when it comes to drivers turning left at junctions, especially if they're in a large vehicle like a 4x4 or lorry.
Riders who frequently looked over their shoulders to check for other traffic were the most successful at avoiding collisions.

All of the above seems pretty obvious to me, but maybe not to everyone. Here's a few of the things I try to do. I'm not setting myself up as an expert by the way - I'm just saying what I've found works for me. What works for you may be different - although there are some behaviours that are flat-out wrong, some things are tradeoffs involving how fast you need to be, how fit you are, how much route-research you can do, whether you're prepared to break any laws, what clothes you want to wear and how much hassle from motorists you're prepared to put up with.

  1. I use a mirror. With a mirror, I'm pretty much continuously aware of what's going on behind me.
  2. With a side road on the left. I'm usually in the centre of the road approaching it. I can see into the road better, and I can be seen better. If there's a vehicle that might emerge, I'll set myself up so that I can avoid it if it does fail to give way, either by turning into the road and going behind the vehicle, or by going to the right of it.
  3. Mindset. I try to stay relaxed and think about safety when I ride. I find that allowing other road users to wind you up makes you feel more aggressive and that makes you ride less safely. I try to think of vehicles as hazards to be avoided; almost as mobile road furniture. I try not to think about the drivers: 'de-humanizing' the vehicle helps me to stay calm.
  4. I wear hi-viz.
  5. I give pedestrians a pretty wide berth whereever they happen to be. They can be unpredictable so they're well worth avoiding. One thing I've noticed is if you ring your bell, they're likely to stop and get in your way. I generally try to pass behind them if they're crossing the road because it's less likely to startle them but I'm always prepared to give way if need be.
  6. Any risky situation I'll always have a 'Plan B' - where to bale out or swerve if I need to.
  7. Planning ahead. I try to look ahead a fair way and plan the best line.
  8. I'm very wary of any large vehicle. I avoid undertaking them, and never undertake if they might turn left.
  9. I avoid busy roads and especially multi-lane roads. (Call me a chicken if you like.)
  10. After a 'near miss', I try to figure out how I could have avoided the situation.
  11. Generally, I ride pretty fast. I try to avoid getting overtaken, but I don't deliberately try to block anyone who's determined to overtake. With my mirror, I can usually tell if they're likely to do something silly, and if so I'll get out of the way.
  12. I usually get to the front of the queue at junctions, 'take the lane' and accelerate away quickly, to minimize the chance of a dodgy overtake.
  13. I generally assume that another driver hasn't seen me, but especially if their vision is somehow obscured. That includes any van or goods vehicle, vehicles with 'privacy glass', and cold mornings where drivers have not bothered to clear frost or dew from all their windows.
Here's a the worst things I see other cyclists doing:
  1. Rear light obscured by clothing (skirts, long coats, messenger bags etc) or hanging off a bag pointing at some random angle.
  2. No lights at all. Not the smartest idea. Surprising how often I see it.
  3. Too far left. Gets you into all sorts of scrapes.
  4. Racing traffic/other cyclists. Nothing wrong with going fast, but I see some folks taking unnecessary risks to avoid slowing down.

Anyone else got any tips/tricks?

Predicting the Future

When I got my first 'proper' job, rather a long time ago, if you were male you wore a suit. It didn't much matter what you did, unless it was something oily or sweaty or food-related, or something that otherwise required specialist clothing, you wore a suit.

Suits are useless. They're not waterproof; you have to dry clean them, decent ones cost a fortune, they are too hot in summer and not warm enough in winter. You have to take the jacket off and hang it up somewhere or it'll get all creased. But still, back in the day, every man wore a suit to work. It was an unwritten, or often written, rule, but either way if you didn't wear a suit you might as well come in naked, suitless was that shocking a concept.

Then something happened. Stories started to filter through about the computer firm Apple, where everyone wore jeans. In more progressive companies, they started to have 'dress-down Fridays', where you could were what you wanted one day a week. Then people started to realize that if you could do it on a Friday, you might as well do it every day. Then the balance changed. Any company where suits were still de rigeur for men was a bit starchy, a bit stick-in-the-mud, not very forward looking. Salesmen still wore them, but other than that if you wore a suit you were a bit of a spiv (or possibly foreign).

What on earth has this all got to do with the price of chain-lube? Well, the Government plan transport for 10, 15 or 20 years in the future, partly because it takes a long time to plan and build new roads and railways, but also because there's not much money around at the moment so anything big gets put off in the hope that the economy will recover sufficiently. But the common assumption running through these plans is that attitudes and travel behaviour won't change much over that time. Well, I'd suggest that attitudes are already changing. Many people don't go into their office or workplace 5 days a week. With high-speed broadband it's possible in many professions to work from home and be effective. Companies are starting to realize they can save a huge amount of money by having smaller offices or renting space as needed, rather than having one central location with one desk per employee. In other words, in 10 years the commute, like the suit, may look outmoded.

Decarbonizing the UK economy is going to have effects. The current target is to reduce carbon emissions by 34% by 2020. It seems unlikely that can be achieved without having any effect on the balance of the economy or on patterns of travel. If the oil price increases significantly, which many observers consider likely, this will also significantly change the economics of travel.

So to have a 20-year transport policy which is based on business-as-before, when attitudes, technology and economics are clearly likely to change significantly, and to bet significant sums of money on it, seems - well, a little rash. Like bogus clairvoyants, Philip Hammond it seems is simply telling people what he thinks they want to hear. Clearly, we need a long-term transport policy, but one of the advantages of being in Government is that you have some control over the future - you don't simply have to predict it. Would it not be better to plan on less travel rather than more? To try to reduce unnecessary journeys, and increase the efficiency of transport? To help people live closer to their workplace rather than commute longer distances? Dare I say it, to increase active travel? If we did that, we'd be in rather better shape for the coming era of expensive energy.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Cost of Motoring

The RAC’s annual cost of motoring index rose by 6.3% last year. This was due to increases in the cost of fuel, insurance and new cars.

Before you burst out crying, it's worth pointing out that this is a somewhat misleading statistical excercise, because it assumes that many variables don't change. Meanwhile, in the real world, they do. People are buying more diesel cars, which are typically more expensive to buy but much less expensive to fuel and fall into a lower VED ('road tax') band. People are driving less due to the recession.

In addition, as a driver there are many things you can do to reduce their costs. The RAC quote the average annual cost of running a car at £5869. No-one has to pay that much. You can:
  • Shop around for a better insurance deal
  • Keep your car for longer.
  • Swap to a car with lower running costs.
  • Drive in a more fuel-efficient manner.
  • Get your servicing done by a cheaper, non-franchised garage.
  • Drive less.
  • Or get a bike
There's not much rail commuters packed into 'sardine can' carriages can do to reduce the cost of their tickets, which are rising by an average 6.2% in the new year.

Bear in mind that the cost of motoring has fallen some 18% over 20 years in real terms. So it's got a way to go before it catches up with the cost increase in pretty much any other mode of transport.

However, there are always stories of real hardship:

Jeremy, a Range Rover driver, has had to opt for the non-supercharged model. His friends at the golf club no longer talk to him.

Clarissa, a 35-year-old mum, no longer drives her children the 800 yards to school because her Mercedes costs too much to fuel. Her children have lost a worrying amount of weight with the extra excercise.

James, a businessman, can no longer afford to drive at 90MPH on the motorway, and has had to slow down to the speed limit.

If you have been touched by any of these stories, or are affected by similar issues, there is a charity that can help. All donations are welcome, no matter how large.

The Royal Society for Distressed Drivers
1, Eaton Square,
London W1

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bike Hire: Casual Use

Currently London's Bike Hire scheme is only open to registered users who have a key to release the bikes and are later billed for their use. TfL has announced that casual users will be able to hire a bike from December 3 this year.
That means anyone in possession of a full set of limbs and a credit or debit card (although not an Oyster card) can hire a bike, opening the scheme up to what is effectively a new market of occasional visitors to London, tourists and the 'impulse' rider.
As I suggested yesterday, there's a danger that this new market consists of people less skilled in the arts of riding a bike safely in London, and the casualty rate could rise as a result, given TfL's failure to provide any sort of safe cycle route network in the Cycle Hire area.

Speed Cameras: How Many Must Die?

Recently I asked the question: how many people must die before the Coalition understand the benefit of speed cameras?
The answer to that question is 800 a year, according to a survey by Professor Richard Allsop commissioned by the RAC foundation.

'Road Safety' Minister Mike Penning is furiously trying to back-pedal. He protested: "We ended central government funding for new fixed speed cameras because we don't believe we should dictate to councils that they use them as the default solution in reducing accidents."

This is sophistry. Teresa Villiers said in October 2009:

Ladies and gentlemen, a Conservative Government would not fund any new fixed speed cameras because they are not the best way to make our roads safer. If local authorities want new cameras they’ll have to prove nothing else works better and they’ll have to find the money themselves..I believe that fixed speed cameras have reached their high watermark in this country. It’s time to put a stop to Labour’s cash cow camera culture. Electing a Conservative Government would signal the end of the relentless expansion of fixed speed cameras. It’s time to say, ‘enough is enough’.

The party of which Mike Penning is a member couldn't be more clear about their opposition to fixed speed cameras. They thought they could buy a few votes by pandering to the motor lobby, in a triumph of lowest-common-denominator populism over evidence. Blood on asphalt is evidence that's rather harder to ignore.

New Evans Cycles in Wimbledon

You know the old BMW/Mini showroom on the one-way system? Next to the Wetherspoons, opposite the bus station? It's turned into a bike shop. Evans Cycles have opened a sizeable new store. Staff seem friendly but not overbearing. There's a pretty good range of iron on display, and a big workshop area at the back.

This site is not what you'd call a 'prime retail' location. It's at the 'wrong' end of the main shopping drag,  and off it, so most shoppers are unlikely to pass it. However, that's typical for a bike shop.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Children Attack Motorists

A national survey of 15,000 children  by the charity Brake and business insurance specialist QBE finds that almost nine in 10 children (86%) think drivers go too fast around their homes and schools.

Shockingly, one in 10 children (10%) say they have been knocked down while walking or cycling; a further 56% have had a near miss, and a further 16% have had a frightening experience.

This is clearly an attack by these pint-sized malcontents on the rights of the motorist. It's quite simple, children, listen carefully. You belong inside where it's safe, or in your parents' car. You shouldn't be outside on your own. You could cause a DREADFUL ACCIDENT! Walking and especially cycling are to be avoided at all costs. What a damning indictment on today's parents, that they let these terrible accidents continue. Think of the trauma caused to the poor old driver who after a moment's inattention caused by an important phone call is viciously struck by an uncontrollable child (in dark clothing probably) jaywalking in the motor-road!

Why did the Minister Cross the Road?

You have to feel a little bit sorry for Mike Penning. Being Road Safety Minister in the Coalition is a lot like being Minister for Open Government in North Korea. Penning's colleagues are slashing the road safety budget and cutting the police, and he'll have to stand by and do very little because anything that interferes with a car owner's right to drive where, when and how fast he likes is "War on the Motorist".

The best he can do is launch a partnership between the THINK! child road safety campaign and four football clubs.

The new initiative will focus on helping six to 11-year-olds learn how to find safe places to cross the road after evidence showed that this is a key factor in helping children stay safe on the roads.

That should help them avoid the motorists who can speed with impunty now the speed cameras have been unplugged. As for football clubs - Blackburn Rovers, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United - I hope the kids are also keeping a special look-out for footballers - hardly a day seems to go by without another one getting convicted for a driving offence or crashing a super-powerful car.

A little personal anecdote here. A friend's 11-year-old son does not know how to cross roads. That's because he's always been driven almost everywhere, so he's never had the need. Crossing roads is a difficult skill for children to learn, and they won't learn it sitting on a sofa or in a car - or at a football club for that matter. It's a little-understood consequence of the 'cotton-wool society' that kids are no longer able to learn basic skills of risk assessment because they're so seldom out on their own. The more dangerous the roads are, the more protective parents feel compelled to drive their nippers around, and the less kids are able to cope with roads.

'Sustainable' Road Building

This blog has sounded the alarm before that lumping cycling and other green transport funding into a big 'sustainable transport' pot was wide open to abuse, and councils would try to pass off their pet petrol-powered projects as 'green' and 'sustainable' in order to get their oily mitts on the cash. Bypasses buy votes at local elections; cycling doesn't.

And so it came to pass. The Longendale Bypass had been killed off by the spending cuts. But Richard George blogs at Campaign for Better Transport: 'Tameside [Council] has rallied, and now plans to submit its bypass to the Regional Growth Fund and Local Sustainable Transport Fund. This should be interesting: the scheme in no way supports "sustainable economic growth" and is the antithesis of sustainable transport. '

If you remember last week, I quoted Norman Baker (Minister for as saying (about simplifying the distribution of funding for local transport schemes):

"I don’t think that local councils, even if they’re given a lot more power, will suddenly go round saying: ‘Whoopee, we’ve got all this power: let’s build a 15-lane motorway!’ They aren’t going to do that, are they? I think local councillors want to do some of these green things."

Think again, Norman.

Mixed Success in Scotland

The Herald reports "Children in the town of Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow, have brought about something akin to a cycling revolution, with the numbers of pupils riding to and from school approaching levels normally seen in mainland Europe."

Well - the cycle-to-school levels are 8% in primary schools and 4% in secondaries, so don't get too excited.

Meanwhile, the Express reports "Scots igore pleas to get on their bikes as car use rises." They quote a spokesperson from the so-called Association of British Drivers (a right-wing petrolhead lobby group):

“People pay out a lot of money to buy a car and pay for tax, repairs and petrol...as the winter comes in, they’re wasting time trying to get people to give up their cars, as most people would rather brave the cold in the comfort of their vehicles.”

You know what - he's got a point. Asking people nicely is to stand at a bus stop in a Scottish winter doesn't sound like the smartest strategy. You'd have more success selling holidays to Afghanistan. Also, the marginal cost of driving a couple of miles is cheaper than using public transport. Cycling on Scotland's roads is only for the brave. Until the marginal cost of driving a mile is more reflective of its true cost to society, and the consequences of car-dependency are taken account of in transport policy, most people will stay in the comfort of their vehicles, and Scottish hospitals will continue to pick up the tab for their inactive lifestyles.

Bike Hire Update

Only around 25% of London's cycle hire users are women. Apparently fear of traffic and fear of sweating (perspirophobia) are the main concerns, although it's not clear whether this is backed up by actual research.

Women also make up around 25% of all cyclists, although they seem to be disproportionately represented in the accident statistics. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that fear of traffic is going to discourage women, and indeed men from cycling.

Meanwhile, some collision statistics for Cycle Hire have been released. TfL report there were 34 'incidents', emergency services were called 13 times, and there were 10 injuries. There have been 1.6M journeys in the 11 weeks since the scheme started.

Extrapolating these figures would give around 50 injuries per year. However, there are a few considerations to bear in mind:
1) Currently the scheme is operating at around half predicted capacity.
2) The scheme is not yet open to casual users - only registered users. Registered users are more likely to know what they're doing, and are more likely to be familiar with London's roads.

If you extrapolate again to assume the scheme is operating at full capacity, that will give 100 injuries per year. It is difficult to know what effect the 'casualisation' of the scheme will have, but it's likely that casual users will include tourists and people who don't normally cycle, or at least don't normally cycle around Hyde Park Corner. You might also factor in the consideration that some of them may have had a cheeky lunchtime pint in one of London's fabled hostelries. I'm going to take a wild guess and say that casual users are twice as likely to be involved in a collision than a registered user. If half the users are casual users, these assumptions would give 150 injuries per year. That's about 4% of the total London-wide cycle casualties (3600).

It's quite likely that these injuries are additions to existing casualties, so it would mean the overall casualty total going up. There was a 5% year-on-year increase nationally in 2009.

Remember, this is pure supposition, and there are many factors that could affect the casualty rate positively or negatively. However, this many casualties, which will likely include a small number of fatalities, in such a small area of London, must beg the questions: why do Westminster Council and TfL have such disregard for the safety of cyclists? Why is there no network of traffic-calmed cycle routes in central London?

Westminster has a very, very poor record on cyclist safety. 2003 figures show that its casualty rate increased 25% over a period when the inner-London average went down 14% and the London-wide average went down 22%. Casualties in Westminster continued to increase in the period 2004-2007. While clearly Westminster has unique challenges that affect casualty rates, that's no excuse for the relentless increase in casualties. It's no coincidence that Westminster is way behind in the safety game. It has very few cycle facilities, 20MPH zones and very few traffic calming or traffic reduction measures. How long can they be allowed to get away with turning a blind eye to the cycle casualty rate?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Clapham Junction Roadworks

Grant Road and Falcon Road have had roadworks for the past few months, including a single alternate line along Grant Road.

This is a major cycle route. But the contractors have done nothing at all to ensure that cyclists and pedestrians aren't unnecessarily delayed or endangered.

Below you see the temporary lights at the end of Este Road. The cycle route goes onto the pavement just a couple of yards beyond the lights, before the main junction, but they've sited the lights so you are blocked off. Also, you can see on the left of the picture, the contractors have dumped a load of crush barriers right on the cycle path, completely blocking it.

A few yards further on (below), there is a toucan crossing to help you cross Falcon Road. The contractors have hooded the lights and provided no replacement safety measures at the crossing. So children walking to the nearby Sacred Heart Primary School have to take their chances with the traffic.

Apparently, it is TfL's policy to do nothing when light-controlled crossing is out of order. They'll put up temporary lights, diversion signs and so on for motor traffic, but they regard pedestrians and cyclists - the most vulnerable road users - as not worth wasting their time or resources on.

New York - better cycling than London?

What can New York, a city in perhaps the most car-dependent nation on earth, teach the UK about cycling?

Quite a lot, as it happens. In the last three years, New York City has built 200 miles of bike lanes. Cycling has nearly doubled since 2005. 1,800 miles of bike lanes are planned by 2030. Compare that with London's Cycle Superhighways, which total a shade over 100 miles.

There seem to be a lot of the same problems we have in London - bike lanes in the 'door zone', drivers who park in or misuse the lanes, conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, as well as pavement cycling and red-light jumping.

The difference though is New York has a serious program of building new bike lanes, backed by central funding. In some cases traffic lanes have been removed, and in one case a golf course has been reconfigured to allow a bike path to be built. Contrast this with TfL's stubborn refusal to balance the need for safe cycle facilities against motor 'traffic flow', despite the increasing numbers of cyclists.

In the UK, we're happy to spend billions widening the M25, but cycling funding is being cut even though it provides far more economic benefits than road building.

New York is not Amsterdam, or anywhere near. It's not even the best cycling city in the USA. It's a damning indictment that London suffers by comparison.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Catriona Patel - Prosecute Thames Materials?

Hat-tip to Ross Lydall for asking the question why the employer of Catriona Patel's killer, Thames Materials should be next in court. "It must have known of his truly appalling record." Lydall has attempted to contact the company but they seem to have gone all shy.

According to LCC, "Thames Materials Ltd failed several inspections, the company and its drivers had many convictions. In 2002 the Traffic Commissioner tried to revoke its licence to operate lorries, but this was overturned on appeal."

I believe that at least this company should be forced out of business. If you know of a company or organization who does business with them, you might consider suggesting they use a company that employs drivers with a better record (shouldn't be hard).

CSH#8 - Cycle Superhighway - Before the Paint - Part 2: Grosvenor Rd/Millbank

The last in a 3-part series covering the route of CSH8 before it's turned into a Cycle Superhighway, this piece covers the route starting from the end of Chelsea Bridge to the end at the Lambeth Bridge roundabout.

Above, we've got 4 lanes of traffic on Grosvenor road, between Chelsea Bridge and the Lupus Street junction. There's a short stretch of segregated cycle lane on the pavement here.

Above: Grosvenor Road continues. Plenty of room for a wide cycle lane here.

Above: Grosvenor Road gets a bit narrower, but still plenty of room.

Above: At the junction with Claverton Street, Grosvenor Road goes into 2 lane configuration eastbound. It's still fairly wide, but it will be a squeeze to get a mandatory lane in without sacrificing a general traffic lane.

Above: Grosvenor Road near Dolphin Square.

Above: Grosvenor Road widens on the approach to Vauxhall Cross. Plenty plenty room.

Above: Vauxhall Cross. 4 lanes wide eastbound. The leftmost lane can turn left. This will be a challenge because there are real safety issues with the current layout.

Above: Millbank at Ponsonby Place. Wide enough I think for a decent blue lane.

It's unclear whether the CSH will quit at the Lambeth Bridge roundabout. Like all gyratories it's a clear danger for cyclists.

Once you're past that roundabout, however, you will be on your own just when the traffic starts to get stupidly busy. There's a reasonable amount of room as you approach the Palace of Westminster, but it's wasted on a central hatched area, although this at least makes for reasonably safe overtaking:

But then all the spare space goes and you have this sort of thing (below):
Then you're into Parliament Square which is a total free-for-all. It's not that dangerous when it's as choked with traffic as it was on this day (below):

In summary, this section of CSH8 presents a few challenges, notably Vauxhall Cross, but mostly it's wide roads with enough room for a mandatory cycle lane of decent width. Note also that the roads were actually very quiet until I got to Millbank. It's a shame the CSH ends just when the going gets tough. TfL claim that journeys diverge too much in central London to make it worth continuing, but I don't buy that. It's pretty obvious that a lot of people on this route will be continuing east, to the West End and City. TfL are fighting shy and afraid to make the tough choices which are necessary if cycling is to broaden its appeal beyond a small number of fearless hard-core cyclists.Bear in mind that cycles make up a good percentage of traffic on these major routes even now. TfL claim to be in favour of balancing the transport modes (at least when they can use it as an excuse for favouring motor traffic on the cycle superhighways). They need to re-set the balance so that cycles get a fair share of road space and fair consideration of safety proportionate to the numbers of cyclists on dangerous  road systems like the Parliament Square area.

Puncture :(

All that crowing I did last week about delays on the tube was almost guaranteed to bring on a long-overdue visit from the puncture fairy, and so it came to pass on Friday night after running over a metal staple. In fact, two visits as my spare tube had developed a hole as well.
My bike was covered with a week's worth of mud and road crud which duly transferred itself to my hands and clothes during the operation. The residents of Wandsworth probably learned a few new short Anglo-Saxon words.
Oh well, at least  it wasn't raining!
(Marathon Pluses for Xmas please Santa!)

Friday, November 19, 2010


This was the scene on the Croydon Tramlink this morning. Ghostly figures emerging out of the early morning mist, presumably passengers forced to 'walk the line' due to a service suspension.

Justice for Catriona Patel ?

Catriona Patel's killer - I can't bring myself to write his name - received a 7-year sentence today after crushing her with his HGV whilst over the drink-drive limit and whilst using a mobile phone.

What has emerged with the verdict is the killer "has 3 convictions for drink-driving and has been caught 20 times" -count 'em -  "driving a HGV while disqualified".

And yet it appears he was still legally allowed to drive an HGV.

If you look at the Mail's story, you can see the killer's truck. You could contact the truck's owners if you like, to ask if they do any background checks on their drivers.

But it's the "justice" system that has the most blood on its hands. How can a man who has demonstrated repeated contempt for the law - and specifically for the laws that govern drivers - be allowed to drive, and to drive as a profession? If the justice system had kept this killer off the roads - as it surely should have done - Catriona would be alive today.

There's an investigation into the Oxshott train crash. There's an enquiry into the student fees protest.

There must be an enquiry into how the justice system failed here. Write to your MP. Write to LCC. Make some noise.

More Reasons to Start Cycling

The Standard reports the "worst month on record" for the Tube system. Daily delays and disruption, Saturday and Sunday shutdowns, extended engineering episodes, workers' weekday walkouts and leaves on the line all added up to repeatedly rotten reliability.

So tell your friends there's a better way.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cameron Criticises Crippling Cop Car Cost

In an attack on police force waste, the PM criticised the cost of back-office functions in Greater Manchester police. Among other things, he picked on the 106 vehicle fleet maintenance staff.
Here's a thought, Dave: if the police used fewer vehicles, they'd not only save on fleet maintenance and vehicle cost. There'd be a benefit to the environment, and some research indicates that bobbies on bicycles are more effective than car-bound cops. Pedalling police are also more approachable than squad-car officers.

CSH7 improvements - Southwark Bridge

The BBC reports CSH7 improvement works on Southwark Bridge. Looks like they are segregating the cycle lane (yes, you read that right).
More of this kind of thing is what we want. It would be nice if we knew more of whether there is an ongoing programme of safety improvements. Perhaps the Mayor/TfL are doing it in a stealthy way, in order not to upset the motor lobby?

UPDATE: As per Chris's comment below, and comments on the BBC's blog, it seems the BBC has it wrong about the segregation being new.
According to City Cyclists, the segregation was
"driven by engineers wanting fortified kerbs to protect the sides of the bridge from lorries rather than the specific needs of cyclists."
The plans date from 2005 so clearly have nothing to do with the CSH.

Norman Baker Interview

Norman Baker, (Minister for unimportant transport modes - including cycling) was interviewed by Civil Service Live. You can read the report here, and I'm going to highlight a few cycling-related matters and shine the Cycalogical LED headlamp on them:

“The coalition agreement talks very clearly about encouraging cycling and walking; it talks about the importance of greener transport and reducing carbon."

Talk is cheap, Norman. Action is what we need.

“One of the things the previous government did which we don’t like is having huge numbers of pots of money to bid for – £10m here, £5m there – for different rural transport grants, ‘kickstart’ bus schemes, and so forth. The consequence is that councils are spending a huge amount of time form-filling without a very good chance of getting anything out of the pot at the end; and even if they do, it’s quite a small pot....I don’t think that local councils, even if they’re given a lot more power, will suddenly go round saying: ‘Whoopee, we’ve got all this power: let’s build a 15-lane motorway!’ They aren’t going to do that, are they? I think local councillors want to do some of these green things. They’ve got the same objectives.”

They might not build a 15-lane motorway, but they might build a bypass and dress it up as a 'green' measure. Reducing beaurocracy is good, but this approach of handing over power over spending decisions will only work if councils actually share the vision of greener transport and more cycling/walking, and are prepared to spend money and deliver on that vision. In many cases, it's clear they don't have the same objectives. Westminster Council in particular has historically been hostile to cycling. Witness the acute shortage of cycle parking and almost total absence of cycle lanes, traffic calming or traffic restrictions. Yet without improvements in Westminster, it's going to be difficult to persuade more people to commute into town. Secondly, local councils often don't have the resources to research which schemes to invest in. They don't have the specialist knowledge. Many authorities don't even have a cycling officer, and if they do it's usually a lonely occupation. Highways departments are institutionally car-centric and anti-cycling, so you have to change that culture if you want to get anything done.
Transport needs a joined-up, cross-authority strategy. If individual boroughs take different approaches, you end up with a patchwork rather than a network. The other issue is, councillors may privately be in favour of cycling and other green measures, but they are vulnerable to parochial forces. Local 'nimbyists' always lobby against cycling in the same way they would lobby against a 15-lane motorway.

Baker is working with the department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that, once a transport scheme has been approved for use by one council, each council wishing to follow its lead won’t require DfT sign-off. Citing a proposed scheme in Northamptonshire which mirrors one already in place in Kent, he says: “I’ve been astonished at some of the stuff coming across my desk here, asking me to sign off on things which, in my view, are really nothing to do with the Department for Transport. Once we’ve established a principle, once a scheme is up and working somewhere satisfactorily, why are we involved? We want to get rid of that level of bureaucracy.”

Spot on, Norman. It's ridiculous that Traffic Orders for mandatory cycle lanes, pedestrian crossings and yellow lines need sign-off from the DoT. Why do cycle track orders need a public enquiry if there is even one solitary objection, no matter how spurious the grounds? I've been making this point for a while now. Give boroughs the freedom to pick the safest, most effective measures rather than ones with the lowest beaurocratic overhead.

He has “been in touch with [public health minister] Anne Milton at the Department for Health, because there’s a very clear linkage – proven with quite good empirical evidence – to show the value of investing in cycling in terms of health, obesity and so on. The Department of Health has historically funded some work on cycling, but we have to see where there are common objectives across government and try to exploit that and make the best use of the money available.”

Fine, but how are you going use health money to target cycling and active travel, for example, if you're abandoning the principle of ring-fenced budgets? The NHS may understand the link between disease and sedentary lifestyles, but they can't manage transport projects. That's a transport matter, and now you've abolished Cycling England who's going to coordinate a cycling project? The DoT are institutionally car-centric, they don't have the right culture to do it.

When money is tight, why would councils prioritise non-conventional transport projects? Well, major infrastructure projects may be beyond local authorities, but councils can introduce walking and cycling schemes to “civilise” town centres. “If you civilise a town centre you get people moving round from A to B more quickly, then you start opening up towns more,” he says. “Then you have a town centre which isn’t choking with car fumes; where people aren’t forced off narrow pavements; where they’re able to browse and shop – and that’s good for the local economy.”

Nice idea, really, it's a great vision, but it involves tough measures that car-dependent electors may not like. How are you going to stop people driving to the town centre? Are you going to close the car parks? What makes you think people will cycle to town unless you actually stop them driving? Are cycling schemes going to take roadspace away from motor traffic? Again, local councils know there are strong forces against schemes that in any way restrict peoples' ability to drive and park where, when and how fast they like. Even for councillors who privately agree with this vision, they think about the next election. If you do not address the political dynamic then you will fail. I believe it is possible to set things up so that the incentive is there for councils to do the right thing, but I don't see that you're proposing that.

Baker also sees local cycling schemes as a good investment for private businesses – particularly train companies. “Say you have a business appointment a mile from Norwich station,” he says. “At the moment, people don’t know how to get a mile beyond the station, so they drive all the way. If you could guarantee that a bike would be available for you at Norwich station, you might take the train up there and cycle the last mile.”

That is true, but just having bikes available isn't enough. If you don't know Norwich and you have any fear of busy roads, you'll want to know that there is a network of safe cycle routes that are well-signed and reasonably direct. If you have a business appointment, you'll want to know the route is asphalt and kept reasonably clean so your suit trousers don't get covered in dirt. Train companies may be able to provide bike hire at the station, but they can't provide a cycle route network, in the same way that an airport may have car hire but they don't build roads. Infrastructure is a government job. Everybody benefits, so it needs to be paid for through taxes. Fine if you can get different businesses to club together and fund the infrastructure, good luck with that. In my experience most businesses are more concerned that their customers can park their cars than trying to persuade them onto bikes.

Are there any examples of private sector-backed alternative transport schemes across the country? Yes: the new Barclays-sponsored cycle hire scheme in London. Further afield, a pilot scheme is due to be launched in Leeds by Dutch company Abellio in conjunction with Northern Rail. The ‘Cyclepoint’ will provide a hub for bike storage, rental, sales and repairs right next to the station.

It's true to say that London cycle hire has private-sector involvement, but it's not a private sector scheme. It was devised, planned and mainly implemented before Barclays got involved. Serco are managing it, but the scheme exists only because the Mayor decreed it. All Barclays did was pay for advertising space and sponsorship. I don't know the Leeds Cyclepoint scheme, but it sounds like a bike shop with a bit of cycle parking. There's a difference between a bike shop and a cycle scheme. Renting a couple of bikes is not going to change transport habits in any measurable way. Cycle parking is great and is necessary, but without safe cycle routes the market for both cycle parking and cycle hire will remain limited to diehard cyclists.

I cannot say that Norman Baker's words have inspired any confidence that cycling is going to do anything other than flatline under the Coalition. They seem to be abdicating all responsibility for it, and leaving it to local authorities, which generally have a track record of failure.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Interesting interview with Cycle Coppers

from Moving Target - Part 1 and Part 2 .


The Government are going to be measuring our happiness.

That should be simple enough. Happiness comes from credit cards, beer, chocolate, crisps, fast food, reality TV, new shoes, shirts with a little horse on, German cars, new kitchens, air fresheners that express your individual personality. If that's not true, we've been lied to for decades and I want my money back.

David Cameron said, "Wellbeing can't be measured by money or traded in markets. It's about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships." Does that include your relationship with your car? To acknowledge that there are other important things in life besides material aspiration is a dangerous path to go down. Surely they're not suggesting that people's surroundings is a factor in their happiness? If so, maybe getting an increasing number of people and goods to their destinations so that we can enjoy an ever-increasing range of retail opportunities needs to be balanced against peoples' need to enjoy their environment without actually getting in a car. Maybe children should be able to enjoy their neigborhoods? Where will it end?

More worrying still is the metrics the French are using to measure happiness. Could these cross the channel? Apparently traffic jams make people unhappy! But motoring makes you happy, doesn't it? Surely they're not proposing we drive less? And apparently short-term gratification is bad! It's all very confusing. And depressing. I must go shopping to cheer myself up.

The best time to start to measure happiness is just after you've made sure people are as miserable as possible. Could this be the Coalition's strategy?

Cycle Survey - Chelsea Bridge

I thought I'd do a short traffic count to see approximately what the levels of cycling are relative to other modes. The site I chose for the survey Chelsea Bridge southbound, reasoning that a bridge is a good point to measure because all north-south journeys have to pass over a bridge at some point.

My short survey revealed that around 30% of southbound vehicles were bicycles. This was at commute time - 6:15PM - but it was on a wet, cold dark winter's evening, so it's quite likely that levels are considerably higher in summer.

TfL talk about balance between transport modes. Well surely on a road (Queenstown Road) with 30%+ cycles at peak times, you'd expect a balance in favour of that mode?

To be fair, there are worse roads for cycling. Northbound there is a segregated lane and a bus lane although both are intermittent. Southbound there is rather less; an advisory cycle lane for part of Queenstown Road. There's no treatment on the bridge itself, (there seems to be a shared-use arrangement on the footpath, but the signing is pretty ambiguous and it's unclear whether this is actually legal or not) and nothing at the junctions, including the very dangerous Queen's Circus or the junction with Battersea Park Road, where you have to queue up with the rest of the traffic or take your chances overtaking round the outside into oncoming traffic. You can rely on the ASL to be blocked with motors.

Balance? Not in any sense of the word I know. However, TfL have a chance to redeem themselves because CSH8 will come this way...watch this space.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Cycling Revolution?

It's always interesting to see your own city through the eyes of a foreigner. So it's interesting to read this article for CNN about cycling in London.

"For novices, biking in London can be a daunting prospect. Heavy traffic, narrow streets with few off-road cycle paths, limited safe parking and the dozen or so cycling deaths recorded each year are all powerful obstacles to getting in the saddle."

Nothing surprising there, then, and the article continues in the same vein, until Kulveer Ranger puts in his 2p's worth:

"the capital is on track to become the 'best cycling city in the world.' " 

Best in the world? On track? In what sense?

"These new superhighways are part of a planned network of 12 which have so far improved usage by up to 15 percent in some areas."

The Mayor's target is to get cycling to 5% of all trips by 2026. How will that make London the best cycling city in the world? Maybe Kulveer is planning to go to Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Gronigen, Berlin and all the other cities with a modal share greater than 5%, and let all their tyres down? That should do it!

The False Economy of Road Safety Cuts

This blog has been making the point for a while now that road deaths are very expensive in cash terms, so the Coalition's policy of cutting speed cameras police budgets and forcing more people onto the roads by disinvesting in public transport will cost the country dear.

It's good that the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has got some numbers to back up the assertion, reported by the RAC.

Every serious accident on UK's roads costs the economy £1.79 million in health care, lost output, pain and suffering.

Neil Greig, IAM policy and research director, said: "These staggering figures prove conclusively that investing in saving lives on the roads saves the country money, so funding being taken away from this area is a false economy. 
"Meeting our casualty reduction targets has meant that deaths on Britain's roads have halved over the past 20 years with 31,000 deaths avoided and savings to the economy of around £50 billion.
"The IAM calculates that achieving similar targets for road deaths by 2020 would save society 2,500 lives and the economy over £4 billion."

Irish Speed Cameras

Just when the UK government are switching off our speed cameras, the Irish are rolling out a new network. Do the Irish know something we don't ?

Irish Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey said: "The purpose of these new safety cameras is simple: to save lives and prevent serious injuries on our roads. No more, no less.
"Excessive speed is still the top killer on Irish roads. These new cameras will help the gardai in their efforts to make our roads safer."

It really is that simple. How many people have to die before the Coalition understands?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Red Route Parking Charges

The BBC's Tom Edwards reports about proposals to charge for parking on red routes. You'll notice that a lot of red routes have parking/loading spaces, usually in the middle of the cycle lane. Currently, you can park for nothing in these spaces providing you observe the hours of operation.

As usual, the BBC are quick to consult their best mate, so-called parking campaigner Paul Pearson, threaten that this will 'kill off businesses' (you can always rely on businesses to say that) and ask the rhetorical (and ill-constructed) question "is paying for parking on red routes a price worth paying?"

The BBC's script has been written by the motor lobby. As usual, they don't put the other side of the story. First, roadspace is a premium asset. It is not in the taxpayers' interest that TfL should effectively giving this valuable asset away for free, especially in these austere times. Second, these spaces often block cycle lanes and cause danger. Ostensibly they're for loading, but in practice they are often simply used as free parking. Third, public transport users are expected to stump up huge fare increases. Why should they be subsidizing free parking for the least green form of transport? Fourth, free parking fosters car dependency and results in more traffic.

News Roundup - The Dangers of the School Run

The Mitcham, Morden and Wimbledon Post reports concern from local residents that Sunnyhill Primary School will be expanding to cope with the rising birthrate. The worry is - guess what - about traffic and parking. "You can't park in this street now" said one. "It will become even more difficult." Another complained "The roads around here are already rat runs. There will be even more traffic with the expansion." The Headmaster has suggested making Sunnyhill Road one-way to ease congestion and introducing parking permits. 
One-way streets are no solution. They may ease traffic flow in the short term but they also tend to increase the amount of traffic and the danger to vulnerable road users.
A local Lib Dem councillor said "The objection is understandable. We need some kind of traffic control." Traffic control? Now there's an idea. Maybe there shouldn't be significant traffic in the area around a school. Maybe instead there should be safe routes so kids can walk and cycle to school, instead of being driven there. That way, the traffic problems would be solved, and the residents (many of whom likely don't see how cycling can benefit them) would be happy.

Driving kids to school (and everywhere else) is a bad thing not only because of the traffic chaos it causes, but also the effect it has on childrens' health. The BBC is reporting the  return of rickets, a childhood disease caused by vitamin D deficiency that had been all but eliminated. It is due to kids not being exposed to enough sunlight. It is partly related to the use of sunblock, but also to a lifestyle where children do not play outside, and are driven almost everywhere instead of walking or cycling. After all, you are not a responsible parent if you expose your child to the dangers of today's roads. You must wrap your little ones in cotton wool and transport them in luxury.

That's the toxic cycle of car dependency. More traffic equals more danger. More danger puts people off cycling and walking, which results in more car use, which equals more traffic and more danger, followed by the onset of congestion and parking problems. Then finally the diseases of a sedentary lifestyle kick in. We're driving our kids into an early grave. As a response, the Coalition are cutting spending on cycling and sport, axing speed cameras, and have put McDonalds and KFC in charge of health eating (no, I'm not joking).

M4 Bus Lane Removal Starts

The BBC reports the start of removal work on the M4 bus lane, in their usual uncritical manner. Maybe 'BBC' stands for Burmese Broadcasting Corporation, so rigidly do they stick to the Government line on this issue. If they bothered to read this blog, they'd find out that removing the M4 bus lane will likely make things worse for ordinary car drivers rather than better.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Renewable Energy Production Falls

Reported in The Guardian, in the first half of 2010, there was a drop in the amount of electricity generated from non-carbon sources. This was due to lower-than-expected wind speeds and rainfall.

Sceptics of renewable energy need not relax. The supply and price of gas and oil are likely to become volatile as supplies dwindle and demand from the emerging economies, most notably Brazil, Russia, India and China, rises.

This rather reinforces the point that building a transport system based on replacing petrol- and diesel-fuelled vehicles eith electric vehicles without attempting to reduce total vehicle mileage or promoting sustainable travel modes is a strategy that is fraught with risk.

London Air Quality - Dust Suppressant Trial

Rather than tackle the source of London's abysmal air quality (motor traffic), the Mayor is trialling a dust suppressant technology.

The procedure involves sweeping roads and then spraying them with a solution of calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), which sticks to particulate matter to prevent it re-circulating into the air.

Needless to say, this ain't gonna be cheap. The trial alone is costing £300,000, and will only treat two key routes, the A501 (Euston Road/Marylebone Road) and the A311 (Victoria Embankment).

Meanwhile, the Mayor has delayed the expansion of the Low Emission Zone, abolished 6-monthly emissions checks for black cabs, and the changes to the Congestion Charge will ensure more traffic and exempt more diesel vehicles (which emit more particulates than other fuels). Additionally, transport fare rises will likely force more people into their cars.

London needs to de-carbonize. London needs better air quality. These two goals need to be addressed by promoting sustainable transport and reducing motor vehicle use. The Mayor seems intent on doing the opposite.

Car Parking

A great post on car parking in London from Freewheeler.

On a similar note, reported in the Guardian, in Leeds there have been calls to cut Leeds city centre parking charges. Leeds Liberal Democrat leader Stewart Golton said "I've no doubt that cutting car parking charges would encourage more people to visit city and district centres. We need to give shoppers from this city and beyond yet another reason to spend their money in Leeds."

In York, in perhaps the most ironic story ever, "a proposed eco-town project in York would bring more traffic gridlock without vital cash for new Park & Ride sites, according to a new report."

The problem all over the UK is that councils depend on parking as a revenue stream, yet large supermarkets and out-of-town developments are allowed to offer free parking. So councils face a dilemma: if they raise parking charges, this will kill off in-town businesses. If they lower them, this will cause city-centre congestion. Park & Ride is only a sticking plaster, as although it can alleviate city-centre congestion, it still promotes car-dependency.

Surely it would be more sensible at a national level to get rid of all free commercial and workplace parking and attempt to equalize parking charges so that local businesses don't lose out. This is only fair because currently out-of-town businesses are subsidized by the fact that they benefit from the hugely expensive road network to a greater extent than local businesses. It is difficult enough to encourage a shift away from car-dependency when the car has key costs such as parking being externalized.


It can be very frustrating being a cycle campaigner. The evidence is clearer every year how beneficial cycling is on so many levels. Other cities have cycling levels an order of magnitude greater than London's. Yet nothing seems to change. The officials in charge - even the ones that 'get it' - achieve little, the politicians are too cowardly to take on the parochial forces and vested interests that conspire against change.

I would suggest that we should not lose heart. Change actually happens very quickly. What takes time is creating the right conditions for change. Every person who starts cycling is part of that process. Every person you convince about cycling, every sympathetic newspaper article, every person who notices that more of their friends or colleagues are cycling is part of that process. That's why the Cycle Hire and Cycle Superhighways are important. They are far from perfect, but they do get cycling into people's conciousness as a normal, legitimate mode of transport. So although it may appear that nothing is changing, the conditions for change may slowly be being achieved.

Dangerous Driving and Criminality

I dug up some rather old research on dangerous drivers summarised in a 2003 report for the Parliamentary Advisory Committee for Transport Safety (PACTS). I doubt if the patterns have changed much in the intervening years...

75% of dangerous driving offenders are males under the age of 30. 97% of those convicted of dangerous driving in 1999 were men and only 3% were women. 40% came from postcode areas in ACORN group F (the Striving category, incorporating council estates and multi-ethnic, low income areas), twice the proportion of the national population in these areas.
...being charged with dangerous driving was not usually the first or last driving offence for many of those involved. 46% had already been convicted on three or more previous occasions.
56% of offenders with 3 or more previous court appearances in 1996 committed a subsequent offence in 1997. 40% of drivers with previous offences had already committed an offence connected with insurance. Neither current penalties nor the threat of a prison sentence had a significant effect on re-offending rates.

The overlap between mainstream offenders and offending as a motorist has been neglected … serious traffic offenders are more criminal, in terms of non-motoring convictions, than the population as a whole … traffic offending and mainstream offending are both manifestations of the same tendency to deviance...those repeatedly committing serious traffic offences are likely to commit mainstream offences as well. The evidence shows that serious traffic offenders cannot be thought of as otherwise law-abiding members of society... 50% of dangerous drivers had a previous conviction and 30% had a conviction for car theft.

We're simple folk here at Cycalogical, so I'll summarize the above in four words: "don't let criminals drive."
Perhaps part of the criminal justice system should involve assessing whether a convicted criminal can be trusted to drive, and much wider use of long driving bans as a punishment.  I've pointed out before that a driving ban is a cheap punishment to administer; a lot cheaper than prison or community service. It also has the potential (based on the above research) to prevent dangerous driving and thus save lives.
Of course, banning someone from driving does not actually prevent them driving. Note above that 40% of dangerous drivers in the study referenced had insurance-related convictions (and it's likely that many of the other 60% had committed insurance-related offences but not been caught).
However, it is rather easier, given appropriate technology, to catch a driver for an insurance or license offence, because as soon as they get behind a car they commit the offence. With dangerous driving, you have to catch the offender in the act, which is very difficult to do given the fact that traffic police are on the endangered species list.

New Routemaster

TfL have a promo video of the new Routemaster bus.

From an aesthetic point of view, the rear aspect has echoes of the old routemaster, but from the front it looks rather like any other modern bus. From a practical point of view, it has the same capacity (87) as most modern buses, but a lot less than the 'bendy bus' (140-odd). However, it has 3 entrances so boarding should be quicker.
There was some concern about the accident record of bendy buses, which was one of Boris's justifications for getting rid of them. From a BBC report, "There was a 45 per cent rise in accidents involving the No38 Victoria to Clapton between April 2006 and the same month in 2007, the first full year of bendy buses, compared to the previous 12 months when double-deckers were the main vehicle on the route. Accidents rose by 70 from 154 in 2005/06 to 224 in 2006/07."

The Standard reported "bendy buses cause 5.6 pedestrian injuries per million miles operated, compared with 2.6 for all other buses. They are involved in 2.62 collisions with cyclists per million miles, compared with 0.97 for other buses. And they have 153 accidents per million miles, compared with only 87 per million on non-bendy routes."

However, I'd sound a note of caution here. First, the bendys cover the busiest routes, and likely roads with a higher density of pedestrians and cyclists, so it doesn't necessarily follow that the buses are wholly to blame. Second, the bendys have 50% higher capacity, so you need fewer of them. Because of that, accident rate per passenger mile is rather closer to non-articulated buses.

As a cyclist, I do not like the bendy buses. Any vehicle that long with a bend in the middle is going to be difficult to filter past and it must be difficult for the driver to monitor surrounding traffic properly, especially at night.

A second justification for scrapping the bendys was that there was a lot of fare dodging. The new Routemaster will have the same potential for fare-dodging, having 3 entrances, but will apparently have a conductor when the rear platform is open. The flaw in this scenario is that you could have a conductor on a bendy bus, and because of the higher passenger capacity of each bus, you would need fewer conductors per route.

So the New Routemaster does look rather more like a vanity project than a great leap forward. However, Boris is a master of presentation. If the new bus can make Londoners feel good about their city and encourage more people onto the bus network, maybe it's no bad thing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bike Hire heads East

Blimey, strike a light me old china, the Standard reports the extension of Barclays Cycle Hire into the East End and towards the Olympic venues. I wonder if they'll have a docking station in Albert Square?

The scheme will therefore cover Canary Wharf and the sponsor Barclays' offices. What a bunch of merchant bankers.

Street Lighting Cuts

The Mail has resurrected the shadowy prospect of street light cutbacks so I thought I would resurrect my previous post about it...

Congestion Charge - Is Anyone Not Exempt?

The London congestion charge is beginning to look like a Greek tax - no-one actually pays it.

There are existing exemptions for black cabs, registered private hire vehicles, motorcycles, emergency services and some NHS vehicles.

Blue badge holders also are eligible to register for a 100 per cent discount, even if they don't own a vehicle or drive."You can register up to two vehicles that you would normally use to travel within the charging zone. This could be your own vehicle, or one you travel in." No scope for abuse there, then.

There are also exemptions for electric, hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles, like this Lexus RX450H SUV, or this Porsche Cayenne hybrid (emissions 193g CO2/km).

From January 2011, Boris has created a new Greener Vehicle Discount, providing a 100 per cent discount to cars that emit 100g/km of CO2 or less and meet the Euro 5 standard.

Trouble is, rather a lot of cars meet this standard - 25 different models, according to the Government's VED database. Don't think you'd be driving an expensive or compromised eco-special - you could choose a Volvo S40 'DRIVe', a Mini Cooper D, a Ford Focus 1.6TDCi 'ECO start-stop', a VW Golf 1.6TDi 'Bluemotion', a Fiat 500 'TwinAir' or many other affordable mainstream cars.

It is difficult to see how these new exemptions will make congestion or air pollution any better. Some might see it as a little unfair that the least green form of transport is becoming cheaper just as public transport fares are rising.

Perhaps the most serious problem this will create is that a greater and greater proportion of vehicles will become exempt over time. Having created an exemption, it will be politically difficult to take it away. It could be argued that with this move, Boris just abolished the congestion charge.

The Strange Case of the Speeding Doctor

Reported in the Metro, medic Dr David Heal allegedly threatened to kill a speed gun operator. He also reportedly had a conviction this year for common assault after hitting a man trying to repossess his Porsche when he fell behind on the payments.

He's up before the General Medical Council, and could presumably lose his license to practise medicine.

However, he won't lose his license to drive. You have to do something very, very naughty indeed for that to happen.

Cycling and crash victim groups are rightly concerned by the lenient punishments meted out to killer drivers. Harsher penalties are required, but they are unlikely to act as a deterrent because few killer drivers intend to kill or believe that their behaviour has the potential to kill.

The point, surely, is to catch dangerous drivers before they kill, not punish them afterwards. The point is to deter dangerous driving itself, and the specific dangerous behaviours - speeding, mobile phone use, tailgating, and so on. Deterrence requires two elements:
1. The prospect of a significant punishment or consequence;
2. A realistic prospect of getting caught.
In terms of punishment, one of the most effective deterrents to dangerous driving is the prospect of losing your license. The more dangerous drivers that are banned, the fewer people will die. It's time driving was regarded as a privilege that can be taken away - a privilege that brings responsibilities, rather than a right. Additionally, banning a driver is a very cheap punishment to administer.

In terms of enforcement, police time is limited, and with police service cutback it is about to get more limited. As The Cycling Lawyer points out, there are huge barriers that are put in front of members of the public who wish to report road crime. This acts against the principle of deterrence. It's time for that to change. It would remove a great load from the police if the public were able to report dangerous driving without all sorts of red tape, and for reports to affect the individual's driving record. Clearly, there would need to be safeguards against malicious false reporting, but with more and more vehicles and cyclists equipped with video cameras, this should be less of an issue. An individual who attracts a number of dangerous driving reports could be put 'on probation' and required to drive with a 'black box' to monitor their driving. 'Probation' would also apply to anyone with previous driving convictions.

I am not a lawyer. There would clearly be issues to work through to make such a proposal viable. But I do know that the technology exists to automate law enforcement, and I believe that communities can take responsibility for the safety of their roads. It's time for the justice system to move forward into the 21st century.