Wednesday, March 31, 2010

NO CYCLING on Cannon Hill Common

A few brand new signs have sprouted up on Cannon Hill Common. Good to see our hard-earned council tax is going on such worthy projects:

"No Cycling on Cannon Hill Common". Why not? Cycling is a legitimate leisure pursuit. It's healthy and no more damaging to the Common than other activites. Like other sports such as kite-flying or ball games, and activities like dog-walking, it needs to be done responsibly and with consideration to other Common users.

So what's unique about cycling that makes it necessary to ban it? From a safety point of view, there's no evidence to show that cycling causes an undue number of accidents, compared to other activities such as dog-walking etc., and for cyclists it's likely to reduce accidents if the alternative is cycling on-road. There are plenty of other open spaces where cycling is permitted. In fact, on some of the paths on Cannon Hill Common, it is permitted. The council's stance makes no sense. The Council should be encouraging healthy activities - in which case it should be looking at what it needs to do (if anything) to permit cycling on the Common, rather than spending money putting up notices banning it.

London's Cycle Hire scheme go-live

A couple of reports have the go-live date for the London Cycle Hire Scheme as 30 July 2010.
It's always tempting to whine about delays, but 2 months late is about the minimum you could hope for in a London project.

30 July 2010 happens to be the last Friday in July, and therefore a Critical Mass day. I wonder if City Hall thought of that?

Anyway, I aim to be one of the first riders. Maybe we should organize some informal events...a team time trial?

Peak Oil - or not

I blogged before about the peak oil scenario here.

But it's by no means certain what's going to happen to the oil price over the coming years. Here's two possible scenarios:

1. The failure of the G20 Copenhagen summit to agree limits on CO2 emissions remains unaddressed. The developing economies, Brazil, Russia, India and China among them, continue expanding. Car ownership, air travel and domestic consumption in those countries increases, creating worldwide demand for oil that outstrips supply. The oil price rises above $200/barrel.

2. The world somehow gets its act together and agrees binding limits on CO2 emissions. As economies decarbonize, demand for oil drops, and with it the oil price, perhaps to $20/barrel.

You'll notice that in either of these scenarios, the availability of oil to the UK becomes restricted, in the first case by market forces, and in the second by regulation. Therefore, dependence on ready availability of oil at the current price is very risky in economic terms. That's a fact, and it doesn't matter if you're an environmentalist or a climate-change sceptic. Of course, the oil price could remain as it is today, if supply and demand remain in lock-step, but that doesn't seem likely. If we don't stop binge-drinking oil we'll have a massive hangover in a few years time...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Smarter Travel Sutton

The BBC had a piece on the news a couple of days ago about Smarter Travel Sutton, which is an initiative of 'soft' measures ( knocking on doors and talking to people, handing out leaflets, promotions, that sort of thing, anything other than infrastructure investment) to "encourage residents and people who work in Sutton to choose to walk, cycle and use public transport more often, and their cars a little less."

The BBC is becoming more and more 'tabloid' in its coverage of news. For the real in-depth analysis, you have to come to this blog.

Now, Smarter Travel Sutton has spent something like £5M, which is not a small amount of money. With buses and trains, you can persuade people to them more because the services are there and they work. With cycling, the infrastructure isn't there. Most people don't want to cycle where they don't feel safe, and there is no way you will persuade them otherwise.

In terms of cycling, the BBC gushed that "in three years Sutton has seen a 75% increase in cyclists". What they don't tell you is that Sutton started with a pitifully small modal share of 0.6%. You don't have to be a mathematician to figure out that 75% of bugger all is not a lot. The modal share now is 2.1%, around  the national average, which remember is among the lowest in Europe. (source) Bear in mind also, there's an upward trend in cycling all over London. The real challenge is getting modal share up to the levels seen in certain European cities, and you cannot do that without substantial investment in cycle infrastructure. The BBC report showed 'Maria' cycling 2 miles to work along a segregated path. Trouble is, there's not many segregated paths in Sutton. If she ventures further afield she'll encounter the kind of conditions all regular cyclists have to deal with, and after a couple of near misses, she may be back in her car. If you promote cycling without first investing to make it a good experience, people will try it and find out how crap it is. In the words of Barack Obama, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.

The great thing about 'soft' measures from a political point of view is they don't upset motorists. No-one's parking or driving is restricted, there are no speed limits or road closures. But the trouble with 'soft' measures is they're ephemeral. If you'd invested £5M wisely on improving cycle infrastructure, it would permanently advertise itself, and that infrastructure will be there for decades to come.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

He giveth...he taketh away...

Budget time again, and a last throw of the dice for Darling. Anything for cyclists?

On transport we have:

"I am setting up a new Green Investment Bank.
It will control £2bn worth of equity.
The fund will focus first on investing in green transport and sustainable energy, in particular offshore wind power, where Britain is already the world-leader."

So far so good-to-average. What "green transport" amounts to isn't clear at this point, but I bet it's nothing to do with cycling. It'll be something very expensive that will take decades to come to fruition.

Second up:
"I have decided to stage next month's increase in fuel duties."
So effectively, the revenue that would have been raised by the fuel duty increase will be lost. So the green tax has been replaced by, well, something else that's not green. And the disproportionate winners will be the least green - those with the biggest, thirstiest cars.So much for "investing in sustainable transport".

And lastly:
"I am providing £100m to pay for vital repairs to local roads throughout the country, and £285m to pay for improvements in the motorway network, including by expanding capacity by allowing hard shoulder running."

"Vital repairs to local roads" would have happened anyway, over time, so really that's just cash that the government would have spent anyway, out of council budgets.

"Expanding [motorway] capacity" doesn't sit well with "investing in green transport" though. Everyone knows that if you increase road capacity at one location, you increase traffic levels in general, and with it congestion, as sure as night follows day. It would make more sense to act to reduce non-essential motor journeys. You could, for example, invest in cycle infrastructure! £285M would go some way to building a half-decent cycle network (it's 10 times the Sustrans budget for FY2009), whereas invested in roads, it's just about enough to build a couple of miles of bypass, and of course the Highways Agency get it wrong when it comes to assessing the benefits of new roads. £285M translates into roadworks as far as the eye can see, and a budget deficit as far as the eye can see.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cycle Paths and Street Cleaning

As autumn gave way to winter, the cycle path between North Road and Plough Lane became carpeted in a golden mantle of fallen leaves. Then, the fallen leaves gradually became a slippery brown slush, which has persisted until spring. When you're on a bike at any speed, wet leaves are a considerable danger.

Fair enough, I thought, Merton Council clearly have better things to spend their money on than clearing leaves.

Not true, it turns out. I spotted this pavement-sweeper (above) on Dorset Road in March this year. The council go to considerable lengths to clear the leaves from Dorset Road, which is fair enough in Autumn, but in March it's pretty clear of, well, anything at all in the way of foreign matter.

So how come the cycle paths are apparently NEVER cleared, despite the obvious safety hazard, when Dorset Road is subject to a stricter cleaing regime than a lot of hospitals?

Crap Contractors

I was cycling a little off my usual route and came upon this rather nice brand new segregated cycle lane in Tolworth, just here

View Larger Map

Here's a view of it:

Now you'll notice this section of the cycle lane has been completed, bar the white lines. I know because I ignored the sign and cycled along it. If this was a motor road, the contractors would quite rightly attract the attention of the papers and the Council for causing inconvenience and unnecessary congestion. But the same standards don't apply for cycle lanes ... *sigh*

Black Cabs and The Cost of Pollution

As usual, this blog gets the news before the BBC, who reported in a rather dumbed-down way the Commons Environmental Audit Committee report, which said that failure to reduce pollution had put an "enormous" cost on the NHS and could cost millions in EU fines.

But the BBC don't tell you much about where all this pollution is coming from. For in-depth analysis, you need to come here...

In Central London, if you walk around during the day, you'll notice that there are a few private cars these days. Most of the traffic is black cabs and commercial vehicles. A lot of the 'private cars' you'll notice have the tell-tale window sticker of the private hire vehicle. This is testament to the success of the congestion charge. But could it be that the people who used to drive into central London are now using cabs more?

Not that it matters much who is using cabs. As I reported before, The Mayor's draft Air Quality Strategy says " In central London where the [pollution] hotspots are, taxis are a particular problem, accounting for 35 per cent of emissions from exhausts". It's pretty clear then that you can't tackle pollution (or congetion) without reducing taxi usage. But the political classes are scared stiff of the black cab lobby, which has power out of all proportion to its membership. Black cabs have many of the same privileges as public transport - their own free parking, the right to use bus lanes - but they are in many ways as damaging in terms of the pollution and congestion they cause as single-occupancy private vehicles - which is essentially what they are much of the time.

Now it's pretty clear that there is a need for cabs, and they have a valuable role to play in enabling people to use public transport. But a lot of cab journeys in central London could be conducted entirely by public transport. And the buses would run a lot quicker if there were fewer cabs clogging up the bus lanes. In addition, cabbies know every nook and cranny of London streets, and turn the quieter streets into rat runs, which damages quality of life for London residents and discourages cycling.

But no political party or newspaper would dare say any of the above.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Free Speech and the Daily Mail

This article about speeding/bad driving attracted a good selection of comments, largely articulate and informed. All the comments have now been pulled. What are they afraid of? That the general public are capable of better writing than their columnists, perhaps? (well, the bar is pretty low)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sensible article about cycling

from the Evening Standard.

Less of this please, otherwise I'll have to give up blogging. I'm sure I can still rely on the Mail for the usual ignorant, prejudiced cyclophobic nonsense though.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Richmond Park Car Parking Charges Go-ahead

It seems that the car parking charges for Richmond and Bushey parks have got the go-ahead...for now. This BBC report explains that a Lib Dem amendment to scrap the charges was defeated, although a Tory amendment that 'regrets' the charges was passed. The Tory PPC for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith, has made noises to the effect that a future Tory government will try to reverse the charges, but there's no firm commitment that I have seen. I strongly suspect that this is just pre-election posturing which will be forgotten after May 6 in the scramble to cut the budget deficit.
What the BBC report doesn't tell you is that Jenny Tonge (Lib Dem) said that instead of penalising local people to park, "rat runners" should pay a toll "towards the upkeep of the roads" (citation). Which is what I said in my previous post on the subject. Of course, Tonge, unlike Kramer and Goldsmith, doesn't have to get elected.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Piccadilly Circus Revamp

Westminster Council are spending £14M digging up the world-famous landmark junction, and re-engineering the surrounding streets to make them more pedestrian-friendly.

With that amount being spent on de-congestion, you would think there would be some arrangements to improve the sorry state of cycling in the area. Well, I've not found any mention of it, which isn't that surprising given Westminster's usual anti-cycling stance and opposition to road-safety measures such as 20MPH speed limits. Given that TfL are being asked to stump up £7M of the cost, you would think they would weigh in with some preconditions, especially as Piccadilly Circus is exactly the kind of place tourists will cycle to on their hire bikes. If and when (God forbid) a few of them get run down I'll claim my 'I told you so' card. Hopefully it's still early enough for sense to prevail...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

LCN Route 3, or The Clapham Crawl

 LCN Route 3 is a cycle route that mainly uses quiet backroads to get you into central London from the southwesterly suburbs.
Using backroads is usually a good strategy, because they tend to have low traffic volumes and often traffic calming to keep vehicle speeds down.
However, the real bugbear is that minor roads almost always have the priority against you. In other words, any time you get to a junction, you have to give way. Lots of Give Ways really slow you down. They make cycling unattractive and more dangerous because unless visibility is good, you have to slow down considerably or risk not being able to stop if there is any traffic on the major road.

So the logical thing to do if you were designing a system of backroads as  a cycle route is to change the priority to favour the cycle route. Simple and obvious...except if you're a traffic engineer. You can always rely on them not to have considered the effect of junction priority on cyclists. There's one exception which shows it can be done: Meadow Road now has the priority where it crosses Fentiman Road, which favours cyclists (you still have to watch out for vehicles encroaching or failing to give way, of course).
In Clapham, there is a series of junctions on Route 3 where the priority is against cyclists. Here's a map of the area:

View Larger Map

Here's the first junction. The Chase is a wide but very quiet road leading north from Clapham Common. It really ought to have a segregated path. Route 3 going north then turns right into Hannington Road (below).
Making the right turn isn't normally a big problem, but of course all right-turns are somewhat risky, particularly for kids.

Going the other way you turn left from Hannington Road into The Chase, but your vision is obscured by parked cars, so you have to slow right down. The logical thing would be for the cycle route to have priority. Bear in mind there is little traffic here so there would be no real issues with this. You could build out the pavement south of the junction to shield traffic coming from the left.

Just a hundred metres further on, there's a staggered crossroads, where Lambourn Road crosses and the cycle route goes straight on from Hannington Road into Broadhinton Road. Again, the priority is against the cycle route and again without good reason as there is little traffic on either road. (below)

Another two hundred metres further on there is a major junction, with North Street.(below)

No surprise the priority is against you here, but there's no attempt to make life easy. No central refuge, no mini-roundabout or lights, nothing. You can wait a long time in rush hour before there's a gap in both lanes of traffic big enough to allow you to get across.

Another 70 metres further on, another crossroads. Again both roads are quiet but the priority is against you with no good reason. (below)

Next, in another 140 metres, we have Turret Grove junction with Rectory Grove. This is a T junction so the priority is against you. It's easy enough to make the left turn going north, but going south you have to make a right turn and there is a ridiculous piece of road design to make this as difficult and dangerous as possible.
First, Turret Grove is no-entry to motor traffic, and this is enforced by an island with a narrow cycle path through it. (below)

This arrangement causes the following problems:
1. You cannot make the right-turn at any speed even though visibility into Turret Grove is good. The cycle path is both narrow and at an acute angle. So you have to slow down and you're more likely to be held up by oncoming traffic, which increases the chance of being rear-ended.
2. You end up in exactly the wrong place in the carriageway, invisible to traffic coming up Turret Grove, and yet forced into the middle of the road by the parking bays you can see in the above picture.

So in summary, the road designers have done nothing for cyclists, except one thing that has made the road more dangerous. Now a couple of give-ways aren't a problem, but when you have give-way junctions with this frequency, it really starts to slow you down. That's when impatient cyclists start to take risks.