Friday, June 25, 2010

LCN Route 3 improvement

Delighted to see the section of LCN Route 3 at Bolney Street/Dorset Road and Dorset Road/Meadow Road junctions has been changed.Before the changes, you had to give way at the Bolney Street/Dorset Road junction and there was a mini-roundabout at the Dorset Road/Meadow Road junction. This has been changed so the cycle route has priority at both junctions. In other words, traffic turning from Bolney Street into Dorset Road has priority, and traffic turning from Dorset Road into Meadow Road has priority.

Well done Lambeth Council. This is exactly the kind of simple improvement that costs nothing to implement if the road is being resurfaced as a matter of regular maintenance, but makes a real difference to cyclists. Journeys are quicker if you don't have to give way every few hundred yards, and junctions are where most accidents happen.

Unfortunately, there is not enough of this sensible thinking in the car-centric world of local authority highways engineering. Mostly, roads get resurfaced and re-marked without any though as to how the road layout could be improved to make cyclists safer. Councils regard cycling as irrelevant to their normal operations, something only to be considered in the context of specific cycle schemes, with the result that dangerous junctions stay that way.

Road Tax - The Facts

Some anti-cycling people love to accuse cyclists of not paying road tax.

Road tax doesn't exist. What they mean is Vehicle Excise Duty, which is a tax based primarily on the size and emissions of the vehicle. There is a system of emissions bands ranging from A (<100g/km CO2) to M (>255g/km CO2). An increasing number of drivers, along with cyclists, mobility scooter riders and pedestrians, pay nothing at all, if their car is in VED Band A. Cars in Band B and Band C attract a low rate (£20 or £30/year respectively), along with smaller motorcycles. HGVs on the other hand pay a higher charge.

VED does not confer a right to use the road, and is not proportional to how much the vehicle is used on the road. Which is why taxis which may cover 50,000+ miles a year pay the same as a vehicle that only covers 1000 miles.

VED (like most UK taxes) is not hypothecated. VED is simply part of the general tax take. If the tax take from VED increases, the road system does not get more investment, and similarly, if the tax take from VED decreases, the investment in roads does not go down as a result. You could however ask the question, does VED actually pay for the road system? VED revenue was £5.8bn in 2008/9 (source: IFS forecast). That's only a little bit less than the two road projects that were recently suspended: the M1 widening (£5bn) and the A14 upgrade (£1bn).So it's rubbish to say that VED comes anywhere near covering the road building and maintenance budget. Bear in mind also that the £5.8bn includes commercial vehicles. Everyone who buys goods and services in the UK contributes to the VED on commercial vehicles, because that cost is built into the price of the goods and services we consume.

So there are two main arguments here:
Accusation: Cyclists have less right to use the road than car drivers because they don't pay road tax.
Refutation: VED is not hypothecated. Band A car-owners, pedestrians and mobility scooters pay nothing, so why are cyclists specifically a special case? Because cyclists pay general taxes they contribute to the upkeep of the roads, even though they are not allowed to use motorways.

Accusation: Cyclists should pay road tax because they use the roads.
Refutation: On what basis? If it's on the basis of emissions, which is the basis of the current system, then they would pay the same as the lowest-emitting vehicle, which is nothing. If it's on the basis of mileage, then in effect you're talking about road pricing. Given the very low average mileage of a cycle, the cyclist would pay close to zero, and higher-mileage drivers would pay a lot more (and quite rightly so). If it's on the basis of impact on the road system - i.e. vehicles that damage the roads most or consume the most roadspace pay the most - then cycles would pay close to zero.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Police Condemn Too-Narrow Cycle Lane

Another tragic cycle death on Vauxhall Bridge Road, reported in the Standard with the police's road death investigation unit's report on it here.

A couple of quotes from it:
"that cycle lane is not of the required width. It is not the proper width for a cycle lane"
"such lack of space was putting cyclists at risk on a significant number of London roads"
“As a cyclist, you think this is not a cycle lane, this is the gutter. They try to squeeze everything on and there isn't enough room because some of these HGVs and buses take up the whole lane.” 

Unfunnily enough, this isn't news to regular London cyclists, or readers of this blog. I'm campaigning for ALL on-road cycle lanes to be a minimum of 2m wide, as this allows cyclists to adopt the correct safe road positioning and encourages drivers to give cyclists enough room when overtaking. Hopefully the LCC and CTC will join me sometime soon.

You would have thought with the modern-day obsession with 'elf and safety' that more thought would have been given to preventing road deaths probably the biggest preventable cause of death - but apparently government money is better spent stopping headstones in graveyards falling on people than improving road safety. Go figure.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

LCN#3 Clapham Crawl getting faster?

Following on from my earlier post, just recently the section of LCN Route 3 between Clapham Common and Rectory Grove seems to be improving.
There have been a lot of roadworks in the immediate vicinity. North Street was closed for a time. After the reopening of North Street, the amount of traffic on it, particularly sourthbound, has decreased. It used to be a real trial crossing it. Such was the volume of traffic, you could wait for minutes for a gap. Now you often only have to wait a few seconds.
Currently, The Chase is closed at its northern end, and there is a sign at the southern end warning of no access to Wandsworth Road. This is a considerable improvement over the usual signing you find with roadworks, where drivers are directed down unsuitable quiet narrow residential roads. The Chase is now very quiet indeed, which just goes to show how much rat-running goes on in residential streets.

I have no idea whether these 'improvements' are actually intentional or not on the part of the local authority: I've not heard of any plan to improve cycling conditions along Route 3. The next logical step would be to change the priority to favour the cycle route: this of course won't happen.

Bike Theft

A story about a successful operation against a bike theft gang in the Standard last night here. Well done Met Police, more of this please!

Couple of things stand out though:

"After the two leading members of a gang were arrested under Operation Beachball, not a single bike was reported stolen in the City of London for a fortnight."
Just goes to show it's just a few gangs responsible for the epidemic scale of bike theft. So what took the police so long? Most cyclists know that all you have to do is search Gumtree for recurrences of the same mobile number and you've likely got yourself a criminal.

"Paul Duncalf, and accomplice Levi Cronin, both 22...were given six-month suspended jail sentences."
Now I don't want to come over all Daily Mail here, but that doesn't seem like much of a deterrent or punishment, and doesn't protect the public. What's to stop these two guys going out tomorrow and nicking my bike? Now I'm not a big supporter of prison sentences. Prison costs the taxpayer a fortune and acts as a university of crime. It doesn't seem like it should be beyond the wit of man or the justice system to come up with a punishment that involves some element of restitution and protects the cycling public from these scumbags.

But until that happens, follow these simple rules:
1. Never let your bike out of your sight.
2. If you do let your bike out of your sight, secure it to something very solid with at least two good locks.
3. Make sure your bike looks cheaper, rougher and better-secured than the other bikes in the rack.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Peak Oil - Yet Again

Another respected scientist with no particular links to the climate change/environmental agenda here telling governments to get their heads out of the sand and face up to dwindling oil supplies.I've blogged about similar before here.

When will they get it? Probably when it's too late. They should be planning now for expensive oil. The cars being bought today should have a life of  10 years. If they want people to start cycling, they need to build some infrastructure - we wont't go from 2% modal share to 40% overnight.

The current suspension of reality rather confirms the suspicion that climate change denial is motivated by a general desire to avoid changing the comfy cheap-oil-fuelled lifestyles of the rich, and not-so-rich, rather than by any legitimate criticism of the science or methodology. Anyone who believes in a conspiracy of scientists would also believe in a conspiracy of oil interests you would think.

Anyway, I'm off to buy a solar panel before the lights go out.

Polite Cab Driver

On my commute home today, a cabbie considerately gave way to me at Clapham Common, allowing me to cross the road. Unlike the Bentley driver yesterday who refused to give way despite him being in an almost stationary queue of traffic.  I've heard many bad stories involving cab drivers and cyclists, but personally I've not had much cause for complaint. There are 28,000 London cabs and they make up the majority of daytime traffic in central London, so I'd be surprised if there weren't a sizeable number of incidents involving them.  According to the CTC figures on crashes and near misses, only 6% of incidents involved a cab, which is about the same as buses or HGVs, and there are a lot fewer buses (about 7000 in London) and HGVs on the roads.
Of course there are bad cabbies. Take any population of 28,000 drivers and you'll find a sizeable number of bad apples.
I've long though that generalizations and prejudices do you little good.  You start to mistrust and hate people before you know anything about them, and they tend to live up to your prejudices. You start looking for evidence to support your prejudices and before you know it you're a Daily Mail reader.

Norman Baker, the Minister for Cycling, uses a cycle


“I turned up to my first engagement last week and a lunch by bike,” said Norman Baker “The civil servants had to ring ahead to make arrangements. I don’t think they are quite geared up for bikes.”

Welcome to government, Norman. Civil servants (and local government officers) in general haven't got a clue about cycling, which is one reason why most of the previous government's policies ingored it.
It's not so much that they hate it, it's that they are completely ignorant about it. They don't cycle themselves, and it doesn't occur to them that anyone would not want to travel by car, or maybe rail at a stretch.
What you need to do, Norman, if I may venture an opinion, is stop civil servants travelling by car and get them cycling. Then maybe they'd get it, plus it'd save a bob or two towards deficit reduction.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How to cut the deficit

So here's an idea. I wonder if the Coalition will be interested in it, seeing as they are so keen to cut the deficit?

A huge amount of money is spent policing bad driving and paying for the consequences of it.
There's the huge amount of money spent on road humps and other traffic calming measures. There's the huge cost of police effort enforcing traffic law and dealing with crashes. There's the cost of the judicial process. And last but not least, there's the cost of the victims. 30,000 people are killed or seriously injured on roads each year. Deaths in particular are extremely expensive, what with half a lifetime of lost taxes and and the ongoing cost of benefits that may be paid to the deceased's dependents. Injuries also cost the NHS many millions to treat, plus the cost of time off work and/or disability benefits and of course lost taxes. And of course there's the cost of the delay that crashes cause while the police clean up the scene.

And yet the fines collected and penalties dealt out to dangerous drivers clearly don't pay for even a tiny fraction of this cost. The fines also fail to deter speeding or dangerous driving. A £60 fine is barely the cost of a tank of fuel these days.
If the fines for dangerous driving were actually a deterrent, we'd both raise more money to pay for the consequences of it, and we'd reduce the incidence of it. People drive dangerously because they know they can; they know even in the unlikely event of their being caught the consequences to them are insignificant. Society tolerates it because we always have done. Maybe it's time to tot up the cost and ask the question: "should we cut hospitals and schools, or should we instead stop subsidizing bad driving?"

I know it sounds a radical idea to make criminals pay for the consequences of their actions, and to deter crime, but it's got to be better than the alternative. Transport is definitely in the cross-hairs for spending cuts, and taxing the motorist is easy to do. The motor lobby are forever complaining about the state of our roads and the amount of tax we have to pay.

Black Cab Protest Blocks the Streets

Black cabs have been protesting about, well, various things but mainly illegal touting by minicabs. Here's the BBC report on the latest protest.

Black cab drivers in general don't have much tolerance of other people protesting on the streets or causing obstructions, but I support their as much as anyone else's right to protest.

However, I'm not sure that black cab drivers have that much to complain about. Illegal touting does go on, but there is a unit with 68 cab enforcement officers dedicated to controlling it. I don't know of any other UK trade that enjoys its own dedicated police force. I wonder who pays for it? Furthermore, minicabs who fall foul of the law face losing their private hire licence. Now the cabbies complain "passengers lives are being put at risk". I wonder how many people lost their lives last year as a result of illegal touting? I would hazard a guess it's none at all, but it's certainly less than the 130-odd cyclists who are killed yearly in the UK. I don't see a dedicated police force to reduce cycling casualties, and drivers who are clearly at fault in fatal crashes all too often retain their licenses and their freedom.

I think all laws need to be enforced, but given limited resources enforcement needs to be proportional to the threat posed to society by the crime, the threat of injury or death being the most serious. So on that basis, I can't see that touting comes very high up the list of priorities.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cycle Theft in Westminster

I stumbled on this scene today in Westminster:

These racks are normally full of bikes, but today there were far fewer.
The police have posted a notice on the lamp-post warning that this is a "Cycle Crime HOTSPOT" and plain-clothes police are operating and leaving tagged bikes.

Which is good and bad. It's nice to know the police are cracking down on cycle theft.
But this notice must be discouraging people from using the stands. But this is about the safest place you could possibly leave a bike. There is a lot of foot traffic and the stands are in plain view. It would be a sad testament if anyone could nick a bike unnoticed. If people are instead locking their bikes to less secure objects in more secluded areas, it's just going to make the problem worse.
Mind you, it amazes me how some cyclists seem to invite theft. I saw a bike in Wimbledon last week, a brand-new bike worth probably £500, and it was locked through the frame only with a cheap cable lock. The two quick-release wheels weren't secured at all. I suppose I should be grateful, because if my bike is older, scruffier and better-locked that the other bikes, hopefully the scumbags will leave it alone.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A217 Reigate Ave, St Dunstan's Hill

Now here's a real find. A segregated cycle path, and one that runs for a considerable distance!

The A217 is a busy road with dual carriageways, four lanes and a 40MPH speed limit. In short, not the kind of road that you would cycle on unless you were brave.

Luckily, there's a segregated cycle path that runs more or less continuously from the St Helier Roundabout to the Cheam Road junction.

Here's the start looking south from the St Helier Roundabout. A reasonable width, segregated from both pedestrians and motor vehicles, and relatively free of obstructions (although there was one woman dozily walking along the cycle path, texting). The only thing that's missing is cyclists...

Here (above) is the side-road junction with Glastonbury Road. The engineers have set the give-way line back so that the cycle path at least notionally has priority. However they've not followed this through by correctly marking the cycle path through the junction. Perhaps that's because motorists are so unused to giving way to cycle paths that to mark the cycle path as having priority would be inviting crashes.

Above: Cycling is allowed through this park if you can get your bike down the steps...

Above: A rather confusing marking at Kimpton Park Way junction...

...because the path needs to avoid the bus shelter (above).
Above, as we approach Gander Green Lane, we have a shared path...
...which quickly becomes a marked cycle path again. After Gander Green Lane, it's back to a good segregated path, below:

Unfortunately, the cycle path seems to end at Cheam Road. If you continue along the A217, called Belmont Rise at this point, there seem to be odd fragments of segregated cycle path, but it's not clear what you're supposed to do between the fragments.

As I said earlier, it's a shame cyclists aren't more in evidence on this route. I took these pics on a weekday lunchtime, so it could be that during commuting hours the route is better-used. But this is a rare gem in cycle infrastructure. Cycling has the same woefully-low modal share in Sutton as most of the rest of outer London, because the safe infrastructure you see here isn't in evidence on 99% of routes. This is despite the efforts of Smarter Travel Sutton, which I've blogged about already here .