Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blackfriars Flashride

Another one of these LCC-organized flashrides, to let 'em know we've not forgotten about Blackfriars Bridge. See LCC's site for details: 6pm outside Doggetts pub, south end of Blackfriars Bridge.

I can't help thinking a bit more notice would help attendance, and 6PM seems a bit early...I'll see if I can get some of my chums along.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Olympic Bike Race Test Event

A year till the London Olympics, and you'll have the opportunity to watch the London – Surrey Cycle Classic which will follow the same route as the Olympic road race, and will feature road cycling's 'heads of state'. This is a closed-roads event, which isn't something that you get very often in the UK and certainly not in London. The route will go through Richmond Park.

“We are concerned about how the crowds are going to be handled, and how they’re going to make sure they don’t impact on the wildlife and environment of the park,” said Ron Crompton, chairman of Friends of Richmond Park.

It's a shame Ron isn't more concerned about the impact on the wildlife and environment of the park that is caused by motor traffic, which is allowed through 7 days a week from dawn to dusk throughout the year. Motor traffic damages the park's ecology in lots of obvious, and not-so-obvious ways: this was highlighted in a report by Dame Jennifer Jenkins in the 1990s, which said
"this stretch of countryside, itself quite extraordinary in a world city, is undermined by noise, pollution, congestion and danger from cars, all aspects of the surrounding great city which most Park visitors have come to escape”.

But of course, the Friends of Richmond Park includes a substantial number of people who are effectively Enemies of Richmond Park, because they are quite happy to drive their own vehicles to the Park and to support the right of others to drive in the Park.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

CSH 8 Superhighway - lessons learned?

The latest Cycle Superhighway, number 8, will take you from Wandsworth to Millbank, and officially opened on July 19th. At the same time as the lauch of this latest Superhighway, TfL have released a review of the first two Cycle Superhighways, which you can read here. You really don't need to waste your time reading the whole thing; you just need to read "Chapter 6: What will be done differently for future Barclays Cycle Superhighways". In fact, you don't need to read it. TfL didn't need to write it. Everything that is wrong with CSH #7 was immediately obvious from Day 1. In fact, it was obvious well before that point. Cyclists prefer it if they have their own lanes, they prefer it if those lanes are a decent width, and the prefer it if cars, whether parked or moving, stay out of those lanes. It really is that simple. Anyway, the key" lessons learned" paragraphs are:

"The implementation of mandatory cycle lanes is planned for future Barclays Cycle Superhighways where capacity and capability allows. Over the long term mandatory lanes will continue to ensure the benefits of cycle lanes on busy carriageways are realised, subject to their enforcement."

"TfL will aim to implement changes to the operation of parking bays along the Barclays Cycle Superhighways where practicable, to provide consistency along a route e.g. peak, off-peak, tidal. Wherever possible, potential parking issues will be designed out of future routes to avoid car parking on the Barclays Cycle Superhighways, and will be enforced where appropriate. Consultation with residents and businesses will take place where this is planned."

Note the weasel words: "where capacity and capability allows...where practicable...wherever possible". The important thing is that TfL, with the help of research from its Department of the Bleeding Obvious, now concedes that allowing parking and driving in cycle lanes is not such a terribly good idea.

Let's see if CSH #8 has been "done differently".

First, the good news. North of the river, along Grosvenor Road and Millbank, the lanes are mostly continuous, mandatory and fairly wide, except at a couple of junctions.

The bad news starts on Battersea Park Road:

Above: Not too bad to start with. There are parking bays, but the lane goes round them with a reasonable 'door zone' allowed.

 Above: Oh dear. The cycle lane is now too close to the last car (which is parked within the marked bay), and the lane ends abruptly.

Above: It gets worse. The lane is in the gutter, but it's interspersed with parking bays. Here, there's a central reservation meaning that overtaking cars can't give you a wide berth if you keep those parked cars at a safe distance. There's no traffic calming or even a 20MPH limit here either.

Above: More of the same, this time just after a pedestrian crossing, so cars will be accelerating past just as you get to the parked cars.

Above: The road narrows as you pass the Latchmere Road junction, so you have to make do with a 'ghost lane'. The car above is taking a perfectly reasonable line and not breaking any laws, even though it's in the cycle lane.

Above: Again, this is just after a junction, so you have to pull out of the blue lane just when cars have got up speed and are about to overtake you.

In summary, CSH # 8 south of the river is actually worse than CSH #7 on both key issues of parking and mandatory cycle lanes. There's more parking in the cycle lanes at peak times before 7PM which is when all the above pictures were taken. The lane is not mandatory and/or is too narrow for considerable stretches. It's perhaps not surprising that I didn't see a huge number of cyclists on this route.

I am sure TfL will protest that it "wasn't practicable" or "wasn't possible" to do anything about the problems you see in the pictures above. This simply isn't true. If you look at the parking bays, many of them could easily have been relocated into the side roads which are literally metres away, or simply removed altogether. With the stretch between Latchmere Road and Falcon Road, the reason the westbound lane is so narrow is there are two eastbound general traffic lanes. If the CSH attracts cyclists as intended, one of those lanes won't be used as it will be full of cyclists. That being the case, the left-hand eastbound general traffic lane could be narrowed to allocate more space to the westbound lane. (Interestingly, one eastbound lane has been blocked for some time by building work. It's amazing how whole lanes can be taken out for months or even years at a time for construction projects, but for cycling the excuse is always "wasn't possible").
The idea of reconfiguring the road to remove a traffic lane won't have occurred to TfL, because they are concerned with theoretical capacity and flow issues that take place on computers that don't have cycling programmed into the model.

Friday, July 22, 2011

More Media Speed Camera Nonsense

Yesterday I commented on a report that the BBC had been criticised for giving climate sceptics too much airtime. In the firing line for sloppy journalism today, it's the Lancashire Evening Post, whose journalists have a weak grasp of science and no idea of balance.

"Cash-grabbing speed cams will be reviewed"

is the headline, although the article comments

"one of them, in Eastway, close to Glencourse Drive, Fulwood, caught just nine people speeding"

Not much cash grabbed there, then.

The article quotes chapter and verse from the Association of British Drivers (ABD), which is an unrepresentative group of petrolheads with a very small membership, dedicated to seeing the back of speed cameras, speed limits and anything else that slows them down. Balancing opinion from a Road Safety Partnership, a road safety charity like Brake, or indeed anyone who knows the first thing about road danger? No thanks- don't want to spoil a good story.

What's most irritating is the total ignorance of statistical methods. If you take any group of camera sites, there'll be a spread of collision rates. Some will have more collisions and some will have less. Over time there will be variation. At some, the collision rates will go up in real terms or in relation to the average trend, and at others, collision rates will go down. The journalist writes:

The Evening Post has found three speed cameras in Preston alone where the number of accidents and casualties has increased since the cameras were installed.

Nothing remarkable in that. But the Post jumps to the conclusion that because collisions have gone up, the cameras "don't work". This is completely unscientific. Normal statistical variation could explain the anomaly, but there could be other factors. If conditions at a particular camera site have changed, this could lead to more collisions. For example:
  • nearby roadworks causing rat-running and changed traffic patterns;
  • changes to linked roads which increase traffic through certain junctions;
  • road markings such as white lines becoming unclear through wear and tear.
The increase in collisions may have been much higher but for the presence of a speed camera. Just because collisions go up does not mean it's the camera's fault. To make an assertion like that, you need either a solid statistical evidence base, or a causal link, neither of which they have. In fact, quite the opposite: there is plenty of evidence that speed cameras do reduce collisions, and no real evidence that they cause them, despite the ABD's efforts to suggest that they distract drivers or make them concentrate on their speedometers to the exclusion of all else.

The ABD spokesman offered their usual assertion that with collisions falling nationally "it's impossible” to separate the effect speed cameras have had from other factors. In fact it is possible to separate the speed camera effect by turning the cameras off and seeing what happens. This is exactly what they did in Oxfordshire. Result: a 50% increase in fatalities and a 10% increase in serious injuries. The ABD can't blame that on speed cameras.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Climate Sceptics given Too Much BBC Airtime

An inquiry has found that in the quest to be impartial, the BBC has given too much weight to climate sceptics.

It seems perfectly reasonable to allow a cross-section of views to be represented on a topic, after all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But people are not entitled to their own facts. And climate science, like all science, is a matter of fact. It is right to allow science to be questioned on the basis of research and evidence - indeed this is what science does - but not on the basis of rhetoric, fiction and misrepresentation, which is the tactic employed by the deniers.

Perhaps part of the problem is the BBC doesn't have enough people who understand science, and too many fat cats who are afraid that climate science isn't compatible with their first-class, limousine-based, taxpayer funded lifestyles.

Electric Car Q2 Sales

So far, the electric car grant that is supposed to transform road transport in the UK has been, to put it politely, a partial success. It enticed a further 215 applicants over the last three months, to bring the total to an unimpressive 680. Of those 215, 75% were bought by companies meaning that only 50 private motorists bought one. 49 of them didn't want an electric car but the salesman was such a very nice young man. I wonder where Philip Hammond is hiding? Yes, that's right, the same Philip Hammond who said:

"Government action to support affordable vehicles and more local charging points means we are on the threshold of an exciting green revolution - 2011 could be remembered as the year the electric car took off."

A DfT spokesman trying to keep a straight face said:

“We are committed to supporting the early market for low emission vehicles in the UK – they are essential in making reductions in CO2 emissions from road transport. We can’t turn our back on the automotive sector that adds around £11 billion a year to the UK economy.” 

 Now, you could pick holes in every phrase in that paragraph, but the one fundamental truth is that by any measure the DfT has failed to "support the early market for low emission vehicles", and so far 2011 doesn't look like it will be "the year the electric car took off" given that sales are on a downward trajectory.  It won't have helped that Boris Johnson has made all new VED Band A cars exempt from the congestion charge, which removes the incentive to buy an electric car to avoid that expense. Hammond seems to have no realistic plan to get people to buy electric cars. Unless he offers bigger incentives that make electric cars an economic proposition, or makes fossil-fuelled cars relatively more expensive (which is what the congestion charge did in London until Boris changed the rules), why would anyone bother? Hammond cannot do either of those things, because there's not enough money for bigger incentives, and more tax on fossil-fuelled cars would be seized upon by the media and perhaps the opposition as 'war on the motorist'. Which means Hammond is left without a strategy to de-carbonize the UK's road transport.

Oil prices may come to the rescue in a few years time, but by then it will be too late. The need is to reduce our oil-dependency so that the economy is less exposed to an oil price shock. Waiting for the oil price to rise before we do anything about our oil-addiction is a bit like waiting to have a heart attack before we stop sitting on the couch eating junk food (which strangely enough is another of the Coalition's policies).

Ironically enough, the Government's do-nothing policy could actually be the best one for cycling. A sudden increase in oil prices could force a lot of people off the roads. Over the last year many people have reduced their car mileage in response to relatively mild increases in the cost of motoring. People might just discover at the back of their garage a two-wheeled device that enables them to travel for free, and their need to get around could just be stronger than their fears and prejudices about cycling.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How to Buy Cycling Shoes

There are three basic methods of buying cycling shoes.

Method A:
  1. Check your shoe size. 
  2. Bin your old shoes. 
  3. Visit your favourite retail cycling website, and pick a shoe. Don't just pick one at random; you need a shoe with lots of features, such as a carbon sole and a wierd ratchetty thing to do it up. And of course it has to be on special offer. 
  4. A few days later and the shoes will arrive. They will look nothing like the picture and won't fit, because they're Italian.
  5. Fish your old cycling shoes out of the bin and ride round to the post office to return the new shoes to the retailer. You can't order the same shoe in the next size because that won't be in stock. 
  6. Return to Step 1 and repeat.

Method B:
  1. Check your shoe size. 
  2. Visit your favourite retail cycling website, and do a bit of research to get an idea of what shoes you like the look of. Don't just pick one at random; you need a shoe with lots of features, such as a carbon sole and a wierd ratchetty thing to do it up. 
  3. Go to your LBS. Most of the shoes you researched won't be in stock and the others will be priced over your budget, except the ones they don't have in your size. 
  4. Return home exasperated.
  5. Return to Step 1 and repeat

Method C:
  1. Check your shoe size. 
  2. Go to your LBS.
  3. Find a shoe you like and try it on. You now know it fits, but it will be priced over your budget. Give the guy some old pony about "thinking about it and coming back later".
  4. Go home and visit your favourite retail cycling website. Find the shoe you liked. That won't be in stock in your size, so order something similar but cheaper. 
  5.  Bin your old shoes.
  6. A few days later and the shoes will arrive. They will look nothing like the picture and won't fit, because they're Italian. 
  7. Fish your old cycling shoes out of the bin and ride round to the post office to return the new shoes to the retailer. 
  8. Decide to cut your losses and buy the shoes you liked at your LBS after all.
  9. Ride round to your LBS. Your LBS is closed - it's gone bust because of people like you wasting their time and then ordering stuff off the Interweb. 
  10. Find another LBS, return to Step 1 and repeat.

Electric Car Update

I hate to say "I told you so".

Sales of electric cars have been flatter than a worn-out battery: only 534 people took up the opportunity to buy a Government-subsidized electric vehicle (EV). That could be something to do with the fact that even with the rebate, it's still cheaper to buy a Ford Focus and 10 years' worth of diesel, and with the Focus you don't have range anxiety or resale values to worry about.

Bear in mind these 534 sales have been achieved with considerable publicity: last week's Saturday paper had a couple of prominent ads attempting to spark public demand for the various electric vehicles. I've yet to actually see one of the new generation of EVs on the street except for a couple of Smart EVs that were clearly being test-driven.

The manufacturers are, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, now assuming that many EVs will be second cars. Think about what that means. A 2-car family is a deeply car-dependent family. They're replacing one car with an EV, likely the smaller, more economical car used only for shorter journeys - dropping the kids off at prep school, trips to Waitrose or the acupuncturist or the hairdresser's, that kind of thing. The other car is likely to be a larger luxury model suitable for making longer journeys in comfort, and that continues to be a fossil-fuelled car. No doubt our middle-class couple will feel very smug about all they are doing for the environment, as they drive round to recycle their Telegraphs and Balsamic vinegar bottles, but remember that while we still mainly have fossil-fuelled grid electricity, an EV isn't that much greener than a small diesel car. So our 2-car household has made a few local journeys a little less polluting. It would've been much more effective to buy a bike, but of course our family probably already owns a few, which they will continue to load onto a bike rack on their SUV and drive out into the country where it's safe to ride them.

So, if the average EV buyer is a typical 2-car household, the good old taxpayer giving massive subsidies to help some of the wealthiest, most car-dependent and most polluting households continue pretty much as they are but feel less guilty about it. Is this really the Government's idea of progress in reducing our national carbon footprint? Oh - and I nearly forgot - an EV is just as bad for congestion as a fossil-fuelled car.

If, instead of spending £5000 a pop on putting in on-street charging points and subsidizing EVs for the wealthy, we invested the money in decent cycling infrastructure we'd save more carbon, reduce congestion and be less flabby into the bargain. And as other countries already know, cycling projects pay back the investment in economic benefits many times over.

School Safety Zones

One thing that even most hardened petrolheads won't speak against is the idea that you should drive slowly and carefully past schools.

Unfortunately, children have a habit of popping up in all sorts of unexpected places at unexpected times. So the idea that 20MPH in the immediate vicinity of a school is sufficient and motorists can revert to their usual speedy inattentive ways when they are more than a hundred yards away from a school gate is flawed. As 20sPlenty point out:

"...why are we so pre-occupied with school safety zones if children are most likely to be casualties on the rest of the road network where there are higher speed limits, and when they are not on the way to or from school?"

Tragedies like this one are a reminder that children are more vulnerable to cars when they are not at school. The 14-year-old victim was hit outside a leisure park on the busy, 4-lane dual carriageway with a 40 MPH limit. The driver has been charged with causing death by careless driving.

When you drive, you need to be constantly alert and mindful of the fact that you need to be driving in a way that enables you to avoid collisions, rather than just not be the direct cause of one. But the law makes no such assumption. With 'Road Safety', we're taught from an early age that it is the child's responsibility to avoid being hit by a car. That's why it's such a relief to grow up, get a license, get behind the wheel and relax in the knowledge that collisions are now somebody else's fault for getting in you way.

Morden Road Crash (yet another one)

Looking back over my previous posts there seems to be a pattern emerging: the words "Morden Road Crash" seem to occur rather frequently. So why change a winning formula?

Here’s a picture of evidence of the latest one, taken yesterday (19th July 2011):

This is exactly the point (to within a couple of feet) where I previously witnessed a crash. The road is configured with two southbound lanes at this point, so cars can jostle for position. Undertaking at speed is common. No wonder this is one of Merton’s most dangerous road. Even more alarmingly, you can’t escape the danger on foot. The footway is very narrow at this point and children walk to school in both directions along it. There are no proper crossings for about a mile. It’s quite common to see people cycling on the footway, which is quite understandable as the road conditions for cyclists are not for the faint-of-heart. More here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cycle Superhighway 7

Some observations a year or so on from the opening of CSH #7.

Above is the scene heading south-west from Stockwell around 6PM on a weekday in early July 2011. I joined the CSH at the Stockwell Gyratory, and the cyclists were at least two abreast as far as the eye could see. You can see them spilling out of the blue lane into the bus lane, and it was like this pretty much continuously right up to Clapham Common. The cycle traffic was so dense that motors had difficulty making left turns. The cyclists had definitely thinned out considerably by the time I got to Balham however, and the number making the full-length journey to Colliers Wood was fairly low.

Above is the scene at Clapham North on the same day.

The cycle traffic seems to have very well-defined peaks. I cycled the same route the next day but about half an hour later, and there were far fewer cyclists. Being among this many 'peak hour' cyclists does give you a sense of 'safety in numbers', but for me the feeling of security is more to do with having a lot of potential witnesses around should a collision occur than with objective safety. There are plenty of hazards: the junction treatments are rudimentary (with the odd exception) and there are lots of side-roads with motors turning across the blue lane both left and right. Additionally having this many cyclists has its dangers: I've seen cyclists close-passing left and right at speed, and I saw one riding with elbows on the grips and hands in the middle of the bars so he couldn't reach the brakes. He actually clipped another rider's wheel, which fortunately didn't result in an 'off'. I think the reason there aren't more incidents is that when you ride regularly you develop a kind of 'hyper-awareness' of what's going on around you.

Whatever the reality of cycling trends in London - and I don't have a lot of faith in statistics in this area - anyone seeing this scene will get the impression that there are a lot of people cycling, and may even be tempted to join them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Violent Assault on Cyclist

Today a senior Met policeman told Parliament that they were too busy with counter-terrorism to investigate phone hacking. It seems they are not too busy to ticket cyclists on Chelsea Bridge, as we've featured on the blog previously. Let's see what their priority is this week.  This assault, where a cyclist is punched to the ground by the driver of a silver car, was handily captured on video by a fellow rider. The footage has yielded very good images of the road-raging ruffian in question (who, I am reliably informed, punches like a girl) and the assault itself.

The registered keeper allegedly told police that his motor had been taken without his consent by persons unknown, and then returned without a scratch, before you could say "perverting the course of justice" (and probably with a thank-you note and a full tank of fuel). The police seemingly have accepted this story at face value even though it's about as likely as a Greek bond getting paid back. Where's Gene Hunt when you need him?

However, the story was featured on BBC London News this evening, and in the Standard so it seems pretty unlikely that the Peugeot-driving pugilist can remain anonymous for long.

Just goes to show it's not just in the Tour de France where you have to watch out for stupid drivers.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hacked Off

It seems advertisers in the News of the Screws aren't best pleased with the mushrooming of the phone hacking allegations to include not just 'fair game' celebs and politicians, but people who anyone with any conscience would leave alone, such as 7/7 boming victims.

Car giant Ford are one company keen not to have their image tarnished by association.

But are Ford that squeaky clean? Remember, contemptible as the NoW's alleged actions are, nobody died. By contrast, Ford, along with the rest of the motor industry, have opposed emissions legislation, succeeded in getting voluntary agreements watered down and then failed to meet even those targets. This has helped take the globe to the brink of runaway climate change. They've also benefitted from papers like the NoW publishing distortions about climate change science. More accurate coverage of the issue might stop the public buying their products. People will die because of climate change. Maybe it's the NoW that should be refusing their advertising rather than the other way round.

Ford might argue they've done nothing illegal. All they've done is sell people products they wanted to buy. Which of course is exactly what the NoW did, although (allegedly) a couple of laws got broken along the way.

Ford, VW and other motor manufacturers have a choice of what products to make and how to market them. They don't need to price their 'eco' models at a premium. They don't need to cancel out engine efficiency improvements with bigger, heavier, less aerodynamic vehicles. They don't need to lobby against emissions legislation. The fact that laws don't cover much of this does not absolve the companies of their responsibility to humanity and to future generations, and the consequences of the actions of the motor manufacturers, in the form of climate change, will persist long after phone hacking is a forgotten piece of history.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wimbledon Parkside - Princes Way Junction

Wandsworth Council have spent a bit of time and money improving the junction between Wimbledon Parkside and Princes Way. First, a bit of background. This junction is just before the massive Tibbetts Corner roundabout which forms the junction of the A3 and Putney Hill. Motorists blast round it at high speed, making it very hostile indeed for cyclists. Fortunately, there's an off-road alternative under the roundabout, but to get there you need to come off Parkside and make a right-turn into Princes Way. Currently that right-turn is banned so that motors don't try to rat-run into Wandsworth avoiding the West Hill queues.

Above, looking north up Parkside just before Tibbetts Corner, at the Princes Way junction. The logical, but illegal maneouvre is to make the right turn between the bollards on the left of the picture.

Above you see the new right-turn facility for cyclists. You wait in the reservoir in the central reservation, then make the right turn onto the on-pavement lane. Trouble is, you're now on the wrong side of Princes Way.

You now have to cross Princes Way to get to the correct side. For motorists coming down Princes Way, there's nothing to warn of a cycle crossing at this point.

Above: A closer look at that cycle reservoir in the first picture. To get to it, you have to get into the right-hand lane, and as a consequence you'll be going pretty fast as you approach the reservoir. The last thing motorists behind you will be expecting you to do is brake, but that's exactly what you'll have to do to make the turn into the cycle reservoir. And motorists won't be slowing down just yet for the roundabout. So the safest thing is likely to leave your braking till the last possible moment to minimise the possibility of getting rear-ended. What they should have done is get rid of the island on the left of the picture to give a proper approach lane. Now imagine it's a dark rainy night. Braking hard and swerving on wet road is not generally a good idea, but it's potentially a choice between that and the rear hit I was talking about. Overcook your braking and you could be going home in an ambulance.

Now let's look at how the new junction layout works going in the other direction.

Above: Rather than emerge from Princes Way you're expected to leave the carriageway on this path.

Above: You can either turn right into the cycle reservoir mentioned previously, which will take you to the roundabout. That's unlikely though, as if you're brave enough to take on the roundabout you'll turn right at the end of Princes Way with the motor traffic; you won't go out of your way to take this path. On the other hand, if you elect that discretion is the better part of valour, you'll be using the off road alternative to the roundabout so you won't be coming this way in the first place.
Alternatively, and more likely, you'll be going towards Wimbledon, so following the path on the left of the picture. However, the layout is pretty poor. Motorists don't expect traffic to emerge from the tiny side road where the path stops. The path is pretty much parallel to Parkside, so you'll have to do a careful rear observation to check what's coming at you from the roundabout at precisely the time you should be accelerating to merge with the traffic. To make matters worse, there's a pedestrian refuge acting as a pinch point just beyond the junction. I think it's probably better to make the left turn at the Princes Way junction instead. You'll likely get a better chance to accelerate into the traffic, the sightlines are better and motorists will be expecting emerging traffic.

I promise you I get no pleasure from carping about cycling facilities. It could be this one is better than it appears, but it does seem to have been designed by someone who doesn't cycle and has no understanding of the problems of this junction for cyclists. A significant amount of money has been spent on a scheme that really doesn't solve the problem. True, it's now possible to make a legal right turn from Parkside, but you could get the same effect at much less cost by taking a nibble out of the island in the first picture above.

There's one last elephant in the room that Wandsworth have ignored: the hostile nature of Parkside itself. Every hundred metres there's a pinch-point from a pedestrian refuge, so it's necessary constantly to adjust your road position to deter dangerous overtakes whilst trying not to obstruct traffic unnecessarily. The width of the pedestrian refuges could be used to construct a cycle path on the north side of Parkside. As it is, very, very few cyclists will use the new junction because so many avoid Parkside like the plague.

This kind of scheme is pretty typical of why cycling in outer London is in the doldrums. It's an expensive spot improvement that doesn't do much to improve conditions, and it connects roads that are at least as hostile as the junction itself. It might make journeys marginally safer for existing cyclists, but it won't attract a single extra cyclist or even cycle journey.

I rode through this junction from the Wimbledon side on Sunday. My analysis above was correct: the approach to the cycle reservoir is not adequate. What I didn't spot however is that because the cycle reservoir is the 'wrong' side of the Princes Way junction, you are in conflict with vehicles emerging from Princes Way as well as traffic already on Parkside coming from the roundabout.
Also, once you've crossed Parkside and you're on the east side of Princes Way, rather than cross Princes Way at the junction it's better to follow the eastbound cycle path in the 5th photo above in the wrong direction and then cross Princes Way, because you avoid any queueing traffic.

Victim's Rights

The recent Milly Dowler case, and the ordeal the bereaved family were put through, has resulted in a call from the Government's 'Victims Czar', Louse Casey, to change the way the justice system operates to give rights to the bereaved.

What has this got to do with cycling, you may wonder. It's this:

Casey said:

the law in England and Wales must recognise the situation that families found themselves in when a loved one had been the victim of murder, manslaughter or a road death caused by criminal behaviour ...a "victim's law" could ensure that the criminal justice system protected the interests of families, such as through guaranteed meetings with prosecutors at critical stages of the legal process.
(my emphasis)

While the bereaved families of road death victims are seldom under suspicion, they share with families like the Dowlers a deep dissatisfaction with the way the justice system operates. Inappropriate charges, lenient sentencing, sloppy police work and a general tendency to treat road deaths as collateral damage are sadly typical of the victim's experience. It's worth noting that road deaths outnumber murders by 4 to 1. Theresa May must not be allowed to wriggle out of her responsibility to all victims, because there are the dark forces of the roads lobby for whom the current system works very well. It suits motor manufacturers, oil companies and others for road deaths to continue to be treated as much as possible as tragic accidents rather than criminal acts.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Two-way working on St James and Pall Mall

One-way systems are one of the biggest problems for cyclists in London. They turn roads into fast, multi-lane affairs that are dangerous and unpleasant and extend your journey unnecessarily. The streets of the whole of Westminster, virtually without exception, are  laid out with motor traffic the absolute and sole priority. The one-way streets have no cycle contraflows, and any spare width is given over to car parking, cab ranks, exta lanes, junction fan-outs, in fact anything that will get the motorist to the next bottleneck a little bit faster.

It's ironic that a lot of the Westminster one-way systems were created to deal with traffic problems. It didn't work. So there's now a £14M project to return Pall Mall, Lower Regent Street, St James and Piccadilly Circus to two-way working.

"The council believes turning the roads into two-way streets will tackle the increase in vehicles which causes congestion and creates rat runs through narrow roads nearby."

An ignorant cynic might suggest that relieving congestion by putting the streets back to how they were before they were reconfigured to relieve congestion...might not actually relieve congestion. That cynic might further suggest that £14M would build a lot of cycle paths, which might encourage a few people to cycle rather than take a car or a taxi, and thus relieve congestion rather more effectively. But such people are not traffic engineers: they have no training in the mystical, arcane arts that ensure London's traffic flows effortlessly. They're just whingers, like Steve McNamara, spokesman for the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, who said: "We are sceptical because every scheme that's been brought in to central London in the last 10 years has been detrimental to traffic flow." I ask you. What do taxi drivers know about London traffic?

I'll be monitoring the area in the coming weeks to witness how miraculous the transformation is...

Initial impressions are not road user fumed, "utter chaos, and getting worse".

Royal Parks Cycling

Boris Johnson has backed opening up the Royal Parks to more cycling. Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem) of the London Assembly Transport Committee has also supported the move.

Cycling is a leisure activity. Exactly the kind of thing parks are there for. However, the Royal Parks Agency, rather than taking a sensible view of cycling, seem determined to treat it like the British establishment used to treat homosexuality. They know it exists, they know that banning it is unrealistic, some of them even indulge in it themselves, but they think legitimizing it would get some people very upset.  So they talk about it in hushed tones:

"A shared-use pedestrian and cycle route trial on Studio Walk is currently being carried out from 2 August 2010 to 31 January 2012, in order to test its suitability as a permanent shared-use route."

Oh, for goodness sake. Cycle routes through parks exist up and down the country. There's nothing unique about Kensington Gardens.  What are they going to learn from a trial that lasts a year and a half? Yet every new cycle facility in every park seems to require years of planning, consultation and trials. (Mind you, to be fair, the Royal Parks Agency look progressive compared to some UK organizations like the Wimbledon Common Conservators.)

Where the Royal Parks Agency really falls down is by failing to question the hegemony of motorised transport in and around the Parks. Why is it that to feel safe from traffic, cyclists have to go through a park? London doesn't have enough green space. That fact is self-evident if you go to St James's Park on any sunny day; it's absolutely solid with people. Yet there's a motorway (The Mall) going through the middle of it. To the south of the Park, Birdcage Walk is a highway with two lanes separated by a wide central reservation. Why can't the space be reconfigured to include a segregated cycle path? To the east of St James's Park, Horse Guards Road is massively wide: plenty of space for a segregated path there. To the north, The Mall is 6 lanes wide in places - surely space for a cycle path there? In fact there is one on the north side, but it's well hidden, weaves in and out of car parks and ends before Admiralty Arch, forcing all cyclists onto the road. The fact is there is plenty of unused roadspace on the periphery of St James's Park that could be converted into decent segregated cycle paths.

Then there's Green Park. A reaonable segregated path goes alongside Constitution Hill, but that's the only cycle route that Green Park and St James Park boast between them. You have to ride very carefully along it as tourists tend to stray into it. There's no path parallel to Piccadilly, which has a central reservation that is coincidentally the width of a decent cycle path. The central reservation is punctuated by the sheep-pen crossings that pedestrians hate. I suspect there are quite a few cyclists whose desire line lies along Piccadilly, but don't fancy taking on a multi-lane dual carriageway whose designers had no thought for non-motorised road users. 

The effect of all this is that the Royal Parks, hemmed in as they are by streets that are absolutely hostile to anyone outside of a motor vehicle, are the only refuge from the danger, noise and pollution. If I were in charge of the Royal Parks, I'd be making the point that the Parks don't exist in isolation from the surrounding environment: the Parks should not be the only decent cycle routes in London, they should be part of a network. That way, cyclists wouldn't have to divert from their desire lines to get away from the traffic danger, and this would relieve pressure on the Parks.

Of course, considerate cycling should be allowed in all parks. But as well as that, Boris Johnson should be telling his Tory friends in Westminster to make it possible for people to cycle with confidence on the roads.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Technology and Traffic Congestion

Transport for London can only see one thing in their crystal ball: traffic, and more of it. In their car-centric world view, the only way of getting something done is to get in a motor vehicle. The predicted growth of London population will inevitably mean more traffic, the alternative being economic stagnation and ruin. Right?

Predicting the future is very difficult to do, and no-one really wants to try  because they look ridiculous if they get it wrong. However, if we're going to plan for the future then we have to try to predict it. The intelligent thing to do is to look at the various factors that will interact, and come up with some likely-looking scenarios. The problem with this is it can turn up some surprising, and frightening predictions. Like climate change for instance. No politician, or transport engineer, wants to be delivering a message people don't want to hear. So the lazy, cowardly way to predict the future is to forecast that it will be exactly like the past, only more so, in a nice, gentle, linear-progression kind of way. People can relate to that; they can understand it and it doesn't frighten or threaten them. Even if it's unlikely to be true. That's why we get TfL predicting more traffic, even though climate change, increasing oil prices and squeezed incomes all point in the other direction. There's also another factor that may driver traffic and indeed travel in general down: technology.

Communications technologies mean we can keep in touch, work and shop remotely. That's one reason why high street shops are closing. These days, you could live a fairly rich life without ever setting foot outside your house. Technology, used correctly, can enable fewer motor journeys to be made.

The building blocks of technology that allows you to hail cabs electronically has been around for a while - smartphones with geo-location - and now we're starting to see apps that make the concept a reality. Basically, you signal your position and intended journey to a 'market', and a nearby cab driver can accept your fare, drive to your location and pick you up. In the long term this should mean less downtime for cab drivers, as there will be fewer cabs driving around empty looking for a fare and hence less congestion. It also means that if there are no cabs nearby available to take your fare, you could take the bus or tube instead of standing by a kerb waving haplessly at a succession of occupied black cabs. (However it's not all great news for black cab drivers because there is no reason why minicabs cannot apply for hire electronically, removing the one key advantage the black cabs have over their private-hire rivals.)

Technology will in time make it easier for people to take public transport or walk. Smartphones will become ubiquitous very soon indeed - even my wife has a smart-ish phone, and she's usually the last person in the country to embrace new technology - and all-you-can eat tariffs mean users don't have to worry about using apps such as Google Maps to find their way around. There will also be apps that know your current location and help you choose the fastest, or easiest, or cheapest way from A to B, and tell you when the next bus or train is due. So this should help reduce the number of people who only take a cab because they don't have the information to choose another mode. Technology may also help people avoid travel, by finding restaurants or entertainment close by.

Logistics is another area in which technology can reduce journeys. Currently, there are a lot of half-empty vans being driven around London. With real-time location information and the ability to match a load and its destination to a nearby vehicle, it becomes possible to deliver goods in a short timescale in a cheap and efficient way, with far fewer vehicles on aggregate than we currently have.

Above are just a few concepts that can be implemented with currently-available technology. You won't see much discussion in TfL documents about how these easily-foreseeable developments will affect traffic levels, yet they are trying to predict traffic 20 years into the future. 20 years ago, the internet didn't exist for practical purposes. TfL are not so much looking at the world through a car windscreen as through the rear-view mirror.

Friday, July 1, 2011

That's that over with then...

Now for some proper sport - where men push themselves to the absolute limits of physical endurance for five hours- without stopping every couple of minutes for a drink, or new balls, or to wipe themselves with a towel - and then they get up the next day and do it all over again. For three weeks. Go Cav!!!