November 2011 archive

The Most Green/Greening/Greenery Government Ever?

100% more Greening. Being Green. With Greenery in the background (Picture from Wandsworth Cycling Campaign)

These are fascinating times we are living in if you’re into Greening issues. I think the Government actually meant to say it is ‘the most Greening ever’ as, in a sense it has delivered 100% more Greening than the previous administration.

However, Wikipedia defines ‘Greening’ thus;

‘Greening is the process of transforming artifacts such as a space, a lifestyle or a brand image into a more environmentally friendly version (i.e. ‘greening your home’ or ‘greening your office’). The act of greening involves incorporating “green” products and processes into one’s environment, such as the home, work place, and general lifestyle.’

So the Coalition has taken things a bit too literally and transformed a space (The Department for Transport) by putting a Greening in it. I hope the Secretary of State for Transport is settling in to her new role and the Brompton pictured is not neatly folded away collecting dust with the Prime Ministers hybrid bicycle.

Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the Infrastructure Plan. From a transport perspective, it contained yet more Very Big Plans For Britain such as Superspeed Broadband allowing one to see the economy contracting live from an iPhone whilst riding in new railway rolling stock (although a new season ticket will cost about the same as purchasing Wiltshire) or driving on lots more roads and improvements to roads and different funding models for roads and an end to bottlenecks on roads. And widening of roads, of course.

A sane person that knows how to look at a long term plan that actually works might think, ‘well, this could be a wonderful opportunity for cycling infrastructure as it gives an excellent proven rate of return with reduced obesity and greater health and wellbeing and greater freedom of mobility for all ages, classes, genders, colours and creeds and reduced air pollution meaning no more fines from the EU for failing to meet emissions targets and a greater feeling of not just subjective safety from traffic which is the greatest intervention to get the masses cycling but also greater subjective safety in the communities that they are cycling and walking through as more people are out and about accomplishing more than CCTV ever could whilst giving the public peace of mind that we are decreasing our reliance on oil in an ever more volatile market’. It would appear that in times of desperation, sanity is given short shrift.

Cycling features once in the 173 page document - 

3.49 The Government’s £560 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund will also help to reduce emissions from vehicles, improve air quality and rural transport connections, by helping local transport authorities do more to encourage walking and cycling, improve public transport and make better connections between different forms of sustainable transport.

I’ve already commented on this before though (as have many others) as its simply retreading old ground so there’s really not much to say other than a superb opportunity has been missed to spend money on infrastructure which if done correctly, could produce an astounding rate of return. It would also make ‘soft measures’ such as cycle training and promotion even better value for money (if that’s possible as much is accomplished already on a shoestring) as the number of new bicycle riders are retained as opposed to someone having training, having a close call with a motorist and putting the bicycle back into the shed until the next Skyride.

It also means a lack of national strategy and cohesion as money is thrown out to the provinces that treat cycling as something that might look nice in a brochure but is really a hindrance to local growth.

Kermit the Frog - Greener than West Sussex County Council (although slightly less hilarious than their Local Transport Plan)

So I don’t think this is the Greenest Government ever or the most Greening. Maybe it’s the most Greenery Government ever? Oh no, wait. It looks like the reforms to the Planning system might see more natural habitats destroyed in the wake of unsustainable development.

It ain’t easy trying to be green, or Greening, or greenery.

Communication

It's still quite difficult to see if you're driving with a mobile phone (Picture: BBC News)

It appears that a Devonian villager has decided to get straight to the nub of the Road Safety issue with some paint and a wall of his house.

This from the BBC Website…..

Large 30mph speed sign painted on house in Bow, Devon

A man has painted a 30mph sign the height of a double decker bus on the side of his house in a Devon village.

Tim Backhouse, who moved to Bow two years ago, said he hoped the 15ft (4.5m) sign would slow traffic.

He said speeding traffic on the A3072 made it difficult to cross the road to get to the village shop.

Devon County Council said its own tests revealed most drivers kept to the 30mph (48km/h) limit but it was aware of residents’ concerns.

“Bow has a shop 300 yards (274m) outside the village perimeter which a lot of pedestrians walk to,” Mr Backhouse said.

“There’s no safe crossing point, the pavement runs out near a corner and it would be just about OK if vehicles did do 30mph, but they don’t.

“Since we moved to the village two years ago, we’ve witnessed a few instances where people have almost been hit by vehicles.”

He said he wanted a pedestrian crossing to be installed in the village.

Stuart Hussey, who also lives in Bow, said most traffic “and especially the lorries” did not keep to the 30mph limit.

“All it is is a sign on a wall and if it works, great,” he added.

The county council said it had built a footpath to the shop, which Mr Backhouse said residents were grateful for.

The council also said its speed checks recorded an average speed of 27.2mph in the 30mph zone.

A spokesman said: “We’re aware of concerns about the speed of traffic through the village, and local police have worked with the community on enforcement issues.”

Mr Backhouse said he painted the sign as part of Road Safety Week UK and would paint over it on 5 December.”

Marvellous stuff. To me personally, it speaks volumes of current road safety policy and street design where people feel compelled to do stuff like this.

Apparently, Mr Blackhouse will be getting the paint and brushes out again for a ‘National Dog Fouling Awareness Week’ sign after noticing an above average amount on the pavements in the village. Oh, alright, I might have made that last bit up.

 

A Caring, Sharing Britain

Architects Impressions – Great at showing what Britain could be like if Prozac was pumped into the drinking water.

We Britons love the idea of sharing space. Well, other people’s space. We love to come up with holistic transport solutions through these shared spaces, sometimes incorporating an architects sketched vision of roads reduced to near emptiness, an extra tree or two and everyone walking and driving with a sense of equality and good cheer toward their fellow humans, maybe pondering where to buy their next latte or iPhone.

Exhibition Road in west London is a prime example (as shown above). The blog ‘Cyclists in the City’ summed it up beautifully for me with the headline ‘Sustainable Travel in London means spending lots of money to make car parking look prettier’ . It manages to acknowledge without commiting to removing the danger that you’d expect in an area of London where a very high tourist footfall for the wonderful museums nearby meets Transport for London’s commitment to cramming as much ‘smooth flowing’ traffic as it can through Central London (presumably for a bet – I’m running out of ideas as to why they are behaving the way they are). Instead it seeks equality by changing the surface treatment, adding street furniture and, in some cases, removing the split level between road and pavement. Its trying in effect to create a level playing field for all users. This is all very well, and I salute the intentions, but the day motorists think they are equal with other users will be the day when Hell freezes over, or introduces its own shared use facility.

In creating a shared space, an area has been created where groups such as the visualy impaired can feel far more vulnerable and their voice can easily sway the powers that be in a country already reluctant to positively embrace the bicycle. Exhibition Road became the subject of a judicial review raised by Guide Dogs for the Blind and in Woking, Surrey, cycling is now banned in part from what were shared use cycle/pedestrian areas in the town centre (as covered here by CTC’s Chris Peck in Guardian Bike Blog). Instead of working together, the humble bicycle has again become a common enemy.

Another concept of shared space that Britain will probably get spectacularly wrong is that of the ‘Woonerf’

Woonerf – Simple. And not some EU Plan to control our residential areas which is probably what UKIP & the Daily Mail thinks

Last August, from Bike Biz

Poll finds many are in favour of more areas where cars do not have priority – and that the law should protect vulnerable road users in such areas

A new road safety poll has found that the majority (58 per cent) are in favour of holding drivers legally responsible for accidents between cars and more vulnerable road users in pedestrian priority zones.

The poll was taken for road safety charity IAM (the Institute of Advanced Motorists) and quizzed 4,000 people on pedestrian-priority zones. Most were in favour of importing the ‘Woonerf’ zone concept from the Netherlands, used to encourage cycling and walking and designed to be used at walking pace.

Forty eight per cent thought the concept – with no pavements, giving cars, pedestrians and cyclists equal use of the same road space – is a good idea to bring to the UK, while 27 per cent thought they were a bad idea.

36 per cent said the pedestrian priority zones should be located in shopping areas, with a similar amount advocating the zones be installed where there is high pedestrian traffic. 33 per cent said they would be best used in certain residential areas, while 16 per cent said they should be used for all residential roads.

Improved pedestrian and cyclist safety were seen by 49 per cent and 43 per cent respectively to be the most beneficial result of bringing pedestrian-priority zones to the UK.

“Our poll reveals a surprisingly positive attitude towards better protection of cyclists and pedestrians, both in road layout and legal responsibility,” said IAM director of policy and research Neil Greig. “On the continent, attractive street design is used to make it clear where pedestrians have priority but this approach is in its infancy in the UK.

“The IAM supports any move to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, but research is needed into the best way to inform drivers about changes in legal responsibility, and also on the effect a Woonerf might have on the road sense of children brought up in such a zone, when later exposed to less protected areas.”

Respected blog Amsterdamize contacted BikeBiz to elaborate on the Woonerf concept: “The IAM’s incorrect about ‘woonerf’ and ‘confuses’ it with elements of Shared Space. ‘Woonef’ only relates to residential streets (home zones). Woonerven (plural) block cars from using it at as through ways, slowing cars down to walking speeds. Pedestrianised (commercial) zones in the Netherlands allow certain vehicles in at certain times (with automated rising pillars). There are more, different models giving priority to pedestrians and people on bikes. There’s no single solution but a range of proven means to pick from, as it goes hand in hand with urban design.”

Essentially, a ‘Woonerf’ isn’t a through route to anyone. Therefore it is easy to reduce the speed to walking pace and create parity between residents because it would be patently stupid and anti-social to have it any other way. The sign in the picture above says it all; there’s a house and people playing outside with the car set at a smaller scale. The car has its uses but it isn’t important in this area – people are.

I don’t have a problem with this country trying shared space. I do have a problem with what appears to be this country’s complete and total inability to look at other countries and learn correct interpretations and best practice approaches to shared space, home zones or cycling infrastructure that people can actually use as opposed to us doggedly sticking with something that would have made Evil Knievel think twice. LCC recently voted in favour of persuing ‘Go Dutch’ at their AGM and already people are warning of ‘segregation’ and nodding gravely even though they haven’t the faintest idea what it means in a Dutch context.

When the London Cycle Superhighways launched, I cautiously welcomed them as I thought they were a good idea in principle. However, I stupidly believed that they lent themselves heavily on the Danish model (right down to the colour)  - Copenhagen had tried creating cycle routes on minor roads parallel to main roads that cyclists were using as they were quieter (a bit like London Cycle Network +) but no-one used them as that was the planners telling cyclists where they thought they should go as opposed to where cyclists were actually going (Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize explains this and more in a talk he gave in Melbourne which I urge you to watch. The relevant bit is here). The result is a typically weak British compromise that has now resulted in two needless deaths in three weeks at Bow Roundabout in East London. Painting the same crap Barclays Blue doesn’t change anything – like when Marathon changed to Snickers.

Outside London, Warrington Cycle Campaigns ‘Facility of the Month’ site gives ample rib-tickling moments of Authorities trying to ‘get’ the bicycle and ‘get’ the idea of shared space rendering shopping area, bus stop and pavement potentially dangerous to cyclist and pedestrian alike.

It’s like we’re stubbornly using a Sat-Nav instead of stopping and asking directions even when it’s blatantly sending us miles out of our way creating more delay to our collective journey. I guess in this case the Sat-Nav is a PC with Google Streetview where we can look at a Dutch, Danish or German street and delude ourselves that we can instantly understand the context and can speak with authority on it. All we have to do is stop and ask directions and start a proper dialogue with our neighbours. Now that would be sharing.

Remembrance

Today is Armistice Day in the United Kingdom.

On Sunday it will be marked, as always, with a march past the Cenotaph on Whitehall in London and at Memorial services across the land remembering those that have gallantly given their lives in serving their countries. My Grandfather served in the Royal Corps of Signals and was decorated for his valour on the D-Day beaches in 1944. However, he didn’t die gallantly fighting for King and Country crossing mine strewn beaches under enemy fire. In the early 1980’s he was hit by a car whilst using a pedestrian crossing and the resulting shock sent him back into a World filled with those very intense memories that broke through the dam of his subconscious. He was to spend the rest of his days at Brookwood Hospital (formally referred to as an asylum. It was closed in 1994 to make way for ‘luxury housing’). He was to lose any recollection of who I was.

Tomorrow morning, Mark Ames (Press Officer of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and writer of ibikelondon) and Danny Williams (writer of Cyclists in the City) will lead a ride, dubbed the’ Tour de Danger’ visiting Transport for London’s 10 most dangerous junctions. In London alone 14 cyclists have died so far this year. This is not just a London-centric problem and it would be foolish to pretend that Transport for London is acting unlike any other Highways Authority in the country. TfL and indeed London cyclists are
finding out the hardest way possible
that painting the same crap blue changes nothing.

The ride sets off from St Mark’s Church, The Oval, Kennington SE11 4PW at 10.30 prompt and shall be taking in such sobering sights as the Kings Cross junction where 24 year old fashion student Min Joo Lee was tragically killed recently. They will be having a tea break on Hyde Park Corner so do take your own refreshments and take in the Formula 1 cornering and acceleration of the traffic as it dabbles in gladiatorial combat for the correct lane. If you have children, try to imagine them cycling round it to get to school if you like. The ride will end at Look Mum No Hands! Bicycle cafe located on Old Street.

This is not a protest ride. It is simply a chance to meet and discuss what could be done at each junction to make things easier for cyclists and pedestrians – it is supposed to be the centre of a civilised city after all.
To take photos, to catalogue thoughts and to send the resulting report to TfL to ensure that they have been warned.

So here’s to those that have tragically died in the simple act of trying to get to their destination by bicycle or on foot or indeed by car. Here’s to Highways Authorities deluding themselves that deaths have fallen as a result of the design of their roads as opposed to the design of the cars and the increasingly hostile environments created just for them. Here’s to the children that might read about children going off on adventures on their bicycles in paperback books but never experience the freedom and liberation themselves. Here’s to a country that still thinks that traffic flow equals progress and that a humble, efficient, egalitarian, zero emissions vehicle is an imposition to that progress.

Personally, I wish to storm the Danish and Dutch beaches and take their readily evolved ideas and incorporate them as our own. Cycle Training and 20mph zones are vital cogs in cycle campaigning’s grand endeavour – they are common practice overseas too. These are people that are already out there trying to make a real difference (I’m still feeling the benefit of passing my Cycling Proficiency 30 years ago). However, if we keep giving Central and Local Government the option of cheaper ‘soft’ options, particularly as far as infrastructure is concerned, they are going to keep taking them without committing to the harder stuff that will keep people out on their bicycles. Designing a decent junction that can be used by all safely seems to be the stuff of legend that would require the work of the Enigma machine at Bletchley Park. If this country can keep discussing High Speed Rail 2 (and let’s face it, the £32bn quoted is not going to be the final construction cost), then the money is out there for a cheaper mode of transport that is simple, clean, and available to people of all abilities, ages and budgets. That way we don’t have to keep approaching the bicycle with a sense of Dunkirk Sprit.