April 2012 archive

Somewhere, Beyond The Screen…

These are not a Hazards. They are the Dukes of Hazzard. The driving standards in Hazzard County are quite tepid compared to modern Britain.

According to Wikipedia…

‘Hazards are sometimes classified into three modes:[1]

  • Dormant – The situation has the potential to be hazardous, but no people, property, or environment is currently affected by this. For instance, a hillside may be unstable, with the potential for a landslide, but there is nothing below or on the hillside that could be affected.
  • Armed – People, property, or environment are in potential harm’s way.
  • Active – A harmful incident involving the hazard has actually occurred. Often this is referred to not as an “active hazard” but as an accident, emergency, incident, or disaster.’

The Times, as part of its excellent ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ (#cyclesafe on Twitter) campaign, has created a map where people can select a particular area and plot specific junctions, roads or routes that they find hazardous for riding a bicycle whilst stating why. Already plotted are places where a hazard has become an accident, emergency, incident or disaster (based on Department for Transport’s 2010 data).

They [sadly] only need a few more to make it to the 10,000 entries milestone so I urge you to go online and have your say. If you can, have your say on major thoroughfares such as Trunk Roads near where you live that you might ride as they are the most direct routes but won’t due to the perceived risk involved from high speeds to traffic volume. Bicycle riders are entitled to use these, despite many being Motorways in all but name, but because they lack high-grade separated paths alongside them favouring instead rather ‘optimistic’ bicycle signage at slip roads, subjectively they are as practical, comfortable and family friendly as an Annual Naked Bike Ride across Siberia. You won’t find many pinpoints on trunk roads like the one close to where I grew up (A3) not because they’re safe (although with decent sight lines, steadier curves and gradients, in theory they should be) but because only the quick and the brave will use them.

There are more active ways to get involved in campaigning on Saturday 28th April; firstly the Pedal on Parliament in Edinburgh

It has been organised by a diverse [and lovely] group of cyclists from around Scotland (including the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain Secretary, Sally Hinchcliffe) following calls in the Scottish parliament for action on the Times campaign. They request your presence at the Meadows at 2pm for a 3pm start to cycle a  1.5 mile route to Holyrood, before a mass picnic. There will be ‘feeder’ rides from outlying areas of the city. If you are Scottish or just happen to be living in Scotland but above all care about cycling in Scotland, please attend.

On the same day in London is The Big Ride

This is part of LCC’s ‘Love  London, Go Dutch’ campaign, calling on the Government to place the same emphasis on cycle safety as they do in the Netherlands. They have a petition which, at this time of writing, has amassed 33,797 signatures which is a marvelous effort from LCC staff and all the volunteers that have been out on the streets gathering support.

They’ve even made a film…

To add to the long list of things to protest about, The Times reported on the 16th that John Griffin, the founder of Addison Lee, wrote to his 3,500 drivers telling  them to use the restricted lanes and promising to pay any fines incurred. This is part of an ongoing campaign for private hire vehicles to use bus lanes. This story has already received good coverage in CycaLogical and Cyclists in the City. Lest to say, when I lived in London I used to cycle to Camden Town from Morden and then Brixton every day, I found Addison Lee drivers to be the most memorable, often driving like the Blues Brothers on Amphetamines. They still stick in my mind, years later.

And, on the subject of sticking, the BBC reported earlier this week that a study has found that traffic pollution kills 5,000 people a year in the UK, with 2,200 in London. What is Boris Johnson’s solution, I hear you cry (or choke). According to this excellent post from Vole O’Speed,

Johnson’s “solution” is to put pollution suppressants in front of air quality monitors, so reducing the number of occasions on which the PM10 value is reported to be breached and reducing the number of smog alerts, both preventing the public from being warned of the dangerous conditions, and attempting to circumvent the discovery of legal breaches, and application of fines. This is what the Campaign for Clear Air in London, a non party-political organisation, condemns as “public health fraud on an industrial scale“. And as the MP for Brent North, Barry Gardiner, said in a Tweet yesterday: “Boris’s pollution suppressors near air quality monitors is like putting breathing apparatus on the canary in the mines!” 

It reminds me of a nursery rhyme I tell my two-year old son

Mr Johnson went to London
in a smog filled hue
he stepped in pollution
and thought the solution
was to buy a big job-lot of glue

I may have changed the words slightly.

Take the Last Train to Clarkson

It would be fair to say that Copenhagenize and indeed Copenhagen Cycle Chic were strong influences that led me to set up the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. I saw images of people on normal bicycles in normal clothing (‘Citizen Cyclists’ to coin a phrase from the author of both sites, Mikael Colville-Andersen). It was guaranteed to make a profound impact as the images seemed completely at odds with the cycling I was experiencing to carry out exactly the same range of tasks as the normally dressed people smiling back at me through the pixels (or doing their best to look European and sultry). I wondered why the act of riding a bicycle in Britain was regarded as, at worst an extreme sport, at best a specialist activity or hobby requiring financial outlay beyond just the bicycle.

Fast forward just over a year and it would appear to have had the same influence on Jeremy Clarkson.

Last weekend, The Sunday Times ran an article by him that read as follows:

“I suspect even the Danes are baffled about why they keep being picked out as a shining example of humanity at its best. Just last week a newspaper in Copenhagen suggested it must be because, while cycling from place to place, visitors enjoy looking at all the pretty Danish girls’ bottoms.

“In fact, I’ve decided that the world’s five best cities are, in order: San Francisco, London, Damascus, Rome and Copenhagen. It’s fan-bleeding-tastic. And best of all: there are no bloody cars cluttering the place up. Almost everyone goes almost everywhere on a bicycle.

“Now I know that sounds like the ninth circle of hell, but that’s because you live in Britain, where cars and bikes share the road space. This cannot and does not work. It’s like putting a dog and a cat in a cage and expecting them to get along. They won’t, and as a result London is currently hosting an undeclared war. I am constantly irritated by cyclists and I’m sure they’re constantly irritated by me.

“City fathers have to choose. Cars or bicycles. And in Copenhagen they’ve gone for the bike.

“In Britain cycling is a political statement. You have a camera on your helmet so that motorists who carve you up can be pilloried on YouTube. You have shorts. You have a beard and an attitude. You wear a uniform. Cycling has become the outdoorsy wing of the NUM and CND.

“In Copenhagen it’s just a pleasant way of getting about. Nobody wears a helmet. Nobody wears high-visibility clothing. You just wear what you need to be wearing at your destination. For girls that appears to be very short skirts. And nobody rides their bike as if they’re in the Tour de France. This would make them sweaty and unattractive, so they travel just fast enough to maintain their balance.

“The upshot is a city that works. It’s pleasing to look at. It’s astonishingly quiet. It’s safe. And no one wastes half their life looking for a parking space. I’d live there in a heartbeat.”

As to whether Mr Clarkson would join the multitude of people that cycle there is another matter but I’d like to think he would. I’d even pay for him to go on a Hembrow Study Tour to see how another country does it successfully. I personally find it no surprise that he compared cyclists to organisations that railed against the Thatcher era to which his car-centric, and wider views are inextricably linked, NUM and CND. If cyclists have to wear a uniform with a camera, it is surely because they are merely trying to adapt to the utterly hostile cycling landscape they increasingly find themselves in, and feel compelled to capture it for the rest of the World to see. Policies from successive Governments, and Thatcher & Major’s Conservatives in particular (having witnessed firsthand the M3 protests at Twyford Down, nr Winchester) favoured the motor car to the extent that motoring journalists were always going to do slightly well to ride the rising tide of a society basing itself on one mode of transport to the detriment of everything else – even Quentin Willson who still looks like Satan advertising the Brylcreem range. Therefore the irony of a motoring journalist enjoying Copenhagen that made, and is still making a conscious effort to remove motoring from people, is deafening, but also quite heartening. A bit like transporting the Marlboro Man to a modern pub to have a similar epiphany about smoking.

Mr Clarkson’s piece was discussed on the wonderful cycling blogs ’As Easy As Riding A Bike’ and ‘Cyclists in the City’ earlier this week and indeed the cycling websites BikeBiz and Road.cc. The latter contained comments from cyclists who saw it as part of a bigger agenda to get cyclists off the road. I personally believe that what the Sunday Times published was a well-respected albeit controversial journalist reasoning that sometimes the car is not the right tool for getting about and that in densely populated areas in particular, you have to hand that task to more humane and civilised modes of transport. He just wrote it his way, which was always going to get up noses as elegantly as an ounce of snuff in a Victorian Drawing Room.

As I was reading all this, an article sprang to mind from a couple of months back that made me chuckle. As a response to a new law passed recently, allowing Parisian cyclists to go through red lights the wonderful satirical website, ‘The Daily Mash’ wrote the following spoof report:

THE combination of pedal-based transport and motor vehicles on roads is utterly insane, it has been confirmed.

As France changes its laws to give cyclists a small, survival-rate-increasing head start at traffic lights, the Institute for Studies has stated that fast metal boxes and slow, wobbling dangerously-exposed humans can never happily co-exist.

Professor Henry Brubaker said: “One of the key reasons for this whole car/bike thing not working at all is that little eggshell hats offer somewhat different levels of protection to, for example, a big f***-off lorry cab.

“We’d all like this relationship to work, but for the same reason that riding a pogo stick through a herd of panicked bison isn’t a great idea, it doesn’t.

“Cars and bikes playing nicely together is a bit like weekend ‘mini-breaks’ to countries more than three hours away, or the simplistic pacifism of the John Lennon song Imagine – a basically flawed notion that humans can’t resist clinging to.

“Maybe the solution is two separate roads. Or that everyone in the country cycles on a Tuesday.

“I don’t know, it’s a real toughie.”

Cyclist Emma Bradford said: “Cycling to work helps the environment and brings an exciting element of immense peril to my otherwise hum-drum routine.

“Personally I’m pinning my hopes on fossil fuels running out before something really bad happens.”

The fact is that you can lead people to the soundest reports stating that statistically the roads are safe, you can hold all the conferences you like, train all the people you like, young and old but if the roads look dangerous or unpleasant, bikes are going to be returned to sheds to collect dust and all the hard effort and work (often voluntary it must be added) will be for nothing. The articles above from The Sunday Times and The Daily Mash portray, in their own unique ways, what the general public thinks regardless of whatever cycle campaigning organisations may say or do. Indeed, as I was writing this, the Department for Transport has released a report entitled ‘Cycling to School: A Review of School Census and Bikeability Delivery Data’ . The first part of the conclusion reads as follows…

‘Overall this report shows the level of children cycling to school in the last five years has remained stable. There have been small increases in the actual numbers of secondary school age children cycling to school between 2006 and 2011 across the UK. However, this has been almost matched by a very small decline in the proportion of primary school children cycling to school.’

For further reading on this subject, I strongly recommend ‘Cyclists in The City’ and David Hembrow who incredibly have covered this already.

I personally believe two things have to happen that aren’t a million miles away from Jeremy Clarkson’s piece; I think we have to start spending on high grade infrastructure with fully segregated routes (as explained here – it’s probably not what you think) and calming the desire to compress high volumes of motor traffic through our most densely populated areas. Yes, it will cost money, nice things do. But it means that all the hard work put in by cycle trainers will bring change currently beyond their wildest dreams. We also need to return the bicycle to the masses by normalising it (where the promotion comes in). Just normal people of all ages, riding in normal clothing (or lycra if they wish, let’s not be picky), doing normal things without fear, discomfort or prejudice, not even from Mr Clarkson.

On that bombshell, I leave you with this film from Top Gear involving a race across London involving James May in a car, The Stig on public transport, Jeremy Clarkson in a speedboat and Richard Hammond on a bicycle. Mr Hammond of course has to look like Robocop having a crack at speed dating but it’s still good fun with an interesting conclusion.

Local News

From Worthing Herald (10 April 2012)

‘DESPITE a no parking sign and a small picket fence, gardeners are still having their hard work ruined by cars.

The New Growth Garden Team is a voluntary group working under the Worthing charity – Storm, and it has recently started work on a small garden in Union Place.

Despite the group’s best efforts to keep people off the plot of land, which used to be used for parking, they are still coming back to find tyre marks through the middle of their seed beds.

Ginny Cassell, a member of the team, has been door knocking to tell everyone about the work being done and the parking restrictions, but said this “hasn’t stopped the problem”.

She said: “At the moment they are just seeds so we can cover it up and hope for the best, but we’re about to start putting in plants and if you drive over these you will kill them.

“We thought we would love to make something nice in the middle of the town where people could be peaceful instead of stressed.”

The group has been tending the area once a month since the winter, but has started making more regular visits now the planting season is in.

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for Worthing West, witnessed the group’s misfortune, and donated £20 so they could buy more seeds.

He said: “They’re setting a public example by improving a bit of open space where the police station used to be.

“I’m sorry that some people managed to park their car on the ground, but they took that in good heart.”

Ginny thinks that this could be a mistake coming from “old habits” when people used to park there, but she is now asking people “not to do it any more”.

From Shoreham Herald (10 April 2012)

A CAMPAIGN calling for a crossing to help children get to school more safely has taken a big step.

Candy Bromage collected just under 1,400 signatures, calling for a safe crossing point in Upper Shoreham Road, and handed the petition to West Sussex County Councillor, Angie Mills last week.

Mum-of-two Candy said: “I was really pleased with the number of people who signed. Everybody was in agreement with us.”

Two weeks ago, the Herald reported how Candy and fellow parents and neighbours wanted to see a crossing, between the Holmbush roundabout and Southlands Hospital, so children could use it on the way to Glebe Primary School and Shoreham Academy.

Parents said the stretch of road was so dangerous, they would not allow their children to walk to school, and so drove them instead.

Mrs Mills, who is also chairman of the Adur County Local Committee (CLC), which can allocate road safety priorities for the area, said she was happy to get on board  with the campaign.

“There are a lot of schools in the area, and it is a very dangerous road for children to cross,” she said.

“Most of the parents are taking their children to school by car, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid.

“Of course, it’s not just children who need to cross the road, it’s elderly and vulnerable people too.”

The petition will taken to the next meeting of the CLC,  on May 24, where solutions will be discussed,  but there was a long road ahead for the scheme, said Mrs Mills.

“It will not be done for a while, because it has to go through various procedures,” she said.

Any scheme would also need to be examined by the county council’s highways department.

Candy said it was “brilliant” that Mrs Mills had joined the fight.

“It is a shame they can’t get it done in six months, but we knew that was very unlikely.

“Hopefully, by this time next year, we will have something.”

She thanked everyone who had put their name to the campaign.

She said: “Just thank you for everyone’s support.

“We will carry on until there is a crossing there.”

At the start of the campaign, Candy, mum to 14-year-old Tadley, and Mitchell, 10, told the Herald:  “We want a tunnel, a bridge, a zebra crossing, and pelican crossing. We don’t care how they do it. As long as it’s safe.

Kim Lee, of Greenways Crescent, said she agreed with there was a need for a crossing: “I have two kids, and I won’t let them cross the road to school, so I drive. A lot of people do.”

Glebe head teacher Ann Walton also got behind the call, and wrote to the council’s highways department.

She said: “We want as many children as possible to walk, scoot or ride to school, but that’s impossible because of the dangerous road.”

A view of Upper Shoreham Road (looking toward the Holmbush roundabout which is incredibly fast and furious) may be found here

Note that there is enough space to have Dutch style cycle Infrastructure. And then some Danish style cycle infrastructure next to it. And some nice planting. And still have a nice road for car use.

Of course, my adopted home town of Worthing and neighbouring Shoreham by Sea are both in West Sussex - The Council with a Highways Authority that rewrites the dictionary definition of ‘draconian’, that regards the motor car not so much as a mode of transport but more as a masturbatory fantasy and regards the bicycle (the thing that would attract more tourism, health and wellbeing, particularly for the more elderly coastal demographic) as something poor people might do and really should be shovelled out-of-the-way. Anyway, I wish the group the very best. I’d love to see a new crossing and indeed proper infrastructure for all to use not just for the many schools in the area but shops and businesses too.

Here is a film by Mark Wagenbuur on 25 ways to cross a major road in the Netherlands partly because it contains an at-grade bicycle crossing which might be quite a nice addition to Upper Shoreham Road but also to highlight how The Netherlands is separated from us by a stretch of water but it might as well be another solar system. The full post is here. British viewers may wish to look away for fear of weeping.

To lighten the mood a bit more, further east on Old Shoreham Road, here is what Brighton & Hove City Council are doing for their schoolchildren here and here.

Finally, to completely lighten the mood to near hilarity, I leave you with this letter from the Worthing Herald published on 30 March 2012 that….well, I’ll leave you to judge.

’30’ limit is a danger’           

‘MY son recently reached the age of 16 and bought a motor scooter for commuting to school/college and socialising, etc.

However, according to the law, his machine must not travel faster than 30mph.

Limiting youngsters to 30mph may have been intended as a safety measure but in reality it is quite dangerous.

Any motorists/motorcyclist who thinks 30mph is fine, I challenge them to drive, for one week at 30mph, maximum everywhere, including roads like Goring Road which have a 40mph limit and the A24 and this dual carriageway is not far off being a race track.

It is nigh on impossible to keep to this speed  everywhere.

It produces a queue of impatient drivers behind you, which leads to some dangerous overtaking and allows no room for manoeuvre.

If, as most people agree, riding on two-wheels is less safe that four wheels and the law allows 16-year-olds to drive on two (dangerous), why not allow 16 year olds to drive on four (safer)?

If that is not acceptable, at least increase the maximum speed they can drive at to 40mph.’

Bicycle Film Scenes 2 – The Sixth Sense

Alternate scene from ‘The Sixth Sense’ by M Night Shyamalan

COLE

I want to tell you my secret now.

Malcolm blinks very slowly.

MALCOLM

Okay.

Cole takes an eternal pause.  A silent tension engulfs them both.

COLE

…I see people.

MALCOLM just gazes quietly.

COLE

I see people on bicycles…  Some of them scare me.

Beat.

MALCOLM

In your dreams?

COLE shakes his head, “No.”

MALCOLM

When you’re awake?

COLE nods, “Yes.”

MALCOLM

Cyclists, like in helmets with cameras and Hi-viz?

COLE

No, cycling around, like regular people…..Some of them don’t know they’re cyclists.

MALCOLM

They don’t know they’re cyclists?

Beat.

COLE

I see Dutch people.

MALCOLM becomes completely motionless.  Works to hide his shock.

He and COLE stare at each other a long time.

COLE

They tell me stories…in perfect English.  Dull things that happened to them on bicycles…  Things that happened to people they know. Going to school and the shops.

Beat.

Malcolm’s words are extra-controlled.  Revealing nothing.

MALCOLM

How often do you see them?

COLE

All the time.  They’re everywhere.

Beat.

You won’t tell anyone my secret, right?

Beat.

MALCOLM

…No.

COLE

Will you stay here till I fall asleep?

Malcolm nods, “Yes.”  Cole pulls the covers up to his chin and turns to the window in the room.  Malcolm is very still and stares at Cole.

MALCOLM’S EYES — slowly turn and survey the room.  They find nothing.  Malcolm returns to watching Cole.

COLE’S EYES LOOK AROUND THE ROOM WARILY…  WE MOVE IN ON THEM TILL HIS EYES FILL THE FRAME.

Beat.

And then we see what he’s staring at.  Through Cole’s hospital room window we see the entrance of the hospital building.

Rows of Dutch bicycles are visible.

I see Dutch People