Posts Tagged ‘cycle commuting’

London Cycle Superhighways

Two of the London Cycle Superhighways opened at the beginning of the week to a guarded response. Obviously a scheme like this (which cost £23million in total) is going to invoke a broad spectrum of emotions.

For the purposes of this blog post, any reference to these new routes will focus on CS7 which runs from Merton to the City. This is because when I lived in London for a while I used to cycle from Morden to Camden Town every day which would have taken in much of this new cycle route. I had no trouble on this route with motorists, partly because most of the time I was passing stationary traffic. It is, as you can imagine, a very busy route and therefore will feel intimidating to the novice cyclist.

Route_7_Superhighway_21.05.10

It is all too easy for the experienced cyclist [in the UK] to feel sceptical about the scheme and even easier to pick apart TfL’s Utopian vision of a carpet of blue filled with relaxed, happy cyclists. We know all too well the diabolical levels of infrastructure that exist already (and for which Local Authorities must hang their heads in shame). However, I would like to tentatively offer the following observations;

Some have criticised the fact that CS7 uses the A24, a main thoroughfare into Central London. I would imagine TfL did this for the following reasons:

  • If one of the aims was to create a modal shift from car to bicycle, putting this revised cycle lane on a major thoroughfare with cyclists perceived to be making better progress would assist in this shift.
  • If the ‘Superhighway’ was projected on a route taking in quieter residential roads, for example to the east of the A24, then all those people living to the west would have to make their way across the A24 to get to it. It is better for residential streets to feed into a cycle route. Also, if it is on a major road, it will pass more shops, schools, transport interchanges etc.

I’m pretty sure the cycle paths are blue to match those used in Copenhagen  (obviously the colour. Not the design and engineering standard). It’s pleasing that TfL have used their branding to keep it recognisable and simple for novice cyclists and although it’s flattering that Barclays saw the colour and thought that big banking could be associated with the humble, egalitarian bicycle, I sincerely hope this is not the beginning of some form of PFI initiative.

Although Transport for London (TfL) would have consulted extensively with the Boroughs, they must have consulted with cyclists at some point regarding the design and layout. I would like to know at what design stage this consultation with the end users took place. From experience, cycling groups generally see the plans when the construction work has already been programmed giving little or no scope for change. Although I’m sure TfL consulted form the start, it would be interesting to read what feedback they received purely for other councils and cycling groups to take note. (If you want to read about a consultation excerise that went well to cheer you up, please read here)

If it gets more people experiencing the pleasure and freedom that cycling brings than that’s wonderful as if they really are just tarted up ‘Crap Cycle Lanes’ then they should get loads more feedback on how to make them work. This would be fantastic as normally it is experienced cyclists that get consulted and even then only rarely. There needs to be a broader range of people giving feedback from all levels of cycling experience, all ages and ethnic origins.

Although there have been attempts at a London Cycle Network before with differing levels of success, I’d like to think of this latest venture as Cycling Infrastructure Version 1.0. Maybe there will be an upgraded version in the future that not only gives a fresh coat of blue paint but also a raised curb separating cyclists from traffic and pedestrians. Maybe the future version will tackle the issue of cars and vans parking in them (often lawfully, it must be said). Crucially, maybe a future version will give greater clarity at junctions with, dare I say it, PRIORITY (although that will probably come with Cycling Infrastructure Version 90.0).

In conclusion, I tentatively applaud Transport for London for at least giving it a shot and trying to be progressive. As long as they actively encourage and are transparent with feedback, learn how to listen and look to examples set in Copenhagen and Amsterdam we may see that cycling utopia yet. London and indeed the rest of the UK, has everything to gain from making this work and making it an exemplar.

For views from the front line, I recommend Real Cycling, London Cyclist, Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest or Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph.

Cycling in the UK

Copenhagenize has written a blog post highlighting, or should I say sneering at, Vehicular Cyclists. For those not in the know, this is a style best illustrated [because I’m in the UK] by John Franklin in his book, Cyclecraft, whereby a bicycle holds a more prominent position in traffic to be seen – in effect to be treated as traffic. This instantly brings to mind every regular cyclist in Britain.

According to this thought provoking blog, Vehicular cyclists are ‘a small, yet vocal, group that is male-dominated, testosterone-driven and that lacks basic understanding of human nature. They expect that everyone should be just like them – classic sub-cultural point of view – and that everyone should embrace cycling in traffic and pretending they are cars. They are apparently uninterested in seeing grandmothers, mothers or fathers with children or anyone who doesn’t resemble then contributing to re-creating the foundations of liveable cities by re-establishing the bicycle as transport’. A little harsh I think and a massive disservice to all the men and women across the UK that campaign and fight for the rights of cyclists.

Because in the UK it is a fight. I believe that to be a cyclist in the UK you have to comprise:

One part Bloody Mindedness (for dealing with today’s road network, and in particular, its users) plus

Two parts Stoicism (for dealing with the options open to us which are often well meaning but nearly always badly designed) with

A smidgeon of Persecution Complex (for dealing with the constant feeling of being erased off a road network that cyclists and pedestrians have more right to).

The interesting point however is that he believes that vehicular cyclists are against cycling infrastructure of any kind. This is massively oversimplifying the issue and is wide of the mark for this simple reason; British Cycle Infrastructure is Utterly, Utterly, Utterly Diabolical. It is designed by people who don’t know anything about cycling but clearly know lots about squiggly lines and dismounting. People are already ripping into the new London Cycling Superhighways, but not because they don’t want the infrastructure. It’s because the designers honestly believed that painting the same crap blue would somehow change everything, whilst ignoring the issue of what actually makes a decent piece of cycling infrastructure work such as priority at junctions.

I would love to see Danish and Dutch style infrastructure here, I really would. I live by the sea and work by the sea with a 12 mile ride in between. I would have the golden opportunity to justify buying a Pashley Guv’nor to The Wife, I could throw my helmet into the sea whilst cackling like a maniac. Above all, I could really enjoy cycling again, as opposed to being part of the Rat Race. I know that Sustrans have created NCN2 between Brighton and Worthing which I could use but it’s nowhere near European standards.

The golden question is should we be really be campaigning for cycling facilities such as those best typified in Groningen as opposed to the constant struggle to maintain a presence on the roads? Should we be fighting for a European Directive on cycle facility design influenced by Denmark and the Netherlands? Should Cycle Campaigners be forging greater alliances with Masterplanners or pedestrian and wheelchair user groups along with movements such as Transition Towns to create more accessible and liveable towns and cities?

It can’t be any worse than the realm we find ourselves in where the car is king and the poor cycle paths are for the wretched serfs.

The Mighty Wind

I’ve been having problems with different types of wind recently.

Whilst commuting to work the wind seems to be against me in the mornings and as the day warms up switches to a strong westerly making warm work of the 12 mile cycle back to Worthing.

Another area where wind is a problem is with regards The Boy, who is now 7 weeks old. The Wife and I took the view that if we fed him and then tried to get him to sleep, we could then feed ourselves in the evenings. Experienced parents may give a hollow laugh at this point as the end result is always The Boy waking up as we are about to put a fork to our mouths. We end up bolting our food, or taking it in turns to bolt our food while the other cajoles The Boy who has obviously smelt cooking and could hear a bottle of wine being uncorked. As a result, I’ve got indigestion to the point where apparently during the night I sound like a Scuba Diver using a Vuvuzela instead of a snorkel.

The Boy at the moment contains enough wind to power a small market town. We’ve tried Infacol, a homeopathic remedy from Neals Yard, walking up and down stairs with him over my shoulder, showing him pictures of Danniella Westbrook to scare the wind out of him (yes, I made that up although now I read it back it seems like quite a good idea). All have varying degrees of success but there’s simply no escaping the fact that he has a little digestive system that’s trying to develop. What’s particularly strange is when we think we’ve got him to sleep only to put him in his Moses Basket for him to start making noises that I can only describe as a 60 year old 60 a day smoker clearing their throat in the morning.  Although there’s nothing more soul destroying than having a newborn grizzle his way to the next feed when he could have had a nap in between (magnify that feeling by a thousand times at night) it’s just a phase. It’s nothing personal. The Boy isn’t judging our parenting by grizzling. The poor little mite is just very uncomfortable.

All food for thought as I grind out the miles to work and back. Sometimes a cyclist will loiter behind me thinking that I haven’t noticed them. They will sit on my back wheel so they are shielded from the wind without taking their turn in front which is extremely annoying (one time I even slowed to walking pace and the rider still didn’t take the hint). However, with the levels of indigestion I’ve been having recently, people don’t seem to be as keen.

Road Tax

Yesterday I found myself in a place I don’t often frequent – the DVLA local office in Brighton. Our beloved little car is no longer fit for purpose so we traded it in for a 5 door ‘family saloon’. This is partly for Wife who through a combination of bad luck and woefully bad surgery has a bad back but also because we seem to have accumulated a lot of stuff since The Boy arrived on the scene. The Space Shuttle taking supplies to the International Space Station is nothing compared to my household embarking on an overnight stay. It does make you wonder how we coped before but years ago families lived much closer together. Sometimes too close in the case of the village where I grew up.

Anyway, the point of today’s sermon is that I was buying a new 12 month tax disc. I put it in my bag and later on I cycled 12 miles home. However, there are a lot of motorists out there that believe that I should be displaying a tax disc on my bicycle too and that cyclists should ‘pay for the roads’. These people are what I like to diplomatically call ‘Morons’. The reasons are as follows:

Motorists Don’t Pay for the Roads

“There has been no direct relationship between vehicle tax and road expenditure since 1937.”
Policy and External Communications Directorate, DVLA

‘Road Tax’ doesn’t exist. In fact, it hasn’t existed since 1937 when the ‘Road Fund Licence’ was abolished. Even when the ‘Road Fund’ existed, motorists only ever paid a fraction of road expenditure. It was Winston Churchill that instigated its abolition stating
“It will be only a step from this for [motorists] to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created.”

The round disc I was carrying home to put in my windscreen is actually called Vehicle Excise Duty (or VED). It is a tax on the car, not its use. Road maintenance comes from central taxation. Even my month old son is indirectly paying for the roads from the VAT on the packs of Pampers we’re steaming through at a rate of knots.

VED Is Emissions Linked

Even if cyclists had to display a ‘road tax’ disc, a bicycle is a zero emissions vehicle and therefore would pay nothing. Beaurocracy would have been created at further expense for no return.

Cyclists Have More Right to Be On the Road

Cyclists, pedestrians & horse riders all have the RIGHT to use the Queens Highway. Motorists have to be licensed which is a privilege that can be removed by law. If you choose to operate a piece of heavy machinery that can move at lethal speeds which can kill if used incorrectly, it’s only right that you should have the correct licence, that the vehicle has an annual test and that the correct insurance covers its use.

By the way Cyclists can get Third Party insurance automatically by joining CTC – the National Cyclists Organisation (www.ctc.org.uk) or London Cycle Campaign (www.lcc.org.uk)
It may interest you to know that CTC years ago helped campaign for the creation of motorways (which cyclists obviously can’t use) reasoning that all cars would use them freeing up the minor roads for cycling and other lawful pursuits. Yes, that was probably a little naive with hindsight.

So there you go. I’ve bought a disc because I’ve bought a piece of machinery that pollutes. Nothing more, nothing less. If you want further information on the ‘Road Tax’ myth, journalist Carlton Reid has set up a brilliant website (www.ipayroadtax.com) with further fascinating articles on the idiocy that cyclists face every day from people that think they own the roads when in reality have less right to be there.

Now that I own a 5 door family saloon, I shall not start watching Top Gear or reading the Daily Mail although I might end up towing a caravan. These are heady times we live in.