Cycle Superhighways are there to “instruct motorists”

Since the Tour Du Danger, there has been a lot to read and listen to. It’s easy to miss something. I think this is worth pointing out.

I was listening to The Bike Show podcast, which covers recent events. A good portion of it is given over to Mayor Boris responding to Assembly questions.

Amongst what is mainly waffle,  I noticed a startling admission. At 21:50 he says that the “whole point” of the Superhighways is “to instruct the motorist that this is a place where you are going to find loads of cyclists, so be careful”.

Well, that’s cleared that up then… The CS is not, in fact, a “superhighway” for cyclists. It is, rather an overpriced and massively over engineered road sign for the benefit of those who choose to drive. How silly of us not to realise. Any expectation that the CS ought to provide priority for cycling is completely unfounded it turns out. Indeed, viewed through the cipher of his statement, the design of the CS starts to make some sense. It wasn’t built for cyclists…

I suppose no one at TFL realised that there were many cyclists on these busy commuter routes who were already serving the purpose of,  “instruct(ing) the motorist that this is a place where you are going to find loads of cyclists”.

A simple road sign saying “Bikes Belong” or “Give Cyclists Space” would probably have been just as good but this wouldn’t have generated the publicity of a “flagship” scheme. Boris likes a bit of publicity…

So the Cycle Superhighways are not “for” cycles, fail to be “super” and are not, in fact, “highways” by any definition of that word.

Boris…. What an utter sham.

Tour du Danger 12/11/11 – The most “fearless” ride in London

Firstly, I want to thank Danny at Cyclists in the City and Mark from ibikelondon for putting this together. If you want to know all about The Tour Du Danger, please check out the Press Release.

This ride has tapped into a  deep desire to have a more pleasant city to work and live in. It’s not just about cyclists…that’s why there was such good support on the day. People get it.  It means looking at the way the car dominates the urban space and taking some of that space back for other uses. The  Mayor, Boris Johnson needs get his act together with respect cycling provision.

We want better choices Boris! We want the roads made safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

A quiet moment for those who died recently at Bow roundabout

Our Mayor, Boris Johnson, thinks that one just needs “to keep your wits about you” to be able to use our road system safely by bike. In other words, since cycling is growing in London and is actually getting safer, per TFL’s stats, why do we need to do anything?

Now, leaving aside the distasteful victim blaming, that suggests those killed or injured whilst cycling did not “have their wits about them”, I can almost see his point…. almost. After all, I am someone with over three decades solid experience of riding in London. I work full-time as a National Standard Cycle Instructor, averaging over 5500 miles/year in the city. I “have my wits about me” and can easily navigate any junction I choose. I’m sure, Boris Johnson is just as able. But what about everyone else? He is supposed to represent us all not just those who are like him. “I can do it so you should be able to do it too”, is a pretty poor position from one who is supposed to be working for ALL londoners.

Oi Boris, if your cycle polices were any good, do you think cyclists would be protesting?

Mayor Boris is very keen to grow cycling or so he says… but does his professed enthusiasm stand up to any examination? Over the last few years, I have met and trained hundreds of adults who want to start cycling for utility purposes. The overwhelming feeling from them has been that they are “scared of traffic”. I help them with that and by the time I am through, they will be able to go where they please without fear. But for every trainee I see, I know there are very many who will never take that step because their fear of traffic stops them. Telling them the “fact” that the roads are actually quite safe to use, is of no benefit at all. The roads need to be made into a friendlier place if we genuinely want to see sustained growth in cycling.

But Boris has done loads for cycling, I hear you say…. what about the Superhighways?

On my way down to Oval for the Tour Du Danger, I found myself on one of the Cycle Superhighway (CS) routes that approaches Oval from the west. I had never ridden on one before as there are none in North London yet. I have read the critical reviews from the cycling community but tried to keep an open mind. Frankly, the CS design is  utter nonsense. They have been pulled apart enough and I have no intention of repeating that here. Suffice to say that I would advise any trainee of mine to ignore most of what was there. A “superhighway” ought to feel, well….. Super. They don’t. They feel like all the rubbish cycle facilities that have gone before.  Boris needs to own it too, since he changed the plans for the CS from those inherited from his predecessor. What we have today is a badly compromised design that fails to produce any space or real priority for cyclists beyond what they would have anyway… hardly super. The CS should be wide and fully protected from the motor traffic in the Dutch style. Now that would have been SUPER! He has wasted the investment on something mediocre at best and at worst, deadly.

At Bow roundabout, scene of two needless deaths in under a month, the CS runs from the left edge of the lane ACROSS an exit. This sets up a collision in the event someone (like a HGV driver) needs to exit across the CS lane. It’s a terrible design… an accident waiting to happen. No National Standard instructor worth his or her high-vis, would tell a trainee to ride the line that the CS is taking here. It’s the wrong way to go straight on at a roundabout. I am certain that Boris would not stay on the CS at this point; he is too experienced a rider. TFL were warned about all this and I really hope that some of the corporate manslaughter cases that are being discussed (re. Kings Cross) make it to court. Boris and TFL own this nonsense. They have repeatedly ignored warnings given in their own internal reports and from the cycling community about the CS and the junction treatments they seem to favour.

Bow Roundabout - The scene of two tragic deaths within three weeks

When I look at the proposal for Blackfriars Bridge, I see it as part of a wider policy that favours those who choose to drive. Traffic flow is all important and all you lot who aren’t driving will just have to wait or be marginalised into the gutter. The recent redesign of Henley’s Corner, in Barnet, is another example. I will be making a fuss about it in due course but suffice to say that TFL, Boris Johnson and Barnet council have greatly worsened conditions for cyclists at this junction. There will be a fatality there as a result of this redesign. TFL take note.

This pattern is being repeated all over the city and calls into question how genuine Boris/TFL are about their desire to grow cycling. My personal view is that TFL are conflicted about this issue. Cycling measures do not generate much positive cash flow for them (like bus fares). Although cycling measures are highly efficient in cash terms, the benefits are indirect and accrue in other organisations, like the NHS. Put simply, it’s hard for TFL to do something which might lessen the Oyster take if the savings don’t go to TFL too. That is where the Mayor should step in to provide direction that looks to London’s future overall. It’s his job to see beyond the conflicting interdepartmental agendas and provide guidance in London’s best interests. Growing cycling now, helps with air quality, health, congestion and yes… social equity. We all pay for the roads! We want our share of the pie! If you want something to happen, you allocate resources. Come on Boris!

But what about the cuts? Can we afford all this engineering? For cyclists?

We spend a fortune on the roads now. Can we afford that? It’s a question of equity. At any budget level, the question is about how you allocate funds or indeed how you allocate space. Here is one way of looking at it:

Choose a statement –

  • Cycling is good and is to be encouraged
  • Cycling is neither good nor bad – do it if you wish
  • Cycling is bad and is to be discouraged

From this there follows –

  • Provision should lead demand (social engineering)
  • Provision should try to match demand (libertarian)
  • Provision should trail demand (social engineering)

Cycling makes up a significant percentage of London traffic. By any measure, we are massively discouraging cycling by the level of investment. Even if TFL were only trying to match demand, they should be spending well over 5% of their total budget on various forms of cycling provision. A genuine request is always accompanied by a wheelbarrow full of money you know. If they really want to encourage cycling how about 20%…?  Dream on Londonneur!  😉

So yes, there is plenty of money for whatever facilities we can dream up. There is also plenty of space… if we reallocate some of it away from its current use. There is a democratic issue here. Many Londoners want to ride their bikes. We want our money spent on that, not on making things worse for us, as at Blackfriars or Henley’s Corner and elsewhere.

The fact is that this can be a good thing for all road users, even the taxis! London just has too many vehicles on its roads. I have seen it get worse and worse for years to the point now where it is just a huge car park in many areas. It just seems too nasty out there for many people to feel comfortable riding their bikes despite the fact that cycling is far from a hazardous activity . If it looks inviting, many people will ditch their cars and ride a bike. If it looks safe, many people will let their children ride to school. Imagine easing the school run congestion or having cleaner air to breath. For those who drive for a living, the absence of a load of motor commuters can only help.

I’ve been riding all these “dangerous” junctions for years without problems but I know that I am somewhat unusual. I have gotten used to managing the various risks dynamically as I go. I am highly assertive to the point that I don’t even know I am doing it. But, unlike our Mayor, I can see that not everyone can just, be like me. Cycling should be an easy choise available to all.

Hear me Boris! You know we are right on this. Do what your heart is telling you.

On the Tour Du Danger, the truth is, it felt so much better to just relax and have space that was just for us on these roads… Without fear.

-L

Another hugh thanks to the organisers and everyone who came! I hope you enjoy this video of the day

Clarkson talks tosh – Update

After a slightly too long delay, I have received a reply to my complaint about Top Gear. Andy Wilman the Executive Producer of the show has been busy answering not only my complaint but that of others I am aware of. He completely fails to address the main thrust of my issue with what was said on the show.

You can see my original complaint here.  I have included his response and my answer at the end of this post.

A transcript of the dialogue from Top Gear is available here with thanks to the wonderful Carlton Reid.

It is now time to escalate the response to all this. The simple issue is that the BBC operate under strict public service guidelines as opposed to say The Telegraph or any other privately owned organisation that Mr. Clarkson may work for. If you want to see JC apologise on air, the best way is for us all to complain to OFCOM.

Complain to OFCOM here. I have…

You may also wish to contact the Executive Producer of Top Gear directly. He is Andy Wilman – andy.wilman@bbc.co.uk

He says:

Thank you for your feedback about Top Gear broadcast on 6 February 2011 and indeed thank you for pointing out that the Road Tax doesn’t exist and that we pay the Vehicle Excise Duty. Firstly, please accept my apologies for the delay in replying.

I know Top Gear is hardly the shining beacon of shows for dispensing factual information but the truth is, we do know that Road Tax doesn’t exist. However, we used the term Road Tax because it’s a colloquialism for the Vehicle Excise, the same as “quid” is for pounds, and in a chatty news such as ours, we’re not going to come out with a formal mouthful such as “Vehicle Excise Duty”. Likewise, strictly speaking, our presenters are supposed to say metres and kilograms, but they still say “yards” because that’s an informal vernacular that people are used to.

We’re also fully aware that the VED is based on vehicle emissions, and that cyclists don’t produce emissions, but Jeremy’s point was that if motorists are paying into the government coffers for the act of motoring, (and even if that money does not necessarily go into road building they are still paying a tax before they go on the road), then motorists should be given due respect by militant cyclists on the road. It is an extreme view, but it’s hardly going to shape any serious policy on road use.

I hope this clarifies to some degree, the piece that you refer to in the show.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.

Yours sincerely

Andy Wilman
Executive Producer
Top Gear

To which I have replied:

“then motorists should be given due respect by militant cyclists on the road. It is an extreme view, but it’s hardly going to shape any serious policy on road use.”

This drivel says it all…

What he (JC) said was that cyclists(militant or otherwise) “deserve” road rage attacks and/or being cut up. Suggesting violence against another group is a kind of ignorant bigotry that is well outside of your remit! Please don’t patronise me by suggesting that JC is not going to influence policy so it doesn’t matter what he says. Your response tells me all I need to know about how seriously you take your responsibilities as a broadcaster.

As I said in my complaint, normal people who ride bikes for transport (You use “militant” as a means of marginalizing my views) regularly are the victims of harassment by motorists operating under a false sense of entitlement. The most cursory research reveals that cyclists subsidise motorists through the tax system. Don’t believe me, after all I am a “militant”. Believe the IFS. please see:  http://eprints.ucl.ac.uk/14930/1/14930.pdf

“Why, in theory, should a government be concerned to change consumer behaviour through the use of fuel duty? The argument is that the costs of motoring exceed the private costs faced by an individual motorist. There are environmental costs, noise costs, road-damage costs and congestion costs which people may not factor into their decision about whether and how much to drive. This means that the costs to society of motoring exceed the costs to the individual, which will lead to a level of motoring that is both inefficiently high and inefficiently cheap from a social perspective. The duty is therefore a way of forcing the private motorist to take account of these social costs.”

Your response to JC inciting violence against a vulnerable group is completely inadequate and I will be launching a formal complaint with the regulator. I do not pay my licence fee so some twat can tell the general population that I “deserve” to be attacked. You are not paid to promote violence. As the EP you should really know better.

The simple fact, is that, if OFCOM receive enough complaints they will sanction the program makers. The issue here is not that Jeremy is well…. Jeremy. We all know who/what he is. The issue is about the public service remit of the BBC. Let’s see if OFCOM think they have breached the editorial guidelines that they MUST work within. Go for it!

-L

HGV blindspots to be marked at junctions?

Cycling Infrastructure or “Hard Measures” as they are sometimes known litter London’s streets. Artifacts of myriad forgotten cycling policies are to be found here and there. Fragments of narrow lanes appear and vanish for no discernible reason. Some of it is still of  use. You can spot the good bits because there are riders on them.

Overall, cycling in London’s traffic is perfectly fine… mostly… once you get used to it. As things stand, it’s not going to be for everyone but training can help A LOT. A great number of people will just never be comfortable sharing with the autos. Their sense of the dangers of cycling might be exaggerated but that’s how they feel. Untill they have segregated lanes to ride on, they just aren’t interested.

For those who take the plunge, it is a revelation. They are soon zooming about and getting all the time, health, productivity, fun and financial benefits of riding a bike.

The various nature of London’s infrastructure throws up some issues though. For example:

If one were going to have a serious problem whilst out and about on a bike, it might involve a left turning lorry. HGV drivers are amongst the most skillful drivers on our roads and the very last thing they want to have happen is any sort of crash. The issue is that, visibility is limited and it is easy for a cyclist to get into the “Blind Spot”.  In my view this is due either to the cyclist undertaking or bad overtaking by the HGV.

The importance of dealing with this issue is well recognised by the various authorities involved.

During training, I always go over the location of HGV blind spots including the instruction NEVER to undertake a lorry or bus. As the driver of a HGV is high up they can not see you if you stop right in front of them either.

blindspot trainingTFL funds HGV awareness training for cyclists. The chance to sit in the cab of a HGV really drives the point home. If that isn’t enough, the blind spot is marked on the floor (in yellow here) so the cyclist can see where NOT to go.  Knowing where the risks are makes them easy to avoid and a trained rider will never let themselves get into this situation. As with all National Standard training, the goal is to minimise the incidence of any conflict.

What then, is the goal of the road markings in the following image?

HGV TrainingAre riders supposed to enter the box up that left side? To me, this says everything about the utter confusion that surrounds cycling provision in London. This is the area FOR cyclists? These boxes are the prefered solution for some traffic engineers.  There is a total failure of consistancy. What on earth is going on?

This mess comes about due to the historical  lack of any coherent cycling policy for London, going back for at least the last 30 years. We need leadership on policy if there is to be a real increase in riders beyond those who are up for sharing the road. There has to be some sort of a plan and someone prepared to make AND push through what will be some unpopular changes at the time. Someone prepared to think beyond the next election. But who can we look to provide such leadership?

Hear me Boris!

Are you for more cycling or against? You’re a rider! You know this is all wrong. If you really want to increase cycling you know what you need to do! You’ve read all the docs. Go on, you know in your heart it’s right. Give us some good cycle lanes. You know the ones… the type people will actually use. Big separate ones with priority. Put them on big arteries. Ones that go where we need to go. Stuff that will encourage non-cyclists to have a go.  Bite the bullet and start removing parking spaces…. Go on.

All those empty taxis circling around in the West End are just that…. EMPTY! There is plenty of room if you have the will. Go on… connect up the inner ends of the Superhighways with new segrageated lanes/streets. If you segregated the Superhighways, more people would use them. Reallocation of space is the way forward if you really want to grow cycling, as all your own studies indicate. Lets have some beautifully planted ped/cycle only streets as well, like they do in other cities and create a real, usefull network for London’s future. How else will you achieve your very laudable cycling targets?

If we are really 3%(or whatever) by mode  in London then can we have 3% of the money to spend on some good facilities? We should have more of the budget than our modal percentage. How about 5% of the road space? If you want to encourage a behavior then provision should lead demand. True?

What percentage of funds/space do taxis take with a 0.6% modal share? It’s all got a bit out of whack, I say.

Follow your heart. I am calling out to you from mine. Hear me Boris!

Let’s get together to hammer out the details over lunch at one of my favourite pie shops. My treat…

-L

Clarkson talks tosh

I woke up this morning feeling angry. Jeremey Clarkson used not “paying road tax” as a reason to ignore the complaint of a cyclist. Propagating this nonsense is not on.

Complain here

I did:

Top Gear Feb 6 2011 BBC2

Around the 23rd minute Mr. Clarkson made reference to paying “Road Tax” in a context clearly ment to mean that drivers have more right to the roads then others, in this case cyclists. He also stated that “Cyclists need to behave”.

The most cursory possible investigation reveals that NO ONE pays Road Tax and that the roads are paid for by all for all to use.

Please see:

http://ipayroadtax.com/

In fact cyclists subsidise other road users acording to the IFS:

http://thecyclingsilk.blogspot.com/2011/01/transport-policy-again.html

This is old news. The issue here is simply that Mr Clarkson is a paid journalist and should be(is) well aware of the facts. His comments are worthy of an ignorant pub know it all and fall well below the standards we expect from the BBC.

He either has no idea what he is talking about or is simply lying to generate interest.

Why do I care?

I work for several London authorities as a Cycling Instructor. One of the problems on our roads is the bullying of cyclists on the basis that they “do not belong on our roads”, “we pay for the roads” etc.

This is the view of the DFT too:

http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roadsafety/research/rsrr/theme1/researchreport/

How do his ignorant comments fit in with the idea of Public Service under which the BBC is constituted? Cyclists(who also mostly drive as well) do not need media figures propagating this sort of tosh.

He should make an apology, prominently, on the next show and clarify the position. Perhaps he could interview someone from the IFS and get them to do a lap of the track. Can accountants drive?

I would like to see this turn into an opportunity to spread some truth into an area of discourse that is currently blighted by BS.

The episode is available on iPlayer . The offensive comments start at about minute 21, including comments like, “they(cyclists) deserve it”. “it”, being cut up and having Road Rage attacks against them.  Have a look and please complain… if you are so moved.

-L

Statistics

The world of cycling is suffused with stats. The need to be accurate and root out any bias is paramount. But sometimes it is so much easier than that.

Recent surveys confirm that many people who drive (let’s call it 30% ish… now that’s accurate!) do not think people on bikes should be in the road because of something to do with not paying “Road Tax” or some such tosh… sigh. There is an excellent writeup of the survey on BikeHub.

Here’s another good stat:

No matter how it’s measured, slightly below 50% of people are of below average intelligence (a proven fact!) so it follows logically that the 30% mentioned above are the thick end of a wedge of idiots.

Revenue raised from drivers doesn’t even meet the wider cost to society. Effectively, when you ride your bike YOU are the one subsidising someone in their car! There is a great post on this courtesy of The Cycling Silk.

-L

“Granny Fear” on the rise

We’ve all seen it… Lately, as I approach a red light or a zebra crossing, I can often  see it in their eyes… Granny Fear! Somewhere between terror and a sort of inner rage, their eyes pierce into me as I approach. Pleading and intense that look leaves me in no doubt about the low expectations of my behavior. I have been more and more aware of this over the last few years.

I am a middle-aged man on an upright bike in ordinary clothes. I don’t ride fast and I always stop at lights, crossings or whatever. I don’t see the benefit of rushing, as I am already on one of the speediest methods of transit in the city. In any case,  I can’t really hurry or I might miss a pie shop.

It’s obvious that they think I am not going to stop… or worse. There is a sense that I am some sort of threat.

Now, I am not a threatening looking person so I must infer that it is my use of a bike that is causing this. I am well aware that the behavior of some riders leaves a lot to be desired but in my experience they are in the minority. Where there is inconsiderate riding, I often think that it’s good that the person involved isn’t driving a car. Some people are just very selfish and uncaring about others, sadly.

What drives me mad is that we all get tarred with the same brush. There is clearly a feeling amongst some people, particularly the elderly, that cycling is threatening in some way. Where riders have to share space with pedestrians there are often complaints. This has been the case with the closure of the Thames Path to cyclists. More on that here.

Constant negative stereotyping in the media serves to reinforce the notion that riding a bike is somehow deviant or odd. People’s perceptions become somewhat warped. The proof of this could be seen in the glaring eyes of the lady who used the pedestrian crossing in front of me this morning. A look more at home in a rough pub then in a genteel shopping street. I almost said something but a cry of “Oi! Why are you screwing me out?!” probably wouldn’t have helped and I don’t think she would have got the joke. She actually looked as if she wanted to deck me, despite the fact that I had cruised to a gentle stop for her to cross. You don’t have to say, “thank you” just don’t touch my face!

A common complaint at residents forums from elderly attendees is pavement cycling. There is clearly a real concern here. Untill the local council provides something meaningful in the form of decent infrastructure, people WILL ride on the pavements. Leaving us all in a rising tide of Granny Fear. It’ no good for anyone. Cycle training is going to help some people onto the road but it’s not going to be right for everyone. We need a road system that does more than just tolerate cyclists and pedestrians in deference to people in cars. It’s a way off….

So,  till then, let’s be nice for folks on foot and stop so they can cross the road. Stay off the pavements too. Grannies, cut me some slack please. We are lovely really, despite riding bikes. Let’s all be nice to each other and end the scourge of Granny Fear.

-L

P.S. Have you experienced GF? Please tell us about it in the comments.