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Booking Bicycles on the Train: GWR made a broken system mandatory

If you want to take a train somewhere the benefits of reserving space for your bum are as obvious as benefits of not. If you need the flexibility, you risk not being able to find the room. This should be the same for reserving a space for your bike. However Great Western Railway have decided to make reserving a space for bicycles, and only bicycles, mandatory for some of their trains.

With rail being one of the most environmentally friendly ways to travel GWR’s choice to make travelling by bike and train more inconvenient is frustrating and baffling. Thus I signed the petition against this policy last week. Soon after signing I ran into the ugly consequences of GWR’s backwards policy.

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Through the eyes of a Google Street car

The resident Vehicular Cyclist Sect member of the UK Bike subreddit often disparages infrastructure, regardless of quality. More recently he has been persuaded to take a look at Amsterdam using Google Street view, and he did not approve.

AndyFatBoyMorris comments "Go on google maps, look at a few streets in Amsterdam, like this one, http://goo.gl/maps/GiUKL spot the gutter lane, notice the cyclists deciding weather to wait for their light phase or run the risk of a hook., Looks so much better than the crap we get. This street was the second one I looked at, the first was a shared use ( bikes and cars) back street."

Is this what Vehicular Cyclists actually believe?

A junction in Amsterdam

A much hyped Dutch junction. What’s so great about it?

So it’s not a gutter cycle lane, we can’t tell light timings from a photo, and the guy is clearly looking behind at the weird Google car covered in cameras. But it is a fair point, other than the dedicated space for cycling and cycle specific lights it doesn’t blow you away, though I can see two large improvements over typical UK infrastructure.

  • People walking and cycling can cross all lanes at once, there’s no pig-pen in the middle.
  • The light phases don’t allow for right turning cars to cross and conflict with people walking and cycling straight ahead.

So why doesn’t the junction look like the solution to the UK’s disastrous approach to transport?

The problem is that Google Street View is very good for looking at what’s been built, but not at all good for showing why, nor that statistics showing that roads in the Netherlands are the safest in the world. Something must be working. Indeed just a bit up the road you can see the hordes of bikes parked outside shops as well as spaces for motor vehicles.

bike parking

Parking for everyone; bikes, cars, motorbikes, and lorries.

So why is the quality of the junction, while superior to anything in the UK, not so important?

Dutch cities are managed at much larger scales than single junctions, which imbues the city with an entirely different philosophy, so even if some infrastructure is a bit bollocks (the cycling city of the world ain’t Amsterdam) this isn’t as important as the overall design.

So on the Google Street View of the junction you’ll notice there’s not many cars. It’s probably always like that, as it’s not a useful through road for cars. You’ll notice the other way there’s quite a lot of people cycling, but still not many cars. Is it always like that? I don’t know, and Google Street View can’t tell us. We need more information.

junction angle 2

The same junction from a different angle. More people on bikes than on cars, it must be bliss!

Google Maps still isn’t completely useless. By having a play around with the directions we can see that that junction would probably only be used used if you are travelling from the west into the Jordaan district. Again, Google Maps can tell us that this is an area riddled with narrow, confusing, one way (to motor traffic only!) streets. This is not a good place to be if you are in a car, there’s far better routes that will take you to your destination faster.

Jordaan amsterdam area bridge

The junction would only be useful if you’re travelling from A to somewhere near B. Try it yourself.

There’s a wealth of information out there, so you can learn about how the Dutch make transport work for everyone. I highly recommend David Hembrow’s blog, which is an excellent source that expertly puts junctions like this into the larger context. Mark Treasure praised David Hembrow for exactly that reason, and describes a road in Utrecht that looks awful.

In a UK context, the layout is, in principle, pretty appalling, with the narrow cycle lanes, the pinch points, and the door zone issues, but in practice these issues don’t really matter, essentially because this street has very low motor traffic volume – roughly equivalent to a lightly-trafficked suburban street. Four vehicles over the course of a two-minute video, taken at about 4pm on a Friday, equates roughly to around 100-200 vehicles per hour, gives some idea of the (motor) traffic volume.

So being Dutch cannot just be about street based infrastructure. Though it’s very important to get the details right (or we could build the best junctions in the world everywhere, at incredible cost!) individual junctions cannot fix the root causes of our transport problems. More strategy is needed, and copying or judging what we see from the point of view of a Google car is not going to be enough.

The ASA is harmful to public health

Dear The Advertising Standards Authority,

This is not a letter about the inconsistencies in your original hypocritical ruling regarding the Cycle Scotland advert. This is about how you are harming public health.

Last Wednesday you ruled that this advert could not be shown, full stop, simply because at the end a driver was shown, rather calmly and safely I must say, overtaking a lady who was cycling away from the kerb without a helmet1.

That the ASA exists shows that adverts have a power to not only lie but also mislead and lead astray. Everyone in the UK should be grateful that you counter this for the good of us all. Very little is more important than truth, and as you have the power to regulate it is quite right that you should concern yourself with public health and beneficial behaviours.

With this in mind it is supremely disturbing that the ASA claims to care about public health at the same time that it mandates actions that harm the nation. I am referring to your various rulings that showing cycling without helmets is prejudicial to health and safety.

Let’s be clear: there is no credible evidence showing helmets aid the protection of heads when cycling for transport. Indeed in countries where they have been made mandatory the proportion of head injuries has increased!2 An apparent contradiction, but one that you should be aware as you have waded into the difficult debate that is cycle helmets.

But we should not be discussing the effectiveness of helmets, for this completely derails the key point that you made in your original ruling: public health.

The fact is that having to wear helmets means people don’t cycle3, which is evidenced most severely in the very same countries that mandate helmets, as their cycle rates have been absolutely slashed. This could be for a variety of reasons. Inconvenience, they’re ‘dorky’, hair styles, or fear of police action. It doesn’t matter, the rates of cycling are devastatingly low.

Even promoting helmets reduces the number of people who cycle. Instead they’ll drive, resulting in a less active society, more pollution in our cities, and more cars on the road. Poor health from inactivity and pollution kill. The leading cause of death in children is motor traffic4. I’ll say that again because it’s so shocking.

The leading cause of death in children is motor traffic.

So when your ruling takes part in the promotion of cycle helmets you yourselves have become harmful to public health in a large part, as your existence and influence show. Please look at evidence and discover that you have a part to play in encouraging cycling, for the benefit of all.


Getting sued for Christmas

I ran into this chap in the shops today. He thanked me for the three points on his license. They’re the ones he got because he used his mobile to text while driving. Rather than accepting wrong doing he’s turned to blame, and it’s my fault that he got caught.

“Aw, having Christmas alone are we?” said his wife, peering into my trolley. She’s the one who, being some sort of legal type, is going to sue me at the behest of the guy who presumably thinks using one hand to text while driving is more important than the safety of others. Though of course not nearly as important as pursuing vengeance through frivolous court cases.

“Legal cases are very expensive” he said, looking pleased with himself, “Merry Christmas.”

So here comes the legal wrangling from a husband and wife team who are apparently more concerned with being petty than accepting a minor punishment doled out by the police for a dangerous and illegal activity.

They’re probably going to argue that texting while driving is a private act, and one which I invaded. But it’s a public highway, in full view by all, there’s no expectation of privacy. Oh, but what about that EU thing, human rights and all that, that’s surely something intended to be used by those who have been caught driving dangerously to take revenge. Except article 8 of Human Rights Act 1998 only applies to public bodies.

So what’s left? The Data Protection Act, 1998. Am I holding personally identifiable information? A license plate isn’t personal, and a blurry underexposed face isn’t either.

It’s quite indicative of his intentions and character that a legal battle is the first step he takes. If the YouTube video is a problem it’s very easy to contact me online and ask for it to be removed.

That’s all for now, as I’m off to sue the police (it’s their fault that it’s my fault). Though maybe I’ll wait a few days, I’ve got a whole Christmas dinner to eat by myself!

Pedestrianise Bristol!

Freedom To Ride, a manifesto by the Bristol Cycling Campaign, (sign the petition!) calls for a comprehensive cycling network across Bristol. As part of that, and to start a discussion, I’ve designed a plan that will pedestrianise Bristol’s Clifton Triangle.

Pedestrianise Bristol's Clifton Triangle

Currently there are many problems in the area when walking. It’s loud, unpleasant, with narrow crowded pavement and a wide road full of roaring traffic. When cycling it’s even worse, a junction only for the bold! Can you imagine a child cycling to school from Whiteladies Road all the way around to Jacob’s Well Road? A grandparent cycling from Park Row to the museum? There’s so many problems I made another map!

Existing problems with Bristol's Clifton Triangle

My aims were

  1. Pedestrianise the road from Victoria Rooms to Wills Memorial Building
  2. Modify the existing roads to necessitate a minimum of work so that it can be created and tested easily and cheaply, so if it doesn’t work it can be reversed.
  3. Improve overall traffic by creating decent cycling and pedestrian routes through a difficult and unpleasant part of Bristol.

I was inspired by a recent TED talk by Janette Sadik-Khan who describes how she pedestrianised Times Square in New York in a similar plan to mine. As you can see this was done cheaply and easily as a trial, using paint, bollards, and even folding garden chairs!

It’s motor vehicle junctions like the Triangle that cause congestion in Bristol. By bending over backwards to accommodate large volumes of vehicles through our living spaces it means alternatives are made unpleasant, inconvenient  and even unsafe, rather than real alternatives and part of an integrated solution. What does this mean? More cars. What causes traffic? Too many cars!

It’s been said that traffic in Bristol is on a knife edge, something I’ve witnessed when lorries block lanes in Queen’s avenue as the loading bays are full, and when recently Wessex Water undertook road works. These cause massive tailbacks, but what these road narrowings don’t do is allow for drivers to choose alternatives, instead the resulting traffic jams instead make it more unpleasant for cycling and walking, and the problems to public transport are evident. The primary cause of traffic still remains: too many cars!

So let’s tackle the problem, head on. Where a majority of space is given to motor traffic, share it out. Create places where people can walk and live, eat and shop. Meet the Bristol Cycling Manifesto’s demands and created a cycling network to a high standard, so all aged from 8 to 80 can cycle around the city.

We must stop making the flow of motor traffic Bristol’s the priority, but instead craft transport suit the needs of all it’s people, fairly.

If you agree, talk about it, tell your friends, ask the Bristol Cycle Campaign to fix a junction you know, and sign the petition. This post is the start of a new vision of a Bristol for people, your voice can make it happen. More plans will come, follow Bristol Cycling Campaign for news.

London has Space4Cycling, Bristol has CycleLanes4Cash

Bristol City Council have replaced a cycle lane with car parking, in order to earn the council £20,000

Colston Street, Bristol

Colston Street’s new car parking, wouldn’t Eric Pickles be proud?

Mr Terry Bullock, the Traffic Manager for Bristol City Council, admitted Thursday night at the Bristol Cycle Forum that a section of a cycle lane on Colston Street was removed in August so that five spaces for private car parking could earn the council £20,000 a year. Mr Bullock did not mention how much it had cost to remove the cycle lane or to create the parking spaces, or will cost to enforce and maintain the spaces.

Mr Bullock suggested that money raised in this manner could be good for cycling as it would pay for other schemes, while noting that the money could not be ring-fenced for cycling.

Colston Street, Bristol

Google Street View shows the old cycle lane

The five parking spaces that now replace the cycle lane, an official Sustrans route, are opposite a bus stop which has created a pinch-point for cyclists travelling uphill. This flies in the face of the council’s recently acknowledgement that cyclists are being overlooked in highway designs.

Colston Street, Bristol

A new pinch point at the base of the hill

In July Mr Alistair Cox, the City Transport Service Manager for Bristol City Council, responded to the Bristol Cycling Campaign’s successful ‘Stop Pinching Bikes!’ campaign, writing

“It is of course not council policy to narrow a road to the extent that it disadvantages cycling, neither to expect cycling to share roads with heavy and fast traffic nor to build facilities that are obstructed by parked vehicles.”

Colston Street is not the only example contradicting the words coming out from Bristol City Council. A a recent pedestrian crossing on Whiteladies Road has removed a cycle lane, meaning a new pinch point for an even steeper hill.

What makes these contradiction even more incredible are the planned schemes for Clarence Road and Baldwin Street, where parking for private vehicles is being removed to introduce a segregated cycle lanes. While short of meeting a proper Dutch standard, they could be the start of a new era of cycling provision in Bristol.

So why must such bold schemes fight against the tens of smaller junctions made worse by the council’s actions? Obviously some in the council are fighting the good fight, but it’s clear that the prevailing car-centric attitude has still not caught up with the Bristol’s supposed status as a cycling city.

Update 8/10/2013

Mark Bradshaw, the deputy mayor, has responded to this on Twitter.

“we got this wrong re Colston St & I’ve asked for the pay & display bays to be removed”

Avon & Somerset Police promise a Section 59 warning and deliver… nothing

On the 22nd of July the driver of a car with registration LT51KME decided to overtake me with inches to spare. I recorded the incident on my helmet camera.

Warning: Video has loud swearing

This was beyond a mistake. The driver knew what she was doing and deliberately drove her car at speed towards me. If I had not evaded her car then the wing mirror would have clipped me. This is serious, and this driver should not be operating a vehicle under the impression that ‘might is right’.

Fortunately the Avon & Somerset police officer I spoke to three days later agreed. She decided to serve the driver with a warning, specifically Section 59 of the Police Reform Act. In essence this means if the driver causes “alarm, distress or annoyance” again in the next year then her car will be seized.

I was very pleased with the outcome of the meeting from the police. For once it seemed I had come across a sympathetic ear and had for the first time elicited a decent, but proportional, punishment towards a dangerous driver.

One month later, on the 22nd of August, I finally heard back from the officer I spoke to (after I chased it up). Below is the email I received.

Apologies that it has taken some time to resolve this matter.

This has been in part due to my working part-time hours and catching the other party at the right time to speak with them.

I can confirm that the female driver has now been spoken to and made aware of your complaint.

I did discuss with her the Highway Code and rules regarding how a cyclist should be treated when passing on the road.

At first she did not see any wrong doing on her part, but was quite receptive to what I had to say.

For this reason I felt that words of advice were suitable on this occasion and that no further action will be taken.

Her vehicle index and details are recorded with us should there be any further need for Police involvement due to manner of driving.

She did raise one concern of her own, in that she was aware you were recording the incident and she heard you mention YouTube during your exchange.

She would like reassurance that the footage would not be made publically available.  Her main worry being that she had her children in the car, and her number plate visible, and would not like this information on an open forum.

Has the footage been used online at all?

If so, out of courtesy for the children, and consideration of Data Protection and Human Rights, could I ask that the footage be removed from any public forum?

Kind regards

<name of officer removed>

In summary, not only has the officer gone back on their agreement to serve a section 59, but I am to remove the video of the incident from YouTube.

Since the police have failed to police the roads I refuse to remove the only practical consequence of driver’s behaviour. The message is clear: if you drive your car dangerously then expect to get away with it. And if you get caught? Don’t worry about that either, the police will help you to cover your tracks.