Friday, 17 June 2016

Stagecoach Driver - Told.

And on Wednesday I got a call from local copper who's done his job well - when both his and the drivers leave no longer clashed he went in and informed the driver that such a close overtake could lead to harm.

So, result.

But the driver was under the impression until that point that I had the whole bus lane so his overtake was fine. Of course, it wasn't - I was fairly central in the bus lane (as you should be) but his overtake was fast, close, and hazardous.

I put it you you, Stagecoach East, that it shouldn't be the case that we need to get the cops involved as otherwise the opacity of your disciplinary system doesn't give members of the public access to any useful information. I further put it to you that it looks very much like you had evidently not disciplined the driver as otherwise the police officer I talked to would't have fed back to me that your driver thought his overtake was okay because of my road position.

I suggest, Stagecoach East, that it therefore appears that your driver has not received further training on how to be safe on the roads of Cambridge, Britains most cycled city.  I put it to you that this is a matter that you should rectify, as a matter of urgency. If you've re-trained the driver let us all know - if you've not then do so.

I also suggest that this is a systemic problem. Two drivers in a short time? Have you subsequently addressed this with all of your local drivers?

Lastly - your driver thought it was ok to pass fast and close. It, obviously, was not. I await your apology.

EDIT: Well Stagecoach had the weekend to mull this over and have failed to acknowledge that the drivers behaviour was below par, and failed to apologise. So after I specifically asked the cops to just have a word with the driver on the assumption that this would be enough, that they'd hold their hand up and say yes, we need to do better than that. I've got no admission from Stagecoach that their driver shouldn't have overtaken like that.

I therefore assume, in the absence of Stagecoach saying they're sorry that their driver acted that way, that they are NOT sorry their driver acted that way. If you're not condemning your driver for this you're condoning his actions. 

Friday, 10 June 2016

Cycling Bestiary - Part 3

You'll note part 3 in the title, which of course implies part 1 and part 2.

But if you can't be arsed to click on part 1 and see what this is about then I'll tell you - I'm a bastard. I'm a complete scumbag. I make up stories about people I see, including cyclists. Its a bad habit of mine. But the stories aren't all bad. And in a city chock full of 'characters' like Cambridge there's plenty for my imagination to work on.

Anyway, I thought I might relate some more of these, because, well, why not. 

The first is the Two Bears. I've seen them riding around together in the city centre many times, two hairy, bearded chaps, early 20's, always so happy looking when they're on their bikes together. I'd never paid them much attention until I ran into them in a coffee shop recently, the two guys totally in to each other but trying ever so hard to avoid any gratuitous public displays of affection, so they constrained themselves to affectionate beard stroking. And suddenly, after such a cute display, in my head, they became the Two Bears.

Even cuter is Barry Sheen Junior. He's probably nursery school age and I often see him riding to school alongside his older sister and mum - I say alongside because the ladies like to ride on the road, but he prefers the car-rutted, parking-ruined grass verge they ride past - to a kid his size its proper up-and-downey stuff to go over. And the whole time he makes motorbike noises - in his head he's obviously racing against other motorbike riders in some epic contest through inhospitable terrain.

At the other end of the age spectrum is Anti-Super Gran. We've a lot of older folk who ride through Cambridge, and Anti-Super Gran isn't unusual in her age. I most often spot her riding up past the Market, along past the Nat West bank and up towards Sainsburys - roads that kind of, sort of, look like they ought to be pedestrianised and many people walking on them seem to think that they are. But they're not. And Anti-Super Gran tells them. Reinforced with her bell, a stern, harsh, upper class yell and the gleaming metal of her chrome handlebars and unyielding wicker basket. I genuinely don't know how she's not managed to mow anyone down. I've seen her standing off against another old dear who was riding the wrong way down Sidney Street (a one way street), refusing to give an inch until her adversary turned round. I really don't know what its all about - but I like to believe she's got an army of grandchildren who she insists are only trained in the deadliest of martial arts.

I'm also going to revisit Uber Woman. I mentioned her way back in 2012 in my first bestiary. She's still out on the roads, but you know what? She's way less uber. Yeah, she's still big, but it turns out if you get on a bike and keep riding it you'll not be as big after 4 years. Great to see.

Lastly, I present the mystery that is Dirty Knees. I don't know much about Dirty Knees, and find him hard to describe. I think he's one of the interestingly clothed couple I've occasionally seen weaseling garments out of the clothing bank at the local recycling centre and trying them on right there, alongside his partner. The two of them are therefore often colourful figures, choosing the brightest and oddest looking clothing from this source - but what differentiates dirty knees from your common or garden weird looking chap are his dirty knees. Like, seriously, whenever I spot the guy riding around in whatever weird shit clothing he's nicked most recently, his knees are covered in mud. Frankly, your guess is as good as mine.

Politics of Roadside Trees and Cycle Lanes

People are attached to trees, especially the ones that are close to where they live -  and with good reason.

Trees improve road environments in urban areas in many ways - they provide shade, they screen homes from the sound and sometimes even the intrusive view of cars, they can provide nesting sites for birds, and flowers, fruit, even just a bit of greenery can liven up an otherwise dreary roadscape. Trees also improve drainage thus reducing flood risk, and can give an area a 'mature' and 'looked after' appearance that makes people feel comfortable in their environment in exactly the way that the never ending stream of poison spewing engines doesn't.

So its unsurprising that people get attached to these great living things in their neighborhoods - trees sort of become 'friends' in our environment as we watch them grow, change through the seasons, grow leaves, flower, fruit and shed their leaves in Autumn. Indeed, the very same people who'll buy palm oil packed processed food from destroyed rain-forests will chain themselves to dying cherry trees next to their own home. But I digress.

That we get attached to the trees around us doesn't mean that we should throw all sense out of the window when deciding how to manage our road spaces. Where trees were first planted fifty or a hundred years ago on roads initially intended to handle a quarter of the (radically different) traffic we have now is not necessarily the best place for them now or in the future - and the type and shape of the trees may not be at all suited to how we live now. But thats perfectly fine on most routes in and around the UK where, for the most part, we've got plenty of room to improve our urban treescapes.

Now very often, when we're looking at road improvement schemes planners are very keen to make changes for motorists and buses, but very reluctant to make any serious changes for cyclists. Very often, indeed, we're told that there's room for cycle facilities on the road so we're relegated to fighting pedestrian groups and residents groups for an ever dwindling amount of room, a fight we're doomed to fail in when faced with a never ending stream of retired NIMBY's who we've no hope of out free-timing in campaign terms.

When it comes down to it we'll rarely want to see treescapes removed to give room for cycling - but it isn't uncommon for the current location or type of trees to be appropriate to fit decent bike routes. We shouldn't hold back from demanding good bike routes just because of this - in fact this is even more of a reason to campaign, as very often there is massive room for improvement in the planting schemes we have.

You may think this sounds crazy, digging up mature trees and planting new ones, but bare with me - this is best viewed as an opportunity, not a weakness.

Let me introduce you to the city of Nottingham - not always thought of as a model of modern road design but in one important respect it is vastly ahead of most of the rest of the UK. An extraordinarily prescient set of urban planners in the 19th century started producing some of Britains best tree lined roads. Whats most interesting about these roads is the kind of trees they chose to plant - influenced by some of the great tree lined boulevards of France, they selected trees with a great scale - linden and plane in particular, but also trees like horse chestnut - and which are, crucially, superbly well suite to urban conditions, being resistant to polution and disease, and they thrive when treated harshly - so they can be pollarded (the upper branches cut back), extending their life-spans massively. 

When we compare those trees with the more regularly planted urban fare (for example cherry, whitebeam, silver birch etc.) and many advantages are apparent - they have a longer lifespan, provide far better shade, give an even better and more mature look to an urban environment and, crucially, they provide a superb habitat for wildlife - birds, insects and fungi thrive in and around them.

The opportunity to re-assess where trees are to be on our roadscape such that we can fit in top quality cycle lanes is also an opportunity to create better urban tree planting schemes - unless a road already has a gold-standard tree scheme, then on every occasion the replacement of trees (often unhealthy trees suffering due to disease or pollution, of differing ages and sizes, planted piece-meal with little oversight) is a golden opportunity to make a better urban space.

Top class cycle infrastructure makes for better cities, by giving us options for clean, fast, healthy transport, and indirectly by increasing the separation distance between pedestrians and cars. But its also an opportunity to improve our environments in indirect but no less important ways - the bottom line is that cycle facility installation is a huge opportunity to improve environmental quality in all sorts of ways.

So how the hell do we convince the damned NIMBYs?

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Voluntary Code of Conduct for Cambridge Motorists

I've an idea that might just go nowhere, but what the hell. You get nothing out of not discussing an idea.

There are many organisations, from the smallest one-man-band companies with vans, through to taxi cab companies who employ hundreds, who drive around the streets of Cambridge. Its worth noting that most of the time the vast majority of drivers are just getting about, doing no direct harm to anyone. But sometimes its easy for a driver to get things wrong, and if that becomes a frequent problem for a company that risks reputational damage. I'm looking at you Stagecoach. As our roads get ever busier, and as there are more and more folk out there with dash cams and helmet cams, the risk of such reputational damage increases, and indeed the risk to any company of someone taking footage or eyewitness evidence of bad driving to the police or posting it online increases, and the cost and time associated with even just being given a polite reminder of how to behave by the police is enormous. Wouldn't it be better if we could handle this between ourselves? If there was some kind of voluntary code?

Now 'codes of conduct' for driving, over and above the Highway Code, aren't new. We've a Taxi one already here, although it doesn't mention cyclists (which was and is odd - and I don't know whether or not this code is still extant). But what we don't have is a code that acknowledges that Cambridge is home to a lot of cyclists who really want to be able to trust, trade with, and work alongside the companies that fill our roads with cars, lorries, vans and buses. 

Which brings me to this - what ought there be a Cambridge Drivers code of conduct around cyclists? Well here's a starting point.

1. We assert that the right of cyclists to use the roads is equal to that of any other road user. We will not behave in a way that discourages cycling through inattention or hostility, and we will never condone a driver who tries to bully, threaten or scare a cyclist on our roads.

2. We will never block cycle facilities, whether on or off road cycle lanes, or ASL's (advance stop lines at junctions). Our drivers must not park in them, nor are they allowed to wait in them. If our work invloves maintenance of those facilities or building work that cannot avoid blocking the route, we will signpost this in advance and on the road such that cyclists may negotiate our work safely.

3. Our drivers are asked, at all times, to be 'cycle aware', and to treat cyclists and all other users of our roads with respect.

4. We require our drivers to pass cyclists at a safe distance - that means if the rider falls off then he or she will not be run over by an overtaking motorist. In practice that means at least 1.5m passing distance, not overtaking at traffic constrictions (e.g. traffic islands)

5. We understand that people get things wrong on the roads - we do, you do. But we also understand that making a mistake with a motorised vehicle can be terrifying to vulnerable road users around them. We will investigate any accusations made against our drivers and respond either acknowledging error (and accepting that this must not happen) or supporting our drivers action. We understand that such feedback does not need to disclose any private information about the driver or our disciplinary procedures other than  an acknowledgement of the driving having been erroneous.

OK, so thats my fist draft of the code - what should a company get back in response for signing on? Well, to begin with, you get your company name on a list of trusted companies to work with, perhaps with a right to use a logo associated with the scheme? This would be a badge of trust whereby anyone who really cares about safe cycling would have a pre-approved list of companies who also give a damn, and we could actively encourage other organisations to do business with those companies  that sign on. Bluntly, being cycle aware is good for business, and this scheme would give a clear advantage to any companies signing on.

So... Thoughts?

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Stagecoach - no strategy in dealing with complaints

A while ago I posted this. Now I don't want the rozzas turning up at two in the morning and breaking the guys door down, but taking a driver to one side and making it clear that you can't drive like that? Fine. And if he keeps doing it he's got to be in trouble. The response from the local bus depot was positive, they looked at it, they said sorry, they dealt with it - I don't want or need any details of their disciplinary process but I do want to know if they've taken it seriously.

A short while after it happened again. Same company, bus from a different depot. Fortnight ago.

And the response has been pathetic. They've passed me from pillar to post, they've taken a fortnight and not even admitted that the pass was unacceptable. One staff member was evasive to the point of rude on the phone.  Just talked to a manager at the depot and he'll tell me nothing. He takes it very seriously. Whoopee.

I alerted the Police because the initial response from Stagecoach was sluggish - my suggestion was the the coppers should have a word with the driver and just let him know its not ok, ideally in front of his mates at the depot, and I'm waiting to find out what they did. But the bus company? All I'm getting is that they don't disclose disciplinary stuff - which, bluntly, means I must assume for my own protection that they've done nothing. Whether you accept your driver was in the wrong is not the same as giving out private details from your disciplinary process - I'm not asking for the latter, I'm requiring that you give me assurances of the former. I want to know that you're addressing the specific problem I've raised, and thats all I want.

Maybe it would be informative to tell you what I don't want. I don't want to share the road with a driver who has knowingly passed me at high speed within around a foot of my elbow, driving a bus, squeezing pass too close at a traffic island where the road narrows, and who thinks thats justifiable because I'm in the bus lane (he said it, its in the video). I want to know a professional driver who is in charge of 15 tonnes at 30mph (1.35 MegaWatts of kinetic energy, equivalent to 640 bullets at muzzle velocity) will be corrected of the view that close passes of vulnerable road users as a punishment for being too far out are ok. 

I don't care about your disciplinary procedures or your internal wranglings - tell me that you give a damn that your driver acted this way. Thats not a lot to ask. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Cycling and Gender part 3 - Are we missing the point?

Its been a long time since I went there. Oh, and there too. Although I've swiped past this en route elsewhere.

The thingy with Goodwill the other day has sparked some discussion on Twitter, so now seems like not a bad time to go back and lay out the rest of my musings on this. I've always meant to come back to this topic because I think there are some  obvious things we can conclude from the numbers if we just turn them around a bit.

Briefly (as discussed previously) there's a gender disparity across most of the UK in cycling - you don't see it so much in Cambridge but you certainly see it elsewhere. The question often put is whether we can change that, and how?

I've come across various stats for bike riding by men and women in Britain. They're of a lot more varied than you might imagine - but lets stick with the one for bike commuting - 3.9% of men cycle to work, 1.6% of women commute by bike. I'm picking the figures for going to work because thats the every-day use of a bike that I think we can really sink our teeth into, and maybe the once or twice a month hobbyist numbers are somewhat less important for peoples every day lives. Thats a big disparity if we just compare the two - nearly two and a half times higher proportion of men cycle to work than women. Sounds statistically significant - probably is.

But there's something that really ought to be nagging at you about this (if it isn't already) - whenever you're looking at small percentages there's always tendency to over-analyze and read far too much in to things. Twice nothing is still nothing. Flip this round - we're looking at 96.1% of men and 98.4% of women not cycling - yet we're asking the minister about the 2.3% disparity rather than the over 96% of either who don't ride? This is nonsense.

We could interpret the reason for this disparity lots of different ways of course, and I'd favour an evidence based approach over being a total dick and talking about helmet hair any day of the week. But lets say we could wave a magic wand and solve it and get the same percentage of women commuting by bike - we'd still be failing, almost entirely, to get Britain cycling.

The big message from these figures oughtn't be that more men than women cycle, it ought to be that damn near no one of either sex bike commutes - both sexes are put off cycling in the UK in similar proportions. As I said in an earlier post, we're failing women ever so slightly more than we're failing men. So the elephant in the room is we're failing everyone who might want to ride a bike every day in Britain - its not about our gender, its about our almost total lack of good cycling infrastructure. 

Now we can campaign on that need for infrastructure until the cows come home, but thats still a message not always getting heard. Often whenever we start talking about the people who don't ride, and what they need, however eloquent and well researched what we say is, what politicians (local and national) hear is existing cyclists saying what WE want, not what non-cyclists would require to become cyclists and why that in turn is good for everybody. Thats something we need to address, and while there are some good ideas around I don't think we're getting there yet. But thats a topic for another day.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Minister for Making Cyclists Die a Little Bit Inside.

Here in the UK we've got a cabinet government system, where the Prime Minister is sort of like the chairman of the board of directors, and able to appoint ministers to head each division of his government. They sit down and discuss shit and (depending on the Prime Minister) do what they fuck they want (Major government), what the fuck they're told (Thatcher government), what the fuck they can get away with (Blair government) or whatever the fuck lines their own pockets (Cameron). 

Beneath the level of the cabinet ministers (22 of them - with 8 more able to attend cabinet meetings without being cabinet ministers) are shitloads of junior ministers and pointless hangers on. Upwards of 130 listed here, drawn from the Lords and the Commons. 

Now the way this is meant to work for most of them is that each is part of a government department (Transport, Defence, Foreign Office etc.) or part of the business of government itself (whips etc.), and while part of their job is to deliver government policy as stated and to communicate the governments message to the people (and vice-versa) a cabinet system with devolved duties to junior ministers works by each making a case for their own areas within the wider government, each fighting their own corners for their areas of interest. It is, or should be, a good system, and a minister who's good at his or her job would expect advancement, and of course for whatever that area of interest is to flourish.

And this brings me to Mr. Robert Goodwill. Among his remit is cycling - although its clearly not one of the things he's interested in (click on his interests in the above link - it ain't listed).  He isn't taking the cycling part of his remit seriously - just read this and tell me I'm wrong. In fact he's taking it so lightly that he's making glib comments that women don't ride because they'll mess up their hair. 

Lets be clear - Goodwill doesn't give a fuck about cyclists, if he did he wouldn't be droning on about the perception of risk being worse because cyclists being flattened by HGV's hits the news, he'd be dealing with the haulage sector and demanding the addition of wheel guards on all such vehicles to save the lives of cyclists. If he cared about cyclists he wouldn't brazenly refuse to comment on the woeful (and falling) investment in cycling while road spending goes up - you're getting £86 spent on road transport per year if you're a Brit, but 76p spent on cycling. 

Goodwill isn't there to fight our corner - Goodwill is there for vanity road and rail projects, and like the rest of our current government he's a road-obsessive who'd render down the fat off the back of every cyclist for another litre of diesel. This man isn't interested in safe cycling, he's not fighting for investment for more cycling, he's not even respecting us enough to contextualise UK cycling spend within the EU. And when he does talk about cycling when not question dodging a parliamentary committee? Blah blah blah paint by numbers press release saying nothing but pretending to give a smeg.

He's Tory deadwood, and he's wheeled out in front of cyclists in the hope that eventually we'll be as dead inside as he is and we'll just shut up. That ain't going to happen though. 

Can I really be the only person to feel that his name is a brutal irony, considering how he's talked about cycling? Goodwill? Having a laugh, mate.

We haven't got a minister with any interest in cycling, and our parliamentary committee that is meant to be all about cycling can be fobbed off with ridiculous ease. Right, that approach hasn't worked then. What next?