Thursday, 28 July 2016

Cyclist Licenses - the bad idea that will not go away

There are plenty of blog posts and articles with this already, so forgive me for not going into the already well-trodden details as to why this isn't a good idea. The arguments have been made and not addressed by advocates of cyclist licensing - and until there are well thought out responses there's nothing left to say on the subject. If you believe cyclists should be licensed I invite you to respond to the points raised in such articles, and when you've done so we can have a discussion - merely re-stating that you see a necessity for cyclist licensing and again not answering the argument against isn't having a discussion, its just you being an ass.

But I do want to address something here - cyclist licensing is an argument that just keeps coming back. This morning I observe that someone has set up yet another 'campaign' (although it could be, and I think it is, just be one person with an axe to grind).

Why is it that we keep seeing this? I mean, why do people set themselves up as crusaders for bike licensing without doing the slightest amount of due diligence? What is it that makes this demonstrably erroneous stance blindingly obvious to them? 

I put it to you that the guy phoning your local radio station to demand that cyclists are licensed, or whoever it is behind the new twitter feed, and anyone else making this argument, is suffering from the same delusion - it is OBVIOUS to them that cyclists should be licensed. They don't need evidence, they don't see any point in addressing the practical, cost, health, legal or safety issues involved because they've already decided that OF COURSE cyclists should be licensed. The reason they give for their argument varies (accountability to catch red light jumpers, because cyclists who break the law 'get cyclists a bad name', because there's no way of identifying cyclists, etc.) but it always comes from the same place - an assumption that licenses solve these assumed problems (they don't) and a perception of cyclists as a collective social out-group (we aren't). 

The name for a phenomenon where facts don't have to be put forward because its obvious that 'they' must be thus controlled, and there's no need to engage in the arguments put forward against a claim? The elevation of 'common sense' over study, evidence and facts? Prejudice.

Literally, it it just that. They've decided in advance, they've pre-judged the idea based upon how they perceive cyclists. They are, in the most literal sense, prejudiced against cyclists.

As such these people are unremarkable - they're all just sub-variants of Type 2, Type 4, Type 6 or even Type 8 cyclist haters, and I believe we should respond to them as such. And, just like with any other cyclist hater, we should be unsurprised when they react with contempt, disgust, hate, and a refusal to provide evidence for that which from their biased perspective is already obvious. 

My dear Cyclists4Licenses - I await your contemptuous blocking of me, merely an uppity cyclist. 

Monday, 18 July 2016

Cambridge News - How very DARE cyclists use the road!?

Once in a while I delve into the cesspit that is Cambridge News reporting on cycling matters. And it rarely disappoints.

Apparently they're using the road and not the cycle path, five abreast with no concern for the road, eating babies and wanking into the vicars tea. They do this to inconvenience and terrorise locals, make old people fear for their lives and force the poor pensioners to vote UKIP and protest Down With This Sort of Thing. 

Or, just maybe, on the other hand, there's no story here. The path isn't finished, its off road and quite good for a pootle or commute for the likes of me, but a fast club ride of tens of riders couldn't possibly use it like that. So on a Sunday morning, when the roads are just a little quieter, they'll quite reasonably continue using the roads.

The problem here is not that cyclists are on road. Its not even that some cyclists don't yet know that there's a growing off-road route there (which is quite good for a couple of you at a time). The problem is the ever-green assusmption that the presence of an off road cycle path must necessarily mean no more cycling on the road. It doesn't. 

Cycle routes are constructed for the convenience and safety of cyclists - where a cyclist or group of cyclists prefer to use the road for any reason then thats their choice, to be respected. I promise you, I absolutely guarantee, that no one is riding on the road to inconvenience you - why they're riding, where they're riding, is not about you. It isn't a display of disrespect and its not proving a point - its a clear statement that the facility hasn't been constructed to a standard that really facilitates all levels of cycling. Cyclists don't ride to piss you off any more than farmers take their haystacks for a drive. The world does not revolve around you, motorist. Fucking grow up already.

The bottom line is that news stories like this come from the mistaken belief that cycle facilities are to get us out of the way of motorists. One would hope, but not I'm afraid expect, Cambridge News reporters to understand this. 

Oh well. I'm not curious enough to look at the no-doubt blood bath of a comment section.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Another Victim Blaming Safety Campaign in Cambridge

Yet another terrible safety campaign from Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

From the first line in the first press release, we can tell exactly where this is going:

THE CAMBRIDGESHIRE and Peterborough Road Safety Partnership are urging road users to look out for each other after figures reveal that at least one cyclist is injured on the counties roads every day.
Yes, thats right. Cyclists are getting hurt or killed on our roads, so the cops are asking everyone to look out for each other. Equal weighting - completely ignoring the disparity in risk brought by each party to the other. We oughtn't have to re-hash the stats yet again, but we know that 70% or more of adult injuries are due to drivers - and less than 15% are attributed as solely the cyclists fault. Mutual respect is not the answer to our road safety concerns.

It gets worse though: 

Officers from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Roads Policing Unit (RPU) hope the latest Think! Cyclist campaign will encourage drivers and cyclists to look out for each other through highlighting the common ground between wheeled road users, and giving advice and tips on staying safe, visible and alert on the road.

Hang on, you're going to hilight common ground by giving us advice on visibility? But the vast bulk of cyclist injuries happen in broad daylight, and police campaigns to improve cyclist visibility in Cambridge have demonstrably delivered no reduction in cyclist injuries. Look, guys, we don't have to pull ideas for what influences cyclist safety out of our arses, we've got heaps of data on this subject. Its even been compiled for you so you don't have to go fishing for it. Telling cyclists to look out for motorists is, frankly, an insulting position to take on this topic. Its not our inattention causing injury. 

Earlier this week multiple motorists drove straight at me in front of Magdalene College, where there's a narrow section of road with priority for inbound traffic (the way I was going). They did this right in front of two Cambridgeshire Constabulary PCSO's, and on camera (my helmet cam was on). I asked said PCSO's if they'd ticket the drivers, they replied that they couldn't radomly ticket motorists - as if breaking the rules of the road is just a natural state of affairs and our Police service just can't be getting involved in nonsense like that or something. I tweeted this to our police service and they didn't even reply. And that was that - if you're in a car you can break the rules of the road right in front of the Police and nothing will happen. You can pretty much guarantee it. 

Bluntly @CambsCops you need to quit telling me to '#sharetheroad' when you do nothing to enforce the rules that would facilitate that working out. You seem to think #sharetheroad means some happy road Nirvana whereas in reality every time you use this phrase problem motorists read 'cyclists should get out of the way', whereas to us it just means 'stop driving at us'.

Your approach disproportionately targets cyclists and in so doing actively ignores the risk factors causing harm. This is disgraceful and disgusting victim blame. Stop it. I know that you approached cycle campaigners in Cambridge for input on this and were refused - can you really not understand that this victim blaming mentality is massively damaging to your reputation among cyclists? That your lack of action on illegal and dangerous driving coupled with a total capitulation to speeding, anti-social parking motorists means you've got a huge good-will deficit among cyclists, and that this campaign further stigmatises you in the eyes of ordinary folk who just want to ride a bike without their lives being endangered by the motorists you are clearly supporters of?

Addendum: We really oughtn't be surprised by this lamentable campaign on cyclist safety from a police service that thinks its ok to tweet real time traffic info to people driving, i.e. who through their actions condone mobile phone use at the wheel by giving information specifically to law breakers. 

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?