Monday, 10 November 2014

Cambridge Police making things needlessly hard - part 2

You'll recall I tried to report something I thought dodgy to the Police. 

After sending a complaint to the Commissioners office, and to the complaints department, I got a response from a Chief Inspector. And it was pathetic, imho - I don't think its appropriate for me to post the text here, but you'll get an idea about it from my response (below)...

Dear xxxxxxx,

I'm not clear why you think this isn't sufficient evidence to be worth having words with the gentleman. The perspective from which the image is taken is right in front of the driving position - while it is possible that it could be another person leaning right in front of the driver, it isn't likely - and I should think you'd also be wanting a word with the driver for allowing that to happen. And while, yes, it is possible that the picture was taken with a camera and later transferred to another device to then put up online, surely thats something you'd also be wanting to talk to the driver about? If you saw a driver using a camera while at the wheel of the car, you'd certainly be having a word.

Bluntly, there is no combination of factors leading to this photograph being taken from the driving position of a car that does not give you good cause for talking to the driver - and it seems impossible to argue that talking to the driver is disproportionate.

It is also not hard to track down who sent this - the link (which I provided) to the tweet takes you to his twitter feed, from which you can see he's got a link to his facebook address therein. Looking at the contents thereof it won't be hard to find his email contact, name and, from that, location. I'm a little disappointed that you think thats too much work - its almost none. Indeed, have you not considered simply emailing him to ask? I'm not for a moment suggesting you should be storming round with flashing blue lights, but there is clearly something wrong going on here, and if you ignore such a blatantly wrong thing it'll keep happening - don't you want to stop this before an accident occurs as a result of this behaviour?

I must also say that it really does need to be simpler to make online contact with the police. If you've got a twitter presence, and I send information such as this to you via. twitter, why can't you deal with it simply and effectively without having to make a call, make another call because I've been cut off, send an email, send another email, and chase it via. the another call because the email address may not be checked for days?  This isn't just a simple training issue, its a problem with Cambridgeshire Constabulary being incommunicative - from my end it looks like you're doing everything you possibly can to avoid even taking the report, even to the extent of coming up with implausible excuses for the picture perhaps being taken by someone else and not checking the link I sent which will, very quickly, find you the contact information you need.

Is Cambridgeshire Constabulary a police force of the 20th or 21st century?

Yours,

(my name)

12 days on I got another reply. You'll have an idea what that said from my response below...

Dear xx,

Thanks for your response and for looking in to this.

I'm a little baffled that you've brought up your role in looking at road traffic incidents where life changing injuries occur in response to being asked to look into this. On the face of things this looks illegal. We see regular 'crackdowns' on road infractions which are not immediately causing such injuries, and I've yet to hear a police officer in the media complain that their time would be better spent dealing with other things. 

I understand that such a thing won't be an immediate top priority, but would you rather that this kind of thing isn't reported at all? Surely if mobile phone use (or fiddling with a camera or, at best, letting someone else lean over you to take a picture while you're driving!) is a serious enough offence for the police to occasionally target, you must also want people to report such things?

The response first via. twitter, then via. phoning 101, then from the Inspector and now from you seems grudging, to say the least! I'd rather hope that our police force would be all in favour of this - can you please explain to me where I've got that wrong? Bluntly, Police response to this appears evasive, slow, and grudging. 

Cheers,

......

Okay, I get it, limited Police time and resources and all that. But you can't tell me that you can have a crackdown on cyclists having lights while simultaneously ignoring things like this - thats not proportionate policing. You also can't be telling me that you'll only look at something if you're badgered in to it. What kind of policing is that?

Bottom line? This isn't going to get Cambridgeshire Constabulary good publicity like a 'crackdown' on mobile phone use does, so I don't think they're interested. If they were interested I'd have been able to report this with one tweet or, at most, one call. 

Nonsensical policing from a force that, demonstrably, are failing cyclists. Sorry, but there it is - the Police have made this needlessly difficult from the outset. Can it really be that they're making it so hard to report something to reduce the incidence of reports?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Near death experience with taxi.

Had one of those close overtakes today. The kind that are not accidental, nor are they careless - they are malicious, calculated attempts to enforce the view that we should not be in the way.

My better half and I were almost at Cambridge City Centre, heading in on Victoria Avenue. At the end the road there's a roundabout, where to go straight on you need to be in the right hand lane. With 50 or 60 yards to spare we both looked over our shoulders, saw a car well behind us, signaled, and moved out. 

Just feet from the roundabout stop line, a taxi slipping between the car that had taken the left hand lane and us missed me by a matter of inches - it very nearly brushed me. Still moving out as it undertook, he seemed only to see my partner in front after nearly taking me out, and swerved away again before accelerating and nearly taking her out too - all to get to a stop line one place in front of us.

We caught him. Obviously. And we caught him again at the rising bollard (where, being pumped full of adrenaline from such a cynical act of aggression, I berated him very loudly). And then we caught him again on the way out of Drummer Street. And again at the junction with Downing Street. Or, in other words, his overtake was not, and could not, gain him the slightest advantage in terms of road space. We were being taught a lesson by a coward (and he was a coward - he was all aggression behind the wheel but without the courage of his convictions when I shouted at him loudly enough to attract witnesses) using his taxi as a weapon with which to threaten us. 

There is no such thing as accidentally driving within inches of a cyclist. Such an act is, always, assault. Its not careless driving, its not dangerous driving, its assault - the express intention of this is to frighten us off the roads.


Do not tell me there is no 'war on the roads'. There is. Only, we aren't fighting it. They are.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Thoughts from a new member of Cambridge Cycling Campaign

Joined @Camcycle yesterday specifically to support their resolution to adopt their own Space for Cycling as something to measure proposals for cycle provision against. And it was passed, despite society grandee Jim Chisolm (in my view wrongly and triumphantly) implying that the specific wording of the proposal watered this down. If Jim is proved right and this is not implemented as a tool to measure all such developments against, I think the Campaign will be a laughing stock.

A few reflections on the AGM (my first Cambridge Cycling Campaign meeting in donkeys years) from a new member...

(1) The attendees are, for the most, chaps. Older (40+ if I'm being generous), middle or upper class (posh, as you'd call them in my home town), educated, and everyone was (I think) white. The kind of people who look like they read the Daily Mail so they have a good reason to be offended. People who know what hummus is. There's a really big problem with the campaign group claiming to represent cyclists in Cambridge, who are nothing like so homogeneous. There are a few younger folk and a few ladies - but its not a good mix by any means. Cycling to work today I saw hundreds of other cyclists - white, black, Chinese, South Asian,young, old, women, men... you know, the kind of mix of people you see every day in one of our most cosmopolitan cities. I've always been concerned that the Campaign is assumed by so many to speak for 'cyclists', and I'm more bothered by that now than I ever was. 

(2) Voting. Well, I get that having a system that allows you to 'reopen nominations' if no one standing for a post is approved, or why you'd need a system for ridding yourself of bad committe members, but the idea that you can vote for or against a candidate? That ain't the way. Sorry guys, but I suggest instead that you need a system whereby you allow the committee to suspend membership thereof with, say, a 2/3 majority committee vote, of any committee member who has brought the organisation into disrepute, which I suspect is what you wanted to achieve. Please, ask the members if they'll grant you that. 

(3) Ambition - its good to see that there are plans to go bigger with a new employee for the campaign. Its good to see that the changes to membership fees were implemented to allow that to happen. I'm not entirely convinced that the job, as briefly described, is as yet fully thought out, but I wouldn't expect that it must be yet. Good idea.

(4) Martins summary of whats happened in the past year. Far too diplomatic. The Catholic Church and Perne Road represent stealing cycling funds and spending them on cars - just come out and say it straight. The County have some decent(ish) ideas but please call bullshit when you see bullshit. You've done some good stuff - but I'm left wondering what you gain from not being far more forthright in criticism of utter crap. The response the Campaign issued to the Catholic Church junction was good - time perhaps to write a very scathing post-mortem thereof?

All in all, if Space for Cycling becomes a yardstick against which roads and cycling provision are measured, this marks a coming of age for the Campaign, as it moves on from lilly livered, bland acceptance of sheer rubbish foisted on us in the past out of fear of rocking the boat and losing even the value-less facilities we have. This is where the Campaign becomes what cyclists need, where it might really start representing the broad mix of cyclists here, and where it may even see a broader demographic join up. Or, its where it fails to do so - and we look on jealously while London starts to build the infrastructures that have been eloquently described by Cambridge Cycling Campaign folk in Space for Cycling. 

It'll be interesting to see.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

'Improvements' in Kings Hedges and Arbury - Part 2.

In my last post, I criticised plans for pedestrian and cyclist 'improvements' in North Cambridge.

And I promised ideas for how to make it better.

Lets begin by looking at where the whole scheme (arguably) has its way in to this part of the City - the Mere Way/Arbury Road junction.



View Larger Map

So its a big, wide approach route. And I'm proposing that we should punch straight over the grass verge opposite on to the quiet Nicholson Way route.

Pan left and you'll see a little used cycle route - little used because it goes nowhere. Click forward once, then look to your left and you'll see why, the cycle lane turns sharply across Arbury Road with no real incentive for cars to stop. It becomes, quite literally, a cycle lane that goes across the main road with no signals, no information for motorists to know what it is, no waning... Its  meaningless, mostly ignored facility which motorists might or might not stop for. It leads you to a churned up path that is in dire need of routine maintenance, passing along the North of Hanson Court.

Now, pan right and look Southwards down Arbury Road - you'll see around 40 yards further on a turn off to the left which takes you to a handy cut through to Roxburgh Road if you're a cyclist. This is the route used by many cyclists going to and from the Science Park, and it could be part of a truly excellent set of facilities for riding in the North of Cambridge.

You'll also notice a quiet back-road running parallel to Arbury Road. So why not, if we're looking to improve things for cycling here, provide a safe cycle cut through linking that road directly to the junction? If the plan is to create a better route for cycling and walking, then cut straight from the back-road to the junction, which may be replaced with a raised junction anyway, linking the existing (useless) cycle facility to it by a continuous cycle lane in a new design requiring traffic Southbound on Arbury Road to give way to traffic from Mere Way? Give priority to the Arbury Road/Mere Way route (which also benefits bus riders, this being the route of the Citi 1) while proving a cut-through to a quiet road on which cyclists could turn right to get to the Roxburgh Road route or Left to get to the proposed improvements on the Rec' ground.

Much of the plan seemed to be about getting people to St. Laurence School. Having made a safe point to get to the quiet route parallel to Arbury Road, all we now need to do would be to sort out the muddle on the other side of Arbury Road - here, this is what you'll see if you've crossed over Arbury Road and you're now riding North towards the school.



View Larger Map

For some reason rather than having a simple, single surface to ride on we've got to zig-zag on needlessly narrow (arguably) shared use, before ending up at this junction...




View Larger Map

So now to get to Ashvale, a quiet suburban route taking me directly to the school and which is a natural route to take from the end of Nicholson Way/Hanson Court, I need to go round a blind corner at the garages, zig-zag a railing and drop off the kerb into traffic that probably hasn't even indicated at another mini-roundabout? No, no, no - connect this corner up with an off-road cycle route that links here (Albemarle Way) with Nicholson Way/Hanson Court and now we've linked the School with Arbury Road, and linked the North/South route to the Science Park too.

At the end of Ashvale there's plenty of room to build wide, fully segregated pedestrian and cycle routes both to the school and all the way back to Arbury Road - coming out more or less where the cycle route currently does. This would connect to the recreation ground (as in the original plans). And unlike the original plan, this gives us a safe, simple, easy route to navigate that avoids Arbury Road and provides the kind of quiet infrastructure parents are looking for to get to the school, while also assisting fast, adult commuters connecting to the Science Park or to the City Centre from further up Arbury Road, or from the South.

Turning North from there we've got a rather needless layby and bland, featureless stretch of hedgerow - get rid of them and extend the cycle route all the way to the shared use facility that comes round the corner from Kings Hedges Road. It isn't a great shared use route (none of them are) but it may as well connect.

Frankly, I'm ambiguous about the St. Albans Road junction. I approve of changing the priority there as is proposed, but I think we're kidding ourselves if we say thats for cyclists or pedestrians - its to tame motorists, and that should never come out of funds that are, allegedly, for active transport.

By my reckining, we lose three parking spaces in my proposed solution - two on Nicholson Way and one at the end of Ashvale.

Lastly, re-surfacing the paths around the recreation ground behind the school is common maintenance work. It is disingenuous of the County Council to say that this is an improvement, it blatantly isn't. By all means, re-surface this route, but not from developer funds earmarked for improvements. For once, can't we have maintenance money to maintain and spend improvement money on improvements? 




Monday, 3 November 2014

Arbury and Kings Hedges 'Improvements'

Thanks to Hester who shared a link that we're maybe getting some 'improvements for cycling and walking up in North Cambridge. Lets take a look at what is proposed.

Here's where they're talking about (this from Cambridgeshire County Councils website)


Its the orange bits under discussion, and this includes the awful junctions of Arbury Road and St. Albans Road and Mere Way, alongside the baffling Kings Hedges Road junction and a little loop around the 'Rec. If you look at said loop, you'll see that one of the orange lines is (almost) a straight ccontinuation of Mere Way, continuing the line of the old Roman Road, possibly the oldest extant route in the City.

The first thing you'll notice, before even looking at the details, is that it doesn't join up - the remainder of Arbury Road (both heading South East from Mere Way, and between the junctions) is to remain dreadful. And I mean dreadful - its plagued with antisocial parking, fast motorists accelerating in anticipation of or escape from the A14, and it being relatively long and straight they'll take outrageous liberties overtaking cyclists with inches to spare. Will improvements solely at the junctions make Arbury Road more appealing to cycle on? Will they hell - from the outset this proposal does nothing to make cycling more appealing in the area.

Lets go from the North end downwards. At Kings Hedges Road we're promised tarmac over the dirt track that cuts the corner to Kings Hedges Road - and for some unknown reason it'll be a shared use facility, linking to a shared use light to cross Arbury Road which then goes back on to the shared use path on the other side. You'll note that there is plenty of space on either side of this junction to widen the path and create segregated cyclist and pedestrian facilities, but 'shared use' is such ingrained dogma at the County that they've not even given us this as an option. So here, at the first hurdle, this fails - for no adequately explained reason this is yet another facility that just is not good enough.

If we head South we get to the next bit - some changes to traffic calming on Arbury Road (link to PDF file here). Colour me unimpressed - shared use facilities alongside a narrowed road? So if we choose to ride a more continuous route along the narrowed road we'll get honked at and bullied by angry motorists who want us out of their way on the narrow section and on to paths covered with pedestrians going to and from the school? So I'm meant to use a shared use section for a small part of a journey down a road, despite now having to give way to pedestrians and motorists as I enter and leave the facility? No way! Not now, not ever - this is a bad idea. By all means narrow the road, but give us dedicated cycling infrastructure in its place. We're narrowing the road and restricting the layby without doing anything positive, at all, for cycling. And by making it shared use we're making it considerably more hostile for pedestrians.

If we move down to St. Albans Road we've got three proposed solutions (link to PDF file) to replace the mini-roundabout. The first is a simple t-junction, that maintains the wide, car-centric sweeping curves of the junction that will encourage drivers wanting to turn left onto St. Albans Road to left hook northbound cyclists. Pedestrians wanting to cross St. Albans where it is narrower will still have to walk way down the road before getting to a safe point to cross. The other two options - both of which turn the main direction of traffic from Arbury Road on to St. Albans Road, will likewise mean cycling North or South bound we'll have to deal with crossing a stream of traffic to continue a journey either from St. Albans to Arbury Road or just to continue on Arbury Road. There is no provision, of any sort, for cycling in this part of the plan - all three proposals just make this differently hostile. This isn't about managing the route for cycling and walking, its about managing the increased flow of car traffic on Arbury Road and needs to be rejected entirely until a better plan is put forward or paid for directly from funding for roads, rather than funding from developers. It doesn't benefit the people living here, it benefits those passing through.

Fun and games continue as we keep heading towards Cambridge on Arbury Road (yet another PDF download, sorry). And its more of the same - if I want to keep cycling up Arbury Road towards Kings Hedges Road I've got to cross a stream of traffic. If I want to turn right from Mere Way on to Arbury Road I've got exactly the same problem with cars not giving way from the left at the proposed junction as I do at the old roundabout - and I see no reason that won't be compounded by cars turning off from Arbury Road from my right to continue down Arbury Road.

There's nothing for cyclists here. Oh, thats right, its a raised junction. So we'll be looking at a surface that cracks and becomes uneven with the weight of heavy vehicles. Brilliant.

There is nothing for cyclists in any of these plans. Nothing. Nada. Zip diddly squat. Its money being spent on 'sprucing up' the roads to control motorist flow without giving the slightest throught of any sort to cyclists and pedestrians - we've got a moved crossing, and thats it. 

But what about that cycle route round the rec ground? Well, here they propose using this developer money for routine maintenance. I kid you not. Look, here's what they say: 

We are proposing to widen and resurface the paths on King’s Hedges Recreation Ground (including the Pulley play area) to improve access to St Laurence’s and other cycle routes in the area. The paths are both local and strategic cycle routes but they are currently narrow and in poor condition.

Or, in other words, they're going to resurface the paths that are hard to get to anyway, which ought to form part of an excellent strategic North/South route through Cambridge but which do not. They're taking developer money and using it on very long overdue maintenance rather than on anything new. They'll maybe be a bit wider, although in truth they're lined by grass rather than roads so they're not really giving us more space for cycling at all. 

This is a pathetic waste of money when there are simple ways of improving the lot of cyclists and pedestrians in Kings Hedges which are being completely ignored. Bluntly, this is a moronic set of proposals from an organisation bereft of imagination or ideas, a council machinery that misses few chances to display how much it hates cyclists through inadequate or downright dangerous infrastructure. It achieves little or nothing for active transport in the North of Cambridge, and very likely gives us yet another mish mash of bad shared use for aggressive motons to try to bully us on to. Saddest of all, there really isn't any reason why some very simple things can't be done to make the area much better for active transport. I'll go in to that in my next post...

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Why can't Cambridgeshire Constabulary make things easy?

Below is a copy of the email I just sent to Cambridgeshire Constabulary, the PCC (Graham Bright, about whom I have been less than complimentary) and to Cambridgeshire Constabulary complaints department. How do you think this'll go down?

With bewildering advances in technology allowing people to commit quite new crimes, in new ways, I don't find it quaint or endearing that Cambridgeshire Constabulary want me to do the equivalent of shout in a tin can on the end of a bit of string to report an incident...


Dear Sir/Madame, 
Firstly, I would like to draw your attention to what I believe may be evidence of the use of a mobile device while driving, in Cambridge, in a tweet. This can be seen here:  

https://twitter.com/DrBrie/status/525266164436729857

For convenience I have also included a scree-grab.
Obviously it is illegal to use a mobile device while driving, even if the vehicle isn't moving at the time. The tone and content of the tweet show a certain aggressive tone, which for me makes this seem really rather sinister. The perspective from which the image is taken appears to be the drivers seat. 
Could you please investigate this, and respond with an appropriate incident number and a rough idea what (if anything) you plan to do.
Secondly, I have to comment on how silly your procedures for reporting such things are. I initially tweeted a link to @cambscops, which I would hope ought to bring this to the attention of police staff to make a decision on whether it should be pursued. I was directed to phone 101, which would of course necessitate reading a long URL down the phone, a procedure likely to result in errors and a waste of time. After waiting around 5 minutes to get through first time, I was then cut off, and the second call took 14 minutes to get hold of someone, who took a long time to find an email address to make the report to. Said address (xxxx@xxxx.xxx.xx.xx) could very easily be shared on your website to facilitate rapid, easy communication but it is not. 
Bluntly, if I report something I think is illegal to the Police by any means, at all, it is surely beholden on the police to take that report and do something with it, rather than respond that it is being reported in the wrong way? It appears that you are trying to minimise the number of incidents that are reported by making it needlessly hard to report. 
I have copied in Cambridgeshire PCC, Cambridgeshire Constabulary Complaints department.
Yours Sincerely,
My name
My address

Monday, 20 October 2014

Perne Road and Cambridge Cycling Campaign

Reams of blogroll devoted to this awful new scheme are already being flushed down the information supercarsey. Many of us predicted it would be awful. It is awful. It is already the site of people getting hurt.

So I don't need to add much in the way of criticism to a scheme that was obviously bad from the outset and which has entirely lived up to our low expectations - the blogs listed above already adequately rip this to shreds.

But I do want to remind everyone that Cambridge Cycling Campaign quite inexplicably gave grudging support to this scheme. It appears that doing 'something' was seen by them as sufficient reason to support yet another crap installation at enormous expense to the cycling budget. They supported this to demonstrate that 'Dutch' geometry is right, that its not dangerous, despite the fact that dreadful off-road shared facilities would undoubtedly make said geometry dangerous to cyclists as we're squeezed off in less space than we were previously, with confusing on/off road signs putting us and motorists in each others collective blind spots just where we'd all like to accelerate away. Its almost like the campaign thought Perne Road was taking one for the team so we get a better facility later - despite there being no evidence that this would be the case.

And Camcycle have been tetchy with the way bloggers and cycling journalists have covered this.

Guys, I know, there are some good folk at the Campaign. But you need to chill out and accept that you got this wrong - through your irritable criticism of those covering this story you look like patsies for the County Council, apologists for hazardous infrastructure.

You never, ever answer the simple question - if cyclists don't hold out for genuinely top quality cycling infrastructure here, in Cambridge, right now, then where and when will we? If you keep supporting schemes like this then we will keep getting schemes like this

Bluntly, when will you learn?