All posts by Tim

The Pavement Cycling Issue

  1. The Road “Safety” Crackdown comes in the wake of the hit-and-run death of a cyclist, Jake Gilmore, in Bath in November. He was one of a number of cyclists who died in what was a dark month for road safety in the UK.
  2. Police forces in other locations – notably London, Edinburgh and Bristol – have also mounted similar crackdowns in the last few weeks.
  3. “Crackdowns” are barely more than PR exercises. They are designed to give the impression that roads policing still occurs, when it hasn’t done so in any meaningful way for 20 or more years.
  4. The road conditions we have are, in part, due to the Police’s unwillingness to actually police them over the last 20-odd years.
  5. This makes it slightly ironic that, in the name of road safety, cyclists were given advice – “stop riding on the pavement; take your place on the road” – that would increase their exposure to risk.
  6. Pavement cycling is illegal.
  7. However, when the Fixed Penalty Notice was introduced as a penalty in 1999, Home Office Guidance stated that it was only to be used in cases where the cyclist was cycling in an antisocial or threatening way.
  8. Yes, sometimes people get hurt or killed by cyclists. But really not very often: once every two years or so.
  9. You’re 500 times more likely to be killed by a motor vehicle on the pavement, than by a bicycle.
  10. Many UK cycle paths are converted pavements (shared use facilities), making it a confusing mess regarding where one is allowed to cycle away from the road, and where one is not.
  11. The motorists stopped in the “safety” crackdown were mostly using mobile phones.
  12. Distracted driving, including mobile phone use, is empirically a much bigger risk of harm –  both to car occupants and vulnerable road users – than pavement cycling, but unlike pavement cycling there is no provision for only giving penalties when it is done in an antisocial way. It is illegal.
  13. Despite this, the motorists caught in the crackdown were only given “words of advice” this time, not fines or points on their licence.
  14. 11 cyclists, and 10 motorists “caught” in one morning. Good PR for the police. Good business for the struggling local media (cycling is good for web hits).
  15. Everyone ignorescontinues to ignore the relative harm done by car drivers and cyclists, and cyclists are no safer (even, arguably, less safe) than before the “safety” (actually, “small section of highway code enforcement”) crackdown.

Bath’s ‘Bladud’ Bikes – a hire scheme before its time?

"All the bells are rusted or broken already" by bookmeister on Instagram

[I started this post back in March]

News reaches me via @katie_monk on Twitter that “Word on the street is that the bike scheme might be getting scrapped because the bikes are getting vandalised. Boo hiss!

It would indeed be a shame for the scheme to close… or would it?

It was funded with EU Civitas money, implemented by Bicincitta (an Italian company), and launched last year with no little amusement at the (initially) badly-translated web site and frustration at (and, in one case, concern at the security of) the sign-up process, which was said to be extremely awkward, and lacking the casual-use flexibility of the much-larger “Boris Bikes” scheme in London; a scheme that, although better technically than the Bladud Bikes, still work out as the most expensive bikes in the world.

The relative paucity of hire locations and their limited geographical spread is also a problem. Hire stations just outside the centre of the city (Widcombe, Oldfield Park, Westmoreland, Julian Road etc.) would have provided more opportunities for people to make use of the bikes for simple utility trips.

Now, in late May, the bikes are now gone from outside the Holburne Museum. This is for one of two three reasons: 1. there’s been a sudden and unexpected increase in the attractiveness for cycling of Bath’s streets; or 2. the project, as predicted, has been canned; or 3. The bikes were moved for yesterday’s Olympic Torch Relay.

It is no great surprise if the project has been canned but it seems a shame not to extend the trial through the peak tourist months of summer, especially as the scheme was launched late.

Ultimately, though, this would just be life-support for a zombie scheme that failed because, as David Hembrow wrote about London’s Boris Bikes, lack of bikes isn’t the problem:

The problem is not a lack of bikes, but that Londoners in the main don’t cycle because conditions for cycling in London, as with the rest of the UK, are terrible when you compare them with Dutch cities. Londoners are scared to cycle, and it’s quite obvious why. This problem cannot be resolved by making fractionally more bikes available.

http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2010/08/most-expensive-bikes-in-world.html

People do cycle in Bath, but many more would if conditions were made better by providing more protected, prioritised cycle tracks and other means of segregation without segregation (e.g. selective/filtered permeability). Providing a cycle hire scheme before the road conditions are tackled is stupid at best and criminally irresponsible at worst.

We may thank the lack of ease-of-use of the Bladud Bikes for the low take-up; who would wish to cycle in an unfamiliar city where the roads are so clogged with cars? The two enjoyable, motor-free facilities that we do have (the Kennet and Avon canal path and the Railway Path) are off-limits to the hire bikes due to restrictions put into the terms of use.

The Riverside Path only goes to the Railway Path so it’s not much use on its own, and the path near Spring Gardens in Widcombe is technically not a shared use facility.

The sad thing is that, with the right road conditions, bike hire like the Bladud Bikes can be a useful thing to have in a small, compact city like Bath. I fear that, due to the cart-before-horse nature of this particular scheme, we will never see another, better scheme in the future.

I wonder what the cyclist is

Nice old Dutch Look bike in Moorland Road, Bath

I wrote this poem when I was preparing my report on Andrea Leadsom’s Dangerous Cycling Ten-minute Bill for The Pod Delusion. The report featured in Episode 83.

Spring is sprung, the grass is ris
I wonder what the cyclist is?
Fitter, happier, more productive?
Or furiously, wantonly destructive?

You won’t get balance from the papers
Or broadcast media about their capers.
They’re either being squashed by a lorry,
Or scaring pedestrians without a ‘sorry’.

That’s if they’re not on a charity ride.
UK media knows on which side
Its bread is buttered; The motor trade
Provides advertising revenue aid

To an ailing publishing industry
The reviews of cars keep the dead tree
Press from croaking and going under
So against alternatives they thunder.

“Pinko commies! Yoghurt knitters!
Freeloading scum!” Littlejohn titters.
But if you approach it rationally.
It’s seen that, internationally,

The countries travelling actively
Have no need for behaving reactively
To the current cycling revival.
They promote vulnerable road users’ survival.

By thinking properly, in proportion
To the cause of carnage and of caution:
The motor-vehicle, whose use has been
Growing to levels never seen.

So I would argue the most rational
Form of transport is the bicycle.
Low impact and low emission;
It needs no coal and needs no fission.

It provides necessary mobility
While helping postpone morbidity.
It will contribute to the task
Of making more civil cities; is that so much to ask?

Conscientious Objection and the “War on the Motorist”

“Philip “Hoverboard” Hammond”:http://quickrelease.tv/?p=1328, Secretary of State for Transport, says he’s going to “end the war on the motorist”, as if such a war exists rather than being the mental (in both senses) construct of the car-sick UK press and government.

Anyway, a comment on a “Guardian editorial on the absurdity of this assertion”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/02/unthinkable-declaring-war-motorists made me think:

bq. “I have to admit, there is a nice driver or two about who — in rush hour — politely wait for me to cross a four lane roundabout feed with no pedestrian crossing in the pouring rain pulling my wheelie suitcase. *These are the conscientious objectors of the war*, traitors to the driving shock troops who see a puddle and a pedestrian in proximity and say to themselves ‘Aha! Let’s have some fun!’.” (emphasis mine)
– “http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/comment-permalink/7851556″:http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/comment-permalink/7851556

I drive every day. I have no other choice except move house, or find a new job (neither of which is a desirable option). I am a reluctant driver, though, and I commute in a tiny Ford Fiesta (with a 1.25 litre engine that is, in my opinion, about all you need in a car this size; anything else is gross over-application of power).

The country A-roads that form my daily route get the odd roadie/MAMIL cycling on them. It’s not something I fancy doing, but fair play to them: they have every right to be there. I tend to ride mostly around town, or on the Bristol/Bath Railway Path or Kennet & Avon Canal Path. I’m always very careful to give them plenty of room, and I reduce my speed when passing them. Although I’m in a car, I wish these cyclists no harm (obviously!) and go out of my way to drive responsibly around them.

Thus we come to the war that _does_ exist: that on Vulnerable Road Users (VRUs). Whether by inattention, distraction or outright malice, cyclists and pedestrians are frequently on the receiving end of behaviour that, were it to take place in a different context (i.e. by “youths” and not in a car), would rightly be seen as anti-social.

And so to my declaration of Conscientious Objection from this war: I may drive, but I’m not lining up with the Jeremy Clarksons and James Martins of this world to run people off the road just because they use a different mode of transport.

West addicts facing jump in drug prices by end of month

This is a parody. Oil is an addiction.

Addicts in the West could be paying up to 130p a hit for drugs by the beginning of next year, an industry body has warned.

The Retail Drugs Industry Independent Crack Dealers Association (RDI Crack) predicted prices could soar by 3 per cent ahead of the August Bank Holiday weekend and 8 per cent by the end of 2010.

RDI Crack, which represents around two-thirds of Britain’s 9,000 drugs forecourt sites, said the average crack price nationally could rise as high as 125.9p per hit in the new year, smashing the current record high of 121.61p.

But that could rocket higher in the West Country, where many addicts are already paying in excess of 125p per hit for ecstacy and amphetamines.

RDI Crack chairman Brian Madderson said: “The rebound in raw drugs pricing is disappointing but not entirely unexpected.

“It will further increase pressure on independent dealers who are fighting for survival, especially in rural areas, due to the double hit of falling volumes and tighter margins.

“This raw drugs increase will feed through the supply chain and could result in prices going up by as much as 4p a hit in the next three weeks.

“We also need to remember that the coalition government did not cancel Labour’s Budget commitment to raising drugs duty by 1p a hit from October 1 and a further 0.76p from January 1, with both having VAT added.

“Then we have the coalition’s Emergency Budget proposal to increase VAT to 20 percent from January 4, so the outlook remains extremely difficult for junkies and dealers alike.”

The drugprices.co.uk website currently shows the average prices in the Taunton area at 117.8p for ecstacy and 119.3p for amphetamines. However, the highest prices are 125.9p and 126.9p respectively.

In Dorchester, the averages are 118.3p and 119.8p, Bristol 115.6p and 118.2p, Swindon 115.7p and 119.3p and Cheltenham 117.6p and 119.3p.

John Franklin, from the RDC, said: “The future looks bleak for junkies, with rising drugs prices and further tax hikes.

“The coalition Government have promised to take a look at options to control the price of crack. However, the planned drugs duty and VAT rise are likely to add a further 5p a hit.

“If the Government really want to help junkies, they should abandon these planned increases.”

Charlie Simpson, cycling and charity

BBC News:

bq. A seven-year-old boy from London who was aiming to raise £500 for the Haiti quake relief effort through a sponsored bike ride has raised more than £72,000 (n.b. now over £100,000).

– “http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8477345.stm”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8477345.stm

The bike ride is a great effort, and the fundraising really got going after Charlie was featured on BBC Breakfast. None of what follows is intended to knock what Charlie has done, so please don’t take it in that way; it is merely a comment on our collective attitude to cycling here in the UK, with reference to kids in The Netherlands (highlighted on “David Hembrow’s blog”:http://hembrow.blogspot.com/search/label/school%20travel).

There are three cycling story staples in the UK media:

# “Cyclists (especially on pavements) are a menace to society”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8319630.stm
# “One or more cyclists gets killed/seriously injured in a collision”:http://www.eadt.co.uk/content/eadt/news/story.aspx?brand=EADOnline&category=News&tBrand=EADOnline&tCategory=xDefault&itemid=IPED23%20Jan%202010%2009%3A42%3A54%3A777 (unless you’re BBC London News, who “deem cyclists getting killed on a regular basis to be less important than motorists getting parking tickets”:http://crapwalthamforest.blogspot.com/2009/08/bbc-london-news.html).
# “Cyclist rides distance to raise money for good cause”:http://www.thisisbath.co.uk/news/Peter-embarks-year-long-cycle-ride/article-904458-detail/article.html

All of these stories are newsworthy (unless you’re BBC London News…) because cycling remains an outsider activity. In the Netherlands, children ride to school further, daily, than Charlie Simpson did for his one-off ride. It’s a normal activity, so a child’s bike-ride-of-note would doubtless be rather longer as a consequence.

Kids in the UK want to ride to school, but often can’t because their parents won’t let them out of (justifiable, IMHO) fear of ever-more-dangerous roads. Kids in the Netherlands can ride in near-total safety not because of the numbers, but because of the infrastructure.

The sad thing is that we’re trading safety now (cocooned in a car on the school run) for danger in later life (heart disease, diabetes and the rest).

These three types of cycling stories run by the UK media all do their bit, unfortunately, to marginalise cycling, making it appear to be an activity undertaken by the brave, the mad and the poor.

I long for the day when, rather than death, charity or cyclist-pedestrian conflict, it’s bike infrastructure projects to make our towns and cities better places to live and work that make the front pages.

Changes are afoot

Since leaving “Digerati Studio”:http://digeratistudio.com/ in June, I’ve been picking up odd bits of freelance work but not yet really enough to provide a decent income for my family. “I mentioned on Twitter on Friday”:http://twitter.com/t1mmyb/status/2571505623 that I’d had an interview and been offered a job. On Monday, I accepted the offer. So far, I haven’t mentioned what — or where — the job is. Fear not, your wait is over.

I will be working for a medium-sized company called “N4 Solutions”:http://www.n4s.co.uk/, which is based near Cirencester. That’s surprise number one – many of you will know how much I have enjoyed, and advocated, cycling to work in the last nine months. I still think cycling is an excellent solution for in-town transport; it doesn’t work quite so well for 42-mile commutes (though I know distances like that, and longer, are ridden by keener cyclists than I). This does mean, unfortunately, that my carbon footprint is going to increase as we’ll have to buy a second car; try as I might, I haven’t so far been able to convince Kathy that car-free childminding is attainable. I’m a reluctant driver, though, and one who’d rather go cross-country because the route is interesting than get there quicker on the motorway. When I have to drive, it’s with economy and safety, not high speed, in mind.

N4 is a subsidiary of Experian, and makes web-based software for selling financial products, used by banks etc. It’s quite far away from the world of Web 2.0, socialthisthatandtheother etc. but there is quite a lot of Ajax and UI wizardry involved.

Surprise number two relates to technology. Again, many of you will know that I use lots of open source software (and a Mac…) in the web development sphere. Well, my new job is Microsoft all the way: Windows on the desktop and .NET for web development. The thing is, though, that my role is very much focused on client-side code. I’ll be working with the open technology of the Web — HTML, CSS, JavaScript — just as much as before. In fact, I’ll be working with it more than before, as I won’t be digging into .NET code (probably for the best).

Despite the location and the tech, this role is so far up my street that it’s virtually in my front garden: it’s about developing a coherent and consistent best practice with regard to the company’s use of web technology in an accessible and usable way. It sounds like I’ll get to learn about ARIA(Accessible Rich Internet Applications), something I’ve known about for a while but haven’t had a chance to make use of, and there will be a good mix of development and advocacy, which I enjoy very much.

Other jobs came up closer to home (as I was going for interview or after I accepted the role) but this new position will, I hope, give me and the family a bit of financial stability after a turbulent month or so. N4′s location (the middle of nowhere) means that it looks like a great place to work, and there’s a gym on-site so I can make up for not cycling to work.

I guess I’d better start taking notice of the traffic reports on the radio.

+*UPDATE*+ I should mention that this job was sorted out by Stewart Smith of “Novate IT”:http://www.novate-it.co.uk/. I’m not being paid to say this, but they’re a recruitment agency that actually know what they’re doing, which sadly is often not the case.

Paris vs Bristol

Bristol, “Britain’s first Cycling City”:http://www.bristol.gov.uk/cycling, aims to introduce a Paris Velib-style cycle hire scheme, operated by “Hourbike”:https://www.hourbike.com/hourbike/. My fear is that, by having a system that is too small, the scheme will fail. Some quotes from the _Happy Birthday Velib_ video (linked below) bear this out:

bq. “you have to go big enough to where it’s at least 1 bike per 200 residents. I think that’s a bare minimum for the good function of the system”

bq. “cities who made too small an organisation, too small [a] network, don’t have real success”

bq. “when you have not enough stations. not enough bicyles, the people don’t choose it”

bq. “It’s seamless, it’s easy, it’s fun. What’s better than having a public bike be a part of your public transport system?”

– “_Happy Birthday Velib_ on Youtube”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xw_Hrx1DS3A

(Found via “Karl McCracken’s blog”:http://karlmccracken.sweat365.com/2009/02/05/challenge-for-your-non-biking-friends/)

Do motor industry executives dream of electric cars?

Apparently, “yes: they do”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8001254.stm: the relentless obsession with Carbon emissions (while important) has led us into a blind alley of thinking that electric vehicles are somehow “green”. A clue: they’re not, unless the energy used to propel them comes from a renewable resource. Otherwise, all you’re doing is swapping local pollution and emissions for those far away; you know what they say about “out of sight…”.

Carbon emissions are only one of the car’s many downsides. An electric car:

* will still get stuck in traffic,
* will still be driven at reckless speeds, even by the “otherwise law-abiding”
* will still kill people in crashes
* will still insulate people from their surroundings, sucking the life out of communities
* will still prevent occupants from getting any exercise

We need more cycling, not hare-brained schemes like this. In fact, paying people to cycle is a positive step that would be a net benefit in reduced health costs and road maintenance costs.