Category Archives: Cycling

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.

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.

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.

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.

“But I’ve got my hazard lights on!”

There are some “great”:http://bristolcars.blogspot.com/ “blogs”:http://crapwalthamforest.blogspot.com/¬†out there documenting the worst excesses of a car-supremacist culture (in which we in the UK live): both the behaviour of drivers and the panderings of local authorities to them, despite claims by “certain extremist groups”:http://www.abd.org.uk/ that drivers are persecuted by councils.

Bristol gets a lot of attention as the UK’s first cycling city, and it undoubtedly has too many cars in certain parts of the city. Bath, a much smaller city, also has parking problems in certain areas. It also arguably has worse cycle provision. I ride a combination of roads, car parks and cycle lanes during my 3-mile commute.

On my ride to work today I witnessed two examples of how bikes get a raw deal in day-to-day encounters.

First: a van in the ASL(Advanced Stop Line) zone at a the bottom of Brougham Hayes.

“!http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3412/3294389859_61acb65b7c.jpg(Stokes Masonry Ltd van in Advanced Stop Line zone)! (Stokes Masonry Ltd van in Advanced Stop Line zone by t1mmyb, on Flickr)”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/t1mmyb/3294389859/

It didn’t inconvenience me, but it just displays an insidious arrogance in the mind of some drivers; a mindset that thinks that non-motorised vehicles don’t have a right to be on the road.

Second: a delivery truck parked in the contra-flow cycle lane in James St. West:

“!http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3377/3295214070_3a3dc06b9e.jpg(CEVA Logistics – Making Cycles Flow Into Oncoming Traffic)! (CEVA Logistics – Making Cycles Flow Into Oncoming Traffic by t1mmyb, on Flickr)”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/t1mmyb/3295214070/

I stopped and spoke, very politely, to the driver. He was polite too, and his reply came down to “what can I do? I can’t park on double-yellow lines! I’ve got my hazard lights on!” as if the hazard lights protected cyclists from the oncoming traffic if/when they had the guts to cycle round the truck. There were some empty (albeit private, off-road) parking spaces that he could have pulled into, but no. The cycle lane it was, because it’s an easy target.

The truck belonged to a company called “CEVA Logistics”:http://www.cevalogistics.com/, whose tag-line is “Making Business Flow”. I assume they don’t mind business flowing right through the tattered remnants of the Highway Code and any unlucky cyclists in their way.