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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Latest written questions and answers from the Mayor:

Cycling conditions on the Westway

Question No: 1373 / 2013

Darren Johnson

A constituent who was once diverted to cycle along the Westway during a bomb scare reports that high winds and traffic noise made cycling on it an unpleasant experience. Will TfL therefore be mitigating these problems by erecting sound barriers and wind shields when the proposed Westway cycle way is implemented?

Written response from the Mayor

The issues you raise are being considered as part of the engineering and design studies into this route. Further information will be available in due course.

This is a good question, and I am so glad that I am not the first person to ask it.  I am probably not the ideal person to pronounce on the proposed two-way, segregated cycle path that is to be built on the elevated section of the M40 motorway between White City and central London, otherwise known as the Westway. I suffer from acoraphobia, which is an irrational fear of falling off things, and it becomes especially pronounced when cycling across bridges.  Even allowing for this irrational fear, I don’t find the prospect of using this proposed lane appealing at all, and that’s not only my inbred prejudice against west London.

I’m sure the lane will be objectively safe, as it will be separated from the motorway by a substantial lump of concrete, but I’ll be surprised if it’s pleasant.  One will, after all, be riding along a concrete gulley, exposed to the elements, with motor-traffic rumbling past at 40+ mph.  Ok, there will be times when the traffic will be stationary, but row upon row of stationary cars, engines idling, is little more appealing for reasons that I won’t need to spell out for anyone that has ridden along Euston Road in rush hour.  Is it just Darren’s constituent and me that find the proposed lane to be not altogether enticing?

Next week is Hackneyise week!

Movement for Liveable London

Street Talks with Cllr Vincent Stops, Hackney Council and Trevor Parsons, London Cycling Campaign in HackneyHackney: Lessons from London’s most liveable borough

Many different factors – topographical, historical, economic, social, demographic and political – have contributed to the borough of Hackney becoming arguably the most liveable in London. We hope you can join us for Street Talks in June when Trevor Parsons and Vincent Stops will explore these factors, outline the many problems and constraints which still remain, and discuss strategies for overcoming them.

Upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8PN at 7pm on Tuesday 4th June 2013 (bar open from 6pm).

Vincent Stops has been a councillor in Hackney for 11 years. For two he was the lead member responsible for transport, streets and environment issues. For the last seven he has been the Chair of Planning. During all that time Vincent…

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Quite a nice piece about a London bicycle courier (or messenger, if you prefer) avoiding the normal sensationalisation and clichés on BBC news – if you ignore the use of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Crosstown Traffic’.  Couple of quibbles: 80 – 100 miles a day? Back in the day, maybe some of the Metro riders were clocking this up, but not many.  Average mileage was/is more typically something around the 100k or less, i.e. 60 miles.  This number is not scientific, but is taken from my own measured mileage over a period of months, and compared with other riders measured mileages.  I doubt that the BBC’s numbers are more accurate.

Earnings are quoted at £200 – £600.  Again these are old numbers.  I don’t know where the BBC got them from.  As I said in this post on Moving Target in 2009 (since when earnings have gone down):

The only systematic survey of London bicycle messenger earnings was conducted by Ben Fincham in 2003, and published in the Sociological Review in 2006. The average earnings were given as £65/day, which is £325/week. I was on the road in the early 90s on one of the biggest circuits, Security Despatch, and I can tell you that it was rare that anyone made more than £500/week. Of course, there were a few guys doing a bit more than that at other companies, but there is no way that we ‘expected’ to make £1000. The best single day’s earnings at SD was around £125 in 1993.

Lower down in the article, the chief exec of City Sprint is quoted as saying that they charge £2 for WC1 – EC2. It’s not clear if that is what the rider gets paid, or whether that is what they charge the client. If it’s the latter, then I guess the rider might be taking £1.50 on the docket (which would be generous), which would mean 266 dockets a week to make £400, which hardly seems likely.

Anyway, whichever way you do the numbers, I would be very surprised if most guys in London were making, on average, more than £250/week at the moment. Which is around minimum wage BEFORE paying for equipment.

I reckon a more representative number would be £50 – £500, with the £500 being very much the outlier. £50 is probably more common, as there is a high turnover of novices who try it for a week or two, see what they are making and quit, to be replaced by more novices.

Another inaccuracy is the statement: because of the obvious risks couriers find it impossible to get life insurance.  This is not true.  The Combined Insurance Companies of America have been insuring couriers against injury, illness and death for at least 20 years.  The policies aren’t cheap, but they do exist.

Got this via Facebook from a female friend:

“Are the schools on holiday? The commute in was remarkably pleasant apart from one HGV driver who decided that me looking back to check he saw me was an invitation to roll up next to me, roll down his window and yell at me about how he was a professional driver and to not listen to a word I had to say on my actions or reasoning. Bill Buffalo, have you heard anyone reporting similar in the wake of increased pressure for more education for drivers?”

I was looking back through some notes, and found something I took down whilst at one of the Commercial Vehicle Educations Unit’s ‘changing places’ demonstrations, designed to illustrate HGV/LGV/lorry ‘blind-spots’ to cyclists.  This is from 2007, so a little bit out of date.  I don’t know why I didn’t put it in my original post.

I was speaking to one of the CVEU officers, and he expressed surprise at their strike rate, when stopping LGVs, i.e.  how many times CVEU officers stop an LGV (lorry) and find something wrong.

Something I wrote last summer that I adapted in view of my recent (injury-related) lay-off.

London Bike Polo

A few people have been asking me why I haven’t been at polo recently.  There are a few reasons, which I will summarise briefly:
Courts
Let’s face facts: the sport has been going down-hill since we stopped using Brick Lane. The young & ill-informed might point to the steep camber on the court, to the large gaps in the fence, the inconveniently placed goals or even to the very frequent discoveries of human faeces as good reasons to stop using the court.
To these persons, I say, huh! The large gaps in the fence facilitated that game moment now largely lost to London Polo,  namely, the Beer Break.  The ball would go under the fence, shoot off down Shacklewell Street towards Cambridge Heath, and we’d all stop for a refreshing & reviving draught of beer. By the time Yorgo had returned with the ball (yes, Yorgo was our ball boy)…

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Dr. Robert Davis and the remains of a City Hall buffetI went to the ‘Cyclists and the Law’ panel discussion at City Hall the other night.  It was a little disconcerting to find myself back in the cycle-campaigning fold, however slight my current association to any cycle-campaign group is.  I wasn’t surprised to see that Dr. Robert Davis is still well capable of clearing any buffet put before him, but I was pleasantly surprised to see some new faces in the otherwise familiar crowd of old friends.  The formal outcome of the evening I’ll leave for another post. (Updated: a fairly complete account of the proceedings was forwarded by Jenny Jones’ office.)  I wanted to put down some opinions and impressions.

Andrew Gilligan is very impressive.  I was initially very sceptical of his new calling, viewing his appointment as ‘cycling tsar’ (his ironic title) as a crony sinecure, and doubting his ability to make real changes, but I was very wrong.  He appears to have mastered the brief (get more people cycling), and is committed to evidence-based policy, as opposed to anecdotal subjective stuff, such as we have seen from Boris before.  As was said in our chat on the Bike Show, I estimate that this is because Boris was genuinely dismayed by how badly he was received in the cycling hustings before the last election, and realises that he has to do something serious and substantial if he is not, in the words of Sonia Purnell, to be seen to have failed London’s cyclists.  I was especially struck by the fact that Jenny Jones of the Green Party, who was chairing the discussion, was pretty fulsome in her praise of him, and Jenny is usually very selective in her use of praise.

People use statistics in a very slap-dash way, even people from a well-educated and well-briefed audience such as this.  One chap got up and said that no cyclists get killed in Paris, which is a big load of pony, complete and utter rubbish.  He used the 2011 ‘Paris 0 London 16’ canard, which I discussed in one of my first posts.  He also seemed totally unaware that 5 cyclists were reported killed in Ville de Paris in 2012 (remember that Ville de Paris is much, much smaller jurisdiction than Greater London, roughly equivalent to Zone 1).  From this I deduce that he got the numbers from the media reports last year about the garbled Paris numbers, which shows the danger of taking statistics from secondary sources, and not looking a bit harder to find out what the real story is.

I find it totally reprehensible that people use whatever dodgy number comes to hand to make a case, no matter how unreliable the number may turn out to be.

Detective Chief Superindent Wilson also used what I thought was a questionable metric to support his assertion that UK traffic police have nothing to learn from their continental counterparts about reducing road death and injury.  The metric was road deaths per head of population.  He had the UK (I think it was UK, but may have been England & Wales) at 31 per million, Germany at 49 & France at 61.   I’d like to see this number correlated against average vehicle speed, modal share, total distance travelled at the very least for a like-by-like comparison.  The number by itself is far too crude a measure to tell us anything very much.

I read somewhere (apologies for lack of source!) that France has 5 times the length of road as the UK, which seems plausible, as France is much, much bigger topographically.  With roughly the same number of vehicles, this is likely to mean much higher average speeds, which in turn is likely to lead to increased injury and death.  This is not the result of the UK’s authorities doing anything particularly clever, just the natural outcome of having congested roads on which it is not often possible to go very fast.

20 miles per hour speed limits are really important.  David Arditti thinks they are virtually irrelevant, as he has again said, to the goal of achieving mass-cycling (no need to call me ‘Chidley’, David, you can just call me ‘Bill’), but Wednesday night showed me that if you are interested in getting more people cycling, you need to support 20 mph limits.  All the walking organisations, and especially those representing special interest groups like Guide Dogs, are passionate supporters of 20 mph limits.

Darren Johnson, chair of the London Assembly, who said during the evening that there was a growing cross-party consensus in the Assembly forming behind the ‘cycling agenda’ isn’t a cyclist.  He doesn’t  use a car at all, as far as I know, but, like most Londoners, uses public transport to get around.  He is very, very concerned that the pro-cyclist agenda does not impede or impinge in any way on pedestrians and public transport users.

Clerkenwell Road looking west towards St John StreetAt some point, bicycle lanes will start to interfere with buses, if a segregated and safe bicycle path is built alongside every main road, as David Arditti is pressing for.  When the narrow width of some of London’s main roads is raised as a potential obstacle, the ‘Go Dutch’ answer is to lose a motor-carriageway, making the road 2-way for cyclists, but one way for motor traffic, and diverting the other carriageway to some other street.  As I said before, this is likely to be necessary on parts of Clerkenwell Road.  This will inevitably mean diverting buses around a longer route.  Given that the Bus must always get through, to borrow a phrase from the 1920s, at least as far as TfL seems to be concerned, this is likely to be a sticking point, and not a minor one either.  To push major alterations to the London transport network such as this through will require lots of political will and support.  Given that cycling is in a single figure minority, it will require the help of other groups apart from cyclists, such as those representing pedestrian interests.  It is therefore very, very unwise to go around saying that 20 mph limits are irrelevant or unimportant to cyclist’s interests.

The Cycle Task Force nick a lot of cyclists.  I was shocked by the numbers, really shocked.  The breakdown was 50% motor-vehicles, 26% HGV & PSVs and 24% cyclists, which seems an awful lot of cyclists, given how little injury is caused by bicycles.

I’m not suggesting that London cyclists are paragons of law-abiding road-users.  In fact, I have argued elsewhere that because the laws of the road manifestly do NOT protect law-abiding cyclists, it makes no sense to obey the law, because the laws aren’t there to keep cyclists safe, they are there to make motorists life easier.  On reflection, however, there may be something in these numbers that is really interesting.  The share may actually be yet another indicator of how many of the vehicles in central London are bicycles.  That is probably a number for someone with a very big brain, like Geography Jim, over at Drawing Rings blog to crunch.

It’s not a great idea to suggest to a bunch of hardened cycle-campaigners that they should be wearing helmets.  Kevin O’Sullivan of Levene’s solicitors suggested that it might be, and he was lucky to escape with his life.  There were howls, full-throated wails, of protest at this.  Top marks for courage, zero marks for wisdom.

It’s not a big secret that I am a big fan of The Bike Show.  I occasionally listen to other cycling podcasts, and have yet to find one which is as consistently entertaining and enlightening as the Bike Show.  Even if you haven’t been involved in the Bike Show directly, I think it must be obvious from the continuing excellence of the show that Jack is constantly striving to take his listeners to places they might not have gone left to themselves, and alway pushing himself to maintain and exceed his already high standards.  It is sort of superfluous for me to publicise the Bike Show, as I’m sure that most regular readers of this blog also subscribe to the show, but if you’re not, you should!

The latest edition is one of my favourites, and ties in with my last post about my neighbour’s Claud Butler, as she mentions that her first ‘proper’ racing bike was a CB.  An interview with the amazing and inspiring Eileen Sheridan, the first British female professional cyclist, who, like Reg Harris, was a star of the 40s and 50s, which period is widely accepted to be the Golden Age of Cycling.

Eileen Sheridan: The Mighty Atom | The Bike Show – a cycling radio show and podcast from Resonance FM.


My neighbour recently had her bike stolen.  She wisely decided to replace it with a 2nd hand bike (there are more bicycles than people in the UK, and most of those are in people’s sheds or garages).  Her only criterion was that the bike should be red.  Being Hackney born and bred, she did not wish to purchase another stolen bike, thus rewarding a thief for theft, so she went to Bike Works in Bethnal Green.

Bike Works sold her this beauty for the absolutely astonishing price of £295.  Not only did the lady get a piece of British bicycle history, she also got a bike which was in perfect working order.  Bike Works only sell bicycles which they have first refurbished.  In this case, that meant new tyres, tubes and cables and not a great deal else apart from a lot of love.  I suspect that this bike must have been kept somewhere warm and dry for the past 40 years, given the condition of the gear mechanisms, which are more than serviceable.

The frame wasn’t made by Claud Butler himself, it was made by Holdsworth (who bought the name in 1960) sometime between 1965 and 1976. The frame is branded ‘Electron’, and according to this excellent page on Claud Butler frames and bicycles, this model was only offered between these years.

The Claud Butler name still has some residual glamour associated to it, even though the man whose stardust rubbed off is long dead, and the exact nature of his remarkable exploits are hazy at best even for confirmed bikies under the age of 60.  Reg Harris was the first British racing cyclist to capture the public imagination, and was a household name more than a decade before Tom Simpson.  Despite not achieving the goals expected of him, 3 Olympic gold medals, he was nevertheless an immensely popular figure,  occasionally eclipsing even the football stars of the day.
Reg rode a Claud Butler, and for this reason the CB head-badge features the Olympic rings, decades after Reg won his two silver medals at the 1948 Olympics.  Even at a distance of 60 years, his lustre is still bright.  He is very much from the golden era of cycle sport, the late 40s and 50s, the era of Bobet, Coppi and later Anquetil, when the sometimes brutal heroism of the black-smiths’ and farmers’ sons of the early years of the sport gave way to the burnished charisma of the motion picture era.  Reg was a real star.  I don’t know whether he kept a comb in his jersey pocket like Koblet, or wiped his face with a cologne-scented handkerchief like Bobet, but he certainly looked every bit as polished.

My favourite of all of his exploits is his come-back at the age of 54 to win the National Match Sprint Championship.  I read somewhere that he only did it to graphically illustrate his disgust at the contemporary state of British match-sprinting.  It doesn’t really say much for the competition that they could be beaten by a man 20 years past his best, no matter whether he had been the best in the world.

Reg Harris’ obituary.