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Monthly Archives: May 2013

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.

Another side of Autogeddon: ‘Parking Is Hell’ from Freakonomics Radio

I’m a regular listener to the Freakonomics podcast, much to the disgust of my good friend and sometimes team-mate, Dr. Matt Vidal, a lecturer in sociology who generally despises economics.  I listen critically, and sometimes come across stuff like this, which is an interesting discussion of parking provision in the United States, with contributions from a Professor ‘obsessed’ by parking by the name of Donald Shoup.  I was especially engaged by this sentence: the right price for kerb parking is the lowest price that a city can charge and still leave one or two spots free on each block so that nobody can say ‘it’s too hard to find a space’ because whereever they go they can see a space.

The man is obviously a kerb nerd, but of an entirely different species to those that I have previously encountered.

Cyclist using a mobile: a major threat to public safety or a minor irritant easily avoided?I think it was Dr. Robert Davis, author of Death on the Streets, that said the following:

Complaining about cyclists jumping red lights is like complaining about queue-jumping in a bank whilst an armed robbery is taking place.

If it was someone else, my apologies for misattributing it, but it does sound like something Bob would say.

Disclaimer: I am actually a pretty law-abiding road-user these days, probably as law-abiding as anyone,  in any class of vehicle, on the road.  I used to be a bicycle courier (or messenger if you prefer), and if I obeyed the law, I lost money in earnings because I was slower than the other riders I was competing against for work who did not obey the law some or most of the time.

I guess my attitude now is that I really can’t be bothered to break the law if no-one is paying me to do it, but when I was a courier, it didn’t make sense to obey the law, everything else being equal.  I did try to be careful to respect the safety of other road users, particularly vulnerable ones.  Balanced against the economic imperative not to stop was the economic imperative not to get injured.  Nearly all couriers are classified as self-employed sub-contractors, and so do not receive pay when off work due to injury (or sickness).  In other words, if you rode like a crazy person, and crashed all the time, you wouldn’t make any money, because you would be on your back instead of on your bike.

I noted in this article that a courier had been stopped and ticketed by the Met for red light jumping (RLJing), and told that the police were cracking down on RLJing because a cyclist had recently been run over by a lorry.  This despite the fact that cyclists involved in collisions with lorries (HGVs) are almost always in compliance with the law at the time of the collision.  Another courier was stopped by the police, and given the option of attending a safety course instead of a fine.  The safety course was this week. It was a session in a lorry, observing the blind-spots.  The courier’s offence? Riding on the pavement.

As I said, I totally get that the police get more complaints about misbehaviour by cyclists than any thing else (including violent crime etc), so they need to be seen to do something; I also get that if you break the law, you should be prepared to accept the consequences, but I do find the association between anti-social behaviour and critical injury to cyclists by lorries really quite offensive.

There’s a lot of talk about ‘subjective safety’, notably by the kerb nerds, but also by cycling advocacy groups generally.  Subjective safety is what stops more people from riding, according to the surveys.  Subjective safety probably explains why a female friend found cycling in London too daunting, and now rides a motor scooter, despite the scooter being objectively more dangerous as a mode of transport than the bicycle.

Subjective safety explains why cyclists are far more concerned about being crashed into from behind whilst moving along in a straight line along a straight road, when in fact they are much more at risk when stationary, or moving off from stationary, at a junction.  Subjective safety explains why the public view cyclists as a major threat to public safety, when in fact cyclists are, almost without execption, an irritant, and that pedestrians are far more likely, by a factor of several hundred, to be killed whilst walking on the pavement (sidewalk for any N Americans) by a motor vehicle.

Subjective safety explains why, at the conclusion of a lengthy twitter debate about patronising advice given to female cyclists, someone tweeted:

Please – & I think it is more women doing it TAKE OUT THOSE F* EARPHONES. Too many die for music.

If you’re relying on hearing danger, as opposed to having a good look around you, I would suggest that you are likely to come a cropper whether you’re listening to bird-song or the latest offering from Motorhead.  Most headphones are totally inadequate in a competition with road-traffic noise, and some motor-vehicles are virtually silent, as are cyclists & pedestrians.  Cycling with head-phones does look dangerous, but objectively, it’s probably not any more dangerous than cycling without a hi-vis vest.

The RLJ debate comes up again and again and again, I have heard it raised by serious policy-makers at serious policy conferences, as if it were a proper threat to public order and health on the order of something like obesity, or alcohol abuse, when in fact, it is of little more concern than illegal parking.  So I welcomed these two items from the internet, the first a letter to the Montreal Gazzette, which I’ll reprint in full:

Re: “Cyclists must be made to obey rules” (Letter of the Day, May 6)

Elazar Gabay says “bicyclists have the same rights and duties as other drivers” then just a few sentences later complains that “at times they (bicyclists) occupy the entire lane …”.

Well, if they have the same rights, and motorists have the right to use the full lane, then shouldn’t bicyclists, too?

In fact, it doesn’t make sense that the exact same rules should apply to motorists and cyclists (and indeed it’s not the case). The difference in speed, mass and size means that sometimes they should be treated differently.

Everyone breaks whatever rules they think they can safely get away with. Motorists speed all the time; cyclists can’t because their vehicle can’t. Cyclists go against one-ways all the time; motorists can’t because their vehicle is too wide.

Where motorists think they see cyclists breaking so many rules, they are only seeing different rules being broken, due to physical differences between vehicle types. Motorists have long since internalized their own rule breaking as socially acceptable.

Cyclists are no more scofflaw than motorists.

Sean McBride

Montreal

The correspondent correctly, in my view, identifies that it is subjective safety that is the issue here.  Motorists do dangerous things in their vehicles, but this behaviour (speeding etc) has been normalised and is socially accepted, the way drink-driving was 30 years ago, whereas cyclists’ behaviour is unusual and doesn’t fall into social norms and so looks dangerous.

The second article is much longer and appears in Atlantic Cities, with the delightful title  Why We Should Never Fine Cyclists. It’s quite long, but worth a read.  The author goes much further than me, and to use Anna’s paraphrase, proposes that traffic lights are for traffic, not cyclists. A brief excerpt will give the flavour:

On balance, cyclists’ illegal behavior—like that of pedestrians—adds much, much more convenience to life than danger. Aggressive enforcement of traffic laws could upend the fragile system of incentives that leads thousands of people to undertake a long and sweaty commute each day.

Why should people riding 20-pound bicycles obey laws designed to regulate the conduct of 4,000-pound cars, to say nothing of accepting the same penalties? In terms of the damage we can cause and sustain in an accident, cyclists have more in common with pedestrians than cars and should be treated accordingly.

I know that there is a discourse about respect, recently advanced by a cycling writer that I respect, Ned Boulting, who got a bit backward when I pulled him up on it, more or less running that if we want to be taken seriously, we need to behave seriously, i.e. if we don’t stop running red lights and riding on the pavement, we won’t deserve to have decent provision.  This is total pony, and the argument doesn’t stand up to any examination.  Objectively a majority of motorists break the law relating to speed.

Since when did anyone get up and say ‘well, until the motorists stop speeding, we’re not going to build that new motorway, because they’ll only use it drive even faster than they are doing now’?

If you followed the twitter row about Sustrans’ advice for female cyclists, you should read this.

Helen Blackman

For anyone who thinks my response to Sustrans was quite sweary, rest assured that the editing room floor is crunchy with discarded swear words. After years on Guardian Unlimited Talk I perhaps have a skewed view of what counts as swearing but after writing the first version I applied a simple editorial rule: my mum reads my blog. After a Twitter storm, Sustrans have removed the post and have given this response http://www.sustrans.org.uk/blog/why-women-dont-cycle.

So just why did I get so annoyed with them? According to some defenders the original advice, based on 2009 research, has been very useful for beginner cyclists, even if I may find it patronising (may I? Thank you, I’m glad I’ve got your permission to feel a particular way). It was also, according to a Tweet sent by @sustrans, written in part because ‘we also know many girls stop cycling to school between primary &…

View original post 1,432 more words

Image courtesy Hackney CyclistsHackney is now the cycling heart of London, as was shown by the 2011 census figures.  15% of Hackney residents now cycle to work, and car ownership is falling.  As always with demographic changes, there are myriad causes, as I suggested here.

But the fact that the Hackney borough group of the LCC has been so active in transport planning with the borough over the last 15 years is not just a correlation, it is causation.  As Danny Williams  (Cyclists in the City blog) says, it’s the bike-friendly policies, stupid.  Despite the Kerb Nerds insistence that the only way to increase numbers of people cycling is total segregation, and that all other policies are a waste of time, this increase in levels of cycling to around about where the Dutch and Danish were in the 70s has been achieved without great lengths of separated bike paths.

If you think I’m overstating the Kerb Nerds fervour, David Arditti came back from a trip to Copenhagen tweeting that: got to understand this: you need all to stick your Hierarchies of Provision, Quietways, Graeenways [sic], 20mph etc in the bin….Cause the solution is segregated cycle tracks on *all* main roads. That’s the only thing that gives you fun cycling for all.  UK politicians, don’t waste time, don’t bother with cycling at all if you are not interested in doing this. Over and out.

I think this is an extraordinarily blinkered view, especially the dismissal of 20 mph zones.  20 mph zones are important not just because they might encourage cyclists, but because, along with other policies like ‘Safe Routes to School’, they are accepted to have helped drive down child pedestrian fatalities in London.  So-called Vehicular Cyclists such as myself are often dismissed by the Kerb Nerds as ‘advocating only for themselves’.  I don’t how considered David’s dismissal of 20 mph zones was, but it looks an awful lot like advocacy only for himself.

As Danny says in his piece for the Standard, Hackney’s policies have focused on making sure that every scheme – whether it’s a new building or an upgrade of an existing road – improves the public realm and sense of place, not just focussing on providing separated cycle paths along all main roads.  And before we go any further, I agree that there remains a lot to do in Hackney.  I live right by the A10 Kingsland Road, on which 3 cyclists have been killed in the last 10 years.  This road desperately needs some redesigning, but not just for cyclists, for pedestrians as well.

But despite all that remains to be done, no-one can deny that Hackney Cyclists have achieved great things, and are way ahead of every other London borough.  Should you wish to Hackneyise your own borough or town, you could do worse than attend the 2nd Annual Hackney Cycling Conference, June 6th.

The following is from the Hackney Cycling Campaign:


2013 is set to be a landmark year in the UK for cycling.

High-profile media attention and campaigns, ambitious policy statements and proposed funding for London and the recent All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group report from the Get Britain Cycling inquiry have created political momentum that suggests now is the time for ambitious improvements and initiatives to encourage an increase in the number of people riding bikes.

But big questions remain about how best to achieve these changes. For example, how to translate public support for cycling as an abstract idea into support for local schemes, how to design for cycling and other kerb-side needs, and how to deal with emerging problems as the number of cyclists goes up, like conflict with pedestrians in areas of high cycle traffic.

The Hackney Cycling Conference seeks to further the debate on these issues and more by bringing together politicians, professionals, academics and campaigners from across the many disciplines and sectors that are involved in influencing an increase in cycling in the UK.

Confirmed speakers include

Andrew Gilligan, London Cycling Commissioner; Prof. Phil Goodwin, University of the West of England and author of the APPCG report ‘Get Britain Cycling’; Dr Adrian Davis, Public Health and Transport consultant at Bristol City Council

The conference is on 6th June.  Tickets etc can be found here.