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British Cycling have been annoying me for the last couple of months. First, they invented a new version of the empty phrase cycle-friendly or (apologies to the guys at the Times, who have done great work) cycle-safe. The BC approved version is 'cycle-proofing'. It's supposed to mean making roads safe for cyclists to use.

Using a non-specific suffix such as -friendly or -proofing generally doesn't signify anything apart from good intentions. Sometimes, as in the case of Google Maps beta bicycle thing, it can be seriously misleading, as Gmaps appear to be using the prescence of a marked bike or bus lane as an indication that the road in question is suitable for cyclists, meaning that Upper and Lower Thames Street were designated cycle-friendly. Likewise, I think cycle-proofing sounds like bike-wash, the cycle advocacy equivalent of green-wash. You see? It's so easy to make up meaningless but interesting-sounding labels.

I don't understand why British Cycling doesn't call a spade a spade and say exactly what it means. If BC is in favour of protected bicycle lanes, 2 phase traffic lights at junctions and so forth why not say exactly that? Surely BC doesn't think that Advanced Stop Lines and other painted surfaces are anything except an awkward and unsafe halfway house? Why not use a widely accepted shorthand that encapsulates the whole protected lane, re-engineered junction package like 'Go Dutch' or 'Space For Cycling'? Why reinvent the wheel, thus muddying the advocacy waters? Suspicious and cynical cyclists like myself might be tempted to see this as a turf grab by BC, keen to expand into new areas now that the Olympic tap is no longer spouting money with the same force as before.

Then I read BC's 2 year old report on the cycling economy: 'Gross Cycling Product', trumpeted by BC as the first attempt to quantify the contribution of cycling to the wealth of the nation. Guess what? Deliveries by bicycle (or tricycle) feature absolutely nowhere. It's as if the writers of the report have never been to central London, or, indeed, any major city anywhere in the world. I'm not going to suggest that couriers and other bicycle delivery people are a huge source of income for the national purse, but I would suggest that they are far from insignificant. I shouldn't take this oversight personally, but hey, I used to be a bicycle courier, so I do.

And there's helmets. Here's what British Cycling has to say (taken from the page 'Safety Points' on the BC website):

British Cycling asserts that the wearing of a correctly fitted hard shell helmet conforming to a recognised safety standard is recommended for all of its non-competitive events. British Cycling also strongly recommends the use of such a helmet whilst cycling at all other times, whilst recognising the right of each individual to choose whether or not to accept this recommendation.

Helmets are the subject of much debate, most of which is anecdotal (i.e. highly subjective and virtually impossible to verify – “my helmet saved my life”), and lot of which is emotional (e.g. the recent appeal by the father of Ryan Smith, a teenager left in a coma after a collision). I don't want to get into it too much. I said more or less what I think about helmets over here, and as a recent edition of More Or Less pointed out, not enough research has been done. However, there is good evidence that in jurisdictions where helmet use is compulsory that cycling rates have fallen after compulsion. It is also the case that use or non-use of a helmet is increasingly becoming a modifier used in legal proceedings to determine 'contributory negligence' by the cyclist, even in cases where the cyclist bore no responsibility for the collision that caused the injuries suffered by the cyclists.

We have all enjoyed the interventions of Bradley Wiggins & Laura Trott in this area, but it's worth pointing out that both Wiggins & Trott are very much the creations of British Cycling, have been nurtured and developed by structures put into place by British Cycling and the downside of enjoying the glorification reflected from their respective medals is having to accept responsibility for the stupid things that they say, especially when what they said was only a paraphrase of British Cycling policy.

Lastly, there's Eastway. It's long enough since the Eastway Cycle Circuit was bulldozed that a lot of Londoners will associate Eastway with a miserable road running across Hackney Marshes, through one of the most hostile and confusing road junctions in all of London, scene of the death of a cyclist during the Olympics, run over by an Olympic bus. But for older sporting London cyclists Eastway means a green oasis of cycle sport, built in the 1970s, and used pretty much 7 days a week through the summer for road-racing, mountain-biking (Eastway was the original venue for the Beastway races), time-trialling, BMX and cyclo-cross.

Eastway Cycle Circuit was sacrificed by British Cycling on the Olympic altar, depriving London cycling of its best equipped venue for nearly 10 years. The organisation of the replacement facility, Hog Hill, was less than stream-lined, but hey, it was all worth it because we (London's sporting cyclists) are getting back a world-class sporting facility blah blah blah. I won't be the first to point out that cycling is getting back a lot less land than was taken away. Ok, there's a velodrome there as well, ok, ok. But the size of the site is much, much smaller.

But how are we going to get to the Velopark, or whatever it's called? This is something that doesn't seem to have been considered very much, or at all, by British Cycling. Maybe they just assumed that people would do what they do when going to bike races elsewhere in the country, that is put their bikes and their kit in or on their car and drive.

We have heard so much about the attention to detail of British Cycling, the 'marginal gains'. BC was apparently consulted about the velodrome at every step of the design and construction. To give one well-reported instance, there had been modifications to the design of the entrances to the velodrome to keep the ambient air temperature inside the building as warm as possible to facilitate quick times. Chris Hoy purred when the velodrome was presented to the public.

I first started using Eastway Cycle Circuit before the M11 link road was built. I rode from Hackney. At that time, Eastway, the road that I used to access the cycle circuit, was pretty busy, and the right turn across 3 lanes of traffic was… well, it was a right turn across 3 lanes of fast moving traffic, albeit at a signalled junction. Not something to look forward to, but not something I couldn't handle, what with being able to ride reasonably quick and also a 'professional' road-user.

Since then, the link road has been built, which has added a motorway intersection into the mix. This ramped up the speeds, and made the westbound turn off Eastway towards Hackney even more fun than it had been before. The Olympic Park has added an extra dimension of confusion to the road layout, which undoubtedly contributed to the death of Dan Harris. If I, an experienced cyclist who has been riding in London since the age of 2, gets confused by the road layout around the Velopark (or whatever it is called), what must it be like for less experienced cyclists?

I don't use the A13 for anything really, so I can't really comment on how dangerous, relatively, the Eastway / A12 (M) / Olympic Park / Westfield interchange is compared to the notorious Barking interchange, or what the KSI numbers are. But I will say that it was pretty inappropriate for cycling before the M11 was built, and has only got worse and worse since. It has always been a road that I rode along as quickly as possible to minimise my exposure to the conditions.

I asked British Cycling if they had any input at all into the roads around the Velopark. This is their reply:

As far as I know, we didn't have any input into the route but we have heard the criticisms. My colleague in the Campaigns team has suggested that you contact the London Cycling Campaign on this. Hope this is helpful.

In other words, they didn't raise the issue of whether people would cycle to the Velodrome, and how safe it might be for them to do that. This doesn't surprise me, as I have always found cycle sport to be a pastime for people with cars.

I don't want to labour the point, but BC is trying to get more kids into cycling. The Velopark is virtually in Hackney. Hackney has very, very low rates of car ownership. It therefore follows that Hackney kids, if they aren't going to get the bus or walk, aren't going to get driven, so are likely to cycle to the Velopark. Honestly, I wouldn't want anyone's kids to have to negotiate the roads around the Velopark.

At the Hackney Cycling Conference Andrew Gilligan said, in reference to the Mayor's (and TfL's) support of sporting cycling events, something like: I view the relationship of events like the Tour de France to everyday cycling as similar to the relationship of the Bluebell Railway to Eurostar. (Apologies to Mr Gilligan if I have mangled his metaphor). British Cycling's flagship facility in London is the Velopark. As it is, the Velopark could not be more isolated from the attempts of other interested parties (councils, TfL, the Mayor's Office, London Cycling Campaign etc etc) to build mass cycling in London. The Velopark is therefore the perfect illustration of the truth of Mr Gilligan's aphorism.

If British Cycling wants a suggestion from a former member, former user of Eastway, London cyclist, I would shut up about 'cycle-proofing', get a grip on your athletes and stop them from blurting out nonsense, and do something to sort out safe routes for cyclists around the Velopark.

 

British cycling lore says that the cycling powers that be decreed many years ago that no cycling club was allowed to call itself 'London', which is presumably explains the name of Herne Hill's residents, Velo Club de Londres, it not actually being called 'London'.

I dislike people appointing themselves the mouthpiece of an entire demographic, and was never really keen on the name of the London Cyclist website, as it seemed a bit of a conceit, especially when the London Cycling Campaign, who could justifiably claim to speak for London's cyclists, what with them being a more or less democratic membership organisation, have a magazine called 'London Cyclist'. Which is not to say that there isn't some great content on London Cyclist (as well as in the magazine – see what I mean? It is confusing.)

Mark Ames' blog, ibikelondon, seems to me altogether far more modest, and more accurate. Mark does bike London, after all.

So I cringed a bit when I saw that there was a tweeter called 'Hackney Cyclist'. And cringed a bit more when I realised there was a blog too. Once again, there is actually a more or less democratic membership group, affiliated to the London Cycling Campaign, called 'Hackney Cyclists'. Their Annual General Meeting is this Wednesday 2nd October, and features a talk from one of the men that the kerb nerds love to pick fight with, Carlton Reid. Carlton will be presenting his book 'Roads Were Not Built For Cars'.

And on the blog is an example of Hackney-bashing, which is currently much in fashion in kerb nerd circles.

Entitled 'Why Are Hackney's Segregated Cycle Lanes Being Removed?', it features a large picture of the old segregated lane which ran down the side of Goldsmith's Row. Anyone who regularly cycles down Goldsmith's Row could have told the author why the lane was taken out. It went past 2 heavily used entrances to Haggerston Park, and the entrance to Hackney City Farm, which is right after a bend. This caused numerous cyclist pedestrian conflicts, and the section by Hackney City Farm was actually, in my opinion, dangerous. It also had a ridiculous S at the top where it exited onto to the road, of the type that would be more appropriate for a motorway intersection, and thus was inconvenient. I always ended up cursing when I used it.

Goldsmith's Row was used as a rat-run by motorists, and in line with Hackney's policy of reducing rat-running, the road was closed at the junction with Hackney Road.

So in sum, the reasons why this cycle lane was removed are:

1. it wasn't a very safe lane in the first place, despite the author describing it as the best cycle lane in the borough.

2. cars don't go up or down the road anymore, so a segregated lane is redundant.

The writer also fails to mention that the section of segregated cycle lane running from the junction of Goldsmith's Row and Hackney Road to the bike lights that allow safe crossing to the top of Columbia Road hasn't been removed.

Hackney does need to do more to encourage cycling, in my opinion, and I think the targets that Hackney has set itself are too low. A cycling modal share of 15% by 2030 is easily achievable. However, if you are going to try and criticise Hackney's cycling policies, I recommend that you don't use Goldsmith's Row as a starting point.

I was also amazed to see the following in the comments (I know you can find pretty crazy stuff in the comments sections of a certain sort of blog but still!):

Frankly, I would like to see the Hackney Branch of the LCC expelled from the LCC.

I don't know who the commenter or the blogger are, but I do hope that the blogger, if not the commenter, come along to the AGM or any of the monthly meetings, and gets involved. I know that Trevor would welcome more input from Hackney's cyclists.

 

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.