Monday 19 February 2018

DfT's "Pennies for Cycling" campaign —you can help!

The DfT has just invited eight cities to bid for £6.5M for cycling.

That's less than one roundabout widening on a £500M project to uprate a single trunk trunk road. Consider that: one road gets 77 times the entirety of England's cycling funding. No "inviting eight roundabouts to bid for the money", no councils having six weeks for the bit, no ministers doing press conferences, the council teams scrambling to get their designs of roundabouts in by late march, hoping that by getting their roundabout they would be one step closer to having a wider road.

It doesn't work like that, because the DfT knows that such a mechanism is utter bollocks.

To do it for cycling is taking the piss.

Why do it then?

Because they have failed to provide anything other than 10p/head for cycling, and are now trying to exaggerate its size by focusing on a few cities, offering one or two of these a few pounds, instead of posting a small check to every council. After all, for rural areas, the cost of the postage alone would be more than the grant.

Having it a bid process means that even more than two or three cities can feel part of the process, which allows the minister to do press events around more of the country, pretending that the DfT gives a fuck about bikes. They don't, as can be seen by their proposal to ban cycling from the A63,  There its either "We can't be bothered to provide safe cycling infrastructure" or, "we only have £1.72 for cycling here, so lets' spend it on a ban".

The entire department is taking the piss, the minister standing up trying to keep a straight face while giving out roughly the same amount as the queen gives out every easter. That's a time honoured tradition, which, when you think about it, is exactly what Jesse Norman is dong: a minister from the government giving out a pittance to people who are expected to be grateful

The People's Cycling Front of South Gloucestershire will not be involved in the bid process.

Instead we have chosen to contribute to this campaign by posting in three pence.

If every cycling campaign and activist posted in a similar amount, soon the DfT would be able to increase the amount they give out to councils, maybe even by two or three pounds! And if not, well, the fact that we are posting in more cash than the department is spending on cycling per head may make it clear that everyone recognises that the department is taking the piss.

It also gives web sites and journalists who cover cycling a new question to ask Jesse Norman whenever they next encounter him at one of these events, "how much extra funding for your campaign was posted in in the form of pennies sellotaped to letters?"

If you contribute to the Pennies for Cycling Campaign organised by the DfT, please let @cyclingfront know with a link to or photograph of the letter. We wish to track how successful this fundraising strategy is, and see whether it is a viable alternative to long-term funding of cycling infrastructure with minimum design standards and a spending per head measured in double-digits of pounds rather than single pennies.

Here is our template response, to get people started.

Note: after the letter was composed, people informed us that the funding/head was 10p/head. The text here is consistent with that value, and the letter covering the donation also corrected, and €0.20 stuck on to fund a trip to Amsterdam or Copenhagen

Thursday 11 January 2018

BBC Cycling Controversy Tracker 2018

This post exists to track coverage of cycling on BBC, with special focus on regional services seeking controversy.

As has been covered by Peter Walker, the BBC has a problem with cycling. In particular, regional radio talk shows like to use the topic for dial-in audiences the way the regional papers do it for click bait commenters.

If you look at Peter's coverage, it implies that the BBC is actually getting worse.

  • The BBC: still getting it wrong on cycling coverage (Nov 2014)
  • The BBC has a problem with cyclists, and it doesn't want to talk about it (July 2015)
  • Why does the BBC feel it’s OK to demonise cyclists? (November 2017)

We are getting to the point where the difference between the BBC and LBC cycling is more on regional accents than the content or themes for dial-in and in-studio audiences.

Jan 4: BBC Radio Kent:
BBC Radio Kent. A history there, with topics like "Should cyclists be banned in cities?" designed to stir up click, and "Do we need more rules for cyclists?" (2012)

BBC Radio Kent managed to beat even BBC Ulster for getting the first article in, though we can expect them to not only get in their themselves, but go to such extremes it gets close to being a hate crime.

Jan 11: BBC Points West
Less vilificaton, but still on a theme of "is the cyclist in the wrong?", rather than, say "if you wonder why so few people cycle round Bristol, it's because they are expected to cycle with HGVs".
Not radio, probably not even on TV. Just local-paper-class controversy-bait.

Jan 28: Storm Huntley, Intermittent CBBC presenter, Twitter.

The Cliche'd "Tour de France, Tour de Hospital!" attempt at wittiness. If she thought she was being original, she wasn't.

Update: tweet deleted. Here is the original post

This on a week three teenage boys were killed by speeding Audi driver —clearly threatening people trying to cycle home alive matters more.

Thursday 24 August 2017

One and and half car lengths

According to the Highway Code braking distance charts, the "average car" is 4 metres long. The stopping distance available in the allinson crash was 6.65m

Wait for a day when the road isn't wet and slippery

Find a flat, traffic free road,

Find two parked cars in a row. 

Not estate cars, or bloated SUVs, just what's left of what was "an everyday" car at the time the highway codet was written: an Astra, Focus, Civic, etc.

Go up the road from them, 50 m away

Get on your bike: one with a computer, accelerate to 18 mph and stay at that speed, pedalling at a cruising speed. 

As you approach that front car, brake. Hard. Can you stop before your front wheel reaches the end of that second car? Because that is what the guilty verdict in the Allison case turns on. 

Except: that's your stopping distance where you are anticipating the stop, where you know when to brake. Which is exactly what the police video shows they did

Now go online to a braking distance calculator:

Look at those numbers. 5m "braking distance" -that's in a car, where, as Martin Porter QC covers, can put a lot more braking force in. Your stopping distance in a bike is going to be worse, even with a lot less momentum to burn off.

What's alongside the actual braking distance? Thinking distance. 5 metres. Giving a total stopping distance of 10 metres. Two and a half car lengths.

Similarly, go the official Highway Code stopping chart, look at the closest numbers it has: 20 mph. Six metres for a car to stop, and equally critically, 6 metres of thinking distance.

You cannot correctly estimate the stopping distance in response to something happening in front of you without including that thinking time. Which is precisely why it is included in the Highway Code numbers. 

So why has it been left out here?

Charlie Allinson is the poster child of everything people hate about cyclists: a hate figure the press can vilify, that none of their readers can relate to. And the fuckwit took their front brake off. Which is used as the focal point of the prosecution, and the public condemntation of all cyclists today. 

If he had a front brake, would he have been able to stop in time? 

That is not a question the met office experiment answers, because it doesn't include that thinking time. 

So get out there, find that road, and measure your bikes stopping distance when you are anticipating coming to a halt. Then add five metres of thnking time. Is the total more than 6.65m? Or less? Because, if, our experience holds: there is no fucking way you can do it, even with a mountain bike in full emergency stop mode: disk brakes on hard, fat rear tyre locking up, rider pushing their arse out the back and low to keep that rear wheel weight up. Irrespective of bike, once thinking distance is added in, even that police experiment implies a collision was, sadly inevitable. The kind of crash where in a car or van, the "just came out of nowhere" defence would be wheeled out and the driver would walk out of court, as worse with a few hundred pounds fine from a guilty plea of "death by careless driving"

If a collision seems inevitable the, what did the lack of a front brake do?

it may have meant the rider was going faster when he hit Kim Briggs. A slower speed collision may have meant that her family wouldn't have got the worst news of their lives. It may also have given him some control in the crash: possibly even enough to steer around her 

But there is no way, front wheel or not, someone on a bike or car travelling at 18 mph can come to a unanticipated stop from in 6.65m. The sole defence there is for everyone, car or bike, to recognise when they don't have visibility, slow down and and be ready for someone stepping out. 

Which is something we all need to do: otherwise, it's us next in court, getting crucified by the press "they mowed her down". Or the far more frequent and equally tragic case, walking out of court with the "they came out of nowhere" defence working, nothing but a small mention in the local press -and a family left to mourn about the injustice of a road safety system where they can prosecute a cyclist for not stopping in under 7 metres, but let speeding drivers off with an apology "it wasn't your fault"

Sunday 18 June 2017

Summer driving tips: bends on country roads

Summer driving tips: bends on country roads

This is the time of year when leisure drivers go on leisure journeys on our roads, rather than restricting their hobby to motorways dedicated to it. These people are often unused to driving on country roads, and need to treated with caution. Often these people haven't yet learned their highway code -or worse, picked up third-hand misunderstanding of it from social media.

For leisure drivers, here is some advice to help them enjoy their hobby better, by driving safely with the users of the road who are trying to use it for work, important journeys such as to shops, and family duties.

"What do it I do if I come round a bend and find a cyclist in the middle of the lane?"

If you are asking this, you've already made the mistake. The question you should ask is: given there will be other road users on a British Road, how do I safely go round corners?

In a two lane road, you need to anticipate what could be behind the bend. Slow moving tractors, horses and cyclists heading the same direction and things to anticipate. You will implicitly be approaching them at a "closure speed" of the difference between their speed and yours. The faster you are going the, the more you endanger yourself -and, if it is a vulnerable road user, them. The secret here is to slow down for the bend, drop a gear to use the engine to help control yourself though the corner, and be prepared to break as soon as you see something in your lane. If, as you complete the turn, the road ahead is clear, you can accelerate out of it -as you will already be in a gear to do so. In a front wheel drive, this will straighten up the car's direction-so wait until the corner has been completed. Rear wheel drives will not straighten up this way, but you do still need to wait for visibility. The best cue here is actually the lines in the road centre: if the line on your side goes from solid to dashed, it means that visibility for a long distance is now considered adequate for overtaking, -time to speed up, if safe.

You also need to plan for something completely stationary in the road: a fallen tree, a crash, a broken down vehicle. Here the closure rate is even higher than for a horse or cyclist, so be prepared to brake fast.

The biggest risk in a two- lane road is coming round to find an oncoming vehicle heading towards you. Here the closure rate is your speed plus theirs, and any collision will be very destructive. This is a common problem when there are other leisure drivers on the roads, those without enough experience to have the judgment safe driving needs. These drivers may have overtaken a horse, tractor or car too late for safety. Motorbikes can be expected to do this too, especially on "classic" roads for their leisure rides, such as, near Bristol, the Wye Valley Road, and the Chepstow to Usk road followed by the A479 from Abergavenny to Mid Wales.

These overtaking cars and motorbikes are very dangerous because they are coming towards you so fast. Again, a controlled execution of the corner in a lower gear, holding onto the wheel (no texting here!) and being ready to switch from accelerator to brake pedal is the best way to prepare. Motorbikers will, if given a moment's chance, slide into the main traffic stream. Drivers who have misplanned an overtake are a different problem: there is often nowhere for them to go. These drivers often lack experience and react badly by trying to complete the overtake. Brake hard, don't be afraid to engage the ABS, and don't worry about the strange feeling you get though the brake pedal. This is the ABS at work. You can still steer the car at this point, so do try, while slowing down, to get the side of your lane. If the vehicle/bicycle/horse being overtaken brakes/slows down and move to the side, there may be room to avoid a head on collision. If such an incident happens, if you have a dashcam, send the video to the police. Someone else may have a video you could use as evidence too: search for your registration number on youtube to see.

If this all seems scary -don't panic! With practice and experience it will become easy. The key things are the "two-A's": attention and anticipation. If you look ahead, and anticipate the horse, the cyclist, the fallen tree -then every time you encounter this you are ready. And when you don't? Time to accelerate out the corner, getting to a safe speed for the next bit of road. Of course, if there is another bend, you should just stay at the current speed and plan the next corner.

Looking at other vehicles is often informative too: if there is a vehicle in front, as you enter the corner, give it room to manoeuvre and brake, and look at its lights as a cue for braking yourself. If it's brakes come on, brake hard yourself, ready for what is ahead. It may just be they underestimated the size of the bend, and didn't approach it at the right speed. Just as easily, they may lack the experience to anticipate what is round the bend, and are now reacting badly.

Evening/night driving.
Although these situations give you a good cue that a car is coming: headlights, the loss of visibility makes it harder to estimate how sharp a corner is. Assume it is tight and approach at a speed which you can sustain through a longer bend. If you are driving with headlights at full beam, drop the, before you enter the bend. This has multiple benefits

  • If there is an oncoming vehicle, they aren't blinded as you come round the corner
  • It can give you more warning of an oncoming vehicle, because their lights will now light up the bend better
  • Finding and using the dipper is one less thing to worry about if you do come round the bend and encounter an oncoming vehicle, so you can hold onto the wheel and complete the turn.
A key hazard is if an oncoming vehicle is driven by someone inexperienced, one who has not pre-emptively dipped their headlamps. As you come round the corner, there is a risk that their beams briefly interfere with your vision. Again, anticipating this avoids any surprise. If you see any vehicle lights after you dip your lights, unless you see any signs of them dipping their beams, be prepared. What to do? Don't t look at the lights: look to the dark bit to the left, where you need to go. You will automatically steer in that direction. At the same time, you need to anticipate other road problems, so slow down until you can see ahead. There may be someone on a bike: look for the red read right or reflector. It may also be a terrain feature, such as a continuation of the bend. Use the white lines by the sides of the lanes as as a guide. A big hazard here is the Z-bend: before accelerating out the bend look ahead for warning signs of a subsequent bend. And of course, any Z-bend warning signs before the first one -but remember there may be more than two!

Dusk and dawn need special call out as dangerous. Why? Animals, especially deer. Dusk is when they come out and start foraging. Be particularly cautious near woods, especially if there are deep woods on either side of the road: a deer can easily jump out without warning. Again, for corners, anticipate them. Important: unlike sheep, a deer by the side of the road may well jump out in front of you. If you see a deer by the road-side, brake hard immediately.

If you are following another vehicle at night, and you are in an area you recognise as hazardous, increase the distance between you and the car in front -this gives you more time to react. Otherwise: attention and anticipation will again, get you home.

You also need to consider low sun at these times. It is straightforward to predict this: if the sun is low, and you are turning in its direction, at some point in the turn the sun will be in your eyes. Anticipate it, so you aren't surprised, and plan for the risk that there is a slow moving vehicle/horse, bicycle, deer or pedestrian you will need to avoid. Braking as you turn, before the sun hits your retinas, prepares you for such events.

Driving on country roads, especially at night, is often one of the driving skills hard to learn. It's not just that it is never taught or tested when learning to drive, it is so unlike urban driving. Who sees a deer in town? Or comes round a bend to discover some pedestrians walking on your side of the road-as recommend in the Highway Code? Practice will help-but beware of overconfidence.

What to do if this is all too much?

If you find this intimidating, and don't think you can safely drive round bends on country roads, in day or night, stick to motorways. These provide a low risk driving experience where bends are gentle, and separated lanes means that you will not encounter oncoming vehicles; segregation will keep you safely away from pedestrians, cyclists and tractors. You do still need to worry about deer: take care at dusk.

Saturday 25 February 2017

Nobody should be buying a new diesel car

Apparently in January there was a 4% drop in the sales of new diesel cars.

This might seem a good thing, and while it's a start, it's not much of one. What you may be seeing is a change in purchasing decisions by those people who care about urban pollution —in a month when the NOx pollution in cities was at such a level that it got lots of press.

What that is not evidence of is something more significant: a decision by the majority of new car owners to opt for petrol cars. And why would they, when the cost of Diesel fuel is little different from that of petrol, you get better mileage, and there's no penalty for opting for diesel? Especially as all the manufacturers are saying "EURO6 diesel is clean", meaning "ignore dieselgate and the fact we have until 2021 until cars actually meet the real world EURO6 tests". While the term "conspiracy" is usually a bad sign, here we are seeing the car manufactures of key countries in Europe: Germany, the UK, France, Spain(?), pushing hard for diesel against hybrid/e-car alternatives, their governments setting the EU standards. There's a big reason that US diesel limits are so much tighter than EU ones: the car industry there hasn't embraced diesel, isn't committed to it, and so hasn't been pushing for relaxation.

Here though: the car manufacturers like diesel engines, customer sare happy to buy new diesel cars, and the governments have been going along with it. Take for example the UK being taken to court over NOx pollution. The entire policy of the government has been one of believing that EURO6 will fix things. They too fell for the lies, and we are suffering for it.

Last week, the 2016 used car sales figures were announced, showing a "healthy" market. Diesel cales increased 11.1% and petrol transactions grew 4.7% compared to 2015.

Does that mean that second hand car customers all decided that they wanted to buy diesel cars? No: it was documenting the harsh truth: you don't get a fucking choice. For many types of car, petrol models are rare on the ground. Estate cars, MPVs: mostly diesel. The choices of engine you get three year are really the choices made by others in 2013. EURO5 diesel it is. Sell your car threes later and in 2019, people down the food chain, again, diesel is what they get.

The longevity of modern cars means that diesel will continue to pollute our cities even if sales of new cars diesel engines were banned tomorrow.

That's what the "Scrap a diesel" program admits. It admits that the cars built 15 years ago are out there, and rather than have any form of restriction on their use, they "may" even reward drivers.

Except wasn't there a car scrap scheme a decade ago? Yes there was, in 2008. Wasn't it meant to reduce pollution by getting dirty cars off the road. Was is meant to reduce pollution, yes it was. At the time according to Paul Everitt,, SMMT CEO said:
CO2 isn't the only evil being scrubbed out. "There are other tailpipe emissions to take into account," Everitt says. "We're going to see the benefits of these extra new cars affect road accident statistics and the health of us all for years."

Well, times moved on. We aren't seeing those health improvements: urban NOx pollution has got worse. And now, in 2017, the SMMT are back cap-in-hand, saying "this time a scrappage scheme will work".

Another scheme may work for the SMMT, but it scrappage scheme won't deliver, any more than the first one did.
  1. It's voluntary. People with aged, dirty diesels who don't care to upgrade can carry on as before. Which means some of the worst polluting vehicles will do nothing.
  2. It's not focused on those vehicles which do the most miles in inner cities, so cause the most pollution: taxis, delivery vans.
  3. A 1:1 replacement scheme will mean the congestion situation will be no better, so continuing the cause of much of the pollution.
  4. It will take a long time for any possible benefit to surface.
  5. It will reward the people who keep the older diesels around —and in doing so punish those people who bought petrol cars.
  6. It takes away money which could actually do something, today.
#5 is key: if we are to have a "pollution cutting" scrapping scheme every ten years, then you may as well buy another diesel, expecting that another decade from now, the country will again give you a discount for getting a new one. Todays "clean" EURO6 diesel cars will be come 2028's "dirty" diesels.

And they buyers of second hard cars? Along with getting no choice, if you buy older cars, well, why not get a 2017 diesel in 2024, expecting a discount on replacing it you wouldn't get if you;;d bought the rarer 2017 petrol models?

There is a better way. Abandon the carrot, point out the stick on the horizon, and bring it out on emergencies today.

Imagine if the government worked with a set of cities to set a timetable, today, for a ban on EURO5 diesels by 2020, EURO6 by 2024, charges for petrol cars higher than those of electric and hybrids. It may seem a long way off, but what it says for today's purchasers of new cars, "petrol cars will be worth more when you sell them"

Because that does matter, today: the perceived depreciation of the cars you buy. If, after ten years, a diesel car is unusable in town, its going to depreciate far more than a petrol one. That changes the running costs, as unless you drive lots and lots of motorway miles a year, getting the most of the MPG difference, a diesel car will cost you more per year.

And before that scheduled ban is rolled out, the government can give cities the right to roll out emergency diesel bans, which will block all diesel cars on "critical days". The standard for those could be kept high —what matters is their very existence and intermittent use. Every day one happens, it highlights how big a problem NOx pollution is, how much traffic is to blame, and again, scares people off buying diesel cars —new and second hand.

Returning to those second hand diesel sales: the ratio of petrol:diesel is meaningless, all it reflects is new car sales 3+ year ago. What is informative will be selling price —whether or not diesel cars depreciate faster. As every sign that diesels depreciate faster is another sign to new car buyers that diesel isn't a cost saving —its a financial mistake.

Saturday 17 December 2016

Roadkill Grayling doors himself into a corner

The timeline appears to be as follows:
  1. Roadkill Grayling knocks someone off a bike by opening a door on his ministerial LR discovery, while it is stuck in stationary traffic.
  2. After telling off the injured Londoner, Roadkill Grayling continues on his way-unaware that the whole incident was videoed.
  3. Roadkill Grayling has an interview with the evening standard, is fairly critical of cyclists in London, still unaware his footing of him knocking someone down was videoed.
  4. The holder of the video, sees the interview, recognises the speaker, reads the patronising bollocks and hands the video to The Guardian.
  5. Roadkill Grayling's minions are left struggling for excuses, in what must have seemed like an episode of The Thick of It for those involved.
  6. BBC Radio 2 has a dial in debating who is to blame: the person on the bike or the person committing a criminal offence?
  7. Cycling UK has offered to fund a private prosecution, to compensate for the indifference the Metropolitan Police show for such incidents.
  8. Other politicians are saying "Guaranteed to backfire on cyclists in terms of public opinion"
No: it isn't bad for cyclists. It is a documentary of the failings of our streets and our elected representatives.
  1. It has shown precisely how today's streets don't work for vulnerable road users.
  2. It shows how those politicians who could make our cities safer don't give a fuck about safety.
  3. It shows how politicians are prepared to dismiss and ignore their own crimes, when blaming people on bikes for their injuries.
  4. It shows how free parking and chauffeured driving isolates senior politicians from the ways people get round cities: foot, tube, bus, bike and, when they can, Southern Rail.
  5. It shows how modern cities don't even suit people trying to drive, to the extent that the passengers just give up and walk to their destination.
  6. It shows that helmet cameras are so ubiquitous that "getting away with it" is over. The CMP prosecutions from helmet videos will only encourage this and shame those police forces who currently don't give a fuck into some form of action.
  7. It shows how rapidly even the BBC comes to the defence of a criminal caught on camera injuring someone. The DM? Predictable. But the BBC? They could have taken the opportunity and looked at how cities let vulnerable people down, how councils from Westminster to Coventry are doing nothing for pedestrians or cyclists —and link that up with our pollution crisis.
Roadkill Grayling's attitude to all cycling infrastructure proposals are now going to come in the spotlight, and be reviewed in the context of his own actions. The ES interview must be the last time where his response to questions about cycling safety is dismissed. Whenever he tries that, someone needs to go for the jugular: "how do we protect cyclists from people like you?"

It is certainly the last time he can say "we don't need safe space for cycling" -whenever he tries someone needs to point him at the video of of his own actions, which show how critical that need is.

Congratulations, to Roadkill Grayling, who, in one single action and a followup interview, has shown to all the failings of our cities and our politicians, and has implicitly committed him on a path of atonement. Because now he has no choice.

Sunday 7 August 2016

When you call cyclists arrogant -look in the mirror

If you make a list of cliche terms to appear in articles and tweets, "arrogant cyclist" and "selfish cyclist" come up a lot as a way of defining why people hate cyclists —it's because they are "arrogant and selfish".

What does that actually mean?

Cambridge Dictionaryunpleasantly proud and behaving as if you are more important than, or know more than, other people:

OEDHaving or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities:

Now, what appears to constitute arrogant and selfish behaviour? Generally, holding up traffic.

Exercising your right to cycle between two destinations: arrogant.

Placing yourself in the position of the road recommended by the government to make it slightly more likely to reach your destination: arrogant

A parent cycling on the outside of the child so that passing cars will only endanger the parent, not their child: arrogant".

Whoever is using the term arrogant to describe cyclists should look in the mirror.

The very act of denouncing a cyclist for holding up your driving makes it clear that you are the ones with the over-inflated sense of self importance. The fact you consider it more important to arrive at your destination to your unrealistic timetable than it is for everyone to arrive alive is arrogant.

As for "selfish"? Surely wanting the roads for driving and being unable to share it with anyone on bicycle, horse or foot counts there.

Cyclist haters: the word you are looking for is : Insolentrude or impolite : having or showing a lack of respect for other people.

Because yes, we have no fucking respect for people who try to kill us as they squeeze past at pinch point, so will insolently get into the middle of the road to stop all but that 5% of drivers who seem criminal psychopaths on day release community tasks from school run to delivering parcels. Because yes, we have no fucking respect for anyone who beeps their horn repeatedly when we are on the school run and want to get their child there alive —and will insolently slow down just to piss you off. And because yes, if councils are going to build bicycle infrastructure that is utterly laughable, we aren't going to use it —and will continue to hold up your journeys.

Yours: the insolent cyclists