Thursday 11 June 2015

That pittance we promised? We lied. Now fuck off.

Late last year some coalition politicians turned up in Bristol to reannouce old promises of cash and add a few more pennies. Why did they do that?

Generous: they wanted to help our cities. This is maybe one which the Libdems could rightfully claim. Note, however, the cities targeted included those with LD MPs —not just Bristol, but Sheffield.

Realistic: we'd been making lots of noise and they wanted to keep cycling on the back burner during the election. This is probably the thinking of the Conservative party.

Now the election is over the coalition is dead. The cash? It's gone, a "projected underspend". 

Projected underspend? They held out a £10 note and as the councils reached for it, it was snatched away.

How can you expect the councils to have spent the money on anything meaningful when they only had a short time to get their proposals in, the wait for approval, then the slow process of actually designing and building things? When cash comes out on a "spend it now or lose it policy" you don't get well designed schemes. You get minor projects to make junctions worse, paint under parking bays and "mutual respect" bollocks which don't need any design or planning, so can be rolled out in hours.

Well: it's happened. What now?

1. Ask for more.

That's not "ask for our money back", or even a "ask for some figure like £10/head". Because those things can only be negotiated down, and any cutback would savage the plans.

Instead: ask for our fair share of the entire road budget. 10% of journeys? That'll be 10% of the money. £1.5B is the number we should ask for. 

Yes, we'll be laughed at, yes we'll be dismissed. But the key point: our fair share, is valid. The more we repeat it, the more it'll get taken up. It can set the opening position in negotiations, negotiations which will only take the value down. Fine: we will take £1 billion instead. The only way we stand a chance of getting anything serious is by everyone asking consistently and asking for big numbers.

2. Fix the legal system. 

There's funding issues there too, the police and the CPS want to save money. Cycling deaths, pedestrian deaths aren't seen as worth a prosecution. That means our lives are seen as worth defending. What to do there? shout. protest. Make the case. We don't want to see cyclists die, we don't want to be the one. Who hasn't looked at their bike then got on it one morning and thought: is this the day? Is this the day I change from a person to a statistic? Is this the day a policeman turns up at your family's door to bring the news that a loved one won't be coming home? Is this the day I change from a person to a police case that nobody can be bothered to bring to court?

Strict liability is a distraction. What fucking good is it if you've just been run over by a truck? We need something serious in the criminal court.

Prosecutions must begin with assumption of dangerous driving you killed somebody course it was fucking dangerous. Maybe then they can negotiate down to come to careless -let's be precise, death by careless. Oh and let's raise the penalty there too, while treating any decision to drive without a license as a wilful attempt to kill other people. It's not careless if you weren't even allowed to drive.

Near-death incidents caught on camera need to be prosecuted. Again dangerous negotiated down to careless. And for those where everyone agrees the case is too weak for a prosecution that's where ASBOs come in. Give a driver one of those and is actually issued with a warning low-cost one for the police to issue. And if they they endanger cyclists again that's when the car is at risk. Even those bastards are trying to squeeze past or punishment pass you will throttle back once I've had the first warning. And if not : they'll be off the road. The ease of issuing an ASBO and the lower cost means that it should be a default action.

If we are going to ask them for more laws then let's ask for a safe passing distance. 

People will laugh -how can we be expected to give cyclists three feet of passing space? To those who say that you have to get back and say "well what is a safe distance then?" "4 cm?" "4 mm?" "Anything that doesn't actually knock the cyclist off or "clip" as they like to call it in court to minimise the implications and pretend it's no worse than banging a wing mirror against a parked car?". If you "clip" a cyclist then you've actually driven into them. If you did that as you go past you went too close to them —and if you did it deliberately that's attempted murder. Having a legal minimum passing distance will resolve ambiguity on those videos. It will also set the way for how the autonomous car is going to have to pass the cyclist. Because if we don't set those rules self driving cars will go past with centimetres to spare and manual cars will follow them to the millimetre. We need to set those limits now and we need to make them safe.

How will we get the legal standards? We need to get the MPs on board. There's a lot of new ones now that's Conservative as well as SNP. Let's start talking to them. Once you've asked for £1.5 billion asking for some changes in the legal system seems like a nice compromise. It isn't —but it's a starting point.

Demand good infrastructure from councils with vision and competence

As for the infrastructure projects we need a good national standard. We don't want another Sheffield route where the council cites obsolete documents produced by another local government authority as an excuse for junctions that will end up killing someone.

We need mandatory design standards coming out of the Department of transport. How can they deny us that? We have them for roads, we have them for railway lines. You don't have the railway near Sheffield with a different gauge from the rest of the country. We don't have South Gloucestershire making up their own road signs or designing their own roundabouts. National standards must lead the way so that council planners cannot weasel their way out of abandoning you at junctions. And it's those junctions that matter it doesn't matter how good your segregation is on the stray bits it doesn't matter about your floating bus stops if all it does is get you to a multi lane gyratory where only the bold survive.

To get those guidelines we need to push the DFT for them and we need to push back against the council mediocrity. Say no to shite. If you get something shite that's all you get for 20 years. To make things worse, it sets the example for everywhere else. We need better examples. We need council's to be embarrassed about how awful their new work is. We can do that by naming and shaming. Through ridicule and protest getting into the press. And we need to get our house in order by having a consistent message. That includes from Sustrans and the CTC. Something is particularly wrong with Sustrans here: they've gone from an engineering organisation to one that produces the bollocks the councils are happy to build. We need to get them to recognise that their designs are flawed and to move on.

We should also direct the remaining pittance pittance to those councils that are making good use of it. If your council produces shit then don't support their proposals. For example it is better to give it to Bristol then it is to Bath. It's not that Bath doesn't need that infrastructure -it's that they need a nearby city to look at and think "we could do something just as good". If all we have is mediocrity across the country there is nothing good to look at, and designs from abroad can be dismissed as Dutch or Danish culture or reduced to the travesty that is the Bedford turbo roundabout. Restrict it to a couple of towns cities where the council can lead, means that the residents not only get safe cycle infrastructure, they can get one that spans the city. 

As far as English cities go, that means:
  1. Bristol excluding S Gloucs apart from some key routes (railway path, ring road)
  2. Brighton
Let them lead the way and don't waste that limited cash.

Other places? Well, Horsham shows the problem. New roads and housing estates are being built which will implement a ban on cycling for decades. That's anti-bicycle infrastructure. Local groups do need to protest and try and stop those things, and again, our fair share of that road budget has to go into building cycling into the junctions, rather than building it out.

There you have it. Yes they have taken away our money. But it was a pittance that was going to be frittered away by incompetent councils.

So let's not sulk. Let's get angry. Let's get out there. Let's demand our fair share of the road budget a police system that that will protect our lives, and those central government design standards which will stop the mess we get today.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry mate, but for the next 5 years it's going to be wasted effort; you'll get nothing out of the tories (they hate cyclists because they can't make any money out of them). So I for one, will spend my spare time & money in the low countries.
    Boycott tory Britain.