Friday 29 June 2012

Bluewash from Boris

The statistics on road safety are out, and the RAC foundation are off the mark blaming pedestrians for being on the phone and the ipod. Never mind there's no data to back that up. Never mind that you could make similar allegations about drivers on the phone, texting, not paying attention. The allegations would be no more valid, but that's the whole point -the RAC Foundation is showing their opinions, not their knowledge.

Where they do make a point is the reduction in road safety campaigns -a direct side effect of cost cutting measures. Yet the one road safety campaign whose costs were covered by the fines they raised were the speed cameras -the ones everyone said should go? They've gone. Has it helped? Has it freed up lots of police to enforce "Bad driving". Bollocks. All that has happened is people can stop complaining about being ticketed.

Why do so many drivers hate speed cameras? Because they catch you, 100% of the time. Not because they focus on speed over "bad driving", but because everyone who sprinted past one got a ticket. Before -you just made sure you went below the speed of the fastest cars out there and let them take the blame. Now -everyone. That complaint about "cash cow" really meant "I get caught".

Why not bring them back and change the rules? Less fine, even a lower penalty -but leave them on, and the people who get caught will soon run out of points. Back that up with actual enforcement of the twelve-points-out rule. Then worry about the dangerous driving issue -which as the helmet cameras show is common out there and yet, when confronted with the videos, the Metropolitan "roadsafe" unit turn out to be the "fuckall" unit. As for London's Taxi Licensing Authority -Gaz45 would be better off complaining that he was overcharged by the taxi drivers than they cut him up and hurled abuse at him when he complained. Because the TLA don't give a fuck about bicycles either.

Returning to the stats, the tragic increase in cyclist Killed and Seriously Injured shows that TfL's actions over the past few years have made things worse, not better. All that money on Cycle Superhigways? Cycle Death Roads would be more accurate.

Cyclists in the city make the key point -the focus on "traffic flow" means "cars, buses, taxis and HGVs at the expense of the city itself". They've ripped out crossings, willfully excluded cyclists from new road designs (Blackfriar's Bridge &c). There's a distinct possibility of a Corporate Manslaughter charge over the Kings Cross design, while if the campaigners can get to the bottom of "who said no to the segregated path" story there may be one there -or at least the blame can be put squarely on the door of Boris or his motorbiking transport minion.

The fact that KSI is increasing faster than the growth in cycling shows that safety-in-numbers isn't valid, safety-in-safe-infrastructure and safety-in-legal-enforcement-of-dangerous-driving is what delivers safety -the numbers follow.

Boris's personal decisions have resulted in the death of cyclists.

The other big issue is the London Shard -if the number of people killed by trucks on the shard's delivery schedule, then somehow the HSE needs to be pulled in. Just as they used to have an "acceptable" death rate building railway lines, the London Shard shows that there is a death rate for cyclists that is being implicitly allowed. Implicitly -because each death is treated as an unrelated incident, not a structural flaw of a delivery schedule that was unrealistic, along with the fact that it generated a lot more lorry traffic in the area.

What could Boris do to dig TfL out of the hole they've dug

Delay and denial

  • Kick the 'go dutch' campaign into the long grass. Promise things, promise reviews -and slow the momentum.
  • Somehow, dampen the Times campaign. This is going to be hard precisely because one of their staff is part of the statistics. It's hard to have dinner with the editor and say "I've give you a scoop on some of my plans if you back of" if the editor knows someone who is in a coma as a result of TfL's plans
  • Get a small amount of money from central govt and say "dangerous junctions" will be fixed, blaming these dangerous junctions as if they are natural things, like "dangerous mountain gorges" or "high earthquake risk areas". 
  • Ppick on some small, symbolic problem they can do something about (e.g. better enforcement  of parking in superhighways) without doing anything to address the larger issues.

The junctions in London are dangerous not just from years of indifference of TfL, but by their active effort in making things worse through "smoothing the flow"

If this is what Boris/TfL do -and let's be realistic, its the first thing they'd think of as it is the one that avoids any admission of blame, much spending, or much effort-

The cycling campaigns need to push back sooner rather than later to stop this happening.

One idea, have a consistent name for TfLs half hearted efforts: call it "bluewash". Refers to whitewash, but brings those blue lanes right to the front as the key example of what's done wrong. Keep calling all of Boris's actions Bluewash and wheel that phrase out whenever any spokesperson -which includes all the excellent bloggers out there- is asked for a quote. Repeat that phrase until it takes hold.

What else could Boris and TfL do? Change direction

  • Admit that the CSH scheme failed to deliver the safety
  • Redo the new TfL junction plans, not just for cycling, but for pedestrians too. 
  • Pick some key streets and put in proper segregated lanes. One of the bridges is the obvious target -there's no secret back route to avoid them, and it would have a tangible difference on the people who use it
  • Provide safe feeder routes to and from this showcase route. If there's a safe river crossing, people will go out their way to use it, so give them ways to do it.

Achieving that would not cost that much -not compared to the bluewash money wasted on the superhighways, not compared to how much TfL are spending "to improve traffic flow"

What it needs is something else: a fundamental change in TfLs outlook away from Traffic Flow as their pure goal. To recognise that joined up routes, segregation and safe junctions are the key. Not "keep your wits about you" junctions but "take the kids to school this way" routes.

Boris got elected. Before that election cyclists did become a political presence. Now he has been elected, he could get complacent. These awful statistics on road safety are a call to action.

For anyone asking, why should S. Gloucs care -London sets an example for the rest of the country. If you can make cycling in London safe, nobody can say "it can't be done here" for any other town or city. We could point to London and say "they managed it -why can't you?".

Thursday 21 June 2012

Selling Cycling as "green" is a mistake

Cycling is often marketed as "Green". That's by the cyclists, and by the DfT, when they announce fuck all for walking and cycling, while giving billions to what must clearly be "brown" transport.

Selling cycling as "green" is a mistake

  • Daily Mail readers who think Global Warming is a myth will think that "green transport" is a NuLabour conspiracy -and will rant against the green hippies in capital letters.
  • It becomes too easy to cry "hypocrite" to people who commute to the North Fringe to work on aircraft (BAe), tanks, bombs and nuclear submarines (MoD), computers (HP) or those tech companies east of UWE that do satellites. 
  • Those Daily Mail people -lets call them the population of Patchway- can view the cyclists as "them", and then in their thousands sign petitions demanding that the cycle/bus only route be kept open to cars. Because cycling is for other people. 
  • It makes cycling vulnerable to the electric car marketing weasels. Look at Copenhagenize for coverage of this -a german car rental advert saying "you don't have to cycle to be green"
Electric cars are going to be the next enemy of cycling. 
  1. They take "Green" money away from cycling programs.
  2. They demand tax free and congestion zone free concessions.
  3. They take up as much fucking space on the road as any non-electric car
  4. They take up as much parking space as a normal car
  5. They will be driven by fuckwit drivers who are on the phone as they run you over.
Electric cars are useless for long journeys -everyone knows that. They are being sold as good because "most car journeys are six miles or less". Which is the journey you don't need a car at all -bicycles work.

The car manufacturers would rather we all drove to work in back in electric cars than cycled their on bicycles. We are one of their threats. They are our enemy. 

Electric cars can only be sold as second cars -and Patchway is their target market. Fat lazy gits who will soon be demanding that e-cars are allowed down Highwood Road because "they are as green as bicycles"

We must not fall into this trap.

What to do? 

  1. Sell bicycles as low cost ways to avoid congestion and parking problems, giving you exercise for free. Because they are. 
  2. Talk to the motorists in the language they understand: congestion, money, time, parking.
  3. Don't go into detail about how the S Gloucs cycle team are a waste of space who fritter away cycle city funding, or how the bicycle lanes abandon you at places like the M32 crossing. 
Here are ways to justify cycling in S Gloucs that may appeal to someone who drives

  • "I was spending half an hour every evening stuck in the ring road by the aerospace roundabout, and had better things to do"
  • "I hated having to stay at work until after 6 pm just so the ring road traffic got quieter"
  • I discovered there was a direct route from stapleton to MoD/UWE that meant I didn't need to be stationary on the M32 every morning
  • I was paying fifty quid a week to get stuck on the ring road.
  • I was paying 10 quid a day to park in the Bristol city centre.
  • I save a thousand pounds a year by cycling to work.
  • We sold off the second car, cutting out the fuel, insurance, breakdown, servicing and MoT costs -this lets us put 2-3 thousand pounds a year towards (holidays, schooling, a second home -whatever the driver aspires to)
  • It's faster to cycle to school and work than it is to drive.
  • I don't get held up by the car in front -if I'm late I pedal harder.
  • I don't have to waste time going to the Gym for exercise.
  • By not looking for parking by the school, we could set off later.
  • There's nowhere to park at work.
  • There's nowhere to park at home.
  • There's nowhere to park on gloucester road/Southmead Hospital, wherever else you shop other than Cribbs causeway or ASDA there.
  • I hated having to get in by 8 am to get a parking space.
  • I didn't want to pay 10 quid a day to park in the Bristol city centre.
  • I hated spending 15 minutes driving round a bit of bristol (your choice of Cotham, Montpelier, St Pauls, Southville (for people from S of the river)
  • The only places in Bristol where I could park were places you'd never be sure your car was when you came out at night.
These are the ways driving hurts -and apart from cost, electric cars can't do any better than petrol cars. The car companies know that -which is why they want tax breaks, subsidies, -and bus lane access. Here TfL said "no", but S Gloucs aren't so concerned about cycle safety -which is why they allow HGVs down the ring road bus, HOV & bike lane

Fight the electric cars where they can't win: congestion and time! Even on cost, electric cars cost so much you'd have to drive many tens of thousands of miles on one -but the limited battery life (measured in years, not miles) makes that hard for a toy you can only use in town.

Sell cycling with the benefits that person you are talking to cares about -not something abstract like "green" that they don't give a fuck for.

Saturday 16 June 2012

What the Fuck is an Urban SUV?

The car manufacturers love to wave their green credentials, their electric toys, then demand more money from the governments "to go electric", more concessions, more subsidies. The politicans love to get in the regional papers visiting car factories round the country: Northumberland, Liverpool, Swindon, Oxford, and make hose same promises "the car industry will bring economic recovery to the country", "electric cars are the future".


Buy a newspaper. Look at the adverts. See any selling electric cars? Not likely. What you are likely to see are adverts for "Urban SUVs". Not eco-friendly electric. Not saving the planet. But what the car manufacturers want you to buy.

What the fuck is an urban SUV?

First, there were 4x4s, Landrovers, jeeps. Functional for farmers, the higher end Range Rovers for the landed gentry. Pickups for the builders. Then people started buying them for the image, and the car industry was happy to sell them. They discovered the new market didn't need four weel drive, so calling them 4x4s or 4WDs wasn't right. They invented a new term: SUV. Sport Utility Vehicle.

Then they sold them for sport, for utility. Pictures of snowboarders driving in the snow with snowboards on top. Rock climbers in the wildeness. Pickup drivers "haulin'". Image things. If you do those things, you need an SUV. And if you had an SUV, you lived an active, sporting live. Never mind the fact that snowboarding and rock climbing are lifestyles -and the people who live that lifestyle can't afford SUVs. They live in camper vans in ski resort car parks in winter; campsites in summer. If they do have a job in a town, there'll be a fiesta or astra full of climbing gear. Lifestyle snowboarders, climbers and other "extreme sport" people are just the image for SUVs, not the customer. The customer is someone with money who would rather have a life more interesting than what they have -and the SUV helps pretend that they do.

Nowadays: the SUV is a family vehicle, it's sold on safety for the kids. The marketing dept. loves a few days of snow or summer floods, so the TV can show landrovers coming to the rescue of people who "only" had hatchbacks -they'll buy ad space in the papers to say "this is what you need".

Though the price of buying an SUV - a lot-, the cost of fuel -a lot- and the servicing charges -way more than a hatchback- means that there's a limit to how many "real" SUVs they can sell.

And so we have something new: "The Urban SUV". This is not an SUV for the mountains, it is one for the town.

Think about this: a vehicle with no more luggage capacity than a normal car, worse fuel economy (aerodynamics), worse handling (higher centre of gravity), worse use in town (the width needed to compensate for that SUV means they need to be wider), is now being sold as a vehicle for use in the cities.

That's where the car manufacturers money is really going. Not into electrics, but into overweight, overpriced alternatives to "practical cars".

How do they sell them?

They scare people.

Look at all the adverts. They portray the city as an edgy place ("graffiti"), dark and anonymous, and something that you need an armoured car to get through safely;

  • Toyota Urban Cruiser: Tough. Selling a car driving round a city at night "scary", nobody around "danger", but you are safe in your SUV.
  • Ford Kuga This one is still sold on the outdoor bollocks, but look at the bike shot. Shit bikes, shit suspension, floating rear triangle design. No luggage rack. These are not useful bikes in a city -and they are shit offroad too. Same as the SUV itself.
  • Nissan Quashqai. This is the worst example. "The ultimate urban car", the quashquai is "The king of the urban jungle". Marketing: Graffiti. The rough inner cities that you drive through on your way to the suburbs, doors locked, hoping you don't make eye contact with the locals. Tinted windows help there.

These overpriced vehicles are sold by scaring you that cities are dangerous places where you need tough SUV-like cars. That may help convince people who "still" drive round in hatchbacks, estate cars and the like that they need something tougher for use in a dangerous city.

The danger in a city is not the graffiti. It is not unexpected snowstorms coming in off the cotswolds and covering emerson's green in 18" of power snow. It is not car-jacking criminals loitering at the perennial traffic block by parkway station. What is the danger in the city?

It is selfish wankers driving urban SUVs who think they have more right to the road than people on bicycles and pedestrians. It is those drivers on the school run, bully bicycles out the way, going past them with millimetres to spare, turning back to look at their kids on the handheld games consoles and saying "look how dangerous it is out there -I am glad I am driving you to school". It is people in Urban SUVs who believe they are safe in one, start getting complacent, making phone calls, and run over someone "they came out of nowhere".

Yet nowhere in the adverts do Nissan, Toyota, Ford or anyone else come out and state the truth: the danger to the drivers of urban SUVs are other drivers of Urban SUVs.

For cyclists, Urban SUVs make things worse
  • They ruin visibility for everyone. You can't see over them -and vehicles past them can't see you.
  • they're wider, so are harder to squeeze past
  • the raised seating makes people harder at judging their position, which means they pass you worse, or hold back and then pass you baldly at the wrong point.
  • if you really think your car is "tougher", you drive more aggressively -to bicycles, pedestrians and other cars.
  • in snow and ice the drivers get overconfident as they discover that their "all terrain" vehicle needs winter tyres to stop.
  • they cost more than standard cars -making people think they have even more right to the road than cyclists who don't pay road tax
  • They reinforce that car-as-status-symbol bollocks. If you have an "urban SUV", you are more than just another persion. 

Even without the SUVs on the streets, the whole "you need an urban SUV to survive an edgy city" marketing is an enemy. It's designed to scare people into armouring themselves and then driving through the rough parts of town at speed.

Contrast that with the cycling chic story: cities are nice places for people to cycle round.

You can only have a cycle-chic environment in a city without Urban SUVs. they are our enemy.