Friday 24 May 2013

Cllr Stewart Dobson, Marlborough "drivers need parking near the shops as they are unfit; cyclists can walk"

Marlborough, over in Wiltshire, is on the easternmost fringe of the S Gloucs commute ring; people do drive all the way from there to the offices on the A4174. They are the ones who have to get to work by 8am, who stay until after 7, who whine about congestion on the M4 near bath.

They are also, perhaps, the people too unfit to walk a short distance to the shops.

This has to be the conclusion to an ill-fated proposal to add bike racks outside some shops in Marlborough -at the expense of a parking space.

The plan was voted down, due to the fact it would take away two free parking spots.

The most ridiculous rationalisation for this has to come from Cllr Stuart Dobson, Marlborough East.
"It is so important, especially in these present financial times, that we do all we can for residents,"
subtext: nobody who voted for me rides a bicycle. People who do cycle are non residents -yet bring no revenue to the shops.
"There are an awful lot of people who are not disabled enough to qualify for a parking badge and therefore a disabled space, but nevertheless they are not terrible mobile.

subtext: we need to feel sorry for the people -the residents- who have to park right in front of the shops, because it is for their health. Even if they don't have disabled badges, they can't walk.
"Cyclists by and large are very active people," he added.  "So I can’t see a problem with them walking from one end of the High Street to the other whereas we would be penalising people who are far from active."
subtext: it is acceptable to penalise those people who cycle. They are not residents/voters after all.

This is possibly the most retrograde piece of thinking there is. Unless he has been misquoted, think about what it means

  1. We should reward the people who drive into the town by providing parking directly outside their destination.
  2. We should penalise those people who cycle in to town by making them park elsewhere and then walk to their destination -so increasing their journey time and inconvenience.
Yes, it is couched in terms of "my residents aren't healthy enough to walk far" and "those cyclists, they are all fit and healthy and can walk a few minutes to get to the shops", but that makes clear the fundamental problem that the NHS has to tackle

By encouraging people to drive everywhere, we have created a nation of obese, unfit and unhealthy people.

Rather than care about the health of his residents, Cllr Dobson is implying that health problems are not lifestyle-related, that they are some random acts of chance. Those people who drive, they only do so because they are unfit. If they were fit and healthy, they'd be cycling instead. Except of course in this time of austerity we need to provide the parking spaces because those fit and healthy people don't bring any money into the city.

This is completely missing the point about Britain's growing obesity crisis: it is driven by a lifestyle that involves no physical activity at all.

Rather than reward these people by providing a parking space directly outside the chemist, they should be ever so subtly trying to get them to do a hint of activity, even it if it is walking five to ten metres from the car to the chemists. That's all. There's lots of car parking nearby -it's only cycle parking that is absent.

According to the government, 61% of adults are obese, 30% of children. This is why the government wants to encourage everyone "to eat and drink more healthily" and "be more active". The policy in Marlborough is going completely against the NHS recommendations, where even adults aged 65+ are encouraged to take part in moderate physical activity for at least two hours a week.

The other thing worth picking apart is the entire economic argument. Two parking bays, 30 minutes free parking. If every visitor used their full 30 minutes, you'd only have 16 visitors per bay in an 8 hour working day. Let's be generous and assume that there's a minimum dwell of ten minutes, but after the ten minutes the visitor can leave at any time in the remaining twenty minutes -with a uniform distribution. That would give an average parking time of 20 minutes. You could say then that there'd be a whole 24 visitors/bay/day, but that assumes that there is no period when the bays are ever empty, which is unrealistic. let's assume 0-10 minutes with again, a uniform arrival time, leaving another average of 5 minutes (a poission distribution of random events would be more appropriate, but it's not that different). The outcome is ~19 visitors/bay/day, or ~40 a day. You could argue about the numbers, but the big one: how long people stay, could be optimistic -as we are assuming that nobody stays above 30 minutes, the nominal legal limit. If someone with a disabled badge were to park there -as they can- they could say for two hours, cutting the daily capacity of that by down by about four vehicles -four customers for the high street.

Now imagine each bay has four sheffield stands. A parking capacity of eight. Being pessimistic and assuming a continuous occupancy of only 50%, you would still get 4x the customers per bay from parked bicycles than you would from parked cars. Even if each cyclist bought half as much as someone driving in -a completely spurious figure- the shops revenue from converting a car bay to a cycle parking bay could double.

the whole economic argument is bogus.

There we have it then. Someone who says "in these present financial times" we should actually reduce the potential customer parking capacity of the high street, and that we should penalise those people who have adopted a lifestyle that make them healthier than those who haven't.

This is worse than being stuck in the 1970s. It is coming up with the most irrational form of thinking you can -which essentially comes down to "we don't want people on bicycles shopping in our town".

Wednesday 22 May 2013

@BBCNorfolk: encouraging hate for the sake of ratings

Transport taxes are not hypothecated. The main tax that is hypothecated is "the television tax"; the money everyone with a TV pays irrespective of whether or not they watch BBC TV. Or listen to BBC Norfolk. Something this article will return to at is end.

On Tuesday, BBC Norfolk dedicated their three hour talk show to, nominally, "should cyclists pay road tax".

Why? Over the weekend a cyclist got hit by a driver coming round the corner too fast -and ending up on the wrong side of the road. The driver didn't stop; she drove off and was only identified because she boasted about it on Twitter, saying they don't pay road tax.

That could have been an opportunity for a news channel to get the region to look at itself, to consider that driving off after injuring another person is no longer unusual. To consider how "road rage" has gone from being something that happened in the US, to something that happens every day somewhere in the county. To consider that the driving test may not be preparing the next generation of drivers to drive safely in the current generation of cars. To ask why the punishments for any act of dangerous driving is usually a gentle slap on the wrist.

That didn't happen. Instead, the way they treated the incident of a hit an run assault on a cyclist by having a three hour phone in on whether cyclists should be on the road at all.

They may gloss that over, to say they were "encouraging the debate" -but if you listened to any of that show, it was primarily an opportunity for cyclist-haters to come out of their caves, to phone in complaining about cyclists not using the paths to the side -and so endangering the drivers. To phone in complaining about a cyclist wobbling all over the road "whey they tapped their horn behind them". The radio show accepted these calls without ridiculing the caller "how many drivers were killed by cyclists last year". Without ridiculing the "all over the road" hater with "why did you sound your horn just because you were behind someone with the right to be there?". No. The station -our tax funded station- delegated all defence of the situation to the few people dialling in to make that defence.

Carlton Reid got to make a response, which he did, politely, on the topic of road tax. Yet even he didn't raise the fundamental issue with the program: why was the BBC reacting to a hit and run, not by looking at the issue of dangerous drivers, but instead effectively asking: should the cyclist have been there?

That is what they were asking, and they let the locals dial in to make the case that no, they shouldn't.

Imagine an immigrant had been victim in the hit and run. Would the channel have a broadcast "should immigrants be allowed on the road?". No, because they'd recognise that even though immigration is a core UKIP theme, to devolve it to a "should they be on the road" topic would be morally wrong.

Imagine a child had been the victim in the hit and run. Would the channel have had a three hour talk show "is it the children's own fault for being out there?". No. Because the victim blaming would have been blatantly obvious.

Yet here we have a channel where they were looking round for a local theme to keep the phone lines busy, and came up with "lets start a discussion about whether cyclists should be on the road".

Did anyone put their hand up in the planning for this and say "to do this two days after someone justified running over one as 'they shouldn't be there' is morally wrong". Did someone say "we are stirring up hate?". Well, they may have -but it didn't stop the show going ahead.

And now whoever measures the ratings will be feeling smug, "this was popular", and planning a rerun later this year.

If the radio station had chosen to make the theme anything stirring up hate against immigrants, the disabled, travellers, or similar, they'd be rightfully part of a national scandal, how a local channel was encouraging on-air abuse of a minority group. Not so for anything picking on cyclists. It is considered socially acceptable.

If the taxpayer-funded BBC radio and TV channels can do this, what hope do we have for the rest of the country. The BBC is legitimising the actions of those people who do "punishment passes" at "arrogant cyclists" who have the arrogance to hold up drivers who "have paid road tax". They are defending those people who lean out the window of their cars and should at the cyclists "you don't pay road tax" whenever their driving is criticised.

Why does the BBC consider doing this to be acceptable?

To close then, here is a suggestion for BBC Norfolk to cover one morning:
TV License fees: are they worth the money?

Thursday 9 May 2013

Bells for the bicycles of westminster

Westminster's pro-car policies poison the heart of London; the heart of political Britain.

By encouraging residents to own cars and drive, they increase congestion in and around the borough. By seemingly actively trying to suppress cycling, they again have knock-on effects in the adjacent boroughs and across the river.

Their cycling policy has now, apparently, been updated to support the TfL plans. All that seems to have happened there is some praise for it in the introduction and explanations in the body of the report explaining why segregation is impossible in Westminster. Perhaps the document was nearly finished when the TfL plans came out -the council knew they had to acknowledge it, and did so in a way that completely dismissed the vision.

Indeed, some of the statements "no need for 20mph zones S the average speed is below that" seems classic old-school TfL, something cut and paste from a Blackfriars bridge report. That 20 mph limit shows the core issue with the Westminster plan: they don't actually want to do anything. It's not that they want to encourage cycling but can't think how -the usual- it is like they see cyclists coming into their borough and want them to stop it. Keeping the speed limits at 30 are the symbol here: a council unable to accept that there is a place for cycling in the city.

The other example is the "free bells for cyclists" idea. This is a worse piece of bollocks than even the hi viz that S Gloucs council likes to give out: hi viz may make you visible to the HGV driver, and, provided they don't mistake you for some street furniture they can drive over, may keep you out of the KSI statistics. A bell? That may help you avoid hitting a tourist that steps out without looking, but it doesn't protect you from anything that endangers you.

If there is one key conclusion from the tone of the report, independent of the sheer awful ideas, it is that it shows that Westminster council view cycling as "for others". There's no attempt to identify with the cyclists, just portray them as a group that fails to show respect for motorists. If anyone who cycled had written the report they'd know that taxis and buses usually show resentment to anyone on a bicycle in the shared lanes. They'd know that regardless of average speeds, if ever an empty stretch opens up in one of the one-way rat-runs someone will be sprinting down at 40 mph -and when you are cycling on the "quiet routes" the risk of someone cutting in from a side street at speed is always there. Then they'd get into the topic of bike parking, the inadequate supply of Boris bikes at Paddington station, and the way every square has been turned into a gyratory system which needs aggressive cycling through to get round every corner safely.

There's none of that. Instead you get a planned cycling percentage below other parts of the same city -on a deadline so far away that they can always say "we are on track", because it will take 15 years to show they weren't. 

If the London cycle campaigners get a chance to meet with the councillors -ask them if they cycle round Westminster. When they confess to not doing so, put them on the spot and ask why not?

Asking the question will probably show their Eric Pickles "rubber trouser" prejudice, which is something that needs to be drawn out. But it may force them to admit that they don't cycle in the borough because it is a shit place to ride a bike. Which would lead to the next question: are any of these proposals going to do anything at all to change that? Because they aren't, the council clearly hates people who cycle, and they need to come out as cycle-haters rather than pretending they are really trying to help cycling in Westminster by giving out free bells. 

Saturday 4 May 2013

Betrayed by a Legal System

A key point of the APCG report on cycling was a legal system that protects the vulnerable. It is clear this week that we do not.

Earlier in the week, Martin Porter discussed why a videoed road rage assault wasn't something the CPS could be bothered to prosecute -even though the prosecutions from the riots showed it was perfectly possible if they wanted to.

There's a key difference between rioters and drivers who assault cyclists: rioters threaten the very stability of society, whereas drivers are pillars of society, and it is cyclists who are abnormal.

One thing Martin Porter missed was that if that Birmingham driver had, instead of getting out of his van to start a fight, had just "clipped" the cyclist, even if the CPS had tried to prosecute the driver, the "a momentary lapse in concentration" defence would have got him off.

We've seen in Bristol judges letting off speeding drivers who cause injuries using the phrase "you didn't intend to hurt someone" as the reason to not punish them. We've seen in London that killing someone by dooring them or driving them over in an HGV not something to penalise.

Today's scottish punishment "you can kill someone and the victim gets blamed" shows how fucked justice is. The driver didn't even have to try the "sun in my eyes" gambit, make up some medical condition and get let off -because in the UK you are not only allowed to drive until you kill someone, you can keep driving afterwards.

In the US, there's evidence of racial bias in Judges, though little seems to be done about that, or juries.

In Northern Ireland, Diplock Courts attempted to address juror bias in acquitting/convicting suspected terrorists. The Diplock report blamed juror intimidation, which no doubt was ubuquitous, but there was also "the danger of perverse acquittals". Having three judges rather than a jury of peers was considered fairer.

This year we've seen many perverse acquittals, and this time a sheriff who gave a driver a mild slap on the wrist -though perhaps if the community service consists of 300 hours of cycling up and down the A9 he may not only appreciate things differently, but he may experience a death penalty administered by someone who could use the "momentary lapse of concentration" gambit.

The Times cyclesafe campaign has been one of the key drivers for visible change in England, triggered by the near death of Mary Bowers, again a case where the outcome could only be described as perverse.

This needs to be fixed. Obviously the petition calling on parliament to act is something everyone should sign, but it is not enough. Every needs to get out there and demand better treatment.

For everyone in Scotland who wants to cycle and live, Pedal on Parliament, is where they need to be in May 19.

But let's go one better. Let's have people from England go up there too, to show how much everyone in the country thinks that this week the Scottish legal system has betrayed us all.