Wednesday 13 August 2014

New Forest: Cyclists Fuck off. Official

In June, an article arguing that Sportives are the new Critical Mass —and that the way to get back at the haters would be to go to the Wiggle event, wave your wallet around and bring tourist ££s to the community.

This week the New forest National Parks Authority —which already has a code of behaviour for everyone, and one for organised events, has come out and is planning to hand back £3.7 Million pounds to encourage family cycling round the area by having a boris-bike scheme biased towards leisure use.

That's nothing to do with Sportives, nobody is going to turn up, rent a forest-boris-bike and then do an 80 miler. Few people are going to head down to the forest for a weekend carrying Sky team wear and get changed in it to cycle with the rest of the family for half an hour. Boris Bikes and Sportives have nothing in common except they involve people cycling on public roads.

The NPAs rationale for their decision makes it clear this is because they hate cyclists.
Since the original feasibility study was done and the invitation to tender was issued, the backdrop to cycling in the New Forest and elsewhere has changed significantly.
Actually, nothing major has happened nationally, only locally:
In the New Forest a major anti-cycling sentiment has come to the fore in the wake of large-scale cycle sportive events which have impacted on local people.

True. But what does this have to do with leisure bike rentals?
A fresh wave of concern exists about the safety of on-road cycling. 
From who? People who want to cycle, or people who hate cyclists and are trying to come up with reasons to block these proposals?
Concerns about safety featured prominently in the responses to the recent questionnaire about the proposed scheme, especially amongst those who live and work in the Forest.

That is a metric for sentiment against cyclists in the area, not evidence that cycling in the forest has become less safe.

To put it differently:

1. If no evidence that cycling has got more dangerous  "emerged in timescales parallel to the running of the procurement process" then the safety claim is completely spurious and should be dismissed. 

Because if it hasn't actually got more dangerous, then the safety conditions for cycling in the forest are exactly as they were when the process started. All that has happened is that NIMBYs objecting to the proposal out of their hate for sportives have been using safety as an excuse in their objections.

2. If it has got more dangerous, then this is a situation which the NPA and local authorities must address, not by discouraging cycling —but by making the roads safer.

The NPA should publish their objections. No doubt the haters couldn't just say "I hate them lycra-clad riders we should ban them all", so do have to hide it "I don't think it's safe for people to cycle on the roads"

And the authority has gone along with sentiment, rather than saying "we have a duty to encourage sustainable tourism". Instead they are saying

Some of those who live and work in the Forest hate cyclists and will do anything to stop people cycling in the Forest. We, the National Parks Authority are prepared to acquiesce to their demands, even if it means returning millions of pounds of central government funding which was meant to encourage tourists to visit the area in ways that minimises congestion.

What to do now? There's still the wiggle sportive: get down there and show the haters that you are not intimidated. Make it the cyclists equivalent of Pride Parades.

And now that the NPA are using "perceived cyclist safety" as a reason for cancelling projects, then any proposal that appears to endanger cyclists in the area must be objected to on these grounds. To show them up for being hypocritical wankers that they appear to be.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Lost visions of the 1980s: don't just blame sustrans

The post about the Lost Cycling Visions of the 1980s generated a fair few tweets faulting Sustrans.

Its not fair to blame them for the state of the UK's cycling infrastructure.

Blame them for

  1. Acquiescing to councils that want anti-cycling barriers on routes
  2. Acquiescing to councils that want gravel paths
  3. Approving the bedford turbo roundabout —and continuing to do so.
  4. Producing a set of design guidelines in 2014 that are truly dire
  5. Approving of the London Quietways
But don't berate them for building paths where they could. The real issue is: they didn't get to build paths where people are.

Why not?
  1. Lack of political will
  2. Space in towns considered too valuable for housing and other uses. Indeed, the Bristol-Bath path only got through the late 80s/early 90s precisely because those tram-assessed civil engineers in Avon County Council wanted it retained for their plans.
And why the lack of political will? Not enough people being noisy, and not enough clarity over what they wanted.

If you want someone to blame, and you cycled in the 20th century you know who to blame. Go and stand in a mirror. With your mountain bike.

Mountain Biking may be fun, but it's a sport, not a transport. The early MTBs may have taken mudguards and racks, and offered a sit-up position, but they evolved into suspension toys that are utterly unsuited to most commuting runs. Or at least, they would be in the NL. In the UK they can cope with the dropoffs that paths have, the gravel stretches, the bits where you have to brake hard and veer over in a different direction. People adopted bicycles that worked around the awfulness of UK cycle paths —and called it fun. And the mass market went with them, so hybrid bikes with heavy and mediocre front suspension are common. These are bikes that don't take mudguards, yet sold in the UK as urban, sold at a price that includes those awful coil-sprung forks that do nothing but increase weight. Even worse, the bike-shaped-objects often go for Unified Rear Triangle suspension —who hasn't despaired at the sight of a six year old on solid steel URT bike with a coil rear shock that even  a dedicated DHer would find overweight.

By embracing mountain biking as everyday transport, a large proportion of the UK cycling community effectively got out of caring about the quality of those cycle tracks that did get built.

As for you in the mirror: where were you? Did you accept what was given? Did you believe that the government and councils were going to make things better? Did you rely on others to be the campaigners —and did you know what they were asking for in your name?

Not sustrans then: you. 

Never mind.

Sustrans have to redeem themselves now by focusing on what they are good at: engineering, and pushing back on things that don't work: niceway codes, roundabouts with two-tier provisions that suck for both tiers, barriers on the paths, gravel. They need to recognise that their original goal, was what that 1985 book cited: paths that children, the elderly and families can all be happy using. Only: these paths must be in cities and alongside A-roads, not just somewhere quaint in mid-wales. Because while the NCN82 may be a lovely leisure route, it's not a commuter route. 

And for the people looking in the mirror, feeling slightly guilty over their inaction? It's not too late.

Freewheeler showed us all how dire everything really was; Hembrow an Mikael show how things can be different. tools like twitter help people find each other.

Just like Sustrans, we need to recognise what we want, and shout for it —together

Monday 11 August 2014

A lost vision of the 1980s

Cyclist's Britain, Richard Ballantine 1985. A £7 atlas on how to cycle round the UK. Routes mapped out, with not a helmet in sight.

Some things stand out. This section would have Hembrow reminiscing about why he left, Freewheeler expressing despair. Read it all

Summary, cycling is under threat, children and the elderly aren't cycling, what to be done

  1. Cycle lanes and ASLs
  2. A network of Quietways with light-controlled crossing of major roads, cut throughs of parks and contraflows
  3. traffic management in residential areas (including road narrowing, landscaping and speed bumps)
  4. off-highway routes, especially welcomed by cycling novices, children, parents and the elderly, calling out the railway path project.
With hindsight 
  1. Cycle Lanes and ASLs: a waste of paint. All they do is encourage drivers to swear at you for not being there.
  2. A network of quietways needs a network and the rat-runs eliminated. Nobody ever did that.
  3. Traffic management? Narrowing and landscaping creates pinch points, and speed bumps don't work. 
  4. Off-highway routes, especially from the railway paths.
This vision sounds good. and the railway path grew to becoming Sustrans. Which is now the obstacle, as they are endorsing quietways which don't kill the ratruns, turbo roundabouts and now gravel tracks that only a subset of bicycles can ride.

Finally, the page covering "Avon". What's changed since then?

  1. The A4174 Ring road no longer stops at the M32, it carries on all the way round to the A4
  2. There's a new crossing of the Severn, and a new branch off the M4 to reach it
  3. There's a new motorway, the M49, from Avonmouth to the Second Severn Crossing.
  4. The railway path continues from Soundwell to almost but not quite the city centre
That's it. Tens to hundreds of £millons on motorways and bridges, new ring roads. And we get: a slightly longer railway path and a sustrans whose endorsements are becoming a farce.

And that railway path is the showcase of the railway routes. It's incredibly popular in gets those children, the families, the elderly, the disabled. But it also highlights that we got what: yellow paint, signposts to back roads and next-to-fucking nothing in terms of cycle infrastructure that's usable.

Paint on the roads: we should come out and oppose that outright. All it does it provide short-stay parking for drivers, and somewhere for other drivers to expect cyclists. ASLs? Nothing. Quietways? Maybe with the cut-throughs —but only if the rat runs are eliminated. But they aren't infrastructure -they can get stolen on a whim, painted out one day, or destroyed by some new building work. And because those things are shit, they don't get the familes out, and they don't get anyone defending them.

What went wrong? Lack of focus, and failure to get the funding. Which means: failure to shout large enough compared to the motorway lobby.

Monday 4 August 2014

The cyclist-killer bill: why its time to get our voices heard!

More details on the raised HGV speed limits are coming out, particularly that the DfT are saying that it will lead to an increase of KSIs. And who else is going to be involved in that KSI statistic? Go look in the mirror before you do a ride on a rural road.

The DfT are effectively saying "we are prepared to kill cyclists to satisfy the needs of the motoring lobby" -a lobby that consists of the FTA (happy to attend party conferences and talk to politicians), and the general motoring public, whose views are summarised by those of Gemma Doyle MP: don't ever hold us up, even on dual carriageways, and even if you are training for the commonwealth games..

The DfT then think they've got something to keep the politician's lobby groups happy, and for all their voting drivers who view being held up by a lorry from the "natural" road speed limit as a personal affront.

Yet when announcing this they pretended it was a "safety feature"' to sell it on all front: money for the businesses, happy drivers, and less people in A&E and the morgue.

They lied about the safety features.

The DfT report being discussed in the guardian shows that they know they are lying.

Yet the politicians —and this is a political decision— went ahead for the following reason

The lives of cyclists are not considered important

Which from a political perspective comes down to

They felt they would win more support from faster driving than the political cost of allowing a few more cyclists and pedestrians to die.

This shows where we are today. The parliamentary cycling group may publish reports asking for money, but the UK is not only 40 years behind the NL in infrastructure, it is 40 years behind the NL in caring about the safety of cyclists, pedestrians and other "vulnerable" road users.

We can ask all we want for cash, but first the DfT has to care about cyclists lives —which means the politicians have to care.

Which means we have to make them care.

The good news is that there will be an election next year. We need to get organised and make those politicians care, to feel that their positions are threatened if cyclists lives are threatened. Then maybe they will back down from the cyclist-killer bill —and lets start calling it that, shall we? If we keep calling it that, the name will stick, the consequences will be clear.

Maybe they will even go beyond that, and start to look in their wallet.

But first: stop the cyclist-killer bill!

It's lethality not only makes the roads of Britain even more dangerous to cycle, it makes it something that we can publicly campaign against and get our voice heard.

A few thousand cyclists arriving at parliament square demanding money is something that can be dismissed in the press, waved away by the politicians with fatuous words.

But imagine tens of thousands of cyclists, holding mass protests outside the DfT? At rush hour? Imagine cyclists blocking every bridge across the thames. We'd get heard.

And we need to get our voices heard —as if we don't, things won't get better: they will get worse.