Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Tales of the Two Towers

Health problems of first world countries are in the news again. Some statistics came out. The report predicts a "huge increase" in heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. In the UK, 64% of adults are classed as being overweight or obese, source BBC. Then the article goes on about calorie intake and diet.

If we carry in like that... there really is no known cure to overcome silo-working ivory tower thinking and planning. Seeing the world through such narrowed squinting eyes makes us blind, the vision hazy and prone to overlook the obvious.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Handy sign language lesson for motorists

Disclaimer This is not a joke, this is serious. When you see a cyclist gesturing or hear them shouting, it probably means they are shocked, upset or angry because a motorist has (yet again) toyed unnecessarily with their life whilst saving themselves a second or two.

Hand Signals

Sunday, 29 December 2013

What do decision-makers do?

Traffic Jam (homemade) Maybe I should not have been surprised after experiencing the Transport Select Committee's level of knowledge on cycling safety?

Locally we are none the wiser too.

Is this really 2013?

I'll spare you the countless spineless remarks from local Councillors on "balance of all road users" and never mind TWITA chair Cllr Dave Wood, but I would like to focus on the big shot decision makers. Here's what Cllr Joanne Kingsland, cabinet member for Children Services, had to say when I contacted her about making a specific road safer for children walking and cycling to school - so that parents could actually envisage letting their kids use the bike.

"Firstly the responsibilities of Lead members for Childrens Services are prescribed by legislation and are set out in some detail in guidance given by the Dept for Education. These largely cover safeguarding and school improvement.

"However that doesnt mean that I have no interest in the health and well-being of children as they travel to school and even though transport falls under Cllr Bells portfolio it is a cross-cutting issue that we all need to be involved with not least as local ward councillors."

Oh, Joanne. Just who will take overall responsibility for transport? You also shrugged off any responsibility as there are travel plans that "belong to the schools themselves and it is up to them if they want to engage with council officers to help develop them".

So we are still running round about in circles.

You sometimes wonder what policy-makers do.

Making policy that sits on the shelf gathering dust like the sustainable transport policy must be disheartening. Policy that was to bring about a shift in thinking as well as modal share has not translated into reality to any noticeable levels worth celebrating in Newcastle. Do they ever go back and check?

I asked another chief executive, Pat Ritchie, following Barry Rowlands, about Newcastle's carbon reductions promise, space-for-cycling design delivery and general transport focus of the council. Her reply:

"How we best deliver a successful [Cycle City Ambition Fund] bid is something we will be looking at as we develop our new structure. I want to bring a clearer focus on all transport issues at senior level."

Oh dear, Pat. Will you actually do something? The council re-structuring as far I can see fragmented transport responsibilities even further.

And in the Guardian Pat tells us about her leadership style: "I'm a real believer in building strong teams that are built on clear values, clear outcomes and delivery; you can't impose that on a team, you have to build it with them. I think you have to be visible. I think you have to both empower, but hold to account when you need to – and you need to be seen to do that. You have to build teams that enjoy working together and get some pleasure out of their achievements."

Furthermore, you and your board of directors snubbed the Dutch Embassy by not showing up at the conference to learn and draw inspiration from the experts. So far - it's words, and no action to show for. No show. No visibility.

And here's Cllr Ged Bell, cabinet member including all matters transport:

"Through our Transport 2030 vision we will look for opportunities to make the best use of road space for all users and ensure we prioritise pedestrians and cyclists over other road users, particularly in the city centre."

So, if you have fine-tuned your feelers, there is a slight subtle change in rhetoric. Cllr Ged Bell's not ringing quite of Cllr (as was) Henri Murison's tone "we aren't afraid of compromising car user amenity"... so I still I think we need to talk to understand where the (institutional, political, professional, technical) barriers, hold-ups, difficulties are and - with honesty and transparency.

And see action.

In the meantime, this is how I roll, and I am proud of it. But a rebel at heart you got to be.

this is how i roll

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Advocacy and industry

Traffic Jam (homemade) And here's the big difference in approach to advocacy by US and UK.

US-based Trek director of product development and marketing says "Our goal has always been to help create more places to ride" (Source: bikeradar) and there is more inspiring stuff from John Burke, Trek Director, (himself) here speaking at the League of American Bicyclists this year:

Here and here too.

All these statements acknowledge deeply the reason why people don't cycle and vow to tackle that, at source, head on. Yet the UK bike industry (supported and / or represented by Bicycle Association GB and Bike Hub) tend to pussy foot around and leave the root cause rather unaddressed. When you ask them they still talk about "encouraging more people to cycle" and "more people on bikes, more often". And? That's it.

I'd conclude from what I have seen, read and learnt today that the US is miles ahead in understanding and harnessing the powers of advocacy. Politicians, retailers and advocates working hand in hand. Maybe our US American counterparts are less afraid of rocking the boat, causing friction and conflict and debate to resolve this - not shy to ask, to combine forces, to work together.

If you'd like to find out more about how muddled and muddied the waters of the UK bike industry are - read this 'self-explanatory' bikebiz article.

Time for change.

Maybe confidence and trailblazing starts with advocacy.

Then industry can follow.

The Bicycle Association has joined #space4cycling - and that must be a good thing. Phillip Darnton, executive director of the Bicycle Association is quoted to say (and pardon my interjections): “To encourage more people to cycle [sigh, but wait...], it is essential that, community by community, we plan a range of schemes which really make cycling feel safer [good!] - and give confidence [sigh] to new cyclists. The biggest deterrents to cycling are the volume, speed and proximity of motor traffic [yes, and?]. The London Cycling Campaign has been hugely successful with its 'Love London Go Dutch' programme, and we are very pleased to be associated with its successor. We are very confident that it will gather enormous public support.”

Maybe this is the start of a reelly beautiful relationship.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

They stole my bike but not my confidence

Transport Committee hearing 2 Dec 2013 On Monday I spoke at the Transport Select Committee; Newcycling transcribes the detail here. It was an interesting experience, albeit not exactly an entirely enlightening one.

That day was a rocky road on many levels.

Coming out of the committee room I was desperately trying to collect my thoughts and make sense of what just happened. I heard dark clouds were forming and a (twitter) storm had started to rain down the usual fire and brimstone. I heard, much later, that one MP's ears had been pricking. That was an excellent outcome I'd have thought... and when I heard that Chris Boardman's call of professional negligence had been heard too, I knew the debate had notched along another gear. He's invited to give oral evidence whilst the call for further written evidence has also been extended to 17 January.

If anything, the point I did not make strongly enough at the Committee hearing was that of the importance of leadership in assessing risk and hazards. Sounds boring? It's not. Laying firm foundations by getting the things right that have a big impact (policy, strategy, plans and engineering road design and layouts) is vital, because only then should we wonder about the small stuff (and that's where the current debate is stuck in a vicious victim-blaming circle). The culture at the top-tier decision-making level has to change. Last year my 'professional self' rambled on about it here.

I am certain Chris Boardman will give MPs that very message of total overhaul to avoid collapse of the transport system, and much more. There is a bigger picture to consider and a much wider debate to be had. On the every-so-slightest off chance that he wanted any help, my cycle campaigning aside:

As a civil engineer, Chartered Engineer and certified nebosh trained concerned professional individual, I'd be fantastically delighted to assist in any way I possibly could. The professional institutions, too, really have to smell the coffee and seriously get involved in, and shape, the debate. Chris, get in touch - you, Adrian and I can do it!

On an entirely smaller matter altogether, whilst giving evidence, my bike got nicked from outside House of Commons, Victoria Embankment. Babs was adequately locked. She was a brand-new Trek Lexi [whose price I had callously haggled down to £630 in KB Cycles, an independent Newcastle lbs, after they were flooded out in Newcastle last year in the Newburn disaster]. Thanks to Dave Holladay who walked me up to the Brompton Junction to check out a Brompton trial bike for 24 hrs (and food at Look Mum No Hands) - Dave returned the trial Brompton to the Brompton shop by using his Brompton. Class! Bike folks really are independent, resilient and resourceful. When sitting on the train back to Newcastle, I felt lovingly immersed in cycle culture (minus one bicycle).

Sometimes things are black and white, just like Babs' colours were.

Cycling and society

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Dear Northumbria PCC

Dear Vera

By writing to you I hope I will be able to impress on you the gravity of investigating road deaths in accordance with the Road Death Investigation Manual (RDIM) and working with partnering organisations to get this right and build up community trust - this comes in light of a cyclist's death on Durham Road (A167) this morning. Your force asked for witnesses in this appeal.

I am involved in an organisation called Newcycling, the local cycling campaign - lobbying for better road conditions and better road layouts by working with decision makers. We recently were trying to meet with you personally. Eventually we were catching up with your deputy Mark Dennett, which we appreciated.

When we met with Mark we asked a lot of questions about road death investigations because we are concerned about the enormity of the task in hand of getting it right first time and the devastating consequences when evidence is missed. Some questions from that meeting with Mark remain open; and I believe that leadership from the very top is still required.

Please work with us and our local partnering organisations RoadPeace Northeast and Sustrans Newcastle. We previously asked for a liaison officer to be appointed to form a stronger link with the cycling community. We would like to renew that call. There is so much to do still. Our roads are changing, and sometimes they seem places that are not fit for purpose anymore.

And I'd like to think the police would be supportive of fostering better understanding and engage in process of mutual learning. Especially as officers themselves may still get things wrong on the occasion. I was also wondering whether you could sign CTC's Road Justice and support their recommendations.

So. If there's anything we can do to help, or any clarification needed, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Many thanks for your time.

Thanks again,

30 Nov Sky Tyne & Wear  - BBC Tyne & Wear - ITV TyneTees - Chronicle - Northern Echo
1 Dec Chronicle

UPDATE 2 January 2014 (received following a reminder that a reply was outstanding)

Dear Katja,

Many thanks for your email, please accept my apologies for the oversight and you not receiving a reply.

I will certainly speak to Mr Dennett and I will also speak to the Chief Constable about your request for a Liaison Officer.

Once I have answers to the above, I will contact you again to arrange for us to meet.

Best wishes.


Vera Baird

UPDATE 3 January 2014

Dear Katja

I hope you are well.

As I mentioned in my earlier email, I promised that I would look in to the points that you have raised.  I am continuing to do this.

I'm pleased to inform you that I have spoken to Northumbria Police, and Chief Inspector Sav Patsalos has agreed to the request of a Liaison Officer for the cycling community. The officer will be Insp Dave Gould who can be contacted via 101.

I will be in touch soon.

Best wishes


Vera Baird

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Dear BBC Newcastle

You state your mission is to enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain; and some of your values being things like independent, impartial and honest, as well as respecting each other and celebrating our diversity so that everyone can give their best. Source

I have difficulties reconciling this with the recent angle you imposed on cyclists in Newcastle. You started your radio programme (BBC Radio Newcastle, Wednesday 20 November 2013 between 16:00-18:00) with briefly describing the recent road carnage in London. Sadly six people had been killed on London's streets using their bikes in the short spell of a fortnight. A tragic subject worth exploring, debating and possibly resulting in drawing some big conclusions about politics, policy, society, transport and equality.

But following the mention of the road deaths, the programme went on to focus on cyclists in Newcastle who did not have their lights on. I was then left to 'collectively justify' on air why that was the case. As far as I can see there was nothing in the programme that put responsibility on drivers to get 'their house in order' and stop killing people on bikes (to put in emotively - as I believe it is the road layout and design that creates the conflict and ultimate damage and death). I was left saying, let's all take two steps back and look at the bigger picture. Something I would have liked the eminent BBC to do 'for me' and with me. The bigger picture is much more pressing to be discussed but was left untouched. The increasing KSIs of cyclists on our roads when generally road deaths are falling.

I think your programme's angle on this subject was badly out of balance. It defied the tragic reality and, at the very least, lacked creative thinking (another one of your stated values).

It was not independent or impartial - it simply portrayed the car-centric status quo (thereby supporting the oil/petrol/road./car lobby whipping up fear in a herd-instinct society and pulling wool over politicians eyes) that many of us are trying to challenge and change. The Categorical Imperative tells us that a world ruled by motor cars can not be fair and square for obvious reasons of space sparseness, pollution and cost to society.

It did not celebrate diversity. It put it in a corner and stabbed it.

Above all, it was not decent. People have lost their lives in tragic circumstances. The programme's focus was in disregard to road victims and their families and friends.

And I can only see your reporting style and angle, in this instance, as uninspiring in the least and victim blaming at the worst.

You say "we are one BBC: great things happen when we work together". Let's work together!

In the meantime, and forever more, rest assured that I will do my bit and remain saying to my fellow cyclists battling Britain's roads in atrociously hostile, aggressive and dangerous environments: Please do switch your lights on. And I pray for you that drivers will see you on this not-so-level playing field that is the not-so-great British roads.

= = = = = = = =

Updated 19 December 2014

From: Andrew Robson-Newcastle>
Date: 16 December 2013 10:53
Subject: Cycling
To: "Katja Leyendecker Cc: Jon Harle


Thank you for your email which has been forwarded to me by Jon Harle.

We regularly look at the subject of cycling on BBC Newcastle.  Topics we cover range from the implementation of cycle hire in Newcastle, to the debate about proposed investment in cycle track provision in the region, to the recent news story about cyclists killed in London. Cycling is a topic which always stimulates much debate with our audience. 

In terms of balance, because we cover the topic of cycling so often we need to be able to take a different approach to the topic each time we cover it.  On occasions we take opposing views on air at same time such as the Alfie and Charlie phone in, on other occasions we focus on one particular aspect of the subject we are covering.  We do seek to be balanced in our output over time.

BBC Newcastle has many keen cyclists in the building, some like Jon commute to work, and others, like myself cycle for fitness.  I can promise you we have no agenda to bias our output.

Thank you for your email.

Andrew Robson
Managing Editor
BBC Newcastle

= = = = = = = =

From: Katja Leyendecker
Date: 23 November 2013 13:03
Subject: Not quite a complaint
To: Jon.Harle Cc: Carlton Rei

Hi Jon
Maybe next time you could consider taking a different, more equitable, angle?

Please note that I always like to see cycling in the news, even if it is about road deaths and tragic events as these clearly need to aired and discussed. But seeing cycling reduced to "put your lights on and wear hiviz" - especially with the tragic London backdrop - really hurts.

- - - - Newcastle Cycling Campaign
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