Friday, 27 January 2012

Creating space for cycling (physics 101)

I am passing through here on my way to work. It's awful to cycle. Too much conflict with drivers, too little space for cycling. And a transport (pedestrian safety, traffic calming) scheme at the southern end which does not work as intended. The twenty speed limit, ah, well, replaced by hostile driving. The usual.

Made me think.

How DO you create space?

Well, in this instance let's make it a one-way street for driving and use the space gained for a two-way cycle way. Easy.

Fig.1 Before and after
Fig.2 Before and after
Fig.3 Before and after
Sometimes you just have to compromise car user amenity to make a safe cycleway.

For the ones interested in the wider road context, and who wants to check out the driving detour, here's your map.

South Gosforth Map
South Gosforth (part) map

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Invisible Green Arrow

In Germany 

Yes, in Germany we have something called Cyclist’s Green Arrow (ah, well, Grüner Abbiege-Pfeil für Radfahrer, you clever clogs): cyclists can legally ‘ignore’ the traffic lights and turn regardless of their colour (traffic light, not skin, you silly). 

It simply looks like this, nothing special:
Green Arrow
Cyclist's Green Arrow
But the message of the little green arrow is far-reaching.
  • It acknowledges that a cyclist’s width is much smaller than a vehicle’s
  • ...and that cycling is a safe method of transport around pedestrians
  • ...and that the activity of cycling is beneficial and deserves extra attention
  • Cyclists are worth it! Cyclists have been listened to, the behaviours of cycling was studied, and the needs of that transport group were taken on board. Translating into something that gives them the advantage. 
  • On a minor note of cycle convenience: once a cyclist has gained momentum, it’s personal! It’s your own energy. You invest muscle power in moving forwards. It’s not just a little flick of a toe on the gas pedal, no. If cyclists had a choice, “they won't stop”, it’s just that much harder to gain cruising speed again, compared to walking (low speeds) and driving (aforementioned toe-tip). 
All that in a little arrow. 

['Surprisingly' drivers can use the Green Arrow too. However it's the cyclist who benefits most as they can weave alongside the stationary cars.]

Back in Britain

In the meantime, back in Britain, second class citizenship remains the standard for cycle folks. Something just for cyclists? Unheard of here. Frowned upon. We are asked to be grateful and languish in the gutter, or simply cycle ‘assertively’, take the lane and “you’ll be fine, dear”. And. If you do do something wrong. Ton. Of. Bricks. On. Your. Head. Your fault. You didn’t wear head protection anyways.

Operating in a system that’s dangerous to cyclists and deters people form cycling, isn’t really what cycling is supposed to be all about, is it! It won't get peeps saddling up. And yet they all keep saying that they want us to cycle: DfT, councils etc etc. What a swizz! And I won’t patronise you extolling the benefits of cycling to society, the environment, your purse, communities, societal fairness, city centres, the local economy... you all know that already.

Fairness on our roads? Meh. Certainly not for cyclists!
The road system is not safe for people on bikes (small sponge-like objects amongst tons of fast moving metal exo-skeletons); the balance is blatantly tipped towards drivers 
  • power to kill and cause serious harm
  • legal system
  • court decisions
  • road and junction layout
  • space allocation
  • unwritten rules and accepted mannerisms on the road
I have decided to make a stand. And innovate.

So here it is: my Invisible Green Arrow (IGA). Some call it Red Light Jumping (RLJ). I call it making mends. I think it’s better to make your own rules than complying and risk dying. Of course, certainly nothwithstanding general ethics: the Golden Rule.

By responsible IGAing, I can at least actively managing my own risks. I am in charge of my  destiny, not the impatient motorist revving their engine behind me or the bus driver slowly creeping up my rear. I see it as an offsetting scheme for all the counterproductive measures that are put in cycling’s way. Sometimes silly, sometimes dangerous, cycle lanes stop before they even start, see Newcastle Cycling Campaign’s loopy lanes and if you haven't got enough, here's more 'inspiration' on the excellent CEoGB website.

Green arrow
IGAing - how it works

What about pedestrians?

As a cyclist partaking in IGAing you only ever need to pledge one thing: to take due care. In other words give way to the crossing and jaywalking pedestrian (magenta bits above). This isn't much of an ask I think. As a cyclist I do that anyways, following the vulnerable road user hierarchy. (As a continental cyclist doubly so due to being used to mode-integrated traffic light phasings in Germany where pedestrians, cyclists and drivers have green lights simultaneously.)

On a similar note of road fairness: pedestrians should rise up too. And, as luck will have it, it's a bit easier to do too! Simply arm yersel with Highway Code 170. And cross that road! Don’t be bullied into submission by the motorist. And keep (jay)walking!

What about motorists?

And note that no motorist was harmed or even inconvenienced in the IGA process. Trust me, drivers don’t like IGAing, because cyclists have - for once, just once - the upper hand.

Meanwhile, I keep on cycling (and naturally walking) - always despite not because - and will remain a proud member of a minority that gets vilified by UK society.

Cycling in the UK is just not as easy as riding a bike! If it were I wouldn’t have had to write this blog post to stay sane.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

It's all bollards!

I am always amazed, again and again, by the sheer car-centricity of Great North Road. It's a monumental hangover from yonder, a blistering boil that needs draining.

Let me focus on just one section of 'Not-So-Great' North Road: Gosforth High Street. It's a place for people, a place where people do their shopping, and (more recently) started to embrace the contintental cafe culture. People meet, people chat, people shop and people are people. Milling, going about their business.

Yet something weird's going on on Gosforth High Street.

On closer inspection, the place is not fit for people. Too little space is devoted to people doing all the things that people want to do. Traffic speed is 30 mph, and it's littered with bollards.

Bollards and guard railing.

Gosforth High Street suffers from 'alien invaders' destroying the fabric of the place and taking away space from the faithfully returning customers, the locals. Too much space is taken up by drivers, littering the shopping street with their cars. Double yellows are quickly ignored, because "I just dropped off this video", or "I just wanted to pick up this pizza". Chop, chop, just passing through. Not a quality visit to the place, was it.

Evidence on this video clip: tell-tale bollards, deterrent to inconsiderate pavement parking.

Retailers will always say more parking is required; and Mary Portas is now perpetuating the myth. Sustrans actually debunks that approach. If not convinced have a read of sustrans' Retail Vitality studies. It's eye-opening stuff. A way out of our car dependence. I have suggested to my local councillor to consider a sustrans-style study for Gosforth High Street. Let's see. Retailers take note.

So, what's required?

We must look at space differently. See the social aspect of it, allocate it fairly, understand how space works. And shops work, and their customers. Get into the heart of a place. On Gosforth High Street too much space is wasted on private car through traffic and the mis-informed belief that 'all' shoppers are drivers, and bring 'value' to the place. By our silence, we are allowing people-deterring practices and behaviour, delivering demise to our high streets.

Let's be radical for a moment and shut down Gosforth High Street to these silly private car journeys.

Alternatives are actually available. To name one, there's of course the A1 bypass, if you wanted to travel through Newcastle altogether. Then there is the Regent Centre Park & Ride if you wished to travel to Newcastle city centre. And when Gosforth High Street is your destination, the high street doubles as a popular bus route, an alternative travel choice to the unnecessary car trips that blight the place. And that's before we haven't even mentioned cycling and walking yet, catering well for a two mile radius.

But the safe provision for these travel modes is not there.

When it currently looks like this
Gosforth High Street, Newcastle, UK
Gosforth High Street, Newcastle, UK

Gosforth High Street should probably look more like this
Novelstraat, Utrecht, Netherlands
Nobelstraat, Utrecht, Netherlands

Note, that there's ample space for this transformation. It's only a question of space allocation. Space is clear, and it has continuity.

A relatively recent funding application from the council to the DfT marginalises cycling on Gosforth High Street. If the £5m are spent, cycling will be relegated to the winding back streets, and that's not an advert to cycling and doesn't get people cycling, does it!

The cycle route should be clearly visible.

As the leader of Newcastle City Council said when asked whether cycle provision was a bit barmy: "To be frank, that's one of the reasons why I stopped cycling in Newcastle because you never knew from one minute to the next whether you are going to be on the road, the pavement or the cycle lane. And I think this is one of those things which we got to get right." [Ref.].

Nick also says on his own website "I really enjoyed cycling round the city centre, but it was a reminder of the many hazards that cyclists face. Cycle lanes disappear mid-route, traffic light timings can be difficult and potholes can be really uncomfortable. These are all issues that the Council should consider as part of its approach to transport planning, and I am delighted to back the call for cycling to be more integrated with the Council's activities." [Ref.].

What an enlightened man! With this new and exciting political support for cycling, I keep pointing out to the council that clarity and continuity are the most important aspects.

Nick's right, we have to get this right.

Here are some examples:

Intuitive paving design
Continuity over a property exit

Intuitive paving design
Continuity over a car park entrance

Elephant's feet
Clarity over route
Elephant's feet
Continuity at side street

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Come and gone

I feel silly. The sock creature I made last night, I lost this morning. My fault (cycling with an open rucksack, doh!). And I feel genuinely sad. And how silly is that?

Meet Ho Hum:

Meet Ho Hum

Here are Ho Hum's chums from the same Frankenstein kitchen. Meet them too!