Saturday, 27 April 2013

Carzilla's hungry

Whilst I'd like to see more of this...

New DfT approved sign

It'd be only fair every once in a while, right? And it would give the driver and occupants a little exercise too. Reality however turns more and more into this...


Newcastle (but by all means not just there) still creates urban highways simply by using resurfacing and road marking "techniques" readily available from the 60s engineers toolbox.

Are our city engineers and transport planners not aware of psychological effect and influence they have on people and their interaction with places? Or are they indeed still and solely under the influence of the Almighty Highway Engineer who cruelly destroys - like a Monster Carzilla - our towns and cities?

These are 20mph streets  - yet they do not feel like it.

The most recent example is Moor Road South in the Newcastle suburb of Gosforth / Jesmond. It's not on any of my normal routine routes, but I happened to cycle through there the other day, when my face was progressively but rapidly paling at the street robbery that took place there.

The start... 20 by sign not design.

Moor Road South
Moor Road South at junction with The Rectory

The centre line, painted on perfectly. The tarmac, dark and smooth. Ideal for rollerblading... but what's with the centre line? I thought we were through with them on urban streets.

Moor Road South
Moor Road South looking North

And the lovely flares at the end turning into the No.1 Ratrun in Gosforth The Grove (I am aware that I might do Ilford Road a great disservice here though by saying so). All expertly executed complete with double yellow lines. Wow! You can also admire the set-backness of the pedestrian dropped kerbs - ever a straight line for peds neither.

Moor Road South
Moor Road South junction with The Grove

There was an opportunity to change all this. Or put it on hold. But as this (I am surmising) was firmly stuck on a ward resurfacing list, further talk didn't actually take place.

Even more strangely though, this street (and its continuation across The Grove called Moor Road North and then Alwinton Road all the way up to Christon Road) is all part of the Cycle Safety bid Newcastle City Council recently won £1.3m, the second highest allocation from that national fund. The route's completely bypassing the key destination Gosforth High Street - but that aside, I suspect (hope!) what we see on Moor Road South is not the finished article.

So why would anyone waste money on works that might get re-done (possibly quite substantially) in the next few months?

Then there is of course Clayton Road and Stowell Street in the city centre where similar highway-style makeovers were applied by the engineer. Maybe makeup and engineering is not compatible. Or maybe it's a different kind of makeup they apply...? The Halloween scary stuff.

And I could mention more streets that have received a scary highway makeover, but I stop here.

I want to wave Byebye - Hi-way engineers. Stop your street robbery. Get your highway makeup out of our urban toolbox.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Age, wisdom and foresight

Crappy Great North Road
Great North Road - not so great

I have waited for almost a year before posting this. I had hoped the discussion had moved on from then but I haven't heard much from them since - and not by lack of trying on my part. This is not to offend or cause affront - this is to inform. So. The Newcastle Elders Council delegates met up with a group of cycling group advocates in May 2012. When meeting up  - unfortunately and bizarrely - we didn't even get to talking about the vital subject of people-friendly civilised places.

Guess what? Pavement cycling and personal stories of it dominated their agenda. They were totally blinded by it. An "I-am-a-CTC-member" woman disproportionately hogged air time with her "all cyclists belong on the road" propaganda. Judging by the Elders Council newsletter Cllr Nigel Todd put in a great voice for cycling and cyclists previously. Even so, this Elders Council newsletter states 
"anyone riding on the pavement (unless it is a designated shared path) is breaking the law"
and disturbingly concludes with 
"P.S. Have you checked where your grandchildren ride their bikes?"
suggesting that even children should cycle on the road under all circumstances.

The answer to this of course is that it's about better delineated space and space clarity, we did try to explain just that. With space at a premium, and safe space even more so, it is road space that must be taken away from driving and parking. Not the other way round... space taken from pedestrians like it was done on Newcastle's Brighton Grove and is now planned for Fenham Hall Drive. So wrong!

When sending this roadcc link to my contact at the Elders Council four months later (September 2012) the answer was "You didn't try to chat to Elders Council, you did talk with us; it was a lengthy exchange of viewpoints I'd say!" Non-committal. Rather unclear. And. Quite English. In December 2012 I tried again and sent this academic's look at pavement cycling, by Dave Horton. And received no reply.

Newcastle Cycling Campaign will of course continue working with Newcastle's Youth Council to hopefully speak to the Elders Council again in a more positive and informed setting. 

Until THAT meeting takes place however - be very assured, that the wise folks at the Newcastle Elders Council want your kids to cycle on the carriageway of a 40mph road. Like the one pictured above where strangely, parents are wary. And children therefore cycle on the pavement.

Or not at all. And child obesity sores.

Let's call the Elders Council 'thoughtless' for the time being.

Biting bloodied lips

Tipper lorries can be weapons, and HGV drivers kill. We were starkly reminded of that again recently [for example BBC]. Well, this sort of tragedy happens far too often, but why's nothing done?

New Civil Engineer 18 April 2013The tipper lorry is a construction site vehicle. The civil engineering and construction industry prides itself in their positive and proactive health and safety culture. Or so I (as a civil engineer) have been told. I still see "near misses" (whatever these mystical things are) on site. Negligence and 'looking the other way' does happen.

The message for on-site construction traffic is actually very clear. Strictly segregate [their words] vehicles and pedestrians on a construction site. And one-way traffic systems are much preferred. All deaths and major injury has to be reported to the Health and Safety Executive or HSE - government's H&S watchdog - for further investigation and possible prosecution.

All that makes sense. Yet when it comes to off-site measures and behaviour it's an entirely different story. It's not the construction industry's responsibility any more. This is why SeeMeSaveMe calls for the HSE to include reporting of incidents involving construction firm vehicles when on public roads within the Construction Design and Management (CDM) regulations.

To continue the slap in the face of ordinary people going about their everyday business (walking and cycling), here's what the New Civil Engineer (the weekly voice of the Institution of Civil Engineers) this week had to say about the tragic killing of Katherine Giles.
Title "Construction trucks face cycle safety law threat"
And the first sentence reads "Construction this week faced the threat of tough legislation forcing it to ensure HGVs are fitted with cycle safety equipment following the death of cyclist Katherine Giles last week."

Say no more, civil engineering! Says it all. No real health and safety ethos, only lip service. What remains is your angst about reputation and profit loss.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Hanging in the balance - on a thinning thread

Science Central vision
Utopian? Newcastle's plan for Science Central.

This is a while ago, April 2012. But still worth stating. As nothing has much moved on from then. 

My letter to the council contained this paragraph [emphasis added later]
We are most alarmed by a new slogan that has been developed by council officers over the the last few months counteracting cycle improvements: "the council must strike a balance between all road users". Can we reiterate that it's this 'balance' which is severely out of kilter, skewed towards car users and discriminating against people on bicycles an on foot. We would like to understand how the council is indeed planning to meet its target of 20% of trips under five miles to be done by bike in ten years from now. First step must be to ask your officers to rephrase the slogan, read the Cycle Plan and think bicycle.
 Director's reply [my emphasis]
I can state categorically that no new slogan has been developed by council officers to counteract cycling developments being progressed. I am sorry that you seem unable to understand or accept the duty on the council to take an overview and strike a balance between all road users. We are committed to [goes on a bit after that]
Followed by some feebly-versed words of I-slap-your-wrist and you-must-behave and we-are-right-your-are-wrong. Culminating in lecturing me on respect.

I have numerous more rambling examples like the one above. It's abundantly clear. Not everyone (officers and councillors) gets it. Currently there is only imbalance. The thin thread is going to snap some time, and urban mobility will be in chaos. I'd rather this transition is somewhat managed. I do have hope as the Newcastle Cycle Plan states it seeks
"rebalancing the relationship between road users"
Yes! Let's do it! Let's grab some road space whilst it's hot.

Keen parents to encourage others

Get stuck in!

Yes, I am an infrastructualist. I believe that urban settings shape how people interact and behave within it and towards each other. I believe that setting aside road space for cycling, will shape the UK into a cycling nation. I know that it works. I have seen it with my own eyes.

That's why articles like this one in the Guardian are so upsetting. It diverts and distracts from what's really needed. Where officers from sustainable travel groups say their softy-softy stuff. Talking them into shark-invested waters. But yea, we can give you a hiviz life jacket. Look at it, it's beautiful. It even has our logo on it. Yes, these people want to keep their jobs. Yes, there is vested interest on a personal and an institutional level. (Maybe a conflict of interest list is needed. Like the Lords.)

I have a local example. A through-road. It's clogging up with parking mums and dads in huge monster cars, dropping of their little-loved-ones during school run, otherwise leaving the road a speeding stretch of a stinking rat run.

Here's what the mum said 
I would like to share how shocked I was this morning when I cycled with my children on our tandem to go to school. A car driver insulted me while the children were on the bike and treated me like an idiot.
I was cycling up towards our school while cars were driving in the opposite direction. The car, whose driver insulted me was parked, waiting to pull away. Once all the cars in the opposite direction had passed, he pulled away without indicators right in front of me and cut my way, he obviously had not looked in his wing mirror either. I signaled to him angrily that I was there. He parked further close the pedestrian crossing that the lolly pop man looks after, opened his window and insulted me.
As I was with the children, I did not go to him to clarify the matter as the agressive tone was intimidating and I did not want the children to experience their mother being insulted further for cycling. What makes me concerned is the intimidation and the lack of care and understand of parents driving their children to school.
I would most appreciate if a note could be added in the next school newsletter. I am particularly concerned about the intimidating aspect due to the fact that we have no dedicated space.
And here's what the local sustainable travel school officer had to say in response
I'm really sorry that you had to deal with, it is pretty devastating when drivers act in such a way. Especially if you then cycle past them again and again. I know that there have been previous incidents between drivers and bus drivers, it is a recurring theme at the school and one which my role aims to reduce. It would be really great if you could come to our meeting on [date] at the school. It's the beginning of a project where keen parents would encourage other parents to try out cycling. If there is anything else you would like me to do let me know. I think sending the survey out to parents would be great. And as far as I know the cycling statistics were used to gain Eco flag status, so I'm surprised it's not mentioned. I'll ask my contact at the school to add it in. 
Email foot note
We believe every child deserves to be free range, with freedom from their front door to explore, play outdoors, and make their own way to school and beyond. 

We make smarter travel choices possible, desirable and inevitable. We`re a leading UK charity enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys we make every day. It`s time we all began making smarter travel choices.

 The school's position is this [their emphases]
We already have done a HUGE amount of work with the local councillors and LA to try and make this road a safer place for pedestrians, cyclist and parents dropping children off by car.
We have had a traffic consultation group and endless meetings with traffic officers.
I do not want to disappoint everyone but we have found it hugely frustrating as every suggestion for safe parking zones, drop off zones and one way systems have been rejected by the council and local residents. I find the tone of some of the recent emails and tweets upsetting as it implies the school is not interested or has not done everything possible already to make the roads around school as safe as possible.
It is also worth remembering that the school is a PFI building and therefore we cannot make any alterations to the site without enormous costs and our budget for next year has already had all funding for structural alterations removed as part of the LA cuts so any costs will have to be raised by parents or be taken out of the school budget.
We have had to fight for two years to even get some bollards on a nearby road to stop cars mounting the pavement and potentially running children and parents over! These have been promised but have yet to appear (we were expecting them to be installed over last Summer holidays)
Please do not put in your emails that you want the school to get involved or come to the table as if we are blocking you in some way! We have been leading this for 4 years now but residents hold the most sway and it is them we need to convince not the school.
The road I believe cannot be pedestrianised because it is a designated emergency access road for the metro, for this school and the other schools on this road. This also means it cannot be blocked in any way.
So. There you have it. Everyone is involved and raising concerns. Each in their way. And what is clear to everyone is that changes to the road layout are needed for walking and cycling safety. And all this lands in the council's lap. Rightly so. And what do they do? Nothing.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Cruel complacency

This is what the BBC News Tyne & Wear webpage looked like today.

BBC news webpage 7 April 2013 

News websites can be so cruel in conveying messages. Let me read them out to you.

The More regional news section, hosts four road tragedies. Whilst weather is good. And the A1 is slow.

Cumbria - Pensioner dies following car crash on A596 bypass between Thursby and Wigton
North Yorkshire - Elderly couple killed in crash on Northgate Lane, Gate Helmsley
Tees - Two killed in three car collision on Teesside with a third person is in a critically condition
South Scotland - Man dies in lorry and pick-up crash on the A74(M) south of Lockerbie

We are also informed by From other local news that a Cyclist dies in Durham road collision on A6072 between Shildon and Bishop Auckland

I won't go into the Doubts raised over A1 dualling article. It's such a messy political subject.

Maybe one day we wake up and open our eyes to the car-nage on our roads and do something about it. Meanwhile, may they all rest in peace, and the survivors join the chorus of road safety campaigners.