Friday 30 December 2011

It’s our own demons we wrestle not theirs

In 2010 and getting myself into the complex (and, boy, don’t we make it more complex than it really is!) issue of UK cycle campaigning I wrote to the CTC to enquire about their stance. I felt compelled to do that because I found the CTC message confusing and misleading and counterproductive too.

Cycling is safe, no it’s not… it is, no…

I had problems understanding why the CTC unnecessarily tied itself into a complicated seafaring knot by routinely sending two mutually exclusive messages
  1. Cycling/roads can be dangerous (CTC counteract with smidsy)
  2. But, hey, it really isn’t - we say that because of statistics (and because our aim is to get more people cycling and we don’t want to scare them)
Yes, we are starting from a low base. In every respect (our own confidence, cycling numbers, genuine political will and support). I know.

But here it is. The answer that you get over and over again from the CTC: with more people cycling the safety in numbers effect kicks in. A positive feedback loop is created and hey presto voila – you have a cycling nation with a bike culture. A policy reliant on getting people on bikes.

So if that’s the master plan (get more bum-on-saddle and tackle inconsiderate/dangerous driving) then I take umbrage with this: the CTC have little in the way of a successful plan on HOW they propose to get people cycling. To my humble observation cycling numbers have not really remarkably increased in the last decades. In the light of the above, I’d ask the CTC whether policy could be looked at again and their (rather mixed) message reviewed for its logic, effectiveness and success.

Or maybe the CTC don't campaign on behalf of everyday cyclists?

I was wondering whether this really is the best intervention. Keep repeating the mantra “it’s safe (no honest, it really is)” - and they’ll come. Keep telling non-cyclists it’s about their confidence. They can even get training for it.

Isn’t that patronising? Could that be the reason why outreach success and cycling uptake have been low?

Here’s the positive feedback loop as I see it.

Listen to what normal folks (non-cycling) say… they’ll tell you why they don’t cycle: “there are no cycle lanes” is the almost near-universal answer. It’s a personal safety consideration not to cycle. And I can understand that. I know it’s awfully hostile out there on the roads - I have been there – a cyclist’s journey is laden with conflict and aggression, full of anger and – as a cyclist – you have no safe space to fall back on… pavements anyone?

Now, there is this SVOW briefing that discusses this: “Policy that only focuses on an increase in cycling and at the same time ignores the construction of more cycling facilities, will not have a positive effect on road safety.” One wonders whether the CTC, having gone down their road a looong way, could actually conceivably take anything as 'alien' as the above into account when reviewing their stance, policy and media image/message? Almost making a u-turn, by learning from abroad? Better have the screeching halt now then veering off course even more?

My Tupp’ny. Cycling is lovely, or rather it could be lovely. Yes, the more people cycle the better, but for that to happen we really need safe cycle infrastructure. And I have yet to see the CTC making points about cycle infrastructure that are not defeatist “Oh, can’t do it like that” (particularly on side-roads and junction designs). Let’s hope it’ll all come out in their policy review bash 2012.

Soz folks. Here’s what it boils down to. UK cycling will not happen without investment in cycleways. A positive CTC pro-cycleways policy would help.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the road and oil companies are rubbing their hands in glee and their eyes in disbelief “Cyclists are still divided, they don’t even know themselves what they want. They’ll never get their pesky little heads around asking for large sums of money. They must think they aren’t worth it. Oh, these silly cycling sods!”

And trust me, the above means diddly squat to the non-cycling population (i.e. nigh-everyone). We are wrestling with our own demons ignoring the demons of the real population.

Saturday 26 November 2011

How many UK drivers cycle?

The question of how many drivers in Britain have the experience of regular road cycling interests me. It feeds straight into the 'us v them' debate. How divided are we? How common is relevant cycling experience with drivers?

Is our society really one where drivers exclusively drive, or does the majority have on-road cycling experience? Hence know what it feels like and hence understand how to behave around a person on a bicycle.

To find out, I needn't go far. A simple look at the Department of Transport's National Travel survey (NTS) does the trick. It's most recent issue (2011) released travel data for 2009. (If anyone knows why it takes two years to release data, please let me know!) 

In any case... let me tell you it's not looking rosy for the we-are-all-good-friends-we-share-the-same-experience camp.
NTS 2011 (data 2009)

Cycling makes up 2% of all trips. With around 1,000 trips per person per year, that makes 20 cycle trips per person per year. Equating to one bike trip in a fortnight. Oh, my! I would not call that regular cycling!

And it's getting worse when you start taking into account this...

1) To give more detail, consideration could be given to the distribution of cycle trips. Some people may cycle more (are dedicated cyclists or have even reduced or totally forgone car use altogether) that means that some drivers cycle even less.

2) The one cycled trip a fortnight does also not take into account whether it's on- or off-road. For all we know, it might well be a journey where you are free to choose your route, call it a leisure trip (as opposed to utility journey to work, shops etc). People would tend to stay off-road on traffic-free tracks then.

In conclusion to the question whether UK drivers have regular on-road cycling experience, the simple answer is "Nope, they damn well have not". 

Next time a drivers tells you he* is a keen cyclist too (and that some of his best friends are cyclists), ask him how much he uses his bike, when he's last clambered on it, and where he cycles. 

Sorry to break it to you like this: 

On our roads it really IS us v them. If we continue our chummy we-are-all-friends approach, we'll keep getting laughed at. It's never been a plain playing field. We are 'at war with the motorist' (as well as the status quo, oil corporations, the political and economic system).

Or she, for total inclusion. Fewer women than men cycle... a women driver therefore is rather unlikely to cycle, even less likely she cycles regularly, and on the road.

Some of my best friends are cyclists...

Thursday 10 November 2011

I made something!

I made something! I am so blinking pleased with myself. I even designed the rubber stamp myself! Yes. Yes and yes.




Possibly a bit subversive in the eye of the British.

Handmade card - cycling together
Fig.1 - Stamp (my design), embossing powder, patterned paper

Saturday 5 November 2011

Zombie kids

We are failing our children. Here's how.

Northeast of England 'sports' the most obese kids in our green and pleasant land. 

Roll yourself to school
Roll yourself to school

As a kid in the Northeast you have two options to go to school: 
Mum will fix it! She's got a car. Just evolve into a ball and roll next time, your legs are not required any more. 
Alternatively, get on your bike or walk. But, oh, it's your parents who don't let you, because there's too many cars? Pity.
Some stats...
UK childhood obesity on the up again and now the foie-gras children... stuffed livers 
The general UK population not faring any better.
We are Europe's unhealthy fatsos.
And for the Northeast England? Well, we are amongst the fattest adults and children in our country.
Prof Stephen Singleton, Director of Public Health in the Northeast and patron of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign:
"Without help, overweight children will become overweight or obese adults and will be at increased risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke."
Hey, kids! So what do we do?
We'll just keep incarcerating you indoors in houses and cars, because the notion of fresh air is too scary. No notion of independence, freedom, and growing up free-thinking individuals... we keep strangling you with apron strings. 
Polls show that 30% of you actually want to cycle to school... 
Undeterred, we are now bringing you up as Little Scardies who cannot face the world, are socially inept and not equipped to evaluate real risk. All because we deprived you of a chance to try things out and learn by doing. Packed in cotton wool. Bereft of essential life skills.
And so we continue to 'drive' you away where-ever when-ever we can. From a free range existence, from public spaces...

Fun Newcastle!
A sign. At Newcastle Civic Centre

When will the madness end... all the sugar & fat and game consoles have made you calm and obedient. Everyone's a winner. Sort of.

Fun North Tyneside!
A sign. Longbenton public green space
A new take on ageism.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Sharing the road

We don't talk about it much at the DfT but...
Three days ago Df(mm)T have published advice on how to share the road (LTN1/11). Concentrating on high street environment, spots over-run by pedestrians could now be transformed.

There are many of those in Newcastle.

Shame the LTN does not mention much about cycling and how it may fit into the sharing streetscape equation. For the love of Places For People I cannot see how that omission could be a good thing. The bicycle is a prime part to civilising public space.

Retrograde brains of council engineers will now have to think for themselves. A thing not likely to happen. I can almost hear the scratching of heads.

Road user re-prioritisationI just wonder which locations Newcastle City Council will consider (suggestions on the right). We have learnt that our streets are haunted by ghosts so dangerous that our children cannot use the street environment (council's road safety initiative 'Ghost Street'). How does a sharing attitude sit comfortably with the council?

In Germany mutual traffic lights help to instill the road-sharing concept at controlled crossings: green lights indicate 'go' for ALL road users travelling in the same direction (walk, cycle, drive). As a driver you simply give way to the walking and cycling public when turning. A radical idea for car-centric UK: giving way, sharing... the road. And on uncontrolled crossings, Highway Code 170 gets frequently ignored by our car-driven friends. Sharing? Doesn't seem to 'come easy'.

What WAS the Df(mm)T's motivation of publishing this shared space document? Are they finally catching up with a 'Streets are for People' idea? Are they making a step towards getting their priorities right? 

Can we bid good-bye to our Land of Bollards and Failing Railings?

And, what will my council make of the LTN? Will they take up Df(mm)T's bitter-sweet offering? Have they got the will, skill and oomph to try something new, something different?

There are more questions than answers, as usual.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Who to blame

you own a car, not the road
You own a car, not the road.
Picture this.

Two-way residential street. 

You are cycling along. 

Car parked smack bang in your lane. 

Creating a pinch point. 

And pinch points are bad as you are in conflict with the driver behind and/or oncoming traffic.

Question: what happens next?


Motorists will blame you as a cyclist for holding them up, and they may even reward you with bad and dangerous driving, speeding past at close distance, or speeding towards you to squeeze through.

Same scenario. But in a different country.


Motorists will blame the driver of the parking car for putting it in a silly place and reward the cyclist with patience.

Why? What makes people react so differently?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Without words
Great North Road, cycle lane, parked-in
For Newcastle folks. 

Writing this I am thinking of Ilford Road which is on my daily commute to work and shopping trips to the city centre. I cycle on Ilford Road a lot to avoid the dangerous Great North Road with its parked-up cycle lanes (left), land of bollards and 40mph 'sharing'.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Hug a cabbie

Yesterday, Newcastle city centre, a taxi driver shimmied past me (dangerously), and I met him again at the next traffic light. (The usual.)

I pulled up next to the driver's window. As he wasn't indicating but I wanted to turn right, it was a call I made. His window was half-down.

Initiative: You drive me crazy
And I explained "If you could give me a wider berth, I'd feel safer, and I'd appreciate that. Besides you may have noticed it is particularly blustery today, and an even wider berth would be even more appreciated."

So far so good.

Cabbie's reply "Get a plate."

I "And just to let you know, you are parked in the bike box, which is reserved for bicycles only."

Cabbie's reply "Get a plate."

When he was pulling away, he turned left. No indicator. And I shouted after him "Your indicating would be appreciated also."

You gotta love them for their courtesy, professional driver's expertise and intimate knowledge of the Highway Code.

Hug a cabbie. 
I love cycling me

Friday 14 October 2011

The image of cycling

The UK is bizarre. A kettle of fish that refuses to swim. 

Please let me explain.

For a German observer, there are some strange myths living in the Brits’ heads concerning cycling! I have been in public debates and on radio programmes to talk about cycling, and what it usually boils down to is this:
1. you cyclists always jump red lights (answer: it makes sense in certain situations, it’s even legal in other countries, countries that work WITH cycling not against)

2. cycling on the pavement is dangerous to pedestrians (answer: nope, what is actually dangerous to pedestrians is cars, just look at the numbers, actually over a hundred people are killed by cars every year in safe spaces like pavements)

3. where’s your helmet? (answer: there’s no legal requirement to wear one, and why should there be? It’s treating a symptom not the cause.)

4. annoyance about cycling two abreast (answer: it’s ok, check out the Highway Code. Hint no. 66)

5. you don’t pay road tax (and what a lot of tosh that is, we all know
Well, that us "telt" then.
My general answer: can we please talk about cycling!
Cycling as I know it.
The UK public is utterly misinformed. Boy, have we got a long way to go. Why aren’t we equally outraged by pedestrians crossing red lights? Or drivers breaking the speed limit or parking their car inconsiderately? These things are going on, are widespread, and can pose real problems to real people.
Clearly it is because cycling isn’t normalised. Cycling is the odd one out amongst the travel modes, and not many people do it. Pedestrians and drivers are somewhat ‘panicked’ by cyclists. They feel threatened and do not understand cyclists.
Photo Cycling in the UK. Always the odd one out. A stripy tiger.

Cycling is a minority – seen as weird, laughed at, scalded, discriminated against – and hence pushed around, not accepted on the pavement, not wanted on the roads – resulting in no space to go and no-where to be wanted or welcomed. A recent report “Understanding walking and cycling” shows exactly that. It’s why people don’t cycle: it’s odd, it’s what kids do. But more people cycling, makes cycling safer…
The debate must move on from these small distracting discussions about what cyclists should or shouldn't do to why cyclists do these things in the first instance, and what society can gain from cycling. 
What can cycle campaigns do? In Newcastle we have asked the council to organise a city-wide Road Users Debate to discuss the future of our public space (it’s actually listed in our campaign priorities We hope this would bring about a better understanding, respect and tolerance between all public space users (i.e. everyone). We hope that what emerges from that big debate is the realisation that cycling has so much to give to society, is an intricate part of society (if we let it), we should have more of it, and yes, we must give space to it too.
Photo Newcastle Quayside. Temporary works compounds takes away walking and cycling space and compromising visibility and safety on the junction. Should have been sited on car parking spaces.

Our politicians must understand that providing and designing for cycling is investing in societal fairness.
Public space must be delineated to include cycling. Better clarity on space should help all of us whether walking, cycling and driving. And conflict and danger must be removed.
And yes, a few in society are misbehaving. But frankly, I’d rather have a collision with a badly steered bike than a dangerously driven car. Why? Because the possible outcomes are very very different indeed.
Really, from a legal point of view: cycling is a minority that gets bullied about and should fall under the Equality Act 2010.
Here’s a few cycle-friendly solutions from my hometown. It is all part of the design mix, it all works, it's all in the toolbox of cycling provision
I am eager to see the big debate to start: how to mainstream cycling into UK society so that it's a positive part of the national psyche.
Photo. Hiviz tabard, spotted in German bike shop: “Cycleway missing!”

We have a long way ahead of us and a lot of bridges, eh cycleways, to build!
Cycling in and around Newcastle