Saturday 26 May 2012

Sharing and caring in the UK

Can I advocate this system? A system of mutual care and respect, with rules of courtesy and a friendly and positive attitude.

Care should be apportioned by power. The more powerful looking after the less strong or fortunate. That makes a caring society. As one may say: a society is judged by how it treats its weakest members. Charity, help between neighbours and friends, healthy community spirit are all signs of this society being a good one.

We are a caring nation, a good society with well-developed social skills.

Aren't we? Yes!

But take to the road and it can be an altogether different experience, different rules, different customs. Dog eat dog. All good intentions are thrown into the wind. So, here's one for the road... the power pyramid of care and courtesy.

pyramid1. Pedestrians
2. Cyclists (look out for pedestrians)
3. Drivers (look out for pedestrians and cyclists)

Smile, wave "Hello"... acknowledge the other's existence. What's so difficult to understand? What's drivers' beef? I will never know. What I do know: my mother country seems to adhere much better to this convention based on mutual respect and fairness.

Maybe it's the abounding cycleways? After all by their sheer existence they are laying down clearer rules of engagement, provide better delineation and space clarity. Leaving less to quibble and argue about.

Saturday 19 May 2012

PC or not to PC?

Another patronising day in Newcastle, UK.

I was in a meeting the other day to ally our forces with another group for a more inclusive Newcastle.

We spoke about cycling and how it's not just about cycling but better places, calmer streets, safer roads and happier healthier people with possibly more money in their pockets, and how we can all work together to make that happen, how cyclists are an indicator species for fairer places, cleaner neighbourhoods, friendlier communities, and thE answer to transport inequality for young and old. Freedom, independence all that jazz. Gladly, there wasn't a problem. They were very expertly equipped with the knowledge of the benefits of cycling. Reeled them off so quick that I could hardly follow.  Impressive.

Great. Job done, you'd think!

Far from it. The problem appeared at a different juncture.

It's not that people don't know that cycling in intrinsically good and has the POTENTIAL to contribute sooo much. It really struck me then:

It's that people want cycling, but without the cyclists.

What hampers progress is the mental image that most carry around with them that cyclists, as a person, are bad at heart. It's an epidemic meme, a deeply-rooted idea that overrules common sense, logic, analytical thinking, gets passed down from generation to generation and is very enduring. It was a frustrating meeting, and the deciding factor for a future working relationship boiled down to the issue (bless you) of pavement cycling and what could or should be done.

PC or not to PC, that was the burning question.

The meme blinkers prevented them to understand that cycle campaigns can't condemn cycling on the pavement, and that cycling on the pavement is different to people behaving antisocially, on a bike. We tried our hardest to explain that cycle campaigners will NOT EVER be able to stop that from occurring and that it would be wrong to promise to do so. We urged them to look at the bigger picture, the good things cycling can contribute, and to please put PC into perspective of prevalence, risks and consequences.

We were talking cycling, they talked about 'them pesky cyclists'.

The answer, of course, is a three-lane system with clearly delineated space for walking, cycling and driving. Which we duly proposed. But the PC issue (bless you) had clouded their minds and the power of logic was paralysed.

What really gets me is this.

1. Confession time, I throw my hands up in the air! I cycle on the pavement. I do it considerately and carefully, adjusting my speed, never point my front wheel at a pedestrian, as that is seen as a full-frontal attack, interesting psychology, and makes for interesting riding as well. I PC because the alternative routes are often dangerous, hostile or plain non-existent.

2. So, I find myself, yet again, on the the wrong side of the road with the law. HC clearly states "64 - You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement". And that police man on Northumberland Street, I am asking you again: What are the alternatives? I don't care what the law wants me to do. I rank my self-defence above that and I observe the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would want to be treated. I hear steps towards my door, and a knock.... knock, Neo, the Matrix has you. My little brain sinks and heart hurts when I think of an eight-year-old cycling on a busy, fast, hostile road like GNR. But honestly, who in their right mind would ask a child to do that?

3. The outspoken CTC person at the meeting wanted them to, and the group asks in their newsletter "Have you checked where your grandchildren ride their bikes" implying they mustn't cycle on the pavement, under NO circumstances simply because "anyone riding on the pavement is breaking the law". I actually think it's criminal or negligent to look at it that way especially unfair on the young and the old, completely deprived of logic and totally uncaring, even careless. "It's the law!" - last time I heard that was in the US, and I don't want to go back there.

4. Councils are still designing in PC rather than out. Inadequately 'designing for shared space' is so much easier,  than taking space away from the Most Mothered Motorist. Making a mockery of the hierarchy of traffic reduction first, hence jumping straight to the last point and taking space from pedestrians. Our local example is Brighton Grove where the council "was strapped for time, because the money needed to be spent this FY". The then newly appointed Cllr fell for the trap set by officers and options weren't properly identified and appraised. Pedestrians and cyclists ended up with a crappy deal, over motorists who are laughing all the way.

Well, advances have rarely been made in history by obeying the law. We break it because otherwise it breaks us. In whatever you do don't break the Golden Rule.

Another criminal?

Friday 18 May 2012

Casting by Schrödinger's Cat

There’s confusion. It’s deliberate, I am almost sure. As with so many cycle-related things in the UK, you’ve come to expect the most silly solution to be implemented, the most fragmented network to be build, and all to be solved with an extra thick icing of training and promotion. Jubbly!

Here’s the script. Once upon a time.

Cycle lanes. I mean, I love‘em. Give you some safe space, dunnit?

Until the mothered motorists comes along, discarding their shells in the door zone and there's no  buffer strip, or plonked its beloved thing right in the lane cuz there’s no double yella and the authorititties kennet dee anything aboot it anyweees. Cock-a-snook! Sillies!

Fair? Nope.


Cycle lanes. I mean, I love‘em. Give you some safe space, dunnit?

Until UK cycle training comes along and tells you what you should really do is take primary position (that’s middle of the car lane for the uninitiated). Unless a lorry comes hurtling towards you, then you may like to consider getting out of the way. Road design doing one thing, and official instruction inform you of yet another. What’s the sense in that? Primary position is also a solution that heavily relies on conflict. You, soft squashy thing, have to put yourself into the line of fire. Others are bullet proof. Bullseye!


Until the cycle lane ends - it inevitably always does when you most need it, at a pinchpoint and when the road narrows, in a bend, over a sideroad. It's a conspiracy. Hidden cameras? You've been framed possibly? All good things come to an end, none more so than the cycle lane.

Not quite joined up.

All sounds too familiar.

Proceed to the Cycho clinic now! I’ll be patiently sitting in the waiting room until my number’s up. To bide my time I am playing the Waiting Game with you-know-who.

Ride the lane? Or hold the line? We can’t be in both at once. Maybe we’ve been looking for the wrong solutions and it really is rocket science and particle physics?

Nah. Coarse knot!

Und die Moral der Geschicht’?
Bleib’ auf der Linie nicht!
Mach’ dir ‘nen Platz, der sicher ist,
Dann kannste radfahr’n ewiglich!

Moral of the story?

That’s exactly why we must have physical separation on our fast, busy, hostile, dangerous roads with the most mothered motherf*cking motorists on the them. Or else no-one will ride the revolution or revolutionise the ride.

They lived happily ever after.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

See the German lights

In Germany traffic lights are directional, sharing and inclusive, not mode-specific.

Green at a typical signalled junction in Germany means go! for EVERYONE travelling straight on. All.  Everyone. That includes drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, elves and their dogs. Turning drivers simply and carefully GIVE WAY to pedestrians and cyclists crossing their path. It’s an inclusive system, favouring equality. It's conducive to sharing the road, and engenders a fairer road sense and creates people places.

Compare this to the car-adoring UK where on a green light it’s either drivers OR  pedestrians moving. Drivers go, all pedestrians stop. Pedestrians go, all drivers stop. Mode-specific. Exclusive. Usually with a much-too-long wait for pedestrians. That’s why I jaywalk in the UK. That’s why I also jaycycle too. Cyclist are left stranded at junctions, between being a “pedalling pedestrians” or “walking driver”. That’s why I rlj: on a bike I feel much closer to being a pedestrians than being a driver (and I want to get away from the drivers engulfing me, these power hungry drivers with their revving engines, and speed addicts, and their fumes, urgh).

On one Newcastle junction, with a good intention no doubt, someone’s now introduced a third signal phase: cyclists only. Guess if it upsets EVERYBODY else? One consolation: at least cyclists have to push a button to trigger the phase. I am not, and use the pedestrian green light to cross. Insult. Injury. It’s a on a junction that should have been re-prioritised for people (pedestrianised) some while ago.

Also, there are other things of course that can be considered when designing cyclist-inclusive signalled crossings. Here are some tried and tested concepts that can be used in the meanwhile.

1. Create a cyclist-friendly green wave by phasing traffic light at cycling speed. This should be adopted for Newcastle city centre, in the short term, before the real urban people revolution (pedestrianisation) takes place. Let’s have a proper intelligent system, where traffic lights talk to each other and true smooth flow of traffic is achieved. Designing this should be every traffic and signalling engineers dream surely.

2. Count-down at traffic lights, so cyclists know how much time is left to safely jostle themselves into the green box ASL (usually occupied by taxis and buses, and other folks too, but hey). Can be used and is helpful for pedestrians too, naturally.

3. Cyclist’s green arrow.

4. Green head-start for cyclists

5. Traffic lights with speed detection sensor, automatically switch to red when over speed limit

6. Oh, yes, and elephant footprints for continuity's sake and clarity of space.

Bottom line. You gotta design for cyclists, observe what they do and understand why. If the rlf, ask why! Then you are half way there. At the moment we have a whinging bicyclist-bashing populace, and designers who simply don’t get it. But what pains me most in this country is that even pedestrians don’t understand.

So the prejudice continues and cyclists and their risk on the environment are vastly overplayed.


"The world would be a much better place without cyclists. And of course, cyclists are evil mindless murdering machines, controlled by the devil. Every time someone gets on a bike God kills a kitten, or two. If you wanna believe some, God kills the whole litter. And mummy cat with that. Ripping out their intestines to make Schwalbe rubber tyres out of them."

Cheers, UK. Calling that tolerant?

If you've got a few minutes, here's something the makes sense - thanks to @John_the_Monkey to point it out to me!

Added 23 February 2013. Here's what one of cycling's greatest advocates has to say about shooting reds

Sunday 13 May 2012

Don't dial AA

Automobiles AnonymousHow do you talk to a car addict?

Yes, to clarify this up front, the disclaimer: some people truly need a car. In fact a long-term health problem or disability prevented  9% from walking, 6% from using buses and 16% from cycling (Source: DfmmT Climate Change and Transport Choices December 2010). Conditions like these are of course entirely different to wantonly over-using your car. Goes without saying.

Let's start again.

How do you talk to a car addict?

Ask them to get off their car? Out of their car? Cut down on short journeys? Get on the "road to recovery" by taking up walking, cycling and public transport? Give them good reasons why, social, environmental, economic, you name it? Provide little teasers for a better life, promotion and free training?

Here's the truth.

Motoring addicts have cloth ears strung to woolly minds. You cannot force a person to truly get better, get out of their beloved car, see the light and understand the bigger picture. They cannot hear. They won't listen. Only they alone have the power to change. And as their demon give them a feeling of power, control and comfort they needn't change. Lynn Sloman suggests 25% of our population are hooked on this Class A drug, the Automobile, for life, heaven or hell.

You can say all kinds of things to them if they ain't ready, they ain't ready. If the wool's firmly pulled over their eyes, nice and cosy, warm and comfortable, if they haven’t yet experienced deep enough pain from their addiction*, they won't see. Your words won’t find a crack in their hard-shell defensive armour. Dare you reach out and touch it.

Their addicted minds have plenty of ammunition to shoot back at you. Physically, it can kill. Road rage. They also have verbal defences, and excuses, a way of thinking that suspends law of physics, logic and 'common sense', a sense of self-centered survival, blaming the other, plenty of emotional pain, and possibly - like all of us - a few real gripes about the universe, life and everything, however woven into the complexity of well-oiled government-supported car addiction.

(S)mothering the motorist. They are more comfortable being where they are than seeing the cross-roads we are on. Call Automobiles Anonymous now. Don't dial AA. Confused? The intervention expert DfmmT is high on Class A at the moment and in no fit state to respond.

So. How DO you talk to a car addict?

You can't.


Simply show you care through your behaviour - Act with kindness and compassion. This can be the magical ingredient to successful interaction with an addicted motorist. And set boundaries, a form of intervention, with confidence.

Get some help and support for yourself if you have seen motoring madness - Join your local cycling campaign, campaign for a better neighbourhood and public transport, participate in initiatives for people-friendly streets.

Take comfort in Lynn Sloman's words and research. Know that 75% are ready to change, or have changed.

* currently Gov's their dealer and pimp and keeps them on their stuff

Friday 11 May 2012

A fairy tale of car addiction

I mean, really, what is so difficult to understand?

We have to take space away from the car (driven and parked) and give it to people walking and cycling. It's a political decision by all means. And politicians support the majority for their re-election. Yes. It's tough to make tough choices. Guess what! Right choices never come easy.

We don't talk about it much at the DfT but...

On the basis of our car addiction...

'Nudge' does not help. Yet nudge is all that government provides. Training here, some promotion over there. Yet, even a free school bike breakfast comes with a disclaimer:

"N.B. The responsibility for your child cycling safely to and from school rests with the parents. The school has no liability for any consequences of that decision. Parents are advised to take out appropriate insurance cover for bikes as the school’s insurance does not cover loss or damage to bicycles. Each cyclist is required to bring a lock on the day in order to secure the bicycle in the school grounds. Please consider cycling with your child, wearing a helmet and high visibility vest."

Meanwhile. The traffic-order nanny, the DfmmT, is staggeringly draggy in its approach to local decision-making on our roads. Want to put up a sign? You gotta get permission of the sign fairy first. Rarely have I seen a tighter-fit pair of trousers (and I have lived through the 70s). Ouch. You can't breathe, can't walk, can't do anything. Not a surprise then it attracts certain kind of folks. Silent. Obedient. Does as the sign fairy says.

In any case. Nudging an addict? Where'd that get you? Addicts live and breathe denial:

"I need a car. I need my car. To live."

We all know that addicts, sometimes by force, have to be taken into therapy where hard realities are learnt.

You can survive without overusing the car. It is even possible to get around without your car. Can't you see how your addiction is destroying your relationships, your environment, your bank balance, your neighbourhood and community? Try it for short journeys to start with and build up a feeling of self-esteem.

Maybe the DfmmT should have a support group for car addicts?

"Do you, a friend, a family member or a work colleague have a car addiction problem? Are you looking for professional help and don’t know where to start? We’re glad you found us. We’re here to provide the best treatment options for you. We work with a fully qualified team of counselling and healthcare professionals to put you on a low carbon diet."

Here's the strapline slogan:

"We understand how difficult the road to car addiction recovery is."
"We are here to set you on the path to a healthy recovery."
"And you know what?"
"By bike."

I added this video at a later date, HT Kim Harding

Saturday 5 May 2012

Driverless car needs nappy change

We are all making mistakes. And words can kill. I propose to change the way we talk about cars and driving.

Media can start rectifying public’s perception by making driving an activity again, and by stopping the devolution of decision-making to the ‘mysteriously active dead object’, the car. A car cannot do anything without the driver. A driver drives. It’s really simple. Please media, pretty please, put the decision-making body – the driver – back into the car.

Another example.

Take the tediousness of media’s traffic reports! Boring! An industry in itself. Almost entirely irrelevant to other forms of travel than the private car. In fact, if we got those private drivers off the road, and underwent a road diet, commercial and professional drivers would have a much better time.


We simply cannot  believe the possibility that we may just be okay without our car. It’s ludicrous, we think, how would we survive? But look elsewhere, abroad, and, yes, we can. How bizarre. It’s all in our heads. If you live in a city, you should not need a car. If you do… better walking conditions, cycleways and improved public transport are the real answer.

To me as someone who walks and cycles, the Highway Code is one of the most laughable books to read. You gotta have a real GSOH to survive it without at least a (possibly cynical) giggle, if not sarcastic wailing and sobbing. Get it off the shelf and read it. It’s patronising the populace into submission. Thereby absolving the motorist of any responsibility, mothering the motorist, feeding it its black milk.

It stinks. Time for a nappy change.

All this of course is just a symptom of our car-centric oiled old thinking. How much does your language shape your mind? I’d say the connection between words and action is huge. Currently we are trapped in our own minds and will remain doing so if we aren’t kicked up our own arses.

 And it’s our streetscapes and road environments too that need a make-over. Once our children can play outside (and some even have to be convinced of that benefit), safely walk and cycle to school, we will know common sense has prevailed.

We are far from it.

Motorists are cry babies.

For this nation to thrive and live, and engage and be happy again, we have to be weaned off our car dependence. Transport inequality is rife, and must be tackled at high quarters. We have to be made to take responsibility for our actions.

Good parenting's tough love is the answer, because we’ve renounced our own liability.

We’ve been allowed to do so by the authorities, and the media, the legal system and enforcement bodies. The motorist’s nappy is full of black crap. It’s stinking to the heavens. It chokes, it kills.

National government, groups and bodies all have their role to play to lead and guide us out of this mess, and house train us for a clean and healthy future. Dear ministers and media, please let the nation grow up.

Words can kill. Sounds harsh? Maybe you’ve been had. Use your head.

Seen on bus X11