Saturday 23 June 2012

Outside-in design

Road design. Should we not start designing outside in? The current design takes the view from the centre line. Road space is divvied up using this formula favouring moving the Mothered Motorist.
  1. car lane width - make as wide as possible to allow speedy traffic
  2. how many car lanes are required to squeeze through  the desired traffic volume
  3. look at remaining space - give preferably to walking 
  4. then to cycling (if anything is left at this stage)
Should we not design for people and lean towards clean-green motion? Road space has to be squeezed to halt ever-creeping motorisation and to tackle car dependence.

So. Scrap the view-from-the-centre-line design approach. I propose we do it the other way round. Let's go outside-in.
  1. how much space is needed to walk safely here?
  2. how much space is needed to cycle safely here?
  3. what's left - design lane width and lane numbers and adjust speeds accordingly 
It would lead to demand management prioritising and promoting active travel rather than stinking polluting motorised movements. It's glaringly obvious to me that by-the-book traffic professionals cannot do it by themselves. They must seek assistance from others. Immediately and without delay.

Urban designers are required to transform our streets and roads. They have the vision. A lot has to do with perception change too. Local campaigns for better street environments and neighbourhoods have their role to play also, as have national road safety campaigns.

Designing outside-in means taking away from the car, and only giving to the driver what's left. Bare bone minimum. I think that's a fair approach. Yes, it will cause congestion. In the short term. It's not anything to be afraid of. The road space operates on a self-regulatory basis.

Build it and they'll come.

And yes, along fast busy heavily trafficked distributor roads I want cycle paths. I'd like to glide along  (on one of the bikes below, choose a colour) in safety, gracefully, in peaceful harmony with my environment. If we got that sort of thing in Newcastle I do promise not to pull faces at the drivers! It'd pity them.


Insane mental maps

Mental maps
Cycling: Newcastle vs Braunschweig (matching scale) - which one is bike friendly?
Dunno where it was mentioned, or who mentioned it. But the word "mental map" came up the other day.

Which made me think.

Our walking mental map is along footways and pavements, and it isn't usually great. But there's  salvation in some continuity and some safety. Crossing the road is usually difficult, but at least we get some grade-separation from traffic.

The cycling mental map is probably a bit more mental -  in the other sense of the word, insane.

In our house, every time we set off to a new location, we are chatting through the route. It's a ritual. A comedy ritual. Many times repeated. As we know from experience...
  • There's no continuity, 
  • cycleways start then end just as you were happy to have one, 
  • there's special skills involved, 
  • possibly there's some PC-ing included, 
  • there's the decision between cycling on fast busy 40 mph road or detouring twice the distance through back streets. 
  • Crossing roads is hell, 
  • and multi-lane roundabouts are a real putter-off.
He relishes conflict, I don't. Resulting in me knowing the shortcuts, the other half has the better manoeuvres and tactics. We learn. We teach is other. I will be brave.

The cycling map - mental - a bit like the walking map it's riddled with obstacles and danger signs, flashing warning signs in the brain, signalling "hazard", "careful here", "no-go area", "nightmare crossing", "d-d-d-danger", and so on. A bit like the map I created the other day for my bike commute. This is MY cycling map. This is how I see cycling in Newcastle, and incidentally 800 folks are with me on that.

To "normal" people this just means: Cycling. No. I can't get my head around it. There's no way! Literally.

Mental maps, mapped and printed.

I haven't consulted the official cycling map in yonks. It doesn't help me. It doesn't get me anywhere. I check the A to Z to locate my destination - it's just as good to tell you about cycling conditions.

Tyne and Wear authorities have recently printed the third edition of their cycling map. What is clear to me is that printed maps don't tell the full story. And that it's not easy to keep up to date with the removal of provision.
  • Long eradicated cycle lanes are still shown on the map (Elswick, Scotswood, Newburn). 
  • It was sad to see the Silverlonnen lanes lost (lost on the map as well). 
  • In addition we are now proud owners of NCN725. It's sign-posted, and has a lovely pink line on the map. Alas. It offers little help to me, someone who's travelling through Newcastle North to South for their cycle commute, for safety, continuity or space provision. N'er mind convenience or pleasure.
If you wanted to obtain a Tyne & Wear set of the maps you are asked to ring six different phones. Easy? Accessible?

If anything the new maps just re-affirm to me the point I am making above. The cycling maps themselves are just that: mental. It must be a real disappointment to someone who's new to cycling and having keenly obtained the cycle map, then to experience the patchy cycling provision and hostile road conditions.

They probably think there's something wrong with them, not the map.

UK Cycling - short-changed again
UK Cycling - short-changed again

Typical reaction: I give up. I'll drive next time. It's more direct and convenient. There's better space clarity; roads are for cars, right?

The other day I was asked to be grateful to be given scraps. You know what? I am not. I am rather dissatisfied with a service I, too, pay for.

Inspired by

Friday 22 June 2012

Transport diversity

We ought to celebrate transport diversity.

It's beautiful, colourful, and adds to the array of street life around us.
Transport Diversity And we ought to stop! 

Every once in a while.

And start to think bicycle!

To stop this smidsy discrimination.
Stop and think!

Sunday 17 June 2012

Hello Newcastle, what next?

4C = City Chief Cycle Challenge 2011
4C = City Chief Cycle Challenge 2011 - BBC interview

In May 2011 a new administration swept into power in Newcastle. An orange council turned red and I was keen to understand what that would mean for the Newcastle Cycling Campaign. Particularly as engaging the previous administration had been rather tedious. They'd fallen, it appeared, for the officers "Can't do it like that" charm offensive  and got a tad too chummy over it. I could write a book on it, but I am sure someone else has already done that so I'll spare you my tears.

Thankfully and as luck has it, with the new administration it has been refreshingly different right from the start.

Since May 2011, there were productive meetings, even a cycle-about, smiles and an air of desire for things to change. Honesty and openness are the unwritten rules of engagement it seems to me. There is quite a bit of positive attitude and energy whizzing about. The new councillor chairing the cycle forum, in contrast to his orange counterpart, is far from a frequent cyclist himself. But that is fine: it is so much more important that there is a comprehension of what a campaign group is, and is trying to do and achieve (Newcastle Cycling Campaign: transport fairness, alleviating societal inequalities).

And I do think we firmly stand on genuinely common ground.

The most in-depth engagement took place on the business of resurrecting the Brighton Grove cycle lanes. A test bed. A cycle lane was restored back to its intended glory by removing parked cars and painting some double yellow lines. And that's good, but that is only half of the story. The other half was less glorious, and probably does require a further deeper look.

On Brighton Grove the traffic engineer ruled supreme.
  • "There isn't enough time!"
  • "There isn't enough space!"
  • "There isn't enough money!"
  • "You don't know what you are talking about."
  • "This isn't technically feasible."

Throughout the year, I have been wondering, almost agonising, what I would say to the new administration on their first anniversary, but I'd now say this:

11/12 has been a year of engagement, realisation and dipping the toe in the water. And we are immensely thankful for key councillors to embark on that journey.

Let's make 12/13 the year of real action.

After dipping the toe on the water, we'll now have to get wet, but it'll be worth it! It's going to be hard to transform our city into people-sized liveable space, but the Newcastle Cycling Campaign and other groups are here to help, and waiting. Learning from last year's test case, the imperative must be to challenge officer decisions. Constantly. Our politicians must ask probing questions, continuously, untiringly.

Only unabated asking of follow-on questions will get us there.
  • "Why are you saying this?"
  • "Why do you think there isn't enough space, time or money?"
  • "Why do you think it's not possible?"
  • "Why? Show me the page in the book."
  • "Why?"
It must be the year of asking questions and breaking a hard-wired chain of command to unshackle innovation and inspire a fresh new look at our city. Peeling back the onion doesn't usually happen without tears. Let's try to tell the crocodile tears from the genuine headaches.

There's still a long way to go. And only so much can be done on a local scale. Nonetheless, with a party in charge that pedestrianised Northumberland Street against much opposition and that undoubtedly has a campaigning spirit, who knows - even national government could be lobbied and influenced!

This blogpost has been inspired by David Arditti's

Members meeting
Newcastle Cycling Campaign - members meeting June 2012 at the Cycle Hub, guest speaker Bruce McVean

Saturday 16 June 2012

Beware the flesh-eating vampire cyclist

If I am cycling slowly through a red light, you think it's ok to physically endanger my life, by overtaking me with purposefully little room to spare driving me into the kerb?

So, let me get that straight.
  • If you'd catch me shoplifting, it'd be fine for you to kill me?
Who's the real culprit? Perspective, please. Of course in the UK you always have to...

They'll hunt you down. Their animated corpses brought back to life by mystical means, such as witchcraft,... beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence, your blood and flesh, regardless of whether they are dead or alive.

We know where you are! And we don't have number plates. Only coffins to hide in.

Sunday 10 June 2012

My commute by bike

Googlemapped and tagged with stories, comments and episodes.

In summary
1. safe - nope, most definitively doesn't feel like it.
2. direct - sort of, kinda
3. comfortable - certainly not, it's back-breakingly mind-bending work!
4. attractive - heavens, no!
5. cohesive - no, there's too much bunny-hopping coping strategy needed to make things work.

View My bike commute in a larger map

Saturday 9 June 2012

Just jerking

Myth 1 "Cycling is not an actual form of transport. Only frustrated people cycle."

Busted! Experts say that people who cycle are more likely to enjoy life and are more sociable.  

= = = =

Myth 2 "Cycling leads to psychological problems."  

Busted! Cycling does not cause any physical or psychological problems. Anxiety and fear caused by myths about cycling can cause psychological problems.

= = = =  

Myth 3 "It's more acceptable for boys to cycle than girls."

Busted! It's natural for boys and girls to cycle - both do it.  

= = = =

Myth 4 "Only young people cycle. It’s abnormal if you are middle-aged and you still cycle."

Busted! Some people do cycle in old age. It is less common in the elderly but certainly not abnormal.

= = = =

5 Younger people shouldn't cycle often, as they will lose the ability to have children in later life. 

Busted! Younger people will tend to cycle more often than adults as their hormone levels are at the highest they will be in their lifetime.

= = = =   

Myth 6 "Cycling causes hair to grow on your palms."  

About 98% of adults have reported that they've cycled at some time in their lives. I don't know anyone with hair on their palms. How about you?

= = = =

Myth 7 "Cycling causes blindness and acne."
Busted! This oldie but goodie probably ties to the fact that teenagers generally stop cycling around the same  time that puberty hits, the time of acne and when many teens get glasses. 

Can you spot what it is yet?

E for eco-eulogy

Meanwhile in a parallel universe of big black cars, electricity is zero emissions.

This e-4x4 is set to solve our societal woes, ranging from obesity to congestion.

You gotta love the purposefully ambiguous e-labelling. Does it mean electricity or eco (logical, or nomical)? Or all? Muddled. Befuddled. The automobile industry at its cockiest.

Ruthless exploitation is what it does best.

Close-up: stop and think
Parallel universe in South Gosforth, Newcastle

Cunning plan of training to like sh*t

All things cycling work in a sort of tandem action, you'd have thought. It's not quite like that in the UK where a concerted effort is made to split and fracture the cycling community and even foster in-fighting. This is achieved by providing funding for only certain kinds of things thereby creating industries with vested interest and setting the scene for cock fights.

I am sure ministers bet on the outcomes and chuckle at the success of their cunning plan.

Both national groups dealing with cycling, Sustrans and the CTC, have been bought and herded into niches by being permitted partial power at government tables and restricted access to limited funds and grants. Both will probably find it very hard to get out of this tangled web of dull dependence if they tried.

What about the academic landscape? Research into barriers to walking and cycling is never really fully funded, or if so, findings are amply ignored: hotly debated, then ripped apart before getting discarded (sustainably re-cycled hopefully).

Followers follow, and we are again veering away from the real focus: "What's the magic ingredient that gets the UK cycling and walking?"

I for one would like cycleways rather than witnessing people getting trained to use the current crap. It's a question of vision of course, and confidence (to communicate that vision). Relying on cycle training is setting the bar too low. It can only be seen as something temporary. It's a coping mechanism, a skilful ploy by a government that hates the idea of making cycling available to everyone for fear of losing their chummy ties to the oil, petrol and automotive industry.

Only when we stop looking at cycling as an insider deal requiring special skill and attention, training and confidence-building, including outfit and equipment, will we have made in-roads into the fiercely blowing headwind of the 'everyday cycling opposition'.

When opening up cycling to everyone - only then will people cycle. And how do we do this?

As Colin Pooley puts it, despite it being complicated, and requiring national coordination...

Solutions to this conundrum are obvious but difficult to implement because they require integrated policy and extend well beyond the usual remit of transport policy and planning. It is argued that to achieve any significant increase in levels of walking and cycling it is necessary to reverse the balance of power between different transport modes. In short, it is necessary to make travel by car for short trips in urban areas more difficult and, most crucial, make it feel abnormal and exceptional. In contrast, policies have to be put in place that make walking and cycling easy, safe, comfortable, and accepted as the normal and obvious way of moving around urban areas for most people. We identify several specific areas where policy change is needed.

He then continues to outline what is important:

First, it is essential that the urban environment is made safe for cyclists and pedestrians. This requires the provision of fully segregated cycle routes on all arterial and other busy roads in urban areas. It is clear from the research that most non-cyclists and recreational cyclists will only consider cycling regularly if they are segregated from traffic and that pedestrians are hostile to pavement cyclists.

Followed by
2) better design of urban space
3) curbing motorised traffic space and speeds
4) putting fairness in the legal system
5) tackling spatial planning
6) incentivising sustainable travel
7) changing the image of walking and cycling

Full text here

When speaking about top priorities he's not talking about soft measures such as training and promotion much, is he? These will be background activities, with more pressing needs addressed foremostly. Of course, it'll take time. But at least the vision is there.

I am certain that in a few decades we'll look back and it'll all be so obvious.

Monday 4 June 2012

Creating Space (rocket science)

We've been talking about this for decades in the UK: how to make cycling happen. The simple answer of course is giving space to bicycles, and that means taking it from our beloved motorcar. It's so so simple you almost want to cry.

1) Reduce driving space
- scale down on multiple lanes
- remove filter and turning lanes
- make one-way with cycle contraflow

2) Reduce on-street car parking space
- remove car parking bays
- paint double yellow lines
- use enforcement tactics

3) ...or any combination of the above

On the other side of reality...

My council is still in the 'road safety' business of removing cycle lanes. Bicycles used to have some space, now you see it, now you don't... reverse order of encouraging cycling.

The recent example is Scotwood Road where cycle lane continuity was removed in order to create space for drivers (a filter turn) making cycling - once more - into a specialist-skill activity - hop-skip-jump - on-off - never quite sure where you are supposed to ride.

And isn't that what the council leader said last year: “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.”

Scotswood Road is a relatively new development with on and off-road cycle facilities. Bit weirdly done, but as far as UK cycle design goes "ok". Well, until recently.

Excuse me, eh - I have to hop-skip-jump.

Ooops, missed that short section of a dogleg dropped kerb - aaah - I find myself cycling in fast heavy traffic and the car lane is narrowing, driver behind me is impatiently revving the engine - have they seen me? -  and preparing for a close-shave overtake... aaaargh... cycling in the UK!

Scotswood Road westbound
Scotswood Road, Newcastle - recent cycle lane removal