Sunday 31 March 2013

Operation successful - data not available

It'll come as no surprise for anyone who's (even just a mild) interest in cycling, that the Newcastle Cycling Campaign has incorporated into their priorities the installation of cycling contraflows and the rationalisation of Newcastle's messy 20mph (see below depiction), and as an extrapolation for all 30mph+ roads to be fitted with appropriate cycleways as per DfT's Cycle Infrastructure Design LTN2/08 (and beyond using Danish, Dutch, Spanish, German, NYC designs). Please support them in their quest for a better city (not just better information but a totally better streetscape) by joining.

It's much harder to believe however that vital road data simply should not be available. Yet this is exactly what seems to be happening at Newcastle City Council.


The Newcastle Cycling Campaign wrote to Newcastle City Council on 14 October 2011 to ask for a list of one-way streets in the City. We explained that this request is prompted by the DfT now making the contraflow traffic sign "Except Cycles" easy to install. We also explained that the cycling community - with baited breath - had been awaiting the outcome of the DfT signs review, and how good it is to see a positive result. Newcastle, we can get cracking now, we write in October 2011.

Newcastle city centre speed limits
Newcastle's beating heart at a stroke
Of course always thinking that this information would be readily available, and depending on the number of one-way systems, we also suggested that the Campaign could help working out contraflow solutions and carry out a review.

And we outlined why looking at contraflow systems is so vital: "This is an important and positive step for cycle-permeability, convenience and route shortening. All making cycling just that little bit simpler. Let's do something now: let's start with a review of the current one-way systems and assessing the feasibility of opening them up for cycling."

Council reply 14 October 2011 : "Any list will take time to prepare so I have asked the engineers for a timescale and will get back to you".

Summarised result to date : 
  • not sure if data is available
  • after nearly 1.5 years neither timescale nor dataset have been produced


I'll start by spoiling the ending (or maybe to avoid undue disappointment to the reader) : the 20mh data request storyline does not fare any better.

Interested in learning more about Newcastle City Council's flagship road safety project - a city-wide 20mph conversion with the last and sixth phase completed early 2012, I asked in February 2012 whether mapped data showing the conversion could be made available. Incidentally a local university also turned out to be interested in the data set for their research purposes, and repeated that same request, and even met with council officers, in April. A GIS data set, or even a marked up paper map, would help.

The reply from Newcastle City Council was surprising. There was no such map, but what was available is a list of over 3,000 street names in doc and pdf formats (ie the relating traffic orders). I asked for the obvious inversion : was there a list of the 400 street names of the roads not reduced to 20mph? It would have been an easier data set to handle, still awkward but feasible. The council's answer was no.

It remains a complete mystery to me - just how the 20mph conversion could have been carried out, if it didn't start with a map as a base.

Result to date :  
  • mapped 20mph data not available

Yet it is this data which would enable a holistic view and an informed discussion to take place.

Friday 29 March 2013

Grave concern

This bizarre lecture about cycle paths and graves was given to me this week.
"I would be disappointed if your [sic] felt it was acceptable to run a cycle path over graves or near new graves where there will be people in mourning, personally I think it isn't."
Absolutely perfect in its passive-aggressive style. Rest (no pun intended) assured death is always on my mind as this random occurrence shows.

So my answer should be this.
This piece of paper (picture below) is what I saw one morning when I opened up my laptop. I was preparing for a Newcycling members meeting with the topic 'road justice' - or possible lack thereof. As someone who's campaigning for safe space for cyclists death is sadly on my mind quite regularly.
Let's commemorate.
Elizabeth Brown - aged 43 from Jesmond
Killed near Cramlington in April 2011 on her commute to work

Rev Michael Malleson - aged 69
Seriously injured on Heaton Road Newcastle in late November 2011 and died in early December 2011

Lee Anthony Davison - aged 31
Killed on Cherry Blossom Way, Washington, in January 2012

Natasha Beverley - aged 21
Church Bank, close to the junction with Ropery Lane in Wallsend in 23 August 2012 at 3.45pm

A scrap piece of paper

In remembrance of any events that may have caused distress to the general population, the DfT has acted promptly and decisively and introduced a new road sign. Sign diagrams 66.6 (flesh-eating) and 666 (flesh-eating vampire).


Swimming with sharks in Walker, Tyne & Wear

Damp SquibThis hilarious if contradictory Newcastle Councillor, David Wood, is in a bit of a split-mind pickle about cycling provision.

On the one hand as TWITA chair Cllr D Wood wants peeps to pedal to school.

This recent article in the local newspaper makes that clear. A 'Schools Go Smarter' poster, depicted below, cheerily reads "When you think about petrol and parking, the costs of driving really adds up. That's why it's a great idea to get about on your bike. You'll be fitter, healthier and much better off financially. It can also be a really fun way to get to works [I can assure you it's not, Cllr D Wood]. So what are you waiting for [safe cycleways, please, Cllr D Wood]? Give it a go. [Gee, this is a bit negligent, don't you think Cllr D Wood, if you do not pull the sharks out of the water first?]"

Talking people into cycling? Encouraging folks to use their bikes? Oh, dear. Sounds all too familiar. Let's appear to do something without any actual action. Or checking up how these initiatives pan out. We've had twenty years of talking people into cycling to no great success.

There is some salvation. Or is it a slip in the press release? The Councillor says "Schools Go Smarter is investing in the infrastructure to grow a cycling culture in Tyne and Wear’s schools." Maybe he was listening to some findings for evidence-based decision-making contained in this report, also mentioned here and here. Who knows.

On the other hand just what does he mean by infrastructure?

I am asking this as it's the same Councillor, this time in his Walker ward capacity, who doesn't want to provide safe cycling infrastructure to Walker Tech College and other schools, shops and destinations on Welbeck Road. And it's the same Councillor who with his colleagues Cllrs G Allison and J Stokel-Walker heckled the Regulatory Appeals Sub-Committee where Newcycling spoke in support of the Welbeck Road scheme and expressing agreement with the officer's report.

That 'damp squibd' pedalling in shark-invested Walker waters needs help. Or possibly: They are just peddling the lovely beaches of the menacing maelstrom to the public. Don't mention the sharks, or the downdrafts. Like that holiday brochure photo that is conveniently missing out the huge nuclear power station overshadowing your lovely hotel.

Make up your minds! If you like people to pedal, then stop peddling behavioural change but actually do something.

Newcastle is in its road space re-allocation phase. We've given all the "spare" space to cycling: it's where cycle lanes suddenly start, and then just as suddenly end - because at that point drivers could not be convenience. The space debate is heating up. Politicians will have to jump of their cosy fences, put their cards on the table and show some true colours.

Saturday 23 March 2013

Catching the rat that is the school run

Tankerville Terrace turns ratty during the school "run", reported by the Jesmond Safe Cycling group of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign here. It's a residential street in a sub-urban area that is crying out to be re-purposed and re-claimed for people (by removing its rat school run tendency) through the re-distribution of space (by allocating safe space for cycling).

Resident parking would be fully retained (one third of space). An other third of the road space would be re-allocated from paid car parking to cycling (such as a two-way cycle way) and the remaining third is a one-way road space. School drop-off would not be possible on-road (it's dangerous and currently widely misused so parents have forgone that favour anyhow); rather drop-off on Tankerville Terrace should only be possible on site where available, such as Percey Hedley's Northern Counties.

Alternative drop-off locations are a little walk away, on Forsyth Road and possibly Clayton Road and Burdon Terrace. But these should be discussed, decided and a plan formalised in the school travel plans.

Here is a before and after impression for Tankerville Terrace.


Tankerville Terrace


Tankerville Terrace

The entry and exit areas onto the cycle way (Forsyth Road and Burdon Terrace) should be carefully designed. As should the access and egress points to the schools. Cycle way continuity must be maintained for safety and to give cycling some convenience and priority over driving.

This should help to achieve the travel plans of the schools, which are undoubtedly ambitious.

If we can't do road reclamation like this near schools where else could we ever?

Let's make a start now or we keep ending up with tokenistic feeble efforts like this (top end of Tankerville Terrace near West Jesmond primary school).

Road safety at its useless best

Unfortunately when the PFI school was build the opportunity to remove a blind spot on a road bend was ignored, resulting in guard-railing the place to the death. Things like these do not exactly give you hope in council planning, engineering and road safety skills.

Recently a small section of guard-railing has been removed. Anecdotally, that happened on the request of school bus drivers not having sufficient space on that blind spot corner. ON the other corner, the guardrails are bend and damaged in many places. And this isn't just kids or student kicking it for fun.

Tankerville / Brentwood

Tankerville / Brentwood

What a dangerous mess! Please get it sorted!

Newcastle sort of welcomes cycling

It makes complete sense to spill out Newcastle's excellent Northumberland Street environment southwards onto Pilgrim Street. Here are two streetscape expressions - before & after, Pilgrim Street, northern end, looking South towards police station / Swan House Roundabout.

Now :

 Later :
 Pilgrim Street for people

What is less clear is the inclusion of cycling in that space. The East Pilgrim Street development documents are more than hazy on the subject, even to the point of relegating bicycle use in the consideration hierarchy.

As discussed in an earlier post, Northumberland Street (of which Pilgrim Street is a straight-on continuation) is "no cycling" and a very illogical space at that - as heavy vans and lorries are allowed for deliveries. The Newcastle Cycling Campaign has recently received a bit more information from Newcastle City Council. It reads

"Whilst we understand your concerns regarding cycling on Northumberland Street we feel that it would be confusing to allow cycles on the street at some times and not others. This would be problematic for enforcement and for signing. Furthermore this confusion could lead to more cyclists riding on the street when it is prohibited causing a danger to pedestrians, wheelchair users etc on the street causing a safety hazard."

It means something likes this is too confusing?

Pedestrian zone shared out of hours

Council, come on, have faith in your residents!

Can you please stop your "cyclists are dangerous" propaganda? Or show us the evidence if you can. Darlington couldn't collate it. The extensive trial showed that cyclists and pedestrians mix, reasonably and considerately. And their city centre is now a shared zone.

Newcastle, what about your target of getting ten-times more people cycling by 2020? Just how on earth are you going to achieve that when you keep whinging on about cycling and keep discriminating against cyclists, by spluttering opinions? Giving up before even getting started.

Oh, and a recent Freedom of Information request revealed that the provision of free car parking (council revenue loss) was not based on policy or evidence, rather an anecdotal moanings from retailers.

Oh, dear council.

Let us pray for your sanity and the subsidence of your very own confusion.

Saturday 16 March 2013

Summoned to Cycling

My new bicycle
Workhorse, but so, so slow.

Remember the Summer of Cycling? Ever wondered what became of that initiative? It died. It died the same slow and marginalised quiet painful death that cycling has been condemned to by the UK Government since the rise of the motorcar.

Why folks didn't participate? It solely relied on the strategy of "talking people into cycling" (or as government puts it "encouraging" people to cycle) - yet pedal folks deep down know that cycling really kinda is a niche / specialised activity under the current conditions - something you do not necessarily wish onto anyone else.

I sometimes wonder to myself: "What is it? Why do I cycle...?" And I honestly don't quite know the answer to that. It's possibly complex, and maybe it has something to do with certain kind of attitude and personality
... not minding being different and standing out in a crowd, resistant to aggression and anger from others, fighting spirit, sensing independence and freedom (all in line with Aquarian airy-fairy tendencies)
... a feeling of injustice and discrimination and that it ought to be different (I know it can be, German origin)
... I am not someone to give up easily (hence campaigning for better conditions for cyclists)
It feels like it's got less to do with enjoyment, fun, fitness, health, being green, bla bla.

I do have the feeling that the older I get it'll be less and less likely to continue - unless clear space is made for cycling providing some form of protection and shelter. This would mean I would not have to pedal my heart-and-soul out every time there's a driver behind me nudging my rear mudgards, revving engine, impatient, aggressive, eager to pass to shave a whole three vital seconds off their very important journey to the local corner shop.
It's what's expected of you as a cyclist: you have to look exhausted so the driver knows that you've tried to save them some time.
So maybe ultimately my age comes into the whole (sub-conscious) decision-making process.

Only recently I ditched the nippy hybrid for the heavy workhorse. Better grip on icy roads. Drawback? It's so, so slow. Yet it's probably more akin to a typical cheap Continental bicycle. A bike for the masses (only that the masses don't cycle in the UK). I hoped drivers would understand it's not possible to cycle fast with that kind of bike. So I made the deliberate decision not to go through the tiring demonstration of "pedal my heart-and-soul out" (or I would have died of a heart attack anyways).
As a result drivers were furious that I seemingly did not obey the ritual of exhausting myself to save them some time on their most important journey to the local corner shop.
So... sharing the fast and furious road? The feasibility of this undertaking is a myth - conveniently created and perpetuated by the autolobby who know people are scared back into their cars. Just like the Summer of Cycling predictably withered away in front of our eyes. A maggot-ridden carcass left lying by the road side. Unclaimed. Unreported.

Is it too hilly for clear vision?

So this time - interestingly enough - it was the other way round. The audience was enthusiastic and energetic, buzzing with liveable city ideas, yet the panel could not take it. But not so fast... we'll start at the beginning.

I was at the Newcastle City Council Cabinet meeting which was held as a public meeting in the eminent Great Hall of Northumbria University's Sutherland Building; and 150 or so concerned citizens attended. The focus was "Greening Newcastle" and a briefing paper had been produced in advance. The panel was the Cabinet. That's the stage set. Ready? Go.

Discussion was quickly revolving around cycling and calls for more space for it, and curbing car use and restricting space for it. It was excellent. I felt I didn't need to say a thing. I sat there grinning. Smug even. Very. The experience is typically the other way round - I try to urge, nudge, elbow and shove debate into a better, greener, healthier, cleaner, happier direction.

This wasn't necessary this time.

The only intervening I did was to provide the audience (and the Cabinet?) with the council's own target of 34% of CO2 reduction by 2030 (on 1990 levels) and ask about the how-question and I provided some useful (but the usual) info on journeys, ie too many short journeys are done by car, so there's a massive latent demand for walking and cycling.

We heard from the Cabinet "but Newcastle is hilly"* as an antidote to people getting too excited about cycling in the city. And something about car ownership, which was as relevant as discussing the price of rice in the Antarctic. It did take me a while to figure out what was happening: the Cabinet could simply not comprehend that the Great Hall was actually filled with "early adopters" - the 20% already in favour of Greening Newcastle. In the mind's eye Newcastle was already whizzing with bicycles, city parks and better air, safer streets - a Greening Newcastle had already been turned into a virtually Greened Newcastle and a let's do it! Now! What are we waiting for? Let's learn from other cities (came up numerous times from the floor).

It struck me, that numbers (statistics, data, figures) have become irrelevant in a society so used to spin, emotive and emotional bargaining and pseudo negotiations, con-consultations and foregone conclusion. A society that's lost faith in politics and politicians, disengaged and mistrusting. Yet the question posed by the Cabinet was how the City Council can engage with the city, its residents and businesses.

Here's the answer. It could not be more simple.

By providing leadership and allowing ample space and time for public debate. The latter sort of happened the former didn't this time.

For any debate to be informed however the experts (engineers, researchers and scientists) must be involved. It's these people society still trusts and they can be the objective observers and contributors from the independent sidelines of the debate.

But the policies, the direction, the vision will have to be set by the Councillors. That's your job. Be brave! And for Newcastle's sake get on with it! People are waiting.

* Note to self: we'll invite Cllr Nick Forbes and his merry Cabinet to another City Chief Cycle Challenge methinks.

Sunday 3 March 2013

Beefing up the Budget

Cycleways - it can be done - even providing continuity at a tram station

I had it again the other day "but.. it's so... so... complex!" and "oh, it can't be done". The doubters, you find them everywhere. Why people keep saying it's complex and it cannot happen when it comes to cycle infrastrcuture - I don't understand.

It could not be more simple.

Also... you may ask, why does she keep going on about cycling infrastructure so much?
  • Yes, it is either negligently missing or criminally inadequate in the UK. I think we all agree.
  • But first and foremost of all - that transition will cost money and the other measure will be relatively cheaper to achieve. 
And whilst it's a proven investment (as opposed to a subsidy, ie the initial expenditure will be recouped through the benefits over time) - money is coming through a totally inadequate drip-feed mechanism at the moment.

This start-stop nature stifles local authorities to include cycling in long-term planning. Subliminally, the political leaders, chief executives and director are told that providing for cycling isn't worth doing. And council officers are constantly busy bidding for money for something they may not even have the design know-how for or interest in, or a clear mandate from their superiors. Cycle campaigners and (council) engineers alike ought to clamour for a budget to transform our cities, roads and streets. (And engineers - through their professional institutions and through their superiors at their workplace - should clamour for relevant CPD-accredited know-how courses to be set up and to attend those.)

And relentlessly so, until a long-term national budget dedicated to capital spending for cycling infrastructure is set at £1bn per annum, year on year (European investment levels).
  • cycle campaigners, because they are the voice for future cyclists and liveable cities and they can work with the decision-makers, politicians and local councillors to get this into the agenda
  • council engineers, because currently their authority is negligent in providing adequately for liveable cities and (future) cyclists and this has to be flagged up to the decision-makers, directors and local councillors
So back to infra. This is how simple it is.
  • all 30mph + roads to be fitted with cycle-specific provision (or reduce speed, but be design please) - various separation methods are listed here (this will cost lots and yield results!)
  • other roads to be assessed for cycle provision needs, but are these are more likely to be dealt with through traffic calming: 20mph conversions, filtered permeability methods etc (this will cost relatively much less!)
The space is there. Proof in point is Amsterdam: it's got tiny streets and THEREFORE they had to do something about them. And they did. Proving that even in small space you can fit in cycleways. Mind you, it is often used to "prove" the opposite: BECAUSE they have so little space... it can only EXCLUSIVELY work there.
  • Nope, Amsterdam didn't grow organically into a cycle city. It was political decisions and setting the right policies that got them there.
  • Yes, they had to do start thinking about this earlier - as space ran out earlier.
So. The engineering side is most simple. Maybe by complex they mean the decision to take space from drivers, driving or parking, was, eh... difficult? Certainly not complex... unless you look at the bureaucracy machine...

What's complex is finding the right people to make these simple decisions. Seeing through the local authorities rainforest jungle of trees is complex. Finding the someone who can be held to account is complex. In that case, I'd not say complex were the right word then. It's more political, maybe.

Just watch this (from Copenhagen with love)

Saturday 2 March 2013

Et tu, Brute?

Intuitive paving design
Is this cycle path dangerous?

Remember the Dutch (Copenhagen) study I checked over last week? This week, I had a look at a German study about cycle infrastructure and safety. Headline is "Studie belegt steigende Unfallzahlen durch Radwege" and is quite attention-grabbing, possibly translating it to "Study proves increased accidents caused by cycle paths" gives you the flavour.

It appears to be a before-after comparison study somewhere (!) in Germany, published in 1991 looking at absolute totals only. I'd have thought given its advanced age, it would be dubious practice to use it to inform policy, yet it was quoted to me in support of "cycleways are dangerous" - so here it goes.

Really, it would be good to see the original study, in the absence of that, I make the following comments about the very limited data available. If anyone has the original I am happy to look at it.
  • the number of users is not stated. Imagine cycling had increased (as it can be expected when cycle infrastructure is offered up), then the collision data should be presented in relative terms to that increase, ie would be relatively lower.
  • the collision types are not categorised. This means that - dramatically put - loads of minor collisions (cuts and bruises) would count the same as a fatality. Without that distinction it's unequal accounting.
  • It investigates cycle paths running parallel to the road/highway but we do not know further details on the paths themselves or the junction design. As we all know you really have to look at it in detail, even down to design dimensions, corner radii, road markings etc. Missing that info makes it more difficult to comment. [We are all be experts in the UK! Experts on what crap cycling infra really really looks like. And feels like. Aaargh.]
The first two bullet points in the above list would have certainly been the next logical steps if a full (more meaningful) analysis were carried out. In the absence of that data, or even the study text, I - for one - remain convinced that cycleways are safe.

It's worrying that the website states that "this study unambiguously [eindeutig] proves that cycle paths have higher collisions rates compared to bike traffic on the road". This statement is clearly dramatising and polarising the debate unnecessarily, forgetting the wider view on the data and circumstances.

The title of my blogpost?

Well, the study is quoted on the adfc (German ctc) website - albeit a local branch of theirs - which makes me feel a tiny tad uneasy about their motives. I'd strongly advise the adfc branch to revise the webpage and tone it down, and possibly advise the national adfc to check up on the branches shenanigans.