Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Study of the Obvious, a Franklin-on-Your-Shoulder, and the Myth of the “Inexperienced Cyclist”

Yet another ridiculous news story has landed, this time about some students at Edinburgh University who have attached electrodes, cameras and microphones to people’s heads to see how stressed they feel riding around in a park compared to a huge, busy roundabout.

So it’s another piece of research you can file under “No Shit, Sherlock”, then. (“Do people on bikes feel stressed when faced with multiple, swirling lanes of massive trucks? There’s only one way to find out. Approve that research funding, professor!”)

But the real kicker is this: rather than use this data to identify which roads and junctions most urgently need updating with modern, cycling-friendly infrastructure, the intention is to develop a smartphone app which will then act as a mini John Franklin (or worse – John Forester) telling you to take the lane and watch out for car doors, as if it’s going to make the slightest fucking difference to anything.

I mean, come on, seriously? Does anyone really think that this will “encourage reluctant cyclists”? 25 years of Cyclecraft haven’t worked, turning it into a nagging back-seat passenger is unlikely to have any effect either.

The roundabout in the video looks awful. The real-life Franklin and Forester could stand at the side of the road, both yelling at me to take the outside lane, and I’d still choose to get off and walk. No smartphone app is that persuasive.

Are you experienced?

Why does this false concept of the “inexperienced cyclist” who needs only encouragement and advice keep cropping up? This is a prevalent idea, that people new to cycling are shrinking violets who just need some handy hints and exposure to horrific conditions to turn them into a road warrior.

Well I call bullshit on that. I’m an “experienced cyclist” but I’d get off and walk too, because I’m not so insanely numbed to danger that I’m willing to ignore it and pretend that my range of hints and tips are what keep me alive.

By any measure, most residents of the Netherlands are “experienced cyclists” – even the laziest Dutchman will have vastly more cycling experience than the average Brit – and yet I can’t imagine many of them would happily launch themselves across Crewe Toll roundabout.

A woman cycles on a smooth, wide cycleway, separated from both the footway and the carriageway.

This woman probably has more cycling experience than 99% of the British population. It’s likely that she rides a bike several times a week, and has done for decades. Does that mean she’s ready to Take the Lane™ at your nearest gyratory?

Everyone’s welcome

To add insult to injury someone from the local cycle campaign turns up to “welcome” this, seemingly because anything that’s remotely connected with bikes must be welcomed.

Has the council painted a bike symbol somewhere? We welcome it! Has the government announced £73 funding for more paint? We welcome it! Has somebody just said the word ‘bicycle’? We welcome it! Is there a dog turd which somebody has ridden a bike over, leaving the imprint of the tyre? We welcome it – because after all, it’s got something to do with cycling, so it might encourage that one extra person we need for the government to finally take notice of us! What else was the last 35 years for?

There is one aspect of this project that the campaigners don’t like though, and that’s reality. You see, this project involves people actually riding bikes in Britain, and therefore the grim reality of cycling on British roads is captured in the video footage. The campaigners fear that this might put some potential cyclists off.

That’s right, it’s video footage of the roads that’s putting people off cycling, not the roads themselves! Don’t fix the roads, just stop broadcasting footage of them, that’ll make the problem go away and we can get back to slapping the council on the back every time they mention cycling!

“This is bad enough in a car”

Interestingly, the video shows a brief clip of the research footage, where the students have transcribed what the riders were saying as they rode the route. “Experienced” cyclists’ spoken comments are shown in yellow, and comments uttered by “inexperienced” cyclists (AKA “normal people who aren’t desensitised to danger”) are shown in white.

In the article, the student claims that “the inexperienced cyclists make very emotional comments and were getting very stressed, whereas the experienced cyclists were just stating the obvious like ‘here comes another truck'”.

But looking at the short section of footage shown in the report, the “experienced” cyclists don’t seem particularly calm and collected either. They suggest a state of alertness that I’m sure not one of the motor vehicle drivers felt:

“Obviously roundabouts could be a lot better for cyclists” … “This is bad enough in a car” … “Roundabouts are pretty mental” … “Sharpish on to the roundabout while I can” … “There’s a van just behind me, he’s a bit keen to get on to the roundabout, I hope he gives me a chance” … “Feel very small compared to all these cars on this huge roundabout”

And remember, those are the quotes from the “experienced cyclists”! I don’t think any number of smartphone apps are going to fix that junction.

Screenshot from BBC News report, showing footage of cycling journey around a roundabout, superimposed with quotes from those cycling, such as 'Roundabouts are pretty mental'

“That’s scary, man” – you got that right!


Interestingly there is one comment, though without context, either from someone blessed with the gift of seeing the bright side of everything, or from one of those full-time cyclists who carries their bike around the supermarket and wears their greasy hi-vis to bed:

“It’s probably slightly easier on a bike, because you have a far, far better field of view.”

That’s a thin silver lining on a very dark cloud.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel-vision

Anyway, I’ll leave this Scrooge-like rant with a note of positivity, and that is this: Our message that better infrastructure is the main answer must be getting through, as the final paragraph is essentially an admission that the subject of the piece is bunkum:

“But their work has already reminded us why campaigners argue it is investment in improved infrastructure which is most likely to encourage more of us to choose two wheels in future.”

Exactly right. And with that, I wish you all the best for the season. Thanks for reading.


PS. The article claims that “campaigners point out that Edinburgh, and some other places, are already well on the way towards achieving 10% or an even higher cycle share of journeys.” Can anyone tell me which campaigners are saying this, as I’d really like to hear some justification of that patently false claim.

 

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Justice and Progress

There’s a lot of anger following the inquest into the death of Michael Mason, and justifiably so.

A driver hit and killed a man who was riding a bike directly in front of her car. For some unknown reason she didn’t see the man on the bike directly in front of her, but the police decided that this was not worth bothering the criminal courts with.

For more information about the case, I suggest you read this piece by Martin Porter QC, who represented Michael’s family at the inquest, this piece by Mark Treasure, and this piece by Evening Standard journalist Ross Lydall.

It’s a sad case, yet one more example of the UK establishment’s acceptance of road deaths.

But it’s also another example of why mixing cycling (or walking) with motor vehicles is never desirable.

Michael Mason was a very experienced rider. According to Ross Lydall’s blog post, he’d been “cycling daily throughout his adult life” – i.e. for over 50 years.

So he’s been riding a bike ever since the Beatles’ first single was released, since Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister.

In short, this guy really knew how to ride a bike.

So if someone as experienced as Michael Mason can get hit and be killed, any of us can. All those tricks and tips you think keep you safe when out cycling on the road? Michael probably had figured all those out before you were even born.

And yet his skill and experience wasn’t enough to save him. No amount of training, experience, testosterone or guile can save you from a car being badly driven. There’s no Bikeability level that will save you from a surprise rear-end shunt.

What would have prevented Michael Mason’s death, however, is a Dutch-style physically-separate cycleway.

Had there been proper cycleways along Regent Street – as there should be – then he would have been nowhere near that car, however badly driven it was. His death should never have happened.

And yet this simple truth still evades many.

The whole “shared space” concept is based on mixing motor vehicles with people walking and cycling, for example.

There’s recently been a glut of “cycling design guides” which suggest that mixing modes is desirable, even at low speeds. (Note: Mixing modes is sometimes acceptable when motor vehicle volumes and speeds are very low, but it’s never desirable.) Often cycling is touted as a way to “tame” motor traffic, while in reality the motor traffic intimidates and discourages people from cycling.

And there are still plenty who believe that becoming “skilled up” to cope with the current conditions is the only way forward for cycling in this country – despite the fact that many cyclists who are killed have a high level of skill.

This awful case shows how badly wrong those people are.

The aftermath of Michael Mason’s death shows us how shockingly lacking the British justice system is.

But the collision itself reminds us how lacking Britain’s road system is, and why it needs redesigning.


 

People using bikes on a cycleway in the Netherlands. A busy bus route, but bikes and buses are kept apart.

None of these people are at risk of being hit from behind by a car.

 

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British Cycling’s myopic “Vision” for Leeds

Somehow, I missed this gem from earlier this year, but it’s so bad that it deserves a thorough savaging.

In July, British Cycling published their “Vision” for the Headrow in Leeds. Actually, it seems to be just a vague concept for a very small section of one street in Leeds, so its scale is hardly visionary to begin with.

First of all, let me tell you that the bit of the Headrow in question – directly outside the Town Hall – is utterly crap as it is now. Almost anything would be an improvement. (This is why the poll at the bottom of British Cycling’s article is rather stupid – “would you prefer to be fed shit, or shit with a crispy sugar coating?”)

It’s a very wide road designed for the movement of large numbers of motor vehicles (lots of buses here, with stops on the north side), and without even basic features such as pedestrian crossings in suitable places. Where crossings do exist, they’re staggered, for the benefit of motor traffic.

People crossing the road in Leeds city centre, where the Council would prefer they didn't

Google’s Streetview car caught this scene randomly. It shows that a crossing is required here. (Google Maps)

The very wide Headrow in front of Leeds Town Hall, with no pedestrian crossing

Narrow medieval streets? (Google Maps)

A long staggered crossing outside Leeds Town Hall, and very wide carriageway.

No space for better provision for walking and cycling here? Oh, no no no. (Google Maps)

Clearly, there is lots of space available here. Eastbound the carriageway has two wide lanes, there’s a wide central reservation, and the lane westbound is two cars wide for most of its length. Lots of buses use this road, and there’s no restriction on general motor traffic here either.

So with such a large canvas on which to paint some excellent infrastructure, I’m completely baffled as to how British Cycling, with help from Steer Davis Gleave, have created an absolutely awful concept, with painted lanes, unusable bus stop bypasses, and bikes sharing space with buses.

British Cycling's vision for Leeds graphic, showing painted lanes, if you're lucky

Plenty of space here for segregation, yet British Cycling’s highest fantasy is a painted lane followed by sharing with buses. (Note the fetid stench of “shared space” fancy paving, which costs a lot of money so it surely must do wonders for cycling.)

Mixing with cars will boost cycling, right?

I hate cycling in front of cars, even if they are painted in sporting colours and waving flags out the window. (Note invisible buses and bus stops.)

Bikes, buses and cars all sharing happily in British Cycling's la-la land.

It’s easy to cut-and-paste photos of Dutch elderly people and families into a picture like this, but the simple truth is that people DO NOT WANT TO SHARE WITH BUSES. (Also note the cack-handed attempt at a bus stop bypass on the left.)

Catch up by doing less

The images above are taken from this video, which ends with a pathetic request for “£10 per head”, which given that the Dutch invest more than twice that amount on road infrastructure alone (not on “soft measures” such as training or promotion), it is nowhere near enough to “catch up” with the Netherlands.

Some campaigns have actually done the maths and are asking for real money, not pulling nice-sounding numbers out of thin air (I’ve not yet seen an explanation at how £10 per head was arrived at).

Pedal on Parliament gets it. Stop The Killing gets it. The Cycling Embassy gets it. Why are the big guns of cycle campaigning so unwilling to actually ask for a decent amount?

Anyway, I digress. Back to the Leeds “Vision”.

Standing still while claiming to move fast

So there’s plenty of space – and a need – for Dutch-quality segregated cycleways along this stretch of road. Why haven’t British Cycling suggested any?

I don’t get it.

Steer Davies Gleave have some people in Leeds who seem to be on the ball.

British Cycling have got Chris Boardman, who is always saying the right things these days, and yet he’s talking about this crap as if it would make a blind bit of difference.

I don’t understand how Chris Boardman can say this…

“Millions of people in Britain say they would like to cycle but they are put off due to safety fears. We cannot pretend that this is going to miraculously change.”

…when describing a road plan which does nothing at all to address those fears. Perhaps the “we” in the second sentence refers to the cycle campaigning establishment, who, it seems, continue to pretend that people’s natural dislike of sharing roadspace with heavy motor traffic is going to miraculously change.

They quote the Leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Keith Wakefield, as if he isn’t lying through his teeth:

“…we want to put cycling at the heart of the future of Leeds… That is our long-term aim, to do everything we can to encourage and help as many people as possible to get cycling.”

This is a man who went on the local news to make excuses about Leeds’ “topography” as if the huge mountains of Leeds are alone responsible for the city’s zero-point-something-percent cycling modal share. (Before anybody starts, even Swiss cities have a much higher modal share than Leeds.)

Default Man says “take the lane”

Is this simply another example of a wider problem with our society, that everything is dominated and designed by middle-class, middle-aged, white men – AKA Default Man? Do they lack the empathy to see things through the eyes of others? It seems they’re unable to listen to what people want or need.

Fifteen years ago a teenage girl from Leeds identified what the city was lacking, and what it would take for her to use a bike in her home town. Rather than listen to her, the sombre grey Franklinists explained that she was wrong, that she was much better off riding on the road instead.

Nothing in Leeds has changed since then. They didn’t listen to Zohra back in 2000, and those in positions of power still aren’t listening.

If this sort of crap is the best they can come up with, then it’s time for the grey men to get out of the way, and make space for a new generation of campaigners.

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Cycle Alienation

(SLIGHTLY BELATED) NEWSFLASH: A confident middle-aged white male keen cyclist has explained that an expensive dual-network motor-centric vehicular cycling scheme is absolutely fine. Rejoice! Can the Cycling Revolution™ be far off now?

From the secretary of an organisation that is co-ordinating a national “Space for Cycling” campaign, it’s rather worrying to read defence of this mess of dual provision and hieroglyphics painted on footways.

The original version of the blog post described the criticism of the scheme (and the way that the CTC, Cyclenation, British Cycling and Sustrans approved it) as “histrionics”, while neglecting to link to any of it.

On the bright side, it seems that the tide at Cyclenation is turning against those with the vehicular cycling mentality, with the organisation now keen to distance itself from those with such ridiculous views.

(Blog title nicked from this blog post on the much-missed Crap Waltham Forest.)

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