Monday 27 December 2010

Christmas Car Frenzy - or yet another reason to cycle!

After a lovely Christmas, I thought I would post a picture of the road scene on Christmas Eve in Chingford Road - going towards the North Circular and the large Sainsburys.

This traffic was moving at walking speed for around a mile along Chingford Road. The Sainsburys' car park was even worse with traffic queuing all around it.

Yet inside Sainsburys was busy, but not anything like the chaos reflected in the car park and surrounding streets. Simply, the roads around the superstore are unable to cope with everyone deciding to use 1 tonne of machinery to get them to the shops.

It was an absolute pleasure on the cycle.

And I was fortunate enough for Father Christmas to have kindly given me some extra large panniers for Christmas, which means there is even less reason to take the car.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Why cycling is great (again)!

I am aware I spend a great deal of time moaning about the cycling conditions. People might wonder why I cycle at all.

Well here is why.

This is the scene that greeted motorists all the way along the A503 from Amhurst Park to Monument Way. I had done this journey once earlier in the morning, and traffic was free-flowing, but later in the afternoon, the traffic was simply awful. I cannot imagine how long these drivers sat in these queues. Me? Well, it took five or so more minutes for me to make the journey on the cycle as I went around the gyratory instead of the short cut through the park (see previous post for the reason for this!). 

When I used my car to get everywhere this is what drove me to distraction. You can never really be sure how long it is going to take to go anywhere as the queues can build so quickly because of any minor incident. Now, I couldn't go back to this way of travelling for shortish journeys, no matter how rubbish the roads are for cyclists.

This is one of the main reasons I think cycling is great. That, and the superb cycle parking facilities provided by Haringey...

Ice spy with my little eye...

Something beginning with .... C!

Yes - a cycle path! This was Forest Road yesterday. I did see one brave cyclist try to use it, and it seemed treacherous. He, and I, gave up and used the road instead. Note the 30mph sign in the foreground - possibly the most disregarded speed limit sign in Waltham Forest. I normally use the path as the combination of this bend and speeding cars isn't a good one for a cyclist.

And then - to prove that anything Waltham Forest does badly, Haringey can do even worse - below was the Broad Lane bypass through the little park behind the gyratory.

At this point I gave up and walked, which in itself wasn't particularly easy. Cycling wasn't too bad with fresh snowfall, but now it is becoming pretty difficult on paths like these. A little grit and salt would have gone a long way. On the return, I used gyratory, which was so heaving with traffic that I was by far the fastest thing on the road from Stamford Hill to Ferry Lane.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Road Violence

Freewheeler has a link to an article describing a cyclist being attacked in Ealing by three men, after having the temerity to be knocked down by them whilst they jumped a red light. From the report it appears they also intimidated some witnesses on a bus. Absolute charmers, I am sure.

The Cycling Silk describes on his blog an incident with a motorist and another cyclist, where the car driver got out of his car and confronted the cyclist, and then proceeded, for no apparent reason, to knock off the cycling silk from his bicycle as he waited to turn right.  He was knocked into the path of incoming traffic. The driver got a caution.

It probably is worth saying that actual threats and assault isn't a common occurrence when cycling. Most of my issues are because motorists are impatient, or inattentive, or just don't understand what to do around cyclists. Some attempt bullying (edging out, use of the horn), but nearly all of this is simply impatience which is cured by an assertive look.

But it is clear these attacks happen. And when they do, it appears that the police and CPS don't take into account the huge disparity between a cyclist and someone piloting a tonne or more of metal. These incidents should be taken seriously with motorists knowing that there are consequences for anti-social behaviour. In both instances, the fact the victim was a cyclist is immaterial - I suspect the same aggressive behaviour would have happened if the victim was driving a car. But the instigators of this aggression need some serious consequences to jolt them out of this behaviour. Maybe someone who cannot control their temper to the point they assault someone or use their car as a weapon should be relieved of their license until they can prove themselves fit to drive?


Cycling on Hoe Street today around 4:30pm - am Iceland delivery van was being driven pretty aggressively in front of me (revving engine hard, driving quickly). I went past it at the queue for the lights at the High Street, to see that the entire driver's side mirror was missing.

Surely this is illegal?

Thankfully he turned left at the lights, I am not sure I want an aggressive delivery driver with very limited rear vision anywhere near me.

Hardly the best advertising for a food store.

Monday 20 December 2010

Boris Bike Spotting!

Boris Bikes are somewhat of a rarity in the wilds of Zone 3. However, I did spot my third in Walthamstow today. The first two were some months ago in the summer - one appeared very lost and was furtively consulting a map. This one today was making steady progress in the slush along Hoe Street.

I like the bike hire scheme. I know many are sceptical, but I do think this has a chance of being greater than the sum of its parts. If someone takes a cycle to navigate Central London, when they normally wouldn't consider a cycle, then this is another person who may decide that the cycle is a sensible option at other times.

I actually think that London areas like Walthamstow and Leyton would be great areas for 1/2 hr free bike hire. There would be issues - bicycles going missing, and making the scheme available to all residents without having to use credit cards would be two. But car ownership is pretty low in these two areas - my ward has over 40% of households without access to a car, and that excludes households like mine where my wife hasn't got a license and I don't tend to drive in the area. The bike hire could link up the residential areas with shops and the transport hubs. I am sure it would work, and more cyclists in the area would mean far more civilised roads.

Of course it won't happen as the costs of bicycle hire schemes are way too expensive to be considered for areas such as mine.Which I think is a shame.

Health and Safety

Freewheeler has blogged a photograph of the cycle cut-through on First Avenue. Well, it is assumed it is the cycle-cut through under the snow.

In a game of Waltham Forest crap cycle infrastructure "top trumps" I see his First Avenue cycle cut through and raise him the cycle "facility" at the Selborne Road / Hoe Street Junction.

Here we have the bypass that allows cyclists to avoid the little gyratory thing over the railway bridge to get into Selborne Road. It didn't come out in the picture, but there were tracks of a brave stupid cyclist who had attempted to use it. Yes, that stupid cyclist was me.

At first thought having a cycle bypass that is complete icy slush would be a health and safety issue for Waltham Forest and TfL. But this is where we under-estimate the sheer genius of the planners. You see, the cycle lights that used to allow cyclists time to cross the 5 lanes are now hooded - and have been for over a year. So, by leaving the bypass an icy mess, TfL are actually helping cyclists by completely dissuading them using a cycle facility put in (at probably some expense) by them. Therefore preventing the issue of the cyclist being splattered as they try to get through multiple lanes of traffic like some deranged game of real-life Frogger.

Welcome to Walthamstow Delivery Office...

There are various hand-written notes on the windows to say that cycles are not allowed in the office. Which is completely OK since there are loads of cycle stands to use outside. Oh, my mistake there are absolutely no cycle stands to use outside.

I normally just take the cycle in with me if it isn't busy, and no-one has said anything at all. But today it was busy, so I perched the cycle on the wall in the foreground and lashed it up to the railing. Not ideal since the cycle is balanced on the narrow wall, but better than nothing.

Of course, one might assume that car owners have a similar predicament. Which they might have. If the free parking spaces on the road or adjoining side-streets are busy.

And then, if the beleaguered motorist cannot find a space on the road, there appears to be a couple of spaces right next to the office they can use. And then if these are busy, the motorist is forced to park in the entrance to the sorting office. Which no-one seems to mind at all.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Not so nice

The snow is now turning to an icy slush on the roads, and it is a Sunday which means every moron with a driving license, by law, needs to drive in an idiotic manner.

Cue utter moron in the silver Volvo on Hoe Street who honked me and then passed within centimetres. I assume I was supposed to dive into the slushy, icy gutter as soon as you wanted to pass. Ironically I caught up with the genius at the next lights and had a one way discussion with him, involving me waving my arms and him shrugging his shoulders which I took as an apology for his complete ineptitude in controlling a car.

It might be said I am a little angry about his actions. I certainly very rarely confront any motorists - hardly worth it since they don't learn from it, and it can escalate. But the manoeuvre was so idiotic and selfish I lost my temper.

Because the more idiotic motorists out there can now see bits of tarmac they presume that driving in their normal way is completely OK. For instance when I was approaching a junction a car  suddenly started sliding on some ice under the slush as they broke far too hard for the conditions. I was behind the car so it was interesting as opposed to worrying. Of course when the inevitable accidents occur it will be reported as an accident due to "lethal" conditions. Which is a total crock. The "accidents" are mostly caused by motorists deciding that they can simply drive normally without any consideration of the conditions. In the last couple of days I lost count of the number of drivers starting to slide as they pulled away and then flooring the accelerator to make matters even worse. I cannot drive well in snowy conditions. Therefore I do everything not to drive for a few days until the snow has gone, and if I have to drive I try to make sure I don't endanger anyone else with my lack of snow driving skills. If only Mr Volvo driver thought the same way.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Winter Wonderland Update

I have just cycled back from a friends house. Cycling seems still to be fine with the snow, but it appears that some of the drivers think that, after half a day experience in snowy conditions that they are now Ari Vatenan.

Cycling down Hoe Street, taking primary, I was aware of a crappy Nissan thing close behind. Too close, and I started to be a bit concerned that if I fell off, I would be run over. Then, to my surprise, I see his bonnet nudging past my cycle on the wrong side of the road, in the face of oncoming traffic. Which was even more surprising considering I was keeping up with the two cars in front of me and there wasn't a gap for him to overtake into even if he managed to get past me.

Other than that, most people were OK - got overtaken by a taxi on Hoe Street earlier on, which was a bit pointless because we ended up and the lights together, but his overtaking was so far over the other side of the road I thought he was going to hit the opposing kerb.

So drivers, less like Ari Vatenan please. Especially if you are not in a rally prepared Impresa but instead piloting a shite Nissan Cherry. (Although check out Ari's videos on YouTube - rallying is incredible).

Walthamstow Winter Wonderland

E17, after escaping nearly all the snow in the previous weeks, has proven it doesn't have some bizarre micro-climate by seeing a fair snowfall today.

I left for the shops on the cycle and there was virtually no snow. I came out of the supermarket to witness a scene of dense snowfall. I had left my helmet with my bicycle, so it was full of snow. It wasn't particularly pleasant cycling home as my head froze to the helmet and, no matter which direction I went, the snowfall appeared to be directed towards my face.

Still, it was fun to cycle in new snow, and surprisingly easy. I saw a few cyclists on my way back, and all of us were much faster than the motor traffic which was stationary or sliding all around the place. My bicycle, although an old mountain bike, has been fitted with pretty much slick tyres, which still gave OK traction as long as I wasn't stupid. Even braking wasn't too bad - although in the interests of experimentation, I did jam on my rear brakes on a deserted side road to see what would happen. The cycle skidded and started to slide under me, which was pretty much the conclusion anyone giving the idea more than a seconds thought would come to. Sometimes I am a genius.

What was really pleasant about cycling in the snow was that motorists gave me a very wide berth, didn't bother to try to overtake and travelled so slowly that I swear some pedestrians were moving faster. If only traffic behaved like this without snow!

A Pedestrian Haven

Waltham Forest Council puts pedestrians first.

We are very lucky to have a council that has created a haven for pedestrians around the high street and square.

So we can go about our shopping and meeting friends without fear of cars trying to weave in and out of us and parking where they like.

Aside from here of course, where presumably the owners of these cars have to park in the pedestrian area instead of using the large underground car park right next door.

Or of course if the driver has important business in the square, and simply has to drive through. Several times.

I have never seen any car parked in this pedestrian area get a ticket.

Also note, the look of pedestrian area has been improved by the plethora of road barriers scattered around the place. Every time I come into this square there seems to be more plastic barriers. It is as if they have learnt how to reproduce.

So there we have it. Waltham Forest Council. Putting pedestrians and cyclists first. Unless it inconveniences motorists.

Saturday 11 December 2010

A Good Day For Cycling

Man-flu has, unfortunately, struck the Grumpy household, so cycle trips have been somewhat curtailed this week. However, I did manage to summon the energy to visit the shops today for some provisions to comfort me in my weakest hours.

I am normally a high-viz and helmet kind of cyclist. I don't think these things make you any safer, but I do think that if some idiot hits me then I am not going to let some judge who has abandoned the practice of rational thinking mitigate liability because I wasn't dressed in yellow with a plastic hat. 

To be fair, I think the cycle helmet may help in circumstances where a cyclist falls from a bicycle and hits their head, and I don't normally mind wearing one. But today I couldn't find it after a week of non-use (my toddler daughter has a habit of wearing it and then leaving it in unusual and hard to locate places), so I went without. I have to say I quite enjoyed the experience, but I doubt it was all down to not wearing a helmet.

It seemed a good day for cycling today. No close passes, no pulling out without seeing me. I had a chap in a 4x4 wait for me to turn across the road to reach the cycle parking, and I had a HGV wait patiently behind me down Hoe Street (not a lot of point overtaking at all down this road,  but it doesn't stop some trying). Along Selbourne Road I had a car wait behind instead of overtaking and then stopping at the lights. I find Saturdays generally OK days to cycle. Maybe it is because there seems to be more cyclists out in the daytime on a Saturday (or it could just be my imagination). 

Around Christmas the advantages of travelling by bicycle is shown. Today the traffic wasn't too bad, but in the run-up to Christmas the roads in this area - as is typical with most areas - become jammed. Today cycling down Selbourne Road, the way up to the tube station was absolutely queued. On my return only 30 minutes later, the traffic had cleared. And this is what is so frustrating about driving a car in this area - the traffic picks up incredibly quickly, means you spend 30 minutes doing a 5 minute journey yet the delays are completely unpredictable. Despite all the problems our roads and general car dominated travel mentality give to the cyclist, the time to cycle to somewhere is pretty constant, and the mobility a cycle affords is simply superior to a car in an area like Walthamstow on every level.

A little piece of Amsterdam in Walthamstow

This afternoon, a little piece of Amsterdam visited Walthamstow. No, I'm not talking about the strange smell of "herbal" cigarettes one occasionally whiffs. I am talking about this.

When I parked my cycle near Sainsburys it was next to a wonderful Batavus "Old Dutch" cycle. Everything about the bicycle gives of an aura of casual elegance. Not a hint of lycra, hi-viz or polystyrene helmet about it. 

Whilst searching for a picture of the cycle, I even spotted a NY Times fashion article on them. Apparently they are the new "fixie" for the Gentleman about town, if I have managed to decode fashion hyperbole correctly. The article is actually from 2009, so I expect the fashion world has gone through the entire range of cycle types at least twice since then.

I really want one of these cycles. Unfortunately they are just simply too expensive for me to justify one. I need a cycle that I can leave around East London with a reasonable lock and have some expectation of it still being there when I return. And I have had my bicycle for so long now (nearly 20 years) that ditching it for another would feel like some kind of weird act of betrayal.

Thursday 9 December 2010

High Street High Jinks

Walthamstow high street normally hosts the longest outdoor street market in Europe. Even the most hardy motorist doesn't attempt to use this road on these days even though presumably their hard earned road-tax pays for it.

But on Sundays and Mondays there is no market and cars used to use it as a convenient area to park, cut out the Selborne traffic lights and generally mingle with the pedestrians. Even though the signs indicate no entry to vehicles (although not clearly enough for one confused motorist).

Then the council spoiled all the fun by positioning a smart camera car at the top of the high street and fining motorists using the high-street. Evidently they caught so many people that the council now publish where the car will be on their website. It has to be said that any motorist unable to spot a silly smart car with a camera on a huge roof-mounted turret should possibly have their eyesight tested, but clearly some will be too busy texting and so on to notice.

So imagine my surprise to see a Mercedes Benz coupe in the high street on Sunday. Imagine my amazement when said Mercedes decides to do a U-turn - narrowly missing a couple of shoppers who clearly lacked the foresight that anyone would do anything so stupid - and then speed off back up to the top of the high street the wrong way. Well, surprise isn't really the emotion - more like resigned grumpiness at yet another idiot deciding that dangerously driving his car was more important than the well-being of other human beings. People let their children have a run-around in the high street whilst they are perusing the shops - and why not? In a pedestrian only zone one shouldn't have to consider the possibility of morons in cars doing idiotic things.

Sunday Cycling

I am not a great fan of cycling around the area on Sunday. I am even less of a fan of driving on a Sunday.

It sounds a cliche, but there really are more people less used to driving in their cars on a Sunday and a significant proportion of my really close shaves (including one amazingly close pass by an elderly man in a green Rover on Monument Way, Tottenham Hale) happen on this day.

The traffic can be worse as well. Tottenham Hale gets completely clogged as people try to get into the retail park. But cycling last Sunday made me realise that the principle reason for the snarled traffic, especially on Hoe Street, is actually parked cars. Perfectly legally parked on a Sunday, but causing utter chaos.

Strings of parked cars such as this row spring up on a Sunday - this is near the Bell junction and buses can barely squeeze through (can you spot the cycle lane?!). When I went the other way down Hoe Street, the queue was all the way from the Bell to almost Church Road because cars had parked such that only one lane of traffic could pass. And further down near Bakers Arms the traffic was chaotic, again as buses struggled to pass the rows of parked cars. All were parked legally.

The problem for the cyclist is that every parked car needs to be negotiated, and the traffic is normally more concerned with scooting through the space than waiting for the cyclist. I find myself needing to be very assertive indeed to stop ending up just trapped behind the car trying to get out. I see cyclists in this position and understand how it happens. It ends up being pretty stressful and roads that are normally able to be navigated without incident become a completely different proposition.

I make the assumption that if a motorist is unaware enough to park in a position that causes gridlock to traffic then they are unlikely to be the type to look out for cyclists before flinging open doors, so I tend to give a wide berth, sometimes to the annoyance of the drivers behind. On a normal day I don't get so much grief and bad driving, and cannot decide if it is because motorists think the roads should be clear on a Sunday or whether the Sunday Motorist is a real phenomenon.

Lawless cyclists tamed!

Everyone knows that lawless pavement cyclists are the biggest threat to pedestrians, possibly even society at large. Even if statistics prove otherwise. 

Anyway, it is heartening to see that motorists in Hackney last Sunday are combating this scourge through their own initiative. The "Big Society" in action.

Here, on Lee Conservancy Road you can see how motorists have selflessly parked their cars completely on the pavement to thwart any pavement cyclist. They risk their wing mirrors from pedestrians trying to squeeze past and yet I bet they get no recognition of their potential sacrifice. 

Either that or people playing football on the pitches next to it cannot be arsed to walk 100m to their car and think that parking on the pavement will mean they won't get a parking ticket from the double yellow line running alongside. And do you know what? They are completely right - not one had a ticket.

Saturday 4 December 2010

"Build it and they will come"

Whilst reading David Hembrow's excellent blog concerning cycling Holland, I was genuinely astounded at this particular post concerning long distance cycle lane proposals.

I was impressed at the commitment to infrastructure, even for longer distances, but what really amazed me were the modal figures quote in the post. To quote :

In the Netherlands, 35% of all journeys under 7.5 km are already by bicycle. Also, 15% of journeys between 7.5 km and 15 km take place by bike. For all distances over 15 km, the numbers drop to just 3% of journeys. However, even for these longer distances that's still a larger percentage by bike than people make even of short journeys in many other countries.

Too right! The modal share in the Netherlands for cycling over 15km is 50% greater than the overall cycle modal share in greater London. And we are supposed to be in the grip of a cycling revolution! 

Interesting to note the observation that many comments on the news sites were  moaning that the long distance cycle paths were a waste of money and no-one apart from the "lycra louts" would use them - no-one in their right mind would use a cycle for these distances. Sound familiar? This is pretty much the response in the UK for any cycling infrastructure. Except presumably in the Netherlands the government ignores such remarks, builds the infrastructures and gets vindicated when it attracts more cyclists and increases modal share. Whereas in the UK these criticisms are taking as the reason why cycling will never be popular and so nothing is built that would increase that popularity.

Snow - The yearly national emergency arrives early

Unless one has been living under the stairs for the last couple of weeks, I am fairly sure everyone has realised that it has snowed across most of the UK.

E17 has escaped pretty much most of the snow, and any that did fall has now gone. For about half a day drivers were more cautious before the traffic had cleared most of the major roads and normal "service" could be resumed. The footpaths took longer to clear - today was the first day that people could walk easily on the pavements on sideroads.

I know much of the UK has had it much worse. Even in outer London there seems to have been areas with significant snowfall.

The BBC reports snow stories with a hysteria that they seem to reserve especially for inclement weather.  They send reporters to various parts of the country to report on villages and towns "cut-off" from civilisation, presumably being left to scavenge what they can from the local spa-shop. Is it only me that wonders how the reporters got to these stranded locations - along with the cameraman and all the associated equipment? On 24 hour news, you can view any number of reporters in various locations describing snow. I have to marvel at the ability of these people to spend so much time describing  frozen water.

Then, of course, there are the inevitable interviews with hapless council officials who have to explain why investing in the type of equipment that keeps Nordic countries moving during the winter might be a bit of a waste of money in the UK where we get snowfall typically for a few days or a week a year. I am sure that if the councils had invested heavily in snow ploughs and other assorted expensive snow clearing equipment, then the same reporters would have been berating them for wasting tax-payers' money during the many years when we don't get any snow at all. It is the very rare occasion I actually find myself feeling sorry for local government.

One news report stood out for me. Although living less than a mile from a junction on the M1, some poor villagers had been "holed up" for several days with only the local pub open to keep community spirit alive. The reporter used the term "holed up" several times which made the situation sound less like snow in Luton and more like the siege of Leningrad. Apparently locals had been complaining that the council hadn't cleared their small village road. Exactly who these people were that complained about not being able to make it to work, but instead having to stay in the pub, the reporter didn't say. Certainly he didn't have anyone interviewed - presumably they were busy being "holed up" in a bar full of booze.

For all those reports blaming the councils for not gritting the roads, none actually mentioned that people still could walk or even cycle using knobbly tyres. Or that maybe people could get together to clear snow and ice from roads themselves if it was so important.

Still, it looks like warmer weather is arriving, the snow will become another old story, and people will be able to go back to driving a couple of miles to get food and drop off the kids at school. Because, it would appear, that there is no alternative

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Watermead Cycle Path

On my trip to the cycling nirvana that is Mothercare Edmonton, I used the off road cycle path system going from Tottenham Hale to the North Circular loosely following Watermead road.

It is a journey worth documenting for good and bad points. 

Firstly, coming from the station, you can go on the off-road cycle path around Tottenham Hale. Good since it means you don't have to go around the huge gyratory loop with its terrifying junctions, but bad because the path is clearly just taken space from the pavement and therefore is narrow, disjointed and conflicts with pedestrian needs. The cycle way up watermead road doesn't start at Watermead road, but uses a road through the adjacent industrial estate. This is the junction between the cycle path and the industrial estate road.

As you can see, the cycle lane terminates with the ubiquitous give way, and the cyclist needs to cross the one-way street at the mouth of the junction with the gyratory to get to the left hand side to cycle down it. This is clearly more dangerous than it should be, and affords no priority to the cyclist at all.

Then the cyclist needs to progress down this industrial estate road. Note that this is clearly another one of those London roads where there is no room to put in decent segregated infrastructure. Note also that the cars are actually allowed to park on the narrow pavement - presumably someone in the Haringey transport department actually does think that road is too narrow for anything other than car provision.

At the end of this road, is a cycle / footpath leading to Watermead Road.

Which has what looks like a medieval torture contraption across it. Presumably this is designed to stop motorbikes using the path, but it also will prevent anyone with anything other than a standard bicycle using it either. So bad luck if you have a trailer or child seat. In fact my panniers barely made it through the gap.
And another strange thing. Look at the picture closely. The pedestrian access is across the cycle path and the cycle access is across the footpath. How mysterious.

So then the cycle path goes past the end of industrial estate and under the sidings for the Victoria tube line. To end up here.

So here the cycle path crosses the footpath at the end of the tunnel. Not an enormous issue, but it is a very odd layout. Why have the footpath intersecting the cycle path like this? Well, call me Sherlock, but I think the previous photo of the entrance gives a clue. Remember that the cycle and pedestrian access are switched? Well the paths would be continuous if the cycle path and footpath were reversed at this point, so I think that the design was intended with the cyclepath on the left and the footpath on the right, but either the implementation or the plans were incorrect. Clearly it was cheaper to add a couple of give ways than possibly make the provision continuous. Now the path goes up alongside the sidings and the road.

Not a bad cycle path. Unfortunately it isn't maintained so here we have it covered with leaves, when I cycled last year it was covered in sheet ice. I could barely stand less still cycle and ended up taking a very long time working my way up this slight incline. Some grit would have resolved the issue. I ended up coming home on the road which unsurprisingly had been salted and gritted. Then the cycle path runs alongside the road.

Do you wonder where all those extra cycle stands go that local councils say they have put in? Well I think we have the answer. They appear to be lining this cycle path. And look! Not one ungrateful cyclist is bothering to use them! Presumably they are having too much fun sliding around on the mush formed by rain and leaves and neglect.

Still, on the cycle path the council has thought it necessary to tame the dangerous cyclist in deference to the pedestrian. Which is good. Like here.

The give ways are to force the antisocial cyclists to cede priority to pedestrians wanting to cross - the Lea Valley park entrance is on the other side of the road. Clearly the council have made sure that the most dangerous hazard to the pedestrian here - the cyclist - is tamed whilst the much smaller risk of having to cross two lanes of traffic who treat the 40mph limit as a minimum is left to the pedestrian to deal with by themselves. Clearly a zebra crossing here would be unsuitable as it may slow the traffic.

Following the cycle path takes you to the retail estate where, after this journey, Mothercare cannot be bothered to install a single cycle stand.

There are some interesting things to say about this cycle path. Clearly it could be better thought out. It could be wider. Clearly it doesn't get maintained. At all. Ever. Clearly the cyclist has no priority when the path crosses the roadway. All things that would happen as a matter of course in a civilised cycling city. But even so, the path is actually quite nice to use, and makes me realise the importance of these off-road facilities when the road next to it is so unpleasant for vulnerable road users. Using the path allows you not to have to concentrate all the time on the vehicles, and you can go as slowly or fast as you wish. It is much less stressful.

It has made me realise that these types of facilities - only much better thought out and maintained are absolutely essential to get the ordinary person cycling. Nothing else will get the modal share shift that TfL, local councils and cycling organisation purport to support. 

Sunday 28 November 2010

Vehicular cycling and the primary position

It would appear that most local government organisations feel that vehicular cycling is the way to go. Clearly this is the prevailing attitude after careful study of successful cycling models elsewhere in the world and consideration about what will make cycling as safe and pleasant as possible. Nothing to do with it being the cheap option that involves the least amount of work. Oh no.

In the face of no enthusiasm for anything approaching cycling infrastructure by any level of government, vehicular cycling is the only solution. Well, if you discount giving up completely and taking the car, of course.

An important part of vehicular cycling is taking "primary position" on the road when necessary. To the uninitiated this involves the cyclist controlling traffic around them by moving into the centre of the lane at points of conflict, for example pedestrian refuges and junctions. If this sounds scary then don't worry - it only sounds scary because it actually is scary. But according to virtually everyone it is the right thing to do. Even the Institute of Advanced Motorists urge cyclists to "claim the lane". It might sound a bit odd that the most vulnerable road-user in this equation, the cyclist, is expected to control the traffic around them. One might hope that someone driving several tonnes of machine should be able to control themselves. But maybe that is asking too much. The article linked above details the IAM urging cyclists to push out into the road when passing junctions and overtaking parked cars so that drivers see them. Apparently drivers only see the main traffic stream and will miss a cyclist, so clearly the thing to do is for the cyclist to modify their behaviour as opposed to the driver looking a bit harder.

Notwithstanding the distinct whiff of passing blame from inattentive and rubbish drivers to cyclists, the great "primary position" vehicular cycling plan falls down on a significant point. It assumes that all drivers are rational, calm people whose attention is on the road and who will act carefully around vulnerable road users.

Clearly it doesn't assume that a proportion of drivers are impatient imbeciles who are juggling driving with phoning their friends and who see cyclists as an imposition on their road. It assumes that if you are a moron who should not be left in charge of anything more dangerous than a plastic spoon then you won't be able to obtain a driving license. 
Clearly these assumptions are wrong.

To illustrate, let me give you some examples of what happens when you take the primary position in the manner that is described by the IAM. All happened today.

Lower Clapton Road : Grey Golf tries to overtake me whilst passing a pedestrian refuge. There would be no space to do this even if I was hugging the kerb. Golf driver lifts off after coming to within inches of my back wheel. Golf driver gives me a stare as he passes after the island. I stare back as I then pass him again 20 seconds later as he joins the tail of a traffic jam that means he doesn't pass me again at all.

Stratford A11 : Silver Van overtakes me to then push into my lane and slow down to try to undertake the traffic. I had moved into primary away from the cycle lane. Luckily I am not in the cycle lane as he them swerves into it to avoid another car trying the same trick. Both end up in the traffic jam just after the one way system.

Leytonstone Road A11 : One of the most stunningly moronic pieces of driving I have seen for a while. I take primary on the "straight ahead lane" as I run up to a traffic queue at the lights with Crownfield Road. A black Fiesta overtakes me on the outside lane to cut in front between me and the queuing traffic and then indicate left to go into the left most lane. To then sit in the queue no further forward than if they had simply waited behind me. Luckily my sixth "shit driver" sense had already been activated as he overtook me and I backed off otherwise I would have been into the side of his car.

So there we have it. Vehicular cycling and taking the primary. Great for cycling on hypothetical roads with drivers who aren't idiots. Not so great in the real world. And as for the elderly, very young, or those less willing to be assertive and fight for space on the roads whilst taking abuse? Well they simply have to succumb to the law of the jungle and accept that cycling just isn't for them.

Forest Road Frozen

Awaiting me on my climb up Forest Road near the police station was a festival of ice.

For a moment, I thought that Waltham Forest had just opened up their spectacular seasonal ice-rink. It looked around the same dimensions

Waltham Forest 2009 Ice Extravaganza
(Courtesy of fight the height blog)
Waltham Forest 2010 Festival of Ice.
To be fair, there isn't a lot that anyone can do about water turning to ice in a gutter at around 0 degrees. The source of water wasn't obvious, it looked as if it came from some hardy soul cleaning their car in an adjacent street. If the cycle "infrastructure" is put in the same place as the gutter, it is bound to happen. Of course if infrastructure was more than a narrow line painted by the kerb it might help.

Still, it was a great opportunity to practice cycling in the "primary" position. Made more exciting by the fact that speeding is endemic on Forest Road whilst there are numerous pinch points to provide a healthy competition for space between the cyclist labouring uphill and the speeding cars.

Friday 26 November 2010

NHS - encouraging a healthy lifestyle?

If the slightly hysterical UK media is to be believed, an obesity crisis is looming over us. The BBC Panorama programme is exploring whether "bad" foods need to be taxed, the government meanwhile is turning to fast food and fizzy drinks giants such as McDonalds, KFC and Pepsi for the answer. Which does feel to me like having your house robbed and then asking the burglars how to improve home security - they will have a good insight into the issue, but may be tempted to give the answer that helps them more than us.

Anyway, apparently this crisis will cost the NHS gazillions of pounds whilst their ward beds are creaking under the weight of 50 stone health hazards ordering KFC family value buckets from their bedside internet terminals. Or something.

Clearly there will be a hidden cost to the NHS caused by obesity as they deal with the secondary health issues brought on by the condition. And so one might assume the NHS would be interested in promoting a lifestyle that prevents obesity. Like eating more healthily. Or exercising more. Possibly even using a cycle?

But, as previously noted, reality falls sadly short of the aspirational web-prose when visiting the St James Health Centre. And this doesn't appear to be an isolated case - I was again disappointed when visiting the Forest Road Medical Centre.

Once again, no secure stand to lock a bicycle. If you look closely you will see some brave soul has locked their cycle to the plastic down pipe in lieu of anything that might actually deter a thief. But how are car users treated in this narrow area - maybe there isn't enough room for parking of any kind? Well the one way street manages to accommodate several free parking places right outside the centre, and next to it is this.

But clearly no space for a Sheffield stand or two.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Does Mothercare hate cyclists?

Mothercare hates cyclists, and doesn't want our business.

It is the only conclusion I can draw after going to the Edmonton branch of Mothercare and finding absolutely no parking facilities for cycles at all. And I mean nothing - not even a handy fence, even less something that may be designed for the purpose.

I went in the store with the cycle to ask the security guard where I could lock my cycle. He helpfully pointed to the 3 feet high bollards in front of the store, which would be great except that any thief would simply lift the cycle over it in seconds. I may as well not bother at all. So I asked them to think again. At this stage I was asking for the manager and a couple of staff came up to me to offer no suggestions at all on how to solve this issue.

In fact I got the distinct impression that they just wanted me to go away.

Finally, after a good 5 or 10 minutes (when presumably they realised I wasn't going to leave), one member of staff suggested I put the bicycle behind the till, which was very sensible and the only real solution. She did mention that they used to have bicycle parking but they took it out and never replaced it.

So there we are. If one looks at the mothercare corporate website, you can find  whole sections on environmental and community policy, which includes lines such as :

We aim to offer consumers choice and help make it easy for them to choose greener options.
Helping parents is at the heart of what we do and part of every business decision we make.

Although clearly that doesn't extend to putting in a couple of sheffield stands for people getting to their store by cycle.

I would say that I am going to boycott the Mothercare stores, but frankly this will hurt me more than them, and I need to go again shortly to pick up a Christmas present. This time I think I will not be such an outcast and take my car thus being able to use their large car park. 

Because clearly the only sensible choice in transport on a 5 mile round trip to pick up a small package weighing less than 2kg is a 1.7 tonne car.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Cyclist accident - Hoe Street

Despite saying that the drivers yesterday were very nice, this wasn't the case for one cyclist who appeared to have been knocked off his bike by a car on Hoe Street near the Queens road lights.

He politely refused help and looked OK, so hopefully no damage done. The car was parked up in a side road, and he was off to get the details. Not having seen the accident, I don't know what happened. Hopefully the car driver wasn't one of the 13% of vehicles uninsured on London's roads.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Grumpiness temporarily alleviated

The other day whilst cycling, my grumpiness was suspended. Don't worry, it was only temporary. I actually had more considerate driving around me than poor driving. It really was quite wonderful. It included an old mini-cab (where the "private hire" stickers are often short hand for "lunatic driver") holding back on a stretch of road in Hackney for a considerable distance and then not overtaking when they had room because there was a traffic jam ahead. It also included a white van man that did much the same thing on Hoe Street. I had a car block the bus lane, but when she saw me cycling towards her, she reversed to give me room and returned a little wave when I thanked her. I had several cars give me room to pass, and finally a car stopped to let me out of a side-turning. All very strange, I may have well entered a parallel universe.

Normal service was resumed and then some today. I clearly missed the announcements that today was international "drive it like it is stolen" day. I had some astonishing driving this evening - utterly appalling. This included a white van that tried to overtake despite oncoming traffic and then moved into me before braking sharply. I had another car overtake me on a corner whilst I was moving along with the traffic jam - this instance was astonishing because the driver not only failed to see me, but judging how he braked, he failed to see the extensive traffic queue metres away as well. I confess I shouted at him, and maybe annotated this with hand signals not found in the highway code. I had numerable close passes at speed. I had a car try to box me in whilst in traffic for no other reason than presumably he was bored and wanted to try to irritate me. I had a car overtake me and then left-hook me in slow motion as she went into a petrol garage which had a queue. Finally I had a car overtake me whilst I was trying to move out to pass a parked lorry, for the driver to seemingly lose concentration and slow down thus leaving me to brake very hard and swerve heavily to avoid the parked veh. I confess I went past her at the next, inevitable, traffic jam 30 seconds down the road and shouted incoherently at her windshield as I past. It is utterly pointless doing this I know, as she will have had no idea on how inconsiderate her driving was, but I had had enough at that point.

Sometimes I think of getting a cycle child seat for my daughter, or a trailer. She would love going out with the cycle, and I could take her out easily without having to resort to fiddling around with buses. On days like those described in the first paragraph I think I should, on days like the second I cannot see how I could subject my daughter to this type of inconsiderate, crap, dangerous driving. And seeing as I get more days like the second one than the first, my child trailer goes un-purchased.

Cycle routes in the Netherlands

David Hembrow's blog, a view from the cyclepath, shows how cycling infrastructure could and should be implemented to generate the cycling modal share enjoyed in the Netherlands.

In his post on the directness of cycle routes, he links to a video showing how roads have been designed in the Netherlands to provide direct routes for cyclists, how cycling is prioritised over car use, and how this helps cycling become a convenient and safe way to travel.

The most telling part of the video was at around 1:30, where old pictures of a main road in Utrecht were shown against what this street is like now. 20 years ago the road was a 4 lane major thoroughfare for traffic, and then it was altered to only allow bicycles and public transport to travel on it. Thus providing wide pavements for pedestrians, superb cycle paths for cyclists, and a direct route for buses which are all separated in a logical way.

This shows the utter fallacy of the excuse trotted out that London's roads are too narrow to accommodate cycle infrastructure, whereas the Dutch had the luxury of space. They didn't. They made a conscious decision to completely alter their towns and cities to prioritise cycling, walking and public transport over cars. They didn't achieve all of this by just trying to fit it around the existing structure which grew up to cater for private vehicles, they fundamentally changed the nature of the roads themselves.

The Dutch didn't get modal share because they have some fundamental cultural affinity for cycling, cycling rates were dropping as fast in Holland as anywhere else until cycling infrastructure was put in. They didn't get the modal share because of the flatness of the landscape - Newham is flat as well, but has 0% modal share. They didn't get it because they only invested in pretty posters and nice videos and strategy documents. They got it because they invested in infrastructure to support the bicycle.

Can you imagine if the car infrastructure had been approached in the same way in the 20th Century as cycling infrastructure is approached now? Instead of countless billions of pounds spent re-modelling our cities to accommodate the car, spent on bypasses and flyovers and motorways, spent on car-parks and road-signs and tarmac, the town planners and governments had decided they couldn't possibly do all of this so we would have to settle for some posters and a couple of short films? I doubt car usage would have got out of single digit modal share without all this enormous investment and vast restructuring. So why on earth do transport advisers and government departments think that a cycling revolution can take place with absolutely nothing other than platitudes?

Sunday 21 November 2010

New infrastructure in Hackney Wick

Freewheeler highlighted Hackney LCC's philosophy on cycle lanes, in one of his posts.

"In Hackney, however, the local LCC group abhors cycle lanes:

for years our approach has been to reject tokenistic devices such as "cycle lanes" (have you noticed the absence of grit-strewn dooring lanes in Hackney, as compared to neighbouring boroughs?), in preference to engineering that reduces motor traffic speeds, opens up route choices for cycle traffic through increased permeability, and improves the streetscape in general, especially for pedestrians."

I have to inform them that, despite their efforts, they have been invaded by the crap infrastructure pixies anyway. Maybe the pixie army that is doing sterling work in Waltham Forest by providing all manner of dangerous and useless cycle lanes are now moonlighting across the River Lee. Who knows?

I think this short cycle lane is intended to allow take cyclists to the new crossing which leads to a shared path over the A12. Which sounds admirable, if only the cycle lane didn't have the crossing lights situated squarely in the centre of it.

They could have continued the drop kerb past the lights and extended the crossing width to accommodate the cyclist. Instead the cyclist presumably is supposed to navigate between the wall and the light pole - a gap that can barely fit a cycle through, even less allow pedestrians and cycles to use the facility without conflict.

A potentially nice idea to make turning into the shared path a bit easier is utterly ruined by some idiotic positioning of street furniture and complete lack of thought as to how cyclists should use the facility. It gets to the point where one has to wonder if local councils are doing this on purpose.

So, I am afraid to inform Hackney LCC that their strategy of rejecting token cycle lanes appears to be no barrier for Hackney council. Welcome to the world of Walthamizing.

Saturday 20 November 2010

The law breaking continues

As the two tragic cases detailed earlier run their course, the roads are still lawless places where motorists can act with complete impunity, safe in the knowledge that the chances of getting caught are small and the punishment derisory.

Even drivers of clearly identifiable vehicles don't care. Today in Hackney, I was waiting in a pedestrian crossing with my bicycle when I heard someone talking. Looking around I saw a Tesco delivery van waiting at the lights next to me with the driver engrossed in conversation on a handheld mobile phone. The window was open - there was no attempt to furtively hide this law-breaking. And why not? It is hardly as if he will ever get caught for it.

Yet another tragic case reaches conclusion

The case over the death of Catriona Patel concluded today.

In brief, Dennis Putz ran over Catriona Patel whilst driving a lorry. He was estimated to be 40% over the drink-drive limit and was chatting on a mobile at the time of the accident.

The court heard that Putz had been jailed twice before for driving offences, a six-month sentence in 1995 for reckless driving and, in 2003, after 16 counts of driving a lorry while disqualified.

Yes, that is 16 counts of driving a lorry whilst disqualified.

And the company that Putz was driving for? One called Thames Materials Ltd. According to the above LCC news release :

Thames Materials Ltd failed several inspections, the company and its drivers had many convictions. In 2002 the Traffic Commissioner tried to revoke its licence to operate lorries, but this was overturned on appeal. 

Dennis Putz was convicted of death by careless driving. He got a 7 year prison term and a lifetime HGV ban (which judging by the fact that he flouted previous bans at least 16 times may not be such a huge deterrent to him).

Meanwhile an innocent woman is dead, and a family destroyed.

I cannot help but think that this entire appalling story is a complete indictment on how our judiciary deal with law breaking on our roads.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

The tragic case of Amy Houston

The Daily Mail appears to be trying its hardest to become a parody of itself. But occasionally it runs a story that highlights the tragedy of our car culture  - even if it is unintentional. Such as story is here.

To summarise, a driver,  Aso Mohammed Ibrahim, ran over and killed a 12 year old child and then fled the scene. He was driving with no license or insurance and whilst serving a nine month ban for these offences.

He was convicted for the offence and served 4 months in prison for driving whilst disqualified and failing to stop.

The Daily Mail concentrates on the driver's immigration status (he is an Iraqi refugee) but that isn't the point - the crime is not connected with the decision to grant him residency. The reason he killed a child is because he was driving when banned, something that is widespread in the UK. And why not when the chances of getting caught are so low, and even when caught the punishment is derisory. What is the point of banning someone from driving when they are already driving without a license? Where is the deterrent in that?

The driver got four months, yet reflect on the litany of motoring offences leading up to the death of the child. Fleeing the scene of an accident where someone is seriously hurt should carry a bigger prison sentence than 4 months in itself. I know of friends knocked off cycles by cars which fail to stop. Why? Because the chances of getting caught even with the car details appears to be low, and the punishment even if convicted is pathetic. Running away from someone who may be injured due to your actions is just despicable and should be punished accordingly, not least to encourage motorists to contact the emergency services as soon as possible to give the victim the best chance of recovery.

The irony that the Daily Mail is running a story like this is probably lost on them. They are one of the most rabid papers in trying to quash any move to make motorists more accountable (usually under the laughable guise of fighting against the "war on the motorist"). Well, this type of injustice is the result of influential papers fighting to maintain the status-quo. And this is happening all over the UK by motorists who have no fear of the consequences of their actions, regardless of their background and nationality. Freewheeler's blog highlighted the appalling statistics around the numbers of uninsured drivers in the UK, based upon this report  which indicates that there are 1.7 million uninsured drivers in the UK, 13% of all cars in London. Incredibly in an area of Bradford 50% of all vehicles are uninsured. And why not? When you can avoid the inconvenience of getting insurance, or even a license, by flouting the law with little consequence.

This case is a tragedy. My sympathies lie with the family. How can someone break the law in so many ways which then results in the death of a child end up being punished with just 4 months in prison?