Tuesday 31 August 2010

NHS and the cycling revolution

The NHS website gushes enthusiastically about the many and varied benefits of cycling.

"Cycling is one of the easiest ways to fit exercise into your daily routine because it's also a form of transport. That means it saves you money, gets you fit and contributes to a cleaner environment."

it says here.

So when I had occasion recently to go to St James Health Centre in Walthamstow, I could be forgiven for imagining that there might be some cycle parking provision to encourage everyone on this form of transport?

How many cycle parking stands did I find?

That's right. 

Nothing. Zero. Zilch. 
Diddly Squat.

As can be seen in the picture, it is hardly as if they don't have the room to put in a couple of sheffield stands. In fact, around the corner they have a railing for padlocking prams and buggies, but it is too high for cycles. Putting in a group of sheffield stands in the area would allow both pram users and cyclists to use them securely.

In the picture one can just make out one cycle tied to the staircase - I had to secure my bicycle outside the front door where there was a support pillar to the porch.

According to the NHS website, cycling can help reduce stress. Well, not if you spend ages trying to find somewhere to secure your cycle, and then the entire doctor's appointment worrying about your cycle security.

This website page is cycling eco-fluff which is so at odds with reality one wonders if the authors have ever ridden a cycle, or indeed stepped outside their front door.

Sunday 29 August 2010

Cycling Vindicated

Today was one of those days that I remember why I dusted off my old cycle several years ago. Traffic around Central Walthamstow was horrid with jams in pretty much every direction.

I cycled around the shops and back home several times today, completing all my shopping tasks in a fraction of the time required if I had driven. Although one may need an assertive disposition with the filtering at times, the drivers today were models of careful driving with not one close pass (barely any overtakes with the state of the traffic) and some making room for me to pass.So I thank them for their courtesy.

It is days like this that makes me remember the frustration of driving in the local area. Sometimes it will take over 30 minutes to go a couple of miles, and then half an hour later you can return in the opposite direction to see the traffic has cleared and the same journey would now take 5 minutes. There seems little reason for these sudden snarl-ups, apart from the fact that the roads are so narrow that it only takes one blocked junction or badly parked vehicle for everything to be affected.

Sometimes when I go past these jams, I want to talk to the drivers and say "I was in your situation a few years ago, and I hated it. Do yourself a favour and hop on a bicycle and regain your Saturday". But I doubt it would be well received, and it sounds a bit too evangelical for me. I imagine becoming the cycling equivalent of the Jehovahs Witnesses - earnestly pressing the latest copy of the London Cycling Campaign newsletter into reluctant hands. Besides if everyone started cycling, then there would be no stationary traffic to vindicate my decision to use a cycle....

Racer Rosa

Local Walthamstow firm, Racer Rosa, has been getting some publicity recently - probably the most high profile being in The Guardian.

Local blogger, Archipelago of Truth,  is not so convinced of the green credentials and motivation of the company, and gave the company quite a brutal write-up, followed up by spirited comments by the author of the The Guardian piece, Simon Munk.
I have to say that I am never totally convinced of the "ethical argument", and normally want to shoot down eco-fluff at 50 paces. 

For sure Rosa's website contains more than a smattering of both, enough to raise my hackles somewhat. And the cycles themselves appear to be trendy fixies for the ultra-cool. Even if I got one of these bicycles, I doubt I would be their average customer, and probably wouldn't make it onto their promotional material - the receding hairline, paunch and panniers full of shopping topped off by economy pack of pampers wouldn't fit with their image.

In essence, Rosa is either taking old steel frames, or frames hand built in Italy, and creating a fixie cycle with some cool retro equipment and a trendy stripped down look. And the "cool" factor is reflected in the prices - with some around £1000.

But I find it hard to be too cynical of this business. For a start they are actually making something  in my local area, something which should always be encouraged. They are making bicycles which may be saving some nice frames and putting them to good use, and the end result, judging from the photos, look good quality.

So, even if the ethical and eco angle is a bit over-egged for my sensibilities, I still think a local business putting together a nice product should be encouraged.

As for me, my bicycle is a full retro mountain bicycle nearing its 20th birthday, in large part still retaining its original equipment. And when anything goes wrong I will tend to fix and cobble together rather than throw away and buy new. I thought all this was because I was cheap and skint, but now, thanks to the Racer Rosa website,  I realise it is because I am ethical and eco-aware

Saturday 28 August 2010

Roll Call of (Dis)Honour

I would like to take time out to thank those drivers today who made my journeys by cycle just that little bit less enjoyable than it might have been.

Firstly, I would like to thank the owner of the old black Audi TT that helpfully sounded his horn a couple of times as he sped past. Since the road was wide, and there was loads of room to overtake, I assume this wasn't done in frustration, but as a helpful notification that I was about the be passed by an idiot driving way above the 30mph speed limit in a cast-off hairdressers car. Still, the driver could remain anonymous as he had fitted illegal privacy glass - it must take a certain special narcissism to believe everyone might want to look at him.

Secondly, I would like to mention the owner of the silver mini-car / shopping cart thing that pulled out directly into my path near Bakers Arms. Clearly not a multi-tasker, as he didn't seem able to hold a conversation with a mobile clamped to his ear and look for traffic at the same time.

But lastly, a very special mention should be given to the owner of some old red family hatch crap-wagon that undertook a line of traffic on Eastway, and pretty much ran me off the road in the process. Just to end up 100M down the road stuck at the traffic lights. It takes a special kind of stupidity to be this careless and thoughtless. If there was any justice in the world, you would have your license taken away and be allowed no possession more dangerous than a plastic spoon.

I thank you all.

Waltham Forest's Cycle Superhighways

Boris' superhighways haven't got to Waltham Forest yet. But despair not, we don't need them.

No, the council has provided us with 23 miles of  cycle lanes for us to enjoy.

Like this one - leading up to the junction between Hoe Street and Selbourne road. You know, the junction which has had non-operational cycle lights for over a year.

On the Waltham Forest website, it boasts that generally the cycle lanes are 1.2M - 1.5M in width. Obviously this piece of road is one of the few exceptions, seeing as this cycle lane isn't 1M at its widest, and narrows at the top of the picture to virtually nothing. But, I understand, they couldn't fit in a decent sized cycle lane, three lanes for traffic, and an advertising hoarding into the space could they? Something clearly has to give.

Although, to be fair, the council has tried to protect the cyclist by making it for the sole use of cyclists - as indicated by the unbroken white line. Or, the line would be unbroken had it not been worn away by all the vehicles straying into it....

Or take this example - just one part of the 23 miles of cycle lanes the council has bestowed upon us. This time in Forest Road. Just before the lamp-post that features in my previous blog - the one that just can't stop attracting cars.

The council has provided us cyclists with a test of nerve just in case we were getting bored just simply cycling safely. Yes, we need to try to use the cycle lane, whilst not being doored by cars that can legally use the parking bays at any time. Whilst also trying to avoid speeding motorists squeezing between us cyclists and the pedestrian refuge. One false move and you could be bouncing between parked and speeding cars like some kind of macabre pinball game.

The parking spaces are outside the Five Star Fish Bar. It is a very popular fish and chip takeaway - and rightly so, the fish and chips are excellent. But couldn't those picking up their dinner by car be inconvenienced ever so slightly by only providing parking away from the corner? It would appear the council thinks not.

Boris can stuff his cycle superhighways. We already have 'em in Waltham Forest.

Friday 27 August 2010

Boris Bikes and Super Highways

I am not grumpy all the time. Not all cycling initiatives in London are misguided or unworkable.

The Cycle Hire Scheme, proposed by Ken and implemented by Boris, is something that looks like being greater than the sum of its parts.

Already generating more column inches about cycling in London than anything else I have ever seen,  60,000 people have signed up and 250,000 journeys made since it started at the end of July.

This is whilst the scheme requires you to sign up on the website and purchase a key. When the "casual hire" capability is introduced, I would think that more tourists and day visitors to central London would be tempted to use the facility instead of bus or tube.

Of course, it hasn't gone completely smoothly. But glitches should be expected, and considering the scheme was rolled out quite quickly, I think the problems have actually been less than one might have feared.

There are also criticisms of the concept of the scheme. Sure, it won't suddenly change model share overnight.  But this to miss the point somewhat. Of those 250,000 journeys, there will be people who have swapped taxis, tube or bus for a bicycle. Having done it once they will probably do it again. There will be more people for whom a cycle trip becomes just another option - it normalises cycling as a mode of transport. 

Time will tell with this. I hope it is a success. In these economic times, £140M sounds a lot of money for anything (even though it would barely get a rail, underground or road project started), so failure means further cycle projects would probably be more difficult to fund. 

Of course, I cannot be optimistic for long. If the Hire Scheme could become greater than the sum of its parts, it looks like the Cycle Super Highways are going to be considerably less.

I haven't tried them out myself, but the videos of Gaz545 on Youtube have featured in blogs and online newspapers enough for us to get a general idea of them. Such as this video which shows the "superhighway" as a thin strip of blue paint in a bus lane, pretty much completely blocked by ...errr... a bus.

I struggle to understand who the cycle superhighways are aimed at. Hardened cycle commuters were already using these roads, and will probably eschew any type of ill-conceived cycle-lane. Novices will hardly be reassured by the fact that they are being cut up whilst on blue tarmac as opposed to red. People who have never cycled before are unlikely to be swayed by these types of cycle lanes - it is hardly likely that concerns about the safety of cycling are going to be addressed by a strip of blue tarmac which is full of cars, motorbikes and buses.

There appears to have been some improvements to some junctions and the fitting of trixi mirrors  seems a good idea. But, at £22M, the scheme should be more than this.

I think the cycle-superhighways are somewhat doomed. At the moment the funding and will to make proper infrastructure that makes a difference is simply not there. So, from grand plans one actually gets the same cycle infrastructure crap, but just a different colour. Hardly progress.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Calculating Cycling Success in Waltham Forest

Unless Waltham Forest Borough are just trying to wind me up, judging from their website they believe they are doing sterling work in promoting cycling.

After all, they have won awards. Although the exact nature of these awards is unspecified, I would hazard a guess that this says more about the quality of the opposition than the winner. Or someone in the council headquarters knocked up some awards from a subbuteo FA Cup and a piece of wood with "best cycle lane" written in crayon, and then proceeded to award it to themselves.

Anyhow, the website is also telling in the criteria by which they measure their success.

Here they describe their "facilities" on the road. The key metric being the number of miles of them. I am not sure that the number of miles that someone has gone around the borough painting a white line at the edge of the road completely measures the quality of the provision.

They also mention that generally the cycle lanes are between 1.2m to 1.5m. The word generally is probably most telling. I can think off the top of my head a whole number of places in the borough, many cases on busy roads, where even this miserly 1.2m width simply isn't true.

And no mention of the general quality of the provision. So we have cycle lanes running right next to parked cars, inviting the cyclist to be doored, we have lanes just terminating in locations which leave the cyclist vulnerable and worse off than if it wasn't there, we have lanes so narrow that you can barely fit a cycle in it.

I don't know who designs some of the cycle lanes in the borough, but I want to force them to use them every-day until they come to their senses and realise that the ability to paint white lines is not the same as creating decent cycle provision.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Olympic Cycling part deux

I notice in the drop-out leaflet Hubbab, delivered with the LCC magazine to those lucky enough to live in NE London, that Waltham Forest have been given a grant of £250k to be spent on "cycling measures".

Those involved in this leaflet express concern as to whether the money will be well spent. If the council treat the money in the same way as the multi-million pound "Better Neighbourhood Fund" it will be a miracle if they don't just lose it.

Why would the Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign have doubts over the money being spent wisely? Well it appears they have been privy to some initial plans which have failed to impress. Apparently, some of these plans involved  increasing provision for car parking.

Of course, they may well decide the best way to spend some of the money is on a consultant for their communications department. That would be £66k well spent - or is it £6.6k, the council appears confused?

Giving money to Waltham Forest Council and hoping it is spent wisely seems a bit like giving Imelda Marcos a suitcase of cash in a shoe-shop and hoping she doesn't want any more footwear.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Lampost Demolition Derby

This lampost is on Forest Road near the turning to Ruby Road.

Forest Road, Walthamstow
It has been hit by speeding cars on multiple occasions. The road bends left here and the island reduces the width of the road. All accidents have happened late at night. One wiped out the lamppost completely and the car ended up coming to rest 100's metres down the road by a zebra crossing. The latest one clearly dented the lamppost - the keep left sign was replaced as the original was shattered across the road.

Forest road in this area is a bit notorious for accidents. The three accidents involving this pedestrian refuge didn't even merit a piece in the local paper, but these did :

Illegal drunk driver killed in 2009
Car and Van collide in 2009
Cyclist killed in hit-and-run in 2007
Car catapults into front garden in 2007
Two injured in hit and run in 2008

This is just the tip of iceberg - I frequently cycle down Forest Road past broken glass and bits of bumper. Clearly speeding cars must be an issue on this road, and yet I haven't seen one transport document that is seriously looking at how to address the problem. Cars don't just "lose control" by themselves and plough through pedestrian refuges, pub walls or front gardens - drivers lose control of the car by using too much right foot on the accelerator.

It might be easy to think that a change to the road layout is required to resolve the issue. But the underlying issue are drivers who are not driving within the law. But why would they? The chances of getting caught for speeding are low, and if you are, the consequences aren't enough to make people stop doing it. In an urban environment driving at the speed required to flatten a concrete refuge and lamp-post is more than reckless or careless, it is being criminally negligent whilst in charge of a lethal machine. Even during the day, I see cars speeding through the pedestrian crossings close by whilst people are trying to cross. This type of disregard for the welfare of others won't change with some change in road-layout or "awareness" campaigns, it needs to be backed up by serious consequences if caught, and by the authorities making this type of anti-social behaviour as high a priority as drink-driving.

Waltham Forest are consulting on redesigning this part of Forest Road. No doubt it won't cross anyone's mind that adding top quality cycle facilities and pedestrian access to narrow the road and at least temper the appalling driving on this stretch of road. It will be the same crap, just a bit more paint and a lot more money.

Traffic Light Tribulations

As noted several times in Freewheeler's Crap Cycling in Waltham Forest blog here, the lights at the junction of Hoe Street and Selborne Road used to have a set of cycling lights to allow cyclists turning right from Hoe Street, or crossing Hoe Street from St Mary's Road, time to cross the road. To set the scene, at this junction, Hoe Street has 5 lanes of traffic (6 if drivers decide to make another lane going North by driving over the cycle lane at the junction), and Selborne Road has 2 lanes. So to cross Hoe Street from the cycle facility in St Mary's Road requires finding a gap between 3 lanes of traffic from Hoe Street going south, one lane from Selborne Road going right, and 2 lanes of traffic fron Hoe Street going North or turning left into Selborne Road. For those who don't know the junction, it might be best to imagine playing Frogger - except on a bicycle, and with the difficulty level set to "manic".

Well, nearly a year ago, there was work done on the junction, and for a couple of months there were temporary lights for cars - but no provision for cyclists or pedestrians (thus giving one some insight on the level of care that Waltham Forest or TFL affords non-car road users). This finished, but the hoods on the cycle lights were never removed. To this day they are still in place - I know, I took pictures of them this morning.

In a rare moment when my level of grumpiness spurred me into action, I emailed Waltham Forest on their website. You know, the one that boasts :

Waltham Forest Council has been one of the leading local authorities in London in its commitment to introducing cycling facilities and has won five awards over the past decade.

Now clearly a council that is that committed to cycling would be leaping upon any complaint concerning their award-winning infrastructure? I sent an email saying that the cycling provision was still not working after 3/4 of a year, and was there a plan to remove the hoods?

My email was sent on the 4th April 2010. It got sent to the traffic department the same day. It looked like things were moving. Then 10 days went past, so I emailed again. I emailed again on the 20th April and got a response that the traffic light provision was part of TFLs responsibility, not Waltham Forest. Slightly perplexed that it had taken 17 days for Waltham Forest to work this out, I decided to take up the fight with TFL. I forwarded the email to the TFL fault control "hotline" where I didn't receive a response from that day to this. Undeterred, a week or so later, I found the phone line to report issues to TFL and rang them. Whereupon a nice lady sounded suitably worried about a potentially dangerous junction due to non-working cycle lights, gave me a log number, took my details, and that was the last I ever heard. Clearly the team who trained Waltham Forest on timely responses also had worked on TfL. In the light of the dire public sector finances, one could imagine that both organisations who dealt with my query may be able to be replaced with an out-of-office message simply telling me to bog off.

Anyway, I had occasion to go through the junction this morning, and took some photos to illustrate

Selborne road cycle facilities from St Marys Road
Close up of hooded lights
Interestingly, whilst taking these, I noticed that underneath the sign telling all traffic to continue straight on except cycles (when it is controlling traffic on a cycle path?!), is a sign telling cyclists to dismount. So, it would appear to use this cycle facility in accordance with the signs, one cannot actually cycle. I presume this is because Waltham Forest thought that a fast moving cycle would be less easy for the 5 lines of oncoming traffic to hit than someone walking across whilst wheeling a bicycle.

I don't know how much it cost to put in this cycle facility, but I bet it wasn't less than £100k. And now it stands useless because, presumably, TfL cannot be bothered to re-instate it, and even if they did it could only be used by cyclists that had dismounted.

As an aside, even if the lights were working perfectly, and just waiting to shepherd cyclists safely to the delights of Selborne Road, the pictures below show another problem that the council seems to have overlooked.

View from St Marys Road to the cycle facility
That's right. This is the view towards the cycle facility from St Mary's road where, at the end, there is a cycle bypass to the now defunct cycle lights. Eagle-eyed readers will see that part of it just before the cycle crossing is no-entry. Therefore the law-abiding cyclist would need to :

Go up this road to the end. Along Church Road and then back down...

... to get back to St Mary's road only about 50 feet further along. It should be noted that Church lane has a righ and left turn at the end anyway, so if you cycle up to this road, you may as well not bother cycling back down just to use the cycle crossing.

Of course you could always follow the example of our MP, Stella Creasey and ignore the no-entry sign. But that would just be wrong.

Monday 16 August 2010

Olympic Cycling

It's happening here, according to Waltham Forest Council. Which I guess is at least factual, if not particularly illuminating. The website then enthuses that 

"The Games present a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference to residents of this borough and the rest of East London with massive social, economic and physical regeneration of the area." 

Hackney website is similarly excited by the changes the Olympics will make to the area. I decided to cycle around the area with a great deal of optimism - what better way to celebrate the Olympics than installing world class cycling facilities? Maybe the "massive regeneration" of the area had already started, with cycle paths that would make Holland envious?

So I had a pootle to the top of the Olympic park via Homerton Road and the Eastway into Leyton.

Homerton Road, Hackney

Now clearly, as can be seen in the picture above, London's roads are far too narrow for proper cycle lanes like they have in the.. er... wide and spacious streets in Amsterdam. Clearly a road like the one pictured cannot accommodate parked cars on both sides, two way speeding traffic and cycle provision. Sometimes us cyclists just need to be realistic.

Anyway, as soon as I got the end, I realised that cycle provision had been made - my cynicism was misplaced.

Cycle lane, Homerton Road, Hackney

Not only a cycle lane (well, at least a bit of white paint on the pavement) but the obstruction caused by placing the traffic lights slap bang in the lane has been rendered safe by blocking the whole pavement with road-work signs. Clearly one would have to bunny-hop your bicycle up onto the lane whilst avoiding speeding cars squeezing between you and the traffic island, but the council can't think of everything can they?

So we turn the corner onto Eastway. This is directly opposite the Velodrome. Surely things will improve so close to the main cycling arena?

Eastway, Hackney

A cycle lane! How marvellous! This must be the start of the cycle provision.

End of Cycle Lane, Eastway

And here is the END - a few hundred metres down the road. I know it is the END as the council have helpfully painted END at the END of it. At this point one has a choice. Progress on the road with vehicles speeding past (they have had the two lane carriage-way retained during the Olympic works, with no speed cameras), or engage in the obstacle course that is the shared pathway. Starting with the slalom between the temporary traffic lights and the sign indicating a shared path, and culminating in the "adventure through poorly surfaced roadworks between narrow builders fences", below.

Shared Cycle / Pedestrian path. Eastway, Hackney

Finally, after negotiating what would appear to be a shared cycle path modelled upon an Indiana Jones movie, one reaches the end and is thrust back into the traffic speeding along the dual carriage-way.

Cycle lane. Eastway, Hackney

You will observe that the cycle-lane helpfully has no run-in lane, or dropped curb, so that cyclists are kept fully alert. After all, the potential of a tumble across a curb into speeding traffic does so concentrate the mind. And just in case there are cyclists who are oblivious even to this, then the cycle lane starts at a left turn into New Spitalfields Market, so one also has HGVs crossing at the same time. So, to sum up, the cyclist needs to swivel their head back 180 degrees to see oncoming traffic and retain control of the bicycle over the curb whilst making sure they aren't wiped out by left-turning lorries moving over the cycle lane. I have termed it "multi-tasking whilst crapping myself".

Still, if the cyclist survives this, they leave Hackney for Waltham Forest.  Waltham Forest says the following on their website

Waltham Forest Council has been one of the leading local authorities in London in its commitment to introducing cycling facilities and has won five awards over the past decade

Sounds impressive. Doesn't sound like this borough would have shared paths that can barely fit a cycle through, or dangerous cycle lanes that force the cyclist to give way to speeding traffic travelling from behind.

Ruckholt Road, Waltham Forest


Well at least this one makes sure the cyclist needs to give way to traffic before plunging back onto the road. Can't have us cyclists expecting not to have to stop every few yards to give way can we? 

I don't know what the council won the cycling provision awards for, but I will take a wild stab in the dark, and say it possibly isn't because of the provision of this nice, wide cycle path. It is so narrow that the sign-writers have had difficulty putting the little cycle sign in it, and so close to the road, that if an HGV doesn't take you out when you go back onto the road, they might knock you over with the draught as they speed inches away from you on the cycle path.

Although to be fair to Waltham Forest, they have provided shared paths before reaching this part of  Ruckholt Road.

Ruckholt Road cycle path, Waltham Forest

Like this one, where one shares the path with a traffic light and railings.

Ruckholt Road shared path, Waltham Forest

Or this one where one shares the path with a Rhododendron bush.

Anyway, as I cycled on into Leyton, I realised I had experienced the current extent of cycle provision for the Olympics. No wonder that the Olympic park only has tours on a bus.

Upon returning home, I was perusing the web to see if any cycle provision was intended for the Olympic park area. After all, I cannot imagine many people wanting to cycle with young families, or the inexperienced on the route I had just used. Not unless they wanted  them scared witless.Or dead. On my searching, I found an article on the website of the London Cycling Campaign. Interestingly the photo has the caption

The Velodrome takes shape in the Olympic Park, but will there be decent cycle routes around the area?

Well LCC, I think I can answer that one for without having to initiate an ODA review into cycle provision.


Welcome to my first (ever) blog. I am the Grumpy Cyclist. The blog is a long time in the making, not because I was perfecting the writing or researching interesting material, but because I couldn't be bothered to put down in writing my experiences cycling in the wonderful borough of Waltham Forest, (with Hackney and Haringey playing cameo parts). But now, my general grumpiness at the state of cycling in these boroughs has overcome my innate laziness, and I shall attempt to relate my experiences.

People have blogged this topic before, most notably the excellent and prolific Freewheeler on Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest.  Freewheeler's blog should be a lesson to all those involved in the local council on what needs to be remedied to make cycling a better experience in the borough. Clearly no-one on the council reads, or cares about this, as the issues that have been raised by Freewheeler years ago are still a problem.

I don't want anyone to be in any doubt. I am not a lycra-clad, lentil eating cycle fanatic. I cycle because, despite the best efforts of local boroughs, it still is often the most convenient way to get around. Until a few years ago, I hadn't cycled for a long time, and drove everywhere - and believe me driving isn't any picnic with the level of congestion on the roads in East London either.  But I don't believe non-cyclists are aware of the crap that masquerades as cycle provision. A few months on two wheels made me realise why most people don't use cycle lanes and some may not obey the highway code at all times. It's because on a cycle, it can sometimes feel like everyone, including those you elected, are out to get you.

Anyway, I plan to update the blog as often as I can - I could hope that it will be suddenly discovered by those in charge of transport planning and be a force for change, but I am a realist. Judging from the state of cycle provision, they either have a pathological hatred of cyclists, have never cycled, or possibly even seen a cycle in their lives, or are engaging in some massive wind-up. Or possibly all three.