Wednesday 29 September 2010

Cyclists - free-loading danger to society

CYCLISTS are more dangerous than cars, according to an outspoken district councillor.

Says the "this is kent" news website, reporting on the comments made by councillor Lawrence Abraham in response to a request for more cycle paths and safer routes for children to school. 

Presumably the report is using the word "outspoken" to mean "wrong".

If there is any question about why we get rubbish cycle provision from our local councils, then the attitude of councillors like Mr Abraham provides at least part of the answer.

Cyclist slalom

The road contractors who are resurfacing Selborne Road / Hoe Street have added an element of excitement to cycling up this long and slightly tedious road by placing unlit obstacles in the cycle lane.

In case one is getting complacent cycling up this road, you now need to swerve out into traffic more concerned with making it past the lights at the bus station than your welfare. And, of course it has an additional useful function in completely blocking off the filter lane to the ASL when the traffic is tailed back at the lights. Which is more often than not. After all we can't have those pesky cyclists making progress when legitimate road-tax paying  drivers are stuck in a traffic jam. And not just any traffic jam, but one that is caused by buses wanting to turn in and out of the station.

This is not the only road work sign placed in a cyclist's path at these road-works. Signs have been scattered with abandon on the pavement and cycle-lane.

I have reported these issues to the Waltham Forest Hotline. Judging by the response from previous reports, I will be surprised if anything is done before the work finishes in four weeks time anyway.

Still, at least the added danger and inconvenience to cyclists is more than offset by the important message imparted by the sign.

Monday 27 September 2010

Railings crash into car

Junction of Forest Road and Wood Street today. It looked as if the car had gone into the railings - then presumably dumped across the cycle path and pavement so as not to inconvenience cars.

Either this, or it came into conflict with a right turning car from Forest Road, but there was no second car at the scene.

There have been numerous accidents on this road where cars have crashed into immovable street furniture. One might remember the lampost outside Ruby Road which has been hit several times. 

Each accident, if reported in the press at all, is reported as the driver "losing control" of the car. Which always makes me laugh. It sounds as if the car driver is wrestling with the car in the same manner that a cowboy wrestles with a bull in a rodeo, or a pilot wrestles with a shot-up fighter jet to bring it into land. It somehow sounds as if the driver was valiantly fighting the odds.

When in fact, the drivers were almost certainly travelling way above the speed limit in reckless disregard of anyone's safety. I am not saying this happened in this case, but I have seen first hand accidents that have been caused by idiotic speeds some drivers do on this road.

It should be stopped. But it won't be. Because, unless police patrol the road every day and night, then the only way to slow the traffic is to narrow the road and make it slower, perhaps by adding in decent cycle paths and junctions that prioritise walkers and cyclists instead of speeding cars. And that will never happen.

The True State of Waltham Forest's cycle provision

A kindly neighbour, who knows I cycle, said the other day that he was pleased the council was trying to help cyclists stay safe by providing cycle lanes and paths. He didn't expect the 20 minute tirade against the council, TfL and anyone else involved in cycle provision. It was clear that only politeness was stopping him moving swiftly away, but I didn't care - I was going to have my rant whether or not it was wanted.

Anyway, the cycle lane in Forest Road - near, of all things, the council offices - demonstrates my point effectively. We start off with this..

The council have "implemented" a two-way cycle path on the pavement.  In the background it can be just seen that it is interrupted by an entrance that is now blocked, but still the council have a "give-way" on the cycle markings. Then there is a giveway because a bus-stop is in the middle of the cycle path. Finally, the council seem a bit half-hearted about even marking out the path in paint, the delineation just seems to end for no reason.

Then the cycle path crosses the path of a pedestrian crossing on the junction

Numerous give-ways here as well. And the path narrows so the cycleway is frequently completely blocked by the numerous students and pedestrians using the pathway to get to the college and council buildings. Also note the pole in the cycle-lane. Useful.

Finally, the pavement narrows further, so the cycle path goes back onto the main road

The bus driver has considerately highlighted the problem with this piece of "provision". The cycle lane not only crosses the whole pavement, thus conflicting with pedestrians, but then the lane magically starts up on the road whilst the roadway goes from 2 to 1 lane after the junction - therefore this cycleway is normally encroached upon by fast moving vehicles. Would you like to use this whilst the bus is in that position? The cyclist is expected to either stop and look to see if they are going to mown down, or somehow manage to swivel their heads 180 degrees to see traffic behind them as they enter the road. Something which, unless the cyclist is an owl, is unlikely to be anatomically possible.

The whole thing is just an utter shambles, presumably the workings of a hyperactive six-year old with a set-square and a crayon. It also defies belief because this cycle path was designed and built. It wasn't just put down on the existing tarmac pavement, the grass verge was altered to accommodate it, whilst the kerbstones and tarmac were relaid. How insane is that? I mean this utter crap provision which puts cyclists both in danger with vehicles and in conflict with pedestrians was actually designed by someone. 

What is even more insane, is that the road here is wide. As evidenced by the fact that this appalling cycle path has a pretty wide cycle-lane running on the road next to it (seen in picture1). This cycle-lane fizzles out at the junction where the traffic going straight on gets 2 lanes, and a third is for traffic turning right.

So, the cycle-lane in the road, that is perfectly adequate, could have been extended, by removing one of the 2 traffic lanes going forward, and continuing it across the junction. It could even be separated by a kerb so that it could bypass the lights with its own cycle lights to stop cyclists on the pedestrian phase only. This would be genuinely convenient and safe. It wouldn't even inconvenience drivers very much as the two lanes are very short and disappear straight after the junction.

But instead the council spent money and time dreaming up this bizarre rubbish. It really defies belief. All this does is take room away from pedestrians, and put cyclists in direct conflict with them. Does anyone who works for Waltham Forest transport division actually know what a cycle is? 

Saturday 25 September 2010

Cycling provision in Tottenham Hale

I travelled through Tottenham Hale to Seven Sisters today. Which involves either negotiating the nightmare that is the Tottenham Hale Gyratory - or taking the "quiet roads" through the backstreets.

Yes - There is cycle provision around the gyratory. Unfortunately it is less like this....


... and more like this...
Arse end of Tottenham Hale
The cycle bypass for Tottenham Hale goes on quite badly maintained roads through an industrial estate which includes a large recycling plant and therefore large numbers of lorries. But this is OK since large lorries rarely cause issues for cyclists....

This road is on the TfL cycle maps as a route, yet there is nothing on the road to indicate a cycling road, there are virtually no signs (the one that I did see was pointing in the wrong direction), and it goes through a park where I have no idea if you can cycle on the footpath. You could end up really lost around here if you didn't know the area.

And once this is all negotiated you come along to the A10 which you need to cross (with no supporting cycle lights) and then divert through the back of a housing estate to get onto Seven Sisters Road. Again, this is all on the TfL map, but absolutely no signage at all, and some of the journey appears to go along the pavement.

But then it is probably better than the racetrack that is Broad Lane...

Interestingly enough, I passed complete gridlock from just past Blackhorse Station to Tottenham Hale retail park, probably a mile of crawling traffic. This appears standard for Saturday and Sunday as too many people try to park in too few spaces. One might decide the problem is too few car parking spaces, but this is an area that has many bus routes, an overground and underground station opposite, and actually quite a number of good quality cycling stands. So if you decide to take your car, unless you are buying something big, there is no real need. Perhaps more people may cycle if they didn't have to meander through industrial estates and fight across busy traffic or stick to cycle paths full of pedestrians (mainly because the council situated a bus stop right on top of it).

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Cycle traffic light : UPDATE

Whilst on updates from the equally inept organisations that are TfL and Waltham Forest Council, I recently saw a blog on Crap Cycling & walking in Waltham Forest, which resolved the issue of the hooded cycle lights. The ones that have been not working for one year now.

According to this blog, TfL have committed to resolving the issue by March/April 2011.

Apparently there is some conflict between the car phase of the lights and the cyclist phase. So clearly the best way to resolve this is to remove all priority for the most vulnerable party and let them play some kind of cycling version of Russian Roulette with five lanes of traffic.

I would like to see what the response would be if the car phase was switched off for 18 months.


I am sure that no-one will have forgotten the flowerpot slalom which had become an integral feature of the cycle bypass at the blackhorse road junction. Well, I reported it and got this lovely response back a couple of weeks ago.
Dear Grumpy Cyclist*,

Thank you for your email dated 11/09/10

I have forwarded your report to the grounds maintenance department responsible under reference number 1588541,they will investigate this and deal with asap.
Please contact us at Waltham Forest Direct if there is anything further we can do to help you.
Yours sincerely etc.

* They didn't actually use the prefix grumpy cyclist. That would just be odd.

Now this looks promising. They will investigate and deal with asap. Now, I am not too sure what degree of investigation is required to realise a flowerpot is in the way and move it, but nevermind, the whole email sounds almost enthusiastic to resolve my minor issue.

Now I went past the offending flowerpot today, and guess what? It was in exactly the same place as it was when I reported it a couple of weeks ago. Clearly Waltham Forest Council's definition of ASAP is significantly different to mine.

Now this isn't a really big thing. It is more an inconvenience and a bit stupid. I doubt anyone would die from have to weave around the flowers, unless they had some kind of ultra-aggressive strain of hay-fever. But the fact is that a 5 minute job has simply been ignored.  I suspect that somewhere there is a job-ticket for this lodged in a council (or more likely Kier) van and is awaiting the time when someone can be bothered to get off their arse to check it out (or the end of space-time, whichever comes sooner).

It shows the real priority that Waltham Forest give cyclists. Which would be so close to zero as to make no practical difference to not 
giving a toss at all.

I do sometimes speculate whether I could adopt such a laissez-faire attitude to paying my council tax. Something tells me they may be just a bit more pro-active with this though.

The contempt with which some hold human life

Ali Altuntas was jailed for four years recently for running over and killing a cyclist, and then leaving the scene of the accident.

This man, who is from Chingford - the "posher" part of Waltham Forest - caused the death of a cyclist by his dangerous driving, and then left him dying to try to escape the consequences. On top of this he got rid of the car and has never admitted his actions, therefore putting the relatives through a trial.

Now, four years may seen quite a long time, but just consider what he did. Leaving someone seriously hurt or dying as a result of his own behaviour is utterly despicable. And yet he isn't the first and won't be the last person to do this. I believe that this type of behaviour needs to be taken very seriously. It is not difficult to imagine cases where the time taken between the the person fleeing and someone else getting help could be the difference between life and death.

I think fleeing the scene of a serious accident where someone died should carry more than 1 year for perversion of justice. It should be treated as manslaughter in its own right.

This man will be probably out in 2 years. No doubt the weak punishments for lawless drivers will allow him to drive again soon afterwards.

What kind of human leaves another dying  alone in the road? Words cannot describe the contempt I feel for this type of behaviour. And to then know this only carried one year imprisonment shows the utterly screwed up priorities we have when it comes to road use.

Monday 20 September 2010

Cycling is dangerous

On my route via the lee navigation canal, opposite Springfield Marina, I witnessed a cycle accident.

One cyclist coming off the bridge went headlong into another cycling on the towpath in front of me. The cyclist on the towpath must have been going reasonably quickly as I was keeping pace with him at around 13mph.

Cue a tangle of legs, arms, wheels and dérailleurs. I helped one of the cyclists by lifting their bicycle up a bit to dis-entangle them.

A couple of minutes later and everyone was on their way again. The accident had caused some bruising to the body, a slight loss of dignity to the cyclists involved, and a frisson of excitement for those walking their dogs in Springfield Park.

I have been cycling around this route since 2007. It is the first accident involving cyclists. I have never seen a cyclist / pedestrian accident on this busy stretch of tow-path. Despite the stark warnings about IPOD zombie cyclists and pedestrians and tales of ASBO cyclists cutting down all those in their path, the actual statistics show few serious injuries or death between cyclists and pedestrians, even less between cyclists themselves. And many, many more between cars and cyclists and pedestrians.

The solution to congestion caused by cars....

.... apparently are smaller cars according to this rather gushing article on the BBC website.

"Imagine a car so narrow that two can drive next to each other in one lane; a car so small and short that three can park in one parking space." starts with and continues in this enthusiastic vein until pretty much the end of the article.
Clearly a smaller car that is more fuel economical and made from more recycled material is better than one that isn't, but it isn't going to save the planet. Or indeed make huge amounts of difference to congestion since the road system will still remain at the same dimensions unless everyone chooses this type of car (and HGVs etc. are also scaled down). And here also is the nub of the issue - the reason that this type of venture, no matter how cleverly engineered or designed, is going to really struggle. The fact is that people buy larger cars to feel safer  on our roads where the law of the jungle so often applies.
Of course, no-one is mentioning what the cars will run on - presumably, in the absence of a hydrogen infrastructure, fossil fuels will still play a big part. And even if hydrogen is used, the current methods of generating the hydrogen are hardly an environmentalists dream.
The final part of the article really holds the key to what this new car is about. The company has developed a new production process which is greener, but also less costly than convential production and so lowers the cost of entry for companies looking to make cars. The process could make any type of car, it would appear, so the "green" car at the start of the article seems to become less relevant than first thought.
People driving smaller cars won't help congestion. A minute or twos thought on this should show the fallacy of the argument. What we need is a simple machine that is versatile, cheap, incredibly efficient at converting effort into forward motion, and compact. Something that can easily be used for those 5 mile or less journeys so many of us do using a car.
If only someone could invent something like that.....

Saturday 11 September 2010

Waiting for cars and the flowerpot slalom

I ventured into Haringey yesterday, on a trip I frequently make around Stamford Hill and Seven Sisters. Although obviously I am always nervous about leaving the protection of the award winning cycling facilities in Waltham Forest, sometimes one just has to be brave.

I have to say that the cycling paths around Tottenham Hale, although not maintained to a great standard, and having to be shared by pedestrians and people waiting for the bus, are actually easier than navigating the chaos that is the one-way system. Apparently this is going to change and the area may no longer be blighted by a three lane race-track.

But the cycle paths betray exactly where the cyclist comes in the pecking order of road users, in the opinion of Haringey council.

Now, aside from showing the difficulty of taking the pavement away to use as a cycle lane (ie pedestrians quite like to walk on it), it also shows cyclists expected to give way at a junction. This junction is with the retail park car park. It could have been easy to give cyclists and pedestrians priority, and it wouldn't have changed traffic flows significantly. The major congestion caused is too may cars trying to find too few spaces, sometimes the queues tail back along Forest Road.

And look - whilst pedestrians and cyclists are sharing this space, cars have 3 lanes.

I really hope that the new scheme will reclaim some of this space back to pedestrians and cyclists - both use this road extensively. I shan't hold my breath.

So, Haringey have tried - they haven't succeeded completely, but the road environment is so aggressive,  this is better than nothing. What have the award-winning Waltham Forest done on their side?

Well, this view shows Forest Road near Tottenham Hale. The white line denotes the cycle path, at least Haringey managed to find some green paint and time to add some little bicycle symbols. But here shows clearly how pedestrian space is compromised to provide nominal facilities for cycling. And ends up with both being crap. Meanwhile the road is kept lovely and wide to encourage speeding. Which is absolutely endemic on this stretch of road. The lone speed camera near the end is hardly deterring anti-social driving. If a road in Waltham Forest was crying out for average speed cams, this is it.

So the facilities above look like a puny attempt to move cyclists off a road made dangerous by law-breaking motorists, when the root cause of the danger is ignored.

When one reaches Blackhorse Lane junction, Waltham Forest has put in a  cycling provision - some cycle-lights which allows cyclists time to clear the junction before the main road lights go green. Useful in principal as the road narrows after the junction, and the cyclist needs to contend with 2 lanes of fast moving traffic merging. However, as the picture shows below, there is a problem

Yes, as lovely as the flowers are, they are blocking the narrow cycle bypass lane. This is so indicative of cycling provision - even a potentially reasonable idea is made ridiculous by the council not thinking about what they are doing.

I could point out that whilst cars have three lanes, cyclists are generously provided with this lane barely wider than the width of double yellow lines, but that would be somewhat cynical - Waltham Forest are really rather chuffed with their cycle lights.

None of these problems would take much money to sort out. Moving the flowers would take 10 minutes, at least continuing the green strip over the car park entrance to make drivers aware of the cycle path wouldn't be a hugely costly exercise. Yet the chances of this happening is probably around zero. Why? Because the councils either are cynically deploying cycle facilities as a facade of "green-ness" or the people responsible for implementing these facilities have absolutely no idea about cycling, and never use them themselves.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

The Real Perils of Cycling

Contrary to what The Daily Express may believe, I don't think the greatest peril confronting the cyclist are headphones. No, I think the answer may lie elsewhere. I will give you a clue.

Queens Road Junction, Hoe Street. Old Lexus undertakes the traffic going straight on and forces his way between me and the traffic lane to gain a few spaces. He was so close to me, I could have touched the paintwork with my feet. Several minutes later I pass him in the queue at the Bell junction, so his dangerous driving gained him absolutely no time whatsoever. 

Psycho HGV driver on forest road uses left turn lane at Hoe Street to undertake the queue and barge his way into traffic. Aggressively uses horn when someone has the temerity to be stopped in his path and then used the outside lane to barge as far forward in the queue as possible. I was intimidated in my car and thankful that I hadn't met this moron whilst cycling. How does someone like this get an HGV license?

Leyton High Road, Hyundai I3. Whilst I was waiting at the lights in the ASL, this driver encroaches on the ASL and is right next to my back wheel. Then passed me, for me to overtake him again at the queue around Bakers Arms. Whether he was trying to intimidate me, or just didn't bother stopping in time, I don't know. If he was trying to intimidate me, then he really should think about using something more substantial than an I3. Like a shopping cart. Or something fashioned from Papier Mache.

Homerton road - Great overtakes by all cars except one that doesn't alter their line at all for me. Again for him to be overtaken as he gets snarled up at the horrible traffic on Eastway.

Selborne Road - Black Corsa which doesn't look as it cuts me up to undertake the queue by illegally using the bus lane. Presumably if a bus had been coming then the halfwit would have noticed. 

Selborne Road - Black BMW 7 Series, overtakes me and is about to left hook me into Sainsburys car park before thinking better of it and waiting for me to get clear. I mean why? Why not just stay behind me for 5 seconds?

Hoe Street - Black Beetle. Driver manages to undertake at the junction with Selborne road by imaginative use of a hatched area and cycle lane. She does this at speed and then slaloms between me and the traffic in the correct lane. I overtake 30 seconds later whilst she is in the queue for the lights. Utterly dangerous, pointless and anti-social.

Grange Road - One way road with ludicrous cycle lanes that end after a blind corner (LBWF really excelling here, I will take pictures of it soon). I want to turn right, so start moving to the right whilst indicating. Fiat Multipla behind accelerates to get past before I filter right. Completely stupid move, he was way behind me and I would have held him up for only seconds as I moved across. And he deserves a mention for driving a car as ugly as the Multipla. It is the automotive equivalent of Shrek. I can only assume people buy them for a bet.

This is a small sample over the last week. Most drivers are considerate, patient and sensible. But whilst we have a significant minority of drivers acting as above on the streets, then they pose a threat to all other road users.

But of course the greatest threat is headphones.

Monday 6 September 2010

The Perils of Headphones

The Daily Express decided to headline the tragic story of a young woman dying when she collided with a HGV as


Now, I don't wear headphones whilst cycling. I don't think it the best idea to dull one of your senses when a cyclist pretty much needs all of them to survive at times. Do I think this is reasonable - well no - the fact is that I shouldn't have to strain to listen for that speeding car coming up behind me for a close pass. But I do.

However, the Daily Express seems to believe in this case that headphone wearing is the primary cause of the accident. From the limited details it would appear this is another tragic case of inadequate off-road cycle lanes putting a cyclist at risk at junctions with the road. If she had been cycling on the road, the HGV would have been in front or behind her - with poorly designed facilities, the HGV crosses her path.

I am not saying the facility was the cause of the accident any more than the Daily Express should be concluding that headphones are the cyclist's greatest peril.

My primary thoughts are with all those involved. My secondary thought is that whilst councils manage to construct cycle facilities that are stupid and dangerous, cyclists are being put at greater risk. I leave you with Harlow's effort to provision for cyclists as an illustration of my point.

cycling stupidity

Saturday 4 September 2010

Innovative ways to increase cycling

So, TFL have release some new videos showing young celebrities (and some "ordinary people") cycling, presumably with the intention of showing how cool cycling really is. Since, I didn't know most of the celebrities in the videos, I am willing to admit I am not part of the target demographic.

Now, the series of films cost £300k to make, around £50k per film.

Now one could be cynical about the whole exercise, but £300k is a mere drop in the ocean as far a TFL budget is concerned, so it isn't as if they are betting the farm on a few whimsical films. I could point out that none of the films appears to have found any traffic in London - a truly spectacular achievement. Although, I guess having Dermot and friends  dodging black cabs, white vans and red buses to then find the ASLs full of cars, and mopeds wouldn't really give the desired impression.

The concern I have with this type of cycle marketing fluff is not that it exists, but that it is really all that exists.

If it coincided with some real revolutionary cycle provision and infrastructure then one could forgive TfL for producing the marketing fluff. But all we get for infrastructure are some blue roads where it won't inconvenience motorists. TfL, along with a many organisations connected to transport (including  - to their shame - some large cycling organisations) believe that someday a magical "critical mass" of cyclists will appear in London, and the streets will be transformed into scenes reminiscent of Copenhagen, or Amsterdam, without any of the inconvenience or cost of actually investing in a similar cycling infrastructure to that enjoyed in these cities. 

They think that all they have to do is shut their eyes and wish very hard.

Of course, this "critical mass" argument is palpable nonsense when the modal share enjoyed by cycling is so low, and the main reason non-cyclists won't cycle is the perceived dangers generated by the poor infrastructure and lawless drivers.

Still, TfL may yet have a hand in increasing cycling. Between them and Bob Crow, next week may see many more people looking to the bicycle (and the cycle hire scheme) to get them to their offices around the city.  So maybe TfL, with not a little help from Bob Crow, may actually get more people on their bicycles after all.

Serious accident

Going about my chores this morning, a large part of Hoe Street was closed due to an accident around 6am. Freewheeler covers it here and the pictures he took were used in the local press reports.

It appears the driver was involved in a short police pursuit where he failed to stop and crashed at what must have been some speed into a lamp post. Police have confirmed he has been arrested - it would also explain the length of time the police took over the scene - Hoe Street was shut for 6 hours or so.

Traffic, of course, was terrible in the area - another time I am glad I am riding my bicycle and not in the car.

What I did notice, was that, in the area of the crash most of the roads connecting Hoe Street to the other major road, Forest Road, are one-way, but many drivers decided to ignore this fact and turn the roads into two-way thoroughfares for the duration of the road-closure. Since there was no police directing traffic down these roads, and people going the wrong way in normal circumstances is a rare event, I can only conclude that drivers decided to wilfully ignore the rules. In fact, most could have been only a little inconvenienced by going an extra few hundred metres and waiting at the lights to turn into Forest Road legally, so the alternative wasn't even that difficult.

Whilst around these roads, I saw some motorists speed down narrow roads the wrong way at high speed - some forcing oncoming traffic to pull over. It seems amazing that these drivers, only moments before, must have seen the carnage of a terrible accident, but could not associate this scene as a possible consequence of their illegal driving.

Now, my point is that many motorists say that a significant minority of cyclists choose to ignore the rules (lights, one-way streets) at times. And it is true - they do. Whilst not condoning this activity, however, it has to be said that the reason cyclists do it, is because these road layouts, especially one-way streets, are normally designed to accommodate cars, with no thought to cyclists, who then have to follow circuitous routes, sometimes on very busy roads.  And yet, incidents like the one above, show that, as soon as things become a bit more difficult for some motorists, they abandon the rules as well. I guess this shows that Cyclists and Motorists are all human beings, and cyclists aren't some special lawless group who are more prone to ignoring rules.

All this said, I hope the driver in this accident makes a full a speedy recovery. No matter what circumstances of any accident, one always hopes that lives aren't permanently blighted by the consequences.