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?

Monday 15 November 2010

Cycling at the epicentre of the Olympics

Newham's website doesn't really hold much false promise about the conditions for cycling in their borough. As pointed out in another post, the key advantage that Newham council has made for cycling in their borough is that it is relatively flat.

But why are Newham's councillors hiding their achievements in such a way? Could they be just excessively modest? After all, many other boroughs are painting a couple of lines and bicycle symbols next to parked cars and calling it a cycling revolution! After travelling around Stratford, Newham should be less bashful about boasting about their cycling facilities! Like the one below

For those struggling to find the cycling facility, I would point your gaze to underneath the bendy-bus parked in the bay. Of course the bendy-bus blocking the lane isn't too much of a problem as the cyclist can simply move into one of the three car lanes, taking care to avoid being taken out by the psychotic driving that seems to be de rigeur  on this ring-road. I think that it is nice that the road system allows motorists to really put their foot down around this busy pedestrian area, albeit briefly before getting snarled up again in the narrow roads leading to and from it.

Excitingly, I think this might not be the only cycling facility that Newham are installing. Although not signed, I have a suspicion that the pavement to the right of the picture has been configured for an off-road cycling facility. It is just like Amsterdam! Look, the council have even made sure that cyclists don't get carried away and cycle recklessly by installing a lampost and bus shelter at either end. Although it may look a bit short, it does continue after giving way to a minor side road :

I am not too sure whether this is a cycle "farcility" or not. Since no signs are up yet, it is difficult to discern. A couple of cyclists tentatively tried it before hopping off the kerb at the end into the three lanes of traffic. Interesting to note that the council have continued the "cycle traffic calming using lamp posts" motif along this section as well. It is nothing if not consistent in its quality.

The citing of the cycle lane does have to make one reflect. It probably costs quite a lot of money (in cycling terms) to get a transport official to dream up this cycle path, and then some contractor to lay down the slabs in an attractive way and add the edging. Yet at no time does it seem that they have thought that having lamp posts stuck in the middle of one of the lanes could possibly affect the functionality. Maybe I am jumping the gun, maybe they are going to move the lamp posts and I am being overly cynical. But seeing as moving the lamp posts would cost money, and would surely be done before laying nice new paving slabs, I think it unlikely - it looks like this might be the intended result. And yet, if anyone had thought about it for 30 seconds, they could have maybe moved the path slightly to the left, or increased the "central reservation" and widened the left hand cycle lane to compensate. Just a bit, it wouldn't take any meaningful space away from the pedestrian side, just make the cycle path usable. 

As it is, if this is indeed going to be a cycle path, then another council will have managed to implement another crap scheme purely because they didn't think it through, but at least they will be able to boast about it on their website - maybe even win a "Waltham Forest style" award.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Another barrier to cycling

In another post, I described the somewhat mysterious broad lane bypass cycle route. The mystery being whether or not a cycle contraflow existed - Haringey council teased us with vague clues, but never gave the game away.

Even more mysterious was the fact that I happened to snap the contraflow exit when no cars were blocking it. This is indeed an amazing co-incidence of timing. It was like getting indisputable photographic evidence of the loch-ness monster, or the Yeti, and getting this by complete chance. I will always remember where I was when I saw this contraflow free of cars (there, taking a picture of it, of course). For those that missed this event, I have reproduced the picture below.

However, having the contraflow exit completely free of cars and usable felt wrong somehow - the natural order of things had been upset. So imagine my relief when I went past today and saw that the photo above was just a fluke chance.

Yes, normal service had resumed, the strange alignment of the stars to create a clear cycle infrastructure had now passed. I almost breathed a sigh of relief.

The thing is, the black corsa blocking the cycle-lane isn't illegally parked. The red route double lines stop at exactly the end of the concrete island. Where the car is parked is actually not marked at all, unlike the bays opposite which have parking restrictions.

This is yet another piece of cycling "infrastructure" that makes matters worse for the cyclist, not better. If it wasn't there, I could cycle along the left hand side and avoid potential conflict with cars turning into the road. As it is, with cars allowed to park so close they block the entrance, the cyclist has to move out to the centre of the road to avoid the concrete island and hope that nothing comes around the corner too quickly.

There is a school at the park end of Crowland road. The reason for the one way system was that the area got gridlocked with parents on the school run every day. Occasionally when I cycle along the road at school finishing time, I see some hardy school children cycling down Crowland Road, presumably also having to move out into potential conflict with turning vehicles. Haringey could have helped the congestion problem by providing some really good cycling facilities on these roads to enable parents and children to use cycles. Instead they implemented something that actually makes matters worse.

Of Cycle Paths - or why being realistic won't see a cycling revolution

There has been a somewhat spirited debate on various blogs concerning campaigning for better cycling infrastructure and strict liability laws.

It seemed to start with the excellent ibikelondon blog here, and moved onto Carlton Reid's blog here, with notable inputs from other blogs including freewheelers crap waltham forest blog and  the lofidelity bicycle club.

The essence of the debate is how the cycling establishment such as CTC and LCC go about trying to get decent infrastructure. Most of the blogs want these organisations to be agressively advovating Dutch or Danish like infrastructure whilst Carlton Reid feels we should be realistic on what may be achieved and how to go about it. His view is that "In such a car-centric society as the UK it is politically naive to believe meaningful space will be taken away from cars".

What I find dispiriting about the debate is that implementation of pretty much anything above a very local level (opening up a closed road here and there) is probably unachievable. "Strict liability" seems to be favoured as a way of taming the car culture by the cycling establishment - yet even this has no realistic chance of being implemented in the current climate. Even on a local level the cycling infrastructure "victories" such as opening up some one way streets to two way cycle traffic are normally more than offset by road changes which makes things more hostile to cyclists.

At the moment we are losing the battle, and by how much is utterly depressing.

The  LCC say that cycling in London has increased by 80%, but starting from such a low base, 80% is hardly a success. Modal share is still at less than 2%, and has barely shifted in 10 years. Modal share of even 15% is an utter pipe dream with things as they are. To indicate the scale of cycling's decline, I found that the stats linked to on Carlton Reid's Blog very telling. Despite his blog being optimistic about the slight increase in recent years, the numbers don't seem to indicate that cycling is undergoing a revival, or even really reached any kind of inflection point. To illustrate this, I have taken the data linked to here  and drawn some simple graphs

The data is Billion vehicle km, and goes from 1949 to 2008. Apologies for the image quality, but I think it is clear what it shows. Car use has rocketed, whilst cycling has slumped. The "upturn" that is so talked about looks like a slight increase from the absolute bottom of 4 bn km in 1998 travelled to 4.7 bn km in 2008. 10 years before the bottom, in 1988, the number of kms travelled was actually 5.2 - so the cycling revolution hasn't even turned the clock back to 1988, less still before the 1970's.

This is the product of years of tempering cyclists' needs with realism. It is years of accepting the ecofluff from councils as something positive for cycling when in actual fact it just lets them off the hook of actually doing something positive. It is years of everyone fooling themselves that cycling can significantly increase in popularity as a mode of transport without investing anything in it. 

The only proven way to get cycling modal share up to Dutch or Danish levels is to do what they did. Which is provide segregated, convenient cycle paths on major roads - facilities which give cyclists at least level priority with motor vehicles, and on minor roads for design to be such as to tame the motor car by blocking off rat-runs and keeping speeds low. What is required for cycling to increase are exactly the facilities in the video on Carlton Reid's blog.

Carlton Reid, and the LCC and CTC believe that one can increase cycling by not implementing these types of measures, and that cycling is increasing without resorting to these more expensive facilities. But as shown by the data on Carlton's blog, the increase is so small as to be barely able to be registered. It is not true that large numbers of people are taking up cycling without these facilities, the vast majority of people don't cycle, and have no intention of doing so. And universally the reason that is stated is that cycling in traffic on roads with no consideration for cyclists is too dangerous. 

Instead of implementing infrastructure that allows novice cyclists to go where they need to go in safety, the best that currently seems to be suggested for "newbies" is what Carlton Reid says on his blog - stick to minor roads with less traffic. This is the advice given out by cycling organisations and councils. Except that the traffic on these roads are normally rat-running, the roads are narrower so close passes are more frequent, minor roads often don't go where you need to go, and anyway they intersect major roads at which point the "newbie" cyclist is left stranded. All of this means that many "newbie" cyclists will simply give up and leave the bicycle rusting in the shed.

Organisations such as the LCC and CTC do a good job in trying to make the most of the scant money that is available, to lobby disinterested councils to think about cyclists on their roads and to try to protect the interests of current cyclists. But none of this is going to persuade people who don't already cycle to get on their bike and to do so in the numbers needed for a "cycling revolution" which increases modal share to even 10% less still the 20%+ in some European cities.

For that to happen we need the infrastructure that Carlton Reid believes is pie-in-the-sky. And if it is pie-in-the-sky (which, I agree is probably is) then talk by TfL and local councils about encouraging cycling and a cycling revolution is just bullshit, and all the strategy documents, adverts and marketing initiatives isn't going to change that. 

Dutch or Danish style cycle infrastructure may be a naive pipe-dream, but in that case so is any aspiration to bring about a significant change in cycle modal share. Talking about significantly increasing modal share whilst not grasping the thorny issue of giving space back to cyclists on our roads is the thing that is actually pie-in-the-sky.

Of "Strict Liability" - or why changes in the law won't get people cycling

Organisations such as the LCC are keen to lobby for a change in the law to enact "strict liability". For those not au-fait with this measure, the name is a misleading. A better description would be that a presumption of liability would be made in favour of the most vulnerable party in a road accident. This would only affect civil cases, not criminal prosecution. In effect it would force insurance companies to pay out to cyclists and pedestrians in the case of an accident with a motor vehicle, unless they can demonstrate that the accident was due to reckless behaviour from the cyclist or pedestrian. It would stop the current situation where insurance companies can use their resources to downgrade compensation payments because of red herrings such as whether the victim was wearing a helmet. It may also stop judges siding with this erroneous reasoning as well.

Strict Liability law is enacted in most of Europe and is a good thing. Unfortunately the Mail gets all frothy when the topic arises, so the chances of the UK getting this law is slim. It is odd that the Mail dislikes the law so much - they appear to believe our streets are rampant with reckless pavement cyclists killing and maiming without a care (despite what the statistics actually prove), and strict liability would also apply when a cyclist hit a pedestrian and would favour the pedestrian. But I digress.

Although "strict liability" is a good thing, the LCC in their article in the link above, appear to believe that it will encourage people to cycle. Some articles go so far as to say roads will be made attractive to cyclists with this law as drivers will suddenly become much more cautious around them.

This is pure bunkum. And here is why.

Most motorists, aside from a small number of total psychopaths, don't want to kill or injure cyclists. Most  close passes, SMIDSYs and other endangering behaviour occurs because most motorists don't understand cyclists needs and most people have a terrible ability to calculate risk. Many motorists are simply unaware of the danger these manoeuvres present to cyclists. Changing the law won't change behaviour as the motorist doing the close pass or the bullying pulling out doesn't believe they will hit the cyclist. A change in the law that changes the assumption of liability in civil compensation matters is simply not going to figure in their thinking.

Those who believe that "strict liability" will change driver behaviour point to places such as the Netherlands or Denmark where motorists are clearly more aware and more considerate of cyclists. But they aren't doing this because of "strict liability", they are more considerate because these motorists are usually also cyclists at times and so understand the cyclists' point of view. Until we get more motorists also being cyclists then we will always have the silly, irritating and downright dangerous behaviour we experience now.

Clapton Cycling Conditions

Cycling today through Clapton, the A107 was gridlocked from Stamford Hill to Lea Bridge Road. The map below indicates the length of the queues, for those unfamiliar with the road. Roadworks on Lea-bridge road appear to be the problem - actually the problem is too many people driving.

Hardly superb cycling conditions either. Bus lanes were blocked, the only way to progress was overtaking and pulling in for oncoming traffic.

It isn't hard to understand why non-cyclists have a view that cycling on the roads is dangerous, if this is what they experience.

View Larger Map

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Waltham Forest's cycle lanes - dooring is a requirement

After writing here about the Waltham Forest cycle lanes on Chingford Road that runs a considerable distance right next to parked cars, I cycled down this today.

Door-Zonetastic cycle lane - Grove Green Road, Leyton
It appears that Chingford road isn't a one off - Waltham Forest appear to have a policy of citing cycle lanes in the door-zone of parked cars. 

This is a one-way street, so obviously there is absolutely no room to site safe cycle provision, the council clearly thinks something is better than nothing, even if that something encourages cyclists to get a steel door in the face every once in a while.

Maybe Waltham Forest Council believe that putting down some red tarmac and white lines generates some kind of magical forcefield that envelops the cyclist and aids them to their destination. Either that or they are simply woefully incompetent.

Broad Lane Bypass

When I need to get onto Seven Sister's road at Broad Lane, I rarely use the main road. Streetview below may give you a clue as to why.

View Larger Map

To get onto the A503 you have to cross two lanes of fast moving traffic to get into the right turn lane. This is immediately after the broad lane lights which has five lanes of traffic - of which the middle is the lane for the A503. This road system has two modes - Gridlock or Racetrack, and neither are pleasant cycling.

But I shouldn't worry as Haringey have kindly installed a state-of-the-art cycle bypass. Possibly designed with advice from Waltham Forest.

I have previously taken photos of the industrial estate part of the bypass, but not the rest. Here is the street after the industrial estate and a little park.

Here we have Crowland Road, a one way system, but allowing cyclists to cycle counter to the one way system. Note the little blue cycle signs, which I don't think are in the highway code to mean access for bicycles, but not to worry. Then we go further down the road to find

No signs to indicate the bypass continues, but I can just make out the faint markings of a bicycle facing my direction further up the road.

Ah-ha! My suspicions confirmed, this is still part of the contraflow bypass, but the council have decided, for whatever reason, to not label it such on the no-entry signs.

Then at the end of the road is this. Unbelievably, I managed to get a picture of this segregated "facility" in the 5 minutes every year it doesn't get covered by parked cars. Later, on my return, the entrance to the cycle way was blocked by a car, which wasn't really a problem because most of the cycle-way was blocked by a lorry.

The end of the bypass is at the A10 here

Having got this far, what the cyclist is intended to do now is left a tantalising mystery. The lights you can see are pedestrian and cycle lights, but the pavement on the right hand side has no shared "facility" indication, and on the far side there is one forlorn sign indicating shared use which appears to be pointing in the wrong direction. Maybe Haringey want cyclists to dismount here, walk to the crossing, cycle across the road and then dismount again to push the bicycle to the cut-through, below.

This again has no indication as to its place in the cycle bypass noted on TfL maps - neither does it indicate if you are allowed to cycle through it. You end up in a housing estate near Seven Sisters Underground, and finally emerge onto the A503.

Of course, this route is a mess. There are few or no signs to indicate the way, it is a bit tortuous - involves pavements which may, or may not, be shared space - but are woefully inadequate for the job if they are. And major crossings such as at the A10, the cycle facility completely disappears. Only local knowledge will enable a cyclist to use this route - one which is marked on TfL cycling maps. Sherlock Holmes himself wouldn't have enough clues on this cycle provision to deduce the route without knowing the area.

But, after all that, at least Haringey have put in cycle parking on the A503. Finally, a piece of infrastructure that is so simple it has to be useful.

Or perhaps not.