Monday 27 December 2010

Christmas Car Frenzy - or yet another reason to cycle!

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

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

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

It was an absolute pleasure on the cycle.

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

Thursday 23 December 2010

Why cycling is great (again)!

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

Well here is why.

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

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

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

Ice spy with my little eye...

Something beginning with .... C!

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

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

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

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Road Violence

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

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

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

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


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

Surely this is illegal?

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

Hardly the best advertising for a food store.

Monday 20 December 2010

Boris Bike Spotting!

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

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

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

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

Health and Safety

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Walthamstow Delivery Office...

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

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

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

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

Sunday 19 December 2010

Not so nice

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

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

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

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

Saturday 18 December 2010

Winter Wonderland Update

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

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

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

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

Walthamstow Winter Wonderland

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

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

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

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

A Pedestrian Haven

Waltham Forest Council puts pedestrians first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 11 December 2010

A Good Day For Cycling

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

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

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

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

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

A little piece of Amsterdam in Walthamstow

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

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

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

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

Thursday 9 December 2010

High Street High Jinks

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

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

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

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

Sunday Cycling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawless cyclists tamed!

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

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

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

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

Saturday 4 December 2010

"Build it and they will come"

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

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

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

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

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

Snow - The yearly national emergency arrives early

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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