Monday 31 January 2011

Leading the way in cycle infrastructure maintenance

Waltham Forest could learn a thing or two about cycle lane maintenance from our colleagues outside London.

There is nothing more annoying than a potentially good cycle lane ruined by poor maintenance. Harlow council, in Essex, clearly understand this.

That is why this piece of useful infrastructure has just had a new lick of paint.

Before the revamp, the lines were becoming a bit faded (presumably from the vast hordes of cyclists who use it every day). Without repainting, cyclists may have become confused about where they should be on this shared facility. Now there is no confusion. Cyclists should be to the left. Impaled on the railings. And thank goodness the give way signs have been redefined as it is important to make sure those untrained cyclists give way at the correct places. Where there is an old unused turning that has been shut for years, for instance.

Now cyclists can enjoy this piece of cycling nirvana for all of its 10 metre length.

I assume such valuable maintenance work gets funded out of a cycling budget. With the budget squeeze on local councils, are these important cycling infrastructures at risk? The public deserves to know...

Friday 28 January 2011

Giving Cyclists Room

Not giving cyclists enough room when overtaking is often cited by cyclists as a major reason that cycling in traffic can be unpleasant.

If my cycle trip down Forest Road is anything to go by, this message is getting through to motorists. 

I was cycling down this part of Forest Road, near Ruby Road

Except when I cycled it yesterday, the parking bays were full of cars as people got their fish and chips. The cycle lane was partially blocked by a wide van. So I cycled in primary to stop being squashed between the parked cars, an overtaking car, and the pedestrian refuge you can just about see in the background.

The car behind me recognised the requirement to give space, so overtook completely on the other carriageway. Past the pedestrian refuge on the wrong side. Such was his concern for my safety to give me space he put his own safety at risk by speeding past the turning on the corner just at the refuge on the wrong side of the road.

We should thank motorists like that for putting our safety concerns above all else. Apart from, obviously, the primary concern of getting in front of a cyclist who would slow them slightly for a few seconds until the road opened up again after the corner.

And probably a special vote of thanks should go to whoever designed this road layout to include a narrow cycle lane right next to parked cars on a busy parking bay and then making the road narrow enough with a pedestrian refuge so that cars encroach on the cycle lane. And then doing this on a blind corner, on a road with an endemic speeding problem, and with a turning thrown in for good measure.

Well done everyone.

Monday 24 January 2011

Special Driver

There is quite a lot of poor driving out there. So, it takes something quite special to really take my breath away these days.

Step forward the imbecile piloting the burgandy old Honda through Stratford this evening.

He uses the bus lane illegally on the approach to the gyratory. He close passes me and another cyclist in order to undertake in said bus-lane

He then tries to bully his way back into the queue to pass the bus turning left, but when this doesn't work roars off down the bus lane by the station (which has been open to traffic during the road-works). He makes to close pass another cyclist, but is confronted by a bus pulling out of the station, and decides that fighting with a bus isn't going to end well.

He then forces his way into the other lane to overtake the bus, jumps back into the bus lane (which at this point has reverted to a standard bus lane outside the road-works) and then turns left up Angel Road.

All of this dangerous activity actually got him a few seconds on me whilst I was cycling. In essence it gained him nothing.

Driving like this falls so short of the standard expected, that the only solution is to rip up the driving license, take the car, and fine. And if they drive again, they go to prison. If someone steamed through Stratford Mall waving a baseball bat, they would be treated very seriously. Why is driving a car at cyclists and other cars any different?

A man who probably needs our support

Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, called for tougher punishments for motorists who kill and injure cyclists. The reaction from "motorists" can be found here.

When I say the reaction from motorists, what is actually meant is the reaction of the RAC foundation, a spin-off from the RAC (and also a registered charity, which is interesting).

What Julian Huppert says is eminently sensible and not outrageous.

What a spokesman for the RAC foundation said was 

“The reality is there are reckless elements among all groups of road users.
“He is right to say tough action needs to be taken against offenders, but wrong to seek to establish a hierarchy of the supposed righteous.”
Of course there are reckless elements among all road users. But cyclists and pedestrians who are reckless don't have 1 tonne of vehicle in their control at the time. Surely even the most cursory consideration would draw the conclusion that reckless elements that pose a much greater risk to life and limb should possibly be treated with more rigour?
And the righteous comments are really starting to grate. Am I suddenly righteous on my cycle, but meek and humble when I do the same journey in my car?

The hierarchy that needs to be established is not of the "righteous" but of the vulnerability of road-user. Putting a higher duty of care based upon the potential hurt that can be caused seems very sensible. But road lobby groups will fight every inch of the way to preserve the status-quo. 
I am going to email Julian Huppert. We need more people like him, and we need them not to be discouraged by the efforts of the powerful road lobby.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Of Helmets and High Viz.

I am a helmet & high-viz type of cyclist. Not because I want to be, but because I want to give motorists the best chance to see me inbetween the other important driving tasks such as lighting a cigarette, drinking coffee, hunting for something in the back seat, texting, and having a magificantly animated row with the spouse.*

The futility of the high-viz and helmet approach dawned on me whilst cycling along Cathall Road in Leytonstone today. It is a terrible road for cyclists, but one of the few roads crossing the tear in Waltham Forest that is the A12 link road. So one has little choice, unless a lengthy diversion appeals. The road is just wide enough for cars to think that they can pass, without being wide enough so that they actually can without causing the cyclist considerable discomfort. Then there are some badly placed parking bays, a roundabout that is appalling for cyclists (cars squeeze past and overtake) and a slight incline as one goes over the A12 to a set of traffic lights where getting through the green phase is more important than the cyclist. All of this on a road where speeding is the norm as the motorist finds a new-found sense of freedom after the congestion of the A11.

I was close passed by around 5 cars, and overtaken on the roundabout by a mini-van. There was practically nothing I could do about this other than weave randomly around the road in the hope that the motorist would think I had lost my mind and back off.

If any of these cars hit me, they were going fast enough to cause real damage. Certainly more than my plastic helmet would protect me from.

So, the real cycling safety issue isn't helmet and high-viz. It is impatient and inconsiderate driving on roads that are completely hostile to cycling. It wouldn't take much to calm this road and make it more attractive for cycling. Some moving of parking bays and road markings would help. But even this seems beyond the various transport departments that manage Waltham Forest's roads.

* All these things I saw today whilst cycling. The row was something to behold. I am not too sure what the husband had done, but I would imagine he is sleeping on the sofa even as I type.

LBC and cyclists

Perusing the London cyclist blog, I came across a post where he participates in a phone-in on LBC  about cyclists. It is a complete ambush, and Andreas, the London cyclist blogger, valiantly tries to temper the interviewer's ranting with some reasoning, but alas, to little effect.

The blog can be found here, whilst I have embedded the actual interview below.


The interviewer starts of ranting about an anecdote ("a friend's son") contesting a fine for jumping a red light. In New York. From the inauspicious start of a "friend of a friend" anecdote based in another city in another country on another continent, the interviewer then extrapolates to brand all cyclists "arrogant" and so on.

She then moves onto the old chestnut of registration which holds all motorists accountable. Apparently. Except obviously the 10% who aren't insured in London. And, of course, the section of the other 90% who don't obey the rules. Including the large section who speed at least some of the time, and, even with our rather lax conviction rates, still manage to generate 1.8 million speeding fines per year.
Interspersed with these "bon mots" she covers such "facts" like "cyclists wear headphones more often than not" and various other "anecdotes". Anecdotes which, frankly, sound just a little made up.

Clearly these types of interview are just a waste of time. No-one manages to put their view across, all the interviewer manages to do is bully someone brought in under false pretences that has less radio experience, presumably in an effort to rile them into saying something stupid.

LBC seems to have form for anti-cyclist nonsense. Nick Ferrari  conducted an interview here where he managed, for the entire interview, to remain unconvinced that roads that can accomodate buses, taxis, cars and lorries are wide enough for cyclists.

LBC's tagline is "London's biggest conversation", which might be true, but from the evidence so far, it isn't the most coherent.

When one steps back to think about what is going on here, it is quite amazing. There appears to be such vitriol for a group of people deciding upon a particular mode of transport. For people living in other cities in Northern Europe it must be somewhat incomprehensible. I am not sure on this point, but I doubt, after a cyclist is killed, that Dutch radio then conducts a series of "interviews" where a whole load of unsubstiantiated claptrap is thrown around to cast cyclists as the biggest danger to society after terrorism. Maybe it is because 93% of Dutch people cycle at least once a week - to have a series of rants like the ones heard on LBC would be some kind of strange exercise in national self-loathing.

Maybe these rants are just the desperate attempts for attention on a local talk radio station, but the way the BBC (see Adam Rayner) also accomodates the same type of anti-cyclist rubbish without question, makes me wonder what is going on in our media to think this is all OK.

Monday 17 January 2011

Adam Rayner - again

In an effort to find out more about the cyclists' nemesis, Adam Rayner, I found the following on YouTube

This time about parking tickets and appeals.

At one point he says that " Motorists are subjected to a totalitarian society". I am sure we can all find the similarities between, for example, Chairman Mao's China or Stalin's USSR and the current plight of motorists and parking tickets.

On another interview on parking tickets he says it is "such an unpleasant thing to get a ticket". Well, Mr Rayner, I have had my fair share of parking tickets and can say they pale into insignificance to the unpleasantness of having one's well-being threatened by inattentive or bullying motorists. Or the unpleasantness felt when one knows that they can pretty much get away with anything up to killing a cyclist if they claim they simply "didn't see them".

Of course, if Mr Rayner finds tickets so unpleasant, maybe he could use alternative transport modes instead - I have never had a parking ticket with my bicycle for instance.

Or maybe parking tickets are simply a bit annoying as opposed to proof of a totalitarian state, and that Mr Rayner's hyperbole machine is going full tilt.

Adam Rayner

Adam Rayner is apparently a motoring journalist. I have never heard of him until this week when he seemed to be all over the BBC talking about cyclists.

Such as the BBC TV interview he did here
There was also a FiveLive "debate" featuring him saying much the same things in the TV interview.

He starts off straight away with the "cyclists going up one way streets the wrong way and jumping traffic lights" gambit, before launching into the tried and tested "the problem is the cyclists' attitudes" and then the old accountability chestnut. During which he said that cyclists were either "incompetent and stupid or arrogant and stupid". I shit you not. He also repeated this phrase on the FiveLive interview, so presumably he is quite proud of this soundbite.

Credit has to be given to Zoe Williams who, defending the cyclists, was reasonable, unflustered, intelligent and calm in the face of this complete rubbish. Which is more than I would have been.

More seriously, Adam Rayner appeared to dismiss the words of Martin Porter, who has been interviewed by the media on issues concerning police follow up of incidents involving cyclists.  Adam implied that he was being paid for "taking a stance". Martin Porter is a highly respected QC. To say that he his taking a stance because he is being paid to do so is pretty rude and wasn't picked up by the interviewers at all. Who would be paying him to take this stance? I would suggest to Adam that Martin Porter is taking a stance not because some mysterious illuminati of cyclists are paying him, but because, like many of us, he is getting a bit pissed off with motorists being able to drive dangerously with little or no consequence.

When Zoe Williams tried to get the debate back to something approaching reason, Adam then launched into a strange rant about cyclists not signalling properly. Apparently in 30 years he has never seen a cyclist signal properly, according to his cycling proficiency test. Which seems somewhat of another extraordinary claim.

He concluded that some of the money "striped" from the motorists (presumably as part of the "war")  should be invested in cycling infrastructure. Sounds reasonable, except I think that his idea would be to simply get cyclists off the roads so that motorists wouldn't have to worry about them. I doubt he would be interested in the type of infrastructure put in Holland or Denmark which takes space away from cars and gives it to pedestrians and cyclists.

This would all be utterly laughable, if the interviews hadn't been precipated by the high profile death of Gary Mason. At what point does the BBC think it OK to have a "debate" about cycling on UK roads which involves someone with views that they pretty much bring it upon themselves and simply counter any sensible conversation with half-baked anecdotes, innuendo, and plain old prejudice?

I do think that motoring journalists such as Adam Rayner look at high profile presenters such as Jeremy Clarkson and try to emulate. Except that Clarkson does his ranting with his tongue firmly in his cheek, and usually knows just what to get away with. I don't think Adam Rayner is able to pull off this stunt.

If Adam Rayner really wants to understand the issues cyclists face, I would be more than happy to take him around E,NE and N London to show him. Maybe he would realise why people cycle and what dangers can be caused by thoughtless or bullying tactics from some motorists. And that despite the issues, he might just enjoy it.

Sunday 16 January 2011

The war on the motorist clearly hasn't ended, despite what the politicians might say. Take this example - the driver of this Clockwork Courier van has had little option but to block the dropped pedestrian crossing whilst shopping at the hardware store.

This motorist - through no fault of their own - is running the risk of a ticket. If there were any traffic wardens around. And if anyone cared.

In an ideal world, motorists wouldn't have to block crossing access because they would have a 100+ space car park right outside the shop. Clearly it is the council that is at fault for allowing such a shop to be built without any consideration to the motorist. If only this motorist had such a car park within close proximity, then maybe the pedestrian ramp could be kept clear for wheelchairs and prams.


New wonder of the world

I now understand how John Speke felt when he discovered Lake Victoria.

Who would know that such a magnificent body of water would have lain hidden and untouched in N London?

The cycle underpass that forms part of the off road "facility" for cyclists to bypass Meridian Way was the location of my discovery. It may be strange to think that such a geographic feature may lay undisturbed in such a populous region, but it all makes sense when I realise that I am the only person stupid enough to actually use this route on a cycle. The water feature is completely obscured to the vast majority of the sensible population using their cars.

It was significantly deeper than I expected when I rode through.

Since I was the first to encounter it, I wish to name it Lake Grumpy - home of the discarded plastic bag and slight smell of excrement.

Coming back, I used Meridian Way. Which is almost as deeply unpleasant as wading through this lake of gunk, as the 40mph speed limit is widely disregarded. Well, enforcing the law would be a war on the motorist wouldn't it?

Monday 10 January 2011

Normal Service Has Been Resumed

Well, the courteous driving lasted until today. 

Traffic was abysmal, and I suspect rat-running was happening because the A12 looked absolutely stuffed.

A BMW Z3 in off-brown beeped me, shouted at me and tried to run me off the road whilst I was cycling up the A10 Stamford Hill towards the Clapton Common junction. Here, the road is two lanes, and the outer lane was moving at around 20mph. Clearly he wanted to squeeze between me and the right hand traffic and I was impeding him by taking primary (to stop idiots doing this). He then stopped at the junction and caused a traffic jam whilst he tried to barge back into the straight ahead lane. Utter anti-social arsehole. 

Then a woman nearly killed me (and I don't say this lightly) at the Grange park road junction where I had right of way, but she was travelling so fast (and clearly not looking - I was fully lit up and wearing high viz and reflectives) that she slid to a halt just metres from me. I had started to jink right to avoid her, but if I had happened upon another moron overtaking me on the bend I would have had nowhere to go. I was, again, in primary.

These moronic drivers, who in reality need reigning since their driving falls so far below what should be expected, are the reason why I would never transport my child around London's streets on a cycle. If these instances had happened when I first started cycling, I would have given up and would be driving around these routes instead of cycling.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Signs and Drivers

It has been widely reported that the car - sorry transport - minister is looking to simplify signs for motorists.

Apparently the signs are confusing and often misunderstood. Judging by the number of motorists that speed, the speed restriction signs are the most confusing and misunderstood signs of all....

There are clearly some signs which need to be clarified. I dislike the various "vehicles not permitted" signs, and think it would be much simpler to have this replaced with no-entry signs and any exemptions underneath ("except buses/ cycles / loading Mon-Fri 8am-11am" - that sort of thing).

But then some motorists are just stupid. Take today. I was at the blackhorse road junction which has a set of useful cycle lights when going towards Walthamstow. They allow cyclists 20 seconds or so to get across a junction which is large and uphill. I use it to get past the junction before the 2 lanes of cars set off and start jostling as the road shrinks to a single lane again. Today, the cycle light went green and the left turn car next to me went as well, left hooking me whilst I shouted at the driver (to no avail, they were clearly not aware at all). The cycle light is directed towards the separated cycle path, and the lights illuminate a little amber or green cycle. There are three main lights for cars. If someone cannot work out what these are for, they must be so inattentive, that I would have thought that remembering to breath might be somewhat a challenge.

So maybe it isn't the signs that are the problem...

Saturday 8 January 2011

Reasons to be grumpy?

What a start to the year!

Today I cycled 15 miles on relatively free flowing roads in Haringey, Waltham Forest, Hackney and Newham with little in the way of close passes or inconsiderate behaviour. To be honest, most of the drivers were so considerate that I was starting to feel unsettled. This new phenomenon  coupled with TfL managing to fix the cycle lights at Hoe Street made me wonder whether I was in danger of losing my grumpiness. What would become of me if I simply became "The Cyclist"?

Luckily, on my way through Leyton, I noticed some things that helped restore the natural balance of things.

At the junction between Leyton High Road and Grove Green Road, this bus just completely disregarded the ASL. There was no reason for him to not stop at the first line. This type of behaviour is really anti-social as it means that any filtering cyclists either have to stop next to the bus (not the best place in the world for a cyclist to be at a junction), or alternatively, cycle forward of the bus into the pedestrian crossing. 

And, it looks like Ruckholt Road / Alexandra Road is getting a makeover.

The big sign on the left is advertising the "streetscape inprovement scheme", whilst the two red signs say "cycle lane closed" and "cyclists dismount here". 

It is very kind of the council to make sure that cyclists are not endangered by the roadworks with the cycle lane shut. The narrow cycle lane that runs right next to parked cars. How could us cyclists cope with this road without a facility like this? Clearly signs asking drivers to take extra care for cyclists on the road during the road works couldn't be put up could they? And I assume that the cyclist is supposed to wheel their cycle on the narrow pavement left by the roadworks and hope that no-one wants to go the other way.

So all is not lost in 2011. I think my Grumpy title is safe for a little while yet.

Cycle lights at Hoe Street / Selborne Road

Miracles can happen.

The cycle lights, blogged multiple times on this blog and on crap waltham forest and, I believe, subject of a complaint by the local LCC to Tfl,  have been de-hooded, and appear to be working.

These were off for considerably more than a year. Presumably the "conflict" with the traffic phase has been resolved. I suppose these things cannot be rushed....

I was so excited I was going to take a picture, but didn't have my camera / phone.

I did notice that the sign for cyclists to dismount was still in the middle of the cycle bypass actually attached to the cycle traffic light. So it still is unique in being a cycle facility where, presumably, one should get off and push.

I don't know why this flurry of activity happened at the lights at this time, but I suspect someone, somewhere was making themselves a "nuisance" for long enough for something to be done.


To prove they are actually working, here is a photo. You can see in the background the cycle light. And they actually work since I used them!

The change seems to be that a "no-right turn" sign has been added to this cycle junction - meaning that cyclists shouldn't turn into Hoe Street northbound. I think this has been added since the cycle lights are green at the same time as the pedestrian crossing to the right, and so there was a perceived conflict. Clearly implementing something akin to the hierarchy of provision and giving cyclists and pedestrians their own crossing times at the expense of the motor traffic wasn't an option. 

123 Bus

At 10:45 am today, I got overtaken by a 123 Bus on Forest Road near Lloyds Park. Unfortunately he overtook me on a zebra crossing whilst a pedestrian was waiting to cross.

Complete numpty driving by someone who should know better.

If I had a helmet-cam I would be emailing that footage to the company right now. As it is, I doubt anything would get done about this bad driving.

Looks can be...

... deceiving.

Leytonstone High Road. Behind me a Range Rover Sport. Black, with heavily tinted windows. And private plate.

Normally the type of car that would make me uneasy whilst cycling.

Instead, the driver waited way behind me all the way until the road widened out and passed me with more room than an HGV normally gives.

So, to the driver of the Range Rover registration plate "LIKKA" (yes, I kid you not!), thank you for your considerate driving. It was refreshing to have this level of care taken on a road that is difficult for cyclists because of the long lines of parked cars, narrow carriageway and impatient driving.

First fatal casualty of 2011 on London's roads

It has been widely reported that ex-boxer Gary Mason was killed in a road collision in Wallington. He was cycling, and the driver involved has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by careless driving.

I do not follow boxing - I only vaguely remember Gary Mason, although reports indicate that he would have been one of the heavyweight greats if it hadn't been for injury.

What is amazing is that all the comments on all the sites point to a true gentleman who was thoughtful and kind, and also helped others in the community.

It is a very sad way to start 2011. My condolences are with his family.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Ham(mond) and Pickle - the recipe for a green future

In a brave attempt to prove that rational thought and formulating transport policy are mutually exclusive activities, the intrepid duo of Philip Hammond and Eric Pickles have been bravely putting an end to the unconscionable war on the motorist, which has apparently been raging on our streets for years now.

Eric Pickles issued the first salvo this year by claiming that reducing parking charges will reduce congestion on our streets, and will end the "parking nightmare with stressed-out drivers running a gauntlet of unfair fines, soaring charges and a total lack of residential parking".

Running the gauntlet, eh? Very Indiana Jones.

Of course Waltham Forest are at the forefront of modern thinking in this regard - even before this announcement, they were busy replacing pavements with parking spaces.

Then, as if he had a bet with Pickles on who could make the least logical sense, Philip Hammond announced :

"For years politicians peddled the pessimistic, outdated attitude that they could only cut carbon emissions by forcing people out of their cars," he said. "But this Government recognises that cars are a lifeline for many people – and that by supporting the next generation of electric and ultra-low emission vehicles, it can enable sustainable green motoring to be a long-term part of future transport planning."

Because clearly electricity production is currently done by the electric fairies who don't emit any carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at all, and have infinite capacity. And obviously ultra low emission vehicles - well they sound like they might just simply eat up that nasty CO2 whilst emitting only daisies and whimsical thoughts.

Clearly electric and low emission cars do have one advantage in that they will be able to reduce traffic congestion over current nasty models. Oh wait....

Electric vehicles clearly have a major disadvantage at the moment of lack of range. So they are being marketed as "city" transport. Which simply means that our city streets will be clogged with quieter electric cars that do their pesky polluting remote to the point of use. Forgive me if I don't think this is quite the leap forward that Hammond hopes.

It doesn't seem to have struck anyone in government that supporting the use of a tonne of metal to transport a single individual on a short journey whilst we are collectively running headlong into environmental and energy crises maybe thought of as slightly odd.

Electric cars are promising to be the panacea to our collective guilt about profligate use of energy - the solution that allows us to give up nothing (and certainly not have to think of using pesky public transport, or even worse, the bicycle) whilst magically solving our environmental problems.

They aren't. 

What better way to spend a bank holiday?

What did you do on Monday 3rd January? On one of the precious few national holidays we get here in the UK?

Well, what better way than to spend it combining three of the UK's favourite past-times: spending time with the family, driving and shopping?

Which is exactly what these motorists were doing. And to increase the pleasure of motoring, by allowing the motorist to spend lengthy periods of time bonding with their car, the traffic jam for Tottenham Hale retail park stretched from Broad Lane, through the gyratory, back through Ferry Lane to the Blackhorse Tube Station. And, of course, once the motorist finally arrived at the car park the traditional game of "find a parking space" could truly begin. After which, there was barely any time left, to queue up at the shops before they closed and allowed the motorist to, once again, become better acquainted with the inside of their car, as they queued round the gyratory to go home again. Some motorists were so excited by the prospect that they tried to jump the queue to go into the retail park car park, thus blocking all three lanes of the gyratory to allow everyone on four wheels the pleasure of spending their free time sat in traffic, whether they were going to the retail park or not.

I may mock, but it is clear that there is absolutely no alternative to the motor car when going to the shops at Tottenham Hale.  Apart from the large number of covered parking spaces for bicycles. Or the tube station next door. Or the rail station. Or the bus station. Aside from these, absolutely no alternative at all.

And TfL will perpetuate the insanity by re-organising the gyratory roads with "traffic flow" top of the list of priorities. Despite what they may say when talking about hierarchy of provision. Despite the fact that congestion like this is not caused by the road capacity, but by the parking and traffic through flow capacity in the car parks. And despite the fact that, no matter how much "traffic-flow" is engineered into the gyratory, it will always be filled, and that maybe the way to engineer traffic flow is to try to reduce the amount of traffic.