Thursday 28 April 2011

Stratford's cycle excellence

In my previous posts I have been less than complimentary about Newham and its cycling policies. The video below shows one reason why I am so contemptuous of the borough's cycling record.

This cycle lane isn't just useless. It is dangerous. Whatever way I tackle this I have problems. If I try to use the lane I get to the end and have to negotiate my way into fast moving and unsympathetic traffic. When I take primary, which is probably the way I would be advised to tackle it, I usually get close passed by traffic and more than once frantic pointing by the driver towards the little cycle lane.

Clearly whoever implements this crap hasn't the first idea about the challenges of cycling. And it is utterly needless - the pavement has just been restructured to swallow up the cycle lane when the revamp could have actually improved matters for cyclists.

I note there are two types of cyclists around the one way system. The ones, like me, who decide to try to employ vehicular cycling on deeply unpleasant roads only designed for the car  - and where speeding is endemic, or the cyclists who decide to ride on the pavement weaving in and out of pedestrians (and presumably annoying them somewhat). I am frankly unsure which makes most sense. Clearly Newham think the option that makes most sense is to ditch the bike and use the car, thus adding to the congestion and pollution in the area.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Words Fail Me

It is official. The world has gone completely mad. Or at least the ASA has.

Citroen produced an advert for its "green" C4 featuring a large herd of cyclists following a C4 - supposedly able to breathe more easily because of its "stop-start" technology.

All fairly anodyne stuff really. The only complaint I would have is that any car being sold on "green" credentials is possibly stetching things a little bit.

But, after one complaint, the ASA has ruled against the advert saying

“we considered that younger children might not appreciate the fantastical nature of the ad and might consider that the ad represented a real-life scenario. We were therefore concerned that the ad might encourage younger children to emulate a behaviour prejudicial to their health and safety, and therefore concluded that the ad should have been given an 'ex kids' scheduling restriction to ensure that it was not broadcast at times when younger children were likely to be watching.”

The key issue that would corrupt our nations young minds was that the cyclists were not wearing helmets.

Frankly I think anyone watching the advert, no matter how young, would get the fantastical nature of the advert. A young person would actually have to be cycling on a UK road before being able to emulate, and in the years of cycling I have never seen anyone under the age of 10 on the roads around me (and then only a couple of school kids braving the A10). The fantastical nature of the adverts is that there are that many cyclists on the roads without having some idiot trying to barge their way through to make it ten seconds earlier to the lights. The last time I was in such a large group was the London Bikeathon where a black cab driver expressed his opinion of having a few dozen cyclists in front of him by leaning on the horn repeatedly until he turned off the road.

When I look at cycling, I sometimes feel that either someone is playing a massive April Fools joke on me, or the establishment has been replaced in the night by raving lunatics.

Newham's priorities

I am now the proud owner of a MUVI camera. Well, not particularly proud as the reason I bought it was to somewhat mitigate the lawless and car dominated roads that I sometimes have to cycle upon - especially those in Newham. 

I have now managed to upload a section of the footage, which is my cycle-ride along the A11 from the Olympic park to Stratford Centre. It isn't particularly interesting, and the image stabilisation isn't what it could be - so those who are prone to sea-sickness may want to take their pills before watching...

This is the stretch of road that Newham Council (or the ODA, or TfL or the Mayor depending upon who you talk to) have decided doesn't need a cycle-superhighway. Or that the colour would detract from the pleasant ambiance of the road. Or that they are really quite busy re-organising the road at the moment. Or their dog ate the plans.

My video was taken yesterday in quite light traffic as many people aren't working this week. So things are a lot busier at rush hour on a normal week.

Even so, I think that it can be safely said that the road isn't exactly for beginners. Bear in mind that the road has recently been "improved" and this is the end result. It would appear that even extending the bus-lane to be continuous on this stretch wasn't deemed appropriate, yet would have afforded some measure of protection for the cyclists using the road.

It would appear no-one is really taking responsibility for shelving the Cycle Superhighway along this section, but fingers all point in one direction - Newham Council, and Mayor Sir Robin Wales.

Sir Robin Wales was knighted for services to local government (presumably this doesn't include cycling) but seems to court a certain amount of controversy.

To start, the first directly elected mayor has seen his salary increase by 34% since his election in 2002. Including a 4% payrise last year, when the borough is cutting £28M from the budget and staff have a two year pay freeze. This shows an admirable chutzpah if nothing else. Who on earth decides to award the payrise at this time? The local councillors - all of whom are in the same party as the mayor. Apparently half of these councillors have been awarded part-time jobs earning a very reasonable salary. Not that these two facts should be ever connected - it is clearly complete co-incidence.

Putting the question of personal renumeration aside, clearly Newham have better things to spend their money on than some cycle facilities. After all this is one of the poorest boroughs in the nation. So imagine my surprise when I stumble upon a BBC article concerning the council's new offices.

To summarise Newham managed to spend £111M on one office block for themselves. This included items such as five designer lights at £1,853 each. The refurbishment cost £18.7M with another £92M going on buying the office and stamp duty. The BBC article states that the £18.7M is around two thirds the money spent by every other London council combined on headquarter refurbishment over three years.

The article also mentions, almost in passing, that Newham have a council run newspaper costing around half a million pounds a year (the costliest in London) and that the Newham town festival costs more than the Westminster festival which attracts five times as many people. Although tight-lipped over costs, the BBC managed to get information that the show had cost around £160k in 2004, but was then rebranded as the Mayor's Newham Show and spending increased to £362k. The idea to name the show after the mayor was the mayor's. So one cannot accuse him of being completely bereft of good ideas..

In defence of the council, they are saying the move to new premises will save money - they expect to save £140M by 2014. Which is an impressive amount of money. Although the more cynical may say that words like expect when used in relation to future council cost savings are possibly code for might or hope. Indeed, I haven't seen a clear breakdown of how these savings will manifest themselves. I also struggle to understand why designer lights would aid these cost savings.

All of this adds up to my impression of a Mayor who runs Newham with compliant councillors and very little criticism. If the Mayor doesn't like cycling (and I assume he doesn't) then cycling measures are blocked. If earnest youth groups like the Woodcraft Folk want to challenge decisions such as the cycling superhighway then Sir Robin Wales simply refuses them entry to the meeting.

All of this would be laughable in a rich borough, but Newham is one of the most deprived. Whilst services to desperately vulnerable people are cut, the fact that the council thinks a pay-rise for the mayor and fancy chandeliers are acceptable shows a local government very deeply out of touch, and indeed a council that believes they are untouchable. The cost of the pay-rises and lights wouldn't save services, but the signal it gives out shows deeply complacent local government who aren't being held to account.

Saturday 23 April 2011

Easter Festivities

Happy Easter!

What better way to celebrate Easter than sitting in traffic jams in 27 degree heat.

The above is the scene from Chingford Road. The traffic was jammed both ways from the Bell Junction up to the North Circular roundabout - a not inconsiderable distance.

In the picture one can see a couple of renegades on cycles. The type of people who contribute neither to "road-tax" or the increasing PM10 pollution levels. They really are a menace and should be stopped.

Friday 22 April 2011

Big Brother Is Watching You....

.... or at least the tarmac surface anyway.

I got myself a Muvi camera the other day. The incident at Stratford finally made me think that recording incidents would be a good idea, if only to use as evidence if someone does knock you off the cycle.

Unfortunately, I managed to mount the camera in such a way that it gave an incredibly detailed view of the tarmac directly in front of the cycle, but little else. If anyone wants to do a study on the road surfaces in East and North London, look no further, I have over an hour of footage.

I think it incredibly sad that on cycle journeys this kind of recording needs to take place. But as can be seen with the link above, that need is very real.


England and Wales are under threat from smog, according to the BBC

According to the dept of Environment :

...the alert was due to warm and still conditions brought on by a high pressure system.

I am very far from being a tree-hugging eco-warrior. But even I am slightly concerned that the dept of the Environment seems to be blaming the weather for pollution instead of the cause of the pollution. Maybe they actually believe that clement weather causes smog.

Later on, they advise people susceptible to pollution not to take exercise, and to try not to make short journeys by car.  

London pollution regularly exceeds the guidelines from the EU. London traffic speeds during peak hours is 10mph. 50% of outer London car journeys are less than 2 miles

Some people may think we would be mad not to encourage walking and cycling in London and discourage driving.

Sunday 17 April 2011


I have found that there is a certain amount of snobbishness concerning Halfords in some cycling circles. Certainly, I have experienced very different customer service in different branches. I haven't been in the Tottenham Hale branch for a while, so things may have changed, but the one time I went there last year I was met was majestic indifference to my questions, and so left and haven't returned.

The Halfords in Chingford, by the A406, by contrast, has always had polite staff who are helpful.

But  this store has absolutely no cycle parking. None. Nada. Zip. Isn't this strange for a shop with a large cycling department?

Even stranger is that every BikeHut department I have visited is upstairs. It didn't occur to me until I saw three people heaving their bikes up the stairs (presumably to get them repaired) quite how inconvenient the stores are set-up.

Why would a company set up cycle stores in this manner? Surely not all the people who visit the cycle section drive? 

Saturday 16 April 2011

My new purchase

I ride a 20 year old bicycle. It is a pretty good make, but there comes a time when one has to invest in new equipment. So I took the plunge and bought a cycle for the first time in many years.

Somehow I suspect that my toddler daughter will use this more than me....

The high-viz tassles clearly a boon. Motorists whose attention has to be split between driving, phone calls, texting and emails, should be able to simply catch sight of the tassles through their peripheral vision whilst engaged in more important activities.

I am concerned though.

My daughter learnt to ride a cycle very quickly. Probably because riding a bike is as easy as - well - riding a bike. But she is showing a worrying lack of road awareness skills.

For a start she just doesn't seem to understand about vehicular cycling and primary position. It would appear that using a vulnerable cycle to control the actions of cars and lorries isn't something that comes naturally. She seems confused when I try to push her in front of fast moving traffic in order to take primary. She seems to think that this might be risky. She has so much to learn.

Also, one can see in the picture that there is a second seat for a doll. In the picture Dora the Explorer is at terrible risk because she hasn't dressed in high viz and a helmet before going on a ride. This is tantamount to recklessness and if Dora ever had the misfortune to get in the way of important road users (ie motorised ones) then she would only have herself to blame for the consequences. As some judges have pointed out more than once or twice.

When my daughter rides the cycle, it appears she actually enjoys doing so. Sometimes she even breaks out into a little song or has a chuckle to herself. This is simply unacceptable. How do I instil in her that cycling is a serious business requiring specialist clothing and protective equipment and should be conducted grim-faced whilst negotiating angry motorists on inhospitable roads?

Frankly, I wonder whether my daughter is cut out for cycling....

Friday 15 April 2011

New cycle infrastructure for olympics

I may have been harsh when talking about the disjointed - indeed non-existent - cycle infrastructure which will apparently whisk thousands to the games on their cycles.

One such facility was the excellent greenway which stops at one end in a mess of industrial estate roads and the other at the A11 where there is no crossing.

I spoke too soon. The Wick Lane end of the Greenway has been revamped and re-surfaced and up has sprung the new cycle infrastructure to aid cyclists on their way to the "green" olympics.

So there it is! What do you mean where? Right there. The little ASL. Underneath the stationary car. 

Thursday 14 April 2011

A very unpleasant incident

A pretty unpleasant incident happened in Stratford one way system the other day.

A driver took exception to me being in the bus lane (which is open to cars during road-works) and beeped and shouted - even though I was in stationary traffic. I tried to indicate for him to pass after the lights, but that got him even more worked up, so when the lights went green he basically drove at me and hit my arm as he past. He stopped and reversed, so I moved to a parking space where we exchanged abuse before he drove off.

Then it gets strange. I caught up with him within minutes of him driving off, and had a word. I kept it very polite and said his driving was a real problem. He actually apologised, which got me apologising (for what I don't know) before both of us went our ways. He seemed quite calm and reasonable, yet minutes earlier was forcing me off the road for no reason at all.

Driving like this makes a mockery of the advise about primary position and so on. There are some car drivers (and they aren't all of them by a long shot, but they are a significant number) who simply don't care and will decide to drive through no matter what.

For this reason I will be using a video camera when I cycle from now on. If I do get knocked off, I at least have evidence.

The incident isn't the first around the gyratory at the moment - I have seen other cyclists bullied as well. The problem is that the bus lane is open for cars during the road-works, but most don't realise this. Therefore a queue builds on the outside lane, and the bus lane is used by aggressive drivers who want to pass at any cost. Precisely the people who shouldn't be allowed to share road-space with cyclists (or anyone come to that). But Newham are a deeply cycle unfriendly council, for whom this sort of consideration to cyclists isn't worth it. Hence the complete lack of even basic cycle facilities on their appalling road system.

The incident made me the closest to given up cycling since I started using the bicycle again a few years ago. I won't give up, but think that it is a sad reflection on the state of our roads that I feel the need to record my journeys because of the dangerous driving that some seem to think is acceptable.

Saturday 9 April 2011

The imperfect art of vehicular cycling

Baker's arms last Saturday. Spot the cyclist? Yes, sandwiched between the bus and the stationary red car. Personally, I would overtake the red car to gain some space, but it is all a bit subjective - positioning where the motorcyclist is driving also holds dangers.

All countries require cyclists to cycle amongst vehicles to a greater or lesser extent. Holland and the Nordic countries may require less vehicular cycling due to cycling facilities, but there are still many roads where cyclists and motor transport mix together.

However, there seems to be something fundamentally different about the attitude surrounding vehicular cycling in these countries and the UK. In the UK, vehicular cycling is used as a method to control the motor traffic around the cyclist. I cannot help but think that it is deeply troubling when the most vulnerable road users are expected - by their actions - to control the actions of the least vulnerable. I think it would be quite jolly if the cyclist could concentrate on their cycling whilst the drivers concentrated on their driving. I would at least expect the courts and law-makers to believe that this should be the case.

Instead, one finds the strange situation where drivers - even ones that are found guilty of careless driving or worse - can mitigate based upon the clothing or helmet usage of the victim. It is certainly an odd precedent. One wonders if it could be extended to car drivers themselves. After all, when I drive, I don't use a car with a roll cage and 5 point harness - yet in the case of an accident, I doubt these deficiencies would be noted against me.

Learning how to safely navigate roads on a cycle is one thing. Expecting people to use these skills to mitigate some drivers' lack of training or sheer impatience is quite another. Whilst we are expecting these techniques to be required for safely cycling on mixed streets, then cycling is not going to appeal to a large number of potential cyclists.

The situation is difficult. Certainly segregation on fast, difficult roads (as long as this segregation actually helps the cyclist instead of simply sideline) can help. But the cyclist still needs to negotiate roads open to all traffic at some stage. Part of the answer is that drivers need to know how to act around cyclists, and to actually take responsibility for controlling a dangerous piece of equipment. This is much easier said than done, but whilst the establishment try to mitigate this responsibility by questioning the victim's attire, or taking the attitude that "accidents happen" (even when the guilty party is proven to have been acting carelessly or worse) then we stand no chance of changing this mindset.

Of course when I didn't cycle I had no idea about a cyclist's needs on the road when I drove. I had no idea what difficulties inconsiderate driving can pose to a cyclist. It wasn't until I started cycling that I understood and could modify my driving behaviour. Maybe giving people found guilty of driving offences the option of going on a bikeability course instead of taking points and a fine might help more drivers understand as well.

Friday 8 April 2011

Leytonstone get the Waltham Forest Treatment

According to the Hubbub newsletter, Leytonstone High Road will be the latest area to become Walthamised . After the success of Alexandra Road, I imagine Waltham Forest is now getting in its stride and going after some large scale projects.

The newsletter optimistically thinks that it won't be as bad as the Wood Street makeover, since the High Street is wider. I do think that the author has unfairly under-estimated Waltham Forest's capabilities here. The small matter of whether there is a lot of space available is no barrier to implementing some really shoddy cycling provision, as Forest Road proves.

True to form, the plans (which are not available online from WF as far as I can see) seem to involve a lot of extra pavement parking for cars. Presumably vast amounts of money will be spent raising the tarmac by a couple inches as well since this is what Waltham Forest believe constitutes an improvement to the "streetscape".  

Mayor on the run

According to the ever excellent HubBub newsletter, Newham's Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, is stopping cycling campaigners from attending the next cabinet meeting, presumably because they may be less than happy with his "efforts" with regards to cycling. Apparently, this includes a group called the "Woodcraft Folk". Unaware of this organisation before reading the newsletter, I had images of angry hobbits picketing the council offices, but on closer investigation, they are a children's / young adult community group.

Newham's mayor appears to think that making cyclists face the misery that is the Stratford gyratory and A11 without any provision at all is acceptable, whilst facing some questions on said policy by some well meaning cycling campaigners - well that is simply too much.

I would like to suggest that any cycling questions would be better illustrated by the great and the good of Newham council responding to them whilst also trying to cycle the A11 from the Bow Flyover to the other side of the Stratford gyratory. I would provide a change of underwear to anyone completing the route. For extra bonus points they could attempt this road with their children, since they clearly think that this route is fine without modification to accommodate families attempting to cycle to the "green" olympics.

Thursday 7 April 2011

The Sixth Emergency Service?

Is BT now classed as an emergency service? I only ask because the driver of FE07 TXZ appeared to be in a desperate hurry along Upper Clapton Road. Maybe there was a telecomms emergency somewhere in East London. Maybe somewhere an internet hub was down and a facebook or twitter page was being left unattended.

Obviously it was something really important otherwise the driver wouldn't have passed me at speed with inches to spare. It was on a narrow piece of road where I try valiantly to stop idiotic passes by taking primary, but clearly I underestimated the idiocy of this driver.

I took this picture a couple of minutes later when he caught up with the back of the traffic light queue. So, I was glad my safety wasn't disregarded for nothing.

The Olympic Tower

This looks like the beginings of the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture which will be a major legacy structure after the Olympics have finished. It looks like it might be a quite extraordinary building. To pique your interest here are some fascinating facts about it

1) It will be 115m tall
2) It will cost £20M
3) It will have two observation towers
4) It will be constructed entirely from discarded TfL cycling strategy documents
5) The structure will not use bolts but will be held together by the collective disappointment of all those cyclists wanting to get to the games  who weren't expecting Newham Council to block CSH2 through their borough.

* It is possible that I may have made some of these facts up.

Sunday 3 April 2011

The best option for Central London

I went with the family today to London Zoo. And very nice it was too.

As an automatic reaction, I went via the underground (Victoria line, Northern Line) to Camden Town and then walked to the Zoo. After all taking the car would be monumentally expensive, inconvenient and time-consuming, surely?

Well, maybe not.

Firstly, the cost.

My two rail-cards cost £14.60 but then I got a 2 for 1 deal on the entrance which cost £19 each. So the total was £33. If I had used a normal underground ticket and therefore not had the 2 for 1 deal, it would have been around £48.

Now, here is the interesting part. I looked at the car park for the zoo and, for the whole day, the cost was £13. Even on the meters on the road outside (which you can park at all day on Sunday) the cost was £1.40 per hour. So assuming that I stayed 7 hours, this would have cost £9.80 at the meter, the total cost would have been £47.80 including the two tickets. The diesel would haven't cost very much as it is only about 7-8 miles to the Zoo. All other costs are "fixed" (insurance, VED etc.)

So the train was cheaper because of the saver deal with Network Rail. Otherwise the costs would have been very similar.

Now look at convenience. First thing in the morning, there wasn't much traffic and I expect I could have beat the train to the zoo. Coming back the traffic was pretty horrendous around Camden and I was pleased I wasn't driving. Until I got to Camden station, which is shut on Sunday afternoons between 1pm and 5.30pm because, it would seem, too many people want to use it. Only on our transport system would the solution to overcrowding be for the service to be removed completely. So this meant we had to walk to the bus stop to get the bus to Euston and then the tube home. I couldn't find any details of the closure on the TfL website, although trawling Yahoo answers when I returned seemed to indicate it was a regular occurrence. So, all in all, I think convenience tips towards the car, when one considers that one can go from door-door and pretty much park outside the zoo.

Finally, walking back to Camden, Prince Albert Road looked like this

So, only a couple of hundred metres from the zoo was completely free parking. Of course, this blocked the mandatory cycle lane, but this isn't an issue on a Sunday, as no-one in their right mind would want to cycle to somewhere like the Zoo would they?

So there we have it. The best way to travel in central London is the car. Super.