Saturday 28 May 2011

Child Seats

After much deliberation, I took the plunge and put a child seat on the cycle.

I have been out three times with the little one since getting it a week or so ago.
She started off being pretty nervous about the whole idea (she wasn't the only one), but judging from the squeals of delight and shouts of "Daddy, faster" when I picked up speed, I suspect she got over her intial jitters fairly quickly.

The cycle acts in a very different way to normal. Which is only to be expected with a 15kg child hanging off the back, I guess. And although moving the seat slightly forward to try to put the weight over the back hub made a huge difference, manouverability takes a hit as does the ability to maintain speed on hills.

One thing that hugely dissapointed me was that cars don't give any extra space or make much of an extra effort. Of course one would ideally like drivers not to be blase about my welfare, but when a small child is on the back, I had hoped for better. Some are great, but the vast majority carry on as if I was invisible, as per normal. With the reduced manouverability and speed, I got pretty angry with a couple of drivers - one who drove straight at me after waiting for a car to pass in front of me.

Some motorists' reactions do seem rather odd. I have had looks from them when transporting the child around. One motorist gave me a strange look as if to say "why on earth would you expose your child to this type of danger when there are morons like me driving?". Whilst they gave this look they were passing me on a pedestrian crossing as I was trying to move out to pass a parked car on the zig-zags. So they might have a point...
Ultimately what makes me a little sad is that transporting my child makes me realise there are many roads in the borough - and beyond - which I wouldn't entertain using with her on the back. And this restricts my freedom of movement. Maybe my attitude will change as I get used to the cycle when carrying my daughter, but even so, I begin to understand how my wife (and presumably many other new cyclists) must feel about the conditions on much of our road network. When I go to Copenhagen, or other Nordic countries for work, I am very envious of their attitude to this type of utility cycling - it simply is sensible to them. If cycling in London with a child ever becomes as routine as it is in Holland or Denmark then that is when we will know cycling has entered the mainstream.

Halfords - again

In a previous post, I spoke about Halfords - specifically about the lack of service in the Tottenham Hale branch, and the general politeness in the Chingford branch. And that the Chingford branch didn't appear to have any cycle parking - which was somewhat dissapointing.

Well, I decided to take the plunge and put on a cycle seat for the child. After much fiddling around with a "loan seat" from a friend to see if my cycle could accomodate a seat, I decided to simply go to a shop and buy one, and knew Halfords stocked them.

I went to Halfords in Tottenham Hale first, and hung around for a while waiting to be served. This didn't seem to be very forthcoming and after my last efforts to buy something in this store, I decided to cut my losses. I went instead to the Chingford branch.

Wow - what a difference!

I was served promptly by a chap who knew what he was doing and was incredibly polite and patient. He tried the demo child seat on my cycle to make sure it fitted before selling it to me. He then spent a considerable amount of time fitting it correctly and making sure I was happy with it. When I suggested about adding a kick-stand, he fitted this for free. All the while his other staff were serving other people, also incredibly politely. 

So there we are. Chingford Halfords just off Hall Lane and the North Circular. Excellent.

Now if they could just add a few cycle stands and move the bike section (the busiest section of the shop when I visited) to the ground floor!

Definition of a femtosecond

I have just looked up femtosecond on wikipedia.

Imagine my surprise when the article whittered on about atomic vibrations and light wavelengths instead of giving the true definition.

Which is the time taken between the lights turning to amber and this motorist beeping me.

It was a young chap driving - I got a stare as he passed and gunned it up Leyton High Road. The strange noise on the audio is me laughing - there was something a bit comical about his entire attitude.

I don't know why he was in such a rush. Maybe his Mum wanted her Polo back - maybe his tea was on the table. It is interesting to note that he feels completely at liberty to "intimidate" a more vulnerable road user. If I was driving behind him (and I drive a pretty big car) would it be acceptable to harass him in his little car?

I had no interaction with this driver before he pulled up behind me at the lights - so the beeping and revving past me was just for show presumably. In a little VW Polo this is slightly less effective than he might hope.

Traffic Madness

This is what greeted the drivers from Clapton Pond down to Homerton / Eastway yesterday.

There had been an accident on Homerton road, but this road is often tailed back with very heavy traffic.

It is all a bit insane. The road authorities are still trying to squeeze as much traffic into our ancient roads as possible thus making alternatives much less palatable, whilst failing dismally to even make the motorists' journeys less time-consuming despite the fact that priority is given to them on nearly all our road network.

Who really would want to be stuck in this traffic in a bus? I saw some fellow cyclists, but many wouldn't be comfortable cycling in these heavily congested streets. It is hardly relaxing.

The video is quite long (a bit less than 10 minutes), but this was the extent of the queues last night.

Monday 23 May 2011

Lawless roads

Once again, Newham shows how little regard one can have for the law when one drives. The cyclist debate always degenerates into how many cyclists jump red lights and ride on the pavement (as if that excuses putting other cyclists' live in danger). Little is made of the disregard some drivers have for their rules. Even the transport minister appears to be under the strange impression that there is some kind of war being waged upon motorists.

The first video shows the 24 hr bus lane near Stratford one way system. The BMW driver clearly decides that he is above such regulations as keeping out of bus lanes and uses it to undertake the cars at speed. What the poor quality (sorry!) video doesn't show so well is him close passing a cyclist in the bus lane at this speed. The bus lane had been open to all vehicles whilst the outside lane was being "regenerated" but now the "improvements" appear to have been completed the lanes have reverted back to normal use.

Spot the door opening passenger at the end of the film...


The next video is taken whilst cycling on the A11 towards Stratford. Sparse traffic allowed this genius on a motorbike to really gun it down the road. I estimate he was traveling at least 50mph in the 30mph limit.

This is what happens when one has a completely car-centric road layout that doesn't enforce any rules. If one has to keep the A11 as an urban motorway at least enforce the 30mph limit with ANPR and average speed cameras. The A11 is a classic example of the blight that these types of multi-lane urban free-for-alls have on the environment. They cause a rift between shopping areas and local transport links, and between everything on one side of the road and the other.

BT emergency response vehicle

BT do appear to be the new emergency service. Only a month or so ago did I experience a close pass by one of their vans, clearly on the way to an emergency. Since only an idiot would speed past a cyclist with inches to spare if it wasn't really important.

This time, on Saturday, I got confirmation of the importance of the BT van.

This time, they were clearly attending to such an important matter that they had to park blocking much of the pavement next to a busy junction by the market. Clearly whatever they were doing was so important that they couldn't go around the corner and park in the large multi-storey only yards away, or the numerous other car parks around the area.

I saw no evidence of work going on near the van, but clearly that is my lack of understanding. And my thoughts that the driver of the van may have just put it there whilst doing his or her shopping was just my cynical mind.

On looking into the cab, I noticed that there were already several penalty notices on the dashboard. Presumably some traffic wardens don't realise the urgent work these vans are engaged upon. 

It's not just cyclists part deux

In a previous post, I mentioned the fairly unpleasant crossing facilities between the high street and Willow walk.

Freewheeler commented that he had raised the issue of cars blocking the pedestrian crossing whilst waiting for the lights at Selborne road with a road planner. Who had denied that this ever happened.

One needs to accept one's mistakes. Clearly the photograph below, taken on Saturday is some kind of mirage.

I waited for a little while at the crossing, and a pattern emerged. The lights would turn red at Selborne Road and the traffic would back up across the junction. Pedestrians would walk between the stationary cars, occasionally being beeped or shouted at by traffic going the other way which could move. The more timid pedestrians, or those with prams / in wheelchairs etc. would wait until the lights turned red, but then either had to go in between the cars or wait until the lights at Selborne turned green and all the cars cleared. If they did the latter they would have a fraction of the time allocated to cross.

Shortly after the picture was taken, the cars started to move and the blue Peugeot hurried the crossing pedestrian along by starting forward as she crossed the front of the car. Many pedestrians got beeped, including, disappointingly by a number of buses that used the horn as an early warning system to indicate they weren't going to slow down, less still stop, for anyone silly enough to be trying to cross whilst the bus driver had the green light.

If Waltham Forest cannot understand that this junction is a problem and that it is really deeply unpleasant for people to use, then I want what they are taking.

Saturday 14 May 2011

It's not just cyclists

Today at Walthamstow Market where a road crosses the hugely busy pedestrianised High Street. The lights at the end of the road cause traffic to tail back across the pedestrian crossing. Pedestrians then cross between the cars who frequently start moving again.

It seems a yellow hatched box might help pedestrians and give motorists clear indication that stopping across the pedestrian crossing isn't acceptable.

There was a policeman around the junction today who stopped a lorry next to the junction at Selborne Road. Why, I don't know. But when the lorry moved away, the driver bullied his way through the pedestrians crossing (they were crossing on the red because the traffic was stationary the other way and he was blocking traffic on his side). He then overtook a couple of cyclists incredibly close, and immediately turned left before disappearing down some back-streets. It was a 3663 lorry, and only the awareness of the pedestrians and cyclists actually prevented a serious accident.

Saturday 7 May 2011

How to slow cars

I live on a one-way residential street which is 20mph and has been "traffic-calmed" by the addition of road-humps.

Suffice to say that the number of drivers sticking to 20mph or less is dissappointing. The road isn't very long, and is quite narrow, but still some clever clogs manage to really put their foot down.

Except today, I saw a driver gingerly approaching each speed hump at walking pace and carefully negotiating the road. Why? Because they were driving a Ferrari that was so low to the ground anything over 10mph would have taken the front of the car off as it went over the road humps. There was something very satisfying by the normal trail of traffic being slowed by one of the fastest cars in the world.

So there we have it. If we want all drivers to negotiate our traffic calmed roads slowly and carefully we should give them all Ferraris....

Friday 6 May 2011

Of primary and other optimistic cycling techniques

My wife is starting to cycle - my enthusiasm has clearly had an effect...

It is amazing to go out with someone completely new to cycling on roads and understand what they think.

Firstly, my wife is currently petrified of interacting with cars on a bicycle. She prefers to wait behind parked cars rather than go around unless the coast is completely clear behind her.  This can be somewhat time-consuming. It also renders my talk about secondary and primary and asserting oneself as being completely pointless. She doesn't want to assert herself in traffic, she wants to disassociate herself from it.

Secondly, it has highlighted to me how complicated we have made cycling. A phrase I heard from an online talk by Jim Davis (cycling embassy of Great Britain) kept recurring when I was trying to explain how to negotiate traffic - "in the UK we have bent over backwards to make the most difficult mode of transport easy and the easiest mode most difficult". I thought it wise that she attend a cycling "bikeability" course. She was irritated by my suggestion that she needed formal training to cycle. I suspect her reaction isn't unique, and may lead to many just giving up. I dared not introduce her to "Cyclecraft" and the talk about cadences for fear of the withering response.

Thirdly, it was marvelous to see her actually enjoying cycling. She doesn't drive. Therefore her transport is public or walk. Even in an area well connected by public transport she really liked the extra mobility a cycle can give. Despite her real and deep concerns about cycling on the roads, she has persisted.

Fourthly, she made me realise how different a "non-cyclist's" requirements are to a "cyclist". I hear the disparaging term "POB" (pedestrian on bike) used by "proper" cyclists (as if the cycling community can actually afford to be divisive!) My wife is a POB. Whilst we in the "cycling community" blog, poring over helmet statistics, use cameras, talk of primary and secondary, and debate fiercely over road design she just wants to pop to the shops, or see her friends or have a cycle down the canal path to the pub. She thought the underpass on the Chingford Road under the A406 was super and, if one ignores the broken glass, it actually is kind of neat. I also realised how disruptive car parking in the cycle lanes is - she doesn't travel quickly, and moving into the traffic path was simply something that really concerned her.

I hope she continues. Nearly all the cars that past us showed great consideration - some stopping to let her out, but there is a significant minority that, as we know, treat cyclists very poorly, and my concern is that she will give up if she happens upon one of these characters. She has said that there will be roads she will never use - Tottenham Hale gyratory was pretty high on her list. And this is a shame that the freedom her being able to cycle would give us is curtailed because some key roads have designs which are so hostile that they form barriers to cycling.

I leave you with a "traditional cyclist" (me) negotiating the Stratford one way system (again). And the inevitable ridiculous antics of some drivers who appear oblivious to the cyclist. Whilst roads such as these forms rings around shopping areas and town centres, I am not sure how we think that the "non-cyclist" will entertain the idea of using them. My wife has suggested shopping more in Walthamstow and Leyton town centres which haven't got racetracks built around them, and less in Stratford and Tottenham Hale which are being strangled by speeding traffic. I think it is a very sensible idea. 

Sunday 1 May 2011

Smoothing traffic flow

There are many reasons to cycle, even with the roads sometimes deeply hostile to anything other than the combustion engine. One of the very good reasons to cycle is well illustrated in the video below

This was taken at the same time as the other video (just didn't get around to editing it) and is immediately after the Stratford one way system (the bit where I got close passed by a chap reading a map and another motorist who seemed incapable of moving to the second lane which was free - both got immediately caught in this jam).
As can be seen by the video, the jam stretched for a very reasonable distance; I imagine the motorists were stuck here for a while. And the problem?

The temporary traffic lights which directed traffic through a very short narrowed piece of road where some road-works were being done. The actual issue was that traffic going towards Stratford was also in a queue and were queuing across the road-works, thus restricting the other lane of traffic when their lights went green. Gridlock ensues.

This was a very minor roadwork. It neatly illustrates why I had to give up driving everywhere for sake of my health and sanity. The average car journey is very unpredictable these days - one slight restriction to the road adds on 30 minutes to a 10 minute journey.

TFL and the government's solution to this is to prioritise "smoothing traffic flow" over everything else. Hence we have the situation where a bridge (which are generally difficult for cyclists anyway) is being re-worked to increase traffic lanes and decrease pedestrian and cycling space. And Blackfriars Bridge actually has more bicycles crossing it at rush hour than private cars. If this situation still merits more space given to cars, then it is highly unlikely that those in charge of highways will consider places such Tottenham Hale or Stratford as requiring more cycle friendly planning.

The fundamental problems with the "smoothing traffic flow" are obvious. Traffic reaches its own level - increased capacity increases car usage,  the M25 should teach us this. But also, the traffic flow is trying to be re-worked in London which is dominated by streets singularly unsuitable for large volumes of traffic. In the Tottenham Hale gyratory for instance, traffic generally moves quickly around the multi-lane racetrack in the one way system to come to a grinding halt either side on the A10 as they then filter down onto ancient roads through local centres.

From my experience as a cyclist and driver, the average junction design is to have as many traffic lanes as possible entering it - even if the other side is too narrow to accommodate - in an effort to push as much traffic through the junction as possible. This is uncomfortable for a motorist as the lanes disappear and everyone ends up jostling for position. For a cyclist is a down-right horrible as car drivers are too busy concentrating on claiming their road-space to worry about a bicycle in the middle of it all.

The very act of "smoothing traffic flow" makes junctions and roads more hostile to pedestrians and cyclists than they could be. And then more people decide to drive because the roads are more attractive to cars and much less attractive to anything else. And then the road becomes congested so it is redesigned to "smooth traffic flow", again at the cost of other modes of transport. And so on, and so on, presumably until all space between the buildings in London is one huge traffic smoothing exercise.

What should be accepted is that "traffic smoothing" involves all modes of transport - cycling, walking, bus user and motorists, and that to accommodate everyone traffic flow is going to be between 10mph and 20mph on average. This also humanises the road-space - at the moment traffic is allowed (some may say the road design encourages) to "put their foot down" in the multi-lane free-for-alls to only be snared in the inevitable jams either side. Places like Stamford Hill have traffic lights at the bottom and top - normally with considerable queuing traffic, but the road design in between has two lanes with a lane width of hatching between opposing traffic. It is deeply unpleasant to cycle on - which maybe why I see many cyclists jumping onto the pavement at this point - something which helps out the motorist but hinders the other group of people most affected by this car-culture - the pedestrian.

One day people will realise that their urban spaces are too important to use by seeing how much traffic can be squeezed through it. I think this is already happening - 20mph zones are widely accepted (even if they are not widely respected by motorists), "home-zones" in places have been designed to enhance living space. But our town planners and local government, instead of leading, appear to be trying to pull the other way.