Thursday 28 July 2011

A year to go

Festivities and congratulations have surrounded the year marker to the Olympics. Boris thinks that we could hold a snap Olympics now.

There is some disquiet in the ranks though. Sir Robin Wales - Mayor of Newham - is particularly concerned by disruption on the roads with the Olympic Road Network. Clearly this is a concern in Newham, where Robin Wales has played no small part in trying to strangle cycling as a mode of transport by blocking initiatives such as Cycle Superhighways in his borough. So, in an utterly car-sick borough, the thought of disrupting the normal traffic congestion is akin to an addict being put through "cold-turkey".

Unless one will be able to cycle through the Olympic park to Stratford, the only way I can see to access Stratford Centre and Westfield from the Greenway side will be on the A11. Which, as I have blogged many times, is hardly cycling friendly. In fact, I was amazed to see a reasonable number of cyclists on the A11 the other day, a testament to our bloody mindedness in the face of local government hostility, if nothing else. However as a reminder, here is yet another video of the conditions on this road.

Note the driver of Golf is speeding and sets off the 30mph sign (which is so overworked it should seek union representation). Note also that the Golf driver barely steers around me at speed, even though the outside lane is free. This might be because he was concentrating on chatting on his mobile at the time.

This type of behaviour is routine on this stretch of road which is deeply unpleasant to walk down, and downright dangerous to cycle along. Robin Wales and his cabal of colleagues have managed to block anything that would make this area of Newham a more pleasant environment, in order that private motorists can speed their way through Stratford, presumably on their way out of the borough. This is the Olympic transport legacy for cycling. A sham of hyperbole PR and utter inaction on the ground. It could have been so different.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Bexley Road Rage Updated

The driver in Bexley who attacked a cyclist has been sentenced.

John Nicholls pleaded guilty to common assault.

£400 fine + £100 compensation + £85 costs and £15 victim surcharge.

I think £600 cost for not being able to hold ones temper should make him think twice when deciding to bully another cyclist. Plus the criminal record.

It is interesting to note that, despite the image from the more tabloid of our press (ie: the Mail) that cyclists are lawless anarchists, many of the cyclist stories involve cyclists who are professionals. This one involved a lawyer in his late 40's. So despite the gutter press image, actually many cyclists are professional people who are often between 30 and 50. And many have the means and motivation to be recording their journeys. This should give the motorist pause for thought. There are cyclists, who not only have a record of incidents, but the knowledge and will to pursue wrong-doing through legal channels. For example, the excellent blog, The Cycling Lawyer, has posted about a motorist who pushed him into traffic, and the actions he has taken through the courts and police . And quite rightly so, this type of deeply unpleasant behaviour needs to be confronted. Normally, as a cyclist we cannot do this at the time against someone driving a car, but we should be able to pursue through a sympathetic police service.

Unfortunately as the Cycling Lawyer case, and the Bexley assault, shows, the police either don't take cyclist assaults seriously, or are so incompetent that anyone caught is sheer luck. I simply don't believe it is the latter - I think generally that cyclist assaults are treated by police and the courts as a bit of "argee bargee" and that many believe the provocation argument - even if the provocation is simply the cyclist being on the road. This is utterly unacceptable - the police and courts need to be more robust in their actions. They should also take note that many cyclists are au-fait with their rights and the law and record incidents for evidence. Not least because they can end up looking like Inspector Clouseau on a really bad day when the video and police follow-up is published.

The Bexley case does also throw up some interesting things. Firstly, the driver's license has escaped any sanction. And yet surely punching someone else over an incident whilst driving should surely be viewed as a driving related offence? Also, the police were initially stumped by the fact that the owner of the car claimed it had been stolen (and then returned in pristine condition hours later). This either means Nicholls stole the car, or the owner was lying. Either way, it should result in some action - surely people shouldn't simply be allowed to lie to the police to get away with a crime? Lastly, Nicholls was apparently, full of remorse, presumably for getting caught and being shown up to be a little thug to the hundreds of thousands who watched the video and read the reports.

The above Bexley incident has had satisfactory resolution in my opinion (even if some questions aren't answered concerning the ownership of the car). But I cannot help but wonder what would have happened without video evidence, even with the large numbers of witnesses. It is a sobering thought to think that we appear to have little protection from the law in these cases unless we happen to organise a myriad of witnesses and  video evidence and then run a press campaign that gets the story into local and national press.

Saturday 23 July 2011

The Future of Cycle Infrastructure

For too long, the cynics have been deriding local and national government's attempts at encouraging cycling. Some have uncharitably commented upon the dichotomy between their media campaigns and the efforts on the ground. 

There have been those bloggers - whose virtual cup is always half full -  that have pointed out the deficiencies of the Olympic cycle infrastructure and that it might not be in accordance with the "greenest ever games". They may have been somewhat scathing about the fact that Newham council blocked a cycle superhighway to the games as blue offends their delicate sensibilities.

Well shame on them and their cynical outlook.

I think that the "greenest games ever" have a trick up their sleeve. And I have managed to get a photo of it, below.

I have it on good authority* from a source close to the games** that these yellow structures are actually Star Trek style transporters which can beam cyclists directly from their homes to the games thus avoiding the deeply cycling unfriendly roads in Newham and surrounding boroughs.

Clearly this is a major step forward in transportation. Information from an anonymous source*** says that there are one or two teething issues - principally that matter transportation hasn't been invented yet. But neither TfL or local government have ever let lack of functionality stop cycle facilities, and this shouldn't be any different - the fact they don't work won't get in the way of a PR exercise.

However, all this high technology shouldn't be allowed to put off older cyclists. The more traditional amongst us can be comforted with some age-old infrastructure just metres down the road on the greenway.

* OK, the good authority is that I made it up
** The source is me - I am quite close to the games, only a few miles down the road.
*** A good journalist never reveals his source. But it was me again. 

(I can assure the public that no phone hacking was used to get this news scoop)

Monday 18 July 2011

Long Arm of The Law

Clearly, at the moment, the MET police have lots of things to worry about. So the case where a cyclist was assaulted by a driver probably doesn't feature highly in the top brass' list of problems to solve.

The case has been widely reported thanks in no small part to the publication of the video on YouTube being picked up by numerous blogs and local media. For those who haven't yet seen the incident that happened in Bexley between a car driver and a cyclist, here is the video below

This incident was recorded by a camera and the bus CCTV, in front of multiple witnesses including the bus driver, passers-by and the other cyclists. The number-plate was clearly visible in the video and recorded by other witnesses. 

Somewhat open and shut case one may think. Except that when the police went to the registered owner of the vehicle, they explained that the car had been stolen that afternoon - with the keys in the ignition - by persons unknown, only to be returned some hours later completely untouched. As excuses go this rates slightly lower than "they made me do it" or "the dog ate it" - in fact one would expect the police to view such a story with the same incredulity as "it must have been aliens".

Except that the police seemed to shrug their shoulders and conclude they had been beaten by a criminal mastermind. This was hardly the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes. Or even Inspector Clouseau. Eventually when the video "went viral" and the mainstream media picked up the story, the man in the video turned himself him. Presumably at this time, with multiple witnesses, video, and a man who had voluntarily come to the police, they could finally arrest and charge someone.

I cannot help but think that, without the video, this assault - even with multiple witnesses - would never have been resolved at all. Which is somewhat saddening. If thugs like this think they can get away with hitting someone in broad daylight then they will do so.

This story has a good end to a bad situation. It will be interesting to see what the driver is charged with and the result. If the owner's story is to be believed then the driver should be charged with "taking without owners consent" and driving without insurance etc. on top of any assault charges. 

The Blackfriars Conspiracy Files

Boris has decided. 20mph on Blackfriars bridge must be raised to 30 mph.

Between the rambling about the commission of the report, and how cycling is super, Boris was quite convinced that 20mph was a bad idea. Of course he means a bad idea for people deciding to drive through central London, as opposed to a bad idea for everyone else who decides that this is a ludicrous method of transport in the centre of a large metropolis and opts for something else.

The arguments for 30mph appear as incoherent as anything I have heard from TfL and Boris. And, believe me, it is up against some pretty stiff competition. The reasoning appears to run thus: the average speed is 12mph, so 30 mph limit won't be a problem and that somehow restricting traffic to 20mph, when the average speed is 12 mph is going to cause congestion and upset the holy grail of smoothing traffic flow. All arguments about how 20mph may actually aid traffic flow since it reduces bunching and accidents is met by bluster equivalent in argumentative validity to a small child holding their fingers in their ears and shouting "LALALA".

Then Boris mentioned that he understood the issues of Blackfriars bridge as he cycled it often. So, if the Mayor of London - who TfL reports into - cycles the bridge, finds it dangerous and yet still won't do anything about it, what hope anyone else? This set me thinking - it would almost appear that TfL are advising the Mayor to make his life more dangerous. Once the connection was made it was obvious! Someone at TfL doesn't like Boris and is trying to get rid of him! What better way than a road "accident"? Where better than on the UK roads, where no-one needs to take any responsibility for their actions in a car?

Someone needs to tell Boris he is a marked man, and, in true James Bond style, the villains have come up with a complicated and dastardly plan to rid themselves of him. The continued marginalisation of cycling and walking in London isn't due to incompetence and stupidity of a car obsessed transport organisation, it is the product of evil genius!

And if one needs any further proof, then look no further than this... 

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Taking the law into their own hands

Everyone knows that cyclists are law dodging renegades. They have scant appreciation of the rules of the road, for example, having little respect for red lights. And to make matters worse they cannot even keep up with traffic, and then have the temerity to complain when motorists don't stick to every letter of every little rule. Such as speed limits. Terrible.

Therefore, I am pleased that certain powered vehiclelists* have decided to try to make the anarchists that are the cycling community obey the rules. Such as the picture below.

Take this scene from the ASL at Stamford Hill. Thankfully the car and motorcyclists have completely blocked the ASL, otherwise some renegade cyclists might decide it is best to jump the lights to avoid the tsunami of speeding cars when the lights go green. Also notice that there is already a cyclist that has managed to evade the road-block and is waiting at the lights. This type of law abiding by cyclists is specifically to lull us all into a false sense of security. Don't fall for it!

Of course, to make the cyclists obey the rules, these motorists have had to put their clean licenses at risk by ignoring the rules about not entering an ASL, but this is the price they are willing to pay for making those cyclists fall into line. And the ASL is only for cyclists anyway so no-one really cares.

* I am not sure if vehiclelists is a word. In fact I am sure it isn't, but Shakespeare made up words and if a master like him can, I can as well.

Sunday 3 July 2011

The future of transport?

From this video of the Nissan Leaf, clearly Nissan believe it is cars. Albeit snazzy electric cars as opposed to the standard ones. Now, I am not so naive as to believe a car maker is going to say that their business has no future, but the thing that interests me with the wave of excitement concerning electric cars are the ways they are being marketed and the questions that aren't being asked.

So in this video we have the car - which looks very nice - being praised by members of the public interspersed with short clips of it popping around some rather quiet city streets.

Electric cars are being marketed principally as city transport. Cynically, one might think this is because even the 100 mile range isn't going to endear it as a long-range tourer, so an electric car at the moment is only suited to short (urban) journeys.

But the elephant in the room that questions the very purpose of these cars isn't mentioned. Not even a whisper of the potential issue.

And that is congestion.

Now, I own a car. I find driving on occasion very convenient. I have no great mission against the car in principle, although I find the complete dominance of this mode of transport in cities utterly idiotic. And one of the reasons it is so stupid is the matter of congestion.

Take for example a recent trip I did by car. From East London to Reading and back again. A trip of 50 miles around the North Circular and M4, and around 70 miles using the A10, M25, M4.

This took me 2 hours going to Reading on the North Circular - at around 6am - and 3 hours coming back on the M25. At 1.25pm. This wasn't even rush hour.

That means that on  my return journey, on expensive roads designed specifically for motor traffic, I averaged around 23 mph. And this included a large stretch of 70mph on the M4 which was free-flowing.

Matters are much, much worse in cities. The fact that the car is neither an efficient nor sympathetic bedfellow with densely built areas can no longer be in dispute. Unless we decide to flatten huge swathes of our cities (a strategy that I wouldn't put past planners even now), then capacity isn't going to change in any meaningful way. Boris might fiddle with light timings under clever acronyms such as SCOOT, but, even by the planners' own admissions, this isn't going to make any appreciable difference to journey times for drivers.

So, with the status quo, the future looks like we will have streets clogged by cars with electric engines instead of combustion engines. Aside from the advantage of them not polluting the immediate environs and being quieter, it hardly seems a great leap forward.

There can be no doubt that the car has given huge mobility, and in certain areas has driven growth. But there can also be no doubt that this is no longer scalable. The extra mobility with each new road scheme is outweighed by the cost, not only of the scheme but also of the congestion due to over-reliance on the car. Yet we are in catch-22. Without a significant re-think on our urban roads we are doomed to view the car as the only serious transport option and thus make the very roads that should be welcoming to more sustainable modes of transport ever more hostile.

Cars like the Nissan Leaf look fabuluous. But, if they aren't actually solving the wrong problem, then they are at least only solving part of the problem. Our cities cannot magically find more space for a private car simply because it is more "eco" than the combustion versions. Not only that, but the electric cars currently have a limited range which means that they can only be seriously considered as an option for short journeys - normally in cities - where better alternatives already exist.

If I had driven from East London to Reading last Friday in a Nissan Leaf instead of my standard car, I still would have wasted hours of my time in stressful traffic, and actually probably run out of juice 20 miles before getting home, if I couldn't charge inbetween journeys.

It hardly seems a breakthrough.