Wednesday 31 August 2011

Another day, another SMIDY

Well, I say SMIDSY. I doubt he could have missed me, I was wearing a fetching high viz jacket and waving my arms around like a demented seagull just before he decided to turn (I had a distinct feeling he was going to pull this stunt). So less SMIDSY, more "I've seen you are don't give a f*ck".

Presumably he is of the "well I didn't hit you did I" brigade. The reason he didn't hit me is that I saw him, took note of his actions, and slowed as it was obvious he was an idiot.

The ASZ - All Scooters Zone

The Guardian Bike Blog asked the other day "How can safety at Advanced Stop Zones be improved for cyclists"?

Well, it might be rather jolly if the average motorist, and indeed motorcyclist, took the first bit of notice of them.

There are differing opinions on the ASZ, and I wouldn't say that they are the panacea to all cycling woes - but they are useful for getting some distance between yourself and motorised traffic, and are good for when you are filtering. I tend to use them when traffic is heavy and I am filtering, or if I going to turn right at a junction where the ASZ allows me to position myself correctly. I rarely bother with them if the traffic is light, preferring to stay behind the vehicle in front of me.

But the ASZ has to be one of the most abused rules by motor vehicle users, outside speeding infractions. Scooters seems to be almost drawn to these zones as if they have some kind of strange magnetic attraction. Maybe some kind of seductive siren call emanates from the traffic lights - a call only heard by scooterists?

The ASZ is, hardly surprisingly, barely policed. In fact the closest I have seen the police take an interest in the ASZ are the couple of times when they themselves have rocked up into it whilst I have been waiting for the lights.

I also think that there are significant tranche of motorists who have no idea what an ASZ is, why cyclists need to use them, and why drivers shouldn't. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there are a significant number of drivers who have no idea on the rules of the ASZ and, indeed, that encroaching it on red is illegal (theoretically carries a £60 / 3pt fine). And why should they? Their function has hardly been publicised, and the policing of them is non-existent.

Secondly, there are the drivers who simply know that no-one cares about the ASZ and use them anyway - I guess to get "ahead" of other lanes, or simply to try to push away filtering cyclists. I have heard comments about how silly it is to let cyclists "push in front" to "slow down" traffic, normally from people who have no concept of the average speeds one can attain as a cyclist in London in comparison to those in vehicles. 

So, to answer the Guardian's question, one could make ASZs more amenable to cyclists by making sure drivers knew how to act around them, and to enforce them in the first place. I always think that ASZs lend themselves to being used with cycle only lights - if something is in the ASZ then cycle only lights turn green for a time to allow cyclists to clear the junction. And enforcing them with red light cameras. One can only speculate at how quickly drivers might learn not to encroach an ASZ if they realise that doing so adds on another lighting phase to their wait...

So I leave you with the current state of ASZs. Another video taken recently, on the A10. Note the van changing lanes to undertake the traffic. Note how the driver goes right into the ASZ on red. Note also the cyclists waiting at the ASL who now have a large van "cuddling" up to them. Some may say the cyclists were over too near the kerb, but that misses the point, which is that someone licensed to drive several tonnes of machinery shouldn't be so moronic as to try to push past a cyclist at a red light. If I was the Bromponite waiting at the front, I would have gone on the pedestrian phase and jumped the lights simply to get away from the van - which may have been turning left for all I knew.

When this type of driving results in prosecutions then the ASZ will be respected. Until then I will resign myself to making close acquaintanceship with vans, lorries, buses, scooters, cars and motorbikes - all of whom seem to want to join the ASZ party.

Friday 26 August 2011

In Praise of Waltham Forest Council

No really...

In a departure from my normal sarcasm, I actually want to commend Waltham Forest council on something.

I have notice that they have put in more cycle stands outside the Selborne Walk BhS and some more down by the side entrance near ASDA. This has more than doubled the available bicycle parking racks, and is a welcome addition as the existing racks near the playground gets pretty busy on a nice weekend.

I frequently use the stands near Sainsburys / Willow Walk, and these can fill up pretty quickly as well. So if there is any money left over then adding some more around here would be useful. As would some down Hoe Street, where cycle stand provision isn't great at the moment.

Thursday 18 August 2011

The Mercedes Sandwich

Everyone knows Mercedes drivers are very important people. I used to drive a Mercedes and knew that I was very important (now I cycle I understand I am no longer important).

So one can appreciate why the very important person in this white Mercedes decided to come over to my side of the road and barge right through me simply to park. And why the Mercedes behind me picked that exact time to overtake me instead of reading the situation and giving me some space.

This was one of those moments where one only realises the idiocy of the driver after the event. I did manage to shout "You tw@t" at him as he barged through, but he had a mildly confused look on his face that closely resembled a slightly alarmed sheep.

How people can be this moronic and still function in society is somewhat beyond me. If I could make out his number plate (and believe me I have tried) I would be reporting him to RoadSafe for this. I wouldn't leave this idiot in charge of a plastic spoon less still allow him a driving license.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

The Professionals

Not these.

But the drivers of these

Most of my interactions with buses as a cyclist are really good. Buses stop and start and use the same bus lanes as us cyclists so overtaking, and being overtaken, by buses when cycling in London is a simple fact of life. The following videos are the exception rather than the rule, but buses are so big that when the driver does close pass a cyclists it is deeply unsettling.

The first was taken a few weeks ago, where the bus decided to squeeze through instead of waiting until after the island. The irony is that the traffic is normally queued for the junction ahead, and that day was no exception. The driver held up their hand when I shouted at him, so I assume this was an apology of sorts.

Then, as if to prove that lightening can strike twice, a different driver does exactly the same thing on another day.

Finally, some of the worst bus driving that I have had to endure for a while. This happened this week, and concerned me as I had nowhere to go if the bus had been any closer to me

I am undecided whether he simply didn't bother checking his mirrors as he passed, or whether this was a punishment pass for daring not to use the narrow and blocked cycle-path carved out on the pavement. This path is dangerous where it crosses the entrance and exit to the retail park, has been blocked with works and conflicts directly with pedestrians coming out of the park and waiting for the buses, so at 5pm when commuters and shopper abound it is better to use the road and bus lane, and most drivers have no issue with moving around a cyclist - certainly the next lane was free when the bus overtook. Whatever the reason, I felt it merited a note to TfL with a link to the video.

Lots of crime - probably quite a lot of punishment

The post below was started before the extra-ordinary events of the weekend of the 6th August. That Sunday I cycled to Tottenham Hale to pick up some items at the Argos and then planned to pop up to Mothercare. As I went past the retail park, clearly something had gone on, and I talked to a policeman on duty there to see when the shops would re-open - I hadn't watched the news at all that morning and had no idea of the riots the night before. The policeman looked at me as if I was a complete imbecile (which was a pretty fair judgement, frankly) and explained the situation. As things escalated over the next days one could only watch with increasing amazement. I cycled back from a friend's house half a mile along Hoe Street at around 7:30pm on the Monday, and the atmosphere in Walthamstow was very strange. There was less traffic and pedestrians around than usual and everyone seemed nervous. I was nervous. I was even more nervous when a car passenger shouted at me "you're brave" as I waited for the lights at Church Street. I wasn't feeling very brave - and the comment re-enforced my deeply held belief in the merits of cowardice. Still, I arrived home without incident, and Walthamstow has since returned to its normal self.

Being removed from the rioting (preferring a nice cup of tea to looting JD Sports) it was only sights such as in the video below (filmed on the Wednesday) that reminded me of the scale of the unrest, and the magnitude of the police response. As I cycled past Bakers Arms there were 10 riot vans full of police, presumably off to patrol various parts of East London.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Crime and (very little) Punishment

Cycling casualties rose in the year ending March 2011. From the released statistics from the DfT, 1,870 people died  and just under 25,000 people were killed or seriously injured on our roads in the 12 months to March 2011.

Pedestrian, Motorbike and car casualties and KSI all fell - pedestrians by 1% and 3% respectively, but car casualties and KSI fell by the most - 7% and 9% respectively.

Why pedestrian casualties fell is anyone's guess. Maybe there are less of them, maybe they learnt to run faster. Or possibly cars are now designed with pedestrian impact safety as a criteria. Certainly being in a car has become dramatically safer over the years, despite the huge increase in road traffic. This is no accident (excuse the pun). Untold money has been poured into road, and car, design to make the occupants safer. And whilst roads have become safer for car users with huge amounts of planning going into things such a motorway and A road design, this has had the effect of driving out non-motor traffic from the roads. So why has cycling had an increase in casualties? Maybe it is because of an increase in miles cycled, but then again motoring has increased over the years hugely and safety also increased -  with the use of funds. Could it be that, whilst motoring has had billions poured in safety, cyclists have had to make do with advice like "take primary", or make use of cycle lanes that direct one into the path of car doors, left turning vehicles and prioritised side roads?

Maybe the decrease in car casualties and the increase in cycle casualties is due to car drivers becoming more diligent and careful, whilst those naughty cyclists are just reckless fools, flinging themselves at hapless drivers? Below are some videos,all taken on three trips in the last couple of weeks, that might point towards the real problem - motorists able to pretty much get away with anything on a regular basis.

The first two highlight the most endemic problem associated with motorist behaviour that currently blights nearly all our roads. It is so accepted that when 14% of motorists are found to be speeding on a road in Woodford Green, the police don't think this a problem. And the operation itself highlights the magnitude of the issue- if 14% of motorists are caught speeding when the police are by the roadside in big yellow POLICE jackets and waving around speed-guns one can only imagine the amount of speeding that goes on when they aren't around. Yet this criminal act, which has been completely normalised on our roads, kills people and makes roads utterly unusable for others.

Take the first video. Filmed on Saturday afternoon in Leytonstone High Road - a reasonably busy road. The speed of the car, coupled with its road position and the location of side turnings makes this a very anti-social piece of driving.

The second video is my favourite piece of road - the A11 into Stratford. Now, even in the pretty high amounts of competition in sh!t driving on the road, this BMW driver still manages to stand out amongst the crowd. The cyclist on the right is trying to make his way to the right turn at the lights. Some may say that his road positioning could be improved, but, frankly, there is absolutely no way of making this turn safely. Certainly the vehicular cycling method of "taking the lane" would have got him smeared over this BMW. This car was travelling so fast that I shoulder-checked as I entered the road and there was no car on the Bow Flyover. Thankfully, I did a final shoulder check and saw him careering down the road, hence my change in road positioning to the left. No way was I about to assert myself in this situation. This road is 30mph - but this is an utter joke. If Newham wanted to do something to help cyclists they might have thought about us when they "remodelled" the road for the Olympics. Or perhaps put in average speed cameras to keep the speed down. But there is nothing - aside from a hugely overworked 30mph flashing sign. Possibly because Newham council (ie. Sir Robin Wells) have absolutely no interest in cycling

Then we have the "didn't see" or "didn't care" approach to cyclists. Many motorists are clearly busy people, and there is little point in dallying around waiting for cyclists or pedestrians to get out of the way. Obeying the highway code and giving some thought to the safety of other road-users is clearly a nice idea, but not when you are in a hurry. How important is a cyclist or pedestrian's journey if they didn't decide to use a car anyway?

So, as this Audi driver kindly demonstrates, cyclists should be prepared to yield to important people in German cars.

Finally, we have the last word in the true hierarchy on our roads. Whilst we stop at the lights near Tottenham Hale tube station, this very important driver in the Mazda decides to push past me and cross the lights at red, whilst pedestrians are still crossing. Clearly he beeped his horn a couple of times, so any casualties (for example the young family still crossing) would only have themselves to blame. 

So there we are. Clearly the transport planners scratch their heads and worry about the cycling injuries until they realise that what is actually required is to train the cyclists better. So that they know that they need to be positioning themselves right in front of drivers such as those above. That will sort things out for sure....