Friday 30 September 2011

Westfield Cycle Shenanigans

Several people have commented on my Westfield article. Primarily about the accessibility, or otherwise, of the centre to anyone not in a car, but on a cycle.

I decided to try for myself, and the results are below in a little annotated video

One has to remember that the road above is simply an access road to the centre, and is brand new. The facilities aren't dictated by existing road structures, or drains, or through traffic. The cycle facilities here are as they were designed. Which is slightly worrying; one might assume it is all done for a bet.

As a pedestrian things aren't exactly rosy either. This pavement is hardly generous for walkers, and, further round, the gyratory pedestrian crossing doesn't seem to have been upgraded at all. People waiting to cross are being pushed into the road by the sheer weight of the crowds, into a multi-lane road where car speeds are way in excess of the 30mph limit.

The powers that be are seemingly intent on re-creating the 1980's Birmingham Bull Ring in East London. Except with somewhat less charm. And congratulations to them - I really think they are succeeding.

War, what is it good for?

.. raising speed limits, apparently.

Philip Hammond - a man whose smugness is directly proportional to the vacuousness of his speeches - is due to announce that motorway speed limits are to rise to 80mph.

It isn't really something I care hugely about. 80mph seems de rigeur  for most drivers on motorways anyway. I assume that the increase in speed limit will raise the average third lane speed to around 90mph instead of 80mph as now. If nothing else it proves that many people cannot be that worried about fuel pricing if they are prepared to use 20% more of it simply to get somewhere a bit quicker.

What does seem extraordinary is the language employed by the commander-in-chief on the fight against the "War on The Motorist". Hammond manages rhetoric such as

"Britain's roads should be the arteries of a healthy economy and cars are a vital lifeline for many." he blamed Labour's "shortsighted and misguided war on the motorist" for penalising drivers.
"This government has already scrapped the M4 bus lane, cut central government funding for money-making speed cameras and announced new measures to crack down on boy racers and reckless drivers while standing up for the decent majority," he said.
"Now it is time to put Britain back in the fast lane of global economies and look again at the motorway speed limit which is nearly 50 years old, and out of date thanks to huge advances in safety and motoring technology.
"Increasing the motorway speed limit to 80mph would generate economic benefits of hundreds of millions of pounds through shorter journey times. So we will consult later this year on raising the limit to get Britain moving."

Ah, the war on the motorist. A funny thing, this particular war. I am a motorist, and as such would be sure that I should have noticed if I was "at war". Clearly I escaped this "short-sighted and misguided" war - presumably by trying to not drive like a lunatic.

But let's look at the substance of Hammond's comments - this shouldn't take long... 

It appears that the war was over when the M4 bus-lane was removed. Even though a TRL investigation showed that it improved journey times for all traffic, including cars. And then "money making" speed cameras were cut. Which is strange, since speed cameras were being removed by local councils to save money, surely if they made money the cash strapped councils would be having Gatso festivals?

But Hammond isn't against the rule of law applying to the roads. Oh, no, for he does mention measures to crack down on boy racers - the specifics of which are somewhat less than clear.

Still, as he says, increasing the motorway limit to 80mph will generate economic benefits (presumably mostly for the fuel companies) to get Britain moving again. Which is good news. Clearly the reason why it takes me 4 hours to travel 70 miles on the M25 isn't to do with the horrendous congestion encouraged by road mad transport policies over a generation, but because I haven't been legally allowed to go at 80mph.

Hammond is, quite clearly, an attention seeking buffoon. Those old enough to remember that cornerstone of 90's TV programming "The Word" may remember a section titled "I would do anything to be on TV". Hammond appears to be enacting a political version of this game with gusto whilst some script writer is wondering how much more nonsense he can be made to say. But the real problem is that it is thought that everyone is a law-abiding, decent motorist whilst a few bad apples and some tofu eating enviro-mentalists are spoiling the party. Well, I am sorry to break it to Hammond but there is a very significant proportion of law breakers on our roads today, and declaring that attempts to regulate behaviour constitute "war" is beyond stupidity.

Drivers have their own internal justification mechanisms for disregarding laws. "I only speed where it is safe" being one - another being " I am always careful around schools". Even these fatuous rationalisations are wrong. Escorting my daughter to school is eye-opening in itself. The majority of motorists around the school break the 20mph limit. The school zig-zags are used as a drop-off zone at all times. And cars simply stop in the road to let their children out to the accompaniment of horn blowing by other parents who cannot wait to edge forward and do the same. If this is considered driving safely, no wonder I could fill my hard drive with examples of lunatic driving on the roads.

So, Mr Hammond, for you I leave you with some randomly picked examples of the type of driving I see every day on my cycle. The problem isn't the war on the motorist. It is the lack of law on the motorist.

Thursday 29 September 2011

A family addition

Aside from my cycle, the daughter got her first bicycle a little while ago. My wife had temporary use of a loan cycle, but that had to be returned to its owner after a short spell where she used it once or twice on family outings.

So my wife, who doesn't drive,  walks or uses public transport. Not so bad since London public transport by and large is fairly efficient. But my wife wanted more mobility in getting places quickly that aren't served well by public transport. A cycle was the answer, I said. She said that I meant a cycle was cheap...

In anticipation that the wife's cycle enthusiasm wouldn't last long (and being careful - my wife may say stingy - with money), we went to our local bike shop for a cheap second hand model. Where she decided upon a very early example of a folder cycle for less than £70. So early, in fact, that the manufacturing label states "Made in West Germany" - thus dating it between 1949 and 1990. I explained to my wife that this was a true classic cycle - by which she correctly surmised that this was spin for "old". And, again,  "cheap".

She used it in anger for the first time the other week. I got a call from her that morning. I was expecting to hear of problems with the cycle, or difficulties with the cycling etc. Instead she sounded as excited as my child on her birthday. She had realised that she could travel locally in a fraction of the time she took walking and with much more convenience that a bus. She loves the cycle.

Her enthusiasm reminded me of the first times I used a cycle and realised the freedom it gave you, even in comparison to a car, in London. It also made me think about how much potential is in the humble cycle.

In Waltham Forest around 40% of households don't have a car or van for private use (2001 census).  And this includes the leafier, less dense, Chingford suburbs north of the A406. In a ward such as mine, the number of households without a car increases to 44%. In some other wards, this number is around 50%. And remember, this is households, and won't indicate households where one adult cannot drive , or doesn't have regular access to a car (multiple car ownership is low in most wards - 10% in mine), or doesn't want to drive locally.

This seems to me to be a huge opportunity for a large section of the local population to increase their travel options by using a cycle. It also appears to me that this significant proportion of the local population who simply don't benefit from road treatments made to aid the flow of private vehicles.

So with this apparent latent demand why is cycling such a minority travel option? Even though more people are using cycles, the percentage is still very low.

There are many reasons given for low cycle modal share in the UK. Some seem  fairly obvious like the state of the roads for cycling, others are less obvious such as home cycle storage, the concerns about arriving "sweaty" and dishevelled, and then there are the arguments against which can never change - such as the climate or hills. We can all speculate about the main causes, and maybe cycling will simply become more popular because of external conditions such as fuel cost, economy etc. But for my money I still think fundamental re-think of the way we use our roads is required. When one considers all the facts, it seems odd that local government and transport bodies are effectively ignoring great sections of their community when they consider roads only in the context of moving private traffic from A-B. This seems non-nonsensical in areas such as Walthamstow, and becomes lunatic in central London with plans such as Blackfriars bridge. I am not anti-car - I have one and am very glad on occasion I can drive - but I increasingly cannot see the sense in treating every road and street with a universal assumption that private traffic flow supersedes all other requirements.

A few weeks ago, my wife was somewhat disinterested in the notion of cycling as transport. Within a day or so she has become completely attached to the cycle, using it for more trips than she ever anticipated. And this is with the current, second-rate treatment of cycling - imagine what could happen if this transport option was taken seriously by the great and the good! Recently I have had to contemplate the possibility that I may become car-less for the first time since I passed by test many years ago. Previously this possibility would have given me nightmares. Now, I kind of considered it and concluded - meh - I will use the cycle and join Streetcar on the odd occasion I need one. Five years ago, I never thought my attitude to car ownership would have been reversed so completely. If the cycle changed my attitude to this extent (I used to be a die-hard car user), well then it pretty much change anyone's  transport habits.

So the question remains: if my wife and I - with little previous interest in cycling, and none in transport policy - can realise how useful a cycle can be, why can't those who are actually supposed to know about these things and run our roads?

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Westfield Stratford

The Grand Opening was yesterday. I could tell since the traffic was backed up to the Bow Flyover, with a solid three lanes of traffic until the pedestrian crossing at the Gyratory which was having to be manned by a team of police to control the huge numbers crossing. After this there were traffic queues up Angel Lane, which is one of the entrances to the 6000 space car park.

The sheer numbers of people was astonishing. The policeman who was by me as I waited for the pedestrian crossing to clear reckoned that 1 million people will visit the centre in the coming week.

As a cyclist, having the A11 and gyratory completely backed up instead of the usual traffic moving at more (sometimes considerably more) the speed limit whilst close passing is actually a bit of a relief. Filtering is difficult due to the policy of fitting in as many lanes as possible, but us cyclists were considerably quicker than anything else on the road today. The A12 looked stuffed, and the local roads were pretty congested.

Westfield has provided over 1000 bicycle parking spaces, which actually isn't bad at all. It is then somewhat of a shame that Newham / Tfl / ODA / whoever has seen fit to make cycling as unpleasant as possible on the roads around the centre. Those new cycle stands don't look quite so tempting if one has to negotiate pants-soilingly dangerous multi-lane roads to get to them.

One of the major issues was that the pedestrian crossing between Westfield and the original Stratford centre was simply not fit for this many people. The police had to physically restrain the pedestrians to prevent the weight of people coming up to the crossing pushing those in front into the road. Before Westfield, the crossing was a horrid mess barely able to cope. It just gave up yesterday. As far as I can see there has been no significant work done to improve the pedestrian facilities around the gyratory, and I guess this is the result. Once again walking and cycling have been completely marginalised in favour of traffic flow.

I will leave you with a video I found of the Westfield Apple Store Opening. A brand that appears to have turned buying mass produced electronics consumer goods into a religious experience opening in a shopping centre that seems to have become our new place of Pilgrimage . Sometimes Mr Grumpy wonders if he isn't an alien accidentally trapped on this planet. What happened to the recession?

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Dangers of Lorries

Travelling along the Mile End Road the other day, I remembered a cement mixer turning left, but didn't really take much notice, apart from keeping away from it.

Looking at the video recorded, I realised how easy it is for a cyclist to travel up the inside of these lorries and how easy it is to get into real trouble very quickly.

The lorry driver did everything right, and was - as can be seen in the video - very diligent indeed. He stopped and moved slowly past the school children, he was indicting way in advance of him turning, and he turned slowly and carefully into the side road. I don't think you can ask for more from the driver.

But it is sobering watching when you see how far out the lorry has to be to start the turn, the huge space to the left of the vehicle and the very quick turning circle that it has - even at this walking pace.

In my younger days I may have gone up the inside whilst the lights were at red. These days I try to keep as much distance from lorries as possible - even overtaking stationary ones is something I do with huge care.

In my experience lorry - and bus - drivers tend to be the most professional and courteous of all road users, especially towards cyclists. But there are careless lorry drivers out there, and one wonders what I may have done if the lorry driver hadn't bothered signally left so early - would I have been tempted to undertake to get to the front? Maybe.

I have a lot of respect for lorry drivers, such as the one in the video, who negotiate London's roads with these types of vehicles, and do so diligently and carefully. Takes skill and patience. I also know that cyclists can be difficult to spot and we can put ourselves in difficult situations. In an ideal world, I would think that all big lorries in London should have pedestrian / cyclist sensors and camera to aid the driver in these busy roads. But until that day comes, this video has made me realise how easy it is for us cyclists to become very badly compromised with large vehicles.

Another RLJ

Quite extraordinary this one.

The focus driver had pulled into the petrol station just before the lights - then changed their minds (actually slowing the under-passing Golf driver in the previous post).

Then, for reasons only known to them they completely ignore the red light and breeze through turning right.

Narrowly missing some cyclists coming out of the turning who had waited for green. It should be noted that the Golf driver amber-gambled the first set of lights of well, and must have simply gone through the red light at the synchronised pedestrian crossing after the right turn.

Monday 12 September 2011

Biking Boris' Blue Lanes

There are a couple of posts I have been meaning to write. The first concerns the reports on cycling facilities around Stratford by the BBC and others. There appears to be disquiet on the state of the roads local to the Olympics - particularly in relation to getting people cycling to the "greenest" Olympics.  TfL, however, appear to believe all is well with cycling on these roads. Those of us who have tried, and not had our brains removed, realise that this is optimism of such as huge magnitude one can only assume that TfL have either never cycled the routes or have been binging on industrial quantities of Prozac. To be honest, each time I start a post on this subject I get worked into a frenzy of indignation that is neither good for my blood pressure or coherence. But one day I will manage it...

The other post was to relay my experiences whilst using the Boris Blue Lanes - Cycle SuperHighway 2. This is also taking some time since I start composing the post and simply run out of ways to say "OK-ish" and "how much did you say this cost?!". But I shall try to put down some thoughts below.

NE London is yet to be graced with blue-tarmac; the only Cycle Superhighway going near is the CS1 which is not due until 2015. However, the CS2 has been completed from Aldgate to Bow, and I have had cause to use the A11 Mile End Road several times in the last couple of weeks. This was my first foray into Boris' Blue cycling utopia...

Firstly, it would be very easy to be cynical and sarcastic about the whole thing. But I want to be more constructive and positive - before being cynical and sarcastic.

So on the positive side - the ASLs appear to be deeper and bigger than anything I normally see outside a Cycle Superhighway. And cars seem more reluctant to simply ignore them - presumably because they are such a gaudy colour and so large. So there is more space at traffic lights, and the left feed-in lanes aren't the tiny tight-ropes of paint often seen elsewhere. It is lucky there is more space, because I think the CS2 has more cyclists than before. Although I infrequently used the route in pre-CS2 days, it feels like there are more cyclists on the road, and this is a good thing. Certainly drivers seem more aware of cyclists, and often give way to them on left turns - something I have only seen in Copenhagen before. The signs are really clear - no missing the "CS2" boxes on the road, or indeed the extra signs along route. There are trixi mirrors on major junctions - not sure if they help lorry drivers with spotting cyclists, but they cannot hurt.

Now the not so good stuff.Clearly TfL - probably in the name of "traffic smoothing" - didn't want to reduce the space available to cars, yet the cycle lane had to go somewhere and be 1.5m wide. So, instead of removing a lane, they kept both when the road is multi-lane, but reduced the width. Most normal drivers stick to the outside lane, leaving the narrower one for black cabs and other "important road users" to squeeze up and undertake the traffic - often at speed and always close to cyclists. This is really disconcerting - the lanes aren't often wide enough to hold two lanes of traffic and a cyclist in parallel in comfort so the whole road becomes a huge elongated pinch point. When traffic is heavy, paradoxically, this isn't so bad as even the ones undertaking are slowed by other cars, but when traffic is flowing at 30mph on the outside lane, the inside lane is the preserve of idiots wanting to break the speed limit and not caring too much about other road-users.

To illustrate my point, see below.

The traffic in the outside lane is moving, but the Golf driver decides to undertake them. Unfortunately there is a hold up with someone turning left into the petrol station so he loses most of the ground he has gained, but this is driving - rationality doesn't come into it..

And then there is this

The black taxi driver has several cyclists in front of him, and one is overtaking the other cyclists - at a fair rate, I might add. Sensible people would temper the speed, pull in behind the audi and then overtake in the far lane. But the taxi driver decides to go right up to the cyclist and beep his horn before pulling in behind the audi and overtaking in the far lane.

So, the two lanes encourages those less predisposed to cerebral activity that they can undertake at speed and squeeze through. Clearly not ideal.

There are, of course, other issues with the Super Highway. It stops and starts for parking bays. When needed most it tends to become shy and only show itself as a CS2 logo on the street. I could go on.

What is really disappointing about the SuperHighway though is that this kind of road treatment is the least we should expect from cycle infrastructure on our streets. The fact that it is an improvement on the other facilities is a damning indictment on cycle infrastructure in general, not a reason for thinking the blue lanes constitute anything one could realistically term "Super". The fact is that, for something truly "Super" for cycling - indeed for walking as well -  these roads need the be fundamentally rethought, with their purpose being considered outside trying to squeeze as many vehicles through the gaps as possible.

But probably the real Achilles heel to Cycle Super Highways is what happens when they end. CS2 ends at Bow roundabout in a fairly undignified manner, spewing the unsuspecting cyclist into the edge of a really unpleasant roundabout system with little indication of what to do next, and absolutely no priority. Alternatively one could decide on the Bow Flyover (which many cyclists use) and end up enjoying the cycling facilities laid on in that cycling nirvana  hell called Newham. Hands up all those who can imagine young families and novice cyclists using this to get to the Olympic park?

Thursday 1 September 2011


Not huge amounts to say about this, frankly. Either the driver was so pre-occupied with something other than driving that they missed the lights completely, or they simply don't care at all.

The lights were red when they pulled out from the side-road (you just see a white van turning right after they have gone red). When the BMW turned right through the red you may be able to just see a cyclist turning right (on a green light) out of the side-street, and nearly getting hit - the cyclist stopped just in time. Bloody cyclists eh! Come out of nowhere...