Wednesday 22 August 2012

The criminal classes

Cyclists are lawless reprobates. That much is pretty much fact.

So it is useful to know that the esteemed research tome, Auto Express, have managed to quantify exactly how lawless and naughty cyclists are by using rigorous scientific methodology. And it appears that 74.2% of cyclists are  scofflaw scumbags as opposed to 12.1% of the motoring community. It must be right - the survey is so precise that the results can be measured to a tenth of a percent. That is some kick-ass data collection going on there folks.

So what are the principle crimes of these cyclists that merit the headline of "Cyclists break more road rules than motorists"? Well here is the list

Cyclists  %*   Fault                      Cars    %**

287      29.4  No reflective clothing      NA      NA
104      10.7  No indicating               49     1.6
 90       9.2  No helmet                   NA      NA
 84       8.6  Pulling out without looking 25     0.8
 58       5.9  Jumping lights              12     0.4
 44       4.5  Wearing headphones          42     1.3
 33       3.4  Almost causing collision    17     0.5
 16       1.6  Mounting pavement            0     0.0
  0       0.0  Waiting in cycle box        83     2.6
  0       0.0  Crossing a stop line        83     2.6
  2       0.2  Using phone                 38     1.2
  1       0.1  Eating                       9     0.3
  0       0.0  Blocking crossing           22     0.7

719      74.2  Total                      380    12.1

If you look at this you will realise that cyclists are so lawless that, with the no reflective clothing or helmets, they are breaking road rules that don't even exist. That is taking lawlessness to another level - they are turning our roads into some kind of traffic equivalent of the OK Corral!

Then we have the objective categories of "pulling out without looking" and "almost causing a collision", which cyclists also seem to excel at. Although, strangely they don't seem to be particularly adept at waiting in the cycle box - presumably because it was full of cars.

Of course minor offences such as speeding weren't included as this type of slight oversight by drivers is completely understandable and would simply skew the results. As would counting the number of drivers without correct tax/insurance/license (hint : at last count it was 13% in London).

Of course, the cyclists might say that only the cars in front of the queue have the opportunity to, say, wait in the cycle box, and that 83 cars encroaching on the ASL might mean that every red phase of the lights had it stuffed with cars, but one can overdo the scientific rigour.

The really laughable thing about this article is that the publishers (Dennis publishing) pulled the online version pretty quickly after cyclists complained to them in droves and started to organise a campaign to boycott the publishers new cycling magazine due for launch in a few weeks. I guess it wasn't considered particularly good PR to have a sister publication vomiting up half-baked articles slagging off the core demographic of a new magazine.

For those interested, the new cycling magazine by Dennis publication will be called "Tax Dodging, Scofflaw rule breaking outcasts". No, not really, apparently that wouldn't fit on the cover using the standard typeface. So they decided upon "Cyclist". Presumably, once they got to naming the magazine the journalists' creative and imaginative flair had been exhausted putting together the cycling statistics for their sister publication.

Saturday 11 August 2012

So who is Kierin, anyway?

The Olympics - and team GBs proficiency at the cycling events - have generated a rather odd phenomenon. Which I have termed expertise by association.

I shall explain.

Clearly lots of people are excited by the Olympic cycling since we won lots of races. But most people have no idea about the format or rules of these cycling races, which can look quite confusing. My friends and family then decide that, because I cycle, I must be au-fait with finer points of the sport. And I get asked questions. It hasn't occurred to them that I use my cycle to go to the shops and visiting people instead of in a velodrome. I admit that I sometimes put on my tracksuit and huff and puff around London on the cycle in an effort to get fit (a futile effort since I invariably come home hungry and longing for a curry). But I think this scant qualification to be classed "an expert".

My mother asked me the other day about the rules concerning Kierin*. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about - I actually thought for a while that she was talking about someone called Kierin. I explained to her that since she had watched a Kierin she probably had much more knowledge about the sport than me, who had never heard of it, or seen it, before she mentioned it. And this is my mother. Who, frankly, should know better than most my relationship to any type of sporting endeavour (I enjoy the types of sport where others play it and I watch it, preferably in a pub).

It amuses me that, because I happen to cycle, I am assumed to be an expert on the cycling sporting world. The fact that cycling as a sport has only a very passing interest for me seems to confuse. But do all people who drive know about motorsport? The assumption that I understand Kierin is analogous to assuming that my mother will understand the finer points of Nascar because she drives to the shops.

I think this confusion between cycling as a sport and cycling as a transport option arises because cycling is considered a hobby, something that only the super fit or slightly eccentric indulge in. Therefore if one cycles one must be really into it. Thankfully attitudes are changing, especially in London where a more diverse range of people are tend to use the cycle to get around, but the assumption still persists, especially in my mother's generation.

But the confusion between cycling as a transport option and as a sport and hobby is understandable when politicians appear to make the same mistake

For example, Boris' olympic cycling legacy was launched on Friday. A two day extravaganza of cycling including a kind of souped up "sky-ride" and cycling races around London. Which is all very nice, but hardly much of legacy for cycling as a transport option. Unless Boris thinks that I can wait a year to do my shopping until he shuts the roads for a day or so. 

Any Olympic legacy that helps cycling as a transport option seems rather distant. I am not an ardent believer in segregated cycle infrastructure, but a legacy where streets were started to be treated as places for people as opposed to conduits for traffic would be a legacy. Some courageous decisions on how our roads work would be a legacy. Slowing traffic to facilitate walking and cycling would be a legacy. An event that allows people to ride their cycles on pleasant roads for 1 day a year isn't a legacy, it is more a "here is what you could have won" if those involved in planning our roads weren't quite so beholden to traffic smoothing and grew some kahunas to implement some of those platitudes and aspirations they spout about cycling.

* Note : I know that Sir Chris Hoyle won the Kierin and so we should be pleased about this event, but any sport whose rules are so lax that they allow one of the competitors to sneak in with a motorbike really needs to take a good look at itself. For most of the race the competitor who had fitted the motor was in front, as you would expect, and it was starting to get a bit like a procession. Thankfully, in the race I saw, the sneaky motorcyclist careered off the track - presumably with engine trouble or something - with only two laps to go to allow those competitors who hadn't stretched the rules a shot at Gold.  

Friday 10 August 2012

Barmy Bow Bollards

I felt that there was little that could be done to the Bow junction that could possibly make matters worse. All the check boxes had appeared to have been ticked : cycle superhighway covered in vehicles? Tick. Motorway style exits allowing cars to speed far in excess of 30mph? Tick. Zero policing of speed? Tick. Cyclists deposited on roundabout against left turning traffic? Tick.

The new scheme at the roundabout lights made matters slightly better if one could work out the meanings of all the light phasing - for instance not asssuming that a green cycle light meant proceed onto the roundabout. And that drivers didn't jump the lights or encroach the ASL. Or take off so quickly from the lights that they catch up, and left hook, the cyclists. And cyclists didn't mind waiting twice the number of phases as cars. But the scheme is a testimony to the fact that TfL view traffic flow above cycle and pedestrian safety. As if anyone by now didn't know this.

So, imagine my surprise, when I was cycling up to the Bow Flyover (the roundabout was a mess of traffic as per normal) during the Olympics to find this.

Whoever had decided to put these cones in had done it! They had exceeded my expectations on how unpleasant they could make Bow for cyclists!

For the Olympics the inner lane of the flyover has been coned off. As I approached it I suddenly felt with dread that I would have to either retain primary on the available lane and suffer the consequences of drivers frustrated that I was delaying them, maybe by seconds, to the next traffic lights, or hug the cones and have them pass within inches of me at the typical law breaking high speeds found on this flyover. A cyclist in front of me chose the latter option and it looked utterly terrifying. A van shot past and how it missed him is a mystery to this day. Presumably the advice would be to claim the lane but this is only good if you have a strong constitution for angry motorists.

Then, I realised that there was a little cycle roundal and a tiny gap in the cones which appeared to indicate that cycles should enter the coned area. I popped in there, although the signs were so unclear I wasn't certain that I wasn't going to meet roadworks or something nasty over the top of the flyover. When I crested the flyover I realised all was OK and proceeded down the other side. To the end where there was a tiny exit and a give way sign. Frankly, you need all the speed you can get to negotiate the slip road traffic travelling at 40mph+, and this scheme makes you slow down to slalom through the tiny gap whilst attempting to swivel your head around 180 degrees to check for traffic. Which has no idea that cyclists may be merging since there are absolutely no signs or indications aside from a lonely "give way" sign for the cyclists and a tiny gap in the cones.

Having done this route several times now, I realise that it is intended for cyclists to dive into the coned area and then patiently wait for a gap in the traffic to exit onto the road to the outside lane. It is like a scene from Mad Max except slightly more dangerous.

The question I have is why? Why do this? Why have the entrance to the coned area for cyclists so small and positioned such that you need to get into the outside lane to access? Why have the exit at the bottom of a steep slope where the signs are so confusing and the cyclist is left with absolutely no priority to merge with two streams of fast moving traffic?

The answer is because the coned area has nothing to do with cycle safety or convenience. It is so that traffic merging from the roundabout can do so without having to give way to traffic coming off the flyover. And then someone decided to stick an access point for cyclists so they didn't get in the way of the cars. Absolutely no thought has been given to how cyclists will use this road layout, or whether it is easily followed, safe or convenient. I would very much doubt anyone involved in this little scheme has ever cycled it. It is, again, symptomatic of the fact that cycling considerations and infrastructure are a very poor relation to traffic smoothing.

To say these things are an afterthought is unfair - it indicates that some thought went into the plan for cyclists in the first place.

It does, however, indicate a couple of interesting things

1) The Olympics, as fine as they are, will have absolutely no positive effect on moderating local roads to become more conducive to cycling. The Olympics are a boost for cycling due to the heroic efforts of Bradley Wiggens and the cycling teams on the track, but the local transport bodies will not be delivering any help to create a legacy that helps people make the transition to using cycles instead of cars.

2) Bow flyover is massively underutilised by vehicles. This is obvious, even at standard rush hour most traffic goes off to the A12 link roads and leaves light local traffic to speed off over the flyover. Reducing the flyover capacity for vehicles has had no appreciable effect on traffic flow at all. There is a whole load of tarmac on the flyover that could be used for other things - such as a really nice cycle lane and it wouldn't even have any effect on the traffic. Yet I suppose that when the Olympics end, the configuration will be reset and cyclists choosing the Bow Flyover instead of the horrible roundabout will still have the exciting prospect of trying to gauge whether that speeding driver coming up the inside lane behind them has spotted them or is too busy texting / chatting / eating.

3) To make the current arrangements a bit more obvious and friendly to cyclists would cost next to nothing. A bigger sign to show cyclists that they can use the inside lane. A slightly different arrangement of the cones to let cyclists enter the coned area without slaloming into the outside lane. Some signs maybe at the end of the coned area to tell motorists to watch out for cyclists merging into the lanes. Hell, they could go wild and put down some road markings to show that cyclists may be merging, possibly even a rumble strip or two to encourage motorists to moderate their speed to something closer to 30mph than warp factor 7.

The last point strongly indicates to me that consideration to cycling isn't just being horribly compromised by "traffic flow" and lack of funds, but also by a complete lack of understanding of how cycling works. Whoever designed this little coned section should have been someone who had cycled it. The flaws become apparent immediately if you actually use it.

The Olympics have been a fantastic. The cycling at the Olympics has been a triumph with gold medal after gold medal. But cycling to the Olympics has been a farce. At a time when cycling makes more sense than ever, when the profile of cycling is higher than ever, we need people new to cycling to be doing it at least in part because of the road planning, not in spite of it. Because with the current state of the roads, many of those enthused by the Olympics to cycle for transport or leisure will give up and return to their cars after a couple of weeks. And that would be a very sorry legacy indeed.