Thursday 21 November 2013

Getting off my high saddle

In a horrible couple of weeks for cycling in the capital, and what seems to be a concerted rear-guard action by the mayor and others to deflect attention away from the state of the roads for cycling by comments about lawless cyclists wearing headphones, it is difficult not to get really angry.

But, as much as I would love to rant, I thought I would post my thoughts on a really quite well-meaning tweet that apparently got a big backlash from some cyclists this week, and the subsequent blog where the author is confused by the reaction. I wanted to note why I think the tweet got the reaction it did, and why it gave me cause to let out a small sigh.

Firstly, the tweet was by @thecustodysgt and is clearly by a member of the police, but tweeted in a personal capacity. The tweet that caused "offence" was

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 17.00.53

After what appears to be somewhat of a backlash on twitter, the author put together a blog post, found here in which he felt that he tweeted many road safe messages for both drivers and cyclists on offences commonly committed by both but it was only cyclists who got offended. And I can see why it might sound like cyclists are a thin skinned lot anxious to defend law breaking. And I want to put down my thoughts as to why this might elicit the response it did (and make me sigh slightly).

As a reference to motoring tweets he chose the following on the blog.


Now both tweets don't feel offensive to me as either a driver or a cyclist. Both are clearly published with good intentions And one has to always bear in mind that twitter isn't really the best place to gauge the general reaction of any particular community to anything.

But here is the first thing. The tweet on cyclists seems to send out a bit of a subtext that isn't present in the second. Try taking the text from the cycling tweet and moving it to the texting tweet; it would read something like "A ubiquitous law. Contrary to popular belief the ban on texting also applies to car drivers". Sounds like there is possibly a bit of a subtext running through this? Maybe that car drivers generally ignore this law? That maybe car drivers have a popular opinion that the law doesn't matter?

Now take the second tweet - a powerful one that doesn't have much of a subtext other than texting and driving is dangerous. It isn't even really targeting car drivers, it could be the lorry driver was texting. It certainly isn't giving the inference that there is a popular belief that texting whilst driving isn't applicable to them.

Now this all might sound a bit thin-skinned. Maybe I need to be a little less precious. But consider it in conjunction with two weeks where there has been six fatalities, some of which on routes I regularly cycle. That my wife is currently clearly worried about my cycling and that I am also becoming jittery about the roads I need to use. Realise that I see the fatal accident boards on my commute. And then understand that the reaction in the press and, indeed from people who are in power and should know better, is to link these deaths with traffic offences which appear to bear absolutely no relationship to the cause of the collisions.  Then imagine reading the comments sections under press articles where the level of vitriol  is difficult to comprehend when they are simply about a mode of transport. Comments which go from blaming cyclists because they break the law to ones that say cyclists deserve it to ones that actually say we are scum because we might decide to pedal to the shops and sometimes we die in horrible collisions.

Imagine if, after a series of terrible pile-ups such as on the M5 a few years ago or the Sheppey Bridge one more recently, the Mayor said that motorists who play music too loud are a scourge and should it should be banned because they cannot hear traffic, even if this wasn't a contributory factor in any of the pile-ups. Imagine that the press ran headlines asking "Even after these deaths" why do motorists still want to speed, tailgate, floor it through amber lights and park in dangerous locations even if none of these violations were actually material to the deaths? Imagine if these articles had comments that said motorists deserved to die as loads drive like suicidal maniacs, think they own the road, and park outside school gates and on zebra crossings. Would this not, as a motorist, make you feel pretty pissed off?

Well this is what I feel like as a cyclist at the moment. A whole bunch of cyclists die in horrible accidents and the backlash from all quarters is simply amazing. And all I want to do is use a convenient way of doing my fucking shopping and getting a bit of exercise. Yet it appears that this is viewed with a suspicion and distrust normally reserved for anti-social criminals.

So the tweet, in itself, may have only been slightly oddly worded, and the reaction might appear to be out of proportion. But consider it against this backdrop and maybe the reaction can be understood in the context of recent events.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Drapers field revisited

I was travelling by bus today and passed Drapers Field in Leyton.

At the beginning of 2012 I wrote a post about how this field - heavily used by local schools and teams for football, cricket and other sports - was going to be closed and concreted over to act as a storage area for the Olympics. The field is just around the corner from the Olympic village.

From memory, and with reference to this newspaper article, the field was closed in September 2011 and transformed from this

Drapers Field - to be shut for 2 years

To this :

Now, the plans and news reports had the closure lasting 18 months - in fact the news report linked above has the time the ODA would have the facility as from Sept 2011 to Sept 2012.

Going past the site today it was obvious that it still is under redevelopment. There is a football pitch with floodlights on the far side, whilst the rest of the field is full of earth moving equipment and mud.

After a bit of googling, I got to a notice on the Waltham Forest website which says that work is starting on Drapers Field in May 2013 and due for completion in early 2014.

Assuming that early 2014 means Jan-Mar 2014, this means Drapers Field has been closed to the public for over 28-30 months or around 2.5 yrs.

From the council website it might be inferred that the work was awaiting funding from the Olympic Legacy Committee. Maybe this has delayed the transformation back to a local facility. Whatever the reason, this field has been closed to the schools, sports teams and locals for around a year longer than first discussed when the decision to close it was finalised.

In truth it doesn't matter why it has been closed for this time. It is simply a bit sad to see a rare piece of green open space that was clearly extensively used being removed from public use for so long. I could think up some sarcastic, ironic comments about Olympic legacy, but really it is just simply a bit depressing.

I hope the new facilities compensate in some measure and that the field can be seen as part of a legacy of sports facilities for the local area.

Monday 18 November 2013

Mini Holland? Maximum Scepticism.

(Caution : Posting contains rude words)

I haven't posted anything in a long while. I got to the point where I was no longer amazed or angry at the vast disparity between the stated intentions of local road planning organisations and the results, and that pointing out the various ridiculous statements and idiotic cycling schemes was somehow getting tedious.

Then a couple of things happened.

1) Cyclists started dying on "cycle superhighways" - on roads that I use regularly and have been flagged more than once by cycling organisations as deeply unpleasant or unsafe. Junctions such as Bow where cyclists have been dying since 2011 yet it seems that "nothing can be done". This has made me less grumpy and more fucking angry. But I will leave Boris and his unpleasant and disingenuous remarks for another post.

2) I get through the local Waltham Forest propaganda sheet a few months ago which has a big article on how Waltham Forest council are creating a cycling revolution on our streets. There are many more people cycling in Walthamstow but for the council to claim credit is chutzpah of the highest order. Then I get through a "consultation" on improvements to Hoe Street and Forest Road. And finally I see that Waltham Forest are urging people to support their mini-Holland bid for some money for cycling in greater London. And all these things, I feel, need comment because the gulf between what the council say is happening and what is actually happening is now so wide that I think they must just be doing this crap for a fucking bet. So I thought my first post in nearly a year should concentrate on my old favourite - the bollocks that Waltham Forest manage to spout whilst - at best - managing to be completely ineffective for cycling.

I shall start off with the "improvement" plan for Bell Corner and the adjoining roads - Hoe Street and Forest road. For those unfamiliar Google view below gives an idea of the current state of this junction

View Larger Map

Note the three lanes of traffic. Note the incredibly narrow pavements and the tiny strip of cycle lane neatly running down the left side of the left turn lane.

Now traffic regularly speeds down this road. And Forest Road has a bad reputation for accidents.

There was a cyclist killed in a hit and run at Bell junction in 2007. Another cyclist was killed in a hit and run in 2008 a few hundred metres away near Winns terrace. Also in 2007 a motorist was speeding and was killed when his car hit the kerb at the Bell junction and hit the traffic lights. In the same year a car smashed into the wall of Lloyd Park. Last year a car overturned when it hit the pedestrian crossing outside the park just down the road from the Bell junction. In 2009 a motorist was killed when he hit the Bell pub on the corner of the junction. From memory, around 2011 a moped rider was seriously injured near Ruby road at the same spot that I remember at least 4 cars in the last 4 years hitting the central pedestrian refuge, normally late at night and presumably speeding much above the 30mph judging by the aftermath. The other month the road was closed further towards Blackhorse road due to an accident which wasn't even reported upon. And finally, a couple of months ago a child got hit by a car and had to be taken via Air Ambulance to hospital. Luckily he  made a full recovery, but it does focus the mind to witness a child about the same age as my daughter lying motionless in a road. But even this incident didn't manage to make it to the local paper.

All this might make you think that those in charge of these roads would pause to think about making it much more pleasant and safe for pedestrians and cyclists and to try to slow down drivers to something like the speed limit.

And, indeed the road layout is changing - with the plans below

This is from a consultation document that majored heavily on how the changes will help cyclists and pedestrians and improve the streetscape. It mentioned that Hoe Street would become 20mph. It mentioned that traffic would be slowed near the entrance to a popular park and museum just down Forest Road.

What it didn't mention was that the narrow pavements seem on google view were going to be unaltered and the biggest change at this junction is actually represented by the yellow lines on the map. Which are - of course - added parking bays.

So, for cyclists, the current situation on Forest road is that you have a very narrow cycle lane which encourages cars to left hook you as they turn into Chingford Road. The new layout will have a very narrow cycle lane which encourages cars to left hook you as they turn into Chingford Road and the added bonus that you might now also get doored in the cycle lane by people getting out of parked cars. Presumably this is what the council class as spearheading a cycling revolution.

So what about Hoe Street? This is quite a narrow road with shops either side and multiple side roads adjoining. On a Sunday it becomes a nightmare because the parking restrictions on the road are lifted and the buses on the numerous routes down there have to squeeze past cars parked by drivers who prefer to park like fuckwits instead of walking a few metres. Most traffic goes around 20-30mph but it is downhill towards the lights and there will always be the odd genius who decides to floor it to the next red light.

Hoe Street will become 20mph. But seeing as 20mph limits are completely unenforced on all other 20mph roads, I doubt this will make a blind bit of difference to any driver who wants to speed. It looks like they will rip out a zebra crossing to replace it with a light controlled crossing. Which is presumably helping pedestrians by making them wait for the light sequence as opposed to being able to take priority on a zebra. Which sounds very much like the sort of "help" the council also metes out to cyclists. And, of course, the biggest change is, again, the fact that the road is going to be narrowed to add on street parking.

Waltham Forest have form for fucking over cycling in preference to car parking. They did it at the other end of Hoe Street near Bakers Arms where they narrowed a road specifically to allow pavement parking. So now, you can either cycle right next to the parked cars, risking dooring whilst the traffic overtakes you so close they brush you with their wing mirrors, or you can decide to take the lane and have motorists hanging off your back wheel.

On the plus side it looks like there will be more cycle parking, but on closer inspection I am slightly sceptical that even this is what it seems. Some of those locations already have a stand, so it may be more a case that they will remove a stand to replace it later on. I suppose I should be grateful, at least they are not making matters worse..

This type of road layout change to increase parking whilst spouting bullshit about how they are improving life for pedestrians and cyclists is really Waltham Forest's modus operandi. So I think I am allowed to be somewhat sceptical when I see a request for residents to fill in a survey explaining how excited they would be if Waltham Forest got some of the money allocated to make certain Greater London areas into "mini Hollands". The survey says:

The Mayor of London has allocated £100m to improve cycling infrastructure in Outer London, as part of the Cycling Vision's Mini Holland programme. Waltham Forest is through to the final eight shortlisted boroughs, but only four will be selected to share the £100m. 

A successful bid would result in a step change for cycling conditions in Walthamstow town centre and across the borough, as well as reducing congestion for other road users. Proposals include a network of 'Quietways', a Cycle Superhighway along Lea Bridge Road, a new Dutch-style cycle roundabout at Whipps Cross along with widespread greening and environmental improvements.

Waltham Forest is competing with other boroughs for the Mini Holland funding. We'd like to show Transport for London that our residents back our bid, so please pledge your support below.

Sounds marvelous. Lea Bridge road is a popular cycle route but is horrible and is possibly worse than Forest Road for cycle accidents. Whipps Cross roundabout is less of a roundabout and more of a free-for-all gyratory with drivers able to speed at will.

But judging on previous form, I am so deeply sceptical about what might be implemented in the name of cycle improvement that I don't think I should sign anything that may encourage the council. The phrase "reducing congestion for other road users" makes me suspicious for a start. How would this be achieved whilst making conditions easier for cycling? Are they thinking that more people cycling = less cars, which is probably too rational for them, or is it, as I suspect, that they will use the opportunity to rework junctions to improve traffic flow? Whipps Cross roundabout did have plans to be removed and replaced with a more cycle friendly lights junction - the huge amount of space available should allow implementation of something really cycle and pedestrian friendly, but I believe this was shelved. The last plan I saw for "cycle friendly" roundabout was a horrid scheme which I blogged about here; I have reprinted the plan below.

The red line shows that, whilst a driver going south on LeaBridge Road would have three light controlled junctions, a cyclist using the offroad lanes would be stopped at junctions 8 times. And conflict with pedestrians on narrow pavements.

Finally, quietways sound great in principle, but - like the LCN implementation beforehand, they will usually be on narrow roads which quite often act as rat-runs for drivers, they will often be badly signposted and circuitous with crossings at major roads that are probably more difficult and dangerous than just using the main road. I used to use the quiet roads signed when I first started cycling. I found I was pushed to one side on narrow double parked streets by angry motorists who had become incensed that I had slowed up their rat-run. I also found that the signs would be so small as to be useless and when you saw them they would often be turned the wrong way or simply confusing. I gave up on back roads and used the main roads -my policy even to this day.

I can find no reference to plans for the supposed improvements planned so who knows what is in the minds of the road planners? All I would say is that the "improvements" to Forest Road and Hoe Street are now underway and the first change was that two zebra crossings were removed with no temporary facility for pedestrians. This included one crossing on Forest Road used extensively by parents with children going to the local schools. Presumably whilst the works are ongoing those of us needing to cross the road are expected to invent some kind of teleportation device or jetpack to allow safe passage across the road. Traffic flow hasn't been impeded at all.

So the question is - why should I trust this council with any cycling funds?