Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Riding at Night

Monday 7th February: I had an evening excuse for cycling meeting again today and so took the opportunity to cycle round the East side of Cambridge. The great thing was that the wind had died down and although it was cool it was excellent for cycling in non-cycling clothes. Mind you my average speed going home was 24% faster. One of the reasons for taking a great circle route was to try out Cycleways with and without LED lighting set into the edges of the path. In previous Posts I have commented that the LED lights are nice to have but I am happy with white lines down the side.

So have I misLED you or not. Well yes and no. When push comes to shove I do think that the LED lights make it easier to cycle more safely along the shared-use Cycleways. There is a downside though, I cycled up to the A14 underpass on the NCN51 and back at around the evening rush hour. The lights make it "easier" to cycle faster (and so less safely), which was not too much of a problem when I was heading out of Cambridge as I was cycling with the tidal flow of cycling commuters. However cycling back towards Cambridge you find yourself looking at a sea of lights. For one thing you are adjacent to on-coming cars, for another there are quite a few commuting cyclists and then you find that the path has jinks in it and not all the lights are working.

So on an empty path it made it easier to cycle at a reasonable pace, but with bicycles coming the other way I found the oncoming cycllsts' lights getting lost in the sea of other lights. Now maybe that is just me not paying enough attention or getting old and my eyes struggling or my brain failing to process the data. I also noticed there were gaps in the lighting, either some lights were broken or failed to get sufficient charge. There are two red-coloured lights on either side where the NCN51 crosses the High Ditch Road, two seemed to have failed together on the Cambridge side.

Now I know that path quite well and I did found the lights were useful for highlighting the places where the path jinks, however I also almost got caught out by a dark refuse bin that had been left out on the pavement for a rubbish collection the next day. I have had a look on the web to see if there is any study of the safety benefits of the LED lights.

I also wonder what lifespan the lights are expected to have, rechargeable batteries only have a limited number of charge/discharge cycles and so can't be expected to last more than a few years. It has proven quite hard finding info on the web about these - but here is one source of path lights - although not the same as those used on the cycle paths in Cambridge. (£35 each of six for £125). I also wonder what sort of maintenance regime the council will employ. How often will the lights get checked and will they wait for several to get fixed before replacing them? Also do the Council have the same liabilities as they might for say potholes in the road.

I should have checked out the photograph I took of one, it has a brand name on it ASTUCIA. They have a Case Study on their Website - they were used in Malmo to reduce crime. They also have more information on the product (pdf) itself and where it has been deployed in the UK. according to their literature they indicate a proven reduction in night time accidents by over 70% (I think this might be for motor vehicles though!) and are visible for up to 900metres. (Their visibility is very good, except when covered with mud.) The blurb does not seem to give a life-time indication though, but they use Nickel Metal Hydride batteries which do have degrade over time with usage cycles. This link indicates a typical life of up to 3,000 cycles (and up to 350,000 at a 4% depth of discharge). The blurb indicates the battery is sufficient for 240 working hours after a full charge - so I assume that the depth of discharge is probably reasonably low.

I also cycled along the Airport Cycleway, there were fewer cyclists on this stretch of path and it is wider and has less jinks in it. The downside is that I cycled faster and had a slight moment where the path jinks and my front light failed to pick up the jink.


Mind you there is also little evidence to support the idea that cyclists are safer on paths than roads.

Talking about safety the Daily Mail seems perturbed that the police cycling manuals cost thousands of pounds and teach officers to count as part of their training. This is the same Daily mail where Petronella Wyatt bemoaned the lack of cycle training for cyclists! To be fair the headline did start with "Beware the rogue bicycles..." But it seems that you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. The trouble is we have all becoming less "law-abiding" - not the bigs laws, just those little white-laws, like indicating when we're driving and turning (or cycling for that matter).

Actually routes like this didn't exist when I took my cycling proficiency test (or car or motorbikes tests for that matter.

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