Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Soggy Syclist Sitting on a Train

Thursday, 16th June: I’d better warn you right away this post will be a bit of a moan. It must be something to do with living in Cambridge, according to the Mirror “Cambridge tops the table as the moaning capital of Britain”. Mind you the article actually suggests it is about compensation claims. Although it then goes onto suggest that 28% of the City’s residents complain about incidents, ranging from falls and accidents to injuries at work.  Humm, it seems that the definition of moaning is somewhat imprecise. Maybe the issue is that a small number of people “moan” a lot and it averages out, I find it difficult to take the “statistics” at face value – or am I  moaning.

Talking about moaning, I still cannot upload to my Picasaweb account properly. I have always held the quality of Google stuff (their various bits of software and search)  in high regard, but having have Blogger problems for almost a week and now 11 days of Picasaweb problems I am beginning to wonder what it going on?  Have they been hacked?

So I’d better balance the moaning out with some more positive news. The Cambridge News reports that “Signs are looking good for city’s cyclists”.  Essentially this reports on the use of clearer signage to indicate when a road is “no entry except for cycles”.  There are a number of roads in Cambridge which are essentially one way for motor vehicles but cycles are allowed both ways. They used no motor vehicle signs, “but less than 60% of drivers can identify them”. Instead they will use standard  No Entry signs with a qualifier below the sign  Except for cycles. Apparently this implication was stuck in the red tape morass, but no longer.

Sorry another moan coming up – perhaps I ought to change the font colour then they would be easier to ignore.  In one of those surprises to no-one it turns out that here in “Cambridge Drivers ‘speed up’ in some 20mph streets”. There has been a trial to see whether the lower maximum speed would be obeyed without the need for costly traffic calming – well the answer is no.  Although the speed changes are just as likely to be to do with the amount of traffic along those roads.

I do not really like traffic-calming, as a cyclist it quite often seems to put me more in harm’s way than with normal roads. It is not unusual to see cars overtaking on the other side of traffic calming features.  For instance I have seen overtaking here on Airport Way around the Traffic Island. Fortunately there is a reasonable shared-use path alongside. 

However motor traffic is intimidating and noisy and polluting. We all would hate to live by the side of a busy road (although some don’t have a choice). I once lived just off the A5 in Northamptonshire – not pleasant. Yet once we get in our cars, insulated from the “real world”, we can easily forget the impact our vehicles have on others (I know I do). Already we know that our speed limits are somewhat loose, the Daily Mail handily has a table which suggests that you are unlikely to get prosecuted for driving at up to 35mph in a 30mph zone.

So what happens is that anyone driving at the actual speed limit will often get tail-gated and abuse.  (If you don’t believe me try it.) When people do break the law then they either pay up for a speed awareness course or get a fine and penalty points. Assuming they are honest and inform their Insurers they will often end up having to pay more for their next year’s car insurance. 

This all leads to the idea that the motorist is a cash cow. Well for a cash cow it is expensive bit with road crashes along costing the British Economy £30bn a year. Although to be fair I expect that also accounts for delays and the like. (I have tried looking for the annual spend on new roads and road maintenance on the web – it is not that easy to find. (Here is the 2009/10 Highways document – page 44 – the total budget is £7.6Bn.) I am not sure whether that covers things like gritting and the like though.

I think I’d better move on, Thursday I was due in London over the afternoon and evening and had an HDMI cable to return to John Lewis. Now the digital switchover has happened here in the flatlands I have upgraded from Freeview to Freeview HD, in something of a coincidence it was just in time for the Canadian Formula 1 race. When I bought the box the Sales guy suggested buying an HDMI cable and then returning it if there was already one in the box (as opposed to opening it there and then in the shop to check).

Well it did have one and an aerial cable as well and after a slightly stressful start, I’d not pushed the HDMI plug in fully it was very easy to set up and get working. (It is a Sony one if you are interested- chosen because we have other Sony stuff and there is some similarity between the controllers which makes it less stressful for my wife and so less stressful for me.)  The picture quality is noticeably better, but the improvement is not anywhere near as big as going to a digital flat screen from the old analogue CRT system.

Having worked back my timing based on when I needed to get to London and allowing 30 minutes, just in case, for train and/or tube delays and allowing time to visit John Lewis I sat at home working on my computer having gotten my stuff ready to cycle into town and then onto the Railway Station. There isn’t any point in getting to the station too early but I was also a little worried about finding a space for my bicycle – never easy, still with the contingency I should be OK.

The problem was I wouldn’t be able to pop into John Lewis quite so easily if I took the car and there was also the risk of not being able to find a car parking space in the Station car park. (As I cyclist I tend not to know much about bus timings, my daughter is more knowledgeable but wasn't around to ask.)

One minute it looked dry and the next minute when I looked out of my window it was raining – flip. A quick check of the weather forecast and there was light rain forecast at a 20% probability. So, a 1 in 5 chance of rain, or to put it another way a 4 in 5 chance of no rain, on those odds I thought I’d wait until nearer the time I had to cycle off and make a “run-time” decision. As it starting getting close to a decision point the rain seemed to have become almost negligible and so I thought I would risk it. I did put on a thin rain-proof jacket but decided I didn’t need to take leggings or switch to shorts, a bit of a mistake.

So much for the odds, it started raining slightly harder and then then wind got up and then it started pouring. By the time I got to John Lewis I was soaked and feeling pretty miserable. After a while the rain runs down your jacket and then pools around your crotch – it is not a good feeling – icy water, – perhaps it overcomes fertility issues with cycling though.

The good news is that there is underground cycle parking at the Grand Arcade accessible from Corn Exchange Street, for 500 bikes. The bad news is that at least when I went in it was pretty full. I did park but was amused to read the Cambridge News cycling blog – see “Blog 8 – Where is that grand cycle parking”. I haven’t found a link direct to that post so you will have to navigate down to it. The Blog post has a bit of a moan about the somewhat sparse, genuine two-to-a-hoop parking available. I would have to agree – it was pretty much full.

Anyway I returned the cable, why do they need the card and pin that it was bought on?  It meant more careful rummaging in my “briefcase” around trying not to let water run inside and get my notes wet. My briefcase is a little older than the link but something else I have had nae bother with. despite the rain it was dry inside and that was without the extra cover.

I did consider buying some new trousers, but would have probably had to buy a complete set of clothes and then change at the station and carry wet clothes around with me, so I didn’t

Then I set off to the station, the first thing you do is run the gauntlet of the car park’s vehicle exit. I then pulled away at the lights on from Downing  Street to turn right onto Regent Street, when they turned green I might add. Unfortunately a cyclist coming from Regent Street had decided to jump the red lights, but fortunately for me a slightly pompous pedestrian admonished the cyclist for his red-light jumping behaviour. Although the said pedestrian let his case down somewhat as he was crossing my path when my signal was green and his was red.

At this point dear reader I felt to the need to politely point out the error of his ways in crossing against a red light. A soggy cyclist does not make for a happy cyclist. I don’t suppose he gave much thought to the fact that whilst a car’s stopping distance increase somewhat in the wet a bike’s brakes just stop stopping, at least for a while.

If it had been dry I would have taken pictures of the three or four vehicles parked in the bus and cycle lane, but it was too wet. The good news was that my timings meant I would have some time to dry out before my meetings in London.

On a positive note though as it was wet, surely there would be fewer (stupid) cyclists out and so finding a parking space for my bike at the station would be easy – if only.  It was worse than on a dry day.  I can only assume that people commuting into Cambridge left their bikes in the cycle-park and found other ways into work Whatever the reason the cycle park was worse than ever.

There were bicycles all over with quite a few treble or quadruple-parked hoops. as a result some bikes had ended up on the floor and the gap between rows was narrow to non-existent in places.  Which meant I had to lift my bike up and over – which when your bike and you are both wet involves the transfer of dirt from the bike to your clothes, no matter how careful you are.

Clearly we cyclists don’t give a toss about other people’s bikes, I guess when we are on our way to work we put on the “I must get there at all costs blinkers”. This is one of the reasons I don’t like parking here, even if you bike doesn’t get stolen it might get trampled.  Note – this is the same mind set you see in motorists, the trouble is they are driving several tons of metal around as well.

Eventually I found a “space” – my bike ended up treble-parked, up there can’t you see it the Marin? I just hoped it would be there later that evening when I got back.

They say that cycling is safer when there are large numbers of cyclists. I wonder whether this actually means that there are still the same number of accidents just shared amongst more cyclists. that is one upside of the bikes all being jumbled up – there is more change the thief will pick someone else’s, after all there are so many to choose from.

After getting my ticket and a pasty I noticed the new platform works, not actually taking place, but something had happened. I wonder if there has been any progress on making it more cyclist accessible. The train was on time and so as I sat there, on time with my pasty it reminded me of my schooldays. I used to cycle to school, it was only a few miles, but every now and then you’d get wet, sometimes very wet and the first lesson was one where you would slowly dry off. Well that is what it was like sitting on the train. Yes by the time I’d gotten to London I was pretty much dry. Mind you when I got to my first meeting I hung up my cycling jacket to allow it to dry.

The strange thing is halfway to London the weather was completely different and I have to mention the fields full of poppies just south of Royston. Perhaps I’ll cycle down there.

I got back to Cambridge around 9pm and yes my bike was there and it was dry and the cycle park was fairly empty. each time I struggle with cycle parking I feel that I ought to write and complain, but never do, perhaps I don’t fall into the 28% of true moaners. It is really pleasant to cycle home in the dry from the Station after a day spent in London. After sitting on the train a stretch of the legs is just what you need.  I know how Bob feels though.


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