Thursday, June 2, 2011

Too much time on the computer…

My cycling has become sporadic of late and I have been spending too much time on my computer doing stuff.To be fair (to me) most of it has been productive work type stuff. However I also seem to have a browser-full of tabs that have caught my eye for one reason or another. In fact it has gotten so bad that it seems to be slowing my computer down.  I can also see my early forays into Twitter could also slow me down, I have barely any followers and the small number I follow generate a gazillion tweets.

The trouble is that every now and then the browser windows seem to update themselves and take up loads of CPU time displaying all the adverts and whatnot.  What I really want is a better way of managing tabs – something which Firefox seems to have, although to be fair to Chrome (the browser I use most often) I haven’t recently checked to see that might be available. So having spurred my interest I have loaded ToomanyTabs and will see if that helps me. I want to be able to arrange my Tabs more conveniently and stop them from using up resources.  First impressions are that it is quite good, but some little foibles. Ah well nothing ventured…

So what has been happening in the world? Well here in Cambridge the spending cuts look as if they will impact the Council officers dedicated to promoting cycling and walking and reduce the number of posts from 2 to 1.  Special needs pupils will also lose free transport to school as well it would appear. Am I being cynical or are these easy targets? Mind you here is one person who is taking positive action “Commuter who has beaten the petrol hikes by making his daily 11-mile journey on a UNICYCLE”. Although he has seen a fifty per cent cut in the number of wheels on his steed. It is telling that this story is “interesting” because it is in the context of petrol price hikes.  Yet another way poor motorists are being punished perhaps?

I do feel that our society has shaped itself around a massive car dependence and most of us have been complicit in this move (me most definitely – sorry) . We all enjoy the freedom, the ability to live in nice places and commute to work, the large shopping malls and out of town supermarkets that make life so convenient. Unfortunately the age of the car has problems, peak oil, peak car, the cost of providing the roads infrastructure, the cost of traffic jams and of policing – to name but a few issues.

The trouble is we have a social infrastructure that makes it difficult for those without cars – even things like taking children to school has fuelled an increase in the number of cars around. Here in Cambridge there is a noticeable improvement in the traffic flow during the school holidays.

The result is that the sentiment tends toward “forgiving” motorists – they have it so tough anyway.  Rules get broken, even when we know better as in the case of a Policewoman caught parking in a Bus Stop to get some fish and chips. The trouble is when rules are then asserted  it is a “war on motorists”. My concern is that we are stumbling forwards, who is taking a long-term view of how things need to change?

In the meantime you get bickering between the various groups of road users. Anybody who has cycled around Cambridge will regularly see motor vehicles obstructing Cycle Lanes (not including bus lanes) and also using Bus Lanes all the time. Yet only 5 fines were handed out between Jan to March 2010 for doing cycle lane obstruction.

The winds of change will blow, whether we like it or not. Fortunately some are blowing within our Government.  “Minister for cycling refuses to back pedal in helmet row” is an article on how Transport Minister Norman Baker has quite reasonably highlighted research on why wearing a cycling helmet might not be all that beneficial. In my mind the fact that helmet wearing in The Netherlands  is so low and yet cycling in the Netherlands is so safe (indeed at the bottom of the Wikipedia article it is suggested to be the safest cycling country) indicates that we are wasting energy on encouraging cycle helmet use, we ought to be fixing the problems that cause the accidents rather than mitigate the results of the accidents. It is too easy to transfer the blame on to the cyclists and ignore the real problems – motorists attitudes to cyclists and very poor infrastructure that adds to cycling problems.

Talking about putting the responsibility where it is due Julian Huppert (MP Cambridge) is backing a bid to cut lorry blind spots. It is good to see that responsibility is being allocated to the right place.  There was a call to create a specific “Death by dangerous Cycling Law” and yet the real scale of the problem  (1 pedestrian killed by a cyclist in 2008, 0 in 2009) versus the number of pedestrians who get killed by motorists (572 in killed by motorists 2008 and 500 in 2009) highlights the more important issue. Also as we know laws don’t fix problems we have laws about speeding, we still need to enforce those laws.

Mind you I am not saying that all cyclists are blame-free given the popularity of cycling and in my opinion the way in which cyclists and pedestrians sometimes get jumbled together accidents do occur. However fortunately the evidence shows that the consequences of being hit by a bicycle versus a car can be very different.  Perhaps I should invest in airbags or a cycling rucksack with indicators and a stop light.

They are not always tragic but in two recently reported cases a pedestrian had a “lucky escape” and was treated for minor injuries in Addenbrookes.  Very tragically a young girl was killed when a car mounted the pavement in Royston.  The fact of the matter is that a large mass moving at a higher speed has the potential to be more dangerous than a small mass travelling at a lower speed. I believe that a motorists has a higher duty of care than a cyclist who in turn has a higher duty of care than a pedestrian. Yet frequently there are calls for pensioners to be re-tested or young drivers to be restricted, for middle-aged drivers not to drink and drive – we need more awareness of the consequences of driving – full stop.

Although I don’t like to just list the latest tragic headlines here are some recent ones. “Putney woman given community service after failing to stop at accident” – a teenage cyclists died after being in collision with her car. “Man suffers serious injuries after crash between cycle and car” – the 30-year old cyclist had injuries to his lower back, elbow, hip and shoulder. “Teenage driver arrested and released on police bail after cyclist dies on A351”. A cyclist in  his mid-forties believed to have been cycling with a friend was killed after a collision with a Renault Clio.  Fortunately accidents do not always result in tragedy with a “tractor driver escaping a ban for crashing into a house”. The same article also mentions a car crashing into a cottage in Lode on Sunday. Flip I cycled past there on Monday and didn’t notice.

I am not trying to say cycling is dangerous, although that can be the effect of these sorts of headlines, however I do think that the issue is that cyclists are vulnerable road users and we can only fix the problems by reducing the danger that face, not trying to mitigate the effects after the danger has occurred. Here is an interesting Blog on “Bicycle safety: Arms Race, or Disarmament?” that neatly illustrates the issue if we focus on the cyclist changing rather than the danger presented to all vulnerable roads users by motor vehicles.

I was interested to see how it took two policemen, a patrol car, the force helicopter and thermal imaging equipment to find a boy who kicked his ball into a greenhouse. The police get criticised if they don’t solve crime and they get criticised when they do.

So is there any good news, well yes: “A rail fare system we might understand”. Although the UK seems to have the most expensive rail system in Europe – ah well at least we can fall back on the car. Be careful if you are thinking of taking you bike on the train – “Commuter banned from taking bikes onto train” is about further restrictions stopping cyclists from taking their bikes on certain trains into Cambridge. I find it somewhat amusing that the ban is justified because of the safety hazard and yet over-crowding on trains is not?

Yesterday I did cycle over the Carter Bridge (cycle/pedestrian bridge by the Cambridge Railway Station) and noticed, but did not take any pictures that work on the new Cambridge island platform has started. it will allow longer trains (12 cars versus 8 cars) I wonder if the restrictions on cycles will then be lifted.

I think I will finish this rant, for which I apologise, looking at nature, which is “Worth billions to UK” – you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone. Apparently to minimise the blight n the countryside there is an Electricity Pylon design competition. Apparently Pylons also feature in poetry – “Bare like nude girls that have no secret”. I don’t see it myself. The issue of the Government Forest sell-off is still rumbling. Let’s hope cyclists are well represented. our county council is doing there bit though “pair fined for dumping waste in nature reserve”. Well done to the county officials who tracked these fly-tippers down.

That’s almost it – but since I am interested in photography this caught my attention: “Cambridge homeless show pinhole beer can camera pictures” which appeals to me on many levels.

Along with a relaxation in cycling by-laws, I never knew it was so complicated to allow cycling in public space. I must be spoilt living in Cambridge.

if you are interested in looking at where accidents occur in Cambridgeshire the 2010 Joint Road Casualty Data Report has just been published along with an interactive map.  The summary suggests priorities should be Young Drivers, Work-related Road safety, Motorcycles, Speed and Migrant Road users.  Cycle helmets not on the agenda though Smile


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