Monday, February 13, 2012

Cars the new security blanket

The Times Cycling Campaign has been running for almost two weeks now and as you would expect has created quite a stir. As you would also expect, a lot of heat has been generated as well as light. I tend to read cycling Blogs – and it would seem that whilst we all seem to be cheered by a major UK newspaper declaring a stand for cyclists in cities – “Cities fit for cycling” there are some questions about the tactics.

The authoritative cycling blog written by David Hembrow – “A View from the cycle path…” reviews and comments on “The Times’ Eight Point Manifesto”. His post makes for rather sobering reading. For instance; he contrasts the Times call for £100million per year to be spent on cycling infrastructure and points out this equates to €2.30 per person versus the €30 spent in the Netherlands per person per year (see his blog for the reference).

What has somewhat surprised me is the combination of celebrity to promote cycling and the strange rush of letters printed in the Times that are allowed to raise all sorts of somewhat random anti-cyclist issues. Now I accept and expect that News reporting organisations should strive to present a balanced view which means allowing strange views to surface. However I feel that there should also be a duty to address and dispel spurious arguments.

One such example for me is the piece by “James Cracknell: the day I got knocked off”. The article goes on to discuss the brain injury he sustained when cycling across the US and had the misfortune to be struck by a petrol tanker. Given the circumstances he is very much in favour of wearing a cycle helmet. In the piece he makes the statement “If you are cycling without a helmet, you are being selfish to you family and friends” which understandably  demonstrates the depth of his feeling.

Cycle Helmets a good idea on dangerous roads (India)

This got picked up by the BBC One show and you can find quite a few articles that have then arisen. “James Cracknell says cycle helmet saved his life – see his report on The One Show”, and the Daily Mail: “Wear a cycling helmet or ‘let the wind blow in your hair’? Experts say…it’s a no brainer” are perhaps on two different parts of the spectrum.

At its simplest having a bit of padding around your head will have some effect, note I didn’t say benefit.  There are times I wear a helmet and a lot more times when I don’t.  What is important for me is that there is an existence proof. If we compare The Netherlands and the UK in terms of cycle helmet wearing and cycle accidents statistics.  This blog compares cyclists injured per 10 million Km in the US – 35, UK – 6 & The Netherlands 1.4. I have also tried to come up with data on this in a previous post of mine C2C2C Update. According to this paper helmet wearing amongst the Dutch is less than 1% for adults and only 3-5% for children (page 15). It is quite tricky to find data for the UK, but Cyclecraft reports helmet wearing rates of around 15% in the UK in 1996 and nearly 40% in Greater London.

Cycling is not an intrinsically dangerous activity
In Wicken Fen it is a healthy activity

Here is an insight into Bike helmets and the Dutch from an American there.

I know this is not quite a like for like comparison. But essentially what it does imply is that safer cycling does not require the wearing of cycle helmets. Cycling is not intrinsically unsafe so if we really want to get more people out cycling we have to focus on what causes the danger and not protection against danger caused by someone else.

The trouble is cyclists find themselves the “target” of both motorists and pedestrians. Let’s face it telling pedestrians they had to wear protective gear to protect against cyclists sharing their pavement would not be well received.  I do wonder how newly revamped Exhibition Road scheme in which kerbs and pavements allow cars and pedestrians to co-exist harmoniously will really work. The more I think about the issues the more I prefer to see clear delineation between different users.

Keep those cyclists separate, with high-vis and helmets

Which makes me think that part of the problem is that the automotive industry is big business. Apparently the automotive sector spent £547m on advertising in 2010 and there were 2,030,846 cars sold as new in 2010. Focusing on one brand the Nissan Qashqai range had just under £10m spent in advertising and just of 39,000 Qashqais were sold. (Which is £256 per car.) The UK automotive industry also employs 384,000  (Section 2.3 of this report – pdf.)

Clearly this makes the Automotive industry an economic and political force. Like many people I am susceptible to idea that a car is a status symbol. Which all means that we tend to be unquestioning about the role of the car. Indeed car ownership & operation is felt to be a right and not a privilege.

Yet take a look at this link – Street cars Named Desire showing the amount of space required to transport the same number of passengers by car, bus or bicycle (  We moan about congestion yet we fail to recognise the cause. We just say build more roads because that pushes the problem onto someone else.

Here in the flatlands the A14 is a major source of  news – normally along the lines of problems, something needs to be done and accidents. Well the good idea is the “ideas flood in to help solve A14 problems”. with “A14 needs re-routing and widening, plus a toll to pay for it” coming from Cambridgeshire’s Councils (but not the City Council.) Apparently the idea is a toll on the long-distance route and free access on the local route.

So the idea seems to be to charge the haulage companies, who are the long-distance users and allow the locals to go free – it seems to be a rather parochial view and not really in the interests of UK plc. A more complete picture seems to have been put together by the Campaign for Better Transport – pdf. The aims being:

  • Reducing the number of cars using the A14 for local commuting
  • Taking long-distance freight traffic away from the A14 and onto rail
  • Improving traffic-management, safety and resilience of the current A14
  • Provide public transport alternatives for longer distance car journeys within the A14 corridor

A14 – not always congested

I can see that the first point is politically less easy to accept. We’d rather have 5-10 years of disruption from road building only to find that even more traffic comes our way.  On of the approaches to reduce local commuting traffic was to “Tax workplace parking spaces” across the region. The suggestions also included rebuilding the Cambridge to Bedford railway line. (Good news the Fen line will soon have its speed limit upped a bit).

Read Wookey’s comments at the end of the last link for an interesting take. We’ve become so car-centric that we can’t see any solutions other than more of the same that makes us so miserable.

We moan about congestion, we moan about the accidents, or more likely we worry more about being held-up rather than the human tragedy. We moan about young drivers or old drivers – “OAP drives the wrong way along motorway for 20 miles”. Apparently a car was spotted driving the wrong way on the A14- it couldn't have been that congested.We moan about speeding fines yet more cars seem to speed – “Speeding motorway drivers up by 180%”.  although apparently “foreign drivers dodge thousands of speeding fines”.

We even moan about car insurance claims and being taken for a ride.and all those whiplash cases.

So why do we resist alternate ideas here in the UK. Is it insecurity – have cars become a security blanket. Thinking about it look at the way in which some of our best paid footballers use cars. Perhaps it is a way of reassuring themselves that they have made it.

Getting around in Thailand


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