Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cycle paths, A New King’s Cross and cycle parking really is crap at Cambridge Railway Station

Wednesday, 21st March 2012: It was another fine morning to be cycling with temperatures above 10C when I actually needed to make a move. Once again I found myself needing to attend (um not sure about needing, expected maybe) a meeting in London. The good bits were that it didn’t start until lunchtime so I could avoid the rush hour. I wasn’t too sure about whether it would finish though. As a matter of principle, even if I am not directly paying for a trip into London I prefer to to travel off-peak if at all possible. Which means not being able to catch trains back to Cambridge.

Now all I want to know is what are the times I can’t either head to London King’s Cross from Cambridge or vice versa. The First Capital Connect  webpage seems to obfuscate that information.  Frankly the Timetables  (going, coming back) aren’t much better. Anyways, what it means when you do work it out is that I either have to catch the 16:!5 form Kings cross or wait until 19:15. Which means a three hour window to avoid in the evening. Now stingy though I am, I draw the line at hanging around Kings Cross for nigh on three hours, even if I am paying.

The timing for this meeting fitted into an off-peak ticket with me returning on the 19:!5,  without too much hanging around. As it happened the timings also meant I could plan on walking from the station to the meeting venue and back as well so I could get some fresh air. I did consider taking my Brompton, indeed I could have taken a full-size bike on the train.

As time was not that critical and once again I was not sure quite how me turning up with either a full size bike or a Brompton would be received at the meeting venue I resigned myself to parking my bike at the Cambridge Railway station, with a sinking heart. The timings meant I would not be able to leave my bike at Station cycles.

Despite the publication of data that shows cycling is on the up in Cambridge I still feel that some of the people I interact with think my cycling is slightly eccentric, although coming to think about it that might not be to do with my cycling. A common question what routes do I take. As regular readers will know I tend to favour the cycleways and country lanes. When I mention that then the presumption is reinforced that the problem is that the roads are so dangerous that is the only possible solution.

Now I do cycle on roads all the time, but noisy smelly roads versus pleasant, quite and interesting little “secret” paths – well there is no contest. But the roads aren’t that bad really. What is worrying is whilst the roads might be getting safer for most users – they are not for us cyclists. – “Big increase in UK cyclist casualties”. Why is that, well I wonder if it is because we are making motor vehicles safer in the event of an accident rather than reducing the number of accidents. Which means there can be more accidents on the roads.

This only troubles the insurers, which is why it costs so much to insure a car to drive. Small accidents don’t cause so much injury so can happen more often – except for vulnerable road users like cyclists. As a result there has been pressure on cyclists to wear helmets and high-vis clothing – without understanding the cause and effect.

So perhaps whilst we might want to reduce injury we should probably also focus on reducing the number of accidents. This will help to stabilise insurance costs and save money for all. (Although Garages who do the repairs would lose out.)

I feel that driving a motor vehicle nowadays requires far more concentration and that standards have slipped. Although I have not looked for any data to test my hypothesis. It just come from incidents like these; “Motorist using an elastic band to make his phone hands free”, “Experts call for ban on wearing ‘hazardous’ stilettos while driving”, “Driver who hit HGV ‘though it was a pothole’“ and “Three people seriously hurt when overtaking went wrong”.

The other consideration non-cyclists have is that they will quite frequently read about cyclists getting hurt by what appears to be a lack of any concern about vulnerable road users. Here in Cambridge we recently had a couple of taxi drivers fined after incidents with cyclists. Not the most reassuring message for would-be cyclists about how cyclists are treated. Nationally there was a tragic case of a teenage cyclist dying after a hit and run. How callous is that.

The trouble is when an accident does occur it is the cyclist who is vulnerable – “Cyclist hospitalised after crash with car in Cambridge” and “Cyclist hospitalised after crash in Cambridge”. are two recent and different examples.

Also when such tragic accidents do occur the excuses extenuating circumstances seem to excuse poor driving – such as this case of the driver being “blinded by the sun”. The Highway code makes it clear that one should drive according to the conditions of the road – not to the speed limit (and beyond) and yet that doesn’t seem to the practice nowadays.

I do wonder whether our culture has shifted from one of taking personal responsibility to that of blaming others. An example of what I mean is this post from Cyclogical, signs are being installed at an accident blackspot to warn drivers when it rains…  It is as if we are tuning out roads to be as fast as possible by signing everything. Is this another example of how a focus purely on safety can lead to unintended consequences. Or is it too late?

Whilst as a regular cyclist I will still cycle on the roads I can see that now matter what there will be potential cyclists who need far more encouragement – which does not mean training and helmets to get out there. So the news that “Plans for cycling superhighway to be set in motion” is welcome here in Cambridge. It relates to a route from the Cambridge Science park to Addenbrooke’s aka the Chisholm Trail. This needs to be a quality development, IMHO, if we really want to get more people out on their bikes here in Cambridge. For all you motorists remember one more cyclist is one less car.

The article suggests that it will cost around £4m – well to put that into context, back in 2005/6 the cost per lane of motorway was £6.8m/Km. So a 6 lane motorway would cost £40.8m per Km so £4m would buy you 100m of motorway – and presumably costs have gone up since then. Mind you the cost depends on all sorts of issues – the M74 extension is forecast up to £692m for 8Km. Which implies a cost of £86.5m per kilometre.

Of course the other problem is that owning a car has risk even if you are not using it.  I have mentioned seeing smashed car windows along Riverside in Cambridge. The problem seems more widespread – “Teacher is victim of crimewave” and “Six more cars hit by vandals” are reminders of the senselessness of some people. The problem is that not all housing in cities has parking space available. There is a case where a fraud is alleged over parking permits in London. the article indicates that in the part of London mentioned annual on-street parking fees would cost up to £5,760 whilst the Kensington and Chelsea parking permit is £110. That is quite a difference.

And finally I was horrified to see that Royal mail staff are bitten around 4,000 a year. That is truly terrible. Having been chased and on two occasions bitten whilst out cycling it is certainly not pleasant.

I wonder if it is a karmic balance that causes me to get worked up about these issues when I write my posts. Essentially is it so pleasant cycling around and about that i have to spend some time being grumpy and that occurs when I am sitting and blogging.

Onto nicer things – Cambridgeshire is slowly bootstrapping the provision of paths for cyclists and reaping the benefits. From the top of Mill Road there is an interesting “old-school” cycle path to the railway station. I tend to cycle by many different routes, just for the change of scenery. The route heads down Natal Road and cuts along a path to Marmora Road and then via another path to Greville Road and then onto Rustat road and up over Carter Bridge.

The downside of it is that it is bitty and there are places you have to cross where you don’t have priority, although these are not busy roads and Greville Road now has a 20mph limit. The upside is that you can avoid getting stuck in the traffic along Mill Road. Mind you Mill Road has gotten much better since the speed limit there was cut to 20mph – but there are still cars, vans and lorries fuming about the place. I do cycle along Mill Road more often than I used to though.

As I had a bit of spare time on my way to the station I took some pictures of the route. Here is the cut through to Marmora Road alongside the Coleridge Community College/ Ridegefield Primary School playing fields.

After Marmora road comes another path, this time with a chicane to make it more interesting and the path narrows at the far end. I bet it is tricky to get a bike plus trailer through there.

Another chicane presents itself when you turn off from Greville Road onto Rustat Road. The thing you have to be careful about is other cyclists as you both head from the same narrow gap. Some nice blossom on the tree there.

Rustat Road is bisected by the cycle path as it comes down from Carter bridge to the right – there is quite a slope and you need to expect bicycles coming down here quite fast.

This is Carter Bridge viewed from the Station Car Park Rustat road is to the right hand side. In the “old” days it was quite difficult getting a taxi from the station when you arrived on the London train. It is much easier nowadays after they relaxed the rules for taxi driver. The only downside is that the car park gets totally clogged with taxis when there is a busy train expected. There is some cycle parking of to the right – which you can’t see and it can be tricky if you want to leave the car park when the taxis are there.

I wonder, do the taxis pay to be able to operate from the station. If they don’t perhaps they should pay for their short-term parking? 

Once again I struggled to find a space for my bicycle. In the end I had to to triple park at a stand in the bit alongside Station Road. The stands are designed to take two bikes, however when needs must you get two on one side – sticking out into the path, at either end. There was a little bit of space so I took it. The risk is you bike could easily get damaged by people trying to get down through the middle.  In this case my bike stuck out less than the one next to it.

A bit further along the path is a real blockage – there was no way past without lifting your bike at that point.

More examples of ”triple” parking.

This is what happens in the rush to park and catch the train – bikes get trampled underfoot.

It was only when I was downloading my pictures did I realise that I must have accidentally pushed the shutter whilst walking.

Yet another crowded to over-flowing cycle park, in front of the station.

A couple of cyclists looking for spaces.

A view of the new central platform – it was built by sacrificing the freight-train lane – so they now take one of the other tracks in order to pass through.

When I reached King’s Cross (on-time) I was able to admire the new-look Kings’ Cross. I like the colour purple.

I quite like the lattice effect as well.

The outside of the Station building has now become the inside. It provides a new, enlarged concourse, with a bunch of shops and some large Train Information boards – it also makes it easier to get to platforms 9, 10 and 11 – often used by the Cambridge trains.

Another view of the roof. As it has not been open for long they had loads of people shepherding along travellers in the “right” directions.

After that I walked in the pleasant sunshine over to Russell Square. This was Judd Street – I took a picture to show how London has squeezed in cycle parking along the pavements. I should have paid attention to the shop sign and got that in the picture. It says Bread and Butter – ah well maybe next time.

This is Tavistock Place – look at there  segregated cycling – well on one side anyway.

A narrow passage to The Generator (Compton Place).

Further up the road the cycle segregation is somewhat more intuitive – if not as wide as it might be.

It was the red brick and pink blossom that caught my eye here.

This was taken on the way back from my meeting. A well polished brass plaque -  some unwelcoming message.

I had a quick wander up onto the “balcony” area where the new loos are – unfortunately the change machine wasn’t working so I was thwarted. I did take a picture from the balcony though.

I happened upon Platform 93/4, which is so magical that it even moves around the station. It also looks as if they have had to rebuild the wall with so many muggles trying to get through! At this point my camera was zipped away in my bag as I’d already taken pictures of the interior. So I used by phone camera – which is why the picture looks a bit blurry –it is amazing what you can do with only a few mega-pixies.

As I made my way to platform 1, next to platform 0 there was some cycle parking – pretty busy – this cycling lark really does work you know. Yes it was taken with my phone camera – I was in a rush to get a seat – not always that easy on the first off-peak train of the evening.

And then it was a jolly nice ride home at the other end – always a pleasure.


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