Friday, March 2, 2012

Cycling through Cambridge Crime-spots–maybe

Monday, 27th February 2012: As I’ve have mentioned the life/work/cycling/blogging balance titled a bit this week. I have been going to work-related meeting in Cambridge this week with the exception of Friday. The good thing is that the obvious way to travel has to be by bicycle, it just makes the door to door experience so much more pleasant. So paradoxically it does encourage me to get out on my bike. What is generally even better news is that the weather has certainly become more Spring-like.

So what are the downside you ask, well it has left me little time to write any posts for my blog and I have been having real issues with deciding how much clothing to wear when cycling. Before I worked from home I would take clothing into work for the week, along with my car and cycle home. Then each day I would commute in cycling clothing, generally looking to extend the journey in the morning when I could. I would then have a shower at work and be thoroughly energised for what the day had in store for me. If I had to get somewhere inaccessible by train/bike I had my car in the office.

If I needed to pop across Cambridge to another of the company offices it was easier to cycle. The company didn’t pay mileage for cycling as far as I can remember though. I think the argument was that it was only a couple of miles and so barely worth the paperwork. Having said that I am pretty sure those who drove across town would have claimed for the car mileage.

But when you are going to someone else’s office it isn’t quite the done thing to turn up and shower. Anyway I think that it should be easy to just cycle a bit slower and turn up in decent clothing. The real challenge is avoiding setting off to well wrapped up. Cycling et more than a moderate pace quickly warms you up. So I set off, jacket, shirt and tie, thin jumper, and pressed trousers, scarf and gloves.

The first challenge is keeping my trouser legs from the oil on the chain ring. I find that the yellow bands are fine when wearing casual trousers but slip down on “smart” trousers.  So I try to fold the trousers and tuck them into my socks and then put the yellow bands on. my ankles. It takes a bit of care to avoid creasing the trousers too much though.

I try to allow double the usual time so that I can cycle more slowly, but I do find it hard to pace myself and if someone cycles past I often find myself speeding up as if to point out I could cycle faster I just choose not too.

Pretty soon I was getting warm, the first thing that went was the scarf , then the jumper, but the damage was done by now my shirt was perhaps slightly damp. Once that happens it takes ages for it to dry and I would have had to take my jacket off, but it would have become creased in my bag… So memo to self – wear fewer layers tomorrow.

I did think about taking a self-portrait on my way in, inspired by this one (the bottom of the post) but felt a little self-conscious and didn’t really have time to hang around otherwise I would have had to cycle at a faster pace.

One thing I did notice on my way in was several cars with smashed side windows.  The Cambridge News has recently run an article “Revealed: Worst hotspots for car crimes across city” and surprise surprise there is to be a crackdown.  Apparently nearly 700 vehicle crimes were committed between 1st December 201 and 30th November 2011.

I think I must have cycled past 5 or so including this burnt-out car under the Elizabeth Way bridge. It turns out that according to today’s Cambridge News (2nd March 2012) “29 car windows are smashed as vandal runs wild”. Judging from the spread he or she must have run pretty fast as well.

Mind you this might have been a spontaneous fire, it does seem to have been parked properly. Or maybe the owner had reached the end of their tether as “Petrol hits an all-time high: AA warns cost of filling family car will top £96 today as pressure grows to freeze fuel duty”. I am not asking for any sympathy here, but my Disco has cost more than that to fill up for a long time. The terrible thing is that I would probably drive it more often if it was easier to park in the places I wanted to get to in Cambridge. So Cambridge’s congestion saves me from myself.

There are ways to save money though – for instance get a low-polluting car – below 100g CO2 per kilometre – and pay no Vehicle Excise Duty. Or get a bike which doesn’t require petrol or diesel either. See the Cycling Blog – Blog 34: Time to put taxing issue to bed in the Cambridge News for more.

Although I moan about the narrow and share cycle paths around and about Cambridge I do use them when I can. Why? well despite their narrowness and tight corners and lack of priority at junctions. They provide me with a more peaceful and safer route. I often cycle on the path from Riverside through Midsummer Common up to North Terrace and then alongside Brunswick Walk through Butt Green over  Maid’s Causeway.

It is far too narrow for the level of cycle and pedestrian traffic, but frankly I’d rather be clipped by a bike than a car. The crossing over Maid’s Causeway is also responsive to those crossing. The worst pedestrian crossing n my view is the one across Ditton Lane as you take the NCN 51 route from Fison Road, it takes absolutely ages to change sometimes.

I do cycle along the roads in Cambridge, but there are roads that definitely feel less safe. It is always disturbing to hear of accidents and there have been a couple of accidents involving cyclists reported – on the Madingley Road a cyclist was knocked off her bike and taken to Addenbrooke’s Hospital another cyclist was seriously injured in a Coach collision on the Trumpington Road.

What does surprise  me is the response from some of the commenters in both articles (actually it doesn’t surprise me anymore). Some of them presumably drive cars and I share the road with them when I cycle. Predictably there are comments about cyclists jumping red lights and wearing helmets and not using lights at night. In the case of Gary Mason the boxer knocked of his bike by a van driver the family are to sue the driver after the Coroner found the cause of death to be accidental. (There is more from Cycalogical here.) Is it only me that feels that the application of the law seems to favour the motorist against the cyclist.

I was pleased to see in the Times “London roads agency could face corporate manslaughter charge over cyclist’s death”. What I want to see is a change in behaviour rather than the punishment. Whatever the punishment it really ought to be designed to change the behaviour.

What I was surprised at was the “One in 12 drink-drive arrests is in morning” in Cambridgeshire another reason for being wary when riding. There were 39,259 drink-drive arrests last year according to the article.

Predictably there has been a “Police crackdown on danger cyclists in Cambridge”. Four special constables handed out fines for offences including not having lights, riding on the footpath and jumping red traffic lights. They caught 15 cyclists over a four hour period form 6pm to 10pm. The Cottenham Cyclist write about this in “Cyclists without lights”.

I agree that the number caught seems a little on the low side. And anecdotally I would agree that fewer cyclists than you think cycle without lights. I have counted cyclists with and without lights and my experience is that in the sticks the norm is for cyclists to have several bright lights. In town, at first sight cyclists don't always seem to have lights but actually the ones they do have just not that bright in town amongst the cars and streetlights.

I think that rather than viewing it as a crackdown and punishment approach it is really more designed to raise the awareness. Annoying though it might be when cyclists break the law the damage caused by those transgressions is not in the same league as those who smashed 29 car windows in Cambridge this week.

Or this “Driver (who) caused smash as he overtook lorry” or this crash between a car and a train on a level crossing. Or this reckless moment when a motorist sped under a closing level crossing at Foxton. It seems to me that the measure of a crime must also depend upon the measure of the possible (and probable) consequences. A moment’s inattention in a car is far worse than a moments inattention when walking on the pavement.

Which is of course why I favour 20mph limits on town roads, making then citywide is being considered with the creation of a £450,000 fund. Phew wouldn’t it have been cheaper to just spend the money imposing the limit.

After cycling past the Grafton centre I noticed this sign on what was presumably a shop on the corner of Clarendon Street and Orchard Street this sign advertising “Old Friend”. Not the best picture but when I have more time I will try and re-visit the street.

In the general theme of how not to do joined-up thinking Cambridgeshire County Council has apparently invested £25m in the tobacco industry from the Local Government Pension fund. To quote Unison’s regional organiser John Toomey “… it is obscene”. I can’t help but agree. Although I am not suggesting that we necessarily go as far as the town of Rocklin in Sacramento  - “California town set to ban smoking ANYWHERE outside… even in your backyard”. Well not quite yet.

here is Orchard Street – as you can see – not a lot of space for parking – but to make sure cars don’t creep past on the wrong side it is advisable that you leave you door open. Also if someone want to rob it they can do so without the inconvenience of breaking the window.

Clearly these people, in the main manage without a car on their doorstep – although the people living near De Freville Avenue might find parking gets harder because their neighbours will have reserved spaces. Will they pay a fair and economic price for that reserved space I wonder. Is that fair on people who don’t live on wide streets?

I got to my meeting on time, although a little warm. It was much easier to park compared with parking a bike at Cambridge Railway Station. More of that in the next couple of days.

And finally, how about this for a camera  from Lytro – “shoot first and focus later”. It could fix some of my photography problems, that’s for sure.

And really finally, in my occasional series of celebs on bicycles – Lydia Bright training for a charity bike ride. Lucky lady she’ll be cycling in India – a great place to visit. (I can’t say I knew who she was though.)


  1. Hiya, I have been following your blog for a while. Really enjoy reading your posts.

    Just want to point out that my company pays 15p/ mile business travel expense by bike. I have occasional whole-day meetings in Huntingdon and am very tempted to cycle there and back (from Cambridge) along the the busway and claim my £6!!

    1. Hi Ben,

      Thank you.

      15/mile sounds pretty good, almost at the level that the Inland Revenue allow of 20p, which I have just looked up.

      I did once cycle to Norwich for a meeting, but caught the train back to Cambridge. I did take a change of clothing though. I seem to remember only claiming for the single rail fair back.