Thursday, March 8, 2012

Doing my bit for the rural economy!

Monday, 5th March 2012: Cycling is different things for different people, but there is no doubt in my mind that, whilst riding a bike is always rewarding (health, fitness, fun, saving money, convenience, competition, green…) it does require effort and there is sometimes a little hump that you need to get over in order to get those benefits.

I cycle most days, I cycle in wind, rain and snow, I know that 999/1000 I enjoy getting out on my bike and yet it takes a little push to get over the hump.  For me the reason can be to get the daily newspaper or to get out in sunshine or to get to a meeting more conveniently. I also know that if I stop cycling for a while then the hump in the way of getting out on my bike gets bigger.

In case you were wondering the odd times I have returned not enjoyed a ride have involved a visit to Casualty. Mind you after being knocked off my bike by a car and suffering from a broken collar bone as time went by I was only too keen to start cycling again.  In my case the break was straightforward and it was left to mend on its own. I  was told expect to be of the bike for 12 weeks and can remember the disbelief when I was at my 6 week check-up and when I asked the question I was told I could cycle straight away. It was brilliant cycling down to the newsagent the next day and then around Wicken Fen in the afternoon. The newly mended break did buzz a bit though and after only six weeks of enforced rest I felt fat, unfit and my nether regions were also a bit tender.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool bicycle-user and I fond it doesn’t take much to stop me cycling (I don’t mean the broken collar bone) so I am not in the least surprised that the imposition of helmet laws in Australia has negatively affected the number of people cycling. I quote from that link:

Cyclist numbers on the Causeway Bridge plunged after helmet law enforcement and barely shifted in 14 years, despite a tripling of the inner city population, a doubling in petrol prices and substantial CBD employment growth due to Western Australia's booming resource economy.

It takes very little to dissuade someone from cycling, if they don’t cycle anyway then it can take a great deal to get them cycling.

A lot is said about cycling and helmet use – however my view is that we know that cycling can be safe – we have the Netherlands as a live experiment, the rate of helmet wearing is low and safety is better than, say, the UK. My view is that there are times when wearing a helmet is a good idea, but for day-to-day general cycling it should be unnecessary.  So I was interested to read the news item in the Cambridge News: “Cycle helmets ‘useless’ in serious accidents, claims report”.

For a more reasoned view and the legal implications I recommend the “Cycling Lawyer”. He has written on the matter a few times and there are links to some some of his work on his Post “Cycle Helmets”. There are legal implication that can affect the damages that a cyclist may receive even when they are totally blameless for the cause of an accident.

So in the context of asking the question “what sort of society do we want” the headline in the Cambridge News relating to the new £2.5million Cambridge Railway Station bike park – “Cyclists fear ‘outrageous’ charges to use £2.5m station bike park” looks a little inflammatory.

Mind you anything “cycling” can be almost guaranteed to get the comments rolling – 7 pages and counting as I write this.  Mind you as soon as I went to refresh the page the comments dropped to two?  one against and one for. How odd? The article itself has some quotes including this one from a Taxi driver.

Everyone else has to pay to park so why shouldn’t they? I don’t think it could be enforced though, because people would just park elsewhere.

Which got me wondering, do they pay to clog up wait at the station?

It got me thinking – as a cyclist I can’t help feeling that whilst outrageous is somewhat strong I did bristle at the thought of it costing money. Yet, I do use the services of Station Cycles to park my bike from time to time at £1.50 for "secure valet” parking. The article references a similar facility in Leeds, which costs £1 a day, £15 a month and £120 a year for cycle parking. This compares with £7.7/day peak, £33.20/week, £127.50/month and £1300.50 annually for cars. If you are interested in the ratios then the cost for a car is x7.7 / day, x8.5/month and x10.8/year – cyclists get steeper discounts for bulk buying.

The trouble is we can look at this as an issue of fairness, but how do we define what is fair and why does it matter, what we really need to be considering is what do we as a society wish to achieve.

From one “fairness point of view” – then TFL guidelines suggest 8 bicycles can be parked in one car space. So should cyclists pay around one eight of that paid by a motorist? Well at the moment the Cambridge City Council does not think so, Park Street Cycle Park (232 free spaces) and Grand Arcade Cycle Park (over 200 free spaces) offer free cycle parking with lockers charged for. Mind you the number of bikes per car space does not account for the flexibility in providing cycle parking space. You don’t need wide roads between the parked cycles.  (here is the Cambridge Cycle Campaign guide on the provision of Cycle parking – pdf.)

But if we are being fair, then if we look at the Cambridge Railway Station I would imagine that quite a few of the users attend the local Sixth Form colleges and other schools. Most of us accept the idea that under 16s pay reduced fares (well we do if we have kids). Yet most occupy the same size seat as other passengers – is that fair. I bet a fair proportion also use bicycles for the last bit of the journey to school.

The reality is that fair has nothing to do with it. A set of choices are made for the overall benefit of society. The trouble we seem to fixate upon money as the only way to consider the allocation of resource without seeing the bigger picture.  Why else would we get toll roads. High car park charges for centrally located public car parks favour those rich enough to pay for them. Which means those that aren’t lose access to public car parks. Of course if that money then goes back to say provide better public transport them maybe there is a social justification.

We could also examine the question of what would happen if there was a switch back from cycling to using cars. Cambridge boasts a high (the highest in the UK) modal share for cycling as a form of transport – top of page 2. Which is great, The data for 2001 indicates a mode share of 18% and quotes census data that 28% cycle to work. Whilst I think that some of the data might be skewed by the high proportion of students (nearly 1 in four of the population) just think what would have if a bunch of them switched. Whilst at first sight if I were a regular driver into Cambridge would I prefer some cyclists get free parking or would I prefer that there were more cars on the roads and I got stuck in traffic jams.

Of course that isn’t how people see the issue – but the balance of cycling versus motoring is just that a balance. I like to think that the general level of intelligence in Cambridge is higher than average which is why there are so many enlightened people who cycle. However even with the current levels of cycling our City is still congested, getting more people to cycle is actually one of the cheaper ways of freeing up our city. Make cycling less attractive though and the congestion will get worse.

That is not to mention the health benefits of getting more of the population cycling, the safety benefits of having less traffic, the reduction in noise and air pollution, Making the streets safer for the vulnerable, saving money because reduced traffic means less wear and tear on the road system.

I know how easy it would be to give up cycling. If we want more people cycling then we will need a bigger push and a bigger incentive because we’ve now got to persuade the more intransigent yet-to-be cyclists.

Whilst we might not like cyclists who jump red lights or cycle on the pavements let’s not forget that cars are pretty dangerous when things go wrong – “Car almost smashes into house after crash” or “A14 blocked after five car crash”. It seems to me that our society has evolved from “every man for himself (or woman)”, to for “every problem find someone else to blame”. So in the case of the A14 the road causes the accidents – not the drivers. Now I am not suggesting we should not strive for improvements  - but let’s not get into the habit of not taking personal responsibility.

Phew – all of that because I sometimes struggle to get out on  my bike. Well Monday was looking good, a while back I had arranged to me an old friend and colleague to catch up over lunch. Naturally I chose somewhere that I would like to cycle too. So we went to one of my favourite pubs – the Dyke’s End at Reach.

The day looked ok, we even had some mid-morning sun, the problem is that it was quite windy with the average wind speed reaching 20 knots around lunchtime and  gusts of up to 40 knots. Just to remind you 40 knots is 74 Km/hour. That is a fir bit of wind and it was from the North West.  As any cyclist knows if the wind isn’t behind you it feels as if it is against you.

I found it hard going and it was a good job that I hadn’t made the arrangements that morning and checked on the weather. I like to think I would have chosen to cycle to a closer pub – but I could easily have switched to driving.

 Sad smile

The positive aspect to the wind was that I felt to be against me going and so would help me returning. I headed out via NCn51 and then Lodes Way and as a concession to the wind did delay our meeting by 30 minutes. I also stopped a little more than I might normally do – partly because of that extra 30 minutes breathing space and partly because of the wind. It did mean more pictures than normal.

As you can see the sunshine had gone by the time I was on my way and the clouds were quite dark. There was the occasional spit on the wind as well although nothing shows on the Cambridge DTG rainfall graph.

This is the view across the fields looking West between Lode and White Fen.

At least someone seemed to be getting some blue skies somewhere.

After crossing the Swaffham Bulbeck Lode bridge a brief breather photography stop.  This is one of the common crops around here now. Either that or we are going to see a lot of cricket teams suddenly form.

A more traditional crop looking back from White Fen. Don’t ask me what it is though – that’ll have to wait for it to develop.

I then turned down Little Fen Drove towards Reach, in quite good time. What was even better was I had the wind reasonably square behind me which made for a pleasant last leg of the journey.

There was even time to stop and take pictures of the pylons.

I reached the pub with time to spare and cycled round the back to lock my bike up. There was a light on in the pub – but I couldn’t see anyone. When I reached the front door it was locked. My friend turned up – he is a cyclist but had decided the weather was too turbulent to cycle and had switched to his car instead. (See what I mean about how easy it is to not cycle.)

He tried the back door – that was locked as well – oh well we would have to go to the next village along. I should have checked the opening hours – it does not open for lunch on Mondays. In fact I think I have done this before – the trouble is Mondays seems like any other working day – but of course for a Pub it isn’t.

We set off for the Red Lion in Swaffham Prior, me on my bike and my friend in his car. He got their quicker but at least the wind was reasonably friendly. What was even better the pub was open as well. In the end I had ham, egg and chips – which tasted good and was very reasonably priced.

I also noticed that they have bike stands in the car park. It says Wicken Fen Community Cycle Hoop on the sticker along with a Europe circle of stars logo.

Still it was good to see and this would make a nice lunchtime stop on a ride around the area.

I have also noticed one aspect of getting older. I find that drinking even a single pint of beer in the evening can leave me feeling a touch groggy in the morning. However the good news is that several pints of beer at lunchtime followed by some cycling exercise has no effect on me the next day.

As I headed back along the noisy road I noticed this chapel up for sale in Swaffham Bulbeck, so naturally I took a detour to go and take a picture. Yours for £200,000

As is always the case, once I have gotten over the hump and am on my bicycle even battling into the wind is not really a problem. It is all in the mind really.

Now perhaps here is a job I ought to apply for “Joe’s barrelling along with his bespoke beer”. Although there would be a temptation to ensure the goods are in perfect condition from time to time.

I know I moan a lot about the cycle parking at Cambridge Railway Station – it looks as though we are going to join the 21st Century with Smart card ticketing.

And finally the Solar activity might lead to a chance to see the Northern Lights.


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