Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rights and wrongs?

Tuesday, 28th February 2012: Another day with meetings in Cambridge and the weather is certainly picking up and become more Spring-like. After yesterday’s arrival at my destination somewhat hotter than I had wanted to be I cut down on the number of layers I wore this time.

I set off without a scarf or thin jumper – working trousers, jacket and shirt. I also ditched the tie since I was one of the few wearing a tie yesterday. I also set off somewhat earlier, I’ve realised that whilst a bit of extra time allows me to cycle more slowly and so get less hot it then doesn’t mean I can spend the journey stopping and taking pictures as well – and that is what I do – stop and take pictures.

Yesterday’s meetings started around lunchtime and finished with a dinner and a late cycle home, today’s meetings were starting earlier, but I didn’t have to plan on cycling home in the dark. Mind you I took lights just in case I got delayed.

One of the aspects of Cambridge I do like is that there are quite a few different routes you can take as a cyclist that avoid the noisy roads and discourteous drivers. Apparently “468 cyclists were injured on our roads last year” according to a report in Cambridge First, based upon provisional figures.  Those routes have their own dangers though.

It seems to me that the Police are often coming from the point of view of reducing casualties. Indeed in that news item the PC quoted was a Casualty reduction officer. Which seems to be the right thing to do, doesn’t it? Well maybe.

One way of reducing casualties would be to ban cycling and cut cycling casualties at a stroke. You might even argue that if all those cyclists went around using motor transport (public and private) they would be safer because of the protection offered by those motor vehicles – crash cages, seat belts, air bags… (You get a lot of injuries say on stairs – we could ban those a well.)

Perhaps we need to understand that our goal is more than one of safer cycling – we want more cycling which means we want to make it safer for cyclists.

As a society we do seem to have fixated on the car and the right to have personal motorised transport. We all recognise that role of the car as a status symbol – you only need to look at some of the top footballers and their collections of cars. We also feel that we should have a right to park on the public road near our homes. When we do we can get pretty irate at having to pay for the exclusivity though.

We feel that we have a right not to be held up by other slower traffic. On the A14 there are restriction on lorries using the second lane to overtake at certain times and so clogging up the road for car drivers. I have friends, quite rational and caring who go apoplectic when faced with two cyclists riding side-by-side in front of them on the road the mood being one of “how dare they”. Although the lorries are probably doing more for Britain’s economy than all those car drivers.

We seem to have a culture of “survival of the fastest”. We seem to now consider car ownership as a human right – don’t believe me – “Young job hunters ‘have to turn down work because of sky-high car insurance’”. The Daily Mail item quotes the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. We seem to have gotten cause and effect a bit tangled up here.

Strangely enough whilst you often hear the call to end the war on the motorist we don’t do ourselves any favours. Perhaps we ought to be focusing on more assistance from technology in cars to help us be more law-abiding. Victoria Avenue in Cambridge was “revealed as worst for speeding”. I am pleased that the Cambridge News refers to the “Last year 2,813 motorists caught on camera flouting its 30mph limit compared to 1,844 the previous year”. Travels travelling quickly around places where people live is not pleasant. That street has had a speed camera for ages, surely a bit of technology would help save the motorists from themselves.

I am no better than other drivers, modern cars are quieter and quicker than ever, I have a GPS it wouldn’t be that hard to get it to at least bleep when I was speeding as a reminder – I’d welcome it.

It turns out that drivers aren’t that clever when it comes to 0mph motoring either (parking). Cambridge First is perhaps a more motorist friendly publication with the headline – “Thousands of drivers fell foul of traffic wardens on city streets”. I think that was a bit of law-flouting again if you ask me. Apparently nearly 14,000 tickets were issued in Cambridge City with just under half  for illegal parking on just five streets. I thought Cambridge was populated by clever people – or maybe those clever people consider that getting a parking ticket occasionally is value for money when it comes to cost of legitimate parking. (I am not making an argument for reducing the cost of legitimate parking though.)

Here in Cambridge the traffic is so bad that it even seems to have caused congestion on the River Cam – here are a bunch of rowing buses, keeping those students safe as they head to morning lectures – it was a good job I was on my bike..

Winking smile

It is easy to dismiss the problems of being such a car-dominated society, the trouble is it does affect those who can’t or don’t want to drive for whatever reasons. In a society that is at the point of considering Broadband a human right (well Finland is anyway) then what about a right to cycle. Read this Copenhagenize post “The right to ride freely” – it made me realise that whilst I choose to cycle there are some who have to cycle and we do them no favours.

We can’t just leave these issues to chance, it really matters. Partly because we are running out of oil to make petrol and diesel and partly because to does affect the environment. “Rising carbon emission could wipe out marine species with oceans acidifying at fast rate”.  We can kid ourselves all we want that we are not compromising the lives of future generation, certainly some would say that the concern is just scare-mongering. However how can 7 billion people not have an effect? We are using oil stores, mainly created during the Carboniferous Period from 360 million to 286 million years ago and when it is gone, it is gone. Do the math it isn’t sustainable.

For me I do have the benefit of living in the Flatlands, where cycling is easy and we have cycle routes that are pleasant and inviting. As I cycled alongside the River Cam it did make me wonder why there is so much vehemence towards cyclists. I think that one issue is that it levels the playing field in terms of status. we all look pretty much the same on a bike. We can’t show of our peacock feathers metallic paint and tinted windows on a bicycle. Even worse the young and poor can easily overtake us. (If they are fitter).

As you get older you get slower, even these rowers seemed to whizz past me so fast I couldn’t take a steady picture.

One of the good things about Cambridge is that we do have quite a lot of cycle parking around. Although I think the reason is that we have loads of students who will abandon their bikes close where they want to be which drove the provision of cycle parking. Have a look at, which has a photomap which can be configured to show cycle parking facilities.

Mind you it also shows bad cycle parking as well so it is worth looking at the pictures. The other challenge is you are never quite sure how easy it will be to actually find a space. There are two areas for cycle parking on King’s Parade. When I turned up there were two space I got one and this person in the pink cycling helmet. My bike is about a third of the way down- with the handlebars nearest the road and recognisable (to me) by the bar ends.

Across the street is a picture of what happens when there isn't enough cycle-parking provision – “abandonment”.  I deliberately gave the picture an old “vibe” because I wasn’t paying attention when I took it and it was blurred – this way my crap-picture taking is disguised.

Whilst we might think that we have an enlightened view in Cambridge with regards to cycling – actually there is a lot wrong with it. This is despite the sterling efforts of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and a cycling MP – Julian Huppert. The demand for facilities is far greater than the supply.

The trouble is that a lot of the cycling is marginalised though the constant moan about “red-light jumpers” and “pavement cycling”.  Perhaps I have a chip on my shoulder, but I think cycling is also seen as the preserve of the slightly eccentric, I certainly know people who think I am a bit odd for cycling, yes even in Cambridge, Even the “PM’s right-hand man” seems to comes in for stick as a  cycling hippy.

At least here in Cambridge we do get to see cycling practised – especially where there has been some attempt to make the streets decent. (This is the Corner of Trumpington Street and Silver Street and you do get loads of cyclists, although turning up Downing Street can be a bit tricky.

So whilst I am not totally won over by the argument that more cyclists equates to safer cycling I do think that more cyclists makes it harder for the powers that be to ignore cycling as an important mode of travel – we need to ensure we aren’t marginalised.  We need better, more convenient and safer facilities, that is the way to make cycling safer and get me people cycling.

The first picture was taken near the scene of one of my cycling accidents that involved a trip to hospital. NCN51 runs alongside the River Cam and under a railway bridge crossing the Cam. One year as I was cycling along the wooden path it was icy and the wood was extremely slippery. I ended up having my head glued back together (well alright my eyebrow) and despite bruising all four limbs x-rays showed I hadn’t broken anything.

So forgive me if I sometimes sound ungrateful when I hear the constant refrain to cycle defensively. I’ve been to A&E twice in my life – both here in Cambridge and both cycling-related. The second was caused by a car turning in on me – a SMIDSY. The first by a poorly thought out bridge. (It has since had strips applied to the wooden rungs to provide grip.)

The trouble is I don’t have much faith in bureaucracy Councils (city and county) that can spend spend thousands on premium calls. Certainly in the current economic climate we should be able to look to our “leaders” to lead by example. Hum perhaps that is why they have “£100k set aside to boost councillors’ allowances” – some example. Perhaps that is why Mr Pickles is so furious and I can’t blame him. (An interesting concept there – Conservatives berating Conservatives.)

Whilst allowances are clearly a sore point I felt that the Transport Secretary Justine Greening came in for unfair stick for a TEN PENCE bus journey claim. It wasn't for her it was for an Intern and the Intern was using Public transport in the most cost efficient way. Would we have all been happier for the intern to drive and make the claim higher?

So all in all I would like to think that Northstowe, the new town near Cambridge will be different designed to be people and not car centric. I won’t hold my breath though, already the phasing seems to be a compromise  too far.

And finally, I am not, nor ever have been a train-spotter, I wouldn’t mind doing a bit of Urban Exploring in London’s Ghost stations though – there seems to be a hidden world under the streets of London.


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