Thursday, June 7, 2012

It was sunny but I had to go to London

Wednesday, 30th May 2012: Regular readers will know that whilst I am happy with multi-modal transport one thing that does get me down is the totally unfit for purpose cycle parking at the Cambridge Railway Station. I also had an “important2 meeting in London – important in the sense that I was chairing it and couldn’t afford to be late. I also needed to be mentally prepared for it.

Obviously the last thing I would want to do is drive into central London – I’d have to set off the week before to ensure I got there on time – not to mention the small issue of where to park or the cost and the hassle – and of course the congestion charge – which I have no idea how to pay for it. Of course none of these issues is insurmountable – they are pretty big barriers though.

For me the obvious and most pleasant choice is to cycle to the station and then catch the train in and then take the tube to my destination. If I know the destination well then an even more pleasant alternative is take my Brompton. Personally I don’t find cities that pleasant to cycle around unless I know the place well enough to seek out the pleasant routes away from the traffic. I do cycle in London and when I know the routes I want to take it isn’t that bad.  But frankly it isn’t that good either. Cycling is nicer than the Tube though.

But this time around I wasn’t that sure of my route. I could have programmed my SatNav or used one of the cycle specific navigation sites, but I find that being “out of place” on a bicycle in a strange busy city is too much hassle.  (It was less than 3 miles – but the barrier was high and the Tube was convenient.)

It makes me realise how high the barriers to encourage cycling actually are. I have cycled in some far-flung places where the laws of the road seem to be modelled on the wild west. I’ve cycled around London quite a few times – yet there is not sufficient attraction. Yet I am a regular cyclist – sufficiently bothered to blog about my cycling, so what hope is there of encouraging  non-cyclists onto the roads.

Roads where “Women driver rams into pedestrian and travels for hundreds of yards…” Or where people drive “FIVE AND A HALF times the limit” or “three times over the limit on the School run”. Where “Driver failed to stop after hitting cyclist”. I know lots of regular cyclists, quite rightly, do not want to be driven from the roads, but if we want lots of non-cyclists to start cycling we have got to address the elephant in the room – vulnerable road users are vulnerable.  Either we need to make drivers better or we need to provide segregated facilities.

Whilst motorists might feel that they are over-regulated the situation gets even worse when there is less regulation.  Take Aberystwyth, because of what must have been some sort of cock-up in the transfer of responsibilities between the Police and Council they have been without traffic wardens and apparently it has been chaos. The real problem is that we have too many motor vehicles competing for too little space – but no surprises we live on an island and can’t just keep on laying down more tarmac.

Clearly this middle-aged couple didn’t want to suffer the noise pollution of a motor cyclist – using a path he shouldn’t have.  They stretched a dog lead at head height. I personally hope they throw the book at them. Although perhaps they will blame an ill-considered article my Mathew Parish in The Times – 27 December 2007.  I don’t think that I bear grudges – but I have not read anything written by him since.

The trouble is the de-facto mode of transport seems to be the car and we seem to be inclined to forgive “accidents”  and “recognise the need for people to get to work”.  So when accidents do occur, there is often a presumption that there was no mal-intent and that the transgression wasn't really that “naughty”. So given that society seems to expect people to travel and to need a car or two in the family it is  not much of a surprise that some people use their cars even when they shouldn’t.

The trouble is play the argument too far and assume that vulnerable road users and motor vehicles shouldn’t mix and then you have an argument for banning cyclists from roads – not a good place. A cyclist was recently seriously  injured on the A11. One of the comments was from a cyclists exhorting other cyclists not to cycle on dual carriageways. Now I have cycled on that bit of carriageway quite a few times – personally I felt safer on that road than the stretch from the A11 into Fulbourn.

Another example of how we are car-sick is the acceptance that it is possible to do a day’s work and also at the end of the day spend hours driving a car. Yet apparently “Getting behind the wheel while you’re tired is ‘as dangerous as drink driving’” We make lorry drivers stick to maximum hours of driving – why doesn’t that apply to all drivers?  Well I suppose that we need to look at the cost-benefit of such an approach – would fitting such equipment and policing it be a better way to save lives compared with more ambulances or MRI scanners?

Mind you as the average life expectancy has increased from 71 in 1960 to 80 by 2010 then each death on the roads in 2010 causes 10 years extra loss of life.  In 1960 6,970 people were killed in the UK roads compared with 1,857 in 2010. If we assume that the average age of death was half the life expectancy then in 1960  247,435 man years were lost as a result of traffic accidents. This compares with 74,280 man years in 2010.  Those are pretty sobering numbers (Now they are estimates and could be grossly wrong – but my point is that as life expectancy goes up then the “cost” of a death on the roads increase.

Enough rabbiting – I left with plenty of time and took a circle route around Cambridge Airport. Enough to ensure that I would be at the station 30 minutes earlier than necessary and I was catching a train that would give me an arrival time of 40 minutes earlier than required in London.

It is no coincidence that I cycled along shared-use routes either – they protect me from careless motorists and my own inattention as well come to that. For general cycling they have significant attractions, they are let down by the implementation though.

As I reached the corner of the Airfield the yellow fields have almost turned back to green as the Oil Seed rape flowers have more or less gone. Check out the production cycle – May is a time for seed weevil and pod midge.

Yellow fields no more
Oil Seed Rape past the flowering stage near Cambridge Airport

And this is the shared-use path. It is far to narrow under current guidance. Camcycle has a page with various references, but the Design Guides links don’t all work. The TFL report suggests that a Cyclist design speed of 10mph should be used on paths shared with pedestrians.  The recommended width is 3.0m with a minimum width of 2.0m plus 0.5m for each side bounded by a wall, railing, fence of hedge.

NCN51 – Shared use path near Cambridge Airport

And this is the spur of NCN51 towards the Airport Way shared-use path. I suppose that one benefit of the car-sick society is that just as there aren’t many cyclists, there are even fewer pedestrians that venture out this far! So you can cycle at more than 10mph with a clear conscience.

Heading towards Airport Way – crossing Newmarket Road

And this is the Airport Way shared-use path. It is somewhat wider than the NCN51 route out towards Quy – thankfully. Less thankfully it is a surprisingly noisy road. I did get a recording – well except I must only started the recording for the last second as the camera was pointing at the ground. So it won’t feature here. That is a new type of chicane to slow down cycle traffic – it is a sustainable, eco-friendly form of infrastructure.

Although trees were not in favour when it came to protecting the airport against terrorists!

Airport Way shared use path, Cambridge

After that I headed off down The Tins, although the route into Cherry Hinton for cyclists is pretty poor from this direction. You either have to cross the road at a blind spot or bump down a large kerb. I normally cycle into Teversham Drift (down the kerb) and then back  onto the High Street at a mini-roundabout. It is a pity that more thought didn’t go into joining up the route.

My heart sank as I cruised around the Railway carp park area looking for a space. The gorgeous weather had brought out more cyclists and the place was chocker.  I cycled down to the Botanic Gardens as there are racks there that make for emergency parking – providing you have time to walk back to the station. Unfortunately the whole area was being reworked and there was fenced off.

No parking by the Botanic Gardens at the end of Station Road at the moment (old picture)

At this point I had two options – cycle aimlessly around or take my bike on the train – not being a folder it would be a little more difficult to park at the other end – but needs must.

Fortunately I find a “space” in the middle of the mass of bicycles in front of the station. Such is the pressure of cycle parking that it is not uncommon to see four bicycles attached to a stand – although in this case there were three and room for another one. The challenge is getting into the space and then reaching the lock. I had to lift the bike over and then approach the lock from the other end. Whilst I might not be in the absolute prime of my life I can still lug a bike around, being careful not to get oil on my trousers.  This is really disgraceful – it makes me wonder whether there are vested interests not wanting to make it easy to cycle to the station.

I do remember reading a report that recommended maximising all returns on car parking revenues. I can’t find that document but here is another that discusses the important or parking revenue to train operators (page 10) and mentions latent demand for bicycle use, also on page 10 – if only we could park our bloody bikes. (My words in italics.)

Cycle Parking – Cambridge Railway Station Style

There is my bike – I guess being in the middle of a mass of bikes makes it less likely to be stolen.  It does increase the risk of it getting knocked and damaged though.

Cycle Parking – Cambridge Railway Station Style – crap

As I was getting my bike locked up several people wandered around looking for spaces. I had a chat with this lady as she walked around – that is not as bike that she could lug around. What is she expected to do now eh. 

It is a problem she often has – yet she has little alternative to cycling. What could  Britain’s transport strategy be I wonder  – favour the fortunate and stuff the rest - perhaps.

Looking for a place to park a Bicycle – Cambridge Railway Station Style

There is something happening – but to damn slow for my liking – these racks are trial systems which will “double” the available parking – has anybody worked out what the current density of cycle parking really is as opposed the the theoretical number.  My worry is that they new systems will go in place and – oh dear – fewer spaces will be available compared with the over-worked Sheffield Stands.  The idea is that these are for users to trial – there is so much demand for cycle spaces that they are needed by every day station users.

Trial Double Decker Cycle Parking – Cambridge Railway Station
Better Quality parking – yet but higher density?

One of the benefits of it being a gorgeous day is that I travelled without a jacket which made one less thing to worry about when cycling.

It turns out that the “Station’s despised cycle gutters to go” having already been moved once that didn’t work and they are looking at practical modifications..

Cambridge Railway Station – how to get your bike to the new platform

To finish, some thoughts about joined-up planning – or rather its lack. We might think that the rise of roads and cars makes life easier – but do they. We seem more reluctant to allow kids to cycle to school. We moan about the cost of motoring and congestion as if it is someone else’s fault. We also tolerate a situation in which dormitory settlements are built, without infrastructure – which makes personal ownership of cars much more important and alienates those who don’t have cars.  What has recently caught my eye is that a decision on a shopping centre at Orchard park has been deferred.

Still on to cycling celebrities – he wasn’t but will be – Mike Hall who beat the round the world cycling record. A celebrity by virtue of being a royal – Princess Eugenie. Although I feel that there should be a warning that cycling is for life not just for charity. A celeb I have heard of – Leonardo DiCaprio and girlfriend (Erin Heatherton) in new Orleans. And lastly, someone who probably wishes they had less exposure – Jeremy Hunt – the Culture Secretary and shock, horror he allegedly ran a red light.

And finally some pictures – firstly from the Golden Age of Motoring – car accidents in and around Boston from 1917 to 1956. We think modern cars crumple at the slightest bang – look at those older cars – they really did crumple.

Some slightly depressing pictures, but still interesting images, showing tobacco being grown in China. we might think we have had a bit of rain recently – check out this waterfall in China – Hukou Waterfall.

Some wonderful landscapes from the Utah national park – that would be an amazing place to cycle.  US – 32 people per Km2, UK – 255 people per Km2.  So perhaps that’s why we don’t have any real wilderness.

And finally – “The beauty and terror of marine life”.


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