Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Leadership and empathy, obeying the rules and first class cycling facilities

As I sit here I am feeling somewhat grumpy. For some reason I have developed backache – probably from sitting at my desk for too long in an awkward position. I have also gone through the rigmarole of filling in a Blogspot form indicating that a fair number of my posts have been copied onto another Blog. And I am sitting here wondering whether to send it – will it do any good? what are the consequences? Will it just pop up elsewhere? One of the challenges is that the reporting mechanism doesn’t really make it easy when there have been a large number of posts copied.  I have made a quick backup of the Blog though. The Blog in questions admin page implies it has been up since Jan 2012.

However there has been a bit of the usual grumpy-pumpy between motorists and cyclists – well as reported by the press. With “Motorists accused of intimidation as cyclist injuries rise”. The shameful fact is that 64 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on Cambridgeshire roads last year an increase of 14% whilst according to the article the number of cyclists increased by only 8%. Now I am not sure whether that means an increase in the number of cyclists or an increase in the distance cycled. An increase is the sort of nudge factor that puts people of cycling.

Indeed the other morning on my way to pick up my morning newspaper I watched a girl who looked to be of Primary School age heading to school, pushing her bike. I don’t blame her it was at the time when you seem to get School buses, parents and presumably teachers all making a mad dash to get to school on time. (There was a Primary school in one direction and a Secondary School in the other..) I can only assume she felt safer walking with her bike rather than cycling.

Indian School Children

If you read the article the County Council’s cabinet member for transport was reported to have said:

any accident was one too many


There are a number of measures we and partners have and are introducing to combat this, ranging from better training to more cycling facilities and enforcement, as well as the introduction of a cycling champion.”

It sounds rather generic, I think there needs to be solid, safe, end-to-end provision of cycle routes or we are just nibbling around the edges of the problem (or opportunity).

This article was followed up with a report, at a meeting of the Council’s cabinet, of comments made councillor’s including Cllr Nick Clarke the leader of Cambridgeshire County Council – “Cyclists told: “Obey the law if you want to blame drivers”. He does say that all road users have a responsibility to prevent harm  – but goes on to talk about his personal experiences of cyclists not having lights at night, of jumping red traffic lights or not wearing appropriate clothing to make themselves visible.

I think we should demand more our our leadership than emotive stories – let’s have decisions based upon data.

In a similar style “Former mayor attacks “inconsiderate and illegal use” of pavements by cyclists and says police action against them is dismal”. To much rhetoric and emotion, not enough data. Apparently it was triggered by a debate on making  a footway on the North side of Weasenham Lane into a dual use cycleway/footway. At the end he is quoted as saying:

“most cyclists have never bothered to take the Cycling Proficiency Test and then complain about motorists who have been examined on traffic law and are required to have insurance.”

Well as a cyclist all I can say is that it seems to suit our leaders to stuff us on shared-use cycleways. In my personal experience I also have insurance, passed my Cycling Proficiency and have a Motorbike and Car licence – and yes insurance.  he also seems to blame cyclists for being concerned about their personal safety – well given the increase in killed or seriously injured cyclists it would seem that no-one else is bothered.

The issue though is how serious are the consequences of dangerous road users to other road users. Let’s face it regardless of training cyclists fall into the class known as “Vulnerable road users”. If we get hit it hurts. A while ago the Chairman of a London minicab company made some rather unhelpful comments about cyclists on the road in London. (AddisonLee) This has resulted in some of his drivers taking a pilot cycle training lesson to consider whether to have compulsory cycle training for their drivers. Cyclists in the City has written about this … “I feel so vulnerable on a bike” …

It seems to me that a key issue is failure of one group of road users to comprehend the challenges of another group of road users. That failure to understand can result in increased levels of danger and animosity between the groups of road users. I would imagine that the largest class of road user, who have no recent experience of being in another class are car drivers.

On the A14 dual-carriageway lorries are banned from overtaking other lorries at certain times. Why? well it delays the car drivers. Large lorries (HGVs) have different speed restrictions (50mph on a dual carriageway versus 70mph for cars I believe) and tachographs which records  the vehicles speed and distance and time.  By my reckoning if one lorry overtakes another lorry with a speed difference of 2Km/hr with the speeds at 80Km/hr and 82Km/hr it will take 2 minutes, assuming the gaps between lorries at the same as the length of the lorries. You could also argue that it is tougher for lorry drivers, they are restricted in terms of how many hours driving  they can do per day. Yet the lorry drivers are working and transporting stuff around which presumably benefits the economy.

The A14

The trouble is that the rules are probably highly influenced by the fact that more MPs are car drivers than lorry drivers – so there is no empathy.

I know that wife who only cycles around the immediate area finds the swarms of cyclists around her highly off-putting on some streets in Cambridge. The trouble is our roads have become more complex, there are more signs, more rules more speed limits and more congestion.  Perhaps that is not something we appreciate when cycling. I certainly don’t condone this type of cyclist behaviour – ”Cyclist rams taxi in road rage attack”. Although I would caution all non-cyclists to consider just how terrifying it can be to have a near miss – which probably triggers the flight or fight response.

Cow – no grid (couldn’t find a picture of a cattle grid)

Now I am not sure which local body is responsible for cattle grids however recently a “Cyclist trapped in cattle grid after fall” on Midsummer Common near Maids causeway. There are some disgraceful comments – are we such a callous nation?  I have twice had near misses going over cattle grids along NCN51 through Stourbridge Common and Ditton Meadows. I nearly ended up in the Cam – when my back wheel slipped. Now this is one one of the “premier” cycling routes into Cambridge.

At a practical level I would rather cycle through a field (on tarmac) with cattle grids at each end than along a road – but cattle grids are not that pleasant to cycle over – especially for younger children with smaller wheels on their bikes (or Bromptons either for that matter). There are also problems when there is a gate for pedestrians and a grid for cyclists as many pedestrians will use the grid rather than the gate. 

Mind you it would appear that in terms of leadership “Cambridgeshire County Council won’t stub out its tobacco links”. Making money (for the pension fund) out of tobacco companies seems a little perverse. Although Cambridge City Council isn’t much better “We’ve cut our emissions! Er, no we haven’t…”. Apparently carbon emissions have increased over the last four years rather fallen by 12% as originally claimed.

I then read the following article – “Drivers face £90 on the spot fine and three points for being in the wrong lane or tailgating” although only if spotted by a Police Officer. It also turns out that Drink-Drive campaign has seen another 23 people arrested on suspicion of drinking under the influence of drink or drugs in its second week. 

Which got me thinking. As a motorist (either car or motorbike), in my view,  one of the best systems in modern times to make driving easier and safer has been the average speed camera. When driving on motorways with roadworks with the old style radar cameras you would get traffic driving at all sorts of speed. Some would almost obey the reduced speed limit, some would speed up and slow down as they passed the camera and then speed up again.

The result was really quite unpleasant If anything it made the situation almost more dangerous for the motorists. However on stretches with average speed cameras the majority of cars stick to the published speed limit and cruise on through – the result was a uniform flow of traffic and it made it easier to drive more safely.

I suppose there are two lessons here, smooth traffic flow is less distracting and it results from getting a significant majority to obey the law. At one level the issue is about making motoring more predictable again. IMHO laws that are not uniformly obeyed are almost as bad a having no law. I have no data to back it up but the common complaint is that such systems are a tax on the beleaguered motorist – well of course you don’t pay if you don’t break the law. I would hazard a guess that the average Take” from average speed cameras is less than from the single speed cameras.

Which makes this piece interesting – “Is this the busiest police camera in Cambs? 36 drivers stopped in Wisbech crime crackdown”. Personally I am not a fan of giving the state all sorts of powers to snoop, at best it is lay and at worst it is liable to corruption (cf. News of the World affair). However there is a distinction in my mind, when it comes to what we do on the public highways.  Strangely the Daily Mail reports this item as if the DVLA was in the wrong “How the DVLA makes thousands every month by helping catch UK drivers fined on holiday”.

Personally I don’t want to fine people I want to improve behaviour on the roads, sometimes fining people is part of that, but if the total take doesn’t reduce over time then we are doing something wrong.

So to those in power – empathy and lead from the front please – not from the leather seat of your car. Use data not rhetoric to justify the decisions taken.

To those deciding on the policing the roads – use technology to get a genuine change in road-user behaviour and focus on improving the behaviour that causes the most damage and intimidation. A large number of fines suggests failure in causing change

Try to get a more uniform flow of traffic – which means more attention to dedicated cycle infrastructure – it is probably cheaper to invest in quality cycling infrastructure to improve the flow of motor traffic rather than invest in more roads.

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