Monday, July 30, 2012

Sunday–Summer Cycling–yes it really is Sunday this time!

Sunday, 22nd July 2012: The only trouble with Blogging is it is sometimes difficult keeping on top of things.  Most of my Posts aren’t really that topical. I might comment on the news or events, but in general a delay of a few days is neither here no there.

There are some things that are more topical and the flooding of the cycleway alongside the Cambridge Guided Busway from Cambridge to St Ives is just a little more topical. So my apologies that this is just over a week late. This is about a ride up to St Ives and back and the cycleway is clear, or rather was clear when I cycled there last week. I would assume it is still clear – but, yesterday we had quite a downpour in the middle of the afternoon so who knows.

I think it would be helpful to have depth poles to show the extent of flooding on the bits of the path where it does flood and some form of real-time warning system and/or webcams available for those using the route. The trouble is I feel that the County Council perceive the route as a leisure route and so don’t take it as seriously as it should be taken. There are signs put across the cycleway at St Ives and Swavesey, but they are not necessarily up to date. (Here is Environment Agency information about the River Ouse at St Ives – which gives some clues as to the possible flooding in the area.)

I looked for information on the Welney Washes to show how much better the information is for motorists – except they also seem to suffer from inaccurate information. One approach might be to provide video streams from the Guided Buses as they pass by the affected areas? And as this motorists found out when he popped out to Bar Hill for some pasta – diversions on the A14 because of road works turned a 16 mile trip into a 53 mile trip. The problem was not lack of information, but the need to provide a robust route for the haulage traffic that uses the A14.

Talking about the A14, no sooner has there been an announcement that it will get upgraded after all, than the concerns come out. As in “Put brake on rat-running through city” and “A14 upgrade cash ‘should have been spent on cycleways’”. If you look at the first link, people are now starting to realise that better roads will probably attract more cars and that toll roads might well squeeze more cars around the villages to avoid the tolls. Little thought also seems to have been given (or printed anyway) about the noise and air pollution that will result. Although if you look at various of the local websites there is much concern – e.g. Hilton.

The trouble is that conventional road thinking tends to go along the lines of make it bigger/wider or get rid of the lorries or get rid of the cars – depending on your point of view. We have become so wedded to the idea that we have the right to dash around in our little tin boxes that we don’t even think of the consequences – unless that new road will be blighting our house. When there is an accident on the A14 that causes gridlock we blame everyone else – yet we who use the road are the problem. It is our standard of driving and desire to drive that is the problem.

The trouble is there are just too many people who want to drive around and for whom the alternatives (for transport/leisure.haulage) are not sufficiently attractive.  The article that mentioned using the A14 cash for cycleways might have been tongue in cheek or wishful thinking – but surely it should have made us all think. To do the A14 upgrade the current budgeted cost is up to £1.5bn -  for that amount of cash the article indicates that 1,550 miles of segregated cycleways could be built in and around Cambridge – enough to “connect every house with every school, shop, workplace and leisure facility in the area”.

Actually I think that figure may be low and that £1.5bn could buy somewhat more cycle route – apparently the Addenbrooke’s Hospital to Great Shelford route cost £300,000 - £400,000 per kilometre Page 1-3).  Which implies that £1.5bn would get you 3750Km or 2,300 miles. Wouldn’t that be an amazing and life-transforming change for the citizens of Cambridgeshire? Haven't we learnt from the M25 – you get induced demand. Just think how great if parents felt happy that their kids were safe cycling to school – not to mention the health benefits.

Here in Cambridge “Bike paramedics such a success they’re staying” which kind of says it all.

The trouble is whilst bureaucratic systems help to maintain the status-quo they get stuck in the past – the time has come for an evolutionary approach to life and transport. What do I mean – well read this article “Residents baffled by speed bump on way out of village”. An example of the way in which bureaucracy can lead to crazy and wasteful choices.

It isn’t any surprise to me that Brits are happiest in the Shetlands and unhappiest in urban areas in South Wales, West Midlands and London. Yet we seem hell-bent on urbanising the place.

We often compare and contrast our situation with the US – a harbinger of things to come for us in the UK perhaps. Well they have a lot more space than we do and yet, apparently, “30% of commuters text and drive to work”. Also more US women are prone to road rage than men. I do feel that in my cycling experience, here in the UK that male drivers give less space and are less courteous than women drivers.

So on with the ride – I’ve already mentioned that it was to St Ives and back. I think that the changes to Gilbert Road have been very welcome and I feel that there have been a tangible improvement when cycling along that road. I was disappointed to see that bad habits are creeping back. Mind you this driver has also stopped on the zig-zag lines of a pedestrian crossing – so a doubly inconsiderate driver.  (Highway code rules 191 – 199 Pedestrian Crossings). The person he has stopped to talk to is a cyclist as well.

Gilbert Road, Cambridge – old bad habits coming back?

Here is the map – out through Girton and the old NC51 route and then a detour to Over after Longstanton, another detour through Fen Drayton Nature Reserve and then back from St Ives along the CGB cycleway. It is around 50Km/30 miles. Here is the Bike Route Toaster link.

Map of my route – a round trip to St Ives form Cambridge

A little further along Gilbert Road – more bad habits on display, destroy the grass and block the cycle lane – why don’t you.

The problem is that as more and more people share the roads then driving standards and courtesy has to improve – the trouble is standards seem to get worse as the traffic density increase.  A situation that leads to some extremes such as this 152mph BMW driver on a rural A-road. We also pay the price in terms of car insurance as it hits £1,000. Whilst I feel that cars have been made safer for the occupants the date is not so encouraging when you look at the data for pedestrians and cyclists.

The problem also is that, IMHO, driving is more tiring than it used to be, the required levels of concentration are higher. Whilst that may not have been a factor in this crash – driver fined for barrier crash (Ely level crossing) it doesn’t help. It does make me think that perhaps the way in which we deal with transgressions should be reconsidered. After all the goal is to improve road safety rather than punish people. Perhaps the “punishment” should require a driver to use a GPS system to monitor his or her driving.

Such is the pressure to catch people that it becomes the end in itself, rather than the way to improve road safety for all. Indeed it was that desire to get success through clocking up fines that led this PCSO astray and to issue false fixed penalty fines.

It can also lead to more serious problems – such as this case, where a police chief has been charged with perverting the course of justice, by allegedly getting his wife to “take the points”. Such is the importance of being able to drive in our society that it leads to real fear when the right to drive may be put at risk. All sorts of jobs ask for a clean driving licence. Whilst what he did was wrong, society has also lost someone who was commended for bravery. Was it a case of too much emphasis on measuring fines rather than safety?

I wonder if there is a way to change peoples behaviour. According to the DOT National Travel Survey for 2010 the average trip length is 7.0miles and 20% or trips of less than one mile in length were made by car. Again could we use GPS to prohibit a driver from making short journeys?  Yes, I know there are issues and problems – but we should be encouraging transgressors to change their behaviour – shouldn’t we.

Gilbert Road, Cambridge – old bad habits coming back?

After Gilbert Road my route took me over the A14. One of my current pet-hates is being tail-gated when driving. One piece of advice for drivers is the two-second rule, a rule of thumb. The trouble is it gets ignored. At 70mph (112Km/hr) you are travelling at just over 30metres every second (31), which implies that you should leave a 63m gap. (More in poor weather conditions). Which implies that you should leave a gap of around 15-16 car lengths.

Now a note of caution, here in the UK we have  recommended stopping distances in the Highway Code. At 70mph the distance travelling thinking about stopping is 21m and then as a guide, in good weather, with a reasonable road surface, brakes and tyres it takes a further 75m to stop. (24 car lengths – based upon the average car being 4m in length.)

So clearly for the two-rule to work you must pay attention to what is ahead of the vehicles in front and anticipate any problems.

So let’s just say that again – at minimum you should leave a gap of around 16 car lengths at 70mph, if not you are putting your own safety and that of those around you in danger. This is typically what you see on roads such as the A14.

The A14 seen from a bridge into Girton

Sixteen car lengths gap anyone?

The A14 seen from a bridge into Girton

These might not be travelling at the maxim, but you can see some cars maintain a reasonable gap and others who are completely oblivious it would seem.

The A14 seen from a bridge into Girton

I did not start this trying to bash motorist, however read any piece on cycling and motoring which has comments and you will get lots of negative comments about how all cyclists jump red lights and cycle on pavements.

Well this section of road near Oakington is prohibited to motor traffic except for some specific exceptions (buses, taxis, mopeds and invalid carriages and access). But of course just as there are some cyclists who don’t obey the rules there are some motorists who don’t obey the rules. Here is one now – apparently it has gotten worse.

Airport Road – Oakington – Prohibited to most motor traffic!

And here is another one – I’d barely stopped before they appeared. The trouble is that motor vehicles are intimidating to the legitimate road users when they appear where they are not supposed to be. Of course that is also one of the reasons why red-light jumping cyclists are hated by motorists. It is intimidating. However one thing that may car drivers seem to conveniently forget is that one also has to consider the impact of the transgression.

Bicycles cause very few serious accidents.

According to data in this BBC item: Is dangerous cycling a problem?

Pedestrian casualties 2001 – 2009:

  • Killed by cycled: 18
  • Seriously injured by cycles 434
  • Killed by cars: 3,495 ( x194)
  • Seriously injured by cars: 46,245 (x106)

Now any accident is bad, but the issue is that poor driving in a car is, on average, going to have a more serious consequence than poor driving on a bicycle. Therefore it is appropriate that the duty of care is higher for a motorist (and more so for a lorry driver and bus driver). It is also appropriate that the laws and levels of punishment reflect the likely consequences. (Here is a similar analysis by the CTC on the Dangerous Cycling Bill.) Another way of looking at this issue is to consider that on 2009, no pedestrians were killed by cyclists, 426 pedestrians were killed by collisions with motor vehicles. In 2008 52 cyclists were killed in collisions with motor vehicles and no drivers were killed in collisions with cyclists.

In my mind there are two issues here – one is that councils should make proper provision for cyclists and not at a whim mix them in with pedestrians when it suits or motor vehicles. The other is that the “crime” has to fit the potential level of danger.

So i was surprised to read that cycling and using a mobile phone has become such an issue in Cambridge. Let’s get it into our heads once and for all, using a motor vehicle and using a bicycle are totally different activities. I am not saying that cyclists should be above the law, far from it, however it is a good thing to encourage cycling, it is not a good thing to encourage motoring. One has inherent dangers the other really doesn’t (or shouldn’t)

Whilst on the subject of the Police and cycling they are using the law against riding furiously in London to crack down on Rickshaw drivers. There must be some fit rickshaw cyclists around.

Airport Road – Oakington – Prohibited to most motor traffic!

After that I sung up to Gravel Bridge Road, to get a view of the Guided Busway from the bridge. The CGB passes between the Communications tower and the Windmill.

Communications Tower and Windmill on Gravel Bridge Road

A little bit to the right there is also a water tower (between Hill Farm and Willingham Road.

Over Water Tower

Here is the view form the bridge – looking down towards St Ives.

Guided Busway – from Gravel Bridge Road

As you can see there is a good sprinkling of cyclist out.

Guided Busway – from Gravel Bridge Road

Even more were coming down from the Cambridge end.

Guided Busway – from Gravel Bridge Road

After that I cycled into Swavesey where Station Road splits into two – either side of the green area on the right of the picture. This looks as if it suffered a bit during the floods. It was only just passable on foot a week later.

Station Road, Swavesey, Flooded

I then detoured through the Nature Reserve at Fen Drayton – just by the entrance is a field of Elephant grass – it grows incredibly quickly.

Miscanthus next to the entrance to Fen Drayton Nature Reserve

This is the reserve Road – there are pot holes and loose gravel so it needs a little care. This time I almost slipped off my bike when swerving to miss a pothole and the back wheel skidded away.

Road into Fen Drayton Nature Reserve

It was a straightforward ride through St Ives and back down the CGB cycle way. I wasn’t expecting to see flooding but there was a bit at the culvert just past the River Great Ouse bridge.

The flooding has receded on the CGB Cycleway

As it was such a nice day I stopped for a snack of Jaffa Cakes (another of my guilty secrets) at the “hide” by the Nature Reserve. Maisie (my bike) waited patiently for me admiring the wild flowers. it is near to Covell’s Bridge, and Where’s The Path has now been modified to refer to the correct OSM map tiles.

The view from the Nature Reserve Hide alongside the CGB, just before Covell’s Bridge

After getting up to set off – this chap roller-bladed by – but then looked as if he needed a rest. I was going to say that the pedestrians fear cyclists so much that they have started wearing helmets.

The Guided Bus network is going to extend to Peterborough – well CGB buses will get up there anyway. There aren’t plans to actually build more track. I haven’t mentioned the Olympics for a while well it turns out that all the reliable buses are being used down there – so we have been left with the Jalopies – which are breaking down. I’ve seen a Doubler Decker broken down in the last week as well.

As I mentioned there are Flood Warning Signs – although a little conservative. There are also signs on the poles with pull down flaps – although they were not in use?

Flood Warning on the CGB at Swavesey

The Cambridgeshire Steam Rally was also in full swing – they promoted the use of the Guided Busway to get there as well. This is a Sentinel Steam Wagon.

Sentinel Steam Wagon, Cambridgeshire Steam Rally 2012

As you might imagine after all the rain the farmers were taking advantage of the recent dry weather to to some haymaking.

Haymaking – July 2012 alongside the Guided Busway, Cambridgeshire

As a lad I used to help out with the stacking of hay bales when the local farmer used to do the fields around the house. In my young day they made small rectangular bales though – which I could just about manage to lift. We used to get to ride on top of the bales on the wagon as it was pulled out of the field. It wasn’t the safest thing perhaps, but no-one was hurt and we weren’t allowed to ride on top on the road.

Haymaking – July 2012 alongside the Guided Busway, Cambridgeshire

All in all I counted around 130-140 cyclists on the CGB cycleway whilst heading down to Cambridge.

Cyclists on the CGB Cycleway just after passing under the A14

And finally some wild flowers – I’ll leave identification as I haven’t got time at the moment.

Unknown Wild Flowers (to me)

The cycleway is definitely an amenity – which suggests that Cambridgeshire is a bit short on such things if you ask me.

Oops, almost forgot – pictures of the first ever wireless factory (Marconi) in a state of disrepair. Brunel’s bridges (and stuff) on the Great Western Railway have been given a listed status. And finally a neat project – pictures of 50 Main Street around various towns and cities in the US.


  1. According to 3.8 in this document, the maintenance track was estimated to be flooded at the Dutch Culvert for 29 days per year on average. I wonder how many days its been flooded so far in this exceptional year?

    Yesterday, one week after your photos, there was no flooding and as busy as your photos. A real mecca for cyclists. Seems popular with walkers too, mostly I think because you can walk four-a-breast for a chat.

    1. I had forgotten just how many days the track could be flooded - and as you point out - 29 is just an average.

      The width is great though - it definitely minimises the potential for conflict between the various users. It is also good to see family groups out cycling along it as well. IMHO there is a pent-up demand for decent places to cycle.

    2. I've also fixed the formatting - the text size and colour went wrong in my haste to finish writing the post.

  2. Swaffham Bulbeck CyclistAugust 7, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    I wonder if that last flower could be 'dark mullein'? There's often some alongside the NCN51 just past the Missing Sock pub on the way to Quy. (Or there was- could have been mown by now of course). I looked it up a couple of years ago when I spotted it there as I wasn't sure what it was.

    1. Thank you I'd forgotten to look it up - that is not a name I know. I will have to have a closer look next time