Monday, January 28, 2013

Random thoughts

Monday, 28th January: Well I seem to have caught up – mainly because my cycle rides have all been short ones and I had some sort of coughing lurgy last week. The problem was whenever I lay down to sleep after an hour or so I would start coughing. The coughing would get more and more persistent. In the end the best thing to do was to get up and so minimise the disturbance for my wife and have a hot lemony and honey drink. That would calm the coughing enough for me to go back to bed and get some more sleep before coughing again. I’ve forgotten how much broken nights can affect your days!

I have read several news items on cycling/cyclists recently, including news of the tragic deaths of two cyclists on a tandem in Bristol.  According to the times they are the seventh and eight cyclists to die in 2013. As the latter article points out cycling is an inherently safe thing to do, however there does seem to be a tension between the use of motor vehicles for transport and bicycles for transport.

It seems that the default thinking is that motor vehicles should get priority. (Here is a rather nice cartoon view of the relevant priorities of various transport systems, it is true of Cambridge. There are pleasant cycle routes, on rather convoluted shared-use paths.

So when I read this post  “Why Britain, more than ever, needs the bicycle” it made excellent sense in terms that I understood. So what is the problem – well I guess cycling has an image problem – and it seems to define us. Well at least in terms of the perceptions of others.

Things are changing though, owning a car is going to get even more costly – “Cost of petrol set to rise by up to 5p”. At the same time drivers complain about being ripped off when parking in city centres and yet trade goes up when the parking is enforced – “Trade in Lincoln boosted since new parking enforcement rules, say business leaders”.  Given the change in car ownership in cities along with falling numbers of young people taking their driving tests we should be taking advantage of this change in modes of mobility – the car has passed its peak.

In fact I wonder whether the local “powers that be” spend too much time looking in their rear view mirrors and  not thinking about the city centres of the future.  The internet is here to stay – shopping habits have already changed and will continue to change. City Shopping areas have to become more attractive – less cars more people. The type of shopping will change.  (It has been changing for some time with Supermarkets providing a one-stop shop for things such as clothes.

The trouble is our transport system seems to have become one of conflict acceptance and then punishment. There is conflict whether it be for road space, car parking space or even pavement space. There is conflict over priority in fact what goal are we trying to achieve. It seems that the de-facto position is car throughput, with other factors such as noise, pollution, safety, attractiveness, access… all very much secondary. Why else are we seeing the increase in cyclists and pedestrians killed/seriously injured?

Of course we are seeing real change – there are more cycle routes around and there is a lot of pressure to reduce speed limits in city streets. The trouble is too much of the thinking is still car-centric and it is unclear what is the goal we wish to achieve. The bolt-on of cycling infrastructure approach furthers the conflict. Let’s face it whilst cyclists and car drivers might get annoyed with each other very few actually want to have accidents. I am sure this Taxi driver was very unhappy when he knocked a cyclist of his bike in Cambridge. He stayed with the cyclist, he pleaded guilty. He got quite a hefty fine compared with some reported accidents.

Now I am not arguing that all road users should be totally segregated, however this article in the Cambridge News got me thinking – “Bike crash victim hits out at cyclists”. (Note he got fined.) She now hates “cyclists” although she is a cyclist.

  • Why are all cyclists lumped together? – I see cyclists stop at red lights and pedestrian crossings all the time.  We don’t lump all drivers together? (Drink-drivers get their own tag.)
  • Why aren’t there more complaints about red-light jumping motorists? (I seem then frequently when driving around Cambridge, I tend to avoid the roads when cycling.)
  • Why do some cyclists think that they can break the law?
  • If so many motorists cycle and so many cyclists drive why is there conflict?
  • Why are some pavements shared-use and others not? What are the criteria?
  • What is the thinking behind shared-use paths in general?
  • Do we want to punish or modify poor driving/cycling behaviour?

It seems to me that there is no long-term plan for how we wish to live and get around in the future. There is more of an argy-bargy of different interest groups, some with strong commercial backing, we seem to stumble into situations. Along with the interest groups you have various news organisations, some with an institutionalised view and some just wanting to report items that have a hook to catch a readers attention. The trouble is there can be a fine line between reporting facts and fanning the flames of ignorance.

Sorry – that was a somewhat random set of thoughts – I guess my concern is that there is no real long-term view being taken – just a set of short-term steps – that hopefully will meander to a more pleasant environment – with more cycling in it.

The snow has gone except for a very small pile where our snowman was. Although my kids are older it didn’t take much persuading to go out and build a snowman.

Snowman – January 2013

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