Friday, March 7, 2014

Cycling–what for?–Society in General! and it will need radical solutions to encourage the switch

Thursday, 27th February 2014: At the moment there are some interesting plans for  improving the cycling infrastructure in Cambridge along a couple of important transport routes into/out of town – Huntingdon Road and Hills Road.  Here is the CCC link.

They have on-road segregation and priority over side roads and floating bus stops.  As you might imagine it has stirred up a lot of “interest”. Just check out the weird and wonderful comments to see what I mean. Apologies to those of you that feel that the Cambridge News uses click-baiting, or comment-baiting to get eyeballs, however it can be instructive.

There seems to be a lack of appreciation as to why the city might want to undertake such action. However Cambridge is a congested city (moving and parked traffic), Britain has an issue with obesity and pollution (carbon, particulates and noise). So something has to be done about it.  London is even worse – “drivers waste 30 hours a year in jams”.

One of the key issues is how people get to and from work.  The way we lead our lives has probably encouraged many of us to drive.  In my view this is due to things like cost of housing causing people to live further from their place of work, the relative cheapness of the car as a form of transport, mediocre public transport and social attitudes to it.

In short, we have become a nation of commuters. Although evidence suggests that there has been a reduction in the number of commuting trips since 1995, I reckon is it still an endemic problem and reports point to “commuters ‘are more miserable’”.  Now part of that misery may well be compounded by congestion. I accidentally found myself craving through Cambridge in the rush hour a while back  and couldn't believe  how bad it was. Normally I cycle or use the Park and Ride, this time I had a large and heavy box to move and a dodgy back.

So what should the National and Local Governments do about it?  Well it seems bleeding obvious to me, they need to work hard at getting more of us out of our cars and preferably cycling or walking or using a mix of public transport and cycling or walking. (This can cut congestion, cut obesity, cut noise, cut pollution… you get the picture.)

So we need to shift the modal share for choice of transport, significantly from cars to public transport, cycling and walking.  The trouble is cyclists and pedestrians get killed on the roads and the data suggests that  there has been a recent increase – “122 cyclists died in 2012 – a five year high”.  The official data records the statistics slightly differently and so reports the number of pedal cyclists killed in 2012 as 118 up by 7% from the previous year.

In general most people accept that the benefits of cycling substantially outweigh the risks, (a blog post on the subject here). However we humans tend to see the risk from commission as worse than the risk from omission.  We would much rather let something bad happen than take a risk to stop something bad happen.  In the case of cycling, it is easier to avoid cycling because it is dangerous, despite the fact it is beneficial.

There is a reinforcement of the view that cycling is dangerous from those that perhaps ought to know better. for instance Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernhard Hogan-Howe was quoted as saying he would not cycle in London over safety fears.  Our own PCC Sir Graham Bright was responded to the CCyC questions ahead of the PCC elections with the quote:

The only cycling I do in Cambridgeshire is in my village to go to the local shop. I used to be a keen cyclist but am not happy in traffic.

He has also been reported to have said “Make cycle helmets compulsory”.  Indeed the ASA wants to ban advertising that includes cycling without a helmet – despite the evidence cycle helmet legislation has at best a minimal effect on reducing head injuries in cyclists.

We are also told that cyclists are putting themselves and others in danger by not using proper lights at night – except the evidence there shows that isn’t quite the case.

The trouble is as well as the “well-meaning” cycling is dangerous brigade we have the selfish and stupid brigade who either only focus on their own needs as a driver or those that actively “hate” cyclists. Don’t believe me well check out CycleHatred on Twitter, a cyclist who re-tweets the vitriolic, the ill informed, the crazy and the wrong views of cyclists. Don’t go there if you are easily offended though.  An example closer to home – “Motorist accused of using cyclists as ‘target practice’ after hurling bottle at rider from car in Cambridge”.  Or “Cyclist, 23, hospitalised after injuring her throat on rope deliberately tied across seaside promenade ‘by two teenage girls who filmed her being hurt’”.

Let let me get back to where I started Cambridge needs a radical overhaul of its transport situation.  That means shifting modal share, we need to get people who drive to shift towards cycling and/or public transport.  The people who are being told how dangerous cycling is, how it needs all sorts of safety gear and how selfish other road users can be. Another  example of such selfishness – “More than 300 drivers caught using their mobile phones at the wheel in Cambridge” – not a reassuring fact for potential cyclists.

To do that will need cycling infrastructure that protects potential cycle commuters without the compromises that we currently see in most cycling infrastructure. Even those motorists that can’t or won’t change will benefit by achieving such a shift – more bikes will reduce overall congestion.  

Where we can’t segregate then other measures, equally effective, will need to be considered. You might have thought that getting kids cycling to and from school would be a good start.  Well there will need to be a radical improvement in the facilities otherwise most parents are not going to risk it.

Don’t believe me well go and check out a school in the morning or at kicking out time – it can be chaotic. I cycled past the Bottisham Village College the other day (it lies on the Lodes Way cycle route)  The road just seemed to fill up with cars, coaches swept in in and the only concession seemed to be making a very narrow pavement shared-use. Although to be frank it wasn’t clear to me what was and what wasn’t shared-used.

Road safety seems to be regularly reported in the press – “Parents get sharp lesson in road safety… Cambridge schools … tempers flare and fists fly”, with a promised “Police crackdown” in Cambridge and here is another in March (the place not the month).

The trouble is we all tend to take the selfish view – here a councillor advocates citywide parking charges for all streets in Cambridge – to discourage incoming cars – well maybe – but why do we allow cars to park on streets whether residents or not?  Maybe the first step has to be banning all street parking. Certainly all new housing developments should ban it with off-road parking provided (either per house or collectively).  Another example of how parking can be highly contentious – attempts to remove some parking bays on Histon Road to improve bus journeys have failed.

The trouble is Cities are often victims of their own success and as they attract people and business they also become congested. Yet for most cities you can’t rip out the city and stick new roads all over the place. Radical solutions – not paint.

Enough ranting – the good news is that Spring seems to be springing. On my usual spin Upware and Wicken Fen there was signs of green in the hedgerows.

Hedgerow Turning Green – White Fen Drove

A Close-up of the Leaves appearing

Blue Skies – White Fen

Fields turning Green – near Upware

Still February Showers – over Wicken Fen

The new wind-powered water pump is back in action – Wicken Fen needs some of the right water

A Van using NCN51 alongside Monk’s Lode?

Trouble Ahead – More rain showers

The good news is I managed to avoid the rain and Spring – well it is on its waySmile

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