Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Green Dragon roars–“stuff you cyclists and pedestrians you can’t have a wider bridge”

Wednesday, 9th April 2014: I had meetings in Cambridge including dinner at one of the Colleges so I would be back after dark. So out came my trusty Sony DSC-W200, a camera I used to use when it would have seemed odd to arrive with my Panasonic GH1.  However for convenience I tend to use my Samsung S4 phone nowadays, although it is much fiddlier to use and less flexible – it does do more picture processing though.

It has been so long since I used my trusty Sony that the battery had completely flattened and I had to re-charge it and then re-enter the date and time. It worked fine though.

(Long-term product review – I have had the camera since July 2007 and according to the last picture file ID has taken around 3,000 pictures. It has been my standard backup camera for holidays and prime camera for business trips.  The only problem I have had with it is that about a year ago the lens cover partially jammed – there was a tiny piece of grit I managed to dislodge it and it has been fine since. It will take bracketed pictures and has a 3x zoom lens – would I buy it again – well tricky, because it is no longer available new – but I would seriously consider Sony as a reliable and credible manufacture of digital cameras.

As an example of how far things have moved – the camera was pretty good when I got it nearly seven years ago – 12.1Mpixels and 3x zoom.  The current DSC-WX350, a good Sony Casual camera offers 20x zoom, 18.2 effective megapixels and is cheaper. Not to mention WiFi, NFX and a load of in-camera picture processing tricks.

This Post is a bit out of date – so the news that the Green Dragon Bridge has re-opened is hardly news – it actually opened on Monday, 31st March 2014., but because of the closure I changed my cycle routes and am only now reverting to old habits. It was originally meant to be closed for 10 weeks (from 6th January, 2014), but was actually closed for 12 weeks.

That is a long time for one of the more important non-motor vehicles routes across the River Cam. Here is some data on the usage by bicycles, there is an automated cycle counter.  Apparently there are typically well over 1,000 cycles per day, with peak flows of 350 cyclists per hour. ( ~6 cyclists per minute). However despite attempts to get more people out of their cars and getting exercise as part of their daily commute pedestrians they don’t seem to get even as much attention as cyclists and I can’t readily find any usage data.

This bridge is too small for the amount of traffic, yet an important cycle/pedestrian route and still the powers that be felt able to close it for an extended period of time, without providing a temporary structure, or even considering improving the bridge by widening it.

To me this is a classic case of cyclists and pedestrians falling under the radar as credible and important ways of people getting from A to B. Despite what the County Transport Strategy says about limiting the growth in car traffic – it seems to me that they are using congestion as that limiter rather than actively managing it. So given the massive increase in housing developments around the region and the role Cambridge plays as an employment hub and the rather patchy development of alternate transport strategies Cambridge will only get more congested. Which will increase the conflict between motor vehicles and everyone else.

As an example of the piece-meal approach to transport we have the Guided Busway. At one level it sounds successful with 7.8million journeys taken since it opened. We also hear that there may be serious faults with concrete beams.  Then we are told that there might be a Guided Busway down from Waterbeach – although there is a railway line already in use.  Then there are plans to extend the CGB for the new Chesterton Station. Then we are told that it might be a road but only for guided busses.   Essentially I feel that the Council has failed to communicate a reasoned argument that indicates why the CGB was chosen and what the pros and cons are of such an approach (and risks).

At the same time it seems that it is “easy” to add a lane each way on the A14 between Girton and Histon – a snip at £17m.  Then spend an astronomic amount on a new bit of the A14 which will only increase the traffic – bigger roads do that you know. Traffic that increasingly runs on diesel fuel that we thought was cheaper but are now told is killing us

What’s worse is that the modifications to the A14 will  probably make it more attractive to drive cars – as well as make it even harder to use alternate forms of transport. Of course there is an opportunity to use the old A14 to really encourage alternate transport – as suggested by a South Cambs Councillor – “that’s enough widening – make A14 narrower”.  However it would appear that the Highway Agency “Don’t know” quite what effect the new road will have on: air quality, Cambridge traffic, A14 traffic or what cycle-proofing will be under-taken. (As promised by the PM).  I can’t help but feel cycle-proofing is about keeping bicycles away rather than create decent cycle infrastructure.

Apparently once the old A14 is de-trunked (poor white elephant) then the County gets lumbered with the costs of another road to maintain.  My advice would be to ban all the vehicles that do significant damage – that would be busses, lorries and cars gone then. The good news is that Cambridgeshire County Council has a “new preventative approach to fixing Cambridgeshire roads – not just patching holes”. There must be some magic involved because it will cover all roads, not just strategic roads and yet cut costs by between 10% and 20% in the long run.  Either the journalist failed to grasp quite what the magic step is or the Council failed to communicate it – but it is not clear in the article. (Yet another example of the piece-meal Transport strategy?)

In another example of the piece-meal strategy £450K is to be spent on a cycle route from Swavesey to Buckingway Business Park and Cambridge Services. It might be important, it might not – but it seems that it will be a bit more underwhelming Cycle infrastructure without any underlying cycle network planning. Apparently it is also the benefit of horse riders, which is good – but only 2m wide and right next to a busy road – it doesn’t sound like my idea of horse-riding fun.

The design was probably settled upon a while ago, but coincidentally a rash of Cycling Infrastructure Guides has appeared. (David Hembrow comments on the shortcomings of the Sustrans one here.) For now I will draw some recommendations from the Making Space guide. For primary and secondary streets the recommendation is for at least 2.1m of space on each side of the street with some degree of protection from the traffic, best practice suggests a width of 2.5m  and at least 1m of separation from the main carriageway by at least one metre of green space (or car and cycle parking).

So what was envisaged in 2000 – Swavesey to Buckingway Business Park Cycleway – a 2.5m wide cycleway, with a 1.5m verge between the road and the cycleway and then a further 1m green strip on the other side and then a ditch.  Sounds good – although remember this is only on one side – so it is already a huge compromise.

A few years later and the path has shrunk to 2m wide – with no mention of any of the other dimensions, although there are more detailed engineering drawings. I still can’t see how it works as a bridleway – it is so close to a 60mph road.  Yet the strategy is to provide cycleways to business hubs.

Now the current road between Swavesey and the Buckingway Business Park (and A14) has a 60mph speed limit – the Making Space guidelines recommend a separation of   4 – 8m between the cycle path and the road for major roads.

How pathetic (the resulting cycleway – not the Guideline).

I am pleased to see that there seems to be more focus on reporting cycle accidents. A double-edged sword in the sense that cycling is an inherently beneficial activity for our health. However it would seem that many don’t cycle because of the perceived danger and who can blame them.  The trouble is even if you get them cycling it isn’t always that pleasant. Motor vehicles are noisy, as a cyclist you have to be pretty assertive and you feel under pressure especially when there are close overtakes or vehicles getting very close behind you. 

So reporting that accidents are happening will serve as a reminder that there is an imbalance in the risks taken by users of cycling and motor transport. An imbalance that cannot be corrected by a plastic helmet and bright yellow jacket.

Some recent examples: Cyclist injured in Cambridge (April 30), Woman cyclist hospitalised after being knocked off her bike in Cambridge (May 7),  Cyclist injured by hit-and-run van driver in Cambridge (May 4).  Watch this video to see how accidents happen – a motorist knocked a 12-year old girl of her bike as she was waiting to turn right – in plain view. There is also a bit of victim-blaming too.

The bizarre thing is that lots of drivers think they are better than average – Here in Cambridge 72% of young motorists in Cambridgeshire think they are better than the average driver, according to a survey. Yet Young drivers are 2.5 times more likely to be involved in a serious road accident.

I wonder whether older van drivers have been investigated as a class of driver – this one gives them a bad name – “Half a second from disaster: City Link van driver’s incredibly close shave…”

Phew that is enough moaning – the trouble is I can’t stop once I start. The good news is the the Green Dragon Bridge has re-opened and here it is.

 The Green, Green Dragon Bridge – Cambridge in use

It is on an important route – a pity that they couldn’t make an economic argument to widen the bridge. That is what you get in a caronomic economy.

 The Green, Green Dragon Bridge – Cambridge in use

I will put my cards on the table – I quite like watching the Tour de France and I did once upon a time go and watch some cycling racing in the Castle Hill area of Cambridge.  However cycle racing does not encourage me to cycle, nor do I identify with professional cyclists or want to take up cycle sport and I don’t take performance enhancing drugs either. To be fair it doesn’t stop me from wanting to cycle.

As it happens I really like watching Formula 1 racing and watch pretty much all the races, although that didn’t make me get SKY TV and it doesn’t change my view that we are a car-sick society. (I still drive a car as well though.)

An event like the Tour de France is an interesting spectacle but I really don’t think that it is a substitute for good quality cycle infrastructure if we really want to see a modal shift in our transport habits. Having said that there are other reasons why the Tour de France’s visit to Cambridge is a good thing – it can help attract tourists both for the even and after. It might also increase the awareness of the approach that is being taken in the provision of cycling infrastructure in Cambridge.

In fact perhaps the Cambridge approach to cycling has been taken up by the organisers of the tour. Instead of a nice wide road to start the race – here in Cambridge it will be starting on a pavement – on 07-07-2014

Tour de France start in Cambridge
Traditional Cambridge Approach to Infrastructure – keep it narrow

My plan has always been to go and see it – although I won’t be at the start I have a meeting just before, but serendipitously that leaves me free to watch the peloton as it cycles out of Cambridge.

Perhaps that is why a Pavement Parking Crackdown has been ordered for central Cambridge. Although I do wonder if it really should be a police matter. Don’t get me wrong I think that pavement parking should be stopped – it affects the vulnerable. However I am not sure the Police have got the appetite (or perhaps the resources). If I had my way I would take the London approach and pavement parking would be illegal unless explicitly allowed.

Then I would leave the ticketing to Councils, but I wonder if there should be different options for transgressors – perhaps a ticket, but maybe also the option in an activity with a social benefit – Speedwatch perhaps.

Mind you another area the Police could look at improving their efficiency is perhaps the stop and search – “Row over ‘colossal waste’ and stop and search by Cambridgeshire force branded worst in country”. Perhaps that is why we have the crackdowns on cyclists on pavements and without lights – it helps to bring the average back up.

The other problem is that Councils give out mixed-messages about Pavement parking. In some parts of Cambridge blocking of pavements is allowed.  As you can see in this picture. Why – well because the road would be blocked. Try getting down that pavement with a double buggy – seems to be an obstruction to me. Talking about mixed messages I still reckon that Councils randomly allow shared-use of some pavements whilst sanctioning the ticketing of cyclists on other pavements. Mixed messages are not a good thing.

Tour de France start in Cambridge
does that cycle symbol mean you can cycle on this pavement?

Of course the issue of parking is a very emotive one.  Many people feel that they have (or should have) a right to park their car (or should that be store their car) on the road outside their houseThey don’t and why should they get free parking when others have to pay for a space. It cost me money – I didn’t get my front garden for free. Although having said that I do think that it is perfectly reasonable that people with certain levels of disability should get a disabled space outside their house.

If we had a Constitution in the UK I bet there would be a big push for the right to park outside your house.  Strangely this entitlement sometimes gets dressed up in greenwash.  Apparently Robinson College own bit of land in Romsey Terrace. This article castigates them for wanting to make money from their land. They are apparently acting like speculators.  So perhaps the feeling of entitlement to park on the road outside one’s house extends to free parking some someone else’s land.  Now I would probably be annoyed if I had nowhere to park my car – but it is a bit rich expecting someone else to pay for it and then question their moral compass because of the loss of car parking and green space.

Although here is a rather good graphic showing that actually cars are a complete waste of space when compared with buses and more especially bicycles.  More cars mean less soccer fields in your city.  Land for 2,000 passengers in cars use 7 more soccer fields of space than 2,000 bicycles.

I do think that part of the problem is that cars and cities just don’t make for good bedfellows.  However you can’t just make it harder to own a car in a city without ensuring there is a proper transport strategy.

It was rather nice cycling home in the dark – there are fewer noisy, smelly cars (and vans and lorries) around. Yes I had lights, I knew I would be late.  There is evidence that Cambridge can do better – the cycle bridge across the Cam on Riverside. It has segregated the pedestrian and cycle routes – although pedestrians don’t always care. Perhaps that is because pedestrians don’t feel as threatened by cyclists as much as some would have us believe.

Riverside bridge – Cambridge at night

Although I tend not to use my MP3 player on the mean streets of Cambridge – the traffic is too noisy if you are interested in some entertaining economics – try the Freakonomics Radio Archives – 165 episodes of interesting but easy to follow slightly weird economics.

And finally a few links to some interesting pictures – Old Italian Buildings (it is much better than it sounds) and a photo contest – “Share the experience” (US landscapes).

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