Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winter–a time of sun and blue skies

Monday, 12th December: I cycle because it is fun, pure and simple. To be fair sometimes the pleasure isn’t always when you set off, but invariably when I reach my destination I feel good, I notice things. Generally cycling is also more reliable for getting to a place on time. Yes, you might have to start out earlier, although not as often as you might think around Cambridge, however you can take short routes and cycle pretty much door to door.

Now that is how we used to see the car, it gave door to door freedom compared with public transport and the opportunity to set off at your own convenience. The trouble is our friend the car has turned out to be a bit of a liability in its old age. In the UK we have more people, around when I was born the UK population was around 50 million people, this year the population is 61 million, a growth of over 20%. At the same time the UK GDP has grown from around $72B to a peak of $2.8T in ‘07 although has has dropped back to around $2.2T. So a “wealth growth” of nearly 40 times, but just recently with 22% drop.

So we have two factors. more people and more wealth which has caused a significant increase in the number of motor vehicles using the roads. From June 1994 through to June 2011 the number of licensed motor vehicles has risen from 25 million through to 34.5 million. This doesn’t tell the whole story though, as our cars have become more comfortable, public transport declined the number of motor vehicles out on the roads at any one time has also increased. For reference the number of licensed motor vehicles vehicles was around 8 million in 1960.

Apparently the average distance people travel per year has increased by 50% since the 1970s in the UK, although this is all types of transport including walking and cycling. (DFT Annual travel survey pdf.) Over that time the average occupancy of a car for commuting and business has remained pretty stable – it was 1.2 in 2010. Over the last 10 years the total road length been pretty stable it was estimated to be 245,000 in 2010 and only increased by 1% from 2000.

For reference in 2010 cars accounted for 243.8 billion vehicles miles, light van traffic for 41.8 billion and HGV traffic for 16.4 billion vehicle miles. And for good measure here is a blog indicating the in the UK the total cost of annual motor vehicle accident costs at approximately £18bn per annum in the UK.

This train of though arose from a report in Cambridge First that “A14 traffic to grow by 15 per cent over next decade”. Apparently the road has a peak capacity of 3,600 vehicles per hour on the two lane stretches and improvements to the rail freight link between Felixstowe and Nuneaton will only deal with the equivalent of one year’s growth in HGV traffic. There were also a couple of articles in the Daily Mail – “Fuel taxes are pricing motorists off the road, claim campaigners as car use plummets” and “Drivers hit for £1.3bn in parking fees as councils rake in record takings”.

The thinking and comments made in the articles tends to be very conventional – let’s face it this country does not have its own oil (for refining into petrol), so inevitably fuel prices are going to go up. It seems that we focus on peak oil as the issue (the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached). This allows the naysayers, and most of the rest of us to believe in the new sources of oil as easy fixes. However in reality the cost of extraction is going up, the number of sources is going down and demand is still growing (the world population is growing and economies such as China and India are enjoying rising per capita incomes).

So inevitably oil (and so petrol) prices rise. Forbes recently published an article highlighting the issues – “Bracing for Peak Oil Production by Decade’s End” suggesting that “global oil production will max out in the next 5 to 10 years”.  That is a scarily short timeframe. According to the Guardian Newspaper it turns out that “UK ministers ignored ‘peak oil’ warnings, report shows”.

So it seems to me that conventional ways of planning are akin to sticking our heads in the sand. Rather than piecemeal planning we need to acknowledge that a more strategic view of transport needs to be taken. On top of that problem we have of course the pollution issues and the space issues the cars also represent. Why shouldn’t councils charge an economic parking rate – although the challenge is how to does an economic price get set? The challenges are compounded by the high cost of real-estate (land) especially in cities and the planning restrictions.

Of course this is a big debate but it does not really seem to be played out. Just recently the Cambridge News reported on “Expansion of retail park gets go ahead”. This is a retail park long the Newmarket Road – one of the congested routes into Cambridge, one of the arguments against was that it would damage the economic prospects of the City centre by tempting shoppers away from the centre.  What sort of life and society do we want want?

There is still concern about parking whether it be from people who want to park in the city or those that live there and feel that they have a “right” to park  on “their” streets.  The decision to charge for the Park and Ride at Babraham has led to the concern that “Park & Ride charges will force cars onto neighbourhood streets”.  At it simplest roads are public and should be available to all, but does this mean that we should have a right to park on the street where we life? Does it mean that we should be able to exclude non-locals from parking on those streets?

The trouble is whilst we can build more roads and the A14 say could be improved we would then need to deal with the increase in commuters. This is a problem that needs a more radical view of how we might plan for the future.

Why do so many people in Cambridge cycle? Well probably for a whole host of reasons, but it probably reduces down to the issue that there would be nowhere to park and the traffic jams would be even more horrendous if we didn’t.

I was interested to see that Outspoken Delivery, a local cycling courier business is now also picking up packaging used in deliveries for re-cycling. There is another problem – what do do with the waste we create – it either uses land (landfills) or pollutes or both. I wonder if another way of looking at the problem is that we are just running out of space her in the UK, space for people, cars, roads, waste.

Space is at such a premium in Norwich that they have even had to paint short double yellow lines – 41cm long – was that to stop someone parking their skateboard?.

Now I would like to think that some somewhere is taking a long-term view – lets face it our kids are already thinking that our generation has basically enjoyed the best years, what with jobs, employment, house price inflation, free education. Now they will have to pay.

Why all these thoughts well I saw a lorry pass through a red light at a crossing, I’d crossed, there was no-one around, but the second example in two days that it isn’t just cyclists who “flout” the law. I also had a near miss with a car, I was on a shared path and it came out of a side entrance, we both had give way signs, it didn’t give way and I didn’t see it soon enough. I managed to swerve around it, and accept that we were probably both at fault. However I could easily have been killed and the car might have been slightly scratched.

To be safe I suppose I could have cycled along at a much slower pace, slowing even more at each such junction, or just maybe we ought to be re-considering the relative priorities of different forms of transport. After all  one more bike means one less car causing congestion.

The good news was that I had to get out and about in Cambridge and of course for me cycling is the best answer. I get some fresh air, I get there on time and generally there are far fewer issues with parking. I started off up at the Cambridge Science park and was pleased to see that the company I was visiting had recently installed some cycle racks. The science park is also well served by CGB (Cambridge Guided Busway), cycle routes and it even has the A14 nearby. The only thing that is missing is a railway station – and there is one in the plans for Chesterton.

I left via the CGB cycleway and saw a bus join the CGB from Orchard Park East for the first time ever. I wasn’t quite quick enough with my camera to get a picture of it turning onto the CGB but here it is a little way down the CGB.

I also took a picture of the SmartLife building that I had seen after dark during a recent ride.

I took another of the CGB and bus because I had thought that there was a cyclist coming through under the A14 bridge – but no it was someone taking a motorbike for a walk! 

I then followed signs for cyclists pointing towards the City Centre. Although first I stopped to take a picture (well two actually stitched together ) of the Orchard Park East CGB stop. There is a clue in the picture for the reason for taking it – yes, you’ve guessed it the bicycle. One observation I would make is that the combination of cycling and the CGB has been pretty successful, what is disappointing is that development of the CGB has not been even more bicycle friendly.

I think that there should have been more cycle parking at all stops. That there should not be short poles obstructing parts of the cycleway and there should have been a decent route through the town to facilitate CGB users commuting cross-town.

The route I took was not the most obvious to me despite knowing my way around Cambridge pretty well. It looks straight enough on the map, based upon Northfield Avenue, Roxburgh Road, Mere Way, Carlton Way, Stretton Avenue and Searle Street. On the current OSM cycle map it is marked as a planned route – although the map key gives no clue. However as the list of streets implies there are a fair number of junctions and speed bumps and the like to contend with. Just as car drivers tend to favour direct routes so do cyclists (well I do anyway).

I joined NCN11 as it ran alongside the River Cam. A quick stop at Jesus Lock to take a picture of the route plus two cyclists. There were quite a few apples on the tree as well.

It is interesting to see a cow trough in the middle of a city – albeit on a Common (Midsummer Common). I am convinced that the winter sun imparts a warmer look despite it being winter. I guess it is because the sun is lower in the sky.

Where I grew up in the Mendips it was mainly dairy farming and many of the fields had a cow trough, or quite often a cow trough would be found at the corner and shared by several fields. Every now and they they would flood or dry up and being fine upstanding citizens meddling kids we would fix the problem. It was pretty much always a problem with the ballcock.

I wonder when I will get to cycle on snow – we never get that much in the Flatlands,.  The bigger problem is black ice on the cycle paths and that has been promised..

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