Sunday, July 31, 2011

Meetings in Cambridge–what’s tar got to do with it?

Tuesday, July 26th: Meetings in Cambridge today, which don’t start first thing so I get to miss the rush hour and have the opportunity to take a scenic route.  Cycling in the rush hour isn’t that bad but I generally avoid the thinner cycle paths unless I am heading with the tide.  There are some that can be fine if you are going with the flow but really awful if you are going against it. In fact I prefer to take the road route unless, like today I miss the rush hour.

A while back I mentioned that I had seen the construction in the picture alongside the Riverside Bridge, but not really given any thought as to what it was until I read this article in the Daily Mail. So I planned my route to head past the Swift Tower. Apparently it cost £35,000 and provides nesting boxes for 200 birds (100 pairs).  It does look rather like the sun low in the sky, although not as big, bright or hot.

There was some information on the bridge which pointed to this link Action for Swifts.  The birds are in decline. They tend to nest in old buildings and as buildings are knocked down or renovated those habitats are lost. (I assume that new buildings do not have the nooks and crannies that old buildings do.)

Another thing I noticed as I cycled around was that there was a designated parking space for a Car club car. This is one of fourteen new locations on top of 21 already in place of a scheme operated by Streetcar. According to the website it costs £8.95 per hour or £89.50 per 24 hours. Which might sound a lot but cars do actually cost a lot of money we just don’t like to think about it. A quick look at the website suggests that you can join from 19 onwards although there is a damage surcharge for 19-24 year-olds for the first 20 trips.  I guess the real issue is how available are they when you need one.   A further check indicates that if you are 19-21 then you have to have held a valid licence for at least 24 months and that it costs £49.50 per annum to be a member.

As it happens this particular spot was in De Freville Avenue. There is also, by chance a cycle lane occupying half of the pavement on the other side. It is not bad, but more of the sort of cycling facility you might associate with children using the pavement that a fully-fledged cycle route.  As you can see you also find yourself being shunted onto the road just as you reach the car parking area of the house.

Still it could be worse, like this pointless  cycle lane in Birmingham. I don’t think that cycle lanes are given anything like the thought and attention give to roads. These sorts of facilities seem to be more about shunting cyclists out of the way so as not to slow the cars down rather then encouraging more cyclists by making cycling safer.

What was I was saying about cycling facilities, this is heading up the Huntingdon Road.  As you can see there are Advisory Cycle Facilities. Aren’t they convenient for parking you lorries and Sainsbury Vans in.  The trouble is there is a traffic island just ahead, so this behaviour forces cyclists out just as cars run out of space. The message – groceries are more important than cyclists’ lives.  As it happens the van could park around the corner – but then they would have further to take the shopping – oh dear can’t have that.

This was the parking available where I ended in in the Moller Centre. Slightly out of the way, but pretty sub-standard cycle parking. As you can see the bike is supported by jamming the front wheel in. At least the parking has a nice big sign.

As you can see from this close-up there is barely enough room to park the bikes by leaving at least one space. In my case my handlebars are quite wide and I had to leave two spaces so that my handlebars didn’t foul those of the bike next to mine.

The other problem is that unless you have a long cable lock you can only secure the front wheel to the stand, which means in my case you only need remove the front wheel to steal the rest of the bike. You can see why the orange bike was propped against the wall.

These railings are such an obvious place to lock you bike up that they have had to laminate signs to stop cyclists from using them.

I know it is easy to moan, but it does seem that the ship is being spoiled for the want of an  ha’peth of tar.  Having said that I still enjoyed riding rather than driving to the meeting.

Hot smile

A quick catch-up

Sunday, July 31st: There is good news, bad news and news.  The good news is that I have been out on my bike at least four times since my last Post and the pictures are all loaded onto PicsasaWeb waiting for me to actually get around to writing the posts. The bad news is that finding time to write those posts has been a little tricky with one thing and another. The news – well a load of Tabs are queuing up on my Browser waiting around for me to write about them and then delete them.

So here goes with the Tabs. The opening date for the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) draws closer, at this point in time – 6 days, 16 hours and and 6 minutes according to the Cambridge News. So as you might imagine it is popping into the news quite a lot. There have been trials for local organisations (including guide dogs) and the Cambridge Cycle Campaign has put up a bunch of photographs showing the view from the Bus and a close up of the Guided wheels. There are also videos available as well including this one with people walking on the opposite track getting honked, this one showing the bus going through a junction and finally this one of a bus passing the Railway Station and going under Hills Road Bridge.

The CGB legal wrangling is also popping up as the “Council goes to court to get guided busway money back”. According to the report the overspend is over £64 million and £6 million has been set aside for legal costs!

The CGB also featured when an ambulance had to use the cycle path/maintenance path to reach a sick cyclist. I have not looked to see how the maintenance path is secured against general motor traffic using it. If it is locked then all emergency vehicles will need a key I guess. Although I don’t suppose such events will be too frequent most cyclists and walkers will not really be expecting to make way for an emergency vehicle since we don’t on shared-use paths so I assume that the emergency vehicles will use their sirens. I mention this because just recently I have seen police cars just using their lights on three occasions.

It is just me being cynical or do politicians just love those photo opportunities? One of our Councillors was shown in the driving seat of a crane at the Longsome Park & Ride Construction. The building their will also be an exhibition centre for “technology for low carbon living” which will be part of the Northstowe Development.

Whilst doing a web search I also came across this website full of published letters and some that didn’t make it, highlighting issues associated with the CGB.

Well that’s all for the CGB, but there are loads more Tabs stacked up. I like pictures and here is a link to one in the Daily mail showing a host of hot air balloons in the sky. And here is one I took showing two balloons in the sky with me in a third.

Whilst on the subject of pictures, the BBC website has some rather nice Cloud pictures and here are some of a giant solar power field, stretching over 90,000 square metre (over four football fields)  capable of generating 4.6Gigawatts of power, over ten times that of the King’s Lynn Power Station, also shown below.

And here are some clouds:

Actually I forgot to mention that something I have enjoyed over the last three weeks has been the Tour de France. I was certainly captivated by the coverage of the race towards the end. Seeing Cadel Evans pull back time on Andy Schleck in the Mountains to be able to then beat him in the Time Trial was amazing. Apparently the viewing figures were pretty good too with a peak audience of 878,000 for the live show.

For cyclists inspired but not wanting to race there is the Hannah 100 cycling event coming up again this year in the Cambridgeshire Fens on September 10th.

It seems that the Bexley Cyclist who was assaulted on camera, but told by the Police they couldn’t find the assailant, until it went viral created quite a bit of news in the mainstream press as well as blogs.

And finally two stories that caught my eye, the first is about a bell ringer who installed bells in her garage. I used to ring church bells in my youth and used to find it peculiarly satisfying. The second is how a laser was aimed at Cambridgeshire’s Police helicopter. Apparently a boy and two girls were spoken too!

There are a bunch more Tabs but that’ll do for now.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Broken spokes and wobbly wheels on the Lodes Way

Friday, July 22nd: Despite (or maybe because of) my lack of proper cycling I managed a POETS day today. Although I don’t commute and so ought to free up time for decent chunks of cycling it doesn’t always seem to work out that way. Mind you I think that I then enjoy getting out for a ride all the more.

Although a bunch of “interesting” webstuff has piled up on my browser I am not going to be side-tracked. The trouble is that as more and more pages lie open it uses both memory and CPU cycles on my computer. (Currently using Windows 7 and Chrome 13.0.782.99).  I was also finding that sometimes it would use almost all the  CPU and crash the browser from time to time, which was a nuisance. It seemed to me that Shockwave would crash and Flash would steal CPU cycles.

So I have used FlashBlock for Chrome which seems to calm things down and stops many of the adverts appearing. Then if I want to look at something I can click on the empty box” and it enables that one stream. That way I can leave my browser open with loads of tabs and not feel that my computer is spending all of its time displaying adverts!  As the Wikipedia page on Adobe Flash says – it has been criticised for adversely affecting the usability of web pages. Mind you I do find it irritating that Apple’s iPad does not support Adobe Flash – one of the iPad’s sweet-spots is as a Web browser, except you can’t see the news clips on  websites like the BBCs. (Another benefit is that web pages open more quickly and don’t stall waiting for adverts I don’t want.)

What was that I said about not getting side-tracked – ah well.  Here is Friday’s ride and here is the Bike Route Toaster Link. It is 66Km/40 miles in length, which for me is a pleasant distance, long enough to cover some distance, but not so long that I am exhausted at the end of it. Although more importantly it covers some really pleasant bits of countryside.

The trouble is there are some tossers out there who really don’t care about anybody but themselves. Once again on Low Fen Drove Way, just after the bridge over the A14 there was some fly-tipping. With great care and attention they only blocked half of the road. In case you were wondering and even if you weren’t the local re-cycling centre is 6.5km away or just over 4 miles away on Butt Lane open until 8.00pm in the Summer.

When I cycled over to Bury St Edmunds and back I saw quite a lot of this growing and decided it was Mayweed, but also thought I’d take a “better” picture to check my identification. Well on closer inspection I think that this is Common Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) and contains many alkaloids making it poisonous to animals. If it is then it falls under the Weeds Act of 1959!

In one of those coincidences that actually isn’t coincidental at all Hemlock and Ragwort have also made it into the daily press – “Pretty but deadly, the monster hemlock invading out verges thanks to wild weather changes”.  The article talks about how just six hemlock leaves can kill and then mentions ragwort at the end of the article.  Whilst on the subject of our deadly countryside a friend holidaying in Scotland had to deal with several ticks on her young son.  Ticks can spread Lyme disease.

I wonder how much of this is increase awareness, climate change and detachment from the countryside. As a boy I went to a village Primary school with a total of around 60 kids  in two classes (Infants and Junior). We would regularly go out on nature walks and we grew up amongst “nature”.  But I sense that as a society there has been an increase in urbanisation and “we” have become detached from both nature and agriculture. So much so that situations that have been around a long time can look alarming when seen “anew”.

The same picture but with the “benefits” of HDR (high dynamic range, assembled for multiple exposures). On checking that link I realised there had been an update to the Photomatix software so sorted that out.  Then I realised that Picasa had failed to upload the most recent set of pictures. Re-starting Picasa sorted that. These flipping computers, it is a never-ending “job” keeping them up to date.

My wife generally walks with friends on a Friday and she had seen loads of this ragwort about with loads of orange and black stripy caterpillars and impressed her friends with her knowledge. Apparently the moths were introduced in North America to control the poisonous ragwort.

At the moment there has been a significant increase in the number of tractors towing trailers around as farmers harvest their crops. Round here they frequently work way after dark, “making hay whilst the sun shines”. Although they aren’t always making hay and the sun doesn’t shine after dark. This is an oilseed rape field being harvested.

Apparently this has also been a record apple season with fruit coming six weeks early thanks to a bitter winter and scorching spring.

Another oilseed rape field after harvest. This one is alongside the Fen Ditton Horningsea Cycleway. (The two roads are at 90o but I have stitched three pictures together to make this one picture.)

More ragwort alongside the Lodes Way path in White Fen.

You sometimes see horses grazing here, I would imagine (hope) that the owners steer the clear of the ragwort.

As well as ragwort flowering there is quite a lot of “granny pop out of bed” as well. Or to give it its proper name convolvulus arvennsis (well it is one of the convolvulus family anyway).

How about this for a field of spuds, I can’t imagine it will be long before this field gets harvested. They depend on the right amount of rain at the right time though to get a good crop.

Potato alley.

Along Lodes Way Headlake Drove splits off onto another drove  - Split Drove. Split Drove is to the left and Headlake Drove comes in from the right up past where I am standing to take the picture.  The reason I stopped was to take a picture of the bridge. It is quite narrow for the farm machinery that has to use this road to get through and the last time I noticed various of the railings were missing – no longer.  The blobs on the picture are where raindrops landed on the lens (actually the filter) as I was taking the picture. It didn’t really rain much, but did start just at the wrong time.

Lodes Way is crossed by Newnham Drove which is marked as one of the roads between NCN51 and Lodes Way. It is a fairly bumpy “road”. It looks as if it started of life as a concrete road.  Just because the road isn’t that good doesn’t mean they don’t trim the verges.

It seems that the approach being taken by the NT is to create a series of air-locks, well not really, more cattle-grid locks to allow the livestock to roam freely around whilst providing channels for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. They have effectively closed off Newnham Drove at this point which is a bit of a shame as I used to like to cycle up and back. There are two gates to go through to get up to Burwell Fen Farm, in the mid-distance.

This is what I mean, livestock can move between the fields on either side of Lodes Way and people using Lodes Way only have a short distance  where they risk coming into contact with those deadly cows or ponies. The downside is that horse riders have two gates to pass through. It looks is if it might be possible to open the gates whilst remaining on horseback but they have also built mounting steps which suggests that it isn’t that easy to use those gates and remain in the saddle.

The gates have been branded just in case any gate-rustlers happen by. I wonder if they brand the ponies this way. Actually the NT could run gate-branding sessions to train people in the art.

As I was taking pictures, I saw two people I knew cycling up Lodes Way.  Since it has opened they have used the route and seem to be getting a bit further along each time. Which got me thinking, people cycle for various reasons, including sport, commuting and leisure, yet the thing that most cyclists feel is denied them is the sociable aspect of cycling. 

Very few cycle paths are set up to allow two cyclists to ride abreast. If you have ever tried cycling along a road two abreast then you will know that most motorists will hate you. In fact to such an extent that they are prepared to risk their bit of tin and your life getting by you at an inopportune moment (even in the Tour de France).

Yet sociable cycling is great fun, most all of my cycling in foreign climes has been with other people, cycling side by side chatting about this, that and the other. That is one of the reasons this couple were out on this track, it meant they could cycle together chatting as they cycled.

So my thought for the day is that if I look at successful cycling countries whether by chance or design cycling looks to be a much more sociable activity.  If, here in the UK, we want to see more people out cycling then good enough to cycle is not sufficient. Good cycling facilities must me sociable cycling facilities. 

Or perhaps we should ban all car drivers from talking with their passengers!

I watched a program on television last night about the National Trust and Studland Bay and the conflict between the various groups that have a stake in the area. I can see that there is clearly a difficulty in balancing conflicting needs such as conservation, community and cost.

Why am I rabbiting on about the program, well I am in favour of the NT opening up our countryside as a general resource. Life is not just about computers and computer games. Although I don’t mind admitting I play them.  The trouble is in our car-centric society it would seem that there is an inevitability that attracting more people seems to mean attracting more cars.  For local village people more cars just means more hassle. Rural life has its downsides from a lack of local  facilities (post office, shop, Surgery) to almost non-existent broadband but one of the advantages is fewer cars polluting and clogging the poorly maintained roads.

How do we solve this problem?  There is no doubt that the opening up of Wicken Fen and the surrounding area has also attracted more cars deep into the area – such as this one. Now it is a public right of way, but do we really don’t want cars coming up here in their droves?

Once I was past Upware the weather improved and what was a field of ripe flax was now harvested and ploughed. This is a critical time of year for farmers – they have to keep an eye on the weather and factor in the amount of work it takes to bring in the harvest. Despite the mechanisation it is not uncommon to see tractors in the field after dark with their headlights on. (Ploughing their lonely furrow?)

After Upware and Wicken I headed out to Soham on the byways and bridleway.  It has been so dry that there seems to be a deep crack along the length of the bridleway bit.  The trouble is that is the bit that you cycle along as the grass is flatter. The crack is wide enough to grab your wheel so a bit of care is needed.

This is the bridleway looking back towards Wicken.

On my way out of Soham I cycled along a small residential road – Orchard Row.  Where I had the pleasure of encountering a driver who might well have been a steroid abuser. As I cycled along this small road and passed a parked car he beeped angrily and gesticulated at me. Why? Well despite the fact that I was in front of him as there was only enough space for either me or him to pass the car he had decided it should be him.

Thug boy seemed to have two other cars following him they also objected when the same situation occurred further up the road, this was a residential street and there were more cars legally parked. This is one of the reasons that cyclists feel that the level of perceived danger has increased. I also agree that all road users seem to be less safe, but if I had to have an accident I would rather a bike ran into me than several tons of car. Bad behaviour on the roads is far more catastrophic for cyclists.  The other sad thing is that this sort of poor driving behaviour makes it unwise and unsafe for people to let their kids play out. That can’t be right.

I was pleased to see that Sustrans are running a Free Range Kids feature – it ain’t just about perceived danger though, we all have a duty to reduce the danger.  The good news is that there was a drop in child casualties – with 19,569 child casualties in 2010. The bad news is that is still way too many.

I can’t help feeling that better cycling facilities would help.  I love to be able to cycle off the road. But many cycle routes seem to consist of a string of blind bends, right-angle turns, random posts, give-ways and angled kerbs.

All of which but a strain on on your bicycle – although to be fair I can’t blame me rear wheel popping one spoke with several other going loose as I cycled out of Burwell.  There was a “sprang” noise which when you have heard it once you tend to know the next time. It is different from a nut falling off (yep had that) or a stone bouncing up. I stopped and – found my rear wheel was somewhat wobbly with one broken and several loose spokes. My brakes were in severe need of tightening so the wobbly wheel didn’t rub. After cycling along the road for a bit I carried along Black Drove Way, trying to minimise the effect of cycling through the ruts. I still had some way to go.

The NCN51 route under the A14 near Quy, shown here, is certainly way better than cycling around the roundabout. One of the road peculiarities is that bicycles are expected to give way to the traffic from the left, whilst cars are not. What is that all about and what are the legal consequences?


View Larger Map

Actually I took the picture of the tunnel to show that the missing drainage grates at each end have now been replaced.  Although the one at the Newmarket Road end doesn’t seem to have made it all the way across?  Was this someone getting the measurements wrong or evidence of cost-savings at all levels.

Anyway – the theme for today – Make Cycling More Sociable.  That’s what we need to get more cyclists out there.

The wheel made it home and I took it off, and popped over to Ben Hayward Cycles (local cycle shop) the next day to get is sorted.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Another week– another ride up the Cambridge Guided Busway (cycle path)

Tuesday, July 19th: This is not the most logical of routes. First I head East out of Cambridge and then virtually double back past Stow-cum-Quy Fen on bridleways. I then head back into Cambridge on the towpath alongside the River Cam (a leg of NCN11 that just stops). The I cycle up to St Ives and back on the 90% high quality path on the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB).

Why, well the CGB route on its own can sometimes be just a bit shorter than I would really like. This adds a rather pleasant chunk of good bridleway/byway riding through the Fens and a rather pleasant ride along a river towpath.  In total the route length is 65Km/ 40 miles and flat. For choice I prefer gently undulating countryside to add just a bit more variation into the mix., but you can’t win them all. Here is the Bike Route Toaster link to the map shown below. (The comments on the map are from a previous ride – but still true apart from the “change of mind”. This time I intended to take this route. I was going to return from St Ives on the current NCN 51 route through villages such as Swavesey, Longstanton and Girton. I didn’t though because I didn’t want to face noisy traffic, even country lane traffic.

So there you are I break my own rule of never returning by the same route I go out on because actually the CGB route is high-quality. Yes it could be even better, but hats off to those that got us this much. I am sure that the Cambridge Cycling Campaign plays a hugely important role in making our local politicians aware of the significant benefits of cycling in this region for both leisure and business.

At the moment the Achilles heel of the CGB is how you get from the North chunk through to the South chunk, but even that might be more likely with the completion of a feasibility of the Chisholm trail. In fact I for one would like to see more focus on joining the dots – connecting the cycle routes to make it easier for cyclists of all abilities to use them without having to resort to noisy and strange roads. Just as you wouldn’t connect two Motorways by a country lane neither should good cycle routes be connected by a hodge-podge of kerbs, give-way signs and footpath barriers. (Which is what some cycle routes are.)

Some of the other problems cities have are the speeding motor vehicles so I am pleased that the Cambridge City Councillors have backed an approach to make the 20mph speed-limit city wide. It will need enforcing though and please, enforcement is not a war on motorists, it is about safety, the roads are all of us to use. The other blight on the streets is the amount if illegal and pavement parking that goes on, the law is not as clear as it might be – “Are vehicles allowed to park on the pavement?” highlights the inconsistency. However it is possible to do something about it as they did in Charnwood in Leicestershire with a “Cars of pavements campaign”.

The trouble is transport planning is also a political issue with points scoring and too many dinosaurs stuck to the idea that cars are for ever.

Whilst looking for some information on the Web I found this village website for Haddenham with a letter of objection to a development pointing out that  “official” assumptions about what distances it is reasonable to expect a cyclist to cycle are just too low. Hear-hear, I am in no way uber-fit, and am a bit over-weight, however the beauty of the bicycle is that I can easily contemplate rides of 50-100 miles (80-160Km). Why, well I have the endurance, but more importantly I cycle often enough that my bottom is accustomed to sitting on a saddle for a few hours.  Now I am not saying we should commute 100miles a day on a bike, I certainly wouldn’t but cycling is a fun activity and not a chore.

As I write this it is the London to Cambridge Bike ride  today, with some local companies taking part, and a lovely day for it too. Perhaps I’ll put my name down for the Cambridge to Norwich ride on October 2nd - it will be something to “train” for.

As I have been along this route recently I have included fewer pictures, despite the clouds it did not rain and was pleasantly warm for cycling (in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals). There are few things that can beat cycling along a decent farm road though the Fens. (Well there are really, but you know what I mean!) The skies are huge, the fields are enormous and there are no cars!

The ride back down alongside the River Cam was pretty reasonable although the Bumps preparations had started. I passed equal numbers of cyclists and walkers until I got back down to Cambridge. With the end of the Summer term there were more young people about, who having finished exams were starting their Summer Hols early before moving onto the next chapters of their lives

Having cut through Cambridge from the river to the start of the Northern section of the CGB on Milton road there was a depressing sight. What is it, middle aged-men with small penises drive sports cars and young men wsp get drunk and smash glass. What a plonker, I wonder if the cameras recorded it.  That’s our tax money being wasted and with VAT that means pretty much anybody who buys stuff. (I know there are exemptions – but we all contribute.)

The yellow flag fairies have been busy, although you can’t really see the small flag over on the far rail.  I did not take picture of all of these repairs, it does look as if someone is being pretty thorough. This bit is where metal guide rails are used to make it easier for guided buses to line up and join the concrete tracks.

How about that then, black tarmac for cycling on, stretching on through the fenland countryside. I might be less enthusiastic when the buses are running but at the moment it really is good. In fact the only annoying noise is the buzz my tyres make when cycling. I use Schwalbe Marathon plus tyres. They are a good compromise of puncture-proof-ness, comfort and speed. The small amount of tread does buzz on this flat black tarmac surface though. (And no I don’t get anything in return for recommending the tyres.)

The eco-friendly Park & Ride waiting room at Longstanton seems to be making good progress. In case you were wondering there are 350 car spaces and 50 bicycle spaces here. I can’t help feeling that maybe we might have tried to encourage more cycling, surely a cyclist should be rewarded for her/his smaller carbon footprint.

The smaller bus shelters alongside the track seem to be getting a make-over with various pictures – perhaps this helps to strengthen the glass and make it less of a target for mindless vandals.

The last time I cycled this way I mentioned this bridge – Windmill Bridge.

View Larger Map

This is the plaque  at the CGB level commemorating the designer – Iain Roy McCulloch.

The CGB cycle path is still gravel from Swavesey to St Ives, although it will have a tarmac surface in the future – and the flooding problem will be eased, although it it still expected to flood for a few weeks in a typical year!.  Whilst I like smooth tarmac for cycling along I wonder what provision will be made to grit the surface in Winter – smooth tarmac, ice and bicycles don’t go together very well.

The work to repair this section of the cycle path is due after the opening, however I wonder whether this grit is for those repairs or something to do with the Fen Drayton Reserve?

The work on digging drainage trenches for the not slopey enough Park & Ride car park at the St Ives end is also proceeding apace. There were quite a few contractors working busily. In fact there is quite a lot of work in taking place on the CGB. I must have passed several gangs out along the track doing various things. Although officially the CGB track and path are both closed they contractors didn’t seem to make an issue of cyclists and walkers.  Despite the recent accident where a cyclist fell into the path of a Guided Bus from one track to the next I also passed one cyclist using the concrete track. It was at the St Ives end where the cycle path is rather unpleasant and probably awful on a racing bike with skinny tyres. Still it seemed a bit foolish.

One of the lakes at the St Ives end.

Another repair, I seem to remember reading that there were issues with the spacing between the concrete beams. There need to be gaps to allow the beams to expand and contract with the temperature. It will be interesting to see just how much maintenance this track needs. If you have ever cycled around the fens you will see how the roads buckle as the ground underneath is pretty soft. I hope they  have gotten their calculations right for the track.  For those who will say of course they have just look how badly wrong they got it with the level of the cycle path and how it floods for what seems like most of the year. Here is the Guided Busway Order if you want to go back and look at what they thought. The word cycle is used 7 times the word car 74 times.  Section 5.17 on Park and Ride/Kiss and Ride Sites mentions a total of 850 car parking spaces, expandable to 1,700 with no mention of cycle space.

We truly live in a world where Planning Minds are firmly stuck on cars.

I didn’t count the cyclists and walkers on the route, although there were a fair few out. I mentioned that my original plan was to cycle back through the villages, in the end I didn’t because I had cycled up against the wind and I couldn’t resist having the wind squarely behind me on the way back.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Musings–cars a solution that became a problem

I have been out for a ride since my last post – honest and a “proper” ride, alongside the Cam and up and down the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) high-quality cycle path, but that will have to wait. Loads of Web pages seem to be hanging around on my browser so I’d better get around to either writing about them or getting rid of them.

This is a bit of a ramble – the summary is:

  • A bit on the CGB – no more news about the accident
  • A load of stuff about how society is hooked on cars and it makes us unhappy
  • A phone box being used as a library

So let’s start with the CGB when I cycled up and down it on Tuesday there is a lot of activity taking place with gangs working at various places along the track and loads of activity at the St Ives Park and Ride Car park end.  There were places where vehicles were using the Cycleway, but quite a few walkers and cyclists were on the track. It is still officially closed though.

I have not yet seen any reports that indicate exactly how and what happened to the cyclist hit on the Guided Busway by a Guided Bus.  Apparently it is being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive and the cyclist got caught up in the guided wheel.  More can be found on Cam.transport. I do think that the most likely explanation is that the cyclist fell or stumbled unexpectedly just as the bus went by since I cannot imagine the bus driver deliberately driving into the cyclist under the circumstances. After all when you are driving a vehicle down the street you tend to make assumptions that pedestrians are unlikely to be hiding behind Post boxes ready to jump out in front of your car.

Apparently the CGB has also affected the A14 – “A14 proposals on hold until busway is open”.  The Cambridgeshire County Council has decided to put some improvement proposals for the A14 on hold until the CGB is up and running. The item also mentions that there have been 924 recorded accidents on the A14 between Hinchingbrooke and Girton between 1999 and 2010. In case you are wondering here is a tongue in cheek website (The Cambridge Nuisance) looking at the journey times for the guided busway versus some historical comparisons.

There is going to be a series of Open Events where you can ask questions about the CGB and get to see a Guided Bus up close next week.

The A14 article does reasonably put forward the safety argument as the reason for making changes, but there is insufficient information to work out the cost-benefit of any such changes.  The issue seems to be that cars have increased personal freedom. That freedom has allowed us to live further and further away from where we work and has encouraged the growth of out-of-town shopping centres, centralised working space – aka Science Parks. For instance the Cambridge Science Park has over 100 companies in over 1.5 million square feet of space. The Granta Science Park has over 600,000 sq. ft. built and let, 30,000 sq. ft. available to let and over 400,000 sq. ft. of planning consent. (Just over a million square feet in total.)

As a complete guess assuming that the average space per worker is 200 sq. ft. (which is probably an underestimate since it implies more office workers and less manufacturing) then the Cambridge Science Park could take around 7,500 people and the Granta Science Park could take 5,000 people. Now those are back of the envelope guesses. However a web search showed that in a 2009 Travel for Work Survey for the Cambridge Science Park 5,000 were employed with 54% as sole occupants of cars, 10% sharing cars, 20% by bicycle, 5% walking and 3% used public transport. (A question in Hansard noted the average daily traffic as 60,900 on the A14 at Milton in 2008)

That implies that around 3,000 cars drive in and out every day, but the elephant in the room must be the tiny number of people who use public transport. What it does imply is that either the provision of public transport is basically crap or too expensive. Which really points to the bus service, since the Cambridge Railway Station is on the other side of the city. I guess this is why there was such a push to get the CGB up an running since at one sweep it gets all those people working in the corridor between the Science Park and St Ives. Assuming that the buses run fairly full (55 people) then according to Wikipedia a bus runs at around 330 passenger miles per gallon.  This isn’t as impressive as I thought it might be. If you get 4 people in a car doing 40 miles per gallon then that implies 160 passenger miles per gallon.

The table further down the Wikipedia article on US Passenger Transportation implies that Buses are the most inefficient form of transportation assuming an average passenger load of 8.8 people per vehicle. However the bus if run full then becomes one of the most efficient. I still feel that the real problem is that, as currently configured buses are the least pleasant form of transport.  Buses are noisy, cramped and either too hot or too cold. Also they don’t tend to stop and start very smoothly which makes working on them difficult.

So coming back to the general transportation issue we can either build more and bigger roads. Which will tend to increase the car dependency, not solve  pollution issues, or deal with global warming or we need to change. The trouble is that the motoring issue is a political hot potato. Emotive terms like the “war on the motorist” are bandied about despite the fact that the real cost of motoring seems to have reduced whilst the real cost of bus, coach and train fares has increased. This answer to a Parliamentary Question (Travel Costs) suggests that according to the ONS between ‘97 and 2010 the real cost of motoring declined by 7%, whilst bus and coach fares increased by 24% and rail fares increased by 17%.

So far from encouraging more sustainable forms of transport the reverse has happened, essentially it is only the fact that oil is not renewable and is a diminishing resource that is actually having an effect. Actually there has been a push to promote electric cars with a £5,000 subsidy. (To the tune of £43m in the first year and perhaps up to £230m in further years get the go ahead.) Now it would be easy to get annoyed about this since I would prefer to see the subsidy being  made available to encourage those using public transport. However the take up has been low – with 534 people taking it. Mind you the train system can be confusing the consumer group Passenger Focus has been reported in the Daily Mail as saying that “train passengers are bamboozled by jargon and paying over the odds when booking tickets online”. I would have to agree and this becomes yet another barrier to people using the rail system for travel.

The trouble is that we have become fixated on cars, I have I won’t deny it it. Even though I cycle more miles than I drive I don’t even bother discussing the idea of cutting down on cars we own with my family – they would think I was mad. (Actually they know I am mad). Even worse I am a 4x4 gas-guzzler driver. I’ve mentioned that I think that as a society we have stumbled into a rather unhappy transport-centric way of life. Maybe it is inevitable, certainly I find it preferable to go to a large supermarket for the range, freshness as well as price.

I am not a fan of commuting and do think that it has a detrimental effect on one’s happiness. I used to do business in Japan quite a lot and whilst their train system is the envy of many countries at the end of the day it meant that long commutes were routine. As far as I am concerned commuting time is lost time (unless you cycle).It is one of the factors that has caused us to become a time-poor nation. Which is why there is less tolerance and courtesy on the roads. The Daily Mail reports that “Britain loses its patience with queuing…” which does support my time-poor theory.

The Daily Mail also reports (on a report) that “Slow drivers ‘are among the most dangerous on roads’ and cause crashes”. How can that be I ask, well because they stress out other drivers so much that they do risky overtaking manoeuvres. They must be the same stressed drivers who when coming down the road towards me on my bicycle decide to overtake a slower-moving vehicle and so occupy the lane I am in, safe in the knowledge that I’ll get out of the way. When I am driving with my daughter, a newly qualified driver, who is no slouch but does stick to the speed limit I am appalled how often she gets overtaken. 

Newly qualified drivers in the UK are treated as if “on probation” and if you reach six or more penalty points you will lose you licence. It makes sense, it also means that my daughter is very sensitive to the speed limits. Her driving instructor did a good job (not me), we have 20MPH speed limits in various places in Cambridge and she is good at alerting the driver if she happens to be a passenger.

The trouble is that we seem to have institutionalised speeding as a victimless bit of mild naughtiness, so much so that even the speed limits seem to be flexible. I am in favour of Speed Awareness courses, they make sense, but it seems to me that we find it difficult not to speed, so much so that we then consider Speed traps as part of a war on motorists.  Here in Cambridge 4,000 people were caught speeding on three roads in one year.

So we find ourselves on roads where there are some motorists who feel that “slow speed” is to blame, where despite the real cost of motoring coming down there is a perceived “war on motorists” and the total number of vehicles on the road has increased by around 35% in the period from 1994 to 2010. Although  it will come as now surprise to know that in the same period light goods vans (white van man) increased by 50%. What is more surprising is that over the last four or five years there have been fewer Heavy good vehicles and buses and coaches.

So the issue seems to be that our roads are getting busier, society is time poor and the roads are more unpleasant places to be. It is therefore not surprising that many would-be cyclists feel that the roads are too dangerous to cycle on. There is an argument that training will help overcome the perceived danger, however that argument is a bit like saying training will help you be a safer sky diver. True but that does not mean it does not have inherent dangers. People talk about cycling as being perceived as dangerous, but seem to ignore that there are inherent dangers. I think those inherent dangers are way less than the inherent benefits. The trouble is it must be dangerous if you need a crash helmet and fluorescent clothing to do it.

There is also the argument that speed doesn’t kill, just poor driving, that might be true, but I also believe that it is poor drivers who speed. In Lincoln there has been a war on Speed Cameras – “Speed camera vandal blamed for eight serious injuries after torching a THIRD of county’s cameras”. There have been 23 collisions at sites where the arsonist has damaged speed cameras.

I like cycling down country lanes, you tend to share the road with farmers and their tractors. I have always found that to be a positive experience and pretty much all tractor drivers pay attention to cyclists and either pull in or give you a wave to say thanks if you pull in.  But even slow speed can be dangerous in the case of this “Runaway tractor”.

Why do I go on about all of this. Well I suppose there are a few reasons, the main one being I think cycling is great fun and I’m not the only one.  Bike Hub reports on a survey where Dairylea commissioned a survey of 1,000 kids (between 5 and 11). The most popular choice of activity chosen by 54% was to play on their bikes, scooters and skateboards. So if nothing else in the name of progress we adults are badly letting down our kids by not making the streets much safer places to be on and get around on. Why do we prioritise our lives around motor vehicles with the potential to kill and maim?

Crap Walking & Cycling in Waltham Forest reports the shocking news that cycling injuries have increase by 12% over the last three years. Those responsible for traffic planning should be ashamed of themselves. Received wisdom is that as more people take to their bicycles then the roads get safer as motorists adapt their driving. This statistic seems to be at odds with that notion.

Talking about making “areas safer for children” a Parking Permit Scheme has been approved in a Cambridge area, near De Freville Avenue and the advantage of not having cars circulate is seen as of benefit to cyclists and pedestrians, which it may be. However I hope that an economic price is paid for those spaces.  Assuming a parking space is around the size of a car + 20% length then a Mondeo is 6m x 2m (rounded up). A quick web search shows a piece of land in Cambridge at a price of £40,000 for a plot of 23m x 4m (which works out as around £1.8M per acre). So the Mondeo would need around an eight of the space which works out around £5,000. So what should that be worth as a parking space? That is “our” land why should it be free why should parking spaces on the road be paid for out of the public purse?

Actually stuff all of that calculation nonsense, the price is a function of supply and demand. Here is a website where people offer their drives for parking – 5 minutes from the station – yours for £75 per calendar month, a bit more than the £60 a year that the City Council charges. This would seem to be a failure by the council to maximise our resources on our behalf. it is a pity it is such a political hot potato because I for one would be in favour of charging higher prices.

In any case the wouldn’t children be better of if there were no cars in the residential streets.

And finally in my occasional series on disused Phone Boxes here is one in Little Shelford being used as a library.