Friday, March 22, 2013

Cars and Bicycles – why the irritation - cause and effect?

The other night I had to drive through the middle of Cambridge, whilst I might be prepared to cycle into the city centre when it is dark and freezing other members of my family are somewhat less keen. I’ve can’t work out why.

It was whilst I was waiting at the East Road / Mill Road traffic-light controlled junction that two thoughts popped into my head. Now I was coming down the Mill Road and turning left into Gonville Place. The first was that as I sat that scanning around me I confess to being mildly irritated when cyclists jumped red lights and “snuck up” on the nearside of the car and then sat ahead of the lights. I was aware of the cyclists, lights or not and also where or what they were likely to do.

No I am not a red-light jumper (bicycle of car), yet if I had been on my bike I would have been probably more than mildly irritated by the way some drivers seem to feel that cars have an innate right to be at the head of the traffic light queue. This often manifests it self as you cycle up to the lights and they squeeze past at speed and then force you into the kerb. The as a cyclist you are expected to sit there whilst those self-satisfied cars drivers belch out their fumes in my face. The DM reports that “Traffic pollution causes as much childhood asthma as passive smoking”.

It is amazing how much your (well my) frame of reference affects your (my) perception of a situation. It is also surprising how quickly you can switch a frame of reference. I have driven in the US and Canada a reasonable number of times, sometimes for hundred of miles. When I first drove there the challenge was not just being on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car. No the challenge was ensuring that I looked in the right places for all the information I need to drive safely. There are all sorts of differences from where to look for traffic lights (traffic signals) to different speed limits. Once you get used to it then the switch becomes straightforward.

The good thing is that although I do alter my frame of reference for driving or cycling I still maintain a reasonable appreciation of how either type of road-user is likely to behave. So although bicycles can swarm around at junctions or even jump red lights when I am driving I don’t really care that much about it. I don’t find it stressful driving in Cambridge because of bicycles. No the stress comes because of the other motor vehicles.Cars jump red lights quite frequently in Cambridge. They can be often seen driving illegally in bus lanes or parking illegally and so blocking the roads. That is what irritates me.

So why do many motorists dislike cyclists on the road, well I think there are three issues. There are some drivers who are worried that they will run into a cyclist. There are drivers who resent waiting/congestion and blame cyclists for either getting in the way or lack of “investment” on the road infrastructure. Finally there are drivers who fear that they will be “made to cycle or walk more”.

So the first group need to learn where to look – perhaps by becoming cyclists themselves, the second group needs to realise that cities have been clogged up for ever and the third group – well you probably do need more exercise. And let’s face it motoring isn’t going to get any cheaper – MOT checks are going to become more stringent apparently. Congestion has been around since the horse and carriage and is only made worse by big roads, in my view. Essentially it all boils down to a large group of people converging on a place – whether for work or shopping. Mind you I can see why motorists get annoyed – the top most congested road in the UK (Jamaica Road, Southwark) slows to 0.08mph at its worst.

Now to the other thought. I reckon that the design of on-road cycling facilities in Cambridge often makes the situation worse. Cycle facilities are at their most valuable, in terms of road safety where there are junctions.  Yet too often cycle lanes seem to stop just before a junction. Cycling along Mill Road is better than it used to be some drivers do obey the 20mph speed limit, yet just as you approach the junction with East Road the traffic lanes narrow. So what do traffic planners think will happen. They hare created an “ok” road to use as a cycle route and then they create a pinch-point. As a cyclist I am not at all surprised that cyclists try to move through.

ASLs or Advanced Stop Lines, designed to allow cyclists to get to the fore at a traffic-light controlled junction and clear on through ahead of the traffic when the lights change. What actually happens is many motorists fail to observe the ASL with little chance of getting a ticket. I have not heard of a ticket being issued for an ASL violation in the UK ever. The problem is that is is difficult to prove unless observed by a Policemen and even more worrying I found this article in the Guardian which suggests that it is unclear if it is an offense and even ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) who didn’t know! The Dft did confirm it was an offense to drive over the line when the light was red (£60 plus three points).

In Cambridge we have ASLs with no channel into them, motorists don’t seem to get penalised for driving into them – that seems to me to be a recipe for creating conflict. What do you do if you vulnerable – get out of the way.  I will write to our PCC and inquire whether our Police Force have ever ticketed a motorist for the offense and indeed point out that since they were created to make it safer for cyclists at junctions perhaps there ought to be a crackdown.

Now I am not against ASLs as such, but there are too many bits of half-assed cycle infrastructure around that fuel the concerns of the worried drivers, the resentful drivers and the lazy drivers.

The trouble is we seem to be stuck in the world of “more of the same please”. Our roads are congested – what shall we do – more roads. The A14 is a source of moaning in these parts (flatlands of Cambridge). Apparently it will harm the economy if it is not made bigger and more tarmaccy. Well be careful what you wish for the “region” has been told to stump up £150m for a new A14 – of the £1.5bn  estimated development cost. It is interesting that Cambridge City Council has yet to come out in support – perhaps because it  will just add to the flood of traffic coming into and out off Cambridge each day. Which will add to the congestion woes. Oh and everyone will also moan about the new A14 being a toll road and it will put the cost of good up since a lot of the traffic is heavy good traffic.

The old A14 – noisy

Mind you perhaps the issue is that housing is too expensive in Cambridge and so people have to live (or choose to) further afield in order to be able to afford a house. The odd thing is there is a lot of banging on about the need for affordable housing and the importance of making developers pay for new developments under section 106 agreements. Although if you make a developer pay money to a Council for stuff, doesn’t that just put up the cost of the houses being built. It seems that the Northstowe – “not-yet-development” will get less section 106 money than originally anticipated. (Which means less affordable housing, “at the start” than planned – why am I not surprised.)

Talking about cost – well apparently the “green” petrol will also cost more and damage our cars engines.  Oh yes – whiplash claims add £90 to our insurance each year. What else – there is a £10bn pothole plague damaging millions of cars as well. With £32m paid out in compensation and £13m in council staff time dealing with the compensation.

So what with the nation’s health issues, pollution, green issues and burning money you would think that encouraging cycling as a form of transport would be top of most political agendas – cycling is for life not just for fun. (Or charity – mind you there is the Cambridge News Big Bike Ride coming along and the London to Cambridge ride.

So it seems to me that unless this country is going to get rich anytime soon then we need to:

Travel less
Travel more lightly and exercise more
Pollute less
Burn less money buying petrol from other countries – although the balance of trade just seems to get ignored nowadays

Instead we get crackdowns on cyclists on pavements. We don’t ask why they take to the pavements – perhaps to be safe?

Cars burn money petrol

Where cyclists do find routes we don’t make them better – well look at penalising them – “Railing plan to end conflict between cyclists and pedestrians on Cambridge bridge”. Why can’t solutions be to designed to make it better – well despite the high percentage of people who cycle to work in Cambridge and the social benefits it brings to the community cyclists there is not a proper strategy around cycling. 

Green Dragon Bridge – used by cyclists trying to safe safe perhaps?

That’s enough ranting – too much tidying and not enough cycling and now the weather turns crap again.

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