Thursday, May 23, 2013

Traffic and mowing the lawn with David Hembrow

This is an out of sequence post which has come about for two reasons. The first reason is I had to transport or heavy piece of electronic equipment across town and for the first time in ages found myself stuck in Cambridge Congestion. Which gave me time to think.

The second reason is that whilst cutting the lawn I caught up with some podcasts.  One of the Podcasts I regularly listen to is The Bike Show by Jack Thurston.  In particular I listened to the interview of David HembrowWhat It Really Means To Go Dutch. You might see that David’s blog is one I follow  - A view from the cycle path. Like many I was somewhat shocked when he “deleted” his Blog – and then later reinstated it.

It has taken me a while to finish this post as I have been away and without and Internet connection, well one capable of blogging on anyway. So I thought I might summarise my thoughts.

1. Our transport system has grown like weeds, either no-one has bothered to think about it or  has the ability to do anything about it.  

I sat in traffic for an hour last week transporting some electronics across Cambridge. It was my own stupid fault, I am so used to cycling I forgot how bad traffic is in a car! (I perhaps should have gotten Outspoken Delivery to move it. The overall weight was around 30Kg, so too heavy to carry on my bike but not a trailer. Outspoken quote a maximum net weight of 60Kg and box dimensions of 650x570x510mm so it would have been cycle-able. Isn’t hindsight wonderful.

There was not anything out of the ordinary, it was just weight of traffic. Part of my journey was along Newmarket Road and the traffic was chaotic, with vehicles blocking junctions and using the Bus Lanes and doing u-turns. It seemed to me that quite a high percentage of the bus lane users were driving vans, what a surprise.

You only have to look at how the Newmarket Road has developed over the years to see how ad-hoc the development has been.  It seems to me that despite the long-term planning, it doesn’t really seem to have much benefit.

Whilst I have only skim-read read the Cambridge and Peterborough Long Term Transport Strategy (pdf) it seems to be rather unimaginative.  The Draft Vision seems to take a “more of the same”   with a bit thrown in for everyone approach.

As a digression I was surprised to see that Peterborough has seen a reduction in cycling, for journeys to work, of nearly 25% from 2001 to 2011. (Table 2) Yet there is also the statement that “Peterborough has an extensive network of over 250Km of dedicated cycleways, which are predominantly segregated routes.”  (Para 4.22)  What does that mean?

There is no bold approach and for a document that purports to take us up to 2050 it barely addresses what changes we might expect, the issue of Peak Oil and perhaps more importantly the Political ramifications of the UK being dependent on imports for energy. It all seems a bit head-in-the-sand with some buzzwords thrown in such as sustainable transport.

Our transport systems are networks, make a change in one area and it is bound to affect another area. Make the A14 more capable of transporting volumes of traffic and guess what more traffic will use it. Given that it is unlikely that we will see Cambridge re-built then more traffic will mean more congestion. Although talking about piecemeal development – there is to be a Massive retail development around The Grafton Centre – more traffic on the Newmarket road anyone..

It would seem that such Strategies also fail to look at the resilience of the network. Road works are a given, either to fix the roads themselves or to access the services that run under them, such as telecoms, sewage or water. (See Motorists face roadworks on key Cambridge route for up to three months.) Yet these sorts of events should not be total surprises.

Whether we like it or not it would seem that Government is foisting a hold load of new houses in this part of the world. Although it would seem that our schools “enjoy” the benefits of receiving  £600 per year, per pupil, less than the average already. How does that make sense? When places are built then there needs to be a complete shift in thinking away from more of the same.

Apparently there is a housing crisis in the region, with plans for thousands of homes (new town at Waterbeach and village at Bourn airfield being some of the proposals.) Well I reckon these will end up paying lip-service to the problems unless bold steps are taken. (Strangely enough in this crisis a friend lives on an estate where the builder has gone into administration – a crisis yes – but perhaps not the crisis implied.)

Interestingly what does happen is that there are complaints about the costs of houses, but then the government takes its cut of tax with stamp duty and S106 money all puts the cost of the housing up. Although I can’t help but feel that S106 money is dribbled away sometimes.  Also when you look at the various plans to build in the region – where are many of those people going to work – Cambridge – so unless infrastructure is plumbed into the travel from the start it will me more congestion.  (Not to mention air pollution, noise pollution and yet more people being scared to do anything but drive to school or work.

I have touched on this before – but apparently the average UK worker spends 41 minutes commuting everyday and ten per cent spend three hours or more per day (1.84 million people). Apparently a third of parents won’t let their children walk to school becaus4e of fears about speeding cars. If that isn’t a sign of a sick society then what is. Although I can’t help feeling that some parents use it as an excuse because they drive their kids to school.

Part of the problem is that when we are in our cars we seem to feel a misguided sense of entitlement. That can boil over into motorised terrorism. Don’t believe me then check out the tirade of abuse at this Leicester School from a driver to a BBC reporter. If Sir Graham Bright (Cambs PCC) wants to go after anti-social behaviour then perhaps he ought to target resources at traffic chaos around schools. (As they did in Brighton.)

I find it appalling that significant efforts are not directed at making a walk or ride to school for kids an appealing prospect.  Although you only have to look at Butt Lane to the north of Cambridge to see how not to do it. There was a plan for a cycleway between the villages of Impington and Milton. There was opposition because of the possible loss of the free school bus. (Parents – do they really want safe cycle routes?) to date half of the path has been built and it is mediocre at best. So money is being wasted on a school bus, half a cycle path and quite a few years have gone by. Incompetence?

What is worse is that this is in a city with a higher than average percentage of people who cycle to work. Yet we know the benefits of switching to cycling as a mode of transport – health, cost pollution and sustainability to name a few…

The trouble is the shift is against a backdrop of fear of the roads and failure to properly priorities the needs of the other road users – cyclists and pedestrians. The motorist’s expectation is that the focus is on their progress.  As demonstrated by this young drivers tweets. She apparently indicated that after knocking a cyclist of his bicycle “I have right of way, he doesn’t even pay road tax”. Fortunately the cyclist was not seriously injured. That attitude is not helped by the sub-standard cycle infrastructure that is created.

So onto the David Hembrow interview – it is well worth a listen. I subscribe to A view from the Cycle Path and perhaps like some thought it a little churlish when it was withdrawn from the web. I also feel that sometimes David can be a bit harsh in his criticism of cycle campaigners here in the UK, berating them for accepting second best, whilst “sitting pretty” in the Netherlands. Well listen to the podcast it all makes more sense and his frustrations understandable. He has seen what cycling can be like if it is done properly.

To me the issue is not about cycling – perhaps that is where we all go wrong – we focus on what many drivers might think of as a slow, tiring, second-class hobby to be fitted in around the grown-up business of motoring.

I think that the other thing we cyclists sometimes fixate on is the “joy of cycling” and how scared naughty drivers make us feel. Whilst both might be true they aren’t really going to appeal to many non-cyclists are they.

There is a saying that what gets measured gets done, the corollary is that if you measure the wrong things then the wrong things get done.  If we focus on how many kilometres of cycling infrastructure there are you can (and do) end up with all sorts of weird bits of paint on the road. (Warrington Cycle Campaign – Cycle facility of the month and one using Cyclestreets.)

So, why such a wordy Post, well I come back to the question what are we trying to achieve? Well when I look at the Cambridge and Peterborough Long Term Transport Strategy (pdf) I want to see a Strategy that puts people first, not the economy. That might sound odd, because I do believe a sound economy is important, but the danger is we stumble into  an inequitable distribution of the benefits from the simplistic pursuit of business.

I want to see a strategy that genuinely considers the long-term issues of transport – and  then sets some targets that can lead to practical steps.  Some of the steps will be short- and mid-term but others will be long-term. For instance one target should be to reduce the number of children driven to school. (Health, exercise, pollution, safety, cost). In the short-term this might mean better cycle facilities for schools and blanket 20mph limits that are policed. In the mid-term this means providing safe and segregated and accessible cycle routes with priority over motor transport. In the longer term perhaps we also need to address the way in which new towns and villages are built and how schools are “controlled”. At the moment there is this wonderful idea that we have choice of schools for our kids, well that choice doesn’t make the bad schools any better, it just means the middle-classes all end up shunting their kids around more.

Cambridgeshire County Council – pull your finger out – finish the Impington-Milton cycleway – properly – a wider cycle lane and priority for cyclists.

The signs are there that we need to change – when a newly qualified driver of 18 is quoted £33,000 to insure her £400 Daewoo it is a symptom of problems with our casual assumptions about motoring. Another symptom – new houses with garages barely big enough to fit a car.

There are also many positive signs that change is wanted – “Better cycle safety call for ‘suicidal’ junctions” and “Twenty’s plenty for city speed limit, experts say” or “Make more room for bikes on roads, cyclists say”.  There are also some signs of Council recognition – Ely is to be used a a guinea pig for a major survey which aims to improve the way people travel. Although my cynical view is that these consultations tend to somewhat narrow-minded. Mind you this news report of the survey suggests it is part of the county council’s transport strategy to encourage walking, cycling or use of public transport.

Such a strategy should also inform the actions of the PCC, speeding is anti-social and there is way too much of it in Cambridge (50,190 speed traps tripped last year). Such behaviour scares vulnerable roads users away. Apparently one motorist was clocked at 93mph on Gilbert Road in Cambridge and another at 81mph! That’s the road with cycle lanes – to encourage cyclists and make them feel safe!

I often see people driving and using their hand-held mobile phones on country lanes, particularly a junctions (prime SMIDSY territory). So what is anti-social behaviour –well that is. Although recently the label anti-social has been targeted at cyclists, the Cottenham Cyclist and Cambridge Cyclist have had a “minor success” in getting some change in that viewpoint. (BTW their words not mine, I think it is an excellent step forward.)

Personally anti-social behaviour is driving a lorry illegally, over over-turning your spud lorry or crashing on the A14 or blocking the Ely railway bridge. Holding up loads of other travellers is anti-social.

And finally – I made the Great Big Get out on your Bike Bike blog roundup last week.

Anti-social behaviour

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