Monday, November 18, 2013

September sun

End of September: I have not done much cycling over the last couple of months and my body is starting to suffer, I reckon. So here is a reminder of the end of September. Summer seemed to drift on most pleasantly this year.

Spuds – desiccated and ready to harvest – near Upware

A broken down Spud Harvester (Varitron 200)

These Acorns look rather “plump”

The Wicken Veld


What is a cyclist worth?

At the moment there seems to be nothing but tragedy on the roads. It has been a black time.  There have been 5 (UPDATE NOW 6) cyclists killed on the roads in London with Boris Johnson reported as saying that risk-taking cyclists are often to blame! Sadly another cyclist has been killed in Camberwell.  Victim blaming from the top and who cycles.

Even worse, although it perhaps doesn’t attract the same press attention there are cyclists also being killed elsewhere in the UK (as noted on the Road Justice website).

Teenage cyclist dies in Bath hit and run (16/11/13)

Cyclist dies after multi-vehicle collision in Billingham (16/11/13)

Cyclist dies in collision in Nantwich (12/11/13)

55-year-old cyclist killed in collision in Sheffield (03/11/13)

Man arrested after fatal hit-and-run outside Worcester pub (28/10/13)

    As a regular road user (cyclist, bus passenger and car driver/passenger) I find myself horrified that the loss of human life can be treated so casually. Even worse is the victim blaming that takes place, both directly and indirectly, towards cyclists – wear helmets, wear high-viz, don’t cycle on pavements – unless we tell you to, use lights… Apparently on Monday “Police Targeting Cyclists Who Break The Law” in Central London were stopping cyclists who weren’t wearing helmets to advise them to take safety more seriously. At the same time they stopped 20 HGVs and 60 offences were found to be committed.

    They were advising cyclists against wearing headphone – I wonder if they were advising motorists not to listen to the radio or CD player as well? Yet at the same time we have the laws of the land being bent all the time. 

    Q: When is a speed limit not a speed limit?

    A: When it is a speed limit!

    The current ACPO Speed Enforcement Policy has a range of tolerances for speeders (Section 9). Where the limit is 30mph, apparently the measurement tolerance (device tolerance) is 32mph and a Speed Awareness Course (SAC) would be offered from 52mph to 42mph. The relevant numbers for 60mph are – device tolerance  62mph, SAC 68mph to 75mph. You might ask what happens for 20mph limits – well a fixed penalty is not currently issued and a summons would be appropriate for greater than 40mph.

    For some strange reason 20mph limits have a section to themselves – Section 11. Which, paraphrasing basically says there should be a whole package of measures to manage speeds otherwise you would get lots of offenders and that would expose vulnerable road users to speeders. (Read the section – it does sound a bit like doublespeak). |Clear not the fault of the poor drivers.

    I wonder what the ACPO guidelines might have said in the case of the shop manager who was arrested, held in a call and take to course for riding a bike without lights.  Fortunately the Senior Crown Prosecutor recognised the absurdity and asked the courts to withdraw it, which they did.

    The time has come to recognise that these were just people going about their lives, using a bicycle. Not Lycra Louts, not MAMILS, not red-light jumpers – but people. Read the Highway Code – cyclists are like pedestrians, they are vulnerable road-users.  It is about time we prioritised the safety of those vulnerable road users.

    That means prioritising the needs of cyclists and pedestrians, spending money on their needs. Not like this council – which spends £50,000 a year driving pupils 800m in minibuses rather than build a footpath along a dangerous road. Apparently the cost of the pavement would be £100,000.  So the breakeven time would be two years.  Apparently the design life of a pavement would typically be twenty years but could be up to 40 years.  Perhaps it is councils like this that are the reason that Children need more exercise.

    The needs of the vulnerable road users are of course greater than just a bit of pavement. They need the traffic to be managed – they need to ensure the road can be crossed safely, where appropriate, it needs to be  relatively quiet, it needs to be low on pollution. Traffic flow should not be prioritised over the young lives of schoolchildren. Ideally there should be a fence and it should be wide enough for segregated cycling and walking…

    Compromised facilities compromise lives – like this bit of paint on a pavement – cycle path – pah. Yet that is what we end up with – why – because it is cheap. Not fit for purpose – but cheap. Even worse here in Cambridge cycle safety money has been used to speed up motor traffic flow – “Scandalous waste of cycling money”.

    The bigger scandal – the Department for Transport are forecasting that cycling will fall for decades to come.  Do they know something we don’t – let’s face it this is either planning to fail – big-time or going in the face of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG), “how can we get Britain cycling?

    There needs to be more focus on dealing with the elephants on the roads – cars and lorries (and buses) and moving and parked. We need to change behaviour and be consistent in applying the rules. Personally I would like to see more training and education rather than just fines. (But of course that training and education has to be paid for.)  Too much of the time the press seem to stir up accusations by claiming that motorists are being milked.  eg. “Traffic wardens in Cambridge dish out £1.23m in double yellow fines – and now there’s a crackdown outside schools”. In that article someone moans that they are supposed to have 5 minutes on a double yellow line before a fine.


    Wednesday, November 13, 2013

    We all like a story

    Stories play an important part in our lives.  Before the printed word they were important not just for entertainment, but education, cultural and knowledge preservation, control and societal cohesion. You only have to look at young children at play and watch them in a play re-enactment from to see how important a part it plays in our lives.

    Such is the power of the story that it is used by Politicians when they are selling us there political approach. The trouble is stories are about people rather than facts. Good stories sway the emotions rather than the intellect.

    The trouble is the heart doesn’t always lead to the best decisions, which is why there is conflict between evidence-based policy and the use of anecdotes when making what can be critical decisions.  One example of that, where that difference impacts our health is in the Pharmaceutical Industry – as described by Ben Goldacre.  It can be further complicated by the imperfect use of statistics. When, what is a powerful tool in the Scientists’ armoury (Stats) gets fiddled which it can lead to a general cynicism about any science – look at how the seriousness of Climate Change can be so easily dismissed by some.

    Which leads me to my concerns about the role of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC). We seem to have moved back to an old-school political accountability system of overseeing our Police Forces. A system that is even worrying our MPs and even one PCC is suggesting that they are a “£100m waste of money”. There are also claims of expenses claimed by two PCCs and a third with a chauffeur and just for good measure cronyism.

    With with the low turnout for voting it wasn’t an auspicious start for PCCs, perhaps we, the electorate got what we deserved. Here in the Flatlands around Cambridge  our PCC who seems to have a bee in his bonnet about cyclists or maybe an eye ear for a good soundbite?

    Police dish out £1,500 in fines in an hour to cyclists without lights in Cambridge as commissioner Sir Graham Bright joins crackdown (as scores more law-breakers sped past). And the sound-bright from our PCC :

    “It is just unbelievable how many cyclists are without lights. It is terrible for drivers who just can’t see them in the dark and the cyclists are simply endangering themselves and other road users.

    “We could have had many more officers out tonight and they would have all been busy stopping cyclists without lights. It is like shooting fish in a barrel.”

    IMHO, some rather emotive language – “shooting fish in a barrel” – well as I have first-hand experience of being knocked of my car in broad day light I can tell you that it sometimes feels as if I am that fish when cycling. That was not the most helpful of phrases. The first part of the quote “unbelievable how many cyclists” and “it is terrible for drivers”. 

    This seems to me to be old-school political rhetoric designed to appeal to the heart and not the head. It sympathises with the drivers for the terrible thing cyclists are doing to them. No mention of what is so terrible for drivers though.  Perhaps it might be terrible for drivers caught without lights in an area where all the streetlights didn’t work – but terrible – no.  I suppose the feeling is why bother with facts when the electorate don’t really respond to such things anyway.  If you are interested in facts then the Cottenham Cyclist has looked at Oxford and assessed the data regarding accidents during daylight and darkness. Perhaps it might surprise you that the conclusion is the cyclists in Oxford are proportionately safer at night.

    The positive aspect of the exercise (apart from the fact it was cheap – three volunteer police constables and Sir Graham he was there – just not my idea of cheap) was the use of the LIT approach – lights instead of tickets.

    To be honest, from observing the work of PCCs I am not totally sure what they are really supposed to do – but another example of our PCC’s pronouncements – “Make cycle helmets compulsory” says police chief Sir Graham Bright – but Cambridge MP Julian Huppert disagrees. In this article the PCC tells us a story of his Doctor son’s experience of consequences of head injuries and tells us that “the damage that can be done if a cyclist hits their head on a kerb can be terrible”. Which is true – but the same could be said of pedestrians:

    “the damage that can be done if a cyclist hits their head on a kerb can be terrible”.

    It is no less true. Co-incidentally a “pedestrian hurt in hit-and-and-run crash at Cambridge crossing”, fortunately only minor facial injuries – but why doesn’t the PCC offer the same advice about helmets to pedestrians?. In this instance it is a good thing that they have gotten a more balanced view.  Although the cynic in me suspects that is more of a press-device to report a conflicting point of view rather than get to the truth. Interestingly the same story was reported by and avoided being quite so anti-cyclist. also devotes more space and facts to the issue.

    Two other examples of how news reports tend to use a “story” which, I reckon clouds the facts. “Angry pensioner tips bag of dog poo over Cambridge University lecturer for ‘cycling too close to he’ by guided busway”.  Perhaps it is me being too sensitive, however the article does seem to give way to much airtime to the miscreant’s side of the story and the (unproven) danger presented by cyclists. Whereas the guilty party has two previous cautions for common assault and criminal damage and frankly what she did was disgusting.

    The second story – “Man fined for assaulting cyclist said he was trying to save his life” also seems to focus on the guilty party and the victims get no say.  Perhaps that also mirrors the way the courts work.

    It seems to me that we cyclists must get better at telling our story. If we want to stop being the out group – no more lycra louts – but parents, children on their way to school, or to work. We have to stop being painted as such one-dimensional characters.

    Update – I hadn’t read A Tale of Two (or Three, or Four) Assaults. As reported by Cambridge News – the Cambridge Cyclist breaks down the coverage of mitigation versus coverage of the illegality.

    Thursday, November 7, 2013

    Cyclists–the group you can berate between meals without ruining your appetite.

    Many people think of Cambridge as a cycle-friendly place, well I can tell you know it doesn’t always feel that way. I have now cycled through the “improved” Hills Road junction a few times and also driven through it, although not as many times. My impressions were of being abandoned in a big car space.  Indeed if you look at the OSM Cycle map you can see that cycle routes avoid the junction with Lensfield Road  and there are long cuts (Coronation Street or Glisson Road).  Depending upon where you are going you end up negotiating uncontrolled junctions or more crossings. Also, despite the fact I have lived in the area for nearly 30 years the routes just do not spring to mind – they don’t present themselves as the most logical of routings.

    What does stick in the craw is that the improvements were part-funded in the name of cycle safety. So the meagre, piecemeal cycle infrastructure budget was raided to pay for what is really the replacement of a tired motor junction. Oh yes we did get that “wonder of wonders”  an advance traffic signal for cyclists. Although they haven’t got lights at cyclist-eye level so I almost missed it and it is only a few seconds.

    But that is old news really, I just wanted to check that it wasn’t just the shock of the new that had put me off the junction.  There are loads of places where there are random poles along a cycle path, random shared-use paths that appear to have little logic being them.  They stop and start and switch sides so much I reckon they are designed to increase the conflict, real or imagined, with pedestrians. (Whereas the real danger to pedestrians are motor vehicles.)

    The strange thing is that, even the Daily Mail, is reporting the news that Bicycle sales overtake Cars for the first time ever in Europe. Apparently in 2012 in the UK there were more than 3,000,000 bicycles sold compared with just over 2,000,000 cars. The researchers attribute it to the recession although little evidence is presented, remember correlation is not prove of causation! Obesity has risen in Europe over the same time – maybe that is the problem…

    Now Psychologists (and I am not one) talk about Ingroups and Outgroups and in my mind there is no doubt that motorists are suffering from Outgroup derogation. For some reason cyclists must be perceived as a threat. What is more striking is that if you ever follow the comments on a Cambridge News story about cycling then you can almost guarantee that it will generate loads and loads of comments. Like this one Police targeting ‘dangerous and anti-social’ cycling in Cambridge today.

    You only need to read a few of the anti-cyclist comments to realise that many of those commenting do not appear to be very intelligent or given to rational argument. Also given the Daily Mail article on the sales of bicycle versus bikes and the  data about how many households use bicycles to realise that those people making averse comments about cyclists are probably a rather sad minority. Who when not sitting in their cars/vans fuming (at the cyclists, pedestrians, roadworks, lorries, buses, bus lanes, taxi drivers) are probably leading a sad and lonely life. Who end up sitting eating their microwavable food in  their bedrooms pecking away at their computer keyboards adding more and more comments. Safe in the knowledge that they probably won’t be considered as racist of sexist.

    The trouble is this sort of antagonistic behaviour seems to come from the very top – just watch Question Time in Parliament or see how many politicians seem to spend more time sniping at the opposition than communicating what and why there are proposing a particular course of action. There seems to be too much focus on the headlines not on the substance.

    It would also seem that the press will exacerbate that behaviour, after all a provocative headline will generate lots of eyeballs, so important for the Internet-age. So we have one such headline in the Cambridge News – “Police targeting ‘dangerous and anti-social cycling’ in Cambridge today”.  Personally I don’t have a problem with the approach the Police are taking for cyclists without lights – LIT – Lights instead of Tickets. It is a bit of a win-win, it even helps our local bike shops. The problem I do have is as to whether it is either dangerous or anti-social?  It might be, but there is no discussion to support that – so it does tend to stir up the trolls and feed the Outgroup Derogation.

    Driving a motor vehicle creates noise and air pollution – that’s antisocial, and air pollution is harmful to health – that’s dangerous and/or anti social.

    It is perfectly reasonable that the Police are there to uphold the law, however the Cottenham Cyclist has has looked at some data in Oxford that suggests that cyclists without lights are not putting themselves in harm’s way. So given the budget pressure on Policing is this the right way to spend the limited Police resources. Or is is a cheap (PSCOs are doing the work) way to rack up some numbers for our PCC to justify all the good work!

    Interestingly the word “danger” does crop up in the Cambridge News’ headlines a few times – “Hundreds of ‘danger drivers’ snared in Cambridgeshire police traps” and “Police to crack down on ‘dangerous’ parking outside Cambridge schools”.   Although the Cambridge News distance themselves by using quote marks around the terms.

    So to help calm us all down, some pictures  - no cyclists without lights or jumping red lights. No cars no buses – just bridleways and countryside. No provocative headlines – except for the Dung heap.

    Low Fen Drove Way – Apples

    Hundred Acre Road – A Dung heap – human?

    Lodes Way – Burwell Fen Bund – it seems to be working

    I bumped into MikeC whilst cycling through Burwell – he mentioned a Sun Dog. Which was still around as I headed towards Swaffham Prior.

    Sun Dog – Between Burwell and Swaffham Prior

    And here it is a bit closer.

    Sun Dog – Between Burwell and Swaffham Prior

    There were some cars and lorries about – that road between Burwell and Swaffham Prior does get very busy.