You are probably aware that the Association of Chief Police Officers have now ‘clarified’ their position on the enforcement of 20 mph limits, following the appearance of the assistant chief constable of West Yorkshire police before the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group inquiry yesterday.
In many ways the ‘clarification’ is more revealing than the initial statement by the assistant chief constable, Mark Milson, that
We are not enforcing 20mph speed limits at this moment in time
because it demonstrates an institutional attitude to motoring misbehaviour. The ACPO press release states
In most cases, 20 mph limits will follow Department of Transport guidance and include features such as speed bumps or traffic islands designed to slow traffic. ACPO guidelines include thresholds for enforcement across all speed limits to underpin a consistent policing approach. However it is for local police forces to apply a proportionate approach to enforcement of 20mph limits based on risk to individuals, property and the seriousness of any breach. Where drivers are exceeding the speed limit through wilful offending, we would expect that officers will enforce the limit and prosecute offenders.
The first part of this statement is simply wrong. The increasing profusion of blanket 20 mph zones in towns and cities across Britain quite obviously means that it is no longer true that ‘in most cases’ these zones will have design features to slow traffic. These are roads and streets that are physically unaltered; it’s depressing that even in a prepared statement the police can’t get this right.
The final section of the statement is most interesting, principally because of the use of the words ‘proportionate’ and ‘wilful’. The clear impression is that the police think 20 mph limits are unreasonably slow, and it is not ‘proportionate’ to enforce the speed limit universally. Likewise with the reference to ‘wilful offending’. Because a 20 mph limit is not something the police believe motorists can reasonably stick to, it is only those motorists who ‘wilfully’ drive over 20 mph who will be tackled by the police, not those motorists who ‘accidentally’ drive over 20 mph. Quite how the police are supposed to tell these two categories apart is not clarified.
The police attitude that 20 mph zones need design features in order to be self-reinforcing speaks further of this belief that motorists cannot be expected to obey signs; the police think that the only way in which motorists will stay below 20 mph is if they are forced to. Now, obviously, I think a physical environment which makes it largely impossible for motorists to speed is ultimately desirable, but the attitude of the police is worryingly revealing in its tolerance.
It’s not just 20 mph zones where police think motorists are not able to help themselves. I wrote last year about a 40 mph road in Horsham, frequently crossed by children to get to a school on the other side of it, where the police advised against lowering the limit to a mere 30 mph, because motorists couldn’t be expected to stick to this new slightly lower speed due to the ‘design nature’ of the road.
such a change [in speed limit] would fall outside of the speed limit criteria currently adopted by the County Council. The criteria have been developed in association with Sussex Police and takes into account local and national research which shows that drivers generally select their speed from the messages given by the surrounding roadside development and the prevalent traffic conditions. It is considered that lowering the speed limit alone in this location would have minimal effect on the average speed of traffic. Sussex Police would not support such a lowering of the speed limit here.
The idea that drivers – instead of just ‘selecting their speed’ from messages given by the surrounding roadside - could actually obey speed limits appears to be completely incomprehensible to the police, as is the notion that motorists breaking these speed limits (speed limits that are apparently ‘unnatural’ to them) should consistently be met with punishment.
Their attitude needs to change, and swiftly.
There’s a story in this week’s West Sussex County Times (not online, unfortunately) regarding the removal of bicycles chained to the railings outside the front of Horsham station. It seems one commuter returned to Horsham to find that his bicycle had been removed and put into storage.
It must be said that Southern trains (and West Sussex County Council) have done a pretty good job at vastly increasing the number of cycle parking spaces at the station; there are now getting on for 150 spaces in total, when just a few years ago there were only about 20 (and none at the rear of the station). I wrote about these improvements a year or so ago.
However, I think there’s a problem with where these parking spots are. There are 112 spots at the rear of the station, which is excellent. Last summer (when people are more likely to commute by bike) they were mostly full.
By contrast, there are just 24 spaces at the front of the station.
Demand for these spots is high, as you can see. Bikes are chained to the frame of the stand, as well as to nearby furniture. Demand outstripping supply on this side of the station is not surprising, because the station is located pretty much bang in the middle of the town. You would consequently expect just as many people to arrive by bike at this main western entrance as you would on the eastern side, if not more, given that there are shops, cafes and more services in general at the main entrance.
Indeed, the more generous parking at the rear of the station is only about half full, on this cold and damp winter’s day.
A Southern spokesman said: ‘There is no reason for people to chain their bike to railings at Horsham station. There is ample room for cycles at the rear of the station if the front is full. Access to the rear is by means of the subway and it takes just a couple of minutes to go from the front to the rear.
“We give plenty of warning to cyclists by means of posters and signage that cycles chained to the railings will be removed.
There is nowhere at the front of the station for additional cycle racks for safety reasons as this would compromise the station evacuation point.”
That’s not particularly helpful, I’m afraid.
As it happens, it’s more convenient for me to use the rear of the station, but if I did arrive at the front, it would be slightly annoying to have to budget at least five minutes more time in the expectation that I might not find a space, and have to make my way to the rear of the station. It’s not just a ‘couple of minutes’. You have to make your way to a subway some 100 metres down the road, then walk through it (because cycling isn’t allowed).
Not the biggest problem in the world, certainly, but inconvenient to have to make this extra journey every day simply because the balance of parking at the station is wrong; it should be more evenly distributed between the front and the rear.
Southern are arguing that they simply can’t even up the distribution, because – as their spokesman has said -
there is nowhere at the front of the station for additional cycle racks.
No location that would not compromise the station evacuation point.
I quizzed Southern on Twitter about where this evacuation point is, and it turns out, according to Southern, that it is in this railway staff car park, to the north of the main entrance.
So, given that the assembly point is nowhere near these racks, I don’t think it’s coherent to argue that putting more racks here would ‘compromise’ that evacuation point. Southern just need to put more racks here. It’s as simple as that. There is ample space; they can do it.
There’s even space for a parking bay on the newly-created plaza in front of the station; it could take the place of the large sign telling you not to park your bike here.
This issue isn’t going to go away, because come the summer the rear parking bays will be full, and people arriving at the front to find the racks full will go to the rear only to find those racks full too.
What kind of place is Morecambe prom?
And what does cycling on the prom say about cycling more generally?
Morecambe prom is somewhere between the local and the global, nature and culture; and cycling is a key actor.
Until 2006 you weren’t meant to cycle along the prom, though we did – a little defiantly (“how ridiculous! So much space!”) but uncomfortably too, with one ear listening out for disapproving remarks.
But now we can. I spoke to the City Council meeting which voted to change cycling’s status. I stressed the prom’s potential as a utility route – it lines the coastal edge of a linear town. But it was easier in this seaside place to insist on its relevance to tourism. Our prom, I said
“is a potentially very major tourist draw, and we should be able to sell it as such.
“Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton, Deal, Dover, Exmouth, Hartlepool, Hastings, Margate, Maryport, North Tyneside, Poole, Saltburn, South Shields, Sunderland, Swansea. All welcome cycling on their proms. All recognise cycling’s importance, not least to the local tourist economy.”
To ride the prom is to trace a boundary. Both the land on one side and bay on the other are constantly changing, but your place between them is constant; almost as though you the cyclist mark the point between nature and culture.
Along one stretch the low, constant rumble of traffic is occasionally broken by the high-pitched trilling of seaside birds feeding on the shore. The wind can be blowing you sideward within metres of buildings full of life oblivious to the weather. Shoreline smells of salt and seaweed combine with those of buses, chips and bacon butties. You look out towards hills, mud, water and sky, and in towards playgrounds, pubs and streets full of cars.
Morecambe’s placed between two identities.
Signs of the twin forces of dereliction and regeneration are everywhere.
Two of the town’s most distinctive features seem equally but contrastingly symbolic – the Polo Tower stands waiting for the return of excitable kids and candy-floss, The Midland Hotel brings in suited conference delegates by day, and well-heeled migrants from further afield for a night or two.
Resort towns must make something of themselves, persuade people they’re worth a visit. Morecambe developed from the railway. Among Yorkshire mill-workers it was ‘Bradford-on-Sea’. The town’s newspaper, The Visitor, was aimed not at locals but holiday-makers; initially it was published only in summer. Back then everybody wanted a sea view and the town stretched out accommodatingly around the bay.
But Britain’s urban industrial labour force has shrunk, and people now prefer planes to warmer climes more than trains to here. Those who can have abandoned Morecambe for exotic elsewheres, whilst some of those who can’t have moved in, and become trapped.
Morecambe is remarkably flat and poor. Shouldn’t cycling prosper here?
The town stretches around the flat bay. Bird life teems across the enormous tidal reach. The views are gorgeous, the sunsets sometimes spectacular. Its standing is a tourist town and regenerative efforts play heavily on Morecambe’s ‘USP’, its vantage point, its prom.
The unfolding panorama afforded by traversing such a long, smooth but otherwise marginal promenade makes the bicycle the obvious twenty-first century vehicle choice. The prom is made for cycling.
Nature and cycling are the regenerative forces for a middle-class culture. Though they’ll ride the line between the two, people come in their cars to ride their bikes around a bay full of birds, not a town full of problems. On the prom the cyclist can enjoy the coast oblivious to and immune from what lurks inland.
The prom belongs more to the cosmopolitans in whose hands the town’s hopes of regeneration mainly lie, rather than to locals.
So it remains easier to imagine and construct the prom as a leisure rather than utility cycling route. Cycling is understood as a practice which other people – people not from here – do. Cycling is not seen as something which local people do or might do, even though seeing it that way would contribute to a different, and better, stronger, more sustainable, kind of regeneration.
That the prom is global more than local makes its current lack of integration with the town easier to overlook.
But how likely is it that the prom could become an ‘ordinary route for ordinary people making ordinary journeys’?
Clearly, the problem is not simply infrastructural. In the back streets of Morecambe you see people cycling. Most ride cheap bikes; they jump from them at the last minute before disappearing into shops, the back wheel still spinning on the pavement outside.
But to ride a bike beyond necessity, you’ve got to:
and if cycling’s not normal, all these things are hard.
Lack of interest in cycling is an inevitable consequence of a social, political, cultural and economic environment with neither cues nor props to cycle. In such an environment it will be mainly privileged people who choose to cycle, and perhaps partly to communicate their privilege.
The problem of mass non-cycling might not be simply infrastructural, but its solution needs to be infrastructure-led. People won’t cycle in any numbers if they can’t cycle easily. The smooth, wide prom is a super novice-friendly cycle route but without a car it’s impossible to reach without riding on roads over which cars rule. Along the prom sign-posts to other places are excellent, but road conditions in places from which people without cars must travel to the prom are dire.
Morecambe’s prom is a slim glimpse of the cycling facility people want, but like cycling itself it exists on the margin, lining a coast to which birds flock but people don’t; it’s entertained here because space existed and re-making it for cycling would draw in tourists, not because it could serve local journeys of local people.
Morecambe prom is effectively a cycling bypass, both of the town and of the lives of the majority of people who live there. Which is a pity.
So seven years on, it turns out that letting cycling onto the prom was only the start of the story. The next chapter involves getting local people cycling here.
Doing what’s required to make Morecambe prom for local cycling would be to follow a bolder, more distinctive path to regeneration; and one which could help the town thrive without depending so much on the tourist potential of its natural setting.
It involves re-making the town, and not just its prom, for cycling.
A report from the right-wing pressure group the Institute for Economic Affairs (in which the author at first seems to struggle to set out a case for abolishing fuel duty) has attracted some interest on Twitter, in part because of its rather ‘free-market’ attitude to the value of human life:
“While the discussion may seem callous, it is the case that some road fatalities save the government significant sums of money, for example in future health and pension expenditure.”
The report states that contributions from fuel duty and something which the report refers to as a ‘road tax’ (presumably the author is referring to the emissions-based Vehicle Excise Duty) outstrip the government’s current spending on road building and maintenance. Presumably the reader is supposed to infer from this that road building and maintenance are the only external costs arising from motoring where as the reality is that motoring costs the taxpayer at least £9 billion per year more than it produces in tax receipts. Surprisingly for someone who has apparently managed to acquire a PhD in transport and environmental policy, Richard Wellings seemed to be unaware of this shortfall when writing the report:
“Motoring taxes were being used to fund general public expenditure, primarily on the welfare state. Spending on roads was only equivalent to about a fifth of the motoring tax take and a significant proportion was devoted to ‘anti-car’ schemes.”
However despite the IEA seemingly not doing their research on the wider costs of motoring, I was rather encouraged by this:
“The privatisation of the road network would facilitate the abolition of fuel duty. The flotation of motorways and trunk roads would raise approximately £150 billion, which would be used to make large cuts in fuel duty. Government spending on transport would then be phased out, saving about £20 billion p.a. Finally, general tax revenues would increase markedly due to substantial efficiency gains, including much lower levels of congestion.”
Note here that the term ‘transport’ is used here to refer to ‘car transport.’ For a right-wing pressure group the IEA seem oddly determined to remove individual’s choice when it comes to transport mode.
Presumably, the problems arising after the privatisation of the railway, electricity, gas, water and telecommunications infrastructure and services are supposed to be seen by the reader as the exception rather than the rule when it comes to privatisation. The report only specifically mentions motorways and trunk roads, suggesting the author, like Minister for Roads and moron Mike Penning, is labouring under the false assumption that trunk roads (like motorways) are for the exclusive use of motorised vehicles. However, when I thought more about it, I got the feeling that there might be more to this report than meets the eye.
The big question is, why only mention motorways and trunk roads? Surely the private sector would be more dynamic and innovative than local authorities when it comes to local roads and surely the IEA wouldn’t support funding these roads through council tax. So let’s suppose we privatise the whole road network, carriageways, footways and all. Setting aside the wider issues of selling basically the entire public realm off to private companies, what would privatised road transport without fuel tax and no VED look like?
Carving it up
Traditionally privatisation in the UK has taken the form of a handful of monopolies dominating a different regions, and there is no reason to expect that the privatisation of the road network to be much different. However, it may be the case that some companies specialise in roads formerly controlled by local authorities, whilst different companies specialise in trunk roads, motorways or rural roads. In order to be charged, expect to have your movements tracked like never before.
Naturally with the contribution towards covering some of the wider costs of motoring coming from VED and fuel tax gone, it would fall to the road operating companies to cover the external costs arising from their operations. Costs such as the hospitalisation and ongoing care costs arising both directly from road traffic collisions and indirectly from factors like air pollution and obesogenic environments would no-longer have to be paid for by taxpayers, which should be reflected by a significant reduction in the individual’s tax burden.
An interesting knock-on effect from this would be that motorway-style road designs in towns and cities which encourage dangerous driving behaviour, require different modes of travel to mix, or which produce high-levels of emissions in densely populated areas through inappropriately high speed limits would likely be phased out by road operating companies in favour of designs which reduce their costs. New designs would enforce lower speed limits in populated areas and separate out different vehicle types in order to drive down costs.
Similarly, whilst the criminal justice system at present is reluctant to hand a lifetime ban even to those who have clearly demonstrated they should never, ever drive again, under a privatised road system, road operating companies would seek to minimise their liability by either banning such drivers from the roads they operate or else charge such individuals for access at such a rate that it acts as a de facto ban.
Costs for motor traffic users
Following on from the banning (or de facto banning) of dangerous drivers, high risk drivers such as those who have been previously involved in crashes, new drivers, young drivers or old drivers would likely be charged at a higher rate. Certain journeys would require using parts of the network owned and operated by different companies, the result of which being that whilst some journeys may be relatively easy or cheap, others could become quite costly and difficult with the difference between the two being down to largely arbitrary factors. With the effective monopolies road operating companies would likely be given over certain routes (as described above) and light-touch regulation from the state, it is likely that costs to motor-traffic users would increase above inflation year-on-year, as is currently seen on the privatised rail network.
Naturally, road operating companies would seek to maximise profits by charging a higher rate for peak-time use, in addition to increasing peak-time road capacity by reducing speed limits, whilst rural users would likely face higher standard-rate charges due to the lack of economies-of-scale on the roads servicing more remote, sparsely-populated communities, but people are free to move home if they so choose. Bus services using multiple road operating companies’ roads may be more expensive than routes along roads operated by a single company.
Another advantage of privatised roads would be that the current blight of local authorities providing free on-street car parking for people who don’t work hard enough to own a house with a driveway will end, in favour of parking charges at the market rate.
Impact on road freight
A knock-on effect from higher peak-time pricing would be that it would be more economical for businesses to schedule deliveries during off-peak times. Large and heavy goods vehicles would naturally face much higher charges than smaller motor vehicles due to their increased wear on the road, disruptive effect on other traffic and significantly increased costs arising from death or injury. However, the advantage of this would be in restoring the competitiveness of rail freight; rail freight hubs would be viable in most towns and cities, with the last mile delivered by smaller delivery vehicles.
Costs for non-motorised users
The issue of non-motorised traffic (pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders) is not touched upon in the report itself, but it is easy to infer how these types of traffic should be dealt with. Naturally, like motor traffic these traffic types will require extensive tracking for the purposes of charging. However, as we have expected the road operating companies to pay for the negative externalities arising from motorised traffic, it is only fitting that we reward them for the positive externalities of non-motorised traffic.
Positive externalities such as productivity benefits and reduced instances of sick leave to employers whose employees travel to work on foot or by cycle, reduced healthcare expenditure and reduced emissions and benefits to local businesses along walking and cycling routes should be used to offset the costs of negative externalities to road operating companies. The knock-on effect of this is that road designs which maximise the uptake of walking and cycling would be a worthwhile investment for road operating companies, as would be removing road designs which create conflict between road users. As they produce almost exclusively positive externalities, the direct cost to pedestrians and bicyclists would be zero, although tracking and monitoring would still be required to calculate the offset to negative externalities a road operating company had earned from its pedestrian and bicyclist users.
At first glance Richard Wellings’ report, ‘Time To Excise Fuel Duty?’ might appear to be overly simplistic drivel which overlooks the existence and value of pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users, children and most startlingly the value of human life, bringing shame on the very institution of the PhD. Taken at face value, it certainly pushes all the classic right-wing buttons; motorists portrayed as unfairly-taxed victims whose travel choice is essential for economic prosperity and producing absolutely no significant negative outcomes for third parties, those living in rural areas are portrayed as victims and pedestrians, bicyclists, public transport users and children effectively do not exist. Even human life is given a market rate. However, on second glance what the report is proposing would actually be radical subversion of current right-wing thinking on driving. Reading between the lines, Richard Wellings is proposing a model in which motorists pay a fair price for their externalities and car use is restrained in favour of modes which produce positive externalities – an extremely logical, sensible proposal disguised between the lines in a report from the IEA.
When it comes to cycleways and talk of how we fit them into the urban landscape when we have busy multi-functional roads, it’s common for people not to be able to imagine how it can be done. And it’s not for want of trying but for the simple fact that we’re not very good at doing it in the UK due to being too single minded and not looking at the bigger picture so we don’t have much practical knowledge to draw upon.
Cycleways are often looked on as either an afterthought to be squeezed into a design as a box ticking exercise or as an individual addition to an existing streetscape. This always leads to a poor implementation as the cycleway conflicts with the other requirements of the space.
Instead, cycle provision needs to be an integral part of the design, but not just for the sake of cyclists, but as a benefit for all users of the space. Let’s look at how.
Above is a typical (if highly stylised) urban road layout. We have a main through route running north/south on the left hand side and a local residential street on the right. Running east/west, again we have a residential street at the top and a main through route to the south.
We might assume that since this is an urban environment, the through routes act out a multitude of purposes; as a busy through road, a bus route, a shopping street. Since the first rule of Sustainable Safety is to have non-functional roads, we’re obviously in for a tough time of things. There’s a number of options depending on the lay of the land and budget.
Ideally we’d move the through traffic to somewhere else via a by-pass. By-passes have a bit of a bad name for themselves, but being pragmatic, if we have traffic that isn’t going to magically go away, moving it away from people into it’s own dedicated space is a good idea. The key is to not add the by-pass to increase capacity, it must just move the through traffic out of the way, so traffic reduction techniques must also be used on the old street we are trying to free up.
If a by-pass is not an option, then we can try to move the other uses of the street, for example by encouraging shopping on a parallel street by improving it’s environment.
Realistically, in dense urban areas at least, these options will not be realistic, so we’ll have to deal with the multi-functional nature of the street as it is the best way we can which will mean some compromises. The best compromise would be to remove any on-street parking so as to free up space for pedestrians and cycles and provide convenient off-street parking.
Let’s presume we’ve found a way to fix (or at least compromise on) those problems.
So here we have added cycleways to our main routes, pretty simple standard things, at least for the Dutch.
Where the two main roads meet, we introduce a standard traffic controlled junction with separated cycle and pedestrian provision.
Moving away from the main junction, the introduction of the cycleways introduce the need for a treatment where they cross side roads. The CROW manual gives us two options, depending on the volume of traffic and the space available.
We either move the cycleway away from the roadway at the junction so as to create a buffer space for turning motor vehicles and to add give way road markings. Or we move the cycleway closer to the roadway so that sight-lines are improved and the cycleway in effect becomes a curb separated cycle lane.
So far we’ve just looked purely at adding cycleways to the main through routes, but we can do better. If we think beyond this, we can improve the local area for all users.
First off, we’ve adjusted the residential access junctions to improve its gateway function. Gateways are borders between road types that act as an indicator that the user is moving from one road type to another, they should slow traffic right down via calming measures such as steep gradient changes and surface texture and colour.
This example above is common in the Netherlands, it continues the pavement across the gateway, giving a zero radii to the junction as well as a steep vertical deflection and a stark visual impression that pedestrians have priority and that motor vehicles are entering a different type of road. The Ranty Highwayman recently looked at such set-ups and whether they could be implemented in the UK (spoiler alert - the answer is yes).
Secondly, we’ve also closed off our second residential area entrance on our east/west through road.
A problem with the original street layout is that as soon as the main north/south road gets busy and congested, the residential road will be used as a rat-run to relieve the through route. Something which will be a detriment to all other users of these streets, something which the streets were not designed for, and something which we should try to stop.
The best way to do this is to simply close off the area to the possibility of through traffic either by closing off roads completely or by clever use of one-way streets (in either case pedestrians and bicycles should be able to continue to use the road).
This also has secondary advantage. Conflicts on our roads occur not on the straight bits but at the bits in between, the junctions. So junctions should be where we concentrate on safety, Sustainable Safety says a good way is to ensure that when when vehicles of differing masses meet, the difference in momentum is kept to a minimum by keeping speeds low, by separating vehicles in time or space (traffic lights vs bridges and tunnels), or by removing the junction all together.
So the less junctions we have, or at least, the less junctions on roads with high speeds (anything over 20mph is considered high speed when talking about pedestrians and cycles), the safer our overall system will be. By removing a junction that is replicated elsewhere, we not only stop rat-running between these two junctions, but also make the road that contains the junction safer for all while encouraging walking and cycling by making those modes more attractive with shorter distances.
In conclusion, what I guess I’m trying to say is that it’s not just a case of chucking in some cycleways and hoping they work (and giving up when they get complicated), the whole local area needs to be looked at as a complete network as simple network changes can have big positive impacts on how people can use the available space.
One quickly learned point with these books, is that not many have a good ending. Or a good beginning, for that matter. So much for encouraging us newcomers' love affair with Denmark.
But that's beside the point.
The point is that many of these books feature bicycles. A normal part of culture in Copenhagen, why wouldn't the simple bicycle be mentioned in 90% of the books I've picked up over two years of Danish lessons? The most recent however, had a fantastic addition to the bicycle's many uses. One we hadn't yet considered.
The protagonist of the book, Camilla, is caught in a bit of a situation with a suitor one evening after he's taken her out for dinner. He's sweet, definitely handsome, a police officer, and yet she doesn't like him enough for him to take her home. Jump to (roughly translated) stream of conscious writing as Camilla talks herself through the minutes following their exit from the restaurant...
This is why I'm a bicycle girl. All I do is hop on my bike and go. No awkward goodbye, no uncomfortable 'who's going home with who'. Crisis averted. Deep breath. I'll just hop on my bike, wave, and say thank you for dinner. Suddenly, I'm gone. Cruising home alone. Thank goodness I'm a bicycle girl.
Thank goodness for bicycle culture - preventing awkward encounters one bicycle at a time. Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
I am interested in the prevalence of speeding amongst motorists, particularly in the light of statistics and common sense relating to potential harm and the dangers inherent in this activity. Many people, including myself, have previously highlighted the role played by the design of the highway environment itself. I am a firm believer that arbitrarily low speed limits applied to urban motorway-style highways rely almost exclusively on motorists internal "moral compass" for compliance. Obeying the law is one thing, but doing it in the face of constant temptation is quite another. Others have discussed a cultural desire for speed and the power of marketing to create and then reinforce this.
I seem to be test driving a considerable variety of cars at the moment. Not because I have a cool Top Gear type of job (that is cool, right?) but rather because I have a building on site at present and I need to lug a large amount of drawings and PPE around with me when I visit. It is also a 500 mile round trip. I get a different hire car each time, and so I am able to compare and contrast in some detail.
This ad-hoc experiment of dubious scientific quality has clearly demonstrated another conclusion we need to add to the motorist's woes when it comes to controlling the need for speed. The design of the car cockpit itself is quite terribly poor when it comes to communicating to the driver basic information about how fast they are going.
Our everyday family car is a Honda Civic. Actually, "everyday" is a misnomer, as it mostly spends its days quietly depreciating outside the house, stationary. But no matter - the key point here is that it has a "heads-up" type digital speedometer that sits in a binnacle (see, I've got the terminology sorted too) above the steering wheel. This is not why we got this car, but is turns out to be a brilliant feature - knowing how fast you are actually going. This is important, as modern cars seems to go nicely just above 35mph in 4th gear. You can hardly hear the engine at 40mph. The road you are on in the centre of town is barely discernible from the 70mph M25, but has a 30mph limit. In other words, the sensory information and feedback from the car and the environment is providing a false reading which makes the speedo a useful point of reference, bearing in mind the damage a speeding car can do.
Interesting therefore that the vast majority of hire cars I drive have the standard rotating needle-type speedo. Unchanged probably since Herr Benz thought it would be amusing to see how fast he could go, and stuck an adapted pressure gauge next to the steering wheel. They truly are appalling. They are inaccurate, illegible and mostly stuck BEHIND the steering wheel - which themselves have become bloated with paraphernalia, making it even harder to see through them to the vital information beyond. Looking frequently down behind the steering wheel isn't much of a safety feature either. A final ignominy is that the speedo is often the same size as the rev counter, despite most normal people having no use for this information whatsoever.
It is almost as if car designers would prefer not to remind their eager customers that they are actually just crawling along in a massive traffic jam at a snails pace, rather than bowling along in the manner beloved by car advertisements worldwide.
I am intrigued why this issue has not been more consistently addressed, as a vital safety feature. Maybe fewer drivers would then zoom past me in an unholy rush as I pedal serenely onwards.Posted with Blogsy
A recent news item from Epping should come as no surprise to anyone who understands the reasons why people don’t cycle in Britain.
A head teacher has moved to explain changes to plans for the first new school the district has seen built in years.
Parking provision for teachers at the £18 million St John’s School in Tower Road, Epping is expected to be increased from 44 to 76, while bike spaces for pupils are set to be quartered, falling from 322 to at least 80.
George Yerosimou, the school’s head teacher, said: “The plans were drawn up some years ago. What we’ve been looking at now is basically how many spaces are being used now by staff. The original number put in was not realistic. We have been promoting car sharing, but we’re a rural school and a lot of them live far away.
“On Bury Lane, where the new entrance to the school will be, there is no parking or pavements. We don’t want to upset the local residents by having too many cars outside. He added that the number of bike spaces planned far outstripped the number of pupils who currently cycled in.
He added: “The local area isn’t really conducive to children cycling – there are no cycle paths. Maybe it’s something the town and district councils can be looking at.”
The school is not to blame here. There is no point putting in 300 cycle parking spaces for pupils if only a tiny fraction of that number is actually prepared to cycle to school. It would be a waste of money. Simply putting in lots of cycle parking, and keeping car parking spaces to a minimum, will change nothing if the streets and roads surrounding the school are hostile and unpleasant to cycle on.
It is those roads and streets that are to blame for this situation, not the allocation of parking at the school itself. Access to the new school appears to be from twisty, narrow country lanes with a 40 mph speed limit; it is not surprising that local children and their parents are voting for the car as a way to get to this school. Putting in 300 cycle spaces will not address this basic problem.
This situation is just symptomatic of a broader scandal; namely, that Britain’s roads and streets are designed in a way that denies children their independence, and forces car dependency upon them.
We should remember that in a country a few hundred miles away across the North Sea, 40% of all trips made by children under the age of 17 are made by bicycle.
Dutch children have independence. They can cycle to school by themselves; they can visit friends by themselves; they can go shopping by themselves.
At a similar secondary school to the one in Epping – also recently built – Dutch teenagers arrive and leave by bike.
It should be obvious from the video why these teenagers in Groningen are cycling home from school. It’s not because of ‘culture’, or because it’s flat, or because they’ve received training, or any other spurious reason.
The environment is designed to facilitate cycling; to make it an easy, safe and obvious thing to do. Cycle tracks and paths connect the school to their homes directly, without interaction with motor traffic. Likewise there’s a huge amount of cycle parking, in use, at this secondary school in Assen -
The same is true for primary schools, like these ones in Assen.
Tiny children, as young as four or five, cycling completely independently.
And Dutch children don’t just cycle to school; they go on shopping trips in cities, by themselves.
They can do all these things because the environment has been made safe, both objectively and subjectively.
By contrast in Britain – where schools quite rightly don’t bother to build cycle parking on the sound assumption that very few children are even going to attempt to cycle to them – children are dependent on their parents to a staggering degree for their mobility needs. I wrote over a year ago about how this is not just deeply unfair on children, but also on their parents, who have to spend a considerable amount of their time chauffering their children. The average British father spends well over two hours a week on ferrying his offspring around.
Multiply the situation at this school in Epping across the entire country – add up all the unnecessary car trips that are being made to transport children which, if we had a sane transport policy, would be made by the children themselves on bicycles – and we have what amounts to a national scandal. Wasted time; extra wear and tear on our roads; less safety; worse public health; more congestion; blight; visual, aural and atmospheric pollution. It’s desperate.
And this is without even considering all the other groups who have been shunted off our streets by our iniquitous transport policies; people trapped in their homes, or forced into the use of motor vehicles. This includes my grandmother, who never passed a driving test, and continued to cycle – against all the odds – the half mile to her local shops well into her 80s, but has now been forced to abandon her independence because she cannot dismount from her bike quickly enough. She is now reliant on her friends and neighbours to bring her supplies and to ferry her around, because the road in her village is simply unsafe to cycle on, and doesn’t even have a pavement.
This is why many elderly people continue to drive, even when they themselves know they are not fit to do so, and probably don’t even enjoy the experience – because they have no alternative. Drive, or stay at home. Similarly disabled people, or those with poor mobility, are forced into car use simply because our street environment is poorly designed for their needs.
It doesn’t have to be this way; it is possible to design streets and transport networks that are inclusive and accessible to all.
What all this amounts to is that in Britain the needs of the most vulnerable – children, the infirm and the elderly – are ignored, or considered far below the needs of facilitating the flow of motor vehicles through our streets.
Our walking environment has been arranged around the prime objective of the flow of motor vehicles, while cycling has effectively been removed as a choice for the vast majority of the population. These policies are iniquitous, because they have disproportionately affected certain groups. Children have little or no independence; other groups are forced into car use, or are left to rely on others.
Sadly the impression I am getting from government is that nothing is going to change any time soon, especially with relation to cycling. Norman Baker, the minister with responsibility, recently presented this uplifting message -
If we reached Dutch levels I’d be ecstatic, but I can’t see us getting there. I went to to Leiden railway station and there were, I think, 13,000 bikes there that morning, which is just a different world from all other European countries. The Dutch have been fantastically successful. It is by and large flatter in Holland than it is in the UK, which is certainly an advantage, and it’s more compact, so there are differences.
What I can see is individual places in the country taking up cycling. I can see that now, with places like Cambridge. I think the message is getting out. The clear message we’re getting from the government, the enthusiasm local councils are displaying, means the renaissance of cycling, which was in decline for many years, is underway. A corner has been turned. We’re on the way back …
In other words, It would be great if we had the amount of cycling there is in the Netherlands, but we’re not going to get there. Maybe the ‘message will get out’, maybe it won’t.
Baker’s response is symptomatic of an astonishing ambivalence about cycling at the highest levels of government; an attitude that mass cycling will have to happen all by itself, and that when (if) it does happen, that’s the time the government might start to consider supporting and enabling it. There’s no vision.
The same wooly mindedness was apparent in the evidence given by health minister Anna Soubry to the Get Britain Cycling Inquiry this week. Once again, we had pleasant-sounding noises about how great cycling is, but an underlying message that cycling isn’t for everyone.
[Cycling] is just, often, a great way to travel. But I think we just have to accept the limitations of it. And I’ll just say that I never ever even considered taking one of my children on a bike. I lived in Nottingham for the vast majority of my life. Even though we have cycle lanes, you must be joking. I would not put a child on a bicycle in the city of Nottingham. I just don’t think I could have been that brave, or courageous. And the lanes weren’t extensive enough.
This message was repeated by Soubry later in her evidence -
I think that whenever we talk about cycling, we have to realise and appreciate the many concerns that people have about how safe you would be, and your children would be, on bicycles.
And I’m just thinking that, in a way… I used to make my daughters walk to school. It was very simple, I just refused to drive them there. And this is in the city of Nottingham. And in many ways I think I would have been more concerned about their safety if they had cycled to school, than walking to school. I’m not saying I’m right to feel that, but as a mum looking back, I think that would be right.
The message from Soubry here is that we should be realistic and appreciate that we won’t be able to persuade many people to cycle. Mums aren’t going to let their children cycle, and we should accept that. Mums aren’t going to be able to do their shopping by bike, and we should accept that as well.
This is the thrust of her ‘limitations’ argument; that the bicycle is a limited way of getting about, because it is no replacement for the safety, security and convenience of the car.
I think that if you want to lead the sort of lives that most people do, which is when you have to go and do supermarket runs, I’ve never understood how you’re going to do all that [by bike]… So I think you’ve got to look at its limitations as an alternative to public transport, or cars, and so on. So it has its limitations. But hey, what’s not to like.
The message that this should change – that we should make cycling just as safe and convenient as driving, if not more so – was completely absent.
Soubry also stated that ‘we’ve all got to make sure we do a lot more cycling’; a fairly meaningless platitude that presents cycling as something wholesome and good but doesn’t address the underlying reasons why the vast majority of the population won’t even bother.
The chair, Julian Huppert, thanked Soubry for her response, and then invited her onto the next Parliamentary Bike Ride. Soubry responded
No, I’d be very happy to, but I’m not going to. I’m just not going to do stunts.
She doesn’t mean ‘stunts’ in the acrobatic sense – she means a publicity stunt; the act of riding a bike with other parliamentarians is evidently seen by her as a gimmick. This much is clear from her response a moment later, when she described going to Leicester with Norman Baker on some official bicycle-promoting business (presumably this event)-
Norman did get on a bike. I refused to. I just have memories of a certain other public health minister – and you’re old enough to remember to whom I refer – doing too many stunts. I just think it can sometimes backfire.
David Arditti wrote after Soubry gave her evidence that
One gets the feeling Anna Soubry thinks cycling is about being sporty and healthy, not about convenience, inclusiveness & economic benefit
That’s exactly right; it would explain why Soubry thinks riding a bike is a gimmicky ‘stunt’, and why she was so enthusiastic about children doing cycling for sport at school, but so unenthusiastic about enabling children to cycle to school by themselves.
From her evidence, it is apparent that Soubry doesn’t have any understanding that cycling could ever be a mainstream mode of transport for the entire population. She doesn’t think it’s practical to use a bicycle for shopping; she doesn’t think children would be allowed to cycle by themselves by their parents; she didn’t have anything to say about the elderly cycling. She appears constrained by a fixed impression of what cycling is like in Britain now, and the kinds of people currently prepared to cycle; she had little or no awareness of the policies and planning decisions required to make cycling a possibility for all kinds of trips, and for those who don’t cycle.
I think that’s tremendously sad. We’re stuck in a hole, and this government doesn’t appear to have the vision or the willingness to dig us out of it. There will be plenty more schools installing more car parking spaces than bicycle parking spaces for the foreseeable future. Get used to it.