Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Green End Road

This is a notoriously bad space for people riding bikes. It's always made me feel nervous on it, and I'm quite an experienced, confident rider. Quite how anyone who's not confident is meant to use it is, well, reason to upgrade the space!

So, I was really pleased to hear that there was a plan to do this, and really pleased to start seeing paintwork appearing. My assumption was that it'd be a high quality physically segregated build, putting into practise what was learnt through the Hills Road and Huntingdon Road developments.

I'd not been up it in a while and was very disappointed when I did. All that's been done is a low grade, just paint, adaption of the road space. This will do nothing to improve the road space for riding.

We should have learnt, from Cherry Hinton Road, from Milton's Cambridge Road, and many other places, that a simple paint job doesn't protect people riding in the slightest. People regularly just drive along in the cyclelane.

It's even likely to make the space MORE risky to people riding. People driving sometimes think a cyclelane is a separated space, as this PR disaster from Sainsburys shows. And this leads to horribly dangerous close passes.

The reasons for Highway Code Rules 163 and 213 do not suddenly disappear when a cyclelane appears.
"give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car"
"Motorcyclists and cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road. Give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make."

Anyway, how does the space work on Green End Road? Let's take a look at a few of my experiences from the road. Note that these aren't rare events, they are quite regular.

Go HD see * at bottom

Open in YouTube

So, these new lanes are an unfortunate backwards step. I'd recommend that people ride centre lane & ignore them. It's likely some people driving will take exception to this and hassle people riding to be out of "their space". That's still preferable to having them ignoring you completely, close passing, not quite judging it to the millimetre, and clipping you. And that could be with you anywhere in that cyclelane.

Sadly yet more infrastructure that doesn't learn from the Goverment guidelines and training about how to ride a bike.

* How to go HD.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Back Out on the Hildersham Circuit



So, I work outdoors with bikes. Yee haa! Lucky me!

However, this isn't all the roses and happiness it can be. Sadly, over the winter term, I'm really rather reticent to spend my weekends going outdoors very much. Whilst friends are shooting off for a good time in fields and on tracks, I'm sat there going "No thanks, just done that for the past five days".

Then Spring comes along and all that "stay in" feeling disappears. This weekend was very much that time. The blooms where blooming and the blossom, er, blossoming. It was time to be outdoors on my bike for the fun of it!

I usually end up on a simple 20 mile circuit to the south of Cambridge. Luckily, there's plenty of decent off-road routes, bike paths, and (at worst) quiet roads. I get down as far as Hildersham on my way dropping through Cherry Hinton and Fulbourn on the way there, then Abington and Babraham on the way back, This time, I had the new Babraham Institute path in mind, rather than Stapleford and Shelford. It's more direct and I wanted to find out what it was like.


So the clip starts near the station on Hills Road (and ends in the same place!) and heads out through Cherry Hinton. The first bit shows how poor the station area has become with the new development. The cycle bridge is a welcome removal from that poor environment taking us over to Romsey Town and then on to the pleasantries of The Tins. A final wiggle through Cherry Hinton and we're on the cycle route to Fulbourn.

Path from Marmora Street

The Tins

After Fulbourn, it's up into the hills. Well, what counts for hills in these parts. They are still very pleasant with lots of people enjoying the outdoors, with all kinds of animals! The roman road of Worsted Street affords a great route south with stunning views over the landscape. Small hillocks dot the landscape, along with the odd majestic wind farm.

Daffodils south of Fulbourn

Horses on a Walk

Woody Worsted Street

Hildersham is a delightful little village, with a pretty bridge (and ford for over 12 tons) at the centre. And then the Pampisford Road round behind Abington towards Granta Park, which is pleasant enough. Then, a short section of unpleasant road, often with 1 or 2 cars only but doing 70mph, sometimes far too clsoe for no reason gets us to the footbridge over the A11.

Hildersham Bridge

A11 Bridge

And this is the one weak link here. It's a "converted" footbridge. It's a long distance up and down on very steep metal tracks. Not something I can do with a normal commuting load. The down section is just as difficult, as I can't brake even with walking the bike. I was working nearby recently, and simply had to drive because this isn't a choice when commuting. And sorry too that this blocks cargobikes, different ability bikes, young and old people, and anyone that can't hold onto a lot of weight.

A11 Bridge Path

Once in Babraham, turning left towards the Institute entrance felt odd, I'm used to heading to Sawston. Avoiding the narrowed spaces near the school is good though. And it's into the Institute!

I've done this in more detail here. The funny little start section is possibly good, not quite sure. I'd think it adds to the option if traffic is backed up on the main road, but does lose the priority as you come back out again. Then I was a little concerned about where to go. There were bike symbols on the road, but people ride into the Institute itself so didn't give me a strong feeling of going in the right dirction. Then, a sign appeared in the distance and helped guide across a rather odd "Stop" line and onto the path itself.

Babraham Institute Entrance

Access to Babraham Institute Path

The path was open, smooth, and thankfully not absolutely straight. It's not near trees, so root damage is unlikely. The park is quite pleasant to ride through and there's plenty to look at. Changing angles regularly helps that as well as to stop the boredom sinking in of constantly going in exactly the same direction.

Tree on Babraham Insitute Path

At the end, the route out to the cyclepath over the Magogs seems sensible. You have to cross the A1307 and having it just a few metres form the roundabout is fine. There is a central refuge, and thankfully it's not staggered the way town street designers get wrong.

Exit from Babraham Insitute Path

The path over the Magogs is, well, next to a busy road. It's pleasant enough when a Sunday, not quite sure how it'll be on a weekday. And, from this direction, it feels like quite a way up! It's really not very far up, totalling 45 metres, it's just it starts about a mile out and slowly ramps up. It feels like it's gone on for ages! Still, it's next to pleasant beech woods for the steeper second section. And also, there's all that potential energy to release on the way down!

Bench at theTop of the Magogs

Finally, the route into Cambridge has it's pros and cons. Whilst it's a good route as you start to come into town, you suddenly have to switch sides. Although there's a section around 200 metres long with cycle routes on both sides, it's just not long enough to find a gap. Getting onto the new Hills Road Cyclepath is great, although there's no guarentee it'll be clear, and you have to mix it again at the bridge.

Floating Bus Stop


And here's the clip (music warning!) with a variety of start points which open YouTube in a separate window.
Go HD see * at bottom

At the start
00:32 Cycle Bridge
00:57 Marmora Path
01:07 The Tins
01:40 Cherry Hinton High Street
01:58 Fulbourn Cycle Path
02:27 Fulbourn
03:05 Babraham Road Avenue South
04:07 Worsted Street
05:01 Crossing the A11
06:15 Path to Hildersham (stunning views)
06:50 Hildersham
07:12 Crossing the A1307 to Pampisford Road
07:36 Abington
08:05 Granta Park
08:20 A11 Footbridge
09:00 Entrance to Babraham Institute
09:30 Crossing the A1307 to Cyclepath
10:39 Top of the Magogs
11:16 Back into Cambridge
11:49 Hills Road Cyclepath

The music is in sections too, all from the Film "Moulin Rouge" and they roughyl follow different areas of the video.

00:12 Sparkling Diamonds, getting out of Cambridge and through Fulbourn to open country
03:05 Spectacular Spectacular, riding up into the hills
04:12 Because we Can, riding along the off-road section and back towards Cambridge
07:40 Bolero, the Institute path and steadily getting back into Cambridge

* How to go HD.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Exam Questions

So, AdExcel put a series of questions into an exam paper that are designed to imply people cycling cause pollution. Here is the central quesion, but there is more to it here.

The premise seems reasonable, until you think for about a millisecond. Wait, during a ten minute journey there's an average of 3 cars behind? No, sorry, not in any world I've ever experienced!

So, I thought we'd take a look at something that looks like reality a bit more. Here's a clip from a morning this week, showing traffic coming through Cherry Hinton into Cambridge.

And here's the clip with a variety of start points which open YouTube in a separate window.
Go HD see * at bottom

At the start
0:42 From Perne Road
1:56 From Cherry Hinton High Street

So we'll start with some simple questions.
1. How many people riding bikes are holding up this queue of cars?
2. How many people driving cars are holding up other people driving cars?
3. How many cars are single occupancy?

And some answers, so those hard of analysis capabilities (like maybe some AdExcel exam setters) might keep up.
1. I'm hard pressed to spot a single rider holding anyone up here. The clip shows over a mile and a half of queuing traffic, without many people riding at all. And where there is the odd rider they aren't interacting with motor traffic at all.
2. Pretty much all of them.
3. The figure for rush hour traffic in Cambridge is 1.2 people per car (near the bottom of here). In other words, in every 5 cars there are 6 people. That's 4 cars with one person, 1 car with two.

Then, some more complex questions.
1. Speculate why there are jams like this if they are not caused by people riding bikes.
2. If we halved the number of people driving here, how much less carbon dioxide would be pumped into the air?
3. What do those people who would be driving do instead?

And again, some answers.
1. Well, this map shows the three jams in a bit more detail (in red/purple). They are coming up to intersections. That is, they are caused by two lines of traffic having to merge and/or manoeuvre around each other. So, it's all about people driving vehicles that are large enough to require management when they intersect. Not an issue that faces anyone on a bike.
2. I've not done the maths here. Anyone not think this number will completely overwhelm the number the AdExcel paper comes up with? It does make it look slightly ridiculous.
3. There are a number of pleasant parallel cycling routes (once I spotted a watervole!). I use them often (in reverse) when travelling under 10 miles. They are well used, yet have no jams.That's because the "vehicle" (bicycle) isn't large and doesn't require management when many come together.

It does beg the question, what is going on with AdExcel such that they decide to put this "alternate" analysis that implies an "alternate fact", where they could do some equally good maths that actually supports the real evidence.

* How to go HD.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Is BikeAbility Useful

So, there was a little come back on the Volvo "educational kit" post I made last week. I did bring into question the nature of the Volvo idea and how it lacked substance compared to what we already do in the UK, BikeAbility. And the comeback was not about how bad the Volvo programme was, but how they don't like BikeAbility.

So, there was a little comeback, just not to me at all. I spotted it going back and forth on Twitter amongst people I know and often share discussions, enjoyment of riding, and fun with. They didn't include me for whatever reason, although that was a little disappointing. And it reminded me that there is a strong anti-training bent to some cycling advocacy people, some with good reason, and some a little less so.

So some of the issues fall down as follows.
  • Training doesn't increase the numbers of people riding.
  • The money could be better spent on building infrastructure.
  • It's just the foundation of vehicular cycling which for decades now hasn't worked for the UK.
Now, a few years back, I'd agree wholeheartedly with these concepts. However, having spent a considerable amount of time since then involved in BikeAbility, I think it's a lot more nuanced than that. There's just a lot more to it, it needs more consideration than just simple statements.

Cycling Levels

We'll start with cycling levels. First, a study has shown that BikeAbility does increase numbers riding to school.
"the survey results show trained children reported they cycle more often, cycle more to school, cycle more on the road, cycle with more confidence on the road, and enjoy cycling more"
This is something I've seen a lot of people denying. But it is there, BikeAbility does increase numbers riding to school (⁰ extra below). The obvious caveat is that this is still nothing like the revolutionary change in numbers required to make ourselves a cycling nation. What's important to note is that The Association of BikeAbility Schemes agrees with that last caveat. That's right, the people who deliver this training do not think it's the be all and end all of cycling. Training is not an alternative to good infrastructure. And that brings us on to the next bit, surely it's better to build infrastructure.


Infrastructure is the way forward. Full Stop. It is the way in which we get more people riding, more often, and further. This needs to be done at a national level, with national standards, with joined up thinking between different authorities. At the moment we have small schemes, that do help locally, but are a long way from delivering the cycling infrastructure needed to make a difference, nationally.

So, what would it take to do this? Well, the Dutch experience tells us a minimum of £20 per head per year is something like it. That's around £2bn per year across the country (¹ extra below). And we'd need to do that for decades to catch up with the Dutch. What if we dropped BikeAbility for a year or two and took that money and put it into building? Well, at the last round BikeAbility got £50m for 4 years training. So that's £0.0125bn we could add into that £2bn per year, or just under 1% more. Anyone think that's going to make an iota of difference? No, me neither. And in the meantime children everywhere are not involved in any kind of formalised cycling fun (and I'll back that up later).

Vehicular Cycling

So, is it all about forcing children in front of lorries, getting them battle-scarred so they will either adapt (like the 2% of vehicular cyclists) or run away? This premis would suggest that the majority of kids learning will never do it again. But we know that doesn't happen. And actually BikeAbility is so much more than that.

For a start, level 1 never goes near a road. It's all about helping kids get to grips with controlling a bike, usually in a playground setting. It's a laugh! It's fun, it's riding around when they might have had Maths, English, or whatever. And that's a big point. It's fun!

Playing games during this is aimed to cover a series of simple outcomes, but it's still fundamentally bike control. Something you need to ride a bike, wherever you are. You'll be surprised just how many kids may have most of these, but still not quite it all. I think those who've ridden their bikes for a decade or three since, cannot remember those initial learning moments. Some do think there's no need for any training, just get on the bike and pedal. Well, at an early age there can be a lot more to it than that. True, it might not take long, which is why this course is just 2 hours.

So level 2 starts getting the kids on the road. Years 5 & 6 enrol to do this course, often decided by the school, and usually with around 70-80% uptake from the class. Most of them start a little nervous but end up loving it. One or two do keep those nerves through the course, and a tiny amount stop. I'd suggest around 1-2%. This is usually on quieter roads, although sometimes they can be a bit busy. Kids actually respond much better in those circumstances.

In addition to that, part of level 2 is looking at use of cycle infrastructure. This is where we get to point out how bad some of it is, and how to deal with it in all circumstances, both on- and off-road.

So, it's not all about roads. It's aimed at what the kids need for today's cycling. Not next year's, not a decade from now, but right now, in the environment we have. If we decide to wait until the infra is built, there will be no riders left to get on it.

So what if we get loads of new infra? We adapt to training to suit, like it's already being adapted. And this is again, how the Dutch deal with it. Yes, they do cycle training over the North Sea. In fact, it's pretty clear they do something similar to BikeAbility, including being on roads, albeit with a change of focus for the amount of infra they do have. Use a route to school and cope with the differing hazards along the way. This is pretty much how level 3 is delivered here. This will involve less roads but clearly not none and have the same kind of hazard perception learning that BikeAblilty is all about. Hazard perception is another thing linked with BikeAbility successes. So this is something that the Dutch seem keen on as well. Again, this isn't just about motor traffic but it does form a key part.

BikeAbility does a lot more educationally that just bike riding


One final thing that could be levelled at BikeAbility is that it gives those in charge the excuse to do nothing else. Again, this is the argument of defeat. Dos anyone really think that if we stopped training we'd have loads of time from people in authority deciding they need to now spend time working on cycle infrastructure? No, I don't think so. We do need to do push to do more, we need to do it all. Cycle Training for kids is not the most important thing, but it is part of the solution.

So let's go back to those issues.
  • "Training doesn't increase the numbers of people riding." - Well it does, but we do need to do more.
  • "The money could be better spent on building infrastructure." - Well, not really, it's just not enough to make a difference. We do need lots more to do infrastructure.
  • "It's just the foundation of vehicular cycling which for decades now hasn't worked for the UK." - Again, no longer really the case. Whilst some of it is based around realistic training, there's lots outside of that.
I do still get why people feel uncomfortable as BikeAbility was born out of a vehicular cycling manual. However, it's changed a lot since the start, and actually wasn't as VC as some people might suspect. Put simply, BikeAbility is fun, does get more kids cycling to school, is a good use of money, is realistic in training needs, isn't all about roads, and the kids love it!

We have the firm blueprint from over the North Sea, infrastructure and training, let's get on with it.


⁰ Newly developing courses such as BikeAbility Plus, which has an even more holistic approach, have been shown to really improve cycling numbers.

¹ Whilst we get this figure from the Dutch, it's interesting to note that similar schemes in the UK to those in NL seem to cost around 5 times as much. The suggestion is the Dutch spend a lot more, just don't see it as part of cycling building. It's folded into other budgets but benefits cycling as part of something else.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Volvo Road "Safety" Programme

Fantastic! Some altruristic company that makes trucks is finally acknowledging their part on keeping vulnerable road users safe. I can't wait!

But then I looked through the "educational kit" material. Oh, it's for people riding only, with a few notes about how hard it is for people driving, because obviously they are the only people thinking about this. Hmmm.

Well, let's keep going. I was thinking there would be lots of "see and be seen" actions that are taught in #BikeAbility, about moving out and holding the right part of the road from an early position, about getting eye contact, about signalling, about knowing when you have priority. And how people driving respond to that.

But no, there's none of that.

A Bit More Analysis

There's lots of pretty pictures, lots of photos showing sharks have sharp teeth and cactuses have sharp needles. Yes, I hear you asking, quite what that has to do with cycling? I've no idea too!

The only bit that has any relevance to road cycling is a few diagrams showing where truck drivers can't see people low down. Yes, this is just a sexed up version of Exchanging Places.

So, let's just get this straight. A company that can design a truck so that the driver could see people lower than their cab, doesn't do it. Something in their control and THEY DON'T DO IT. They just tells others that their lorries are designed NOT TO SEE YOU.

To show you just how poor this response is, look at the way one truck company in Cambridge, the cycling capital of the UK, is working on this. Mick George is phasing in these lorries where the driver can see much clearer.

In Depth

The presentation is very flash, there are lots of very cool images and videos, although embedded in a Powerpoint presentation so there's no way of pulling them up and analysing them bit by bit. Then, to add to the confusion, they are all based on the European standard of driving on the right. This does get very confusing, and probably especially so to any child that this is aimed at. Why do all this flash photo and video stuff, then not get it the right way round for the UK? It's not hard to do!

So, onto the key frames that are important. Here they are in one diagram.

So, A and B are about people walking not riding. Let's knock them off for now, although they are also pretty ridiculous. C is a definite stupid move from someone riding. I'm not sure anyone disagrees with that and also it's pretty obvious. What's the education statement here? Even young kids know this. Don't move out in front of a large vehicle. Duh!

Then there's D and E. Oh gosh, I don't know where to start. The diagram at D is a classic example of just very poor driving from the LORRY DRIVER. How did they overtake, then turn across the rider? When looking at the notes, this is not what the lesson is meant to be about, the diagram is very misleading. This is meant to show a lorry stopped at traffic lights, then a rider coming up the inside (on the wrong side for the UK), then the lights changing and the driver turning to the inside (on the wrong side for the UK). Has the driver indicated they are turning whilst stopped? No idea. Why are there no lines on the diagram showing a traffic light scenario? No idea. What educational value does this have set out like this? Really, really not sure it has any the way it's presented.

And then E. Again, not very clear what on earth this is about. Looking at the notes, this is meant to be a quick lane change due to something going on ahead. So, this is ON THE DRIVER again. They shouldn't be doing emergency moves into vulnerable road users, whatever is ahead.

And, as a final point to the absurd, the presentation has lots of film of people mountain biking. What on earth has that to do with utility riding? And, just to push another irrelevancy, one section starts with the silliness of not wearing a helmet. YES, I'd use a helmet when off-road jumping and risky riding. This has no relevance to road riding. Go on, show me how well that'll go down in The Netherlands. The land of cycling that virtually no-one uses helmets because they are not relevant. Or, importantly, will do ANYTHING FOR YOU IF YOU ARE HIT BY A LORRY.

So, to parody Macbeth, this a a flash, pretty presentation full of sound and fury signifying nothing. And yes, you need to look at the quote just before that.

What Should We Do When Riding?

Well, the first thing would be to not accept these dangerous lorries on our roads. They are designed dangerously. Simple. Another thing would be to press for places where people cyling and lorries do not mix. Again, design the danger out.

And, what's the positive thing to do right now? Simply put, read the Highway Code (221) that says don't ride up the inside of HGVs. Make sure you are seen by putting yourself in a position where you can see drivers. Look for mirrors. That's it. That's more than this presentation is about.

Further training, if you want it, is through #BikeAbility. This is so much more than this presentation. It involves quite a bit and teaches so much more. It's also taught to ~10 year old pupils in the UK, and around 2 million have been through it. Which does bring up another issue with this presentation. They are aiming it at 12 year olds. This is well behind the UK aim for training.

One thing can be said, there's no mention or visual image of hi-viz clothing or paint. I think Volvo got their fingers burnt when they did that little promotion a year or so ago. That's another story.

Final Marks

So, what's the final score for this? How much educational benefit does it have to people riding? Well, I think I'd give it a 1 out of 10. It does cover "don't pull out of a side road in front of a lorry".