Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Cyclists Instruction for Common Misconceptions On the Road

I was always scrabbling around to find the right links to correct idiotic comments that litter the internet about bikes, cycling and the UK transport system. What I wanted was a one stop shop for all those ignorant comments and to be able to simply paste a link to rapidly bring in a slightly more educated point of view (IMHO!).

So then I thought, why don't I just do it. Hence, I started my blog post entitled "Common Misconceptions On the Road". It was meant to be a quick guide to the issues, picking up on all those usual fallacies ("You don't Pay Road Tax", etc). Unfortunately, it did rather expand and became a work of passion as I tried to ensure all sections had the right backing.

Anyway I release it to you now, in the very vain hope (and appropriately self-deprecating) that it might be useful to some people in the rage against the machine that is the unnecessary anti-cycling rant all too familiar nowadays.

It's meant to work by having short sections that each have their own link. That way when someone comments idiotically, like "Why don't you use the cyclelane", you just select the appropriate link from the top index and send it to them with a "here's why". I've included a mechanism for those places that don't let you paste links by including a text based Bitly link, with instruction.

I hope it's useful and if you think something else ought to be covered, do let me know!

Common Misconceptions On the Road

Monday, 28 May 2012

Cambridge to Saffron Walden Circuit Updated

A nice long summer route

This is an update from a run done in 2010. This time I've cobbled together some video and altered the route slightly in Cambridge with the new cycle paths. It's worth looking at the original blog for photos and comments, but the video shows what it's like.

I've moved my route from my Bikely set as the site seems to be a bit under the weather. I've settled with Google as it's mapping seems to be the best and most functional you can get for free.

View Cambridge - Saffron Walden Circuit in a larger map

Pretty much all of the information from the other blog post is still accurate. The only difference is that re-entering Cambridge is now possible along the Guided Busway Cyclepath. This does make the route a bit longer, but quieter, more pleasant, and less cars!

Anyway, the important new item for this time is recorded footage of the whole ride! Speeded up 8 times with directions and comments this should make it easy to follow.

And here are the links mentioned in the clip.

Ashdon Road Bad Driver at 10:35
Saffron Walden Bad Driver at 11:35
Addenbrookes Genetic Cyclepath
Joined Up Thinking Failure at Francis Crick Avenue
Joined Up Thinking Failure at Francis Crick Avenue clip

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Common Misconceptions on the Road


This page is trying to be a short (yes, I wish!) guide to the many misconceptions held about our transport network, specifically how bikes and people cycling fit into that.

If you are here and understand a lot of what is here than perhaps you may be looking for a particular subject that you'd like to get the quick links to help educate someone.

If you are here and haven't got a clue, then it's probably because someone has thought you are in need of a reality check, an introduction to what the law actually says, or just maybe a "grow up" from people who are sick and tired of hearing a dull attitude. And yes, that's meant to be patronising, you clearly need it.


Here's a quick guide to the page. Click on a link to see it better, or just scan down as you wish. I've also included a bitly link that can be copied to link-disallowed pages (like YouTube comments) with the phrase "dots for dashes, slashes for spaces". The main page is "bit-ly LIE6HH".

They Don't Pay Road Taxbit-ly Kd9W3C

They Don't Wear Helmetsbit-ly KdaMgQ

They Don't Wear Hi-Vizbit-ly JupGKm

They All Jump Red Lightsbit-ly JNn1kW

They Don't Have Lightsbit-ly KxwStu

They Are Always On the Pavement bit-ly LIVpvE

They Are Always Recording What's Happeningbit-ly LGlHv4

They Need To Be Registered, Tested, and Regulatedbit-ly KdaYN8

They Weave Dangerously and Get in the Waybit-ly L3cKjP

They Don't Use Cyclelanesbit-ly JNn807

Motorists are Driving the Economybit-ly M80RKU

Governments Are Trying To Encourage Cycling bit-ly MYkeoX

I Hate Cyclistsbit-ly Kxxpf2

The Bingo Gamebit-ly JNngMS

They Don't Pay Road Tax

This is always a joke amongst people cycling, albeit quite a dull one. Regularly it's shouted out of windows as cars pass or flamed on an internet page despite it being completely non-existent. The fantastic and ironically entitled iPayRoadTax has a joke page about it. This, amongst other pages, covers pretty much all the details you need to know.

The essentials about this are as follows.
  • The little disc on a car windscreen is a pollution tax. It's there to persuade bad polluters to do better for the good of us all. Thus many low-emission cars get those discs for free.
  • Having the disc gives a driver no more rights on the road.
  • Any money's raised go into the same pot as income tax, VAT, alcohol duty and does not pay for the roads.
Of course many people are confused as the term is regularly and incorrectly used by driving organisations, insurance companies, politicians, and others. The correct term would be "graduated vehicle emissions duty". Hmm, not for me either! "Car tax" is probably the best short term and is used by government departments, the Post Office, and other agencies.

The term "Road Tax" itself does do damage as it fosters an incorrect sense of entitlement. Somehow, some drivers feel they have the right to act dangerously if their journeys are being slightly slowed by a particular group of people that they incorrectly believe don't contribute. For more about this see bigoted hatred.

If bicycles were to come under the same scheme as cars, of course their emissions are nil. Thus they would join the vehicles that pay nothing to get a tax disc. As each disc costs a bit to make, this would then mean the whole car tax scheme costs would go up by an estimated £25m, which would have to be paid for by those who do pay for their tax discs, thus increasing the amount those people would have to pay. For more about these costs see registration and regulation.

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They Don't Wear Helmets

Yet another of those shouts out of a car window! And another big misunderstanding. Mostly people shouting this are under some kind of misapprehension that helmets are designed to save cyclists when they have collisions with cars. They are not.

Cycle helmets are designed to take the impact of falling off a bike hitting the pavement at low speed. The much higher impact speeds of being hit by a 1-ton car make the helmet the equivalent of wearing a paper bag on your head. And it isn't exactly any protection to the rest of the body, which invariably is also hit by the car.

Often those who have accidents quote doctors or paramedics saying "It probably saved your life". The problem with this is that neither doctors or paramedics are accident experts and have no basis for saying anything about the collision just because they know the trauma your head might have missed. They have no idea what happened with the helmet just what might have happened within your head.

For a more informed and researched view, look at what the British Medical Journal said. Essentially evidence did not show that helmets help. With that in mind, perhaps it's worthwhile looking at why most governments want to encourage cycling. They understand that people simply don't want to wear them for all kinds of reasons. And if they don't help, why should they?

Note only that, but in other studies, evidence that wearing a helmet makes drivers behave more dangerously was brought to light. This is possibly down to the same entitlement issues that drivers erroneously feel combined with a lack of understanding of just how violent their vehicles passage is.

It's interesting to note that all countries that instigated helmet laws saw a dramatic reduction in cycling. Several have now repealed those laws, within a year in some cases, and many have stopped enforcing it. On the other hand, those countries that have high cycling rates have very low percentages of them that wear helmets. And the level of head injuries has not gone up proportionately as a result.

I've written quite a bit more about helmets, links are to the right!

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They Don't Wear Hi-Viz

Similar to the helmet rant from people who've clearly not had time to think for more than half a second about the subject, this is full of victim blaming again. Hi-Viz is not some kind of magical colour that bounces cars away. Although brighter colours may be a good idea when riding a bike at night, hi-viz has been found to be suspect. Fully functioning bike lights do a much better job.

In some cases, under some of the newer street lights, hi-viz colours has been seen to interfere with the ovehead light, leading to a considerale reduction in visibility. This isn't yet understood, but it's would seem to be a combination of the lighting colour with specific flourescent colours.

Another issue raised by wearing hi-viz is the type of collisions regarding different levels of observation.

In the dark hi-viz is only of use if lighting is being shone at the person wearing the hi-viz. That's fine if someone driving is approaching someone cycling from behind (for the purposes of this example at least).

Someone driving might be forgiven for slowly slipping into the standard view of someone cycling as the bright human-shaped lump in front of them.

However, if someone is driving out from a side road they may rely on this poor practise of only looking for a bright human-shaped lump as they look to the right (and possibly left) before pulling out. If there is no light on the person cycling, the person driving may well not check well enough to see the approaching rider.

Hence, hi-viz can easily lead to more incidents of not looking properly, and that would include over the person cycling using (the legally required) lights. Just another example of removing the responsibility from the place where the risk is created.

The better thing to do to see people cycling is to look for them. With lights they are not invisible, be prepared to look for them. Don't just assume they are not there, then get shocked when they are.

There's also just a hint of escalation here. What's next? Should pedestrians have to wear hi-viz when walking anywhere near a road? How about lights as well? And maybe a helmet (because that'd actually save more lifes than it would for people cycling!).

As well as helmets, this is something governments don't want to go near as they want to encourage cycling. They rightly feel that adding to the costs of cycling will not help. Most people choose not to wear it because they don't like them or want to look like a traffic light. And remember a lot of people cycling are people choosing to get to where they want to be as simply as possible and ideally in the clothes they want to be in for whatever the event to which they are going.

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They All Jump Red Lights

Actually this just isn't true. In London in 2007 TfL found around 16% of people who cycle that do it (section 7.3, page 29/30). A quarter of these are just trying to turn left at a junction, which is being considered for legalisation. Comparing this to people who are driving, comes out with similar figures.

Looking at actual reported incidents shows who's mostly responsible for damage to life and limb. Pedestrians injured following Red Light Jumping in London: 4% were where a person cycling was responsible and 96% was a person driving (CTC report, page 10).

I personally avoid Red Light Jumping as it gives a bad impression, I don't like it. However, there are reasons why I could understand it. Some people who cycle see traffic lights as designed to deal with vehicles. Either by giving priority to more vunerable roadspace users (like pedestrians) or by ensuring large lumps of metal are controlled when they come together. These people do feel that it's not always applicable to their transport mode choice. Some do passive Red Light Jumping, like going across a pedestrian crossing when all pedestrians have gone, or turn left at a road junction. They do this with concern for everyone around them and just see the law as not very applicable. In these circumstances they are saying "I'm more like a pedestrian than a car".

However, many people who cycle don't share these views and are very happy when they get caught!

The recent IAM "survey" has had some red-tops exclaiming 57% of cyclists jump red lights. Unfortunately they didn't read the survey, which actually found that only 2% do it regularly, and 12% do it sometimes. This roughly ties up with the above figures. The same "survey" found over 30% of motorists admitting to Red Light Jumping. Finally, the whole "survey" mechanism from the normally competent IAM has been roundly debunked and thought to be a publicity stunt.

And finally, some people who cycle simply wouldn't care what goes on around them and the social ethics we use to help us all get along (and make laws out of them). That's more about the person than the fact they cycle. They'd be that self-centred, rude, arrogant, and recidivist even if they weren't on the bike. That's nothing to do with the bike to paraphrase Lance Armstrong.

I've written quite a bit more about red light jumping, links are to the right!

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They Don't Have Lights

Ok, that's a fair point. Having functional lights is important. Certainly much more important and effective than hi-viz. I urge all cyclists who haven't already to get some. It's not like they cost a lot. I've just got a pair of flashing LEDs for £3.

However, whenever I'm driving in town and stick to a 20mph limit, I see unlit cyclists. Like I see unlit pedestrians near the kerb. It's one of those things that's worthwhile doing when driving. Looking out for unexpected things.

Also, and remember I do see them as well, this is another overstated issue. When Cambridge police tried to do a crackdown on people cycling without lights in early 2012, they caught one bike every 20 minutes. In rush hour. A time when hundreds of people cycle down a main road in an hour. That sounds like at maximum around 1 in 30 cyclists are failing to use lights. Compare that to 1 in 5 cars failing their first MOT. Again, which failure is more dangerous?

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They Are Always On the Pavement

This is another of those "we hold our hands up, what should we do?" moments. When people cycle in the road there is a proportion of drivers who shout "Why aren't you cycling on the pavement?". This is of course wrong. But it just shows how wherever people try to cycle, they are always wrong from someone's point of view.

Technically, it's illegal to cycle along a pavement (but not necessarily a footpath!). However, lots of pavements have been converted to shared space. This is because it's a quick, cheap way for councils to get another "improving cycling infrastructure" tick without actually doing anything. It doesn't do a great deal for people who cycle or walk. And because it often doesn't reach standards, and must have some (self imposed) limit on speed, there is no option but to continue to allow people to cycle in the road. So, this isn't doing much to help drivers as well.

I don't like riding on the pavement, but accept that in some places some people find it a safer option than going in the roadspace, especially children. Just the other day I saw a someone cycling on the pavement. They were cycling very slowly with their small child on the back. 10 seconds later as I was in the same place but on the road. It narrows slightly and a car came with touching distance of me because they were not paying attention to their actions (and breaking Highway Code rule 163). I'm not surprised that the parent and child chose the pavement given those conditions.

Also, let's just to get some perspective about how bad the pavement cycling issue is. The majority of bad feeling is almost certainly due to close, quiet passes and the odd scare moments. And I can understand that as a pain. I try hard not to do that and urge people cycling to do the same.

Whilst all of these pavement incidents are rarely reported and make up no official statistics, when it gets more serious there is some information. But it shows an entirely different story. Statistically in London you are 40 times more likely to be injured on the pavement by a driver than a cyclist. On page 8, the injury statistics for London pavements for 2001-05 are as follows.
  • Pedestrians killed by CAR 17 and by CYCLE 0
  • Pedestrians seriously injured by CAR 387 and by CYCLE 40
  • Pedestrians slightly injured by CAR 1793 and by CYCLE 52
Even taking into account the amount of mileage done by both transport modes, a London pedestrian is twice as likely to be killed or injured by someone driving a car that someone cycling a bike.

And here is where people cycling on the road have a similar issue of close passes and scares. And this time a collision on average has much more dire results.  After all if an 80kg person on a bike passing a foot away is scary, try to think what over 10 times that weight going at least twice as fast is like. It's hardly surprising that some, like the above parent and child, chose the pavement.

Because we don't want people to cycle on the pavement or in the road, there's a big argument for separated infrastructure for cycling. That costs to do properly. In The Netherlands, Denmark, and other Northern European towns and cities where they have done it, they've spent £20-30 per person per year. In the UK we spend around 79p. We need to spend more, and do it now.

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They Are Always Recording What's Happening

Well, again, it's only a small number of cyclists that do this. I'm happy to admit I do it.

There are a number of reasons to do it.  Notably it's very useful in court when asked to show evidence of accident or bad behaviour rather than the "he said, I said" stalement. Here is one example where the driver was convicted.

Also, it does show the conditions from a bike's point of view. Sometimes this can be quite eye-opening. Many drivers simply do not realise how violent their car moving through the environment can be. Inside a car, we're pampered and cosseted away from the turbulence outside by cars designed to be as quiet as possible inside and, should the worst happen, a big air bag and crumple zones to stop the impact.

I've had contact as a result of some of my video clips. When I explained why they were on YouTube, they did apologise and seemed to be genuinely upset that they had caused danger to me. Secondly, I've noticed several businesses altering behaviour of their staff, contractors, and customers as a result of wanting to avoid the embarrassment of having their name associated with bad behaviour.

I record for a couple of other reasons. I like to record some rides, speed it up and put a decent soundtrack to it. This is to show just how much fun a ride can be. After all, this is all about getting enjoyment out of cycling too!

The main reason I film is to record blackspots. This means repeated issues can be spotted (I register each issue on a geo-data system). So, I know bad roads and bad locations for cycling, before an accident happens.

There has been the odd person who's complained that putting a video clip of them on YouTube is infringing their rights. Well, the legal position has been checked out by several people including Croydon Cyclist and The Cycling Silk. The latter noted in the comments that "Nobody can have a reasonable expectation of privacy on a public road.".

The thing is our behaviour in public effects everyone. It's called "public" for a reason! If someone decides they don't want to behave, it's perfectly acceptable to show this.

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They Need To Be Registered, Tested, and Regulated

This has been tried all over the world and, for the main part, dropped. It's simply because to administer it costs far too much money. It's like dog and fishing licensing. Again, Governments are trying to encourage cycling all over the world. To make it feasible to run, it would have to cost a lot, which adding to the additional paperwork, would put a big dampener on getting people on bikes.

Also, the usual reason given to register bikes is to catch miscreants. This is usually accompanied by a erroneous belief that all people cycling jump red lights, and behave dangerously on the pavement.

Another factor may be the desire to make people who cycle have the same level playing field as those who drive. The problem with that is there is no level playing field between a car weighing a ton (or a bus/lorry weighing an awful lot more) and a bicycle that combined with the person on it weighs little more than that person. The reason to register, test, and regulate driving is because it is a very dangerous activity, massively more than riding a bike.

So how much has the registration of driving done to curtail bad behaviour? As reported in The Independent:

  • An estimated 1.4 million drivers are flouting the law by driving without insurance. This is a serious offence and results in accidents that cause about 160 deaths each year and more than 23,000 people are injured by uninsured drivers. It also adds around £30 per year to honest drivers' motor insurance policies.

So insurance is a massive issue. But also, as all people driving have been tested they really know the laws of the road? Well, no actually, as reported in Autoblog.

  • .. just under three in ten think it's perfectly ok to drive over a zebra crossing when there's a pedestrian waiting to cross. About the same number don't know what the speed limit is in a built up area. These are active drivers, remember.

And of course all people driving obey all the road laws that are very obvious? Again, no. In this survey by the police in South Cambridge and reported by Richard Taylor, the highlight value is that, watching in the region of 43,000 vehicles, only 25% drove in a way that would avoid prosecution for speeding.

So, all in all, more regulation costs too much, discourages better behaviour, and still has big issues in doing anything for a much more dangerous transport mode.

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They Weave Dangerously and Get in the Way

I'm never quite sure what this means. Thre are instances of cyclists doing really rather silly things (see silly cyclists which, incidently, is run by a cyclist). This, whilst deplorable, is not standard behaviour and will do little to other people than shock or scare them. Along with a lot of the standard jibes about people cycling, it seems a lot of it is down to people not knowing the rules of the road. Or even knowing what the current cycle training tells people cycling how to behave.

Generally, most collisions between a bike and car are the fault of the person driving (this report puts it at 93%). This does a lot more damage generally than silly cyclists.

A bicycle is less stable than a car, it has two wheels. It also can be seriously endangered by potholes, drain covers, bad road mends, puddles (which hide potholes), bushes, rubbish, uneven kerbs, grit, and a whole host of other things. This is why training tells people cycling to be about metre out from the kerb (the secondary position in this training from British Cycling) and Highway Code rule 163 tells people driving to give plenty of space. Bikes wobble and can move around due to things people driving may not see. Give space.

Second, in the above cycle training link there is guidance on door zones (page 4). It's not unusual for occupants to open doors of parked cars without checking, even though that breaks the law (rule 239). Cyclists are trained to cycle well away from cars as a result.

Third, there is assistance on the primary position (pages 3-4). This is where it's dangerous for a car to pass a bicycle and the accepted training is to "take the lane" by going to the middle of it. This clearly might upset some people driving. However, they do need to ask themselves, is it more important that I get to where I want to be safely, ensuring others safety, and maybe delayed by a few seconds than other more tragic consequences?

If driving a car behind a person on a bicycle, please note that although you are allowed to overtake them, you also have a responsibility to do it safely. This means that if the person on the bike pulls out, either to pass a parked car, avoid a pothole, avoid a side entrance, or anything of a myriad of things, you don't just assume that you have right of way and they are in it. You don't.

Finally, it covers filtering (pages 5 on). This is where people cycle between slow moving or stationary cars. The training shows where it is a safe manoeuvre.

Now, I don't doubt there are people cycling who don't behave on the roads, but I suspect it's a lot less than detractors perceive. A lot of this could be down to confirmation bias (people who want to see bad behaviour by people cycling only see those who do it and not the vast majority who don't). And I suspect that lack of knowledge of road laws by people driving would account for quite a lot of the rest.

Another regular failure to know the rules of the road is when people driving complain that people cycling are riding 2 abreast. Actually that's allowed. Highway Code 66 says "never ride more than 2 abreast". Cycle training talks about making people riding bikes look similar to those driving cars. Hence 2 abreast creates a shape not disimilar to a car. It's another good way to reduce dangerous driver behaviour. This part of "getting in the way" is seen as a positive step forward.

Finally, a simple jibe is that "they hold cars back". Actually, in most towns average speeds (towards end) show cars don't do much more than bikes. This is despite racing between lights at speeds dangerous to anyone not inside a steel safety cage with air bags.

Taking into account the time taken to find parking, driving in a car is most likely slower. When it's really busy, it's often a lot quicker on a bike. Of course cycling is not the same as driving up the motorway. Travelling around a high density population area is much safer, quieter, more pleasant, faster and generally more agreeable on a bike than in a car. This is one reason that Governments are trying to encourage cycling all over the world. Even Jeremy Clarkson agrees.

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They Don't Use Cyclelanes

This is often said with the extra sentence "After all we drivers pay for them, why can't they use them". Well, people driving do not pay for them.

As stated in Highway Code 63, there is no requirement for people cycling to use a cycle lane. And there are good reasons for that.

They are often so poorly designed as to be downright dangerous to use. Many are just ridiculous. A good proportion of these are down to aged design which simply doesn't met current standards. Or they can be completely unmaintained, strewn with rubbish and undergrowth, even growing undergrowth!

But also, many new ones are simply designed by a road planner that has no concept of being on a bike. The result is that people cycling simply don't (or even can't!) use them. This is wasting everyone's money, which is an irritant for everyone.

And, of course, many people who drive seem to think that "since we paid for them they should use them" even though they are wrong.

Actually, general road space is meant to be shared. In fact this is enshrined in law, athough seems to be forgotten by some. This is a situation that we have sleepwalked into over the past few decades.

Many people driving seem not to realise that a pedestrian has right of way on the road (bar motorways), whatever the circumstances. We learn many things at school age about being careful crossing the road and avoiding conflict with motor traffic.  I think that we turn the tables when driving later in life and somehow believe that the car has right of way.

Note the Highway Code has plenty of guidance for pedestrians but nowhere does it say that a pedestrian needs to Give Way to a motor vehicle (except motorways). In contrast, when dealing with vunerable road users, drivers of motor vehicles are warned to drive slowly, be aware, and give way to pedestrians.

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There's Not Enough Space or Money To Do Proper Cycle Infrastructure

This is where we can look at other cities across Europe to see what's been done there. In more congested Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, and German cities, they have found a way of doing it.

The answer is pretty simple. For every person that changes from using a car to more around to a bike, space is saved. Bikes take up less than 25% space required to move the same people in cars (even with the change in photo aspect). And this is just on the roads. We also use enormous amounts of space just for parking. (Well, actually a lot of the time people driving cars illegally take over space meant for others leaving a big bill for us all.)

These cities (and countries) decided to build quality infrastructure, the people changed to cycling, and the space was saved. Of course this requires the space to be taken away from space for motor vehicles. And that's probably the bit that most concerns people. And it does take time. So, for a period of change life gets a bit harder for people driving cars. In fact that acts as a strong motivator for change.  At the end, the result is a much safer, quieter, less polluted, more pleasant place to be. Even Jeremy Clarkson agrees.

Now, in a time of "austerity" (not my favourite term, but playing the game that people seem to want), many would argue we can't afford to do it. Well, in many senses we can't afford not to do it. Figures from where the infrastructure has been built suggest £20-£30 per person per year is required, or about £2 billion a year. That's a lot! However, congestion alone is said to cost the UK around £20 billion a year (page 8) and is set to get worse (page 10). Congestion has dogged the UK for decades despite spending a fortune on trying to road-build our way out of it. Research in the latter part of the 20th century concluded that building roads did not help, because it simply attracted more cars onto the roads. And a statistical analysis in 2005 showed that:

  • Traffic should flow best in cities when only a limited number of roads lead to the centre. This counter-intuitive finding could allow planners to prevent gridlock by closing roads rather than building new ones.
And congestion is just one thing that drives Governments to encourage cycling all over the world.There are multiple reasons for it saving money from improving the nations health (costs £9.8 billion a year), noise pollution (£3 billion a year), air pollution (~£5-11 billion), and so on. It adds up very quickly into an enormous sum that we pay and it's only going to get worse.

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Motorists are Driving the Economy

There does seem to be a common misapprehension that everyone driving is a hard working contributor to the country and everyone cycling is somehow lazy and unemployed or a student taking from the economy in some manner. This simply isn't the case.

In fact on average people who cycle earn more (paragraphs 2-8, 3rd last paragraph) than those that do not. Also shown, a higher percentage of people who cycle own a car than those who don't cycle. And, just as a final point, statistics show that those shopping on a bike spend more than those in a car. This was highlighted by Cambridge's MP, Julian Huppert, in the House of Commons debate on Portas report about town centres earlier this year (7.54pm, column 691).

In some respects, these facts do very little to mitigate the horror I have of what lies behind the concept above. The concept that some people seem to believe that people who can't afford things ought to cow-tow on the road to those that can. It's saying quite a lot about our society if some of us feel that there's an underclass that has no right to receive privileges, only those who are wealthy should be allowed them. Our society should be about our common items being rightly accorded to each and every one of us, and that includes the public highway.

It maybe that some of these thoughts are based on people leisure cycling on the road. This is a small fraction of the numbers of people cycling, of course, most are cycling just to get to work. And even so, people leisure cycling are contributing to the longer term health of the nation, saving NHS bills in time to come. The savings made here are staggering with estimates around £12 billion per year (see below).

Recently an 83 year old man became a kidney donor, whilst he was still alive. It was widely reported on the BBC, and why did he feel he could do this? He had a fit body due to cycling all his life.

So, constant jibes of "get a car" are a very big indicator of ignorance.  It's more than likely, and the nations average, that the person cycling already has a car, just chooses not to use it all the time. And along with that, because they do happen to be higher earners they are paying more in tax (income and probably council and VAT) and thus are contributing more to the good of us all.

So, that's one side of the equation dealt with. How about the other side. How much does it cost to run our transport system with it's high car dependency? Well, the costs of building and maintaining the road network are large. But that's not the only costs to the economy. The Institute of Fiscal Studies, produced a report for the RAC Foundation saying "Road use generates costs which are borne by wider society instead of the motorist.". This is carefully reproduced for easy reading by the iPayRoadTax site.

The essentials are as follows.
  • Excess delays £10.9 billion
  • Accidents £8.7 billion
  • Poor air quality £4.5 - 10.6 billion
  • Physical inactivity £9.8 billion
  • Greenhouse gas emissions £1.3 - 3.7 billion
  • Noise amenity £3-5 billion
  • Total  £38-49 billion for England
This, scaling up for the UK population, would be £43-£56 billion. This does not include a lot of other externalities (like noise pollution, air pollution not including CO2, water pollution, or obesity, totalling £26- 41 billion more) but the iPayRoadTax site continues through them coming out with a variety of totals but settling on the lowest figure of £48.7 billion. Added to the £9 billion cost of actually building roads brings out a conservative figure of £57.7 billion.

The revenue raised from petrol taxation, car tax, VAT on fuel and cars only comes to £48.1 billion. Remembering that this revenue also has to go into schools and hospitals, this still means that the car-based transport system (or motorists if you will) is subsidised by ordinary taxpayers to the tune of nearly £10 billion. And remember that's a conservative estimate.

So, no motorists are not driving the economy, they are a millstone round it's neck. Drivers still do not pay anything like enough for the damage they do to the overall economy. This may shock many who will return "what are we meant to do, it costs too much already". My response would be to have a better look at how you behave and run your life. Everyone saying "I need my car" for a variety of reasons has not thought things through in a bigger picture. And realise those costs are only going to grow, so starting thinking now and save yourself before it gets too much.

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Governments Are Trying To Encourage Cycling

So why are governments around the world trying to encourage cycling? The most basic reason is the economics of it all. More cycling by people would massively reduce the costs of this country. And that cannot be emphasised enough. The current drift, following the same processes we've got used to are taking us down a terrible path that we will have a hard time coping with in a decade without changed behaviour.

It's clearly not just about so called "do gooders" and climate change either. Changing the way in which we get around as a nation impacts our health service massively. And at the moment issues within our nations health are predicted to get an awful lot worse. The values being reported are truely staggering

Finally, an issue that motorists can get behind, congestion. Again this is costing our country a fortune and it doesn't have to be as such.

The big reason for thinking that cycling does solve these issues is shown in this report produced in 2005. 25% of all car journeys done in the UK are under 2 miles. It also says that 58% of all car journeys are under 5 miles. For the year of 2005, Sustrans found that 69% of all car journeys are under 5 miles. Obviously not all of those journeys can be made on a bike. However, many of them can be. Going to work is perfectly possible on a bike. Shopping, even for a family, is perfectly possible. Taking kids to school is perfectly possible. And that has the knock-on benefit of getting kids more independent as well as healthier as they get older.

This is also why compulsory helmets, hi-viz, registration and regulation are all not in any UK main political party's agenda. It's seen as a massive disincentive to cycling. Firstly out of the additional cost, both to individuals and the state, but more about the mechanism called "dangerising" cycling. All that safety equipment simply creates an image that cycling is somehow a high risk adventure. And simple commuting, riding along a road, is not.

Looking at places where people using bicycles as their transport is high (The Netherlands and Denmark immediately spring to mind), a couple of things immediately become apparent. There are a lot of cycle paths. Not just the odd one here and there, they are on almost every street. Again, the economics and space to do this add up, even for the UK to be able to do so.

The other very obvious thing is the lack of helmets and hi-viz.  People are just cycling around in the clothes they are going to use that day, to go to meetings, the shops, or school. This is called "normalising" cycling. It's where people don't see cycling as a reason to wear peculiar, specific clothes but see cycling like getting on a bus or walking down the road. Nobody here would suggest all that safety gear and clothes to walk down the road? And, comparatively, that's just as dangerous as getting on a bike.

So, what's the result of changing over to more people cycling and less people driving?  

The upshot is a city that works. It’s pleasing to look at. It’s astonishingly quiet. It’s safe. And no one wastes half their life looking for a parking space. I’d live there in a heartbeat. And those aren't my words, they are Jeremy Clarkson's in . He also describes Copenhagen as "fan-bleeding-tastic. And best of all: there are no bloody cars cluttering the place up."

To add to those comments, cities become less polluted resulting in many thousands of people saved from early deaths.  When driving is absolutely needed, it's not difficult to do or particularly congested, albeit still expensive. But because it's not regularly done, it's not prohibitively expensive as a lifestyle choice.

Now how do we go about doing this conversion of our transport infrastructure? Northern European cities went along the lines of building it first to encourage people to cycle more. It has taken them some years, actually decades to get to where they are now. The USA has also started down this track and has actually progressed very quickly in many big cities like Portland, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. The result is their cycling rate is jumping, congestion easing, and city life improving.

In this country we seem to be obsessed with trying to do something for nothing and nudge politics. This has led to a laughable series of half measures that do nothing for anyone, apart from the council mandarin who can tick off a box to say the locality is more cycle-friendly whilst being nothing of the sort. Even when we do build a single high quality route it's often disconnected from other routes and ends up very much unused. The key is that it must be a grid of cyclepaths that have use for people going about their ordinary lives. That takes a bit more than a nudge.

The other thing that nudge politics brings is attempts to make something unpalatable to steer people away from that behaviour. This is why fuel duty has had a rising escalator since the Tories introduced in 1993. Of course, with little alternative given (cycling not seen as an option), many drivers complain bitterly about the "war on the motorist". So, because this country has failed to offer proper alternatives many motorists feel unjustly done by. Of course, despite this feeling, drivers are still not charged the full cost of their activity.

So, in other words, this country seems to want it at the government level, but seems to want to avoid the costs of doing it. And there is popular support for the infrastructure build, as The Times cyclesafe campaign discovered. At the other end, the lack of alternatives had led to a bitterly entrenched (albeit incorrect) position from motorists, which makes a lot of this changeover a hard sell. However, taking away an ice-cream from a overweight toddler is also frought with tears and pain. But it is the right thing to do. It's hard because we have sleep-walked into this situation with each government hoping that they won't have to do the hard thing.

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I Hate Cyclists

There really isn't a lot to say here. These kind of statements really say more about the ignorance of the person saying it than anything else. Simply put, it's just straight bigotry. It takes no account that many different human beings ride bikes.

It's probably based on a sterotypical view of a person cycling as a snarling, lycra-clad, red-light-jumping man. I thought I'd look for a typical photo of one of these. Unsurprisingly, they are far and few between. The closest I could find was this guy, who's not exactly very snarly or threatening!

And then there's all these people cycling, who apparently deserve hate, simply by choosing to ride a bike.

Cycling is an inherently pleasant activity. The process creates all kinds of natural homones in the body that have an uplifting effect. If you drive a car and you're typical interaction with a person cycling is of the snarling variety, perhaps you might like to take a look at why that might be. My guess would be that either you or a nearby driver has just done something that has endangered the person cycling. That creates an adrenalin surge through the body of the person cycling, which manifests itself in an aggressive response.

Another stereotype would be the pavement cyclist is a hoodlum bloke on bike, shooting all over the place ignoring all traffic laws, tearing up the pavement shouting obscenities to any who challenge their behaviour. Again, photos are hard to find. I'd suggest these people would be as self-centred, rude, arrogant, and recidivist even if they weren't on the bike. So, it's not about the bike and nothing to do with cycling. It's that they are antisocial idiots. And if you think those kind of people are dangerous on a bike, try experiencing them in control (well, lacking thereof) of a car. Instantly the potential maiming goes up to a potential killing. Thankfully, these people are not around too much (do check confirmation bias if you disagree).

People are people, whether driving or cycling or walking. They don't change simply because they have chosen a particular transport mode. Those who are not capable of living by the social rules we devise to keep our society together do need to be challenged. However, deciding that this is one particular minority group has no place in a civilised world. We are human and deserve respect for life whatever way they do it.

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The Bingo Game

This is meant to be a bit of light entertainment, although there is inevitably a point subtly lying underneath it all. Or perhaps not so subtly!

For cyclists: every time you hear this, tick another one off the square. Once you reach a full card shout "Bingo!" at the last offending person. Additionally, every time you pass a multiple of 80 points shout out "Quarter Bingo!", "Half Bingo!" and so on.

For drivers: every time you find yourself about to say this and hold yourself back, you can tick that box off. However, if you fail to hold yourself back, you have to untick that box. If the box already unticked you score the points as minus. If you get to minus 50 points, perhaps it's time to consider having a reminder driving lesson. If you keep going and make minus 100, perhaps it's time to get out of the car and stop driving. You're dangerously out of touch with the reality of the rules of the road and you need to stop before you injure someone.

Click to open in a bigger screen.

Bon Chance!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

South Cambridge Guided Busway Cyclepath

Or why even good infrastructure doesn't get used

Yep, that's a bit of a mouthful! From Cambridge Railway station a full 2 miles south to both the Trumpington Park and Ride and, via a branch route, to the west side of Addenbrookes hospital the guided busway has been built along an old railway route. Next to it, a 4+ metre wide cyclepath has been installed. The route is quiet, traffic light free, with plenty of space for overtaking and passing pedestrians.

I can only imagine the general response from cycling types as "wonderful, sounds like you're living the dream in that there Cambridge". However, it seems to be hardly used. Compared to the cycle traffic along the nearby Hills Road there seems to be minimal numbers of cyclists on it.

So, why is this? I think there are several reasons, so let's have a look.

Route into Town

Some issues arise from thinking where people are trying to go. The cycle route has very little entrances and exits. This means cyclists can pretty much only go all the way along it. There is one public egress on Long Road. However, it's a 200 yard long east-west traverse, making it all but useless apart from a few houses towards the west end of that road. Apart from that, there are a few gates into private companies. These are usuable by members of the public going through car parks and so on. However, they do tend to be locked outside of office hours, and have lots of "Cyclist Dismount" signs. Not exactly useful.

Trumpington Routing

Here is the route that goes in from the Trumpington Park and Ride to the Station.

Yep, it looks great. And maybe that would help for drivers coming from out of town needing to catch a train. It sounds not unreasonable. Except that there are a number of train stations amongst the nearby villages, so very few people are likely to come into Cambridge to do this. It's easier to go to the village stations.

Then, just moving the destination a hundred yards or so to Hills Road, and the recommended route changes away from the cyclepath.

That's because, even with it's "smooth" curve, the cyclepath would be just longer. In fact, Hills Road is a good boundary. This extends up to Glisson Road, then uses that to Mill Road, and then to the west of Gwydir Street up to Newmarket Road. So destinations in about half of Petersfield are shorter along the cyclepath. To the west and north, it's shorter along Trumpington Road.

Mills Road bridge and the cycle bridge do make the west side of Romsey Town also good along the cyclepath. Again, this is quite limited.

Now, just moving the start a hundred yards or so into Trumpington, and the recommended route changes away from the cyclepath.

This time, the break is just around Tenison Road. This means that all routes that are not specifically to the station are shorter not using the cyclepath. Ah. Suddenly it seems there might be a reason that the cyclepath is not being used. Unless the cyclist is starting in the Park and Ride, the route into town is shorter elsewhere than using the cyclepath. Even if they start in the Park and Ride, unless going to the east side of Petersfield or the west side of Romsey Town, the route into town is shorter elsewhere than using the cyclepath.

So, the relative small and quiet sections of town are served by the cyclepath, not than the rather more busy town centre (in orange).

Addenbrookes Routing

Ah, but what about that branch, surely that helps drag people in. Well, maybe, except that on a broadly speaking north-south route, the branch goes 500 yards west-east.

This means that a lot more routes are quicker than using the cyclepath. Even coming from Shelford along the great Sustrans cyclepath, which is the closest to the cyclepath, it would be preferable to cycle along a couple of back roads and Hills Road when going into town. The area of Petersfield that is quicker on the cyclepath is much smaller than above, and the Romsey Town area has gone completely.

Google Maps or CycleStreets

I've been using Google Maps walking directions to calculate these areas. This is in beta so maybe not entirely reliable. However, I've also looked at CycleStreets, which is well sourced to calculate this as well. It essentially agrees, just is a little more unmanageable handling rapidly moving start and end points (it's still very good though!).

Here is the quietest, shortest, and fastest routes to Hills Road.

Going to north-west Petersfield does give a the quiet route along the cyclepath, but that's it.

Possible Additions

One suggestion by Cambridge Cycling Campaign is to run a ramp up from the cyclepath onto the side of Hills Road Bridge. This really isn't a bad suggestion. This would almost certainly add a section to the west of the Petersfield area, including some of the city centre, into the "closer by cyclepath" areas. This would take up a very small amount of space, possibly taking 3 or 4 parking spaces away from the company. I'd suggest it'd make a bold and strong positive marketing element for the company that did that. Having your name emblazoned across the local paper saying "we thought it was good for Cambridge" is not bad publicity at all.

This is where the ramp would start and head up, possibly turning to the left, to the darker bridge brickwork, possibly towards the left end of it.

And this is where the ramp would end, towards the end of the darker brickwork. It would join in with the good cycle lane heading into town.

This would need to be a one side ramp, so only accepting cyclists from this side of the road onto or off it. I don't think there'd be much difficulty encouraging this. If coming the other way (so from ahead), it's much much easier to get onto the cyclepath by turning left (at the lights in the distance) and joining the cyclepath going under this bridge. It gets round the Cambridge cyclists notorious nemesis of having to ride up anywhere (for any height, whatsoever, including bridges!). Going under the bridge for that direction would be a much easier and more appealing journey.

However, for cyclists coming along the cyclepath and wanting to head into town along Hills Road it would nicely cut of a big corner, making it appealing for many more (and busier) destinations in town. At the moment, trying to go under the bridge and come back to Hills Road is really poor. It can't be done on the bike properly. Here's a clip why.

This shows that any cyclist ends up at lights that only allow a left turn back over the bridge. The only option would be to dismount, cross the road at the pedestrian crossing, then join in with traffic again. The phasing means that there is very little time for crossing within a full 100 second cycle. Most of the cycle is dedicated to traffic going over the bridge, hence the RAMP!

Here's a clip of what would happen instead (ironically ending in a red light!).


All I've talked about so far is how short the route is. For many cyclists this is the most important issue, just to get from A to B without spending any more energy than is necessary. However, not all cyclists think that. I don't.  In fact sometimes if the route is simply a few hundred yards further over a couple of miles, but is much more pleasant, I'll take that route. So, I do use it, despite coming up the Shelford Sustrans path.

I get away from cars, something I relish. Also, away from the trappings of cars, like traffic lights, which slow my route down. However, even then it's not made very easy.

Francis Crick Avenue

The lack of joined-up thinking here is a real pain at times. Classically, the total route from Shelford ot the Station, just over 3 miles, is mostly two-way offroad. Apart from about 400 yards along Francis Crick Avenue. It splits across the large road into 2 onroad cyclelanes. No, I'm not kidding.

Ah, you'll be thinking this is a limited space place. No, surrounded by fields. Perhaps it was built a long time ago and it's not been updated since. No again. This was build a couple of years ago. Ah, perhaps they didn't know about the other developments. No, again. The Sustrans cyclepath pre-dates it and the guided busway sections were being built alongside it. So, why did they just not bother? Simple, no joined-up thinking. What is even more silly is that over the railway bridge (looking back from the below photo), the cyclelane IS two-way on one side, all the way to the next lights.

This shows just how ludicrously badly thought through this section is. Notice the vast amount of space to the left. Plenty of space for a 4 metre wide two-way cyclepath joining up the two longer sections. Although the side of the road looks nice and smooth now, it's only a matter of time before this gets strewn with debris from cars, and those drain covers look none too pleasant to catch a bike wheel in. Yes, this was designed in the past few years.

Going this way is poor, trying to go the other way is just plain idiocy.

Cyclists have to cross the road at the other end, luckily there are lights to wait at if working through traffic doesn't appeal. Well I say luckily, it's still a big waste of time compared to what could have been done here. Then, 400 yards later, when trying to cross back across the road to get back on the path, the route is effectively a 2nd/3rd (well, right) off a roundabout, taking a good extra distance round and forcing cyclists into a mechanism designed for cars to mingle, not them. As might be expected, the few cyclists here use the footpath or cross the road early to get in before the roundabout.


Yes, this is where all non-cyclists say "but surely you have to accept bad weather and conditions if you want to be on a bike?". And whilst I'm happy getting wet (as usually "cold" doesn't come with that) that's not the issue. Most water hitting cyclists, especially in Cambridge, comes from the ground, not the air. It's the standing water that splashes up that makes more of a mess than that which comes from the sky.

And this is where the cyclepath follows the same issue as many around which does not happen on the road. Today, I used the cyclepath about 10 minutes after a short shower. The spray coming up was a good drenching. It was not dissimilar to going through a 1-2mm deep puddle for over a mile. I got to the railway station and turned onto the road. It was completely dry. This wasn't because there had been a constant stream of traffic along it, drying out the road with repeated tyre wiping, I'd not seen a single bus. No, it's just down to the tarmac used and drainage developed. No thought has gone into draining the cyclepath in comparison to the road. Simply put, if that's the choice, many, many cyclists will choose the road. This is something nobody wants, really. So why not think about cyclepath drainage!


It's pretty simple, build it and they will come. However, you have to make it appeal. This is the basis of the free market that will pull cyclists onto the route constructed. Fail to think through simple things and it will not be used.

Making it easy to get on and off would be a good start. Just adding the Hills Road Bridge ramp would be a big step forward. Maybe connecting up across the open spaces to the paths and residential roads on the east side of Trumpington Road might pull people in and do more to encourage people from the Trumpington Road route.

Above all, joined-up thinking. Don't just put the tarmac down and just expect people to get on it. Think what would make people more likely to use it. And drainage would be one big thing!