Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Merton, Everything's Wonderful

Well, if you listen to the local paper, you might be led to believe this is the case.

"Merton has been hailed as a Biking Borough by the Mayor of London."

Well, yes and no. Merton has been selected to be a Biking Borough, which just means it will get money from the Mayor to spend on cycling projects. It doesn't say anything about the current levels of cycling (which are among the lowest in London) or Merton's cycling facilities (which are patchy to say the least).

Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor's transport spokesman said
"Merton has been instrumental in helping to promote cycling in South London and decluttering streets to improve cycling routes."

Eh? Maybe he's not spent much time in Merton. This is a borough whose record on cycling isn't exactly stellar. And the 'decluttering' it's been doing has resulted in railings being removed, which people used to lock their bikes to. They've not been replaced by the equivalent number of proper cycle stands. Merton have not done anything in the way of permeability that I'm aware of, in fact they've done pretty close to nothing of any real value for cycling in the last year. They've put a useless, dangerous on-road lane in Green Lane, and, er, that's about it. (I'm not counting the Raynes Park Railway Path, because work's only just started on that.)

Andrew Judge, Merton's Cabinet Member for Environmental Sustainability and Regeneration said:
"In Merton as across London, we have seen a significant increase in the number of cycle journeys."

On Page 30 of Merton's LIP2 you'll find a graph that says otherwise. It shows modal share declining from slightly above 1% in 2001 to around 0.75% in mid-2010. Of course, that's in some ways unimportant, as we need to look forward rather than backward, but it does show that Merton's approach has failed to arrest the decline in cycling. I'm not going to blame Andrew Judge for that, because there were many factors at work during that period (and he wasn't in charge for part of it), but he does need to ensure that Merton doesn't repeat the failures of the past.

In Merton's LIP 2, I don't see a vision of how cycling's modal share is going to increase in Merton. The LIP 2 has a mixture of targets to increase cycling and stop kids going to school in cars, that sort of stuff, 'objectives', 'key proposals', stuff that you can agree with, but no plan to actually achieve them. There's nothing that indicates that Merton actually understands:
  • their historic approach has not delivered;
  • there is less money than before;
  • the reason people don't cycle is fear of traffic.

There's a list of suggested improvements in the Biking Boroughs section which are worthy enough, but the improvements are not all costed or funded, and there is no actual plan of how we'll end up with a network of cycle routes that will attract the 95%+ of Mertonites who don't cycle regularly. It's not all lousy, but it doesn't add up to a 'Cycling Revolution'. The danger is the Merton highways engineers carry on doing what they've usually done in the past, but with less money. They will come up with schemes that are inadequate to start with and then end up getting compromised into being useless, such as narrow, advisory on-road lanes with parked cars either in the lanes or too close to them on the left, and with traffic roaring past on the right. Or how about off-road lanes that start and end before a problematic junction, leaving the user trying to join a busy road.

It's important to understand that Merton cannot succeed or fail on its own. It would be helpful if there is an ambitious London-wide plan for cycling (there isn't) and if there is central Government backing, in the form of an adequate funding stream and a policy direction that favours cycling ('no' on both counts).

The one wildcard is that the increasing cost of motoring and public transport may force people to cycle more. I think that factor is likely to get more people cycling in Merton than any of the policies currently on the table.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TfL Road Safety Cuts

'Cuts Kill' might sound like polemic hyperbole, but the cause-and-effect is clear: if TfL cuts its road safety budget, as is suggested in this news article, more people will die and be seriously injured. If that were not the case, then the money's currently being wasted.

John Biggs MLA is reported to have said:

"We are already hearing that TfL will not be able to spend as much on lower priority areas, such as road safety and smarter travel."

The irony is, of course, that crashes are very expensive indeed, so reducing the road safety spend will end up costing the NHS and central Government money.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Clean Air and the WEZ

A post from Dave Hill, stating that pressure group Campaign for Clean Air in London (CCAL)  won't be going ahead with their legal challenge to Congestion Charge Western Extension Zone abolition.

TfL have stated:

"The air quality impacts of the removal of WEZ are more than offset by the additional measures set out in the Mayor's Air Quality Strategy to reduce emissions to air from road transport across London, including within the WEZ."

What Dave Hill hasn't pointed out is that CCAL have secured no additional long-term measures: only assurances that there will be no worsening of air quality in the WEZ relative to 2010. Which, as CCAL point out, is a bit surprising as TfL had previously predicted an increase in pollution (albeit a small one). Maybe this is just a delaying tactic by TfL/Boris, hoping they can get through 2011 without a lawsuit. It's not looking good though - London's already had its first 'Bad Air Day', with NO2 emissions limits being breached on Brompton Road and Putney High Street

In any case, the Mayor's Air Quality Strategy still falls short of the programme of measures inherited from the previous Mayor, that Boris saw fit to abolish. So the net effect is Boris is still dirtier than Ken. As far as I can see, there's nothing substantive that's new in the Air Quality Strategy over and above what was put in place or proposed by Ken.

'Greener' Top Gear ?

Diehard petrolheads may have got a shock when Top Gear presenters discussed fuel prices in the first episode of the new series. Jeremy Clarkson said that the Government could reduce fuel tax, and that would be very popular, but that we have got to accept that the oil price is going to carry on going up.

Clarkson had previously said (quoted by The Sun) "In a country like ours you need to have a road system that works - and it can't work if fuel is over £6 a gallon." 

The Top Gear presenters then had a short discussion on the 'hypermiling' technique of avoiding braking to save fuel, and concluded that electric cars weren't a practical alternative due to the need to recharge frequently.

On that bombshell, maybe Transport Secretary Philip Hammond got a shock too, because he's rather reliant on committed car drivers buying into his 'carry on driving' transport policy. If diehard petrolheads start to question whether energy is going to stay cheap, they'll pretty soon start to ask other awkward questions this Government is not well-placed to answer.

Sun Fuel Duty Campaign

The Sun newspaper (sic) is running a campaign to keep down fuel duty.

They've commissioned a survey that shows people driving less because of the cost of fuel.

They've also trotted out some old statistics from rightwing thinktank/lobby group the Taxpayers' Alliance, that purport to show that motorists pay twice as much in taxes (fuel duty + VED) than is spent on the roads (roadbuilding + emissions).

UK taxes are not hypothecated. Taxes, whether motoring-rated or otherwise, also pay for the NHS, education, justice, armed forces, and so on. However, if taxes were hypothecated, would motorists be paying enough to offset the costs of motoring to the taxpayer? There's rather more cost to motoring than just roads, but the motor lobby has always been very good at externalizing costs. Other costs borne by the taxpayer include:

Policing of the roads.
  • Cost to the NHS of crashes (injuries and deaths).
  • Cost to the NHS of treating pollution-related illnesses.
  • Cost of delays and congestion due to crashes.
  • Cost of death and injury to the economy, in terms of lost productivity, disability benefits and so on.
  • 'Roadbuilding' usually only includes the cost of engineering. It usually doesn't include the capital cost of land. Park Lane, for example, would likely be worth many hundreds of millions as development land.
  • 'Road Blight'. If you live on or near a busy road, the value of your house will suffer, as will the quality of the whole environment around it.
  • Costs of noise pollution. There's evidence that noise not only annoys and reduces peoples' quality of life, but also has medical ill-effects.

Strangely enough, the problem of 'road blight' and the capital cost of land are obliquely referred to in the TPA's paper, where they cite right-wing economic theory in the area of property rights. However, they then go on to ignore most of the externalities I've listed. The TPA argue that because there are regulations that control and to some extent mitigate some of the harm that motoring does, therefore there should not also be a tax that discourages it. This is inconsistent. The TPA are arguing that motoring taxes amount to more than the costs to the taxpayer of motoring. Yet they are also saying that some of those costs 'don't count'.

These intellectual arguments about whether motoring taxes are fair are rather pointless. You can argue about the 'fairness' of all taxes. What is rather more relevant is what effect changing the level of motoring tax would have. In other words, what would happen if you lowered the fuel price?

First, a bit of recent history. Last time there was an oil price spike, back in 2008, the secondhand prices of SUVs and large petrol cars collapsed. Yet since then, as the oil price relaxed, SUV sales have picked up again. The problem is that the UK car fleet has a 10 or 15-year life, over which the oil price may vary widely. The UK car fleet is purchased by relatively weathly buyers, who then sell the cars on to the less-well-off. The initial purchasers can afford the fuel bills, however the owners of older cars in some cases cannot, yet they have limited choice in the used car market to minimise their fuel bills.

To reduce fuel prices by reducing fuel tax on a permanent basis would make bigger, thirstier cars more affordable to  new car buyers. Its quite possible that the oil price could go up substantially while cars bought new today are still on the road, and in this case it will be the least-well-off motorists who will be paying the price 5 or 10 years down the line for the purchasing decisions made by the well-off. That would be bad news for the economy as a whole.

The TPA seem to view fuel prices simply as a relationship between each individual and the government. It's not. It's a whole complex eco-system, where today's fuel price can have knock-on effects on the economy for a decade or more into the future. If reducing fuel prices simply encourages new car buyers to choose bigger, thirstier cars, in the longer term the least-well-off may actually end up paying more for their car travel rather than less.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Merton LIP 2 -

The Merton Local Implementation Plan (LIP 2) is out now. LIPs for all of London will be out soon if they're not already and you should comment on as many as possible. Politicians only take notice if people make noise. The documents are here.

The LIP 2 outlines the Sustainable Transport Strategy for the period 2011-2026. That's a long period of time, and given the massive challenges we face from climate change and peak oil, it requires a bold vision.

Section 2.2 says
"This vision of this is of an environment where the public realm has become a space where people choose to walk, cycle and use public transport rather than use their private car. It is a safe, accessible and sustainable public realm with reducing levels of traffic congestion."

Oh good. However, Section 5.2 says
"As an outer London borough it is unlikely that public and active transport infrastructure and services will   improve to the level that will significantly impact on motor vehicle usage for some time and therefore a programme of schemes that balance safety, congestion and modal shift is proposed for the lifetime of this strategy."

In section 5 (The Motorised Movement of People and Goods in Merton), there are precisely no measures outlined to reduce, control or mitigate motor vehicle use. Nothing at all. So, re-reading 5.2, public and active transport infrastructure won't improve enough to attract people out of their cars, and yet there are no measures to coerce people out of their cars. I do not wish to appear overly cynical, but for a sustainable transport strategy, that strikes me as a somewhat fundamental flaw.

In terms of transport then, it's business as before in Merton. Meanwhile, over at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas, they have a rather different perspective. "We are heading towards a global oil supply crunch and price spike", they say. They also warn of coming energy scarcities and outline a rationing system which could ensure fair access to energy and guarantee emissions reductions."

So, based on the LIP 2, Merton are doing virtually nothing to help the community transition to low-carbon transport, and nothing to reduce our dependency on cheap oil. There is no commitment to prioritise active and public transport over private car use. To be fair to Merton, they cannot act alone. There needs to be a national strategy. Instead of that, central Government are pushing the decisions down to boroughs like Merton. I've pointed out before that the risk of putting green investment decisions in the hands of local authorities is these decisions get fudged, watered down or kicked into the long grass by parochial forces and 'nimbyism'. I suggested there was little evidence that local authorities share the vision of greener transport, and some proof of that seems to be in the Merton LIP 2.

All that said, there are some good programmes in the LIP2, so progress will be made. But without the commitment to make decisions that prioritise active transport over private car use, progress will be slower and more expensive than it could otherwise be.

I'll be looking at the Merton LIP 2, in particular the cycling implications, in more detail in due course.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tavistock Street Docking Station

There's a lovely 33-space Cycle Hire docking station in Tavistock Street, Covent Garden. It's a shame you can only cycle one way down Tavistock Street.

In fact, if you want to cycle legally eastwards from here, you'll have to cycle down Henrietta Street, Bedford Street and Floral Street, taking you about 1km out of your way.

You will have the same problem trying to return your cycle.

Above is the view down Tavistock Street from Catherine Street. It's one-way in the opposite direction, meaning that you cannot legally get to the Tavistock Street docking station by going down Tavistock Street in either direction. That should confuse Johnny Foreigner. He won't know if he's coming or going.

This is just one example among many of how Westminster Council are ensuring as few people as possible use Cycle Hire. Not only are they doing nothing to reduce motor traffic, they are forcing cyclists to take completely unreasonable routes where there are much more direct alternatives. You'll notice in the pictures there's more than adequate roadspace.

Boris's New Airport

Reported in the Standard, Boris wants a new airport.

Fortunately, it's politically impossible to build new airports anywhere near London. They blight such a large area, the number of people affected results in well-organized protests on a massive scale that unite people from right across the political spectrum.

I thought we'd got beyond the 'predict and provide' approach to transport, whereby some 'business leaders' say jobs will be lost, companies will go abroad and the whole economy will go to hell in a handcart unless we build a new airport. With those magic words all considerations of climate change, pollution and the health and quality of life of Londoners are cast aside.

It rather makes a nonsense of the case for high-speed rail if it's not going to displace most domestic air travel onto the railways. More short-haul European flights will be displaced to rail as through services increase. Oil price increases may make flying less attractive. Legislation to reduce CO2 emissions may restrict flying. And crucially, technology will be displacing travel, as companies realise how much time and money they can save by making increased use of videoconferencing. In other words, the only way to make a case for a new London airport is to shut your eyes to many of the likely developments over the next ten years, and assume that demand for air travel will simply increase in a fairly linear, business-as-before fashion.

Building a new airport is a good way to damage the health and quality of life of a large section of the population. It's also a good way to lose an election.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fear and Risk and Cycling

Freewheeler over at Crap Waltham Forest has been doing an excellent series of posts on how how the various cycling measures being pushed by the cycling 'establishment', including shared space, 20MPH zones, cycle training and so on, won't bring about mass cycling.

The main argument of the cycling 'establishment' is that cycling on roads is relatively safe (although it can usefully be made safer) and that off-road or segregated cycle paths are no safer or possibly less safe than cycling on a road. Therefore, if that message gets across, everyone will come to their senses and start cycling.

Now, statistically that may or may not be true that cycling on roads is safe enough. But it doesn't actually matter.

The mistakes that the vehicular cyclists make are twofold:
1. Assuming that people make decisions about cycling rationally. No-one gets the statistics together, compares the probability of getting run down while cycling with the probability of living a longer, healthier life due to the health benefits of cycling, and then decides to cycle. If they did, there would be a lot more cyclists than there are.
2.  Confusing 'risk' with 'fear'. Risk is a measure of the probability of an adverse outcome (a crash in this case). Fear is the emotion associated with the prospect of an adverse outcome. The two are only loosely connected.

It's not just decisions that relate to cycling that are not rational. If people made rational decisions about their transport mode, there would be no Range Rovers. People make decisions emotionally, and they try to justify their decisions post-hoc. "This car is safer. I need the space and practicality. I have a dog. I need a prestige car because my customers expect it. " All this is rubbish. People make many decisions in their lives based on their emotions, their core values, their aspirations, their perceptions, their insecurities. But they largely don't make them based on a rational assessment of available facts. Instead, they look for facts that justify their decisions and reaffirm their values.

I've spent many years cycling on roads, and it's only recently I have become comfortable with it. Partly, I think I've become more able to sense and avoid danger; partly I've become desensitized to bad driving. But even now, I avoid busy roads when I can. I'm convinced that everyone is born with a primeval fear of external threats, and now we've wiped out most of the higher mammals, it's motor vehicles that are the main danger. It's a pretty basic biological survival mechanism: we're programmed to be afraid of bears, tigers, sharks - anything that could do us harm. The facts that bears are usually more afraid of us than we are of them, and bear attacks in the wild are very unusual, are of no real comfort. Motor vehicles are a lot bigger and harder than we are, and they are not remotely afraid of cyclists or pedestrians. We're afraid of motor vehicles, because we're afraid of getting hurt and we know that motor vehicles can hurt us. That's why an unofficial  'highway code' has arisen where pedestrians will almost always give way to cars, no matter what the official Highway Code says about right of way.  For a cyclist, no amount of statistics can take away the  fear of traffic: it's awakened every time some idiot tailgates you, overtakes too close or cuts in front of you at a pinch point. Once awakened, the fear is likely to stay with you long enough to make cycling a unpleasant experience for a while. You only have to be snarled at by one dog to be wary of dogs for a long time.

So how do the vehicular cyclists propose to convince everyone that cycling on roads is safe? Even if they could actually lock everyone up in a room for a couple of hours and evangelise about cycling, statistics are never going to trump what people fear or what people see with their own eyes. You cannot tell someone they shouldn't be afraid, any more than you can tell them they shouldn't be in love. The idea that people are afraid of cycling because they've been indoctrinated to believe that cycling is inherently dangerous is false. It may be true that cycling isn't as risky as most people think, and that the 'road safety' ideology is wrong. It may also be true that of the perceptions of cycling as a dangerous activity are constructed, but the terror of the 'near miss', and the prospect of it is the root cause of the fear - not the actual risk.  People are afraid of cycling because it is scary, not because society has told them it's risky. People do many things despite society telling them about the risks: it's the actual experience of fear, rather than perception of risk that tends to drive people.

It could be argued that people who don't cycle don't actually experience the fear - they only have the received wisdom that cycling is risky. I don't accept that, because most people use roads either as a driver or a pedestrian, and they witness bad driving and cyclists in close proximity to danger. Watching a horror movie is enough for you to be scared by it.

A minority of people in this country do cycle. For some, it's simply the cheapest or most convenient way of making certain journeys. Those people may be blessed with off-road paths or quiet routes that take them from their house to their destination. There are others who simply enjoy cycling, and some who enjoy the  buzz of getting to their destination despite the danger. There are some who cycle for environmental reasons. Some do it for fitness reasons. Some do it for a mixture of the above. For the majority of non-cyclists or off-road cyclists though, the fear of traffic outweighs all these reasons, so if cycling involves mixing with traffic, they won't do it, and there is really no intervention that will change this.

So all the vehicular cyclists will achieve with the sum total of all the non-segregationist measures - 20MPH zones, shared space, cycle training, strict liability, share the road, etc., is to make conditions a bit safer for existing cyclists. There's a few people who might be persuaded to cycle if some of the above measures make their particular journey subjectively safe enough, but for most people there won't be continuous routes that get them where they want to go that don't involve a significant number of frightening encounters with traffic. The only way you can get large numbers of people to cycle is to create barriers between the cyclists and the motor traffic. Whether or not that's necessary or sufficient for safety, or even detrimental to safety, is not important, but it is necessary to take away the fear.

Fuel Prices

It's rather ironic that the one thing that the Coalition doesn't control - oil prices - seems to be doing it the most damage in terms of tabloid headlines at the moment.

They've been doing a lot of flip-flopping on whether or not to introduce a 'Fuel Price Stabilizer'. The latest salvo is Danny Alexander saying the Treasury would not sacrifice income to help out motorists. However he did mention a pilot scheme to offer discounted fuel in rural areas.

It is true that there are worse-off people in rural areas who depend upon their car. However, there are also plenty of better-off people in rural areas who can afford to pay more for fuel. I also know of someone who lives in a nice 4-bedroom house in Cumbria and commutes the 100-mile round trip to Lancaster. There are people who own second homes in the back-of-beyond and drive there from London every weekend in their 4x4s. So you can see that for every deserving, hard-up family where there's a choice between Christmas presents for the kids and filling up the car, there's a good few less needy people for whom discounted fuel would subsidize their carbon-intensive lifestyle, and those that choose to drive the most polluting vehicles would benefit the most.

It could also be argued that while the 'country mouse' may suffer disproportionately from rising fuel prices, the 'town mouse' suffers more expensive housing, and enjoys a lower quality of life and life expectancy.

If benefiting the poor is the objective, discounted fuel could be a very badly-targeted measure, likely to benefit the least deserving the most. It's also a tactic that has an ongoing cost to the Treasury.

Politicians show very little imagination on the fuel price issue. They seem to regard it as a zero-sum game, which it isn't. People can, and do, reduce their fuel usage in many different ways.  Maybe the Coalition should think about how they could help people reduce their fuel usage rather than focusing on fuel prices. They could subsidize energy-saving tyres. They could improve public transport and other alternatives to the car. They could encourage measures such as  'eco-driving', giving people the driving skills to reduce their fuel consumption. Ride-sharing would encourage people in the same community making the same journey to share a car, which would promote community cohesion. They could also encourage people to do more locally, promoting local businesses.

Friday, January 14, 2011

4x4s 'Attacked'

"Green group attacks Chelsea Tractors", says the Evening Standard.

The word "attack" is used in the loosest sense - the vehicles had stickers saying "CO2 Kills" put on their number plates by a green group, Climate Rush, probably consisting mainly of undercover policemen.

Apparently, owners are threatening legal action, saying they could've been fined for displaying an incorrect number plate. Poor loves.

On the plus side of the ledger, these owners will benefit disproportionately from any 'fuel price stabiliser'. I said the prospect of this was receding yesterday, so by Sod's Law 'Call Me Dave' was talking it up again today.

So, the winners are:
Drivers of 4x4s and other thirsty cars who drive a lot.

The losers are:
Anyone who doesn't drive much or at all, or has a frugal car.
Anyone who thought the ConDems were a green government.
Your great-grandchildren.
The Maldives. Maybe the 4x4 drivers would like to give the residents their condolences next time they fly there for a long weekend.

Comment on the City of London Local Implementation Plan

If you cycle in the City of London at any time, you should comment on the City's LIP. Otherwise they'll continue to ignore cycling.

Surf on over to Cyclists in the City to find out how.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shhh! It's been the hottest year ever!

The Guardian complains that 2010 was the joint hottest year on record, yet the UK media has not reported the fact, except for themselves and the Telegraph.
On the other hand, extreme weather events in Brazil, Sri Lanka and Australia are filling the column inches, so maybe the editors decided 'enough with the climate change'.

Ken Livingstone - Transport Policy - Cycling

This is the second in my series of posts looking at Ken Livingstone's transport policy document
and I'm looking at the implications for cycling. After all, this is a cycling blog...

Ken's previous terms as Mayor have seen money spent on cycling throughout London, but cycling has remained a niche transport mode particularly in outer London. Where I live, cycle provision is a mess. There are some great facilities, but they're not connected into a network. It's not possible for a child to cycle from my house to any of the nearby schools without encountering dangerous junctions and problematic traffic conditions. While this is as much the fault of the local Council and central government as it is the fault of Ken or Boris, in my view Ken has not historically had a vision that will create mass cycling by overcoming the safety fears of parents for their children or of inexperienced adult cyclists.

Boris's approach by contrast has focused cycling spending on his two high-profile schemes: cycle hire, which was first proposed by Ken, and Cycle Superhighways. While this seems to have met with some success mainly centred around central London, and it has generated lots of publicity, there's less money for outer London. Boris talks about a 'cycling revolution', but these schemes don't amount to anything that will generate significant amounts of new cyclists.

So, onto the detail:

"Our long term aim must be to continue to shift the balance of transport from cars to public transport and, with even more emphasis than in the past, to cycling and walking. In the context of the current financial situation, this is both the most cost-effective and environmentally responsible method of increasing transport capacity."

The questions here are how long-term and what level of shift? Boris's goal is a modest 5% modal share by 2026.

"I have been convinced for many years of the need for 20 mph to be the default speed limit in residential areas...20mph speed limits could also reduce cycling deaths and injuries. In a place like London where many trips involve crossing the river, bridges are the one place that cyclists can’t avoid the traffic. It is estimated that reducing the speed limit to 20mph on central London bridges would reduce casualties by a third."

This is a good idea, but 20MPH needs to be enforced for it to make a difference. And even with enforcement, there will still be enough aggressive driving to intimidate cyclists. Reducing casualties is a good thing, but it won't bring about a perceptible shift to cycling.

"I will work to make it possible for more children and their parents to walk and cycle to school – supporting ever more necessary moves to tackle childhood obesity."

You could argue that it's possible today for children to cycle to school, but they don't, partly because driving is also possible, and more convenient. To get kids to cycle to school, you need to deter driving them to school AND  take away the safety concerns that surround cycling.

"Cycling can help solve so many of the problems of the modern world ... and at relatively little cost to either government or the individual. Spending on cycling remains a tiny fraction of the Mayor’s transport budget. While money is short, cycling looks like an even better investment."

That sounds like a commitment to increasing cycling spending. Which is good, provided it's spent on the right things...

"Safety remains the critical barrier to more people taking up cycling, which is why schemes like the cycling ‘superhighways’ won’t work unless the difficult decisions are made that sort out dangerous junctions and stop vehicle parking along the routes."

All junctions are dangerous, albeit some more than others. Vehicle parking is also a serious safety issue, as are the bits where the blue lanes disappear altogether. However, just getting the casualty figures down isn't enough to get people to take up cycling. The route needs to be subjectively safe, which means that traffic needs to be  separated from the cyclist.Without measures, in the form of physical segregation, it's difficult to get a route that is what most non-cyclists or occasional cyclists regard as safe.

"And the next big obstacle to tackle is the provision of safe cycle parking...every major public building should have good cycle parking. I would also work with businesses to gain the same standard of cycling facilities in the private sector"

That's a good aim, although more than that is needed. To get people cycling to work you need changing/showering facilities, and to get more cycling in general, you need more cycle parking, and it needs to be secure. It's also essential that the police stop regarding cycle theft as not worth pursuing. There's been some success recently with the Cycle Taskforce, and this should be expanded.

"we have to focus on outer London...most of the potential for further increases in cycling will come in outer London"

"I want to expand the cycle hire scheme to every suburban town centre that wants it"

I'm not so sure about that one. I think every borough will want it (depending on who pays for it), and the problem then is the massive scale and therefore cost of the build-out. Central London has high demand, a lot of visitors who come in by train or tube, and a compact geography. Somewhere like Merton is very different: it's mainly residential. I could definitely see people using hire bikes to get from South Wimbledon tube to Wimbledon town centre, up to the village, or to Wimbledon Common, but how much demand is there? I think a decent, subjectively safe local cycle route network would be a better investment. 

"as well as creating a network of safe backstreet routes and good cycle parking in outer London"

Another issue is that backstreets are under the control of the local Council: there's the need to persuade them to do it, and do it right.

"I will aim to integrate the cycle hire scheme with the Oyster card"

This would simplify life, but at what cost? While it's a good idea, I wonder if the money would be better spent on something else. A lot depends on whether it's a software-only solution, or if all the docking stations will need an Oyster reader.

"I will make available relevant Transport for London data so that we see an explosion in smart phone apps for cyclists"

All good.

"And I would reverse Mayor Johnson’s short-sighted decision to cut ring-fenced funding for ‘greenways’ – safe cycling and walking paths along rivers, canals and parks, which are four-times more likely to get people cycling than cycle lanes on roads."

Absolutely critical. However, this should not just be a leisure network: it needs to be possible for people to cycle along a continuous network of off-road, segregated and very-low-traffic (i.e. subjectively safe) routes. That's the key to mass cycling.

"We need to put the shift from the car to public transport, walking and cycling back as the focus of what we do."

The $64,000 question is whether this actually means relegating traffic flow and parking into second place, behind subjective safety of cycle routes. What's most important in my view is that cycling isn't left in the hands of a motor-centric organization like TfL. The culture and the organizational dynamics are all wrong, and it has a history of failure. Ken needs to get in experts from countries that have succeeded in transforming cycling into a mainstream transport mode. The other challenge will be working with boroughs. Enlightened boroughs may go along with this approach, should Ken choose to take it, but there's a danger we end up with a patchwork quilt where some boroughs have an excellent, safe cycling network and others don't. There's a limit to how much commitment Ken can give at a manifesto level without the 'war on the motorist' charge being raised. However, one good thing Boris has done is to put cycling centre-stage, so the political environment for cycling is probably as benign as it's ever been.

Fuel Price Stabilizer

"£70 to fill up with petrol!" froths the Daily Mail today, in a reaction to the increasing cost of oil.

The benchmark Brent Crude is currently hovering just below the psychological $100/barrel level - it's at $98.45 as I write. This is down to a few factors including the current disruption to supplies caused by the trans-Alaskan pipeline closure and problems in Norwegian North Sea oil fields.

This has caused people to remember the 'fuel price stabiliser' originally proposed by the Tories as a response to the last oil price high. The logic goes, when the oil price rises you bring fuel duty down, and when it falls, you put it up, thus giving some predictability for motorists.

The Tories have tried to kick this idea into the long grass in the past, and Cameron again tried to do that at the weekend, saying ‘I don’t want to raise people’s hopes too far because it is a difficult issue'.

This idea is not well-thought-through. Unless your objective is simply to reduce fuel duty, the scheme needs to be revenue-neutral over the longer term, and that requires a prediction of the future oil price to be made. As the oil price is on an upward trajectory at the moment, this would mean that the first effect of the 'stabiliser' would be to stabilise the price of petrol at a higher level, meaning an immediate price increase - which won't poll well. If the oil price continued to increase, then it would be necessary to reset the duty level, again causing an immediate and substantial increase. Note that fuel duty is a fixed price per litre, so the revenue does not increase with the oil price. VAT on the other hand does net the Treasury a windfall as the price increases, but it's not huge - a 10p/litre increase would net an additional 2p/litre, working out at slightly less than 2% of the current price.

Next, there is the fuel price escalator. The Mail is a little misleading on this one, claiming that fuel duty will increase by 5p/litre on April 1st. This is true, but it's composed of the inflation component which keeps the fuel duty value constant in real terms, and the 'escalator' which is only 1p/litre. So the real-terms increase is actually 1p/litre. (source)

The plain fact of the matter is reducing fuel tax does not shield motorists from rising oil prices. It's a lot more painful in the USA where taxes on fuel are low - each crude price rise increases the pump price by a larger percentage than in the UK. The only way to protect the economy from the oil price is to reduce dependency on oil, and that's an area where the Tories have a record that is less than stellar. In the absence of Government action, it's the forecourt price that forces people to look at their vehicle choice and their transport habits.

Lastly, the Mail journos should look back over the news recently and see how train fare increases and food price inflation have been punishing ordinary folk. I'd suggest that motorists are not a uniquely deserving case, especially as the cost of motoring has gone down over the last 10 years, and tinkering with the fuel price will benefit the owners of thirstier, dirtier, larger-engined vehicles disproportionately.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ken Livingstone - Transport Policy - Congestion

The launch of Ken Livingstone's transport policy document should be the opening salvo in the 2012 London Mayoral election race. I'll be picking this document apart of the next few days, and I'm going to start with  congestion, seeing as the abolition of the Western Extension Zone is one of the areas Ken differs from Boris.

The Congestion Charge has a number of possible functions:
  1. To reduce congestion
  2. To reduce private car use
  3. To discriminate against higher-emitting cars
  4. To reduce motor traffic
  5. To reduce CO2 emissions
  6. To reduce other pollution (particulates, NOx)
  7. To encourage public transport use
  8. To raise revenue
  9. War against the motorist
  10. Class war

It is difficult for the Congestion Charge to reduce congestion when so many vehicles are exempt. Clearly, the more full or partial exemptions you have, the less effective the charge will be. So to reduce motor traffic, CO2 emissions and pollution most effectively, you need as few exemptions as possible. This will also encourage public transport use. The case for penalizing higher-emitting vehicles should be based on reducing CO2 emissions or revenue-raising. However, if you rebate the charge for lower-emitting vehicles, you're in danger of creating more congestion.

Restricting the congestion charge to the central zone means that any benefits are also restricted to that zone, and there may be increased congestion around the periphery as drivers 'skirt around' the zone. That said, congestion tends to be self-limiting, as faced with enough delay drivers will change their transport habits. Significant problems with the structure of the Congestion Charge are that once you've paid it, you can drive as much as you like that day, and if you live within the zone, you pay only a nominal charge. There's certainly a case for looking at the structure of the Congestion Charge and seeing if it can be improved to reduce congestion over more of London more effectively.

To raise the most revenue, the Congestion Charge needs to be less effective in meeting the first seven objectives. However, congestion and pollution bring costs, so any revenue gain may be wiped out. For example, less congestion will enable buses to use less fuel and get around quicker, reducing their running costs. The Congestion Charge will bring in revenue because it is very hard to stop people driving, but it's important that revenue-raising is not, and never becomes, the primary objective.

It's important that the 'war on the motorist' and 'class war' charges don't stick, so congestion charging needs to be equitable and rooted in the objectives of reducing congestion and emissions.

So what is Ken planning on doing?

"Boris Johnson’s policy to scrap the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge is a mistake that I would reverse."

On balance, a positive move, although I'd like to see the structure of the charge and the zones revised.

"create a Wi-Fi service which tells drivers, via their mobile phones, when they are near an available parking space."

The rationale for this is that drivers tend to circulate while looking for a parking space, adding to congestion.
So it makes sense to help drivers find parking spaces. However, if you make driving easier, you're in danger of attracting more traffic.

"tackle the disruption to roads caused by utility works."

Yeah right. This is a lot easier to talk about than it is to actually do. Plus there is the problem of suppressed demand: reducing roadworks makes more roadspace available, and will attract more traffic, until the road system again reaches it's 'steady state' of congestion.

"introduce a form of emissions-based charging on new cars entering the congestion charge zone meaning that new cars with the worst carbon emissions will pay more, whilst the least polluting cars pay less and older vehicles will pay no more than the basic congestion charge."

There are some real dangers in this policy. It's a good idea on CO2 grounds to discriminate against higher-emitting cars, but it is not a good idea to reduce the charge for lower-emitting cars, because this will result in more cars and hence more congestion. Exempting older vehicles is very dangerous. You can imagine wealthy bankers buying old supercars to dodge the charge, the result being even worse emissions and pollution. The policy will need to be a bit more surgical to avoid loopholes like that.

What is Ken not doing on congestion?

He isn't doing much to tackle outer London congestion or emissions. However, the outer London problem is somewhat different, because the public transport alternatives are not as attractive and car-dependency is more deeply ingrained. I'll address this in a separate post.

Ken isn't tackling taxis. Black cabs and private hire vehicles make up probably 70%-80% of traffic in central London, and many cab journeys could easily be made by public transport. No transport policy worth its salt can avoid the issue of taxis, especially as current black cabs are among the worst polluters per passenger mile of any vehicle.

Politically it is difficult to take on the black cab lobby, however there are plenty of measures that could be taken to reduce the trade's effect on congestion. I'm always at pains to point out that this is not an anti-cab blog. Black cab drivers provide a world-renowned service, cause relatively few crashes, and with a few exceptions are good, relatively law-abiding drivers. If only the rest of the commercial driving sector could claim as much. Therefore, measures to limit cab use should be done in a way that respects and preserves people's livelihoods. That said, we can't shy away from tackling emissions.

You'll notice a lot of cabs are driving around empty, looking for a fare. Technology-based solutions could enable these 'dead miles' to be minimized, reducing costs for cabbies and reducing congestion.

, dispensing advice on the best route, plus a London smartphone app could be provided to make it easier for visitors to navigate London without relying on cabs.

It would make sense to license smaller 4-seat vehicles with much lower emissions than the full-size cab, again reducing costs for the trade.

The public sector, including the BBC and local and central government, need to increase their use of public transport and reduce their use of private cars and cabs, and private-sector organizations should be encouraged to do the same.

There need to be steps to control proliferation of private hire vehicles. While this trade is now regulated, it is not well-controlled, and given these vehicles are congestion-charge exempt, it's possible that it's used in congestion charge avoidance schemes. There's a good case for eliminating congestion charge exemption for both private hire and black cabs.

Relatedly, the number of cabs (both black and private-hire) needs to be reduced. This could be done either by raising fares, or by freezing the granting of new licenses. In parallel, the Mayor needs to make public transport better, faster, subjectively safer and more accessible, so that it's an attractive alternative to cabs and people travelling alone late at night are not afraid to use it.

Ain't it Quiet in Central London?

Maybe it's a lack of roadworks, maybe it's the ski season, or maybe it's the Congestion Charge Western Extension Zone (WEZ) abolition, but whatever the cause, the roads in Central London definitely seem quieter in January than they did last year.

The WEZ theory is that people were driving their 'tractors' from Chelsea into the West End at a nominal charge, whereas now they have to pay the full congestion charge. That makes some sense, and it was a weakness of the WEZ. However, private cars made up fairly small proportion of Central London traffic last year - most of it is black cabs, private hire vehicles and commercials - so I'm not convinced of the explanation. Not that I have a better one, mind you.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's Been a Year!

I just realized that the first anniversary of Cycalogical is here!

I've been a cyclist in London for many years now, and a year ago I realized that very little had changed for cycling this millenium. There seemed to be more cyclists on the road, but conditions were as lousy as they'd ever been barring a few spot improvements. Meanwhile we were ten years nearer irreversible climate change. The existing cycling organizations were failing to get their message across and in some respects campaigning for the wrong things. Inspired by a few excellent cycling blogs, I hoped I might be able to add something to the debate by starting my own.

This blog would be rather pointless without you, the audience. Thank you all for reading, thanks especially if you've left comments, and thank you even more if you blog and have linked to this one.

We certainly have lived in interesting times this year. We've had a change of national and local government. We've had the first CSHs and the London Cycle Hire scheme. Cycling has been increasing in London. I've also detected a change in the perception of cycling. A year ago, I was seeing quite a few anti-cycling stories in the media particularly from the likes of the Telegraph and Daily Mail. In contrast, recently the Mail did a sympathetic piece on Catriona Patel, and last weekend's Telegraph had three or four cycling stories in the Motoring section. Maybe they've figure out that their readership demographic is a pretty good match with cycling? In addition, the Standard (now under new ownership) has a progressive attitude. Of course, cycling conditions on the blacktop still haven't changed much, and the Coalition have disappointed with almost complete silence on cycling and a transport minister who doesn't know one end of bike from the other.
But my belief is that first we need to create the right conditions for change. Cycling needs to be seen in a positive light by the public and the media, and politicians need to realize there's votes in it. The only way to do this is by making a lot of noise, being evangelical and getting more people cycling!

No Cycling in Dean's Yard Westminster

Dean's Yard is a nice little cut-through in Westminster that enables the crafty cyclist to avoid Great Smith Street. It's a beautiful little square in the old precincts of the Westminster monastery, which today forms part of Westminster School (responsible for bringing us Nick Clegg - thanks for that).

Only they've now banned cycling...

It appears that Dean's Yard is private property and has only permissive access. I have not researched what the legal position actually is. According to the man in uniform, cyclists have been running into pedestrians.

I have no idea how much of this is due to actual incidents and how much is petty jobsworths who don't like cyclists: I suspect it's a combination of the two. There are quite a lot of pedestrians around, many of whom seem oblivious to the fact that it's a road, and part of the problem is the barrier at the Victoria Street end making a bottleneck. There seems to be a general attitude in the UK that if there's a collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian, the presupposition is it's the cyclist's fault and therefore ALL cycling should be banned, whereas if the collision is between a pedestrian and a car, it's the pedestrians fault for being in the road, and perhaps barriers should be erected to keep 'em on the pavement and out of the way. Any restrictions on cars are deemed to be unfairly catching 'innocent motorists'.

This isn't that big a deal. For me it'll be quicker to go down Great Smith Street, if rather less pleasant, and in any case the Yard is closed quite early in the evening. However, this does tell a familiar story of cycling in London. As a cyclist, you're either ignored or made unwelcome. Cycling is normally not considered, but when it is, it's seen as a problem. When it comes to law enforcement, comparatively minor offences committed by cyclists are cracked down upon with disproportionate zeal, while motorists are free to speed, chat on mobile phones and stop in ASLs unmolested by the forces of the law. Cyclists are caught up in restrictions intended for motor traffic because no-one of influence in Westminster Council can be bothered to consider the effect on cyclists. All of these individually are petty annoyances, but it's the sheer number of petty annoyances that scales up to a large deleterious effect on cycling.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pavement Parking in Merton

Pavement parking seems to be spreading in Merton.

Above is the scene in Cannon Hill Lane (top) and Hillcross Avenue (immediately above), both of which seem to have had their pavements partly usurped for parking. There's no signs or markings to indicate this is legal, but the Council refuse to enforce against it which is why it's become established.

What problems does this cause? On the face of it, not many. The pavement isn't actually blocked. People can still go about their daily business. They can walk, drive, park, or even cycle. Partially-sighted people will have problems, but who cares about them?

There are some more subtle, insidious effects though. One car parked on a pavement doesn't generally cause a huge problem. But lots of cars and panel vans lining a pavement causes lots of little problems that scale up to make the neighborhood a considerably less pleasant place to live.The fact that cars and panel vans are manoeuvring onto the pavement, particularly at school-run time, causes danger for children who are on foot. The reduction in pavement space means it's harder for younger kids to cycle, use scooters or just run around and play, and it makes pedestrians walk in single file. Then there's the 'urbanization by stealth' that turns a quiet residential street into a car-dominated rat-run. It widens the traffic lanes which in turn leads to higher traffic speeds - both these roads suffer from speeding - and likely to higher traffic volumes. The effect of cars and vans parked on the pavement looks scruffy and unwelcoming. The street is no longer a pleasant social environment -  the whole street, pavements included, is subsumed to the car. Would you rather live on a road with lower speeds and traffic volumes, with trees instead of cars on the pavement? Most housebuyers would. Unfortunately, the residents of these roads may not be fully informed of the downward effect the Council's policy will have on their house prices, or of what the alternatives may be to parking on the pavement. Most car owners likely start parking on the pavement to protect their cars from being hit by speeding cars. There are solutions to that problem that don't involve pavement parking. Such solutions cost money, some people might protest. That may be, but pavement parking damages both the pavements and services underneath; neither are designed to withstand the weight of vehicles or the constant battering of parking. What also costs money is the increased collisions caused by higher traffic volumes and higher speeds.

The Council's policy of turning a blind eye to pavement parking also weakens their ability to improve neighborhoods by planting roadside trees or making the street more of a community space. Once established, pavement parking is likely to spread and be difficult to eradicate. Failure to act against it is the sign of a weak-willed and short-sighted administration.

Motor Industry Roundup

UK consumers bought a third fewer cars in December 2010 than they did the previous year. This was partly due to the scrappage scheme inflating the previous year's demand, but it's not good news for the industry, given that sales were expected to peak in advance of the VAT rise in January 2011. Fleet sales were more buoyant, and overall the UK car market rose 1.8% over the year.

The SMMT expects 2011 to be tougher, with total sales going down 5%.

That's not the end of the bad news. Increasing fuel prices may depress sales of thirstier models, and indeed may reduce miles driven. Increasing energy and raw materials costs will likely squeeze manufacturers' margins, and the expected interest rate increases along with other adverse economic conditions could reduce consumers' disposable income.

Oh, and 19 electric cars were sold in December, thanks to Philip Hammond's electric revolution.

What does all this mean for UK transport policy and for the environment? Probably not much. Fewer cars being manufactured means less emissions from car plants and upstream processes, but the average emissions won't improve as fast as it might if existing cars were replaced with more fuel-efficient models. It seems unlikely that Britain's love affair with the car will end - just that the average age of its cars will increase a little. The Government is doing nothing to reduce car use or promote alternatives, and train fares are increasing faster than car running costs.

Uninsured Cars to be Crushed

Legislation originally framed by the Labour government is being carried forward, enabling uninsured cars to be seized and crushed. This is not a big change, as previously cars had to be taxed and insured or the owner had to declare them as being kept off the road by filling in a SORN (Statutory Off-Road Notice).
The only change is that there will more likely be consequences for not filling in a SORN. The AA's spin on it is that innocent motorists' cars could be crushed, and they're calling for a publicity campaign. It shouldn't be news to the AA that a lot of innocent motorists' cars are crushed by uninsured drivers crashing into them, adding a substantial sum to average insurance premiums.

On balance this legislation is a good thing for cyclists, as uninsured drivers don't limit themselves to insurance offences. They're likely to be dangerous drivers, so the fewer of them on the road the better, and crushing their cars may be a more effective way of doing that than taking away their licenses.

Road safety Minister Mike Penning has pledged a substantial campaign to make sure that drivers were aware of the change in the law.A shame he can't pledge a substantial campaign to make drivers aware of the existing motoring laws, which a substantial number of drivers seem to be happy to ignore, but that's another blog post...

QC calls for justice for killed and injured cyclists

As reported in the Standard. In case you didn't know, the lawyer concerned, Martin Porter, writes an excellent blog, The Cycling Lawyer.

There's a similar report in the Indie. It's good to see this issue is finally getting some column inches in the national press - it's a tragedy that people like Gary Mason have to die before the media take notice though (as Martin notes on his blog).

From the Indie report, the DfT are quoted as saying:

"We take road safety extremely seriously and are working to improve safety for cyclists in a number of ways. The number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on the roads each year has fallen by 31 per cent since the mid-1990s. We are investing in the provision of cycle training and planning to encourage local authorities to introduce more 20 mph zones in residential areas and around schools."

In other words, as long as you don't stray too far from a school, you might be OK. Except that 20MPH zones are not enforced by the police, because they don't think it's a priority, and with police cuts they'll have even less enforcement capability. And of course local authorities don't have any money to implement new 20MPH zones. Meanwhile, speed cameras are being decommissioned. So to sum up how seriously the Tory administration take road safety: they're politely asking local authorities to put up speed limit signs while taking away the money to pay for them and making sure they're not enforced. Job's a good 'un.

More BBC electric car nonsense

I don't know why the BBC feels the need to dumb down some of its news articles to pre-school level.

This article - which has been mistakenly filed under 'technology' rather than 'CBBC' - can be summed up in a five words: "there aren't many charging points". Brian Milligan says nothing of value and quite a lot that's misleading or irrelevant.

"what is electric motoring actually like? Does it bear any resemblance to the smug self-satisfaction of those who glide along in petrol-lubricated luxury,untroubled by the fear that they might not actually reach their destination?"

Petrol-lubricated? Your car won't get to the destination if you lubricate it with petrol. Top tip: use oil as the lubricant. How you lubricate luxury is another question, the answer to which probably involves massage parlours, so I won't go there.

"it is still not easy to drive an electric car any further than the supermarket and back."

Supermarket and back? That's easy enough, unless you live a long way from a supermarket. Why don't you just quote a range instead of confusing the reader?

"the BBC decided to try to drive an electric Mini the 484 miles from London to Edinburgh..."

Why? Even if it can be done in theory, it isn't practical if you don't want the journey to take 3 or 4 days. Anyone can figure that out from the car's range and its charge time. You don't need to actually do it, staying in hotels at the license-payers' expense.

"won't potential owners want to know that if they wanted to, they could drive it from London to Manchester and back at the weekend, to see uncle and auntie? "

 These potential owners already know it can't be done, unless they're completely innumerate.

Come on, BBC, tell those of us that didn't skip maths and science lessons at school something we don't know, and stop wasting license-payers money on daft stunts.

No More No Entry ?

LCC reports that the DfT will be allowing the addition of 'except cyclists' to no-entry signs after successful trials.

In Brussels you notice that most no-entry signs have a cyclists exception.

Hopefully that'll put an end to ridiculous conditions for cyclists such as those found in Covent Garden:

 Above: You can't turn left into Floral Street from Bow Street.

 Above: You can't turn left into Long Acre from Bow Street.

Above: You can turn right into Long Acre from Bow Street even though the signs seem to suggest you can't.

Above: No right turn into Drury Lane from Great Queen Street.

The above is just a small selection of nibbles from a veritable smorgasbord of one-ways in this area: if you look at Google Maps you'll see quite possibly a majority of minor roads have such a restriction.

You can bet all these no-entry and one-way restrictions were introduced to stop rat-running and ease motor traffic flow, by people who were either completely ignorant of cycling, simply didn't care, were actively hostile or were just doing it out of spite. That'll be Westminster Council then.

Of course, the DfT approving 'cyclist exceptions' won't make them happen overnight. It'll take a program of implementation to attach the exception signs. There's probably no program that gives better leverage though, in terms of benefits per pound expended, but you should never underestimate local councils' ability to mire something so apparently straightforward in bureaucracy. In these austere times it'll be interesting to see which councils can scrape together the coppers and have the will to make it happen.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Boxer Gary Mason Dies in Cycle Crash

Former boxing champion Gary Mason was killed on Thursday morning (6 Jan) while cycling in Wallington. The driver of a white Vauxhall Combi van was arrested on suspicion of causing death by careless driving.
I wonder if this was the same driver of a white Vauxhall Combi van that I reported to the police earlier this week on Roadsafe London for using a handheld mobile phone while driving? If so, he'll be getting a polite letter from the police to ask him to kindly obey the law in future. Too late. Not that it likely would have made any difference.

Many drivers don't think speeding or mobile phone use is a big deal, and however they drive it's up to other people to get out of their way. That's because there's not been a sustained Government campaign to stamp out these offences. With speeding, the Government are pressing ahead to remove speed cameras against the evidence and against the advice of anyone who knows anything about road safety. The prevailing attitude on mobile phone use is that everybody does it. According to the RAC, 28% of drivers admit to using a handheld mobile while driving. The reality is it is likely as dangerous as drink driving. Stand by any road and you'll see drivers using mobile phones, some of them doing so while they ineptly try to make a turn one-handed, in blissful ignorance of what's going on around them. If the Government wanted to, it could employ wardens to dish out penalties, and the scheme would be self-financing with the fine revenue, even before you factored in the reduction in costs to society from fewer crashes.

We don't yet know how Gary died. Was the driver speeding? Was he using a mobile phone? One thing is for sure: this Government is more interested in milking the 'war on the motorist' myth dry than stopping people dying needlessly on the roads from other people's criminal behaviour, and it's people like Gary and his family and friends who pay the price. They will likely get nothing approximating to justice either: based on previous cases, if found guilty the perpetrator will get a fine and a short driving ban, and he'll be free to kill again shortly. War on the motorist? People die in wars. The people dying in this war are the victims of criminal motorists, and as in most wars, the politicians are more concerned with the poll numbers than the body count.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Royal Wedding Street Closures

A buffet lunch at the in-laws is a bit of a disappointment to be honest, but I think my invitation got lost in the Christmas post. The bride will be going to the Abbey by car; presumably they'll have cleaned the paint off by then.

On the plus side though, it appears that there will be significant road closures in central London, possibly for three days. I wonder if the guests will be getting around by bike?

The Signs they are a-Changing

Norman Baker is in the news talking about the review of traffic signs. In a nutshell, the DfT wants to reduce the number of road signs, simplify them and make them clearer.

Why do we have so many road signs and why are they so complex?

Firstly, when there were few cars, people used to drive where they liked. As car ownership grew, traffic problems started to grow, and it was clear that you couldn't manage the free flow of traffic without restrictions, and clearly you needed road signs to inform drivers of the restrictions. Today, road signs are required by law for any restriction (such as no-entry or one-way) to be enforceable. The existing legislation is very prescriptive about exactly what signs are required where and how big they need to be, which results both in a proliferation of signs and makes it possible for motorists to wriggle out of penalty notices if the local authority hasn't followed the legislation to the letter.

Secondly, there are some very complex signs governing bus lanes and parking. When there were few cars, people parked where they liked. As more people started to own cars, streets got full of parked cars, resulting in obstructions, residents being unable to park near their houses. So resident's permits were introduced, which led to problems with visitors who couldn't park. So this led to exceptions. Shopkeepers wanted people to be able to park nearby, but didn't want commuters or residents blocking the spaces all day, which led to time restrictions. With bus lanes, politicians have seen fit to restrict the hours of operation and increase the types of exempt vehicle so that the typical London bus lane will have two periods of operation and four types of vehicle allowed in it. Trying to get all that information onto a sign that is readable and understandable by a driver at 30MPH is pretty much impossible.

In a nutshell, the reason we have a mess of complex roadsigns is simple: too many cars. That, and politicians' trying to keep as much freedom and convenience as possible for drivers (and usually not cyclists or pedestrians) whilst trying to stop drivers doing inconsiderate and idiotic things. Road signs are like the tax system: if it's too simple it becomes unfair or a free-for-all; if it's too complex, it's difficult to understand and easy to exploit.

Of course, there are some cases where local authorities have done silly things, and cases where signage can be simplified. But in general, signs are there to give pretty fine-grained control over who can do what, so if you simplify and remove signs beyond a certain level, you simply bring back the problems that the signs were there to solve, problems whose root cause is too many cars. The disease is not "sign fever", it's "car addiction". It's a good job the Coalition aren't doctors: if you went to the surgery with measles, you'd get a prescription for a spray tan.

It would be nice if this review of road signage included some benefits for cyclists. Such as making cyclists exempt from most no-entry and one-way restrictions, making most bus lanes 24-hour, and stopping parking in cycle lanes. LCC and CTC should be pressuring Norman Baker to make this happen; however I've not noticed much noise being made.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Look at All Those Westminster Cyclists

Ross Lydall reports in the Standard that there are over 13,000 registered Cycle Hire users in the City of Westminster. That amounts to nearly 10% of the electorate in that borough.

How much longer is Westminster Council prepared to ignore cycling? Clearly, from these figures, people in Westminster want to cycle, and it's a pretty safe bet that a lot more would if the Council did a bit more to improve conditions for cycling. Which wouldn't be hard, as currently they do very close to nothing.

It's not just Westminster electors that cycle in Westminster: it's likely the majority of the 110,000 Cycle Hire users will ride there, and figures show that a very significant number (25% or more) of vehicles entering central London in the morning peak are cycles. In other words, it's becoming more difficult for the Council to ignore cycling and the safety of cyclists, and less easy to justify their over-zealous and disproportionate targeting of rule-breaking cyclists instead of dangerous drivers. But no doubt they'll manage it because of their idealogical opposition to cycling.

Oil is a Risk to the Economy

The oil price is a risk to economic recovery, say the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Hopefully the Tories are listening. They seem to be intent on expanding car ownership and car use, as they're making car parking less expensive and increasing rail, tube and bus fares. It's clear that electric cars won't be displacing fossil-fuelled cars in numbers anytime soon. Which means the transport sector is becoming more oil dependent. An oil-dependent transport strategy is very dangerous because it makes the economy very sensitive to oil price movements and the higher the oil price gets, the more of our money will be going to some of the less savoury regimes in the world.

What is dangerous as the high oil price is the ability to predict the future oil price. The world economy is barely out of recession yet, but in spite of this, the oil price is higher than many had predicted. If the world economy recovers strongly, and demand in emerging economies strengthens, the oil price could surge. Predicting oil prices is an inexact science, partly because the amount of reserves or the spare extraction capacity is regarded as commercially sensitive information by producers.
The Tories might ask why this is an issue. In a free market, people make their own choices. If they want a Range Rover or a Prius, it's up to them to pay the fuel bills, right? Not really, because a vehicle stays in the national car fleet long after the initial buyer has sold it on. Secondhand buyers have the choice made for them by new car buyers, for many of whom image and luxury trump fuel consumption. The nation won't be able to react quickly to an increasing oil price - it will take years for a generation of more frugal cars to reach the secondhand market, and years for people to adjust their travel requirements and habits.

A sensible transport policy would start today in attempting to reduce our downside risk of oil price increases. This doesn't seem to have registered with the Tories, who have declared our transport problems solved with electric car charging points and high-speed rail, and the 'war on the motorist' over. The real threat to motorists is the actions of overseas (not UK) governments and the expansion of oil demand. We'd be better advised to put up defences in the form of incentives to reduce car travel and improved alternatives to car travel,  instead of - uh - doing the opposite.

It really is madness to commit yourself for a decade or more to continue buying a commodity that has a finite supply and that everyone else wants, at an unknown future price. But that's what our Government is doing. Rest assured that if and when the oil price rises, Cycalogical will be here to remind the Tories what they should've done.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Philip Hammond's pro-car, low-carbon miracle

Latter-day messiah Philip Hammond has been explaining how making car ownership easier by allowing developers of new housing to put in more parking spaces and reducing council parking charges is  compatible with lower carbon emissions. This is a seemingly impossible task, but here's what the Great One, the Wise Counsellor says:

"For years politicians peddled the pessimistic, outdated attitude that they could only cut carbon emissions by forcing people out of their cars," he said. "But this Government recognises that cars are a lifeline for many people – and that by supporting the next generation of electric and ultra-low emission vehicles, it can enable sustainable green motoring to be a long-term part of future transport planning."

"Cars are a lifeline for many people".
 Hmmm. Some people are very reliant on their cars, it's true, but no-one's proposing abolishing all cars. For many people however, particularly in urban areas, a lot of their journeys don't need to be made by car, and because car dependency tends to lead to a sedentary lifestyle, cars can indirectly be a death warrant rather than a lifeline.

Electric cars will not be a significant part of the national fleet for years and probably decades. The National Grid forcasts 1M electric cars by 2020.  However, according to my source in the power generation industry, you should take that figure with a massive pinch of salt, because it's in the National Grid's interest to expand their asset base on the pretext of optimistic assumptions. Others in the generation industry are not assuming significant numbers of electric vehicles this decade.

Even if we take the Grid's forecast, that means there are still 29M fossil-fuelled cars on the streets in 2020, and quite possibly more, given that Hammond wants to make car ownership easier. Nothing very low-carbon about that.

Next week: Philip Hammond turns carbon dioxide into gold.

More parking, more cars

The Tories yesterday announced a number of new 'pro-car' measures. No doubt timed to coincide with the twin increases in VAT and fuel duty that will further increase the cost of a litre of petrol or diesel, these measures will remove restrictions limiting car parking spaces for new housing developments and allow councils to lower parking charges.

Eric Pickles commented:
"The result is our pavements and verges crammed with cars on curbs [sic], endangering drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, increased public resentment of over- zealous parking wardens, and escalating charges and fines. We're getting out of the way and it's up to councils to set the right parking policy."

Cyclists? At least he knows we exist. Unfortunately, he and Transport Secretary Hammond are not stopping cars parking on kerbs or verges. They don't seem to understand that the public have a pretty-much insatiable appetite for car parking. Allowing new housing developments to have more car parking will just mean existing houses without off-street parking will be able to park second and third cars on the street. The Tories don't seem to realize that more cars means more car journeys, and at the end of each journey the car will be parked somewhere - guess where - on a verge or on the kerb. What Pickles and Hammond are seemingly missing is that the problem, in urban areas at least, isn't 'not enough parking', it is 'too many cars'. Increasing car dependency, which they seem determined to do, won't solve either problem.

As for allowing councils to charge less for parking, this will have a couple of undesirable effects. First, it will reduce the council's revenues. As I noted in a previous post, councils are keen to increase charges, not reduce them, for precisely this reason. Second, if you make the car journey cheaper by reducing the cost of parking, this will increase traffic levels, which will increase congestion unless you build new roads, which you'll notice the Tories are not proposing to do...

Five Minutes with Alan de Botton insufficient, but it's enough for him to out-think the Tories:

The interviewer asks, "What is the ideal form of government?"

de Botton replies: "The ideal form of government is an enlightened government, which doesn’t have a problem with trying to teach people how to live…we’ ve got a terrible fear of the word ‘paternalism’. I actually believe in paternalistic government…we need the right sort of government that can actually teach us how to lead our lives..."

 It's a favourite theme of mine that current (and previous) Government policy tends to follow public opinion, rather than lead it. This is dangerous, because public opinion forms a fragile, disjointed and self-contradictory philosophy, and a policy based on whatever the Government spin-doctors think will play well with public opinion is likely to lead to poor outcomes.

Most people would agree that childhood obesity, and obesity in general, is a bad thing. You don't have to dig very deep into the medical research to see that this problem is a public heath time-bomb that will generate massive costs for the NHS and untold misery caused by lives cut short.

An enlightened Government would want to tackle obesity by addressing both poor diet and sedentary lifestyles. Cycling could form a part of the latter. Instead, the Government are doing nothing to encourage kids to walk or cycle to school, are cutting cycling and school sports funding, and actually making car travel easier. The government are more afraid of getting blamed for the short-term inconvenience of motorists than they are for failing to halt a massive increase in obesity-related illness, death and disability.

In other words, this is a Government keen to teach us how not to lead our lives.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fare Rises

Train fare rises have taken effect, averaging over 6% with some season tickets rising 13%. I've blogged before about the foolishness of this policy.

The government says the rise in train fares is necessary to invest in rail infrastructure.

This is both untrue and disingenuous.

It is untrue because there are plenty of other ways of raising money. The money could be raised through taxes, it could be raised through a general levy on all transport or through a bond or share issue, or a combination of any of the above.

It is disingenuous because the clear implication is that today's rail travellers must pay for tomorrow's improvements because they, and only they, benefit. In the case of student tuition fees it is easy to make the case that the student benefits from their own education; that it is an investment in their own future. With trains it is simply not true. There are some services that won't benefit, at least not proportionately. There are some people who commute by train daily but will retire before the benefits are delivered. And there are some who currently don't use trains, and therefore don't pay, but will profit in the future from other peoples' investment.
There are also people who will benefit indirectly from better railways: people who use the roads benefit from less congestion due to people not driving.

So why is it exclusively today's train users who have to pay for the infrastructure investment, some of whom will benefit and some who won't? Why are car drivers or bus users exempt? (Train users are expected to pay for the M25 widening through their taxes even if they never use that road.) Why are there people who will benefit but aren't paying? Why aren't commuters granted shares in the railways given they are being forced to invest in them? Why is the government so reluctant to force people to be more active, to use their cars less or to eat healthier food, while it is quite happy to force train users to pay for investment in better trains?

Effectively, these fare rises are a highly regressive and unfair 'stealth tax'. The burden falls heaviest on the poorest train users. Furthermore, it is a tax that actually punishes green travel and incentivises car use. Encouragingly however, it is also the Tories' least popular policy: a recent YouGov poll showed it was opposed by 8 in 10 people.