Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Less Red Tape for Cycle Routes

This blog has been complaining for some time about the ridiculous amount of red tape that restricts councils from making perfectly reasonable changes to allow cycling on paths away from roads. Councils need to apply for Cycle Track Orders to allow cycling on a footpath, and these Orders involve more hurdles than a track and field meeting. A public enquiry can result if even a single objection is received no matter how ill-founded. As a result, many local authorities can’t be bothered with, or cannot afford, the hassle. Even painting a yellow line to prohibit parking in a cycle lane requires the approval of the Secretary of State, who will usually have no clue where the road in question is, let alone what traffic conditions are like. Perhaps the most famous example of the tortuous battle of attrition necessary to allow cycling is Wandsworth Common, which took over 10 years, two public enquiries and untold amounts of public money, before cycling was allowed.

The previous Labour government didn’t create all the bureaucracy that prevents or inhibits the development of decent cycle routes, but it didn’t do anything about it. As a result, Grant Shapps, Local Government minister finds he’s got the ball at his feet and an open goal. He can sweep away the red tape, give a boost to cycling and save money into the bargain. A total no-brainer – which begs the question: why didn’t Labour do it while it had the chance?

Shapps has announced that councils will no longer have to receive permission from Whitehall to remove restrictive by-laws.

Of course, this move alone doesn’t achieve anything: it’s also necessary to create the conditions in which local authorities do in fact allow cycling where it’s safe and practical – which is in many public areas and on many footpaths. More progressive councils will hopefully press ahead with opening up more of the public realm to cyclists, but doubtless some, such as Westminster, will doggedly stick with their anti-cycling prejudices. I’ll be watching carefully to see what happens, but it’s not enough to simply pad the responsibility for cycling away onto councils – the Government need to give a clear signal that it is pro-cycling rather than just anti-red-tape.

At this blog, we have no political allegiance. We’re not afraid to tell it like it is. And in this case there’s strong evidence of incompetence on the part of the last government. As for the current Government, the jury’s still out. Piecemeal initiatives like this one are welcome, but they don’t amount to a pro-cycling strategy. We still have the ridiculous situation in London where responsibility for cycling is split between the Mayor of London and the various London boroughs, some of which are pro-cycling, and some of which are not. So we have Cycle Superhighways, which, while they are imperfect, speed the user into central London only to be dumped into a car-centric mess of dangerous junctions and one-way streets almost completely devoid of cycle infrastructure. We have the Cycle Hire scheme, which tempts residents and visitors with a cheap opportunity to use a bike, only to scare them off with a confusing, intimidating and motor-dominated road network.

What we need is not just the destruction of red tape and the removal of quangos. Cycling won’t happen in a vacuum. We need local and national policy frameworks and organizations that enable investment to be made in cycle infrastructure, in a cost-effective manner, underpinned by a strategic, London-wide and national plan. We can’t allow individual councils to opt out, because cycling does not stop at borough boundaries. The fact that Westminster is failing in cycling terms affects cyclists from Merton to Barnet, and most of them don’t get to vote in Westminster Council elections.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Banksy-style no-entry sign

Spotted at the junction of St Martin's Lane and Chandos Place, Westminster.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Westminster Cycle Parking

Where should you park a bike in Westminster? Despite the council's best efforts to discourage cycling, more and more irresponsible individuals insist on doing so, and of course the council has no money (or inclination) to invest in cycle parking.

How about here in Savoy Place (below)?

Or you could try the steps by the Coal Hole pub:

(Above) You'll notice the lovely, expensive new granite paving: the council could've put some cycle parking in when they laid this.

How about opposite the same pub:

(Above) You'll see a polite notice has been attached to this bike, advising the owner to park in Southampton Street. Let's take a trip there:

(Above) Oh dear; no space. All the stands are double-parked already The bloke in the orange top gave up and went elsewhere.

(Above) You could use a tree...

(Above) Or some street clutter that they're so keen to remove...

(Above) Or you could try the stands in Adam Street...oh dear, they're overflowing onto the railings and street lamps as well.

So that's it. Westminster is full. Why don't you come by car instead?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

There's oil in them there hills...

The Surrey Hills, one of the few unspoilt areas of the South-East of England, is set to be the subject of exploratory oil drilling, reported by a few sources.

It seems that (from the BBC) Surrey County Council have refused the planning application. However, there's a little more to it:

Surrey County Council's planning committee turned down the application earlier with a majority of six votes to four.

That's right - only one vote in it. I wonder who the four were?

The application, which had been recommended for approval by the council's planning officer, was refused on the grounds that it would have a negative impact on the area.

I am no planning expert, but generally speaking I think the planning officers check to see if the application is in accordance with the rules and plans that affect the area. The fact that an application to drill for oil in one of the few remaining naturally beautiful areas in the most populated area of the UK would fall within the rules rather beggars belief, don't you think?

The fact is, we don't need more oil. There's likely enough oil still in the ground to tip the climate over the edge if we burn it all.

The scariest prospect perhaps is that there could be an appeal against this decision.

Bridge Cycle Counts - Wandsworth

Wandsworth Cycling Campaign have unearthed the screenline counts for the Wandsworth bridges in a freedom of information request to TfL.

They make interesting reading.

Year 1988 1990 1992
Total Vehicles 192970 179340 186813
Cycles 5142 6225 6175
% Cycles 3.00% 3.00% 3.00%

Year 1994 1996 1998
Total Vehicles 188956 191437 184716
Cycles 8395 7538 6871
% Cycles 4.00% 4.00% 4.00%

Year 2000 2002 2004
Total Vehicles 191774 177580 162556
Cycles 8199 8966 10840
% Cycles 4.00% 5.00% 6.00%

Year 2006 2008 2010
Total Vehicles 170107 153903 138544
Cycles 14219 15327 16510
% Cycles 8.00% 9.00% 11.00%

The above figures represent the flows sampled over 16-hour periods across Chelsea, Albert, Battersea, Putney and Wandsworth bridges.
You'll note that the number of cycles was stuck in the 3% - 4% range until 2002, at which point the numbers have turned sharply up. The 2010 figure is calculated on a different basis to other years, because Albert Bridge has been closed and the average is taken over four bridges rather than five. However, it is not clear what effect the bridge closure may have had.

Motor traffic has been declining since 2000 both in absolute terms and as a percentage of modal share. We know that recessions are good for cycling, so it's likely that the last couple of years' increase in modal share will have been partly due to economic conditions. The real test is whether the trend continues when the economy is growing, but that may not happen soon.

You could of course spin this data in many different ways. TfL might claim that this is evidence that its approach to cycling is working. Others might claim that there is clearly substantial underlying demand, and the trivial amounts spent on cycling don't match its increasing importance; under-investment means much demand is being suppressed by the poor cycling infrastructure in London.

One curiousity is why the modal share on bridges is significantly higher than the modal share in the surrounding boroughs. This needs to be explained. There's no readily apparent reason why bridges should attract more cyclists than other roads. Cycling on bridges is easy to measure, so it's possible that cycle journeys are being under-estimated due to the dispersal of cyclists into minor roads which aren't subject to counts. Cyclists can avoid major routes where there are cycle counts, but they cannot avoid bridges if their journey crosses the river.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Boris Bikers Mugged (by Serco)

It seems that the London Cycle Hire computer systems have been on the blink, and some users have been charged for journeys they never made, according to the Standard.

Erroneous fees of up to £300 have been made. So check your statements.

Financial error is the cardinal sin of the IT world. You can get away with a clunky website, downtime and delays, but wrong charging is guaranteed to hole customer confidence below the waterline. Serco need to get a grip, and fast, but the final responsibility rests with TfL, who have some serious questions to answer.

On the plus side, these involuntary donations wouldn't have done TfL's budget any harm...unfortunately Serco has had to pay compensation to the victims.

Decline and Fall of the Car?

Interesting piece in the Indy, in which in true journalistic fashion gives a snappy name, 'Peak Car',  to a sociological phenomenon, being the decline in car use in London.

The 'experts' finger increased costs, more parking restrictions and more working-from-home via the interweb as being on the crime scene at the time, but the reality is no-one really knows for sure - it's likely a complex combination of factors.

At Cycalogical we have our own thesis. People have started to figure out that owning a car in London is generally a pretty crap experience. It's a world away from the car adverts, where you bowl along on deserted roads in the beautiful Scottish countryside with the wind in your hair and not a care in the world. In London, you crawl along on congested, potholed roads festooned with signs telling you what you can't do, worrying about traffic wardens and the cost of petrol. Cars are no longer a romantic fantasy or an aspirational dream; they are a prosaic, humdrum reality and people are starting to regard them as simply a transport mode, which of course is the advertiser's nightmare.

Cars are no longer the aspirational objects they once were. Going back to the sixties (which Philip Hammond would love to do), keeping up with the Joneses required you to own a car. Fast-forward a decade or so, car ownership had become ubiquitous, so people aspired to own smarter, 'executive' brands such as BMWs. Today, a BMW is just another car, as commonplace as a Ford. It's about as aspirational as instant mashed potato.

Non-car-ownership has become a more realistic option in the eyes of the ordinary public. Having a car that doesn't get used more than once a week is a little pointless, and a lot of expense and hassle. You can get your supermarket to deliver your shopping, so that's one more car journey that you don't need to make. Joining a car club gives access to a car without the commitment of ownership.

What about young people? Fewer youngsters are learning to drive. Over the 15 years to 2007, the number of 17- to 20-year-olds who held licences fell from 48 per cent to 38 per cent, and for 21- to 29-year-olds, the number fell from 75 per cent to 66 per cent. The cost of insurance for a young driver makes car ownership an expensive proposition. Leaving university with huge debts and coming into a world where buying a flat requires a large deposit means young Londoners have little cash to spare. The fact that driving is becoming something that only older people do is another problem for advertisers who want sell sex rather than transport.

Britain used to be in love with the car. As with any love affair, once the spark of desire has gone, you start to see the former object of your affection with all its faults. You fall out over money matters and finally figure out you might be happier on your own.

Put simply, people used to want cars. Now, an increasing number of people are finding they don't want them, they don't need them and they can't afford them. Someone should tell TfL and the DoT, where it's still the 1960s...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Blackfriars Bridge Demo

A couple of hundred people showed up at Blackfriars Bridge this morning, to show their displeasure at the latest attempt by TfL to kick cycling into the long grass in respect of the redevelopment of the northern junction of this river crossing. This blog had previously criticised LCC for its armchair attitude to campaigning, so it's good to see cyclists making a bit of noise. There are people who think that street protests show LCC and cycling in a bad light. I don't buy that. In the words of Oscar Wilde, if there's one thing worse than being talked about in public, it's not being talked about in public.

The ride north over the bridge was at an (elderly) gentleman's pace, with no problems save an over-enthusiastic motorcyclist somehow getting in amongst the cycles; other than that, the (cycle) police kept pretty good order.

Then a ride back over the bridge...
Then finally, a visit to TfL HQ to remind them what a bicycle looks like...

Afterward the ride dispersed quickly. Back along Embankment, the traffic was very congested, due to the slight lack of lane discipline displayed by this driver:

...who was evidently conducting his own protest against too many traffic lights, and was much more effective at bringing London to a standstill than a bunch of cyclists.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

London Road Safety Gets Worse

In actual fact, fewer people were killed on the roads last year than ever before, but that's arguably due to  less driving, which is due to the recession, and cars getting safer. For vulnerable road users, the picture is a lot less rosy. Nationally, child pedestrian casualties rose 2%, and for cyclists KSIs rose 5%. In London, the Standard reports, a total of 150 more youngsters were injured on the capital's roads last year - a 14 per cent jump.

That's appalling by any standards, and it's probably symptomatic both of road safety cuts and of the fact that there are more vulnerable road users in London than elsewhere: outside the city, car dependency protects most people from the danger they face were they to walk or cycle. In other words, lower casualty figures don't mean the roads are getting safer - it just means more people are avoiding the dangers, in the same way that tourists won't be getting murdered in Afghanistan this year because they're not going there. But if more people are using their cars less, due to high fuel and insurance costs, we can look forward to an upturn in casualties.

But back to those London children. TfL have pointed out that although total casualties have risen, those killed or 'seriously injured' have reduced by 5% year-on-year. Let's consider what that means. A 'serious injury' is one requiring in-patient hospital treatment. So a child getting hit by a car, going to hospital for stitches and a  brain scan doesn't count. Now imagine that child is 5 years old. That child may become withdrawn and fearful as a result of the experience and their relationships and schoolwork may suffer. Does any of that sound serious to you? I don't see much reason for TfL to celebrate.

Blackfriars Bridge Update

TfL have release a revised plan for the Blackfriars Bridge. Consensus seems to be that it's better, but still not good enough.
There's reports there may be a 'flash ride' on Friday morning - follow @london_cycling on twitter for details.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pelham School Top in Big Pedal

Pelham School has won the London-wide category of Sustrans’Big Pedal cycle challenge. Hat-tip to the school, to Sustrans and to all the parents, teachers and of course the kids.
What’s all the more admirable is that Pelham School’s achievement has taken place in a cycle infrastructure desert . There’s some attempt to keep speeds down with road humps on the neighbouring roads in the Ministers area, but there’s no attempt to limit through traffic past the school, there are no cycle lanes or cycle paths, and no particularly satisfactory cycle routes.

(above) Pelham School itself is on Southey Road, a wide expanse of tarmac with plenty of room for a cycle path. The width of the road and the speed cushions simply encourage motorists to drive faster than the 20MPH limit, and if you do, you'll have more chance of getting a winning lottery ticket than a speeding ticket.

To the north, the official cycle route takes you down Trinity Road, which is usually busy and you can rely on getting cut up by over-enthusiastic motorists trying to overtake you whilst trying to avoid crashing into the horizontal traffic calming measures you see in the photo below.

The alternative is to go round South Park Gardens where you’re thwarted by one-way streets designed to stop rat-running motor traffic. To the south, the Old Merton Park area is fairly cycle-friendly. Not because the Council have done anything much for cyclists, but because there is no through-traffic – the only entry and exit points are to the Kingston Road. However, crossing the Kingston Road is difficult.

The only easy and safe way legally to cross Kingston Road if you’re with a child on a cycle is to walk your bikes to the pelican crossing beyond Southey Road, or the crossing between Russell Road and Gladstone Road, and then walk back along the narrow pavement.

It wouldn't be a hard problem to make Southey Road pedestrian and cycle-friendly: just close the entrances at Kingston Road and Broadway to motor traffic. Residents will still be able to access from other roads, and they might appreciate the peace and quiet and a more people-centric streetscape. Allow contraflow cycling on the one-way streets to the north of the Broadway, and put in a toucan crossing at the Kingston Road and you've got yourself a route to Pelham School, and onward to the town centre to boot. Why don't the Council get it?

UK Pledges to halve CO2 emissions by 2025

Good news. Vince Cable, George Osborne and Philip Hammond have been defeated, and Chris Huhne has prevailed. The UK will implement the Committee on Climate Change's recommendation and halve CO2 emissions by 2025 with a series of carbon budgets. It seems scarcely credible, but we now have the most ambitious targets of any developed country.

What does this mean for transport? I posted recently about the underwhelming public response to the less-than-tempting prospect of electric car ownership (only 534 people registered for the electric car purchase discount compared to the hoped-for 8000). Electric cars rather underpin Hammond's plans in which we all carry on driving as far and as fast as we do today. If electric car sales don't take off soon, transport will overshoot its emissions trajectory. It's difficult to see even more subsidies being pumped into Hammond's fantasy given the climate of austerity. In the real world, even with more subsidy, the prospect of electric car ownership with its range anxiety and frequent stops to charge the battery isn't going to be very appealing to motorists used to the freedom of petrol power, especially as pump prices are currently on the wane. Unfortunately, Hammond has painted himself into a corner with his 'war on the motorist' agenda, which is not compatible with disincentives to petrol car use. Maybe it's time for Cameron to get himself a new transport secretary? One with a broader mind, who understands that more car parking, higher speed limits and increasing car use are not compatible with reducing emissions. It's a little strange that the Government are so keen that we reduce the fiscal deficit and live within our means, but is so shy of pointing out that we need to live within our energy means as well, when it comes to transport. Promoting active travel is a good way to tighten our belts. Literally, because as the most obese nation in Europe, we could do with losing our national muffin-top. Metaphorically, because burning less oil will leave us financially better off while as a more active nation we will spend less in the NHS on treating the long list of obesity-related diseases.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cycle Hire Update

The Standard reports new figures showing that casual users of the London cycle hire scheme have outnumbered registered users for the first time over the Easter long weekend. There were around 13,000 casual hires each day over Easter. The Standard describes this as "More tourists than locals use Boris Bikes as scheme grows", but there's no evidence presented that the casual users are in fact tourists.

TfL commented that (unsurprisingly) the busiest docking stations are in Hyde Park: the 'Tour de Park' ride is a popular one with Boris Bikers even on weekdays. It's a shame there aren't some low-traffic routes through Central London, to encourage more people to use the bikes to get from A to B. Westminster Council's hostility to cycling and dogged refusal to make even basic changes, such as allowing contraflow cycling along one-way streets (which is the norm in many European countries) will prevent the cycle hire scheme from reaching its full potential.

A footnote: there was a time when any cycling story in the Standard would attract a predictably vitriolic stream of  comments from cyclist-haters; with this story the 'anti'-comments are of the 'you must be mad to cycle in London - don't they know how dangerous it is' variety. Perhaps that's a sign that cycling has turned a corner in public perception; perhaps it's a sign that people who use Cycle Hire are not seen as 'cyclists' and not given the same 'out-group' status. Which is a little strange, as in my observation Boris Bikers are probably less law-abiding that your average cyclist.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Electric Car Update

According to The Guardian, only 534 electric vehicles were registered to the so-called plug-in car grant during the first quarter of 2011. That's compared to the Government's projection of 8000. With petrol prices currently plateaued out, the electric car is not going to become a compelling ownership proposition anytime soon. Meanwhile, to solve the fact that the UK is a 'charging station desert', the Government will need to spend a fortune in taxpayers' cash subsidizing the build-out of charging infrastructure to support an electric car fleet that doesn't exist.

It could instead spend the money building cycling infrastructure for bikes that already exist and are gathering rust in garages up and down the country because their owners are too scared to ride them in UK traffic conditions. They'd recover the investment in short order, because we know cycling investment pays back threefold in economic benefits related to better public health, lower congestion, and environmental improvements.

Brian Coleman

I am reliably informed by a Barnet friend that Brian Coleman, Barnet councillor and chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority is not exactly friendly to sustainable transport. You can take a look at his Wikipedia entry for confirmation of his pro-car attitudes: he makes Philip Hammond look like a lollipop lady.

Rather than waste public money on cycling or public transport projects, Coleman prefers to spend it on taxis, according to the Standard.

"In 2008, Mr Coleman, who is said to earn almost £120,000 a year, was criticised for running up a taxi bill of £8,231 as an Assembly member, including a £656 bill on one day. He was nicknamed 'grab-a-cab Coleman' by his colleagues who used public transport or bicycles.
His latest expenses reveal he claimed nearly £700 on congestion charge fees last year."

Even fellow Tory Boris Johnson was backing away from him saying he was "disappointed" to hear about Mr Coleman's latest claims. I wonder if the TaxPayers Alliance will be featuring Coleman's profligacy with our wonga?

Blogger outage

Blogger.com has been down most of the day. Yesterday a few blogs stopped working, including Crap Waltham Forest, but they seem to be back now. We're missing a couple of recent posts here at Cycalogical but it looks like the good folks at Blogger will get things back to normal in due course. Sadly, cycling in London is still broken and won't get fixed for some time...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Lambeth Bridge HGV Danger

(this morning):

Above: Plenty of room to get up the inside of this HGV at the south end of Lambeth Bridge, right? Discretion being the better part of valour I'll just wait here and see what happens:

Above: Oh dear. He'll never make it.
Above: And onto the kerb...
And all over the (mandatory) cycle lane.

This is not the first time I've seen this kind of thing at this location. It's a good job I was first in the long line of cyclists waiting, because this was literally an accident waiting to happen . Why are large vehicles like this allowed over Lambeth Bridge, when there's simply not enough room? Why is there no physical protection for the cycle lane, which has a huge volume of cycle traffic along it? The cycle lane is about as wide as your handlebars, which means there's no margin for error when larger vehicles stray into it (which they regularly do). Why isn't it wider? Why is this like all the other bridges in London: dangerously, negligently, crap?

No More Crap Waltham Forest?

this excellent and widely-respected blog seems to have been taken down. No idea why...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

CSH#8 - Cycle Superhighway - Chelsea Bridge Crap

CSH#8 is now approaching completion so I thought it was time to shine the Cycalogical spotlight on TfL's handiwork.

Let's take a look at the journey home (southbound) over Chelsea Bridge. This is one of the more difficult junctions to get right for cyclists, but it would not be impossible given a bit of imagination.

Here's the approach along Grosvenor Road:

There's a nice wide cycle lane, wide enough for one cyclist to pass another, still awaiting the blue paint.

Above: The cycle lane comes to an end, well before the junction with Chelsea Bridge.

Above: A long queue of stationary cyclists who can't get to the advance stop box because there's no approach lane. They'll have to jostle for position with each other and with two lanes of cars and left-turning HGVs when the lights turn green. The situation might improve if a 'ghost lane' of blue paint gets put in, but based on the similar situation that we have on CSH#7 as you approach Clapham North, I doubt it.
Above: The canny cyclists go onto the pavement (this is legal: it's a shared path at this point) which also enables them to avoid the red light.

Above: Once on the bridge there is no cycle lane. The traffic in rush hour is slow-moving, so you have a choice of filtering right (where there's not enough room between the south and northbound lanes) or left (where you could end up blocked off, or in the wrong position to make a right-turn into Battersea Park, which a lot of cyclists do).

Above: trying to filter on the right.

Above: Finally, the blue lane starts on the left (although it has no white line so has no legal status).

So far, so crap. OK, so what would I have done?
First of all, an advance stop box with no means of approach is useless, and it can't be approached on the right unless you're not intending to make a left turn. There's not a lot of foot traffic along Grosvenor Road, so it would have been possible to narrow the pavement somewhat and/or narrow the general traffic lanes to provide some sort of approach lane to the advance stop box. The layout as it is can only be described as very dangerous. The other useful thing would be to provide a left-turn bypass so that cyclists can avoid waiting at the junction to make the left-turn. There's room enough to provide such a facility, and this would reduce the conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles at the junction.
Why have TfL not provided a cycle lane on the bridge? The situation they've created gives the worst of all worlds. The wide general traffic lane will encourage speeding when the traffic is light, but when the traffic is congested, the lack of enforced lane discipline will cause problems for cyclists and motorcyclists trying to filter on the left southbound, and on the right in both directions. Finally, there needs to be a proper turn into Battersea Park. Currently, you either have to get into the right and hope the crossing lights change in your favour before you get rear-ended, or make the manoeuvre onto the pavement, across the crossing then double back on yourself. The sensible thing to have done would be to put a proper junction between Queenstown Road and Carriage Drive North so that it's possible to make the right-turn, and the lights should have been organized so you don't have to wait for a pedestrian to activate the crossing.

In short, TfL have failed to tackle any of the obvious problems in this section of CSH#8. All they've done is put cycle lanes in where the road was wide enough to accomodate them to start with. That's a pretty damning indictment of infrastructure that aspires to be the best in London, and hardly likely to create any kind of cycling revolution (except maybe the kind that gets rid of Boris Johnson).

Spot the Difference

''I will explain as clearly as I can today and every other chance I get, that we will not do anything that harms our economy, because first things first are the people who live in America; that's my priority,'' he said.
''I'm worried about the economy; I'm worried about the lack of an energy policy. It's in our national interests that we develop a strong energy policy with realistic, common-sense environmental policy,'' he said. ''And I'm going to explain that to our friends. It is in their interest, by the way, that our economy remain strong - after all, we're a free-trading administration - we trade with each other.'' 

 - George W Bush, on his refusal to sign Kyoto.

"Agreeing too aggressive a level risks burdening the UK economy, which would be detrimental to UK, undermining the UK's competitiveness and our attractiveness as a place to do business.

"I have a number of concerns about supporting the CCC's recommended level at this time. It is important that we strike the right balance between our pursuit to decarbonise the UK economy whilst ensuring that UK economic growth and employment is sustained."

Vince Cable, on the Committee on Climate Change's carbon budget recommendation.

Wouldn't it be great if we paid less tax on fuel?

Be careful what you wish for.

The USA has the lowest petrol taxes of just about any developed country. So you would think that because they spend about half of what we do on a litre of motor fuel, petrol prices wouldn't be much of an issue. In fact, the opposite is the case. They have seen a much higher percentage increase in the forecourt price as the underlying oil price has risen, and because super-cheap fuel has enabled them to become highly dependent on big, thirsty vehicles for everything from shopping to commuting, and because they typically live further from their workplace than the average European, the sudden increase in the oil price has really squeezed ordinary Americans. This is revealed in an interesting BBC 'vox pop'.

On-the-spot careless driving fines

Police will get the power to fine careless drivers on the spot rather than go through the current festival of paperwork required to punish errant motorists.

This news has generated a mixed reaction in the press. Some welcome the change of emphasis away from automated enforcement targeted at speeding, others are concerned that without new police resources the new powers will be little-used.

It seems that the Government are trying to divide the motoring community into the "responsible majority" who make the occasional "inadvertant mistake", and a minority of "genuinely reckless" motorists. They are also introducing more training and education for new drivers and those guilty of less serious offences, while disqualified drivers would face retraining before getting their licence back.

Will this approach work? I think it is a step forward, because it makes it easier for the police to issue penalties. However, there are a couple of fundamental problems that remain unsolved. First is that enforcement by real live officers is terribly expensive. Without a realistic prospect of getting caught there is still no incentive for behaviour change. What could make a difference is if incidents reported to police websites like Roadsafe London actually resulted in punishments, if supported by video evidence. The fact is that although the current government criticises camera enforcement, it does actually work - that's been proved in Oxfordshire, where a temporary camera switch-off resulted in significantly more collisions.

A second issue is the problem that a large number of collisions are caused by ordinary motorists doing relatively ordinary things such as using a handheld mobile, or just not looking properly. Most people I think would not consider that kind of thing reckless - but it does kill people. I believe that giving the signal that if you're an "ordinary motorist" then you're OK and just carry on as you are is wrong. There needs to be a much stronger expectation that driving a car puts you in charge of a potentially lethal machine, and you have therefore an exceptional duty of care to the public.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Morden Hall Cycle Stands

The National Trust have installed some new cycle stands at Morden Hall Park, by the snuff mill:

You'll notice two cyclists have elected to lock their bikes to the railings rather than the cycle stands. Two other bikes were chained up opposite the stands to the railing opposite when I took the picture. This is probably because the cycle stands appear poorly designed. They have a rather relaxed standard of security: there's a rather thin metal rod that's secured to the wooden post by two hex-head nuts, so it doesn't look like it would take someone with a degree in thievery from Robin Hood University to nick your ride. Additionally, the steel rod looks like it will take the paint off your top tube, and your bike is quite likely to fall over as the stand doesn't provide adequate support.

I don't like to be too hard on organizations like the National Trust. They exist in a car-dependent country and they can't change the nation's transport habits single-handed. But cycle parking isn't hard to get right, and this example looks like it's been designed by people who don't understand much about the subject.

20MPH Enforcement

The Evening Express reports that 11 Aberdeen drivers were caught breaking a 20MPH limit since 2009. Maybe Aberdeen drivers are much more careful and considerate than average, but somehow I doubt it. Speeding in Aberdeen is likely no more or less of a problem than anywhere else in the UK, and those 11 drivers will represent an almost infinitessimally small fraction of the total offences. I live on a 20MPH road, and because there's ineffective physical traffic calming, the only person actually driving at 20MPH on it is me, on the rare occasions that I drive. On one occasion, my aberrant behaviour prompted an annoyed honking from an impatient driver behind, who couldn't comprehend the idea that someone might actually respect the speed limit.

Sadly, the police take the same relaxed view of 20MPH limits as the average driver, which is why they don't bother enforcing it. They have better things to do, like ticketing cyclists on Chelsea Bridge.

But driving at 25 or 30 isn't such a big deal, right? Not exactly. Research shows that children cannot judge the approach of cars at more than 20MPH, making collisions more likely. For families, having to worry about speeding cars makes the difference between being able to cross the road in a relaxed manner and having to wait at the kerb for an extended time and then scurry across dragging your kids with you. At 30MPH, cars dominate the road and as a pedestrian you'd better watch out. 20MPH, properly enforced, makes a street a markedly less hostile place for pedestrians and cyclists. In terms of safety, both the number and severity of collisions increase markedly with higher speeds. Noise levels in residential areas are increased with higher traffic speeds. In short, with average speeds approaching 30MPH, streets become less pleasant, more car-centric, more dangerous places.

As the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) notes,

"In order for the vision [of reducing risk on the roads] to be adopted and for a programme of action to be implemented to achieve it, a high level of political leadership is required. Part of the difficulty in generating political leadership is the conflict between the public’s expressed concern about safety on the roads and their ambivalence about some of the actions necessary to reduce casualties, particularly on the issue of speed management. To continue to achieve casualty reductions in the UK in future years, focused, co-operative and co-ordinated campaigns by a range of non-government organisations will be needed to build public support for the implementation of necessary interventions."

In other words, marrying speed cameras with 'the war on the motorist' in the public's mind is hardly likely to get people to slow down in residential areas. If Philip Hammond's doesn't take speeding seriously, it's not reasonable to think that drivers in Aberdeen will either.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fuel Prices: Drivers Take the Train, Others Protest

The Mirror reports more drivers taking the train, with half making the switch citing the cost of fuel as the factor influencing their transport mode change.

Meanwhile there's been a fuel price protest reported by the BBC: a  "go-slow protest along the M56 and M53, with lorry drivers, farmers and bikers travelling in 20mph convoys". In common with other motorways there's a 30MPH minimum speed limit, but I dare say these protesters didn't attract any heavy-handed police tactics, unlike the student protests. This demonstration seems a bit late, because the oil price, along with that of other commodities, has suddenly turned south, with the Brent crude benchmark currently trading at $112.47 at the time of writing, down from $125 a week ago.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ban Cars on Sundays

Believe it or not the idea of giving the rest of us a rest from cars on the day of rest comes not from some nutty cycling blogger (naming no names) but from none other than Ann Milton, an under-secretary at the Department of Health. Apparently she got the idea off the Columbians: "On Sundays they close certain streets (in Colombia) so that everybody can play in them. That is an outstanding idea."

However, it seems the Government is as usual taking no action, and saying this idea is something for local councils to consider. In other words they are continuing to do what previous governments have done: sit back and watch their constituents get fatter.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Morden Hall Country Show - By Car

Every year, Morden Hall Park plays host to a fair, with various activities and entertainments. And every year, an area in the north of the park grounds is turned into a large car park. The vegetation is cut back and the doors are opened to anyone who wants to come by car (and I don't believe there's even a charge).

Morden Hall Park is very well served by public transport. Morden underground station is served by regular Northern Line services. The Croydon Tramlink has three stops within easy walking distance. Many buses run past the park grounds. South Merton station (mainline) is a 1km walk away. Almost uniquely in London, there's a decent off-road cycle route in the form of the Wandle Trail that leads straight to Morden Hall Park. There's also a car park for the Morden Hall garden centre. So why is it necessary for an organization like the National Trust, that claims to take protection of the environment seriously, to create a new car park, encouraging people to come by car to a place that is so well-served by other transport options?

On the Sick

The government are busying themselves trying to get people off disability benefits because it costs too much. Some 1830 people are on incapacity benefit because of obesity. Many others will be disabled because of diseases caused by obesity, including heart disease, stroke, arthritis and many others. There's increasing evidence that obesity significantly raises the risk of dementia. Yet more people will be disabled because they were injured in a car crash.

Simply getting people off incapacity benefit does not get them working, and it does not reduce their healthcare costs. It would make a lot more sense if the government were working to fight obesity and road danger, thus tackling a number of public health problems at source, rather than trying to reduce the cost after the damage is done. Successive governments have refused to do anything meaningful to reduce the UK's sedentary, car-dependent lifestyle, so we can't be surprised to find ourselves at the top of the European obesity league. Promoting cycling would be a good way to start to tackle the problem of obesity, rather than blaming and penalizing the victims of past policies. Yet, in spite of the fact the Prime Minister, the Mayor of London are cyclists, along with other members of the major parties, cycling still seems to be seen in policy terms as a minority, slightly eccentric activity rather than a useful tool for improving public health. They accept the health and environmental benefits of cycling, but they can't conceive of large numbers of people actually doing it. In contrast, for countries like the Netherlands, cycling is a priority for no better reason than it makes economic sense to keep the nation active and healthy. As a result, the Netherlands has one of the lowest rates of heart disease in Europe, whereas the UK has one of the worst, and the UK has more than double the obesity rate of the Netherlands.