where is health and what is safety?

Happy New Year, very late I know, if  you’re following the Gregorian calender, slightly early if you’re Chinese.

The Advertising Standards Authority(ASA) have banned this TV advert “SEE CYCLIST THINK HORSE.”…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cl_IzodNazY?feature=player_detailpage]

…because of five complaints. They ruled it was…

“…socially irresponsible and likely to condone or encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety.”

This is good news for those of us who look forward to the advent of bicycle paradise.

I’m still dream of being a cyclist. My chosen life-partner is a serial horse-owner, so this little motion-picture has particular personal appeal.

Were it not for those five complainants – if they aren’t ‘road-safety’ professionals then they must be ‘road-safety’ enthusiasts – I’d probably never have seen it. Now, instead of season on TV in Scotland, the Paddy-Power-Principal – that getting your promotional material banned is good for business – has given the ad legs. Cycling Scotland, producers of the film plan to appeal. This on-going controversy offers potential for grand, national* exposure.

 

There’s no rigorous data on the the relationship between cycle-helmet wearing and the frequency or severity of crashes, or between cycle-helmet wearing and the reduction or mitigation of injuries caused by crashes. This marginal issue has been discussed here before, when Wiggins weighed in with ill-considered – and rapidly retracted – remarks following the death of Dan Harris.

As there is no evidence, strong views on the subject are often questions of faith. Messing with people’s faith can make them touchy

Attempts at normalising hard-hats for general cycling offer us a chance to coolly ask interesting questions…

  • Where does the danger come from?
  • Who is threatening who?

..and to assert the main public-health implication of crash-hats for general cycling.

  • If a crash-hat makes somebody feel ‘cool’, fashionable, stylish – and hence more likely to travel by bike – that hat can help them live longer.
  • If it makes them feel ‘dorky’ or freakish, and hence less likely to travel by bike, they are likely to die sooner.

If the ASA are worried about health and safety where’s the roll-bar on Mercedes and why is the driver not wearing a hard-hat and goggles?

The truth that people who ride bikes live longer has been understood – by academics at least – for more than twenty years. There is still work to do to push it into the realm of common-knowledge.

I like convertible cars, they’re not pretending to be practical. One of the draws of and automobile is that it allows its user the chance to privatise an area of public space. A convertible can be broken into with a Stanley knife and is clearly meant for frivolous applications. Choosing a convertible is a step away from the kind of agoraphobia that makes people irrationally afraid of cycle travel when the dangers of other modes are treated more fatalistically. It’s driver may be a victim of motor dependence but at least they’ve decided to get rid of the roof, who knows where that process might end?

Of course demanding the Advertising Standards Authority consider actual evidence is faux-naïf. They are referring to the Highway Code as arbiter of what is safe and healthy and – as noted here before –  Highway Code, the Road Safety industry are cultural phenomena desperately striving for some kind of technical validation.

 

 

*A sublimimal horse-related reference for Unionists. Those who favour independence for Caledonia make it grand INTERnational exposure.

 

dunwich dynamo XXII

Was stage 3 of the 2014 Tour de France, from Cambridge to London, an homage to the Dunwich Dynamo? Of course it was.

The great frivolity, the twenty-second edition of the Dunwich Dynamo, runs tomorrow night so it’s just possible you’ve time to put a data display on your bars, toss some ‘factor 50’, sandwiches and budgie-smugglers in your sun-bleached, Carradice, Longflap and head for London Fields. More likely you’re still short of sleep so why not turn off your computer and take a nap? You can read this later.

Essex sections of the traditional route – Epping, Moreton, Fyfield, Finchingfield – are still glowing from sanctification by the passage of Le Grand Boucle. ‘VEHICLES PARKED HERE WILL BE TOWED’ signs were conspicuous while riding the DD route-sheet reconnaissance a couple of weeks ago. Was stage 3 of the 2014 Tour de France, Cambridge to London SW1, an homage to the Dunwich Dynamo? Of course it was.

photo: ms. rif

Ignoring this sprinters’ benefit on my doorstep I took a spin – via Cambridge – to Yorkshire for Sunday’s classic GC shake-down. Two hundred miles of riding slowly are the perfect warm-up for the task of witnessing a big, international road-race. It slows down your mind so you’re ready to wait – for hours – calmly.

The Tour de France was invented to sell newspapers. You don’t go out to watch it to see patterns. The point is to be there. It’s a spiritual thing.

As usual – almost – the best part was the publicity caravan that precedes the race. The Caravane publicitaire is at its best after a couple of weeks, once fatigue has turned its relentless participants into grinning zombies; but it’s still pretty spectacular, even on stage 2.

giant motorised packet of frozen chips climbs Holme Moss

The surreal parade, the trinkets flung to the crowd – who blithely risk their lives to retrieve worthless tributes among the speeding floats – show human organisation at its most base. The Caravan pub. is tacky, venal and vulgar. The perfect prelude to the fleeting passage of 198* (actually 197) unemployable, under-weight hypochondriacs, on whose, self-sacrifice, fortitude and unquestioning loyalty to an abstract ideal, the whole over-blown, mobile metropolis is based.

Monday afternoon; fast riders suffering in one direction.

Saturday night; a hedonistic beach-bum excursion rolls the other way.

Dunwich Dynamo logo

Dunwich Dynamo: Illustration by Jamie Wignall
 The entourage of the Le Tour is visible from space.

Thousands of pilgrims to the drowned city can pass like ghosts leaving no trace.

grinding down the barriers to cycling

Sunday April 27th found the junction of Broad Lane and Tottenham High Road bustling with men in fluorescent pyjamas.

A couple of years, ago on arrival in my new neighbourhood, I noted that this

[googlemaps https://maps.google.co.uk/?ie=UTF8&ll=51.58105,-0.086237&spn=0.001353,0.00327&t=m&z=19&layer=c&cbll=51.58105,-0.086237&panoid=bAtRFj_NkWv4jCptLBOXBA&cbp=12,21.66,,0,13.58&source=embed&output=svembed&w=425&h=350]

…local junction was ripe for a redesign.
Imagine the surprise – on Monday 28th April 2014 – to find a gap cut neatly in the guard-rails blocking the southern end of North Grove?

 The footway is already designated ‘shared use’, and level with the carriageway, so riding deferentially across it is now easy and legal; happy days.

I don’t know who undertook the small but important task making the northern arm of the junction permeable for cycle-traffic? Despite some big talk in the comments of a previous post, suggesting guerrilla action…

…it seems most likely – and most optimistic – that this small step, toward bicycle paradise was undertaken by contractors working under instruction of the London Borough of Haringey.

I’ve sent a note of congratulation to the council member for that ward, who also happens to be the ‘cycling champion‘ for the LBHaringey. Acknowledging good work is always polite and politic.

This is not the only good news from N15. The small hours of Sunday April 27th found the junction of Broad Lane and Tottenham High Road bustling with men in fluorescent pyjamas. Helpfully these industrious munchkins had fired up a portable LED matrix to inform passers-by what they were up to.

 

 
I thought about hanging around to become the first person through when they moved the cones, but my bed was calling, so – in traditional random push-bike style – contented myself with being one of the last naughty riders to go East on Broad Lane illegally.
 
Transport for London – who administer these trunk roads – have allowed their contractors a long time to return the roads of the Tottenham Hale one-way system to a default setting. This is customary. Works that involve changing the highway pattern almost always drag on for months and years, even though it’s possible – when deemed necessary – to make extensive changes at very short notice. Older readers may remember the famous ‘ring of Lego‘ that went in – pretty much overnight – twentysome years ago in response to Irish Republican bombs in The City of London.
 
There’s a conspiracy theory that suggests works like these are deliberately allowed to drag on for months so that anyone disadvantaged by the changes forgets what it was like before the prolonged digging and re-jigging started. The theory suggests that, if the works last long enough, relief when they do finally end will be enough to obliterate any nostalgia for the old system; that months of cones, congestion and temporary traffic lights will obscure the difference between the past and the future. Blurring this distinction also inhibits those who much prefer the new arrangements from demanding more civilisation. When people notice change it reminds them that how things are is not how they’ve always been, and not how they always have to be. For clock-watching traffic engineers that may smell like trouble.
 
Conspiracy theories are always over-optimistic – they contain the idea that somebody somewhere knows what they’re doing – but they can be a useful tool of analysis. With their unenviable task, resolving conflicting demands and aspirations within finite space and green-time, it’s not really surprising if highway engineers, planners and politicians endeavour to keep the focus on technicalities. How, and for whose benefit, we organise our public space is a political question, but it suits those who plan, build, maintain and administer our highways if this truth remains obscure.
 

How streets are laid out, how people are encouraged to use them can be treated as a technical problem with solutions. It’s also useful to think of it as a political contest with winners and losers.

 

The excellent ‘space for cycling’ campaign is currently releasing lots of energy. Enabling many people to make small efforts is more productive than stakhanovite labours by a few. If you haven’t yet taken the time to fill in the boxes and alert your local candidates do it now. It only takes a couple of minutes.

I have a small quibble with ‘space for cycling’ as a slogan. Does it reinforce the popular misconception of cycling as a problem, yet another demand on public space? As arguments against engineering the World to accommodate and encourage motor-dependence become better understood and more popular there’s a reactionary tendency to see cycle-traffic as another interest group at odds with ‘motorists’, or ‘pedestrians’, or ‘bus passengers’.

On roads subject to motor-traffic congestion – in urban and suburban Britain that currently means pretty much all roads – cycle-traffic produces space. When you’re riding along and somebody with a potentially higher speed is being momentarily delayed by your presence – when you’re presence is producing a convergence between their maximum speed and their average speed –  you’re releasing capacity. Bursts of speed waste space.

If you want to travel by bike gyratory systems are a nuisance.

They mean you have to…

  • …travel further
  • …deal with junctions with more lanes and higher traffic speeds.
  • They encourage the operators of motor-vehicles to go faster and take less care.
  • They make navigation more difficult.

Research showing busy one-way roads, roads carrying heavy flows of motor-traffic, are less convivial places to live dates back to the 1970s.

Getting rid of one-way streets…

  • …is good for residents and traders.
  • …means finding bus stops is simple.
  • …is good for bus passengers.
  • …make it easier to cross roads on foot.
  • …is good for local motor-traffic.

Getting rid of one-way systems is good for everybody except the people who manifest as through-motor-traffic, who contribute nothing to the local environment and economy but noise, severance and toxic polution.

Cycle-traffic is not another dish on the menu it’s the mainstay of a whole new cuisine. Building broad alliances against one-way operation marginalises those still clinging to the unrealisable fantasy of universal personal mobility via motor cars.

It’s too early to assess the value of the new two-way Broad Lane, it will take six months for things to settle down and folk to get used to it. It used to have three traffic lanes in one direction, now it has one in each. The 20 mph speed limit is unenforced except by fat grandads on bikes who don’t mind being used as traffic calming. However when I was spinning along it yesternight I had to ring my bell at a young fellow crossing the road while reading his smart phone.

Happy Days.

“We are normal and we want our freedom”

The most pressing short-term needs are, explaining to people who use motor-vehicles on public roads why people on bicycles need to claim time and space, and encouraging bicycle users to take enough time and space to be safe.

The statistical anomaly, that half the killings of cycle users in London, in 2013, were packed into fourteen days last month put the issue of motor-slaughter right up the agenda.

For a while no news or current affairs show on TV or radio was complete without a spot on the dangers of cycling. The resulting surge in demand for specialist commentary led to heavy squad-rotation. Not even the estimable C.M.Boardman MBE can be everywhere. I consequently got to spout opinions on BBC London Radio.

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Some of the calls from members of the public are suitably random and there are moments when I start to ramble but it’s nice to air lunacy in public. In a mad World sanity can be a dangerous affliction.

Three things to remember in these crazy times.

  • People who travel by bike live longer.
  • People on bikes getting run down is not – primarily – a bicycle story. It’s a story about the dangers of motor-traffic in public space.
  • The most pressing short-term needs are, explaining to people who use motor-vehicles on public roads why those on bicycles need to claim time and space, and encouraging bicycle users to take enough time and space to be safe.

Is this woman broke? Samantha Cameron without mudguards.

Perhaps the strangest elements of this sudden squall were the comments of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, also on Radio London?

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He seems oddly confident that the only significant reason a normal person would ride a bike is because they can’t afford to get around any other way. In the same interview Sir Bernard had already discussed the onward ramifications of the Andrew Mitchell swearing saga, which has a toff trying to ride a bike at its centre. He must have meetings with Boris. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t know senior police colleagues who use a bike to get to work.

Perhaps Sir Bernard is suggesting it’s poor people on bikes who get killed because they don’t have the social-presence of patrician fellow-travellers? Consider poor  Francis Golding, run down where Theobalds Road meets Southampton Row, 08/11/2013, died three days later, a lauded professional, also plenty old enough to qualify for free travel on tubes and buses.

I don’t know Sir Bernard personally but feel safe to assume that he’s no mug. You don’t rise from a humble background to become the country’s foremost peeler by being dumb. Why did he spout nonsense?

The idea that cyclists are reluctant victims of want is attractive to authoritarians. People voluntarily on bikes reveal the limits of the dominant theory of post-Thatcher Britain; that the only things that really matter are earning and spending. When our rulers witter on about ‘hard-working families’ they don’t mean ‘work equals force times distance’, they’re not thinking about people who’d rather waste time refurbishing an old bike than earning cash to buy a new one, or growing vegetables on their home patch, rather than purchasing ‘cheap’ those trucked in from distant lands. Our rulers definition of ‘work’ is restricted to paid employment, they’re talking only about economic activity. As Mayer Hillman observed, bicycle travel is a free-lunch you get paid to eat. By gaining satisfaction from something that is free-at-the-point-of-delivery folk using bikes reveal that right-wing theory – however useful – is only a theory.

Andrew Gilligan has boasted about riding his bike while wearing headphones, Boris once referred to using a phone while riding as ‘a free-born Englishman’s time-hallowed and immemorial custom’. Despite this they can’t admit that – while naughty cyclists may be an annoying, amenity issue – it’s the routine use of motor-vehicles that kills cities. They have to go along with the prevailing analysis that cycling is the problem, motor-dependence the default. To do otherwise is heresy.

Last Friday evening as I tooled by Manor House a collection of plods were congregated around the lights, on what looked like Operation Safeway duty. As a person of dignity in later middle-age, going to London for a night out, I was wearing black shoes, black trousers, a black jacket and a black hat. My leather gloves were brown. I was in good time and ready – if given unsolicited advice by any public servant on the absence of colour in my costume – to point out that the 3 watt generator, mit Standlicht vor und hind, on my bike was working fine, that the (mitchellesque expletive deleted) Queen of England travels in a black car, that I’d been riding these roads since their mothers were virgins and if they want to change the law of the land, to make clownish attire compulsory for bicycle users, they’d best start a campaign in their own (mitchellesque expletive deleted) time, not waste mine. They let me pass unmolested, which was probably best for all concerned.

Check the reversible rear-hub? Paul Smith stylish since the ’50s

Sir Bernard’s flat Sheffield accent reminds me of a recorded voice currently ringing round the Design Museum in Bermondsey, Paul Smith CBE from Nottingham. The show “Hello, my name is Paul Smith” explains how one person can keep a handle on a global brand. It’s not about bicycles but they run though it like the pin-stripe in a sober business suit, a sober business suit with a flamboyant paisley-print lining. The show’s not about bicycles but they pepper it’s content as…

  • …ubiquitous everyday conveniences.
  • …glorious, poetic symbols of transcendence and human potential.

While Bernard Hogan-Howe’s comments are a futile attempt to turn the clock back to the days of the vanishing tribe, when a bicycle was a – best-forgotten – symptom of austerity, the Paul Smith show heralds a future where human-powered mechanical travel is the default, non-walking, mode, the logistical skeleton of a World infused with peace, freedom and joy.

Bernard and Paul have things in common. They both left school and went to work without higher education. Hard graft has taken them to the top. They retain their accents. The puckish Smith is a decade older yet seems more youthful. What’s his secret?

death on the pavement

Moving the furniture, the kerbs and the lines on the highway may mitigate the threat of motor-traffic but if we want to solve – rather than ameliorate – the problem, these measures only make sense as part of an exit-strategy from motor-dependence. The problem is not technical it’s political.

It’s crazy days for bollard fanciers down here in the lower Lee – or Lea – Valley.

Tottenham Hale – where people used to holler over the marshes to hail the ferry – is enjoying its own, protracted, ‘Day H’.

 

The original ‘Day H‘ was the third of September 1967, when road traffic in Sweden switched from travelling on the left – in the British style – to using the right, like the Germans. In Tottenham we’re not switching sides but an extensive – fashionable in the mid-Twentieth Century – one-way system is being slowly returned to the direct, default setting. Happy days.

Downstream – where the A11 runs over the Bow Back Rivers – and travellers once used the straight ford through the swamps between Bromley-by-Bow and Stratford, there’s a new and novel street design that’s interesting, nice and funny.

 

A sight-seeing trip round the soon-to-be-former Tottenham Hale gyratory system is part of my current daily routine and last week I took the first possible opportunity to check-out the new extension of Cycle-Superhighway 2 on Stratford High Street. Exciting times.

An early visit to both is recommended, and for those unlucky enough to live beyond the catchment area of the mighty Lea – or Lee – there’ll  be more on all these modifications here soon. But first consider this sad site, a sorry reminder of the context and limits of infrastructure changes.

 

The floral shrine is memorial to Tamika Malo who was run-down and killed on Lordship Road – a residential street – in Stoke Newington, London, N16 last month. The crack in the wall…

 

…is where the saloon car hit. The damage, and witness accounts in the local press, strongly suggest that poor Ms. Malo was struck while on the sidewalk. This wouldn’t be too exceptional. Public-health statistics are always elusive but the best estimate seems to be that somewhere around 10 per cent of the people killed or seriously injured by crashes, while walking, are on the pavement.

In its very early years the London Cycling Campaign had a slogan ‘cycling is political’. It’s a welcome development that – thirty five years later – the slaughter of people travelling by bike is now a subject of political discourse.  These deaths are now recorded and discussed in greater detail, than those of slaughtered pedestrians; an inequity that tends to reinforce the popular misconception that cycle-travel is wildly dangerous.

Let’s not get into the slippery issue of the relative hazards of walking and cycling. Public-health statistics are elusive. It is worth noting that the two are roughly comparable.

Nowadays there’s lots of talk about the potential value of – what are colloquially referred to as – ‘segregated cycle facilities’. This form of words is problematic, ‘segregated tracks’ are always shared with others, on low-powered motor cycles and scooters, in motorised wheelchairs, skaters, skateboardists and often pedestrians and their dogs. It’s worth remembering that in Germany and the Netherlands the market for utility bikes is currently swamped by electric-powered bikes. In this context ‘segregated’ is shorthand – or euphemism – for ‘physically separated from heavy motor-traffic’. In this period in history taking the fact of motor-traffic for granted is never progressive.

Ms. Malo was killed while using a footpath physically separated from heavy motor-traffic. Moving the furniture, the kerbs and the lines on the highway may mitigate the threat of motor-traffic. It can change the way people think about public space. It can change the signals given to people about what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to do it. It reminds people that how we live now is not how we used to live or how we’ll live in the future.

Reconfiguring streetscapes and highways may be useful and necessary but if we want to solve – rather than ameliorate – the problem, these measures only make sense as part of an exit-strategy from motor-dependence. The problem is not technical it’s political.

I’ve been watching Olympopolis – nestled in the Lea Delta –  for years. I’ll be paying for it for the rest of my life so am compelled to wring-out every possible drop of entertainment. Riding around, as it slowly opens, is a bizarre experience. Like recovering from a nasty bump on the head. Trying to reconcile what is, with memories of what used to be. Some of the boulevards have parallel, Northern European-style rad-weg. Sections of which probably qualify as ‘protected from heavy motor-traffic’.

This used to be a “wasteland“.
 

The metre-thick concrete bund is to stop cars, vans, trucks, buses or motorcycles crashing off the bridge on to the railway beneath. Temporary shelter for anyone on the side track is – no morbid pun intended – just a spin-off.

is the-new-golf the new cricket?

Cycling is the new golf, but is it the new cricket?

“I used to play golf, and cycling is that for me now.”

M.J.Prior

The metaphor of addiction is sadly over-used in contemporary culture. To the ever-expanding list of things that people can claim to be addicted to…

…we can now add cycling.

 

Johannesburg-born stumper Prior is past thirty – elderly for a professional athlete – but set personal-bests for all categories in a pre-tour fitness test. He puts this down to riding 40-60 miles, four or five times a week. The England tour management forbade him from taking his bike to Australia for the forthcoming Ashes series.

This elision of cycling, cricket, Australia and loosing weight had me wondering what ever happened to Warniegate? You may recall that chubby, living-legend Shane ‘Warnie’ Warne (things bogans like #200) deliberately ran his car into the back of web designer Mathew Hollingsworth’s bike in a Melbourne traffic jam back in January 2012. Hollingsworth subsequently planned to sue the former spin-king, for 1500 dollars for damage to his commuting cycle.

It turns out that the case was dropped and that Warnie has a new career as a ‘road safety’ role-model. To describe the ageing ‘Sheik of Tweak’ as a scandal-magnet is a wild understatement. The lad just can’t keep out of trouble. Scientists predict that a ‘google’ search with the terms “shane warne” and “scandal” might actually melt the whole internet? Don’t risk it.

It’s unclear whether the England tour management refused to carry Prior’s little queen to the Lucky Country for logistical, or sporting, reasons? As well as pointing out that his carbon-reinforced-plastic fitness-aid is 60 per cent lighter than his golf clubs Prior also admitted:- “I am completely addicted to it – it’s almost getting in the way of the cricket.”

Maybe they’re just worried for his personal safety? Strolling around a private golf-course is one thing. Riding your bike out on the hoon-infested highway is another. I’ve never been to Australia – and you should never judge a country by it’s exiles – but if you wanted to create a perfect hate-object for a red-blooded, bone-headed Oztralian sports-fan could you do much more than?…

  • English cricketer
  • South African
  • pugnacious
  • bicycle-riding

Revisiting Warniegate reminds me how much I enjoy the internet’s third-best bogan-related website but it doesn’t make comfortable reading for England’s first-choice gloveman, who’s packed his cycling shoes and arranged to pick up a pedal-bike on arrival down-under.

“In fact, the bogan doesn’t even like cycling – as a sport, or a mode of transportation. The bogan believes recreational cyclers are a menace  – it heard a shock jock use this phrase on the radio – and believes cyclists wearing multi-coloured lycra look like “fags,” despite the fact that its own t-shirt is considerably more garish in design, and just as tight fitting. Should the bogan see a cyclist riding legally on a road, it will lean on the horn and tailgate the cyclist before dangerously swerving out across two lanes and slowing down to point its yellow wristband-clad arm at the offending velocipede. The bogan will then scream “buy a fucking car….ya fag.”

things bogans like #182 Lance Armstrong

See also #104 Road Rage.

In other news…

  • The term ‘leg-spinner’ has nothing to do with pushing pedals.
  • Until 1996 England didn’t have an international cricket team, instead being represented by the Marylebone Cricket Club.
  • St. Marie la Bonne is a village near Regents Park.
  • If you want to play cricket for England it helps to be born in South Africa, Zimbabwe, New Zealand or Ireland.
  • Jack Wilshere likes a smoke.
  • Cricket is a mystery.

Better stop now, go for a ride and look for storm-damage before it gets dark. Australian social-comedy websites are addictive.

blood and blue paint

Are ‘Cycle-Superhighways’ a new category of municipal displacement activity? Containment Infrastructure?

The Mile End Road – the A11 –  is in the news because two inquests coincided last week. They enquired into deaths at either end of this corridor.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9lvjuO4oGw?feature=player_detailpage]

The word ‘tragedy’ is over-used but that’s what these awful mishaps are.

The two deaths have circumstances in common – people travelling by bike, going ahead at junctions, knocked down and crushed by left-turning trucks, a well documented systems-failure. In these specific cases the crashes aroused further interest because – since 2011 – this section of the A11 has also been ‘Cycle-Superhighway 2′(CS2), a new flavour of highway design  that consists mostly of bright blue surface treatments along the left of the carriageway and some direction signs.

Giving evidence PC Simon Wickenden of the Metropolitan Police Traffic Unit  suggested that the presence of ‘Cycle-Superhighway’ stripes may have contributed to the slaughter by encouraging riders to travel too far to the left and by giving them an unjustified sense of security. The coroner – who dealt with both cases – has criticised the Superhighways. Her report is published today. TfL have eight weeks to reply.

Two useful principles when riding on roads shared with other traffic…

  • …control the space around you.
  • …pick a line that minimises conflict with traffic trying to go in other directions.

At times these principles can contradict. It’s easier to control space when you ride close enough to a kerb, or other linear barrier, to prevent people in cars or trucks passing on one side. This allows you to pay more attention to what’s happening on the other side; but if – for example – you’re approaching a junction where you want to go ahead, and the leftmost lane is used by traffic planning to turn left, taking the second lane will reduce conflict with left-turning traffic, but also make it harder to control the space around you because – once you’re in the second lane – other traffic can pass on either side.

The decision-making process can be more important than it’s outcome. When you’ve a definite idea of what you’re doing it’s easier for other people to discern what you’re going to do next. The blue stripes have no legal weight. Anyone using  any vehicle can use that space but their presence encourages bike riders to follow them even if they’re not the safest, or most convenient, path.

 

The tendency of riders to follow the blue stripes reduces uncertainty. Uncertainty keeps people alert. The stripes discourage communication – looking and signalling – between road users. Communication keeps people awake and encourages them to look out for each other.

The Cycle-Superhighways are an initiative of Transport for London(TfL) who are responsible for the Capital’s major road network. Other roads are administered by local Boroughs. TfL answers to the Mayor. The Cycle-Superhighways were proposed by Ken Livingstone and are being implemented under the aegis of Boris Johnson. The stated aims of the Superhighways are “to improve cycling conditions for people who already commute by bike, and to encourage new cyclists”.

The coloured tarmac certainly offers superficial validation of the idea that cycle travel is welcome on these routes and they mostly follow radial, main roads – which makes sense, not only do these follow the level, direct desire lines, they’re the ones TfL controls. The ambiguous and legally worthless, Cycle-Superhighways are a product of the era of mixed messages but classic ‘Alibi Facilities‘ they are not.

Here’s Boris’s political place-man Kulveer Ranger who oversaw their first phase – but has since moved on – defending the blue stripes against early criticism.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=3-hkWF0NKIk#t=54sfeature=player_detailpage]

Around 52 seconds he says:- “To reinforce safety we wanted to define where other road-users could expect cyclists to be.”

And the big beast himself, reworking the mantra…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=5rSSqJsUhKU?#t=41sfeature=player_detailpage]

…around 45 seconds:- “This is somewhere where motorists can expect to find cyclists.”

Now I don’t know where these jokers have been living for the last ten years?

Stating the obvious, for their benefit, the answer to the question:- “Where on the streets of Inner London do you expect to find cyclists?”

Is – of course – “everywhere.”

Indeed an unspoken corollary of their slogan might be:- “Don’t expect to find cyclists on the bits of the Mile End Road that aren’t blue.”

It’s instructive that the Cycle-Superhighway initiative came in as TfL were also engaged in ‘smoothing the traffic‘. Perhaps we have a new category of municipal displacement activity, a reaction to the rising tide of bicycle madness:- Containment Infrastructure?

Subsequent to two death crashes in two weeks at Bow Flyover late in 2011 the design of CS2 was modified. During one of the many consultations on the scheme a colleague observed:- ‘They should paint the whole road blue, or none of it.’

If the ambition is to validate cycle travel, to encourage riders onto the road without increasing complacency or limiting the options for cycle-traffic how about taking inspiration from the mysterious markings on Mare Street E8?

 

It’s a mistake to ever imagine that an organisation like Tfl speaks with one voice. This campaign – for example – contains some useful and progressive messages.

There isn’t anything good to take from the waste and horror of motor-slaughter but it’s worth noting that current coverage of the deaths on CS2 is different from, and more intense than, anything we could have expected during the era of the vanishing tribe. In former days disasters like these were ignored, or told tersely with a ‘what-do-you-expect-if-you-ride-a-bike?’ subtext.

Motor-traffic in general, the haulage business in particular, kills people. They kill people at a rate that would be a national scandal if any other source – bad food hygiene? enemy action? unmanned level-crossings? – were responsible.

Nowadays reportage on the slaughter of people using cycles may be more humane, with voices of bereaved friends and relatives, victim’s biographies, to transcend the statistics and reveal the true stories of suffering and loss, but it still tip-toes around the central issue. These stories are about trucks not bikes.

Back to the future

Take a snapshot of today’s conditions and breaking the cultural, and physical, domination of the automobile seems like an impossible dream. In a longer historical context it may be safer to assume it’s inevitable?

“The Motorcar ended the countryside and substituted a new landscape in which the motor car was a sort of steeplechaser. At the same time the motor destroyed the city as a casual environment in which families could be reared. Streets, and even sidewalks, became too intense a scene for the casual interplay of growing up.  As the city filled with strangers, even next-door neighbors became strangers. This is the story of the motorcar, and it has not much longer to run.”

Marshall McLuhan 1964

2013 was a great Summer. Not just because I passed my big test (a subject I will almost certainly return to during the dark days of Winter) also because I can’t remember a formal Sunday ride which didn’t mingle with at least one other event. Everywhere it seems people are grappling with the – so far unanswered – question; how do you ride a bike?

Highlights included the twentieth  Start of Summertime Special…

 

…in April, which for some distance entwined with an  ‘epic sportive’ from Newmarket. The thrill of meeting other pilgrims enhanced by the knowledge that these neophytes were paying £28 for a 100 miles, while us leathery old-timers enjoyed 210 kms for £6.

In June the magnificent Three Coasts,…

 

…a nice little ride out of Mytholmroyd in the West Riding, included a sunny afternoon on the Fylde which – apart from ominous views of distant uplands – was like being in the Netherlands, pan flat with untold people of all ages out on their bikes.

People in cars seem to be getting used to sharing roads with blocks of happy pedalling pilgrims. Maybe not content – hyper-mobility and contentment don’t often go together – but at least resigned to relatively long periods moving at human-scale speeds. Perhaps the popularity, the ubiquity, of the new golf is finally eroding  the traditional view, that people on bikes are a low-status out-group?

Early this year 20 mph became the default speed limit in the London Borough of Islington and lately the City of London has declared it will follow.  The Borough of Haringey – which bestrides the jagged coast between bicycle paradise Inner London and the great doughnut of inaccessibility that is Outer London – is currently consulting on the subject. If you live in, ever pass through or visit this unwieldy administrative area feel free to chip-in here. The consultation runs until 31/10/13, why not fill in the questionnaire now?

Some may complain that 20 mile per hour speed limits are currently unenforced and, so widely ignored that they’re meaningless. I prefer to take a long-term perspective.

It’s worth remembering that the British state’s first reaction to the modern automobile was a universal speed limit of 20 mph under the Motor Car Act of 1903. The campaign to smash this restraint, led to the formation of the Automobile Association who undertook non-violent direct action to subvert enforcement. The AA sent paid scouts on push bikes to sabotage police activity by warning criminal drivers to slow down where there were speed-traps.

The 20 mph limit lasted until 1931 but in latter years it was so irrelevant that bus companies published timetables that could only be met by vehicles moving at illegal speed. Descent into the asocial brutality of mass motor dependence was marked by a long period where a 20 mph limit existed but was ignored by almost everybody. Perhaps progress to more efficient and convivial living systems will see the process reverse? Let’s get the 20 mph limit in, even if hardly anyone – police or sofa-jockeys – take much notice, then we can start nudging behavioural norms and the thinking that informs them. That’s what happened with drunk driving. It used to be normal, there was no legal limit for blood alcohol before 1967, now it is generally considered a menace to society and ‘criminal’ behaviour.

Occasionally when flogging down the Islington section of Green Lanes – the A105 – between Manor House and Clissold Park, where motor-traffic sometimes runs free and fast, I’m surprised to find a motor-vehicle, usually a rented van, maintaining a precise 32 kmph on the wide, open road with the big white ’20’s painted on it. It’s usually on a week-end morning and is – I suppose – just another bike fancier moving house?

One of the – many – good things about riding a bike is that you don’t have to worry too much about cars. The worst thing is probably having to listen – and maybe even offer a facsimile of sympathy – when primary victims of motor-dependance explain, at unnecessary length, their difficulties ‘getting through the traffic’ or finding somewhere to park their vacant saloons. It can be hard work trying to affect sincerity while you’re actually wondering how they manage to combine so much patience with so little imagination? It is – however – also currently true that motor traffic dominates a great deal of public space. We are all secondary victims of motor-dependance and the freedom – of children in particular – to travel autonomously is disastrously restricted.

In the 1980’s senior officers of the Department of Transport argued that it was illegal to put speed-humps on public roads. Now those little manifestations of conflicted motivation can be found all over the place. Armed only with a snapshot of today’s conditions, breaking the cultural, and physical, domination of the automobile seems an impossible dream. In a longer historical context it may be safer to assume the end of mass motor-culture is inevitable?

Marshall McLuhan may have under-estimated the longevity of motor-dependence, but most of his predictions seem to come true in the end. If you’re reading this in Seattle it’s probably not worth responding to the Haringey speed-limit consultation. But welcome to the Global Village.

It won’t happen by accident. There is work to be done. Go ride your bike and set a good example. And for people with a critique of the prevailing, inhuman, highway conditions, who lack the chutzpah to enjoy riding their bikes on roads shared with motor-traffic, there’s a new potential hobby; join a car club and put in some miles playing the radio while diligently observing the ‘new’ civilised speed limit.

Dunwich Dynamo XXI; never mind how many hours, what about finesse?

Cycle-sport is perverse. If you want to go fast get a motor-cycle. The point of riding a push bike is to enjoy the journey.

In the days before, along the road, people keep asking how many are riding this year? My reply is always that nobody knows, nobody has to count. What if someone sets off from Cambridge, picks up the route near Sudbury and trundles out to the coast? Do they count as one, as a half or none? My concern is always with quality.

A point of the DD is getting inexperienced riders to raise their ambition, to understand that riding further is not that big a deal, that a ‘long’ journey is just a collection of short trips strung together. If – however – you inspire the naive and innocent into the darkness of Essex and Suffolk it’s good if there are some role-models around to give clues as to how it might be done with ease and style.

Weston Cafe congratulatory message - Dunwich Dynamo XXI

Weston Cafe congratulatory message

Dunwich Dynamo Twenty One – the first with rain and headwind combination – had no hint of moonlight at any time. Another first for 2013 was a complaint from a householder about noise in the small hours…

“I am sure you all had a lovely time cycling from London to Dunwich on Saturday/Sunday night – couldn’t have been a better night I shouldn’t think. However, I wonder if you could just ask the participants for next year just to think a little more about the people in the villages they pass through during the night.   We live right on a junction on the A****  in Suffolk about 20 miles from Dunwich in the village of *********** and the cyclists found it necessary to stop and shout directions to each other at the junction, which woke our dog and started him barking between 3am and 5am – thereby waking us.PLEASE do remember that Suffolk villages are usually quiet at night and neither we nor our dogs are used to night time noise.  In any case, surely it is only considerate to keep your voice down outside houses during the night. Sorry to raise this but a little consideration would be appreciated.”

…the complaint is not a ‘first’, every year there are a few, not all as polite and considered as this. The ‘first’ is that the junction described is two or three miles from the suggested route.

Repeating the messages – “don’t make noise near homes”, “don’t drop litter” –  like a stuck record, the problem is that the least imaginative people, the most likely to cause a nuisance, are the hardest to reach.

Quiet - Dunwich Dynamo XXI

Quiet
litter - Dunwich Dynamo XXI

litter

As years go by more and more people who live along the route are embracing the Dunwich Dynamo in a continental style. Pubs stay open late and fill their tills, residents sit out and watch the stream of fools pass, some run front-garden pop-ups, pushing coffee and bacon sandwiches in aid of charity and all-night fun. In Sudbury – just for example – the Horse and Groom, Weston’s Cafe and Torque Bikes all stayed open. People put up routing signs, and personal notices for locals who are making the trip. I heard a rumour that Anglia Railways now run extra bike capacity during the day before the ride for all the people coming in from Essex and Suffolk to join the great wave of lunatic joy.

Ddesign - Dunwich Dynamo XXI

Ddesign

It’s sad that DD supporters in Essex and Suffolk will have to deal with criticism from their neighbours annoyed by unnecessary noise, litter and loutish behaviour from nit-wit participants, the kind who imagine that riding 185 kms at their own pace is some kind of mighty achievement and give no thought to doing it like an adult, doing it with panache.

Thousands of people – almost all carrying wallets or similar cash receptacles – moving into countryside is cause for joy, an extra Christmas for hard-pressed country pubs, a chance for people from across the country, international visitors, to discover the pleasures of East Anglia. Many will return to further boost the rural economy. The fact that they do it on bikes puts minimal stress on infrastructure. If we conduct ourselves like adults, ten-thousand can go through like ghosts, leaving no trace creating no disturbance.

There’s no excuse for noise, or litter, or pissing near homes. It was a hot night so more sleeping people had more windows open. There was no moon and maybe under-equipped pilgrims needed to gather under street-lights? Anyone who knows what they’re doing carries a headlight for punctures, reading directions and sign-posts, wardrobe changes or cigarette rolling in the dark.

Part of the pleasure of cycle-touring is to stop. The best place is not in a sleeping village, that will likely be at the bottom of a hill with a climb on cooled legs to follow. Stop in the gateway of a farmers field on a hilltop and you can chat freely and get rolling again with minimum effort.

Cycle-sport is beautiful. You can learn a lot from studying, more from participating in, cycle-sport. But cycle-sport is perverse. If you want to go fast get a motor-cycle. The point of riding a push bike is to enjoy the journey. I’ve read plenty of first-person narratives of DDXXI. Some major on pain and suffering, which is boasting about how ineffective you are at riding a bike. Most – for no explained reason – tell how long the trip took. I prefer the ones that concentrate on style.

I have definite plans not to post next week but if you want to find out roughly where I am you can look here.