the bell?

After 9(NINE) years of campaigning, broken promises and attempted sell-outs by the blazer brigade, it seems we will end up with a comparable facility to the old race-track that combines space for Mountain Bike and Cyclo-Cross racing with a usable road circuit.

The ‘Velo Park’ – promised as part of the Olympic Legacy, restitution for the stolen lands of Eastway – is under construction.

After 9(NINE) years of campaigning, broken promises and attempted sell-outs by the blazer brigade, it seems we will end up with a comparable facility to the old race-track that combines space for Mountain Bike and Cyclo-Cross racing with a usable road circuit.

There’s no room for complacency  but a phased hand-back is currently planned to begin in September 2013 through to early 2014. The Park is planned to be open from 08:00 to 22:00 seven days a week, the road and BMX circuits may be floodlit after dark.

There’s an outstanding issue regarding the judges cabin. As currently planned it won’t work. The consultation for this detail of the design is open until Thursday 13 December. Find more details and how to comment here.

You can comment by post or email. If not you who? If not now when?

98 per cent?

Top class association football has recently been rocked by problems of bad behaviour. Louis Suarez, John Terry, Mark Clattenburg – Serbian ultras, have all attracted allegations, in some cases proven and punished, for racist abuse and language.

WARNING

THE FOLLOWING CLIP CONTAINS SCENES OF MEN – SOME QUITE UNPHOTOGENIC – SINGING TUNELESSLY. If you can’t identify the melody it’s taken from the traditional air ‘Robin van Persie he scores when he wants’.

Top class association football has recently been rocked by problems of bad behaviour. Louis Suarez, John Terry, Mark Clattenburg – Serbian ultras, have all attracted allegations, in some cases proven and punished, for racist abuse and language.

Boisterous celebrations of the criminal conduct of André Clarindo dos Santos have attracted no such opprobrium. Andre – an attack-minded left-back signed by Arsenal FC in 2011 from Fenerbahçe in Turkey for €7 million – was late for work one morning last Summer when he was clocked doing 220 kph in his Maserati GranTurismo. A high speed chase ensued. He escaped prison by a combination of grovelling apology and our country’s indulgent attitude to motor-crime.

Next time you hear some naive – so self-righteous you might imagine he (they’re mostly men) invented the bicycle himself – wittering about the 98 per cent who don’t cycle because the bollards are in the wrong places don’t forget he’s talking – amongst others – about the bulky Brazilian International and all those who glory in his foolishness.

In keeping with our editorial policy of not too much moaning it must be added that the blokes in the choir are not all that serious and if nice people like us find them offensive – even scary – that’s exactly what they want. If you ran over one of their kiddies in your Range Rover they’d probably think it was ‘bang out of order” or even “a right fuckin’ liberty.”

Also there is free secure, off-street match-day parking at the Emirates Stadium. Which you don’t – yet – get here.

And also the Andre Santos song may not be heard too often in future. As the young fellow has upset the goonerati with a serious – maybe irredeemable – wardrobe faux-pas.


Now that’s really bad behaviour.

…97.3 per cent?

In the UK there is suppressed demand for cycling. There are people who want to travel by bicycle who are prevented, or limited, by the threat and severance consequent on the current acceptance of motor-dependence and hyper-mobility.

In the UK there is suppressed demand for cycling. There are people who want to travel by bicycle who are prevented, or limited, by the threat and severance consequent on the current acceptance of motor-dependence and hyper-mobility.
There’s a cliched discourse stemming from this unfortunate circumstance that relies on an unstated, unexamined faith that most – maybe all – of the people who don’t currently travel by bike are in some precipitous pre-cycling state, only waiting for conditions to change so they can start riding.

For example here’s a reader’s comment from earlier in the year…

“…the argument is that bike lanes should be good enough that all cyclists will want to use them, you, me and the 98% of the population who do not ride bikes right now, and never will unless they feel safe.”

A wise and effective comrade once gave me the following advice:- “In politics never use the word ‘should’.” ‘Could’ has the ring of truth, ‘must’ is dynamic but ‘should’ always sounds ineffectual, even desperate.

The compelling attraction of the ‘98 per cent are pre-cyclists‘ theory is that it’s adherents can envisage a future in which bicycle paradise arrives without attritional street-by-street struggle. If you believe in the ’98 percent’ theory the political question of what streets are for is replaced by technical issues. If only we can get the policy sorted the rest will be coasting downhill, because really everyone is just waiting to throw a leg over their rod and hit the rad-weg.

When others have no interest in stuff that we feel is very important there’s temptation to project our own feelings on to their blank apathy. I used to imagine that people didn’t cycle because – back in the era of the vanishing tribe – cycle-traffic was definitely being designed out of the system.

In the very early 1990’s – when fixed gears were for old codgers and Mountain Bikes still a new idea – I was writing for, long-gone, ‘New Cyclist’. A quarterly, that became a bi-monthly, that became a monthly, which carried the portentous sub-title “the magazine for all cyclists”; like working on the magazine for all shoe-wearers or all air-breathers.

Transport was a hot subject, ‘Roads to Prosperity’ the biggest programme of highway construction since the Romans was going down in flames under a pincer movement from disobedient eco-warriors and Betjemanesque conservatives. The Conservative Government’s attitude to public-transport was not unlike Count Dracula’s feelings for garlic so it seemed like bicycle paradise might be just over the next hill.

symbolic redevelopment of the secretary of state for Transport’s house in Muswell Hill

I had the innocent idea of surveying Members of the House of Commons to uncover their attitudes to cycling. Who rode, who rode where and what were their attitudes? All of them – except Gerry Adams the abstentionist Sinn Féin member for West Belfast – had current experience of London streets, where cycling was the most reliable mode.

I can’t recall the exact details. It was all many kilometres ago, maybe one day I’ll stooge up Watling Street to Colindale and recapture the full story. Younger readers may be interested to know that ‘going to the library’ is what people in olden days did when they wanted to find out about something, like Wikipedia only less convenient and more reliable.

The MP’s questionnaire was multiple-choice and elicited the desired response. On the cover of the magazine the editor was able to write…

“Why MPs want to cycle but are too frightened.”

What happened next? Was there a cross-party surge of political will to provide the space, green-time and finance to reconfigure the World so the timid souls could hit the streets? It began to dawn on me that things might be more complicated than I had imagined.

It’s not even that some people want conditions for cycle traffic improved and others don’t, for many the dissonance is personal. Here’s an instructive parable from the turn of the Century lifted from the Guardian

“For years residents of two Somerset villages complained to police about motorists speeding past their homes.

When a police speed trap was set up on a 30mph stretch of the A368 between Compton Martin and Bishop Sutton, the locals were delighted.

Their euphoria turned to shame when it emerged yesterday that a large proportion of the drivers caught speeding by the laser camera were the very same villagers.

Of 133 motorists caught in a fortnight, 30 were from the two villages. They are being prosecuted by police along with the others.

Sergeant Mike Smalley, who set up the trap, said: “It’s often the case that we catch a high proportion of locals, and some of those will have expressed concern about speeding in the first instance.”

Pensioner John Wilkes, who has lived near Compton Martin for 18 years, described it as being more like Piccadilly Circus than a peaceful village.

“I think local people should have known better. We are complaining about speeding, but how can you complain if you don’t abide by it? It has got a lot worse as time has gone by.”

Katie Court, whose partner was one of those caught, said she thought that the lorries were more of a problem. “My husband was only doing 35mph and I don’t think he deserved it.”

“I don’t want to be a speed hump”

Under current conditions there are plenty of riders, plenty of would-be riders, who don’t have the necessary combination of control skills, technical knowledge and social presence to own the road with sufficient confidence to enjoy sharing it with others using clumsier modes. Children are one obvious example of this.

A clichéd response from someone who rides but doesn’t like it, or would like to ride more but is put off by people in cars, or would like to ride but is fearful of current conditions – to the idea that a person on a bike can be an active and civilising influence on the prevailng, often brutal, road traffic environment – goes something like…

“I don’t want to be used as traffic calming.”

This is a sensible position that does not need to be defended.

Under current conditions there are plenty of riders, plenty of would-be riders, who don’t have the necessary combination of control skills, technical knowledge and social presence to own the road with sufficient confidence to enjoy sharing it with others using clumsier modes. Children are one obvious example of this.

It’s also much easier to be a civilising influence on streets whose layout makes riding a bicycle obviously advantageous. In places where the highway network is engineered to accommodate and enable motor-dependence it takes more skill, morale and operatic presence to defend a space and there are usually fewer opportunities to help others grow.

In a ‘traffic’ context active citizenship – taking the courtesy and consideration considered normal in motor-free space out into the dog-eat-dog World of motor-dependance – is an opportunity not an obligation.

There is no shame in not being able to, not wanting to, or not enjoying, riding in current conditions. Even the World’s greatest living Welsh person has been quoted thus…

“I certainly wouldn’t fancy riding across Vauxhall Cross or Elephant and Castle in rush hour…”

Nicole Cooke

Olympic Champion 2008

tougher than you’ll ever be.

“I don’t want to be used as traffic calming.” Is a sensible position that does not need to be defended but the position is also passive and asocial.

There is a lot of inertia in the cheap-energy economy. Motor-dependence has been a dominating social force for most of the last half Century and we are only just emerging from a period when questioning the idea – that everyone is, aspires to be, or thinks like, a motorist – put you beyond the pale of sanity.

Even in the current new era of mixed messages it’s easy for we – with a critique of motor-dependance – to become demoralised, bitter and apathetic. This may be especially true if going for a bike ride is more of an ordeal than a convenient and utilitarian outlet for frustration. More of a horror than a chance to take a rest, from cooking up grand theories of how best to enforce bicycle paradise. More of a nightmare than an opportunity to pretend, for a few jolly kilometres, that the happy day has already dawned.

Changing the World one bike ride at a time may be like trying to stop a bulldozer with a pea-shooter but if the peas are hard enough and we fire enough…

…well it can’t do any harm can it?

Ron Binns’ extended series of pessimistic prophesies  – “What won’t bring about mass cycling…” can be extended to infinity.

Nothing will make people travel by pedal cycle until they decide it’s what they want to do. Once that’s what they’ve decided nothing will stop them. Trying to reduce this circular statement of the obvious, to any kind of Newtonian equation, is like investigating the workings of a watch with a 15lb hammer.

Riding like you own the road won’t bring about mass cycling. Helping others do likewise won’t either. But it can change their World. Riding a bike on roads busy with motor-traffic can be free assertion training.

Ron denounces cycle training because it’s subjects…

“…must be taught how, as a cyclist, to adapt your behaviour to this [hostile and dangerous] environment.”

Well it wouldn’t be much use if it taught people how best to behave in circumstances other than those that currently prevail, would it? Ron’s critique of cycle training echoes the old joke about a village idiot giving a stranger directions.

“If I were you I wouldn’t start from here.”

“I don’t want to be used as traffic calming.” Is a sensible position that does not need to be defended. You can’t calm traffic without calming people. Attacking those who aspire to calm and civilise other people – just because you don’t want to and you know they are very unlikely to hit back – is neither kind nor progressive.

super-storm Sandy

weather event blowing in New Yorker and noted amateur stunt artist Casey Neistat rode Downtown to see the sights. His record of the trip is a timely reminder that simple systems are more robust, harder to defeat. Apparently in the super-storm’s chaotic aftermath bicycles are proving the only reliable form of mechanical transport. There’s a surprise.

With a ‘once-in-a-Century’ weather event blowing in New Yorker and noted amateur stunt artist Casey Neistat rode Downtown to see the sights.

His record of the trip is a timely reminder that simple systems are more robust, harder to defeat. Apparently in the super-storm’s chaotic aftermath bicycles are proving the only reliable form of mechanical transport. There’s a surprise.

Once on a Critical Mass in London the rabble pulled up outside Buckingham Palace. When a tall-biker started riding around inside the artificial pool around the fountain I suddenly realised what those contrivances are really designed for. If this individual had one he’d have got through with dry feet. The fact that modern day flood water isn’t just clean rain, river or ocean may account for the low-grade finish on your average, everyday tall-bike?

Once upon a time nature was our adversary, a buffer for our excesses. Not any more. You don’t even need to be convinced that man-made climate-change exists, just asking the question – “Is this storm an act of God or was it triggered by the cheap-energy economy?” – changes our philosophical relationship to the World.

During most of human history the problem was furious bears in the un-mapped woods. Our organisation consisted of building a nice warm campfire to scare away the bears. Now the bears are our furry friends and the threat comes only from the campfire.

good news

Pleased to announce that the unlovely sheds thrown up on at short notice on Leyton Marsh – as part of the great festival of running and jumping – are gone. The deadline for removal was missed, and the area of public open land is still fenced off, but the sheds are gone. The ground is level and new – monocultural – turf is being laid.

Pleased to announce that the unlovely sheds thrown up on at short notice on Leyton Marsh – as part of the great festival of running and jumping – are gone.

The deadline for removal was missed, and the area of public open land is still fenced off, but the sheds are gone. The ground is level and new – monocultural – turf is being laid.

Last Summer…

Last week…

Back in September when I lifted the ‘before’ picture from Ron Binns’ prolific web-log ‘Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest’ he wrote…

“15th of October.

By this date these temporary and highly controversial structures built for the Olympics on green open space in the Lea Valley (including, naturally, a tarmac car park), will have been demolished and the entire site will have been returned to green, grassy space where local residents are free to wander. Nothing can possibly go wrong and there is no reason to believe that this deadline will not be met. Trust them – they’re Waltham Forest Council.”

I’ve been waiting for him to announce the good news, with some acid comments about the delay. ‘Bad weather’ is the given excuse, which didn’t seem to stop them getting the party ready on time? It’s always politic to congratulate people for doing what you want. Even when you’ve made them do it when they didn’t want to.

Whenever you make a pushy MDV* wait for your priority always try and thank them. Patronising politeness is so much crueler than anger, and not giving them an outlet for their frustration might just leave them with space and energy to mature into a less selfish and desperate traveller?

Not only does Crap Cycling not seem to do good news he’s also trying to wish away – long established – glad tidings. Way back in 1992 the impish Mayer Hillman’s revolutionary work Cycling Towards Health and Safety

signalled the beginning of the end of the ‘Vanishing Tribe’ era, the first glimmer of dawn for the current epoch of Mixed Messages.

Ron’s uncompromising stance on motor-danger and motor-slaughter is laudable. In an era when most commentators still moan about ‘dangerous roads’ or ‘nightmare traffic’ like they were natural phenomena – avalanche, hurricane, shark attack – Crap Cycling keeps the focus resolutely on human agency. The danger doesn’t  come from cars or trucks or junctions or roads; it comes from people like you and me.

But isn’t it possible to keep stating that obvious fact without denying the known epidemiological truth that people who ride bikes live longer? I’d like to ask Ron myself but he doesn’t take comments.

*MDV = victim of motor dependence

mixed messages (part 2)

The division of history into periods is not a fact, but a necessary hypothesis or tool of thought, valid in so far as it is illuminating, and dependent for its validity on interpretation

“The division of history into periods is not a fact, but a necessary hypothesis or tool of thought, valid in so far as it is illuminating, and dependent for its validity on interpretation.”

E.H. Carr ‘What is History?’

For anyone who doubts we are living in the era of mixed messages consider this un-photoshopped image, captured in Stanhope Gardens, London, N4, 29/09/2012.

smarter travel?

barriers to cycling (part 1)

In a week of waffle – on the ugly spat between Andrew Mitchell and his gate-keepers – there’s been exactly zero comment on the fact that a senior member of the Government might choose to travel by bike. Fifteen years ago such zany behaviour would have had him labelled as an odd and remarkable fellow; ‘the bicycling whip’. A first lesson to draw from the affair is that a posh person choosing to get about on an – insert compulsory adjective – humble bicycle is now a non-story.

It’s now unworthy of comment to find toffs travelling by bike, after all their social status is inviolable. This may not be much help to others who had less money spent on their education and whose parents were not Government ministers, but it’s still a positive development. In all the talk of contempt and condescension, even though bicycle-travel is a key element in the narrative – nobody has denounced Andrew Mitchell as a cyclist.

The tale of hot-temper has another lesson; that authority has trouble categorising bicycle-traffic. In this period in history, in the UK, if you enjoy the simple luxury of cycle-travel, you have to get used to occasional, ritual humiliation.

The third lesson is that Andrew Mitchell is clearly not much of a politician. When confronted with injustice an activist has three basic choices…

  • To fight, Mitchell has a military background but clearly shooting his way out of the vehicle gate was not a practical option. The streets of SW1 are made for tanks, there are barracks of elite troops standing very close by. If he’d gone for the Maoist option – “political power comes from the barrel of a gun” – he may have got away with his life but it probably wouldn’t have helped his career?
  • To defer, politely to ‘jobsworth’ authority and make, in due course, reasoned complaint, to the proper authorities, that the new Downing Street Gate policy is both unfair and inconvenient.
  • To take non-violent direct action; on being told that the riding gate could not be opened, that ‘for reasons of security’ he’d have to dismount and walk back to the pedestrian gate, Mr. Mitchell could have explained courteously to his obstructors that they were clearly discriminating against human-powered vehicular traffic and calmly insist that they arrest him so he could make his case in court. If this demand had been refused he could have used his handy ‘D’ lock to shackle himself to the gates and wait for something to happen. If convicted he could have refused to take any conditional discharge, refused to pay any fine, gone to jail and started a hunger-strike.

All he actually did was rant. The exact terms of his discourse are still contested but nobody is denying he lost control. He became impolite which is impolitic.

Mitchell’s verbal incontinence has obscured the real issue. His grovelling apologies say nothing of the injustice that provoked his childish wrath. His lack of self-control means an opportunity, to focus national debate on whether it’s OK to force people on push bikes to WALK, when those in limousines get to ride, has been lost.

He must resign.

starting pistol

England is mysterious country, so far North that Summer daylight lasts past bedtime, yet warmed by ocean currents to avoid any prolonged Winter, suspended between Europe and America, balanced between Germanic and Latin Europe, with a rich language that fuses both traditions.

“And Norseman and Negro and Gaul and Greek Drank with the Britons in Barking Creek”

Rudyard Kipling

The London 2012 Olympics™ were a magic time.

England is mysterious country, so far North that Summer daylight lasts past bedtime, yet warmed by ocean currents to avoid any prolonged Winter, suspended between Europe and America, balanced between Germanic and Latin Europe, with a rich language that fuses both traditions.

Imperial history adds more layers of richness. Great Britain is a Scottish concept, London an Irish city, we’re all Jamaicans now and right across South Asia schoolboys, who may never visit Yorkshire, do impressions of ‘Sir’ Geoffrey Boycott.

Stuart Hall – Anglo-Jamaican sociologist – said: “In the modern World, if you ask someone where they come from expect a long story.” The people of this archipelago have a head-start on modernity, the Romano-British were hyphenated even before the Anglo-Saxons blew in.

Invite an elite selection of the one-track-minded to come and show off in the World crucible of London, revise the budget upwards as often as necessary and the resulting magic will shine through even the grey haze of McDonalds, mondialisation and militarism.

There’s appetite for change in British Society. Tony ‘mad-bomber’ Blair becomes prime minister and it’s hailed as a bright new morning. Diana Spencer is slaughtered in a car-wreck and the temper of the nation is supposed to have changed forever. Men are finally jailed for killing Stephen Lawrence and nothing will ever be the same. Expect the current, sorely belated revision of the Hillsborough Stadium crush narrative (what an emborisment) to generate the same kind of waffle and Ferry Lane, Tottenham Hale to be renamed Mark Duggan Boulevard amid a blizzard of insincere apologies around 2035?

The great festival of running and jumping is the latest candidate for ‘nothing-will-ever-be-the-same’ status. Let’s not get carried away.

The golden trio of Greg Rutherford, Jessica Ennis and Mohammed ‘Mo’ Farrah inspired a joke that’s funny and progressive…

“A ginger, a mixed-race woman and a Somali refugee walk into a pub…

…and everyone cheers.”

…while in other news the UK border agency are spitefully terminating the courses of a load of people – who’ve spent thousands on studying in this country – only because they happen to come from outside the European Economic Community.

I enjoyed the Olympics – an all day roadside drinking session in the Mole Valley, hearing a prolonged chant of “One, Two, Tree.”   boom joyfully down the street on the night of the men’s 200 metres final, a trip to the Paralympic athletics with my Grandsons – but it’s now a relief not to hear the propaganda, about Olympopolis being ex-wasteland, repeated almost every day by Sebastian Coe, Tessa Jowell or some other land-grabbing liar who doesn’t give a fuck about grassroots sport or the prosperity and quiet enjoyment of the people of the Lower Lea Valley. Folks were working, living and recreating there before the bulldozers rolled in. The promised velo-park is not a gift. If secured it will be reparation.

The prolific web-log ‘Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest’ – said by some to be the work of Ron Binns, an old comrade from the glory days of the NO M11 Link Road Campaign and former editor of ‘Walk’ magazine – usefully highlights the first promised deadline of the ‘morning-after’ era.  I’d have asked for permission to reproduce the images and copy but CrapWalthamForest doesn’t take comments. So here they are pirated. If you are Ron Binns or any other brain behind CWF feel free to endorse or object.

15th October 2012

By this date these temporary and highly controversial structures built for the Olympics on green open space in the Lea Valley (including, naturally, a tarmac car park), will have been demolished and the entire site will have been returned to green, grassy space where local residents are free to wander. Nothing can possibly go wrong and there is no reason to believe that this deadline will not be met. Trust them – they’re Waltham Forest Council.

 

Let the ‘Legacy Wars’ begin.

mixed messages (part 1)

I’ve moved, five kilometres and two villages north-northwest; from West Hackney, London, E8 to West Green, London, N17.

West Hackney is a centre of bicycle paradise, where – in certain demographics – cycling is the default non-walking mode. As a former coordinator of the London Cycling Campaign in Hackney I naturally like to assume most of the credit for this.

Inner London is the easiest place in Britain to travel by bike. Bicycling makes sense, distances are short and nobody is surprised to find cycle-traffic on the road. There’s a convincing case that Outer London is the worst place in Britain to travel by bike.

My new locale – on the ragged coastline where Inner and Outer London bleed into each other – is an ideal place to savour the current era of mixed messages. A time when people who choose to travel by bike may be treated as heroic role-models for a sustainable future; or as vermin.

Here’s a junction on St. Ann’s Road in South Tottenham. One arm of the mini-roundabout crossroads is obstructed by a galvanised fence. You can get through walking but it’s awkward. On a bike you may dismount and walk or creep awheel, across the pinched foot-way as a guest. If you go for this riding option there’s no obvious way to rejoin the highway.

almost a closed road

A banner is currently hanging beside the barrier.

Leave my what?

‘Turn over a new leaf, leave your car at home.’ Nearly half the households in Haringey – my new home borough – do not own a car so this dopey message ignores the majority of the local population. Do it’s authors want me to buy a car so I can leave it at home, or would they be satisfied if I just joined a car club?

Meanwhile, down on Southgate Road, London N1, where Northchurch road crosses from the LB Hackney into LB Islington there’s a crossroads with a similar layout except instead of a galvanised fence there’s a modal filter. And no banner pleading lamely for behavioural change.

modal filter