11 April 2018

Why are we still building infra that's not suitable for 8-80 year-olds?

Another in a series of blogposts 'inspired' by trying to get my kids to half-term/holiday activities in Edinburgh.....ie child-friendly locations that attract families from all over the city.

This Easter, I've been cycling with my kids to a nearby local school for bike camp.  There are two possible routes. Both are more than half on off-road cycle paths. The first one, which replicates my commute is flat but to get there we have to go through the worst intersection in Edinburgh.

The kids have voted with their legs and prefer to climb a hill to avoid that junction.  The nice off-road cycle path that runs through Bruntsfield links and along South Meadow Walk takes us across one well designed intersection with a toucan.  But then we come to the junction of SMW with Middle Meadow Walk (MMW), Melville Drive and Argyle Place.

This is one of the most used bits of cycle infrastructure in Edinburgh, and as a result was redesigned a few years ago.  At the time I said that it was not well-designed for pedestrians (unsurprisingly, they ignore the dropped curbs and follow a desire line that takes them straight across the cycle lane).   It's better now in some ways for cyclists who want to turn onto or off of MMW.  But if, like my kids, you need to continue on SMW, it's a nightmare.  It's a classic piece of infra that sort of works for grownups, as long as you can swivel your head simultaneously in five directions and start at a sprint.  But it's nearly impossible for kids to judge the on-coming traffic - cars, buses, lorries, and bikes, coming at them from multiple directions.

In the above - we are the red line trying to continue on the cycle path, cyclists are yellow and cars are green. What you can't see is that it's not a straight line.  First we cross the one way slip road for cars joining Melville Drive, then we hang about in the middle of the cycle infra, trying to spot cars turning in various directions, while also dodging cyclists and trying not to block pedestrians who are oblivious that they're not supposed to take the most direct route to their crossing point.

There is no way the kids could do this on their own, and no signalled crossing anywhere nearby that they could dismount and use either.

Which begs the question 'WHY?"  I suspect the answer is that the council's focus is on commuting routes.  Ignoring the 5 schools in close vicinity, the playpark, the football pitches, etc.

I don't have the energy to go look at how much this cost.  It's certainly better than what was there before, but we pointed out all these shortcomings when it was in the design phase.  Which raises the bigger question: why are we still designing and building infrastructure that doesn't meet the needs of all its users?  why are we building 'slightly better but still crap' infrastructure? and what will it take to move past this bodged half-way house?

08 October 2017

Review: Lumos Helmet

Despite much derision on my beloved cycling forum, I backed the Lumos helmet kickstarter a couple of years ago.  It took a while to arrive, but eventually turned up last December.

Having now ridden it through one winter season, and even through the summer (when I would usually go helmet-less), I  thought I should write a review.  Especially since every single day of those 10 months at least once person has commented on it or asked me about it.  I've had people chase me down the road to discuss it, and one woman even rolled down her car window to ask about it.

Generally, people just want to know where I got it.  If they ask me if I like it, I say yes, which is true.  It's proven reliable. I've gotten in the habit of signalling my turns, and I do like being able to keep my hands on my bars/brakes.  I still tend to hand signal, but I like having the flexibility.

The main downside is just that it's heavy.  I don't notice it much on my short commute, but I don't wear it on longer rides.   Occasionally the lights glitch and don't respond to the switch but a re-charge sorts it.

Battery life is good if just using the indicators but short if using the brake light accellerometer, but I plug it in at work, and it's no more bother than normal rechargable lights. I do wonder if i'm havung to charge it more frequently these days though....

When it first arrived, I thought the switch on the back looked like a weak spot (especially for those of us with finger nails), but it's held up fine.

I've not used the app much.  It's handy for varying the rate of beeping (which accompanies the turn signal), but once I got that set, I've not used it much.  Oddly, the app only works  if the helmet's turned on.  So, I can't sit at my desk and check if it needs charging.

I don't know if I'd pay full price in the shops for it (£159 on amazon) but for what I paid, I'm happy.

13 September 2017

Journal ownership models

When people talk about journals as 'black boxes' usually they mean things like how reviewers are chosen, and the decisions made by editors. We don't talk much about journals as capitalist ventures, beyond decrying the cost of subscriptions (see my posts on Open Access) or predatory journals.  But there are many models of journal ownership and management, and if we understand them, we can make better sense of apparently puzzling decisions.  Here are five with which I am acquainted.  I'd be interested to know of others, or for corrections to my models.

Model A: the Learned Society journal:  this is a journal that is published by a learned society or disciplinary group.  Ownership is vested in the professional association, who contract with a publisher to publish the journal, and with a group of academics (often based in one department) to edit it for a number of years.  Some journals stay in certain foundational departments, more often they move around, and departments are invited to bid for them periodically.   Learned socities often use journal funds to pay for their administrative costs, run conferences, and other activities of benefit to their members.  Possible examples*: BJPS, ASR

Model B: The Association Journal: whereby a collective body or organization owns the journal, but editors are selected, rather than solicited.  A contract with a publisher ensures that the journal is published.  Funds again usually go to both administrative costs, editorial costs, and to support other endeavours of the owning group. Possible examples*:  African Affairs, Africa 

Model C: the Collective Model.  Ownership is vested in the editorial collective, and decisions about editors and often about papers are made collectively.  Both journals that I know which run on this model date from the 1970s. Again, a contract is negotiated with a publisher, and money is often used to run conferences, sponsor academic travel etc, as well as cover the costs of editing the journal.  Examples: JSAS, ROAPE

Model D:  the Private Ownership model. The journal is owned by an individual and profits accrue to them.  That individual might contract out the editorial work, or take it on themselves.  Possible examples*: TWQ

Model E: the Publisher-Owner model.  The publisher 'owns' the journal and contracts with an editor or editors to run the journal. Possible examples*: JMAS

In the case of models D and E, I presume that proceeds of the journal pay salaries and other expenses, but are less likely to support conferences and other activities, but I may be wrong.  Certainly editors could negotiate such agreements into their contracts, if publishers were amenable, but I'm not aware of examples that do this.  It's also difficult to know whether journals are Model D or E, since we're not usually privy to their contractual arrangements.

How any of these groups relate to their editorial boards is generally unrelated to their ownership, with the exception of Model C, where the editorial board is resposinble for both organizational and editorial decision making.  In Models D and E editorial boards usually serve at the pleasure of the editor.

Finally, peer review is unrelated to both ownership and management.

*This is based on the best of my knowledge. Please let me know if I'm wrong, so I can correct it.

17 December 2016

The gendering of transport starts early

On-line campaigns #letkidsbekids and #lettoysbetoys have done a great job of de-gendering toys, colouring books and clothes, but I've been struck at how insidious the gendered message still can be.

My kids mostly wear clothes from our Nearly New Sale, and hand-me-downs, so I can't be too fussy about what they wear, but as my little boy grows, I realise how hard it is to avoid motorbikes and car motifs on his clothes.

When they're toddlers, it's okay for them to have busses and trains, and maybe animals riding bicycles.  But as they hit primary school, everything that's not superheros or disney sends signs that big boys should be petrol heads.  Sure, there may be an occassional 'rad' bmx-er or skateboarder on a t-shirt, but they're swamped by the cars, even on the 'quality' kids clothes.

My daughter, on the other hand, gets given dresses with bicycles on them - bikes for riding to picnics, with flowers on them....

04 August 2016

The problem with cyclists...

One of the main 'take-aways' from the recent #roseburn meeting (more on that soon) was  that Edinburgh's already a great place to cycle, so why do they need to do it down 'our' street (one of the main arterials into the city centre...).

Speaker after speaker claimed to 'be a cyclist myself' and rhapsodised about Edinburgh's amazing oof-road cycle routes.  To paraphrase one audience member 'there are lots of places that people can already cycle, amazing cycle paths'.  And, that's perfectly true, but they don't take you into the city centre to work!  Others suggested that the NCN route (the one that runs down the tram tracks) is under-utilized, and needs better signage...

The real answer, as Peter Gregson* himself, admitted "The problem with cyclists is we don't want to take funny awkward routes".  

And, of course, he's right.  There are lots of reasons that cyclists don't use existing 'funny awkward' routes - like ones that take you through a park full of kids and pedestrians, up and down hills, and through dodgy intersections - but they will use safe, well-designed routes, and even more importantly, so will people who don't currently cycle, as we're seeing in London:

Cycling now major transport mode in LDN: 645,000 journeys a day, 10% up from 2013. Morning rush trebled since 2000 pic.twitter.com/3gZPIwp0EE
This shows, if nothing else does, why 'quiet routes' won't increase cycle use enough to make a difference, but good infrastructure will.

If we take seriously concerns about pollution, congestion, the massive expansion Edinburgh is under-going, and the inability of our road network to cope with increased single-occupancy vehicle usage, then we need to build direct, easy to use arterial networks.

Reducing car usage is what will enable emergency vehicles to get through our streets, deliveries to shops, and essential traffic.  It's the excess car use that blocks up Roseburn and keeps the buses from running.

Transforming the environment into one that doesn't privilege rampant car use - but allows those who need cars to do so - is the main plank to keeping Roseburn moving, and that means cyclists too.

* The individual behind the 'anti' campaign. 

02 August 2016

Cycling Paradise...in Scotland?

I spent last week looking out my kitchen window at family groups cycling down the middle of the road, mums with their handbags dangling from their arms; sober, sedate older citizens cycling home with their newspapers and loaves of bread; groups of early teenagers zooming around *without helmets* on their own. In fact, the first 48 hours I was there I didn't see any helmets at all, despite seeing dozens of cyclists - far more than I saw moving cars.

Amazingly, I wasn't in Holland, or Paris, or Copenhagen.  I was in Scotland, about 50 miles from Edinburgh, in Elie.

Elie's a little seaside village, popular with tourists, and even more popular as a holiday home or vacation spot for the well-heeled.  But the narrow-crowded streets make driving a nightmare, so families bring their bikes, or rent bikes for the duration of their holiday, and cycle back and forth to the beach, golf courses, and tennis courts.  I particularly liked the moment I peered around a narrow corner and was confronted by 3 lads in wetsuits and flipflops, cycling along casually with their phones out, while a car waited patiently behind them.  Or looking out the window as it got dark, to see the cheeky grin of the 8 year old staying below us, who had cycled home at 10pm, and had clearly left his parents some way back with his little sister. 

Elie is a privileged space, and perhaps not easily replicated outside Centre Parks, but it was nonetheless immensely refreshing to see that *in the right space* parents were willing to hop on their bikes, let their kids have some freedom, and leave their cars at home.  

23 May 2016

5 things you need to know before cycling with your kids

Please forgive the clickbaity-title.  I've been thinking about this post for a while, and got inspired by a discussion on the Family Cycling facebook group.  On the one hand, I think we're probably just lucky - our kids rarely whine that they're tired (refueling usually helps) and really seem to enjoy going places by bike.  But, a bit a parental strategy helps.  If you're going to cycle regularly or any distances, you'll end up on the roads at least some of the time. These are my tips for happy family cycling: 

1.  Accept that it will be stressful  Yes, riding bikes is fun and good for you and a speedy way to get around, but riding on roads with your kids is incredibly stressful. It helps if you have two adults. It also helps to keep on quiet roads as much as possible.  Around Edinburgh we can easily ride 10 miles in all directions with 90% on off-road paths, but even then the remaining 10% is exhausting.  On the plus side,  your kids will grow amazingly in confidence and skills.

2. Don't try this until you can trust your kids to listen to you and do what you say. This is a pretty big caveat. You do have to have kids who stay (mostly) tuned in, and alert to your instructions.  It helps if they know their left and their right too (this also goes for parents...).  You also need to be sure that everyone understands the rules.  We had a disaster once when riding with friends whose son wasn't all that confident.  I started through an intersection that I've taken my kids through dozens of times.  I made eye contact (think Paddington stare) with a car that was indictating to turn across us.  I told the kids - behind me - to go as well.  I was shielding them from the car, but moving.  Then my friend, bringing up the rear told the kids to 'watch out for the car'. So the non-confident child braked and froze in the intersection, my daughter ran into him and came off in the junction, and I cycled off, not knowing what had happened.  There are two lessons here: (1) I shouldn't have tried to go through the intersection. We should have got off and walked. Or, I should have stopped my bike and blocked the turning car. (2) Make sure that kids know that only STOP means stop, and that you have to keep going when there are other cyclists behind you.

3. Always keep the kids in front of you This is the one big rule that I frequently want to shout at parents I see on the roads.  You need to be able to see your kids.  Yes, this can mean that they're riding in front of car doors and other obstacles.  You don't want them too far in front.  But you need to be behind them and, if possible,  a little to the right (for those of us who drive on the left).  The ideal situation is two experienced/adult riders, with the most confident bringing up the back, but that's not always possible.  So, remember, kids in front, but it's your job to tell them to 'start slowing down' / change gears/ get ready to go because the light's changing etc.

4. Have a get-out clause, but don't let them know! if they're small start by taking your normal bike-seat, tandem or trailer along as well.  That way if it's too much, you can still bungee their bike on and take them back home.  Trailgators accomplish this too. But the real trick is not to let them know that the tow home is an option.  So, make the trailer look really full of picnic blankets or siblings or whatever and don't offer 'do you want to get in and ride home' unless you have to.  If you don't mention it, they may not twig.  We've done this with both our kids and never had to use the emergency escape route.  With our first, we just assumed she'd get in the trailer on the way back after pedalling 2.5 miles to Duddingston Loch on a 10" wheel bike.  But nope, she rode all the way home too.  With our second, we were a bit savvier.  We didn't bother with the trailer, but we did take the tandem and bungees.  After a couple of months we left the tandem at home and all rode 'normal' bikes.  Another clever wheeze is to always plan rides that intersect with train lines, at least for the first few months - we've only bailed once, when we'd badly underestimated the weather and had a very cold toddler, and then my daughter wiped out (she was looking at the Forth Bridge and went off the path...).  Luckily we were near Dalmeny Station, so we abandoned our planned ride, jumped on a train (thanks to an understanding guard) and went happily home.  

5.  Peer pressure is the best: Organize a ride with some friends and your kids will be amazed to find they've cycled 10 or 15 miles easily in a day.  Seriously though, not only will they think if he can do it, so can I, but they'll also ride twice as fast with a friend their age as with you.

Finally, to combine all these things -- go somewhere fun, but have a back up plan, and some rewards.  My daughter managed over 25miles on a 20" bike when she was 7 - it was also the 3yo's first long ride as stoker on the tandem.  We had an incentive that we were meeting friends for a cool event out at East Fortune (the National Museum of Flight), and that we could easily get the train home. It was a fabulous ride, much longer than we'd have done if we hadn't known there were train stations all the way along.  We also took the child seat and knew that we could always put the 7yo on the tandem and the toddler in the bike seat if we needed to.  We had a great ride, a fun train ride home, and then dinner at our favourite restaurant as a treat.