23 August 2013

A pedestrian manifesto?

Yesterday, I was talking to a journalist and I foolishly said something like 'what we really need to think about it is supporting pedestrians'.  So, he asked me what I would prioritize.  While on camera.  Luckily not live. Cause I stuttered and stammered and didn't saw anything very useful.  

But it got me thinking - what would a pedestrian's manifesto for Edinburgh look like?  There are lots of people better equipped to write this than me, but here's my first stab at it - in no particular order:
  1. dropped kerbs
  2. zebra crossings
  3. better timings on pedestrian crossings
  4. guard-railing removal 
  5. more 'permeable infrastructure' (see pictures)
  6. 20mph on all residential + shopping roads
  7. pavement continuing across road crossings
  8. poles, signs, and parking metres in the road instead of on the pavement
  9. rubbish bins + recycling bins in the carriageway, not the footway (it's done in tenemented areas, why not elsewhere?)
  10. ban on pavement parking + enforcement
To be fair, probably most of these are at least as useful to cyclists. Anyway, what would you include? 

20 August 2013

Rule 170

"Watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way"

That's rule 170. Is it the most abused and ignored rule in the Highway code?

How many times everyday do you see this rule bent or broken, by both cars and bikes?   Maybe you give the pedestrian a little wave to say 'thanks' or 'sorry' when they give way to you?

Imagine what the streets would be like if this rule was followed?  How much nicer would it be getting your kids to school, stopping in at the corner shop for the newspaper and milk, your evening stroll to the park with the dog?

So, why is the nicewaycode not targeting that?

18 August 2013

I've seen enough, have you?

A letter to my MSPs

I don't know whether you saw the recent Open Letter to Alex Salmond, of which I was one signatory.  It was published in the Herald on the 15th http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/nice-way-code-campaign-merely-reinforces-dangerous-divisions.21878091

It sums up many of my concerns about the NiceWayCode campaign, which is supposed to be about road safety, but, in my view fails in many regards. I could critique all of the ads so far in many ways, but the latest one - seen in today's Herald - is really the final straw. 

Thanks to @greendadtwit for the image
Is this an appropriate image for the Scottish government to be paying to display in our newspapers?  Do they really want to send a message that says all cyclists are foul-mouthed, anti-social characters?  My 6 year old is an expert 'signaller' on the back of my tandem.  How am I supposed to explain this 'new' signal when we see it on bus shelters and taxis?

Can you think of any other group in society that would be targeted with an ad like this?   Now I'll admit that some cyclists may give drivers 'the finger', but I suspect in all those cases it is because a driver has endangered their life.  I have never 'fingered' a driver, but I have had drivers make rude gestures at me, and shout vile abuse out
their windows, when I have had small children on the back of my bike. And in none of those cases was I doing anything illegal or reckless - except wanting to take my kids on a bike instead of in a car.

Please can you bring these degrading adverts to your parties, and ask the Scottish government to halt this campaign immediately?  Last week, I would have said the campaign was condescending and rude, but this week it seems to have moved to an entirely new level.

I have tried to engage the campaign with my critiques, and they keep saying 'don't judge us until you've seen the whole campaign.'  Well, I've seen enough now. I hope you have too.

16 August 2013

Where are our militant pedestrians?

I blame Iain Docherty.   At this year's Spokes meeting, he called himself a militant pedestrian. It annoyed me then.  Especially as he kept harping on about redlight jumpers (there is no-where you are less likely to find RLJing cyclists than at a Spokes meeting).  But he got me thinking.  Where are the militant pedestrians? Why aren't they crying out for improvements to our streets?   Then I heard David Spaven talk.  Better known for his writing on trains, he set out a manifesto for pedestrians that really inspired me - his top three demands were a campaign to inform people about Highway Code rule 170 (watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way), sticky not sweet corners (ie make cars have to slow down to turn), and pavement continuing not roads.  Brilliant stuff.

But who's doing this on the ground? In Edinburgh it is mainly the Cockburn Association  and  Living Streets. Both have made very interesting and constructive interventions on Leith Walk and Princes St  (importantly arguing that there are more important things than just wide pavements).  The Cockburn's definitely been using social media more in the past year, but my sense - and I could well be wrong here - is that despite the existence of these two well-established groups, they are simply not a grass-roots lobby like cyclists. 

The real irony is that when I reflect on my* (very minor) lobbying successes this year, most have been as much - if not more - for pedestrians as for cyclists:   dropped kerbs at Harrison Park, pedestrian crossing at Melville Drive while Argyle Place shut, widened spur on NMW to remove/reduce conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, bins moved so that they don't block sightlines at crossings, tactile paving 'correction' on NMW.  Not a bad list, but some of them make me wonder why it took 'the cyclists' to get it fixed.  Surely pedestrians, and especially those who walk with guide dogs and canes, should be keeping tabs on tactile paving?  (and lobbying for it to actually be implemented according to guidelines all across the city?).  When Argyle Place was shut, cars simply booted it along Melville Drive, making it almost impossible for pedestrians to cross safely, despite it being near several schools, the children's hospital  and Edinburgh Uni.  But as far as I know, the temporary crossing was put in at Cllr Jim Orr's request and at the instigation of cyclists.  Ironically, cyclists were not legally allowed to use the crossing, as there are no mobile toucan crossings. But something needed to be done, and it seemed to take a bunch of mouthy cyclists to get it done.  

This just illustrates the point that there is room for a united front. We won't agree on everything, but we are all pedestrians, and we all have common interests in making more liveable.  And if we could get more militant pedestrians tweeting, blogging, engaging with consultations, we'd be a powerful force, because we really all are pedestrians, militant or not. 

* when I say 'my' I don't mean me, myself, but things I was involved along with many others. 

15 August 2013

When improving facilities for cyclists isn't worth it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm keen on any schemes that improve the infrastructure for cyclists.  But I don't want this to be at the expense of pedestrian space.  It's hard enough already to walk along many of our pavements pushing a buggy with an older child alongside.  And we don't need any more excuses for pedestrians to complain about cyclists.

If pavements are to be made shared use, the space needs to be adequate for all users - not simply cutting into pedestrians' space and throwing users into conflict.  Shared use paths like the NEPN and the paths in the meadows and the links do this well, although not always without conflict (the canal in particular highlights these tensions).  There are a few other shared used paths dotted around the city.  The only one I use at all frequently is a new path under the train/tram bridge at Russell road - not an area with many pedestrians.  It is nice and wide and seems to work fine (except that it then drops cyclists onto a fast-moving road  alongside parked cars). 

What I have learned, however, is that the link from Russell Rd to the canal, the link from the canal to the Meadows, and the one from the Meadows to the Innocent railway are all budgeted for as 'shared use footways'.

These are three of the biggest 'missing links' in Edinburgh's Family Network, a key component of the Active Travel Action Plan (ATAP). If these links are well-designed, there is real potential for cyclists in the south-west of the city to be able to cycle off-road all the way to Musselburgh in the East, Cramond in the west (and beyond to Fife), and Leith in the north and vice-versa.  The possibilities are limitless. (I blogged about it here a few months ago).

But I have yet to see any plans beyond the ones in ATAP (page 23). Not for want of asking.    But today I found out that this year's budget is already made out for 'shared use pavements, crossings and signage' (not widened pavements, mind, just 'shared ones'). 

Maybe this will all turn out to be brilliantly designed infrastructure - it's surely in everyone's interest to do so as it would massively improve mobility all over the city. 

But, if it is to be done via shared use pavements in really busy parts of the city, then there's the issue of adequate space, but also familiarity. Edinburgh has very few shared space pavements. The ones that do exist tend to be not along carriageways, but on off-road paths like in the Meadows.  So, a couple of months ago, I participated in this little exchange on twitter: 

  1. We have videos from cyclists showing how bad drivers of are - here is a video, of a cyclist, on a pavement

  2. On the dual use path from Seafield to Portobello unless I'm mistaken. If so that's where he's supposed to be!
  3. thanks for confirming. that's what i thought, but hadn't been there myself
  4. is there any info on this? Never heard of a dual use path before - doesn't sound very safe to me :-(

  5. It's quicker to list the ones that aren't shared use: Leamington, MMW, Broomhouse, West Granton.
  6. This Streetview shot shows the path marked as 'shared use' on the lamppost:
As this suggests, someone with a dedication to revealing bad driving in Edinburgh not only doesn't know about shared use pavements, but doesn't recognize the signs for one either.  Which suggests to me that any expansion of shared use pavements is likely to lead to a lot of shouts of 'get off the pavement and onto the road' (especially if they've seen those #nicewaycode adverts). 

My optimism is not reinforced by the few existing examples that I know of.  Brandfield Street is a good one.  There's a better picture here.  Or Seafield St - described here at Barney's Bike Blog.  If there are other bits of shared use pavement around town, I don't know of them, but certainly neither Seafield St nor Brandfield St mentioned here are wide enough for cyclists and pedestrians to negotiate comfortably (unlike the main Seafield Path).  The Seafield St one at least has some tactile paving on it to alert visually impaired pedestrians, but I'm not sure how they would interpret it, given that those bubbles are supposed to alert them to hazards, not to the start of shared use facilities (if I'm wrong here, please let me know).

If we've learned one thing from the fiasco of painting lines on roads and calling them cyclepaths, it should be not to engineer road users into conflict with each other.  Sadly, the current schemes, whether through a desire to do them on the cheap, a lack of vision, or a lack of political commitment, seem destined to just that.

I'm just hoping I'm proved wrong, and that these examples above are just teething troubles.  But these links are too important to get wrong.

[Thurs 15th - please note that I have edited third last para slightly to remove potential confusion regarding which roads I was talking about]

08 August 2013

A Birthday Ride

Yesterday I got an email from an old friend saying "what are you going to do for your birthday? Go on a bike ride?".  At first I thought he was taking the piss, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I've been reading about people riding the old railways here,  so, with the grandparents kindly agreeing to look after the kids, we set out.
Obligatory old spike picture
The track runs through Harbour Grace, but there's a big washout on the Carbonear side and we'd never managed to walk this far with the kids and didn't know if it was circumnavigable or not.

the washout
the diversion

made it!
After that it was pretty smooth sailing.  Although the surface of the track was a lot rougher than what we're used to with some massive puddles, and the branches are starting to grow in over the top, the level surface made pedaling easy enough - even though by this time I'd discovered the saddle on my bike wouldn't stay in place, so I was standing for most of it. We caught a few glimpses of the ocean through the trees - first Bristol's Hope settled 1618, but better known for its association with Peter Easton  the privateer turned pirate turned nobleman.
And then, we quickly rounded the Cape and were seeing glimpses of Carbonear.

After reaching Carbonear, we turned back on the Southside road which rapidly became an unpaved path, rode back until we crossed the track and followed a series of backwoods paths back to Bristol's Hope.

And then down to the Barachoix, which was great fun to cycle.  Officially it's called 'Beach Road' and if you look closely at the pic on the right, there's a stop sign, and everything.

Beach road turns out to have been closed to motor traffic on the other side, we had a lovely traffic free route up to Bristol's Hope, then followed another lane up behind some houses over onto the Barrens - formally called 'Mosquito Hill'.  This took us past the one definite land mark in the area: 

We know its WW2 vintage, but does anyone know what it is? 

This part of the ride was probably the easiest terrain - mostly logging trails, with some tree roots, but fairly clear over head.  (although also the most confusing if you don't know your way around). We saw patches of raspberries everywhere, and large chanterelles growing along the path for ages. 

And then the most awesome grassy run downhill into Bear's Cove, and Harbour Grace. 

This was the start of it, and then it widened out into thick turf running along the shore, and the sun came out. Just glorious. 

Neither of us had ever ridden off-road before, but this was fun! A lovely Birthday ride. Thanks Michael for the suggestion, and to my folks for the babysitting. 

07 August 2013

Why do we need the 'nicewaycode' when we already have the Highway Code?

What does the nicewaycode do that the highway code doesn't already do?  As far as I can tell, it merely adds a 'light-hearted tone'.  Excuse me for being a spoilsport, but I don't think anyone who has ever lost a family member to an 'accident' will be happy about that.  

I count myself lucky to have survived a big nasty highway-closing multi-car pileup with an articulated lorry towing propane many years ago, and still can't hear sirens without shuddering.  If I know my family is out on the road, I wait with unreasoning anxiety until they come tumbling in the door.  Like many, I worry every day that something might happen on a commute to take me away from my beloved family. So, when I'm told that road users need to hear something in a humorous way in order to take it seriously, even though it is stuff they are already required to do by law (not to mention common-sense), I'm afraid I just don't find it funny. 

I'm sick of taxi drivers telling me to 'go read the highway code' when I'm the one following it to the letter, and they're the ones violating it.  I'm sick of seeing drivers running reds at an intersection I use twice a day, only to see the filth and scorn poured out at cyclists on twitter.  I'm sick of seeing drivers failing to indicate before turning onto the road outside my kids' school, and failing to look in their mirrors or shoulder-checking before pulling into the road - when they've stopped in a no stopping or loading zone. 

Let's all follow the Highway Code, and then we might all get (safely) along (the road). 

But let's be done with this fake bonhomie that pretends that a little humour will make everything okay, and the pretentious claims that some sort of 'research' has shown that this is a plausible expenditure of taxpayer's money. (Serious question - did the nicewycode's  research include talking to victims' families?, or the perpetrators of fatal accidents?  Did either of them think some 'light hearted' messages would help? Or that if they'd been nicer, the roads would have been safer that day?)

01 August 2013

S'not nice

I don't have any kittens, so here's a scenery picture instead.
I went off and communed with nature for a few days before writing this post, hoping that my anger and frustration would abate enough for me to write coherently.  Not sure it worked. (Hence the juvenile title)

The Scottish government launched a new 'cycling safety' programme on Monday. On Sunday, Pedal on Parliament had put out a statement. We knew enough about the campaign to know that we weren't keen on it, but even we didn't expect just how silly it all would be.

I could show you the picture of the Transport Minister looking particularly gormless.  Or the wordpress blog that they didn't blow all our money on (cause it's free, and not very well done despite that).  But my real favourite is the first tweet:  @nicewaycode Let's all get along.

My husband honestly thought it was a tweet from the parody account, not the real one.

But no, this was the first word from the campaign.  I've written before about why I don't think that educational campaigns are what we need.  And about why campaigns that focus on individual behaviour are a way of the government sloughing off responsibility onto 'society', rather than grappling with the underlying environment.  But really, if they're going to take 'cycling money' and throw it at 'all road users' the best they can do is tell us to be 'nice' to each other? This would be ridiculous at the best of times, but coming after a series of cyclist deaths on Scotland's roads (a toll which is rising each year, not dropping, despite the Minister's repeated claims), it is downright insulting.  

Where educational campaigns have worked - eg seatbelts, or second-hand smoke, or drunk-driving - they've successfully changed norms to the point that smoking in front of your kids became a no-no, and the shame of being caught drunk-driving became unthinkable for professionals.  But these campaigns didn't just target attitudes by asking people to be 'nicer'.  They hit people on the head with scientific facts and gory pictures of diseased lungs.  They emphasized that the kid hit by the drunk-driver could have been your kid. That the individual constraint of wearing a seatbelt was worth it for your health and the costs to society.

But where's the hard hitting ad saying 'is 5 seconds of your time worth a close overtake that might take Jimmy's dad away from him'? or leave Anna paralyzed and unable to work?  Why aren't they giving stats about red-light jumping and other infractions?  Where's the commitment from the Police to take complaints made by cyclists seriously?  And I don't mean a one week 'enforcement exercise' that gives warnings, or has to issue an equal number of tickets to cyclists as to drivers.  I mean a serious commitment to enforce regulations - the Highway Code, not the nicewaycode - about how to drive around vulnerable road users?

We don't need a 'nicewaycode'. We need enforcement of the existing rules and regulations, coupled with public information campaigns that bring facts to the foreground, not cheesy grins, and a commitment from the government to invest in making roads safer, not just wishing that they become so through individuals regulating their own behaviour.

We do need to change norms about how cyclists, drivers and pedestrians interact, but asking us to 'get along' and 'play nice' isn't going to get more people on bikes, or make those of us who already are feel any safer.