21 December 2013

Unexpected (gender) minefields at Christmas

Sticker Dressing: Explorers and Warriors

I popped into Waterstones today to pick up a last minute gift for my wee boy - a pirate stickerbook  that he'd asked Santa for.  As is often the case, I was tempted by the bogohalf-price offer and picked up another book as well.  I'd first looked at the 'explorers and warriors' book this summer, thinking it would suit my daughter - now 7.  So, on impulse today, I picked it up, thinking it would be fun and slightly educational. It's halfway between old-style paperdolls and stickers, with the idea being that you dress the figures in sticker outfits.

But wrapping them up today (early!), I leafed through and was taken aback to find no women in it.  Apparently exploring and defending your country is a purely male activity.  On closer scrutiny, I did find some women  sitting around a campfire with cooking pots in the background behind the 'Sioux warriors'.  But that is it in a book that promises "Young readers can kit out famous explorers and fierce warriors in this fantastic sticker book full of authentic detail.".  350 stickers and 50 pages - history across centuries, but virtually no women. So, not that authentic then. 

Did their 'researchers' think that girls don't get into explorers and warriors? or that boys wouldn't want to dress up female characters? Or -- most worrying given Usborne's saturation of the kiddie market -- are they simply unaware of the female explorers and warriors? 

What about Yaa Asantewaa who led to Gold Coast into rebellion against the British colonisers?  Or Freydis and the other Viking women who sailed to North America and settled in Vinland centuries before Columbus?   Or, closer to home Boudicca?   Not only is there a wikipedia list of female warriors, and a much longer list of women warriors in folklore, but also this rather fine 'top 10 Badass women'.  

I'm pleased that Usborne knows better than to label this the 'boys sticker book of explorers and warriors', but in reality that's what it is.  Now that many retailers are moving away from gendered toys thanks to pressure from Pinkstinks and others, it looks to me like we need to move beyond worrying about the labels, colours, and departments to the content - and see if we can bring that into the 21st century too. I'll start by returning the sticker book. 

17 December 2013

A step change?

We've been asking the Scottish government for 'a step change' in their policies for a while now. But I was taken by surprise today when a step change happened within Scotland's campaigning groups.   This was a very welcome submission from Sustrans about a series of cycle 'improvements' proposed for an area in the north of the city.  I'd looked quickly at these - I've only cycled there occasionally, and don't know the streets well.  So, I was leaving the detailed comments for others.  And Spokes had provided a reasonable critique with their usual sensible suggestions.  But the Sustrans contribution goes well beyond that - it calls for mandatory lanes with 'soft' segregation, for corners to be tightened up, for zebra crossings, and the removal of pedestrian railings.  All of these would go a long way to make the roads safer and far more friendly.

It is not that Sustrans is the first group to call for such details, but that they do so from a position of authority - and with scope to help finance them.  But I also found their approach refreshing. It wasn't tinkering at the margins, or minor suggestions, but instead a whole-scale 'this is what we could do'.  It struck me as particularly strategic that they cut through the on-going wrangle over red-colouring, and pointed out that armadillos might be cheaper than either paint or chips.

This intervention was particularly welcome because this week also brought a number of other tensions to the fore.  Following on from debates on this blog and elsewhere, Keith Irving threw down a gaunlet to the council over shared space.  A response from Cllr Jim Orr about how it works on the continent did little to assuage concerns.

But in a series of emails and tweets cycle campaigning group Spokes hit on the nub of the issue - what should we actually suggest?  In the particular issue of the left turn from the Mound to Princes' St, I've refused to lend my (puny) weight to a solution, as they all seem equally bad. This has been branded a cop out.   But I don't see my role as requiring me to propose alternatives.  Surely that's the council's job?   Spokes has gotten a long way by engaging with the Council to find least-worst options,  but does that mean that all campaigners need to do this?  and that if we don't we're somehow letting this side down?

The case of the Mound-Princes St junction is just one instance where there aren't many good options.  The Meadows-Innocent tunnel consultation is another one -- the current proposals are better than what is currently in place (where NCN 1 is directed through railings and rubbish bins), but it's not great. It's not terribly direct; it requires a number of sharp turns (tricky for kids, tandems, trailers), and it meanders between segregated on-road, shared space pavements, and on-road non-segregated sections. The real block to better provision is the lack of willingness to reducing parking spaces and/or car flow - council officials are constrained by the traffic engineers and political will.  Councillors don't dare to dream big either.  Cllr Orr knows it could be better, but tries to convince us that a compromise is better than nothing.

But Sustrans wading in where many fear to tread is immensely heartening.  They've chosen their case well, and if it goes through, along with Leith Walk, it could really signal a step change in how we think about cycle infrastructure. That's a lot of ifs, but still a heartening place to be at, at the end of a dispiriting few weeks of campaigning.

10 December 2013

Why are developer-built links so dire?

South-West Edinburgh is bifurcated by the Western Approach Rd.  Created by the removal of a train line, and lacking any cycle infrastructure (bikes are banned from most of it), it blasts traffic into the city to Lothian Road.   Presumably because it was built on top of an old railway, there are very few ways across it.  I can understand why it presents a design challenge to urban planners. But the half-hearted and poorly designed attempts to deal with it can only be evidence that Edinburgh has no respect for its cyclists and little aspiration to be a liveable city.

There are three ways across (that I know of) but until yesterday I had only ever used one of them.   And that's because they are impossible to find and crap when you get there. 

Can't go under it: I use the Telfer subway quite a lot to get from Fountainbridge to the Dalry Road and Haymarket.  It's a nice off-road route to our closest Lidl and I've been this way a few times recently with my kids, stocking up on lebkuchen and stollen. It ought to be a good route to and from the Russel Road access to the North Edinburgh Path Network, but it isn't. 

If you're on foot you need to have good eyesight to watch out for dogdirt, and you know to watch out for the cyclists coming around downhills on blind corners -- three of them (if you include the path to Lidl). Oh, and the bollards on the Dalry end aren't wide enough for our trailer, and the crossing at the Fountainbridge is misaligned, and not a toucan.  And it's not at all well signposted from the Dalry side. So all in all, not a route that signals 'we've been thinking how we can make life easier for bike users".  

Can't go across it:  The Springside 'zig-zag' is the newest crossing point, and while I'd heard about it, and seen it from the bus,  I'd not appreciated its true horror. it was included on a 'quiet route' by cyclestreets, which makes sense - it's the sort of infrastructure that would be appreciated by those not wanting to venture onto the busy streets around there.  Once you find the Fountainbridge access point, the route takes you down a reasonably wide, well-signed shared use pavement between two new housing developments, to a downhill slope that takes you to a toucan crossing, and onto another shared use pavement.  So far, so good.  but, faced with a wide, gently sloping space and the need to get cyclists, buggies, and pedestrians up and down, they built what you see here - two sets of stairs, with a  windy cobbled ramp in the middle.  The incline on the ramps is nice and gentle, but it takes forever, and the corners are too tight to negotiate easily even on my 'nippy' folder.   Worst of all, it pushed each user into the footway repeatedly. 

Can't go over it: the final route, I have yet to find, despite cycling this area regularly. I am told that it crosses over the Western Approach and takes cyclists  to Festival Square (which may soon be renamed Mandela Square). If I find it, I'll let you know. 

All of these routes have one thing in common (other than that they've been poorly designed) they've all been built into developments.  It's pretty clear that they've been tacked on by developers, obliged to make their developments accessible to bus stops and  footpaths in order to secure planning permission, but with no real thought to its actual usability. 

What's frustrating is the potential that's been missed, and the resources that have gone into these underutilised feats of engineering.   Why are they so hard to find and use? Why are they not 'intuitive' ? Why don't they make people want to use them? 

Even more frustrating is that the most used one -- the Telfer subway -- is probably the worst designed - bringing cyclists and pedestrians into conflict needlessly day after day. 

Is there any way past this wasteful squandering of space and potential to make cities that are permeable and accessible and liveable? Where are the people with expertise in these areas? and how do we get their knowledge and ideas spread more widely? 

08 December 2013

Better together Part 2

With thanks to Chris Hill for the image from an old
Pedestrians' Association publication.
It's not often that I get to call on my professional skills in cycle blogging, but what strikes me in thinking about the differences of pedestrian v. cycling campaigning is that the differences in tone and style don't just reflect their historical positions or cultures, but also correlate to their institutional positions and material ties. 

That is, cycling organizations include those like Sustrans and Cycling Scotland, who entirely or mainly rely on funding from Transport Scotland for their salaries and projects. But other organizations -- like Spokes and Go-Bike historically and now Pedal on Parliament -- exist without these financial ties because they are volunteer run. Down south, the London Cycling Campaign is a good example of a 'professional' organization that still avoids government funding (to the best of my knowledge).  Is it a coincidence that these groups push a little harder and speak somewhat more critically?  To a large extent groups like Sustrans and Cycling Scotland are basically just sub-contractors for government projects, although they also provide expertise, administer groups like the Cross-Party group on cycling, and are often cited in support of government policy (confusingly, some of the volunteer groups also sit on their boards).

However, pedestrians have a rather different structure as far as I can tell, with Living Streets - the successor to the Pedestrians' Association - combining both roles.  So Living Streets has in recent years received funding from the state, while also running local groups and forums.  Doubtless this has raised their profile, and injected new energy into their operations. The recent '3 seconds' campaign was very impressive in terms of generating public support and media presence.

These different structures suggest to me that #militantpedestrians are going to find it difficult to mount a more radical, critical movement from within LS - that's not a criticism of anyone within the organisation, or of their aims, but a simple organizational analysis drawing on Robert Michel's classic 'iron law of oligarchy' first developed in his 1911 study of the German SPD, and my own research on NGOs in Zimbabwe (I'll resist throwing in any Gramsci or Gaventa).

It's not impossible of course, but my analysis suggests that this organizational imbalance will further impede efforts to build alliances between pedestrians and cyclists. Regrettable, because those ties are needed, but not easily resolved. 

02 December 2013

Better together? Part 1

Cyclists and pedestrians have much in common, but have been pushed apart - quite literally.  It will take a major shift in how they both campaign for them to be able to make common cause.

Let me explain - it's not just that cyclists and pedestrians have been pushed apart physically, although that's part of it.  Pedestrians have gone from being the norm and having the run of the roads, to segregated onto pavements, forced to cross only when the green man deigns to stop traffic for them.  Railings prevent them crossing where they might want to (desire lines), and force them to conform so that they don't obstruct the all powerful 'traffic flow'.  Perversely, cyclists have been pushed in the opposite direction - made to play in traffic.  

So not only do cyclists and pedestrians have profoundly different experiences of using our public roads.

Pedestrians are expected to push buttons and wait patiently for cars to stop for them.  At zebra crossings they wave and nod to 'thank' cars for stopping for them.  They campaign for zebra crossings to be removed. They hesitantly look around at street corners before gingerly venturing out across the road, ignorant of rule 170.  They wait patiently at red men, even when the road is clear.   They're taught 'road safety' at age 3, and never progress beyond behaviour suitable for infants.  And, unsurprisingly, their campaigns reflect this -- 'please sir, may we have some more' pretty much sums up the recent - highly successful - 3 second campaign.  This is no militant demand for rights, but a polite request for people to be nicer to the elderly, infirm and infants. 

Cyclists on the other hand, were pushed more and more into 'training' on how to use the road, with the implication that it is something that needs to be 'learned' and may only be for 'experts' (witness the 'solution' to Edinburgh's tram tracks -- instructions on how to 'use' the intersections).  

But, cyclists have gotten sick of 'vehicular cycling' and being treated like 'moving speed bumps' to slow down the traffic (rather than expecting speed limits to be enforced), and are getting angry.  You hear a lot about the 'cyclists lobby', but never the pedestrian's lobby.   People don't identify themselves as pedestrians.   

But, a lot of cycle lobbyists are convinced that we need to stop people thinking 'cyclists' and move towards thinking about 'people on bikes'.  Their thinking is that only by moving from being an 'out-group' will cycling be treated as mainstream and fully integrated into transport funding and planning.  There's a definite logic about that, but the pedestrian experience suggests that it is this identification that has been so successful at mobilizing campaigns. 

Not sure what the answer is.  At a local level, I'm hoping to build some bridges between cyclists and pedestrians, but there are a lot of challenges -- not just that we have some differing interests (both perceived and real), but also very different cultures and campaigning styles. 

(Part 2/2 will look at the different organisational structures representing pedestrians and cyclists, which reveal a further challenge). 

27 November 2013

Subjective safety matters for everyone

There are lots of jokes about the tensions, splits and divides in bike groups, but one of the joys of being involved with Pedal on Parliament has been our refusal to recognize those divides.  'We are everyone' we have said - cyclists and non-cyclists.  And our protests have been evidence of this - with all kinds of  people on bikes, and people on foot taking part.

But I'm becoming increasingly aware of a divide that threatens our insouciant claims to climb above these divisions.  I've put off blogging about this because I know it will open up tensions with people whose energy, commitment and sheer brilliance I admire tremendously.

Increasingly, I'm hearing the argument - in forums, blogs, on twitter, and in meetings -  that cyclists who find the roads  too dangerous should ride on the pavement.  This comes in different settings,  and is often presented as a reasonable alternative to the dangerous 'vehicular' cycling that has held sway until recently.  At times it is talked about as if it were a form of civil disobedience, a public rejection of the dire provision made for cyclists.

But an angry tone of justification is also heard, suggesting that cyclists have a right to that space. This is bolstered by the claim that when fixed penalty notices were introduced for pavement cyclingonly 'irresponsible' cycling was intended to be penalised.  And finally, the piece-de-resistance, that cyclists are only responsible for a tiny fraction of pedestrian deaths and serious injuries.

This is where the argument starts to go down hill.  Pedestrians understand that cyclists feel unsafe on the roads.  They understand the difference between reckless cycling and careful, cautious cycling.   But, they still find that space invasion threatening. Cyclists talk a lot about  subjective safety these days, but what about pedestrians?

And the most vulnerable among them - the elderly, the mobility impaired, and the young - are those who find it most terrifying to have a cyclist overtaking them.  That cyclist may be considerate and taking care, but just like those people who say 'he's harmless' while their dog barks at you, it's all subjective....  If you're in your 80s and get a broken hip as a result of a fall, it can be fatal.  So, we're not just talking about the effect of people feeling less mobile, getting out less, but about serious health consequences.

The real irony is that many of the same activists reject shared space. How we can say we don't want shared space, then claim pavements as a refuge, even temporarily, or as a political statement?

By invading pedestrians space, we are showing our disdain for them.  A cyclist-friendly pedestrian recently told me about waiting at a bust stop.  Just as the bus pulled up, a family cycled by on the pavement - between him and the open bus door - politely saying 'excuse me' as they went. On the one hand, it sounds like they were being considerate.  But on the other, why did they barge through? The signal being sent here - even with polite excuse me's -- is 'we're bigger, and faster: let us through'; we don't accept that from cars, why do we think its okay on bikes?

We are lucky enough to know two couples - friends and neighbours - who are die-hard, lifelong cyclists. Now in their 70s-90s, they cycled when it was trendy and when it was deeply unfashionable, and have gone places and done things on bikes that I can only dream of - racing, touring, youth hostelling, commuting - with much of their social lives revolving around bikes too. But they are horrified by the antics of cyclists now - rushing through parks, on the canalpath, across pedestrian crossings.  They understand that most cyclists don't behave that way, and that we shouldn't all  be tarred with the same brush, but they do not see cyclists as respecting them and their needs when they're not on their bikes.  When people like that fear going out on foot because of cyclists, we're doing something wrong.

If we want to support active travel, if we want pedestrians as allies, we need to take their needs and concerns more seriously.  And that's not going to be accomplished by advocating pavement cycling, or quoting statistics about how few people we kill as some perverse justification for holding their infrastructure hostage until we get some of our own.

I'm sorry if this sounds preachy.  We all need to make our own personal decisions about how we cycle and where. Like most of us, I've ridden on pavements here and there - where I didn't feel safe, where the infra didn't join up, where my bike rack is at the other end of a cobbled street,  but I'll be pushing my bike when I'm on the pavement from now on,  in the interests of solidarity and subjective safety for pedestrians of all varieties.

25 November 2013

Shared use: ad-hoc and short-sighted

In the past few days, more shared use signs have appeared around the city. Two of these cases are at St Andrew's Square, and on Princes St at the Mound (right).

These are busy streets and the implementation of tram tracks has made them unsafe for cyclists. So cyclists have been put onto the pavement, which seems guaranteed to make pedestrians unsafe instead.

This is not how transport systems should be designed. Nor some of the most iconic streets in a city that lays claim to being a tourist destination and aims to attract international business.

These little bits of non-joined up segments all have different signs, and most users don't recognize or understand them (as I've written about before, and as the recent newspaper stories make even clearer).   These cost-cutting mechanisms simply put cyclists and pedestrians into conflict, and will inevitably generate more anti-cyclist venom (and sell more papers for the local press).  None of them are intuitive or easy to follow.

Declaring spaces to be 'shared' does not make them into 'infrastructure'.  It just makes our streets more fragmented, incoherent and confusing, when we ought to be making them more inviting and pleasant.

These segments are the most egregious because they are on busy pavements that are really not suitable for cycling, but there's more planned elsewhere in the city as well, as I flagged in previous posts.

If I was more cynical, I'd think that the people who run the buses and trams didn't want us on the roads. There's a real irony that at present we have a Transport Leader who claims to want to support pedestrians, but our policies don't reflect that.  To be fair, that's in part because some of this infrastructure was designed three years ago, and a lot has changed since then.  But its also a case of officials wanting to have their cake and eat it too - the political costs of alienating pedestrians are clearly not up on their agenda, while cyclists are tossed a few crumbs to keep them happy.

21 November 2013

ASLs: red herrings?

I wrote this yesterday for the Scotsman, to accompany this article.  Not sure if it's gone in or not.  It's a slightly more critical take than the last time I blogged about ASLs  but not contradictory.

If you talk to drivers about ASZs, you get a lot of funny answers. Many seem honestly unaware that they have just crossed a stop line. One taxi driver told me that after 7.30pm they didn’t apply. Another driver – hearing my foreign accent - told me to learn the rules of the road (it’s rule 178 of the Highway Code if you want to check it out, and I’ve cycled here for nearly 20 years).
Stopping at a stopline is about the most basic skill driver needs, but it seems to bring out the worst in people. Drivers hate cyclists ‘getting a head start’ while cyclists will desperately try to get to the front of a queue of traffic to get into the perceived haven of the ASZ.
But ASZs aren’t about cyclists getting ‘ahead’. They’re about protecting cyclists from being ‘left-hooked’ by drivers turning while cyclists are going straight.
Every cyclist has had a driver tell them to get ‘out of the road’. But the gutter on the left is the most dangerous place for a cyclist, especially at junctions.
So, yes, it would be good if drivers stayed out of ASZs, and police enforced them.
But ASZs are also a red herring. They’re not big enough to protect cyclists from HGV’s blind spots and they can be dangerous to get to. Painting ASZs on roads is essentially a ‘tick-box’. It means the council can say ‘look we’ve taken cyclists into account’.
But if there’s not road space for cyclists to get there, or if there are parking bays on top of the cycle lanes, then the ASZ is basically useless.
If our junctions were properly designed for the safety of all users – pedestrians, cyclists, and motorised vehicles – we wouldn’t need ASZs at all.

25 October 2013

I think I've become a #militantpedestrian...

I suppose it was inevitable, that in a week when Scotland's dire record of pedestrian safety was splashed across the media, when I can't ride a bike, and am (briefly) in solo parentis, that I too would turn into a #militantpedestrian.

There's a certain irony in that I am unable to cycle because of a broken finger caused by sudden braking to avoid an #obliviouspedestrian.  But I'm trying hard not to let that prejudice me against all pedestrians....

To be fair, being a pedestrian in Edinburgh comes with  some benefits.  It has been pure joy to walk the kids home from nursery along quiet leafy streets and watch them run and chase each other giggling hysterically  through great heaps of leaves.

And I now know that all the other parents from school hang out in the windows of coffee shops in most improbable combinations....

But I've also had too many cars fail to indicate as they turn off onto quiet side-streets, perform unpredictable u-turns at the entrance to dead-end streets despite a toddler on a balancebike tootling across, and simply steam along narrow dragstrips bordered by stone walls which funnel the noise and smells like canyons.

Cyclists may be hated, but I've never felt so insignificant and irrelevant as when I've been walking along our streets.

It's reassuring - and a small positive step - to have heard today that when pelican crossings are turned off by roadworks lasting longer than a week temporary crossings will be provided, But how do we make our streets more pleasant -- not to mention safer - every day?

08 October 2013

6 y.o. on a bike V. angry mum

I've written before about the last 10 yards of the school run being the part that puts me (and others) off letting my kids cycle to school.  Today it was just the last yard.

We were nice and early, so it should have been quiet. Then, right in front of the school gate, as my 6 y.o. was about to turn in, a mum pulls up, on the wrong side of the road, so that she can drop her darling straight in front of the gate.  Car coming behind her stops, thinking we'll want to go around her, but of course we don't.  Nice of him though.  It did mean that for a few minutes traffic was at a total standstill in all directions.

I give her the 'universal shrug of bafflement' at which point I can see her shouting at me from inside the car. Then she gets out and shouts at me a bit more. Apparently, 'the road is for everyone'. And *I* wasn't sharing.

Considering that she was on the wrong side of the road, I find that hard to comprehend.  But at the same time, I can see why she felt she could do this -- there are no road markings at all suggesting that this might be an inappropriate thing to do. The gates in the picture above were open, so the 'no parking' signs were not obvious (and anyway, she wasn't parking, she was 'dropping').

Last year, after I complained, the school put some colourful banners encouraging parents to 'park somewhere else' but they're further along the railings. We really need to rethink our road markings and the messages we send parents.

But at the same time, how did we end up in a society where a parent thinks that it is appropriate to put her car, engine running straight in the path of a six y.o. on a bike about to pull into her school gate?

27 September 2013

Why 'being nice' won't solve that outgroup thing

This morning, I was trying to explain to my six year old why I had put lights on her bike, even though it was fully light, if a bit murky.  We had an interesting discussion and checked out how many cars had lights on, and if they were easier to see than those without (interesting fact: in Canada all cars have riding lights that are on whenever the engines on, handy for spotting a car that might start pulling out).

'quiet route'
But, the real reason was of course that I wanted to send a signal to drivers that while I might be foolhardy enough to let my 6 year old cycle to school, I was otherwise being as careful as I could.  Which is a completely ridiculous thought pattern.  Why should I care what they think of us?

The night before, we'd cycled home from school by the 'quiet route' - at my daughter's request.  She's right,
it is a lovely calming ride.  But the one weakness - and why I tend not to take that route more often - is a slightly dodgy intersection at the end of our road.  The roads are slightly askew, the sightlines often blocked by parked cars, and in one direction cars are coming off a humped bridge, which makes their velocity difficult to determine.

dodgy intersection
We cross this all the time on foot. It is equally awkward, but drivers are usually very understanding, and  stop and wave us across.  Last night, we tried to get across without inconveniencing the cross-traffic, but in the end cars had to stop in both directions before we could get across.  One of them then followed us down the road and parked near us. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure there was a fair amount of resentment directed at us.

Which made me think - we can do everything 'right' - lights, helmets, bells and whistles - but if the drivers are annoyed at our presence on the road 'holding them up', they're not going to think 'well, at least they were in hiviz'.   It doesn't bloody well make any difference. As a pedestrian crossing that road, I'm treated with respect. As a cyclist, I'm seen as an inconvenience (at best), and my behaviour's not going to change that.

If drivers are going to be anti-cyclist, then us trying to make nicey-nicey just isn't going to change anything.

25 September 2013

The wrong hat?

Sometimes I just don't understand people.  This morning, I was taking my wee boy to nursery on his balancebike, and we came past this bus stop.  As you can see, it is particularly badly designed, because it's set back from the curb, with a stone wall on the other side.  As we came by, the pedestrians remained standing in the bit between the shelter and the wall, even though a bus was approaching.   So, having only a few minutes ago lectured the wee boy about avoiding pedestrians, I went along the narrow section of pavement between the road and the shelter, as we often do.  The bus driver had been edging up and stopped well clear of the start of the shelter - as you would, so that the door is open right where the woman in the picture is standing.  But i could see that he'd been holding back on doing this until the two year old had cleared the shelter. So I looked up to give the driver a wave of thanks for being so careful.

But instead of acknowledging it, the driver shook his head in a 'tsk, tsk' sort of way, and then refused to meet my eyes or respond to me.  So, I put down my bike and walked back to the door of the bus to ask what the problem was.  At which point he closed the doors in my face and refused to make any contact. Even when I knocked on the doors.  I suppose I shouldn't have done that, but I wanted to know what I had done wrong.

Had I prevented the passengers from entering the bus?  Should we have waited patiently on the other side of the pavement rather than risk delaying the bus by two seconds? I hazard to say that if I'd been driving the boy to nursery, I'd have delayed him more.

Maybe he just didn't like my rain hat.

20 September 2013

The problem with pedestrians...

...is that we all behave as if we're 3 years old.  

And no wonder. The only time that we learn road safety is at pre-school or nursery.  

So not only do we internalize that walking is something for babies and children, but the lessons that we learn are aimed at infants. 

Children are told to 'only cross at the green man'.  But pelican and toucan crossings are advisory. 

Pedestrians and cyclists are completely within their rights to cross if the road is clear.  

But most people wait for the green man, because that's what they were taught as children, and what they teach their own children.

This governs our behaviour in so many interactions. We treat cars and cyclists not with respect but with deference. 

The very process of walking around our cities has been infantilized.  

Until that changes, our cities won't be welcoming places for pedestrians, but places that infantilize them, and encourage car drivers to act like playground bullies.

05 September 2013

When is cycle funding not cycle funding?

....when it goes to Cycling Scotland...

The Minister of Transport in Scotland has responded to a Parliamentary question and several Freedom of Information requests to the effect that the £424000 which funded the Niceway Code is not 'cycle funding'.  That's good, because that campaign was so 'balanced' and 'targeted' all road users equally, that it would clearly be unfair if it was 'cycling money' right?

Except that in July, the Minister also claimed that £58 million was being 'spent on cycling' in Scotland. We've already explored how that isn't quite what it seems.

But interestingly, that £58million did include a budget line for Cycling Scotland - £2.424 million in 13-14 - with £424 000 being just the amount that was budgeted for the #nicewaycode.  Interesting coincidence?  Nope.  That is indeed the allocation for the much-maligned 'mutual respect' campaign.

So, it is cycling money then, I guess?

Except the Minister says it isn't....

Except when he says that it is....

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]