30 June 2013

Lies, damn lies, and targets

Last week the Scottish government released the latest data on serious injuries on Scotland's roads.   The headline on the Ministerial statement that accompanied the data release claimed that "Scottish road casualty statistics moving in right direction" on the basis that "the number of fatalities on Scotland’s roads are down 8% since 2011, with the total number of road casualties down by 2% to the lowest figure ever recorded" Oddly, quite a lot of people didn't agree with him, because if you looked a bit more closely at the data, it became clear that while fewer motorists were being killed or seriously injured, the numbers were going in the opposite direction for cyclists, and more pedestrians were also killed.  The Minister's statement in fact had no numbers at all for vulnerable road users, while the figures in the data release it accompanied highlighted that there were 9% more casualties in 2012 than 2011.  

However,  the data is much worse than this.  In comparison to their baseline data from 2004-2008, there's been a 17% rise in cyclists killed or seriously injured (KSI) on built-up roads and 34% on rural roads.  

Over at Pedal on Parliament, we pointed out that this data didn't seem to back up his claim the week before, that there was no need to strict liability, because accident rates were already dropping. 

But there is a broader issue at stake.  The government has 'targets' for making roads safer.  They measure these by looking at  'people killed or seriously injured' and 'children killed or seriously injured, and deep in some excel files, they work out what the numbers would be if they met their targets.  The the 'target' for how many cyclists would be seriously injured is 92, but in fact there were 167.  Meaning that they missed their target by 81%.*  

I'm not convinced that we should have government by 'targets', but if we're going to set targets, and collect data, surely we should be looking at targets for vulnerable road users separately from motorists?  Not just because the issues are different but because keeping that data at the aggregate level masks what's really going on.  The statistics don't lie, it just depends on how you look at them, and how you present them. 

If rates for some road users are going up and others are going down -- more than can be explained by increased rates of cycling -- then we need to ask why.   

The only reason for setting targets is so that policy can be designed to address the specific issues needed to make a change.  So, if we had a target to bring down the rates of pedestrian and cyclist KSIs, we'd need to think what interventions could achieve this most effectively. 

And that's a discussion we really need to have.  

*corrected 1/7/2013 after error pointed out via twitter. 

20 June 2013

We don't need no education...

Hey everyone, sorry about the rant yesterday. But we do have a right to be angry. Really Angry. CAPS, refreshed or not,  is a useless document - focussed on campaigning rather than actually changing the environment. throwing good money after bad.  

Just like breastfeeding campaigns or HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns in South Africa, increasing 'awareness' and 'education' isn't going to change behaviour, except perhaps incrementally.  There's lots of academic evidence to back this up.  People know that 'breast is best' for babies, but unless the environment enables them to breastfeed, they won't.

Everyone knows how you get AIDS, but that doesn't give young girls the power to resist powerful older men who want to have unprotected sex does it?  Nor women who risk losing their families if they insist their husbands wear condoms, despite knowing full well that he's been sleeping around.  

Would you risk losing your home, access to your children, and maybe even your income under those circumstances?  HIV/AIDS isn't spread because people don't know what causes it, but because they are powerless to change their relationships - they don't have a choice, not a real one. 

Does it seem a long way from talking about public campaigns to give kids 'cycle-space' or 'respect' between road-users?  I don't think it is.  

People don't cycle because they don't feel like they have a real choice. 

Even if they 'know' that cycling is better for them and their families, they do not feel safe doing it. It is not an 'option'.  Our  neighbours who look wistfully at us as we load up our kids and say 'I wish I could do that'.  They obviously see in practical, real terms that it is possible to do it, but they do not feel 'brave' enough to make that step.  More information is not going to make that choice any easier for them, just as more billboards about condoms don't make choices any easier for vulnerable mums whose partners aren't faithful. 

What's even more upsetting is that every single 'stakeholder' who contributed to the CAPS refresh knows full well that it is not going to get us anywhere near the target/vision of 10% of journeys being made by bike. 

The 'refresh'  document itself actually acknowledges that "Published evidence from around Europe suggests that investment in the order of £5-10 per head per annum could be needed to grow modal share year on year from its current low base in Scotland to the level in CAPS " .  And the reason that more money is needed, is because that's how you change the environment. 

The Scottish government is wilfully refusing to follow its own research and evidence and instead spinning a fairy tale that with more 'public education' things will change.  But we don't need education. We need political leadership.  

19 June 2013


I've been calling 'CAPS' 'CRAPS' for a while now, on the basis that it's well, pretty crappy. But it occurs to me that its pretty apt in another way too. It's basically a roll of the dice.  Maybe - if we're lucky - some folk in Scotland will start cycling, but maybe not.  Either way, we're not going to do much to tilt the odds one way or the other.

So the CRAPS refresh today,  instead of accepting that with the current policy they will not meet any of their targets, redefines it to a 'vision' and blindly carries on with the same old failed policies.

Apparently, the national government can't actually allocate money to specific cycling projects, because that would be trampling on local authorities autonomy. Oddly, that doesn't affect their decision to fund roads or 'car projects' to the tune of billions.

Specifically, they can spend £6bn on two road dualling projects with no evidence that this would make the roads safer, but not find even a fraction of that for cyclepaths, which are proven to reduce injury and encourage more cyclists.  As a wiser head than mine says:

"It's not that there's no money, it's just that the Scottish Government chooses to spend it on roads."

It's CRAP(S). and we need to call it that.

15 June 2013

We've got a long way to go...

When did you last see kids riding bikes on the street with their parents? 

I suspect the answer is 'not recently' or 'not often' and that if you did, you probably saw me and my kids, or one of the three other families that I know that let their kids ride on the road.   

I was reading this short article Cycling Kids: The True Indicator of a Bike-Friendly City  and it reminded me how far we have to go.  It suggests that “When kids feel confident enough to ride on their own — and parents let them — then your city has truly earned the ‘bike-friendly’ label.”  Yup.  But before we get to that, we need to pass an even earlier stage: When parents ride on the road with their kids... then your city is heading towards that ‘bike-friendly’ label.

I'm seeing a lot more childseats and trailers around town. (And more female cyclists)  So, maybe we're heading in the right direction. But we've got a long way to go yet. 

That said, there's lots of fun family events on at the Festival of Cycling this weekend.. Let's just hope the families attending don't all drive there with bikes strapped onto their cars...

13 June 2013

The bins (part 2): is this what a victory feels like?

It's been a depressing day in a depressing week.  This was symbolised today  by people congratulating me on my 'victory' and getting a 'result'. That result can be seen here: 

Missed it?  It's that little white line around the bins, that seems to be magically keeping them in place.  It's the result of several weeks persistent lobbying.  Earlier in the week, it has looked like this: 

And before that like this: 

As chronicled in more detail in a previous post, this was an on-going quest, actually started by someone else, to remove the recycling bins from the sight-lines of a pedestrian crossing in front of a primary school.  

But have we really fallen so low in the stakes of civic activism that a little white paint around some bins (with promise of a more permanent corral when the pavement is redone), is counted a victory? 

It doesn't feel much like one.

07 June 2013

Why is there no 'autotrans'?

There's something I don't understand about transport funding in the UK.  Why is it that active travel funds  have to be 'bid for' from funds held elsewhere?  Why don't they just get budgeted for like other infrastructure?  I mean, we don't hear about plans to dual a motorway being contingent on the outcome of a bid to 'autotrans'?  or the improvement of local roads being cancelled because of an unsuccessful bids, do we?  (or have I missed the fine print?)

This has been puzzling me for a while, but became particularly pertinent today, with the very welcome news that the City of Edinburgh listened to our concerns about their previous proposals for Leith Walk, and have now put forward a revised set of proposals.  The new 'enhanced' designs respond to many concerns from local residents, workers and shoppers.  But they depend on a successful bid for national money, which we're now being asked to lobby the Scottish Government for.

Somehow, the Council happened to have exactly the right amount stashed away to improve Leith Walk, as long as it only involved existing tarmac and pavement configurations.  But add in 'bike lanes' and it's a whole new ball game and entirely impossible to do without 'securing outside funding'.

I do appreciate that the councils funds are limited, and I would very much like the Scottish government to fully back initiatives like this, because they will save them money many times over in health, environment and business income.

But, I still don't understand why projects like this are treated like they're optional extras, or somehow less important than 'normal' road building.  

Can anyone explain?

04 June 2013

Is this the worst intersection in Edinburgh?

View Larger Map

I've blogged about this intersection before, but hearing today that it's not going to be resurfaced for at least another year has driven me to it again.

King's Junction courtesy of Andy Arthur
First off, I should note that it needs more than just a resurface.  It also needs a redesign.  But, the design would not be as bad if you could take a clear and confident line on it.  Unfortunately, as you can just see in streetview above the road to the left and ahead of that blue van resembles the lunar surface. I burst two tyres here in a month earlier this year. The picture on the right shows the surface as you carry on through the intersection.

It doesn't help that cars waiting in the turn lane opposite regularly gamble on slow starts and nip across, even though vehicles coming from Tarvit street onto Gilmore Place have priority.  But anyone who rides or drives it frequently knows that their light is short and that only the first 2 or 3 cars will make it across, so they feel pressured to bully their way through.  And, if you are lucky enough to approach the light while it is green and make it through, inevitably a pededstrian walks out in front of you.  One day I hit the jackpot and had pedestrians wander out on the west side of the intersection AND on the east side as I tried to navigate my way through.

But it's not just that direction that is dodgy.  Coming along Gilmore Place you know it's going to be a bad intersection because of the ferocity with which other drivers overtake you, just so that they can reach the red lights first.

You can't go straight-ahead, so the road divides into two lanes: a left turn lane that gets an advance green and a right turn lane that has to wait for oncoming traffic.  (Except that usually it doesn't.)  The left turn lane is also usually splayed out into the putative right turn lane because of badly parked cars and a bus stop, as you can see here.

View Larger Map
If you're in the right turn lane, as I usually am, you then have to decide whether you want to be in the ASZ or not (assuming there's not a car or a number 27 bus in it).  I usually do sit in it, unless there's a queue of cars. But a lot of experienced cyclists I know avoid it, because vehicles turning left from Home St tend to clip the ASZ.  Steel-capped boots recommended.

The intersection's not too bad if you approach from Leven Street or Home Street but fast and busy with too many lanes.  If you try to come down Home St and turn left onto Gilmore Place in the evening, the pedestrian gamble hits you again - they're usually trying to catch a bus.

On the other hand, if you are trying to come from Tollcross and turn onto Gilmore Place, you have to do one of those fun fast lane changes, usually surrounded by buses and taxis.  But let's face it, if you cycled through Tollcross to get there, you're probably tough enough to handle it.

Thing is -- this is one of the city's main commuter routes.  It's part of NCN75.   It ought to be a nice route to do some shopping in Realfoods, Provenance wines,  and Lupe Pintos, to name only my favourites.   But it's horrendous, and anyone in their right mind avoids it.

Plans are afoot to provide a safer, more family-friendly access from the Canal to the Meadows.  I'm hoping to get some insight into what that will look like soon.  But a good proportion of the city's cyclists will still be heading through here most days.  Surely we can come up with some way of improving it?

03 June 2013

Credit where credit is due

NMW thanks to chdot on flickr

Amidst several frustrating days, it was a real pleasure to see how good the west end of North Meadow walk is looking.  Lovely wide, smooth tarmac, with better drainage. Can't wait to ride along it.

But the real reason I'm mentioning it, is that the western 'spur' that led to the toucan crossing of Melville Drive, was supposed to remain quite narrow and awkward.  But enough feedback was sent, and although we were first told that nothing could be done, then as work started, we were told that it would be widened.  The reason we raised this was because that spur had real potential to push cyclists and pedestrians into unnecessary conflict. And we didn't want that.

But the reason I'm mentioning this now (when I should be washing dishes), is that in this case, the consultation actually listened to users, and accommodated them.  I'm pretty sure the end result will be a great improvement for the many commuters, joggers, dog-walkers etc, and for Meadows as well - surely one of Edinburgh's greatest resources.

Well done CEC and everyone who contributed to the decision. Let's have more of this - all over the city.

A letter to my councillors part 2

More on Princes Street (part 1 here: http://www.deceasedcanine.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/a-letter-to-my-councillors.html)

I'm less and less sure that there's really any point to this.  Even if they do change the proposal tomorrow, it should never have gotten to this point.  All that will result is that the council will be pilloried for caving in to the 'cycle lobby'. When really they should have got it right at the proposal stage, consulted properly, and then brought an idea  that all users could enthusiastically back to the full council vote. Transport committee (apologies for original incorrect point here - I need more sleep)

Anyway, here's the letter for what it's worth:

It is very disappointing to note that Transport Committee is proposing to  go ahead with its original proposal, albeit for a 12 month trial.  Surely, if this is really a 'trial' it would make sense to also trial a west-east cycle route?  Then, if it proves unworkable or unsafe, this will be clear in planning for the permanent changes?

There are three other points that I hope you will consider:

1. The consultation survey was flawed. In particular it asked if people approved of a 'one-way system for buses and taxis'  but did not mention that cycles would also be included within it. It is therefore difficult to understand how the transport committee reached its decision - it does not appear to be on the basis of 'evidence'.

2. Princes St is designated as a 'core path' which permits access for cycles and pedestrians. It surely goes against the intent of the core path network to make this one-way only (it might indeed be illegal).

3. This further highlights the point I have made to you previously, that it is council policy to provide a cycle-contra-flow lane on one-way streets.

The proposed plans thus seem to fly in the face of both Core Path legislation and the council's own ATAP. Surely in the light of all this, it makes more sense to have a bi-directional cycle path along princes street? Or a cycle-path along the north side to allow easy access to shops?

As a member of the Transport Forum and the Cycle Forum, I have hoped that the council really does take its commitment to Active Travel seriously - I hope that my faith in you on this point is upheld by your decision tomorrow.