18 July 2013

Space for cycling: more radical than you realize

Cycling Scotland's flagship programme for cycle safety is called 'cyclespace' and involves pictures of kids on bikes asking 'give me cycle space'.   

I've just worked out what's wrong with it.   (I'm a bit late to the party)

Compare it with the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) posters used to such good effect in recent protests. 

The difference isn't in the pics of cute kids. The difference is in the 'me'.  It's the individualizing of the issues.  In one it is a request made to drivers on a one-by-one basis - constantly negotiated. 

Cycling Scotland is saying, if you see a little kid cycling in front of you, give them space. Maybe that will even translate into space for us big people on bikes too.  

But the LCC campaign isn't asking for individual negotiations between drivers and cyclists.  Nor even for drivers to show respect and follow the highway code (which were the other two brilliant suggestions from the Transport Minister to a toll of rising deaths and injuries). 

It's asking for a state-led redistribution of space. An institutional and infrastructural change that redefines who is allowed where. 

That's why it's so radical, not because of the required expenditure (which would be recouped by the state anyway), but because it identifies the way in which roadspace  and our use of it has been liberalized and individualised, and because it challenges those presumptions about how our behaviour should be shaped and regulated. 

We know that behavioural campaigns don't work, but in asking for infrastructural change, we're not just asking for better, more effective, scientifically proven change that will make Scotland a better place to live, we're also resisting attempts to reduce everything to individual transactions, and demanding instead societal responsibility, mandated through our elected representatives and paid for by our taxes. 

Of course we should all show respect for other road users, and follow the highway code, but reducing road safety to individual behaviour is morally and ethically bankrupt. 

14 July 2013

When is 'infrastructure' not infrastructure?

On the way back from yesterday's berry picking expedition, we stopped off to do a little shopping.  The North Edinburgh Path Network (NEPN),  which is what enabled our run yesterday  to be mostly off-road, runs past a substantial shopping complex - what Americans call 'big box' shops.  While we get most of our meat and veg at the farmer's market, there are always a few things that need to come from the supermarket.  So, having the trailer, we stopped and did a big family shop.  

On the one hand, this was easy, there is a short path off the main route, which takes a couple of yards to get to a toucan crossing.  But here the challenge starts.  The toucan crossing is protected by chicanes, which would be fine if they weren't at the bottom of a slight slope, and with a road on the other side.  Then, once you get across the road, there's a short shared-use path. Except it's not marked as shared-use, and it winds past a small playpark, so is usually clogged with harassed mums with toddlers and pushchairs. 

But all that's basically okay compared to where the path dumps you out. Which is over a kerb into full-on traffic.  Is this a candidate for Edinburgh's most useless (and shortest) bikelane? 

From there on in, although there's lots of bike parking available, you're stuck on roads and roundabouts.  The  pavements and zebra-crossings are okay for pedestrians (if not always where they ought to be), but there's no indication that cyclists are allowed on the pavements. And we're definitely not supposed to ride across zebra crossings. The way out is even worse - there's no way to get back on the access path, so you end up in a scary multi-lane thing with dodgy lane-changing,  trying to make a right-turn so as to get back to the NEPN, which is only a few yards away, but feels like another world. 

And that's why we don't just need 'infrastructure'. We need joined-up infrastructure,  which actually works rather than putting cyclists into danger, which isn't just drawn by some engineers or planners to 'tick boxes', but actually thought about by people who cycle.

13 July 2013

Kids are great, eh?

Our six year old decided that she wanted to cycle to Craigie's Farm on her own bike.  It's about 7.5 miles each direction, and moderately hilly - mostly downhill there and mostly uphill back.  She's done about 2/3rds of the route before, but not the final push, and she remembered that there was a big hill at the end.  But she still wanted to do it. So we loaded up the trailer (for berries and groceries)  and the toddler + two childseats, so we could swap him between bikes.  Amazingly, for once we didn't need to pack raingear.  If you're curious about the route, keep an eye on the innertubemap  because I've been asked to blog about it there.  

We were planning on having lunch at Craigie's after picking, so I didn't pack any rations beyond a banana, two water bottles, and a couple of danishes that I'd picked up on an early morning farmer's market run. But we wanted to get going quickly, so we didn't stop to eat the danishes, thinking we'd have them en route.  

But you know what? Kids are great.  She pedalled away valiantly with no complaints or demands for 'breaks'. So we got out to Craigie's in no time at all,  climbed the last big hill - and had two hungry kids.  As I locked up the bikes, I suggested the kids go sit at the picnic tables provided for dog walkers, and fed them their quick snack before we went off to pay our 'entry fee' to the pick-your-own polytunnels.  

We get to Craigie's about once a year. It's a big event for us. We pick lots of fruit, have lunch, and then go home and make jam that we enjoy all year.  I may only go about once a year, but I follow them on twitter and facebook, and encourage all our friends to go out there too, whether by car or bike. 

So, it was a real downer to have a manager-type come over and tell us off for 'bringing our own food'.  I explained that I was just giving the kids a snack, and that we were about to go pick and then have lunch.  This cut no ice.  Apparently, we were setting a bad example, and should have 'stopped in a farmer's field'. If we'd come by a car, we could have sat in the carpark and stuffed our faces, but then we wouldn't have had a hungry and well exercised 6 year old to feed, would we? 

In the end, we decided not to let them spoil our day. We picked berries. We had lunch. We cycled home.

But we spent less in the cafe and shop than we would otherwise have done. I'm hoping the jam won't leave a sour taste in our mouths, but I refuse to let it spoil my pride in my fantastic cycling daughter. 

04 July 2013

Things I don't want to hear politicians saying...

"Even one fatality is too many".  How often do we hear this from policy-makers?  Too often. Usually after another fatality.  

I've been meaning to blog about HGVs for a while.  Today seems like a 'good' day for it, after an Edinburgh cyclist was one of two men killed by an HGV while on a charity ride from Lands End to John O'Groats.  

This post from British Cycling last month actually covers much of what I was going to say, reminding us that "In London, HGVs were involved in 53% of cycling fatalities in 2011 despite making up just 4% of the traffic".   I don't think we have clear data on this for Edinburgh, but certainly at least 3 recent fatalities in the city involved lorries of various kinds.  

In Dublin where they have banned the largest lorries from the city streets, cycling increased from 8% to 30% in one year.  In Paris, where HGVs are strictly controlled, there were no cycling fatalities at all in 2011, and a much lower rate of serious injuries than in our comparable big cities, despite rising numbers of cyclists.

But the example that I'd really like to see us learn from is Utrecht, where they have something called a
'cargo-hopper'.  Basically, HGVs deliver their loads to a depot outside the city, and then an electric fleet of vehicles make the deliveries in smaller batches.  The cargo-hoppers are electric, and solar-powered, so quiet and low-emissions.  As you can see in the picture, they are also designed to give the driver maximum visibility. 

Given the changes in city centre retailing, especially the number of 'local' 'metro' & 'neighborhood' shops, and on-line retailing, this seems like an idea whose time has come.  Just think of the difference to Morningside Road and Leith Walk if big supermarket delivery vehicles, John Lewis, B&Q etc were not trundling up and down every day?  Not to mention the benefits of aggregating orders so that Rose Street was not a complete clutter of vans in the mornings before 10.30?  Or that you could actually see the cycle/bus lane in Forest Road? 

I don't want to hear another politician saying 'even one fatality is too many'. Let's move on from the platitudes and actually learn from places where the politicians don't have to say this.

Updatecoaches transporting tourists are also a menace - an Edinburgh cyclist ended up underneath one on Tuesday.  Amazingly, he survived.  Both coaches and HGVs have similar issues.  Not just massive blind spots, but drivers whose positioning is up and away from the road

Another Update:  just saw this report from the BBC about proposals to redesign lorry cabs so as to improve their visibility - interesting. 

02 July 2013

Moving the goal posts...

In the Cycling Action Plan of 2010   the Scottish government considered whether or not strict liability should be adopted, noting that
"the differences in laws between the UK and continental European countries have often been cited by cyclists as the main reason cyclists on the continent enjoy greater protection. "(Section 5.5)

They went on to note 

"However, this has often been combined with a number of other measures such as increased investment in cycle infrastructure so it will be difficult to isolate one particular factor influencing why these countries have higher cycling levels than the UK". 

But when they came back to us last week with the CAPS 'refresh', oddly enough, they didn't say we've decided that it's the infrastructure that makes the difference, so we'll be investing in infrastructure. Nor did they say strict liability does make a difference, so we'll be moving to change our legal framework.  No, they claimed:
"The available data does not supply robust evidence of a direct causal link between strict liability legislation to levels of cycling and KSIs (killed and seriously injured statistics), when countries like the UK and Ireland are clearly reducing fatalities in cyclists and all other road users without strict liability legislation in place." (my emphasis) pp21

But, as the data released in recent days in both Scotland and England has shown, KSI rates may be falling for all users, but not for vulnerable road users, and certainly not for cyclists (see here and my previous blogs)

The problem with moving the goalposts is that you might just score an own-goal by mistake.

If the data doesn't back up the Minister's contentions,  then suggesting that even more can be achieved by ensuring road users are aware of the Highway Code and 'be considerate' of each other, is not evidence-based policy-making. This surely takes us back to the original premise in the CAPS study - either Strict Liability or infrastructure? or - more likely - both.