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Dog bothering

I am neither a paedophile nor do I harbour unnecessarily amorous affections or hatred for dogs. It should not be necessary to make that statement, but given the way that parents and dog owners treat me when I am on a bike I am seriously considering having a “I don’t want to bugger or eat your child or dog” cycling jersey printed.

Am I alone in this treatment? Ok I wear Lycra even on my mountain bike and as a fat biffa I probably shouldn’t. That does give me a certain air of “man on his way to an a Erasure concert” look about me, but surely outside of President Putin’s “naked bear and man wrestling club” no-one still associates a camp demeanour or stereotyped homosexual styling with child abuse do they?

Do lady riders and others get the same treatment from child handlers and dog parenters? You know the reaction I mean, there you are, steadily pootling along a trail, ahead you spot a young family, you slow down, pick the side least likely to lead to entanglement and prepare to pass. Then suddenly the parent stares at you, horror in their eyes as they dash to their sprog, grasp them in their arms and shelter them from the freak on the mechanical horse.

The dog walkers go one further. Having picked your line and left plenty of space the moronic dog owner will call their pooch to them in a panic as the pet rapist bears down at a harrowing 3mph.

The dog in this situation invariably then decides to either ignore it’s loony owner in which case the human will dash across the trail to cradle their dog in their arms, cooing platitudes about how they won’t let the nasty man hurt them. Alternatively, the dog will change from it’s previously predictable path and start whirling around in what looks like a drunken stagger back to its owner, again, across the trail.

Do people think that we want to hit their child or dog? Do they think that riders who pick their way around natural obstacles with a huge success rate are thrown by the concept of manoeuvring at low speed past their pet / child? The reaction is universally one of horror and shock and I bet they go home moaning about how their walk was ruined by the terror of cyclists, when the fear is entirely self generated.

Maybe I’m the only civilised rider, maybe hundreds of dogs and children are left disfigured or killed by errant cycles? The same people seem happy to calmly confront cars when crossing roads or in places like car parks, but someone on a bike is greeted like a Lithuanian Muslim at a Daily Mail sponsored coffee morning.

What does it say about the lack of cycling culture in this country that pedestrians don’t know how to behave when sharing a path with a bike? How did that happen?

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This is the last testament from a dead man.

Having read with dismay the transcripts from recent trials involving drivers who have collided with cyclists and killed them, it struck me that the cyclist rarely had a voice in the proceedings. No one asked the dead victim about the quality of their riding, no one asked the dead victim about the charity work they did or whether they needed their life to support their family and to help care for their loved ones.

Instead the testimony and witness statements in the court room take on a distinctly one sided slant. A consistent effort can be seen for all present to be apologists for drivers and create a myth of blameless accidents, unfortunate events due to poor infrastructure and events where the victim themselves was to blame for their own demise. 

From reading through the events in court, it is quite clear that the CPS has a habit of drawing upon the “experience” of the local authority traffic police. I do not know whether this is related to costs or a blind belief that the police have an ounce of understanding of cycling. It is clear from some of the testimonies given by so called “expert witnesses” that there is a failing in the evidence being put forward against drivers.

So, I decided that I would set out my testimony so that in the event that I am unfortunate to have my life taken from me, my voice can be heard in court.

I rode bicycles, a lot. I rode on average 100km to 200km a week with roughly half of that being my daily commute. I have competed in “professional” level mountain bike races, I ride on-road, I ride off-road during the day and at night. For my commute I ride a simple fixed wheel bike, I ride a carbon fibre road bike and off road I ride a full suspension bike with 26” wheels or a hard tail with 29” wheels. I rode on my own through sunny days and the depths of winter. I rode with packs or riders through all weathers. I crashed sometimes, but got back on my bike. I was a competent, enthusiast amateur cyclist, a commuting cyclist and a leisure cyclist.

Perhaps the barrister for the defence has suggested that I was a cocky rider. Over confident perhaps, riding on a road which was unsafe, perhaps. Let me lay that to rest. I differentiate between the different types of riding. Off road I took calculated risks, I was responsible 100% for my off-road riding and I knew my limits. On road, I adjusted my cycling to the time, place, reasons for riding and the road / weather conditions. I didn’t race on my commute, I rode with care and adapted to the relevant risks.

Maybe it was suggested that the road I was on was too dangerous If I was riding on a road where it was legal to ride (ie not a motorway) then I would have adjusted to the risks of that road. No cyclist enjoys riding on a dual carriageway, the gutters are full of broken glass, stones and bits that have fallen off vehicles. Being buffeted by cars and lorries is horrid, it is not something a rider seeks out. I never sought out that kind of route. Sometimes it happens though, you make a wrong turn, you need to cut back early from a ride, or you just need to link between two quieter roads. I would not have ridden on that road if I had not assessed the risks, considered the alternatives and deemed it the least worst option. I would have expected some respect as a road user from other road users. I would expect them to be vigilant, to look out for vulnerable users and to be prepared to act. Perhaps I expected too much.

If it was suggested that I or other cyclists often treat the traffic laws with contempt, please allow me to assure you that if I was riding through traffic, perhaps on my commute, I respected the law and the Highway Code. I obeyed traffic lights; not just red lights but amber lights as well. I used cycle lanes when they were provided and when they were appropriate. I “took the lane” when necessary and positioned my bike with confidence and respect for other road users. I did not unnecessarily delay other drivers, I provided them with space to pass when I could, but I also read the traffic ahead and I may well have not swerved out of the way to allow a car to speed past for 50m into the back of the stationary traffic ahead.

If it was suggested that I was not easily seen or that I carried out a maneuver that was dangerous, let me assure you that I signaled my intentions after checking my six, I respected pedestrian crossings and did not ride on the pavement. I wore lights on my person and fixed to my bike when it was dark or approaching dark. I had my bicycle festooned with reflective materials and I wore hi-vz. I wore a helmet. Occasionally, on long quiet rides I might listen to some music or the radio, but never during my commute and never in a manner which distracted me or at a volume that affected my traffic awareness any more than the air rushing past my ears.

If it was suggested that the weather may have played a part in making my riding unpredictable or reduced the quality of my riding, then let me assure you that in sunshine I wore shaded glasses, in rain I wore clear glasses. I wore clothing to protect me from the elements and made sure that I was comfortable on my bike.

If my competence in being able to control a bicycle was in question, let me assure you that I was blessed with a brain which has better than average spatial data handling capacity (it’s been tested and that was found to be the case).l also happen to have better reflexes and motor skills than average (again, that was tested to the level of a military pilot and found to be the case). I was stronger than the “average” cyclist and could typically pull quickly away from junctions and pace match traffic and other riders.

In case my bicycle was damaged in the crash, let me assure you, I looked after my bicycles. I kept them clean and in good order. I checked the brakes, drive-chain, wheels and steering before each ride. I am a qualified engineer and maintained my bicycles, seeking professional support where necessary.

In summary, I did all that I could to protect myself. Please bear that in mind when you consider whether the driver did all that they could have reasonably done to protect me.

The barrister for the defence has probably talked about one of the following:

“The sun was low in the sky, the driver was blinded, he had no chance of seeing the cyclist : really, is that an acceptable situation? Should the driver have carried on when he was blinded? Would a blind person drive down the road?

“The driver was not to blame, it is down to the poor infrastructure” : really, is that acceptable? If a road was heavily potholed and a driver barreled down it too fast and broke their car, is that the fault of the infrastructure? No, of course it isn’t. The driver should have modified their behavior to match the road conditions.

“The driver could not have anticipated a cycle to have been there” : really? Given that the cycle pre-dates the car, given that cycling is the second most popular participation “sport” in the UK, given that tens of thousands of people commute every day, that many roads have pictures of cycles painted on them, that there are road signs warning of cycles, and that almost every driver at some point in their life rode a bicycle, really, honestly they never expected a bike to be there? An elephant, that would be unexpected, but a bicycle, the single most common “vehicle” in the UK. That is not in any way shape or form unexpected, ever.

“The driver had a momentary lapse” : that’s the golden joker card. For the very split second that the incident happened, the driver happened to have a momentary lapse. That is most unfortunate, but purely coincidental and accidental. Let’s consider that for a moment.

The probability of a single “momentary” lapse that coincides exactly with the point in time when the driver could have avoided the cyclist is infinitesimally small. I was probably not hit just riding along the road if the barrister is using this defence. I was probably hit at a junction, or maybe I was turning or a car ahead of me was turning and that masked the view of the driver who hit me and they see me because of this monetary lapse. Well that is utter rubbish. A momentary lapse when driving along a straight road is credible, it’s unfortunate and should not happen, and has an almost nil chance of happening at the same split second that the drive might have hit me. However, a momentary lapse when you are maneuvering through traffic, or approaching a road feature like a junction, that is not a lapse, that is a careless, dangerous failing. It is laziness well beyond the standard that you or any other driver was taught to apply when you learnt to drive.

“The cyclist was in the driver’s blind spot, he had no chance of seeing them”: this was probably accompanied with a picture showing a lorry and a row of cyclists lined up all within a massive blind spot. First of all, what is the lorry driver doing driving a huge vehicle around a city environment when you cannot see round the vehicle and what is the owner doing allowing that on the road. Health and safety law deems that irrespective of specific guidance and law, there is an overriding principle that everyone takes responsibility and takes action to remove or mitigate hazards. Should the company have sent a large lorry into a city, could they have sent a smaller vehicle? Should the company have fitted extra mirrors or cameras to eliminate the blind spot? Should the driver have received specific training on driving a large vehicle in the city environment? All of those things were the responsibility of the driver and his employer.  They could have done something about it.

It should also be noted that the image they showed you in court, that lorry was cranked. The cab and body set at an angle, the lorry actually blocking the adjacent lane. That is not how lorries line up at junctions. The blind spot in reality is way smaller than that image suggests and as an experienced cyclist I was not in the blind spot, quite simply the driver did not look properly. That doesn’t mean he didn’t point his head at the mirrors, it takes more than that to actually see something, you have to move eyes, stop them  moving allow the image to be processed, then and only then can you see things. Ask whether the driver stopped and examined his mirrors or was it a quick glance before setting off. If the driver did the former, they would have seen me, if they did the latter, they would not have noticed me.

I do hope that someone asked whether the junction had parabolic mirrors fitted? In the case of my collision, it probably happened in Manchester where most junctions now have anti-blind spot mirrors. So did the driver use it? Similarly, was the driver over the line of an Advanced Stop Zone?

The final statement that the defence barrister probably made was something along the lines of “The driver was just doing what any driver would have done” : that put you edge didn’t it. After all, as a driver you have probably done some of those things. This was the “there but for the grace of god go I” argument. That scares you doesn’t it. It could have been you in the dock, rather than that other driver. Can you really say that their standard of driving was worse than other peoples? Well luckily you don’t have to.

What you should be considering is what standard of driving do you want to be the norm. Every time someone gets away with poor driving, the normal standard expected of drivers slips. You live in a time when cars are safer than they have ever been. Drivers face many distractions, phones, drinking, smoking, children shouting, aggressive other drivers, music and food. Cars drive better, stop faster and have better lights and better visibility. It has become all too easy to relax in the cosseted personal space of the private car or the driver’s cab of a lorry. The result has been a death sentence for other road users.

As a member of the jury or a judge, you sit at the pinnacle of societal expectations. You are responsible citizens. The decision you make will shape the future of society. You can draw the line. You can be the change.

Do not accept the palming off of the blame onto the tarmac, society or the victim. Instead, convict and, set the standard that you want to be held to. Draw the line. Be the change.

Or alternatively you can look my wife and my children in the eye and say “well, I would have killed him as well”.

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Project “Read Light Jumpers” (RLJ)

So far project RLJ has recorded over 300 data points. Ideally I would like to reach c. 20,000 data points over the lifetime of the project, but for one person testing the data gathering method over one week, it is a good start.

There are some flaws in the data being gathered. These include:

 - The data assumes that motor vehicles and cycles are waiting or passing through the junctions being studied on every light change. In practice that is not a bad assumption for the three main junctions studied to date, but where there is a clear drop in one vehicle type, that needs to be recorded to help even out bias in the data. Once we have enough data, this is less critical as the norms will appear and the data outside the norms can be discarded anyway.

 - The study focuses on junctions along a popular cycle commuting route, so there is more bikes than average.

 - The data does not count the number of motor vehicles or bikes. This is deliberate as it is simply too difficult to do when it is one person standing by the roadside. Also, the number of jumpers per vehicle type is not necessarily a useful thing to understand. What the study observes is how many people jump lights when they have the opportunity to jump. Drivers have a more limited opportunity than cyclists as the bikes can get to the front of the traffic queue. So what this study looks at is how many people jump per change in lights.  It is possible to draw wider conclusions about numbers of jumpers by combining the study data with standard road user data which is available. I may do that and will need a bit of extra data gathering to ensure correlation, but to me that “what percentage of people jump lights” is part of the current debate and is a good headline but less useful if you want to understand why people jump lights and what can be done to stop it.

 - So far the data is only taken in rush hour peaks and in the school holidays. Over time, I will add in some out of peak data and also in the next couple of weeks the school holidays will end, the traffic volume will increase and interestingly for Manchester the number of students will drastically change which may show some interesting changes in data as they represent a key group of cycle users.

It is also worth noting that it is possible to use the data in a manner which negates many of the data flaws and for now, that is what I am trying to do until the wider data gathering kicks in and allows statistical methods to be used to iron out some of the flaws.

The intention is to use the data from the early part of the study to shape future data gathering which will provide additional insights.

Observations To Date

It is way too soon to draw conclusions, but some interesting patterns are starting to emerge. So here are some things that the data is suggesting may be happening:

In the images below you can see each junction and the average number of jumpers per traffic light change. The key is as follows:

C-RLJ = Cyclist Red Light Jumper

C-ALJ = Cyclist Amber Light Jumper “amber gambler”

M-RLJ = Motorist Red Light Jumper

M-ALJ = Motorist Amber Light Jumper “amber gambler”

Oxford Road / Charles Street

This is a simple cross roads. It is a busy intersection and was chosen because it has previously been identified by Greater Manchester police as a hot spot of accidents and red light infringement by cyclists.

C-RLJ: 1.1 per light change

C-ALJ: 0.6 per light change

M-RLJ: 1.1 per light change

M-ALJ: 2.1 per light change

Oxford Road / Cavendish Street

This is a simple cross roads but one of the roads leading on to it is a one way street and one of the intersection legs is a very quite road. It was chosen because it has a cycle path which runs against the flow of the one way street across the junction. It is also close to the Charles Street junction so you have a lot of the same road users but a different junction configuration.

C-RLJ: 2.4 per light change

C-ALJ: 0.7 per light change

M-RLJ: 1.3 per light change

M-ALJ: 2.1 per light change

Stretford Road / Chorlton Road

This is a simple cross roads. It is a busy intersection and was chosen because it is a very wide intersection and has different vehicle types (fewer busses and commercial vehicles) than the Oxford Road junctions.

 C-RLJ: 0.1 per light change

C-ALJ: 0.1 per light change

M-RLJ: 1.0 per light change

M-ALJ: 3.0 per light change

Summary Of Who Jumps

The figure below shows a summary of the traffic light jumping data. What is clear is that some people jump lights when they have a chance to. It is also clear that very few cyclists jump lights on amber when compared to drivers. 

A possible explanation of the differential of the approach to amber lights between cars and bikes is that cyclists don’t jump because they know that could place them at risk. Conversely, drivers prioritise the assumption that they can “nip across” over the assumption that they could injure somebody. 

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One More Hit

I see you there. Yes you, middle aged lady in the blue Aigo. You in the blue Aigo with the child seat in the back. It’s empty so I presume that the child seat has fulfilled it’s purpose this morning and you have dropped your beloved one off at nursery or the child minder.

I wonder what plans you have for your child. As a parent myself, I know we tend to install hopes and dreams beyond our own accomplishments in our children. We want the best for them. We want them to grow up healthy, to fall in love, to become parents themselves and live a long and prosperous life.

We want our children to love us. Love means that you miss people when you are not with them. We don’t want out children to be sad, but we want them to want us to come home each day. I am sure lady in the little blue Aigo, you want this for and from your child.

Now my own children are growing up fast. They could almost get by without me. Of course I am the only one who memorised the wi-fi code so that has made me indispensible to the family. That code is locked away under that veneer of polystyrene on my head. It’s stored alongside irreplaceable family memories, skills and experiences from my professional life and general bundle of emotions and character traits that make me who I am.

But you don’t see me do you lady in the little blue Aigo. You can’t see that because you are on your phone. Facebook by the looks of it. Updating your status, reading other people’s status updates. What did you type “Just dropped the little one of (sad face)” or “Stuck in traffic again (worried face)”. What amazing status updates did you read? Really, your colleague just bought an ace cappuccino from Starbucks on the way to work? Or hang on, you are scrolling down, that means older status updates, not the urgent ones about the current weather or morning hair disasters. No, this is finding out who was still up at 3am talking to their cat or who got drunk, on a school night. LOL.

You are wrapped up snug and warm in your little Aigo and your digital avatar life aren’t you lady. This is your domain, divorced from the outside world, an alternative reality. It’s so tempting, your brain wants more of that version of life. Your mind drifts off, it forgets about your hands and feet, your muscles relax like a heroin addict as the skag flows into their vein.

Lady in the blue Aigo, the world you think you see around you isn’t being processed any more. In your head images from that alternative life are crowding the visual cortex, pushing reality to the fringes. Your motor functions suffer, your right leg relaxes, you slow down, you drift to the left.

You don’t see me lady in the little Aigo. You are not in the same dimension as me. You are off in your Facebook universe, a point of singularity inside your little Aigo.

I see you. 

I saw that characteristic movement, the “lap check” that most drivers do. Like a hunched over junkie shooting their fix. Cyclists have learned to spot it, it’s advanced warning of someone who has not and will never see you.

I swerve as you drift into the cycle lane and I flash by.

You look up, you blink, a shadow from the real world just passed through your Facebook reality. You are back. You see that the cars in front pulled away already. Guiltily you look in your rear view mirror, you smile apologetically at the other drivers and drop your shiny pan dimensional alternative reality generator into your lap.

It’s there, warm from the microwave generator which connects your world. It’s there; ready for the next chance to grab even a tiny a fix of your favourite narcotic.

Driving under the influence of Facebook. Just one more hit.

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RLJ Facts Not Myths - Update

In two days I have observed 104 changes of traffic lights at 3 junctions. I have recorded who jumped the lights and also whether ASL boxes were infringed. 

It is way too early to start to draw meaningful conclusions from the data, and ideally I want others to join in and add to the data (contact me @transalpuk if you are interested).

As a community, cyclists could help shape future transport policy in a meaningful way and breakdown myths that fuel the “war on our roads”. 

Whilst my study is in it’s infancy,  just standing by the roadside watching how people behave in traffic gives you some powerful insight into how people use the road and you start to hypothesise about why people break the law. It also helps you form an appreciation of what questions this data gathering might reveal and how the data could be used. Some ideas include:

  • If you know where lots of cyclists are jumping red lights, you could target police enforcement / education action appropriately.
  • How often do cycles jump lights compared to drivers when they have an equal opportunity to jump?
  • Do cyclists jump recklessly or to what extent does risk assessment take place?
  • If you find that the jumping locations of cyclists do not coincide with accident black spots, you might consider introducing filter lights for cyclists.
  • How effective are ASLs and if enforcement action is needed, where should it be focussed?
  • Does the nature of the road junction affect driving and cycle jumping? 
  • How does jumping practice compare to injury statistics and current hot-spot monitoring?
  • Could you prevent / reduce drivers jumping by low cost solutions like changing light timing methods?
  • How does time of day / week / month / year and weather influence jumping practices?
  • Can you guide cyclists on the safest route to commute?
  • All in all, if we understand where and when people jump, can we work out why they do it and how we can prevent it happening.

I am also starting to see some limitations in the data gathering. Such as:

  • I am focussing efforts on routes popular as cycle commuting locations, but some rationalisation of data may be necessary by looking at junctions where bikes are rare, or by modulating data based on knowledge of the split between bikes and cars as commuting vehicles on different routes.
  • Data entry works, but is clumsy. An app is needed to make the data collection slicker and less of an effort to encourage more data miners to join.
  • Once I have some base data, it will be interesting to gather additional data about the jumpers such as age, sex etc. at key sites.
  • Combining the survey data with GIS information could be hugely powerful.

So please, drop me a line @transalpuk and get involved! The only reliable RLJ survey I could find so far was by Transport For London. It’s an excellent study, but it is just a couple of junctions in one city and it’s old data with some flaws which they may not have predicted at the time. If we can get just a dozen people logging data a couple of times a week, we could surpass the information gathered in the TFL study in a week. In a year we could have the clearest information on red light jumping ever documented.

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Red Light Jumper Survey

What is this?

This is your chance to help gather data on bikes and cars that jump red lights. It’s a simple on-line form and you can access it on your phone or tablet at the kerbside.

The form is here:  http://bit.ly/18xEiXc

It will ask you to enter time and location data (I hope to automate that soon) and then ask you to count how many bikes or cars jump the lights and how many light changes occurred in the time you were watching.

Simple, easy, quick.

Why?

Simply put, there is very little recording of red light jumping except at known accident black spots by cameras which do not catch cyclists. There have been studies such as this one by TFL (http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/traffic-note-8-cycling-red-lights.pdf) but these are confined by the resources available. 

This open project encourages anyone to provide data and hopefully will help build up a wider picture of traffic light law infringement than ever before to assist policy makers and the police in targeting resources to improve road safety for all.

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We’re Going The Wrong Way

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of gnashing of teeth, dumb comments and general antagonism between cyclists and drivers. There has been criticism of publicly funded road safety campaigns and in the meantime the Police have been accused of blaming victims for road traffic offences and proactively running anti-cycling campaigns.

The response of the vocal members of the cycling community has been to harangue drivers, blame the police and ultimately get nowhere, because we (the cyclists) are going the wrong way.

There is hard data and facts which provide compelling evidence to the following:

  1. Cycling is an important component to reducing road congestion in the UK, particularly in cities.
  2. An increase in cycling has a net positive economic, social and health benefit to the UK.
  3. A small minority of cyclists jump red lights.
  4. A small minority of cyclists ride on the pavement and when they do it is generally because it is safer than riding on the road in that specific location.
  5. A majority of drivers speed, may jump lights, use phones when driving and do not adjust their driving properly to road conditions.
  6. The major cause of death of cyclists on UK roads is poor driving.
  7. The major cause of death of pedestrians in the UK is poor driving.

Not a single one of the above facts is refutable, there is reliable data gathered by credible sources including pro-driver organisations to back up all of the above. So why are cyclists identified by other road users as being the miscreant hazard on the roads when generally cyclists are the victims in road traffic incidents involving cars and bicycles and in the majority cyclists are law abiding citizens.

Cyclists can continue to blame the psychology of driving, the dehumanization of individuals that comes from the operation of machines, a die-hard group of driving vigilantes who are intentionally seeking to kill or maim cyclists or any other excuse, but at the end of the day, cyclists as a group are viewed by other road users and pedestrians is down to us.

The cycling community need to get over the fact that they are perceived as being in the wrong, accept it and do something to change that view. Here are some ideas:

 

1. Continue to obey lights and ride on the road rather than the pavement please.

Before we can help change the mindset of other road users we need to make sure that we are not making things worse by breaking the rules. So if you do not already jump lights then do not start now. Do not see the antagonism of other road users as a good excuse to ride on the pavement, only do that when there is no safe alternative.

Of course following the above will be no challenge for the 90% of cyclists who already ride very responsibly. I am not going to preach to those that break the rules, they are dicks who don’t help, but they are the minority, for too long they have been the focus of attention, we need to move the focus away from the dumb few to the intelligent many.

 

2. Understand the Police

Avon & Somerset, London Metropolitan and Greater Manchester Police did not all recently run “anti-cycling” campaigns because they hate cyclists. Certainly some police officers do seem pro-driver, but equally there are police officers who are pro-cyclist. My guess is that probably evens out. On the whole, the police are neutral, except that they are not allowed to act in a neutral way.

The police have to justify how they spend money. That is not just down to how many villains they catch per £ spent, but they have to respond to the concerns of local communities. They are legally obliged to respond to issues raised by local forums.

In the case of the police forces who have recently run campaigns to specifically seek out cyclists that break the law, they have done that because of responses from local forums. In those community forums, the police can challenge residents with facts, if they have them, but at the end of the day, if those attending police forums call for action against cyclists the police have to carry out those actions.

Now who attends local police forums? Well, given that most cyclists are generally pre-retirement age and have work and family time to juggle it’s hard to imagine that the local forums contain a fair representative of regular cyclists (we are probably too busy off on a ride).

If more cyclists attended local forums and counteracted accusations with facts and if more cyclists raised concerns about poor driving, then guess what, the police have to act. Here are some ideas:

  • Challenge (in a sympathetic way!) individuals who claim to have  been victims of a single poor cycling incident to recount how many well behaved cyclists they have seen and how often drivers have equally been a threat to them.
  • Log complaints about drivers parking on pavements, parking in cycle lanes, encroaching ASL boxes, jumping amber and red lights, speeding and mobile phone use. Put these items on record as local concerns.

 

3. Get The Message Clear And Get The Message Out There

It seems that half the cyclists on twitter are engaged in graphic design, the media and other such industries. Form a collective, agree the common data to use and rather than drawing another nice print of cyclists in an idyllic setting, spend some time producing a set of leaflets and booklets. We all like nice prints, but we could forego one more if we are honest.

Instead of criticizing the Niceway Code, do your own. Get organised and ask for donations, perhaps kick-start something. Cyclists could sign up and say for £10 get a set of leaflets and fact cards to hand out.

 

At the end of the day, cyclists need to get over their prejudices and realize that they may be victims, but they are not yet seen as such and no-one is going to do anything about that except cyclists.

We’ve been going the wrong way and it’s time we got to the heart of the problem, recognized the problem with cycling as “a brand” in too many people’s minds and set about to fix it.

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Pass Me A Sugar Lump, I Need Pacifying

The @nicewaycode finally revealed it’s true bright colours. Over £400,000 of pro cycling funds spent on an anti-cyclist campaign. Is it anti-cycling? Well, it’s generally critical of cyclists, or patronising, certainly on the whole negative.

But what’s wrong with a bit of fun? Well cyclists being terrorised by lax driving standards, deliberate attempts to run them off the road, failure to observe the law or the highway code simply isn’t funny. You may well point out that cyclists regularly parody such incidents and indeed the @nicewaycodeGB parody account has generally had support from cyclists.

And that’s the point. It is OK as a cyclist to make light of near death experiences. It’s gallow’s humour and between members of the cycling fraternity it’s allowed. But when motoring organisations think it’s funny, well guess what, it stops being ironic and becomes moronic and insulting instead.

If I am a Scotsman making fun of alcoholism, I’m an ironic comedian. If I am an Englishman making light of Scottish alcohol related illness I’m a racist.

Worse than that the Niceway Code seems hell bent on perpetuating unsubstantiated myths that lie at the centre of so much discord between cyclists and drivers. It has claimed on twitter that it is trying to change perceptions but how does this work:

So that myth here is that cyclists are red light jumpers.

Let’s start with the premise that cyclists jump red lights and drivers don’t. Yes the advert slips in a sly dig at those naughty “other” drivers but it’s way outside the focus of the advert which is aimed squarely at cyclists. 

Never mind that 17% of serious injuries as a result of vehicles jumping lights in Edinburgh are due to cars against only 2% due to cycles (http://www.streetsaheadedinburgh.org.uk/info/2/cyclists/79/road_safety_statistics), the Niceway code believe that because drivers think cyclists jump lights, the right thing to do is use that myth to educate cyclists. Even if some cyclists do jump red lights, to presume that they do not know it is wrong is more than a bit condescending. Here’s a secret, cyclists know it’s wrong. A great many cyclists are drivers and typically cyclists have above average intelligence. They are not thick. The small proportion that jump lights do it for a buzz or because they think it is OK to do it if they are not going to get caught. They are calculated risk takers and part of the risk they are weighing up is the legal risk. So how is this advert going to affect those people? I would suggest about as much as putting “smoking kills” on the side of a packet of cigarettes (which doesn’t deter the die-hard smoker).

The fact is that most cyclists don’t jump red lights, which makes you wonder who the is message aimed at? What attitude is it going to change when there is no bad attitude to be changed? It is also perhaps worth pointing out that crossing the stop line at a traffic light when it is on amber is the same offence as when it is on read, unless it was dangerous for you to stop. Green means proceed across the line, red does not and nor does amber. How many times do you see drivers accelerate to “nip across” a light when it is on amber?

However, whether some cyclists jump lights or not, what the advert has done is perpetuate the myth of red-light-jumpers to drivers. After all, why would so much money be spent on an advertising campaign if it wasn’t a problem? That is what drivers will think.

Then how about this doozey:

One of the biggest problems that cyclists face is that drivers seem trapped inside their own little bubble, a fantasy place which reduces everything around them to little more than an arcade game experience. Drivers dehumanise other road users. Road rage is a direct manifestation of this. Perfectly rational people get behind the wheel of a car and will do incredibly dangerous things with it. They do not realise that “winging” a cyclist could kill them, or that causing a cyclist to swerve by shouting at them, driving too close or throwing things at them could lead to a nasty fall. 

Drivers slow down for horses mainly because horses a big scary things. An animal that is taller than them and has the capacity to kill. Deep down there is something in the sub-conscious that takes over and says “slow down”. 

That approach will not work with cycles. Cyclists need to be viewed as people. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandfathers and granddaughters. Cyclists are flesh and bone, if cut we bleed, if hit by a car at 20mph we break.

Finally there is this gem:

Advance Stop Lines (ASLs) are not about giving cyclists “a head start” they are to allow cycles to be positioned ahead of traffic. There is a big difference between those two ideas. One is asking drivers to let cyclists “win” in the race across town, the other is about ensuring the cycles can maneuver correctly to get into the correct lane for turning right or going straight on and to ensure that  drivers of tall vehicles like lorries can see cyclists. Bastardising the language of the highway code just confuses drivers and undoes the rationale for the ASL.

What is missing from the Niceway Code is any jokes on drivers for applying make-up, drinking coffee, smoking, tuning in the radio, parking in cycle lanes, opening car doors, speeding around cyclists to make left turns ahead of them, splashing, shouting, waving other drivers across when a cyclist is coming through, amber gambling, driving too fast when their vision is impeded by low sun, rain, fog or snow, littering and a thousand other motor traffic offences committed every day by drivers against cyclists.

This isn’t funny, it’s a sick joke and I hope CTC and Sustrans see the error of their way and pull out of this before it further damages their reputation.

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Drivers, Your Days Are Numbered

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Last month Manchester hosted the biggest participation cycling event ever in the UK when 8,000 cyclists of all ages and abilities enjoyed the luxury of closed roads to cycle across the city. This weekend, that record was broken by Ride London where over twice as many riders managed 100 miles. For some it was a chance to test their speed over a long distance, for others simply a chance to test their mettle and complete a distance that they had never considered possible before.

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If you consider those two events, add in the huge support from spectators, the TV coverage and the Grand Departe of the 2014 Tour de France from the UK next year (specifically from Yorkshire) then you start to feel that cycling is shuffling its way from being a pastime to some and a sport for a few to become an important part of the UK’s culture and sporting heritage.

Cycling is something that the UK very good at. The UK wins grand tours on tarmac, the UK wins on the wooden velodrome track, the UK wins on the rock and mud of the downhill course and the UK wins on the rolling BMX track. Beyond sport, the UK has phenomenal scenery and a network of minor roads and tracks that make cycling a leisure pursuit enjoyed by millions. For sure, the UK doesn’t have the same level of facilities within towns and cities that somewhere like Holland has, but given the crowded nature of this isle, the challenges of integrating infrastructure into a complex web of users and existing streetscapes, you know what, the UK does very well indeed and should be proud of what it has achieved in a relatively short time.

There will always be things that can be done better and creating more dedicated cycle routes will be controversial when space is at a premium, but the UK is on an upward trajectory and more change will come.

It’s such a shame that some cyclists will not be here to see the progression of their cherished pursuit and a pity that some drivers and advocates of the motor car seem hell bent on scaring, maiming, killing and bullying cyclists on the road and on-line.

We have for example the moronic idiocy of Daisy Abela who gleefully tweeted that she had deliberately run a cyclist off the road whilst under the influence of alcohol in an incident which involved sufficient force that it tore a wing mirror from her car. It’s not just Daisy’s wilful disregard for another person’s life, or Daisy’s apparent willingness to take to the road in her car whilst intoxicated that upsets people; it is also Daisy’s gleeful reporting of the incident.

Daisy has locked down her twitter account, but not before plenty of people saw what she had said. Daisy also made it clear that she was not drunk and that this was just a figure of speech. However, Daisy has not claimed that she did not hit a cyclist (http://road.cc/content/news/89793-daisy-abela-i-was-not-drunk-and-nor-was-it-hit-and-run%E2%80%9D). Daisy’s defence was that there had been an altercation with the cyclist and her action was the culmination of that, a legitimate response in her view.

The inability of a driver to understand that ramming a ton of metal into another human being is not an appropriate response in an argument is sadly not beyond belief. But the expectation that it is right and proper to proclaim your victory on an open public forum shows not only gross stupidity, but an expectation of rights which runs through the driving community and lies at the heart of the dangers on our roads.

Daisy is a young woman, naive perhaps, misguided for sure, a criminal possibly. Daisy seems to be aware that driving whilst under the influence of alcohol is a crime. That seems to be her primary concern, not that she hit someone with a car. Whilst it’s good that the drink driving message has got through (at least in part as Daisy seems unaware that driving at 9am after a heavy night of drinking -as evidenced by her twitter feed - can still mean you are intoxicated), it is a sad indictment on society that wilfully hitting someone with any object, let alone a car, is not viewed as inherently wrong.

But Daisy isn’t the only person who got all vocal about cyclists on twitter over the weekend. It seems that arrogance in driving isn’t something which only infects the young driver in the UK, but also professional, ex-police officers.

Keith Peat tweets on behalf of motorists under the pseudonym @eastmidsdrivers. He is no doubt penning a blog post in support of Daisy as you read this, just like he did defending Emma May (who has now been charged with driving without due care and attention). Keith didn’t suggest that Emma Way wasn’t a bad driver, but he did imply that she was libeled, cast doubt on the voracity of the original tweets and suggested that the campaign against Emma was anti-driver. Perhaps Keith will update his blog now Emma has been charged and remove the accusation of libel (its only libel if its not true Keith) and perhpas recognise that people wanted to catch a dangerous driver who took pleasure in bragging about their dangerous activities. Cyclists were not doing what Keith did in his blog which was to treat a group of road users as an amorphous anonymous group, but sort out an identified individual who would never have been caught had there not been publicity via twitter. Keith has described cycling as “not needed” and feels that drivers need defending in the UK because without them our economy would grind to a halt. The latter being the view shared by tweeting driver @richardwellings and the MP George Galloway (@georgegalloway) who didn’t enjoy Ride London because it caused some disruption to some people who sometimes use a car.

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Now, Keith gets quite upset at twitter trolls. He wants to engage in reasoned debate. He does not feel that people like Emma and Daisy should be hounded by the baying mob because they are part of the underdogs of our society, the brave and skilful pilots of the road who are essential to keep the wheels of our economy turning.

The problem with Keith’s argument is that it simply is not the case that private road vehicles are necessary for our economy. There is a clear division between driving which has become essential for the day to day running of commerce and those who choose to drive. We do inhabit a country where the lack of any alternative infrastructure means that delivery lorries are necessary, and it is hard to see how local shops and businesses could be served by anything other than a wheeled vehicle. However, to suggest that in a country like the UK private vehicle ownership is essential and cycling unnecessary is simply wrong.

Many economies get along fine with low levels of private car ownership, and in the UK, car ownership is a choice, an option taken up out of preference or because the infrastructure of the UK has for too long been heavily biased towards the automobile.

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There is an interesting poll on Keith’s blog (http://driveeastmidlands.blogspot.co.uk/) which asked people whether they drove out of choice or because they enjoy driving. 80% of respondents to the poll stated that they drove because they had no other choice, rather than because they like driving. Now admittedly the sample size was small (just 25 respondents) but that pattern is supported by other larger studies (for example this one from New York http://www.transalt.org/files/newsroom/reports/schaller_Feb2006.pdf) and really should make Keith take a long had think about cars and what they mean to our society. I’d suggest that @richardwellings takes a look at that New York report as well as he seems to think that cars should be the transportation priority for major cities.

If 80% of people drive only out of necessity, then that means 80% would consider an alternative form of transport to be preferable if it was available. That is not an endorsement of the necessity of driving, but a damning indictment on the historical obsession that the UK has had since the 19050s with private car ownership.

In practice, only a small proportion of the UK population live beyond walking distance from an access point to public transportation and even those that do, could use private hire vehicles to access the public network. So it is doubtful that even those that feel they have to drive out of necessity really do have no other options. If you really want to map out public transport access, then you can start with this amazing dataset (http://data.gov.uk/dataset/naptan).

Actually, a great many people structure their lives around not having a car. Plenty of business men and women, travel to meetings with clients, shop, attend hospital appointments and all the other thins people do in life, without owning a car. According to the UK census data nearly 25% of UK households do not have a car and actually since 2002, car usage has levelled out.

Cities do not grind to a halt when cars are excluded from them. That argument was put forward when congestion charging was introduced in London this has clearly been proven to be wrong. Cities and by extension our economy can flourish when cars are pushed to the periphery and when that happens drivers switch to public transport and bicycles because they realise that it can work for them. The congestion charge in London has directly contributed to reduced congestion, improvements in journey times and a greater efficiency in the transportation of goods (http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/sixth-annual-impacts-monitoring-report-2008-07.pdf).

Sticking with the London example, we have reached a point where 1 in 4 of the vehicles on the road at rush hour are cyclists (http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/move-over-amsterdam-the-london-cycling-revolution-is-in-top-gear-8671069.html). A bike takes up a fraction of the space that a car needs and if those cycle commuters decided to switch to cars, the transport infrastructure would fail to function.

To put it simply, cycles are not part of the traffic problem, they are very much part of the solution. If anyone thinks that Boris Johnson promotes cycling in London because of any kind of fanatical personal passion then you do not understand Boris. He does it because improving cycling infrastructure is a very cost effective way of improving the financial well being of London.

Events like Ride London act as a means of promoting cycling in the City and perhaps as a way of the City saying thank you to the cyclists who have to put up with people like Daisy on a day to day basis, and in so doing help to keep the City and our economy moving.

Of course we are still left with the commercial vehicles. Drivers still have a place in our economy. But perhaps not for long. If you think that Google is developing self driving cars for private drivers to nip along tightly managed motorways, then think again about the economics and psychology of driving. People who enjoy driving do not want to take their hands off the wheel and let a computer drive, they drive because of the personal control that they think they have over their life. Driving is a compensation for the frustrations and restrictions of modern lives.

The primary objective for autonomous vehicles is the commercial sector because that is where they make financial sense. Driver’s wages and benefits make up a substantial part of transportation costs; second only to fuel (http://www.atri-online.org/research/results/economicanalysis/Operational_Costs_OnePager.pdf). If you can take a person out of the cab and replace them with robots, you can run lorries 24hrs a day and not have to pay a driver. The same goes for busses and taxis.

This is the future and it is where we are headed. Commercial vehicles will become automated well ahead of private vehicles. When that happens, private vehicles will become marginalised and eventually forced to follow suit. If that happens, the manual driving of cars will be reduced to a sporting activity. Dedicated rally type course but perhaps built around fake townscapes where you will find the die-hard drivers treating every day like Sunday.

In the future those seeking individuality and freedom will find it through micro transportation, small self propelled vehicles that can freely mingle with the automated commercial vehicles without fear of abuse or injury. Those micro vehicles will be pedal-cycles and related variants.

You see Daisy, Richard and Keith, the bicycle was here before the car, and it will be here after the car. Your obsession with the car is self-centred and greedy. Its days are numbered and the world will be a better place when it is gone.

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Time To Turn On Women Drivers

Men, laaaaads, blokes. I’ve worked it out. Guess who is to blame for the congestion on our roads? Yes, it’s wimmen! Birds are clogging up the streets in daft little day-glo-go-karts adorned with “princess on-board”.  You can tut at them as you sit there in your oh-so-manly BMW.

You think I am wrong? Well, I bothered to do the maths today. As I peddled to work I counted up the number of male vs female drivers. Guess what, 60% of the cars I passed had a single female occupant. Now, maybe Manchester is unique in this regards, but I suspect not as the demographic served by my commute takes in a pretty reasonable cross section from rural, middle and low income areas and includes those commuting to city centre, out of town and industrial sites.

So what is going on? I think there has been a genuine increase in women drivers. I suspect that there are some fundamental societal changes underpinning this. Perhaps more women are in the workplace, perhaps the increase in further education over the past decade has expanded that number. Maybe more women are leaving relationships and children to later so that means they are more likely to be out earning than being supported by a partner. If you look at the car market, there has been a big shift to smaller, “lady likey” cars and I presume that those manufacturers did some research before investing millions in design and manufacturing?

A lot of the lady drivers also have child seats in the back, large child seats, so that mean pre-schoolers. This suggests mummy dropping baby off at nursery / child minder and then heading out to work. We should not be surprised at this “trend” as it is exactly what successive governments have sought to achieve isn’t it?

I will pin my colours to the mast and make it clear that I think the rise of the financially independent woman is generally a good thing. I don’t think it’s all rosey, but the positives far outweigh any negatives. It is good to live in a society which has at least made some movement towards sexual equality in the workplace (yeah, ok some way to go, but the direction is right).

For a long time men have been accused of driving around in a “penis extension” well, ladies, you can stick some girlie stickers on your car, but frankly that’s just accessorizing and a penis extension is a false penis, whether it’s driven by a man or a woman. It does seem a real shame that independent women have decided to adopt the car as a symbol or tool of their independence. Independence and equality, pah! If the best ladies can do is copy the male obsession with the car then maybe women need to think again?

We need to get more women cycling. It’s not just so that we can get some justice at the top end of the sport of cycling, but we need to get these women drivers off the road (I am sure I can get a roar of approval for that comment from the aresholes at the bar…). Specifically we need more women commuting. We need to help women to make inroads into a domain far too long occupied by tubby middle aged men. Barriers need to come down, incentives need to be offered and equality sought for women cyclists.

I appreciate that some women feel intimidated by traffic and lack the confidence needed to ride on busy roads. I appreciate that, but it is not a trait unique to women, it affects men as much and many male cyclists will not commute because they have a genuine fear of the road. I will sidestep that one for now, not because I can’t answer it, but because I think the simplest way to inspire confidence is to seek safety in numbers and simply put, get more people of both sexes commuting by bike.

There is a current focus on women’s cycling as a sport. A women’s grand tour series is a fine idea. Although I do worry that it will leave misogynists to pick on any differences in distances and climbing totals to make needlessly negative comments. More coverage of women’s track cycling is also a great idea and mixing it in with men’s races so that TV can’t split events out is a bloody good thing to do. I am looking forward to the UCI championships this year, period. Not “the mens” or “the womens” events, but just “the events”. I fear we have a long way to go before the UCI sees woman’s cycling as equal to men’s but I don’t think it’s the fans that are stopping that process. We are convinced.

However, we need to really think about getting more of the lone lady drivers onto bikes for their day to day commute. I think that is more likely to engender “niceness” from drivers than any road safety campaign. So far, the automotive manufacturers have had it all their own way, they have been able to seduce women into spending money on cars. Can we reverse that trend?

So what can be done about this? Well how about some of the following ideas:

Idea i : Childcare : At the moment, the disposal of children into the childcare pit is mainly handled by the lady of the house. That will undoubtedly change over time, but in the meantime let’s deal with the current reality. So we need more, better bikes for carrying off-spring.

It is a fact that from the point of conception to the tipping point where as a parent you need them to wipe your arse, children are basically cargo. So let’s get more Bikefiet cargo bikes out there. Bung those brats in the cargo bin and off you go. They will love it.

Sadly Bikefiets are expensive, but why don’t we get them sponsored? Look at all that lovely advertising space on the side? How about we consider a Government or Local Authority leasing scheme or a “cycle to work” type loan / lease based model? Has anyone tried this? We have Bromptons at the station thanks to Virgin, we have Boris Bikes thanks to Barclays, why don’t we have Bikefiets by Top Shop, Oasis or All Saints?

 

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Idea ii : Workwear : Ladies get to dress up at work, blokes wear suits or jeans and T’s. Men are genuinely jealous that women are allowed to express themselves through their clothing in the workplace, whilst any attempt by a man to do the same results in us looking like Status Quo or Miami Vice cast offs.

The problem is that most blokey work wear can also be ridden in, or can survive the journey to work in a bag (or to be more accurate we don’t care if it is creased). Lady clothing is all delicate and special.

So how about bike clothing manufacturers get on and design some good looking  workwear that women can ride bikes in. Something stylish and practical? Given the baffling range of outfits most women consider necessary to own, there should be huge money in this?

Idea iii : Exercise I will admit that most of my understanding of the female psyche comes from glancing at the front cover of the women’s lifestyle and gossip magazines that adorn the display next to the tills in Marks & Spencer at lunchtime. From this exhaustive research, I gather that all women want a “bikini bum” and have an obsession with toning and slimming. I also understand that you all want to date people from One Direction and that in your world Backstreet “Boys” is still an appropriate term and that some women who have made some pretty disastrous life choices seem to get over it by having a photo of them looking like an Umpa-Lumpa plastered on the front of Closer.

We need a mass campaign to promote the health benefits of cycling to women. There are a lot of men who ride because it aids weight loss. It does seem however that it doesn’t work like that with ladies.

At times it seems the only way to get women to do something is to have a celebrity endorsement from a vacuous soap star. Let’s face it, soap stars are publicity obsessed so really, how hard can it be to get them to pose for some pictures and make up a story about how riding a bike helped them get over Brad / Dougie / Brad (again) / Douchebag etc.

Genuinely we need to focus on generating role models for female cycling outside the sporting world. We need to get the people that the lone sub-30 year old female driver sees as role models to promote cycling as a lifestyle accessory.

 

The crucial point is, we need to get more women riding bikes. It could fundamentally change our society and introduce the kind of pressure on infrastructure and law makers that middle aged men in lycra are unable to achieve.

We cannot sit around blaming the male car driver’s attitude as a barrier to women cycling, after all, there are plenty of women drivers out there causing traffic problems as well. If we want to change attitudes, we need to get those women onto bikes, for all our sake’s.

It’ll brighten up my commute as well (fewer cars I mean, of course).