Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Cycle commuter seeking +1

Inspire a friend, neighbour or family member to start cycling! I've had this come my way...

"I've been asked to get a Newcastle bod or two to appear in front of my video camera to record a +1 interview for the Summer of Cycling presentation to be held at Parliament, March 14th. Up for it?"

Yes. Who's up for it with me? Who's my +1? 

The filming request comes from no lesser man than Carlton Reid of BikeBiz - and it's the Summer of Cycling.

Summer of cycling

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Consulted till boredom do us part

Community engagement. Consultation. Words much used by my council. I can speak for the world of cycling. The argument usually looks like this:

"We know what cyclists want. We have consulted the forum."

But what is the forum? Who runs it and what's its purpose?

In 2010 the safe cycling in Newcastle petition kicked some aspects into focus, including the council's cycling forum. It was petitioners who were instrumental in requesting better focus, and ultimately writing the terms of reference for the forum. And our thanks lies in progress that has been made. But make no mistake, it's the usual: things happen at the council nearly as always by external influence. Rest assured that council officers are The Purveyors of Standing Still.

Osborne Road - hard crossing Holly AvenueThe curious thing is, and citizens take note: in the short-term, a badly run forum or consultation actually works in favour of the council. A simple claim of "As you know, we have consulted you", then the door slams shut. And that's it. The End.

If there's only little scraps to discuss - a dropped-kerb here (you agree?), some traffic light there (you agree?) - there's no leverage. Check out the forum's minutes for my claims. There are no programmes, plans or budgets to discuss, allocate, or influence to be had. No vision to follow. Council bosses have successfully pushed aside a tangible vision for years. (Maybe 'push' is to active a term here.)

Ever been frustrated by dealing with the council? No reply? Getting nowhere? You are sucked dry to a husk at a 'consultation event'... then... nothing? Ah! What's happening here is common council practice: you've been feeding the black hole. I have been throwing little stones into dark council holes for years, and it was a rare occasion when I heard the splash on impact. The amount of un-answered questions is mounting. The heap of un-received requested information is getting higher every day. Paid for by the tax-payer? Publicly available? Council has learnt to duck behind smoke screens of totally ludicrous classifications like 'commercially sensitive' and 'available at a later date'. Their website rarely making documents available.

Cycling along Sandyford Road (westbound)But also, council take note: there's no community buy-in! No community ownership, and certainly waning interest in providing further 'feedback'. With neighbourhood plans and community ownership high on the agenda, you may want to give your approach a re-think. I think that Let'sTalk is not it, or delivery is slow, or it's just badly organised.

With no long-term cohesive vision (hello, 1Plan!!), the council officers needn't (and even can't) show commitment, make promises or progress. Consultation will remain a farce, but as a traffic engineer said the other day "consultation is something that gets into our way a lot of times". The fairy-tale land of pink glasses and A Giant Rabbit Hole. It's a vessel at choppy sea with no pilot and a mooted mutiny.

So... here you have it. That is why the local cycling campaign asks for programmes. Order! Order! It's something we can check and monitor.

I remain to be convinced that council officers are up to it.

And we will work with community groups, on a good old grassroot level, filling the consultation gap.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Clearer delineation of space helps EVERYONE

So, now we know. Our roads aren't fit for cycling. Too much danger and conflict. (Cue Sustrans survey, Guardian [1] and [2].)

Surely, better clarity over road space can only benefit all road users? When you ask the Great Public why they don't cycle they tend to say "There aren't any cycle lanes" and "I don't know where I am suppose to cycle" and "Too much traffic, too many cars". Isn't that a clear call for clearer space delineation?

What's keeping us? It appears to me it's drivers who hold up progress. Or maybe it's the politicians believing that driving is oh-so essential to life, the universe and generally everything. But. Really. Is it? And why would you think that way anyways?

I'd suggest that better clarity over space helps everyone. Including drivers. For our towns and cities, it's a no-brainer. We must start to fairly share out our space by creating clearer spaces, and give clarity over its use.

We could then do away with the riling road rage, claims over "who pays for the roads", whose space it is, and all the uninformed and dirty arguments floating about in our heads (and coming out of our mouths).

Let's do it. Clearer delineation of space. It's for everyone.

So we all can say.... cycling, why? Because I love it!

Simply because

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

At least no-one can say they didn’t know

There are several danger spots in Newcastle for cycling (and many times walking too). I have a library of emails and letters to document my concerns. 

The situation for cyclists in the city centre really worries me. Recent North-South route 'improvements' were insufficient. I am still awaiting answers to queries.There is no safe North-South route through Newcastle's core. 

City centre
  • John Dobson Street (full stretch, in particular on and off bus route with cycle sharing, traffic light phasing 'overlap')
  • Pilgrim Street (full stretch, inadequate cycling provision)
  • Percy Street (full stretch, inadequate cycling provision) 
  • Crossing over Sandhill (drivers ignoring traffic lights)
  • East Pilgrim Street (proposed scheme, misuse of user hierarchy)
  • the safe North-South alternative - Northumberland Street - is off-limits
  • Great North Road (three lanes at Regent Centre roundabout, Gosforth High Street, blocked cycle lanes, hostile northern roundabouts, 40 mph stretch yet a route to many schools and local shops - Little America!)
  • Ilford Road (bad visibility splays, road design and parking arrangement causing conflict, route to school!)
  • Aggressive driving on The Grove (speeding on a 20 mph urban street)
  • Crossing over Jesmond Dene Road (drivers ignoring traffic lights)
 West end
  • Silverlonnen (removal of cycle lane and installation of pinchpoints)
  • Elswick Road (new scheme, removing cycle lanes, and installation of pinchpoint, council's scheme going against independent road safety assessment to retain cycle continuity)
  • Westmorland Road (proposed scheme January 2012)
  • Brighton Grove (old, blocked cycle lane, and proposed scheme October 2011 with squeezed shared space)
There are more hotspots, elsewhere, I am sure. The above covers routes I use frequently, or locations with recent 'traffic schemes' that have come to my attention through my involvement in the Newcastle Cycling Campaign. 

Council's no-can't-do is not good enough. Let's be blunt, they do not even manage to get the parked cars out of the cycle lanes. Let alone decide whether it is them or the police dealing with it.

Something's gone astray. It really does need fixing.