Saturday, 24 November 2012

My name is Katja, and I am scared

"Doctor, I'm not a happy bunny"
"Doctor, I'm not a happy bunny"
Every instance that we don't listen to these women - hurts.

I recently gave a talk about cycling and what the Newcastle Cycling Campaign is doing. I said "You can relax. We are not here to talk you into cycling. We understand why people don't cycle. So, with us it's all about the space. We want more cycle space so that people are given a real choice."

One woman's reaction was this "I am so glad to hear this. I always thought there was something wrong with me. I am too scared to cycle."

And then there's this woman we met when the Newcastle Cycling Campaign was gathering comments about the 'Summer of Cycling'.

She - a regular bike commuter - felt it must be her fault that cycling didn't feel safe. It prompted her to take up the council's offer of free adult cycle training. She said this afterwards "I think the training was sensible, and I can understand the view that by delivering training you either increase numbers on the roads or give those that also use cars a better understanding of what it’s like to be a cyclist in traffic."

Then this.

"But it’s a shame that the whole focus is about keeping yourself safe, rather than riding technique or any of the nicer things that I was able to consider when I rode my route with dedicated cycling space.

She concluded with this.

"I still get scared on a regular basis on my way to work, and based on the training that’s not because I’m doing anything wrong." Source

In infrastructure meetings (there have been a lot recently in Newcastle thanks to the Campaign there), I still cringe every time I hear this bird's familiar mating call "I am a keen cyclist" - typically followed by "I don't mind cycling there [ie 30mph double-lane fast heavy traffic]". Their patronising arrogance and sheer selfishness thereby hindering better cycle provision for others.

We ought to start listening to these brave "fearful" women voicing their concerns. Whether they are using a bicycle or not doesn't matter. And by all means, men too - though the 'admitting-to-fear' threshold may be higher with them.

So I say "Hello, my name is Katja. And I have been cycling for nearly 40 years, and I am full of fear cycling in Newcastle. Every day."

Cycle track, me and the bell. And basket.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Compare and Contrast

093A Dutch bicycle just looks out of context on our roads. Yet it's the kind of bike that most people would choose for short urban trips. Purposeful trips.

The bike's comfortable and sturdy. And she (pictured left) would be - and possibly feel - somewhat out of place cycling on a 30mph road. Rightly so! In fact, isn't that exactly the reason why many people haven't taken up cycling in this country?

UK Government policy is barely even doing the 'compare' - after decades ministers are still talking of a big friendly group hug being the solution. Everything is going to be just fine. Apparently. Then. Government lets the driver plough straight through - possibly pausing poignantly for a second to two - then continuing the big friendly group hug discussion undeterred. Not just as much as a bicycle and a car are different vehicles - so are also a cyclist and a driver different persons, with different viewpoints, perceptions, outlooks and behaviours.

And needs.

Wake up!

We are different when we are driving.
We are different when we are cycling.
We are different when we are walking.

We must start contrasting.

It's going to be a fine day, when a Dutch bicycle looks not just normal and in context, but its rider is actually made to feel welcome on our roads. But currently there's no space to breathe for such a thing.

Differences include things such as speed, power, hazard, harm, weight, mindset, protection, law, space, vulnerability, interaction with surroundings, sense of place and loyalty, calories, health, emissions, costs,...

...and happiness (if we let our transport system flourish through better bike provision).

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Dear Santa, I want Cycling England back

It was by no means perfect, but Cycling England was a wedge in that DaFT door, a useful thorn in their side bleeding the inner workings of that ministry of its oily fluids. A little overhaul. Like a medicinal leach.

It was meant to grow and create green healthy life(style) of its own. For everybody.

When the cycle quango was axed by the ConDems it was a malicious act confining cycling back to the Dungeon of the Dark Ages. Drivers, rejoice, you overcame! "End the war on the motorist" and suchlike. Harrumph, harrumph. Yes, Hammond MP, you were wonderfully DaFT. And they have now allowed you to play with other "real" weapons elsewhere in the ConDem government. So God help us.

We were then presented - tada - with the "National Cycle Stakeholder Forum". Hurrah! Through my MP I found out some detail.The original letter to DaFT dated April 2012 was conveniently lost by the ministry of oh-so-silly-walks (get you!) and we only received an answer (including apology) a few days ago. The reply was not even answering all the questions (and I will ask my MP to kindly point that out to DaFT).

Anyways. Thing is this, isn't it:

The "National Cycle Stakeholder Forum" is a green shoot of growth. It now needs thorns and teeth. Can they understand - as Cycling England did - that we have to stop talking softly-softly measure, and get to the hard stuff at the centre?

And quick.

I hope Philip Darnton sits on it! Does he? He, of all people, should. He's got the pedal passion, political cycle campaign instinct, and really knows the stuff. Hard hitting, and truthful.

Then again. There are some very limp biscuits on that forum, dunking donuts at the Bakery. Softly softly does it? Nopes, not any more, Baker MP.

The Time(s) move on!

I want real cycleways, for real people. Dedicated safe space where speed is 30mph and over, by all means shared when under (actual speeds - not speed limits that is!), preferential treatment at crossings and side roads, and mode integration with public transport too.

And I don't care about the nudge approach, not one iota. This nation has been trying to talk people into cycling for long enough. It's embarrassing. Stop it! We are a laughing stock. Butt joke. No cycle nation has ever been seen to spring from "encouraging" bums on saddle. And all the behavioural change b*llocks that comes with it.

We need real change.

It's time to take from motorists what isn't theirs, and give it to the more deserving modes.


More Love Cycling Go Dutch talks here

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Hear Horton's Who

Cycling in Newcastle, UK

Attending yet another meeting discussing cycling infrastructure, I struck me again: the majority in the room are doggedly designing for the current combat cyclist (always ready to cycle to the moon, tackling the traffic, cycling for the heck of it anyways, current crazy condition or no).

I stepped in and gave a little speech - possibly perceived as patronising (as a woman you are seen as patronising - or should that be matronising? - rather than intelligent or knowledgeable) - on:

"Really, folks, who are we designing these new strategic cycle routes for?"

It was gobsmackingly obvious to me, completely crystal clear! If we wanted to attract new people on bikes, we have to make it a viable option to them. So, why people don't cycle is the thing in question.

And we know why: "too much aggressive traffic" and "no safe space for cyclist". [Note this message is usually mixed up with some misperceptions (and potential excuses!) around the cultural argument and weather, topography, fitness, age and income group. Or the advanced answers of no shower at work, no bike parking, haven't got the right clothes etc.]

So what now?

Keep campaigning for continuous cycle space for the newcomer cyclist, the pavement cyclist, the child cyclist, granny, inclusive 8-80. Design it for the 'timid' newbie cyclist and they will come. Irresistible linear space away from drivers on fast roads, by all means mixed where speeds and traffic are sufficiently low. It's so simple. That's how the city clientele will cycle.

Yet the current cyclist doesn't get it. And, they are the ones who bother turning up at cycle meeting and not the non-cyclist (surprise surprise). 

So designer mustn't just listen to the current combat cyclist; they only have half the story to tell. Also listen to why people don't cycle, have given up cycling or don't let their kids cycle, and interpret their replies.

And it's fair to note, that some current combat cyclists have awoken...