Monday, 31 December 2012

Mixed messages

No cycling in the centre of NewcastleNorthumberland Street is Newcastle's main shopping street. It was, under much opposition from retailers, pedestrianised in the late 90s. It's now hailed a great success by everyone. And I mean everyone.

Yet something weird is going on on Northumberland Street. Too much of this, and too little of the other. What is it? Let's take a look.

Too little...

Cycling isn't allowed on Northumberland Street despite it being the only safe route through the city centre on the North-South axis.

Campaigners have long argued that council should ditch its discrimination and permit cycling - at the very least out of shopping hours. Other cities can do it (my hometown does) so why not here? Start with a trial.

Or may cycling actually be allowed already? Or what does 'cycling forbidden' plus 'no cycling' mean?

Too much...

What really compounds the silliness is the permission of - not just street sweepers but - large delivery and service vehicles being driven through the pedestrian masses - at all times - despite a sign saying it's not allowed during shopping hours. The council - in its sheer and utter wisdom - appears to have failed applying for the right traffic orders at the time (and are trying to rectify that now, years later).

And some snow tracks here to reveal the extent of the problem:

Northumberland Street - silly

Latest plans seem to suggest that an alternative route will be developed in the short term, and John Dobson Street is council's favoured choice.

Ok, then. I ask: when? When will we be able to safely cycle through Newcastle?

In the meantime maybe this is the sign bike folks are advised to follow:


Thursday, 27 December 2012

If you don't mind awfully...

Only if it does not cause you too much inconvenience... possibly, I may indulge you in a discourse about British politeness, please if I could?

As you no doubt will be aware, British politeness is renowned. Famously. Worldwide.

The German word for politeness [Höflichkeit] translates directly into Courtliness or Courtesy (certainly something to do with courts)... which made me wonder about the origin of British politeness. Is it something steeped in tradition rather than rooted in human kindness? To a German, British politeness can be at times something quite stilted, a bit plastic and not quite entirely honest. In Germany Höflichkeit [politeness] doesn't rank as highly as Ehrlichkeit [honesty]... many times it seems the other way round in Britain: it's about pleasing the other person by telling them what they want to hear... and living with the consequences after (ie you get a "nice" Christmas jumper year after year).


I am totally digressing. Please do excuse me for wasting your time that way. Where were we? Yes. Politeness, a form of social interaction, a socialisation processs - behaving respectfully and considerately towards others.

Rules of politeness do exist. You can see them in action as polite patience and waiting your turn (queuing, an amazing spectacle!), giving people personal space (as a more northern society a lot of space is required), gestures of kindness and courtesy, a healthy overdose of sorries, thank yous and small talk, understatements and hedging statements. And in whatever you do never (never ever!) complain, please pardon my forthrightness but stiff-upper-lipness rules and Britannia's waves politely. Certainly if you speak at all (possibly small talk), don't speak too loudly if you can!

My observation, if you allow me, was going to be this. If British politeness is something that's there, it exists, it's real, something that everyone prescribes to, something the pervades society - why is it so solidly suspended on our roads?

An example? Consider this manoeuvre.
  1. a tailgating driver, quite possibly threatening to rear-end you [broken rule of polite patience]
  2. then a close-shave overtake [broken rule of personal space]
  3. followed by speeding away to "make up lost time" [broken rule of stiff-upper-lip]
  4. or a left-hook [broken rule of polite patience and personal space]
In our roads there is a general rule of "quiet" acceptance for barging and shoving, squeezing-in and asserting your space and presence. Rather brash and brazenly so.

A most weird one is where 'rules of the road' and 'rules of politeness' directly collide. And implode. "Merge in turn"... your herd instinct tells you to get the h*ck out of that soon-to-be-merged lane as soon as poss... or otherwise the wrath of others would rain down on you, and you are forever doomed to stay in the merging lane till the end of days. Melt-down ensures and a wormhole opens up.

To me it seems rules of politeness are "on hold" as soon as you get into that thing. You close the door, and it transports you into a parallel universe where a new set of rules apply. A selfish retreat, a holiday from being British, polite and proud of it.

Unless you are aware, and you counteract it, you fall prey to Demon King Car and its Rules of the Road, so diametrically opposed to rules of British Politeness.

Why is that?

Maybe British Politeness is dead? As are nearly 2,000 road traffic victims every year. Politeness may have saved them. Yet society asks us to simply stiffen up our lips, and get on with it. A collision of principles?

Or maybe British politeness never did exist on your roads?

I leave you with the real Cholmondley-Warner...

Thank you.

A post where I haven't even mentioned the word b*cycles!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Call to arms... including legs.

The current UK cyclist is inventive, self-sufficient, independent, apparently even happier and possibly smarter than the rest too - and somehow you gotta be, trying to stay alive in the murky twilight under the small print of current road terms & conditions. It feels to me a form of 'not-so-natural' selection could otherwise reach you much faster.

Nature, nurture. Conditions make you, they shape you. The typical UK cyclist is a warrior, 'armed' to the teeth with gadgets, tooled-up, and with a determined mind. Set on survival and self-preservation, battling on in the face of adversity. And who can blame them? A driver's milli-second of inattention wipes you out. Injures, maims, and can kill.

My fellow UK cyclists appear less smart however when it comes to reaching out to society and letting others join in with the "joy of cycling" - debatable as the truth of the meaning may be.

We fall into three camps there.

Type 1 got used to the danger (or have never felt it), or they simply don't know that cycling conditions could be better.
Type 2 doesn't care about spreading the word as they are the proud lonesome ranger. Superman cyclist. They know it could be better, but they fail to group-up.
Type 3 folks, cyclists reaching out. Tends to be less kitted out and tooled up, than Type 1 or 2. Type 3a wants to solely share. Type 3b wants cycle lanes. Yet we end up mostly talking to ourselves. 

You will all have had the experience of this? Discussions with non-cycle folk rapidly go down the wobbly whirlpool spilling into the bottomless snake pit of prejudice and discrimination. One thing you can rely on. The public has no clue. Even after years of stoicism (Type 2), 'reaching out' (Type 3b) and our happy-go-lucky message of "let's share!" and "most of us are drivers too, you know!" (Type 3a), I see no intention in the larger society to actually take us up on any of this, and so remains completely clueless, with institutional backing of course.

So here's the parting message to my fellow cyclists, no matter whether you are Type 1, 2 or 3.

May well be James May IS right. We miserable down-trodden folks must cheer up! - and I'll add: make a racket.
It's time to REALLY speak out - loud and clear. Steer the conversation. When they (let's say a family member over Christmas dinner, or a colleague at the office party etc) start their well 'rehearsed' meme-tirade explain why you are doing certain things (suggested list of questions and answer provided below, feel free to print it out and hand it to them).

If you are serious that you want cycling numbers to increase, please do start to feel the insanity and unfairness of it all. Cuz every time you are nigh-doored, left-hooked, close-shaved, tail-gated, pressurised into doing avoiding manoeuvre someone else stops cycling somewhere, or never takes up cycling in the first place.

Don't waste your breath on the benefits of cycling. People already love (the idea of) cycling, but hate cyclists. With a passion.

And do ask them to saddle up for two miles on the road, and then come back to talk to you.

In Cycle Solidarity.

Kat - Type 3b

Crib sheet / background reading / suggestions

"Wear hiviz!"
Cyclists still get killed regardless, the onus is on the driver to look properly. It's pretty useless in the dark, unless reflective.

"No helmet?"
UK law is clear. It's a personal choice. There is no right and wrong, check out

"Pay road tax!"
You, mean VED? As it's emissions-based, bike owners would be zero anyways. Check out the ironically named

"Get off the f*cking road!"
Did you know, that I have the same right to this stretch of road as you? (Type 1, 2, 3a)
Or: I'd love to - but there's is no cycle path! Cue. Cross-reference "Get off the pavement!" (Type 3b)

"Get off the pavement!"
Complex! The main reason for people cycling on the pavement is because they don't feel safe on the road. Pavement cycling is the natural default entry-level for a novice cyclist. (Don't get me started on adult cycle training here.) It's a sign for a repressed demand for bike use and should be congratulated.

"You are all red-light jumpers!"
Numbers don't quite stack up on that one. And did you know: cycling countries have made certain manoeuvres legal?

"Where's your licence plate anyways?"
It should really be as easy as riding a bike. Why would you spend a vast amount of tax payers money on something that in comparison to the car doesn't cause that much harm?

"Cyclists are a menace!"
Overall cyclists are probably far closer to The Perfect Urban Solution than drivers ever will be. Space and oil sparsity is calling for new ways, and using your bike is certainly more space and energy efficient than using your car.
Furthermore, more pedestrians get killed by drivers mounting kerbs and entering into pedestrian safe space (about 40 a year), than cyclists could ever manage even when including road space.

"Get out of my way!"
Taking the lane is a manoeuvre they teach in cycle training as good practice. I am doing as I am told. Why are you so upset when held back for a few seconds anyways? Might it follow this insane logic?

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Legitimacy to talk shop

In the absence of an apparent solution, one of society's coping mechanisms is to freely provide advice to cyclists (a minority outgroup, apparently) - although I am still not entirely sure how any of these pieces of advice are relevant to my using a bike.

Here's a selection of pedal panacea the public advises you on.
"Wear hiviz" and "no helmet?" are the rather more 'useful' comments that are thrown at me. And I hear it a lot from my fellow cyclists too. Cyclists just can't even help themselves. Bless, it must be hard to conform to minority outgroup rules, so they get easily over-ridden by wider societal views.
Then there are the "pay road tax" and "get off the road" comments [insert any number of expletives at your own choosing] which are tending more towards the bottom end of the acceptance scale of my fragile soul. These comments also beg the question which part of the motorist's brain has been affected by toxic fumes, transport anxieties or general feeling of inferiority or pseudo-megalomania.
In any case, society likes to put the onus on you. Society wants you to change so that nothing or no-one else has to act.

Yet I am doing nowt wrong. In fact: meanwhile in the windy narrow hallways of the Df(mm)T, policy continues unabashedly to encourage everyone to cycle and promote cycling as a healthy, good, green, cost-effective, safe thing to do.

Using a bicycle, I am doing as I am told.
Here's my message to the non-cycling public.

Get hold of a bike and cycle on the road for two miles or so. It will certainly bestow legitimacy on you to talk shop proper. Call me. Here' my number 07828 60 4349.

And OMFG we are doing it to our children too. Why not campaign for safer streets rather than putting up with this #driverless victim-blaming slopey-shouldered dross?

The girl who didn't dress bright

The boy who didn't stop look and listen

The boy who didn't look for a safe place to cross

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Which one is it?

I am once again confused - easily done, I suppose. I had a look at the logo of the most excellent The Times' Cities Fit for Cycling Campaign.

The future of cycling - if it's allowed to flourish - lies in not replicating the current cyclist. The mamil - as the dominant example - is a solely British by-product - a mere reaction to the British road conditions with its fast, heavy, choking traffic. The road's come to an end. Even mamils - admirable as they are - can only take us this far. We are mamiled out. Here's a depiction of a one.

The future - however -  is creating conditions for new people to consider cycling as a sincere and safe transport option available to them. The type of 8-80. Everyone. A bit more akin to this chap here.

So. Which one is it? And does it matter? Yes. Vastly. You have to know your market and audience to stand a chance of selling your goods.

But maybe, government (greenest never, was it?) is only interested in "encouraging and promoting" cycling without listening to the market analyst. It might just be interested in feeding peanuts to exotic animals without a habitat (such as mamils, who in return could not care less), and tickling fat cats bellies to make them roll over nicely.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Why can't we do it too?

Cycle continuity...

It's a mystery to me why the UK cannot provide cycle continuity at bus stops. What are they afraid of? Maybe this new sign will find DfT approval soon... it would certainly accurately reflect their attitude towards folks on bikes.


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Seven Degrees of Separation

1) None (sharing, with cycle contraflow for filtered permeability)

Braunschweig July 2010
Braunschweig, Germany, source katsdekker

 2) A dashed line

Assen 08.05.12 (64)
Assen, Netherlands, source claireprospert
Assen 08.05.12 (41)
Assen, Netherlands, source claireprospert

3) A continuous line

Groningen 10.05.12 (30)
Assen, Netherlands, source claireprospert

4) Hybrid lane / half kerb

Brighton, Old Shoreham Road
Brighton, UK, source google streetview

5) Physical means / upstands

Source: NACTO
US, source NACTO
Spanish example
Spain, private source

6) Full-height kerb (if parked cars then door zone provided)

Cycle path
Braunschweig, Germany, source katsdekker
Cycle path
Wolfenbüttel, Germany, source katsdekker
Cycle path with door buffer
Braunschweig, Germany, source katsdekker
7) Full separation (full-height kerb and speed differential strip, green strip)
Cycle path with safety strip
Braunschweig, Germany, source katsdekker
Cycle path with safety strip
Braunschweig, Germany, source katsdekker
Cycle path with safety strip
Braunschweig, Germany, source katsdekker

And then you are pretty much onto "off-road" cycle tracks.

I believe in the Elves of Safety

NEBOSH training 

I have been away a bit recently. Work training. Health and Safety. Nebosh. Sounds awful and boring I know. But it really wasn't; it was surprisingly interesting. Never mind the general prescriptive blokishness of the ex-army presenter (nice bloke actually), he did made the dry subject rather wet and sticky. (Let's see whether I'll pass the exam.)

What struck me wasn't so much the hierarchy of controls (I know we get them especially wrong in transport due to lack of national and local leadership), or the non-involvement of the HSE with transport schemes (which could be really beneficial if they were), or the death rate in construction being low (comparatively to transport 250 vs 2,000 fatalities). No. What struck me was this little thing.

One of the slides read...

Workplace transport controls "Segregate pedestrians and vehicles wherever [sic.] possible - physical barriers better than painted walkways."

I - quite naturally I am sure you agree - immediately made that into...

On major/strategic roads to "Segregate cyclists and vehicles where-ever possible - physical barriers better than painted cycle lanes."

Just substitute pedestrians with cyclists and walkways with cycle lanes and Health and Safety is yet again correct in its approach. I start to believe in the Elves of Safety! Let the HSE regulate the transport sector for a little while, and they would turn round DfT's destructive approach to road safety in no time!

As a cyclist, I am sick to the bone of "working next to heavy moving machinery". It's lethally dangerous, usually also badly and unreliably operated, unsupervised, not enforced or disciplined.

And they lived happily ever after.

The End.