Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A Wee Boost

Was I not just saying that I had had a wee crisis of faith? Well, I'm well on the road to regaining my campaigning mojo and yesterday I received a extra wee boost.


Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you, this blog has indeed been nominated for the Trespass cycling blog of the year contest, thingy. Yes, yes, I know that I just blether on about stuff I'm angry/frustrated/infuriated about and so how could I possibly be considered for an award. To be honest I look at the other blogs in the list and they are, well.....umm...err, better presented, better written (yes this is typo heaven) and probably a whole lot more coherent, not to mention happier!

I have my suspicions how this happened....... someone at Trespass perhaps had had a few too many vinos one night. They were looking for entertainment videos on YouTube and stumbled on one of my videos. They wondered, who is this shouty clown?... and followed a link to my blog. At the same time they had a second browser window open, one that pointed to their latest project selecting good blogs. Whilst reading my blog they read something outrageous that I had written (or perhaps if they are a stickler for grammar they noticed one of my glaring mistakes...) and in a fit of outrage hit the keyboard. Unbeknownst (think that's the first time I've ever actually used that word in anger) to them, they had accidentally hit the add button on the work browser and ....well.....here I am.

They may yet correct the mistake....

Anyway, ignoring all of that, it's still nice to be part of the list. Will I win? Hmm, I suspect not. However, being one to take on difficult challenges (and helping make Scotland become a cycle friendly nation is one hell of a challenge!) I've decided that I will aim for....not being last.

Reach for the stars!!!

If you enjoy my blog, be you supporter or hater (mind you, as a hater I suspect you will vote for every other blog) or if you generally have some sympathy for underdogs, then pop along to the voting site, click on the cycling blog bit and put a wee tick next to Magnatom.

Thank you!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Losing and Regaining Faith

It's been a while, hasn't it?

What you haven't noticed!?

Yes, its been just over a month since I last posted a blog and even then, that blog was not my own words, but the words of Frank MacAveety. It's not like me to stop posting blogs, I normally have plenty to say, and if I'm honest, I haven't actually ran out of things to say.

So why the silence?

Good question. I certainly have been busy over the last month. There are things going on at work that are keeping me busy, I've been busy spending time and doing stuff with my wife and kids, I've had bits and pieces on my bikes that have needed fixed, I've had to look for tiles for a new bathroom....blah, blah blah...

Yes, I've been busy and I've managed to find many excuses for not writing. Each time I considered writing something I had an excuse not to.....or so I thought.

It's was only now, with things quieting down a little bit as the year draws to a close, that I realised that even when I had time in an evening to put down some words, I wasn't. I started to wonder more deeply why that was. Then a couple of days ago I realised what had happened.

I'd lost faith.

Anyone who has read my blog over the years will know I'm not the quiet and unassuming type. In fact my blogs can often come across as angry/passionate/frustrated and perhaps a little shouty. This style of writing/campaigning doesn't though, actually reflect my personal attitude to life and to cycle campaigning.

To be a cycle campaigner you have to be optimistic. 

I am at heart an optimistic person, and that is exactly why I got involved in campaigning. I got involved because I saw a problem, I realised there was a solution and.....and this is the important part....I felt that with the right amount of pressure things could change. I believed that logic, sense, and ethics would win the day, and that the government and councils would see fit to invest in active travel.

Now, don't get me wrong, I wasn't wearing rose tinted specs, and I knew that change took time, but I felt that progress, even if slow could be made.

Unfortunately a few things happened recently that shook my faith. It felt that things were moving backwards rather than forwards.

The first was my discussions with my local MSP. I laid a case before her, backed it up with hard facts and figures and asked that she take this information to he superiors. It was dismissed outright. When I questioned this, I was dismissed once again, this time in one line. I certainly didn't and don't take these things personally, and that was not the issue. The issue was that this particular MSP has in the past suggested that she was cycling friendly, and had even become a member of the All Party Cycling Group in Holyrood.

She has never attended any of those meetings.

How could she get away with such dismissals? Well, she is an SNP MSP, and the SNP are now riding on the crest of the 'post independence vote' wave. What does she have to fear from some irritating local cyclist?! Seriously!?!?

Then I got this letter from Frank which was a follow on from the Cycle Friendly Glasgow Petition and from the resulting meeting. It's a letter that says, well, it says....ummm....it says......hmmm....nothing really. It says, yeah we get it, cycling's good 'n stuff, and yeah we should be doing more.....and we will think about that and we might consider doing stuff and some later date...perhaps...maybe.....but it was good to meet you, really it was.

It was....bleh.

Unfortunately.....bleh.... was the last thing that we needed after the meeting I had had with them. At that meeting it was stated that Glasgow would not set aside any money to invest in active travel, that it was impossible, and that ....and this is what Alistair Watson actually said.....

'we will not be setting aside money for cycling whilst I am here'.

This was the same meeting where the cycling officers admitted that they couldn't plan ahead properly or run consultations because there was no funding, and thus no ongoing planning for future projects. They did stuff piecemeal and in reaction to small pots of cash becoming available. Cycling infrastructure had to be planned and implemented in a rush.

But!!!! Glasgow has spent more on cycling than Edinburgh....said Frank!

Ohh....pi$$ off!!

Glasgow really could look like this!

The truth is that Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games. Glasgow should have been shoveling in huge amounts of investment in the health and well-being of its citizens as part of the 'legacy'. The truth is for a couple of years it beat Edinburgh, a bit....oh and big chuck of the money spent wasn't even Glasgow's money at all. Don't get me wrong, in the odd place here and there Glasgow is improving things but there is no coherent plan, there is no commitment to ongoing funding, and there no political will to bring about change.

Glasgow shouldn't be extolling its virtues, it should be embarrassed!

The camels back was finally broken by the straw....or something like that....

I didn't realise it but having fought these two battles and to a great extent lost them, I felt deflated and defeated. Sure I wasn't expecting an instant agreement for 5% transport budget spending, but in both cases to make no progress at all and to feel like things were moving backwards......what was the point?!

I'd lost faith.

I'm back though, did I have an epiphany?!

Not really. Just like progress in cycle campaigning, my faith in a Glasgow and Scotland that can be cycling friendly has returned, slowly. I wish there had been some wonderful moment, perhaps cycling to work, seeing a mother and her children cycling happily to school, demonstrating that there is demand for safe cycling, rekindled my fire......but that didn't happen. Not many mothers cycle with their kids to school in Glasgow and I don't blame them.

No. I think just letting the frustration wash over me for a wee while has just allowed my energy levels to rise again. I think I've just come to terms with quite how big the mountain is to climb and how much work.....and that is combined work with many other like mind campaigners... it will take to move forward.

I'm just one of many people working towards better conditions for cycling and walking, but we do need more people and more noise to be made. I have some ideas about things that can be done, and I'll keep pushing in any way I can, but I need your help to.

If you have something to say, write a blog. If you want safer cycling, tell your MSP. If you think roads should be for all, and not just those in a car, tell your councillors. Most importantly of all, follow, spread the word and come along to Pedal on Parliament 2015.

My loss of faith was only a temporary blip. I feel reinvigorated by it. I am more determined than ever to do whatever I can to push for change, and if you join us, we CAN make it happen.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Cycle Friendly Glasgow Petition Response From Glasgow City Council

It's been a while since I started my 'Cycle Friendly Glasgow' petition and since I met with councillors to discuss it. However, I have now received an official response from Glasgow City Council. The response I have received is below.

I won't comment on this response for the time being, I will do that in a couple of days. I do though encourage you to let me know your thoughts, either by leaving a comment below, or contacting me via my contact page if you prefer to send me your comments in private.

Dear Dave

Many thanks for visiting last month in support of your petition and please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you. Please pass on my thanks to Tricia, Michelle, Norman and Calum for contributing to the discussion with Councillor Watson, council officers and myself.

Since the discussion was quite wide ranging, I will focus on the most salient points. Firstly, I recognise that the Council’s Strategic Plan for Cycling 2010 – 2020 has been criticised by some of the local cycle user groups recently. In response, I would point out that during the life of the document, more is being spent on cycling than previously, more council staff are engaged in cycling development projects than before and more people are cycling in Glasgow than before. Whilst not directly attributing all of this to the Strategic Plan, it is clear that Glasgow has been enormously successful in its endeavours regarding cycling. Due recognition was given at the National Transport Awards recently, where Glasgow won The Excellence in Cycling and Walking award.

Nonetheless, thank you for suggesting areas where our Strategic Plan could be improved. I am pleased to confirm that senior councillors, who are already very committed to developing cycling, will ensure that a review of the Strategic Plan is undertaken. The review will address the content of the Strategic Plan and the governance arrangements. As you are aware, the Council works closely with cycle user groups via the GCC Cycling Forum and the Strategic Plan Transport Sub-group, but there is scope to seek more community input, especially regarding projects that are being taken forward. Larger cycling projects such as Connect2 and Smarter Choices have always encompassed community contributions, but it is hoped that similar contributions can be derived for smaller projects, even when timelines are tight.

With regard to infrastructure, your petition highlights three schemes: Cathkin Braes, Fastlink and New Southern General Hospital. I would like to respond by first acknowledging the role that a desirable public transport system plays in restraining car use, something that Glasgow has historically been very good at. A segregated bus rapid transit or tram-like system offers many benefits in this respect. Unfortunately, examples of such systems elsewhere highlight concerns regarding allowing cyclists into this new environment. As the design work and implementation has advanced, the Council has been able to review initial assumptions that were made regarding cyclists and has already indicated that certain parts of Fastlink will be suitable for cycling. The opportunity is also being taken to investigate what improvements may be able to be undertaken on adjacent cycle routes.

In Cathkin Braes Country Park, a brand new mountain biking facility has been built. To ensure that this facility is accessible to local citizens and to reduce the impact of cars travelling through local communities, a cycle route to the Braes was also constructed. Although primarily built as a leisure route, aimed at recreational cyclists and young people in particular, the route passes through many communities and local trip generators. It therefore fulfils an additional role for utility trips and these short journeys can ideally be undertaken by cycling. As you mentioned during your visit to the City Chambers though, it is important that Glasgow’s new cycle routes attract those who are not cycling at present. Since fear of traffic is one of the main deterrents to cycling, the route uses shared use surfaces, quiet streets and remote footpaths. At most locations, widths are almost double those recommended by Cycling by Design.

As you know, a series of consultation events took place with staff at the Southern General Hospital and at other hospitals to enable opinions to be given to Council staff regarding cycling to the new hospital. As could be expected, a wide variety of views were expressed, from people who were cycling novices, through to more experienced cyclists like yourself, confirming how hard it can be to deliver one facility that will meet the needs of so many different types of cyclist. Your preferred layout for Langlands Road, put forward during your presentation, is interesting.  I recall that it involved segregation, but retained the car parking. The desire for segregation along cycle routes is understood and it is an option that is being considered for some of the schemes that are currently being taken forward by the Council.

Edinburgh’s allocation of funding for cycling projects is laudable. It should be noted however, that as shown in the Spokes annual surveys, Glasgow outstripped Edinburgh’s expenditure (pence per head of population) on two out of the last three years. During the last five years, up to March 2014, Glasgow City Council has spent over £10million on cycling related initiatives that have been delivered through Land and Environmental Services. A further £4.1m has currently been secured for spending on cycling projects up until March 2015.  This shows that Glasgow is committed to cycling and often spends more than 5% of our transport budget on cycling schemes. It should be remembered that this has been achieved against a backdrop of severe financial budget cuts.

I concur with your comments on network planning and can advise that LES currently have Sustrans officers embedded within their Service. They are specifically looking at a city wide network plan for future schemes which we will be able to use to cost the network.  The network will comprise segregated, commuter routes, quiet ways, shared use paths and remote footpaths to provide facilities for both leisure and active travel. Details of these proposals will of course be shared when appropriate.

I am sure you would agree that it is great to see so many people cycling in the city. The recent City Centre cordon count showing that cycling has increased by 200% in the last 5 years verifies that Glaswegians are taking up cycling. It is clear that a latent demand exists and that with the correct infrastructure and encouragement, much progress can be made. I can assure you we see cycling as a key component in our active travel strategy but also in the potential it offers to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Glasgow.  I am determined to build on the progress we have made and recognise the many voices keen for the city to do even more in making Glasgow a cycle friendly city.

Once again, I thank you for attending the City Chambers and presenting your petition objectives and look forward to working with you and the cycle user groups in the future.

Councillor Frank McAveety

Monday, 10 November 2014

Who I Won't be Voting For

Anyone who reads this blog will already know that I am not the shy, retiring type. I'm a big believer in asking a question if it needs to be asked, or making a statement if I feel it needs to be made. I try to be polite in what I write, but I also try to be honest and firm. If I ever stray from polite, honest but firm, please let me know.

I think the polite/honest/firm approach is particularly relevant when talking to or about politicians, after all politicians are there to represent us in a very public way, and thus should be questioned robustly to ensure that they do indeed represent the views of the people that they....represent. That is why I recently decided to enter dialog with my own local MSP, Fiona McLeod.

Again, anyone who has read this blog before will know that one of my passions is cycling (Really? You'd never know!) and making the roads safer for everyone in Scotland. Whilst I am willing to don Lycra and mix with traffic (though sometimes I don't enjoy it), I know that the majority of people think I, and others like me, are nuts. I've even had police officers tell me, 'you'd never get me cycling on the roads'.

That's wrong. It shouldn't be like that.

Thus, I wrote this letter to my MSP. I think it was a very reasonable letter, asking reasonable questions. In summary I asked if she agreed that politicians needed to look at the issue of road justice, and did she agree that more needed to be spent on cycling infrastructure to make the roads safer. Please take a moment to read the letter in full.

This was the reply I got.

Dear Dr Brennan,
I understand that Police Scotland have recently announced a focus on driver behaviour.
Government funding for cycling continues to increase and I am persuaded by the arguments and evidence for training as a way towards safer cycling. We have a significant example here in my constituency with the work being done by ED's Cycle Coop especially in Bishopbriggs where they have already exceeded the 20% target for cycling to school.
One of the consequences of the NO vote in the referendum is that the Scottish Government will continue to have their budget squeezed.
Yours sincerely
Fiona McLeod MSP
Strathkelvin & Bearsden

I felt that the reply was poor. It didn't address the main questions of my letter, seemed to miss the point, and suggested that spending on cycling was increasing, when it wasn't. Thus, I replied to Fiona. My reply is here, which I again ask that you read. 

Yes, I was firm, but I think I was fair, asking fair questions and backing them up with a number of hard facts. I was hopeful that Fiona would read this and provide me with a more detailed answer.

Was that reasonable expectation for a constituent when writing to his MSP?

I didn't receive a reply so I sent a short but polite chaser e-mail. Shortly after that I received this reply.

Dear Dr Brennan,
I think I covered all your points in my reply.
Yours sincerely

Fiona McLeod MSP
Strathkelvin & Bearsden

That was it. A one line answer. Apparently my questions have been answered....

Umm....no. No they have not. In fact, if I'm honest, you've failed to answer any of them....at all.

So what can I take from this exchange.

Does Fiona actually think that spending on cycling is going up, when it isn't? 
Does Fiona understand what the difference is between the police asking drivers to be nice and the police taking road justice issues seriously?
Does Fiona understand that the police asking drivers to be nice has hee haw to do with road justice issues with regards to the Procurator Fiscal?
Does Fiona really think that because there is a limit to the Scottish budget (there is always a limit, that's why it is called a....budget...) that this provides an excuse to further cut speniding on cycling and active travel, whilst telling us that things are improving?
Does Fiona really expect parents to send their kids to cycle training and then to feel happy sending them off cycling on the roads? Would she?

Or, does Fiona not just give a hoot?

I'll be honest, I don't have any answers for any of the above questions as Fiona has effectively refused to answer. I suspect (though as I have no answers I may be wrong) that there are two reasons for this refusal. Firstly, the questions I have asked are difficult to answer, mainly because of the poor record the government has on cycling. Shockingly poor in fact. Secondly, and perhaps more onerously, she feels that whether she answers me or not, doesn't matter.

The SNP in Scotland are riding on a post independence wave. SNP membership is significantly up and the SNP is doing well in polls. Labour is not the force in Scotland it once was.

Whilst Fiona is likely to be disappointed in the referendum result itself,you can bet that she and her colleagues now feel much, much safer in their respective positions due to the change in public opinion in Scotland. It would take some major upheaval within the Labour movement for politicians like Fiona to be ousted at the next Scottish elections. She feels safe and secure, at least, as safe and secure as any politician can feel.

So along comes a wee mouthy cyclist, asking awkward questions.

Hmm, what's my best option here.....try and answer the questions? Face up to the fact that the SNP is dead set on more road building at the expense of everything else and that we are sleepwalking the country towards further car dependence? Or......I could just ignore the annoying wee b......yes that's what I'll do.....
And so I've been ignored as a nuisance.

Thing is, I'm a voter. Yes, I'm only one voter, but I am a voter all the same. I will not, under any circumstances whatsoever be voting for Fiona in the next Scottish elections. I will also be sharing this story with others that I know in East Dunbartonshire and perhaps they will also consider their future voting on what they have heard.

Let me make it clear, this is in no way personal. I'm sure Fiona is a lovely lady, but I for one see the future of transport in this country as a serious issue. Funding, or lack of funding for active travel has effects not only on transport policy, but also on health policy, and environmental policy and I now understand that Fiona just doesn't get this, even when faced with irrefutable facts.

Who will I vote for though? Well, I'll certainly be asking all prospective MSPs in the area on the run up to the Scottish elections where they stand on active travel. I'll also hope, that our area will see fit to put up a green candidate at the next election. Whilst I'm not saying I'd definitely vote for them, they'd certainly be in with a significantly better chance than Fiona.


Friday, 31 October 2014

Tourmalet! Not the Mountain the Cucu Jersey!

There aren't many personal benefits to being a cycle blogger in Glasgow. Generally it can be a bit....fraught. However, from time to time I get an offer to review something, and this is one such instance. So for a change, a happy blog, one where I get to try on my new Cucu Tourmalet Jersey courtesy of Blog on Brands who were nice enough to send it on to me.
...and no, that's not me!
First off, yes your are right, I probably have no right to wear this jersey as I have never cycled up Tourmalet. In fact, I have never cycled up any Alpine or Alpine like climb. However, I felt justified in wearing the jersey as I promised myself that I would one day cycle up Tourmalet. There you go, I've said it.

Now I just need someone to fund it for me.....

Anyway, back to the jersey.

I have to say that this jersey was far nicer looking than any jersey I have ever bought myself, though that is at least partly a reflection on my normally practical tastes. It's really good looking in the flesh with a very classic style. In fact it is so classic I must admit it looks far better if you aren't wearing a helmet at the time for that proper, classic look. Being a helmet camera cyclist, this could be a problem....

With the right coloured helmet it might work...

As a rider who is about 5ft 10 in in height and perhaps carrying just a tad extra weight, I went for the large sizing, which seemed to fit nicely. In fact I could possibly have got away with a medium to show off my...ahem...muscles, but the large was a good enough fit. The silicone grippers in all the right places seem to keep it where it should.

The top has a 3/4 length zip which unfortunately is absolutely no use whatsoever in the Scottish winter, but might be useful on that Tuesday in summer when the sun shines (actually it would have been very useful this summer!). Unfortunately, the zip presented me with the first issue...

Yes! I do know how to use a zip, but unfortunately this zip was a little stiffer than I was used to. I found that moving the zip with one hand just wasn't possible. Two hands is fine if you are stopped (or a better rider than me), but for me that meant waiting until I had stopped to adjust it as required. That wasn't the only 'zip issue'. I found that pulling the zip to the top resulted in some of the jersey material getting caught in the zip making it even more difficult to unzip. I've since learned not to zip it all the way up, which for a top selling at about £56 is a little frustrating.

The jersey itself felt fine on, if a little thin for my linking (don't wear black bib shorts underneath as they will show through!), though it would probably be perfect for summer riding (but perhaps not in Scotland!). There are three pockets on the rear of the jersey for your jelly babies, but the pockets were a bit shallow for my liking, not many jelly babies and my mini-pump wouldn't fit.

After a few wears and washes (always at 30C of course!) I noticed that some of the stitching close to the bottom of the zip looked a bit suspect. Overall, I can't say I'd be 100% happy if I had paid for the top.

Those dodgy stitches

The perfect summer (not in Scotland) riding top? Well, the design is certainly a winner, and so long as you don't zip it all the way up and you don't mind the odd dodgy stitch and you don't want to overdose on jelly babies, then this is the top for you!

The really sad, don't I look in this jersey, selfie!