Thursday, 23 October 2014

My Anger to Action Letter

Following on from my blog yesterday, I have turned my anger into action. The letter I sent is below. Please send a letter to your MSP. It does make a difference.


Dear Fiona McLeod,

Unfortunately I am writing to in an angry state of mind. The reasons I am angry are two-fold. Firstly I was shocked to hear yesterday about the following case (http://www.strathspey-herald.co.uk/News/Elderly-driver-tells-Inverness-court-he-did-not-see-cyclist-victim-21102014.htm), of a lady who was knocked off her bike and killed. Only recently has this case came to court. The driver has been found guilty of death by careless driving. As I describe here in my latest blog (http://www.magnatom.net/2014/10/turning-anger-to-action.html) this is terrible outcome.

It is absolutely preposterous that a driver who hits a cyclist, who is cycling entirely legitimately,  on a straight road, in good conditions, who was visible for at least 250m isn't charged with death by dangerous driving. How can driving like this only be designated to 'fall below' and not to 'fall far below.....what would be expected of a competent and careful driver'?

I understand that this particular case is outside your own constituency and that you cannot interfere with due process, however, with many, similar cases occurring every year, where the procurator fiscal decides to only prosecute on the lower charge, this is an issue that I think the Scottish government needs to look at with some urgency. As a cyclist myself who on a regular basis faces bad and often dangerous driving, I worry that the law offers scant protection for myself and other vulnerable road users. I urge you to write to the Kenny MacAskill to investigate this issue as soon as possible.

The second issue that has made me angry is the issue of funding for active travel and cycling infrastructure. As part of the recent budget announcement John Swinney stood up at parliament and told us that an extra £10m had be found for active travel for the next financial year. Whilst any announcement of new money is usually to be welcomed, that is only the case if it improves our position from where we are now. Unfortunately it does not. In fact as Spokes of Edinburgh have discovered (http://www.spokes.org.uk/wordpress/2014/10/budget-infrastructure-fear/) £5m of the newly announced funding was not new at all and will be spent on 'behavioural changes' and the other £5m is Financial Transaction money and so, once again, cannot be spent on infrastructure. This compounds the overall situation such that in financial year 15-16 active travel will see a £4m actual drop in funding from 14-15.

At the start of the independence campaign I was quite a firm 'No' supporter. In the end I voted 'Yes'. I, like many other Scots who voted 'Yes', did so because of our belief in social justice, and in a better and different future for Scotland, one that could be healthier, less polluted, less congested and at the same time wealthier. However, with the recent budget demonstrating a drop in active travel funding at the same time as the trunk road budget is increasing from £639m to £695m, I have serious doubts about whether such a future is a possibility under its current governance. I know many people who have joined the membership ranks of the SNP recently who will feel the same.

Spending small amounts of money on campaigns asking us all to be nice to each other, does not make a difference and will not encourage me or anyone else to take their children cycling on the roads. Roads should be for everyone, not just everyone who drives a car.

Please can I ask you to lobby your fellow ministers to not only look at the issue with the justice system, but to also look at a significant step change in active travel funding. Without it, there is absolutely no chance of you reaching your governments 10% cycling modal share target (aspiration?) by 2020. Absolutely no chance.

Best regards

David Brennan

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Turning Anger to Action

I'm sorry. Really, really sorry. Unfortunately my moment of happiness has passed and once again I am angry. very angry.

Why am I angry? Ignoring the fact that I've met a number of poor drivers on the roads recently who value their convenience  (and we are talking seconds here) over my safety, I have two issues that make me particularly angry.

This news article made me particularly angry. 

A driver (who is called elderly, though I wouldn't class 72 as elderly) ran into the back of a cyclist and killed them. He did this on a day with good visibility (according to the local article he would have seen her for 250m). He suggests that he saw the cyclist well before he hit them. He claimed that he was travelling at 15-20mph and yet after the cyclist hit the windscreen the cyclist was thrown 90 feet from the car. The car was in fact travelling at 33-46mph.

The driver had this to say in court:

I saw the cyclist in front of me so I was slowly coming up to avoid her and out of the blue I felt the impact. I stopped and saw it was a cyclist I had hit. I thought I had left enough space between her and my car.

No. You had not left enough room. You had not left any. You didn't even just clip her with your wing-mirror, you hit her square on and she bounced off your windscreen.

I'm angry.

This, though is not the worst part. The worst part is that the driver was found guilty of........death by careless driving.

What the f*ck!!?! What the actual f*ck?!

Careless? Seriously?!? This is not careless. How in any sense of the word, or indeed the law, could this be defined as careless. This was downright dangerous!!

Let's in fact look at the law. This section from the CPS (England but my understanding is that the definitions are the same in Scotland) is relevant:


(Death by careless driving).... stipulates that a person is to be regarded as driving without due care and attention if (and only if) the way he or she drives falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. 
The clear difference between this offence and an offence of causing death by dangerous driving is the standard of driving. For causing death by dangerous driving, the standard of driving must fall far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver; whereas for this offence the standard of driving must merely fall below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.

So let me get this.....in the above case the driving standard fell below what would be expected of a competent driver, but not well below? The driving was just a wee bit crap, not totally shite? So not seeing someone directly in front of you on the road, when visibility is good, on a straight piece of road, without taking any necessary evasive action, and underestimating your speed significantly, and hitting them square on and sending them flying 90 feet and to their death......is just a wee bit crap?!?!

It beggars belief!

If there are any of my readers who work for the judiciary who could explain this one to me, I'd really be grateful! I'd love to know if you think this is justice, or that this shows that the judicial system is actually working....at all.

Protecting the vulnerable? No. Protecting the rights of the driver to travel unhindered. Yes.

As I suggested above, though, this is not the only other reason I am angry.

News of the above court outcome comes on the day when it is revealed by Spokes that the recent announcement of £10m extra for active travel and cycling by the Scottish Government is...well....anything but. £5m had already been announced and it would appear that the other £5m can't be spent on infrastructure.

Another education campaign anyone? Nicewaycode???

So today it has felt like cycling in Scotland has been kicked from two different angles. The judiciary and the government.

Grrrrrr!!!

So let's just sit back and accept that it won't get any better?

Hell no! Please, PLEASE, PLEASE.....write to your MSP. Tell them that that something needs to change with the judiciary and that if they really are in any way at all, serious about making Scotland a better, fitter, less polluted, healthier and more vibrant place, that that they must start investing in cycling properly and NOW.

It's really easy to contact your MSP, just click this link, enter your postcode and away you go. Remember it is your MSP that matters, not your MP.

Everyone in Scotland was so engaged over the independence referendum. Why not transfer that engagement to somewhere where you can make a difference. Please write to your MSP and perhaps, just perhaps we can persuade them to make Scotland a cycle friendly nation.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Moments of Magic

I looked out of the house this morning and for the first morning in a long time, it looked wet outside. We've been unusually lucky in Glasgow with the weather recently. It looked like it would be the first wet cycle to work in a while.

It's often on mornings like this when, the unexpected happens. No, I'm not talking about bad driving, unfortunately that is to be expected! No, something a little......magical. It doesn't happen often and it is often a fleeting moment, but as you ride your bike along, something happens that just catches you out, and makes all the cycling you do worth while.

The rain happened to stop not long before I was out, so whilst the ground was wet, it wasn't raining. The darkness was starting to lift, but it was still dimly lit, and there was wind. Not a huge amount, but enough to call it a bit windy. So I set off and as I was on time, I took the longer quieter roads to work. It was as I rode along these roads that .... it happened.


It's difficult to describe to those that don't really cycle, but I'll try my best. You are riding along, and pretty quickly you realise that you have a tailwind. That in itself is brilliant. Instead of having to push hard along undulating country lanes, you seem to glide. I think the ground being a bit damp seems to help as well. You can hear the wind blowing by your ears, something that you have nearly all the time riding a bike. Then as you head around a bend in the road.... it happens. Suddenly it goes quiet. Really, really quiet. Not complete silence, you can still hear the whirr of your chain, the slight rumble of your tyres on wet tarmac, and your breathing, but something has stopped.

The wind.

It's that fleeting few moments when you are cruising along with the tailwind and you reach perfect, 'tailwind velocity'. You are riding along in perfect tune with the wind, and for those fleeting seconds it feels like you perfectly in tune with the wind. You've silenced it. The only sound is you and the bike. You just have to stop breathing.....

And then it passes. The wind changes speed or direction, you change speed or direction slightly and the noise returns.

That to me is what cycling is all about. It might sound cheesy, but even in the city, even surrounded by traffic and chaos, occasionally something happens that just takes you somewhere far away, somewhere unconnected. Sometimes it's 'tailwind velocity'. Sometimes it's feeling the first heat from a glorious sunrise. Sometimes it's cycling down into a shallow and feeling a sudden change in air temperature. Sometimes it's a child smiling and waving from a passing car.

This blog is unfortunately dominated by issues, problems and difficulties. That's a reflection of conditions for cycling in and around Glasgow. That's not going to change any time soon, I'm afraid. But, in amongst all downsides there are still many moments that make cycling to work every day an absolute joy. And so it was today. Whilst I did later experience some bad driving once I hit the streets of Glasgow,  my over-riding memory of today's ride was that short, fleeting moment of magic.

Now if only I could share this magic with everyone. If only our roads felt safe enough for everyone to experience the magic of cycling.

Friday, 3 October 2014

I May Be Wrong About Glasgow...

You'll have no doubt read my two previous blogs (here and here) on the very disappointing approach to cycling that Glasgow council has. In a nutshell, they will not commit to future spending on cycling. I will soon post a more detailed blog on the meeting we had, as there is more to tell. However, in the mean time, GCC and Frank have released details of a new cycling initiative in the city.

What?!? They are actually doing something positive for cycling.....

Well.......

You can read about this 'initiative' here.

Oh dear. It's a wee online thingy where you get to play the part of a road user (you can chose to be a bus driver...cool....), you get to watch some videos and you have to answer some multiple choice questions about what a good driver/cyclist, like yourself of course, would do.

Yes, you've guessed it, I'm not entirely enamoured with this idea. In fact, I'd go as far to describe it by its correct technical term....an utterly useless piece of fluff. Yes, this is a total and utter waste of time. However, I'm a scientist by trade, so I thought I'd do a wee experiment. I thought I'd give it a go. You can try it for yourself here.

Go, it's fun!

Well, actually.....it's not. The reality is it is mind numbingly boring, and after two or three scenarios you really do start to get irritated with the narrators slightly condescending tone. However, I persevered and managed to play the part of a cyclist, a HGV driver and a bus driver. I gave up after that. I just couldn't take any more.

I should probably state for the record that I got all the questions right...that was until I started getting bored and I started beeping my horn at those highly florescent cyclists!! Grrr...

So what did I learn? Well, umm, err, nothing really. OK I suppose that being a cycle safety campaigner, I should be expected to know all this stuff (I'm not perfect of course!). However, I'd be really surprised if anyone would learn anything. Yes you do get told that beeping your horn at cyclists to tell them to get out your way is wrong, but if we are all honest, we all know that, including the people who do it. They generally know it is wrong, but that doesn't stop them. They do it anyway because it makes them feel a bit better.

That showed that dam cyclist!!! Ooh, maybe I shouldn't have done it.....tee hee.

So I'd like to hazard a guess that this 'initiative'  (I'm using inverted commas because there was no initiative shown in developing this), will have absolutely zero effect on my, or any other cyclists road safety. I say this with authority because:

  1. Very few people will do it (unless forced).
  2. Even fewer people will make it to the end (again unless forced, probably with threat of a right good scalding).
  3. Those who do are incredibly unlikely to be the sort of people who actually drive like lunatics (lunatics would opt for the scalding)
  4. Lunatics will fit into number 1 (unless they knew there was a chance of a scalding from the outset)
  5. For anyone who makes it to the end (most likely cycle campaigners who are unfortunately used to getting a scalding) will quickly forget the experience the next time they are late for their 1pm hair appointment.
  6. Some of the advice is downright dangerous!


Hold the bus! Some of the advice is downright dangerous?!?!

Yes. One particular situation aimed at HGV drivers and bus drivers is totally wrong. Have a look at scenario 4 in both the bus and HGV section.

You're on a tight twisty country road, a cyclist is a ahead. What do you do?

The 'correct' answer that the site provides is:

Slow down and wait for a sufficient gap to allow at least one arms length between you and the cyclist and then overtake.

You what!?!?

One arms length! One bloody arms length? Oh no, it's this again!

 

My arm (and yes I did get a ruler out) is about 68cm long. My arms are probably not the 'arms length gold standard' though. In fact, I suspect that there isn't a gold standard for arms length. The young chap above might only have arms about 50cm. Who knows. Anyway, let's assume my arms are the right length...


So this advice boils down to.....when there is enough room to pass the cyclist within touching distance, then go for it matey. You'll be fine. The cyclist won't mind at all being passed that close. In fact, advanced cyclists might even grab on to your vehicle and get a well earned tow. Well done driver, you're not just being nice to cyclists, you are dragging them along as well....

So not only is this thing not going to be watched by anyone that matters, in the slight off chance that a bus or HGV driver does watch it, he will feel justified in passing me less than the 3ft absolute minimum that just about everyone else in the entire universe accepts is....the absolute minimum!!

Ooh, I could nit pick a few other wee bits and bobs as well, including the fact that it mentions 'right of way' a few times......perhaps they meant priority.....the fact that the HGVs and buses are often far too close to the cyclists in front, that the video suggests that cycling on the path endangers pedestrians (and yet Glasgow insists on giving us shared use paths), that in one video a car runs a red light (it stops about 2 metres past the stop line), that the only cycle infrastructure seen are ASLs which are crap (and the video in a few places points this out, i.e. don't use them) or painted cycle lanes (far too narrow and very poor surface) and that an HGV is driving in a bus lane.......


....and breath.....


Arrgh!

So the bottom line is that Glasgow will not commit to doing anything that WILL actually make cyclists lives safer, by investing in properly designed, properly connect and properly funded cycle infrastructure as confirmed at my meeting earlier this week, but they will invest money into fluff, that is not only fluff, but that contains some dangerous information?

Well done Glasgow. Well done.


....but....there's more...

Not only have Glasgow released this fluff, they have actually won an award. Not just any award but.....and this is worth the wait, reading to the end of this blog....


Glasgow City Council has won its second award in four months for its achievements in cycling and sustainable transport.

Yup! Glasgow has been awarded for excellence in developing cycle infrastructure!

Head, meet desk. Desk, meet head.

Ok, so they won the award for a scheme in which they didn't actually invest any money, but don't let that spoil the party. It's official. Glasgow is Miles Better when it comes to cycling.

So long as they can spend someone else's money of course.........


 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

A Frank Letter

As a follow up to the meeting with Cllrs McAveety and Watson yesterday in Glasgow I sent the following e-mail to them both today.


Whilst I am very grateful that we had a chance to meet yesterday and to discuss our issues, I was disappointed with the overall outcome of the meeting. I know you will go away and investigate policy, talk to others etc, but the flat refusal to even consider future budgets for active travel (or to indicate who within the council had the power or influence to drive such changes forward) was really quite depressing. I also find it hard to imagine how the planning process can be improved with the short time scales that that council officers have to deliver the projects, given the piecemeal approach to funding (almost exclusively from external sources).

The lack of targets for cycling participation and any detailed plan to reach those targets is also of great concern.

This comes at a time when Edinburgh is reporting back on its spending on active travel for 2013-14 which was at 6% of its transport budget over the last year (http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/download/meetings/id/44283/item_71_-_6_budget_commitment_to_cycling_%E2%80%93_summary_of_expenditure) rising to 7% in the next financial year. Edinburgh also has targets set for participation in cycling (10% of all trips by 2020).

Edinburgh also has a clear plan and is following it up with reviews of progress. (http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/activetravel).

I am certainly not suggesting that everything in the Edinburgh plan is perfect (dual networks is not a good way forward), however they are making progress and widening gulf between the two cities. Edinburgh demonstrates that setting targets (including spending targets), providing detailed planning, and allowing for proper public consultation are actually possible despite what we heard at the meeting yesterday.

Yes, progress is hard, and convincing politicians within the council that this is the way to go will be difficult, but not doing so will be harder. Not harder on you, the politicians, but harder on the people of Glasgow who have to continue to face the consequences of pollution, congestion, poor health and transport deprivation.

Whilst I live just outside the boundaries of the City of Glasgow itself, having been born there, having lived there and as I currently work there, I feel proud to call myself a Glaswegian. Yet, I am increasingly finding myself feeling envious of our friends in Edinburgh and in the many, many cities worldwide who are also rediscovering the many benefits of active travel for the improvement of their cities. My pride is tinged with a touch of embarrassment at how poorly the city treats anyone who isn't travelling on our roads by car.

As the current Glasgow slogan suggests: People Make Glasgow. Perhaps its time we start to make Glasgow for the people and not just for people with a car.

Dave