Friday 30 December 2011

What a crazy year that has been.

Glasgow's Squinty Bridge at New Year?

It's that time of year again when, due to a totally artificial division in our calender we are forced to look back at the 365 or so days that have just passed. And what a 365 days they have been!

Of course this is a personal blog. It is not a blog about world events, so there is no point in me recounting them here. Others are much better at that, and have much better insight into the ramifications of the Arab spring, and Prince Phillips heart condition. So I'll keep it personal. What has 2011 been like for me?


It all started off well. I had a wonderful opportunity to visit Boston in the US and to take pictures of pretty bikes stuck in the snow (that's not what I was there for!). The weather did reduce the amount of time I could spend on the bike though which was annoying. However, I  made it onto TV (ok my video did) and onto radio!

Early 2011 was also the time when I really started writing my blog more regularly. I realised that I enjoyed writing, despite being very bad at it. In fact I even dabbled in writing some 'bike comedy' (here and here), although I quickly realised that I was better to stick to my day job!! I was more successful when writing about the abuse I was receiving and the abusers. I really shouldn't have made it to the end of 2011 alive!!

I thought a lot about cycle lanes, and decided that they were indeed very badly designed and often downright dangerous. However, as the year went on I began to realise that I wasn't 100% against cycle lanes or cycle specific infrastructure. In fact, I came across a realisation that not everyone could, would, or should be a vehicular cyclist such as myself. Perhaps there was another way...

In the middle of the year I had lots of grand ideas. Most of which I didn't have any time to follow up unfortunately. Events, not totally in my control took over my time. In fact during the summer things took a nasty turn and made life very uncomfortable for me for a while. I'm not going to go into detail here, but suffice it to say a driver who didn't like the fact that I caught him on camera decided to try to make my life very difficult.Of course you can't keep a good Magnatom down, and I've managed to turn negativity into positivity. Out of it all came the idea for a book. Yes, I started writing a book. So if you are interested to find out more about who I am, what I do, why I do it, and some of the crazy stuff that has happened as a result; stay tuned to these pages for more details!

Things did turn more positive again with a great meeting with First Buses, for it only to go a bit pear shaped again with my run in with the law. I really have lost a lot of faith in the police as a result. However, in good Magnatom style there is a ray of hope, and I hope to have some more details of some positive developments in the new year.

There was of course the very successfully Cycle video Day. Which resulted in video submissions from all over the world. Brilliant. Of course, time towards the end of the year (I also have three young kids as well!) was becoming tight, so I didn't manage to follow this up the way I had intended. Me bad. Must do better.

Mind you, I did become a millionaire! Ok, not in money terms, but in YouTube viewing terms. Great, except for the fact that most of the views were probably from people wanting to see me knocked off my bike. Oh well, a view is a view!

Towards the end of the year, life as Magnatom seemed to get a little quieter with nicer commutes and fewer incidents (and less threat of arrest etc!). I recorded one particularly glorious commute. This was probably my favourite video of the year, closely followed by this beauty!

Don't be fooled by the quiet end to the year, though. As I have hinted before, there are already plans afoot for 2012. Possible progress with the police, a planned project with a campaigning group and.......something else I can't quite tell you about yet. Sorry! Mind you it should be worth the wait if it all comes off.

There is one thing that is as certain as death and taxes: there will be more videos! Who knows I may even try something a little different in 2012.

Happy New Year when it comes and safe driving/cycling!

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Hate Crimes?

I am used to abuse. I get lots of it. It's to be expected when you put your 'head above the parapet' and make a stand. Someone will always find a reason to hate you.

When does YouTube abuse cross the line? When does abuse become a hate crime?

Hate crime is undoubtedly an emotive subject, one that I am certainly no expert in. Personally I am a strong believer in the right to free speech. That's part of the reason why I leave a lot of the abusive posts on my videos, when many others remove them. I often find that the 'haters' hang themselves with their own words.

However, there is a line that, when crossed, takes abuse to another level. For me that was crossed recently with this comment.

I'm ramming the next biker off the road because of this vid and yes....I will reverse over them.

In some ways this comment is not as bad as some, I've had plenty saying they would run me over, etc. However, this isn't directed at me. It is directed at a random cyclist, the next he meets perhaps. Of course, he may well be kidding, and is likely to be an 'internet hard man', however, that was the excuse of some facebook posters in Dundee recently. In their defence one of their lawyers said,

He was certainly not serious about there being a 'riot in the toon'.

The facebook rioters were both sentenced to 3 years in prison.

Should I report this and similar comments as hate crimes?

Looking at the Strathclyde Police website hate crime is defined as a crime motivated by hatred of someone because of their race, colour, ethnic origin, nationality or national origins, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability. On the reporting form there are no other options, certainly no option for hate crime motivated by transport choice.

Ok, so maybe there is an option with YouTube. Again, they specify protected groups similar to above and make it difficult to report this as a serious offence. It can be reported as abuse, but their isn't an option for threats directed at a non-protected group.

So, whilst I completely agree that abuse against the listed 'protected groups' is unacceptable, why does it appear that hate against groups such as cyclists are not. Yes, I could try and force the issue with the police. I could try and force them to take me seriously, though I doubt they would. The problem is that I could probably report 3 or 4 people a day.

So is hate against cyclists on YouTube and elsewhere which incites violence against cyclists acceptable? Is it an unfortunate side effect of free speech? Or should we strive to make hate such as the example above punishable via the law?

What are your thoughts?

Thursday 15 December 2011

My Most Popular Video - Analysis

For some reason the video below has recently become my most popular video on YouTube by far. Over the last month it has been viewed 9,308 times.

Why, I'm not sure. It seems to be the haters that have latched on to it. I'm getting lots of abuse for not cycling in the cycle lane, for my reaction to the driver, and quite a few suggest that the pass wasn't close. So I thought I would explain the video in detail here. Hopefully some of my haters might even get to the bottom of this page! :-)

First lets look at the road and lane layout of the road on google map (see here).

It's a dual-carriage way with a 30mph limit on it. It has two wide lanes (approximately 3.5 metres wide each). There is an intermittent cycle lane that ends abruptly, a good distance before the lights. It's width varies along its length, but it is never wider than about 1 metre.  There are a number of junctions along the length, including the one that the aggressive driver turns into. This is a car park for some local shops.

A recent publication by Transport Scotland points out that the absolute minimum width of a cycle lane should be 1.5m and that the desired width should be 2m. This lane falls well short of even the minimum requirements. The following text from the Transport Scotland document makes interesting reading:

Sub-standard width or poorly located cycle lanes can provide a false sense of security for both cyclists and motor vehicle drivers and encourage poor lane discipline from both. In many cases, a narrow cycle lane can encourage close proximity overtaking by motor vehicles (Parkin, J and Meyers, C (2009)). Limited space alone is not a reason for providing sub-standard width cycle lanes. Alternative solutions should be sought at such locations.

So on this section of the road I choose not to use a cycle lane that falls well below the absolute minimum standards for a cycle lane. Which, as I have pointed out in a previous blog and is backed up by the Transport for Scotland (Cycling by Design), the lane encourages close passes.

Of course, staying out of the lane in this instance did not discourage this particular close pass. Why not? The problem here is that the lanes are quite wide. About 3.5 metres wide. In fact where the close pass took place, the width of the the left hand lane, excluding the cycle lane is about 3.1m.

In this video I was probably cycling about 20cm outside the edge of the lane. When on my bike I am probably about 60cm wide. So within the lane that leaves 2.4 metres of lane to my right. When the close pass occurs the car remains just within the left hand lane (there is a car in the outside lane).  Looking it up on the internet a Honda Civic is about 1.7m wide. That leaves 60cm between me and the Honda Civic. It is generally accepted that the minimum distance you should give a cyclist when passing is about 1 metre. That is of course a minimum.

Of course, how close a pass that is acceptable depends to some extent on the speed of the passing vehicle, which in this instance was undertaking the vehicle in the right hand lane. Using google maps and relating that to where where the car passed me, and noting the time it took to get to the end of the cycle lane (4 seconds approximately over a distance of 76m) the car was travelling at approximately 43mph. Remember this is a 30mph section of road. Also note it is probably a little less than 4 seconds, so I have probably underestimated his speed.

So, lets recap so far. I was out of the lane as it was poorly designed and below minimum standards, he passed me well below the minimal acceptable distance for a car to pass, and he did so, whilst undertaking another car and travelling in excess of the speed limit (remember that's a limit not a target).

So what could he have done to prevent it? He could have slowed down and waited to pass when it was safe to do so at a safe distance and within the speed limit. It's a big ask, I know, but for anyone with reasonable car handling skills it should be pretty easy to do. So he is wanting to turn into the shops. Perhaps his safest option would be to wait behind me for the distance. Now that will be totally unacceptable to some! Lets look at how long he would have been delayed.

He reaches the back of the queue at about 41 seconds. I reach him at 46 seconds. Now lets assume he is a good driver and he left a 2 second gap behind me, so he would have been delayed by 7 seconds. He would have reached the queue at 48 seconds in the video. the car in front doesn't start moving until 50 seconds into the video.

So had he waited behind me he would have been delayed for the grand total of...........

Diddly squat. Zero. Nill. None. Nada seconds.

What could I have done to prevent it. According to the 'collected wisdom of YouTube' (is there such a thing?!?) I should be in the lane. Would that really prevent a close pass? Or, would the driver just pull out less and leave me the same amount of room, or possibly even less? I think this is likely here.

Do I have any other options?

Yes I do, but I suspect that the haters would not like it. Cycle further out into the lane. Cycling further out would 'close the door' and would leave no gap for a pass. By cycling 90cm or more from the edge of the cycle lane, there would be no space for his car to fit. The driver would either have to wait behind (in blind rage no doubt) and look for a safe gap to overtake (in the outside lane that the council have provided for the purpose) or run me over.

Would he run me over? I very much doubt that. For all the bravado and testosterone that is on display in the comments section of the video which would suggest that 50% of drivers would run cyclists over in this situation, I have yet be be run over.

So thanks guys for making me revisit this video. Having taken the time to look at it in detail and take into account your comments, I now know what to do to prevent this type of driving again.

Cycle further out in the lane.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Beavering in the Background

I haven't posted for a couple of weeks, which isn't like me. I like writing the blog. I like forcing my opinions on people that are daft enough to read them! (You're not daft, honest!) However, I've been busy.

Not busy on my normal noisy, tell the world about it sort of way, but quietly beavering away in the background. Not like me at all....quiet that is, I'm always busy!

There are a couple of things cycling wise that I am working on with others. I don't want to share too much until things are more concrete, but there are a couple of things happening that I am excited to be part of.

One is related to my recent dealings with the police. There may be a silver lining to all of this, not directly related to my complaint. My complaint is dead in the water. There is no point in me wasting my time pursuing it. However, my recent interactions with the police may have opened a new line of communication that could be very useful for the future. More when I know more.

Another possible development is also quite exciting if it comes off. It would be working with other campaigners and a particular campaign group to produce a cycling infrastructure visualisation. Again it's early days yet, but if it works out, I'll certainly share the project with you.

In fact, I'm beginning to wonder what the point was of this blog post. It's a post telling you, that I have things that would be interesting to post about, I would love to post about, but it's best if I don't post about them....not yet anyway.

Sorry. I'll stop writing this and get back to my beavering.....