Saturday 28 July 2012

The Mind of Glasgow Council

I've written quite a bit about Glasgow recently and it's indifference to cycling and active travel as you can read for yourself here and here. As much as I love working in and living close to Glasgow from a cycling and active travel perspective I find it embarrassing to call myself a Glaswegian.

Despite this I was still shocked by an e-mail I received today from a fellow concerned Glasgow cyclist (who I know and trust). He'd received an e-mail from an employee of the council, who will remain unnamed.

The cyclist in this exchange was one of many who feel that the cycle infrastructure in Glasgow is generally appalling or in most cases non-existent. Thus, like many others he publishes some of the problems he faces online and then directs the council to the information. As I myself am only too aware, it is only through publicising issues such as these that councils/politicians etc actually get off their backsides and do something about it.

The e-mail from the Council employee was polite enough, but strongly suggested that publicising the issues was not the right approach. The employee suggested that such public posting might put new cyclists off. He was worried that future cyclists might see the online pictures and comments and feel that the roads weren't safe enough and thus decide not to ride a bike. This in turn would mean less cyclists on the road and, apparently, would translate into less funding for cycle infrastructure.


Let's look at the logic here. Concerned cyclist takes pictures of terrible cycle infrastructure. It is terrible because it is poor quality or even dangerous. A new cyclist looks online and see these images, and decides, mmmm, that looks dangerous, perhaps I won't go by bike. As a result there are fewer cyclists and therefore Glasgow City Council decides to spend less on cycle infrastructure!!

Here is the logic in a nutshell.

Someone points out roads are bad for cyclists, so there are less cyclists, so spend less on cycling, roads are worse,  so there are less cycling, so spend less on cyclists, roads are worse, there are less cyclists so spend less on cycling....

Mmm. That seemed a bit complicated. Let me simplify it...

Crap Cycle Infrastructure = Spend less on Cycle Infrastructure

Way to go Glasgow!

To be fair to the employee writing the e-mail, I suspect that he is stuck between a rock and a hard place, and almost said so himself. It sounds like has very limited resources and he wants to improve things, but he's stuck with the Glasgow 'Crap, so Less' funding system.

So Edinburgh council, whilst not perfect, has seen the light and understands that investing in cycling pays back in so many ways, Glasgow is caught in the Death Spiral of Doom.

And you wonder why Glasgow has some of the most polluted streets, has terrible traffic congestion has some of the worst rates of heart disease, and is often called the sick man of Europe.

It's actually quite ironic. I've heard politicians in the past saying we need to change the culture on the roads before investing in the infrastructure. That is of course the wrong way around. We need to make it safe before more will use bikes and the culture will change.

The irony is, that we do indeed need to change culture first. The culture within Glasgow City Council.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Active Transport Scotland?

The Scottish government is keen to tell us that it is committed to active travel. They agree that active travel should form a significant part of transport strategy and have thus set targets. For example anyone who reads this blog will already know about the Scottish government target of 10% of journeys by 2020 to be by bicycle. An admirable and achievable target if the government sets in motion the right policies to get us there. Through Pedal on Parliament we have already set out a roadmap that would get us there with our 8 point manifesto.

We have yet to see any action from the government at all towards implementing any of this manifesto, despite some progress at Westminster.

What the government are good at is telling us what they think they have done. They like to point out the small amount of money (1.42% of the transport budget) that they have spent on low carbon, active and sustainable travel. 1.42% sounds like a start doesn't it? Not really when you consider that we are asking for 5% as a minimum for active travel alone. I wonder what proportion of that 1.42% is being spent on public transport, electric vehicles etc.

Of course, actions speak louder than words. Letters can be written in a way that makes it sound like you are doing more than you really are. Words are the playground of politicians. The only real measure of progress is a measure of what is happening on the ground, at the coal face.

Transport Scotland is the transport agency of the Scottish Government, and is fully accountable to Parliament through the Scottish ministers. So there is a direct link between government and Transport Scotland, which has responsibilities for promoting and investing in green travel initiatives. So if the government is serious about active travel then surely they would have a workforce in place tasked with driving that forward. Surely a reasonable size team is required to bring about what would be a revolution in the design and use of the Scotland's roads?

In a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request Transport Scotland was asked the following questions:

How many staff within Transport Scotland are employed with specific responsibility for active travel policies (cycling and walking)?

How does this compare to the total number of staff directly employed within Transport Scotland?

The simple answer to the two questions are 1 and 360.8 (Full time equivalent). That is, out of an organisation of 361 people only 1 person works full time in active travel. That's 0.28% of the organisation.

Of course it's not quite that simple. There is a sustainable transport team of 5 others in the organisation. However they have to devote their time between working on public transport, low carbon vehicles, alternative fuels, investigating the effects of transport on climate change etc. So that's a very small team with a very big, and very important remit. 

Perhaps it is generous to expect that perhaps there are 3 full time equivalents working on active travel at any one time. That would be about 0.8% of Transport Scotland. 0.8% tasked with delivering what would be a huge change in the lndscape of Scotland's roads?!

Can we change the face of transport across the whole of Scotland, get 10% or more of journeys by bike and make our roads safe for cyclists with only three people within the government's own transport arm working towards that aim? Remember they also have less than 1% of the transport budget to do it with!

I'll let you decide...

Friday 20 July 2012

Time to Stop Helmet Camming?

Without a doubt there are a couple of my videos that look pretty scary. One very obvious and now quite famous one springs to mind. My '20cm from Death' video.

It certainly looks scary, and you can tell from my reaction at the time that it was scary. I honestly thought my time was up.

I think it is incredibly important to post videos like that as it shows quite clearly how bad it 'can' get for cyclists on the road. In fact the reality is it can get worse. I'm sure I wasn't the first cyclist to get that close to being wiped out, and I know that many others haven't been so lucky. Of course the vast majority of the time I have uneventful rides to and from work. I love my commute. But does that mean it is safe?

One criticism that my videos sometimes receive is that they can put people off cycling. In fact, on twitter I have been told by someone that I trust, that they know of a cyclist who was put off cycling after they watched my videos.

So are my videos a driving force for good, or am I part of the problem?

I'll ignore the cries of 'problem' that will have undoubtedly been shouted by my YouTube haters at that point!

First, let me balance the argument. Over the years I have, every so often received a thank you message via the YouTube messaging service thanking me for my videos. Occasionally they thank me for the 'entertainment value' and for the joy that my 'girly screams' bring. However, the majority have thanked me because of what the videos have taught them. Sometimes it is because I have highlighted an issue that they as a cyclist have faced as well and the have learned from me, or from my mistakes how to avoid it themselves. Sometimes I even get messages from car drivers thanking me for explaining why cyclists cycle the way they do, . Surprisingly though I have often been thanked for encouraging the viewer to get out on their bike and cycle.

You wouldn't think videos like my 20cm video would encourage anyone to cycle, would you!?!

What is surprising though is that when people see the things that can go wrong on the roads in my and similar videos they feel forewarned. They understand what can go wrong and why, and they feel more confident in starting out as a new cyclist as having watched these videos they have an idea of what issues and problems to look for.

However, it is entirely possible that people like this are the exception, and that my videos do put people off cycling. Am I to blame though? Should this be a sign that I should stop posting these videos?

This is where I ask the reader to go and have a look at a few of my video incidents again. Pick a few ant random and while watching the video and ask yourself this question:

Would the incident have occurred if there was properly funded, properly designed, fully connected cycle infrastructure at that section of the road? If there was I would undoubtedly be using it.

If the incident wouldn't have occurred and we acknowledge that I am not a cycling maniac out looking for incidents (I know that some will find that a difficult pill to swallow), then what is the answer to getting more people out on bikes in safety? Is it for me to stop filming my commute and to stop posting incidents online? Or is it for our politicians to realise that if they really do want more people to take up active travel that we need funded, designed, connected cycle infrastructure.

Perhaps what my videos show is that our roads are not designed for cars and cyclists to mix safely. At the moment safety depends on people doing the right thing. That is drivers driving correctly arround cyclists and cyclists cycling safely around cars. Yes the majority will do that safely, but it only takes an idiot or two to make a serious accident.

So lets design our roads not just to make them convenient and fast for those that chose to drive a car, but for everyone.

Let's make Scotland a cycle friendly nation.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Enough about Edinburgh!

As a Scottish cyclist in the world of cycle campaigning, I have come to realise that there are barriers that need to be overcome. There are political barriers, financial barriers, even barriers due to the myths around cycling. However, over the last couple of years I have also come to realise that there is another huge barrier that many of us have to face.

The geographical barrier.

No, I am not talking about hills, they are in fact part of the fun of cycling (they are honest!), its Edinburgh. Edinburgh is becoming a right royal pain in my backside.

Now I know that probably sounds like I have some huge weegie (an affectionate term for a Glaswegian just in case you were unaware...) chip on my shoulder. I don't. I absolutely love Glasgow, but I also appreciate the different character that Edinburgh brings to the central belt and the rest of Scotland. Glasgow without Edinburgh is a bit like Celtic without Rangers......oh wait! ;-)

So what is my issue with Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is literally light years ahead of the rest of Scotland when it comes to cycling. I am always gob-smacked every time I head over to the east coast and I see how many people cycle in the city. Yes, Edinburgh is miles away from being perfect, but it has a critical mass, it has an excellent cycling campaign group in SPOKES, it has outspoken cycle friendly politicians, and it has a council that is doing it's best (without central government support) to encourage cycling and to design it's roads for cycling. OK, it gets it wrong sometimes, but with a little guidance it could make an impact.

What about Glasgow?

It has the GoBike cycling campaign, which is doing its best (although I disagree with its excitement at getting more ASLs in the city), but without the critical mass of cyclists to feed personnel, ideas and funding into it, it can only do so much. Glasgow has a council that from time to time makes some sounds about cycling, but it is much misguided.  There is absolutely no impetus for chance. It's almost depressing.

Here is a city that is building a state of the art cycling velodrome that isn't even building decent cycle infrastructure to get to it. Here is a city that has some of the highest rates of obesity and heart disease, here is a city that suffers from terrible grid lock and yet spends little if any of its own money on cycle infrastructure. It certainly didn't spend any of it's own transport money on cycling in 2010/2011(see column d on page 7 here).

The only semi decent piece of cycle infrastructure I see on my commute when in Glasgow (of which 6 miles is in Glasgow) is the Clyde Tunnel cycle path. Even that is covered with graffiti and poorly surfaced.

So what really annoys me when I keep hearing about all the initiatives that are happening in Edinburgh is that there is virtually nothing happening in Glasgow. At best there is talk. I don't think many people who live in Edinburgh know quite how bad cycling can be in the nations other cities.

Do something about it then Magnatom!

I'd love to, though I have the slight complication of actually living outside Glasgow in East Dunbartonshire (that's another story!). I also wouldn't know where to start.....

OK, that's not true. I will soon start organising my cycle infrastructure tour that I hope will take in East Dunbartonshire and Glasgow. I will try to get some politicians and and council workers to come along to that. Perhaps it will be a start.GoBike is also leading a cycling forum that may bring progress in the future.

However, what is really needed is the critical mass. By that I don't mean we need more cyclists out there on the roads, although that certainly wouldn't hurt. What we need is a critical mass of cyclists and politicians with cycling sympathies to get together, to work together to get something done. Glasgow needs people to step out of the shadows and start shouting for better facilities, let the people in charge now that we need to be counted. Glasgow needs cycling bloggers, tweeters, and shouters.

If you are from Glasgow and want cycling conditions to improve, or even if you just have an interest in Glasgow and want to help why not drop me a message via my contact page and perhaps we can start co-ordinating an approach.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to undermine the work of others, work that is done in a particularly difficult environment, but change will only come if we approach this from lots of different angles.

Come on Glasgow! Lets make Glasgow a cycle friendly city. Let's make the east coast cyclists jealous of us for a change.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Missed Targets

Let me begin by praising the Scottish government. (I should have warned you to sit down before you started reading, shouldn't I?)

There can be no doubt that the current government has set some excellent targets on green policies. Readers of this blog will know about the target they set for 10% of all journeys being by bike by 2020. Yes, it may have been a little conservative in it's aims (some countries have over 30%), but considering that at the time of setting the target only 1% of journeys were taken on a bike (and that hasn't changed much) it was still brilliant to see the positive attitude that the government had towards cycling.

Cycling is, of course, not the only green policy target that the government set, and nor should it be. In the climate change Scotland Act of 2009 they set some tough yet achievable targets to reduce green house gas emissions, with 2010 being the first year with a defined target. In 2010 there was a target of a slight reduction in greenhouse gas production compared to 2009.

Today the figures have been released for 2010. Unfortunately there was no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In fact there was an increase in emissions, about a 2% increase. The government has missed it's first target. Not a great start. Of course there is always an excuse and the government is suggesting that the weather was to blame. Yes this will have had an impact, but is it enough to account for the difference?

Looking further at the figures, specifically at sources of the emissions and the change in emissions from 1990 until 2010, we find that only two emission sources have increased during that time, residential (3%) and transport (2%). The increase in residential may have been impacted by extremes of cold weather, but that would have no or little effect on transport, and cold winters, even if a bit unusual aren't exactly unexpected in Scotland.

So what can the government do then to remedy the situation? Continue as we are? Of course the science of reducing emissions is a complex one. There are probably a number of things that should be done to achieve the desired reductions. There is no single answer. However, there is one thing that they could do that would have an impact on the transport emissions, which are one of the biggest contributors at about 19% of the 2010 total emissions. Not only that, it would also fulfil another manifesto pledge.

Invest in cycling and get 10% by 2020.

I'm sure it's not straightforward to calculate, but it doesn't take an emissions scientist to work out that if we go from 1% of journeys by bike to 10% of journeys by bike that carbon emissions would drop significantly. There would be less traffic and less congestion. That figure for transport emissions would surely fall.

In this article it suggests that 

Later this year the Scottish government plan to lay before the Scottish parliament its second report on proposals and policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

So perhaps as well as finding money from the transport budget there might be some money forthcoming from the 'carbon emissions budget. If they don't, not only will the 10% by 2020 target be missed, but the carbon emissions target will be missed as well.