Wednesday 28 November 2012

War on Britain's Roads?

If you've been watching BBC 1 recently you may have noticed a trailer for a programme called



What is an even bigger 'hmmm' is that I am involved in it.

It was actually in June 2011 that I was approached by a film company to take part in a documentary for BBC1, and it is only now that the documentary is about to be aired. After it is aired I'll talk more about the process, how and why I was convinced to take part, and I might even provide some behind the scenes footage (filmed by yours truly).However, what is certain is that the angle that the documentary is now taking is certainly different to what was originally envisaged.

I haven't seen the documentary yet, and I probably won't see it until it is aired at 9pm on BBC 1 on the 5th December. I haven't even managed to see the trailer myself yet! However, I want to make something clear.

There is no war on Britain's roads.

Yes I post footage of incidents. Yes there are some terrible drivers out there, and yes some people hate cyclist. However, the suggestion of WAR is just media hype.

There are excellent drivers.. There are plenty of average drivers. There are some terrible drivers.

There are excellent cyclists. There are plenty of average cyclists. There are some terrible cyclists.

There is, and always will be a distribution of abilities. That will never change. Yes, perhaps we can shift that distribution towards excellent a little, but there will always be road users who are dangerous. We are all human and so this is a fact of life.

Let's give up then?

Quite the opposite. We just need to step back and look at the bigger picture. Why is it that road users don't always get on?

Road design.

It really is that simple. Almost since the introduction of the car, roads (which were there before the car) have been designed for cars and their drivers. They have been designed to make it safer to drive a car, so that cars can drive quicker, so that cars can flow more smoothly, so that cars have somewhere to park, so that cars can get to the shops, so that cars can take us on short journeys, so that cars can take us on long journeys, so that cars can take kids to school, so that cars can cross rivers, so that cars can take you right up to the counter of MacDonalds.....the list goes on.

Life does not and more importantly should not revolve around the car. It's a tool. At times it is a very useful tool, and on rare occasions it can be a very enjoyable tool to use, but it is just a tool. Rather than using the tool for situations it is best suited for, we have designed the situations, that is our cities, to suit the tool.

It's time to change that. It's time for us to look at the other tools at our disposal, i.e. our feet, our bikes and our public transport, and redesign the environment so that we can use these tools when it is and should be appropriate.

So those of you who are reading this, who are cyclists, when you are riding your bike and a driver leans out of his car and shouts,

'Get off the road...roads aren't designed for bikes!'

an appropriate answer would be,

'You are absolutely right, they aren't. It's time we changed that'

The real war, the only true war we face is with our politicians, our councillors and our urban planners. We must fight to make them see that the time for car worship has ended. It is time to claim the streets back for people.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Giving up cycling

Today I received an e-mail from a fellow cyclist in Glasgow who commutes to the same place I work. Unfortunately, she has decided to stop cycling to work. I had asked her why she had stopped. Here is her answer.

Thanks for your email, much appreciated. Unfortunately the route I go through is via the Southside and though I've managed to re-arrange the majority of the busy sections, the route from Bellahouston Park through Ibrox/Shieldhall is terrifying - I'm compensating saving money and health benefits for safety; I'm not too happy about that but for the timebeing I feel as if I have no choice. My original route would take me 35 minutes through Shawlands and was quicker than by car, however, the volume of traffic was insane and it was a pretty intimidating route so I re-routed and went a slightly quieter route which adds a staggering 25 minutes onto my journey. At a push I could lengthen it even further but then I doubt I'd have the energy to do a full day's work. It's such an infuriating situation to be in; I love cycling and if the environment allowed it I'd cycle every day. But due to the current road layout I just don't think that's possible: I have a very timid and unassuming style of cycling that doesn't fit with the arrogance of the roads. On many occasions I feel as though I'm being bullied onto the pavements and it's now at the point where I dread my commute. So for the time being, and for the sake of my personal well being and safety I'm opting for the car.

However I'm by no means a hardcore cyclist so if this is the experience of somebody who has a genuine love of cycling, what chance is there of attracting newcomers to opt for the bike over other forms of transport?


So Glasgow has one less cyclist and one more driver. I don't blame her. Glasgow and many of our towns and cities are not cycle or people friendly. It took me five years to dare cycle on some of the busiest roads around me, and I'm no shrinking violet. How long until our politicians realise that without significant funding and as my friend suggests, new infrastructure, people will feel too scared to cycle on our streets.

Asking drivers to give us more space, painting strips of paint on the road, or training people how to ride assertively isn't the answer.  Cycling should be as easy as, riding a bike and with the right infrastructure it can be.

Let's be bold. Let's show the world that we want to make Scotland not just a cycle friendly nation, but a people friendly nation.

Friday 2 November 2012

Cycling? What's that?

I receive comments on my YouTube videos all the time. Most I ignore as they are often abusive (I know how to make friends!). Occasionally though there are comments that are worth replying to. Recently when I went online to reply to a comment an advert began playing at the start of my video. This one caught my eye.

It was a video advertising the company Tarmac, and discussing work they did for Transport for London on a particular junction. The video can be found on YouTube and is embeded below. It is worth a watch.

I was surprised to have a video advert on one of my videos discussing safety improvements at a junction. However, what surprised me the most was what was completely missing from the video. Cycling. It wasn't once mentioned, and when you look at the junction on the video there is not one piece of cycle infrastructure there. Not one. Not even a badly designed bit. You also didn't see one cyclist on that road during the whole clip.

Actually the above isn't entirely true. If you watch the clip closely, you will have seen one cyclist who appeared to be using the path. That, along with some some other (difficult to see) evidence suggests that there might actually some cycle infrastructure there. It looks like the dreaded shared use paths. Far from ideal for either cyclists or pedestrians.

Of course I know absolutely nothing about the area (I'm sure someone will come along to help me there) but I can't understand how major works at a junction like that could be allowed to go ahead without any consideration of cyclists who might not want to use convoluted shared use paths. Cycling should be made easier, not more difficult!

They pointed out that the improvements had reduced congestion in the area, which is good of course for local residents. Crossings had been improved. Great. However, am I the only one looking at that video feeling that they have entirely missed the point?

Yes, congestion is less of an issue now. What they have done is improve the junction in such a way as to allow traffic to move faster. In effect you will have more traffic passing the junction within a specific time period. So drivers who may have taken different routes to avoid the congestion will realise that they are now quicker going through that junction.

Induced demand.

So by smoothing the flow of traffic, instead of reducing traffic, this junction is likely to increase traffic. Yes, it will be travelling quicker than before....but wait, does that actually improve the area for residents? Less snarled up traffic, easier crossings, but more traffic.

Is that better?

Perhaps someone who knows the area might want to comment.

Was there another option here? As I've said, I don't know the area, and perhaps there are other reasons that cyclists don't go here (I saw only one on the video, but hundreds of cars), however, this junction even after the 'improvements' looks hostile to cyclists. It looks like a barrier. For all I know there could be wonderful cycle paths either side of this junction, but having that junction in the middle would put many off. Shared use paths requiring cyclists to make multiple crossings isn't going to encourage

Imagine though that the area had good quality cycle infrastructure leading to it and through it. Imagine that 10% of the traffic in that video was replaced with people on bikes. Imagine how big the improvements in air quality would be. Imagine how much more pleasant the area would become.

Is the best way to deal with heavy traffic to make it quicker for that traffic to pass, inducing more traffic or is it better to deal with the root problem? If we don't start solving this problem at the source, we will be continuing the spiral of ever more congestion and ever more pollution.

It's time to think beyond the car.