Thursday 31 January 2013

Do We Need Some Dutch Courage?

By the time you are reading this I will (hopefully) be on my way to Amsterdam with the lovely people of BBC Scotland. Part of the plan is that I will be riding (in the rain, probably) a Dutch style bike, on Dutch style infrastructure wearing normal every day clothes (possibly not Dutch style clothes, but who knows....). I will however, be guaranteed to stick out like a sore thumb:

I will be wearing a helmet.

No, I'm not expecting the helmet will save my life, in fact I am expecting the cycling to be very safe indeed. I'm wearing it as a helmet camera holder! I promise though, I will not be screaming like a girl in any of the footage.

I am going to Amsterdam as someone who understands all of the theory behind proper cycle infrastructure. I am also going as someone who is desperate for Scotland to learn from a city and a country that knows how to design for people as well as people in cars. Personally it should be very interesting as I have absolutely no experience of cycling on properly designed infrastructure, unless this counts.

I am certain that it will be an eye opening experience, and I will be keeping a very open mind to everything I see and ride on.

Whilst there, myself and the BBC will also be talking to some Dutch cycling experts and asking their views on what can turn a sedentary, which Scotland most definitely is nation into a cycling nation, which the Netherlands most definitely is!

Surely the Netherlands was always a cycling nation....weren't they?

So if you are interested in following my progress real time, follow me on my Twitter feed, oh and while you are at it, make sure you follow Pedal on Parliament as well.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Infrastructure Investment?!

I've blabbered on at length on these pages about the need for infrastructure investment. I'm sure you all know where I stand on this. If we want more people to cycle, we need to make it feel safe and be safe. we need to invest in cycling infrastructure. So I was very interested when my local council (East Dunbartonshire) announced that £5.325m would be spent on infrastructure projects in 2012-13 and for £21.5m to be spent in all between now and 2017.

There can be no doubt that lots needs to be spent on the roads in the area. On some of the roads I cycle there are more potholes than road. However, I was left flummoxed by the article. Reading it I couldn't work out how much of that budget was being spent on cycling infrastructure.

It would certainly appear that a lot is being spent on the roads themselves, and on paths for walkers, but what about cyclists? Sure, you could argue that clearing the roads of potholes will help, but that only helps current cyclists, it is unlikely to encourage many new cyclists. So I've written the following short letter to the council as follows:

Dear Cllr,

As a resident of East Dunbartonshire I was very grateful to read the news in the Milngavie Herald today that you are going to be spending money on infrastructure over the rest of this financial year and onwards towards 2017. In the article it is suggested that you will be spending £5.325m in the current financial year with an ongoing commitment to spend £21.5m between now and 2017.

As someone who cycles from Torrance to the south side of Glasgow daily, and as a core organiser of Pedal on Parliament, a campaign group which is asking central and local government to set aside funds from transport budgets for cycling infrastructure, can I ask, what percentage of this proposed spend will be set aside to improve the cycling infrastructure in East Dunbartonshire?

Cycle infrastructure in East Dunbartonshire is either in a terrible state, very poorly designed, very poorly connected or in most situations non-existent. Therefore, as I know that the council is committed to increasing active travel I am sure that spending on cycling infrastructure is one of your priority areas.

Thank you for your help in this matter and I look forward to your reply.

Best regards

Dr David Brennan

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Defined By What You Wear?

I came across an interesting blog yesterday which is worth reading before you read this article.

This one here.

Go, read it....otherwise the rest of this won't make sense!

Back? Good.

Hmmm. I suspect that a few of you may have got to this point and have still not read it. If you are one of these people, I will very quickly summarise. The article writer is disappointed that at demonstrations like Pedal on Parliament that too many people turn up in Hi-Vis jackets, wear Lycra and have helmets on. The suggestion is that if we are to normalise cycling, events like this don't help as they perpetuate the idea that to keep safe as a cyclist you need to wear the gear. If you look at the Netherlands (which I will be visiting very soon!) you see a very different picture.

Here is what the writer is referring to.

Too much Hi-Vis, too many helmets?

So, when I refer to the article as interesting what do I mean? Well it certainly interested me, being one of the organisers or Pedal on Parliament, and interestingly someone who at that event wore cycling gear. It also raises some interesting questions about how we reach our end goal or making cycling not just safe for all, but accessible for all.

For the record, at POP I had a helmet on (with a helmet camera on of course), Lycra bib shorts with Ron Hill over-trousers, my cycling shoes, a blue base layer and on top my POP t-shirt. Oh and my cycling specific shorts.

Why did I wear cycling gear to cycle just over a mile very slowly?!

I  remember debating the issue of what to wear (certainly with myself, perhaps with others). I did consider going in "normal" clothes. However, I decided against that. My normal cycle to work is 12 miles each way. It is 12  fairly hilly and slightly mucky miles. I also use my commute as exercise so at the end of it I am sweaty and often a bit mucky. So as a cyclist that is what I wear 95% of the time. I wanted to go to POP representing who I am, and dress the way that I dress when I cycle. I suppose I was representing MAMILS. No point in denying who I am as that is what I feel comfortable in. 

That was just me though. I have absolutely no idea why each and every person that came to POP dressed the way they did. I suspect that some dressed like MAMILS for the same reasons as me. It felt comfortable. I know that some people came from afar, and dressed appropriately for the long ride, and I know that some people dressed in 'non-cycling clothes' as that is what they felt most comfortable in, or perhaps they wanted to make a statement. However, looking at each individual, without asking, I have no idea why they dressed as they did.

Personally I don't care. I don't care why they dressed the way they did, and I don't care how they dressed. On the day, surrounded by 3000 like-minded and non-like-minded cyclist I can honestly say that I did not at any point give what people were wearing a second thought. What mattered was that we all turned up with one ask our politicians to make our roads safer.

Looking back at the event there is a temptation to analyse. Nothing wrong with that of course. The blog I have referred to has done just that. It's looked at the pictures and asked if the dress code sent out the wrong message. Does it suggest that cycling is only for those who are equipped with Lycra, helmets and Hi-Vis?

I really don't think so.

I do however, on reflection, think that the pictures do send out a message. So what message do I think these pictures send out to prospective cyclists?

Firstly, I think the general public looking at that picture would in no way see anything out of the ordinary. They would probably think it was a "normal" picture of cyclists. Nearly everyone I know who doesn't cycle, thinks cycling on the road is dangerous. Yes, they often vastly overestimate the risks, but the perception is there. So seeing thousands of cyclists wearing Hi-Vis to non-cyclists seems normal. Is it right that we cyclists dress like this, and is this how we to look in 10 years time? That's an entirely different question. Is it where we are now? Yes.

Much more importantly though I think the pictures showing a sea of Hi-Vis and helmets shows that people who cycle now, even the ones who are classed as assertive, do not feel safe on our roads. They feel that they need to compensate for the risks they face or perceive to face.

There are plenty of arguments for and against helmets and Hi-Vis and how effective they are, but that really doesn't matter. In the collective psyche of those that turned up for POP there was a perception that some form of self protection, however ineffective it might be, was better than nothing. Effectively by wearing the gear we feel a little more protected.The gear is our protective cage which we are fearful of removing.

So the message for anyone else who does not currently ride a bike, the message to our politicians, is, we don't feel safe. Far from undermining the call for safety that the event was all about, it underlines it. Should we say to people, get on your bike, but make sure you wear a nice pair of slacks? Help us to normalise cycling...cycle in your glad rags?

I'll finish up with a personal observation. Earlier in this blog I said that 95% of the time I wear my cycling gear when I am on the bike. Two years ago that probably would have been 100%. Something has changed. I haven't started riding to work in my normal clothes, but occasionally I've started cycling for a different reason. I've started riding with my kids. My kids are getting into their bikes and want to come out with me. So we get the bikes out, get their gear on (which includes helmets) and go for a slow safe ride around the local area.

I don't wear any cycling gear. I don't have a helmet on.

Now I realise that some would be shocked by that, suggesting that I was setting a bad example for my kids. Not at all. I have always suggested to them that when they are older they will have to decide for themselves what to wear on the bike, when they understand all the facts.  Why though, don't I wear a helmet?

I feel safe. Riding with them, in a quiet area, on quiet roads, I feel at little or no risk, and so I don't feel the need to wear any protection. It wasn't a conscious decision, but one on reflection that I made. Not only that, but donning cycling gear to go for a wee cycle around the cul-de-sacs just seemed....too much of a faff. A waste of time.

Safety and faff.

Telling people what to do very rarely works, unless you legislate....and that's a whole other can of worms. Change is easiest when it comes naturally, when it feels right. For me, just now, the change feels right when I'm with my kids, it doesn't feel right on my commute. Put in proper cycle infrastructure between my home and my work, make it feel safe, make it feel easy, and yes, who knows I might just get rid of the helmet. Prossible not the Lycra though as I'd still get sweaty. For many though, that needn't be an issue.

So in my opinion, if we want to get people to change their cycling outfit, lets not focus on the outfit, lets focus on making the roads safe. Make the roads safe, and people will cycle more. As people cycle more they won't just cycle to work, they will start to cycle to the shops, to their friends house, to the cinema, to the pub. Cycling will becomes a normal every day occurrence. What do people wear when they do these things, most of the time, they don't wear Lycra or Hi-Vis......

Saturday 19 January 2013

Pedal On Parliament 2

In April last year we had Pedal on Parliament (POP). POP was undoubtedly the biggest and friendliest cycling demonstration that Scotland's parliament had ever seen. 3000+ cyclists turned up of all shapes and sizes, some on fancy road bikes, some on wooden balance bikes.

There was one common purpose....

Make Scotland a cycle friendly nation.

There can be no doubt the politicians listened. As well as meeting with us, setting up a Cross Party Cycling Group, and promising some more funding for cycling, I have heard from those who work there that those in power were impressed with the impact of POP.

They weren't impressed with the organisers, with our social media campaign, with the posters (mind you they were good!), or with our celebrity supporters (although I was!). They were impressed with you.

They were impressed that you turned up, and that you turned up in such numbers.

Yet, although they were impressed, and they have certainly said the right things, they haven't followed up with their actions. We and many other groups have asked for 5% of the transport budget to be spent on cycling (10% if we include all active travel). Why, not because it is a nice round number, but because research has shown that if we are to reach the governments own target of 10% of cycling by 2020, with all the significant benefits that would come with that, that we would need that 5% and we would need it now.

So what do we actually have? All the grand announcements from the government of increased spending on cycling amount to 1.01% of transport funding on cycling for 2013/14.

It's not enough.

So what can we do about it? We need more pressure on our politicians.We have to make more noise. More polite noise. We need to have Pedal on Parliament 2.

So once again we, the core organisers of POP need your help. We need you to come and we need you to bring your friends and families along to.

Let's make it clear and indisputable that the time to make Scotland a cycle friendly nation is now.

So look here for details, follow @POPScotland on twitter, use the tag #POP2 join our Facebook group, spread the word and turn up in Edinburgh on the 18th May with or without your bike.

With your help 2013 could be the year that Scotland embraced cycling.

Friday 11 January 2013

Amsterdam here I come!

Taking part in the The War on Britain's Roads documentary was an interesting experience. I've described elsewhere that it could have been better, and how it could have been better. However, what's done is done, and it's time to move on. That began when I received an apology from one of my YouTube haters, who then went on to write an excellent guest blog for me. It demonstrated that all was not doom and gloom.

The good news doesn't end there though.

I can exclusively reveal as an indirect consequence of taking part in the documentary, I have now been invited on a short trip to Amsterdam. (Insert huge cheesy grin here!). Not only that, but that trip will involve sitting on a bike, riding around that fair city and investigating the cycling infrastructure.

I'll open the floor to questions....

You, yes you with the red top on....

No, I will not be wearing lycra.

The lady at the, not the lady wearing the sombrero, the lady next to you who is trying not to get hit with the sombrero....

Yes I will be wearing my helmet and have my helmet camera on.

Sorry, what was your follow up question....

Yes. You are absolutely right, I will look completely out of place wearing a helmet with a helmet camera on in Amsterdam.

Me, riding to work... if I lived in Amsterdam....and I grew my hair long.

One final question please.... What's that? Who has invited me to Amsterdam?

Ah, there is an interesting answer to that question. It's the BBC.

Don't panic! It's not the BBC, at least not the BBC who commissioned the War on Britain's Roads. As far as I am aware Leopard films aren't involved. It is the good people of BBC Scotland whom I have every faith in....

Oh, and if anyone is concerned about the BBC misusing lots of tax payer money......the plane taking me there will be bright orange.....

Wednesday 9 January 2013

What no Magnatom?

Hello and Happy New Year!

You may have noticed I've been a bit quiet recently. Well, to be fair it has been the festive season, and having three kids means that there is a lot to do. Playing with toys, playing with new games consoles, playing with Barbie dolls, etc. (That's me, not the kids!)

Mind you, it hasn't just been the festive season and families that are at 'fault' for keeping me from writing. There have been bugs (you really don't want to know), computer break downs, bike break downs, and camera break downs as well.

Yes, you read right. One of my helmet cameras died, my Contour GPS. To be fair to the wee camera I had it for quite a while, it had been through a lot, and it did hit the ground very hard when I dropped it. Oops. Due to monetary constraints (and the desperate need for new flooring in the lounge - light coloured carpets and children don't mix) I've not been able to replace like with like. I'd have loved to have bought a Contour +2, but I couldn't justify the cost. So I now have a Contour Roam 2. A red one as that was on offer. No chance of not seeing me now....

I'll be reviewing the Contour Roam 2 in the near future, along with another camera I have been asked to review by a helmet camera company. Watch this space.

Oh, there was one other thing keeping me from writing here. Pedal on Parliament. Specifically, Pedal on Parliament 2. Yes, after the crazy success of last years event we are at it again. The organising has started in earnest, so you will be hearing from me and (the expanded) POP team soon about this years event. We have to keep making (polite) noise!!

Busy, busy, busy!!

There is also one other little project I am involved in that I can't tell you much about just yet. It will involve a little bit of foreign travel for me this month, all going well. I'm quite excited about this! I'll tell you more when I can.

So let's hope that 2013 is the start of a new era for our roads, the era where the roads were given back, to the people.