Wednesday 24 April 2013

A Cycle Friendly Nation!?

Today is a big day in cycle campaigning. Westminster has released the conclusions of the cycling cross party enquiry today. It's a big day because the ambitions are big, as they should be. Asking for significant funding to build the infrastructure that is desperately needed.

Hold on a minute! That's Westminster. Here in Scotland we need to have action from Holyrood!

Correct. Westminster can do nothing directly to improve conditions for cyclists in Scotland. However, indirectly what is happening down in Westminster could have a big effect up here. Let's imagine that the politicians in Westminster have the political will to drive the recommendations through. Imagine the truly huge benefits for our southerly neighbours. Increased numbers cycling, improved health, reductions in congestion, economic benefits etc.

Now imagine Scotland (independent or not) sitting there with it's neighbour flourishing and watching from afar as the health of it's own people continues to suffer, congestion continues to get worse, it continues to miss it's environmental targets.....

It's not going to happen is it? Surely if politicians south of the border are seen to invest in cycling, surely Scotland won't continue to suggest that a modern Scotland is one that doesn't invest in cycling, but invests in more motorways!?!

So please, PLEASE, sign the petition set up by The Times, asking Westminster to implement the reports recommendations. It will have a very big effect up here as well.

In fact we at Pedal on Parliament have evidence that the Scottish Government is listening. Back in the early days of POP, when we were just starting to publicise the original demonstration, we came up with the slogan:

Let's Make Scotland a Cycle friendly Nation!

We've used variations of this over time, but the general gist has remained. Google suggests that this phrase hadn't been used before we used it. Now in the last week I've heard it used twice, once at the Cross Party Cycling Group, and once in a letter from a representative of John Swinney (he passed the buck on to his sustainable transport officer). It was in reply to our letter asking Mr Swinney to spend some of the Barnet Consequentials on cycling (Money that came from Westminster, interestingly). The answer was no...unsurprisingly. However, the real revelation, which came after the letter remind us of the crumbs that the government intends to spend on cycling, was the use of the following sentence:

I hope this reassures you that this Scottish Government is committed to investing in Scotland's cycling infrastructure, to make this country a cycle friendly nation.

Whilst it is interesting that this sentence suggests that 'this Scottish Government' is committed, as opposed to any other Scottish Government (possibly one in the future?!) it is the use of the 'cycle friendly nation' phrase that is most interesting.

The Scottish government has definitely been listening, as demonstrated by the fact that they now use our language. So that's s step in the right direction. They also agree that spending money on cycling is an investment. Another step in the right direction. Now they just have to take that final step and as well as talking the talk they need to walk the walk...

...or cycle the cycle....infrastructure.

Supporting the Times campaign might just help us get there.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Blinded by the Sun, M'lord

As a vulnerable road user I view certain law firms with great suspicion. I'm sure you know the type of law firm that I am talking about, the type that boasts about the fact that it got,

'Mr Jones off of a speeding conviction because we exposed some technical issue that prevented the prosecution'

Justice requires a robust defence and so these law firms are a necessary evil, although I would prefer that they would not boast about such cases. However, doing an internet search for something else I came across this particular 'boast' on one particular law firms website:

Successful defence of Careless Driving Charge

Following a trial before Mold Magistrates Court, North Wales, today, our client was found not guilty of a charge of driving without due care and attention or careless driving, an offence which is committed when a persons driving falls below that expected of a “competent and careful” driver.

The case arose from our clients involvement in a road traffic collision with a cyclist on a stretch of dual carriageway. The collision had occurred when our client had moved from lane 2 (the outside lane) to lane one, and being momentarily blinded by the sun which was low on the horizon, had not seen the cyclist and collided with him.

Neil Davies, Principal Solicitor, represented the client before the court and made detailed legal submissions, that despite the current ”blame culture”, accidents, whether they are considered coincidence or acts of god do still happen, and the occurrence of an incident does not necessarily mean that someone must be to blame. In the context of the case Mr Davies submitted that whilst there had been a collision, it had occurred as the result of this momentary blinding and that in all other ways the standard of our clients driving had met the standard expected of a “competent and careful driver”.

Following a short period of deliberation, the magistrates returned their verdict and accepted that our clients driving had not fallen below the standard of driving expected and that this was very much an accident, therefore he was acquitted. The court also granted a defendant costs order, which now allows us to recover our clients legal costs on his behalf.

Needless to say, our client was happy at avoiding 6-9 penalty points or possible disqualification and a fine, and considered it an added bonus that he will now recover his legal costs.

I have to say, upon reading this I got very angry.

Of course, before I go any further I should point out that I do not know all the facts of the case. I was not in court and I did not hear any of the arguments. However, as this statement is from the defence lawers themselves it does hold some weight, and explains why they felt that their client 'got off'. Therefore, I will base what I write from now on on the fact I have available.

As someone who cycles and drives on dual-carriageways, if I did what was described above, I would fully expect to be found guilty. Why? Let's look at the facts as described above. The sun was low on the horizon, and it would appear was in front of the driver. Therefore, any reasonable driver would be expected to know that in such situations, blinding by the sun could be an issue. Therefore, any reasonable driver in such a situation should adjust their driving to take account of this.

Yes indeed, it is possible that the sun did momentarily blind the driver, but the driver in conditions where the sun is low in the horizon should be aware that this is a possibility. Any reasonable driver would therefore drive more cautiously, wear sunglasses (no mention is made of any being or not being worn), and look well ahead on the road and make sure you can see clearly before undertaking a manoeuvre.If enough care is taken, being momentarily blinded should not result in a collision with a cyclist.

I find the suggestion that, suggesting a driver is at fault for not taking into account the conditions in which they are driving is part of a 'blame culture', insulting. In fact we do not live in a 'blame culture', we live in a 'we all need to drive and we need to use our car to get to where we want to get fast, so therefore, any suggestion that we should slow down and take responsibility for the fact that our actions can lead to serious injury or death is unacceptable' culture.

Remember I say this as a driver as well as a cyclist.

The blame in this instance was on the sun. The blame was on the cyclist for being too small a vehicle that when faced with the sun, the driver couldn't see the cyclist. Cyclists need to be bigger, they needed to take up more of the drivers visual space. The blame was on the tree or the hedge, or the road sign that just so happened to have a gap that let the sun through at the wrong moment (do cyclist appear in moments?). The blame is anywhere where it serves to protect the rights of the driver whilst minimising the rights of anyone else to expect to remain safe from other road users.

What angered me most though about the above lawyer 'boast' was the trivial way that the cyclist was treated in the commentary. It mentions that the driver and their car was in a collision with a cyclist. There is no mention of any sympathy for that cyclist. No mention of the driver being happy that (and I hope this is the case) the cyclist escaped with minor injuries, or recovered well from more serious ones. Oh no.

Their client was happy to avoid some points on their licence, a possible disqualification or a fine, and he will now recover his legal costs.

Happy days indeed.

Well done to the driver. well done to Caddick Davies Solicitors.........and God help the rest of us.

Monday 8 April 2013

Exclusive or Inclusive

I am a person. I am also a cyclist. That is I am someone who chooses to use a bike regularly. I am also a driver. These are all, of course, just labels. Sometimes people take these labels very seriously, but in the end calling myself a cyclist does not define me. It's just something I do. Something that I enjoy immensely, but still just something that I do.

What does define me to some extent is my cycle campaigning. That is part of who I am, and is certainly something that I use when I describe myself. I am a husband, a father, a clinical scientist and a cycle campaigner. Depending on the situation, depends on which role I take.

Another label that is often used, and in my experience misused is 'serious cyclist'. That is, a cyclist who in some way takes cycling 'seriously'. I've been called that quite often, but it's a label that doesn't fit comfortably on my shoulders. Cycling for me is something that is far too much fun to be taken seriously. I take campaigning seriously, perhaps I should be called a serious cycle campaigner, but I'm not a serious cyclist.

It is however, interesting to look at how the label 'serious cyclist' is used in the UK today. Personally I find that I am called a serious cyclist by the majority of people I know who don't cycle, and I think that is the experience of most regular cyclists. Other cyclists certainly don't look at me that way.

What the label and it's use suggests is that cycling is an exclusive activity for those with enough love or passion for cycling to do it on a regular basis. It is also seen as a label for those 'crazy enough to take on the crazy traffic and all the dangers that come from that'.

I've talked about the realities of safety elsewhere, but my focus here is on the exclusivity. The fact that people pigeon-hole me and most regular cyclists into that group is worrying, and is a barrier that we need to break down. I think that barrier will be eroded with time, when (not if) we improve the environment for cycling on Scotland's roads. More worryingly though is the sense of exclusivity that I come across within the 'cycling community' (a phrase that itself suggests exclusivity).

Seven years ago I started cycling. and for about the first three years of that I argued that there was no need for segregated infrastructure. Why build cycle lanes when there are perfectly good cycle lanes already, called roads. I had an online discussion with another cyclist recently who felt this way. That's why I felt compelled to write about it.

My opinion changed dramatically when my first child started to cycle. As I watched him wobbling around the road in our cul-de-sac I started to think about how much fun it would be to go on proper cycling rides with him. Then it struck me.

Where could I take him cycling?

The cul-de-sac was fine, some of the very quiet country roads near by weren't too bad, but everywhere else was a no-go-zone. There were small pockets where my son could ride safely with me, but he was excluded from everywhere else. 

Of course, danger in cycling is generally overestimated and in general my son would probably safe riding on most roads with me (he is now 7). However, I know for a fact, considering some of the incidents that have happened to me, if my son was exposed to just one scary incident, he would probably give up cycling, if not for good, at least for a long time.

My child is not unusual. In fact most adults, whether we think it is understandable or not, feel the same way and would probably react the same way if a scary incident happened to them. Therefore, without change, without significant change, cycling will always remain exclusive.

Of course, exclusive does not mean that it will only be MAMILS or young males that will cycle on the roads. The demographic of those who are willing to cycle in the current road conditions is not limited to MAMILS or young men. Exclusivity is not based on gender, age or the type of clothes that you wear. It is based on a persons understanding or risk, and approach to risk, and we all have very different approaches to risk.

Cycling is, when compared to many other activities, is very safe. However, a large percentage of the population would not and should not have to be willing to put up with the close passes, left hooks and occasional agression that virtually all cyclists face from time to time. This percentage of the populations are not included if we base our cycling future on the roads as they are today. No amount of soft measures alone will work.

That is why Pedal on Parliament (POP),  has a vision of Inclusive Cycling; cycling where everyone from 8 to 80 and beyond can cycle in our cities. It can be done, and shining lights like Amsterdam show us the direction that our politicians must take if our cities are to be sustainable into the future. Everyone cycles in Amsterdam.

As Enrique Penalosa is quoted as sasying:

The great city is not the one that has highways, but one where a child on a tricycle or a bicycle can go safely everywhere.

Let's take that a step further:

The great country is not one that invests in more motorways, but one that invests in cycling so that everyone, child or adult can safely cycle everywhere.
By coming along to POP2 on the 19th May in Edinburgh you will not only help Scotland reach it's target of 10% of journeys by bike by 2020, but you will help us achieve a wonderful vision of Scotland as a healthy, sustainable, vibrant nation.