Thursday 27 June 2013

CAPS Unravelling

I've said my piece on CAPS already. If I'm polite about it, it was a waste of time. As I've suggested there are many things wrong with it, an action plan that does not plan for any action is probably not a step forwards. However, it did make some suggestions. For example it suggested that councils should take some responsibility (actually it suggests they take almost all of the responsibility) for 20mph zones. The government argued that most of the roads are under council control anyway so it's our of their control.

Strange then that today's government announcement on climate change (which hardly mentions cycling at all), headlines with the news that central government will be allocating extra money for greener street lighting for councils. Ummm, errr, wait a minute, the government is leading by providing councils money, is that not exactly what the government has told us it can't do for cycle infrastructure?!?

Anyway, I digress.

I live in East Dunbartonshire, and here we are lucky to have an excellent cycle safety campaigner. No, not me! Mark Kiehlmann has set up and runs EDs Cycle Co-op. As part of his campaigning he has been putting pressure on East Dunbartonshire (ED) to invest a small amount of money making Bishopbriggs ( a reasonable sized town) a 20mph zone. After lots of hard campaigning and lobbying ED decided that instead of implementing a pilot scheme, they would spend some money consulting on the setting up of a pilot scheme. The consultation was supposed to take 3 months.

Over a year later nothing had been heard about the consultation, so Mark pushed for information. Today he has heard back.

East Dunbartonshire will not be a 20mph zone.

The summary of the consultation (It can be found here, page 219 onwards) suggests:

The information from schemes (Edinburgh and Portsmouth) in other authorities is inconclusive and does not suggest that there would be a significant reduction in speed, nor any significant modal shift and that Strathclyde Police would not support any scheme which is not self-enforcing.
Funny then that there were actually significant reductions in speed detected in Portsmouth, and that initial reaction to the scheme in Edinburgh has been very positive. Also funny that the police suggestions in the report that 20mph zones are not enforceable is not true.
However, the report fails to take into account the most important aspect of the consultation. Local opinion.

73% wanted further 20mph zones in all residential streets or more widely or just in priority residential streets.
South Edinburgh 20mph pilot indicates an increase in public support for the new speed limit a year after implementation, rising from 68% to 79%

The whole point about 20mph zones is that they make the streets feel safer, and that is exactly why residents want it applied. They want their streets to feel safer so that the feel safer walking and cycling. Something that the council has completely ignored.

But how does this relate to the latest CAPS?

As I mentioned earlier on, CAPS suggests that councils should develop these 20mph zones. This experience in Bishopbriggs suggests that even when the evidence is overwhelming for 20mph zones, and it is if they bothered to actually look, and even when the majority of local residents support the scheme, councils will still not impliment it.

So I've come back full circle to my criticism of CAPS. It passes the buck, and it passes the buck to councils too weak minded to take the necessary steps to make their streets safer for the people who live in that area.

So with the government passing the buck, ignoring the shocking casualty statistics, focusing on building more roads and no more cycle infrastructure,  and some councils not willing to make the roads safer when they have a chance, we are effectively back at square 1.

Welcome to our new modern Scotland.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Cycling Casualty Conundrum

Oh poppycock, fiddlesticks and poop!

(Apologies for the strong language)

Just when it seems safe to write a fairly positive blog piece, along comes another example of the attitude that the Scottish Government has towards cycling.

Cycling's getting safer! Yippee! So say Keith Brown. Don't take my word for it though. I'm a bit biased. Take Keith's words for it. It's in the report. What do you mean you haven't got time to go through the report!?! Oh well, here is a nice summary.

I'll even summarise further:

No need for strict liability as Scotland's Roads are getting safer anyway. Another wee campaign telling everyone to be nice should sort it out nicely.

Ummm...errrr....excuse me minister.....excuse me.....ummmm...have you actually seen the latest road traffic statistics produced by your very own Transport Scotland? Again, I'm sorry, but it's in the linked document somewhere. As I'm nice I'll summarise again.

Cycling casualties are up 9%.

It would appear that things have in fact gone a bit awry. Overall, yes, the roads are getting safer. That's good. Not though, if you are a cyclist (or a pedestrian or a motor cyclist!).

But wait a minute....Keith is using the 'improved statistics for cyclists' to justify dropping strict liability, he is probably using this to (more importantly in my opinion) spend only pennies on cycle infrastructure, and as a justification that warm cuddly adverts work.


So there we have it. Not only is CAPS a complete disaster (those that say it isn't have vested interests in not knocking CAPS too much), not only is our government ignoring all the evidence in favour of investing (INVESTING!!) in cycling, but it is also basing its decisions on incorrect data.

Today I was down in London as part of my day job. I used a Boris (rental) bike to get between the places I had to be. I got lost. I ended up cycling on some very busy roads. I also felt safer cycling there than I did in Glasgow. Yet there are ambitious plans to make cycling safer in London.

What do we have in our towns and cities? Another poster telling us to respect each other and a government that doesn't care.

Oh dear.


It's even worse than I suggested above. It's a 19% increase in killed or seriously injured (KSI) over 5 years. How can the government possibly ignore that.....

Monday 24 June 2013

Credit, Where It's Due?

It's actually quite depressing.

Oh, not again.....I hear you say. What's Magnatom moaning about this time! In fact what I find depressing is how negative my blog has been lately. Anyone who knows me outside cyberspace knows that in the real world I'm far from a negative person. In fact I'm pretty chirper...honest! I have to be. When you are faced with the negativity that exists towards cycling in political circles (not everyone of course) it can be difficult to write positive articles. That's why today I am actually quite pleased to be able to say something positive!

Glasgow, might, just might, be taking a step forwards.

Glasgow's Cycling Czar Frank McAveety has written a very positive article on his aspirations for cycling in Glasgow. The article in question is here in the Herald. It's worth a read.

What impressed me the most about the article is that under my very sceptical eye I can only find one detail that I disagree with, and that is Frank's suggestion that our climate is a bigger issue than it is in the cities and countries that we compare ourselves with. We should remember that there is a reason that the Netherlands is synonymous with windmills. Flat European countries have a tendancy to be windy and as I experienced when I was there, it gets pretty wet too. Weather is not a barrier to cycling where it is made easy and safe.

That issue aside I am very heartened by Frank's words, especially the recognition that cycling as well as having many health benefits can have significant social benefits. Glasgow has some of the lowest car ownership levels in the UK, which leads to transport deprivation. A safe cycling environment could provide part of the answer to this issue.

So Frank, I applaud your words and your sentiment.

But, and this is a very big but, words need to followed by action and I am unfortunately sceptical when I read the positive words of politicians and I'm not just a sceptic for the sake of it. For example, our governments recent CAPS document is a step back from the original. Despite warm encouraging words, despite the First Minister himself saying that we were pushing against an open door (more like a revolving door that has flung us back out on the street), nothing substantial has resulted. The government are in full damage limitation mode, knowing full well that their efforts will not lead to 10% of cycling by 2020.

Part of that damage limitation strategy is to pass the buck to the councils. Now, I am not for one minute suggesting that the councils don't have a part to play in this process, they certainly do. Perhaps Glasgow through this initiative will make some progress. However, the pace of progress if we leave it up to councils will be glacially slow.

We need leadership from the top. We need a central fund with which councils can match funding and we need a national not CAPS... that actually provides a clear pathway to 10% and beyond with well defined targets, clear interim targets and a strategy for reaching those targets.

So, well done Frank. You've got our attention. Now lets see if you can back that up with action.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Utter, utter CAPS

There are two documents that are worth at least glancing at before reading this blog. The first is the Pedal on Parliament manifesto. You'll find it here. In summary it asks for:
1)    Proper funding for cycling.
2)    Design cycling into Scotland’s roads.
3)    Safer speeds where people live, work and play
4)    Integrate cycling into local transport strategies
5)    Sensible road traffic law and enforcement
6)    Reduce the risk of HGVs to cyclists and pedestrians
7)    A strategic and joined-up programme of road user training
8)    Solid research on cycling to support policy-making

The second document is the government's new Cycling Action Plan for Scotland (CAPS 2013). It can be found here. If we compare this latest 'vision' document from the Scottish government, the document that sets out the governments ACTION PLAN for Scotland here is how it compares to our manifesto:

1) Absolutely no commitment whatsoever to any funding at all. The councils can do it.
2)Design cycling?! Not our job. The councils can do it.
3) Safer speeds?! Not our job. The councils can do it.
4) Ah now this is one the councils can do.
5) Strict liability? Not our job, not the councils job....Westminster's job!
6) HGV's drive in council areas don't they...?
7) Mmm. Maybe we can do this one. Tell people that it's safe, as the councils are sorting it.
8) Hmmm..suppose the transport minister can chat to the councils once in a while. That's research isn't it?

The above might be funny if in fact, it wasn't entirely true. CAPS 2013 is in no way whatsoever a step forward from the original CAPS. In fact it is a step back. Not only is it further suggesting that the original CAPS target wasn't in fact a target after all, it's a vision, but it is also changing the wording surrounding that target.....sorry vision... in such a way to provide wriggle room.

'10% of all trips to be made by bike by 2020' has been changed to '10% of everyday journeys taken in Scotland will be by bike'

What does that actually mean? What is the definition of an everyday journey? I suspect that there isn't one, and that is exactly what the government is depending on. They now have a wishy-washy vision to reach a wishy-washy type of a wishy-washy amount of bike trips. 

You'd almost be forgiven for thinking that the government has given up on it's commitments (assuming they ever cared in the first place) and are now planning ways to avoid an embarrassing face plant. t would appear that they are in the process of building a nice wishy-washy temperature controlled swimming pool to fall into and they are already wearing their Speedo trunks.

The government have absolutely no intention of modernising Scotland.

But wait! The government are doing something aren't they? Lest we forget the £54m figure that they continually like to mention. The £54 that is spread over several years, does not all go on cycling and of that that does, some of it is squandered on advertising campaigns telling us:

No! You're wrong! Cycling is great on Scotland's roads. We just need to ask Mr Driver to be a wee bit nicer to us and we will hit 40% modal cycling in no time! Oh and don't forget to cycle with your arms outstretched at all times so drivers can aim for your finger-tips.

It gets worse though. I can reveal that the government are in fact annoyed at us for not being more appreciative. Seriously! At the recent POP meeting with Keith Brown (Transport Minister), Mr Brown started the meeting off quite aggressively. He was annoyed with us for not congratulating him on the good work that he is doing to make Scotland a cycle friendly nation.Yes that's right. He's doing good work. Apparently.

I suppose we have to be fair though, and my blog does need some balance. Surely something good has come of all this, In fact as part of the launch for CAPS there was also a press release, and  the government and Keith have in fact made an announcement of more money for cycling. Brilliant! Well done Keith! Well....not quite. In fact, not at all. Mr Brown and his colleagues have seen fit to find an extra £79,000. Yes that's right a whopping £79k. Now remember that we are asking for a minimum of £100m to be spent on cycling per annum if we are to have any chance of reaching 10% by 2020. Being generous, the current funding is sitting at £20m per annum, so this extra takes us 0.079% closer to the absolute minimum required.

That isn't funding, it's a slap in the face.

As pointed out in this thread, that represents 0.000013% of the cost of dualling the A9. There can be absolutely no doubt whatsoever what the current governments vision of a modern Scotland is. More roads to help more people drive more cars to more places, faster.

So in effect, we have a cycling action plan that has no plan and no interim targets, and therefore will result in no significant action.

So it's goodbye 'cycle friendly nation'.

Scotland, the cyclists dismount nation.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

A Culture of Responsibility

I've described in my previous blog my thoughts on accidents. Simply put, when it comes to road incidents, accidents don't happen. There are suggestions from some that this assertion might be too simplistic. However, I had a reason for making that assertion.  I wanted to lead on to the issue of culpability.

I'm no lawyer and I'd even go so far as to say I am no armchair lawyer (though there are plenty on the comment sections of my YouTube videos). So first let's look at a simple definition of what culpability is. A quick Google of the definition of culpability brings up the following:

Culpability is a measure of the degree to which an agent, such as a person, can be held morally or legally responsible. Culpability marks the dividing line between moral evil, like murder, for which someone may be held responsible and natural evil, like earthquakes, for which no one can be held responsible.
Ok. I'll hold my hand up and admit that this text is taken from Wikipeda. Sorry. However, looking around, this seems to be a reasonable and simple explanation of what it defines. It defines responsibility or the degree to which someone can be held responsible for some act.

This is an incredibly important concept to grasp when trying to understand what is currently going wrong with the British justice system. Judges as I've suggested earlier are prone to call incidents, accidents. Unfortunately by using this term the following equation applys:

Accident = No culpability

This is the very root of the issue with the word accident. People can argue (and are arguing) that there might or might not be outlandish situations where the word accident is appropriate, but that misses the point completely. What I am suggesting goes deeper than that. I'm suggesting that rather than argue this point (and yes I know I did that in the last blog, but you have to put up with my thought processes...) is to completely remove the use of the word accident and replace it with incident.

This has a profound effect on the above equation. It becomes:

Incident = Culpability to be determined

Now as someone has pointed out on my last post there probably is a very rare instance which we could call an accident. That is, someone of good health just happens to have a completely unexpected medical emergency that results in complete loss of control and the car  which results in hitting a cyclist. This could be labelled an unfortunate incident. In this situation:

Incident = No Culpability

What about the situation I mentioned in my previous blog where a child unintentionally dropped a nail on the road, bursting a car tyre which then resulted in the car colliding with a cyclist? 

Incident = No Culpability

What about the case where a bale of hay falls off a tractor, hitting a cyclist and killing them:

Incident = Culpable, but level to be determined by the courts

Effectively, by removing the word accident from every road incident we force the question to be asked as to why it happened, who was at fault and, when that has been determined, what is the level of culpability. As things stand at the moment the word accident gets in the way and blocks this whole process and biases it towards letting the faulty party off.

Of course there are those that will suggest that I am asking for a 'blame culture'. Not at all. In fact, the word blame doesn't even enter the argument. We need a culture where people take responsibility for their actions, especially when they are in charge of a potentially dangerous lump of metal.

It's time we had a Culture of Responsibility.

Monday 3 June 2013

The Accidental Truth

I don't get out to the pub much days. Being a parent to three young kids and pubs don't mix. However, this means when I do get a chance to go out for a pint or three I jump at the chance, and so I was out at one on Saturday night.

The problem with pubs though is that the alcohol they purvey not only lubricates the mind, but it lubricates conversations as well. This is particularly dangerous if you are known to be a cycle safety campaigner to those you are at the pub with, and they aren't avid cyclists themselves.

Yes, you've guessed it, a heated conversation ensued. In fact it was heated enough that I decided to leave the pub early. Sometimes that is the best course of action for all involved. On reflection though (and after the alcohol has left the system), conversations like this, whilst not enjoyable at the time do focus the mind.

One of the main areas of conversation was the use of the term accident. As a cyclist I hate the use of the term as it is often used to describe incidents that I think are in no way accidents. In fact on the night I went one step further and explained to my audience that on the roads there was no such thing as an accident.

As you can imagine a statement such as this, in a pub after a few pints was met with gasps of horror.

You can't seriously be suggesting that there is no such thing as an accident?!?

Yes I was. Unfortunately, rather than me being asked to defend this statement further I was barraged with examples of situations which could not possibly be an accident. 

What if a bale of hay fell off a trailer, caused a car to swerve, and the car hit a cyclist?

What if a car just so happened to run over a nail in the road, caused a tyre to blow out and the car careered into a cyclist killing them?

What if aliens just so happened to......

...and so on.

I tried my best at the time to explain my reasoning however, a mixture of mild intoxication and my audiences incredulity at my stance meant that we just spiralled into a argument that got more ridiculous. I remember the usual comments being made about cyclists riding two abreast being a danger on the roads (I'm sorry, but the only reason you would hit cyclists who riding two abreast after going around a blind corner is if you are driving too fast for the corner), and suggesting that if there were more cyclists there would be more traffic jams.


That's when I left. Having met the families of cyclists who have been killed in supposed, 'accidents' and meeting fervent opposition to my views was no longer my idea of fun. Leaving was the best thing for everyone.

But what about my assertion about accidents? Can there really be no such thing as an accident?!?

Let's imagine that bale of hay fell from the tractor. Is this an accident? Not a chance. If a bale of hay falls off, then I think it is clear that whoever secured the hay was at fault. If your load falls off and causes an incident, then you are at fault. No question. But what if a strap snapped? The strap should have been better maintained. What if the strap was properly maintained and it failed unexpectedly? Then whoever produced the strap did not design or make it properly etc..... No matter the circumstances, there is fault.

That's outrageous! Surely that's just a blame culture and will lead to everyone being to scared to get out of bed!?!

No. The level of culpability for the fault is another issue completely. It's easy to imagine a situation where there is fault, but that no-one would be censured. For example, imagine the nail situation: A child has been asked by his dad to take a few nails across to his uncle, across the road. The child on the way over drops a nail without noticing. A car comes past, tyre bursts, and a cyclist is killed.

Who is at fault here? Perhaps the child should have held the nails more securely. Perhaps the father should never have asked his child to take the nails across. Perhaps there is some shared fault. Should someone be held liable for the accident though?

I'm not a lawyer of course, but in situations like this there are certainly lessons to be learned, and some might feel guilt, but there would probably be no recourse. There was absolutely no intent, and the outcome was completely unexpected. However, and this is the crux of the whole argument, this tragedy is not an accident, it is not just an unfortunate mishap. The word accident suggests there was nothing that could have been done, and that there is nothing to learn.

It suggests that accidents happen and will always happen.

It suggests that we should just accept that people die and are seriously injured on our roads.

It's just a fact of life.

I've described a case I came across before where a judge suggested that a cyclist was injured in an 'accident'. Just one of those things. Momentarily blinded by the sun. Hey ho.

Not acceptable!

'Accident' provides justification for situations that we are worried could happen to us. As drivers we are concerned that we could be blinded by the sun, we could suddenly come across 2 cyclists around a blind corner, that the aliens could land on our car....

The label of accident puts us at ease and justifies the fact that as drivers (remember I am one) we don't always drive as carefully as we should, or that we don't plan far enough ahead to take account of the weather conditions. It allows us to abdicate responsibility.

So if I find myself in a pub again, I'll do my best to steer the conversation away from cycling. If I do fall into that trap, it won't be an accident. I'll only have myself to blame.

If I do accidentally enter a discussion about accidents, I'll make sure I point out that it is time for all of us who use the roads, whatever our mode of transport to think again about our responsibilities to other road users. Otherwise there will be plenty more 'accidents' waiting to happen.