Tuesday 24 September 2013

What's So Special About Leith Walk?

It's a very rare thing. A very rare thing indeed. So rare that I almost find it difficult to say.....

There is some.....good news for cycling in Scotland!

Yes, I know that's a shocking thing for me to say. Actual, real good news. Bona fide, the real deal, not fake good news.

Wait for it.........WAIT FOR IT.......

The government is finally investing in cycle infrastructure!!


Yes it is a good news day. Keith Brown has at last made an announcement that I actually approve of.  Credit where credit is due. Effectively the £20m I discussed in an earlier blog is real new money. Not only that, but a chunk of it is set aside to spend on an exemplar project in Leith Walk (Edinburgh). A what?! A project that will demonstrate, in Scotland, that cycling can be designed into our roads and can be safe for all. The rest is to be spent on other cycle infrastructure projects around the country by Sustrans.

But wait!

You knew that was coming didn't you.

It's not all a bed of roses, as we point out at POP. Firstly, it's just a start. It's a good start and a very welcome one, but it is still only a fraction of what we need to make Scotland a cycle friendly nation. We need a minimum of £100m a year, and we are still a long way off that yet. Also this is not recurring funding. It is planned over the next two years, but there no commitment to continuing it after that. We need sustained investment.

One of my main concerns though, about the exemplar project, is that it absolutely has to be exemplar. IT HAS TO BE. Imagine you are a non-cycling member of the public (Joe and Josephine Blogs) and you've seen today's news. Fast forward 2 years and the new Leith Walk is unveiled. Unfortunately, Edinburgh Council whilst accepting the money, only made a half baked attempt at designing it correctly. There are issues, and the cycling lobby isn't happy.

Joe: Hey Josephine, you know that cycle lane that they were building in Leith...

Josephine: Aye?

Joe: It says here in the paper that despite the government spending £3.6m on it, and the council putting in some money as well, and having built an  all singing all dancing wee lane for the cyclists.....they are still complaining about it!

Josephine: Really!?! You mean my hard earned taxes have been wasted on these no-gooders?!? The cheek! Even when a gold plated cycle lane is built for them they don't like it!

Joe: Aye! Stuff them! I'm writing to my MSP to tell him not to bother next time and spend the money on a another Forth Road crossing instead!!

Am I being ungrateful for the money. Absolutely not! I'm just pointing out that is this scheme will become a showcase for what can be done....an exemplar project.....therefore it absolutely has to be an exemplar project. That does not mean that it has to be gold plated, as suggested by Josephine and Joe, but it needs to demonstrate that we can build high quality infrastructure that is entirely fit for purpose - cycle infrastructure that not only cyclists want to use, but that non cyclists want to use!

Why is this important? It's important because there is absolutely nothing special about Leith Walk. It's just another road in another city. A busy road, yes, but there are plenty of other busy roads. It is for the very reason that Leith Walk is nothing special that makes the project to improve it, special. If it can work in Leith, it can work in Anniesland, it can work in Broughty Ferry and it can work in in every city town and village in Scotland.

Edinburgh City Council (yes I'm talking directly to you) - can you please, PLEASE look again at the designs you have for Leith Walk. Can you please listen to what the campaigners are saying. Can you please look at the plans that Greener Leith have on their site and take them into serious consideration. Can you PLEASE make sure that this project is truly a exemplary demonstration of how we can make our roads safe for all. The future of Scotland as a cycle friendly nation is resting in your hands.

Alternative Leith Walk Design by Iain Longstaff

No pressure.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Glasgow's Miles Better? Going Back to the 80's

I've heard some promising talk from Glasgow City Council recently. Frank McAveety the recently appointed 'cycling czar' (I don't think he particularly likes the title) has said some promising things. He is certainly suggesting that Glasgow wants to move forward and to design cycle infrastructure for the future.

After all, Glasgow is in desperate need of a shot in the arm. Actually that's a bit weak. We need a right good kick up the backside. We are one of the sickest cities, not just in the UK but in the developed world. I know this personally as in my other life (yes I have a job) I am working with others on developing new technologies in acute stroke diagnosis and treatment. I often find myself selling our work by pointing out that there is...

No better place to be doing stroke research than in Glasgow. There's no shortage in the patient population.

Whilst that is great for my work and the techniques that we are developing, it isn't so great for Glasgow or its population. Glasgow desperately needs significant interventions to become healthier and fitter.

Approaching 2014 the year where Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Games, we have an opportunity. More Glaswegians than ever will be exposed to sport, and will be exposed to cycling. Perhaps with the right encouragement some of its residents could be encouraged out of their cars an onto their bikes. Perhaps there is hope.

One of the venues at the Commonwealth Games is Cathkin Braes. Here we have a world class mountain biking facility just on the south edge of Glasgow. If you watch the video on the link you'll see just how close the facility is to Glasgow. As things stand the best way to get there is car.

Fear not though, Glasgow is moving forward and last night I was sent plans (shortly to be released for consultation) for a new cycling walking route to the facility. Brilliant! No need to lumber the car there any more, just lock out your suspension, ride there, unlock your suspension, ride the course, lock out your suspension and ride back.

As Frank and others within the council have either been to Amsterdam or been to the Go Dutch conference recently, then the new cycling facilities will be properly designed. Won't they?

Umm, errr.....well.....ummmm.....not quite......ummm...errr...actually.....no. Not at all.

Imagine a facility that was designed in the 1980's. We are not talking 1980's Dutch style, as that would actually be pretty good. Imagine 1980's Glasgow style. What would you get? Yes you would probably have cyclists wearing infeasibly short shorts, and funky sweatbands, but what would the cycle facilities be like? Yes, you've guessed it..... shared use.

Pedestrians and cyclists sharing space that previously was pedestrian only. Yes, that's the answer. Oh and where there isn't anywhere near enough space, take some grass away. to create.....still not enough space.

Don't dare take any space from cars. People in cars are far more important than people on bikes or people who walk. After all, car drivers pay tax that pays for the roads, and we need more roads, because we need more cars and we need more cars because we are all getting lazier and we are getting lazier because we have more roads to drive on, and thus we need to buy a car because it isn't safe to walk as there are too many cars......


I suspect that the problem lies in the guidelines. They have probably followed our UK/Scottish guidelines. Road is x busy, paths are y busy. We have z amount of space. UK/Scottish answer: Pedestrians and cyclists share.

Double sigh.

Anyway, don't take my word for the 'quality of the 'design'. Have a look at the plans. Here is the cover letter  (and yes they are planning on having designing a dual network for novices and 'regular' riders. Is that what they do in the Netherlands?). Here is the overview of the route. And here are the plans, here, here, here, and here.


Of course this is a consultation (I don't think it is actually open yet) so there will be time to let GCC know what we think of the plans. However, they need to change significantly if they are to be anything but a waste of more money.

As I mentioned above these plans are actually part of a dual network. That is, this phase of work (phase 3a) is for 'novice' cyclists. There is a phase 3b that will be aimed at 'regular' cyclists. This phase I can only assume will be alongside the the 'novice' network. I'm going to hazard a guess here and guess that the 'regular' network will consist of ASLs with left hand feeders. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know how much I love ASLs. I'll bet GCC is probably thinking internally...

Look, we are giving cyclists two networks to choose from! You have no right to complain!!

Hmmmm. There is another option of course. Design one network that suits everyone. It's not rocket science!

GCC I'm sorry to say, on the above evidence, you haven't got a clue.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

£20m or not £20m, That's the question...

Today was Scottish budget day, the day when the money is divvied up and shared out....or generally not shared out where cycling is concerned.

But wait.......STOP THE PRESS!

(Glaswegian accent) There's been a murder......oops, sorry just watching Taggart....Not a murder, something much much rarer than that....

There has been a cycle infrastructure funding announcement! £20m for cycling! Yippeee!

But wait....yes there is lots of waiting in cycle campaigning....is that £20m really £20m?

Why not have a look for yourselves at the draft budget. Yes it is a tad long isn't it. It is also a tad confusing. There are those that would have you believe that the double-speak is entirely intentional with the aim to confuse. There is no single heading for Active Travel or Cycling. There are lots of little titles like CWSS, FTF, and SAT that might or might not have some extra funding for cycling in them, though none of them are exclusively for cycling or even active travel. It's all very confusing. Patrick Harvie MSP (Green) was confused in parliament today and even the bods in SPOKES, who know a thing or two about government active travel funding are confused.

So whilst the government insists that this is real money, and I'd really like to believe them on this, we just can't verify it at the moment.

If they say it's new, surely it is new!?!

Well, maybe. Unfortunately it wouldn't be the first time that an announcement of new money turns out to be a re-announcement. Politicians are know for a bit of spin.... 

If it turns out that this money is real, and if the money is to be spent on actual good stuff (i.e. not 'NICE' stuff) then I will certainly be thanking the government for the money. It would certainly be a step in the right direction.

But....and it will be a big but....it is only a first step. The £20m is split over 2 years and the minimum we need is 5% (£100m) of the transport budget every year.  This current announcement will only be taking us to approx (according to SPOKES) about 1.4%.

One thing is absolutely certain, POP has helped to force the governments hand, so well done to everyone who came along to POP. The politicians are listening. We just need to push that little bit more at POP3 to force them all the way. We need to become loud enough that they have to fund cycling or loose their hearing.

Come on politicians, lets make Scotland's roads safe for all!

Monday 9 September 2013

But I didn't hit you!

I can clearly remember the first day I cycled a bike on a city road. It was back in 2005, having just bought a bike from a Glasgow bike shop (it will remain nameless, as they should have given me a bigger frame...). I had already planned my route home on that sunny day. It would involve a bit of cycling on some busy roads before I would get to a canal path, which would take me the rest of the way home.

The thing I most clearly remember as I mounted my bike and started cycling was my feeling of vulnerability. I suddenly noticed something that I hadn't notice before, that is, that the big metallic boxes driving around me were rather....scary.

A few months passed and the constant feeling of vulnerability faded from the front of my mind. It did not, and has not, ever completely disappeared. Whilst I never get nervous before riding a bike, I would be worried if I did, there is a little guy at the back of my mind always tapping me on my sholder reminding me....

...be careful that car might pull out...

...keep listening for the vehicles behind you, as you might heara sound that saves your life...

...don't filter there, that space isn't safe....

Ok, there isn't actually any voices....honest...but I've found myself every so often reminding myself that I am vulnerable and that I can't trust anyone else to look after me. When you ride a bike, you only have yourself looking after you. When you drive a car, you have road designers and car manufacturers looking after you. Driving has be designed to be safe.

I don't have a roll cage or any airbags.

That is not to say that cycling is intrinsically dangerous. It isn't. Statistically, I am much more likely to live longer by cycling than by not. This is especially true considering that my dad died of a heart attack when he was only 11 years older than I am now. So the fact that by cycling a minimum of 20 miles a day, 5 days a week has dropped my resting heart rate down to 45, I know that I am at the very least significantly dropping my risk of death (which is of course, ultimately 100%!) per year.

Cycling though, could and should be safer than it is in the UK. However, the UK isn't alone in its problems. Whilst there are a growing number of countries that are working towards safe cycling and making great strides, there are others that are facing similar problems to us. For example, whilst I can't claim to know a huge amount about conditions in Australia , I have heard lots of horror stories coming from there about how cyclists are treated on the roads. In fact it was no surprise to hear that War on Britain's Roads had recently been aired over there. I think the issues are very similar.

Today I came across a video from Australia that went some way to confirming this. Not only that, but it confirmed my concerns about vulnerability.

Before I link to the video though, a word of caution. When I watched it  a very strong shiver went down my spine. It was horrible. The video doesn't actually contain any graphic images. There is no blood or gore. In fact, you barely get to see the cyclist at all. What you do see is some incredibly terrible driving and most spine-chilling of all, you get to hear the horrific screams of a cyclist in extreme agony.

I'll be honest, I watched this video before I cycled to work. I wish I hadn't.

So why am I sharing this video? I think this video demonstrates just how vulnerable a cyclist can be, and no matter how safely they cycle (this cyclist could have been me), you are not just at the mercy of your own decisions, but you are at the mercy of everyone around you as well.

So here is the link. Remember, the cyclist is OKish in the end.

It's horrible isn't it. Really horrible. What it does do is demonstrate the danger that close passes present. We've all heard drivers say something like....but I didn't hit you...or...you had plenty of room... . Until you have actually been on a bike riding on busy roads you just can't appreciate how scary close passes can be. That is, unless you see a video like that.

All it took was a small amount of contact to send that cyclist spinning and ending up with a serious life changing injury.

Dress up cycling on roads whatever way you like, but we are vulnerable. This sad story demonstrates it as well.

What's the answer? Asking drivers to be nice? Nope. It just doesn't work because a driver who has never cycled can't understand how scary it feels and how little room for error there is.

So is there an answer?

Yes. Seperate the traffic from the vulnerable where you can and where you can't reduce the speeds to make it safe. It really is that simple. Perhaps too simple for our politicians to comprehend. They need ribbons to cut on big bridges and motorways, not lots of spread out infrastructure saving peoples lives.

Investment please.

Oh, and if you are still desperate to spend money on an advertising campaign, don't waste it  asking people to be nice, spend it showing people adverts like this. Show the cyclist with his family, and show the effect that driving like this can have on someone life. All for the sake of a few seconds.

Monday 2 September 2013

The Alliance of British Drivers - A Summary

Recently in a Sunday Post newspaper article, an article of the very lowest journalistic quality (so only read it when you are sitting down) had some quotes from the Alliance of British Drivers (ABD). Who are the ABD? Well, if you read the quote from the ABD representative in that article you get a good idea.

Hugh Bladon, of motoring campaign group, the Alliance of British Drivers said: “Cyclists don’t know how to behave, that’s their trouble.
“Some of them clearly believe the Highway Code is not for them, but it is. They then complain if they get knocked down by people in cars. It’s absurd.

“Money should not be spent on facilities like this if they are not going to be used.

“If they contributed through taxation then perhaps the money should be spent. But they don’t contribute anything to the maintenance of our roads.

“We are not anti-cyclist, we just want them to obey the rules of the road like everyone else, and they are not doing that at the moment.”

Sigh. Have you ever heard a someone in a conversation say something like, I'm not racist but.... You get the picture. I could pick a multitude of holes in this argument. I'm not going to as the comments in the above article do a fine job at that.

What I did do though was Google the ABD, and I came across their website. It's an interesting read. I was particularly interested to see that they had a manifesto. So I went straight there to have a read through of it. Again, it's an interesting read. Now I am not going to say that every single point that they raise is wrong. It's not. In fact there are some going points in it. For example,
Stricter penalties for drivers of stolen vehicles, particularly when unlicenced and/or driven recklessly. Minimum sentence of three years imprisonment for unlicenced car thieves, five years where reckless driving is proven.
Totally agree. There should be stricter penalties, though I think much stronger bans on driving should be enforced as well, but yes, there are some good points. What you have to do though, when reading the manifesto, is to consider the motives behind each request.
I can do this with POPs manifesto.

  1. Proper funding for cycling. (Need safer infrastructure, please invest in it)
  2. Design cycling into Scotland’s roads. (Infrastructure we have is crap. Design it properly)
  3. Slower speeds where people live, work and play (Slower speeds makes it feel safe and is safer)
  4. Integrate cycling into local transport strategies (Make it easier for people to use cycling as part of their journey)
  5. Improved road traffic law and enforcement (Drivers have to fear the consequences of injuring or killing more vulnerable road users, like cyclists)
  6. Reduce the risk of HGVs to cyclists and pedestrians (Pretty much as it says. I've nearly been wiped out by one myself)
  7. A strategic and joined-up programme of road user training (Make sure everyone is aware of their responsibilities, that includes cyclists)
  8. Improved statistics supporting decision-making and policy (Without proper statistics we can't know if policy, or lack of, is working)
So I thought I would do the same with the ABD's manifesto. It might be worth having the manifesto open in another window, so you can see I'm not making this up, though this is of course, just my opinion.....

  1. Speed limits (Please raise the speed limits everywhere, except where it would be way, WAY too dangerous. We are all safe drivers. We want to go faster)
  2. Enforcement (We want to go faster, so focus on other stuff please. going faster is safe, unless you are doing a ridiculous speed)
  3. Cameras - Speed, Red Light, and Tailgating (Please get rid of cameras, we want to go faster)
  4. Penalties (Stronger penalties but please remember just because we drive a potentially dangerous weapon, does not mean we always have to take responsibility for that. For example it is sometimes safe to drive faster) 
  5. Points system (We want to be rewarded for driving the way that we should be driving anyway, oh and when we are abroad, we should be able to drive how we like, i.e. faster)
  6. Training (Lots of training...training is good... but drivers shouldn't have to pay for it. Probably should come from the huge amount of tax that we have to pay...see later...and we definitely prefer training to points. Oh and training will reduce congestion. It will!)
  7. Education (Encourage kids to drive cars in playgrounds, and teach all drivers to keep to the left so that we can overtake them easily when we drive faster)
  8. Congestion Charging and Road Tolling (We pay way too many taxes, and it costs us money to sit in heavily congested cities. Take away charges so that we can sit in heavily congested cities for free. Roads should only be funded by us. We know that cyclists fund our roads as well, but we don't like that. We should fund it through our taxes which we reckon are enough...)
  9. Fuel Taxation (We pay too much tax and it needs reduce....what do you mean that there won't be enough to cover the roads then.....be quiet...less taxes, then we can afford the extra fuel as we need to go faster)
  10. Vehicle Excise Duty (We don't want to pay this. Scrap it and then place the tax onto fuel. Do this whilst....as we mentioned above...reducing the tax on the fuel. Whilst this doesn't make sense, it will discourage some people from driving. That will mean less cars in our way, so we can drive faster)
  11. Integrated Transport (By integrated transport we mean more parking. More parking will somehow encourage people to use buses more. You'll see, it'll be like magic)
  12. Road Building (Bring back the Romans. They were good at building roads. they will help us build more. Building more roads will also help the environment as it will mean we can all drive faster. Also, build them really, really wide. That way, when we drive faster we can have races. Make the surface as good as an F1 racing track as well, with really bright lighting. That way we can push our cars to the limit. Vrooomm.)
  13. Parking (We said it above, but we will say it again. WE WANT MORE PARKING! Oooh and we want it underground. We don't want to step outside when we get out of our car. We might get run down by a car if we do!)
  14. Bus Lanes/Multiple Occupancy Lanes (We must not create these at the expense of space for cars. Extend the width of the road if you have to, knock the odd building down, but the preferred option it to take space away from pedestrians. Everyone will be driving anyway. Oh and if the buses aren't regular, forget it. So if you want lanes, you will need more buses. We need buses clogging the place up as well as cars!)
  15. Drink Driving (We like a beer, so don't you go lowering that limit! 80mg is quite low enough, thank you very much. Oh and we are happy for more officers to enforce this, so long as it means there are less enforcing speeding, so we can drive faster)
  16. Speed Limiting Devices (You've got to be kidding right!? These force us to slow down when we know it is safe to drive fast. Mind you, if it one day means that we can all drive faster, it might be ok)
  17. Roadworks (Roadworks slow us down. Don't do it when I'm driving, so I can drive faster)
  18. Traffic calming (Just don't do it. I want to drive faster!)
  19. Road Maintenance (We don't like solid white lines. We drive fast so need to overtake. Remove them except in the absolutely most dangerous places. We are good judges of safe overtaking! Also sight-lines are important. Got to make sure I can drive fast, so cut down unnecessary trees. Not sure why we need them anyway. Oh and we don't need signs. We all stare at our Sat Navs now.)
  20. Government and Local Consultation Exercises (Consultations should be done by independent organisations. We are independent. We'll do it if you like.)
  21. Statistics (It's not like we think there isn't enough statistics, unlike the POP lot. We just think think they makes us look bad. So we propose that gets changed. We want to change the definition of serious injury. Far too many cyclists and pedestrians are claiming they are seriously injured when they are absolutely fine. You only need one leg after all.)
  22. Eyetests (If you can't see you can't drive as fast. Might as well use a bike instead)
  23. Company Car Taxation (Taxing them for the pollution they cause? No thanks. Business people want to drive fast too you know.)
  24. The Environmental Impact of Car Use (Get real! There is no human induced climate change, cars don't make much of a difference anyway, cars going slower cause more pollution. Anyway vehicles don't cause much pollution except for public transport vehicles, they do.  Oh and you should still be able to drive your car even if it fails emission tests as it doesn't really matter. All this allows drivers to drive....faster! Yippeee.)
  25. Rules And Regulations (We don't like legislation that deals with dangerous things that drivers sometimes do. Current legislation, which we know is harder to prosecute should therefore be used, meaning we can get away with more. Oh and slow moving HGVs and drivers who don't understand that cars are supposed to go fast, should get out of our way.)
  26. Funding and Charitable Status of Road Safety Organisations (We are concerned that the 'government line' isn't encouraging fast enough driving. Therefore, road safety organisations shouldn't be funded by the government. We aren't sure who should fund them though....not drivers... perhaps we need a bicycle tax...)

So there you have it. A whirlwind tour of the (very long) ABD manifesto. I've read between the lines and I don't like what I've seen, and yet this group have MP patrons. They certainly don't represent me as a driver. Do they represent you?