Thursday 15 December 2011

My response to Kulveer Ranger

Kulveer Ranger has issued a statement.
This is my reponse to it.
Dear Kulveer Ranger

As a person who cycles through London every day I must say that your view of what has been done differs considerably from what people who cycle can see.

You say safety has been the most important consideration - how was it then possible to accept designs such as Bow Roundabout. This isn't an isolated case and 99% people who cycle will tell you that "Smoothing traffic flow" prevails over safety at most CS junctions - places which are most dangerous for people on cycles.

I am looking forward to the review. But more keenly I am looking forward to implementation of the findings. Copious amounts of research and studies have been done for Superhighways yet they have been mosly ignored, which is why the CSs will remain paint on tarmac and give people a false sesne of safety while putting them in conflict with motorised traffic they cannot compete with.

People drive and cycle badly - this is the reality, because humans make mistakes. A good road design means that results of these mistakes are limited and do not cause peopel to die. Adding mirrors to HGV is all well and good but it still doesn't take the human error out of equation. Roads can be a place of peace and serenity when you design them in a way that removes the conflict between different modes and don't hope to be able to accomodate every Londoner driving - current policies tend to the opposite.
Cycling isn't getting safer really. Until now the domain of fit men, it is quickly becoming popular among all ages and fitness level. Let's see if it becomes safer when kids, elderly and other groups start cycling. I really hope no one else has to die for you to realise that mixing cycles with motorised traffic will never be inherently safe and that no amount of training and mirrors is going to change it.

My sour tone stems for the fact that I have been let down by promises and cute posters, but the reality people on bicycles have to face is quite different. Not tragic, but definitely far away from cycling city London is aspiring to be.

Kind Regards

Tuesday 13 September 2011

what puts me off cyling?

An argument has been put forward by some that what puts people off cycling is the image of cycling itself. That is helmet hair, sweat, lycra and irritating smugness. As many quite correctly pointed out the image stems from the fact that most of the people who agree to cycle on our road are the lycra warriors, and that there is no way of changing the image of cycling without changing the environment to such that would be welcoming to people who do not feel the need to be aerodynamic in order to reach 30mph and keep up with traffic.
For me however there are other things that put me off cycling than sweat and helmet hair (an alien concept to a bald person like me). To be honest they will never make me stop cycling, but if I were a different person they would most likely succeed at stopping me from ever picking it up in the first place. These things are a part of my everyday route I take to get my older son to school. I do have a bakfiets so I could practically ferry him there, but that would defeat the purpose of cycling - he's perfectly able to cycle himself and had been off his training wheels well before his 3rd birthday. The distance is less than half a mile - so there's nothing to stop him from getting there under his own steam. Apart from the following:

This is our residential road. Quiet although you can see how many people are using it for parking meaning that it's actually only half the road. Usually people are kind enough to stop and let a 5 year old boy on a bicycle pass. But as we all know it only takes one person that doesn't and I've seen brainless teens and young adults speeding down that road and around blind bend at it's end.

The quiet although problematic road ends to be replaced by a wide and heavily used road (buses cars from all the surrounding estates and traffic from the Woolwich Ferry). Definitely to narrow to fit in a cycle track, no? Yeah, thought so too.

Better still - this is an old bascule bridge, there's hardly room for pedestrian paths, which I prefer to use for the following reason:
Climbing hills with a child while impatient drivers are breathing down my neck is not the most relaxing activity I can think off. The barriers on the bridge are bent by someone reckless about once every 3 months plus there are lorries also coming the other way. My faith in safety in numbers isn't just strong enough.

Excellent - although this is a shared facility it provides the much needed respite. It's wide and it's on both sides of the road. You can join it where the kerb drops, but because of the previous bits it's like an oasis in the desert - you just might not make it unless you get on the pavement well before as I do. Note the NHS vehicle considerately parked next to the bus stop, lunch breaks are important!

Here we learn that we are approaching (or actually on, you never know) the Natioanl Cycle Networ Route number this or that. Right, shame it doesn't go in the direction I am going. Well it sort of does, yet the route is twice as long. If I were in a car it probably wouldn't make a difference, but when cycling with a child I really don't want to add another 15 minutes to the trip. So we go just slightly further...

To join this marvel of traffic engineering, connecting two A roads, of which existance we have been informed by those two redundant signs, their poles placed considerately in the pavement. Now I do believe that cyclists should have the right to ride on the road, but to be honest with a kid in tow and even without one I would really give it up for a bit of a cycle track around that place. Seriously. Well untill that happens we either use the pavement around it and rejoin the road later or if the weather is really good and the traffic doesn't seem to scary we actually use the road, but it's stressful for me more than I would like it to be.

Aha, cyclists are welcome again, and it's an obligatory cycle lane. Shame it's not raised and is interrupted by a Bus Stop. Occasionaly drivers take a short break there so you have to go around them - defeats the puropse, doesn't it.

Customarily the cycle lane ends just as we approach to a roundabout where it would be sort of useful. We are turning right and see straight away that we are again first class citizens - the concrete blocks have been moved away to allow access to another shared facility. Feels kind of a bootleg passage but hey - it's convenient.

As you can see the signage is in good repair. If you gain enough momentum and ride straight in the bushes you will get to Dagenham, probably through a wormhole or something. The path is also strewn with glass and I have been considering taking a brush with me on several occasions. Then the path ends, obviously a bollardophile had been given a chance to practice his/her fetish. The gap between the bollards is just wide enough for a double bicycle trailer (AT3 Adventure).
The last bit or road before the school is of course packed with the only right mode of transport. The parking mayhem reaches it's peak at 4.45 when cars are being parked at both sides. The bike shed at the school is there, thank goodness, yet it's not very optimistic with 8 stands and little lockers, undoubtedly for helmets. 

This is it. I would be hard pressed to advise someone cycling with their kids and look them in the eyes at the same time. This is why I think that image is the least of the long list of problems facing cycling in UK. Deal with the important ones and the little ones will go away too, when people will not feel the need of carrying helmet cams to battle dangerous drivers. Once using bicycle becomes easy and obvious we will see less and less lycra and more and more school uniforms on bikes. 
Some will say that I am being unreasonable and that the route is perfectly fine in fact most Londoners have it worse. This would most likely come from an experienced cyclist. Which is exactly why I agree that we must not base policies on the opinion of committed cyclists. Only when I hear that and average person is happy with cycling conditions will I admit that cycling campaigns have done a good job.
Until then I will be one of the very few cycling with my kids to school.

PS. The pics were taken on my way to collect him. 
Update from today
This is another reason why I use the pavement when going up this bridge. Happened today. I wonder who pays for the damage - the driver obviously left, however he left his front bumper and licence plate behind. 

Sunday 11 September 2011

why we didn't go to the skyride

Last week I missed two events.
One of which was the launch of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. This I regret badly, but unfortunately family matters prevailed. Luckily I was in no way crucial to the opening and I bet my continuous support will be enough to help get the CEoGB off and running. I believe that this lot will do a lot more good with their limited resources and unlimited passion and drive than anyone else had before. Please support them!

The second one was the famous Mayor of London Skyride. We decided not to go. And there were a couple of reasons. Firstly as we live in East London we would have to traverse all of London to get there. This is something I do reluctantly. Very. Although the CS3 that would have lead us there is good at places yet it is still not a very pleasant ride - I don't mind doing it every day by myself but doing it with my entire family was a bit too much. This also meant that my older son wouldn't be able to cycle along so I would have to carry his bike there. No bus, train or boat takes a bakfiets bike on board ATM sadly.

Not a car in sight but highvis and sport
gear prevails. Go Skyride!
Secondly - I have been looking at the pictures of the last skyrides and something struck me really strongly - this looks like a trekkie convention, a freak show (no offence to the trekkies). A crowd of people on emptied streets riding in Highvis gear with their helmets on. The majority of these people didn't even come on bikes. They came there to sample what normal everyday riding would be like, yet they don't really know how to do it really. I didn't want to be a part of it.
If Skyride is to promote everyday cycling it should happen everyday during rush hour, school and grocery runs. What is the point of showing people that they can come to central London once a year and cycle aimlessly around? Perhaps a better idea would be showing them they can cycle with their kids to school, get their food and drink by bike, go visit friends by bike and go and do all other things by bike. Imagine that happening. But that would require good cycling tracks and parking (still according to some the jury is still out on weather dedicated cycle tracks are needed).

This year Kelly has lights that actually work
on her bike. Boris should have come on
a clown-bike - much more suited for the
This is why on that very day we used the substandard but useful cycle track close to us to take us to our local supermarket, then visited our friends and then went to feed the ducks - all on bikes. Not because the Mayor of London kindly let us, but because it was convenient to do so. Boris can ride along Kelly (or any other eyecandy for that matter) all he likes and it will do nought for everyday cycling.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

The Puncture Fairy

The dreaded and vicious creature, known to cyclists as the Puncture Fairy (PF) has visited me a couple of times before, mainly when I was running skinny tires on a road bike (once a week perhaps). Then I bought better tires and she took offence and visited less. Then when I switched to a Pashley bike and Marathon Plus tires it seems it had taken a hint and flew off back to the fairy land.
It came back though a couple of times to torment my bakfiets. The bakfiets runs on standard Marathon tyres. It's a pretty heavy bike plus it usually carries a decent amount of cargo (30kg of kids + weeks of groceries, an industrial carpet cleaner, 100kg of compost etc.) so the strain on the tires and tubes is considerable. Even when the carcass of the Marathon tire is strong enough to stop the spiky intruder at first it usually lodges itself in the rubber and then is slowly pushed in until it meats the soft and delicate inner tube. This means I usually stop and check the tires after riding through a particularly big patch of broken glass. Other times the weight of the cargo and the bike means that riding into a deep pothole at speed creates enough force to actually puncture the inner tube, and not even the best tire can protect against that.

I will not bore you with the previous punctures I had but will go straight to the one which happened today. It was a slow puncture so I was able to get home and carry out the repair in peace. It was on a rear tire so the chaincase, chain, gear cable and brake cable meant that I was going to simply repair it with tube patches rather than putting a new tube in. At this point the tube had still some air in it, but was definitely unridable.

This is the kit I use for tube repairs. Gloves help to keep your hands clean although you need pretty strong ones - the vinyl ones I use usually get torn around fingertips. On the other hand you don't want them too thick or you might find it difficult to apply the patch or perform other delicate tasks. Two cheap tyre levers - two forks or spoons with flat handles also work if you don't have these. Sanding paper to matt the area of rubber around the puncture, the patches which come in different sizes and shapes (I find the Weldtite patches good, but haven't tried any others yet so my recommendation would be pointless:) and the vulcanizing agent to glue the patches to the tube.
I needed to jack the bakfiets on some wood blocks so that the rear wheel could rotate freely - I had to readjust the blocks a couple of times to make sure the pedals could rotate freely as well, so that I could move the wheel back and forth.

 Firstly I removed the tire on the non-drivetrain side. It's a bit of work with the Marathon Tires, but not as hard as putting them back :)
 I found the offending shard of glass. My wife's cosmetic tweezers were perfect for getting it out.
Yep, this is the little bugger!
Finding the puncture was a pain as it was small and the wind outside made hearing the hiss of air a bit difficult. I had to use the magic potion.
The famous magic potion - bit of dish washing liquid and water. If you suspect a hole just apply it sparingly on the tube - if you see bubbles you found it!
Next I used the sanding paper to rough the area around the hole. The pros say there are people who rough too little and people who don't rough enough. So Make sure when you do it, you get to the nice fresh rubber underneath sot that the vulcanizing agent can work it's magic.
I applied the vulcanizing agent before actually checking how big the patch is going to be but the more the merrier I guess.
The 60 seconds you have to wait for the agent to start vulcanizing the rubber gives you time to prepare the patch.
Peel the silver layer.
Apply to the tube.
Some patches I put on in the spring still holding well...
Putting the tube back in the rim, I pumped it to make sure the patch holds. Nothing worse then finding it doesn't when you've replaced the tire bead.
Whoops, seems that there's a problem around the old patch. It's probably from the debris in the tire. When I pumped the tube it pressed against the tire and presto and new puncture ready. Remember kids always remove the debris from your tires before putting the tube back!
Once that puncture was fixed as well it was time to replace the tube in the rim (had to remove the valve as well to be able to get to the puncture). Put the nut back on the keep the tube in place.
New big patch and inside clear of debris.
Putting the bead back in. As you can clearly see here - the gloves gave up.
All done.
The tube holds air again.

And that all folks. Took me 10 minutes to fix it, while actually taking pictures. One thing I forgot to check it that the bead on the other side of the rim was in as well so I got a nasty surprise when I tried riding off. No problem - deflated the tire, pushed bead back in, inflated the tire - lesson for me - always check.
I must admit it's been  a while since I posted, mainly because there are other bloggers who write about important things better and usually before I think of them. There's been a lot happening lately - flashrides on Blackfriars Bridge, Street Talks, LCC going dutch, freewheeler taking leave and of course most importantly the Cycling Embassy of GB launch (as reported by Mark from ibikelondon) - so a lot of good things - the cycling world is gathering momentum it would seem.
Thanks for reading! I am planning to write a post all about the bakfiets - if there's anything that is of particular interest to you - drop me a line.

Thursday 3 March 2011

it's time to talk

I've been neglecting my blog, my twitter activity and many other things since the recession seems to be finally over in my segment of the market (as an extension of the "unexpected" boom in Middle Eastern building market) which means I have just enough spare time to see my kids every evening and to sleep.

However I have decided to use my lunch break to type up a quick but very important note about an event which I have been informed about by a group of very interesting people some time ago. Because of the vision of livable London these people share, they have come up with and idea of a platform for people to learn and express their ideas about how to improve the city and turning it from a transit zone into a place that people actually want to live in.

Thus an event has been set up for people who would like to see London change into a much more pleasant place. It's called Street Talks and the first one of a series is going to be held in The Yorkshire Grey pub on Tuesday 8th March (2011). Anyone who'd like to share ideas, learn something about urban design or have a nice pint with interesting people is very welcome.

As mentioned by Mark at his ibikelondon blog:

Tom Barry, all-seeing Mayoral eye and editor of Boriswatch is the first speaker; Tom not only “reads through TfL Board minutes so you don’t have to,” he lives under the flight path at Heathrow and is first to guess when the Piccadilly line might break down and why.. he's kicking things off with a transport-focussed address; "State of the City - the highs and lows of London transport policy 2000 - 2011".

These events are a unique opportunity for people who would like to influence policies in London to unite, find out about what they can do and get support for their own initiatives. 

See you there.

Oh, do check out their facebook page.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

cycling revolution - reality check

Firstly apologies for long pause in posting. As you all now I was out riding all day on my new bike. When I wasn’t riding my bicycle I was devouring massive amounts of posts my fellow bicycle bloggers were producing. Some of them where really amazing, some were annoying, because they were about the stuff I wanted to write about. Which is good, because it seems we share similar views.

The charming weather outside is taking it’s toll on me, this and the deepening depression caused by reading freewheelers rants made me reflect on the present and the future of mass cycling in London and UK. Let me just say that it’s overall even more depressing, however if it’s my feeling low influencing my views or my views influencing my depression I don’t know. Yet let’s not forget there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that the spring and summer for cycling are yet to come.

WARNING – this is a long post

There have been few things bothering me about the stance of the government regarding the situation on the road. Hardly anyone misses the fact that if you are not in a car you are usually 2nd or even 3rd category citizen at best. This is the result of waging the “war on motorists” apparently started by the Labour and now made to end my Tories. Many bloggers have been writing about the utter nonsense of calling it a war on motorists and that such thing never existed. If there were any nuisances created for the drivers they were

_ well compensated for by the comfort and privileges they get
_ a simple compensation for the damage the extremely high car usage has brought to the city

Now these changes are to be reversed. Which will create more congestion, more frustration, worse air pollution, and will generally decrease the quality of living in London and everywhere else to be frank.
Plus it’s a general misunderstanding to call people who use a car for transport motorists, just as calling people who use bicycles cyclists. It creates divisions and that’s really what it is about. This is not the way forward. We are all people, sharing the same space and choosing different modes of transport. What we need is a better awareness of how our choice affects ourselves and everyone else and infrastructure that values all choices in the same way. At the moment if you choose the car you are massively better off – however the cost to the society and most importantly for yourself is quite high.

The car is a very useful machine (even though it creates a lot of problems at the same time) – it’s convenient, fast, safe (for it’s user) and highly practical. Yet what needs to be said is that it proves to be useless in dense urban areas for the simple reason that there’s never going to be enough room for everyone to have a car. Yet by discouraging other modes of transport (crowded and overpriced PT, poor quality cycle provisions, cluttered and narrow pavements) we encourage more people to drive. And they do – not because they are bad or they don’t care (even if some don’t) but because of convenience. 90% of the population don’t want to be heroes – they simply want to live their lives in comfort, which the car offers to them.

What’s left unsaid is that once people who drive get out of their cars they have to use crappy pavements, cover long distances on foot – which is the effect of taking space away from people to give them to cars. It baffles me why people don’t oppose – but then it’s probably because it’s compensated by the comfort of the car and some people simply hardly get out of them.

Now to change this situation a different approach is needed. And it’s a revolutionary one. This approach means that the space is divided according to the needs of different users. By allowing and making different transport modes equal you create an alternative for people to choose from. Yet provisions for all need to be made of the same quality.

Why is this important? Because while people don’t want to be heroes, some genuinely want to cycle. They know about the benefits, they are willing to do it and their situation permits them to.  According to this post the demographics are shaped in such a way that the current levels of people cycling fall in a very tiny percentage of the population. These are the people who already cycle – be it the sporty type or the utility type. They share the will to do so – some regardless of the circumstances. Obviously there’s also a group that would never cycle, period. This accounts for about 33% of population of Portland and I believe it’s somewhat similar in London. Now between the 8% of population who already cycle and the 33% of people who wouldn’t no matter what there is around 60% that would provide they were feeling safe and convenient.  Unless this requisite is met cycling will not go up from the 2-3%, which it is at, at the moment.

This is because we’ve hit the barrier – all the cycling campaigns have been focusing on getting this small percentage of people on bikes. It’s easy when someone really wants to cycle. All the provisions the cycle campaigns want are sufficient to keep these people happy (oh, they like to complain, sure but that doesn’t mean that the status quo isn’t to their liking). What’s more disturbing is that the cycling campaigns are made up of people who cycle, so in the end they campaign for people who already cycle. They campaign for provisions adequate for less then 9% of the population. How do I know that – because people vote with their bikes the modal share remains at 2-3%. What other proof do you need?
And people are not lazy either – a lot of people go to gyms after work to get exercise that the bike would give them. Yet the concern about their safety doesn’t allow them. It’s really hard to take risks when you are the sole breadwinner and you have kids. Trust me.  Thus a new type of cycling campaign must be born. A group of people that caters for the 66% of population that requires something else than painted lanes, which cars ignore. A campaign that is not afraid of calling the  emperor’s naked and doesn’t dismiss examples from successful countries in Europe and lobbies to create comprehensive and high quality provisions.

Unless this happens we will be stuck with organisations who want well for their members of course, but who refuse to see that they marginalise cycling in effect. Plus they propagate the tired old myths about good cycling infrastructure: “we live in an ancient city” as if Amsterdam or Copenhagen we all built in the 20th century, “cycle tracks are dangerous” as if roads were safer, “there’s no political will” – well no, since nor you nor anyone else is lobbying for them how can there be, “it would cost billions” – billions less then the car infrastructure, plus how much does it cost to take one lane away from motor vehicles and put a kerb there so it’s not flouted on every occasion.

The light I mentioned at the beginning is the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain established by Jim from Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club.  It seems that out of frustration born from interaction with the cycling campaigns a new kind of lobby is born. I am keenly following the embassy and will personally get involved to help them out.

The biggest challenge in front of any such attempt is getting through to the general public. Let’s face it most of people who read cycle blogs are people who ride bikes anyway.  While they’re of course not to be neglected the target audience are people who don’t. This is not about safety in numbers anymore – it’s about political force. And it’s not about getting people on bikes straight away either – they won’t until the road space is given to them to ride their bikes not worried about people driving their cars carelessly. It’s about getting people to write to their representatives and demand safe bicycle infrastructure to create liveable city.

There is hope since more and more people start buying practical bikes. There are more and more people writing about what to buy. While you might thinks it’s not relevant to mass cycling I think otherwise. The choice of bicycle determines its uses. A sporty bike will appeal to a user at first but will demonstrate its limitations quite soon becoming a toy rather then a tool.  On the other hand a practical utility bike will be used a lot, for different purposes, proving a great investment. It will also prove to others around you that a car is not a necessity. People buying practical bikes drag riding bikes out of the niche sport cycling and the campaigns have pushed it into.  No nonsense, no lycra just utilitarian tool. This in turn makes more people want to ride bikes, which in turn benefits them all.

While it’s important to get people who don’t ride bikes on them it’s also important to get people who already ride to act. The fact that the only voice belongs to the old cycling campaigns means that the status quo will be maintained. And there’s a lot anyone of us can do. For example the LIP consultation in the City of London. Any of us can write to their MP and councillors. It’s time to change the PR problem of the bicycle by showing the authorities that normal people want to ride their bikes safely on well designed cycle tracks.

PS. I am trying to help the Embassy by creating a visual campaign aimed to highlight the benefits of using bicycle for transport – all ideas welcome.

I wish you all  Happy New Year on your bicycle.

Tuesday 28 December 2010

bakfiets long delivered prologue

Richard from Workcycles has kindly provided me with some photographs of my bakfiets before it left their shop in Amsterdam. Enjoy.