Tuesday 31 August 2010

my thoughts on red light jumping

Whenever anyone criticises people riding their bikes, this topic always comes up. This is why people in cars don’t like people on bikes, and why walking people don’t like people on bikes. It is said that RLJ is the reason other road users disrespect people on bikes, since they disrespect the law.
There are two types of RLJ in my opinion. One is the type committed mostly by cyclists (lycra-clads, couriers etc) where they just bomb through a red light without even looking, or just having had one quick look. It’s quite probable that, regardless of the skills the cyclist might allegedly possess, that s/he might hit someone or something that has right of way. Then there’s a second type where a person on a bike stops at the red light and then, having checked for any oncoming traffic, proceeds through the junction. The risk of hitting something is as small as one where there is a STOP sign instead of a traffic light.
Both of these manoeuvres are illegal, though. Both are frowned upon by all people, except some cyclists that think of it as a reason to boast. The interesting thing however is why people riding bikes RLJ (and let’s cross the kamikaze aspect out). Firstly lights are an invention created for the use of motorised traffic. Because of the speed and mass of these vehicles measures have been brought into place to avid serious collisions. Bicycles, pedestrians never needed such measures – they were only installed where these two types of traffic interacted with the motorised traffic. Secondly every stop means that a cyclist has to use up energy to reach his previous speed. This is especially seen as a waste where a person on a bike has to wait at the lights, where there is no traffic at all, or where it is safe to proceed after checking for oncoming traffic.
This is why, while I don’t endorse RLJ and I rarely do it, I think there should be a change in law regarding red light and people on bikes. Red light should be equivalent to STOP sign (for bicycles only!), where you pull up to the junction, have a good look, and then proceed. This would definitely make riding our bikes on inadequate London cycle lanes and paths much less frustrating. It would also demonstrate people in cars another great advantage of the bicycles. 
The problem with this might be that people do not trust people on bikes, since they see us all as cyclists. They don't think in terms of - oh, what if it was my daughter or mother, because they know cyclists are mostly 20-something YO single men in lycra, or hooded youngsters on BMX. Both groups hardly respectable by the general public. Perhaps when the demographics change and people start riding their bikes instead of cycling the view on this matter changes as well. But till then – let’s play by the rules and don’t RLJ. 

Friday 27 August 2010

does segregation exclude integration

So it seems that there are two groups of people who ride bikes – ones who would like to ride on the roads, and the ones who would like separate infrastructure. If  you haven’t noticed I belong to the second group.  It’s been pointed out to me, that my advocacy of segregation will lead to a situation where a person on a bicycle entering the road with one wheel, by mistake even, will be first abused and then probably murdered by white, middle aged blokes driving black cabs or Addison-Lee cars. So instead of spending money on separate infrastructure, which would allow people of all ages and levels of fitness to ride bicycles, we should focus on training the aforementioned men to behave, be polite and courteous to other road users.
First things first – there is no amount of training that can change some people. What does it though is peer pressure. This is what we are seeing now – because drivers are the majority they cannot relate to people on bicycles and therefore can’t see their faulty behaviour and are not scrutinised by their peers. Let’s reverse that situation. Imagine that 98% of people cycle – a person in a cab who shouts at cyclist would be either ostracized or beaten to bloody pulp with dlocks, depending on which part of the world it would happen.
Secondly segregated infrastructure doesn’t mean banning bicycles from the roads. Segregated cycle paths mean more people riding their bikes, which in turns mean less cars. It also means that people in cars are also people who ride bikes. Which in turn means they understand what it’s like to ride a bicycle on the road.  Less cars on the roads means more room for people on bikes, it means bicycles having priority over cars.  Can you see here a threat to people who want to ride their bikes on the road?
For some reason separate cycling infrastructure hasn’t killed cycling in Holland, it hasn’t killed cycling in Denmark. Vehicular cycling on the other hand is killing cycling in UK. Vehicular cycling is elitist, it’s for mostly young, male athletes on carbon bikes who like to boast about breaching 30mph average speed on their commute. It’s not inclusive and it lacks appeal for other groups of people. Separate infrastructure is for everyone and doesn’t stop you from using the road. Look at the Netherlands – they can cycle on roads (except motorways, same as in UK) , and yet they choose to use their brilliant cycling infrastructure. And they have the highest modal share for cycling in the world while UK gets up to 2% on a sunny day.  

Thursday 26 August 2010

oh, now I get it

It just occured to me that we are in a vicious circle. 

People drive because it's not safe to cycle.
It's not safe to cycle, because there are too many cars on the roads.
We cannot build cycle paths because we need parking spaces for cars,
People need cars because there aren't enough cycle paths. 

Therein lies the root of the problem. And while I am not anti car - it has it's purpose - I think we need to realize that at some point the car started to limit us instead of setting us free. 

By the way - I felt that restricting commenting to only those with google acounts or some such is a bit exclusive, so now anyone can comment. 

Skinner Street

Yesterday I’ve noticed something I wish I could see more often. I was travelling through Skinner Street in Islington when I saw this

This is one of the most optimal arrangements for London – sidewalk, cycle path, perhaps some parking for cars, road then cycle path and sidewalk. Yes you can have parking spaces AND a cycle pat. Amazing I know!

The only better solution would be cable street style cycle path, but hey – if the Cycle Superhighways looked like this, people who cycle would worship Boris. The only thing I would change is the kerb – I personally don’t think it has to be that wide – it could be made narrower but taller.
PS If you have examples of well-executed cycle infrastructure in London e-mail them to me. I’ll be happy to there snap some photos and write about them on my blog.

Monday 23 August 2010

TfL pretty pretty pretty gooood

It is quite remarkable that TfL started promoting riding bicycles in this way.
It's stylish, establishes bicycle as a fashinable mean of transport and shows normal people riding it. No more of this lycra rubbish. Ladies riding in their skirts men rolling up their trousers (well they haven't thought about full chainguards yet!). I think it's the usuall strategy of TfL to show some of people riding bikes with and some without helmets, which points out to the freedom of choice to wear them. Good on them.
The campaign also suggests that people pick up riding on their bikes when seeing other people/collegues doing it. It so happens that most people cycle, where they have good infrastructure. Go figure...


cycle stories

TfL Design standards

I've been pointed to these TfL publications by Tom Bogdanowicz, leader of the infamous LCC. It makes a very interesting reading and sums up pretty much everything people riding bikes could want and what they dislike. The thing is that these guidelines are either ignored or are going to be used in the future projects, because I can hardly see them being used now. What is good however is that TfL acknowledges a couple of important points:
1) people use bicycle facilities if they are well designer, direct and with unbroken priority
2) people do not use bicycle facilities of poor design, which are a waste of investment

PS. I will be posting some interesting excerpts in the following days.

Friday 20 August 2010

pics for people who like riding their bikes

Brilliant poster campaign by http://www.manchesterfoe.org.uk/lyb/adcampaign.php
And another one, this time from Australia. I couldn't find a credit for this one, so if anyone knows drop me a line. 

when I converted

After spending some time on my bike I felt that something’s not right. I raced to work, because everyone seemed to be racing (well what do you do dressed up in lycra on a road bike – you race), I arrived sweaty and had to do the superman thing (change in the loo). I had to carry all my stuff (additional clothes for instance) in my bagpack (which made my back wet). By that time I’ve been reading a lot about cycling and even something about riding a bike (also called utility cycling) and decided I need an overhaul. It didn’t happen overnight – first I started wearing normal shorts instead of lycra ones, then ditched the helmet and jerseys in favour of a cap (good for when it rains) and t-shirts (longsleeves for cold mornings).  I installed a rack on my road bike in an effort to make it more utilitarian, and now carry my bag on it, so my back stays dry. I also stopped racing to work – I leave 10 minutes earlier, I travel at 20-24km/h  and get to work dry and relaxed.
I remember when I first bought my bike I had a list of things I wanted to buy and on it I had – spd shoes and pedals, deep v rims and so on and on. I thought I needed them because of people on a forums bragging about upgrading their bikes to make them faster. Sort of like boy racers on the streets of London, bragging about their super loud exhaust on their corsa and 1000W sound system. You know the type.
Then I realised that the bike has to be a utility first, a tool that allows me to do things, independent of public transport and cars. As I wanted to take my son to different parks I bought a child trailer – brilliant thing. We go to the local supermarket to do shopping together (around 2 miles away from where we live) – he’s riding in the trailer (until he’s big enough to raid a trailabike) and then we pack all the bags in it and take it home – this I find to be the bicycle at it’s best – not racing.
Also while cars and trains are a mean of transport, riding a bike is an adventure on its own to me. I don’t need to rush on my bike to get somewhere, because I enjoy the ride already.  Try it – you might be surprised. 

Thursday 19 August 2010

Trying to make a bicycle more utilitarian

I can only imagine that it's quite often that people buy a bike without knowing their needs, basing their choice solely on what they see on the streets.

This lady recognized that the mountain bike she has is not accommodating her need for a storage compartment, which is why she decided to add a fruit display crate to the rear rack to create it. Ingenious!

Wednesday 18 August 2010

eye opener for cyclist (and people on bicycles)

Today while riding down Naval Row I’ve noticed a couple of uniformed gentleman on the pavement. Seconds later, I’ve been stopped.  Didn’t really know what was going on until I spotted a DAF dumper truck on the sidewalk with blind spots marked around it.
I was then invited to take a seat behind the wheel (something I always wanted to do – seriously I love lorries, especially semis) and then the constable proceeded to tell me about lorries, casualties among cyclists (mostly women) and blind spots. I asked about the Trixie mirrors, and have been told that they are on trial and that they most definitely will be installed on junctions with high bicycle traffic.
Afterwards I’ve been given an opportunity to register my frame number on the police database and also received a nice set of bike lights. Sweet – I love freebies.
It turns out that Tower Hamlet council, which had accommodated the CS3 is holding an “eye opener for cyclists” events every Wednesday throughout August.  Unfortunately they do not state where the next events will be taking place but I’ll try to find out and post it.
I am lucky enough that my route doesn’t go on major road with high levels of HGV traffic. But even then I try to ride in a safe distance from lorries (and others alike). Getting there two minutes earlier isn’t worth my life. And yes – again it’s off-putting - being told that I can so easily die while riding a bike, just because I have to share the road with lorries, that can’t see objects as small as a person on a bike. While educating people on bicycles about the dangers is of course welcome and useful it’s not a long-term solution. If lorries kill people on bikes they should be separated in the same way you build pavements for pedestrians and don’t try to force them on the roads together with lorries, right? 

Tuesday 17 August 2010

why do they ride in PT gear?

Let’s establish one fact. In London everyone hates cyclists. Even the cyclists hate cyclists. Now that we got it out of the way we can proceed to  the point of this post.
I am not a cyclist.  I do ride a bike however. I wouldn’t to be described by the mean of transport I use.  I often use the Woolwich Ferry yet I do not consider myself to be a river sailor.  I first got a bicycle in my adult life end of April 2010. I had been in London for 4 years and during that time I used buses, tubes and DLR to get to work because I thought that a car was a waste of time and money. During these four years it never crossed my mind to get on a bicycle.
Why? The only cyclist I ever saw were ones that looked very alike the Tour de France competitors.  I am not saying they were the only ones on the road, but they were the most numerous and the most visible. I didn’t see it very practical and convenient to ride like this . Secondly what I knew about cycling in London was that it made people die under HGVs and that you had to dodge cars and try to survive. It wasn’t very appealing I must say.
It was only once I’ve had to jump between two jobs that I decided to give the bicycle a try. Now I wanted a bike that’s fast and matched others I saw,  so I went to the sports supermarket Decathlon and bought their cheapest road bike plus some lycra and jerseys , helmet, shoes  - the lot. I bought all this because that was the image of a cyclist in my head. I didn’t know any better.
In the eyes of the general population riding a bicycle is a sport (cycling), where you either dart between lorries or take part in terrifying pileups during races. Cycling makes you sweaty and requires that you wear lycra, helmet and ridiculous hi vis jackets. This will never appeal to the general public.
If using a bicycle for transportation is to be popular more people riding in their every-day clothes are necessary. People mustn’t feel like they are participating in a race while riding a bike. And people need segregated bicycle paths to ride their bikes. Then it becomes riding a bike and stops being cycling. 

Monday 16 August 2010

why people who drive should campaign together with people who cycle!

The answer seems to be this – both groups are fed up of each other! People who cycle moan about disrespectful and sometimes dangerous people in cars. People in cars moan about people who cycle getting in their way. Now it doesn’t take a genius to realize that both groups should be separated. And it can be done in London, Dutch style, oh yes. Examples: Cable/Candle St and North Woolwich road, are two I know about – I use them every day to get to work. While they’re not perfect (yield signs for people on bicycles where people in cars have to then yield to car traffic anyway) they do what they are supposed to do – segregate traffic, and allow people to pootle on their bikes next to fat moving car traffic (North Woolwich Road). Cable Street path teems with people on bikes in the morning, same with Narrow Street (both are part of the CS3) which could also be fitted with a feature like this without a problem, given the relatively small number of cars using it and that it is a one way street anyway.

This could basically be done with most one way streets in London, but it would mean removing parking spaces from one side of the roads which the councils and road planners are reluctant to do, probably fearing the backlash from the motorized. The bottom line is that there will never be enough parking spaces and never enough capacity on the streets to accommodate all cars. And let’s not kid ourselves – the number of people is growing and so is the number of cars they own. Creating new parking spaces on the streets will never solve the problem. However there is a different approach, and it’s not necessarily building underground parking lots.

How about the councils start discouraging people from driving by making it even more difficult and expensive than it already is. I mean it’s already pretty horrible to drive in London, and it costs a small fortune, but people don’t see an alternative. The public transport is either slow or quite expensive (or both) and cycling at the moment is not very appealing. Imagine a situation where you are stuck in traffic and next to you, you see a person on a bicycle (in everyday clothes) cycling on a nice separate path and passing you, then another one and another; suddenly you understand that while you are wasting your time and money (and health) they are enjoying themselves, getting fitter and getting to their destination in time and relatively quickly.

The average speed of a car in the centre of London is said to be 9mph.  Anyone can do that on a bike. If we are given proper, direct and well maintained cycle paths people will start seeing cycling as a safe and convenient alternative to car transport. This will benefit the society in so many ways – people will get fitter, less stressed; roads will become a more pleasant place for everyone (less cars); the city will become less polluted; then with the growing number of cyclist there will be pressure on the councils to keep the paths in good repair, widen them – although you can be sure that they will never take up as much space as roads meant for cars.

 People who drive should team up with people who cycle to lobby for segregation of the traffic, to help make out city more livable. Sure – a trip to Brighton might require a car if you don’t like trains, but let’s keep cars out of the city centre – this will benefit all of us.

After all, whenever we are people who drive cars or people who ride bicycles, we are all people and we want to live in a pleasant place, safe for our children, sustainable and clean. No?