Sunday 31 October 2010

Road work - job well done

My daily commute takes me over the Lower Lea Crossing bridge. This bridge sported a very narrow yet very useful cycle path. It was very useful, since this bridge is used by big rigs and dumper lorries from the nearby industrial estates in high volumes. Although not well maintained (the surface is cleaned yet not very even) the cycle path makes it possible to climb the slope of the bridge and then ride downhill without having to worry about being crushed. Some people do however use the road there (mostly wearing lycra for some reason) which always amazes me, more-so since I've actually seen the aftermath of an accident, where a cyclist has been clipped by a lorry and his bicycle turned into a very interesting contemporary sculpture. Anyways - the Tower Hamlets council decided the time came to broaden the cycle path. That's something to praise them for. However what I really want to write about is the way they are doing it. Usually you'd have CYCLISTS DISMOUNT signs, or pedestrians and people on bikes would be forced to use the road on their own risk - perhaps even look for a detour. This time it's been done differently. Namely - one of the car lanes has been closed. YES it happened. The car traffic had been inconvenienced to make it more convenient for pedestrians and people on bikes. And this is amazing. One whole lane has been coned off and turned into a bicycle path (shared with the few pedestrians that use it).
I am actually going to write Tower Hamlet Council to praise them for this - I mean we like to nag about this or that not being done properly, so I guess it's only fair to praise people when they do things right.

Another observation is that removing one lane does not in any way hindered the traffic flow. There are no jams, everything is running smoothly. Which makes me wonder - in how many places a whole lane could be made into a nice cycle path without any inconvenience to the drivers. What do you think.

A couple of photographs below. Sorry for the quality - I have yet to but myself a decent camera.

Thursday 28 October 2010

A little bit about cycling facilities from LCC Camden

Segregated Facilities. Paul Gannon, Nov 2000.

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Segregated facilities are needed to encourage more cycling, by Paul Gannon, 1/11/2000
A discussion paper by Paul Gannon, Camden Cycling Campaign
This paper was written as a contribution to discussions within the London Cycling Campaign on whether we should press for continental style cycle facilities in London. This is an edited version of the original paper.
This discussion could be one of the most important that LCC has faced and it is now an appropriate time to review our attitudes to cycle engineering given the potential for support for some serious cycling provision in our capital city now that we have a London-wide local authority.
It seems to me that the arguments put by some LCC members against segregated facilities fall into two groups: 1) specific failings that are due to poor design, legal uncertainty, poor maintenance, etc. 2) points of principle such as the view that cycling in segregated facilities reduces the ability of cyclists to cope with motor vehicle traffic. A related argument puts forward the idea, in John Franklin's words in the semi-official manual, Cyclecraft, that "facilities segregated from the carriageway mainly benefit riders who fear motor traffic"1.
I accept that some opponents of segregated facilities may want argue that group 1 problems are inherent in segregated facilities, but I reject that argument entirely and point to the numerous examples of well-designed facilities in the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavian countries which do not suffer from the faults which routinely mar such projects in the UK.
I think we should initially try to set on one side the type 1 issues as they can get us bogged down in minor details and that we concentrate on the principles. Understanding the type 1 issues is, of course, vital for getting the design of such facilities right &endash; especially at junctions &endash; but doesn't affect the principle.
One person in the LCC discussion pointed out that glass builds-up in segregated cycle facilities (but failed to refer to glass build-up in non segregated facilities). This really isn't an inherent weakness, rather it's due to the council not understanding or not caring that cycle routes, segregated or not, need cleaning like all highways. These are points of implementation and shouldn't be allowed to prevent us supporting segregated facilities if we feel they are needed. That would be allowing the tail to wag the dog.
Similarly, John Franklin and some of the e-mail discussion correspondents have pointed out a failing of many segregated tracks is the way give way markings tend to proliferate at every driveway and thus cyclists lose the priority that they had by being on the carriageway. But once again, this is a little local difficulty &endash; although one deeply embedded in the psyche of the British traffic engineer, and also to some degree in the oddities of English, and Scottish, law relating to the roads. To see that this is not inherent to segregated facilities, one again only has to take a proper look at the tracks in the Netherlands etc.

Two way segregated track which gives cyclists priority at unsignalled junctions. Royal College Street, Camden.

As I understand that argument of principle, put as far as I have seen most consistently by John Franklin, the main case is that segregated facilities reduce the ability of cyclists to cope with motor vehicle traffic when, as inevitably must happen, segregated facilities end and shared facilities are unavoidable; separating traffic reduces the ability of both cyclists and motorists to deal with one another when they do have to interact. As Franklin puts it, "using cycle paths can result in these cyclists being more at risk".
I engaged in a short correspondence some time ago with John Franklin when he described Dutch cyclists as being less competent as cyclists than us Brits on his website and elsewhere 2. Having lived for three years in the Hague (and also for three years in Brussels) I found this comment demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of cycling in the Netherlands. Indeed, were it not such a serious subject, the view that British cyclists are more competent that the Dutch would be laughable. Unfortunately it is simply very worrying
For the undeniable truth is that the general level of cycling skill here in the UK is abysmal. It is several orders of magnitude lower than in the Netherlands - and I had to contact him to say so. His response was that he was describing how Dutch cyclists often report having problems with motor vehicle traffic when they come to the UK. This was what he meant by a lower competence. But this, and other discussions with people who oppose segregated cycle facilities, show just how much people misunderstand the reality of cycling in places such as the Netherlands.
Traffic is not just motor vehicles
I think this reveals the thinking that underlies the opposition to segregated facilities. There is a deep rooted, unquestioned assumption here &endash; namely that the key cycling skill is about dealing with motor vehicles. The argument becomes a circular one &endash; the skill that matters is dealing with motor vehicle traffic, ergo anything that reduces the relative significance of that skill is undesirable.
This is evident from Franklin's own, semi-official guide to cycling skills, Cyclecraft, where just two paragraphs are devoted to dealing with "other cyclists". Indeed, the chapter on "non-traffic hazards" only starts on page 117 &endash; and this is the category in which Franklin puts "other cyclists" along with other such topics as "bad surfaces"! The underlying assumption throughout is that dealing with "traffic" (ie motor vehicles) is what matters and everything else is just other hazards. The chapters "Sharing the roads", "Riding along", "Everyday maneouvres" and "The more difficult maneouvres" are exclusively about motor vehicles.
This reflects an environment where motor vehicles dominate. But if you are an everyday cyclist in the Netherlands, your most common interaction is with other cyclists. And that requires a level of skill and awareness which is demonstrably absent in the British cyclist - however skilled he or she may like to consider themselves in adopting the fast, centre-of-the-lane-hugging, adrenaline-pumping, style of cycling effectively recommended by many opponents of segregated facilities.
I suspect that the fear of segregated facilities is really a fear that hard-won, highly-valued skills of handling all those motor vehicles will be become less important.
*Core issue8
The core issue, as far as I am concerned, is increasing the number of cyclists.
Now, I simply do not understand how the increase in cycling that I envisage is possible without high-throughput, high-quality, dedicated cycle carriageways&endash; or segregated facilities. Let me emphasise that such facilities are not the whole answer, but they must play a key role in providing backbone network links, hopefully, integrated with other local measures such as motor traffic-calming, speed reduction, home-zone type engineering, cycle-exempted road closures and turnings etc.

A road closure outside an infants school creates a cyclists-only faciliy showing how segregation, road closures, and local environmental improvements can be integrated. Amsterdam.

There are two strands to this. First, as we know from repeated surveys, masses of people who want to cycle, or would consider cycling, simply dismiss it as too dangerous &endash; and nearly all parents similarly rule it out for their children for the same reason. The number of people that fits into Franklin's category of those who "fear" motor traffic is vast. Do we not want them to cycle? Do we not bother about them if we can get things made slightly better for those of us mad enough to cycle in London now?
The key question is how do we deal with this? Do we, as I unfortunately all too often hear and read those cyclists activists against segregated facilities doing all too often, try to explain to these people that they are wrong? Do we, in effect, say the problem is with you for fearing motor traffic; if I can survive by cycling fast, holding the centre of the lane and using my presence to dominate potentially transgressive motor vehicles, so can you? Do we, in effect, say that cycling is only for the macho &endash; for the types who revel in negotiating the big fast roundabouts?
Or should we accommodate people's fears and try to develop cycling environments that are attractive to the fearful? If we want to establish cycling as a mode of transport, it must become a thing which nearly everyone can consider doing &endash; not just doubling cycling levels or even quadrupling them (though that is obviously the start). That means that we must tackle the issues that prevent cycling and no amount of lecturing people will change what they think. We have to change road conditions to create conditions where people are willing to cycle.
The speed reduction campaign is one part of addressing this, but any such campaign will only have an effect once speeds are reduced and that will take two to three decades at least if the breathalyser experience is taken into account &endash; and that assumes, against current trends which are going in the opposite direction, that substantial police resources will be devoted to enforcement. It also assumes that the residual transgressor rate will be so minimal as not to impact on peoples' perception of the road environment.
Cyclists vote with their wheels for segregated tracks
In promoting the Seven Stations Link (a high-quality, segregated backbone link around Central London), we have found substantial support from non-cycling groups such as Local Agenda 21 and many local residents' groups. In the public consultation on the Camden section 76% of residents supported the proposal. Ordinary people say 'that is what would get me on my bike". Indeed we must be aware that there are hundreds of thousands of unused bikes rotting in sheds or blocking their corridors of people who have given up cycling because of the conditions &endash; and many of whom would cycle if they had continental style facilities. We ignore this at our peril.
And there is evidence from Royal College Street that existing cyclists too want this type of facility. The first figures from the council show that cycle numbers on Royal College Street have increased threefold since the segregated track was opened. Now there is no reason to believe that this is due to new cyclists as you still have to cope with the Camden Rd gyratory at the northern end &endash; and every reason to believe that cyclists who previously used the Somers Town backstreet route (through College Place) or the mainroads of St Pancras Way and Camden St, and probably other routes too, have switched to Royal College Street.
Give them the opportunity and current cyclists will vote with their wheels for segregated facilities
Personally I make no apology whatsoever for admitting that I fear motor traffic &endash; as do most ordinary, sentient people. I understand fully the concerns of those who simply aren't prepared to cycle under present conditions. I have no problem is saying that I don't want cycling to be the preserve of 17 to 47 year olds &endash; as is evidently the case in Central London. As I approach 50 and observe that accident rates rise for older people, I will not accept that I should have to think about giving up cycling because the cycling lobby isn't willing to take account of the overwhelming majority of people who quite reasonably fear motor traffic.
Changing the age profile of cyclists, both up and down, should be a primary objective - as it will definitely be a measure of our success or failure in the long-run.

Segregated cycle tracks as part of a city-wide cycle route provision results to a different age-profile of cyclists than we see on London's streets. Note how careful junction design overcomes potential conflict with motor vehicles. Munich

Also there seems to me to be one incontrovertible statistical correlation &endash; in those countries where you have the highest level of high-quality, often segregated, cycle facilities you also have the highest cycling rates. Flanders is an interesting example. Outside of Brussels there are ubiquitous cycle tracks in every city, town, village and between them &endash; and lots of people of all age groups using them. But in the biggest city, Brussels, where there are virtually no facilities, you see absolutely no cyclists.
I suggest that opponents of segregated facilities must address this point &endash; that there is a clear and evident relationship between cycling levels and the provision of segregated facilities as part of a wider provision of cycle facilities.
The reason why segregated facilities exist in the Netherlands and not here, is, in my view, due to differences in the political process, not culture or topographic flatness or other supposed national characteristic. The critical point is that the motivation behind people wanting such facilities is the same as here as it is in the Netherlands &endash; it is pressure from cyclists that leads to continued provision of high-quality and segregated facilities in such countries.

Coherent city-wide segregated cycle routes combined with traffic-calmed areas encourages parents to teach children to cycle in real traffic environments. note how quick and effective road space re-allocation is ahcieved with minimal engineering. This track will be upgraded when funds are available to a higher standard of engineering, but a key link in the city network across a bridge, has been quickly provided. Amsterdam.

*Cycling down a cul-de-sac8
The sad thing about this discussion is that we, that is cyclists' lobby, have been here before - more than once indeed. And we are in real danger that the fundamentalists, that is those who oppose segregated facilities, will again leave us as a lobby isolated and, much worse, end up with cycling itself constrained as a minority, crank interest. If these seem like harsh words, just consider what has happened in the past.
"The bicycle faction has also involved itself in political lobbying, some of which no seems a trifle wrongheaded", write Roderick Watson & Martin Gray in The Penguin Book of the Bicycle 3. They are referring to the late 1930s when the cycling lobby, represented by the CTC, opposed a government decision to make compulsory rear lights on bikes &endash; "a decision which it considered pernicious and even dangerous".
"The main objection to rear lights was that the onus of avoiding accidents ought always to rest with the overtaker rather than the overtaken; motorists should adjust their speed to suit visibility and conditions and not depend on cyclists being self-illuminated." It was the CTC's determined and long held opposition to rear lights that left it regarded as a cranks' lobbying organisation rather than a serious part of the transport industry for many years. Of course, in fundamental terms, the argument is right &endash; but it doesn't take account of reality which is necessarily a compromise between the differing characteristics of transport modes.
This episode is well documented, but a more recent and similarly isolating stance was taken in the 1950s. This is less well known and is recalled only by participants (on whom I am therefore relying) and involves opposition by the cycling lobby to the provision of segregated cycle tracks. Cyclists, it was argued, must integrate with other traffic.
It seems screamingly obvious to me that this approach is an abject failure. Cycling here has declined over the long run, while it has increased or stayed steady at high levels in those continental European countries which rejected our way of doing things. I repeat this is a point which those who oppose segregated facilities have to address.
My great fear is that, as we face an unparalleled opportunity here in London to reverse the damage done by 50 years of the previous policy, we will repeat the same errors and leave ourselves isolated once again as a marginal, fundamentalist lobby lecturing the world that everyone else is wrong, while the mass of people, who would cycle if the right conditions were provided, take no notice of us. If we don't directly

*An example of how a continuous cycle route, plus accompanying traffic reduction and calming measures, can be created by re-allocating road space by effectivesegregation. The Hague. This is the model for the Seven Stations Link proposed by Camden Cycling Campaign.*

  • 1 Cyclecraft, page 149 2 "Sustrans has often cited the fact that Dutch cyclists sometimes leave the ferry at Harwich and find traffic so difficult to deal with that they go back home! Interestingly, this problem is not experienced by cyclists arriving from France, Spain or the USA. Proficiency in using roads on a regular basis is essential to maximise safety, and to maximise one's cycling horizons. I would not like to see Britain on the slope down to Dutch levels of cycling competence." John Franklin, letter to Sustrans 1998. 3 The Penguin Book of the Bicycle, page 274
© Paul Gannon 2000.
Photographs © Fairpix or Paul Gasson

Last modified 23-Aug-2004 08:58

Wednesday 27 October 2010

New commuter - which bike?

This question comes up very often on many bicycle forums I tend to read. Now since most of these forums are dominated by a very specific breed of cyclists the answers are a little biased.

Now let's look at a person, who heard about cycling, wants to cycle and needs advice. Since bicycle culture in UK is pretty much non existant they haven't got a clue what they are doing. They've seen people going around on road bikes and now when they ask about what to buy they find out that they need carbon frame, clipless pedals (oh wait for you clipped-in moment), ultegra groupset, mitts, shoes that accomodate cleats, jerseys, helmet and an array of computers, clip on lights and bibs or gilets. Alternatively it's a fixie/hybrid/MTB.

Nobody ever says "Look, this really depends on what you want to do with your bike". If you want to race, by all means go for carbon rims and v-bars. But - if you want your bicycle to be a versatile transport think about these things

1) You don't have to wear special clothes to cycle
2) You want a bicycle that let's you carry some cargo
3) You want a bicycle that can brave the elements
4) You want a bicycle that needs hardly any maintenance
5) You want a bicycle that's durable
6) You want a bicycle that's comfortable

Now some will say that first of all you need a bike that's light and fast and that's very true - when you race. But riding in an urban environment is not about racing - I meet most people that overtake me waiting at the next set of lights. Now let me elaborate a little bit about the points above

1) I found having to change before and after the ride quite annoying. I also found out that the Dutch and Copenhageners ride in their everyday clothes. Just as you don't change to walk you shouldn't have to change for riding your bike (bar racing). It's much more convenient. Keyword: Full Chain Guard

2) After riding with a backpack I had my back all wet - not very pleasant. So I installed a rack on my racing bike to carry my work stuff with me. When I wanted to pop out to the shop to get some groceries I found that I needed a basket. In the end I ending up putting together something that didn't really belong on a racing bike, but did so because of the need for it. Think ahead. Keyword: Basket, Pannier Rack and Panniers, Front Carrier; For bigger cargo: Bakfiets, Long John

3)My racing bike did come with some puny and ineffective mudguards. They did hardly anything to stop that water from the puddles from splashing on my legs. My current bike (Pashley Princess) has beautiful full metal mudguards which are ideal for the winter weather. I go through puddles at full speed without worrying. Keyword: Full Mudguards

4) Derailleurs, exposed chain, rim brakes - the things people put on their bikes to save weight mean they have to maintain them in order for them to work. You need to clean the chain and the derailleur after every rain, lube them, adjust them, change brake pads etc. This is not something you want to do with your everyday bike - you need it to run properly with minimum maintenance. Keywords: Hub Gears, Drum Brakes, Hub Dynamo, Full Chain Guard

5)Racing bikes are made light so but that's at the expense of durability. In the end you want a bicycle to withstand the race. What happens after that is not your concern. Now with your everyday bike you need to take into account - the bicycle falling over, riding on a daily basis, weather, perhaps little collisions. Keywords: Quality Steel Frame

6) The cycling position for racing bikes is for improved power and aerodynamics. It's not meant to be comfortable. It's fun for some time, but not for long. If you don't enjoy your ride, what's the point. Keyword: Upright Riding Position.

Visit for ideas. Also I would recommend workcycles blog ( and especially the FAQ.

Monday 18 October 2010

Old vs new

I've spotted this bicycle in front of Tesco in Bethnal Green Road. I parked my Princess next to it and there was something about these two bikes standing next to each other that I just had to take photos of them. There is something about the durability of the classic bicycles that makes them ridable for generations. Even though it's rusty and still has obsolete rod brakes it's still being used. It seems the only thing that's been changed are the tyres.

New bike

Hi all, it's been a while, no?
I've recently come back from long overdue holidays and then worked hard to buy myself a new bicycle. Well to be honest I bought it for my wife, because I've already got one. But I am riding it. It's a carbon fiber, drop handlebar fixie... just kidding. I decided to buy me and my wife a nice Pashley Princess Sovereign. Thinking ahead about the winter I wanted something that would allow me to brave the elements, plus I longed to finally ride something sitting upright.
So I went to Cycle-Surgery in Spitafields and got little to no attention from them even when I splashed out £600 on the bike. I guess they are used to people paying that for a pair of SPD shoes. When I saw the bike I was just amazed at how royal and classic it looked like, simply beautiful. Pitch black, golden lines on the fender, very discreet Pashley sticker on the side. Chromed bits and a huge wicker basket in the front. I jumped on it straight away.
The first few meters have been a bit wobbly because of the riding position, but then I got used to it. The second thing I had to get used to was the weight - it rides much more pleasantly than a road bike - although it's harder to accelerate on it, once you do you just glide. Once you get a hang of the internal gears, and remember to stop pedaling while shifting it's just like floating in the air. The upright position gives you an opportunity to look around, not mentioning it's super comfortable. The brooks saddle was quite nice and very kind to my bottom. None of this break-in period stuff.
The bicycle has quite a few things that would be accessories on a racing bike - full metal mudguards, hub dynamo and front light (the rear light is unfortunately battery powered), schwalbe marathon tyres for puncture-less life, frame mounted ring lock and kickstand for when you have to leave it outside the off-license for a minute or two, proper bell, pump, pannier rack (never use it - the wicker basket provides ample space) and fully encased chain. All of this makes this bike nice and practical to ride. I don't have to change my clothes at all, I have where to put my bag or shopping, don't have to worry about the lights as they are always on the bike, nor do I need to worry about batteries (at least for the front light). I can shift gears while stationary and don't need to worry about cleaning the drivetrain.
Now if you are a speed-lycra-boyracer-type it's not a bike for you. You won't be able to shave of seconds from your commute. People will overtake you and occasionally you will have to push the bike uphill (never happened to me though, yet). However if you use your bike in real life, this is the type of bicycle for you.