Wednesday 30 January 2013

Reflections on Census statistics for cycling

The Office for National Statistics has just published another selection of data tables from the 2011 Census.  You can find the latest list on their website here.
I have linked directly to page 4 of today’s list, as this is where you will find table QS701EW  - Method of travel to work, local authorities in England and Wales.  (It is the 7th down from the top).

The excel spreadsheet you can open from here shows information for all 392 local authority areas in England and Wales.  Most of these are boroughs within counties, although some are Unitary Authorities, such as the London boroughs, and cities such as Portsmouth.  The borough of Waverley in the south-west of Surrey is at line 382 of the spreadsheet, which is organised firstly by region, then by unitary authority followed by counties in each region.

I performed a couple of additional analyses on this spreadsheet.  Firstly I created a set of columns to show the percentage of people using each transport mode as a percentage of all working people, ie factoring out non-working people.  I could have also factored out those who work at home, and so don’t actually travel to work, but their percentages are generally small and wouldn’t make much difference to the results.  Secondly, I did a data sort to rank all areas by reference to the percentage travelling to work by bicycle.

Unsurprisingly, the top two places in the rankings were claimed by Cambridge, then Oxford, on 29.9% and 17.7% respectively.  You get the same ranking when you look at a slightly different question, which is the number of people who cycle 5 or more times per week.  Of course both areas are relatively flat and have large student populations, most of whom cannot afford a car, even if they are permitted to keep one in the town – they certainly were not in my Oxford days – and distances in the cities are relatively short.

Following close behind is the London Borough of Hackney, at 14.4%.  Hackney has one of the most developed cycle infrastructures in the country, as well as the other advantages of relative flatness, shortish distances by rural standards, and the speed advantage which a bicycle enjoys over cars only in the very most congested environments.

Also highly placed are Gosport, my home town on the south coast, at 10.8%, and its next-door neighbour across the harbour, Portsmouth, at 7.5%.  Both have specific historical and geographical factors influencing the use of bicycles but both have also invested quite heavily in cycle-friendly infrastructure, primarily off-road cycle tracks linking major housing areas with schools and the town centre in Gosport, and a blanket city-wide 20mph limit – generally judged to be a great success in terms of frequency and severity of collisions even if it hasn’t actually brought average speeds quite down to 20mph yet -  in Portsmouth.

So, how does Waverley fare?  Not well.  It ranks 272nd out of 392, with a miserable 1.6% commuting by bicycle.

(I was actually quite surprised to see how few people commute by train in Waverley.  6,656, or 11.3%, compared with 60% who drive themselves.  I had always imagined far more of our neighbours worked in the City, and I find it hard to imagine that many of those would drive all the way there.  If they think parking is bad/expensive in Haslemere, they should see Westminster or City of London conditions!)

It probably isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.  The question posed was what was the primary mode of travel to work, not what modes are used for all “journey stages”.  Accordingly, my estimate of perhaps 250 people who cycle to a railway station (of which there are six in the borough) and park their bikes there, and perhaps 75-100 people who, like me, carry a folding bike onto the train, are not counted.  Also not counted are those who pick up a hire bike at Waterloo, or a few who have bikes locked up in the bike racks just outside the concourse.  They may of course be the same people as ride to their local station and lock up there (because taking a non-folding bike on South West Trains is a truly depressing experience, unlike in most European countries) but I do have one good friend who drives to the station, parks in Weydown Rd, and uses a “Boris Bike” to get from Waterloo to her job in Hackney.  If you were to add these to the 916 Census respondents who reported they commute by bike, the ratio does improve a bit, to a little over 2%.

However, it does reflect how uninviting it is to cycle on Surrey Roads.  No doubt part of that can be put down to terrain – hauling your ass back up Haste Hill or Woolmer Hill is not for the faint-hearted – but much of it is entirely man-made, with poorly maintained roads on which speed limits are too high and in any case are never enforced by our local police, and with almost negligible concessions to non-motorised road users.  After all, significant parts of the borough are not so very lumpy, and around some of the stations on the Portsmouth-Waterloo line the morning peak traffic can be extremely congested and car parking hard to find at any price, you’d think a bicycle would start to look quite attractive, wouldn’t you?

Monday 28 January 2013

Teens face an L of a test

Reading the Sunday Times print edition yesterday afternoon, my eye happened to catch a taster on the front page of the “Driving section” (a place a have cased to visit since its regular “Bike Guy” feature seems to have disappeared – not that the perspective on bicycles contained therein appealed to me much anyway).  For those of you who have an online subscription (which personally I consider to be well worth the £2pw it costs me) you can find it here.

“Teens face an L of a test” shouts its headline.  The story, simply, is of the increasing difficulty and complexity of the driving test, with new written theory elements being introduced and the practical test becoming harder.  This, it suggests, is one of the principal reasons why young people are staying away from cars in droves.

Really?  And there was I thinking it might be eye-watering insurance premiums – because young male drivers have a very poor crash record, and young females are no longer permitted to have lower premiums which reflect their safer driving behaviour because apparently that is “discrimination” so, surprise surprise, the insurers have raised premiums to a level, rather than lowered them.  Or it could be the difficulty in finding a decent job with which to test the skills they have so expensively learned at Uni (and getting worse, as they start to pay for the free Uni education which my generation enjoyed) so they couldn’t actually afford a car even if the insurance was more reasonable.  I suppose the cost of fuel might be in there as well but the AA and RAC report that fuel is still a pretty minor element in car costs, and it is certainly cheaper as a marginal cost, once you own a car, than any form of public transport.

Anyway, it does really sound like it has become harder to take a driving test, but should that trouble us?  I can’t believe that really worries youngsters who have become used to working their rocks off to pass GCSEs and AS levels and A levels which, while they might perhaps have become less challenging per grade-point, have surely become harder as you have to have so many grade points these days.  After all, I was accepted to the University of Oxford in the ‘70s on an A,B & C while an applicant today would almost certainly need three or even four A/A*s.  I watch my sixth-form daughter’s diligence and effort and almost weep – when I am not gnashing my teeth at her surliness and rudeness!  So, the enhanced driving test is a minor challenge in comparison.

And anyway, should it be that easy–and that is before anyone introduces specific cyclist or pedestrian-awareness modules to the course?  Cars are after all very dangerous objects .  They have also become faster, heavier, and safer, more cotton-woolled for their occupants.

I would contrast the situation with flying.  For two decades, until I let it lapse, I was a qualified private pilot.  To qualify I had to undergo a minimum of 45 hours training, and as only those with really good flying aptitude can achieve it in the minimum, I like many others took 60 or more hours.  I also had to study for and sit a series of exams in aerodynamics, meteorology, navigation, aviation law etc. 

After that I had to stay in practice with a modest one hour per month average flying time, and do a retest every two years.  I had to demonstrate not only that I could take off and land, fly straight and level, turn etc, but that I could handle emergencies such as forced landings, fuel emergencies and engine failures, and loss of control.  One really elementary skill I had to demonstrate was collision avoidance. While there is a great deal less up there to collide with than there is down here, you had to be extra vigilant, and learn the techniques for actually seeing what you are looking at – apparently small objects which can suddenly seem rather big, apparently motionless objects which the eye tries to filter out but which can suddenly seem to move towards you, etc.  Does any of this sound familiar???

And yet, apart from a recent and terrible tragedy, can you recall ever hearing of a small plane or helicopter crash causing injury or death to someone on  the ground, outside the vehicle itself?
No, didn’t think so.

Friday 25 January 2013

Tips for dealing with a Highways proposal

Having recently sat through a statutory process and Council meeting to approve/reject a series of proposals under the Traffic Management Act, I think I have learnt a few lessons, largely from the tactics of the small and unrepresentative but very noisy claque which was opposed to them.  The proposals relate to parking controls and restrictions, but could as easily apply to any other process requiring a Traffic Order under the 2004 Traffic Management Act.

Tip number 1.  Statutory advertisement and consultation only provides for objections.  The law requires only that the local authority advertise its proposals and invite objections for a statutory period of 28 days.  I suppose the assumption of the law is that highways proposals will always be unpopular and so will always only be objected to – what a revealing sentiment!  However, although the notice won’t say so, there is absolutely no reason why you should not write in to show your support.  In fact if your sentiment is to support, it is important that you do – you might be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that support is not required when actually, it always helps.

The structure of the consultation may not be conducive to indicating support.  The ones I have recently seen were prepared under SurveyMonkey, and they were framed as questions with a choice or range of answers, which doesn’t always permit you to make the response you wish to make.  For example, you might be offered “Object”, Object Strongly” and “Don’t care” – what if you want to say “Support”?  If structured like this, you should also have the option of writing a letter or email to an address provided on the survey.  You might be better taking this option.  Otherwise, if the survey has comments boxes, state your position verbally, if necessary clarifying or even contradicting the answer buttons you pressed – if for example you can’t progress through the survey without answering each question, and you don’t like any of the answers.

Tip number 2.  Prima facie, every objection and every supportive response counts the same.  That is not entirely true – as I will set out below, but prima facie your comment counts with equal weight whether, for example, you live right on top of the proposal or at the other end of the country, whether or not you are a road user, whether or not you are a pedestrian or cyclist, whether or not you have any relevant expertise to support your views.  So, don’t think that because you live in Surrey and the proposal is in Newcastle on Tyne, you are not entitled to comment – you are, and your comment will have to be counted, however it ends up being weighted.  (A quick plug here for Welbeck Rd in Newcastle).

In the particular case I have been watching, the consultation covered several schemes for resident’s parking controls where residents of Street A did not want residents of Street B to be able to park in Street A but conversely were not asking to be permitted to park in Street B.  Had they been as savvy as the wreckers, they would have co-operated and all would have voted for each others’ as well as their own schemes – after all, the wreckers objected to several if not all of them, despite not living in any of them.  See also tip number 3.

Tip number 3.  They count objections, not objectors, supporting comments, not supporters.  A single consultation process may be seeking comment on several different, presumably related, proposals at once.  If for example there are five proposals and you object to all five, that will be five objections.  But, you must support/object to each of them in turn:  if you write in an email saying “I object to the proposals” that will count as one objection and may even not be counted because a generic objection may be ruled irrelevant as it is not reasoned.  So, you would write in – once or in several messages – indicating explicitly that you support/object to each of them severally, to get the maximum number of objections.  For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting you write in with the same objections several times – they aren’t that dumb.

Tip number 4. Be clear where you stand.  If you write a reasoned comment which you intend to be taken as support, but for example your support is qualified – let’s say you support a cycle lane but think it should be mandatory not advisory, or that it should be 2m wide and not 1.5 – you could end up with the council treating your comment in the opposite way you intended, ie as an objection (to the entire proposal).  Be clear.  Say “I object to…” or “I support…” before you start to add qualifications

Tip number 5.  Responses through advertised process count for more than letters or petitions sent outside timeframe.  This process has been gestating for years, perhaps decades in some cases, with residents organising letter writing campaigns, petitions, meetings with the local councillor etc.  In some cases they had managed  to garner totally unanimous support.  In others they had substantial majority support.  But then, when finally we had a statutory process, many of them didn’t respond.  Perhaps they were lulled into that false sense of security (see tip number 1).  Perhaps they were simply fatigued.  Perhaps they thought surely they had made their views known by now?  In one case a street where all 31 households supported the proposal largely failed to turn out.  The wreckers managed to get together 97 objections, every one of which was from outside the street, in many cases well over a mile away.  The scheme was withdrawn.  The highly-respected League of friends of the local hospital wrote an appeal at this point (the local cottage hospital is on this street), but it was too late. The proposal fell.

Tip number 6.  Tip number 2 has its limits. I submitted a formal question to the County, which I understand was carefully answered with legal assistance – what, I asked, was the process for evaluating objections and supporting comments, and how were factors such as whether you lived near or far, whether you were or weren’t directly affected, whether you had specialist skill or knowledge, whether your letter stated grounds for objection/support or just said yes/no, whether your comments were your own work or manifestly a cut&paste job?  The answer was that the statutory process did not define how the relevant deciding authority should evaluate representations, but that they should exercise their judgement properly and responsibly.  If you want to be sure that they have done precisely that, and not presented the consultation responses in a nuanced way to justify conclusions they have already reached, you need to draw out the full colour of responses – things like, how many objectors, rather than how many objections, how many serial/multiple commenters, how many unaffected outsiders etc.  

That is what I am working on now.  Wish me luck!

Thursday 24 January 2013

Cycling downhill in Surrey

The Google Map below shows my daily cycle ride down to the railway station from home.  It is 1.6 miles – 2.5 kilometres, a gentle downhill decline from 180m alt to 130m alt and going home, of course, a gentle climb which even a Brompton can eat up without getting indigestion.  It takes me roughly 6 minutes to go down in the morning, about twice that to return in the evening.

View Station in a larger map

Most of the way it is a quiet country lane.   For  some unaccountable reason there are a few motorists who rat-run through here to avoid the town centre, but they must have to cover at least twice the distance.  Then there are occasional cars passing which come to rest to park at the bottom of the lane, a short walk from the station.  These are a nuisance as they create pinchpoints and, because they park for their own convenience, not mine, they often choose poor locations with limited sightlines.  At least Surrey CC is shortly due to impose controls to limit the number and make them park where the lane is straighter and wider – there, they might serve a useful purpose in restraining the enthusiasm of the rat-runners.

Overall though, it feels safe and pleasant enough.

There follows a short section along a private drive/public footpath then through the station car park, and then the last 200m is on the main road, the B2131, and this really isn’t very nice.  It is one place where I still religiously follow the Franklin maxim of adopting full primary position – squarely in the middle of the lane so that cars don’t have room to pass me outside into oncoming traffic, or inside either for that matter.  And believe me, they have tried.

If – when - I reach the end of my tolerance of the Cyclecraft way, I won’t have to stop cycling this route because I could just get off and push that last 200m.  I shouldn’t have to, of course.

As I collapse my Brompton and take it with me on the train I don’t have to worry about cycle parking, which at the moment is mediocre and lacking in capacity, but straws in the wind suggest that a reasonable improvement is in the pipeline.

The red pins on the map are people I know to cycle down to the station.  There are of course others but I don’t see them, or they live in other parts of town.  The blue pins are people I know to drive down in their cars.  Two are driven by their spouses, the others park near the station.  All of these are closer to the station than I am, some of them much closer, and those who drive themselves still have a ¼ mile walk from where they park, so at best are saving a ½ mile.  But they live in a housing complex which is notoriously car-dependent.

Why?  None of them have a disability that I know of.  All of them are younger than me.  I can’t believe they save much time by driving, bearing in mind that they have to walk to or from their cars first while I whizz past on my bike.

Part of it must be simply the sheer inertia which car ownership has driven us all to.  Just as water doesn’t run uphill, and electricity finds the shortest path to earth, unless they are personally motivated, most people will feel the temptation to slouch into their car and take the easy way.  Our cars have corrupted all of us, to some extent.

But a significant part must also be perceptions of the safety or palatability of riding a bicycle in the prevailing conditions, and as I have observed before, while there are many quiet country lanes around here where your granny or your 8 year old can ride fairly safely, for most there is going to be some point at which they have to interact with a through road, and hereabouts they are just not nice to cycle on, not nice at all.

And I have no expectations whatever that the County has the will to do anything about that.  More’s the pity – residents, commuters and council all know only too well how driving to and parking near the station is strangling the town.  Why?  After a dispiriting afternoon at a council committee meeting, listening to a bunch of entitled baby-boomers, now gone grey, bellyaching about how important free parking is so that they don't have to walk/cycle the mile from their homes to the shops or spend any of their index-linked final-salary pensions from their former jobs at Shell/BP/ICI etc on feeding the meter, I think I know who the councillors* are going to listen to.

[*  More final-salary pensioners - who else has the time?] 

Bus Rapid Transit

Before the war, there used to be a railway branch line connecting Fareham with Gosport, running on around the coast to Lee on Solent.  By the time my family arrived in Lee in 1960, the railway was long gone, and the old station was now an amusement arcade, but I remember older people reminiscing about taking the train all the way to London from the Lee sea-front.

All evidence of the railway track was erased, from Lee as far round as the Forton district of Gosport, just north of the town centre.  What remained was, for a time, used as a private goods line serving the naval munitions depot at Frater, where, or so rumour had it, the nation’s nuclear arsenal was stored.  This line also fell into disuse, but remained in situ, overgrown with weeds and brambles, for a few more decades.  A part of it, from Forton to Tichborne Way, was converted into a shared use cycle and footpath.

Then came an ambitious plan to build a light rail scheme connecting Gosport directly with Southampton via the main line at Fareham.  Work commenced on preparing the old line for light rail but the plan was abandoned on cost grounds during Tony Blair’s tenure of Downing Street.  However, the scheme was not entirely dead – it metamorphosed into a Bus Rapid Transit route.  (Is BRT cheaper than light rail? Possibly not if this post on US site Railway Age is anything to go by.)  This finally opened in August 2011. About five regular bus routes, with up to 30 services per hour in peak times, use the public road system as far as Tichborne Way, where they join the dedicated road (shown as a red dotted line on the plan here) which takes them to Redlands Lane, with bus-priority signals at the few junctions  en route, and then cover the final half-mile to Fareham rail station on public roads.  This permits them to avoid the gridlocked A 32 which runs parallel.

Needless to say, the scheme met with early opposition, with residents whose homes  back on to the route arguing that their lives would be blighted and wildlife would be adversely affected.  Others complained that the scheme was  a “waste of money”.  At the time the scheme finally opened, a year later than planned, it was announced that some services would be slower than they had been on the public roads, although that is entirely due to the fact that their routes now detour to take in the railway station.  There is a quite interesting resident reaction to this news: 

“Bus user Darren Sellen, of Savernake Close in Gosport said the longer journey would deter him from using the new buses. The 44-year-old said: ‘I thought the new buses would be a lot faster than the ones they were replacing.

‘I don’t really want to take a detour all the way to the train station when I’m on my way to the bus station.

‘I will give the buses a go when they start to see what I think.

But if they take too much longer I would rather just get on my pushbike.

Not back to the car then?

Soon after the route opened, significant passenger increases, and improved journey times, were being reported, and it was a hit with passengers - and cyclists - who are the only other users permitted on the busway (apart from emergency service vehicles).  Shame then that within days a cyclist had been seriously injured on the busway by a bus which ran into him from behind.  (It’s a shame too that the local paper expends so much printing ink banging on about the fact that the cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet – which would surely have been a lot of use in protecting him from his  facial injuries – rather than on asking how a bus driver managed not to see a cyclist who was directly in front of him).

However, if you prefer not to share the road with buses, or if there are limits to how far you are willing to cycle, you also have the option of cycling to the route and parking your bike in the Sheffield stands supplied at each bus stop.  This combination of bus-cycle provision is not one I have so far seen anywhere else in the UK, although it is quite common on the edges of large French cities, such as Rennes, capital of Brittany.

At present the cycle parking is not very extensive, as can be seen below but who knows – if it proves to be popular enough, they could always expand it?

View Larger Map

Apparently this is just the start.  The BRT route is due to be extended to improve its connectivity and lengthen its dedicated sections.  At the northern end, the plan is to restore the remaining, now derelict, track bed which continues all the way into Fareham Station – the green line on the Google map below.  At present there is no formal footpath or cycle path along this stretch so it is unencumbered, although no doubt the adjoining householders will kick up as they did with the first section.

View Busway in a larger map

At the southern end, apparently part  of the existing cycle path built over the remaining track bed  would be redeveloped as an extension of the busway (the cycle path is the blue and purple lines, with the purple line being the length proposed for conversion to busway). Perhaps cyclists would be sanguine about that, as they will still have access to it, although they will have to share with buses instead of with pedestrians. The loss of a pedestrian route however may be less well received if, as appears to be the case with the existing section of the route, there are no footways provided alongside between stops for pedestrian use.

Fear and loathing, not in Las Vegas

I wasn’t planning to make a thing of car-parking stories, but this is topical.  It is also tangentially connected with my interest in cycling, in that it reveals a culture, of car dependency and car hegemony, in which I don’t believe cycling can ever flourish.  Certainly, apart from the daily commute via the station into London, cyclists are a  rarity here.

I wrote here  about “fury” over parking control proposals in my local town of Haslemere, and how it has set the interests and wishes of many residents, inconvenienced by the actions of inconsiderate motorists from outside the area, against a small but well-organised and strident pro-parking lobby.

In response to their lobbying, the County council modified some proposals and withdrew others, advertising the revised scheme for statutory consultation in October and November with a full-page spread advertisement in the local paper and individually canvassing every household in every one of the streets directly affected.  In two nearby streets which are considered to be indirectly affected they canvassed residents who have no off-street parking, because on-street parking is not possible in those streets and residents therefore park in neighbouring streets.  The proposals now comprise a mixture of some double-yellow lining, some time- and limited-stay restrictions to prevent all-day parking, and some residents-only parking restrictions.

Needless to say, the parking action group hollered long and loud about the undemocratic nature of the consultation (open to all, required 28 days consultation period) and the lack of advertisement (eh?).  They evidently mobilised their claque to make as much noise as possible in the consultation, as can be seen below.

The Local Committee of the combined County and Borough councils is due to meet on January 24 to consider their officers’ report on the proposals.   The officers’ report has recently been posted on the Surrey website.  Agenda Item 7, Annex 2 summarises the detailed objections, and in some cases supporting points, made in relation to individual street proposals.  Annex 1 provides a table summarising extent of objection and support for each proposal, and overall.  This analysis is revealing.

I think the officers have chosen their words carefully. They list “Total number of objections that were received to proposals at each location”, of which they count 507,  and “Support received for each location (letters or petition signatories)” of which they count 248.  They further refer to 137 of the objections where “Displacement was mentioned as a concern by many but often without being specific.”  Finally, they state that “Total correspondence received during consultation period = 382”.

Now, I can’t be sure, but my reading of this is that 248 letters or signatories of petitions of support represents, or closely represents, 248 separate respondents.  But there were only 382 items of correspondence so presumably that is the maximum number of separate respondents on both sides.  Taking away the 248 supporters, that leaves 134 individual objectors making 507 objections – an average of 3.75 each.  This is further supported by the footnote “Some letters objected to a single proposal, others to several and some all. The figures above represent the number of objections [my emphasis] made to each proposal where it was possible to identify.”

The displacement issue itself is interesting.  The issue, simply, is a concern that motorists who are evicted from parking in one street will “displace” to another rather than giving up altogether on the idea of parking, and so will exacerbate the issue for residents where unrestricted parking remains – a perfectly understandable concern for those who might be affected by it.  Curious then that displacement was mentioned by nearly twice as many cases as the parking action group estimates the number of displaced parkers, and four times the number estimated by the County’s officers?

My speculation – which I hope to be able to draw out from the officers – is that a minority of total respondents signified on average nearly four but at maximum up to ten objections each (ie all ten advertised schemes) not by saying “I object to everything” (some, apparently, said just that, without stating any grounds for their objections), but by saying ten times over “I object to [...]”.  With certain themes, notably displacement and comments about Network Rail expanding the station car park (which is entirely beyond the County’s control) being repeatedly voiced, I suspect but will probably never see proof that many letters of objection were in effect cloned from the same text, provided to friends and neighbours by the parking action group activists.  I must also wonder whether there would have been more than 248 supporting respondents, if the County’s  advertisement had asked not just for objections, but also for supporters to comment, as evidenced  by another of their footnotes: “The statutory advertisement requested objections, but supportive comments were made in some cases.”

Where does that leave us?  While many of the proposals will go ahead, some will fail due to a small but noisy lobby acting against the interests of many, which is a depressing thought.  On the other hand, if it is really true that local authority consultations of this kind are simply numbers games which can be played-to-win by determined and well-organised activists (and I have some doubts about that, where the authority is hell-bent on the scheme anyway) that could bode well for the outcome of larger schemes which cyclists have an interest in.  For example, in favour of the current proposals for extension of Cycle Superhighway 2 to Stratford, or against the proposed Silvertown Tunnel which leaves cyclists marooned on the Dangleway for their river crossing from Greenwich to Canary Wharf.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Sauce for the goose

For the last few days, I have been back on Shanks’ Pony.  The local lane from home to the station is ungritted and is now hard-packed snow – not conducive to comfortable riding on a small wheel bike like a Brompton – and the while the last stretch to the station entrance is gritted, that means lots of lovely corrosive crap all over my expensive bike.  So, shoe leather it is.  (Well, Sorel snow boots actually.  Shoe leather would have you on your back in 10 seconds).

This means that I am once again experiencing the joys of being a pedestrian in London, and I can now appreciate just how annoying cyclists can be.  Walking in from Waterloo this morning, my first encounter was with the character who pedalled on, with grim-faced determination, directly towards the pedestrians crossing Waterloo Road on a green man.  If I had not faced him down I really don’t think he would have stopped.  He wasn’t dolled up in lycra, but his choice of clothing and accroutrements said "cyclist" rathr than "person on a bicycle".

Walking through Brad Street, directly by the Waterloo east railway viaduct, I was irritated by a Bromptonaut who clearly felt that “two tings” was not enough.  He announced his presence more noisily than Santa’s sleigh.  Fair enough, I was walking on the road, but then so were dozens of other pedestrians heading from Waterloo towards Blackfriars and the City.  This stretch is a good deal more like “shared space” than Exhibition Road, and cyclists and motorists need to respect that.

Finally, crossing Stamford Street just before Blackfriars Bridge, (where there is absolutely no pedestrian provision whatever, and never has been in the 24 years I have been walking or cycling through this junction), a gaggle of cyclists were edging forward in front of the white line at the lights, in such a way as to form an effective fence across the pedestrian crossing desire line.

Now, all of these things merely irritate me.  I was in no way frightened, or intimidated, but that could be because, my normal mode on these streets being in the saddle, I have both perspectives.  I know that cyclists don’t actually want to hurt pedestrians because they normally come off worse, and I know that the statistics show that cyclist/pedestrian collisions are of negligible significance overall.  (And I discovered later in my journey, as a terribly important LGV driver drove straight at me entering the loading bay at Goldman Sachs, that motorists' animus is not confined to cyclists.  they hate pedestrians too, and drivers of smaller vehicles than their own)

Most pedestrians, sadly, don’t know all this.  And it is no good for us to say that they should, that it is silly to be afraid of cyclists, and that their fears are overstated.

After all, that would be hypocrisy.  We don’t accept that argument about cycling actually being a lot safer than you think, safer than golf or DIY actually, because we understand the importance of subjective safety.  What’s sauce for goose is sauce for the gander, too.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Planes and automobiles

Today’s tragedy in Vauxhall, where a helicopter apparently collided with a tower crane while diverting to the Battersea Heliport due to bad weather, highlights the extreme rarity of light aircraft accidents impacting people on the ground.  

Small aircraft, whether fixed wing or rotary, are extremely unforgiving of inattention, carelessness or neglect, hence no doubt the extremely high standards to which their pilots are held in terms of training, medical fitness, and observance of safety protocols.   It is of course far too early to say what lies behind today’s accident, but it is probably fair to say that most light aircraft accidents are in some manner a result of pilot error – sometimes that error can be something as basic as not checking that the fuel tanks actually contain the fuel you expect them to contain, or not just keeping your feet firmly on the ground when weather is looking threatening.

However, light aircraft crashes which cause loss of life or serious injury beyond the persons actually flying in them are vanishingly rare.

For about 20 years, I held a Private Pilot’s Licence for fixed-wing aircraft, and had my own plane, a four-seater Cessna.  To acquire my licence I had to undergo at least 40 hours of training from a licensed Qualified Flying Instructor, this despite the fact that I was already an experienced glider pilot.  From then on I had to take a one-hour re-test every 2 years, in which I had to demonstrate my ability not only to fly straight and level and perform simple maneouvres, but to recover from potentially dangerous situations, including engine failure, forced landings etc.  Had I advanced beyond the basic clear-weather flying to obtaining an “Instrument Rating” permitting me to fly in cloud or bad weather, I would have been retested every six months.  I had to record all my flying in a personal flying logbook, showing take-off and landing times, origin and destination, and other notes.  My logbook was open to inspection at any time by the Civil Aviation Authority and I had to prove that I had completed the (relatively modest) minimum of 12 flying hours every two years.

I had to submit to a full medical examination at regular intervals.  Every five years to age 40, then every 2 years to 50, every year after that, and if I continued beyond 60, it would be every six months.  Eyesight, hearing, heart condition, blood pressure – all the things you expect in a full-monty medical.  If I needed glasses to pass the eye test (as I did) I was required by law to wear my current prescription whenever I flew, and to have a spare pare of that prescription within reach at all times.

My plane was subjected to an airworthiness test every year, and this typically takes about 40 man-hours to complete and costs well into four figures.  Further, the plane had a minor test, about the same amount of work as car MOT, every 50 flying hours or every 60 days whichever came first.  I also had to maintain a logbook for the plane, showing much the same information as shown in my personal log, plus estimated fuel  & oil consumption, estimate of fuel remaining (which you still check, with a dipstick, before every flight).  This also was available for CAA inspection at any time.

Whenever I flew, I would run through a series of printed checklists, before starting the engine, before taxiing out to the runway, before take-off, occasionally during flight, during the approach and landing to an airfield, and after shut-down.  I would check and verify the correct working condition of every component of the plane – wheels and tyres, brakes, flying control surfaces, propeller, radio and navigation aids etc – at least once on every separate day of use.

Failure to comply with any of the above controls could lead to extremely severe penalties.  A fine for a flying infringement would rarely be for less than about £2,000.

Light aircraft crashes are generally rare, and those which have any impact on people on the ground are almost unheard of.

Incidents involving cars and other persons who are not drivers or passengers of those cars are literally an everyday occurrence.  I doubt many are caused by engine failure due to fuel starvation (depressingly common in light aircraft, despite all the regulation) but many – perhaps even most -  are due to other “pilot error” which could mean carelessness while driving, or failing to check the condition of tyres, brakes etc before driving away.

And yet, once you have passed you test, there is literally nothing more for any non-professional driver to do.  Even incompetence to drive caused by age and infirmity, failing eyesight, or other conditions like fits, is not caught by routine medicals, rather by voluntary self-reporting.

Perhaps raising driving control standards to those of flying would be excessive, but can you honestly say that at present they are sufficient?

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Cyder with Rosie - June 2014

When I were now’t but a lad, in my vacations from Uni I had various holiday jobs around Gosport and Fareham.  Do they still have holiday jobs by the way, or is that another thing the baby-boom generation kept for themselves, along with free higher education, easy credit, affordable homes and final salary pensions?  Anyway this was in the mid ‘70s, the days of flared trousers and wide lapels and impossibly large shirt collars, hyper-inflation and the three-day week. 

One of those jobs was at Tom Parker Dairies, a milk pasteurising and bottling plant on the southern edge of Fareham.  I used to commute to work on my Falcon “Eddy Merckx” racing bike, all ten gears of it, the three miles between home and plant.  Despite all that has changed since then, one thing hasn’t materially changed at all.  The road I travelled is substantially the same now as it was then, apart of course from the traffic.  Back then there was far, far less traffic.  Back then it felt much safer, even though at that time the off-road cycle/foot path which runs alongside for part of the way had not been laid, so you had to use the road.  Sure, without the congestion the cars were going faster but there was never any difficulty for them to pass wide on the other side of the road without worrying about oncoming traffic.  And perhaps this is just nostalgia, but drivers seemed more courteous then, and less hustling – perhaps because they weren’t so wound up by the traffic.

The map below shows the route I took, along Broom Way in Lee-on-Solent and Newgate Lane in Fareham Borough.

View Tom Parker in a larger map

I wouldn’t make this journey today.

In an earlier post I described the network of shared-use cycle paths which encircle the Cherque Farm Estate.  I referred to how they connect to facilities alongside the principal routes out of area to the north and to the south-east, and wondered how useful these actually are.

Well, they do actually serve a purpose for routes to school, but I’ll come back to that another time.  For now I’m looking at the  principal commuter route out of this area for working people.  In another earlier post, I referred to the issues around Gosport’s status as a “dormitory town”, and the severe traffic congestion generated by half of all residents having to squeeze through a constricted road network to jobs outside the borough.  Newgate Lane is part of that network.  The Mott report for HampshireCounty Council (page 2-15) shows the marked tidal flow of traffic on Newgate Lane as borough residents drive north to work in the morning, and back south home again in the evening.

Basically, the road carries 50% more traffic “with the tide” (north in the morning, south in the evening) than against it – 1,200ph against 800ph.

The first half of the route, to the Peel Common junction with the B3334, is now well served by a shared use path.  Admittedly shared with pedestrians, this path is not simply a footpath which has been redeployed.  It was purpose-built to be a shared path on a route which attracts few pedestrians, simply because it does not connect two places which are close enough together to be considered a viable walk in the modern world.  The path is about 2.5m wide and well separated from the road.  It has few junctions with side roads so the question of priority  doesn’t have much impact.

Here for example is one which needn’t trouble you.

Then it ends at the start of Newgate Lane.  Here, there is no cycle path, shared or otherwise.  The road is fairly narrow and heavily congested throughout the day but not, for the most part, so congested that the traffic can’t shuffle along at 20-30mph in this 40mph zone.  There is simply not enough lane width for a motorist to overtake a cyclist safely against oncoming traffic, which leads to a lot of motorists' frustration with the small handful of cyclists brave enough to ride along here and risk the extremely close passes which are a daily inevitability.  Not surprisingly, pavement cycling, highly unsatisfactory to the rider, is rife.

But, never fear!  Just about the only road construction project on Hampshire County Council’s current plans is the Newgate Lane Widening scheme.  This project envisages laying a 3m wide cycle path, shared use and separated from the road, alongside the road marked with a blue line on the map below.  (The northern section, along the red line, already has one).  It would complete a continuous, mediocre (and here I use the term as a compliment - this is the UK, after all) cycle link from an important suburb to the principal local town and onward transport links.

View Newgate Lane in a larger map

This project will cost the princely sum of £8.5m.  What” I hear you ask “eight and a half bars for a mile and a bit of cycle path?”

Well, no, it also involves "improvements" to two junctions and “dualling” of about 300 metres of road between them (red line on the map above) and along the blue line a fairly modest widening, to 6m, and some straightening.  Lord knows why they need to widen it, or straighten it – the speed limit won’t increase from 40mph and in view of the adjacent houses should be lower.   The short dual carriageway is causing some hollow laughter among locals who confidently anticipate that there will be some pricks who will try to get up excessive speed on it, and the real congestion problem in this area, which is the confluence of this road with the A32 just north of the boundary of this map, just before the unalterable bottleneck of the Quay Street junction, is in no way being solved by this “improvement”. 

Of course in the usual way of such road-building proposals, the argument is advanced that the project will "ease congestion", but as ever it ignores the impact of induced demand.  It is argued that improvements are needed to facilitate access to the proposed Enterprise Zone at the old HMS Daedalus airfield site in Lee-on-Solent, but it ignores the fact that peak flows southbound  (towards Daedalus) in the mornings and northbound in the evenings are a full third lower than their contraflows.  There is then the small matter of 475 new houses, a whopping 275 more than the maximum planned by the borough council for the area, to be built on parts of the Daedalus site - the housebuilders just can't resist it, and the planners just can't resist them, there is too much profit in it.  And finally, on that Cherque farm estate that I described in an earlier post, there is a roundabout with one blank exit, facing into a substantial expanse of virgin land, at least as big as Cherque farm itself.  Now, what plans do you suppose they have for that?

I have had a go at the local (Conservative, natch) MP - not about the environmental factors as this is not Combe Haven, hardly any countryside is involved, and induced demand or no,  it is hard to see that much extra traffic could be generated in view of the surrounding challenges.  No, it is the waste of money - by a county council which, for example, told my 85 year old mother, with dementia and Parkinsons' and a very dodgy knee, that she was "not a priority" for a visit from their overworked and underfunded Occupational Therapy group and should call them back if she hadn't heard from them in 8 weeks!

But hey, we get a  cycle lane where none existed before, and you can be sure that there would never have been the political will to do the cycle lane alone, so I guess we should be grateful for small mercies?


Thanks to @cyclestrian for linking to the latest proposals being put out to consultation.  An animation of the northern end of Newgate Lane can be found here, and print information on the southern end improvements can be found here at sections 6 and 13.

The northern end will get the mooted parallel shared use foot and cycle path – a mediocre solution but this is not a major pedestrian route so conflicts should be limited.  The southern end is being resolved with an entirely new stretch of “bypass” across low-grade farm land which should, hopefully, leave the old road as no more than residential access and as a cycling and walking route which is at least as direct as the proposed new road.  What I suppose remains to be said on this is that I do hope they engineer the old road to prevent or discourage through traffic.  If the new road is wider, straighter and free of side roads, drives etc it seems unlikely that anyone would choose to drive through the old road but no doubt there will be occasions, perhaps collisions or breakdowns, which will cause tailbacks and prompt a few arses to rat-run the old road.

Friday 11 January 2013

Why buy a Brompton?

Every working day, I set off from home, cycle the 2½ km down to the station, carry my folded Brompton onto the train, get off at Waterloo, unfold and cycle the 1½ km to my office.  Then I do the same in reverse every evening.  This way I save myself time - walking is certainly feasible but the home end would take a good half-hour, and driving/parking wouldn't rally take any less - money, and good conscience.
If you have to stuff it behind your seat, it has to be one of these.

At a guess, I would say that three folding bikes, mainly Bromptons because they do really have the most practical fold for daily multi-modal commuting, spill out of each of the 12 carriages on arrival at Waterloo.  That’s say 35-40 of them, all heading north or east into the City or West End.

These are a great ride, but fold/unfold 4x a day, and carry on train?  Uh-huh.

Why so many?  Much as I admire the Brompton and would happily endorse the product to all comers, you can’t pretend they are cheap.  A new one will set you back anything upwards of £800 before you have added panniers or front luggage, lights etc.  They are also, in my experience, quite maintenance-intensive – they are engineered to fine tolerances so are less forgiving of component wear or minor damage.  And they are quite a quirky ride with their 16 inch wheels – I quite like it but I could understand why some people wouldn’t.

The answer lies in the cycle policies of the rail companies, in my case South West Trains.

Firstly, cycle restrictions.  SWT’s restrictions are not well-expressed and the language in their timetables and on-line cycle policies needs to be analysed carefully to understand what you can and can’t do.  Essentially, at peak hours, where certain stations on the timetable are shown in red, bicycles cannot be embarked or disembarked.  This doesn’t mean that they can’t be carried through those stations, just that they must get on before the red stations and get off after them.

It might seem a bit bizarre that bikes can travel on, but are not permitted to join or leave trains when they are at their most congested, ie the first few stops before arrival or after departure from London, but I suppose it makes sense – that is when the access to the bike storage area is most likely to be blocked by standing passengers.

Standing passengers: there you have it - the big issue is capacity. 
SWT operates two classes of train on my line, Waterloo-Portsmouth.  The “white trains”, or class 444 rolling stock which is what is intended for long-distance services, can carry 6 conventional bicycles in every five-car unit, of which there are normally two on each peak-hour service.  The storage area is specifically for bikes, with wheelstands to hold them, and restraining straps.  There are no seats in this area.

The “blue trains”, or class 450 rolling stock, have a mere 2 cycle spaces in each four-car unit, of which there are either two, or on the busiest services, three, making a total of 6 spaces per train or half what a typical white train can take.  In practical terms you can probably squeeze 3 or 4 bikes in where they say 2, but the biggest problem is that the space is also designated for pushchairs, heavy luggage – and passengers, because the area has 4 fold-down seats.  It was never supposed to be thus, but the Portsmouth line is served almost entirely by blue trains, despite the fact that they are intended for suburban, short distance use, and despite the long standing protests and representations by passenger groups and MPs representing constituencies down the line.

And you can absolutely guarantee that passengers who get there before cyclists will occupy these seats, even if there are plenty of spare seats further down the train – typically the first few carriages from the station concourse will be packed, and the two carriages furthest away will be half empty – indeed even if there are empty seats immediately next to the area, because the fold-downs are broader than the three-across alternative permanent seating.

According to correspondence I had with SWT, subject to the published restrictions and the 2-cycle storage limit per unit, priority belongs to the bicycles and pushchairs, but you try asking a passenger to remove his or her bum from the fold down seat, and tensions will quickly rise.

But hey, what’s your problem?  SWT’s policy also states that there are no restrictions on the carriage of folded cycles provided that they don’t obstruct exits or passageways, a perfectly reasonable caveat on safety grounds.  This can sometimes be interpreted (incorrectly) by train staff as meaning that a foldable cycle must be folded, but on a crowded train that isn’t really that much of an imposition and it is only courteous to your fellow passengers to give up the cycle space and fold so they can sit down.  As to obstruction of doors and aisles, in practice guards very rarely make an issue of it.

But it does inevitably mean that if you want to take a bike up on the train with you, it has to be a folder.  I don't think anyone who takes a non-folder on board at Haslemere is going any further than Guildford.  The risk of being turned away from a busy train otherwise, and possibly having to wait some considerable time, is too great.  You might be OK if you get to know which platform your evening train departs from so you can be on the platform before it is announced, and if you board far enough down the line for the train still to be largely empty, but otherwise, forget it.

British trains have only a small fraction of the cycle capacity I have found on any continental rail network I have ever used.

What a way, as they say, to run a railway.