I wonder if this works?

I think these signs are probably quite expensive to implement, because this is the first one I’ve had a good look at. It informs drivers of their speed:

… and then tells them off if it’s above 35mph:

… and says thank you if they do:

Wonder how long the effect lasts? Has there been any research on this? (TRL perhaps?). Can’t imagine it’s that effective, but might be a bit useful.

Anyway, this example was on a road close to where I grew up. The very road in fact, that was sufficiently dangerous to ensure that I was not allowed a bike as a child. It doesn’t seem to have got any better, though there is a painted cycle lane along a random length of it. And I did spot one or two brave middle-aged blokes on heavy-looking mountain bikes. Outside the likes of Bristol and London that seems to be what it’s like.

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Horrible history

Just a quick shout for Joe Dunckley’s notes on the history of the national cycling strategy. This has relevance for some of my comments about the recent cyclenation conference and the wretched history of infighting in the cycling advocacy “community” – a history which generated a continuous bass grumble through some of the afternoon presentations.

The plenary comments made much of the “community” having “blown it” in the mid-nineties because of that infighting and how important it was not to “blow it” once again, now that a “window of opportunity” seems to be opening up. JD’s reading of the recorded evidence from 1996 to 2005 suggests that this is not a particularly accurate account of what really happened.

Why am I even bothering with this, given that I think it important not to get sucked into pointless pseudo-battles? Well, it’s useful to be aware of the past … for obvious reasons. Also, of course I don’t want to look naive to any (improbable) readers.

I think this is deliberate. Why?

Genuine question.

Obviously the left hand side of this is supposed to be for bikes and right hand side for walkers. What puzzles me is the stretch of ribbed paving. On the bike side, the ribs are parallel with the kerb, on the walk side the ribs are transverse.

When I first started noticing these I assumed that the contractors who had implemented the design had misunderstood and got them the wrong way round. A set of ‘tram tracks’ going in the direction of travel is, at very best, scary for a cyclist becuse you fear it might catch your wheel like actual tram tracks. At worst it actually might be dangerous. Yet every example of this treatment has the ribs arranged like this so it must be deliberate. Why?

Is there some advantage to visually impaired people in having tactile paving with transverse ribs? Are the longitudinal ribs a subtle form of traffic calming – it is intended that cyclists are disconcerted? As I say, this is a genuine question.

There are plenty of examples of this in Bristol but I took this photo, funnily enough, just outside Warrington, famous in bike-blog circles, for their documentation of bad bike infrastructure.

Bit of philosophy for you

Here’s a thought.

Telling someone what they feel is offensive and insulting. If they say that they have a particular feeling, then who am I to know different? People are best placed to know their own inner lives.

But consider this. We have to respect people, but we don’t necessarily have to respect what they say. (You think you are what you say? Really?) It is possible to draw a distinction between experience and interpretation of that experience. Interpretations can be mistaken. We revise our interpretations all the time, often in the light of other experiences, sometimes as a result of someone else suggesting an alternative interpretation, sometimes spontaneously.

Two experiences we often hear: a driver says that cyclists who hold them up and get in the way, put everyone in danger and make travelling frustrating and stressful; a pedestrian says their life is made a misery by hooligans cycling on the pavement. Are these really accounts of their experience? Or are they interpretations of something else: an experience of feeling frustrated, stressed, frightened and angry. I wouldn’t doubt for a moment that those experiences are real. It would be offensive to suggest otherwise. I would (often) doubt their interpretation of these feelings. I’d say these were caused by a badly-designed urban environment with too many cars, given too much priority. Our lightning-fast, causally-hair-trigger brains link up the feelings, caused by a complicated system, with the simple sight of a few bicycles and interpret the feelings as being caused by the bikes.

Campaigning relevance?

Communication. Do not get drawn into mollifying peoples interpretations and respond with tutting about red-light jumping and pavement riding. Do not get drawn in refuting other peoples interpeations and respond with growling about speeding and pavement parking. So far as possible point at an alternative interpretation of experience of the unpleasantness of the traffic environment – and a very real and possible solution to it. How do we do all this ‘pointing’? I don’t know, I’m still working on it – but the thing is, don’t get sucked in to disputing someone else’s interpretation of the world, because it can sound as if you’re disputing their feelings. Don’t get drawn into fighting their self-chosen battles on their self-chosen battleground. Keep it cool.

Noticed on Gloucester Road

From this it appears that people actually try to take their bikes into a shop. I find this quite strange – it would just get in the way wouldn’t it? You might get oily marks on things. Honestly, some people. Tut.

But it might be an example of behaving like traffic – forgetting that the bike is an actual large lump of encumbering metal and thinking oneself a natural unencumbered pedestrian and behaving accordingly.

Or it could be an attempt to reduce the faff factor – all you want to do is pop into the shop for a quick nosey – 2 mins, tops – but if you have to faff about finding a bikestand and then faff around with a huge heavy lock, then it’s hardly worth it.

The Cyclenation conference again

One of the afternoon speakers was Roger Geffen of the CTC. I have to say I rather warmed to him. His talk alluded, rather gingerly, to the Big Infrastructure Bunfight and I wondered if his slightly frantic manner was caused by this being such a tender topic. Apparently not – other ctc bigwigs present told me that this is just his normal style and on this occasion he was actually being rather restrained.

The CTC are known for being, or perhaps for having been, strong opponents of cycle infrastructure which is segregated from the ‘real’ road. I sense that this particular debate is gradually coming to a sort of consensus, as can be seen from this item, dated 12th October, on the CTC website: CTC declares support for quality segregation while still opposing “farcilities”.

A point that was made by both Roger Geffen and by Philip Darnton was that the offical approval of cycling is maybe opening a ‘window of opportunity’ and that activists must be able to give a clear ‘ask’, or the window will close again.

Real politics is a strange business: we talk about it using all these glowing words like “vision” and “strategy” which imply that it is all about human will and imagination. A more accurate image for the actual business on the ground might be one of those games of traditional medieval ‘football’ that gets held every Shrove Tuesday in some village in the sticks. Hundreds of people pushing and shoving across three muddy fields, most of whom never even see the ball and the last goal was scored in 1382. So I’m trying to avoid premature rejoicing about windows of opportunity – but nevertheless this was a hopeful speculation which could, I suppose be true(ish).

Anyway, it contributed to the good feeling with which I ended the day.

The big infrastructure bunfight #2

… continued

So, there we were, and are, with perversely designed and dangerous ‘cycle lanes’ – the apt term used by the cycling bloggerati is ‘cycling farcilities’. There’s even a webpage devoted to documenting particularly laughable examples. Better off without them. If even a wimp like me could learn to use even the existing roads then surely anyone could.

I belonged at the time to the e-list of the Camden cycling campaign, and various online spats about cycle lanes finally resulted in the outbreak, in 2007, of a lengthy e-tussle about the use of segregated cycle lanes – i.e ones with actual physical separation between cars and traffic. Statistics and research papers, arguments, sneers and accusations of stupidity were flung about all over the place.

The thing is, it was really difficult for an outsider like myself to make any sense at all of this. As it gradually started to come into focus in my own mind, the following seemed to be going on:

1) There are people who are very strongly in favour of segregated cycle lanes.

2) They are not stupid.

3) This argument runs deep – it had been going on for years and had by now developed its own emotional momentum which had propelled it beyond reasoned discussion. There seems to be a whole back history which has nothing to do with most people who ride bikes, and which, quite frankly, does not matter.

To an outsider like myself (and I have to keep saying that, because I feel that when I publish this post I can’t quite claim to be an outsider any longer), each side seemed to be wilfully misunderstanding the other.

Look, I’m bored with this already, I’ll cut straight to the chase.

The chase

The most enlightening thing I’ve read about cycling infrastrcutre is David Hembrow’s blog a view from the cycle path. If you haven’t seen it then I recommend reading a few of the very earliest posts. David Hembrow is a lifelong cycling buff who comes from the west country and has lived in Cambridge. Even the best cycling town in the UK wasn’t good enough and he emigrated to the Netherlands, which has by far the highest rate of cycling in the developed world, and his blog is about why this is and how it came about. Hembrow has credibility, as far as I’m concerned, because it is evident from his writing that he is intelligent, knows what he is talking about, is placed to make decent personal observations and uses statistical argument appropriately. As the blog ran full-tilt for quite a few years, it is also very thorough, in that it manages to clear up all of the obvious misunderstanding and objections.

(A mention should also be given, I understand, to Paul Gannon of, guess who, the Camden cycling campaign. He also lived in the Netherlands for a while. Also an intelligent man who uses statistics appropriately*. But in my experience of his postings to the CCC e-list his voice had been distored by the infighting on this issue. It could happen to any of us).

Finally, there has been a ‘painful’ change of mind on the part of the academic Dave Horton, as a result of a qualitative research project.

… and so …

This is more than enough for me, so I’m convinced – but what am I convinced of? Well basically that the experience of the Netherlands should be the starting point. That the Netherlands is not so different from the UK that their experience can be discarded. That an important part of how it’s been done over there involves good segregated infrastructure. (though if you read a view from the cycle path you’ll see that there is a lot more to it than that, including encouragement and training). That the experience of people who find the current road situation too horrid to contemplate cycling or walking should be taken seriously.

That we’ll never just be able to persuade more people to cycle on the roads as they exist, that if we change the built environment in the right way more people will walk and cycle and the virtuous circle could be helped to start.

Nobody is in favour of ‘farcilities’. I think the most important (implicit) point made by the “cycle on the roads” camp is that we can’t entirely trust the authorities to get it right, or right first time, or to not to do it on the cheap. A campaigning message that crudely says “we want segregated cycle infrastructure” is a bad message, (a) because a completely segregated cycle network does not even exist in the Netherlands and more importantly (b) because with the wretched lack of political will in the UK, can we trust the powers that be not to create a load of lousy bike lanes and then force us to use them?

Well, keeping a sceptical eye on the powers that be is just the task for local campaign groups, which brings us nicely back to the cyclenation conference …

* why do I keep mentioning statistics? Because statistics are life, dammit!