Roads protest

There has been a (fairly) recent announcement of a programme of road-building. Other blogs talk about it here and here.

This is not really a proper post, but I have a choice between the perfection of a lengthy and closely-argued essay (featuring “induced demand” and SACTRA and whatnot) which will get posted, oooh, possibly never, and a quick snippet now. I’ve gone for the snippet, of course, and I’m about to go for a guilty confession.

There’s a protest rally, this Saturday, at Crowhurst in East Sussex (where they’re currently having a spot of by-pass bother). I really ought to go because I do feel just a little bit strongly about this. The trouble is I absolutely hate being in a crowd, especially in hot weather (it provokes migraines and I don’t tan, though sometimes the freckles join up to create a pointillist effect). And it takes four hours to get there by train – if I was still in London, then perhaps… Anyway I’ve gone and donated the cost of a return train fare from Bristol to the Campaign for Better Transport.

As explained previously, I am not an activist I am a sitonmybumandthinkivist.

(There are a number of things I could say about the popularity of roads projects amongst politicians – about the satisfaction of Big Symbolic Gestures perhaps … but if anyone at all is reading this I think you already know the song … )


Language #1 “sustainable v durable”

Can I draw your attention to this post? It’s from Jarrett Walker’s blog, Human Transit and contains an amusing cartoon. Jarrett is an american “transit planner” and his blog is slightly technical, but I keep in touch with it because he does often have interesting things to say – he’s an interesting chap whose original background was in literature, apparently.

Anyway the point here is about the word “sustainable” and how it has become a fairly meaningless hooray-word. Jarrett suggests replacing it with “durable” which has not yet been overused. Furthermore, as it is rarely used in a greenish context, it might cause a brief pause for thought. I resolve to start using it forthwith!

Ok. Language. Yes. Just how important is it to use the right words? How much difference does our exact choice of words make? There will shortly follow a number of posts on whether it’s worth bothering to be use the right words, and what those “right words” might be.

The big infrastructure bunfight

Small groups of people seem to go in for ferocious infighting – the internal politics of amateur recorder consorts and country-dance groups is, I have been told, rather scary. When a group is small and also beleaguered the ferocity is doubled . I suspect that this is because people who are on ones own side, but with whom we disagree on some minor point, are simply more available than the true enemy. The energy that ought properly to be sent outward into the wider world seems to have no obvious clear target … but your fellow small-and-beleagured-group colleagues are right next door. It’s a variation on kick-the-cat.

There are a number of these rows simmering away in the cycle-campaigning micro-community, and of course the internet amplifies everything. Mention on a e-list that you think all those yellow-jackets and hi-viz kit look like a rather jolly uniform and you get a whirlwind of response. No, no, no, we really must not admit that some people look good in lycra. The line we simply must take is that hi-viz makes us look WEIRD. Have you got that? Oh all right then … it was only an innocent remark that I thought luminous yellow looks nice on rainy day for goodness sake. Or mention on a different e-list that, as a re-starting cyclist, you think you were better off twenty years ago without any of these cycle lanes and you discover you have accidentally pedalled into a minefield. Apparently, combatants have been at it for decades and vast grudges have had time to build up. If you want to be a proper cycling campaigner you really must pick a side on all the big points of discord so you can have some fun beating up the opposition.

So what, exactly was the minefield that I pedalled into (and rapidly out of, I might add). Dear imaginary reader, I really find it difficult to know where to start.

Let’s go back to my own cycling history, as described previously. My formative cycling experiences were in a world with no bike-specific infrastructure – not even Advanced Stop Lines. I stopped cycling and walked for a couple of decades and when I tried the bike again in the noughties there were loads more cyclists and there were all these painted cycle lanes everywhere – there were even a very few sections of physically separated bike lane. There was lots of new signage which acknowledged that cycling did in fact take place. It all looked very encouraging and I assumed it was going to make for a pleasant experience. It didn’t

And I was not alone in finding this. It turned out that there was a whole literature, on the net and in print, about the general ghastliness of cycle lanes, cycle tracks, cycle paths. They are dangerous. The best way to keep yourself safe on a bike is to be alert and assertive – plonk yourself where you can be seen, be clear in your intentions and so on – just as I had discovered for myself back in the eighties. In fact there is excellent book about this called Cyclecraft. I recommend it. It’s by a chap called John Franklin. He was at the Cyclenation conference in fact. “Ooh” I thought, “will there be a scrap?”.

To be continued … which is why comments for this one are closed.

“Cyclenation” conference in Bristol

So why did I enjoy it? Well, roomfuls of cyclists tend to have nice energy about them. I used to do a martial art and it feels like that – it is I suppose just being surrounded by people who are unpretentiously fit. And it’s nice being surrounded by people who you knowaren’t going to plunge into Tedious Car Conversations at the drop of a hat. (On the downside, I suppose it was rather undiverse – though it was somewhat less middle-aged and mono-male than I was expecting).

A bonus was that the structure of the day catered to my natural fidgetiness. It started at 9:30 with a set of mini-field trips to look at the local roads with specific reference to cycling infrastructure. That is to say, half of the morning was spent walking or cycling. Then when the indoor talking started, it commenced with a discussion format which involved attendees talking to each other, then getting up every so often and talking to a new bunch of people. In other words the morning was partly spent in outdoor physical exercise, followed by an indoor activity at which it was almost completely impossible to fall asleep.

The afternoon was, of course, speakers, but I was still surprisingly perky. There was the launch of the cyclescape website, some quite technical political stuff which I didn’t entirely follow and there was also … well no fights broke out, but I gather there had been a few skirmishes in the morning session.

Ok. This blog is shy and retiring. If it was a bird, it would be a small brown thing that goes “pheep” occasionally. Nevertheless, part of my purpose (inter alia*) is to address an imaginary reader who is innocent of the culture of cycling activists, and so I need to outline the debate about cycling infrastructure. This is usually called “integration versus segregation” but this is a misleading phrase and one of the annoying things about this particular Heated Debate is that both sides have consistently misrepresented each others stance. In fact, this issue is slowly coming to a semi-consensus, but it gave a thorough airing to lots of important points along the way, so is worth a few words in the next post.


I’ve just been to a cycling conference …

This one – “cyclenation” is an umbrella group of cycling campaign groups. One of the organisers of this shindig was the Bristol Cycling Campaign.

Was it good? Yeah it was, and it’s going to be the jumping off point for a number of posts. It was chaired by Philip Darnton, formerly head of Cycling England, useful and pointlessly-culled quango. Amongst other things he said this (more or less – I don’t know shorthand), which is so completely in keeping with the spirit of this blog that I have to repeat it:

“No-one starts cycling because they’re ‘saving the planet’. They start because it’s convenient, easy, cheap or for whatever reason. Once they’ve started and find that it works them and they enjoy it and it becomes part of their life, then, if you ask them why they ride a bike, then they’ll say ‘oh, I’m saving the planet’ “


More soon.

Exciting trip not exciting after all

A band I used to follow in the 80’s (very local and jazz I’m afraid, so nothing anyone will have heard of) used to use the following introduction to a Denzil Best number:

“Is there anyone here from Milton Keynes? No? Oh that’s a pity because if there was, we were going to dedicate our next number to them.

“It’s called MOVE

That is really unfair.

Anyway, tomorrow I was hoping to hire a Brompton to use in combination with a train journey to Milton Keynes. Thus giving me an excuse to discuss the topics of bikehire, folders and Milton Keynes. Sadly the brompton hire from Temple meads is not yet working (though it is set up and there are bikes there, because I had a look the other day), but I still have to go to MK.

Oh and tomorrow, 22nd September, is something called world carfree day. Very nice idea – though you could be forgiven for never having noticed.

Next post on Thursday.

Transport psychology

How could I, trading under a title like Psychobikeology for goodness sake, have possibly missed this? A whole issue of the psychologist about transport psychology!.

The Mindhacks blog post quotes Dr Ian Walker. I’ve got some posts about his research stacked up ready for next month. In fact this is a good opportunity to try and assuage some personal embarrassment. Back in 2007, I blagged an interview with him – good writing practice I reckoned and I wanted to publish it in the magazine of my local cycling campaign – and he was nice enough (and he is a nice chap) to talk to me at length. Unfortunately I never managed to write it up – partly lack of journalistic skill and partly because I think I was quite run down at the time – and ever since have been very embarrassed about effectively wasting his time. I’ve still got the transcription and will turn it into one of next month’s posts.

(And if you’re reading this Ian – unlikely I know – please accept my apology).