Friday, 25 November 2011

Rules of the road are there to be ignored if you disagree.

I took the long way into work last week. I ended up on the Oakington Airfield Road, at both ends it has a No Motor Vehicles sign except for access.  It is also part of the National Cycle Network route 51.

No Motor Vehicles except for access, buses, taxis, mopeds and invalid carriages.

I found myself being followed by a car at 8:40am so I couldn't help myself, I tried to enter into a conversation with the driver. It's only by talking to people that you find out their real state of mind.

I tried to tell the driver that it was a closed road and they disagreed, it's an access road.  It was a bad choice of words, but its difficult to give a full explanation over engine noise and whilst cycling next to a moving car.  It's not quite closed, but its clear that this is not a through road for local residents to get between the villages of Longstanton and Oakington.

Locally, it has been shown that drivers do not understand low flying motorbike signs and we have had successful trials for No Entry Except Cycles signs.  But, in the case of Oakington Airfield there is enough chatter from comments in local stories and the local Parish magazines (eg Longstanton Life see letters in large pdf) to make me think that all locals (except hermits) know about the restriction and anyone using it is either taking a calculated risk or is acting dumb to justify their actions.

Airfield Road still no go, drivers off A14 warned. 12/Oct/2011
I particular enjoy the short sighted comments calling for the road to be opened to all. That'll include all of the A14 traffic when it backs up, such as HGV's.
The restricted airfield road runs between
Longstanton (top) and Oakington (middle) 
Its a big shame the drivers can't see beyond their own convenience and abide by the rules.  As I spoke with the lady driver, I noticed that between us was a young boy, about 6 or 7, in his school uniform, he was obviously being driven from Longstanton to one of the schools on the Oakington side. He was peering out of the window having a good look at my road bike. He looked like he would enjoy cycling to school.

If he lives in Longstanton and goes to school in Girton, it is National Cycle Network all the way.  Its not Dutch standard but where it is not along the airfield road, it is a reasonable shared-use path suitable for confident young cyclists or tag-a-longs.

Perhaps if the airfield road was not such a rat run, and it was a bit more inconvenient to drive, more people would consider cycling between villages.

The four primary schools in the local area:
Longstanton - Hatton Park Primary
Oakington C of E Primary School
Girton Glebe Primary School
Girton, Gretton School 
The lesson for the child in that car is that it is fine to bend the rules so long as you can justify it to yourself. A bit of harmless speeding, mobile phone use. A bit of amber gambling (running-a-red for cars), or how about parking on double yellows to nip into a shop ?  When he becomes a teenager, will he be perfectly law abiding or perhaps think its ok to jump to red lights and ride in the dark with no lights ?

Today, we have the lowest number of traffic officers patrolling our streets that I can remember, and I feel that it is contributing to a slow decline in driving and riding standards. It's not all terrible news.  Most drivers are considerate, but without the occasional worry that an police officer is watching, some will keep asking themselves if they can get away with it, why not ?

[edit, more info].  I had a discussion with a colleague about the slow decline in driving standards.  There is always going to be a small percentage of society that will break the law, but the masses are generally kept in check by monitoring by the police and community, and through the communal discussion of issues.  Also of interest is the Broken Windows Theory.  I wonder if this theory applies to traffic anti-social behaviour too ?


If you want definitive proof of the access restrictions, these sources are for you:
Longstanton Parish Council Meeting Minutes. 6th December 2010

Update - Addenbrookes Access Road.

Same problem, same excuses.

1,500 drivers caught using off limits road (in one month)

Have you noticed cars RLJ ?

The other rule that is very much ignored is the amber light.  I think it has become the signal to floor it but it means stop. It is a form of red light jumping that drivers ignore, and is so common I doubt many would think it was breaking the law or think it has any harmful effects. Even so, a lot of drivers will happily point the finger at RLJ'ing cyclists. In my mind they are similar offences.

I have seen the aftermath of two vehicles colliding on my commute.  One of them must have amber gambled.  One of the drivers was being carried away by the ambulance services on a stretcher.  It was the junction of the B1049 Histon Road and Gilbert Road.

See this FAQ for red light rules:  "I went through on amber ... If you crossed on amber, you have still committed the offence, unless you can show that it was unsafe to stop."

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Fuel prices on the up. Gasp!

Do you remember the UK fuel protest ? I mean the big one, where lorry drivers blocked the oil refineries because they objected to the high taxation of fuel ? It resulted in panic buying, long queues at petrol stations, some limiting the amount of litres per customer. Well, that was in 2000, eleven years ago.

If there was one big lesson to learn from 2000, it was that fuel is only going to get more expensive. It has risen from around 77p per litre in 2000, to 135p 2011.  There is an interesting table here, which tells me that fuel is only 25% more than in 1983 adjusted for inflation. The sting recently has actually been the price fluctuation.

The message was clear, if you or your business depended upon cheap fuel, you needed to adapt or suffer. So here we are 11 years later, high fuel prices are being discussed in parliament and it reads like a country in panic, like this is a surprise.

Have a read of the transcript of the discussion:  

There is some discussion about rural communities being hit hard by the fuel costs.  I was going to pull out a quote, but this comment from a BBC News Story: RAC Fears Over Lack of Roads Spending As Cars Increase sums up the pain very nicely:
229. TonyL99
Try living without a car where we live in Wales. 15 mins drive to the nearest shop now the village store has closed...due to the Post Office's branch closures. Public transport ? There is none....zilch, nowt.
Home deliveries ? Nope...too far.
Cycling is possible, have tried it. But the 20 mile route to the nearest town is extremely hazardous due to high speed traffic heading to the coast.
I can imagine their pain.  Over my lifetime, I have seen the growth of car ownership, the growth in numbers of out of town supermarkets (which you need a car to get to), and, the reduction in public transport (due to mass car ownership), and the closure of local shops (due to supermarkets).

It does seem that as we have become more affluent, we have bought cars, travelled further and decimated our own local services.  Now we are dependant on our cars and more and more people are feeling the pain of the fuel prices. 

There is a group of people that are often forgotten in this subject - those without cars, such as the elderly. More recently, the high cost of insurance means the young are also unable to drive. Even if you took away all duty from fuel, significantly reducing its cost, it is unlikely to solve the problems that the car-less have. How do they travel to food shops and jobs ?   All a fuel duty cut would do is help those with cars maintain their ability to drive to out of town supermarkets and far away jobs, leaving the car-less stranded.

In my opinion, we need to be Localized to get us out of the fuel price hole.  More local shops, more public transport, more cycle infrastructure.  France is a great example, full of rural communities, a long way from supermarkets, but their dislike of manufactured food means they still have local shops selling fresh goods. You'll also find mini outdoor markets where the local farmers sell their local goods. I'm sure its not all perfect, but as a tourist on a bicycle, I found it worked well.  Perhaps living in the country will become less viable for the long-distance commuter and then those communities will return to local workers, and local shoppers. More community, less dormitory. 

So fuel prices are on the up. You should have seen in coming and you should be adapting, rather than complaining. I see people adapting everyday, cycling to work, running to work, walking to Histon to the cheaper bus zone, getting the supermarkets to deliver their weekly shop, and an increase in local shop use.  I see it as a good thing and as we get better cycle facilities and closer shops, the young and the elderly will benefit.  Building more roads will not help. Spend our tax money on public transport and cycling and walking improvements.

I leave you with some choice quotes, mostly from those who need to adapt:

From parliament:
Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): Speaking as somebody whose combined family mileage approaches 50,000 miles a year, ...
Mark Garnier: My hon. Friend raises a very good point. The cost of car insurance is unbelievably high for young people. That is a particular problem when they are trying to get on the job ladder. We should certainly be doing everything that we can to help young people. 
Robert Halfon:
I will turn to the social impact. In Harlow, the cheapest unleaded petrol costs £1.33 per litre. Most Harlow motorists are therefore spending £1,700 a year just to fill their tanks. For most people, that is the equivalent of £2,200 of income before tax—a tenth of the average Harlow salary. I met a Harlow man called Mr Barry Metcalf a few weeks ago. He is self-employed and uses his own car to commute to West Ham for work [33 miles each way]. He spends nearly £60 a week on fuel and has seen a 35% increase in the past year or two. The Government define fuel poverty as spending a tenth of one’s income on heating bills. What about spending a tenth of one’s income just on driving to work?

ph73: Yeah ok, I'll start doing my 100 mile daily round trip commute by bike. Don't know why I hadn't thought of it before, seems so obvious now. 
Martin: I very rarely use my car but its very hard to carry 8 or 9 bags of family shopping on a bike and the vast majority use the car for work. Why poor public transport, poor cycle lanes ( my council took bikes of the road by allowing them to share footpaths ). more can be done to reduce the number of cars on the road but no one seems prepared to kick start it.
Maybe Martin needs a bike trailer or cargo bike ;-) 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Environmental impact. That'll be your fault.

A few times a year, I try to make a trip to somewhere special for a spot of mountain biking. Last Saturday I popped up to the Peak District with a friend.  The most popular routes are found in the Dark Peak are near Edale, and the Upper Derwent Valley's Ladybower Reservoir.

Climbing to the moors along Cut Gate,
Peak District. Between Langsett and
the Upper Derwent Valley. 
The terrain consists mostly of gritstone rocks interrupted by grit sand and peat.  The climbs are lung busting at the best of times, but also sprinkled with rock step-ups. The downhills are peppered with step-downs and full of sections of rocks, varying from fist sized to football sized. Some are loose, some fixed in the ground. If you can ride fast enough to glide over the top, you are rewarded with some extremely satisfying riding.  

The scenery is wild with such beauty.  No wonder this was the scene of tension and trespass that took the moorland from the private property of the rich to Britain's first National Park in 1951.

The area is now so popular, erosion is a problem, and some paths have had to be managed, in some cases with stone paving slabs. [more info here]

We hadn't realised that the route we were taking had a boggy peat section near the top of the moor. That section was about a kilometre of eroded path with sections of squelchy peat that could easily swallow a boot and in places was as wide as a bus was long. The bog was unridable and I was using my bike to pole vault between solid sections.

Slippery Stones. A crossing point
over the River Derwent at the
northern end of Howden Reservoir.
Whilst literally bogged down, some walkers caught us up. Dressed in full waterproofs, days sacks, poles, boots and gaiters I guessed they knew the area and I enquired about the length of the boggy section.  Maybe they misheard me, but the lady's response was: "the erosion is caused by the cyclists riding on the grass at the edge" and strode on through the puddles.  I had heard of the conflict between countryside users, but never experienced it first hand before.

Were the cyclists to blame for all of this erosion ? I had my doubts but the proof was up ahead.  We were outnumbered by walkers, no others had gaiters and poles. They were avoiding the bogs by going round the edge.  And when we got to the summit, the route split into a descending bridleway, and a footpath following the top of the moor. It was the footpath that was most eroded.  The greatest irony was that I saw my accuser rounding a bog on the grass.

I am always amazed at how narrow minded the British can be. Problems are often somebody else's fault and if at all possible, blame a minority group with a divide and conquer technique.

So erosion is blamed on cyclists. Unemployment ? Ah, that's the immigrants taking our jobs.  Crashes on the A14, that'll be the lorries, and if we want to marginalise even more its the foreign truckers.  Anti-social behaviour, that's the teenagers, the Chavs.

A classic has to be congestion - ask a man who drives to work who's fault the congestion is, its all those mum's driving their children to school.  I have also been accused at the side of the road for causing congestion by holding up traffic, unable to overtake me. The blame was not put on drivers in the oncoming lane or the waiting driver for bringing an inappropriately wide vehicle into a busy city.

For environmental impact, the truth is we are all part of the problem, but nobody wants to change their own behaviour and its easier to blame someone else.

In the case of the erosion, I definitely caused some, as did everybody on Cut Gate that day. One solution that reduces erosion would be for serious-walking-lady to not visit the Peak District if they really cared that much.  Also, I wonder if they caught a bus into the National Park, or gave a thought to the impact buying foreign made clothes ?

Ah well, lets leave the negative finger pointers behind.

The most heart warming story on that day was meeting a father and his two boys on our return to the summit.  They cycled, the youngest about 10, looking exhausted, his legs and face covered in mud. It was his first time on a moor, and had fought his way up a hill and nearly drowned in a bog to get here.  He made it and he was elated, and he was enjoying the beauty of the landscape too. An experience that will last a lifetime. I felt the same way.

Monday, 7 November 2011

DIY street design

Last year, Glebe Way in Histon had some new road markings to help cyclists.

40mph zone, 116cm cycle lane at its thinnest
point, with hatched central area.
Before the markings were changed it was a standard single white centre line road - I rarely had trouble.  As soon as the new layout went in drivers I had some issues.

I started to ask question the safety and was told by the council that my comments would be put forward for the "safety audit". I dug deeper and was disappointed to find that the safety audit was conducted to make sure the road layout was safe for cars.

That was a small insight into how car centric our councils are.

[To be fair, Cambridge has dedicated cycling officers who have been improving their designs over time (such as the shared use path on this very road) using quite limited budgets. Lessons were being learned and were starting to stick.  Then Cycling England was disbanded along with funding and the council has been trying to cut dedicated cycling officer posts]

What I have noticed over time is that our largely car centric councils (or is that housing developers?) keep coming up with car centric designs for infrastructure, then cycling and walking campaigners complain and the car centric planners get their pencils out again.

Recently though, I have seen some encouraging and inspiring blog articles that could be the start of a new trend - the community making their own designs and showing their councils how it should be done.

Of course, there is the excellent and well established A View From the Cycle Path showing how the Dutch have made their cycling infrastructure the envy of the world.

Recently, the London Cycle Campaign have redesigned the Blackfriars junction for walkers and cyclists.  Transport for London were unwilling or unable to do this with their focus on smooth traffic flow for motor vehicles.

Here is a post on Vole O'Speed - Cycle of Decline in London - long but very interesting, especially the comparisons and ideas for real outer London Streets.

At War With The Motorist have a series titled What would you do here ? My personal favourite is On the Village High Street, particularly the roads with their width artificially restricted.  Also in that series is On Rural Main Roads and On Country Lanes.

Edit: How could I forget the very inspiring Beach Croft Residents Association story.  A street who pulled together to redesign their own road using planters and a 'road carpet'.

I am suitably inspired, and have some the local knowledge about where walking and cycling is difficult in my village, and now I am starting to think about ways to improve my community.  There is no easy money about right now, but pots of money do appear, and when they do, perhaps we can have the car centric infrastructure designers on the back foot.