Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Half Man Half Lefty

Most bicycle blog followers would know that England is making some baby steps towards a more balanced transport policy. Whether it can be classified as progress depends on where you are and how you define progress. Regardless, there are some promising things happening. One is the experiments with Dutch road designs, especially roundabouts. The Guardian reported on it recently.

It led, as these things do, to a flurry of comments. One of my favourites is from "camerasouth"

Yes, all this if fine IF you can cycle, but not everyone can, especially many elderly and disabled people who have to use cars (and mobility scooters etc). Additionally, motorists are paying more and more for less and less road use yet cyclists are paying absolutely nothing towards all of the benefits and priorities that they are and are likely to get as a result of research like this. It's no use them claiming that they pay in their rates because many do not pay rates (children etc.) and there may be many cyclists in just one rate paying household. Besides, motorists also pay rates on top of all the other motoring expenses.

I agree that anything to make cycling more acceptable and safer is a good thing but I also think that it is time that cyclists started to share some of the cost of all these initiatives and appreciated that, as road users, they also have an important responsibility to act sensibly and safely and keep their machines in good order. Maybe a compulsory cycle MOT and registration number, financed by the cyclist would assist here and also provide some new jobs for the testers etc!

It has all the old favourites: "not everyone can cycle", "only motorists pay", "cyclists get all the benefits and pay nothing", etc.

And "children don't pay".


These comments are a dime a dozen on any news article that mentions bicycle riders, especially if the article has the audacity to suggest that space or money could be used differently.

It is great when soon afterwards you read a short punchy response that deals with those sorts of answers succinctly and lucidly. For that we have Half Man Half Lefty to thank:

Firstly, you seem to be under the mistaken belief that you get something in return for tax. You don't, you just pay it and that's the end. That is why it is called tax and not a subscription or a service charge or a licence fee or a membership. What do you think you are entitled to in return for the VAT you pay, for income tax, for insurance tax, for alchol duty? We all pay tax you know, not just when we get in a car and none of us get anything back for it. Do you think perhaps that public services should only be available on presentation on a tax return which shows how much tax we have paid so perhaps you have heart attack and the paramedics tell you that they only use the defibrillator on people in the higher rate income tax band? or do you think we should all pay in to a big pot based roughly on what we can afford, so more or less the system we have now then?

Secondly, I am not sure how you are getting less road use. As far as I know roads are still being built but none are being dug up so surely you are getting more roads to use, not less

Thirdly, households haven't paid rates for many years. They pay council tax. Also, are you seriously suggesting children should be taxed as because they have a bike but it is only their parents who pay council tax, not them? presumably you'd need some kind of legal sanction for tax evading six year olds but I'm not sure a stretch in dartmoor is really appropiate so you'd need to come up with something new on that

Fourthly, I don't think the funds dedicated to a bunch of boffins in a field in Berkshire quite compares yet to the funds lavished on roads for motor vehicles. My local trunk road is to have an extra lane added for around 12 miles at a cost of £300 million. Perhaps you could find out how long it would take before the spending on cycling in the entire country would take to reach £300 million. Another local town of a few thousand popupulation is getting a £42 million bypass to take a moderatly busy non trunk road around a market town of a less than 5,000 people, so perhaps add that on as well. Perhaps to give a southern perspective, look up how much the Hindhead Tunnel cost and whether cyclists are allowed to use it. I'll give you clue: £155,000 per metre and no, they're not. Can you point me to a bike lane which cost £150 grand a yard?

Fifthly, perhaps of car drivers stopped killing cyclists then the cost of all these improvements, coming out of your own pocket apparently, could be avoided. Motor vehicles kill over 100 cyclists a year, cyclists do not kill any motorists. Bit of unfair fight wouldn't you say, and bit mean minded to begrudge spending any money trying to reduce that number wouldn't you say?

Sixthly, a tax on bikes which you propose would be £zero as it is for around 2 million low emmison motor vehicles so it would be a net cost to the system, not a revenue raiser. Also, would you make everyone on a bike get one of these £zero bike tax discs, even a kid doing his paper round? where would you attach a tax disc on a bike and what duties would you have the traffic police give up in order to stop people on bikes and check their free issue tax disc? bikes don't go on motorways so those ANPR vans wouldn't be much use

Seventhly, when we see an end to the carnage inflicted on the community by motor vehicles; pile ups, drunk driving, hit and runs, staging accidents to make fraudulent insurance claims, killing 400 pedestrians a year, 50 of them on the foot path, pumping pollution into the air, parking on footpaths, killing each other in fights over parking spaces then perhaps you can tell cyclists they should be sensible and safe but until ten an indignant motorist telling bike riders to act safely is unlikely to be taken very seriously don't you think?

Wish I could write like that.

Saturday, 10 August 2013


A recent front page story in the local newspaper made the unsurprising point that lowering speed limits reduces the number of fatalities. The Centre for Automotive Research at Adelaide University (those clever people who also published a study on protective headbands for motorists) now suggest that speed limits should be cut further to 40km/h - or so the article claims.

It was met with the usual predictable howls of protest on talkback radio and in the comments section of AdelaideNow but they included some original gags about going back to horses and carts and people carrying red flags while walking in front of cars. Hilarious stuff.

Reducing motor vehicle speeds undeniably reduces fatalities and serious injuries. The difference between 40km/h and 60km/h is significant:

Having said that, reducing speed is but one way of reducing conflict and serious injuries. It works perfectly in residential streets. Unley Council has a 40km/h speed limit on most of its side roads. That policy along with blocking off many of them to through traffic has worked very well.

At the same time, we need arterial roads that can move traffic. I would love to see 40% and 50% modal shares for bikes and similarly high shares for public transport but we need to move cars too. Simply reducing the speed limit is all very well but governments can create problems for themselves when the speed limit is difficult to enforce (as it would be) and difficult to justify (which it might be given some of the comments).

In those situations, there are other ways of reducing risk. Risk can be minimised through design. For example, by separating road users whotravel at different speeds and avoiding right hand unsignalised turns and other traffic movements with conflict built into them.

How you design the road depends of course on its intended use. A higher speed arterial road is designed and treated very differently from a narrower road that leads only to where people live. A guide to potential treatments is found in the Austroads cycling guide and is similar to others:

The question is which comes first. I get the feeling sometimes that traffic is allowed to congregate on certain roads and the amount of traffic then determines what treatment, if any, is applied. I'm probably wrong but it is often difficult to tell.

Far better is to designate the street in the first place. Decide what its purpose will be then you can apply the appropriate treatments, including blocking it, narrowing it, assigning the appropriate speed limit and adding the appropriate bus, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Designated arterial roads should be treated with appropriate speed limits, separation of users and, if necessary, multiple lanes. By contrast, other types of road should have speed limits and physical means of lowering speeds and blocking through traffic and of course feeding traffic on to the closest designated arterial road.

The mistake we make is to treat most of our roads in the same way. That is perhaps illustrated in calls for a blanket 40 km/h speed limit. I should add that I doubt that would happen anyway. We now have a default 50 km/h speed limit but many of our arterial roads remain signposted with a higher limit.

It has been said many times but you can see this in the morning rush hour. Main roads are full but many side streets have lines of cars running parallel to the main roads - they generaly seem to be parents on the school run.

So what so we do and why would it be better?

Step one is to designate the use and purpose of the road. The categories are not just main road and side street. Main arterial roads are pretty clear. They are the yellow ones in the street directory and on Google Maps. But there are other roads that while quieter than the main arterial road still serve an important feeder role. Galway Avenue next to the ABC Building on North East Road is an obvious example.

Once you have designated your main arterials, you then work on the feeder routes inside neighbourhoods and the residential streets that should not be able to be used as through routes.

There is a very useful post on the excellent Bicycle Dutch website that deals with this. It discusses a neighbourhood in Utrecht that was built in the 1960s. What makes it particularly relevant to us is that before it was retrofitted, its streets were just like ours:

In the original 1960s street grid for this area, motor traffic was able to use all streets to get from one end to the other. Some streets were even wider than others and served as through street. Most streets were purely residential, but all streets had the same speed limit of 50km/h (31mph).

So what did they do (and what should we do):

To channel the traffic flow better, the city designated a so-called ‘neighbourhood ring’. This is the street that is designed to give quick access from the city’s arterial roads to the purely residential streets. The latter type of streets have all become 30km/h (19mph) streets. This means that no 30km/h street has a direct access to an arterial road, but that traffic is forced to use the neighbourhood ring to get to the main arteries via only very few access points.

Read the whole post here. It's short and very clear.

Second question - why is this better? Well, among other things, it is obviously safer; it encourages alternatives to the car, which is also good for car users; rat-running and neighbourhood hoon driving are all but eliminated; neighbourhoods are quieter; effort can be put into making arterial roads work properly.

And so on.

Finally, definitely watch the four minute video:

Note how once the speed limit is lowered (in an appropriate environment) it is safe for different transport types to mix. It shows how segregation without separation works as part of a wider network.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

David Hembrow and Velo-City 2014

It is difficult to remember what made me start blogging. I used to get almost everywhere by bike when I was a child. I had a Raleigh Chopper - one of the pre-OHS ones with the funky gear stick on the cross bar. Once I got older and left home to live in other places that all stopped. When I was living in London in the 1980s, it did not even occur to me. In fact, I have no memory of seeing anyone on a bicycle. I do have clear memories of backed up traffic on Clerkenwell Road in the days before catalytic converters. I also distinctly remember finding it hard to breathe.

I came back to the idea of riding a bike when I decided I was pretty bored of getting the bus to work every day. I thought it would be far better to have a shiny new bike I could use for nothing than spend all that money on bus tickets.

Once I was riding, I began looking around at other new bikes and found a few blogs about them and cycling. That was when Copenhagenize was only a couple of years old. Since then, I have come across others and there is now a good number of very high quality blogs around. Some are in the list to the right but there are also many others. When I was first reading, that was when Freewheeler was producing a prodigious amount of erudite sarcasm and ridicule. Happy days.

And then there was David Hembrow's site - one which probably more than any other opened my eyes to what can be achieved and the nuts and bolts of how it is done. The site has become very influential, often quoted and, by the sounds of it, routinely pinched from. And now thanks to an earlier collaboration, we have the Bicycle Dutch website which continues to explain carefully and patiently how the Dutch do it.

The whole movement has changed noticeably since I started talking to myself about it. The Guardian Newspaper has its own cycling column and not long ago The Times launched its Cities Fit for Cycling campaign. It is well and truly an important issue.

Five years ago I would not have predicted that Adelaide of all places would be hosting a worldwide cycling conference like Velo-City yet it is coming here in 2014.

The organisers recently asked for suggestions for possible speakers at the conference. I wrote an email mentioning various names including David Hembrow's. I am sure I was not the only one. The mayor recently wrote an invitation but the answer was, alas, a polite 'thankyou but no'.


The full wording of the response is here.

Through a series of emails, someone else has already tried to make him reconsider but unsuccessfully. You could say that if his attendance at the conference goes on to change the behaviour, even slightly, of a bunch of Adelaide people, the negative entry in the ledger from his journey will be balanced. You could also ask what about the people who fly across for a study tour, especially the recent Australian group? You could say that the plane you'd be flying on will be flying anyway so you may as well just come along and enjoy the airline food. You could also suggest turning the conference into a longer trip. There are lots of things to see and do in Australia.

But the answer is no. It is about personal integrity and something very much to be respected.

David does say at the end of his reply:

If it would be helpful, I could perhaps record a video exclusively for you to show at the Velo-city conference in lieu of my own attendance in person.

All I can say is 'yes please'. Your average Adelaidean simply does not get it. To have images and footage published in our newspaper (singular!) and broadcasted on local television of something as simple as a bunch of children getting themselves to school, together with an explanation of how that is achieved, could make a huge difference to us and plant some strong seeds of change. Please make a video if you can.

I was very hopeful that David Hembrow would be able to make it to our conference but it is not to be. But hey, I know that Marc van Woudenberg is coming. He is totally cool.