Justice on the Roads

22 Mar

A repost from the Solihull Bicycle Campaign vault – April 2015

March 2015 proved to be a sobering month in regards to safety on the roads, beginning with a texting van driver being cleared of responsibility for the death of a cyclist. A trial that Bez from the Beyond the Kerb blog systematically pulled to pieces in two well-researched and though out posts (first here and second here), bringing into question the very effectiveness of our justice system.
Alongside this the bereaved family of Michael Mason have been battling uphill for the right to an inquest into his death, as evidence emerges that the police failed to refer the case to the crown prosecution service. In addition to this a study led by Rachel Aldred found that the majority of cyclists experience danger and near misses on a daily basis and cyclists are systematically marginalised.

These incidents are no means isolated or unusual, for decades the UK has been weighting the judicial system against the most vulnerable users of our roads. This was originally caused by the government’s need to encourage people to drive by underplaying the danger that motor vehicles have the potential to cause, this in turn led to society being able to collectively look in the other direction when cars are seen to cause danger. Since then this social need to avoid demonising the method of transport that so many now rely on has become firmly entrenched in society and any attempt to bring possible issues to light risks being labelled as ‘war on the motorist’.

The vast majority of people from all walks of life now travel by car or at least associate it with the pinnacle of personal transport. This prevalence of drivers has created a system that is inherently biased against those that do not travel by motor vehicle. Which is why so many struggle to be able to put themselves in the shoes of those that cycle, from engineers not being able to design usable infrastructure to drivers not understanding the need for space, from advocates for shared space to evangelists of protective equipment and hi-vis there is a systematic failure to recognise the needs and requirements of those that travel by bicycle. It is no different in the justice system: how can a policeman understand why close passes are so terrifyingly dangerous when they’ve never cycled on the roads? How can a judge or coroner realise the futility of helmets and hi-vis clothing if they’ve never been overtaken by a lorry? And how can a jury do any less than put themselves in the shoes of the driver if their only experience of the road is from behind a windscreen? Everyone who has driven on the road has made an lapse in judgement that could have been a lot worse, so when presented with a driver that has been involved in a collision, even if the charge is horrific, some amount of empathy for the driver will be present.

However, there still is hope, as more people get out on bicycles the entrenched views will begin to be diluted. As well as this the CTC’s road justice campaign continues to push ever gradually forward in combating lenient sentencing and protecting those that need it the most. And as always let us hope that we can eventually reach out to those in power and deliver infrastructure for cycling that will prevent any more tragic deaths on the nations roads.

The Importance of Play

22 Feb

A repost from the Solihull Bicycle Campaign vault – January 2015

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The decline of play: http://youtu.be/Bg-GEzM7iTk

As mentioned in the video, playing is essential to the development of children. However modern children do not usually have the option to play outside independently, one of the biggest reasons cited by parents is fear of traffic and social danger. This is partly due to the dominance of motor traffic which causes a vicious cycle of an increase in cars on the roads which is followed by fewer people walking and cycling, which in turn leads to fewer children being allowed to venture out due to this lack of people and community. Children now are shifted from place to place in their parent’s car with little independence, effectively stunting their physical and emotional growth.

However this system can be reversed, the two countries with the highest cycling numbers also happen to be the countries that rank the high in childhood happiness. The independence supplied by a bicycle is a wonderful thing, but before that can happen we definitely need #space4cycling.

Building Communities Through Cycling

20 Oct

From the Solihull Bicycle Campaign Vault October 2014.

Video: 

Cycling Without Age is a fantastic initiative and has taken off across the world. Which just goes to show that if the right conditions are provided, communities can come together in surprising and beneficial ways.Humans are by nature a social animal, however so much of what we do now shuts us off from other human beings. A combination of the rise of social media and the proliferation of modes of transport that reduce interaction and have contributed towards a distinct lack of physical social interactions. Active travel such as walking and cycling contribute to more human urban landscapes and help revive communities, bringing people back together.

Traffic Light Controlled Junctions

20 Sep

Repost from the Solihull Bicycle Campaign vault – September 2014

Video:

Junctions are one of the most neglected areas in cycling infrastructure. Many cycle routes, no matter how safe and well protected they are, vanish completely on the approach to a junction. Throwing bicycle users straight into the general flow traffic (often directly into merging conflicts) or segregate them to a series of pedestrian crossings around the outskirts of the junction. The Dutch style junction design allows cycle routes to proceed through the junction while still being kept safely separated from motor traffic. Junctions like the one above have been proven safe and usable for all ages and abilities of bicycle user, eliminating turning, merging and space conflicts.

Protected space along main roads is a key campaign aim for both the Solihull Bicycle and the Space4Cycling campaigns. However without appropriate junction design, large junctions will continue to be the barrier they are today. Which is why it is necessary for councils to receive a steady stream of funding and for the Department for Transport to take the lead in providing the regulation changes to allow safe junction designs to be built on UK roads.

Public Spaces

29 Aug

Repost from the Solihull Bicycle Campaign vault – August 2014

Video:

The key to successful public spaces that attract people is having car – free spaces, people enjoy being able to walk freely through places like shopping centers, without the worry of a car speeding or passing through. It’s a good way of bringing the local neighbours and people around the city together, sit around in beautiful surroundings, with pretty flowers or fountains where children can play or people can get fresh water to drink. Having a place to sit where you’d like to, in the sunshine or in the shade, chatting or playing friendly games or just enjoying the company of others. The current approach however, revolves around creating barren and lifeless concrete plazas to showcase buildings, rather than providing a pleasant spaces for people.

Cycling in Cambridge

20 Jul

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As part of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain Annual General Meeting, I was privileged enough to travel down to Cambridge and take part in an organised infrastructure safari in Cambridge. Cambridge is a particularly special city when it comes to cycling as Cambridge boasts the highest cycle usage rate in the entirety of the UK with a recorded 58% of the population cycling at least once a month. This extremely high usage rate is largely because of Cambridge’s large student population who are prevented from keeping cars within the city limits and create a more progressive political atmosphere as a whole (in UK terms anyway), rather than comparatively high cycle infrastructure levels.
Edit: it has been pointed out to me that the high cycling rate is only due in part to student numbers and the figure of 58% may be exclusive of student numbers and people who use bicycles for only a short section of their journey (see this twitter conversation ). As a whole Cambridge benefits from unusually high numbers of permanent residents that cycle. For more information, visit: https://www.camcycle.org.uk/resources/cyclinglevels/

To aid in reducing car use within the city Cambridge has a number of cheap car parks around the periphery of the city with regular bus services and decent cycle provision leading into the city centre.

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Trumpington Park and Ride

As we were travelling by car we used the South Park and Ride centre which also happens to be the end of Cambridge’s famous guided busway. The busway consists of two wheel tracks enclosed with concrete walls, which guide the bus via two small wheels installed on the side of the busway busses.

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Guided busway ‘tracks’

While the busway offers fast traffic-free travel for bus passengers into the city centre, the busway also hosts an adjacent shared-use bicycle and pedestrian path. This path provides safe and pleasant access to the city centre from the South. This is also the reason for the high numbers of bicycles locked at the Park and Ride centre, as commuters are able to drive and park at the Park and Ride and then use their city bike to cycle into their place of work within Cambridge.

However, once within the city centre the cycling infrastructure became more sporadic and of a similar quality to much of what is present in the rest of the country. Despite this it is clear that within Cambridge, cycling is clearly seen as a viable transport option with a variety of ages, abilities and genders to be seen criss-crossing the city by bicycle. IMG_8585IMG_8623IMG_8676IMG_8587.JPG

While a decent amount of infrastructure was not of the highest quality, there were patches of provision that clearly demonstrated that Cambridge is beginning to take it’s role as a cycling city seriously. Particularly along Hills Road on which a high quality Dutch-style protected cycle track is being built, complete with separation from traffic, forgiving kerbs, priority across side roads, and bus stop bypasses.

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One-way cycle track separated from both pedestrians and drivers.

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Sloped kerbs that don’t catch wheels and allow easy access on and off the cycle track.

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Cycle track bypasses a bus stop.

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Priority over side road.

In addition to the new infrastructure the dense core of Cambridge is filled with a network of quiet traffic calmed streets in which rat-running is restricted and few people drive, creating a pleasant environment to live and cycle in.

As well as this, the pedestrianised streets at the centre of the city shopping districts are open to cycling, ensuring that bicycle routes are not severed.

What really sets Cambridge apart on a UK level is that there is so much that caters to those on bicycles and a real culture of cycling abounds.

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Roundabout with tight geometry which slows vehicle speeds and increases capacity

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Cycling routes through parks

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Cycle route signage is extremely common

All in all stepping into Cambridge gives you a glimpse of what the rest of the UK (and indeed Solihull) could look like with effort and political will. If you have never visited Cambridge I thoroughly recommend a trip and I feel that in between London and Cambridge much can be learned to help make travelling by bicycle more viable across the country.

Cycling in Austria

15 Sep

(well almost)
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Last month I was lucky enough to be able to tear myself away from life under grey clouds and visit sunny Austria and of course I had to get some pictures of cycling and cycling infrastructure while I was there. Unfortunately with the schedule we had and having to fly in, we weren’t able to do any cycling while we were there but we were still able to appreciate the cycling as spectators.

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We stayed in a small a village called Pressbaum which is about 30 minutes away from Vienna by train and from there traveled in and out of Vienna by train. The first thing we noticed when walking through the village centre was a hire bike stand set up next to the town hall. The price for using the bicycles was 1 Euro for an hour or 10 Euros for 24 hours and you could pay for and unlock the bike through the internet, text or phone, indicating that they were intended for the use of residents primarily (who would have a usable phone etc…). Accompanying the bike hire information was a map of the nearby cycle route which extended all the way to the boundary of Vienna.

Unfortunately I forgot to get a photo of the cycle route as it wasn’t exactly awe inspiring but a quick internet search found this photo on Wikipedia:
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https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressbaum#/media/File:Pressbaum_Abzw._Pfalzau.JPG

The paved strip that can be seen on the left here is the cycle lane with periodic painted cycles that have been worn off over time. While the lane offers very little protection it works because despite this being the high street there are very few cars. Even though this road links directly to Vienna and all of the towns along the valley the majority of people use either the train or the raised motorway (below), thereby eliminating the majority of the through traffic. This, as well as the low traffic speeds and population density result in a very quiet and pleasant high street, which can seem utterly alien from a British standpoint.
IMG_7247However, the lack of traffic included cyclists as well and we saw a total of five cyclists during our time in Pressbaum, consisting of two sports cyclists on mountain bikes and three people on hybrids with shopping crates attached to racks.

Vienna on the other hand had a bit more to show on the cycling scene.The first place we visited was Mariahilfer Strasse which is widely known as biggest shopping street in Vienna. It Runs from the Volkstheather (Folks theater) all the way to Westbahnhof (the main west train station in Vienna) and is pedestrianised for roughly half of its length with crowds of people, cafe seating and cycling a regular part of the scene.
IMG_7239Motor vehicles were routed on and off and across in sections using a series of road closures and signs, meaning that only cyclists and pedestrians could travel the full length of the street uninterrupted.

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These signs mark the start of a pedestrianised section of the high street, with the small bicycle signs (ausgen.) creating an exception to the no entry and blue pedestrian sign. Further along, the pedestrian space comes to an end and the signs inform the users that it is a shared space with a 20 kph speed limit (12 mph):IMG_7240

As there is plenty of space and very few motor vehicles travel along the street, a very relaxed atmosphere is created which spawns many different social interactions. Like this group of friends that met each other traveling by foot, bicycle and skateboard (skateboards and scooters are popular among all ages in Vienna):

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Also seen quite often along the route and around the city were the brightly coloured bicycles from the Citybike hire stands:
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Which all had hub gears and disc brakes:IMG_7238

In other areas around Vienna, particularly the museum quarter, the standard cycle infrastructure was painted lanes on the pavement, however these were generally of a decent width and on already wide pavements.

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and had priority across side roads and turning traffic in the usual continental style (marked out with elephant’s feet markings).

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Cyclists also had dedicated crossing across junctions alongside pedestrian crossings and with dedicated lights (amber meant you could cross if it was clear).

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That is not to say that other modes weren’t catered for, many of the main roads consisted of 2/3 car lanes (often one-way), 2 tram lanes,  2 bicycle lanes and 2-5 pedestrian sections.

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Vienna also had quiet a few special pedestrian crossings with couples on the crossing signals in various gender pairings.
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While we did see a lot of bicycle infrastructure during our trip, such this cycle garage at the main station (of which most was quite decent by UK standards)…
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.. we saw few cyclists considering the size of Vienna. While Vienna still easily outclasses Britain in number and variety of cyclists, from what I saw they are still lagging far behind the established cycling nations such as the Netherlands and Denmark (with only between 3 and 6% mode share) . The majority of the cycling infrastructure we spotted was still just tinkering around the edges of motor traffic and there are still plenty of areas where cyclist would be forced back onto the road.
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However, those that do cycle appear to enjoy it and cargo bikes can be spotted here and there, which I take as an indicator of a shift towards cycling.
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Also cycling tourism appears to be a booming business with heavily laden bikes to be spotted all around Vienna.
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Which is no doubt aided by the bicycle friendly rail system many of which have dedicated carriages with seatbelts, or guards vans in the case of longer journeys.
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All in all it proved to be an eye opening trip and I feel that there is much we can learn from how Austria supports cyclists. However Vienna also represents a warning that without significant change to infrastructure massive changes to modal shift will not happen and 10 years down the line you will still only have a single digit mode share.

Lastly, if you are interested in seeing what else we got up to during our trip, keep an eye out for upcoming videos on our channel: Laura and I. Thanks for reading and happy cycling.

B