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Wednesday 27 July 2011

Metrolink: (Further) Degrading Floop accessibility

A few weeks ago, during my tandem test weekend, I noticed that the already irritating barriers installed prior to the tram crossing at the Chorlton end of the Floop had been re-positioned to provide a serious (possibly impenetrable) barrier to access for anyone riding a cargo bike, tandem, tag-along, bike trailer, modified disability cycle or anyone using a mobility scooter or other mobility aid.

The irritating and unnecessary barriers to access which already existed on the Floop have been well documented. Whilst these barriers should be ripped out as a matter of priority, it is worse still to introduce new barriers, and then to re-position them so as to produce maximum inconvenience to users of the Floop.


Facing towards Fallowfield


Other side of the tracks, facing towards Chorlton

The fact that this work was done recently (and shoddily) combined with the fact that the barriers had already been installed once previously, makes me wonder what consultative processes Metrolink’s barrier redesign went through before being approved by the local authority, cycling campaigns, disability groups, pedestrian groups, Sustrans, Friends of the Fallowfield Loop and so on. My guess is that the work was done without any consultation whatsover, and that the issue of the degradation of access to one of the only cycle facilities in Greater Manchester must therefore be raised at the next Manchester Cycle Forum.


Users of cargo bikes (particularly when loaded) face great difficulties when trying to pass the poorly re-designed barriers.


The tandem, being approximately 20 cm longer than a Yuba Mundo, presented its own problems when attempting to pass this barrier

This barrier re-design, whist only a small local issue, embodies everything which is wring with provision for cycling in the UK; the assumption that making cycling inconvenient isn’t a problem because anyone on a cycle is obviously only doing so for leisure. They couldn’t possibly be trying to conveniently get somewhere in a timely manner, or they’d have gone by car, right?

Tuesday 19 July 2011

The propaganda deemed acceptable to show in schools

Years ago, when I was in high school, I remember that we were given numerous safety presentations. Sometimes these were about the railways (dare to step on the tracks and you WILL certainly be killed), sometimes about not flying kites near pylons and sometimes about the roads (such as the green cross code). The issue of responsibility was never discussed, interviews with children who had been maimed by cars were shown, although we were never told what happened to the motorist in the aftermath. The takeaway message from these videos was that when crossing the roads, the onus was very much on us to look out for cars and only cross when it was safe to do so. The wider issues of government-enshrined inequality between transport modes were never discussed, and the implication from the road safety propaganda we watched was that if we were hit by an adult in a car, it was our own stupid fault.

I have a little sister, who is currently in high school. In order to assess the state of "Road Safety" propaganda shown in schools nowadays, I decided to ask her what were the sort of things they showed her in school on the issue. I don't really talk to my sister about the issues I discuss here, she is quite young, like most people she doesn't cycle, and she doesn't generally give much thought to the issue of transport. By being careful in how I asked about it, this presented me with an opportunity to find out what the take-home message she (and by extension the average pupil in her age group) got from the propaganda. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Do they still show you those road safety videos in school nowadays?

Sis: Well, there was this one about a boy who got paralysed when crossing the road.

Me: Oh. Did they tell you what happened to the adult in the car who hit the boy?

Sis: No. It was the boy's fault because he was wearing dark clothes

So-called "Road safety" education programmes are generally funded by the fake road safety charities such as the Road Safety Foundation, RAC Foundation and the Road Safety Fund set-up by the AA, RAC and FIA. These education programmes have a very poor success record worldwide. Their main purpose is to counter the bad press the motoring lobby were receiving at the time they were founded due to the death-toll (particularly of children) caused by the actions of their members. It seems odd to me that this propaganda is welcomed by schools, but for example the tobacco and alcohol industries are not similarly indulged. At the very least the obvious conflict of interests should be recognised by the governments. Allowing the motoring lobby to set the agenda for how road safety is perceived by school children is a bit like allowing Anheuser-Busch InBev or British American tobacco to set the agenda for health education in schools. Perhaps all they need to do is set-up a cynical faux-charity foundation and they will be welcomed with open arms. 

The benefits afforded to the motor lobby and those whom it represents as a result of such education programmes are many. Firstly, it creates the image that the motoring lobbies care about, and are actively trying to reduce casualties. Secondly, by targeting the young and vulnerable, they are able to plant two very powerful ideas into the minds of the next generation; if a motorist hits a pedestrian (or any vulnerable road user, such as a cyclist), it is the victim who is at fault and that these activities are intrinsically dangerous compared to the perceived safety of the car.

Motorists benefit from this propaganda by the creation of a culture in which drivers are blameless for collisions involving their vehicle with more vulnerable road users. Additionally, this helps to prevent governments from reversing the creation of a road network favouring the use of the car for almost all journeys, high volumes of motor traffic and the high speeds attained by these vehicles.

The "Decade of Action on Road Safety" is a fine example of this. Fronted by Lewis Hamilton (Booked for speeding in UK, reckless driving in Australia) and Jenson Button (Booked for speeding in UK multiple times) and funded by the FIA, one of the biggest motoring lobbies and the world governing body of motorsport, it embodies our arse-about-face approach to road safety. It saddens me that an institution such as the United Nations would degrade itself by choosing to be associated with this pish. 

Those of you who have reproduced may wish to prevent your own children from being exposed to this blatant propaganda, or at least get through to them ahead of time. It might be fun for them to have an understanding of the forces at work behind the scenes of these campaigns, at least then they will be able to ask some awkward and disruptive questions in class.

Tuesday 12 July 2011


Last weekend I was able to spend some time getting to grips with a tandem, a completely new experience for me. This was made possible thanks to Ian of Lazy Bicycle Blog, who agreed to lend me his tandem for the weekend in exchange for a loan of my Brompton. When we were discussing the exchange, Ian said that there were some pictures of the tandem on some of his older blog posts. Whilst I did have a look for them, I didn't look too hard, so I was slightly surprised when I got there and saw these:

A racing tandem, complete with Shimano Deore components, 24-speed dérailleur gears and drop handlebars. Not the sort of thing I usually ride. Ian rode me to the main road (presumably being amused by my relatively poor proficiency with drops) and I set off back to the city centre. It didn't take too long before I became reasonably happy with the narrower bars, the positions of the brake levers and the bar-end shifters. As I headed down Hyde Road, I decided that I would take a detour on the Floop to avoid the traffic. Needless to say, I was initially unimpressed to encounter this:

However, my irritation was soothed slightly by the fact that the tandem weighs so little. It actually felt lighter than my DL-1 does when equipped with saddlebag and locks. I returned home and planned to try the bike out with a "Rear Admiral," on the following day. That evening I swapped the saddles for some of the Brooks saddles on bikes I had to hand. This was partly because of personal preference, but largely so I could mount my Carradice saddlebag to cope with the lack of a rear rack.

The next day, Ms. C. and I took the tandem out for a ride together. Whilst we were initially wobbly during the process of starting and stopping, we quickly seemed to get the hang of it and managed a round trip to Chorlton, checking out the newly opened Pedal MCR on the return home. The ride experience was interesting, the bike felt quite fast with a Rear Admiral, presumably due to the increase in power without much change in aerodynamics. This experience is probably somewhat skewed though, as the racy geometry and components of the tandem encouraged me to ride faster regardless of whether I was on it alone or not. After all, the great thing about drops is that they make you go faster, but what sucks about drops is that they make you go faster. I found myself cycling faster and tiring myself out more than I usually would without any intention of doing so.

The real fun of the tandem though, came later that night when we took it over to see some friends. After a bit of persuasion, everyone wanted to give it a try. With me as captain, this seemed to go relatively smoothly. When I was not captain, the results were generally more amusing.

I'm very pleased to have had the opportunity to try a tandem, it was definitely a good experience. Whilst it is not based on the type of bike I would normally ride, it was still immense fun. Now, if anyone has a tandem based on a roadster, let me know...

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Segregation Myths #3: If we build segregated cycle infrastructure we'll be banned from the roads

One of cycling's great bogeymen is the fear that a cycling ban is imminent and that anything which rocks the boat, such as asking for high-quality segregated infrastructure, will result in our being banned from the highway. To quote cycling journalist Carlton Reid:

However, I feel that this outlook is overlooking several important points:

Firstly, councils have been building sub-standard infrastructure for years, infrastructure which more often serves as an outlet for dadaism than as a facility for cyclists. Whilst there is not legal requirement for cyclists to use it, in many cases cyclists who shun sub-standard infrastructure are subjected to abuse and intimidation from motorists who are ignorant of the problems with such sub-standard infrastructure. This continues to be built despite it often not effectively catering for cyclists' needs whatsoever. 

Secondly, much of the main-road network has been for many years designed to prioritise high volumes of motor traffic travelling at high speeds. This is particularly evident on inter-town and inter-city A roads and dual carriageways, where a nominal speed limit of 50 mph or higher is routinely flouted by motorists, and on "urban motorways," such as The Bridgewater Way in Manchester. Whilst there is currently no de jure cycling ban on roads like these, there is a de facto ban on cycling; most people, including people who regard themselves as cyclists do not feel safe enough to cycle on these roads. I suspect that the fact that cycles are legally permitted on these roads provides little comfort to those who are prevented from doing so by the perceived lack of safety offered to cyclists who use these roads. A high-quality segregated cycle lane, with appropriate priority at junctions and side roads, will make these roads feasible for use by bike, for the average person once again.

The issue of quality brings my to my third point; if cycle paths are built to an appropriately-high standard then cyclists will choose to use them over the main carriageway without the need for legislation to make it mandatory.  A common misconception about pro-segregationists is that we want cycle paths on every street. This would obviously be ludicrous; what is needed is segregation which "scales-up" with the speed and volume of motor traffic carried by the main carriageway. The degree of separation needed would vary from none on quiet residential and access roads carrying low volumes of traffic up to a completely separate path on fast-inter-city A-roads and "urban motorways," (the roads from which most cyclists are already excluded from by a de facto ban). The degree of separation required would be specified by set of Separation Principles, similar to The Netherlands and Denmark, in place of our current (failed) Hierarchy of Provision. Because of this, some on-road cycling will always be inevitable, so there wouldn't be an issue of a blanket ban on cycling on the road. 

My final point is something perhaps unique to Britain. As a long-established country, with an uncodified constitution due to a political system which evolved over time rather than being suddenly brought into existence by revolutionary means. For example, unlike many other countries, there is no jaywalking law here, and pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders have the right to use the road by statute. There are a few examples of other transport modes being provided with infrastructure for their exclusive use; pedestrians and buses (strictly for the sole use of buses, cycles and taxis). Pedestrian infrastructure; The pavement, is a long established part of our road network. Despite the extensive infrastructure which has been provided for pedestrians in the UK, pedestrians have yet to be banned from using the main carriageway. Few choose to exercise their right (similar to cyclists with respect to their right to use fast A roads) to walk on the main carriageway due to the more attractive option offered to them in the form of the pavement, but it remains their right to do so if they choose. Bus lanes have proved to be a very successful tool to reduce peak road capacity (and hence ease congestion), whilst making bus travel more competitive with personal motor travel at peak times (although the arguments in favour of allowing taxis to use them are poor at best). Similarly, where "Bus lanes" do exist, their use by the operators of buses, taxis and cycles is not mandatory.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

ASA: Spreading the fear to kids

This advert was brought to my attention a while back. It is for some car (yawn) but the ad also featured cyclists as well. A complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA):


A TV ad, for Citroën, featured a cyclist pulling up behind a Citroën C4 at a set of traffic lights on a busy urban street. Other cyclists joined him until there was a large crowd of cyclists pursuing the C4. 

A viewer, who noted that none of the cyclists featured in the ad were wearing cycling helmets, challenged whether the ad was appropriate to be broadcast at times when children were likely to be watching, because it could condone and encourage behaviour prejudicial to their health and safety.

Assessment (Upheld)

The ASA considered that adults and older children would understand that the scenario depicted in the ad was fantastical and set apart from reality, because of the sheer number of cyclists involved, the lack of cars in their immediate vicinity and the fact that they were cycling in unison and chasing the C4. We therefore concluded that the ad did not condone behaviour prejudicial to the health and safety of adults and older children and was unlikely to cause harm to them.
However, we considered that younger children might not appreciate the fantastical nature of the ad and might consider that the ad represented a real-life scenario. We were therefore concerned that the ad might encourage younger children to emulate a behaviour prejudicial to their health and safety, and therefore concluded that the ad should have been given an 'ex kids' scheduling restriction to ensure that it was not broadcast at times when younger children were likely to be watching.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 5.2 (Children) and 32.3 (Scheduling).
We also investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 4.1 and 4.4 (Harm and offence) but did not find it in breach."

The message from the ASA here is that cycling without a helmet is a behaviour, "Prejudicial to [childrens'] health and safety." This has already been established to be false. However, the main issue here is that the ASA have not been fair with respect to the issue of safety, and behaviour which children might emulate. The driver of the car in the ad was not wearing a motoring helmet, a behaviour which children might emulate which would actually be, "Prejudicial to their health and safety." It could also easily be argued that advertisements showing people travelling by car, "Might encourage younger children to emulate a behaviour prejudicial to their health and safety."

The ASA, by classifying adverts of this nature as, "Ex kids," on these grounds have managed to help perpetuate the mistaken beliefs that cycling is a particularly high-risk activity, that helmets are effective in the event of a crash with a motor vehicle, and the sadly prevailing ideology that the responsibility for minimising the risks posed to cyclists in the event of this type of crash (with the aid of ineffectual safety equipment) lies with the cyclist victim, rather than (by the moderation of dangerous driver behaviour) with the driver whose vehicle is the actual source of the danger.

Considering the relative risk posed to children by travelling by car, and the significantly greater benefits afforded to motorists in comparison to cyclists by helmet-wearing in the event of a crash, maybe we should be complaining to the ASA whenever an advert depicting people travelling by car without a motoring helmet is shown in the advert breaks surrounding children's programming.