Sticking up for the vulnerable road user

When bloggers aren’t ranting, they’re apologising for breaks in transmission. Quite a break.

I’d been meaning to mention the early day motion EDM 407 for a while and the other day, after reading this, I finally wrote the following to my MP:

Dear Stephen Hammond,

As one of your constituents who cycles, I am wondering if you are planning on supporting EDM 407? It attempts to raise the profile of victims of road accidents, in particular, that cyclists are often not given enough support by the justice system.

I would be interested in your opinions on the related concept of ‘strict liability’, where vulnerable road users are automatically considered the innocent party unless it can be proven otherwise. Obviously there are numerous road users, whether cyclists, pedestrians or motorists, who flagrantly disobey various traffic laws and the Highway Code on a daily basis, but the majority are law abiding. For every uninsured, speeding motorist, red light jumping cyclist or headphone-wearing pedestrian crossing the road without looking, there are many more normal people just going about their day.

Over 80 cyclists have been killed on Britain’s roads this year. If a terrorist group had been that ‘successful’ the country would be in uproar.

I’ve cycled nearly 5000 miles in the last year (and driven a similar amount) and I can assure you that the UK’s roads are not fit for purpose. To many times cyclists and motor vehicles are forced together: many cycle lanes just disappear moments before a junction, in shared bus lanes motorbikes zoom past a few inches from your ear and every advanced stop zone is so full of mopeds that cyclists can rarely get a look in.

Cycling is cheap, convenient and healthy, but when my wife would rather drive the half mile to the butchers on Leopold Road rather than take one of our our young children on the back of a bike because of the danger, it has got to change.

I want my children to be able to cycle safely in London – to go to school by bike, to think that cycling is normal, to not have to be driven everywhere and contribute to the problem.

The current situation is untenable and successive governments have failed us all. The roads are crammed with cars – either parked or in queues – because most people can’t imagine an alternative. They would rather get in their car and exacerbate the problem than risk their life and the lives of their children on the roads of Wimbledon, Merton, London and the rest of the UK.

Yours sincerely,

See you next year, probably.

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Life in the slow lane

For a couple of mechanical reasons I had cause to travel a little slower this morning, nothing too major, I just wanted to be able to stop more steadily (a small bulge in my front tyre and a desire not to clip it with the front brake blocks mainly).

So I was taking things a little more leisurely, cutting a few mph off my cruising speed and letting the speed fall a little earlier approaching junctions and hazards. Life in the slow lane, if you will, and it’s a different place! Normally I bash along passing most people, grappling with the burn from the lights and generally mixing it with the cool fast kids at the front (beating more than I lose to, natch – there aren’t many non-RLJs who’ll stay ahead of me 🙂

The manners back there were awful. Now, I’m not perfect, but when I get to some lights, I won’t queue jump. I might go to the outside, but I won’t go around and then push in, or go up the inside (or go on to the pavement). On the plus side, at least people were stopping, but the manners at the lights just seemed so much worse to me today. I was cut up and undertaken way more than I would consider polite. Maybe some of it was that I will have been taking my normal (fairly aggressive) road position and wasn’t necessarily then punching my weight, but that didn’t excuse all of it.

Well, maybe it’s about seeing the world from a different viewpoint, walking a mile in another man’s shoes (which is always a good idea, because if you realise that he was right, he’s a mile away. And you have his shoes.) I’m sure that the minor infractions that other user groups complain about cyclists is because we can, but that’s a reason, not an excuse. Just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should.

Kindle Pricing

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New paperback, £6.49 – kindle edition, £10.40

What? I know the arguments about that the authors need to eat and not wanting to breed another generation of torrent-wielding pirates, but honestly, why such a ridiculous mark-up.

There is no scarcity value in eBooks. Why should a physical copy, posted to my house cost over a third LESS than a version whose couple of hundred Kb wouldn’t even raise a blip on the most frugal of data plans?

The book publishers need to sort themselves out. I love the Kindle, the flexibility, the convenience, the reduced need for shelves or guilt over once-read novels taking up house-space.

If there’s an attempt at justification, I’ll happily listen. I’m not saying that I think eBooks should be pennies in the pound, I want to pay a reasonable amount to reward the author for their effort and ensure repetition. I just can’t see a valid reason for a premium – especially such a hefty one – over the paperback price.

Reclaiming the Road Space

Last year, TfL launched an experimental scheme to extend the ability of motorbikes to use bus lanes. In other news a few months ago the industrious James Randerson of the Guardian managed to unearth a few facts about Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs), basically after much digging he discovered that actually, yes, it is a fixed penalty for deliberate flouting of them.

Together with the eye-wateringly blue cycle superhighways, which many cabbies, motor cyclists and assorted other ne’er’do’wells assume that cyclists MUST use, London’s roads are becoming increasingly confusing; who is allowed to be where, when and who’ll you’ll be sharing the space with when you get there.

The cycle lanes are particularly open to misinterpretation: parked cars, mopeds, motorbikes, the unwitting and the deliberate. You might forgive the poor motorcyclist, they’ve been let into bus lanes (which are normally also cycle lanes), so they assume (incorrectly) that now all cycle lanes are open to them too. It seems like every day I’m being overtaken on the inside by a motorcyclist along CS7 – and when I’ve pointed out the dangers, almost exclusively the responses are that they believe they’re allowed to be there (normally in fewer words).

iBikeLondon is advocating cyclists reclaim the ASL box. That doesn’t go far enough; we need to reclaim the cycle lanes, too. But as the cyclists in the city point out, all this is highlighting the conflict that marrs our roads: we’re just none of us very good at sharing.

London just isn’t very good at going beyond some PR fluff and spin. The boris bikes have helped get a few more non-specialists out there, but as the nights (and mornings) draw in, the roads will return to their more natural state of being populated by the generally more hardy, experienced and, dare I say it, more militant cyclist. If you’re out there week-in, week-out, rain and shine, cold winter dark mornings and balmy summer evenings, you’re less likely to put up with grockles invading your space.

Fighting back doesn’t really help anyone, but where’s the balance between deliberate obstruction (e.g. Critical Mass) and meekly submitting to being weaker and happy with it? The police shouldn’t be needed to enforce every last nuance of the traffic rule book, we should be adult enough to work these things out but when everyone’s rushing about, desperately trying to make it through the lights, being higher and mightier than thou (we are all each individually right, after all, it goes without saying that you, as the other guy, are implicitly wrong).

Approaching Menace

Whether you have form or whether your experience is shouting answers from the sofa at the screen, taking the next step and actually answering the contestant call for Mastermind (wiki), filling in the form, passing the audition (which was done at Bvsh House, which was quite exciting in itself) and then accepting the place are all reasonably straightforward.

Even the realisation that you should be revising again, however many years since your last exam, isn’t too bitter a pill; you should be picking subjects that are fun or little real effort. Fortunately I’d given a relatively small bibliography, but that’s where the worrying started. When I’d filled in the form and was searching for specialist subjects, I’d turned to my bookshelves and plonked down a few things for which I’d both interest and several books already. Bletchley Park was an obvious choice given the couple of feet of shelfspace donated to it and, once I’d got over my surprise that they’d not had anyone do it before, I got down to re-reading the books and noting down question fodder. (I heartily recommend Mental Case for a desktop/iPhone assistant.) That’s when the nerves first raised their head. GC&CS is such a wonderful story with such a number of people interested in it, that my worries were now that if I made a big mistake, or the question setter misunderstood my description of the subject (I’ve just about to managed to forget the disastrous semi-final of the radio version), or if I just froze, there would be lots of people watching the eventual broadcast with a huge sense of disappointment. I had to perform well for the sake of the people who have a vested interest in the subject.

The day dawned. The train struck out from London and the last few pieces of reading and revision were trying to get stuck in.

I walked to the studios, as much to clear my head as to enjoy the quirky post-commercial, architecture of central Manchester. Entering by the same gate as about 15 years ago was a fun little trip down memory lane. In reception we were collected at a similar time to the Countdown contestants (and saw Jeff Stelling, Susie Dent, Sharron Davies and Rachel Riley in make-up, so that was a plus for the day before anything else). We were briefed and the four of us got our first introduction to each other: confirming the order for the first round (I’m to go third), the text that will appear on screen and a first hearing of the other specialist subjects and a review of the rules. Then a little dancing in the conversation: who’d done it before, any previous TV credits. So who had the form?

I’ve always suspected that your draw isn’t complete coincidence, there are generally two strong entrants in each heat, perhaps one a slight favourite, then two others who might not be quite as strong; strong enough to merit their place but whose recall is a maybe a little off the pace, whose specialist choice was a little too broad or who don’t revel in the spotlight. Who’s who? Which are you? (As the old business cliché goes, if you can’t spot the mug around the meeting table, it’s probably you.) Chatting while wardrobe ironed the duds didn’t really help, the nerves were out, but the chat wasn’t giving anything away. My money on my major oppo was on the slightly older chap with the subject closest in our heat to serious culture (I suppose mine probably counted for that as well).

Then we were changed and being miked up, before walking into the studio and being introduced to the audience. Still no sign of John Humphrys, though. Indeed, apart from being behind the desk and in the line up for the opening shot, we had no time with him – very unlike Paxman’s behind the scenes persona. We were the first recording in the day, so maybe it was not surprising that he didn’t come back afterwards, but a little surprising that there was no chit-chat.

Sat in our seats on the set, with a bit of banter from Ted Robbins, the warm up king, and Humphrys arrives. He runs through his intro autoue a couple of times, then boom. The iconic music is playing, Paul’s up first and he’s already answering real questions. I was expecting some warm-ups, some level checking, but no. He’s already well into his two minutes. Maybe this is a good thing, kill the nerves as quickly as possible.

He’s chosen FIFA World Cup Finals since 1970 and, to be honest, it was a little too broad, with questions on goalkeepers, sendings off, teamsheets and strike threats, just asking too much of him. His tally of eight points is decent, but I’m relaxing. Robin, the older chap, is next on the TV plays of Alan Bennett. It’s a decently small canon, some scope for slip ups, but generally a solid 14 points with a few passes and there’s the line drawn in the sand. I was right – he is serious. But now it’s me.

“The next contender, please.” And I’m walking. I see some tape on the floor, taking the curved route and making sure to not fall off the stage, then I’m sitting down, making sure not to slide off the chair. That would be embarrassing. He’s asking my name and I’m coping with that, I even get my specialist subject right. Almost coming a cropper on the alledged open goal first question, but then I’m off to the races. One genuine guess, then the last question – the buzzer goes and I probably should have had him repeat the question as I know as soon as I’ve answered that I’ve gone for the other chess champion … (There’s always a clue in the question and I knew that Stuart Milner-Barry had never been British chess champion.)

Still 15 points and no passes isn’t bad, and after Steve does a grand job of 13 points on U2, I’m leading at halfway. That has to be seat you’d choose; the ability to sit and wait and know what to do. Paul’s GK at least overtakes me, Steve sets a better target, then Robin’s off. He fluffs a couple but, especially with the extra half minute in the second round for this year, he’s climbed to 27 (albeit with a fist full of passes – hindsight says I really should have paid attention to that).

It’s me again, to chase a decent target, but should be gettable. I start well, with the first 4 or 5 out of the gate, but then a few go begging and maybe my aim of guess not pass might not have been the best strategy. I’m getting some wrong and Humphrys has to correct me, burning valuable seconds. I confuse the character and the author with Rankin and Rebus, and then a question about an attraction named for the Greek word for movement and all I can remember is the UC final and hippodrome. Then it’s the last question on the city where Jane Austen lived and based some of her novels. I don’t know, but as a guess, I can’t go away from the city of my youth, I know she lived (and died ad I think is bured) there, but I don’t think it’s right. “Winchester.”

Bath. And while I’ve only passed on the one, I have burned too much time, and I’m one short. 26. Only one more correct amongst a handful which I should have claimed would have done it.

But how good is it? Will it be enough for the semi final? We’ll have to wait for the next round of filming. 6 from 24 heats will get the nod. It would have been enough last year, but with that extra 30 seconds it probably won’t be. I’m in with a shout, but I can’t really say more than that at this point.

(For the next week, it’s still on iPlayer.)
Update: mentions

Language

Rowing clubs rejoice. Your sport is in capable hands, or at least in hands capable of creating ludicrous management speak.

"get the regulatory burdens & bureaucratic procedures which prevent you delivering sport off your chest"

British Rowing

"Delivering sport"? Is that really what they call it now? Is that really what we’re doing?

I appreciate the offer, but I’d rather they treat us as volunteers who love our sport, not management consultants implementing a process within some faceless corporation.

I think I need to go to deliver my coffee into my cup and deploy it to my stomach.

Language criminals. George Carlin got there, 30 years ago.

The anti-smug backlash

The excellent London Cyclist blog asked this morning, what London’s cyclists thought of the tube strike?

The general concensus was that there were more out there and that there were many who really didn’t understand how it worked. As I suggested in a post 3 years ago (almost to the day)

Your normal tube journey has tourists getting in the way and making you grumble. You fairweather, occasional cyclists are the tourist on my tube. Don’t be surprised when I grumble at you!

Much has changed in three years, but apparently not that much. There were definitely more bikes and definitely more people who were clueless as to how to ride in traffic and, as importantly, how to ride considerately in a group.

While I’m not going to tout myself as some elite level cyclist I have ridden for years in pelotons, on club rides and just generally in groups who know what they are doing, some of the n00bs scared me yesterday: both from a blatant sense of danger, but also that it is their behaviour who drivers and other road users will remember. I’m generally happy to wait my turn – I’m faster than most and I’ll let my speed do the talking when the lights go red, but the amount of queue-ignorance and just pure bad manners was simply staggering.

It is not a race track out there but n00bs see people riding fast and assume it is, not to mention the queueing at lights (let’s leave the jumping and skirting down on pavements alone for a moment). You wouldn’t jump the queue when getting your coffee when you get to work so why do it when queuing for the lights?

After almost 20 years and over 40000 miles on London’s roads, it is clearly a better place to cycle now than in the early 90s when I started regularly riding here. I’m afraid, though, that we’re in danger of seeing a backlash if the general level of bike nouse doesn’t increase. We might have safety in numbers, but we’re going see more clampdowns and rules because we obviously can’t control ourselves.

Some predictions

  • Cycling will be banned in many areas where it is currently tolerated, perhaps as a result of being shown as not being able to play nicely with the other kids e.g. on the South Bank.
  • Some of the semi-autonomous districts (BIDs) will be looking to ‘solve’ the problem themselves (as highlighted by the well argued I Bike London). Canary Wharf, as another example, is semi-private and it wouldn’t suprise me if the landlord started actively putting obstacles in the way of cyclists (rather than merely passively making cycling out here problematic and dangerous)
  • There will be some enforced insurance and possibly even a licensing scheme. If you’re a member of the LCC or the BTC, possibly even on your house insurance, you already have third-party insurance. And just like car drivers have to be insured to drive their vehicle (of course many aren’t) and it’s not beyond the realms of credibility to expect that cyclists will have to do the same.
  • Number plates. If you can anonymously break the rules, leaving fuming drivers in your wake, it’s not going to be long before someone mentions some system for being able to identify you.

The weather turned slightly worse this morning and there were fewer people out there, so until the next tube strike, I expect the roads to return to something approaching normal.