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The politics of cycle clothing

The politics of cycle clothing

I was at the Cycling Scotland conference and tried to do a bit of live tweeting. Derek MacKay MSP stated in his speech that he prefers not to be photographed in hi-viz, to which I tweeted:

I was rather surprised by the reaction that this sparked off on twitter. Firstly, there was the comment that wearing nice clothes was not going to make the roads safer. But It was a comment that rather missed the point, as neither wearing hi-viz nor a helmet does. To make the roads safer we need to start with a danger reduction approach, which means reducing danger at source. The point of the tweet was to point out that we finally have a transport minster who is not following the Taliban approach to road safety and does not feel that he has to set an example by wearing hi-vis and a helmet to be photographed. Instead, for cycling occasions he is always photographed in normal clothes for press photo shoots, even when some around him choose to do otherwise.

More tweets followed from a number of people, suggesting that I was in some way “anti-Lycra”, and was in some way blaming people in lycra for putting off others. This is where trying to discuss issues on Twitter can get very confused, sometimes it can be very hard to make a nuanced point in 140 characters. My comment above was very much about the use of images and the message which such images can send. There were also comments from other about infrastructure being more important that clothing, but in many ways the two are interlinked.

Why is clothing important in normalising cycling? Ask anyone in the fashion industry and they will tell you that clothes speak volumes about who you are and how you feel. In places where cycling is a normal means of getting from A to B, people just ride in ordinary clothes. They don’t get dressed up to ride a bicycle, unless they are doing so to ride for sport (there is also a misunderstanding about Danish “cycle chic”, Copenhageners don’t dress up to ride a bike, that’s just normal dress for them). In the UK some people seem to believe that it is necessary to dress in a certain way in order to ride a bicycle, for what ever reason. Part of this is to do with something I refer to as the Taliban approach to road safety, the failed idea that making people dress in a particular way makes the roads safer – it doesn’t. Indeed, the promotion of hi-viz and helmets can create a barrier to cycling. Added to this, the motor lobby is always keen to promote the use of hi-viz and helmets, as a means of transferring blame to the victim, and to avoid liability.

Does this mean that we should all start to ride in ordinary clothes as a political statement? No, of course not. There are those who will do so, but for most people the choice of cycle clothing is more about comfort, or more correctly, comfort and fear. Before I moved to Aberdeen I had never felt the need to wear Hi-viz, but in Aberdeen I felt different, it was/is hostile to anyone cycling (or even walking). So I bought a yellow cycling jacket, which made me feel better, but made no real difference to the way I was treated. Drivers still treated me as if they couldn’t see me. Over time, I came to realise that in places like Aberdeen drivers simply don’t look for people cycling, as there are so few. Later I came to realise that bright lights were more effective for being seen in a hostile environment, but not a solution. Like bright clothing, they are a survival mechanism (the real solution is to change the road environment).

In places where there are more cyclists (and pedestrians), drivers are more likely to look out for those more vulnerable road users. However, that doesn’t automatically lead to greater safety or a feeling of safety, you only have to look at images from London to see that there is plenty of fear there. There is a flaw in the “safety in numbers” theory, the death rate on UK roads per Km walked or cycled is higher than in many other parts of Europe. In places where cycling is common, it is infrastructure and legal structure that make cycling (and walking) safe, and this is why you see people of all ages, wearing normal clothes, using bicycles as transport.

In the UK there is another thing going on, which has to do with group identity. This has led to the term MAMIL or “Middle Aged Men In Lycra”, and generally refers to male cyclists who treat travelling to work as an adventure sport. There are those who justify wearing Lycra for commuting on the grounds that they have to ride fast due to the distance of their commute. It is an interesting thing that the average cycle commuting distance in the UK is longer than on the Continent. This is probably because so many cycle commuters in the UK are keen cyclists and like to use their commutes as training rides. On the Continent, in places where cycling is seen as normal (something the 95% engage in, not just the 5%), the sort people who in the UK have 1-5 km journeys and would drive or take the bus, ride a bicycle instead. So there are a great deal more short journeys by bike. For longer distances, the Contintentals are more likely to travel by multimodal means, for example: cycling to the station to take a train, and then walking or using another bicycle at the other end, to get to their final destination. That is not to say that there aren’t people commuting distances of greater than 5 Km by bicycle in these countries, it is just that they are more likely to use an e-bike, so that they don’t arrive sweaty.

Is the MAMIL image a problem? I have been accused of being anti-Lycra or even anti-cycling for using the term MAMIL. Neither is true, there is a place for Lycra and it fine in its place. However, it can be a barrier to making cycling more inclusive, as it can put people off, especially those not currently cycling. No doubt there are some cyclists who will say that the sort of people who are put off by MAMILs wouldn’t cycle anyway. However, if you go to a Women’s Cycle Forum and listen, you will find women saying that the perceived need for lycra, hi-viz and helmets does put them off cycling. A case study: L. is a woman over the age of 40 who says she is put off by the MAMIL image of cycling. However, on a trip to Bruges, L. was persuaded to try riding a bicycle because people of all ages, shapes and sizes were cycling in normal clothes. She now occasionally rides a bicycle in Edinburgh, and although L. is not a regular cyclist, she now has greater understanding of cycling, which is useful, given that her current job is in transport policy.

Before going any further, I will return to the point I made above, people should be free to wear whatever they feel is comfortable for their cycling journey. Images are important here, and where everyday cycling is being promoted, images which show hi-viz and helmets should be avoided. It is always disappointing to see organisations which soak up large amounts of funding, using images of people on bicycles dressed up in hi-viz and helmets. Generally, the majority of people are less likely to engage in an activity that looks like a minority activity, where you need to dress up in specific clothes and that may be dangerous. This makes trying to increase funding for active travel much harder, as it is seen to only benefit the few rather than the many. If you make cyclists look like a small outgroup, it going to be far, far harder to get those with the power to take space from motor vehicles to act. The Dutch didn’t get their famous cycle infrastructure by campaigning for “cyclists”, they did it for the children. Now that those children have grown up, they are the most relaxed parents in Europe, as they don’t have to worry about the safety of their children outwith the home. If we want the same here, we have to make active travel attractive and desirable, and we also have to make it normal and inclusive.

Cycle chic inspires others
Remember images are important

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The Volkswagen scandal – who has really been harmed?

The Volkswagen scandal – who has really been harmed?

The Volkswagen scandal (aka #dieselgate), where the VW motor group was caught cheating pollution emissions tests in the US, has been rumbling on for some time now. The media are having a field day, drivers are starting to believe they should receive compensation. The one issue which has not been fully addressed is who has really been harmed?

Mostly the scandal is being portrayed by the media as a “consumer rights” issue, there is some talk about protection of the environment, although if most car buyers really cared about “the environment”, they would have bought an electric car or a hybrid. Some people have written to the papers to say as much, fully admitting that for most drivers “the environment” is low on their list of priorities and that cheap motoring is far more important to them. Very little is being said in the media about the impact of air pollution on human health caused by motor vehicles – this is the real scandal.

We know that air pollution is a serious issue, that is why there are Air Quality Standards (in the EU and around the world) which are (supposed to be) legally enforceable. Air pollution is an invisible killer, you can’t see it, you can’t smell or taste most of the cocktail of pollutants, but it is killing us. In much of Europe urban air is not fit to breathe, the major cause of this is motor vehicles, especially diesel cars. Although petrol cars are not as harmless as some in the media and the motoring lobby would have us believe, 22% of modern petrol cars fail to achieve emission limits on the road. Furthermore, particle emissions from new petrol engines (gasoline direct injection or GDI) are higher than from equivalent diesel vehicles.

The true scandal is that across the EU there are 500,000 premature deaths every year, also 250,000 hospital admissions which, in addition to the human costs and suffering, also cost the economy 100,000,000 lost working days. This all adds up to over €940,000,000 (£665m) in lost productivity per year. These are the real scandals!

Let’s be clear, Volkswagen is not the only culprit, every major car manufacturer is selling vehicles that fail to meet EU air pollution limits on the road:

Euro-6-Twitter

All this is happening despite the fact that EURO 6 regulations require cars to be tested under “normal driving conditions” – these rules were introduced in 2007. As yet, the regulators are not using portable emission monitoring systems (PEMS) to measure the actual pollution from vehicle exhausts in real-world driving emission (RDE) tests. Why not? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the supposedly independent testing bodies get up to 70% of their funding from the motor industry? Or is it because of the direct power of the motoring lobby? Either way, our democracy (and our health) is directly threatened by such lobbying, not just at the EU level – Westminster is, if anything, more corrupt than Brussels.

It is time we all stood up and said enough is enough! There are no technical reasons why the existing emission limits could not be met quickly and urban air pollution rapidly improved. Yes it would mean that motoring would become more expensive for individuals, but the current situation is that we are all paying the price, not just those causing the pollution. The benefits of private motoring to the few are massively outweighted by the cost to all of us. I agree with Keith Taylor, the Green MEP for south-east England:

For too long European car makers have been ducking the EU’s rules to enable them to keep their highly polluting cars on the road. The huge scandal with Volkswagen on car pollution rules must focus the minds of EU politicians and the British government. Air pollution kills tens of thousands in the UK every year. With the added unchecked emissions from Volkswagen cars, I worry about how much worse the situation actually is.  

We need a truly independent European type approval authority, this should be funded by a levy on each new vehicle sold, paid for by the manufacturers with robust regulation to ensure independent testing. This should also be backed up with strict annual testing of vehicles, to ensure they continue to meet acceptable pollution limits. The current MOT test is not fit for purpose and needs to be brought up to date, with heavy penalties for both tester and motorist, if they are caught trying to cheat the system.

It is a matter of urgency for the European Commission to bring forward proposals for Euro 7 emissions limits so that the limits for diesel, petrol and natural gas vehicles are all the same, and also to ensure WHO health limits are met throughout Europe. Closer to home, we need make all our built-up areas low emission zones. We cannot choose where we breathe, so we must stop vehicles polluting our air. The technology to clean up vehicle exhausts is available and costs little. It is a small price to pay compared to the nearly €1 trillion (£1.36 billion) spent annually on health care and lost productivity. Vehicles with engines, running on whichever fuel, must be stopped from polluting our air or prevented from accessing our towns and cities. We should ALL have the right to clean air wherever we are as we ALL need to breathe.

Don’t just take my word of it, here is Dr Ian Mudway at Routes to Clean Air, Health Effects of Air Pollution.

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Cycle parking, things are finally moving on…

Cycle parking, things are finally moving on…

Just over five years ago (in September 2009) I wrote a blog post “Cycle parking, please can we have more…” in which I talked about the problems with lack of secure bicycle parking in Edinburgh. I flagged up issues the particular problems for tenement dwellers in Edinburgh, where storage is often a very real problem (as it is across most Scottish cities), added to which people living in tenement areas are less likely to own a car.

Three years ago things were looking positive as there where the first glimmerings of hope that something might actually be happening. There had been an announcement that City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) has proposed a Pilot of on-street residential cycle parking. I was one of the first to put in an application and waited with bated breath, well almost. As the closing date for application was December 2011, it seemed reasonable to expect that here might be something on the ground by the summer of 2012. In early May a letter arrived inviting all those who had applied to be a part of the trial parking project to a site meeting to consult on how it might work in practice. So it was that my self and one of my neighbours met with a number of officials, including the CEC’s cycling officer (Chris Brace), a CEC Project Engineer (Scott Mannion), one of the environmental manager (David Doig) and LBP Crime Prevention Officer (Carol Menzies). We had a wide ranging discussion, as we stood in the spring sun shine, covering all aspects of how that cycle parking (and its location) could affect the street, from accessibility to security, from refuse collection to turning space, and more. The meeting ended with a general consensus that the best location for the cycle storage was at the southern end of the street on the west side, on an area of concrete pavement which is currently just dead ground. It felt like something was really about to happen after two years of campaigning and lobbying, finally we were getting what was needed.

For a couple of months nothing happened, no information, nothing. In late July 2012 a letter arrived saying that the council was going to hold a written consultation for all residents in the street. A number of my neighbours came to ask me about this as they wanted to know more about the proposal, everyone I knew who lived in the street was in favour of the idea of having a secure cycle parking facility (even those who owned cars and those who didn’t own a bicycle). The written consultation was than followed with a series door to door interviews, and it was beginning to feel like someone at the Council was doing all they could to find an objector, so that they could stop the scheme (maybe I am being too cynical here).

Following all this consultation things went quite again until late June 2013 when another written consultation arrived, this time with plans showing the proposed location of the cycle storage on the opposite side of the street from that which residents said they wanted in the earlier consultation. I am told that there eleven responses to this consultation, all in favour of having the cycle storage on street and three saying explicitly that it should be on the far side of the street (the other made no comment on the location). One wonders why it is felt necessary to have quite to much “consultation” when they don’t bother to take notice of what the people who are going to live with the infrastructure actually have to say. It strikes me that a large amount of public money is wasted in this way.

Move forward to June 2014 and the City Council break their radio silence again with a letter to say that three different types of secure on street cycle storage across five locations across the city. The three types of storage chosen were the Cyclehoop Fietshangar, Cycle-Works Velo-Box lockers and Cycle-Works Streetstores (the latter a somewhat experimental design to judge by their website where there are several different prototype designs shown). The letter went on to say that the installation would be completed by the end of July 2014.

By this time I was starting to feel I would only believe when I saw it, so you can imagine my surprise and delight when I was told of shiny new Cyclehoop Fietshangars had been sighted in the city!

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

Then came the news that Cycle-Works Velo-Safe lockers had also been sighted.

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

This was real progress at last! But wait where were the Cycle-Works Streetstores? There was no sign of them anywhere and again silence from the City Council, after some prompting there was a few vague comments that they were coming soon. July turned to August, the Festival came and went, September, still nothing, then finally in October Streetstores were sighted for the first time!

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

How does the scheme actually work? Now there’s a question I keep getting asked, well, places in the cycle storage is offered to first to residents living within 100m of the stores. Only two places per flat are allowed per flat (which is rather unfair on students living in Houses in Multiple Occupation or HMOs) and place are allocated on a first come first serve basis. Each person gets a gets an individual contract and must give the details of the bicycle they are intending to store. The contract also states that the storage can only be used to store “a security-tagged bicycle belonging to or in the care of the member”, later in the contract it talks of bicycles with a permit and displaying a permit sticker.

As to costs and pricing, the contract states that “during the period of the Scheme the Council will not make a charge for participation in the Scheme. The Council may bring the pilot Scheme to an end on giving 14 days’ notice to the Members, and thereafter charge the Member for continued participation in a new scheme and take a deposit for the access key”. Nowhere, in the contract does it give any indication of how long the pilot Scheme will run for, nor is there any mention of how much the charge might be in the future. Elsewhere, it has been stated that the “cycle parking would be … trialled for around 2 years“. Also “It is expected that there would be a charge of around £5 per month per user for the use of the covered storage options to help cover running costs”. This would mean that it would cost £60 a year to park a bicycle compared with £31.50 to park low emission car in the same permit zone. When you bear in mind that ten bicycles can be accommodated in the space required for one car, this seems rather excessive, no doubt the Council will say that this reflects cost of maintaining the cycle storage, whilst blithe ignoring the costs involved in controlling car parking in the city. If the council are to introduce such a high charge for cycle parking, then it would only be reasonable that all subsidies for car parking be dropped and that the cost of car parking be brought up to a matching level.

 

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What is Bicycle Travel?

What is Bicycle Travel?

I have been using the bicycle as an everyday means of travel for about 20 years now, and have done a fair bit of short touring. So when I saw this wee film I just felt the need to share it. Enjoy!

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Every Kilometre Cycled Benefits Society

Every Kilometre Cycled Benefits Society

We know that the health benefits to society from cycling outweigh negative impacts by up to a factor of 20. We know that cities with higher levels of cycling are more attractive places to live, work and do business. I have discussed before in this blog how to achieve this, it is not rocket science, as this recent report from the International Transport Forum at the OECD shows. They recommend reducing “urban road speeds to 30km/h [20 mph] or less, and the use of separated cycling infrastructure to increase the number of new cyclists. Attracting new cyclists gains the greatest health benefits through increased physical activity, including reducing risks linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type-2 diabetes.”

So why aren’t we doing more to encourage cycling in Scotland? It’s one of the fundamental duties of any government to protect the lives of its citizens. However, here in Scotland, both national and local government drag their feet on these issues. I have sat across the table from the Scottish transport minister and asked him to use the powers which have been devolved to the Scottish Government, to lower the national speed limit in built up areas (defined as places where the street lighting columns are < 185 m apart) from the current limit of 30 mph to 20 mph. This is would at a stroke save lives. However, he has refused point blank to do so, saying that it would take away powers from Local Authorities (LAs). This argument is utter nonsense as LAs have the power to raise or lower speed limits on individual roads as they see fit. So the real effect on LAs would be that they would have to justify to the voters why they wanted to raise speed limits in built up areas, where people live, work and shop, from 20 mph to 30 mph. It is well known that 20 mph speed limits are popular with people who live next to the roads where these limits apply. Therefore, it may prove difficult for LAs to raise the limits, but that's Democracy for you. Here in Edinburgh, there has recently been an announcement from the City of Edinburgh Council that it intends to lower the 30 mph speed limit to 20 mph, across the whole city, but not until 2017. Why 2017? You may well ask, well for one thing, it is after the next local elections. Also it gives them three years in which to try and find justifications to maintain the higher 30 mph speed limit on “key arterial roads”, even though these pass through some of the most densely populated parts of the city.

Why are our elected representatives not acting in the best interests of the people? Why are they not taking simple steps to protect the health and lives of the citizens they are elected to represent? The only answer can be moral cowardice! For this reason I urge you all to join the Pedal on Parliament protest on the 26th April 2014 to send a message to those who have the power to change things – now is the time to grow a spine and show some moral backbone!

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