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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!

Onus should be on the cyclists?

Onus should be on the cyclists?

Following the death of yet another cyclist on Scotland roads I was deeply saddened to see the following letter in The Herald newspaper:

Onus should be on the cyclists
Tuesday 23 July 2013

ONCE again the strict liability law is being peddled with the aim of protecting cyclists and pedestrians (Agenda, The Herald, July 19).

The writer, Brenda Mitchell, states “our goal is to change the culture among road users”.

As a pedestrian and former cyclist I would suggest that rather than attempting to change the law and further burdening other road users the only culture that needs changing is that of the cyclist.

Among the initiatives they may consider adopting are wearing suitable clothing and protective equipment (for head and hands) and obeying the current motor traffic laws – and not riding upon the footpath.

Perhaps it is also time for legislators to require all cyclists to fit, and sound, a suitable warning device in order to alert unsuspecting pedestrians to their presence.

In short, the public at large would be better protected if cyclists obeyed the law as it stands rather than seeking to introduce legislation that would be nothing more than another impost upon the motoring public who, after all, already pay to use the road.

Ian F Mackay,

5 Smillie Place,

Kilmarnock.

 

Lets just take a closer look, Mr Mackay starts by asserting that he is a “pedestrian and former cyclist”. Why does he feel the need to do this? We are all pedestrians at some point, and why is he a “former cyclist”? Oddly he doesn’t tell us, he also doesn’t let us know whether or not he is a driver (although it is implied), again why? Could it be that he is embarrassed to admit to being a driver, when he goes on to complain about “further burdening other road users” before going on to suggest that the only problem is with cyclists. Which other road users would this be? Are pedestrians and horse riders going to feel that a strict liability law is going to burden them? Or would the more vulnerable users of public space feel that a law making the operators of dangerous and heavy machinery being used that space liable (under civil law) for their actions, giving the most vulnerable greater protection? After all, this has been shown to be effective in the workplace where there is a strict liability on employers to ensure safe working practices.

He suggests that cyclists “may consider adopting wearing suitable clothing and protective equipment (for head and hands)” – is this for the protection of other roads user? Or merely trying to pass the blame when cyclists are injured by negligent actions of other road users? To use the workplace analogy again, the use of “safety equipment” is not a substitute for operating potentially dangerous machinery in a safe manner.

Then comes “obeying the current motor traffic laws – and not riding upon the footpath”. Hum, are cyclists “motor traffic”? Certainly they are traffic, as are pedestrians (the origin of the word traffic is from the Arabic word taraffaqa, which means ‘to walk along slowly together’, only in the late 20th century did it become “to drive along slowly together”, we needn’t go into the origin of the word “jam”). However, according to Mr Mackay, it is the failure of cyclists to obey laws which is the cause of all the harm to roads users. This fails to explain why not a single one of the 54 pedestrians killed on Scotland’s roads last year were killed by a person riding bicycle, all where killed as a result of being hit by motor vehicles.

Next, we come to “Perhaps it is also time for legislators to require all cyclists to fit, and sound, a suitable warning device in order to alert unsuspecting pedestrians to their presence.” How exactly will this help to deal with the problem of 54 pedestrians killed on Scotland’s roads? Some of those were mown down by motor vehicles driven on the foot way, others killed while crossing the road at pedestrian crossings by motorists jumping the lights. Oh, but of course, Mr Mackay isn’t concerned with the real issue of people being killed or the roads being too dangerous for many people to ride a bike on. He has given no thought as to why shared use paths are over crowded and how we might go about dealing with this issue, such as making the roads safer and providing a fairer allocation of space to non-motorists. He is more worried that bad drivers might actually be held to account for the injuries and deaths they cause, which is what would happen if we were to “introduce legislation that would be nothing more than another impost upon the motoring public” (although the version I have proposed would also apply to cyclists).

Instead, according Mr Mackay bad driving is apparently OK and should continue to tolerated, on the grounds that “the motoring public who, after all, already pay to use the road.” So there we have it, we shouldn’t do anything to hold bad drivers to account, because they pay “road tax”. Of course there is a major flaw in this argument, there is no such thing as “road tax” , we all pay for the roads, and we should all have the right to be safe from harm by others whilst using those roads.

Strict Liability and the Road Share campaign

Strict Liability and the Road Share campaign

For some time now, I have been in favour of a law of Strict Liability. This defines who is liable when collisions occur on the roads. So I was pleased to learn that a Peebles lawyer, Brenda Mitchell, had started a campaign for Strict Liability called Road Share. This is a very welcome move, Brenda has done a lot of research on this issue and makes a very clear case for including Strict Liability as part of our civil law, in the same way as the majority of European countries have done (see map below).

Why it is that Scotland hasn’t made this change yet is unclear, it is not as if the concept of strict liability does not already exist under Scots law, as it underpins much of the Health and Safety legislation. For example, if you are felling a tree with a chainsaw, and a third party walks into the line of fall of the tree, it is the person operating the chainsaw that is held to be liable if there is injury to the third party. Likewise, if you fire a firearm, you are automatically held liable under civil law if you hit someone accidentally, and liable under the criminal law if you shoot them deliberately. This is an important distinction and one that is often missed by critics of Strict Liability. This new campaign to apply the principles of strict liability to road traffic collisions is about changing the civil law code, not the criminal law, where the central principle is (and will remain) that the accused will remain innocent until proven guilty. Strict liability is solely about who has the greater duty of care, and that should clearly be the person who is in the position to do the most harm.

Taking the firearm analogy above, we allow people to own and use firearms strictly under licence, because firearms are fundamentally dangerous. Similarly, we only permit motor vehicles to be driven on the public highway under licence because motor vehicles are fundamentally dangerous: a moment’s inattention can be fatal, and not necessarily only to the driver. For this reason, any suggestion that pedestrians or cyclists owe a duty of care to motorists is absurd, as in the event of a car hitting a pedestrian, the driver is very rarely, if ever, the one that is hurt.

Similarly, a case can be made that cyclists do owe a duty of care to pedestrians, and this would be covered as part of the hierarchy of strict liability. This, however, would not lead to the need for cyclists to take out compulsory third party insurance. Many cyclists already have third party insurance (although they might not realise it), in my case it is bundled in with my household insurance. The thing about insurance is that it is priced according to risk, with riding a bicycle for transport or leisure being a low risk activity such for causing harm to others (sports cycling maybe excluded). As the risk of a claim is so low for the insurance companies, they feel that they can bundle it in with other insurance packages for free, as incentive to buy. This is not the case with motoring insurance, where premiums are higher because the risk of a claim is very much higher. It is because driving is inherently dangerous that is a legal requirement for all drivers to carry third party insurance, if the risk to others was as low as that posed by cyclists, then there would be not legal compunction.

A law of strict liability would also have an impact on motoring insurance premiums, and the good news for drivers is that it would result in lower premiums. The main reason for this is that the UK is one of the most expensive countries for motor insurance BECAUSE it doesn’t have a law of strict liability. Therefore, in the event of a collision involving a motorist and a vulnerable road user resulting in injury to the vulnerable road user, that person often has little choice but to sue the motorist to gain compensation from the motorist’s insurance company. Often the insurance company will try to reduce the payout by making claims of “contributory negligence”, which is often a way of blaming the victim for being hit and has nothing to do with fairness. The only people to really gain from this type of litigation are the lawyers.

Given that there are so many obvious advantages to having a law of strict liability, it seems strange that there is so much opposition to it. Part of this is due to a failure understand that it benefits everyone in some way. Another reason is the mistaken belief that there is some sort of right to drive motor vehicles which there isn’t – driving is only permitted under licence and that licence comes with responsibilities. If you are a safe and considerate driver, you have nothing to fear and much to gain from a law of strict liability. It is time that we, as a society, vigorously challenge the Mr Toad’s attitude to driving. Strict liability is not a panacea, it can not by itself make our roads safer, but it is a part of the solution.

No_Strict_Liability_Map_reduced

An open letter to my MSPs

An open letter to my MSPs

Dear MSPs,

There’s a short window of opportunity to gain a modest one-off boost to Scottish cycling investment. The Scottish Government is to receive £279m for capital investment projects as a result of the UK Chancellor’s Spring Budget.

The reasons for spending a significant proportion of this money on cycling infrastructure should be obvious: active travel is a great idea as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it is healthy (active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer), it reduces congestion in towns and cities, and it is good for the economy as people who arrive by active travel are more productive (the smart companies, like Google, are relocating to city with good cycling infrastructure for this very reason), and it reduces peoples reliance on expensive fossil fuels.

This extra money gives the chance to try something different, how about using £20m to set up a into a special award fund to which councils could bid for a large sum, so that Scotland could implement two or three ‘exemplary projects’ providing high quality European-style cycling infrastructure in an area of a city or town, and including at least one main-road corridor. This is an opportunity which really should not be missed, the potential return on investment is huge, as has been shown south of the border where the cycle demonstration towns showed returns of 19:1!

However, time it short please press John Swinney and Keith Brown to cease the day, Carpe diem!

Yours sincerely,

Kim Harding, Bsc, MPhil

———————–

So far I have had one reply to this letter:

Thank you for your email.

The vast majority of the £279m comes from allowing the Scottish Government to administer funds arising in Scotland from the state-backed mortgage plan. This is why it has been derided as ‘funny money’ by John Swinney, as you may have seen in the media. There is a robust exchange in progress between the governments over how much flexibility there should be over this money. I would certainly be supportive of additional funding for sustainable and active travel, and in particular your suggestion of a flagship community approach is an interesting one – provided of course that there is a local authority keen to bid for it. If there is sufficient flexibility this should be a very strong contender for funds.

There is also however a cut of £103m to year-to-year funding. This includes a £50m+ reduction in the budget for the financial year starting the week after next, when a budget has already been set. Services that have to absorb this cut may well argue that they should be at the front of the queue for any flexibility in the capital funding if that can be used to offset the effect of these cuts.

Yours
Marco Biagi (SNP)

———————–

Addendum:

Next reply –

Thank you for contacting me about this important subject. Increased investment in cycling would help us address health and environmental issues. It is affordable, and without a significant increase in funding for cycling and walking, the Government will be unable to meet its obligations under our world leading climate change legislation.

I wholeheartedly share your desire to see the Scottish Government spend a substantial proportion of the £279 million allocated for capital spending in the recent UK budget on improvements to cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure. When the Danish Cycling Embassy visited the Scottish Parliament earlier this year, I asked what steps were taken to achieve the high number of commuting cyclists in Copenhagen where almost 40% of citizens cycle to work and education. In response the Cycling Embassy representative said that investment in a project that clearly demonstrated the many benefits of a segregated cycle way was key. With this in mind, I along with fellow members of the Cross Party Group on Cycling, Jim Eadie MSP and Claudia Beamish MSP, wrote to Keith Brown outlining a proposal for introducing a competitive award for an urban on-road segregated cycle lane project design. In Mr Brown’s response (attached) he reiterates his pledge to make a strong bid for cycling infrastructure funding should more money become available. Now that more money has become available, I intend to do everything I can to ensure he honours this commitment. It is vital that the Scottish Government delivers the levels of funding required to encourage people to take the affordable, active and environmentally friendly option of cycling in the Lothian Region and across Scotland.

Please be assured that I will continue to push the Scottish government at every available opportunity for more funding for cycling, and to target the funding at the projects that will have the most positive impact on cycling in Scotland.

Best wishes

Alison Johnstone (Green)
———————–

Next Reply –

Dear Kim

Thank you for writing again following the UK Government’s recent budget and the allocation of new money to Scotland for capital projects.

I well appreciate your support for further investment in active travel, particularly cycling and I am happy to draw your comments, as well as those of others who would also like to see the Scottish Government focus more on cycling infrastructure rather than road spending.

I will be back in touch when I have a reply from Keith Brown MSP as the current Transport Minister but if there is anything else that I can do for you, in the meantime, as your Regional representative in the Scottish Parliament then just let me know.

Again, with all best wishes.

Yours sincerely

Sarah Boyack MSP (Labour)
———————–

A further update from Sarah Boyack, with a reply from the Minister for Transport Keith Brown –

Dear Kim

Keith Brown MSP has replied to me arising from your concerns about the Scottish Government’s opportunity to provide more investment toward cycling infrastructure. His response, as Transport Minister, as you will see unfortunately does not provide any additional resources to enhance the cycling experience all over the country, even though its benefits to the nation’s health and environment are well-known.

I am sorry that the Scottish Government was not minded to prioritise cycling for additional resources within its augmented spending capabilities but I thought that you ought to see the terms of the official response nevertheless, given your interest in the issue.

As ever, with very best wishes to you.

Yours sincerely

Sarah Boyack MSP (Labour)

And the reply to Sarah from the Minister:

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your letter of 26 March on behalf of a number of constituents, regarding additional spending on cycling infrastructure as a result of the UK Chancellor’s spring budget.

The Scottish Government is to receive additional funding for capital projects as a result of the UK Government’s spring budget. However, as the additional capital is for financial transactions (i.e. loans and equity investment), which must be repaid, we are severely restricted in the use of this money.

Investment in cycling is paramount if we are to increase the numbers of people using bikes and realise our shared vision of 10% of all journeys being made by bike by 2020. Over this Spending Review, this Scottish Government will invest almost £58 million on infrastructure, training and road safety projects through Sustrans, Cycling Scotland and local authorities. I hope these commitments reassure your constituents that this Scottish Government is committed to investing in cycling infrastructure to make Scotland an active and safe cycling nation.

Kind regards

Keith Brown MSP (SNP)
—–

A reminder that Pedal on Parliament 2 is on the 19th May, meet at 15:00 on the Meadows, the more people who join this protest ride, the louder our voice calling for change will be.

Dutch cycle infrastructure and what we can learn

Dutch cycle infrastructure and what we can learn

As readers of this blog will know, I have had an interest in how to get more people to use bicycles as transport for some time now. So when I saw this film on the subject I knew it was something which I had to put on my blog.

The key lessons I take from this film are that a conscientious choice needs to be made for safe roads for all. This needs to be backed up with very deliberate decisions on design, policy and education, as “there is no better bang for the buck than investing in bicycling”. However, as I have pointed out before, the Dutch didn’t get their bike lanes without a struggle, and that is why we need to keep up the pressure for change. So, there will be another Pedal on Parliament, and change will come.

The QBC to Leith Walk, where did it all go wrong?

The QBC to Leith Walk, where did it all go wrong?

There has been a real sense of hope in the air, cycling was/is on the up following the Olympics. There was talk of a Golden Legacy, which seemed to have some support from the City of Edinburgh Council. It seemed there was a chance that Edinburgh could really become the cycle friendly city that has so long been promised, it is after all the only city in the UK to have signed the Charter of Brussels. It has also committed 5% of its Transport budget to cycling and drawn up an Active Travel Action Plan.

All in all, you might expect that Edinburgh is in a good position to become Scotland’s top cycling city. However, things are not as good as they should be, the money may be there, but what is it being spent on? Well, recently we have seen the opening of the so called Quality Bike Corridor (QBC), built at a cost of £650,000. Now, with a name like that ,you’d expect something really special. You’d expect the local cycling community to be jumping up and down with excitement, but I am not, and I am not alone in my disappointment. I have recently discovered that this route has been 27 years in planning, and that the original 1985 plan was considerably more ambitious that the current miserable effort. Something has obviously gone badly wrong!

As if this wasn’t enough, there is the case of Leith Walk. Following the decision not to take the new Edinburgh tram “network” down Leith Walk, this road now has to be re-developed. This should be an ideal opportunity for the Council to show some commitment and add in some good quality cycling infrastructure. This is something which the local residents named as their top priority in the consultation on the re-development of the area. However, the council planners seem to have decided to totally ignore the local desire for good quality cycle infrastructure alone the entire length of the road, and instead have planned for just a short bike lane between the two roundabouts at the top. This is according to a leaked document, I don’t have any further details at present.

leaked doc

At this point it needs to be made clear that the Council’s Active Travel Action Plan is now aimed at 15% of commuter journeys to be by bike by 2020, rather than 15% of all journeys (in other words, a 15% modal share for cycling). This means the Council is not interested in achieving a modal shift by making the roads safe for family cycling, as has been done in every place where cycling levels are high. The question is: who are facilities like the QBC for? “Experienced, confident cyclists”, according to the plan – who are they? The road warriors, the club cyclists, the MAMILs who are cycling already? But these groups (tribes?) will cycle without £650,000 being spent on some coloured tarmac, and a poorly designed junction at KB. Also, it is very unlikely that this group will expand to 15% of commuter journeys in a few years’ time, let alone 15% of all journeys. It is currently not safe for family cycling. We have seen increased interest in cycling in the past, similar to the current post-Olympic boom, which failed to result in large increases in modal share (whereas commuting modal share has increased slightly over the last decades). The modal share in Edinburgh remains stubbornly around 2%, as the majority of the population don’t feel it is safe to cycle on the roads. If we want to change this, we have to make riding a bicycle as a means of transport safe, convenient and easy for everyone, not just “experienced, confident cyclists”.

According to Prof John Whitelegg, speaking at a recent conference, politicians think that 60% of citizens prefer motorised travel, whereas only 15% of citizens actually do. He is also on record for saying there is no reason why we can’t have 20% of trips by bike by 2020, we just need the political will to do so. Of course, things are not helped by the Dutch saying that it takes 20 years to get to where they are in terms of infrastructure. This maybe so when you look at changing transport infrastructure over the entire country. But at a local level, changes can happen much faster by using temporary measures, such as white paint and plastic bollards to create safe space, as has been done to great effect in New York. The effect of these simple measures had a dramatic effect on the local economy, with retail sales increasing by up to 49%. So you would think this is something that the City of Edinburgh Council would be grabbing with both hands. Instead, Edinburgh is spending £55,000 a week on “free parking” as a part of the “Alive after 5” campaign. Newcastle has experimented with the same campaign, but couldn’t split how many people came by bus, bike, on foot, etc. Basically this is money just thrown down the drain.

Edinburgh is recognised as being the best place in the UK to live, so why is the Council looking to places which are not as good? To make Edinburgh a better place to live, we should be looking outward and copying ideas from cities which are recognised as being among the best places in the world. Places like Copenhagen, a city that owes its success to the ideas of Jan Gehl. A man who told the Sir Patrick Geddes Commemorative Lecture 2012: “Edinburgh looks fantastic from the air, but if you go to eye level it looks neglected and treats people as sheep”. He has “been coming to Edinburgh for 47 years, this is a city that needs to take power from traffic engineers”. He says that “lists of most liveable cities in the world don’t include Edinburgh or other Scottish or UK cities.” In order to change this, “there is a need for political commitment to working towards becoming the most liveable city in the world”. So there we have it, until the Council starts looking for ideas from places that have a proven track record of being the best places in the world to live and stop treating people like sheep, they will continue throw council tax payers’ money down the drain!

A few images of the “Quality Bike Corridor” Edinburgh

A few images of the “Quality Bike Corridor” Edinburgh

I my last post I gave a few thoughts on the “Quality Bike Corridor” in Edinburgh, but I forgot to add any images. So here are a few, just count the number of parked cars…

Quality Bike Corridor?
Note the way the cycle lane takes cyclists around the outside of the parked cars and down the left side of queuing traffic which may turn left at the lights. There is no way this can be considered to be best practice.

Quality Bike Corridor?

Quality Bike Corridor?

Quality Bike Corridor?

Note that only two of the motor vehicles shown above are parked legally, the one in the first picture and the yellow car.

The Quality Bike Corridor (QBiC) does have a 20mph speed limit along only a short section:

Southern end of the 20mph limit:
Edinburgh's new 20 mph Zone
^looking south (end of 20mph)
Edinburgh's new 20 mph Zone
^looking north (start of 20mph)

Northern end of the 20mph limit:
Edinburgh's new 20 mph Zone
^looking south (start of 20mph)
Edinburgh's new 20 mph Zone
^looking north (end of 20mph)

It is worth noting that at the northern end of the 20 mph zone stops short of an existing accident black sport, so not the best place to encourage drivers to accelerate.

Yet the roads with the highest rates of Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) are not given 20mph speed limits:
RTAs south Edinburgh
From ITO road casualties UK.

Thoughts on the Quality Bike Corridor

Thoughts on the Quality Bike Corridor

This post first appeared on the STV Edinburgh website, as part of a series of articles for Bike Week. I have slightly rewritten and expanded it here.

As I have said before, cycling is a good thing, as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion, it can boost local economic activity. It is healthy – active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer and make fewer calls on the NHS. In addition, people who use active ways of travel to get to work are more productive, it is relatively cheap and therefore has great potential to save money (the future savings in health costs alone make worthwhile). Apart from all that, over distances of up to 10Km cycling is fast and efficient, it is also fun and increasingly fashionable. So it is no wonder that many people want to be able to use bicycles to make short journeys. Surveys have shown that up to 60% of ordinary people would like to be able cycle for transport on short journeys, at least some of the time. So what is stopping them? The answer is simple, they don’t feel it is safe to ride on the roads, and this is the major barrier to increasing cycling rates across Scotland.

When I first heard about the proposed Quality Bike Corridor between the King’s Buildings and George IV Bridge, I thought this was a great idea. I have been cycling in Edinburgh for nearly 20 years and must have ridden parts of this route thousands of times, starting from when I was a student at the King’s Buildings. Over the years I have noticed a number of changes around the city. In the early years there were the new, and then controversial, cycle lanes painted red at the side of the road, then the introduction of Advanced Stop Lines (ASL) at traffic lights. Over that same period, the annual counts of commuter cyclists carried out by the SPOKES Cycle Campaign, have risen steadily.

However, cycling as a share of all means of transport for all short journeys remains low. Why isn’t utility cycling taking off, when cycling is apparently booming and the City of Edinburgh Council has committed 5% of its transport budget to cycling? Part of the problem is the “dual network” approach. This is based on the idea that people will start off on the “family network” which is “catering for less confident cyclists” and then, as they gain confidence (and maybe have some training), they will “graduate” to using the “Quality Bike Corridors” as part of the “cycle-friendly city”. According to the council’s Active Travel Action Plan this is to “include on street cycle facilities such as cycle lanes, enhanced cycle parking/loading restrictions and marketing” [sic]. Here is the central flaw, this “cycle-friendly city” is aimed at “confident cyclists” who are happy to ride on the roads with the existing motor traffic. These are the people who are already cycling, not the ordinary people who want to cycle but don’t at present because they don’t feel safe. If the aim is to create a truly cycle-friendly city, then there would be no need for a “family network”, all areas of the city would be accessible by people riding bicycles, as almost all Dutch cities and many more cities across Europe are.

The section of the Active Travel Action Plan which deals with cycling recognises that “safety, and perceived safety, especially on busy roads” is a barrier to cycling. However, given the rising rates of pedestrians and cyclists injured on the roads across Scotland as a result of collisions with motor vehicles (Provisional results from Transport Scotland for 2011), it is time for a change in approach. We need to look to best practice internationally. In the Netherlands, where 25% of trips are by bicycle, the risk of being killed or seriously injured is over seven times lower than in the UK. The “dual network” approach does not in any way fit with the Dutch approach, which is based on the concept of Sustainable Safety. In order to make cycling as a means of transport attractive to the greatest number of people, the routes available need to be direct, pleasant and safe. It should not be required to make a choice between direct and safe, however this is implicit in the dual network approach. Only on the “family network” is there any form of separation or traffic calming (i.e., on quite back roads, which are quiet because they don’t offer direct easy access to anywhere). This is the central flaw to the “dual network” approach, that it is designed to avoid making any changes to the road environment which might “inconvenience” the motorist. For this reason, we have painted bike lanes which go around car parking bays on the “Quality Bike Corridor” (aka QBiC or QBC), rather than removing the parking on main roads. In Paris before introducing their Vélib cycle share scheme 7000 car parking spaces were removed and cycle lanes introduced, the world did not end, the city did not grind to a halt.

I am not alone in being disappointed that the first “Quality Bike Corridor” has made no attempt to provide a separated on-street cycle lane, or cycle priority junctions (no, ASLs just don’t cut it). Many of the 3,000 people who Pedalled on Parliament feel the same disappointed that a more ambition approach wasn’t tried. There are cities in the UK which are experimenting with separated cycle infrastructure, among them Birmingham, Manchester, London and even Glasgow! Although none of these have cycling rates approaching those of cycle-friendly cities on mainland Europe. No, the Edinburgh approach is simply not good enough, we need change, we need to move forward and learn from our near neighbours across the North Sea.

Addendum: I have added a new post with images from the “Quality Bike Corridor”.

Thoughts on the A9

Thoughts on the A9

A resent blog post by Lesley Riddoch set me thinking about the A9.

The one thing that really makes the A9 a dangerous road is the almost total absence of enforcement the rules of the road. There are only two fixed speed cameras (between Perth and Inverness), police patrols are rare, and there are no average speed cameras. If the Scottish government is really serious about improving safety, average speed cameras along the entire length would be the first step. It is not the foreign tourist that are causing the vast majority crashes and near misses on the A9, it is vehicles with UK plates are being driving aggressively. Calls for the duelling of the A9 are not about safety, they are about allowing people to drive faster and cut journey times by as much as 12 minutes (if the drivers stay within the speed limits).

As for railways before the 1960’s there was an extensive network of railways across the highland. The lost of these railways was a major setback to the economic development of the highlands. This combined with a steady lost of bus services is driving ever increasing levels of car dependency in an economically fragile area. This coupled with an ageing population is just storing up greater problems for the future.

Since the start of the first hydro schemes, Scotland has prided its self on the generation of renewable electricity. Trains and trams can be very effectively run on electricity. The electric car on the other hand, despite having been around for over a century has never taken off, and probably never will do. Building big shiny new roads is not the best solution for the Highlands, putting back the railways would be far more sensible. Sadly, instead of the sensible option, we are seeing cuts in rail investment and a massive amount of funding for the duelling of the A9 being brought forward.

Thoughts on the Spokes Hustings

Thoughts on the Spokes Hustings

I was at the Spokes Hustings the other night and since then I have had a number of thoughts about it churning through my mind, and so have decided to write them down here. It was good to hear that all parties support the commitment of 5% of the transport budget to cycling, which was a good start. Generally there was a positive attitude to cycle friendly policies, which is hardly surprising as these councillors were trying to capture the cycling vote.

However, there were other things which stuck in my mind, such as Cllr Gordon Mackenzie (Lib Dem) saying that the Council couldn’t remove on street parking from bus lanes or the “Quality Cycle Corridor” because people depend on their cars to drive to the local shops. What? The reason we have so many local shops is because Edinburgh still has people living in the city centre, and they shop in places within walking distance. If the on street parking was removed from Causewayside, the antiques shops would still be there, it is just the residents of the Grange and Newington would have to walk 5-10 minutes to get there. The reason those shops are there is because the customers live nearby and not because there is on street parking. Come on, Cllr Mackenzie, have you actually gone and looked at other cities which are pedestrian and cycle friendly? One thing you will find is that they have lots of local shops, because people can walk and cycle to them. It is the places where people are car dependent that don’t have local shops, which is the result of failed transport policies making people car dependent and causing the death of the High Street in clone towns across the UK. Also, Cllr Mackenzie, when you say people have to be able to drive to their local Health Centre, have you talked to the doctors about this? Increasingly the medical profession is waking up to the benefits of active travel, and encourage people to be more active in their daily lives. This includes walking to their local Health Centre. It should be noted though that Cllr Mackenzie is a regular cyclist and the current Transport Convener of the City of Edinburgh Council, who has done much to support cycling in Edinburgh.

Then there was Cllr Lesley Hinds (Lab), who said that she thought cycling was a good idea, but doesn’t cycle herself because she doesn’t feel safe. The interesting thing here was the reaction of avid cyclists, who all told her that cycling was safe and completely ignored what she was trying to tell them. This is important, as it has a dramatic effect on policies to increase cycling: we are constantly being told that it is safe to cycle, and that we just have to share the roads. We are told that we just need to train more people to cycle with the motor traffic, and cycling will become even safer. Then, once a critical mass of cyclists on the roads has been achieved, we can have more infrastructure to accommodate cycling on the roads. Well, we have had cycle training for children for 60 years, and yet we haven’t seen this increase in safety, just a decline in the numbers cycling and walking as transport on a regular basis. We need to learn to listen to people like Cllr Hinds who say they would cycle as transport, if they felt it was safe. It is the provision of infrastructure to make cycling feel safer and more convenient that increases cycling rates, and not the other way around. Experience from other countries has shown that, when safe and convenient routes are provided between places people want to go, cycling rates increase rapidly.

Instead, British transport policy has historically been aimed at making driving easier, and at the same time taking away choice by making it harder to walk and cycle, through measures such as “traffic smoothing” and “cycle networks” which look like they have been designed by a spider on caffeine. This is something we need to turn around. The one piece of news Cllr Hinds gave the meeting, that came as a surprise to all (including Cllr Mackenzie), was that TIE (the company set up to run Edinburgh’s trams) intends to renege on its promise to carry bikes on the trams when they start running. This would be a very foolish move on their part.

Next on the list was Cllr Cameron Rose (Con), a long time Spokes member and regular utility cyclist. Given that description, you might expect Cllr Rose to be supportive of active travel, but he wasn’t keen on the idea of spending money on it, well he is a Tory. More oddly, he seemed to think that we should “experiment” with different solutions, rather that using existing best practice from places where cycling is common, and where they have already carried out these “experiments” and found out what works. The reason given by Cllr Rose was that the Netherlands are flat, an argument which I really can’t get my head around, what has topography got to do with safe junction design and the principles of separation? If he was trying to suggest that high levels of cycling can only be found in places that are flat, he should try telling that to people in cities throughout the Alps where cycling rates are high. I have personally seen this in Salzburg, Innsbruck and Bozen/Bolzano, these places are not exactly flat. I do however like his strong support for the idea of having a bicycle share scheme in Edinburgh, similar to those found in cities across the world.

I don’t remember Cllr Steve Burgess (Green) saying anything I could disagree with, indeed he seemed to have read the Pedal on Parliament manifesto and was supporting all the things we are calling for. Then again, I would be seriously worried if the Greens weren’t supportive of Active Travel.

Finally there was Cllr Alasdair Rankin (SNP) who seemed a wee bit unclear as to just what the SNP policy on cycling is – he is not alone there, non of us are clear on that. He was, however, keen to take on board the need for change. I just wish Keith Brown MSP, the Transport Minister, was the same. Currently the SNP’s transport policy seems to be stuck somewhere in the 1980’s, building more roads without strategic thought for the future. For example, the new Forth road crossing has been designed with no provision at all for cycling or walking (which came as news to Cllr Rankin). At the end of the day, using the roads should be safe for all, and no one should have to take their life in their hands to get from A to B.

The one glimmer of hope on the SNP front comes from Marco Biagi MSP, whose response to the Pedal on Parliament manifesto I received today. He says: “The Pedal on Parliament manifesto is a set of practical and helpful proposals that set out very clearly the action that must be taken at all levels if cycling is to grow and flourish in Scotland.” Let us hope that he can persuade the rest of his party of this.

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