Monday, 31 December 2012

Mixed messages

No cycling in the centre of NewcastleNorthumberland Street is Newcastle's main shopping street. It was, under much opposition from retailers, pedestrianised in the late 90s. It's now hailed a great success by everyone. And I mean everyone.

Yet something weird is going on on Northumberland Street. Too much of this, and too little of the other. What is it? Let's take a look.

Too little...

Cycling isn't allowed on Northumberland Street despite it being the only safe route through the city centre on the North-South axis.

Campaigners have long argued that council should ditch its discrimination and permit cycling - at the very least out of shopping hours. Other cities can do it (my hometown does) so why not here? Start with a trial.

Or may cycling actually be allowed already? Or what does 'cycling forbidden' plus 'no cycling' mean?

Too much...

What really compounds the silliness is the permission of - not just street sweepers but - large delivery and service vehicles being driven through the pedestrian masses - at all times - despite a sign saying it's not allowed during shopping hours. The council - in its sheer and utter wisdom - appears to have failed applying for the right traffic orders at the time (and are trying to rectify that now, years later).

And some snow tracks here to reveal the extent of the problem:

Northumberland Street - silly

Latest plans seem to suggest that an alternative route will be developed in the short term, and John Dobson Street is council's favoured choice.

Ok, then. I ask: when? When will we be able to safely cycle through Newcastle?

In the meantime maybe this is the sign bike folks are advised to follow:


Thursday, 27 December 2012

If you don't mind awfully...

Only if it does not cause you too much inconvenience... possibly, I may indulge you in a discourse about British politeness, please if I could?

As you no doubt will be aware, British politeness is renowned. Famously. Worldwide.

The German word for politeness [Höflichkeit] translates directly into Courtliness or Courtesy (certainly something to do with courts)... which made me wonder about the origin of British politeness. Is it something steeped in tradition rather than rooted in human kindness? To a German, British politeness can be at times something quite stilted, a bit plastic and not quite entirely honest. In Germany Höflichkeit [politeness] doesn't rank as highly as Ehrlichkeit [honesty]... many times it seems the other way round in Britain: it's about pleasing the other person by telling them what they want to hear... and living with the consequences after (ie you get a "nice" Christmas jumper year after year).


I am totally digressing. Please do excuse me for wasting your time that way. Where were we? Yes. Politeness, a form of social interaction, a socialisation processs - behaving respectfully and considerately towards others.

Rules of politeness do exist. You can see them in action as polite patience and waiting your turn (queuing, an amazing spectacle!), giving people personal space (as a more northern society a lot of space is required), gestures of kindness and courtesy, a healthy overdose of sorries, thank yous and small talk, understatements and hedging statements. And in whatever you do never (never ever!) complain, please pardon my forthrightness but stiff-upper-lipness rules and Britannia's waves politely. Certainly if you speak at all (possibly small talk), don't speak too loudly if you can!

My observation, if you allow me, was going to be this. If British politeness is something that's there, it exists, it's real, something that everyone prescribes to, something the pervades society - why is it so solidly suspended on our roads?

An example? Consider this manoeuvre.
  1. a tailgating driver, quite possibly threatening to rear-end you [broken rule of polite patience]
  2. then a close-shave overtake [broken rule of personal space]
  3. followed by speeding away to "make up lost time" [broken rule of stiff-upper-lip]
  4. or a left-hook [broken rule of polite patience and personal space]
In our roads there is a general rule of "quiet" acceptance for barging and shoving, squeezing-in and asserting your space and presence. Rather brash and brazenly so.

A most weird one is where 'rules of the road' and 'rules of politeness' directly collide. And implode. "Merge in turn"... your herd instinct tells you to get the h*ck out of that soon-to-be-merged lane as soon as poss... or otherwise the wrath of others would rain down on you, and you are forever doomed to stay in the merging lane till the end of days. Melt-down ensures and a wormhole opens up.

To me it seems rules of politeness are "on hold" as soon as you get into that thing. You close the door, and it transports you into a parallel universe where a new set of rules apply. A selfish retreat, a holiday from being British, polite and proud of it.

Unless you are aware, and you counteract it, you fall prey to Demon King Car and its Rules of the Road, so diametrically opposed to rules of British Politeness.

Why is that?

Maybe British Politeness is dead? As are nearly 2,000 road traffic victims every year. Politeness may have saved them. Yet society asks us to simply stiffen up our lips, and get on with it. A collision of principles?

Or maybe British politeness never did exist on your roads?

I leave you with the real Cholmondley-Warner...

Thank you.

A post where I haven't even mentioned the word b*cycles!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Call to arms... including legs.

The current UK cyclist is inventive, self-sufficient, independent, apparently even happier and possibly smarter than the rest too - and somehow you gotta be, trying to stay alive in the murky twilight under the small print of current road terms & conditions. It feels to me a form of 'not-so-natural' selection could otherwise reach you much faster.

Nature, nurture. Conditions make you, they shape you. The typical UK cyclist is a warrior, 'armed' to the teeth with gadgets, tooled-up, and with a determined mind. Set on survival and self-preservation, battling on in the face of adversity. And who can blame them? A driver's milli-second of inattention wipes you out. Injures, maims, and can kill.

My fellow UK cyclists appear less smart however when it comes to reaching out to society and letting others join in with the "joy of cycling" - debatable as the truth of the meaning may be.

We fall into three camps there.

Type 1 got used to the danger (or have never felt it), or they simply don't know that cycling conditions could be better.
Type 2 doesn't care about spreading the word as they are the proud lonesome ranger. Superman cyclist. They know it could be better, but they fail to group-up.
Type 3 folks, cyclists reaching out. Tends to be less kitted out and tooled up, than Type 1 or 2. Type 3a wants to solely share. Type 3b wants cycle lanes. Yet we end up mostly talking to ourselves. 

You will all have had the experience of this? Discussions with non-cycle folk rapidly go down the wobbly whirlpool spilling into the bottomless snake pit of prejudice and discrimination. One thing you can rely on. The public has no clue. Even after years of stoicism (Type 2), 'reaching out' (Type 3b) and our happy-go-lucky message of "let's share!" and "most of us are drivers too, you know!" (Type 3a), I see no intention in the larger society to actually take us up on any of this, and so remains completely clueless, with institutional backing of course.

So here's the parting message to my fellow cyclists, no matter whether you are Type 1, 2 or 3.

May well be James May IS right. We miserable down-trodden folks must cheer up! - and I'll add: make a racket.
It's time to REALLY speak out - loud and clear. Steer the conversation. When they (let's say a family member over Christmas dinner, or a colleague at the office party etc) start their well 'rehearsed' meme-tirade explain why you are doing certain things (suggested list of questions and answer provided below, feel free to print it out and hand it to them).

If you are serious that you want cycling numbers to increase, please do start to feel the insanity and unfairness of it all. Cuz every time you are nigh-doored, left-hooked, close-shaved, tail-gated, pressurised into doing avoiding manoeuvre someone else stops cycling somewhere, or never takes up cycling in the first place.

Don't waste your breath on the benefits of cycling. People already love (the idea of) cycling, but hate cyclists. With a passion.

And do ask them to saddle up for two miles on the road, and then come back to talk to you.

In Cycle Solidarity.

Kat - Type 3b

Crib sheet / background reading / suggestions

"Wear hiviz!"
Cyclists still get killed regardless, the onus is on the driver to look properly. It's pretty useless in the dark, unless reflective.

"No helmet?"
UK law is clear. It's a personal choice. There is no right and wrong, check out

"Pay road tax!"
You, mean VED? As it's emissions-based, bike owners would be zero anyways. Check out the ironically named

"Get off the f*cking road!"
Did you know, that I have the same right to this stretch of road as you? (Type 1, 2, 3a)
Or: I'd love to - but there's is no cycle path! Cue. Cross-reference "Get off the pavement!" (Type 3b)

"Get off the pavement!"
Complex! The main reason for people cycling on the pavement is because they don't feel safe on the road. Pavement cycling is the natural default entry-level for a novice cyclist. (Don't get me started on adult cycle training here.) It's a sign for a repressed demand for bike use and should be congratulated.

"You are all red-light jumpers!"
Numbers don't quite stack up on that one. And did you know: cycling countries have made certain manoeuvres legal?

"Where's your licence plate anyways?"
It should really be as easy as riding a bike. Why would you spend a vast amount of tax payers money on something that in comparison to the car doesn't cause that much harm?

"Cyclists are a menace!"
Overall cyclists are probably far closer to The Perfect Urban Solution than drivers ever will be. Space and oil sparsity is calling for new ways, and using your bike is certainly more space and energy efficient than using your car.
Furthermore, more pedestrians get killed by drivers mounting kerbs and entering into pedestrian safe space (about 40 a year), than cyclists could ever manage even when including road space.

"Get out of my way!"
Taking the lane is a manoeuvre they teach in cycle training as good practice. I am doing as I am told. Why are you so upset when held back for a few seconds anyways? Might it follow this insane logic?

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Legitimacy to talk shop

In the absence of an apparent solution, one of society's coping mechanisms is to freely provide advice to cyclists (a minority outgroup, apparently) - although I am still not entirely sure how any of these pieces of advice are relevant to my using a bike.

Here's a selection of pedal panacea the public advises you on.
"Wear hiviz" and "no helmet?" are the rather more 'useful' comments that are thrown at me. And I hear it a lot from my fellow cyclists too. Cyclists just can't even help themselves. Bless, it must be hard to conform to minority outgroup rules, so they get easily over-ridden by wider societal views.
Then there are the "pay road tax" and "get off the road" comments [insert any number of expletives at your own choosing] which are tending more towards the bottom end of the acceptance scale of my fragile soul. These comments also beg the question which part of the motorist's brain has been affected by toxic fumes, transport anxieties or general feeling of inferiority or pseudo-megalomania.
In any case, society likes to put the onus on you. Society wants you to change so that nothing or no-one else has to act.

Yet I am doing nowt wrong. In fact: meanwhile in the windy narrow hallways of the Df(mm)T, policy continues unabashedly to encourage everyone to cycle and promote cycling as a healthy, good, green, cost-effective, safe thing to do.

Using a bicycle, I am doing as I am told.
Here's my message to the non-cycling public.

Get hold of a bike and cycle on the road for two miles or so. It will certainly bestow legitimacy on you to talk shop proper. Call me. Here' my number 07828 60 4349.

And OMFG we are doing it to our children too. Why not campaign for safer streets rather than putting up with this #driverless victim-blaming slopey-shouldered dross?

The girl who didn't dress bright

The boy who didn't stop look and listen

The boy who didn't look for a safe place to cross

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Which one is it?

I am once again confused - easily done, I suppose. I had a look at the logo of the most excellent The Times' Cities Fit for Cycling Campaign.

The future of cycling - if it's allowed to flourish - lies in not replicating the current cyclist. The mamil - as the dominant example - is a solely British by-product - a mere reaction to the British road conditions with its fast, heavy, choking traffic. The road's come to an end. Even mamils - admirable as they are - can only take us this far. We are mamiled out. Here's a depiction of a one.

The future - however -  is creating conditions for new people to consider cycling as a sincere and safe transport option available to them. The type of 8-80. Everyone. A bit more akin to this chap here.

So. Which one is it? And does it matter? Yes. Vastly. You have to know your market and audience to stand a chance of selling your goods.

But maybe, government (greenest never, was it?) is only interested in "encouraging and promoting" cycling without listening to the market analyst. It might just be interested in feeding peanuts to exotic animals without a habitat (such as mamils, who in return could not care less), and tickling fat cats bellies to make them roll over nicely.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Why can't we do it too?

Cycle continuity...

It's a mystery to me why the UK cannot provide cycle continuity at bus stops. What are they afraid of? Maybe this new sign will find DfT approval soon... it would certainly accurately reflect their attitude towards folks on bikes.


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Seven Degrees of Separation

1) None (sharing, with cycle contraflow for filtered permeability)

Braunschweig July 2010
Braunschweig, Germany, source katsdekker

 2) A dashed line

Assen 08.05.12 (64)
Assen, Netherlands, source claireprospert
Assen 08.05.12 (41)
Assen, Netherlands, source claireprospert

3) A continuous line

Groningen 10.05.12 (30)
Assen, Netherlands, source claireprospert

4) Hybrid lane / half kerb

Brighton, Old Shoreham Road
Brighton, UK, source google streetview

5) Physical means / upstands

Source: NACTO
US, source NACTO
Spanish example
Spain, private source

6) Full-height kerb (if parked cars then door zone provided)

Cycle path
Braunschweig, Germany, source katsdekker
Cycle path
Wolfenbüttel, Germany, source katsdekker
Cycle path with door buffer
Braunschweig, Germany, source katsdekker
7) Full separation (full-height kerb and speed differential strip, green strip)
Cycle path with safety strip
Braunschweig, Germany, source katsdekker
Cycle path with safety strip
Braunschweig, Germany, source katsdekker
Cycle path with safety strip
Braunschweig, Germany, source katsdekker

And then you are pretty much onto "off-road" cycle tracks.

I believe in the Elves of Safety

NEBOSH training 

I have been away a bit recently. Work training. Health and Safety. Nebosh. Sounds awful and boring I know. But it really wasn't; it was surprisingly interesting. Never mind the general prescriptive blokishness of the ex-army presenter (nice bloke actually), he did made the dry subject rather wet and sticky. (Let's see whether I'll pass the exam.)

What struck me wasn't so much the hierarchy of controls (I know we get them especially wrong in transport due to lack of national and local leadership), or the non-involvement of the HSE with transport schemes (which could be really beneficial if they were), or the death rate in construction being low (comparatively to transport 250 vs 2,000 fatalities). No. What struck me was this little thing.

One of the slides read...

Workplace transport controls "Segregate pedestrians and vehicles wherever [sic.] possible - physical barriers better than painted walkways."

I - quite naturally I am sure you agree - immediately made that into...

On major/strategic roads to "Segregate cyclists and vehicles where-ever possible - physical barriers better than painted cycle lanes."

Just substitute pedestrians with cyclists and walkways with cycle lanes and Health and Safety is yet again correct in its approach. I start to believe in the Elves of Safety! Let the HSE regulate the transport sector for a little while, and they would turn round DfT's destructive approach to road safety in no time!

As a cyclist, I am sick to the bone of "working next to heavy moving machinery". It's lethally dangerous, usually also badly and unreliably operated, unsupervised, not enforced or disciplined.

And they lived happily ever after.

The End.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

My name is Katja, and I am scared

"Doctor, I'm not a happy bunny"
"Doctor, I'm not a happy bunny"
Every instance that we don't listen to these women - hurts.

I recently gave a talk about cycling and what the Newcastle Cycling Campaign is doing. I said "You can relax. We are not here to talk you into cycling. We understand why people don't cycle. So, with us it's all about the space. We want more cycle space so that people are given a real choice."

One woman's reaction was this "I am so glad to hear this. I always thought there was something wrong with me. I am too scared to cycle."

And then there's this woman we met when the Newcastle Cycling Campaign was gathering comments about the 'Summer of Cycling'.

She - a regular bike commuter - felt it must be her fault that cycling didn't feel safe. It prompted her to take up the council's offer of free adult cycle training. She said this afterwards "I think the training was sensible, and I can understand the view that by delivering training you either increase numbers on the roads or give those that also use cars a better understanding of what it’s like to be a cyclist in traffic."

Then this.

"But it’s a shame that the whole focus is about keeping yourself safe, rather than riding technique or any of the nicer things that I was able to consider when I rode my route with dedicated cycling space.

She concluded with this.

"I still get scared on a regular basis on my way to work, and based on the training that’s not because I’m doing anything wrong." Source

In infrastructure meetings (there have been a lot recently in Newcastle thanks to the Campaign there), I still cringe every time I hear this bird's familiar mating call "I am a keen cyclist" - typically followed by "I don't mind cycling there [ie 30mph double-lane fast heavy traffic]". Their patronising arrogance and sheer selfishness thereby hindering better cycle provision for others.

We ought to start listening to these brave "fearful" women voicing their concerns. Whether they are using a bicycle or not doesn't matter. And by all means, men too - though the 'admitting-to-fear' threshold may be higher with them.

So I say "Hello, my name is Katja. And I have been cycling for nearly 40 years, and I am full of fear cycling in Newcastle. Every day."

Cycle track, me and the bell. And basket.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Compare and Contrast

093A Dutch bicycle just looks out of context on our roads. Yet it's the kind of bike that most people would choose for short urban trips. Purposeful trips.

The bike's comfortable and sturdy. And she (pictured left) would be - and possibly feel - somewhat out of place cycling on a 30mph road. Rightly so! In fact, isn't that exactly the reason why many people haven't taken up cycling in this country?

UK Government policy is barely even doing the 'compare' - after decades ministers are still talking of a big friendly group hug being the solution. Everything is going to be just fine. Apparently. Then. Government lets the driver plough straight through - possibly pausing poignantly for a second to two - then continuing the big friendly group hug discussion undeterred. Not just as much as a bicycle and a car are different vehicles - so are also a cyclist and a driver different persons, with different viewpoints, perceptions, outlooks and behaviours.

And needs.

Wake up!

We are different when we are driving.
We are different when we are cycling.
We are different when we are walking.

We must start contrasting.

It's going to be a fine day, when a Dutch bicycle looks not just normal and in context, but its rider is actually made to feel welcome on our roads. But currently there's no space to breathe for such a thing.

Differences include things such as speed, power, hazard, harm, weight, mindset, protection, law, space, vulnerability, interaction with surroundings, sense of place and loyalty, calories, health, emissions, costs,...

...and happiness (if we let our transport system flourish through better bike provision).

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Dear Santa, I want Cycling England back

It was by no means perfect, but Cycling England was a wedge in that DaFT door, a useful thorn in their side bleeding the inner workings of that ministry of its oily fluids. A little overhaul. Like a medicinal leach.

It was meant to grow and create green healthy life(style) of its own. For everybody.

When the cycle quango was axed by the ConDems it was a malicious act confining cycling back to the Dungeon of the Dark Ages. Drivers, rejoice, you overcame! "End the war on the motorist" and suchlike. Harrumph, harrumph. Yes, Hammond MP, you were wonderfully DaFT. And they have now allowed you to play with other "real" weapons elsewhere in the ConDem government. So God help us.

We were then presented - tada - with the "National Cycle Stakeholder Forum". Hurrah! Through my MP I found out some detail.The original letter to DaFT dated April 2012 was conveniently lost by the ministry of oh-so-silly-walks (get you!) and we only received an answer (including apology) a few days ago. The reply was not even answering all the questions (and I will ask my MP to kindly point that out to DaFT).

Anyways. Thing is this, isn't it:

The "National Cycle Stakeholder Forum" is a green shoot of growth. It now needs thorns and teeth. Can they understand - as Cycling England did - that we have to stop talking softly-softly measure, and get to the hard stuff at the centre?

And quick.

I hope Philip Darnton sits on it! Does he? He, of all people, should. He's got the pedal passion, political cycle campaign instinct, and really knows the stuff. Hard hitting, and truthful.

Then again. There are some very limp biscuits on that forum, dunking donuts at the Bakery. Softly softly does it? Nopes, not any more, Baker MP.

The Time(s) move on!

I want real cycleways, for real people. Dedicated safe space where speed is 30mph and over, by all means shared when under (actual speeds - not speed limits that is!), preferential treatment at crossings and side roads, and mode integration with public transport too.

And I don't care about the nudge approach, not one iota. This nation has been trying to talk people into cycling for long enough. It's embarrassing. Stop it! We are a laughing stock. Butt joke. No cycle nation has ever been seen to spring from "encouraging" bums on saddle. And all the behavioural change b*llocks that comes with it.

We need real change.

It's time to take from motorists what isn't theirs, and give it to the more deserving modes.


More Love Cycling Go Dutch talks here

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Hear Horton's Who

Cycling in Newcastle, UK

Attending yet another meeting discussing cycling infrastructure, I struck me again: the majority in the room are doggedly designing for the current combat cyclist (always ready to cycle to the moon, tackling the traffic, cycling for the heck of it anyways, current crazy condition or no).

I stepped in and gave a little speech - possibly perceived as patronising (as a woman you are seen as patronising - or should that be matronising? - rather than intelligent or knowledgeable) - on:

"Really, folks, who are we designing these new strategic cycle routes for?"

It was gobsmackingly obvious to me, completely crystal clear! If we wanted to attract new people on bikes, we have to make it a viable option to them. So, why people don't cycle is the thing in question.

And we know why: "too much aggressive traffic" and "no safe space for cyclist". [Note this message is usually mixed up with some misperceptions (and potential excuses!) around the cultural argument and weather, topography, fitness, age and income group. Or the advanced answers of no shower at work, no bike parking, haven't got the right clothes etc.]

So what now?

Keep campaigning for continuous cycle space for the newcomer cyclist, the pavement cyclist, the child cyclist, granny, inclusive 8-80. Design it for the 'timid' newbie cyclist and they will come. Irresistible linear space away from drivers on fast roads, by all means mixed where speeds and traffic are sufficiently low. It's so simple. That's how the city clientele will cycle.

Yet the current cyclist doesn't get it. And, they are the ones who bother turning up at cycle meeting and not the non-cyclist (surprise surprise). 

So designer mustn't just listen to the current combat cyclist; they only have half the story to tell. Also listen to why people don't cycle, have given up cycling or don't let their kids cycle, and interpret their replies.

And it's fair to note, that some current combat cyclists have awoken...

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Negotiators wanted (not arbitrators)


I believe that cycle campaigners have to learn some negotiation skills. That's even more important with the backdrop of the stifling affliction of Great British Politeness.

For both sides to get the best out of negotiation it involves this:

Step 1 - sides to describe their case
Step 2 - sides to state their upper limit (what they want)
Step 3 - sides to understand each other's constraints
Step 4 - negotiate
Step 5 - formulate an outcome / deal

The outcome can range from agreeing a deal (full acceptance of someone's upper limits or a compromise within the parties' limit envelopes) to walking away with no deal.

Or you may say "Let's meet again in x months time to re-examine our stance(s)." In any case, after a successful negotiation (deal or no deal), you walk away understanding the other side better.

Here's the important part.

Before every negotiation you know your lower limit but - in whatever you do - don't let the other side know. Why? As it might be within their limit envelope and you'd lose going for your lower limit straight away!

I have seen some awful campaigning for accepting their lower limits in the first go, not going through Steps 1-5. You walk away with N.O.T.H.I.N.G - you are the weakest link. Good-bye.

Maybe seeing campaigning (for more and safer space for cycling) as a negotiation helps us to be more ambitious.

So know your limits! And put your p-p-p-p-p-poker faces on next time!

If Gaga can do it, you can too!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Oh, and the motorbiker is the lynx

Meet the felines of the transport zoo!

Feline transport zoo

The kitten is playful, it skirts about, zips around and can be rather disobedient and cheeky!

Cats are a bit bigger, a bit faster and more purposeful in their approach. A hint of mischievousness can still be detected, but cats don't linger as much, don't scoot about as much - at least not compared to the kitten. There are many cat breeds, ranging from small and timid types to larger and more assertive ones.

Here's another one: the lion. When it comes to characterising the lion, he's rather strong, and he's fast too. He has a lot of power and might, especially in comparison with the cat and kitten.

But compare that to the sabre-toothed tiger! He's bigger still in stature, stronger still in muscle power and he has very long sharp teeth.

Feline transport zoo

What happens if you put them all in one enclosure? Well, the kitten is usually kept separately from the others in the UK Transport Zoo, and it is clear why. But the cat, lion and sabre-toothed tiger are often left to fight it out amongst themselves.

That's why there aren't so many cats about.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Just a road safety lecture

A Newcastle MP endured this lecture from a Road Safety minister. Yes, the new one, Stephen Hammond, not the old one. Date 5 October 2012 it reads like this.
Thank you for your letter of the 19 September, enclosing correspondence from your constituent [...], Newcastle upon Tyne, [...], concerning EDM 407, victims of road accidents. I am replying as Minister responsible for road safety.
Fatal collisions are treated seriously by the police with a thorough investigation which will sometimes include a reconstruction. All the circumstances including driving behaviour and vehicle condition, are carefully considered and, in association with the Crown Prosecution Service, action taken whenever appropriate.
It is for the courts to decide on the appropriate sentence for an offender and in doing so they will take into account all details of the offence, including any aggravating or mitigating circumstances and the sentencing guidelines. Sentencing guidelines are produces by the independent Sentencing Council.
No mention of forwarding this to the appropriate minister ie Justice.

Well that's British Cycling and Julian Huppert MP telt then.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Stagecoach, yeehaa!

I'd say Stagecoach aren't quite aware of what's going on outside their Newcastle depots and offices, once their drivers are released onto the roads. At best, they don't know. I say that giving them the benefit of a doubt.

In a letter to me, Stagecoach say "All our driving staff are trained to have the highest regard for the safety of our customers, other road users and pedestrians. To make sure our staff are attaining this high standard we regularly undertake covert assessments of driving standards and act swiftly to investigate any allegation of driving standards or general conduct and performance, which will also involve a review of any on bus CCTV data.

"At Stagecoach our drivers are taught to drive with safety and courtesy at the top of their list of priorities, so therefore, given the large investment into the training of our staff, it is always disappointing to learn of an occasion where this high level of investment has not been repaid by a member of staff.

It was this event on 28 September 2012 13:50 that shook me badly:
  • the bus driver of No.1 (NK60 DNN I think) on John Dobson Street, travelling northwards, was overtaking me (on my bicycle at the time) with very little room to spare. I was able to touch the side of the bus. At any speed that distance is totally unacceptable and the driver requires some serious improvements in their driving style to make them safe for our roads
  • as if that wasn't enough, the driver then went on to run a red light (across Northumberland Road).
Stagecoach also say they cannot disclose information such as cctv footage, driver interviews etc. Their 'covert assessments' are most likely not shared too. They are in effect policing themselves. Which does not help to build trust. And trust is lacking. I have offered to meet the driver and explain the cyclist's position of vulnerability and dependency.

And here are Stagecoach trying - again - to convince everyone how super smashing they are, only to learn that others don't think so.

Here are some stats. My stats, collected by myself in a period of just a few days. A little experiment. It's worth noting, that I have not been out searching for these contraventions. I just happened to stumble across them on my commute, passing through Newcastle city centre.

  • 9 October at ca 16:20 - driver of No.11, number plate ending in KFO, who at the top end Pilgrim Street pulled entirely unnecessarily into the ASL
  • 9 October at ca 16:20 - (cont.) then overtook me (on my bike at the time) with rather little room to spare on John Dobson Street.
  • 10 October ca 08:05 - blocking the ASL for no reason whatsoever - No.15a, number plate ending in YUD, Market Street westbound (where it meets Pilgrim Street, at police station)
  • 10 October ca 16:15 - blocking the ASL for no reason whatsoever. No.12, didn't catch the number plate, Blackett Street, eastbound (where it intersects John Dobson Street) - driver was turning right, onto John Dobson Street
  • 15 October ca 17:20 - Stagecoach bus No. 40, number plate ending in DJY: Blackett Street (New Bridge Street West), travelling eastbound - driver preparing to turn right, onto John Dobson Street entirely blocking the ASL which was totally unnecessary 
  • 15 October ca 17:20 - (cont.) and then - still at red - the driver was pulling onto the crossing over the stop line into the pedestrian space
  • 18 October 2012 ca 09:08 - John Dobson Street, southbound, Stagecoach driver blocking ASLs seemingly unnecessarily No.1 number plate ending in DNN, at Northumberland Road crossing
  • 18 October 2012 ca 09:09 - Stagecoach driver blocking ASLs seemingly unnecessarily No.10 number plate ending in DJJ, at Market Street crossing
  • 18 October 2012 ca 09:10 - Stagecoach driver blocking ASLs seemingly unnecessarily No.12 didn’t catch the number plate, also at Market Street crossing
For a cyclist it's not just an ASL. It's designated space. Something for them. Specific infrastructure. It ain't great, but currently it's all we've got. So finding - after you've manage to wriggle onto one - that a driver is already occupying it, is a real disappointment, every time. It makes you feel sad and angry, all at once.

And sideswipes by heavy vehicles, well, I do not have to explain how that feels to a cyclist. It's terrifying.

1) Maybe a good-old walkabout by Stagecoach managers would do the trick and open their eyes to epidemic misconduct by their drivers. 

2) Or meeting the Newcastle Cycling Campaign for a bike ride round town as was offered, to learn about the hostility out there, learning by doing: here and here

3) Or letting me chat to individual bus drivers as offered with every letter I sent Stagecoach.

As cyclists we are asked to share the road. Being squishy objects we heavily depend on others' good driving skills, respect, courtesy and foresight too. I'd rather have some designated delineated space where this conflict and confrontation is removed. 

4) Maybe Stagecoach want to join the Newcastle Cycling Campaign in their call for better space clarity and delineation?

A Stagecoach employee says after telling me about a payslip flyer they were preparing for their staff "I am confident that you should see a marked improvement. I would like to add though, the majority of our drivers do adhere to the rule, but in certain circumstances, it is difficult to bring such a large vehicle to a safe and smooth stop when lights have a short change cycle." 

I do not mean this to be an attack on Stagecoach. In the end I, just like the Stagecoach employee, hope to see a "marked improvement". I just think that their belief and reality are too far apart. Unless anything of the above is happening I continue to believe they don't really care. 

It's also worth seeing these Newcastle videos corroborating the above.
nebikene youtube 1
nebikene youtube 2
nebikene youtube 3


Thursday, 11 October 2012

Strike! Balance not struck

Here are some double yellow lines that were never completed, because someone parked their car there the day the lines were painted...

Contested space

Years later. And the lines never were completed. Mothered Motorist types still make good use of it now. I see the chap park there regularly. Their selfish parking narrows the road, creating a pinchpoint for cyclists. A job well done if you were keen to discourage cycling. The bully wins.

Contested space

Meanwhile at the university, we see this sign. Another "sign of our times". Let's ignore it. A balance ought to be struck somewhere. Maybe by striking.

Well done, Newcastle

Friday, 5 October 2012


"Get off the road" and "get a car, pay your way" is what I keep hearing from 'advancing' motorists.

But what comes out of their foul mouths we all know too well by now. It's mostly uninformed crap, lobotomised filth from brain dead robots. Memed statements that society approves as society does not even recognise it's demonising, radicalising, mariginalising, victimising a minority group.

Discrimination against cyclists on UK roads is booming.

And all that when cycling meets the Future Test. It complies with the Categorical Imperative. If everyone were cycling... a lot of our urban problems would simply vanish.

In reply, and to close the conversational loop...

"It's not my problem" and "get a bike" is what I keep saying to sameselves motorists.


Why am I as a cyclist still asked to compensate for their bad driving? Bear their burden? It's not my problem, yet they are allowed to put my life and wellbeing at risk, with little repercussion for them. Little rebound in law and little consequence for their life.

Society allows them to get away with it.

The UK is an uncaring unfair society when it comes to looking after cyclists.

One thing the country surely isn't short of is "advice". Everyone seems to have "good" advice for me.  As someone who's cycling, I am constantly patronised to do this, that, or yet something else. All totally useless pieces of advice to me. One thing I can tell you. I am severely sick of catering and compensating for drivers' problems. Bad driving, exhaust fumes, jams.

Sick to the bottom of my little heart.

I haven't caused this.
  • why would I want to sit in a traffic jam? I haven't caused this. It's not my problem.
  • why would I want to sit behind a vehicle that's belching out exhaust fumes? It's not my problem.   
  • and why are they so angry? What's at stake?
Why are they burdening me with their problems?

It's my life versus thirty seconds of their time.

Yes, so I go on cycling, and make my own rules to avoid their problems and problems they cause. I want to stay healthy and sane and above all safe and alive, I hope you don't mind.

I am cocky, you say? Yes. I should be too. Because I am the solution, not the problem.

And now that we know that it is mostly their fault when we get hurt, I think an apology is due. Yes, by Boris J, but I want to hear it from the motoring masses, the road lobby, too. Am I asking for too much?

Pootling with Poodle in toon

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Something good, finally

I am dreadfully aware that I am not singing praises. But I'd hasten to add, that I am keeping my ear to the ground, and I am not singing because there is little about that requires serenading.

However, this is worth a mention.

Cath and I cycled along our usual getting-out-of-Newcastle route and came across this wonderful setup.

Newcastle have remodelled Brunton Lane to remove through-access by private car and prioritised sustainable modes (walking, cycling and public transport). What previously was a free-for-all bully-wins scenario, has now been altered to look like this:

To put it into words
  • walking: footpath (curiously widened in places, further along)
  • cycling: continuous (woohoo!) cycle lane, using bypasses
  • public transport: controlled access by rising bollards
Well done!

Private car access is now via Great Parkway... no major hardship, though one suspects that the Mothered Motorist had a few things to say during the consultation phase.

Thanks, again, go to the council for standing firm.

For the overall spacial context have a look at this map.

View Great Park access in a larger map

Saturday, 22 September 2012

DfT dead-end

DfmmT's obsessive campaigning for behavioural change (rest assured a pinch of victim blaming is always lumped in for good measure) has gone off with a backfiring bang this week. It must be clear that this patronising ill-informed promo initiative is showing DfmmT's desperation. Here's their sad piece.

DfmmT really hit the decks. Big Bully Nanny has to eat humble pie, go back to the drawing board and scribble on some real cycle ways and seriously...


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Motorway coverup

Newcastle's central motorway... some still call it CME (Central Motorway East) as there was a CMW planned too. I think discussions have veered away slightly from that.

The CME: an eyesore, something that severs the city, rips its fabric apart, a huge hangover from the 60s, and a barrier to the western communities - Heaton, Byker, Walker - to get into town biking or walking.

It's simple really. Cut and cover. It sits in a concrete channel, so the cut has been done. Now we just have to cover it. You can compensate for the construction and general  user emissions by creating a linear park on top. It has been done elsewhere. Boston springs to mind.

Central Motorway - a coverup

Next cut and cover projects: Gosforth High Street, then Coast Road...

Gotta think big to get big minds thinking.

Are you a proper cyclist?

I witnessed some awkward fumbling and stumbling (in words) this week. Sentences like "X is a proper cyclist" and "that's real cycling" were uttered in my presence. I kept calm as there were bigger fish to fry (infrastructure and funding) at the time.

But it remains a frustration, more than a niggle: the UK and its bad-quality cycling debate. I am not surprised people, amongst them cyclists themselves, argue the toss over what "real cycling" is.

Straight from a horse's mouth: the UK just fumbles on. We've reached saturation point. It has stagnated as a national average at 2%. With the bad provision that we've got cycling levels will not go beyond 10% modal share (locally, in places).  The current "infrastructure" will not carry more cyclists; especially the young, the old and women are excluded.

The current infrastructure is the obstacle to a real cycling culture, where cycling's not just tolerated as a niche, as an oddity or something that the less-well-to-do do.

To disperse any doubts here are some real cyclists:



Sunday, 9 September 2012

Forgiving road space

I believe in the importance of ethics and moral values. I think forgiving is important. Probably even much more for the person in question than the one forgiven. As a UK cyclist you learn to forgive. You have to. Otherwise your mind'd be occupied all day, or you may even stop cycling. (Or you may have never taken up cycling as the conflict and the process of constant forgiving feels too unfair).

The way we "run" our roads is flawed with creating conflict situations where it's not necessary. Puts the strongest first. There's little respite for the more 'fragile' road users. It's all rush-rush, fast, chop-chop, quick, nip-nip and very very impatient.

As a cyclist on UK's roads you are either keeping up, or causing conflict by holding-up. The two modes simply don't mix. And please stop talking about confident cyclists! Why? It's grossly missing the point. What we need for mass cycling (that's the ultimate goal isn't it?) is confident and skilled engineers and urban architects.


The problem is that our road space is not forgiving.

And as a result you, the pedestrian and cyclist, have to be. The onus is put on people. Cyclists and pedestrians - squishy and vulnerable on the road - take the slack and brunt of this inadequacy. As a cyclist in Britain you either have "no heart" (nothing can touch you, you cycle through thick and thin, you may not know any better) or you fit into the "protester" category (cycling despite the cycle provision, almost to make a point). I am the latter.

Other countries of course get this right.

They do do their risk assessment - properly - and provide the appropriate physical measure, let that be a cycle lane, a cycle path, a cycle bypasses, cycle-friendly traffic calming and lights, walk and cycle tunnels, etc etc etc. One of the indicators for the existence of a forgiving road system is the types of bicycles that you see.

You start to spot a different kind of bike. More civilised looking ones, less sporty. Possibly like the one below. A work horse. Slow but strong and effective.

The premise is that people do make mistakes. It's human. In a forgiving road space this human flaw is designed in so that the risk is designed out. And the space becomes self-policing. For the UK that means that more safe space must be handed over to cycling, and that's a political issue...

Bless you!

Forgive, forgiven, forgiving.

Cycling in the UK, it asks for constant forgiveness from the weaker road user. This injustice can't be forgiven; it lingers on my mind whenever I get on my bicycle and a long time after I get off my bike.

Our space requires to be made forgiving.

001_ (60)

Going to a wedding in style

Style. Well, readers will know by now it's not my bag. I am from the non-style fashion league. But we've got some real cycle chic on offer in Newcastle. So. Here's one of the leading lights - @claireprospert - and her take on...

Going to a wedding.

In style.

Some relevant detail first.

Tree heart and pearls at the rear...

Going to a wedding in style

Lovely handlebars with roses and ribbons at the front...

Going to a wedding in style

Here she comes... all smiles...

Going to a wedding in style

Will she ride it? Will she...?

Here she goes... she's off. Cycling to a wedding.

Going to a wedding in style

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Sustrans in the city, please

I love Sustrans routes. They are good! I adore the Coast to Coast. An off-road stretch on the NCN72 (along Newcastle's quayside) even gets me into work. And, just the other day, I sampled the Berwick to Edinburgh stretch on the NCN1 (Coast and Castles) with @cathscaife. Loads of nice quiet roads. There was the space and the environment to chat along and while our time away.

The mental picture of cycling with a cuppa in your hands, is probably most fitting I suppose. Although at one point we did get a bit nervous "Oh, is that the time?" and speeded up a little. There are some short sections with fast careless motor traffic, where cycling is uncomfortable, and you would not advise a family ride along there. All in all, it was a benign bike ride. Arriving in Edinburgh for the fireworks finale was a fantastic welcome. And meeting @kim_harding was a major highlight too. Thanks, Edinburgh.

All positive then?

Windy route
Bypass on windy back streets in the countryside
The urban section in and around Edinburgh was - of course - Land of Silly Cycling.

And what struck me also was the route map. It's along quiet back country roads, twisting and winding which does not get people to work or shops. It's thumbs-up for leisure not so for everyday living. Sustrans have build this fantastic national network between towns, villages and cities. It's nice. For enjoyment and tourism. It's all play, but has little live and work in it.

Sustrans has to get into our cities. Right in. Straight to the point of the matter. They have to get stuck in with More Haste Less Speed, forging their own words into action. It seems they have to get their campaigning hats on once more. They've been lying-in-waiting for too long.

Making links from cities to the National Cycle Network would be a start. From train stations especially would make good sense for mode integration.

A message for Sustrans
There is an opportunity in Newcastle.

Quite unbelievably there is now a stretch through Newcastle city centre - NCN725 - Great North Cycleway (Darlington to Blyth). A great cycle way currently in name but not in nature. Yet. I wonder what Sustrans will do. Will they get their campaign book and design standards out to 'march' on town hall and do what More Haste Less Speed advocates?

Or will they sit back and be associated with a rather rank route? We had Sustrans for the country. Can we now have Sustrans in the city, please?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Cabinet reshuffle: New line up

New roles are announced, including quotes:

Kermit the Frog
"My media skills and experience of leading a multifaceted merry band will make this government successful, and the funniest ever!"

Ms Piggy
PM: "She'll be good for pompous state occasions!" (Arms were twisted on this appointment. )

Paddington Bear
Too humble to comment. PM: "PB has sound experience of dealing with the unknown with total humility and integrity" 

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
"I will draw from my own experience, and lead the transformation of the economic system to sustainable growth"

"I will make everyone feel at home" (not sure Elmo's read the job description)

Petit Prince
"Hat? Elephant! We simply require a new look at things"

Cookie Monster & Swimmy
"Working together, will get us there" and "Blubbblubb"

Hello Kitty
"They listen to me, you know"

Womble Madame Cholet
"I have first-hand experience of setting up sustainable activities and make them work"

Alice in Wonderland
"I wonder why. I just went down a rabbit's hole!"

Not available for comment. Attending important honey business. PM: "His stoical Zen approach will help"

The Lorax
No comment available at the time of appointment. Away on Grickle-grass business. PM: "Demonstrable working knowledge of effects of a finite world"

Mother Clanger
"There is some extensive experience of other rocks in the sky (what do you call them?), that's probably the reason. Now excuse me. Tiny, can you fetch some blue string soup?"

The Gruffalo
"They say I have assertiveness"

the mouse Frederick
"I have done it before myself, writer, composer, poet" *blush*

"Yea, bit miffed about that"

Comment: Congratulations all! The gender split could be better. We caught some ministers on a ministerial outing. 

Happily ever after.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Cycling is safe - a foolish argument

I agree that cycling is a question of human rights and social justice and does not require a majority (on bikes). It should be progressed because it's the right thing to do. It only requires politicians to enact the acts, policies and plans they've put in place FOR cycling.

Get on with it!

Furthermore these "cycling is safe" and "stop Us versus Them" arguments that are swilling round the system (yawn, zzz) are a complete distraction from solving the actual problem.
  • "stop Us versus Them" is a behavioural change argument, which is lovely, cuddly and friendly enough - even so inoffensive that AA President repeats it repeatedly from his High Chair - but ineffective if the public doesn't take to their bikes for fear of traffic
Cueing nicely to this.
  • "cycling is safe" does NOT ring true with the public. Take this as the best example of misguided safety views that I've seen to date, so blinded they cannot even see what's wrong.
Too remote a thought that it could be the speed and volume of powerful MOTORISED traffic and the lack of space for cyclists that's the real problem. And NOT the mum, incidentally doing the right thing for a better future for her child. (Sadly we have plenty of examples of that reaction in Newcastle too. It's truly frightening how warped our society's thinking has become.)

Talking about warped. The Chancellor joins the fray by putting the economy before the planet. Not sure how that's going to work either, George. Logically, philosophically or even physically.

Osborne - state(ment) of denial

Car (Fouling of Land) Act 2012

To address the imbalance and allow the true price of motoring to be outrightly accounted for, I propose a Car (Fouling of Land) bill to be passed through Westminster (may contain nuts) with immediacy.

Newcastle is leading the way it appears...

Car Fouling Act

The cost of motoring does not reflect the damage that we do by allowing "access all areas" by private car. It's like an open day. Every day.

Health, pollution, social exclusion and inequalities are not accounted for in the price. Making motoring massively subsidised by society. And unsustainably so. Just imagine a world where everyone drove around in a car.

It's simply impossible.

Space limitations for one thing.

The Categorical Imperative forbids it.

The age of individualised motor transport build on chillingly cheap oil has peaked. We blindly  ambled over the summit, and it's all downhill from here.

An uncontrolled tumbling is to follow.

Unless we reign in the Rise of the Machines, we'll get truly bugged by the Matrix. Knock, knock, Neo.

Would you answer the door?

How would we explain the enormous egg on our feeble faces to our children? Of ostrich  proportions. The carpet has a whole elephant swept under it. But it's still in the room. Remember the hat of Le Petit Prince? He holds his little head in shame, shaking. As are the Wombles. And the Clangers, the Lorax, the mouse Frederick et al.

Even the Hungry Caterpillar gets a stomach ache by overcompensation, and subsequently restrains itself on Sunday.

This posting is brought to you with a smile, and of course inspired by my recent reading such as The Energy Glut and Traffic Jam. Don't do it! But buy it and READ it. Busy life, don't happen to have the time? Well, why not WATCH this instead...

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Innovation in cycle parking

All this talk about bike parking, makes me yawn. I am sick of it to the eyeballs, as I want a safe route first. I personally don't worry about bike parking. I find railings or a lamp post. Too much of that clutter about in any case.

So what about the quality of bike parking? It's easy, right? Nowt complicated, no big engineering job like building cycle routes would be. Here is a quick cycle parking impression at Newcastle's prestigious Haymarket.

Newcastle Haymarket
Park your bike? Why not at Haymarket, Newcastle?

On close inspection it's the bolts fault. It's the bolt's fault that it is made of that material and that it's too short. Or maybe the acid rain or air quality problems are more severe than previously thought?

Newcastle Haymarket
Corroding bolts

But there is some hope, as innovation can be spotted also.

New-fangled bike stand
Bike parking innovation No.1 - settled utility repair provides opportunity

Paving slabs and cycling
Bike parking innovation No.2 - parallel paving slabs provide opportunity (actually rather dangerous!!)