Showing posts with label transport. Show all posts
Showing posts with label transport. Show all posts

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Bicycle Helmet Compulsion

Whatever internet libertarians think, car use has externalities, and bicycle use doesn't. So it is a reasonable goal of Government to facilitate cycling especially for short journeys. Standing in the way of more people jumping on their bikes for short journeys (anything less than a mile, is usually quicker by bicycle than by car...), is the vexed issue of safety. The superficially obvious sticking plaster solution so beloved of nanny-stater is to ignore the crap road design and poor infrastructure for cyclists; turn a blind-eye to appalling motorist behaviour and attitudes and compel cyclists to wear helmets and high-visibility clothing, as if that would make a difference.

The evidence is clear. In New Zealand and Australia, compelling people to use cycle helmets did decrease cycling related head injuries, by about the same amount they reduced total cycling miles. So given positive externalities of substituting bicycle journeys for car journeys, society is poorer. Individuals are poorer too, since the evidence is clear that (for adults at least) cycling, even without a helmet, saves more people from heart disease than it kills under the wheels of motor-vehicles. Given there is some "safety in numbers" for cyclists, reducing the number of cyclists makes any given journey more dangerous for the cyclists that remain.

Even the motorist is worse off if there are fewer cyclists:  if short car journeys are substituted with Bicycle journeys: There's less congestion, especially around school run time, There's less competition for parking spaces, and given most congestion is in the queue at the lights, journey times fall.

The solution is to make the bicycle safe, and that means separating it from all but the slowest moving traffic, and where volumes of pedestrians and/or cyclists are high enough, cyclists should be separated from pedestrian traffic too. Unfortunately most infrastructure in the UK is tailor-made to create conflict. Most roads are too narrow for cars to pass cyclists safely, so frustrating (apparent - waiting behind a cyclist on an open road almost never delays a journey, you just catch up with the car in front a little later) delays are caused by cyclists on open roads, or the motorist is tempted into a dangerous and uncomfortable close passes. Most "cycle paths" are shared-use, and pedestrians do not often keep to "their" side of the path, leading to frustration and (apparent - cyclists whizzing past pedestrians are no-where near as dangerous as it appears to the pedestrian) danger.

Many idiots think cyclists are a significant danger to pedestrians. "One nearly knocked me over..." This is risible tospottery spouted mainly by the kind of contemptible wanker who thinks UKIP isn't a bunch of contemptible wankers.

The key is to get more people cycling, creating a virtuous circle where cycling infrastructure generates cyclists. This encourages councils to build more, which encourages more cyclists and so on. Everyone gets used to having cyclists about. Everyone is better off. There's less noise, congestion, stress, and people are healthier and better-looking. Forget gastric bands, prescribe cycling on the NHS for being a disgusting land-whale.

What helmet laws do, however, is put out the message that cycling is DANGEROUS. Parents don't let their kids do something that's so dangerous the Government has made protective equipment mandatory. Instead, kids are cocooned in a steel cage, until they get their own at 17. Secondly by criminalising occasional cyclists who just want to pop to the shops and don't have a cycle helmet, they never get on their bikes and so jump on the car. It also discourages short, urban journeys.

The reality is simple. Plastic hats aren't much cop in a serious collision. In any given crash, a Bicycle helmet helps in around 16% of cases (more in children, who have more low-speed, sideways tumbles, for which the design of cycle helmets is optimised. Because of the very specific tests helmets are subjet to, their benefit is greater at low speeds, and especially off road. But there is a flip-side: it is probable that bicycle helmets increase the likelihood of getting into a crash - both the motorist and cyclist engage in risk-compensating behaviour. Cyclists take more risks and go faster, motorists pass closer to helmeted cyclists. Even the fact that the helmets are bulky increases the risk of a collision.

The more upright the bike, the less you need a helmet. The sportier and faster your bike, and the rougher the terrain, the more you need a helmet. Think about what happens in a front wheel skid at speed at the bottom of a hill on a "dutch bike" with a basket, compared to a racing bicycle where the rider's weight is significantly borne by the hands. The latter ends up with the cyclist falling head first. The former lands on their feet.

Most of the assertions and statistics made in this post are peer reviewed, and can be found here.

In summary, There is little benefit to helmet use in urban utility cycling. In a collision with a motor-vehicle, a helmet is next-to-useless. In a crash not involving a motor vehicle helmets sometimes help. If you're likely to have the former, helmets don't matter, and the latter they might. It really should be up to the cyclist.

Helmets may help prevent injury, especially minor injury, in any given crash, but may, in some circumstances make serious crashes with motor vehicles (where helmets are not efficacious) more likely. The main effect of bicycle helmet compulsion, is fewer cyclists, an effect which dwarfs any other safety effect of such legislation. Encourage the use of cycle helmets, at least until the UK cycle infrastructure looks like the Netherlands', by all means, but don't pass a law making it compulsory. To compel helmet use is the single biggest thing a government can do to put back the cause of utility cycling.

If you want a take home you can tweet, here it is: If your bum is higher than your hands, wear a helmet, it might help in some crashes, but helmet law mainly reduces the number of cyclists.

Monday, 18 November 2013

It isn't about cyclist behaviour.

Whenever a cyclist dies, and there have been 5 deaths in London in the past 10 days, there's always a chorus of voices saying "yes, but they run red lights". The word "They" is always a handy combat indicator of sloppy thinking. When you lump everyone who shares a characteristic, in this case people who use bicycles, together, you're rarely expressing much more than brute prejudice.

I've explained in some detail why cyclists generate such ire in some drivers. But it's the term "cyclist" which is problematic. There are many people on bikes. Few would self describe as "cyclists", any more than most people  driving cars would consider themselves "motorists" or even "drivers". They're just people listening to the radio while they get to work.

There are many tribes of cyclist. Just as there are many tribes of car-driver. Just as not everyone in a car is the kind of sub-human who chooses to drive a BMW twat-panzer right up your trumpet, not everyone on a bike is Lucas Brunelle.

Ignorning cycle lanes - The people who died in London seem to be disproportionately female, young, and they're being killed in the bike lane, usually by large, left-turning vehicles. The dead cyclists aren't by and large running red lights, over pedestrians, and into traffic. Those people aren't the ones being killed. I can't repeat that enough. The cyclists being killed are the ones behaving as the pedestrian and motorist think they ought. Cyclists are dying, not because they are taking risks, but because the infrastructure, such as it is, is badly designed and putting people in conflict with vehicles. The "filter lanes" at many junctions for example put cyclists on the left of left-turning lorries with tragic results. Many "cycle lanes" are full of parked cars which require a cyclist to repeatedly enter a stream of traffic. Each manoeuvre is a source of conflict. Many more cycle lanes take a cyclist into the "door-zone".

The experienced "lycra lout" is well out of the way of these hazards by ignoring the "perfectly good cycle lane" and instead can be found "riding down the middle of the road", a position known as "primary" to cyclists but "in my way" to motorists. Cyclists have a right to use the road, do not have to use a cycle lane, especially when it's unsafe to use it. Motorists have no right to pass, nor do cyclists have an obligation to let them. It is unlikely in London, any delay can be attributed to a cyclist as the motorist will only overtake to the back of the next queue. Motorists should understand a cycle lane you can park in or drive into, isn't a cycle lane at all.

Pavement riding - is anti-social. But anyone riding a bicycle on a pavement is almost by definition not a cyclist. They are people scared off the roads by vehicles. It is not something anyone self-describing as a cyclist would do. While I don't cycle on pavements, I understand why some feel they have little choice. Roads are scary, cycle lanes inadequate and councils do cycle infrastructure on the cheap with "shared use" paths bringing cyclists and pedestrains into conflict. Whatever the prevalence of this problem, the risk to pedestrians is so grotesquely over-stated by anti-cycling dick-heads as to be ridiculous. The solution to pavement riding is to make the roads safe-enough so that the people who currently ride on the pavement feels safe enough to get back where (s)he belongs.

Smug and Self-Righteous, thinking they own the road - This is a staple of the journalistic cycle-hate piece. Apparently we're "smug" and "self-righteous" for pointing out that the more confident and aggressive a cyclist is, the safer he is. Being meekly tucked up on the left, in the gutter, where the motorist wants us is by far the most dangerous place. It's not "smug" or "self-righteous" to demand better behaviour from people who pose a mortal threat to me. The fact remains that a motorist annoyed by a cyclist "in the way" has at least seen me, and if his irritation stems from an inability to pass, then he's not attempting a dangerous pass, so I am safer. Were I "out the way" in the gutter, amongst the potholes and broken glass, that motorist might be tempted to squeeze through, with potentially fatal results. Don't blame the cyclist for doing what is necessary to stay alive. Blame the road engineer for building in conflict.

Red Light Jumping - yes. I occasionally run the red light. Generally when the pedestrians have gone, I go before the traffic to get a head start. If there are no pedestrians, I'll judiciously roll over, if it is safe to do so. At large, complex junctions, or ones with multiple traffic phases, I'll wait. Basically, I regard Red lights as advisory. I don't care two hoots about "the law" which comes a distant second to my safety. Where the infrastructure is good, and the design clear, I'll obey the rules. Where the infrastructure has been designed without thought to my safety or comfort, I'll make my own way, thanks. It's not as if motorists don't break the rules. "Amber Gambling" is red-light jumping by another name, and everyone does it. Speed limits are not (to put it mildly) rigorously observed. I'll obey every red light, when every car overtaking me slows down and passes with at least 1-2m. The fact is jumping a red light is nowhere near as dangerous to the cyclist as it appears to the motorist. I'll say again, the red-light jumping lycra-nazi is NOT the cyclist dying on London's roads. Feel like making a comment here? I'm not interested in your anecdotes about "a cyclist you saw...". Any such comments will be deleted.

They wear black/don't use lights - riding without lights after dark is illegal and rightly so. But any requirement on cyclists to wear high-viz clothing must be resisted, for the same reasons as mandatory helmets must be resisted. Demanding cyclists wear unsightly high-viz clothing denormalises cycling and makes cyclists an outgroup. Some motorists don't see a person on a bike, but a "cyclist" and are tempted to "punish" that member of the out-group for the perceived transgression of another with a close pass. People should be able to cycle in normal clothes as they do on much of the continent which will improve motorist behaviour. There is evidence that cyclists (especially female cyclists) on upright bikes, dressed in street clothes and without helmets are treated better by motorists probably for this subliminal reason.

They think they're saving the world - This is just pure projection. I've never met a cyclist for whom environmental concerns outweigh the financial, health and fun (yes, most of us ENJOY cycling to work) elements of cycling. It's undeniable though. A cyclist isn't contributing to road wear, pollution, congestion, noise or taking up much parking space. A town in which there are lots of cyclists, and few cars is happier, healthier, wealthier, and simply a nicer place to be. Houses next to an upgraded bicycle lane rise in value, those next to an upgraded road, fall. Bicycles are undeniably better urban vehicles than cars.

I am sure there are some cyclists killed will have in some way, through recklessness or intoxication contributed to the situation in which they died. But they will be a small minority, and certainly far fewer than incidents where motorist recklessness, aggression or intoxication contributed to the fatality. Most of these people would have been calmly riding to or from work, and simply been crushed by a big vehicle as they meekly took what they thought was supposed to be a "cycle superhighway". The road shouldn't guide people into lethal road positioning. Inexperience shouldn't be lethal. Addressing driver inattention or misbehaviour and poorly designed roads are whole orders of magnitude more important in saving cyclists lives than addressing cyclist misbehaviour, a problem which exist mainly in the minds of angry, stressed motorists.

Yet every death ends up with a debate with motorists about red-light jumping; mere 'whataboutery' to deflect debate away from the elephants in the room - rubbish infrastructure and the attitudes of some drivers. Even more disappointing to hear Boris Johnson give air time to the trope that it's beholden upon cyclists to obey the rules, when in many cases, it's the rules that's killing them. The fact remains the consequences of bad behaviour in 2 tons of steel capable of 100mph is vastly greater than the consequences of bad behaviour on 15lbs of steel at 30mph. There is no moral equivalence between cyclist's bad behaviour and motorists bad behaviour, because the former is largely borne by the perpetrator, whereas the consequences of the latter are not borne by the motorist.

Proper infrastructure, which does involve taking space away from the motor vehicle, will make cyclists safer, and reduce conflict to everyone's benefit. 25% of rush-hour traffic in some areas of London is now bicycles. By numbers alone, cyclists now deserve proper safe infrastructure.

Update: As I wrote this, a further cyclist has been killed in London, bringing the total to 6 in 11 days.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Top Trolling from Rod LIddle in the Spectator.

Off yer bikes! Cyclists are a menace to society — and self-righteous to boot 

You are just pedalling, you plastic-hatted ninnies, not saving the bloody planet 

 Rather than the invisible cyclist, who's American, perhaps fat, out-of-shape, double-chinned Labour party member, Rod Liddle could have started his Spectator rant with an article about why stupid, working class, labour-voting ignorant chavs cannot control themselves around cyclists, written by someone who lives in the UK and who knows what they're talking about. Like this one, by me. Instead he finds a pretty harmless piece of hyperbole from a San-Fransico Blogger to start with.

‘Such anti-cyclist anger reminds me in many ways of the feelings about gypsies that I would hear expressed when I lived in central Europe. In Hungary, people would tell me they disliked gypsies because they were lazy and dishonest. The truth was that gypsies — like, I would suggest, cyclists — were unpopular principally for being different.
So he starts with a cyclist complaining that others treat them (us) as an outgroup. Liddle Then moves on to a classic piece of trolling - nice and controversial treating cyclists as an outgroup:
Like many people, I am worried that too few cyclists are being killed on our roads each year.
Q.E.D. Can you imagine being able to write that in the Spectator about any other group of people? Premiership footballers perhaps.
While the number of cycling journeys undertaken in the UK has risen enormously since 2006, and exponentially since the exciting, hirsute Sir Bradley Wiggins won a bicycle race in France in 2012, the official statistics show only a moderate rise in fatalities.
The first error of fact. Wiggins' win in the Tour De France came long after the number of cyclists started to rise.
This suggests to me that car drivers have become more accommodating in their behaviour towards these people and have lost their radical anti-cycling zeal.
This is a good thing. No-one is bothered by black neighbours any more either. The only people who still hate cyclists are stupid, ignorant, working class, labour-voters mostly in white vans, who hate anyone different. Hate. It's a bad thing, Rod.
They have been bullied out of it, one suspects, by official propaganda that insists that knocking cyclists over, deliberately or otherwise, is somehow ‘antisocial’, and by the effusions of lionised celebrity cyclists like Wiggins, and that also ennobled Scottish man who cycles round and round a track very quickly indeed, like a sort of thin-lipped ginger hamster with outsized calf muscles.
Wiggins and the Scottish man are both militant campaigners against the killing of cyclists, and they are also in favour of more cycle lanes (which cyclists like to see built, but never use)...
To understand why few cyclists use the laughable provisions in the UK, see the excellent Warrington cycle campaign's facility of the month.

...and further speed restrictions on the people who actually pay for the roads (car drivers), but the government is on board too.
Of course car-drivers don't "pay for the roads". Most cyclists also own a car, and indeed are more likely to do so than the average member of the public. Cyclists are drawn from two populations: those too poor to own a car, but these are now outnumbered by affluent people for whom cycling is an enjoyable way to get to work. Of course Rod Liddle, being a member of the Labour party, is not concerned with tiresome research, or so-called "facts".
My concern is that if killing cyclists is no longer allowable in a free country, then it is the thin end of the wedge and it may be that down the line cycling will become an ‘acceptable’ pursuit for normal people. We have seen this happen before with homosexuals, single mothers and some foreigners; one moment we are enjoined not to victimise them, the next they are clamouring for equality. Somewhere, surely, we have to draw the line.
OK he's trolling. Good work.
Well, ok, I jest, in predictably bad taste. And you were probably aware that I was joking, unless you are a committed cyclist who is determined to be outraged. By ‘committed’ I do not mean that you are the recipient of state protection in a secure asylum....
Thanks for admitting you're joking. But what... there's more to this article?
...but rather that you are one of those people with an expensive bicycle, a lot of Lycra, a pompous little pointy plastic hat, hilarious goggles, a fatuous water bottle and the fervent conviction that you are a Victim as a consequence of your Vulnerability. And that in being a Victim as a consequence of being Vulnerable you are somehow empowered to take it out on everybody else you see on the public highways, especially car drivers and pedestrians.
Oh, so having said you're joking, you then start with the SERIOUS BIT? About how we're all so insufferable for not wanting to get crushed by a fucking truck? Or for expecting drivers to respect our safety? Is that what you're saying Rod?
There is nothing quite like considering yourself a Victim to bolster the self-esteem, nothing like resentment to make the hours go by a little quicker. Not all cyclists fall into this category of course, far from it. But plenty do. Dare to disparage the cycling fraternity and all hell will break loose; when you are a certified Victim all sense of proportion — and humour — departs.
Well forgive me for not wanting to be crushed by a truck.
I discovered this when I mentioned in a blog recently that I was not sure why I had to pay, through my taxes, for my friend to have a new bicycle — there’s a government scheme on offer which effectively gives you a bike on tick, interest-free.
No there isn't, Rod. There's a scheme which lets some people (but not soldiers or the self-employed) to buy a bicycle out of pre-tax income via their employers. It saves at most £400.
Ooh, the fury. But it was nothing compared to the opprobrium heaped upon the head of my colleague Matthew Parris who jokingly suggested that life in his village would be improved by piano wire strung across the roads to decapitate the hugely annoying cyclists.
But this has actually happened. And so some of us don't think it funny.
Cyclists — or some of them, a lot of them — have become, these last few years, full of themselves, puffed-up with righteous anger. Part of this has been encouraged by the success of Wiggins and the Scottish hamster-man. But part of it too is because these people don’t think they’re simply pedalling from High Holborn to Paddington; they think they’re saving the bloody planet.
This is a charge often levelled, but it's a straw man. Most people cycling from High Holborn to Paddington (a route containing some of the best infrastructure in London, incidentally) will do so because it's cheap, healthy, fun, sociable and pleasant way to travel. Few cyclists think they're "saving the planet". And if some do, so what?
And they think that the rest of us are destroying it. As the anonymous blogger put it in that quote at the top of the page, they think that they are different.
No we don't think we're different, the blogger you quote doesn't think cyclists are different. But you clearly think we are different, don't you Rod? You're projecting your own prejudices.
No — you’re not. You just can’t afford a car or are deluded about the impact cycling a few miles makes to the environment. And you can’t be bothered to walk.
Interesting how Labour members think they're allowed to sneer at the poor. Of course even Jeremy Clarkson admits a city without cars littering the place is simply a nicer place to be. Cars do ruin the environment. It's not just about Carbon. It's why we pedestrianise streets. Because cars scare people away.
Cyclists are another one of those things about which the government and establishment are of one mind and the general public another. There is absolutely no doubt that the behaviour of some cyclists, the militant lot, enrages both pedestrians and car users — i.e. the vast majority of the British public.
The militant cyclist is unlikely to be the same person as the pavement cyclist, who's much more likely to be from the tribe openly sneered at by Liddle - too poor to own a car.
I had always thought, when I saw two cyclists riding abreast on a narrowish road, holding up the traffic, that they were unaware of the annoyance they were causing. That maybe they didn’t know there was a car behind, and another 50 cars behind that car.
If it's not safe to pass two cyclists, it's not safe to pass one cyclist. There's no extra delay.
Oh, but they do, they do. Check out the cycling websites and you will learn that they ride two abreast precisely to stop cars overtaking them, because on narrow roads they are convinced that car drivers will cut in too close to them as they pass.
Convinced, because IT HAPPENS.
So they block the entire road and feel good about it, because they are Victims. The law states that they are allowed to ride two abreast
...on any road, not just...
...on a big, wide, straight road, no bends and curves, where there is plenty of opportunity and width for cars to pass by in comfort; but a hefty majority of the posts I saw on several websites revealed very different strategies. Their view is that unless a car has room to pass two cyclists, it shouldn’t be trying to pass one. And with that they wrap themselves in self-righteousness as the queues of traffic tail back further and further.
There is no right for you to get past at will, and no obligation on cyclists to "get out of the way". That you, a fat, slovenly, Labour voter is so filled with a massive entitlement complex that you think you have a right to get past, just shows how fat, stupid and selfish you are. Your 30 second delay (and it really is just that) is more important to you, than another human being's safety. Which is just fucking grotesque when you think about it.
Likewise, riding on the pavements and thus maiming pensioners. The law is clear about this, for a change. They should never do it.
And if you go to "cycling websites" you'll find the "militant cyclists" pretty universal in their condemnation of pavement cyclist, but never let the facts get in the way of a good rant, Rod.
But they do it because they feel safer there, of course.
Most pavement cyclists are poor people trying to get about. They feel threatened on the road. Because you think you have a right to get past.
Listen, you plastic-hatted ninny: if you don’t have the balls to cycle in the road, then ditch the bike.
Most pavement cyclist don't wear helmets. Unless they're small children. Who ARE allowed to cycle on the pavement. Facts, Rod. They're out there if you look....
It is still the case that, mile for mile, pedestrians are far more ‘vulnerable’ than cyclists. Mile for mile, more pedestrians are killed. They — we — are the real victims, even if we do not whine about it continuously.
Yes, Rod, they're killed by motorists, not cyclists.
And the number of pedestrians maimed by cyclists is also rising by the year, to the extent that legislation has been proposed to ensure that cyclists respect the laws of the land the same as everyone else.
The grotesque exaggeration of the number of pedestrians hurt by cyclists is a tiresome trope of this sort of piece. How many people are hurt by cars, and how many by cyclists, Rod?...Rod?
And of course, there are other irritations and dangers. I get infuriated by the cyclists tearing past me on the rural footpath where I live, scattering dogs and kids like confetti, believing that because they are allowed on the path, they are under no obligation to consider anyone else who might be using it.
This happens occasionally. But equally frequently, the 'shared use' path has pedestrians wandering about on the bit set aside for cyclists. Who's to blame? The council for engineering conflict.
I am thinking of training my dog to attack cyclists who behave like this, catch up with them on the uphill stretch and chew their tyres off. I think I will use, as a signal to the animal to launch its attack, the word ‘Hoy!’
Funny, using the name of the cyclist whom you pretend to not remember. Well done, you fat, Labour-voting twat.
And of course there is the running of red lights, a continual complaint from car users, and the weaving in and out of traffic with an expression of rectitude on their faces.
It had to come. The "red-light" crap. Car drivers too regularly run red lights. At least as frequently as cyclists. It's just for reasons that are obvious, only one motorist will see a motorist do so, whereas dozens of motorists will see a cyclist run a light. It happens. But cyclists running the occasional red is simply not a big problem. Cars doing so is.
And while it is true that by far the greatest number of pedestrian injuries and deaths are caused by car drivers...
...Nice of you to admit it... a pedestrian you always have the sneaking suspicion that, in general, car drivers will try their best to avoid hitting you, while cyclists not only don’t care but will happily blame you for any injury which occurs.
"Sneaking suspicion" of nothing except Rod Liddle's brute prejudice. A straw man, ideas put into the heads of cyclists (THEM!) whom he has not bothered to consult.
It is the last point which is the crucial one. It is about attitude.
Yes it is, Rod. If you see a cyclist and think, "I'll slow down, pass when it's safe, I'll probably not be delayed at all", then you won't feel the hate. Calm down, Rod. You're fat and out-of-shape. Your heart might not take the stress.
For a long time car drivers have had it drummed into them that what they are doing is antisocial and undesirable and have been subjected to ever greater strictures about what they can and can’t do in their cars, how fast they should travel and why they should leave the car in the garage to ease congestion and save the planet.
Well, Rod, it's not cyclists causing congestion is it? And you think people should be allowed to go as fast as they like, or abandon their vehicles wherever they choose? These "strictures" aren't for the cyclists' benefit, but for pedestrians. And motorists.
As a consequence, they have become mindful and cowed. By contrast the cyclists have been told that they are doing a Good Thing, that it would be better if we all cycled (it wouldn’t — it would be better if we all walked) and so believe they can do no wrong.
Simply not true. This is a mere projection of Rod's own feelings of impotence when stuck in traffic. Traffic of course being created by other fat people like him in cars.
They have the moral high ground, which includes the pavement, since you asked.
I've dealt with the Pavement issue.
I think we need a bit of legislation to sort them out, to penalise adult cyclists who ride on pavements, to book them for dangerous driving when they’re cutting lights or riding two abreast on unsuitable roads. And either to make it compulsory for cyclists to use cycle lanes or for local authorities to stop providing them (and turn the existing ones back into normal roads). Then the cyclists will feel an even greater sense of victimhood, and thus be happier.
Or maybe, just maybe, proper, segregated infrastructure will encourage those people who want to cycle to do so without enraging fat, idle, Labour-voting inadequates as the fat about in their fat-mobiles, and indeed making their lipid lives a little easier. More, better cycle lanes will engineer out the conflict. But that would involve giving "THEM" (a word which along with "They") appears 71 times in Rod Liddle's article) what they want, and that would not appease Rod "fat labour" Liddle's sense of victim-hood which flows through this article. The word "They" usually indicates a lack of thought, a generalisation about another group, and such generalisations rarely stand up to scrutiny.

This is an embarrassment to the Spectator, riven with ignorance of the subject and full of internal contradictions.

Did I mention Rod Liddle is a fat member of the Labour Party?

Update: Before you comment, be sure to check your "thoughts" against this Cyclist-hate Bingo card. I want to collect the lot:

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Rail is (nearly) Obsolete

Railways are a 19th Century solution to 21st century problems. And the Government's planning to invest £50bn in them (in reality probably £80-150bn) on a new, shiny High Speed 2 line from London to Birmingham.

That's £1,500-£4,000 for each taxpayer that could be spent upgrading the capacity (and so lowering fares) on the existing network. But no. Economic theory, when filtered through the daily moron idiot-o-graph, says "capital spending boosts the economy" and this is some capital spending, so the argument goes, let's do it. Plus politicians get to look (or say they're being) "bold" or "forward-looking". They're being nothing of the sort.

The economic case for HS2 is based on business travel. And it assumes the busy executive would 1) not work on the train, and 2) would be more likely to travel from London to Birmingham for a meeting. Of course what actually happens is the busy executive DOES work on the train, so high-speed mobile internet means the premiums to high speed travel drop markedly. Furthermore, he's more likely to travel from Birmingham to London for a meeting. The High speed lines from Lyons to Paris and from Osaka to Tokyo increased the centre's economic activity at the expense of the provinces, rather than providing the boost to regional economies as promised, and they reduced the need for local management jobs.

It's not just "business executives" who mostly have meetings less frequently than politicians imagine, and who will travel the other way to that anticipated. Night out at the Opera? - HS2 puts London's Royal Opera House in range, rather than Birmingham's (excellent, it's where I once saw The Marriage of Figaro, but less glamorous) Hippodrome. Will anyone be travelling from London on HS2 to go to the Theatre in Birmingham?

Of course HS2's a grotesquely expensive white elephant designed around the needs of a vanishingly small population: a tiny number of businesses who need to travel from London to Birmingham regularly, and Birmingham's 29 (28 next time...) MPs. Better to invest in the light rail, commuter services in conurbations like Birmingham where it might do some good. What's the point of getting to Birmingham from London, if you need a car to do so from

The main reason it's a white elephant: Self-drive cars which are on the horizon. The technology proven here & now, and will be available, if Google is to be believed, by 2018. This is what will revolutionise transport, not a single High speed line on a single track, at some point 25 years hence.

Think about it. Driving will no longer be dead time, you'll work in your car just as you work on the train. If you don't work, you'll read a book, watch a movie or stare blankly out of the window thinking about sex. Instead of sitting for 95% of the time, depreciating in car-parks or on the drive, cars can run errands while you're doing something else. Deliveries can happen at our convenience, not that of a delivery drivers tachymeter. All that space used to store depreciating metal will be used for something more productive. Vehicles, freed from human reaction time, will be free to cruise on motorways close together, saving fuel, increasing capacity. Delays will be greatly reduced. Junctions will not need traffic lights. Roads will not need signs, beautifying the built environment. Freed from the need to store cars, we can choose, central urban, or suburban/rural space. The effect on house-prices will be vast.

Everyone will have a door-to-door taxi, as and when they need it. Why go to the train station? Why subsidise trains? Don't spend £80bn (or whatever) on HS2. Spend it on something else. Or don't spend it at all.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

So the Liberal Democrats want to ban cars...

...which emit CO2, by 2040. Details can be found in this document. (PDF)

The main problem I have with this document is that it makes no mention of the biggest change to transport technology on the horizon, the driverless car. Instead, the Lib-Dems are wibbling about High-Speed Rail which will be almost completely obsolete by 2050 as everyone will be snoozing in their own autonomous vehicles. Such vehicles will run door-to-door on a vastly greater network of tracks (let's call them "roads" shall we?) than any train network will ever be able to compete with.

It also seeks to pick the winner from the competing technologies, suggesting battery cars are the future when they probably aren't.

Since the 1980s there has been a near perfect experiment in car design. The Americans used rules to define what emissions are acceptable, and relied on the motor-manufacturers to deliver more efficient cars. In Europe, a tax was applied to fuel, and pressure from consumers demanded more efficient cars. The Americans relied on state dirigisme, the Europeans relied on the market.

And as you can see, the State can drive the low-hanging fruit, but it takes a market solution (like a tax on fuel) to drive the technological changes which allow some cars to do 80-90 miles per gallon. Furthermore, rules can be gamed, which is why not included in the graph above are the grotesque pickup trucks which are popular in the USA as they are not included in the emissions regime.

The Liberal Democrats appear to want to use the bad American approach to vehicular emissions, and not the winning European one.

This document is being presented in the news as "silly lib-dems with unworkable proposals". Actually it's far from blue-sky thinking and merely a re-hash of old dogmas. It's arguable the oil price may fall. The lib-dems assume it will rise. VED is a VERY blunt tool to drive emissions compared to fuel duty. Road Pricing is likely to be insanely unpopular, and achieve little more than fuel duty does currently, and drive people off trunk-roads and onto smaller, more dangerous roads, increasing deaths and congestion. 

All the approaches in this turgid little document have been tried elsewhere, and been shown to be either useless at best, or counter productive at worst. The Weird Beards at Conference will love it.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

KG51 FYH Driver Reported to the Police.

This incident is an ongoing issue with the Police.

The sheer uselessness of the police never ceases to amaze. First they couldn't find an incident I reported just 3 days ago, because they'd "just yesterday changed the process by which they organise incidents" and couldn't find anything on their system.

Second the "process and collisions department", staffed by useless civilian pond-life have made it absolutely clear that "dangerous/careless driving" requires one to be actually hit before they will take action (but only when the complainant is a cyclist...) and that high-definition video doesn't constitute "evidence". I asked specifically that this incident not be referred to them, because I have absolutely no faith in their ability or desire to secure prosecutions in incidents which don't result in a collision.

The call handler simply ignored my requests.

And they wonder why people have no faith in them any more.

Update. Two traffic cops came round to discuss this. They were clear. If THEY had seen this incident, it would be clearly a case of careless driving and there would be a prosecution. Had the cyclist been a police officer, there would have been a prosecution. However current policies mean that helmet camera evidence isn't "evidence" according to Hertfordshire police's process and collisions department, nor can members of the public generate evidence. Which is ridiculous.

Both officers thought this was an appalling piece of driving, but like the white van thug who beat up a cyclist, their hands are tied by process. Thanks to the Government, now there's someone who can sort this out: the local Police and Crime Commissioner. I will also be writing to my MP and the Chief Constable.

Ultimately Roadsafe or something like it needs to be rolled out nationally. There needs to be a formal way of reporting unsafe driving. This will benefit everyone. Because the kind of ignorant turd who drives that fast and close to a cyclist is almost certainly the kind of ignorant turd who drives six-inches from your bumper on the motorway or thinks speeding in build-up areas is acceptable. He needs a stern word from dibble BEFORE he kills someone.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Speeding and the Abuse of Statistics

Yesterday, I attended a speed awareness course. I was caught at 35 in a 30 zone (in my defence I was decelerating  and it was a genuine mistake). I was given the option of a £95 course instead of £60 and 3 points.

During the course, the instructor, a knowledgeable but catastrophically monotone former traffic cop asserted that the re offending rate for the speed course is better than that of the points and a fine. My inner stat geek started screaming: SELF-SELECTING SAMPLE. People offered the course have

  1. not offended in the three years previously
  2. been caught a small amount over the speed-limit
  3. be prepared to spend extra to avoid points therefore probably wealthier
  4. be willing to spend half a day taking the course.
All of these things suggest speed awareness courses are being given to people who already respect the rules of the road, and if the conversations with my fellow "delegates" (ffs) was representative, all were first-time offenders who reckoned their speeding was an error of judgement, not habitual. There were no "boy-racers", and the only person undermining the instructor was me, because I am a contrary bastard and I don't like the police and he didn't appear to know the law surrounding cyclists very well.

Above all, I feel genuine stress when I see people abusing statistics. This seems only obvious to me. Is it?

Abuse of stats is a problem: People working in a business where success is measured by stats: speed-camera partnerships and associated road-safety wallahs are a good example, will use statistics to "prove" whatever they do is working. Without the cold, hard measure of cash, the temptation to abuse stats is enormous. People look for information confirming their biases. In this case that the course an instructor delivers, works as intended suits the interests of the people who work for AA Drivetech. The record of speed cameras in saving lives almost dissapears for example when you consider reversion to the mean. Thus we have a deeply unpopular policy sold on the basis of safety, yet with the suspicion that it's about money.

As it happens, the I found the course is useful, and might even be useful to people who are more habitual speeders. I would not mind the course being COMPULSORY with a fine for more serious examples of speeding and repeat offending. Certainly I took away a few tips for safer driving from a bloke who knows what he's talking about. Commentary driving as a means to combat boredom and fatigue for example. But I think the focus on speed and speed alone means the dick-head tail-gater who can only be caught by rear-facing cameras in non-police cars, or the dick-head (probably the same) who passes fast and close to cyclists, or the person overtaking round a blind bend, are NOT caught by speed-cameras. The police need to stop thinking speed cameras are all that matters. And they need to accept evidence from people who aren't warranted officers.

This dick-head wasn't speeding. But he WAS driving like a cock. And people like that only get caught when they hit someone. Road deaths have fallen over the years. Mainly because children are no longer allowed anywhere near roads until they're in their mid-teens. Cyclists have all but disappeared and the car has become an armoured box so few die when they crash any more. 

Now cyclists are returning to the roads, we need to realise that driver attitude - the aggression of the white-van tailgater the Audi driver who simply must get in front at all costs, is what needs to be tackled if the long-term decline in fatalities is to continue. We must also build infrastructure which allows people to take a vehicle which isn't a car in safety. Otherwise we've just chased the pedestrian and cyclist off the roads, and congratulated ourselves for increasing safety, and a nation of fat, sedentary, mollycoddled drivers. The driver has assumed he owned the road for too long. The roads must be taken from the driver and given back to people, whatever means of transport - shoe, bike, motorbike, horse or car, they choose for their journey.

My fellow delegates may have lacked the aggression of the true driving twat (those people aren't given the option of the course), but they did all share the assumption that the car is vital, and there is no other option. That too needs to change. Let's start building towns and cities around people, not cars. Finally we need to deal with driver behaviour that isn't simply speed. Unfortunately, both of those seem to require more work and flexibility than the police or local authorities possess.

Monday, 28 January 2013

High Speed 2

There are plenty of reasons why High Speed 1 made sense: The Channel Tunnel should be linked to London by an equivalent high-speed line if the rail is to compete with City-Paris-Orly air route. I of course remain devastated that the trains from Paris no longer arrive at Waterloo station, which used to be a calculated and wonderful middle-finger to any Frenchman visiting London. However the new St Pancras international station is quite magnificent and streets ahead of le Gare du Nord, and it's an easy change for me, as my London trains get into Kings Cross. This puts Paris closer for me than Leeds, Manchester, Edinburgh or even Birmingham. This sounds like an argument for HS2. It isn't

The reason HS2 is going to be given the go-ahead are not the same reasons why it might be a good idea.

HS2 aims to link the North of England with high-speed rail links, putting Birmingham 2 hours, not 3 from London. The argument goes that this will save business time and money, and help the regeneration of Northern shitholes. This is utter bollocks. The evidence from Lyon and Osaka is that provincial cities have the life sucked out of them by fast rail links to the capital, as it reduces the importance of regional offices of national companies. It's easier to do business in Birmingham with a London base. And unfortunately for Birmingham, the greater rewards of London mean that as it's easier to do business in London, at the Margin, jobs and capital will be further sucked from the provinces to the capital as a result of high speed rail.

It will end up moving the commuter belt farther out along the rail corridor, to the detriment of the local job and economy. So HS2 will suck jobs and capital out of Birmingham leaving empty industrial parks and office blocks surrounded by sterile commuter "communities".

HS2 will wreak this devastation at a cost vastly greater than increasing the capacity or extending the regular trains. Of course ministers and mandarins know this. So why is it going ahead?

  1. Mandarins and Ministers are overconfident in their analysis (guesswork) and think they know better than experience of other countries.
  2. Mandarins and Ministers are the kind of people who benefit from a shiny new train to and from London, as are the 'business leaders' who are also said to be in favour. They benefit, the cities don't.
  3. Ministers need to do "something" about the economy and capital spending is seen as something. HS2 is therefore 'something', so it will get done.
  4. High speed rail is shiny and high-tech, and Ministers like to be photgraphed next to shiny modern and expensive bits of engineering.
These are not good reasons to spend billions of taxpayer's money, especially when it makes the poor bits of the country poorer and the rich richer. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Train Fares

The news this morning was once again all about train-fare rises. The 10th year, apparently of above-inflation rises. So I'm reposting, for the benefit of the BBC, what I wrote when they were announced in August.

I'll declare an interest: I use the rail network, but not to commute. There has been an astonishing amount of bollocks being spoken about train-fare rises. Especially commuters, whose season tickets are rising by hundreds of pounds. "The trains are crowded" they complain. Yes, they are, and cutting rail fares will help that, how exactly? "It's too expensive" Well move house, or change jobs. Or travel off-peak. This crowding is because more people try to use the network than is optimal at peak hours.
The effects are not just stress and misery on the journey. This underpriced peak-hour rail drives up house-prices along the rail corridors, and sucks life and employment out of the towns. It also makes people unhappy. People make bad decisions about what makes them happy. They overvalue big houses, and undervalue time not spent on an hour-long commute into town. They overvalue money, and undervalue social contact and family time. And they're aided and abetted in this happiness-destroying cultural artefact by heavily subsidised commuting.

 If the crippling over-dependence of the country on London is to be addressed, the market must be allowed to do its work on rail fairs. Shifting economic activity out of London is to be desired. Britain does not benefit from shifting millions into town and out again every day, when with a bit of thought, much of this economic activity could happen in Reading, or Northampton or Brighton or Hull. Making it easy to live in Cambride and work in London doesn't help Cambridge or its economy.

 You may FEEL you have no choice but to buy the season-ticket, and in the short-run you're probably right. But in the longer term, every person deciding the commute isn't worth it, and seeking a job locally helps the local economy. Every person moving nearer their place of work reduces stress at peak hours on the transport system. In the long run, people respond to economic incentives. It shouldn't be the government's role to insulate people from the reality of their choices.

So, you want to get into central London by 9am? Why not do what I did when I lived in London, and live in a grotty part of town instead, within cycling distance? OH! You want a big house out of London? So you want ME to subsidise your big house by keeping your rail-fare down? Is that fair? It's not like you're without choices: there are no solutions in economics, only trade-offs. Compromise on your house, or compromise on your job. Or accept the real cost of rail-fares. You want a seat, guaranteed? Buy a first-class ticket. Overcrowding in cattle-class in the carriages is merely evidence that the price is wrong.

If there was a free market, rather than fares being regulated, peak hour journeys would certainly be more expensive, and off-peak would probably be cheaper. Lower house-prices in the commuter-belt would offset this somewhat. So renegotiate your hours. Capacity-smoothing fares make sense. Ultimately the problem is one of mis-priced resources, especially space on the world's second busiest rail network. Like the Roads, the Rail Network is overused at peak times and underused off peak. Prices reflecting this are a step in the right direction.

Sorry, rail commuters, your fares are not going down any time soon. I don't mind paying for a rail ticket when I buy a ticket. I do mind paying for rail tickets I'm not using, subsidising people to drive up the price of a house I want where I live, when I fill in my tax-return. The fare rises are necessary, and will have positive economic effects, if you let them. It's not all bad news. 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Sleeping in The Car.

The RAC with Fair Fuel Tax have released a report this morning about the effect of high fuel taxes in the UK. Basically, taxes hurt, because they take money which could be used for other things. People have to make choices over how to spend their time and money. This is presented as a shattering observation. Bizarrely, this was most fully reported in the Canberra times.

Motorists in the UK are so desperate to avoid paying for fuel, they have resorted to sleeping in their cars, a report has found. The study, conducted by automotive services company RAC in conjunction with fuel price lobby group FairFuelUK, found that one in 16 (or 6 per cent) regular commuters in the UK had resorted to spending a night in their car to save money on fuel costs.
6 per cent you say? Well, if that's slept in their car ever, you can include me... As it is, I've no sympathy for people with 60-mile commutes. If you have to drive that far to work every day, move, or get another job, you stupid, masochistic dick-head. There is nothing short of bereavement or divorce quite as stress-inducing and misery-making as a long-commute. This has long been known.
Further to that, one in 32 motorists (3 per cent) had admitted to camping close to work to avoid the drive home.
That's the same number of people who cycle to work, and we get absolutely no help from the Government, so... fuck 'em.
The report also found that 75 per cent of the 9000 motorists surveyed had used their car less in the past year because of rising fuel costs. 
Yes, that's the point of high fuel taxes, demand slopes downward. This isn't an earth-shattering observation. So people drive less on our congested roads. Without high fuel taxes, no-one would get anywhere. This is a good thing.
The survey also found that in the UK there are 2.9 million “ghost cars” that are used less than once a week.
They say that like it's a bad thing. If you want to have a multi-thousand pound piece of depreciating metal you use once a week, that's up to you. How many of these are hobbyists cars, classics or sports cars for use at the weekend? How many of those are owned by people who walk, cycle or use public transport to get to work, yet want to see their old mum at the weekend? This stat tells us nothing.
Quentin Willson, national spokesman for FairFuelUK, said the findings showed that the UK government needed to tackle the cost of fuel by lowering fuel duty. “As a society we've never seen this sort of financial pressure put on personal mobility,” Willson said. 
It shows no such thing. Why should "society" subsidise a habit as sub-optimal as daily car use? The school run clogs roads, yet because of cars, it's too dangerous to get kids to school any other way. Kids remain molly-coddled for longer being driven to work by anxious parents. Parents remain taxi-services until the 17th birthday, and kids don't have the independence that Dutch children do of getting to the school or friends themselves.

Cars make us fat, miserable. Cars lead to soulless communities without local amenities. Cars kill the local pub. There is almost no social problem to which widespread sole-use car infrastructure has not contributed.  Motorists should pay their way.
The fuel duty raised by the government amounted to £26.8 billion ($41b) in the past financial year, down on the £27.2 raised in 2010/11. The drop, said RAC technical director David Bizley, showed just how much less people were willing to spend on fuel. 
Good. Motorists ARE paying their way. And in doing so, people are finding other ways to get about or are taking fewer journeys. This is a good thing. People deciding to walk to the local shop rather than drive to Tesco's makes the local environment better.
"People are also telling us that they are facing tough choices about their careers with some now weighing up whether it is actually affordable to commute to work,” Bizley said. 
That's economics: the study of the use of scarce resources, like road-space at 8-30 am. I've always moved to be close to work, because commuting long distances is for fucking idiots.
“And we had a significant number of pensioners telling us that with a fixed income there was nothing they can do but simply cut out social and non-essential trips altogether and even stop doing voluntary work.”
Of course, without the universal, sole-use car-infrastructure, we'd know our neighbors  local amenities would be within walking distance, and the loss of the ability to drive (which happens to all pensioners as they age) wouldn't be the isolating disaster it is now. All this last paragraph shows is how dependent we are as a society on the car. This is something high fuel taxes are meant to address.

If Quentin Wilson gets his way, journey times will increase, daily gridlock will be inevitable, and he'll be banging on about the need to build more roads. More roads, more demand and greater congestion at the choke-points (mainly near destinations) lead to greater congestion.

No. We've passed 'peak car'. Society is moving on from the 70-year experiment of organising itself around a single means of transport. Young people are driving less. Company cars are being issued less. Motoring enthusiasts will wail and scream. A few chavs will continue to define themselves by the car they can afford. The rest of us will see the private motor car for what it is: a useful, but increasingly anachronistic tool for getting about, one of many, each one appropriate for different journeys.

This sort of report is the last great wail of a still-healthy industry which knows it's nearly finished. The great car economy is coming to an end. My guess is the collapse is nigh, and will be occasioned by driverless cars. Once cars drive themselves, I suspect the incentive to own them will disappear. Fleets of autonomous taxis will circulate, to be summoned by mobile phone in a couple of minutes. You could specify the nearest, or if you needed a large vehicle to cope with objects and pay appropriately. As cars are currently in use less than 10% of the time, this would represent a far more efficient use of resources. Algorithms could ensure maximum occupancy, reducing bills for those willing to share. Vehicles, freed from the needs of human reaction time, could communicate allowing bumper-to-bumper travel on motorways, increasing capacity and reducing fuel use. Junctions will be safer, as the risk of motorists not seeing each other during saccades is eliminated. Cars, communicating with each other would be able to move into smaller gaps in the traffic, increasing capacity. Stop-start would be eliminated.

Country pubs will face a surge in business as driverless cars (with wipe-clean seats, probably) will pour you home, full of beer with no need to organize a dedicated driver.

It's not just people: Reliable point to point courier services could be set up, facilitating a further refinement of just-in-time production. Deliveries, freed from the needs of people's working capacity and the tachymetre could be arranged around the clock, at your convenience. And all this cheaper than the depreciation and fuel we waste now. This extra efficiency of use in transport infrastructure is where the next wave of economic growth is going to come from.

Soon we'll be able to sleep in our cars while they're moving. And you thought I was going to rant about bicycles, didn't you?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Cyclists' Dark Clothing and No Lights.

In my last post, I thought I had dealt with all the boring Tropes about cycling. But no. Apparently not content with looking for red-lights to run and achieving the miraculous feat of being simultaneously "in the middle of the road" and "on the pavement" we also all delight in wearing dark clothing and never have lights.

On this I have some sympathy with the motorist. I drive, and I am hyper aware of cyclists. However when I see one in dark clothing, at dusk (it's worse at dusk and dawn than in the dead of night) without lights, I think it's barely sporting to not give the motorist a chance to see you. Most cyclists, however want to survive their commute to work, and so deck themselves in blinking lights, high viz & reflective rucksack covers, Tabards, Sam-Brownes, Rucksack and Helmet covers, stickers, projecting lasers and so forth.

There is a whole sub-industry of bicycle accessories which are designed to make sure you're seen. A set of effective lights can cost less than a tenner. You need to spend more if you want to see where you're going without street lights, but a tenner will get you seen by an approaching motorist.

For my part, my bag is reflective and apparently lights up like a Christmas tree in the headlights. I always have a seatpost blinker, one further on my bag, and one attached to my helmet. I pump out 300 lumens front.  I never go out without my lights. Of course, it is one of the few things the police can stop a cyclist for. And in my experience, they do, quite reasonably stop cyclists without lights.

Let's also deal with cyclists being "in the way". I was told to "get out the way" this morning. See the video below.

This also deals with the "red light jump", which is a simple non-issue. I agree, blowing red lights at speed is dangerous. Rolling through them, after the pedestrians have gone just gets you out of the way of the traffic behind, to everyone's benefit. Traffic lights are more about not allowing cars to block junctions, than they are about safety, and bicycles don't block junctions.

Monday, 3 December 2012

"I was almost knocked down!" and Other Journalistic Tropes About Cycling

There are a number of Journalistic tropes trotted out when cyclists are mentioned in the press. There's the idiotic "They should pay road tax", when, of course, road-tax was abolished in 1937, and cyclists are more likely to own a car than the general population. Furthermore many cars are 0%-rated for VED, smart-cars, or many old vehicles for example. These don't pay "road-tax" either. Are these less entitled to the road than a Range-Rover.

There is the stupid idea that cyclists on the road should be compulsorily insured. Of course in an accident, the cost of wiping blood off a car is negligible.  And in any case, cyclists are to blame for serious accidents in around only 7% of cases (where someone, almost exclusively the cyclist himself) is killed or seriously injured. The chances of a cyclist killing or seriously injuring a motorist, or damaging their vehicle, are so low that it really isn't worth the bother. Dragging a motorist out of its vehicle and beating it to death with your bare hands is covered by existing statute. Alas. Most regular cyclists are insured, for their own protection. The public liability cover is given away nearly free, as it is so rarely needed.

Licensing cyclists so they can be caught breaking the law is another silly idea given a regular airing by fuckwits in the press. This has never worked, anywhere, ever. Everywhere where it has been tried, it has been abandoned as a costly and intrusive failure. Red-light jumping by cyclists get wankers hot under the collar because they think as the mondeo-man is held up, everyone else should be too. If you find yourself whinging about red-light jumping cyclists, please repeat this phrase: "bicycles are not cars and cannot block junctions". Red lights are to keep the traffic moving through junctions, and are not about safety.

Cyclists should be made to wear helmets? All that does is reduce the number of cyclists. Of course some would hail that as a victory, but given one of the tightest correlations between a city's "livability" and quality of life is its bicycle modal share, this is idiotic. No-one wears a helmet for utility cycling in the Netherlands, because no-one needs to. Helmets and other individual protective equipment such as High-viz clothing is a sticking-plaster on the gunshot wound of unbelievably hostile roads.

Removing free on-street parking is always criticised by local businesses, especially if a cycle lane is put in its place, because people routinely over-estimate the importance of driving on custom, often by orders of magnitiude. Even now, cycling and walking play a much greater part in the short shopping trips to town than most people realise. Pedestrianising streets and protected bike lanes increase footfall, in New York's case by up to 25%. Walkers and cyclists take up less space, stay longer, visit more shops more often.

Finally, there's the "I was almost knocked over". I have never met anyone who was actually knocked over by a cyclist, and in two decades of regular, urban cycling, I have never hit a pedestrian, nor seen one get hit by a cyclist. My guess is that "I was almost knocked over" actually means, "something fast-moving in my peripheral vision startled me, and I cannot tell the difference between an involuntary endocrine reaction and danger" As the number of cyclists increase, maybe pedestrians will start to look out for us, as they do currently, and without complaint, for the cars which do, far far more regularly ACTUALLY hit pedestrians. And of course the consequences of hitting a pedestrian on a bicycle are usually vastly less severe than doing so in a car. However special ire is reserved for cyclists.

If journalists are to be believed, all cyclists run red lights, get simultaneously in the way of motor vehicles, and ride on the pavement. They are all dangerous scofflaws while the saintly motorists obey the rules of the road. If a motorist makes a risky pass on a blind corner, this is justifiable in the face of provocation from "lycra louts" who deliberately get in the way. Did we mention that all motorists obey the rules of the road, well of course we meant apart from those silly rules about maximum speed and parking of course, which are part of the "war on the motorist". And if a cyclist ends up crushed by a motor vehicle driven by a near-blind illiterate who hasn't slept for 20 hours, then he's only got himself to blame for not wearing high-viz and a helmet and riding "in the way" not in the gutter where he belongs.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Some thoughts on Mountain Bikes

I am currently riding My brother's Hard-tail, carbon fibre mountain bike to work, because driving to work was doing my head in. This is about as good as a trail-riding bike gets, and his pride and joy. However, it's my belief that mountain bikes are the work of the devil, and put the cause of utility cycling back a two decades.

First, big, knobbly tyres are bloody hard work on roads. On a road-bike, my commute took 18 minutes. On a mountain bike, this morning it took 27 minutes. That's 50% more over 4 miles. Even allowing for the fact I've not ridden for a few weeks, that's a simply enormous difference. True, I could put slick MTB tyres on, but that's like putting lipstick on a pig.

Second, the saddle it came with, a spongy number, was agony in seconds. I have put my Brooks on it, and it's much better now. If you don't like cycling because it's uncomfortable, failure to buy a leather saddle is the cause.

Third, it's muddy on the roads. With a road-bike, this isn't much of a problem. You can either put full mud-guards on, like Crud Road-Racer IIs or a seat-post mounted filth prophylactic, and the vast majority of the mud remains on the bike. This morning, EVERYTHING was covered in splatter. Arms, legs, chest, face. A mountain bike spreads the muck so liberally, you cannot consider wearing street clothes if you want to ride it to work.

Fourth, it's no use for carrying stuff at all. There is no rack, 

I am sure, though I've yet to try it, it's great on the trails getting muddy and rattling downhill. I doubt it's more effective (in terms of speed over ground) than a cyclocross bike. Where it will excel is the "technical" trails which litter woodland the country over. Over anything like a normal A-B route, even a muddy footpath, a mountain bike will not be the quickest or most efficient machine. The mountain-bike is a toy, not a means of transport. It's something you put on a car to take somewhere. It's a hobby. And since about 1985, it's been the dominant form of the bike. Halfords and Argos are still selling cheap versions to people who don't know better. Because these are so popular, to the uninitiated, the MTB, not a drop-handlebar road-bike, is what a bike should look like.

And because their first bike is a full-"suspension" number which is slow, heavy, tiresome and covers you in shit, rather than a cheaper, lighter, skinny-wheeled 10-speed, people reject the concept of cycling from A-B. The few who enjoy it, end up spending thousands on their hobby and enjoy it very much, at the weekend. You can see them in BMW X-5s with two mountain bikes on the roof, failing to understand why the be-lycra'd roadie is still slogging around in the traffic, rather than having FUN in the trails.

And that's the Tragedy. Even people who've learned to love the bike still reject it as a means of transport, They're putting it in a car to go and use it on a man-made obstacle course rather than getting their enjoyment in every day on the way to work. Riding a bike to work or the shops simply doesn't occur to the moutain-biker, as their bike is not, to them a tool on which to get about. (Many of them also own road or utility bikes, this is not a post about N+1) This entrenches the abhorrent car-culture which makes British towns so unpleasant to be in. A carbon-fibre, suspension mountain bike: never in the field of human endeavor has so much technical accomplishment achieved so little.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Train Fares

I'll declare an interest: I use the rail network, but not to commute. There has been an astonishing amount of bollocks being spoken about train-fare rises. Especially commuters, whose season tickets are rising by hundreds of pounds. "The trains are crowded" they complain. Yes, and cutting rail fares will help that, how exactly? "It's too expensive" Well move house, or change jobs. Or travel off-peak. This crowding is because more people try to use the network than is optimal at peak hours.

The effects are not just stress and misery on the journey. This underpriced peak-hour rail drives up house-prices along the rail corridors, and sucks life and employment out of the towns. It also makes people unhappy. People make bad decisions about what makes them happy. They overvalue big houses, and undervalue time not spent on an hour-long commute into town. They overvalue money, and undervalue social contact and family time. And they're aided and abetted in this happiness-destroying cultural artefact by heavily subsidised commuting.

 If the crippling over-dependence of the country on London is to be addressed, the market must be allowed to do its work on rail fairs. Shifting economic activity out of London is to be desired. Britain does not benefit from shifting millions into town and out again every day, when with a bit of thought, much of this economic activity could happen in Reading, or Northampton or Brighton or Hull. Making it easy to live in Cambride and work in London doesn't help Cambridge or its economy.

 You may FEEL you have no choice but to buy the season-ticket, and in the short-run you're probably right. But in the longer term, every person deciding the commute isn't worth it, and seeking a job locally helps the local economy. Every person moving nearer their place of work reduces stress at peak hours on the transport system. In the long run, people respond to economic incentives. It shouldn't be the government's role to insulate people from the reality of their choices.

So, you want to get into central London by 9am? Why not do what I did when I lived in London, and live in a grotty part of town instead, within cycling distance? OH! You want a big house out of London? So you want ME to subsidise your big house by keeping your rail-fare down? Is that fair? It's not like you're without choices: there are no solutions, only trade-offs. Compromise on your house, or compromise on your job. Or accept the real cost of rail-fares. You want a seat, guaranteed? Buy a first-class ticket. Overcrowding in the carriages is merely evidence that the price is wrong.

If there was a free market, rather than fares being regulated, peak hours would certainly be more expensive, and off-peak would probably be cheaper. So renegotiate your hours. Capacity-smoothing fares make sense. Ultimately the problem is one of mis-priced resources, especially space on the world's second busiest rail network. Like the Roads, the Rail Network is overused at peak times and underused off peak. Prices reflecting this are a step in the right direction.

Sorry, rail commuters, your fares are not going down any time soon. I don't mind paying for a rail ticket when I buy a ticket. I do mind paying for rail tickets I'm not using, subsidising people to drive up the price of a house I want where I live, when I fill in my tax-return. The fare rises are necessary, and will have positive economic effects, if you let them. It's not all bad news.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Pugeout 3008

Regular readers will know I don't own a car, I hire one when I need one. Most of the time, I get a newish mid-range Ford or Vauxhall, and I think "this is an excellent piece of design and engineering which does the job of ferrying me about, efficiently and unobtrusively". Occasionally, I get upgraded. Sometimes it's a Bigger car, like the VW Passat, which was excellent. So good, I remember nothing about it except I'd have one over a Mercedes, so relaxing and comfortable was it to drive.

My most recent "upgrade" on my hire car however was another in the 'Crossover' class; this time a Pugeout 3008. I am not a fan of these cars, being neither fart nor shit. They're supposed to look like a 4x4, but are rubbish off road. But with an elevated driving position, they aren't as safe-handling as a hatchback or coupe, but give a feeling of safety to the people driving them nonetheless. This means you're more likely to drive like an idiot, but less likely to be able to get out of it.

They're marketed at mums for the school run because they feel safe, but they scream "my husband isn't doing QUITE as well as he promised when I married him... I want a Range-Rover like that Bitch, Sandra. I bet her husband doesn't have trouble keeping it up. The slut...". Unlike the Qashqai, which grew on me, the 3008 was a piece of shit from the off, and did nothing to change my opinion. The radio didn't scan properly and seemed to be set to the Local commercial station as a default, the AirConditioning wasn't up to keeping the car cool, even in this anaemic summer, it was so bad, it made a little girl cry. 

The seating position seemed designed around the let's-see-how-close-I-can-get-to-the-windscreen position occupied by the absolutely terrifying occasional female driver. The seat wouldn't go back far enough, and the pedals were too close to the seat for my 6'3" frame.

There was no hand-brake. Instead there was some silly fart-arsing button behind the gearstick, which wouldn't release unless you had a foot on the brake, rendering a hill start nigh on impossible, unless you can heel-and-toe. I know terrifying occasional female drivers can't do hill starts anyway, let alone heel-and-toe, but even if a man is driving, don't get close behind one at the lights on a hill, unless you want a dented bumper. 

The seats were uncomfortable, the visibility to the side was poor, as my vision was blocked by the pillar. The cup-holders got in the way of the gear stick. The arm-rest was un-adjustible, and not very comfortable. The ride was mushy, the engine gutless at low revs but had a horrible step in the power delivery. You didn't know whether it was going to lurch forward or wheeze astmatically when you put your foot down. I had NO inclination to take it off piste, onto the twisties. 

What's more, it looks worse than the QashQai, as its wheels are too small. So it's not even cool; quite what 'what car' were smoking, when they awarded it 'Car of the Year' in 2010, is unclear as it's a hateful, horrid, badly designed little car. About the only thing that was any good was a very easy to use Bluetooth hands-free system. This car only makes sense for blind people who don't drive, but who like to use a steering-wheel to answer the phone. It's a car for the dead inside and their hateful snotty infants. If you still care, they're available from £15,000, though the one I drove was worth over £19,000. If you're spending that on a car, and you think "This is the best car for me for that money", I really pity your horizons and you should be euthanised before you add more piss to the shallow end of the gene-pool. 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Build Cycle Lanes, the Motorist Benefits.

Most conservatives/libertarians/UKIPpers are viscerally pro-car and anti-bike. To the likes of regular commenters Simon Jester or Patrick the use of the car is natural, and facilitating anything else is a dastardly plot to subvert his way of life. This is a perverse and willful misreading of my position. I will try to deal with the commonest arguments of the Gin & Jag set in this post.

I shall refer to the first sentence of my last post.

...most journeys of longer than a few miles, and for moving goods about the country, the motor vehicle is simply the best tool for the job.
Pro-bike is not anti-car. MOST JOURNEYS even in Holland, are undertaken by car. even In Amsterdam & Copenhagen, Bicycles account for less than half of journeys. Even in the most bike-friendly countries on the planet, the car remains well provided for by infrastructure, and a popular transport choice. It's just the bike is ALSO well provided for.

What's that next to this Dutch cycle lane? That's right, a dual carriageway.

The solution to congestion isn't as most Libertarian/Tory/UKIP Internet wallahs think, "more roads" because the problem isn't a lack of road space, it's the fact that everyone wants to get to the same places at the same time. The Problem is a lack of road-space at key points. For example the hanger lane underpass, or the Blackwall tunnel in London become choked beyond their capacity every single morning. If you build bigger roads to these spots, you make congestion worse, not better. This is what the M4 Bus Lane was all about.

A cursory search on Google Scholar will quickly put pay to the "build more roads" argument. This is from the first to pop up.
"Our decisions provoke unforeseen reactions. The result is policy resistance, the tendency for interventions to be defeated by the response of the system to the intervention itself... road building programs that create suburban sprawl and actually increase traffic congestion..."
So, barring a few pinch points such as the M25 around Heathrow, and by-passes which sensibly route through-traffic round town centres, more road-building is not the answer.

Then there's the money. Libertarians, UKIPpers and Tories regard themselves and economically literate, in contrast to Labour who think economics is about getting water to flow uphill. People who should know better, however lose all economic sense when discussing their favoured means of getting about. Just because one group is taxed, doesn't mean the money should be spent on them. If it were, income tax would largely go on well-tended grouse moors for the ultra rich who pay a significant chunk of it, the NHS's lung-cancer wards would be the envy of the world, and vomiting drunks would have their hair held back by liveried booze-tax-funded drunk-helpers every Saturday night. Instead the money is put into a pot and spent by the government as it sees fit.

Taxes levied on motorists are not therefore some sort of "road fund" for their exclusive use. They're more akin to rent. You don't live in a house for free; you pay for the capital cost as well as the running costs. You pay rent (or taxes) on the land. If the money spent on roads each year is the running cost of our road network, it's akin to utility bills. The rest of the tax motorists pay covers the cost of building the road network and financing it - 2,000 years of capital investment. You're also paying for the "externalities" of car use.

There's the word "externality" which brings libertarians out in hives because they think it's part of some ghastly plot to deprive them of their car. It isn't. It's about paying your way. Some externalities like Carbon are explicitly calculated, in the Stern review for example. And of course, we are paying several times more to drive a car than would be the case if that was the only externality in the price. There are other externalities too. Some are trivial: I don't like seeing fat people, and cars cause obesity for example. Some externalities however have real economic effects: Congestion is an externality imposed on other motorists with real economic costs. To ensure those costs are borne by those who value roads most, you pay through the nose to drive. This is why it works. Other externalities merely affect quality of life. Noise, danger, stress, particulates damaging to health and so on. To these I would add the social costs in atomisation and fragmentation of society facilitated by car-based urban sprawl.

People who in any other facet of life think markets are great at providing solutions to problems utterly reject them in transport. There should be a market between competing means of transport. However at present, all the investment goes to road and rail, nothing to any other potential means of getting from A-B, which might take some (SOME - not ALL, idiots) pressure off the road network at peak times. At the moment the market is grotesquely skewed in favour of the car, even where a bike would otherwise make sense, crappy infrastructure and subjective feelings of danger put people off using it. And it is this we need to address.

A bike on a commute is one fewer car in your way. Encourage cycling, and motorists benefit.

The externalites of urban sprawl, lack of local amenities, dead town centres, noise, pollution, social atomisation and social division which accompany the total domination of the car are uncosted but paid for in the "rent" you pay in taxes over and above the road budget. These bills could be reduced by better, bike and pedestrian friendly urban design. Some argue the externalities are more than covered by the current motorists' tax-burden. Others think not. But to deny the existence of externailites alltogether is anti-economics, a stupid rhetorical position normally occupied by the left.

The experience of the Netherlands is if you make a small (relative to the road budget) investment, over a long period of time in making the roads feel safe for cyclists, everyone (including motorists) benefits. Many People then DO choose the bike because it's quick, cheap, convenient and fun for SOME journeys. In Amsterdam just under half of journeys are by bike. And this benefits motorists in less congestion. Getting kids to cycle to school in particular frees parents from the chore of acting as a taxi service, and massively reduces congestion at rush hour. It also gives kids a bit of much needed freedom. Proper cycle lanes would mean fewer cyclist holding you up, a "problem" existing only in the fevered minds of anti-bike nut-cases, but oft cited none-the-less. More cyclists means more local shops as people get back in the habit of making short journeys instead of reaching for the car keys every time you leave the house, so you can get your paper and irn bru when you have a hangover on a Sunday morning without having to drive anywhere. It means your local pub is more likely to stay open, giving you a chance to gain that hangover in a social environment instead of tossing yourself off alone to the x-factor with a can of supermarket lager. It's no coincidence that towns and cities with the highest bicycle modal share feature regularly at the top of indices listing "livability" and happiness. Even in these, most people own, or have access to a car.

The point is a change in the build environment to favour the cyclist or pedestrian doesn't mean the car becomes obsolete. Rather it becomes one tool in a quiver for getting about, one chosen when the journey is long, when the weather is bad, when the load is heavy, or when you just don't feel like riding a bike that morning. Cyclists are drivers and drivers are cyclists, eliminating hostility. However, in the UK many people who wish to ride a bike are currently denied that opportunity, to the detriment of all by infrastructure entirely inappropriate for their needs.

Any comment which ultimately says "I need a car for some journeys, therefore you should use one for all" will be deleted, unanswered. Read the first paragraph of this post again before pressing submit.

To deny there are any problems caused by the total domination of the car of our built environment is perverse and willfully blind. To pretend there are no solutions is stupid and unbelievably ignorant and selfish. Even Jeremy Clarkson sees that a town with fewer cars is simply more pleasant to be in - that is he admits the benefits of car use are offset by costs largely borne by others. No-one wants to see the freedoms granted by the private car lost. But I do want to see a return of the freedoms it has taken away.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Great Car Economy.

I often get accused of being anti-car. I am not. For most journeys of longer than a few miles, and for moving goods about the country, the motor vehicle is simply the best tool for the job. I just accept the car is often not best tool for the job, and universal car use has a number of negative effects. This leaves an enormous number of journeys for which the car shouldn't be the first choice. My problem is that people are forced into cars, as other options have been, effectively, denied through short-sightedness and poor urban design.

Would you use this? More Rubbish Infrastructure here.

Margret Thatcher hailed in 1989, the "Great Car Economy", embarking on a grand scheme of road-building, which like so much the Tories do, brings out the crusties in vicious and bitter protest. A decade of Swampies living up trees led to the abandonment of "the biggest road-building scheme since the Romans".

More recently the claim is often made that petrol taxes "hurt the economy". Of course they do, but the question should be whether fuel duties hurt more, or less than other taxes. I argue they don't hurt any more than income taxes. The Conservative-led government faces protests by drivers who don't want to pay & feel there should be more roads, that road-building will be the key to stimulating the economy. This is one of the few areas of expenditure, along with the provision of free-parking, that the tax-payer's alliance can be relied upon to support. It ignores the costs of motoring.

Let's go through the hidden costs of "the Great Car Economy".

Cars make towns noisy and stressful. You can estimate the cost of this by looking at houses on main roads, which often cost 30-40% less than those in quiet cul-de-sacs less than a hundred yards away. There's an economic externality of car use, costed for you, right there.

Every 40 cars, roughly, represents £1,000,000 in capital expenditure. For much of the country, that's £2,500 per year, per car. For 95%of the time, this capital is sitting, unused in parking lots. Is this not a colossal waste of resources on a scale equivalent to the Great wall of China? Those parking lots are unsightly, and represent an enormous waste of potentially valuable land, which reduces the value of the area around it. This too is a waste of resources.

Cars facilitate harmful behaviour. People under-estimate how much a long commute makes them miserable, and over-estimate how much a big house makes them happy. People therefore live a sub-optimal distance from work, a long way from family and friends. People are less happy than they would otherwise be.

Cars have changed the built environment, brought about urban sprawl, which atomises society. Cars have driven other options - bicycles and walking out of the picture, by making them so unpleasant. It is simply not enjoyable to share space with tons of speeding metal. As a result, there are few 'local shops'. The car encourages big-box shopping, ripping the heart out of town centres.

Once you have spent 60% of an annual salary on a car, you tend to use it for every journey even ones where (once you've parked) would be quicker to walk. This leads to obesity and ill health. Driving, especially in heavy traffic, is stressful. Adrenaline and Cortisol, when not accompanied by exercise, is hard on the heart and encourages fat deposits. Even if you go to the gym, the damage done by stress hormones while driving is difficult to burn off.

The problem, ultimately is that overuse and over reliance on one transport technology has created a sub-optimal equilibrium. People cannot see beyond THEIR car and the need for it. Blinded by a set of cognitive biases and perverse incentives, the car is used for every journey. And of course, as we've organised society completely around it since the mid-70's, people feel they've no choice. They're probably right. At present, there is no alternative to having £30,000 worth of depreciating metal on your drive. Public transport is simply nasty, as I laid out in detail in this post, a while ago, and we now live too far from everything to consider any other solution.

Ultimately the conclusion is that more roads and more cars isn't the answer. Cars simply fill any extra space, and if you build "enough" space, you get Milton Keynes. We must do things more cleverly.
So, the experiment in the great motoring society has gone as far as it can go. Any further increases in the number or use of cars are likely to generate negative returns to human happiness. It is Government's role therefore to provide infrastructure to other alternatives: a network of cycle tracks and city infrastructure - not to exclude the car, but to provide an alternative, to both tribes' benefit. Motorists should remember the most tireless campaigners for smooth roads are cyclists for whom a pot-hole is not only a punctured tyre, but potentially a broken collar bone. The infrastructure can and should be built with all road-users in mind.
The solution to these problems, is to organise a system where there are fewer cars, used more intensively.

Technological change will help. Nevada has just issued a license for Google's automatous car. This will, in time, enable fleets of driver-free vehicles to act as taxis. It doesn't take much imagination to see this working very much more cheaply and efficiently than a situation where everyone has their own depreciating asset, though this is several years away. Fewer cars, not being driven by people, means a safer and less threatening road environment for other users. Although the total cost of hiring a self-driving car for each journey may in time become lower than owning a private car, the fact you're making a marginal decision for each journey, rather than the costs being concentrated in one enormous sunk cost of purchase, will tend to make people consider alternatives in a way they currently don't. Even if the volume of vehicular journeys increases, driverless cars will be more efficient users of fuel and road-space. They will also be safer.
People are simply not designed to drive. Our lizard-brains simply can't cope. The road environment and the cars on it have been made forgiving to the inadequacies of people driving cars, but it is something no-one can do successfully. Don't believe me? Ask the insurance industry. Racing drivers, those who ACTUALLY can control a car better than anyone else are not considered a good risk. People tend to compensate for extra safety features in their car or any extra skill, by taking more risks. The risks are most keenly felt by people without a ton and a half of steel wrapped around them.
In time, insurance costs will dictate that cars will not be allowed to be owner-driven on the public roads. At present, the only tool with which you can, by recklessness kill someone and escape gaol, is the car. This will change and machines will make better drivers than us.

I am not anti-car. I accept the benefits, and the necessity for widespread car ownership at present. It's just that it's used for over 90% of journeys. People don't walk to the pub anymore, neither do kids cycle to school. And the reason is that the car has changed towns - there are no local services in suburbs any more; ourselves - most of us are fat, and feel the need to change into special clothes to walk a mile; and the environment - the roads are simply too hostile to allow your kids to cycle to school.

If you can address the inappropriate journeys - in particular the school run, much of the congestion motorists currently suffer, would vanish. Kids SHOULD enjoy the independence of making their own way to school, as they do on the continent. This requires investment in infrastructure to separate the cyclist from the motorist. Many (not all, obviously) people would like to cycle to work, but feel it's too unsafe. Investment in infrastructure would take a few of these cars off the roads at peak times too. And if we can encourage delivery driving overnight though a fuel tax rebate, we can have smoothly running roads for everyone, all day.

Every cyclist commuting to work, is one fewer in other motorist's way. But the the entire national cycling infrastructure budget is less than that to widen 4 miles of the M25. Even footpaths are often sub-standard and blocked by (what else?) parked cars. Ultimately, those who want to walk and cycle shouldn't be put off by crappy infrastructure because the car enjoys 99.99% of the spending and an absurdly privileged place in society. If we can change this, then those who still want to drive will have a more enjoyable time too.

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