Monthly Archives: September 2011

333 days

Yesterday was the 333rd day that I have ridden a bike in a row.

Seems like a nice milestone to mark with something special. So I think I’ll ride my bike today as well ūüôā

I ride a cargobike because I am lazy

At times people are definitely odd and their reactions still surprise me.

There is the frequent assumption that I ride a cargobike because I am some kind of fitness freak. This is amusing as a key motivation for me is laziness.

Tonight for example I had a laptop, speakers, several bags of heavy books, a couple of flip chart pads and other bits and pieces to get to Syston Methodist Church, it is only 1/2 a mile and the cargobike gets closer to the door at home and inside at the Church. The closest car parking is 100 metres away from the Church. So the cargobike is better for lazy people.

After the meeting I needed to drop a wheelchair from the Church to someone’s home. Again about 1/2 a mile, but the wheelchair is a old, heavy model that does not fold much. I would have to fold seats to get in in the car but instead just dropped it upside down into the cargobox to deliver it and then return to collect the bags of stuff.

Far from being the choice of fitness freaks cargobikes are ideally suited to lazy people like me who want to get things to places as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Transport Paradise Oxford or almost anywhere in the Netherlands

Prompted by claims that Oxford is a Transport Paradise I humbly suggest a comparison.

Here you can see the road to a school entrance in Oxford:

The is looking the other way at the same junction. This is a “quiet” road chosen as a cycling route suitable for Children and is shown as such on their cycling map.

It would be great to have some pictures of what these roads look like at the beginning and end of the school day.

Now look at this video clip outside a school in Assen:

This comes from a recent infrastructure tour of the Netherlands by the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. You can read more at¬†To the People of Assen: an Apology ¬ę Town Mouse¬†and see lots and lots of photos at¬†Cycling Embassy Field Trip, Day 1 – a set on Flickr,¬†Cycling Embassy Field Trip, Day 2 – a set on Flickr, &¬†http://www.flickr.com/photos/61407862@N05/sets/72157627740302918/

Finally, here is a picture from a transport paradise that is definitely not Oxford (as in Oxford it is considered crazy to have a cycle infrastructure that crosses a ring road).

Bikes and lights as it gets darker

It is that season of the year when bike magazines and websites are full of articles about bike lights.

It is that season of the year when I go out forgetting that it will be dark when I come home, as today for the evening service at Syston Methodist Church.

So here is how I prepare my Bullitt Clockwork Cargobike for the dark.

Nothing.

In fact nothing at all.

My front Schmidt dynamo light has been on the bike all summer and continues with it’s automatic mode. So I continue to occasionally wipe the lens clean but otherwise don’t have to touch it in anyway. It just works. Actually that is really unfair because it is not just working but continues to be the best bike front light I have ever used (our¬†Exposure Joystick is still fantastic but does have to be charged and it does not have the shaped beam cut off to avoid blinding oncoming traffic).

My standard rear light on the Bullitt is a PDW Fenderbot which is attached to my rear mudguard. It has stayed on the bike all summer. The battery is still fine and so whenever I need a rear light it is there and ready to go.

So I confess I find all these articles about bike lights slightly amusing. It is very rare to read tests of dynamo lights, especially hub dynamos yet these lights work fantastically and keep working for years without any maintenance.

These lights are not cheap but neither are top quality battery lights. Dynamo lights have significant benefits in being so reliable and always available.

New signs for the Melton Road

As I was riding into Leicester along the Melton Road yesterday I was thinking that maybe there need to be some new signs. Something to help drivers realise that however, fast they accelerate, however many red lights they run I am going to get to the city faster than them.

So far I have thought of these:

  • “Keep calm but start giving cyclists space” (inspired by the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster).
  • “If you don’t kill that cyclist they will be in town first”
  • “We apologise that despite our crap cycling¬†infrastructure¬†the cyclists will still get to town before you”
  • “That cyclist will get to enjoy a coffee while you search for a car park space”
  • “Keep clear of cyclists, they live longer than you and have long memories”
  • “We apologise for the delays you are causing by driving instead of cycling”
  • “We apologise that Life is unfair: those cyclists save money, get there faster, are healthier, live longer and have more fun”
Any more ideas

 

Leicester Cycle City Workshop disappointment 2

Sadly, the second major disappointment of the Leicester Cycle City workshop came with a presentation from the Sustrans, Regional project manager (or some such job title).
I should note at this point that I am a Sustrans supporter and have been for years.
The presentation started with a video clip of a new cycle facility recently opened in Bristol that was shown as an example of the “state of the art”.
Sadly all this did was demonstrate that we out best cycling infrastructure is still more than 30 years behind the Dutch. It was a two way separated route. However, at 2.5m wide it is narrower than the equivalent single direction route in the Netherlands. Unlike a similar route in the Netherlands it does not connect up with other facilities, does not remove conflict at junctions, it not straight and is not properly separated from pedestrians. In fact he admitted that on his way into Bristol cycling on the other side of the road he did not even notice it was there. Unsurprisingly I think we saw only one other person on a bike in the video.
Later he shared some details of roads they are going to look at as part of a Leicester project called “Roads for People”. The reactions demonstrated the problems with unbalanced representation in the meeting became clear. Nobody was putting the case for local residents but instead the focus was on keen cyclists (mostly wearing lycra in the meeting) commuting to work.
When people say that going downhill on the A6, London Road (which is 6 lanes wide in places) is not a problem as you can go fast enough to claim your space on the road. You know they are not thinking about kids cycling to the local schools or families going to catch the train for a day out.
When there is a discussion about how to paint an advanced stop lane to get people to the middle lane of a 3 lane carriageway of the ring road for a junction, then you know they are not thinking about my sons getting to school. They are not thinking about the nearby residents getting the local shops, the station, the parks, restaurants, cinema, or work. They are not thinking about me riding between the hospitals as I am visiting people (I have to cross 3 lanes of traffic on the ring road between joining it and turning right 150metres further on. They are not thinking of retired people going into Leicester for a bit of shopping, or cycling to a lunch club or to visit their friends and family.
We have a huge problem when enthusiastic riders who ride audax and other competitive events say they use the pavement for some road sections but don’t suggest a completely segregated infrastructure. There is still little or no understanding of what is needed to get people who think riding a bike is too dangerous to use bikes on an everyday basis just as they do in the Netherlands, or Copenhagen or even Portland in the US.
In the lasts few days a team from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain visited the Netherlands. Watch this video clip of kids leaving school.
This is possible in Leicester, but not if our aspirations continue to be set so low.
When low quality cycle infrastructure is installed (such as Leicester has) it will not succeed in getting significant numbers of people using bikes for everyday transport. We see that everyday here.

Better nights out when you go by bike

Last night we went out with friends for a film (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: I fell asleep, 2 hours of my life lost for ever) at the Phoenix followed by a great meal at Bobbys on the Melton Road.

All four of us cycled and it made the evening so much better than any alternative.

First, with us travelling from Syston and our friends from Birstall it would have been a slow detour at each end for either of us if we tried to share a car.

Second, there is no parking at the Phoenix or at Bobbys. So I guess we would have parked in the Lee Circle multi-story (and paid) and walked to the Phoenix. Then we would have chosen a different place to eat that had parking. So we would have missed out on some fantastic food.

As it was we rode gently from Syston along cycle paths including sections through parks. Took us 35 minutes to the cinema where we parked right outside.

After the film we rode as a group of 4 along some shared use pavements, through the Sainsburys car park and about 200 metres along the Melton Road before locking our bikes up right outside Bobbys (in fact we could see them from our table).

They were getting ready to close by the time we left Bobbys so we went our separate ways. We came home sttraight along the Melton Road, using the cycle path where it exists and going through Thurmaston Village.

It was relaxed and easy, but more importantly we had a better night out than would have been possible by car. If only the City made it possible for more people, many of whom currently find the roads and traffic too scary to use a bike.

Leicester Cycle City Workshop disappointment 1

Sadly this might turn out to be one of a series.

This evening I went to my first Leicester Cycle City Workshop.

It appears to be a semi open meeting (there is something about needing to attend as a representative of a recognised group for full participation) every 3rd Wednesday of the month at the Town Hall from 4:30pm. I guess there were around 20 people there.

My first key disappointment was a variety of ways in which this workshop was unrepresentative.

The most blindingly obvious was that there was no diversity at all in ethnicity and very little of culture. Leicester is a beautiful mixture of multiple cultures and ethnicities. I understand that when the results of the 2011 census come out Leicester will be the first official UK city where minority ethnic groups form the majority of the population.

It is not that people on bikes in Leicester are all white, I see a wide variety of people on bikes every time I ride into the city. Where is their representation?

Also missing fair representation in the workshop were:

  • parents worried about the safety of their children (a key group in the formation of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain)
  • people who would like to ride a bike but don’t feel safe (also represented in the¬†Cycling Embassy of Great Britain)
  • people who ride their bikes for daily transport to the shops, friends etc but have no sporting pretensions
  • people who ride their bikes for work rather than commuting to work (as both Jane and I do)
  • people who ride their bikes to school or college (as our middle son does)
  • pedestrians of any kind, particularly those who find shared pedestrian/cyclist facilities frightening (you are welcome to come and meet many who feel this way in the Churches I serve).
As I understand the way this works this Cycle City Workshop is the only official forum in Leicester where the views of people are sought on planning issues relating to cycling. How sad that so few of us are represented there.

Planning to cross London: Bike or Train?

I am working out travel plans for October 4th when I am attending a friends funeral in New Malden.

I need to be there for 14:00 at the latest.

There are two main options.

1. Train to New Malden from Leicester. First a train to St Pancras then underground to Vauxhall and then train to New Malden.

Looks like it will take just under 2 hours 15 minutes going and 2 hours 30 minutes coming home. The lowest cost so far (booking specific trains) is £68

2. Train to St Pancras with my bike on the train. Cycle to New Malden (about 14 miles).

It should take should be about 2 hours 30 minutes each way (allowing 1 hour 20 mins for 14 miles is pretty generous).

The strange thing is that the ticket price is exactly the same. Apparently the underground system is now free and there are no rail fare charges south of the river Thames.

Which to choose?

I am pretty sure I will go for option 2 where I use my bike to ride across London. My thinking is that it will be a less stressful, more pleasant and more reliable journey. Maybe it is just because I am a control freak though.

Which would you choose? and why?

A day to be reminded I love my job

This afternoon I needed to be at a meeting in Market Harborough. As I had no evening meeting planned I made time to cycle there.

What I did

It turned out to be a lovely afternoon for a ride. I was later than I wanted leaving home and so went the shortest and fastest way I could. Melton Road to the centre of Leicester and then along the A6 (leaving it for a short while through Great Glen). Total distance about 19 miles which I managed in about 1 hour 20 minutes elapsed time.

My meeting lasted about 1 hour 50 minutes and as it was then nearly 4pm I decided to take some time off and came home a more scenic route, including diversions to explore a marked on road cycle route. So it was about 32.5 miles home and I got here just after 6:30pm

Compared to Driving

With a total cycling time of 3 hours 40 minutes plus stops of about 30 minutes it was clearlly slower than driving.

Google maps estimates 40 minutes for the fastest driving route of 20.8 miles. If driving I would have allowed 10 minutes for parking on the way there. Say a total of 90 minutes.

For a meeting from 2pm til nearly 4pm I would have been away from home from 1:10pm til 4:40pm instead of 12:30pm til 6:30pm. So a nominal saving of 2 hours 20 minutes.

However, if I drove then I would have needed to get some exercise at some point. It wouldn’t have been as good for me but maybe I might have spent an hour in a gym.

If I had driven then I would have eaten lunch before leaving (as it was I had a wrap during the meeting). That would have used another 30minutes of the time saving.

So by now we are down to less than an hour of time saving if I had driven. Remember I deliberately chose to take a slower and more scenic route home, exploring an area I don’t know well. My ride home took some 45 minutes extra riding compared to the outward journey. For a fair comparison we should take that time off the total.

Comparison between cycling and driving

We are left with a total saving of around 5 minutes if I drive (and take some exercise to make up for the sedentary lifestyle) compared to a direct cycle route. When you consider the costs of driving a car 40miles

  • to me (financial and health),
  • to my Employer (directly 45p per mile instead of 20p, plus car parking) but also the costs of a less healthy member of staff
  • to the community (pollution,¬†¬†congestion, the money for the car and fuel mostly going abroad instead of being spent in the local economy)

then that 5 minutes is very expensive indeed!

For the Church saving that 5 minutes would have cost about £12 in increased expenses. To gain 1 hour a week in this way would cost £144 and would be equivalent to paying me £144 per hour or more than £6,500 per year.

Personally saving that 5 minutes on a day like this would mean buying a second car and paying for gym membership.

As a community, everyone benefits when I cycle instead of walking. It makes the community cleaner, safer and easier for all to get around.

Given these advantages why are our employers not demanding a Dutch style cycle infrastructure so that more of their staff are willing to get around by bike?

Why are our local governments doing all they can to get Dutch style infrastructure to make our communities nicer places to live?

An Alternative View

I realise that some of my time counting might be controversial (such as adding gym time to the driving time). So more generously to the driving option

The time out of my home office if I had driven would have been approx 3 hours 10 minutes.

The time out of my home office if I had cycled directly (without an extra food stop as that was only due to the greater distance) 4 hours 50 minutes.

So cycling “cost” my employer an extra 1 hour 40 minutes for a 1 hour 50 minute meeting 20 miles away. They directly saved about ¬£12 in expenses which is a saving of ¬£7.20 per hour (quite close to the current value of the Living Wage.

With even the most favourable analysis to the car of the most basic direct costs the speed of the car does not save much money. However, beyond that small cost and time saving everything else about using a car has a negative for the employer, the employee and the community.

Suggestions

It should only take a few tweaks of the tax system to allow us to pass more of the benefits of using a bike onto the employee, employer and local community.

Cycling to and for work has a wide range of cost benefits

  • fewer deaths of the roads,
  • lower obesity,
  • better air quality,
  • reduced congestion,
  • reduced road maintenance
  • reduced loss of space to car parking

if only the tax system passed some of these costs benefits on then changes in behaviour could be encouraged.

  • if employees could claim the same mileage rate for cycling as for driving then more people would see the financial benefit of cycling
  • if cycle to and for work schemes were extended and simplified more would get a bike
  • if some of the cost savings to the NHS of healthier communities (reductions in deaths, obesity, pollution) were passed onto local government then they would provide more and better cycle facilities
  • if car parking space were taxed at the same rate as business premises
etc etc

Currently our tax system encourages behaviour that is bad for our communities. Why not adjust it to encourage behaviour that is good for or communities?

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