Tag Archives: Driving

Britain has all the wrong sorts of bikes

In my earlier post “So many beautiful road bikes but” I was commenting on the number of “proper” road bikes I saw while driving to Rothley and back. Earlier this evening I cycled towards Leicester (Harrison Road Methodist Church) on my new road bike.

Suffolk

 

This time I saw several families cycling together, probably on their way back from Watermead or Abbey Park.

Sadly, the day’s experiences reinforced my view that one of the biggest problems facing the growth of riding bikes as transport in the UK.

We are riding the wrong bikes!

Road Bikes are the Wrong Bikes

Yesterday, I was a good example of that. I rode 3.5 miles to an evening service on my new road bike. It was completely unnecessary and not at all suitable (my excuse was that I just wanted to ride my new bike). It meant I needed to change from cycling shoes with clips when I got there, it meant that when I was too warm cycling there I had nowhere to put my jacket, it was too fast a bike to feel appropriate on footways shared (legally) with pedestrians, it’s speed means that British cycling infrastructure feels too slow (tempting you towards a dual network where fast cyclists use the road and the rest use the crap provided at as little cost as possible), it meant I had to watch for debris including glass and the lower handlebars make it harder to watch for bad drivers. Oh and despite the much higher riding speed by the time you have swapped your shoes four times (each end of each ride) you have used up all the time you saved (and if I hadn’t ridden in my “work” clothes including clerical shirt it would have taken even longer).

The more people we see on fast road bikes the harder it is to campaign for a safe, convenient segregated infrastructure. The addition to speed that makes car drivers so dangerous also infects cyclists. So we read of commuter cyclists who thrive on adrenaline and who use their commutes for race training. We see the barely disguised race bikes sold as being ideal for commuters. We breed cyclists who are unhappy with a gentle pace in your work clothes sharing a segregated infrastructure with school children riding to school.

This high speed view of “commuter” cyclists fostered by the “sport” image of bike that they ride is actually a false picture of speed. Look at this article (inc video) of a 5 km commute by bike in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Or the video in this post showing longer routes between towns. The Dutch make commuting using a bike fast by making it direct and non-stop not by making people ride super fast sports bikes in lycra. Then the commuters don’t need special clothing, they don’t need to shower or change when they get to work and they can use the same routes as school children, elderly people going shopping, students going clubbing etc.

For cycling in Britain our obsession with using sports bike for transport is holding us back from demanding the infrastructure to make cycling a safe, convenient, pleasant choice for all people.

Mountain Bikes are the wrong bikes

On the other hand, when you see people riding bikes to the shops or out with the children they are also generally riding the wrong sorts of bikes. We frequently see people riding from the supermarket on a full suspension mountain bike with plastic bags hanging from the handlebars. Or out for a short ride in the park with their children also while riding a full suspension mountain bike. A Dutch style bike (maybe with 8 gears instead of 3 for the hillier parts of the UK) would be so much more convenient, comfortable, faster and lower maintenance. When you are struggling with shopping on a bike with no rack, no basket, nowhere to carry things it is no wonder you ride on the pavement.

Mountain bikes as generally sold are useless for general transport:

  • no way to carry things
  • no mudguards to keep you dry and clean
  • no chainguard to keep your clothes clean
  • knobbly tyres to slow you down
  • no lights
  • full suspension makes them very heavy (and difficult to fit racks to)

We need modern, clean, low maintenance practical bikes in the UK for commuters and for everyone else. Bikes like this Workcycles GR8

WorkCycles GR8

When commuters, shoppers etc ride bikes like this, then maybe we will be encouraged to ask for real Dutch cycle infrastructure that is safe, convenient and segregated. Then we will be able to see cycling as transport return to normality.

Oh and as well as that our bike rides to work, the shops etc will all become a lot nicer!

Change is slow but possible

Today we take our car in for a service, thinking about that I have realised that we have managed to make some positive changes during the last year.

  • We have moved from two cars to one
  • We have cut our annual mileage by over 50%. That is despite about 1/3rd of this years miles being in August and related to moving house, so I expect we will reduce it again next year.
  • I have made significant progress in reducing the speed at which I drive. It is becoming a rare event for me to break any speed limit which is a big change from the past. One side effect (beyond the critical one which is road safety) is that we keep the car’s computer at over 45mpg (which is not bad for a car shaped like a brick).
Much of the change this year it was helped by the Methodist Church moving us from rural Northamptonshire to Syston, just outside Leicester. Of course nnext time they move us it could be to somewhere where again a lot more driving is required.
However, beyond the move none of these changes have happened suddenly or automatically, they have been a focus for many years. For us they are part of a long term process of trying to put our world view into practice. We are not there yet (and there are many who inspire us through their much better examples) but taking this car for a service is a little reminder that we have been able to make progress.
Plus it does make a significant financial difference to have gone from at least 4 car services per year (two cars, each doing enough miles to need more than one service per year) to only one.

On driving as a driver

In the last couple of days we have been out in the car twice. Once taking a son’s girlfriend home and the other to collect a son from Oxford. As I now ride more miles than we use the car for I have become more aware of just how bad the driving is on our roads. Just a few examples:

  • Yesterday in Leicester a tax started to pull out of a bus stop right in front of me. No warning, no looking, no indicating. Fortunately, I was driving at below 30mph and so was able to stop.
  • Also in Leicester yesterday on the Central Ring the lights changed to red in front of me. I was able to stop comfortably and I was far enough away that it was the obvious thing to do. No way could I have got through on amber. The car behind me then, pulled out, overtook me and accelerated through a completely red light.
  • At the roundabout on the Melton Road at Thurmaston I find it is impossible to start off as the light goes to green as there is always someone coming out of the shopping centre on a clear red. Happens nearly every time.
  • Today driving to and from Oxford I was surprised that at about 65mph (ranging between 60mph and 70mph) we were by a considerable margin the slowest car around. We didn’t overtake any cars (except those slowing down to turn off). If the cost of fuel is such an expensive issue how come everyone can still afford to break the speed limit the whole time?
  • Now that I am very determined to move away from earlier behaviour and keep to the speed limit or slower it makes it very obvious how impatient and aggressive drivers are. On 30mph limits there is often a car behind trying to find an opportunity to overtake. Yet it is also obvious how little the gains that are made are, rarely do you lose sight of an aggressive driver within a few miles of urban road. There is a significant amount of pressure put on you by other drivers to speed, with aggressive tailgating, gestures, weaving around behind you as well as under and over taking (often in dangerous situations).

I would be very interested in suggestions on how we could  change our attitudes and behaviour. I come away from time spent driving surprised there are not more deaths and injuries as well as even more convinced that we need both radical traffic calming on residential streets and separated cycle infrastructure on anything with a 30mph or higher speed limit.

Catastrophic loss of brains at the RAC

The RAC is complaining about the cost of  driving (see Cost of motoring soars by 6.3% as drivers feel the pinch – Press Releases – RAC). I do the same. I think it is disgraceful that drivers do not pay a fair price. However, one problem for the RAC is that a fair price would make driving much more expensive see my post I agree with David Cameron “I want to give the motorist a fair deal.”. Also look at this graph from the office for National Statistics (hat tipRoad Danger Reduction Forum » How motorists have it so cheap):

However, beyond their pathetic attempts to present drivers as hard done to (compare to the huge increases in rail fares this year) they also miss the entirely obvious.

The RAC give tips to drivers for saving money. They include all the obvious tips that save a few pence at best (correct tyre pressures for example). But due to their catastrophic loss of brains they fail to notice the two obvious ways for drivers to save money.

Every driver can save money in the ways the RAC are too blind to notice:

Option 1. Drive Less

Duh. With all their “wisdom” the RAC totally miss out on the easiest way for every driver to save money (on fuel, on maintenance, on insurance and on depreciation). Simply drive less. Every mile less you drive money stays in your pocket. You can drive less by avoiding trips, combining trips, sharing cars, switching to walking or cycling or to public transport.

Everyone can save money this way, but the RAC have not noticed it.

Option 2. Drive slower

If you slow down you will use less fuel. Again the RAC don’t seem to know about this one. Judging from the flashing signs showing people speeding around here neither do many drivers. Slow down, drive more carefully with bigger gaps so you can brake more gently, accelerate more slowly and you will use less fuel. Oh and you are much less likely to kill someone which is a nice benefit for society.

Conclusion

The RAC have an Elephant problem. The Elephant in the room that they ignore is that driving has a significant cost for the driver and for society. The problem is that if they were to acknowledge this Elephant then their power (and money) would disappear – who wants an organisation that exists to promote something that is bad for us as individuals and society to have power? They therefore keep their eyes closed and their brains turned off so they don’t notice that they exist to promote a dinosaur heading for extinction.

Pickles and Hammond to end the war on motorists

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said:

“This is a key step in ending the war on the motorist. For years politicians peddled the pessimistic, outdated attitude that they could only cut carbon emissions by forcing people out of their cars. via Pickles and Hammond to end the war on motorists – Newsroom – Department for Communities and Local Government.

Is Philip Hammond a complete moron? Has he any evidence whatsoever that you can cut carbon emissions without reducing car use.

Since when is reducing car use to reduce carbon emissions outdated. He has no alternative.

On a stupidity scale of 1 to 10 this is at least 15.

If they want to encourage people to use town centres then make supermarkets charge for parking (all you have to do is charge the supermarkets for providing car parking and then let them decide whether to recover that in car parking charges or swallow it).

If they want to solve street parking in residential areas then they first need to provide alternatives so that people don’t feel they need to use a car.

Duh!

All the more reason we need the Cycling Embassy. See The Anti-Cycle Campaigning Cycling Campaign « The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club.

Drivers if there is no queue behind you, slow down as you are going too fast

My slogan for the week:

Drivers if there is no queue behind you, slow down as you are going too fast

Temperatures are below zero. Snow is falling. Residential roads have not been gritted and many still have snow right across them.

Yet drivers are still breaking the speed limit.

Duh!!!!

Why do we see the speed limit as if it were the slowest speed you are allowed to do rather than the maximum speed in good conditions.

We all need to slow down when driving or more people will die. Hence my slogan

Drivers if there is no queue behind you, slow down as you are going too fast.

Today I am going to drive

I don’t like it. I don’t want to but I am about to drive to a meeting. It has snowed again, it is snowing again but it is not the snow that means I am going to drive.

It is not the distance that means I am going to drive.

It is not the cold that means I am going to drive.

It is not fear of falling off my bike that means I am going to drive.

It is not lack of time that means I am going to drive.

 

The only reason I am going to drive is that I do not trust car drivers. I do not trust car drivers to take enough care. There are no cycle paths on the roads where I am going. There are no off road routes I can take.

The roads are full of people insulated from their surroundings and I don’t trust them to not hit me.

So if you are a car driver and find the roads too congested then I suggest you look at your behaviour and what you can do to make others feel more safe. If they feel safe to walk or cycle when you are driving then you will benefit from less congestion.

We need less well insulated transport

At 10:30pm I was cycling home on sheet ice. It was no problem on a bike although walking would have been difficult.

In some places the ice was under fresh frozen snow, in other places the snow had melted during the day and now the water had frozen. In other places the snow had been compacted and polished into ice by cars.

On the 3 or so miles home I used separated cycle paths, minor roads and avoided riding on any main roads.

After just a few days of riding in the snow and I am at ease doing so. I have now ridden about 40 miles in the snow and ice. In that time my bike has slid away from me only once.

The problem comes when I need to go near cars. On separated cycle paths there is no problem. On most residential roads there is no problem. But on roads where there are many cars it is a very different story.

The problem is that car drivers are so insulated from the world around them.

On my bike I am very aware of the surface and how much grip I have. I know about slowing for corners because if I go too fast I will come off and I don’t like hurting myself. On shared paths I am very aware of pedestrians, we connect, I can’t ignore their humanity, I can see them slipping and sliding.

In a car everything is done to hide, protect, insulate the driver from the world around. The heater will have hidden the real temperature, the traction control will have hidden the lack of grip, the sound system will hide the humanity around, the ice not fully cleared off the side windows and mirrors will hide the people around.

The insulation from the world means that it is only when you are sliding out of control towards a child, a cyclist, a pedestrian that you discover that you have no grip.

For everyone’s safety we need to reconnect drivers with the world around, remove layers of insulation. Here are some suggestions:

Legal:

We need to end the various legal insulations between drivers and the consequences of their actions. For example:

  • Implement strict liability
  • any driver who has killed anyone to lose their license permanently
  • any driver who has injured anyone to lose their license for 5 years
  • any driver convicted of an office such as dangerous or careless driving to lose their license for several years
  • the penalties for speeding to be massively increased. Two offences should mean losing your license for several years. Speeding fines should be be increased 10x (if people can’t pay then take the car as payment)
  • parking fines to be increased 10x. These to earn points on the license (eg 4 offences means losing your license for several years)
  • Driving without insurance, tax or license. Take the car away immediately and scrap it. Take away their license for life. Require significant amounts of community service. Implement a fine through the tax and benefit system (treat the fine a bit like a student loan).
  • If you are caught speeding outside a school then your car and license should be immediately taken away pending fine/points etc.

Technical

  • There need to be a visible and audible signals when anti-lock brakes are activated. These need to be visible to all passengers and also to people outside the car.
  • The same with traction control. When it is activated then everyone in the car and outside need to be aware.
  • These warnings should continue for some time after the activation.  As a cyclist I want to know if the car approaching me has needed anti lock brakes or traction control in the last 60 seconds or so as I may need to get off and run for my life.
  • There needs to be an automatic speed limiter applied following use of anti lock brakes or traction control. Say for 10 minutes after activation the car should be limited to 20mph. If there are further activations in that time then the time should be increased significantly.
  • I would also like to see gps controlled speed limiters with radio control. They would prevent anyone breaking the speed limit anywhere but would allow for speed limits to be automatically lowered due to weather and traffic conditions

Infrastructure

  • Immediate implementation of a 20mph speed limit on all residential streets.
  • No 30mph limits within the boundaries of a town or village (eg in a town the size of Syston, about 12,000, there is no need for any 30mph limits).
  • In freezing conditions any road that has not been gritted should have a 10mph speed limit

 

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