Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Cycle Of Acceptance

I have been force-fed all kinds of management and business models over the years as I have been gently sheep-dipped through never ending corporate training courses. It seems that something has stuck as I was thinking about the five stages of grief this week.

I'll pause there for a moment as the model proposed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross is about a serious issue and I don't want to make light of it, but with some of the reactions to public consultations over the years and some of the anti-cycling infrastructure news stories, I really think there are some parallels to be explored here. My adaption of the model is a bit flippant of course, but I think there is something in it which is worth the discussion.

I have been thinking about this particularly as a large bridge is about to be rebuilt on my patch (not one of my schemes hasten to add) and a big road will be going from 2 lanes in each direction to 1 lane in each direction for several months.

So, the model says that there are 5 stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Thinking about the local bridge rebuild, there have been hints of the first three stages from stuff I have read locally, with the current "bargaining" being about some full closure dates over Christmas for some heavy kit to be moved about; locals are wondering if things can be changed around and what the options are. For this scheme, the decisions are all made and very soon, people will have to accept it, although I am not quite sure what their depression will look like; perhaps being stuck in traffic jams.

So, here is my suggested adaption of the model when applied to cycling schemes (although it could equally apply to anything, such as my views on motorway expansion!);

The subject has a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept that highway space is going to be reallocated to cycling or a street is going to be made comfortable for those wanting to cycle. The subject will typically cite the behaviour of "cyclists" as why things should not change and that roads are for cars. Impact on bus services will come up quite a bit here.

The subject will be very upset and anger will manifest itself in different ways. The subject may turn up at public meetings and shout down those trying to make rational arguments. They may dismiss facts and data, making statements like "you don't live here" or "no, the data is wrong". The subject will respond to public consultations with liberal use of capitals in emails and letters, they will use the words stupid and idiotic and resort to personally attacking scheme designers and promoters.

The subject will seek to adjust and rationalise their position. They will talk about "compromise" being needed or perhaps even that that the needs of all road users need to be balanced in an attempt to try and get a scheme watered down. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution. Anti-cycling groups may threaten court action or try and frustrate the process in order to get their views accepted by others. Classic examples will be the subject saying that traffic doesn't need filtering out of residential streets because the main roads cannot take the traffic or that 20mph limits won't be enforced and people should be trusted to drive to the conditions.

The subject is starting to accept that the scheme is going ahead, but remains deeply unhappy. They remain emotionally attached to their opposition and despite the fact that the decision has been made to proceed with the scheme, the subject is experiencing the dual fear that they are right and the world will end, or perhaps more terrifying; that they were utterly wrong and not only will people be enabled to cycle, that the subject will look foolish.

The subject starts to become emotionally detached from the scheme and their earlier fears. By now, the scheme will be up and running and the world continues to turn. The subject will be able to turn their attention to the next scheme, but conveniently forget how well the last one turned out and contradicts their long-held prejudices.

OK, I have poked fun at the expense of a serious subject, but understanding one's opponent is half the battle and at the end of the day, we are all people and we all go through the rollercoaster of emotion and we all find it hard to accept facts if they don't fit with our world view.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

A Walk In Winchester

Well, this is one of those "what I did last week" posts, but for me, there is always a learning experience to be had. So, last Friday, the car had a rare outing (to be sat) on the motorways and I headed to Winchester.

I was there to give a short presentation for the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation's "Walking Group" at the "creating a more walkable Winchester" workshop which was attended by various city councillors, local walking groups and staff from the City and Hampshire County Council. There were also presentations from Living Streets and the County's public health team. The most interesting part of the session (for me) was when we went out in small groups to have a walk around and to discuss the issues we saw.

Winchester is a very compact city with most of the outer residential areas being within a 40 minute walk of the centre (see left from the City's Walking Strategy). From my discussions with the great and the good, it would appear that the area has a high level of car ownership (with many multi-car households) and there are plenty of people who drive in from the surrounds to work and to get to the station. An interesting point is made in the strategy that walking is often quicker than driving!

Despite having three park-and-ride hubs on the outskirts, the place is congested at peak times and still busy during the day. There is lots of public car parking in the city which ranges in price by location. I parked at the Chesil car park which was apparently weird because it involved walking into the city (no more than 5 minutes!) The park-and-ride might have been more sensible, but I didn't have any coins with me to pay for it and I probably should have taken my folder and cycled in (although the motorways were bad and I was pushed for time).

Friarsgate - a one-way traffic sewer.
Noisy and fast (despite the 20mph speed limit)
There is no ring road around Winchester, but it is saddled with an awful one-way system which partially acts as one and it has several main roads arranged radially which really shouldn't be taking the traffic they do. These roads create severance between the outer-residential areas and the city core, as well as being hostile and not at all permeable for cycling.

As we walked around, we discussed the usual "quick wins" of delcuttering, providing decent dropped kerbs and tidying up planting, but it was recognised that substantial change to the infrastructure was needed which is difficult against the backdrop of cuts to local services and with a highway authority in Hampshire County Council which doesn't have quite the same focus on active travel as city councillors and activists would like.

A driver turns right off the right hand lane of the one-way road, on the
wrong side of the road. They weren't the only one. I watched for 5
minutes and all three right turners did the same. It's the layout.

There is an old, but reasonably protected cycle route through this
running left-right. To the right (behind the photo) one could
reach the South Downs National Park which encroaches into the city.
Except the crossings of the M3 are awful.

It has been correctly realised that the city is also an attraction for tourists and so lots of coaches have to be catered for. Sadly, they are catered for in a really wide road outside the Guildhall which is an awful space in front of such a wonderful building. But, it's not all bad. The city core is pedestrianised with some cycle access (it should be the whole core of course), but it attractive, well-maintained and has life, which is what the shopping streets with heavy traffic lacks as people walk through as quickly as they can.

A nice "sticky street" where people want to come and where people
want to stay.

Even the quality of the buskers reflected the quality of the space!

Sadly, I didn't get enough time to walk around further as is often the case with these flying visits and one cannot get a grasp of the issues in a couple of hours. However, I think Winchester is a good example of a typical town (I know it's a city) with the typical tensions of wanting a great place for people to be in, but also so reliant on the car and with the consequences of its domination of the areas around the central core. 

What did impress me is how a cross-party group of politicians have come together with non-political groups to agree that something has to be done and indeed get a strategy in place which is politically-led, rather than leaving it to officers (who supported of course). The more I travel around and meet people, the more I can sense that there is an underlying dissatisfaction with our urban places and a desire for change. Many people don't know how to get change and they don't know how it could be. An interesting point was made by a councillor that people go on holiday to wonderful places where they can walk everywhere, but can't make the link to the places they drive to back home. We have a lot of work to do in the UK.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

London Kidical Mass 2015

Today was rather fun! We had the London Kidical Mass on our calendar for some time and originally it was going to be Ranty Junior and me attempting to get our bikes to Regent's Park.

Presumably, I was calling the Cones Hot Line
He was feeling a little tired (big school does that) and so in the end all 5 of us headed across Town  on the rails with a pair of scooters and the baby with her push along tricycle. 

We arrived right on time to be greeted by Mama Moose (aka Deborah) who proceeded to have a word with Roman of London Green Cycles (LdnGreenCycles) and after a short walk, I was suddenly in charge of a rather large box-bike and so rather than playing catch-up with the wheels and feet we had, we were in the middle of the action (although Mrs RH ended up baby sitting another cargobike and caught up with us later). This was the first time I had ever ridden a cargobike (well apart from using my trailer) and as usual, a different way of riding.

We rode around Regent's Park, people of all types on all sorts of bikes in the Autumn sun. Three kids in a cargobike with huge grins and one big kid doing the pedalling. After the ride, there was a picnic and a chat with some old faces and some new ones. We then took the bike back and had a nose around the shop. The talk as we walked away, was all about bikes and coming back to hire one or two for a family ride. Seriously, we need to keep pushing for the infrastructure and changes to London's streets so everyone can move under their own steam and in safety. So, as usual for this kind of day, I shall leave you with the photos (taken by Ranty Junior).

Saturday, 12 September 2015

It's An Accident Waiting To Happen!

They are the phrases so often seen in the local press; "something must be done before someone is killed" and "it's an accident waiting to happen"; and perhaps, they're a proxy for an underlying dissatisfaction with how our streets are arranged and managed.

Accident is not a word to be used when talking about our streets, simply because it has overtones of randomness, of an incident which simply happened and couldn't be prevented (although unless you have a TARDIS, you are not going to be able to prove prevention). The words to use are collision or crash, the second of which is perhaps getting a little more emotive, but often used emotively with good reason.

Those of us who design highway schemes routinely use casualty data to look at historic trends and to find patterns, but they really are the tip of the iceberg and so we also need to think about risk (plus looking as casualty data is another post in its own right). Road Safety Audit, when used properly, can highlight potential risks during the design and implementation of a scheme or we can simply consider collision risk in that similar types of features are likely to create conditions for similar collisions. So, we have data showing "things which have happened" and can use our experience to look at "things which might happen", but what about the space between, the "things which could have happened"?

Chris Boardman launches the event, talking about our inner chimp!
Fortunately (at least for people on bikes), there are people looking at just this. The Near Miss Project has just published a report on its first year and it makes for some interesting reading. I will leave you to read the detail, although I will pull some things out which I personally find interesting and useful as an engineer. Of course, I am also interested as I took part in the study which collected and analysed 4,000 incidents from a day diary kept by 1,500 volunteers. The day was selected in advance (so no picking the worst day of a week in retrospect), but yes, this type of thing does rely on honesty.

After the official launch which was kicked off by Chris Boardman (yes, that one) with the report highlights given by Dr. Rachel Aldred, those attending split off into group discussions on various topics including engineering and legal issues, plus there was lots of non-structured discussion too. Now, I am from the pro-infrastructure end of the cycling debate as you know (which doesn't mean building cycle tracks on every single road before someone takes issue) and it was interesting to listen to plenty of views which I don't agree with. Interesting, because the views often come as a result of people's experiences and how they cope with the conditions out on the streets. I have seen comments on Twitter suggesting that the report is there to sell segregation or that it dangerises cycling.

It has been said by some that the "near misses" recorded in the study were not real incidents. It may be that those articulating this point are doing so because they either don't recall being exposed to the same kind of thing or see it is happening to those "less experienced" cyclists. Additionally, these "non incidents" are only ever going to be anecdotal; they are only people's experiences and opinions plus, different people would view the same kind of things differently. Well, that is the point isn't it? There was also debate around the so called "safety in numbers" effect (which wasn't found by the research).

We are in relatively new territory here, because we are now asking the end user to provide feedback on the current situation. In the same way as casualty-analysis can show patterns, the use of this kind of data (and location was logged) will start to show patterns of where people feel most exposed.

So, back to the things which interested me especially. Despite this project having those reporting deciding for themselves what was scary or just annoying (with no thresholds), 94% of the reports classified near misses in 5 ways;

  • having the way blocked (38%)
  • a problematic (usually close) pass (29%)
  • a vehicle pulling out/ in (16%)
  • being driven at (6%)
  • left/ right hook (5%)
Having the way blocked is interesting as it is those situations where a cyclist needs to pull out to get round something such as a parked car. This type is issue wasn't considered as being particularly scary, but over time of course, it makes cycling hard work. The scary issues were the other four categories (56% together) although being driven at is not necessarily a driver being aggressive, it can be situations where there is a single lane available because of parked vehicles. The report muses overlaying the data with casualty records to look at other patterns which is a very good idea.

It was suggested that in areas with higher levels of cycling, there was no reduction in the rate of near misses (against the safety in numbers proposition). The project hopes to expand internationally in the future and it would be very interesting to look at near miss frequency in those high cycling places which coincidentally have well-developed and safe provision for cycling.

I visited the Victoria Embankment after the launch. On busy routes
like this, the provision of high-quality infrastructure to keep people
who want to cycle away from vehicles and will provide good levels
of experienced safety.

If you don't want to cycle in places like this, then fine, but this is
designed for people who are scared of riding in heavy traffic and with
heavy vehicles such as this low loader.
The other point which interested me was that the faster people cycle, the less likely they are to report near misses. This conclusion was stripped of demographic issues and so was stated with good confidence. Cyclists how reach their destination at 8mph or less (over the whole journey) have three times more near misses per mile as those travelling at 12mph or faster. To put this into context (with an anecdote!) I had a look at my times for the Ride London 100 (well 86) from last year. For the first 17 miles, I averaged 16 miles per hour which was after a lot of training with an overall average speed of 11 miles per hour. I think my normal pootling speed is 9/10 miles per hour (I don't measure it) and so from the study, I would reckon that those at the 12mph end are most likely to be those who are fitter than me, cycle further, are used to mixing with traffic and are more numb to near misses because of the way in which they cycle as a way of coping with the conditions.

The good news is the study is going to continue and is looking for people to record their experiences towards the end of next month and you can sign up here. Beyond this, it is hoped to go international. What would be amazing is if in some way near misses could be reported, mapped and classified automatically and made open-source, just imagine the possibilities. This type of work is so valuable in understanding experienced safety because we can throw statistics at people about how safe cycling is in absolute injury terms, we can go on about the mode share for a particular area, but it is for nothing if people feel scared.

Monday, 31 August 2015

To Bypass Or Not To Bypass - What Is The Answer?

Last week saw a lot of miles covered, with the first part of the week being a dash to Deventer in the Netherlands and the second part being back in Blighty (which is derived from Urdu if you're interested!)

The UK trip was mainly to see family, although there was a chance for an evening climb of Glastonbury Tor, as well as a day spent at the wonderful Stock Gaylard Oak Fair in Dorset (which I wholeheartedly recommend). But this is about transport, not days out. Driving down to the Southwest from London, we inevitably ended up on the A303 (which always has us think about the Kula Shaker song). The A303 is much nicer route than the motorways, at least until it goes to a single lane road at Countess Services where it is pretty much guaranteed to grind to a halt during peak holiday time. Dorset and a much wider area is bounded by the M3, M4 and M5 and with no motorways within, relies on the A-road network taking the strain.

Approaching Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, my mind was cast back to the debate about what to do with the A303 as it passes the UNESCO World Heritage site and indeed some of the villages (which is in many ways a more important issue). The monument used to have a road on each side, but one road (the A344) has recently been removed along with a revamp of the visitor facilities (see Google Streetview from 2011 and 2015. 

It's amazing that we can make radical changes like this when we want to for a pile of old rocks (I'm being flippant). The A303 is still awful, but the loss of the A344 makes it a bit less awful and the junction with the A303 had a high casualty-rate. Mind you, with people slowing to walking pace on the A303 to take photos, it's no wonder that there are still crashes. Not everyone is happy, the Stonehenge Traffic Action Group (STAG) has claimed that the closure has pushed more traffic into local villages which would have used the A344.

Winterbourne Stoke lies to the southwest of Stonehenge and is split by the A303. It contains a plethora of traffic signs and road markings attempting to slow drivers as they pass, although the speed limit is 40mph. There have been countless crashes and many fatalities on the A303 through the village in recent years and so not surprisingly, there is a sister campaign group to STAG, the Winterbourne Stoke Bypass Angst (WiSBAng) campaign. This section of the A303 carried just over 12,000 vehicles per day in 2000, rising to nearly 20,600 in 2014; although there has been some fluctuation over the years. 2002 saw 21,300 vehicles per day. An interesting comparison can be had with the Victoria Embankment in London which carried nearly 20,000 vehicles per day in 2000 and nearly 29,000 in 2014 (peak of over 42,000 in 2007).

It seems that there are friends in high places as work to the A303 has featured in the Government's road building plans, although the announcement was made in the last parliament. For Stonehenge, there are options involving tunnelling which would allow the landscape around the monument to be restored to an open setting, although the cheaper options mean major road-building within the World Heritage setting and groups such as the Campaign for Rural England are concerned about this and the wider road-building agenda. Mind you, the scheme has been on and off the roads agenda over the years - the Campaign for Better Transport celebrated its shelving in 2007.

Useful guardrail this, there is a drop down to the road!
So, to Glastonbury, which was a stopover for our trip and so there was just enough time between dinner and bedtime for a walk up the Tor

We walked along Chilkwell Street which is on the A361, before turning off to get to the Tor. The road passes to the south of Glastonbury, but new development has spilled over to the south and so the road splits the area in two. As we were walking back after our climb, I noticed posters in many of the windows in support of the "Lighten the Load" campaign to get freight traffic routed away from the town. The A361 doesn't have a high casualty rate (at least compared to the A303), but if our snapshot walk is anything to go by, I could certainly understand why people want change,

Awful photo of a 40 tonne lorry!
The reason why was soon brought home when two 40 tonne lorries went by, neither of which kept to "their" side of the road because of its narrowness. The photo to the left is on a raised walkway where the lorries didn't bother us (but the footway on the other is a different matter), but before we got here, the footway was so narrow that my group stopped and backed against a wall to let a lorry pass. Pretty scary for adults, let alone the kids.

Interestingly, the Lighten the Load campaign is pragmatic about the possibility of a bypass. There has been lots of talk over many years, but for the Southwest, Glastonbury doesn't appear as a priority. The campaign wants a 7.5 tonne weight limit to stop long-distance freight traffic passing through, although because the route is meant to be freight, the campaign worries that it won't be looked at. I don't know where this HGV traffic is going to or coming from, but a weight limit would need to be strategically placed and other places may be impacted. According to DfT data, the A361 carried 6,500 vehicles per day in 2000, which rose to 8,150 in 2014. HGV traffic varies over the time, but is about 6.5% now. LGV traffic (3.5 tonnes to 7.5 tonnes) is around 15%.

I tweeted the photos from Glastonbury which prompted opinions to the effect of tough, the people chose to live there and do they not shop in places which are serviced by these trucks? Now, it is a point I understand, but equally, why shouldn't people wish to improve their local environment? Our reliance on commodities shipped across the world and then delivered by the largest vehicles possible has crept up on us, along with the de-facto replacement of rail and passenger freight with motorways and trunk roads. I would not even think about doing the trip we did by train as it was done on a single tank of petrol (yes, the cost of running a car is more than that). 

Of course, despite having 6 of us in the car, we still added to the traffic jams, pollution and road danger. I am no fan of road-building, but I am struggling to find answers to Stonehenge and Glastonbury which don't involve road building. Perhaps my problem is that I am thinking about the places in isolation when I should be thinking about the road network on a county or regional level. The problem is the M3 ends up (ish) at Southampton with the M5 at Exeter; and as I have stated, Dorset and the wider area doesn't have motorways, although as a tourist, I can't say traffic jams are ever a major problem (but I don't live there).

If the traffic flow could be cut in half through Winterbourne Stoke, it would still be awful for the village. For Stonehenge, we could further ruin the landscape with a bund to stop the rubber necking. Perhaps a bypass of the area is the right answer. Perhaps rebuilding branch lines to these places and low rail fares will get tourists off the road network. Perhaps, tourists should stay at home, I just don't know. Tunnels are very expensive, but Stonehenge is an asset for the World and so is doing nothing really an option? I can imagine a tunnel, but with a cycle route left along the A303 so people can more gently stop and wonder at the monument.

For Glastonbury, is it right that long distance freight traffic passes so close to homes and the toes of cowering pedestrians, or is it tough? The country needs to function and freight needs to be assisted to keep the price of things down, especially with global competition.

The answers here are going to be beyond transport and into what society wants. The day at the Oak Fair showcased all sorts of products and produce from the local area. An oak picnic table caught our eye and we asked the chap on the stall where the timber came from. His answer was within three miles of the showground. This must be a clue to at least part of the answer. What do you think?