09 December 2014

Research-informed policymaking? Not in Newfoundland

Bear's cove, Harbour Grace

See anything wrong with this picture?  Nope. Me neither.  My kids had a wonderful summer in Harbour Grace playing on their bikes just like we did when we were kids.  We'd packed helmets for them, but somehow never put them on.  And as the days went on, it seemed less and less of an issue  -- these are quiet roads, and the kids were safe and under supervision.

However these days are about to be a thing of the past, as the Newfoundland government is proposing helmet laws.  Now, I'm not opposed to helmets - I wear one fairly regularly and I used to be pretty evangelical about them.  But then I looked at the research and realised that helmets do little or nothing to protect cyclists from harm.  Which is why I think helmet-wearing ought to be a choice, not under compulsion (and that there are much better ways of making cycling safer).

For one thing, cycle helmets are not designed or tested for protection at speeds over 12mph.  They are not like motorbike helmets, or ski helmets.  They are not tested for impacts with cars or trucks, but on kerbs.

The stats on helmet use and injuries are very complex (see this BMJ editorial which specifically discusses the Canadian data), but one thing is clear, there are far fewer cyclist injuries in countries where few if any cyclists wear helmets like Denmark and the Netherlands.  As you can see in the graph below - fatalities are almost inversely related to rates of cycling.  This is because Denmark and the Netherlands have invested in making roads safer, not in requiring helmets.

source: http://cyclinginfo.co.uk/blog/734/cycling/cycling-rates-by-country/

All helmet compulsion does is lower rates of cycling, which increases long-term health problems like obesity and diabetes.  As the Danes say, you're safer on a bike than on a sofa.

I'll try to blog more another day about some of the other ridiculous aspects of this, but for the moment, please write to your MHAs and ask them to look at the evidence before taking this retrograde step.

06 December 2014

Induced demand

A letter to my MSPs

Spokes has asked us all to write to our MSPs.  Here's my effort:

As you doubtless know, the Autumn statement has generated some new
'Barnett consequentials'. It would be great if some of these could be
dedicated to cycling infrastructure.

We all know that if you build roads, then cars magically appear to fill
them. If we do the same with cycle infrastructure, we might get someway
towards reaching the CAPS 'vision' of 10% of journeys being made by
bike by 2020.

Otherwise, we have no hope of making this vision a reality, and
Scotland will reap the whirlwind of higher demand on the health
service, congestion, and greenhouse gas promotion (another target not

But, with more infrastructure we stand a chance of making the
Minister's recent 'Vision' of a more active, healthier and happier
Scotland a reality - and that's the Scotland I want to bring my
children up in.

30 November 2014

1/3 of 1/3 = not worth the £

I've taken my 4 year old swimming twice.  His big sister went all the time, but that was when Waterworld was open. 

We've been to Dalry Swim centre twice now, for what is advertised as a  'fun' session.  On Sundays 1/3 of the pool is roped off into lanes, and the third of the pool next to that is occupied by people swimming laps.

So that leaves 1/3 of the pool.  Only, if you're with a pre-schooler who can't swim on his own, you have to stay in the shallow end.  Which means that the available space for us, and all the other families, is 1/3 of 1/3 of the pool.   

It's not the pool staff's fault that the swimmers don't use the lanes set aside for them.  They got out some floaty toys for us, which was nice.  The 4 year old had a blast. 

But what is telling is how few other families turn up, and what they're like.  I'm a poor swimmer, and I take my kids along in the hopes that they'll move on to lessons and be better swimmers than I am.  But the other families there tend to be keen swimmers - kids with lots of kit. Serious stuff. Not average local families splashing around.  In Waterworld you used to see lots of young dads with tattoos, Asian families, grandparents - a real mix of people from all walks of life.  

Doubtless the swimming lessons are attractive to a wider range of local residents, but that's not the same as splashing around and having fun.  And no exercise at all for the Mums and Dads and Grandparents. 

I can't compare this to other pools - maybe they are different - but the word on the street is that parents who can are taking their kids to Perth or Dunbar for water play.   

None of this augurs well for the future of Edinburgh Leisure's local facilities, or the health of local communities, who are being let down.

28 November 2014

A solution to cycle path maintenance

photo by Chris Hill

If you ask for a list of the top 10 things Edinburgh has done for cyclists recently, you will almost certainly hear someone mention 'widening North Meadow Walk'.   You can see the improvement in this Spokes report here.  Not only was it an excellent use of unexpected government money, but it responded to the network being 'over-capacity' by widening the path.  And as I reported in an earlier blogpost the design was adapted to accommodate the responses received in the consultation.  So, all good.  

Except, that with most of the work done in the summer of 2013, and finished in autumn 2013, it is already showing signs of poor design and maintenance issues.   The design problems showed up within weeks -- while the pedestrian (north) side of the path remains dry in the rain, the south side - for cyclists - is prone to puddles.  On the north side, the path sits slightly higher than the surrounding turf, but on the south side it is roughly level, with no drainage channels

In the autumn, this is compounded by dropping leaves, which also favour the south side of the path, because of the age of the trees, and the prevailing wind (see here for an expert explanation).  The combination of leaf 'jam' and mud makes for a worryingly slippery ride. 

And finally, the path is growing narrower as the mud and leaf mulch combine with the grass growing out over the stone border and onto the tarmac.  If you look at the pedestrian side you can clearly see the coping stones along the side, but on the cycle side, they are covered in turf - about 4 inches has grown over in some places. 

This is compounded by vehicles going along here and mashing the side of the path, as you can see in this picture.  
This isn't an issue that can be dealt with by sending a street sweeping machine along, or  even leaf blowers.  So, rather reluctantly, I canvassed for opinion on CityCyclingEdinburgh and a small group of us tackled the worst section of the path.  

This isn't a solution though, especially when the main problem is the actual design of the path.  The council doesn't expect drivers to sweep the roads, or fix potholes.  But it seems to be pretty standard to expect community groups to maintain cycle paths.  I think it's because cycle paths are still thought of as parks, and leisure spaces, not commuting routes, which obviously needs to change. 

Edinburgh's excellent about gritting paths in winter and not bad at sending out street sweepers,  but their budget's pretty stretched at the moment. So, here's my solution - all those drivers stopped for being on their mobiles, or eating their cereal, or even worse cases of careless and dangerous driving who get community service, should be given bikes with trailers, shovels, and rakes, and sent out to keep the mud and grass from our cycle paths.  

(so seriously, how do we get the council to deal with this?)

03 November 2014

A rather boring, slightly ranty, post

I've been pretty sceptical about the George Street cycle lanes since they were first proposed. But I thought I should at least try them out rather than just critiquing from afar. Last Saturday seemed like a good opportunity.  We again had to go to Jack Browns, so the stoker and I saddled up and made sure we had the helmet camera ready and loaded.

It's perhaps telling that cycle streets definitely doesn't recommend the route that I used (my route is shown ikn red below), even though it has the most/best cycle specific infrastructure on it, as well as the most direct route. It's a mile and a quarter through a vibrant shopping area with high pedestrian footfall, a bus station, a train station and a tram route, surrounded by parks and historic sights.   You'd think we want to make this a pleasant journey?  Even encourage people into the city centre?

As you can see I went for the most direct route, which is also along the best cycle infrastructure - in theory. What I did was to head from Lothian Road onto the new George Street cycle lane -- requiring crossing tram tracks at speed and then changing lanes.  This would be okay if it was clear what to do, but I was frantically trying to figure it out.  The cars and buses were surprisingly patient - probably because of my stoker - or because they didn't know where to go either. I've speeded this video up a bit too much at 16x, but that means its only 15 seconds long.

Once on the George Street lanes, it was fairly smooth sailing - once the furniture was moved.  the first couple of crossings are fine, then there's the slightly odd roundabout thing where we switch from one side of the road to the other - basically okay if the traffic's light, but I was at least expecting that.  can't imagine cycling that blind.  And finally, the cycle-specific lights.  Fine as far as they go, but quite a long wait?

Finally however, we get to what I consider the coup-de-grace -- we are directed onto the pavement (I think) then around the north side of St Andrew's square (I think), then onto some more pavement, then across the tram tracks (oddly there is a bike light suggesting the crossing is a toucan, but with railings on the island, I'd recommend walking), then down Queen street, which is 4 lanes + trams, I think, then across the tram tracks again...

Not my idea of fun.   On that ride, and the return leg a couple of hours later, I saw precisely 2 cyclists.  Unlike others, I had no issues with cars driving or parked on the lane.  and the pedestrians were pretty polite too - if a bit baffled by it all.

So, should I be being more positive about it?  Grateful that the council is thinking out of the box? Happy that they're taking segregation seriously?  Today's local paper quoted me as saying ""'It’s an attempt 2 balance so many different interests, but it’s not suited any of them' .  You can read the rest of the story here.  It also sparked a polite debate on our cycle forum.

I really wish I could be more positive and see it as a 'start', but I can't.  The George St lanes serve no purpose at all in making the city centre more cyclable.  Those who are more optimistic may hope that this first step convinces the local businesses that they can still function - thrive even - on a pedestrianised road, or next to cycle lanes.  If that is the outcome then it will be positive. But I don't think we should pretend that what has been created is some sort of cycle infrastructure, because it clearly isn't.

05 October 2014

Panda Crossing?

I saw this picture on twitter earlier today, and all I could think was how much better it would make my work commutes (and that of all the pedestrians who use the same route as me).

So, for instance, at Bruntsfield Place/ the top of Leamington Terrace:

Or when crossing Melville Drive at Argyle Place, where planners have jury-rigged something that approximates this already...(shhh...don't tell anyone)

And it would be an excellent addition to the planned crossings/route that I blogged about earlier in the week.

The good news is:

Now, we just need to get it in the Scottish Guidance (and get my suggested name adopted!).

01 October 2014

Step Change?

Yesterday I had to make my way from my office near the Meadows to a meeting near Haymarket.
Amazingly, I realised that not only can I get most of the way there using off-road paths, but if current proposals go through, I will be able to ride 99% of it off road in a couple of years.

The current route, in case you're wondering goes - NMW-Tarvit Street-Gilmore Place-Leamington Lift Bridge - Toucan crossing - Shared use path - toucan across the Western Approach - shared use path through to Dalry colonies - Dalry rd  (link here)

map from cyclestreets

Under the proposals currently under consideration, there will be segregated paths, toucan crossings, and two cul-de-sacs linking the Meadows to the Canal.

I am convinced that the proposals being consulted on reflect a step change in the city's cycling provision.  I have a vague recollection that at some point there had been talk about 'shared pavements' being involved.  But when the first phase of consultation with stakeholders occurred, there was no mention of it at all.  All the options under consideration involved segregation.  Clearly lessons were learned from the Meadows to Innocent process,  where proposals for shared use pavements were revised.

The Canal-to-Meadows consultation - by far the best I have been involved in - asked the stakeholders to consider how best to implement the project aim - a cycle network - while balancing the competing demands of pedestrians, local residents, shops, and bus users.

Some of you will remember this intersection from this blog and perhaps also that of Uberuce. It desperately needs improvement, and I'm pretty convinced that the current proposals go a long way to making it more family-friendly at least.  I'm even more hopeful that it may be part of a process of making the Tollcross area more pedestrian-friendly, and help local businesses,

And it won't just be useful to local folks -- it will enable safe, family-friendly cycling all the way from the city's western edge to Musselburgh.  Extraordinary really.

But cycling through yesterday also highlighted the limitations of the council's current approach.

The full route to Haymarket is bitty, and windy, and surprisingly hard to follow - despite having cycled it several times before in both directions (see also), I still missed a crucial turn.  It is not, and will never be speedy.  If it is ever widely used by cyclists, it will become entirely hostile for pedestrians.

If we're ever going to get 10% of trips made by bike, then we need this sort of segregated infrastructure, but once we get to that 10%, it will be over-capacity, and a substantial rethink will be required, along with another step change....

But, ever since I participated in the first stage of consultation for the Canal-Meadows link, I've been feeling quietly optimistic, not about cycling, but about the potential to make Edinburgh a more liveable city. This is only the first step, but it's a really important one.

(by the way, if you use the Canal-Meadows route, or might if it were safer, please do respond to the consultation - it's extremely short and very straightforward).

(Edited 5 October)