Monday, 29 October 2012

pricing roads and cities

This week the government is wheeling out the mad-think-tank idiots -the ones who no doubt blame the rail privatisation failure for "not going far enough", and now they are talking about privatising roads, presumably pavements too.

This is because the government is publishing something on car tax changing that is proposing two tiers of tax
  • Urban roads, country roads and most A roads.
  • Premium: All roads, including motorways and "some" A roads.
The "premium" deal will fund motorway "improvements".

This is bollocks for anyone who drives, as the "value" edition will mean you can never, ever, ever drive on a motorway. You may not get stuck on the M4 every weekday to have the option of using a motorway on a summer weekend. No, most car owners except for people who live in the scottish highlands will end up with the premium car tax.

It's like the BBC license tax that use to have a B&W option as well as colour: now everyone except for a very, very few all has a colour license.

This seems just like a tax increase then -but it's worse. It's the plan to fund a new generation of road improvements "to kick start the economy".

Those private-financed-motorway lanes? Here's the funding. Those new motorway exits? Here's the funding. The south coat m-way? The oxford-cambridge m-way? Here comes the money.

The government will hypothecate the motorway premium to building new motorways and expanding existing ones. This will generate extra traffic anywhere near the motorways, whose costs will be borne by everyone else.

This thinking shows how fucking simple-minded the DfT is. all they give a fuck about is how much it costs to keep motorways working. What the government doesn't give a fuck about is in-city congestion. It is in the cities that the external costs of driving are the highest -and borne by the residents, the pedestrians, the cyclists, the public transport users.

Anyone who drives on a motorway creates congestion -a cost imposed on everyone else on the motorway; everyone gets held up and the congestion costs are shared. (there's pollution, fuel consumption, the impact of oil imports on the UK economy of course)

In a city, the space taken up by each car on the move could be used much more efficiently: bus lanes, segregated bike paths, pedestrian/bike areas. The pollution caused by everyone sitting in traffic jams makes the cities worse places to live, the parking spaces they take up are where our segregated bike paths should go.

Would an inner-city car tax surplus work? No, still bollocks. Because per-use charging is the only way to make people change their actions. Once you've paid for an m-way pass, you may as well drive on them whenever you need to. There's no financial incentive not to. 

Per-use charging encourages people to make decisions based on the individual cost & benefits of that single choice. That's motorway and road tolls -though that may just push vehicles onto the roads we cyclists try to survive on. In town, a congestion charge used to fund public transport, cycling improvements and traffic mitigation policies would force every car commuter to consider their options every day. If those fees changes based on time of day, you'd even level out peak hour traffic.

A premium motorway-edition car tax will do nothing at all to improve our cities. All it will do is create unrealistic expectations in the people who pay it.

Why red paint on a road is such a waste of money

The reviewing of the Gilbert Road history makes a key point to the members of the  People's Cycling Front of South Gloucestershire:

Painting red strips at the edge of the road is not only a waste of money -it is a dangerous waste of money.

Why does any money get spent on cycling facilities? It's not out of the goodness of the heart of politicians, who have many other things to do with it.

  1. Safety: People -cycling campaigners and voters are demanding facilities to improve cycling.
  2. Take-up: A goal has been set (locally or centrally) to increase the number of cyclists, to achieve modal shift

Red paint on the road does not achieve goal #1, hence #2, take-up of cycling falls by the wayside.

Why doesn't red paint achieve cycling safety. Because it is fucking useless.

  1. It often goes up in the door-zone, the place where you don't want to cycle.
  2. If it goes up alongside a pavement, irrespective of what no parking signs go up, selfish lazy wankers who can't walk more than two feet to their destination will park there. Usually they get away with it from a society that thinks it is acceptable.
  3. Motor vehicles zip by you fast if you are naive enough to cycle in the paint zone.
  4. If you cycle out of the paint zone, out of the door zone, you get the cars sounding their horns, the people complaining the cyclists don't use the facilities. In the worst case, you  get the councillors saying the cyclists don't deserve any more facilities because they don't use the shit stuff they've been given. 
  5. It's not the straight road stretches that are that dangerous -if they are, a 20 mph zone helps. 
  6. What is dangerous -and which the red paint never does anything about- is crossing junctions safely. Often the red paint goes away just before you get to a roundabout, to some four way crossing, to somewhere where you need the acceleration of Cavendish or Grimpel to get across the main road. That's not just some road crossing -many of the "cycle path" crossings of junctions do the same. 
People who cycle will continue to do it, either in the red door zone or, if sensible, in the piss-off-driver zone, and hope to get over the junctions safely. Having cyclist thighs and experience helps them, which is why the vehicular-cycling-only group are usually fit males. Women, kids, they don't have the edge or the hormones.

People who don't cycle -remember that goal #2, take-up- won't, because they try that red line, feel the cars going past, then discover their local council has abandoned them at the junction. Once they get over it, they say "never again", and don't. The bicycle only comes out on the leisure routes, routes the council is happy to give out brochures on -not once wondering why the leisure routes are the only places that you see families on bicycles -families that drive there.

Because red-paint-roads don't achieve safety and hence modal-shift, there is no fucking point wasting any money on them. Because they take away money and time that could make cycling safer. Even ignoring segregated routes, it could be spent making roundabouts and other junctions safer for people cycling on roads -something TfL is clearly failing to do. 

Cycle campaigning groups must make it clear that red-paint achieves nothing. If you see the proposals, ask what the goals are -safety and modal shift- and make clear they don't achieve them. Then say "what can you do that makes things safe and so encourages take-up"

If a council cannot make the roads safe for cycling -and they acknowledge that fact using words like "flow", then that leaves them with only one alternative: safe, segregated routes with safe crossings of junctions. 

It's that junction crossing which is the thing to watch out for. It's why the vehicular cycling advocates have got it right -cycling over a roundabout offers better rights of way than hiding in the traffic islands waiting for a gap. Except neither are safe -which is why both have to go. 

Which raises the question: is the CTC really the Popular Cycling Front of S Gloucs: the committee people who cycle down the rounds, sprint over the junctions, and believe it is their inalienable right to die on an A-road after a transit van driven by a git on a mobile runs into them saying "they just came out of nowhere."

We have to stop compromising on shit paint that does nothing. Either a facility makes cycling safer, achieving modal shift or it doesn't. If it doesn't: there is no fucking point doing it. 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

After British cycling's Arab Spring: the storms

The first half of 2012 has to go down as British Cycling's Arab Spring. Consider:

  • The Times making cycling safety a key issue for the paper.
  • Mass protests round London about junction safety.
  • The CEoGB changing the agenda from "right to die on dual carriageways" to "right to get to school alive"
  • All the London Mayoral Candidates having to make a promise towards Dutch Cycling.
  • A change in the thinking of the LCC towards safe infrastructure, and even the CTC considering it.
  • TfL promising to review its most dangerous junctions.
  • Mass protests to Addison Lee about their "just use the bus lane" policy and a U-turn on that.
  • The Sky cycling team finishing the Tour de France in yellow
  • The UK olympic team finishing with lots of gold.
That was the spring. Now: autumn. And its storms.

We have already seen the press pushing back, NYC-style "bikelash" articles usually referring to Wiggins or that MP and then somehow blaming every cyclist for existing, while the councils and TfL continuing to do nothing dutch-style for their regions.

Now it is getting worse. The councils are moving beyond indifference to cycling to adding features that make things worse -prioritising more motor traffic at the expense of the inconsistent, incomplete and usually shit cycling facilities we get today.
What little leftovers we had on the side of junctions is being taken away to add extra traffic lanes.
Twickenham is the most well known example right now: a council working with TfL to convert a bus lane into an all-traffic lane, omitting all consideration of cycling -and when pushed back saying "it's too early for detailed planning". Except we all know, that that phrase will suddenly change to being "it's too late" -which is already where it is in the minds of the road planners. This also shows a key flaw in all on-road bluewash paint-jobs: it only takes another layer of paint for it to go away. At least proper infrastructure takes effort to destroy -someone really has to want to do this.

Here, South Gloucestershire council has started exactly that at the BAE/Airbus Roundabout on the A4174, where the A38 Northbound crosses the ring road. On the E. and N. sides -dual carriageways. On the W. and S. sides: single lane traffic jams -better to cycle through as the stationary traffic makes it easier to negotiate.

The Road Planners wanted to widen the road by taking away the parkland, the we want your shubbery debacle.

They went back to the drawing board, listening to Filton Council's suggestion of "use the pavement".

Now they have returned, with a plan to exactly that -remove the shared pavement cycle path to make a driving lane. 

The proposals are online in a three week long consultation.

If you look at the plans, you can see a wide bit of pavement being cut away.

If you look at google streetview, you see something different. You see a cycle path on the pavement, helping people cycle over the overbridge to the shopping centre on the other side, or to the crossing lights. As only the bold use the road here, this (shite) pavement infrastructure is the closest the area has to utility cycling. It's not great, but between junctions it is survivable.

Once the council take this away, you will get dumped onto the ring road, now forced to cycle over a junction which has an extra lane of traffic trying to feed left. Or you will just give up cycling altogether.

This is beyond indifference. This is beyond ignorance. This is a wilful removal of off-road cycling infrastructure to add extra traffic lanes.

If they can do it here, they can do it anywhere in the area -and the whole ring road cycle path is at risk.

Here comes the storm.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Councils don't give a fuck about cyclists -how to make them?

This week we have Southwark Council closing one of the main cycle routes in their area for a year, the city of London, proposing to divert cyclists out of their area, and Twickenham converting a bus lane to another roadway. -adding an advisory bike lane that even they state in their press release will be of no fucking use at peak hours -that is, school run and commuting times.

What to these things have in common?
  1. Local councils that don't give a fuck about bicycles. 
  2. Last minute discovery of plans about to happen.
  3. Last minute objections by cyclists
  4. Councils unwilling to accept they've fucked up or make any changes.
This happens again and again. Only one thing appears to stop it: large scale protests which generate negative press reports about the council and trigger the electorate contacting all their councillors.

This works because councillors need to realise that cycling facilities are not just for "a few cyclists", but are for their electorate, the businesses of the region -and for them themselves. If we get viewed as strange lycra-and-hi-viz troublemakers, we won't get anything.

This is not so much a safety-in-numbers story, as a strength-in-numbers.

The councils need to know the cyclists matter. TfL and Boris may have got this message, even if they aren't willing to do much about it. Addison Lee's management have the message, even if their drivers have different views.

Regional and Borough councils seem to have different views. The worst is Westminster, which resents the very presence of anyone on a bicycle in their area. The City seems, well, to have twentieth-century street models. They may say the road designs are "medieval", but that's no reason to put in 1995 road narrowing/pavement widening.

How to put in extra pressure on them:
  • Public protest. Southwark and Twickenham could be targets here, with different reactions. Twickenham: some kind of mass protest outside the council house might be noticed.
  • Southwark could be a site for some other experiment -what about an organised "bicycle bus" over the diversion at set times of the morning? If you don't feel safe going over the diversion on your own, wait until the  half hour and set off en-masse with everyone else who is doing it. A kind of critical mass for commuting. It might annoy some people trying to drive through, but as nobody is going to go out their way to cycle over Blackfriar's Bridge in the rush hour, it would actually reduce cycling traffic between the "bike buses". 
What about here in S. Gloucs? It has the Waltham Forest problem: so few cyclists that they really can afford not to give a fuck. Which is why they
The Bristol Cyclists, they have their own issues (BRT2 anyone?), and need to focus their efforts there. Few of them would willingly come out to S Gloucs unless they were heading as fast as they could to nicer areas (over to Wales, the Cotswolds). Which means the council can get away with cycling facilities that at best suppress cycling, at worst make it more dangerous.

Fighting the battle here is -almost- a losing battle. Almost, because even if the residents are a bunch of fat-arsed car potatoes who would rather raise a petition to stop the one bike friendly thing the borough has done -a bus and bike only route- than use a bus or bicycle themselves.

If change is going to come from Bristol, it would have to come from the employers of the big North Fringe businesses. 

Returning to London, then, a nicer note to finish on: Londenneur's proposal for a cycling city plan. The vision the councils and TfL lack.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

ASA & road tax. fuck off, again

A complaint

Advert, "Lexus CT" Guardian, Sept 15 2012 p11
The Second Bullet Point in this car advertisment was " no road tax"
This statement is misleading as it is referring to Vehicle Excise Duty.
The conflation of "car tax" and the right to use a road creates needless conflict between cyclists and drivers -as the latter believe that people on a bicycle have no right to be there.
As an example, consider this video of a couple abusing someone for being in their way, arguing that they shouldn't be there as they don't pay road tax:
Before replying with the stock "it's the vernacular form", consider the following facts
1. Peugeot and Nissan have switched to using the phrase "car tax". They clearly recognise that their customers will understand the concept. Given that Lexus is targeting the high-end of the market, their customer base should also be able to comprehend this.

2. The failure of the ASA to even pass these complaints on the car manufacturers is becoming a story in its own right:

This shows that there is no reason for the manufacturers to not use "Car Tax" in their advertisments, and that your organisation is failing in its duty -something that is becoming more obvious over time.
The reply
Thank you for your recent complaint about a press ad by Toyota (GB) Plc for the Lexus CT. I understand you object to the use of the term “Road Tax”.
We have assessed the ad and your complaint but consider that there are insufficient grounds for ASA intervention on this occasion. Whilst we acknowledge that the correct term is indeed “Vehicle Excise Duty”, more commonly used phrases such as “Road Tax” are often used by advertisers to convey a message in a way that will be understood by the widest audience. The requirements of the CAP Code are such that the ASA draws a distinction between technical inaccuracies and claims which are likely to mislead consumers to their detriment. In this case we consider it unlikely that the use of a common term for this type of tax will mislead consumers to their detriment by influencing their transactional decisions in relation to the advertiser’s products and we will therefore not be taking further action on this occasion. Please note that the ASA does not pass the details of complaints to advertisers if we consider that no action is required. You would need to contact them directly with your concerns.

I realise that this outcome may disappoint you, but thank you for taking the time to contact us with your views.

Which means : fuck off and we won't even bother telling the car company.