On meeting some politicians

Recently I went to an event organised by the Women’s Cycle Forum and a group called “We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote“, which describes itself as an umbrella organisation, formed to campaign on Active Travel issues in the run up to forthcoming elections in Scotland. They described the form of the event as “speed dating” – which was actually a pretty good description. There were five tables, and five politicians, and each table got ten minutes with each politician. It did feel slightly manic… I understand that they only had a limited amount of time so had to keep everyone moving, and they did do that successfully.

The five politicians were: Joan McAlpine MSP (SNP), Alison Johnstone MSP (Greens), Lesley Hinds and Maureen Child (Labour), and Joanna Mowat (Conservatives). The last three are all Edinburgh City Councillors and Lesley Hinds is also Convenor of the Transport and Environment Committee.

I’m struggling to work out exactly what I got from or brought to the event. I had two questions which I wrote on cards when I came in, as we were asked to, but someone then moved my better question off onto another table so I felt I could not ask it! That question was “How do we give our politicians the confidence to take measures that will be unpopular in the short term, in order for there to be a long term benefit?” We talked a bit about campaigning with Maureen Child and one of her suggestions was that you go to hustings and ask about active travel, because apparently this does not come up. I think I could do that. I just need to find out where our nearest hustings is, and how they work… Kim on my table said something about the process the Dutch went through to get their cycle paths, and something about riots on the streets of Amsterdam, and Maureen Child said maybe we need some riots… I am not sure what direct action would look like, and of course we are talking about breaking the law here, so…

The Women’s Cycle Forum describes itself as running “Women led, not women only” events. “Kim” is a male Kim, not a Kimberly. There were a few men in the room – more than there were at the last W.C.F. event I went to – and it did feel like the two at my table dominated the conversation somewhat. I am not sure that there are easy solutions to this – I like the “women-led, not women only ” idea, but if you don’t have a women-only space, how do you stop the men from dominating it? Or, to put it another way, how do you encourage the women to make our voices heard? I read somewhere that men are more likely to interrupt than women, and that a woman, when interrupted, is more likely to stop talking than a man is. (I use this information at work, where I have one colleague who is particularly bad at interrupting – these days I carry on talking and make him wait till I have finished…) The organisers were trying to get the men to talk less… one of them said they should have got the men to tweet what was being said, which is a good idea because it is quite hard to tweet and talk at the same time. On the other hand, Kim had lots of good things to say to Joan McAlpine who was going on about there being no money for infrastructure but would not take Kim’s questions about why we’re spending lots of money dualling the A9 when it isn’t at capacity for an answer.

I didn’t warm to Lesley Hinds – she seemed too inclined to talk and not so much to listen. I felt a bit steamrollered by her, which is a shame as she was the person in the room with the most influence over cycling infrastructure in Edinburgh.

Anyway, all in all I am glad I went along and I hope that at least some of the things that were said will make a difference.

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On profit above safety

As reported here: “Traffic Commissioner Sarah Bell has revoked the HGV operator’s licence for Frys Logistics Limited, saying it put profit before the law with a lack of regard to the rules which contributed to the death of End-to-End cyclists Andrew McMenigall and Toby Wallace 28 months ago.

Andrew was a clubmate of mine. I wrote about his and Toby’s death here, and the sentence handed down to the driver here. I don’t have much else to say, I just want to keep the link to the CTC article, which concludes:
The suspicion is that too many within the enforcement, regulatory and judicial process await the investigations and decisions of others, the consequences of which are delay, unnecessary distress for families of victims, and with HGVs, ongoing risk from operators whose licences need to be revoked.

On getting cycle space

There’s an advertising campaign going on around here. It is just a Scottish thing. I’ve seen some adverts on the back of buses, but the film I’ve only seen online. It isn’t bad, I think. It is better than the Nice Way Code, anyway, even if we would rather the money was spent on building cycle lanes (what length of cycle lane do you get for the cost of one advertising campaign?), or even on campaigning for proper, segregated cycle lanes. “If I can touch your car, you are driving too close to me”, is not a bad rule of thumb. Of course there are subtleties – one is “unless I have chosen to put myself in that position” (there being a difference between filtering through stationary traffic, when I am in control of what is happening, and being close passed by a vehicle doing 60mph, when I am not). I know that campaigns for minimum passing distances talk about 3 feet or even more, which is more than arm’s length, but arm’s length is at least a start.

So I thought I would have a play with the whole arm’s length idea. When I’ve been moving out to pass a parked vehicle, instead of stopping signalling once I am out, I’ve kept my arm out if I don’t want someone to pass me there. If I am going through pinch points, or there’s oncoming traffic such that I don’t want to be overtaken, I’ll stick my arm out. This makes me look bigger, I think, and is probably a bit confusing as it will look as though I want to turn right. I don’t mind confusing motorists, though, at least they are looking at me… I don’t know how much difference it has made – I did got hooted at by the driver of some massive coach, but if they thought that there was space to overtake me then they were wrong and my signal worked!

You can’t control traffic with arm signals alone, though, as I was reminded to my cost the other evening. I was heading up South Charlotte Street to get to the George Street cycle lane. South Charlotte Street is wide, slightly uphill, and has a shocking surface. There wasn’t anything behind me as the lights changed, so I set off, and suddenly a whole pile of traffic came flying up behind me. I was just too far to the right of the right-hand lane, and got a bunch of close passes at what felt like over 30mph. (Bring on 20mph speed limits…) And the Powers That Be wonder why there aren’t that many cyclists in the George Street lanes, when you need nerves of steel to get to them?

On the Women’s Cycle Forum

The other week I went to the Women’s Cycle Forum, part of the excellent Edinburgh Festival of Cycling (EdFoC). I really enjoyed last year’s, so I was looking forward to this one. I really liked the fact that the 2 main speakers were not actually cycle campaigners, but women from successful campaigns in other areas – “No More Page Three” and “Playing Out“. The No More Page Three woman was particularly interesting and did a good job of talking about the lessons she’d learned that could be applied to other campaigns. “Playing Out” was also interesting; it is a very different kind of thing to No More Page Three in that it is an ongoing happening rather than a single-issue campaign. I really enjoy this blog which is (partly) about a play street in London.

Once we’d heard the two main speakers we divided into groups and this is where I think I made the wrong choice. I joined the group lead by Katja Leyendecker who is the leader of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign. I grew up near Newcastle and enjoy Katja’s blog so I was interested to meet her. Unfortunately the discussion in the group all got a bit technical for me and I didn’t feel there was much I could contribute (or do with what I learned); in retrospect I think I should have gone to the group about women in cycle campaigning. Anyway at the end of all the discussion we came out with the Build A Better World Bingo card. Which is nice, and fun as well as serious, but leaves me feeling like I don’t really know where to start. I mean, I merrily take the lane on a 40mph road with pinch points, and mostly avoid routes away from roads because then I have to slow down for pedestrians and dogs so in some ways I don’t need change for me. And yet; I do use some shared paths rather than mix with traffic, and I dislike having to deal with big trucks, and I know that just because I have learned to have a brass neck for my own safety, it doesn’t mean that most people are content to be shouted at just because the learner driver took their time overtaking me; so there are things I would like to change. And of course most people don’t see cycling as a viable or sensible way of getting around at all. That doesn’t give me any good ideas about what I can do to change things. Maybe I just need to pick something small and do it. 

On bus lanes

There’s been some discussion in Edinburgh about bus lanes. The council are consulting on the idea of making them all part time. Apparently the fact that some are part time (by which we mean morning and evening rush hour) and some are all-day (something like 7 – 6:30 except Sundays) confuses people. So they think it would be better to make them all the same. You could, of course, remove the confusion but making all the bus lanes all day bus lanes, but that would involve removing road space from the drivers of private cars, and that would be terrible – sarcasm aside, I suspect it would be (or, more importantly, the politicians think it would be) politically difficult to increase the bus lanes times…

Anyway there was a bit of a debate on the cycling forum about how important or not bus lanes are to cyclists and should “we” (as cyclists) be getting involved in campaigning about infrastructure that really isn’t going to encourage any new cyclists onto the road (after all you still have to share them with buses and taxis, and while Lothian Buses are usually well and patiently driven, the standard of taxi driving is a lot more variable…) One of the things that came out was that those of us who use all day bus lanes really like them, while someone else whose only (regular) experience is of part-time lane wasn’t really bothered, because to them the bus lanes are places where cars and vans park and parked vehicles are a hazard to a cyclist.

I’m very much of the opinion that bus lanes are very useful to existing cyclists. And why would you do something that is going to make life worse for cyclists who already use the road, when you are (allegedly) trying to encourage more people to cycle, not put them off? (Or is what they really want to say; “We’d like more people to cycle, but, well, somewhere else. Not here…”)

I went out on the bike the other Saturday, and came home down the Calder Road. This is a 40mph dual carriageway, with all day bus lanes. “You came down the Calder Road?” said Wonderful Boyfriend, in a disbelieving tone of voice. And then, “Oh. It is Saturday, that is OK. I don’t like in on Sunday when the bus lanes are not working.” W.B. is a stereotypical vehicular cyclist; male, confident, fast, happy to mix it with traffic, thinks everyone else should just man up and take the lane. And here’s him saying that he avoids a road when the bus lanes are not in operation.

The bus lanes I use most regularly, however, are on the Lanark and Slateford Roads, on my “long commute”. This stretch of the Lanark Road is a reasonable hill, so in descent you go quite fast. It also has a 40mph speed limit and has 2 lanes each way (but is not a dual carriageway). The houses on the top section mostly have off-road parking so that bit is ok as there’s plenty of space for people to get past. Then the road flattens out, climbs a little (but not so much as you lose much speed) and then goes down again. This is the bit I find scary, because the houses here don’t have off-road parking so there’s only one usable lane and there are a couple of traffic islands forming pinch points. This is the place where Andrew McNicoll was knocked off his bicycle and killed by the driver of a lorry who overtook him, cut in, and knocked him off with the lorry trailer. So I particularly don’t like it for that reason. I’ve had a couple of occasions where a driver has followed me far too close – and that makes me nervous so I slow down, but I don’t move over until it is safe, which I don’t suppose helps the temper of the impatient person behind me. If there were no bus lanes on the Calder Road, I think it would be like that all the time. A place where theoretically you can cycle but in practice you’d need nerves of steel.

After the dodgy section there’s another little climb but by this point we’re past the parked cars so I can pull left and drivers can get past. Then (finally, you might think) we get to the bus lane, and if I’m really lucky there will be a big queue of traffic in the other lane and I can whiz smugly past all the people who were getting annoyed at having to do 25 in a 40.

After the lights there’s a bit more bus lane which I ride really centrally to make it clear that I am there, as eventually the lane runs out and drivers do have to move left as there’s usually queuing traffic in a right turn lane. Then there’s the Chesser Road junction and then the Slateford Road which does have a bus lane. There’s car parking on the left, but I can ride nice and wide, away from the parked cars, and the drivers can roll past in the other lane. There is, of course, the odd bus, but usually at that time of day I only need to pass it once. I nearly always seem to hoof it along there, it is still slightly downhill and by that time I’ve got my fast head on… If the bus lane were not there, drivers would mostly stick to the left and they’d all have to pull out to pass. I think I would get a lot of close passes.

Actually, I don’t always whiz along there. That’s also the way back from a running group I join sometimes. So sometimes I’m coming along there on the Brompton, really slowly because I’m really tired. Admittedly, that’s later on and the bus lane isn’t operational anyway, but drivers do tend to stay out of it and I can pootle along.

The bus lanes on the Dalry Road near to Haymarket aren’t so useful. There always seems to be something parked in them. On the way up the hill I just get out into the middle of the other lane and pootle up. If you create road conditions where you have to be obstreporous in order to cycle safely, then you get obstreporous cyclists…

So, I think all-day, well observed bus lanes are benifical to existing cyclists, and I hope that the council don’t change them. I wrote to my councillors saying as much, and got some platitudes back. I don’t know when the decision is going to be made.

On a sentence

I haven’t blogged for ages. My excuse is computer problems (i.e. my old one stopped working…) And this blog post is out of date, but I want do it anyway, for completeness.

So, Robert Palmer, who pleaded guilty to causing the deaths of Andrew McMenigall and Toby Wallace, was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. That is two lots of seven and a half years for two counts of Causing Death by Dangerous Driving, to be served concurrently, and one year for another charge of Dangerous Driving, which happened after he’d killed two people. After he’d killed two people. Do you not make any changes, have any thoughts about your driving style or practice, after you’ve been involved in an accident in which two people have died?

From the BBC report: “Prosecutors said Palmer had not had enough rest periods between shifts at work and had falsified rest records. As a result, the cyclists were “mown down” “. My speculation is that the falsification of records was one of the reasons that Palmer was given what is a big sentence compared with what others have received. There’s some interesting discussion under the road.cc report; someone who at least appears to know what they are talking about said some useful things. There was another case that was in the news recently of a man who killed a cyclist while looking at photos on his mobile phone. He pleaded not guilty, was found guilty and was given a 5 year sentence with a 10 year ban. So Palmer, who pleaded guilty, and was given 7.5 years per death plus a 10 year ban, appears to have been sentenced as harshly as the judge is allowed to, if I’m understanding the person on the road.cc thread correctly (and they are correct in what they are saying).

I feel a bit less angry now. Given some sentences that have been handed out, that actually is not too bad, especially as he pleaded guilty and is entitled to a reduction to his sentence for that (I don’t make the rules, and I may or may not agree with them, but that is the rule). Here‘s “The Cycling Silk” on the subject.

There is one other point and that is, what about his employers? They must have known what he was doing if I have understood the press reports correctly – he was doing day shifts in the yard and then driving overnight. But there have been no reports of any punishment for them. The CTC report says:

The company Palmer worked for – Frys Logistics – had its operating licence revoked in December 2013, six months after the fatal collision on the A30. CTC suspects the decision to withdraw the licence was in large part based on the involvement of the company in the incident in which Andrew McMenigall and Toby Wallace were killed. In order to continue after the operating licence had been rescinded, the company’s owners set up a new company with a tenuously different name – Frys Transport. It seems all a company has to do to carry on business as usual when it loses its operating licence is to set itself up again under a different name…”

This isn’t the first time that it has taken a death to throw the spotlight on dubious practices within certain parts of the haulage industry – some of the deaths of cyclists in London did, too. But I don’t suppose it will be the last.

On the Women’s Cycle Forum

On Saturday I went to the Women’s Cycle Forum, organised as part of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling. The idea was to have a panel of women, unlike most cycling forums which tend to be male dominated with perhaps a “token woman”. Men were welcome to join the audience, and a few did, which was good. When I saw it announced, I thought I should sign up, because it was obviously a Good Thing, so I did. Then I began to worry. Given that I already cycle, I’m not someone that’s worried about cycling on the roads as they currenly are. I’m a bit of a scruff, mostly, so all of this Cycle Chic stuff leaves me a bit cold and feeling as though I’m letting the side down if I don’t cycle around with perfectly coiffured hair and elegant make-up (I have better things to do with my time than coiffure my hair, and I think I last wore make up for a wedding in April 2013). So what could I contribute? And what was I going to wear? I started off contemplating a summer dress, and then decided it was too long so went for jeans and a nice bright top and then realised that the top is Pink, and wearing pink is a bit problematic (that’s a whole blog post in itself) so then I went for a blouse that my sister gave me that has balloons on it.

Phew.

The forum itself was interesting. Each member of the panel introduced herself and said a bit about what she does & what her (cycling-related) interests are. I’m not going to talk about them all as that will be reported elsewhere. Then we got into groups – each panel member went to a table and we all split ourselves between the tables according to which person we thought we’d like to talk to. As far as I could see, the split between the tables was fairly even – which just shows how diverse people are, in terms of what they think is interesting and might like to talk about some more.

The discussion at our table is what I really want to blog about – this is going to be a bit of a memory dump as I don’t have a lot of time to craft this into anything better! I joined Rachel Aldred who is a member of the London Cycling Campaign and does academic research into transport with a particular emphasis on cycling. We talked about infrastructure and about how to get good infrastructure.

One of the people at the table was from Dumfries and she told us that there are lots of nice cycling paths there but they don’t tend to link up. She also said that there are just too many cars and if there were fewer cars then the roads would be more pleasant to cycle. She told us that they took some of their local councillors on a bicycle ride to see the good bits of infrastructure and also the problems and gaps.

The “token man” at our table was actually a very useful person to have the ear of, as he is the cycling officer (or something like that) at the council…  we talked a bit about the new project on George Street. Apparently it is being done as cheaply as possible, as an experiment. This is why it will just vanish at the roundabouts, because they don’t have the money to do anything better. I pointed out that getting on and off it, especially at the Charlotte Square end, is a problem. (In fact, I came that way to the Forum. To get on to George Street from Princes Street, you need to be in the right hand lane as you go up South Charlotte Street. The road surface is very bumpy, it is slightly uphill, the road markings have nearly vanished and it is a good idea to signal right as much as you can as well as cycling as fast as you can. I had a taxi driver overtake me on my left and then pull up in the ASL in order to get to the red light for the right turn before me. To be fair, you can’t really see that there is an ASL there any more… Is it very surprising that one of the women at our table (who’d come with her friend) doesn’t feel safe cycling on the roads? I don’t think the taxi was likely to hit me, but it was an unpleasant moment – and why would you choose to be cut up by taxis instead of sitting inside a car?) Anyway, the thing our cycling officer said was that we just have to keep campaigning for better…

Then there was free food and a chance to network. Unfortunately I had to go home and feed Wonderful Boyfriend, because we were getting up early in the morning to go to a triathlon (I was racing and he was helping). Next time I would make sure I didn’t have to leave in a hurry! Actually, next time I would try and persuade W.B. to come too. He conforms to all the stereotypes as a cyclist – fit, confident, fast, always cycled. Yet he is still at risk from being hit by a car. He would be much safer on segregated infrastructure. But that infrsatructure has to be really good for someone like W.B. to use it in preference to the road. And how do we get infrastructure that he can share safely with all the other kinds of cyclists there are out there?

Anyway, I am glad I went along to the forum. I think it was a success, and I hope there will be some kind of follow-up event. One thing I did think was that most of the discussion at my table was not really female-specific – if you saw a transcription of our discussion you probably wouldn’t be able to say much about the gender of the participants most of the time (apart from when I said to the unfortunate cycling officer “Oh, you’re the person who put out the document with the line about “less confident cyclists, including women”… ” – to be fair to him, I think the response he got to that line was pretty much why he was at the forum…).