I’m Back!

Where have I been? Well, since May of 2012, I’ve been working for Sustrans. Initially this was just three days a week, but from September 2013, this turned into a full-time gig. Basically I was being paid to do the stuff that I rant about here, but in a much more cooperative, team-player kind of way. There was a clear conflict of interest here, so I knocked the blogging on the head.

But yesterday was my last day at Sustrans.

In the last four years I’ve learnt a whole lot about how government, the DfT, and local authorities operate, and I will be writing some of that stuff down here. In some areas, I’ll still need to mind my Ps & Qs though, as I still have a job in this area: Sometimes, with the world as is, you’ve got to shake the hand that feeds you.

New job?

Recyke LogoYep. As of today I’m running Recyke Y’Bike.
This is a small Northeast charity based in Byker. We take donated bikes from local residents, and put them to good use:

  • Hundreds of bikes a year are sent to Africa for development projects and microfinance businesses. This is aid from people in the Northeast that turns into ethical, sustainable trade, doing amazing things for poorer parts of the world. When you consider that the Northeast of England is one of the poorest places in Europe, it warms my cockles to think that people are so generous in their donations to Recyke.
  • We recycle a whole bunch of bikes to sell locally. This pays the wages of the small staff team, as well as covering costs of premises, shipping all those other bikes to Africa, etc. We sell bikes for anything from £60 to several hundred pounds depending on the spec. Our average price is a shade over £100, and we sell kids bikes for £50. Basically, we’re selling bikes that are a whole lot better than an Asda special, which have been assembled by a professional mechanic, for a little more than you’d expect to pay for the cheapest bike in the supermarket. This is affordable transport for the masses.
  • Sometimes we get bike exotica donated that has a small, but keen market across the country. Stuff like tandems, Moultons, things with carbon fibre parts, high quality vintage bikes, etc. These are sold via our Ebay shop.

So you know how you always need one more bike than you currently have? Turns out I’ve got a new version of that formula:

n = n+300

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Dr Ian and the Walkers – Part Three

The story so far: Dr Ian seems to have done a deal with the Dark Side, for which he’ll be handsomely rewarded, but will need to use expendable research assistants…

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Dr Ian and the Walkers – Part Two

The story so far: Dr Ian has got some cash together to do research into drivers’ behaviour when overtaking cyclists. The key question is, does wearing a cycle helmet affect things?

We join him on his ride home from another tough day getting scared silly by Bath’s taxi drivers & White Van Men…

What was the offer George Lucas was making? Would he be changing the terms of the arrangement, and telling Ian to pray that he didn’t change it further? Would it involve bounty hunter scum?

Tune in later to the thrilling final episode!

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Dr Ian And The Walkers – Part One

I’ve been kinda busy over the last week. But I did manage to squeeze in some time to Photoshop some road safety research so as to make it interesting to science fiction nerds:

A long time ago, in a university far, far away…

Tune in next time to find out what happens when Ian lets his hair down on the ride home, and how he makes a deal with the Dark Side to continue his research…

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Nutella: Cycle Helmet Promotion

I’m really not sure how I feel about this.

On the one hand, a brand that seems to have tapped into kids minds is promoting health and exercise and stuff. Getting kids to ride bikes with or without a helmet is a good thing – either way, it’s almost certainly better for them than not riding a bike.

Or is this just more promotion of the Culture of Fear?

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Cycling: Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

It’s a week since David Cameron announced the winners of the Cycle City Ambition Fund.

It got quite a lot of coverage – most of the winners were suitably enthusiastic.

But there were also questions as to the nature of the bidding process, and the rather limited size of the budget. With a total of £94M awarded by the DfT, and £45M of local match funding, it works out at £9.71 per person per year in each of the winning cities. The cities’ budget is £122.5m, with the balance being spent in national parks.

Across the country, it breaks down like this:

Compare this with the Netherlands, where for a population of 16.7 million, they spent €410M in 2012. That’s €24.40 per person – around £20.80, and is considered their normal level of spending.

If the UK were spending at that rate, it would mean the cycling budget was £1.325bn –around 10% of the DfT’s annual budget of 13.09bn:

Note HS2’s budget of £300m is more than twice what cycling is to get over two years, and that this figure for 2012/13 only. The whole life cost of HS2 currently stands at £32.7bn £43bn an anticipated £83bn. And you thought hyper-inflation was for banana republics and the 1970s.

In fact, as @roadccdave noted on Twitter, DfT budgets are generally expressed in billions rather than just millions.

The DfT’s top four current major projects are:

  • HS2: 2012/13 spend £300m; whole life cost £32.7bn (projected £83bn, but we’ll stick with the DfT’s figures here for now)
  • Crossrail: £1.207bn and £14.5bn
  • Intercity express programme: £7m and £4.5bn
  • Thameslink: £42m and £4.01bn

Locally, there’s some work scheduled for the junction of the Coast Road and A19 at Silverlink. This is forecast to cost £140m, and is to remodel just a single roundabout. That’s equal to the entire national spend on cycling that was announced last week.

We can draw a map of the UK similar to the DfT’s one above, to show the disparity:

So it could be easy to see this glass as being half empty: Cycling is getting just 0.53% of the DfT’s annual budget, and so it’s little wonder that it’s stuck at around 2% of modal share.

And yet…

All of this also serves to underline what fantastically good value for money cycling really is, when compared with the other vanity projects that get funded. The promise of the Cycling Cities Ambition Fund is

“…to make it easier and safer for people who already cycle as well as encouraging far more people to take it up and business, local government, developers, road users and the transport sector all have a role to play in helping to achieve this.”

True, it only covers seven cities, and misses out places like Leicester. London, being an independent city state isn’t included either, but as Boris is promising to spend around a £billion, does that matter?

While I would like to see the DfT have also come up with a set of mandatory, nation-wide specifications for cycle infrastructure, I’ve also seen that a lot of change is about what we can get done locally.

Don’t get me wrong – a statutory duty on local authorities to build cycling into new schemes and retrofit it to the existing streets, and for this to be done to a properly defined high standard is essential. The floated and sunk Office for Active Travel could have done this (and coincidentally would have had a budget of £1bn a year – almost in line with what the Dutch would expect), but that didn’t happen this time round.

So right now, each of us can probably make a bigger change to our own streets than a whole lorry load of Whitehall consultation on any new specifications would ever manage. And we can do it within our own lifetimes, while our children can experience the benefits.

For my local programme in Newcastle, the promise is:

“Central to Newcastle’s bid is linking employment and training opportunities to new housing developments in Newcastle and to existing communities where people are currently least likely to cycle. Newcastle plans a network of 7 major cycle routes across the city making the best use of existing infrastructure and linking in with the major improvements currently underway in the city centre.

“This government investment will be supported by an Active Travel Centre where people can go for cycle maintenance, parking and information. Recognising the potential for cycling, almost a million of public health funding in Newcastle is being invested in this initiative.

“Newcastle’s vision is to achieve 12% of all journeys under 5 miles by bike in the next 10 years.”

This is great stuff, and each of the other cities have equally ambitious aims.

The only question remaining in each of the winning cities is whether or not their councillors and officers responsible for putting these plans into action really understand what they’ve got.

Put simply, do they have the AMBITION to make cycling the safe, convenient and obvious choice, or will they fritter away the time and money to maintain the status quo?

Only time will tell.

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What Would Jesus Ride?

I’ll come clean on this – I am an atheist.

But anyway, when we were in Paris in June, I snapped this guy getting off his Vélib’ bike:

Interestingly enough, he was about the only person I saw riding one who had a helmet. I suppose it’s something to do with resisting temptation.

But it got me wondering… if there were a second coming, and assuming that it followed a similar pattern to Palm Sunday (riding a donkey into Jerusalem)… What would Jesus ride nowadays?

Like I said, I’m an atheist, so this is all strictly hypothetical.

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