Sunrise Cycleway: Calming the Coast

It’s been a right 2020 of a year. I mean, clearly the big news is The Plague, which looks to have killed somewhere over 65,000 people in the UK:

At the start of the lockdown the supermarkets got stripped bare, and I believe there was a thriving black market for toilet rolls. Then there was the whole working from home thing – something that bosses up and down the land had sworn wasn’t practical overnight became the “New Normal” (I apologise for the use of that phrase). So we’ve all dived into Teams, Work WhatsApp groups, and Zoom – or to give it its full name, That Bastard Flipper Zoom. We’ve had to try and coach our parents into using the supercomputers they carry in  their pocket for more than just Soduko and texting. I’ve gone from riding 100 miles a week just to get to work and back, to having to find the motivation to go out for leisure rides just to maintain some semblance of fitness.

There’ve been upsides too though. The weather on the whole has been great, and during the first month of Lockdown, there was virtually no motor traffic. We had Daughter-on-Sea back home for a few months. Once we could get flour again, there was baking. Lots of baking. The best thing though was that when exercise was a restricted luxury of just an hour a day, people really took to it. Seriously – Daughter-on-Sea and I were going out for a ride once a week at about seven in the morning (taking a flask of OMG Coffee and some breakfast with us), and I’ve never seen so many people out running, walking, cycling, or generally just staring at the view.

The icing on the cake for me has been the roll out of the Emergency Pop-Up Bike Lanes. These have been rolled out all over the  country, with councils given the  instruction to re-allocate road space from cars to bikes. The logic is that as lockdown eases, there’ll still be social distancing on public transport, so the risk is that people will take to their cars in preference, leading to gridlock. There’s also the challenge that a lot more people are just out in the fresh air, and for them to maintain social distancing, more space is needed.

In North Tyneside there’ve been some high street schemes which have largely been shouted down before they had a chance to get going, and an entire 5km strip of the road along the sea front. This is my street, and the transformation has been incredible.

To hit the government targets for speed of roll-out, it’s been done in the first instance with road cones. Lots of road cones. I mean seriously, it looks like someone turned over two pages of the map when they were supposed to be coning off a lane of the A1 for resurfacing. But this is just the first phase, and apparently there are a whole bunch of Orcas and Wands heading our way.

The effect has been transformational. On the night the cones were first put out, the traffic level dropped instantaneously. You could hear the gentle lapping of the waves and oyster catchers even though the tide was out.

The route has been dubbed the Sunrise Cycleway, and I know I’ve always said “build it and they will come”, but even I’ve been amazed at how popular it is. There are people riding it from sunrise (before 5am in these parts at this time of year) through to well after dark. It’s good enough for the Lycra Roadies to use, but also safe enough for newbies, people who haven’t been on bikes for decades, and really very young children to use. When I open the window now, the sound I most love to hear is the burble of children chatting to their parents as they wobbble along.

Of course, not everyone is in favour. There have been the usual complaints:

  • “Nobody uses it” (about 25% of all traffic along the sea front is now bicycles. TWENTY FIVE PERCENT!!!)
  • “It’ll mean ambulances can’t get through” (the cycleway is largely wide enough for an ambulance to use, thereby avoiding any cars that’d be in the way)
  • “It punishes the disabled / elderly” (I’ve seen people riding handcycles, and lots of snowy-white-haired people cycling. For anyone that HAS to drive, you can still get to anywhere along the coast by car. For the entire 5km length, only five parking spaces have been lost)
  • “It slows traffic down, which creates pollution” (It’s significantly reduced overall motor traffic volumes)
  • “How will I get the kids to school?” (If you really HAVE to drive them, you still can. The route may be a little less direct, so allow an extra few minutes)
  • “Traffic displaced from the coast will cause gridlock” (There were some teething problems up around the Spanish City, and the council fixed these within about a week. Thinking more broadly though, just as creating capacity for cars seems to magically summon them up from the Hells, making it harder to drive quite so easily seems to banish them back to the Underworld.)

The thing is, those Against A Thing tend to make the most noise. And councils (especially ward councillors) tend to listen to noise. So make no mistake: this brilliant cycleway is at risk. It could very easily be taken out in the winter when its initial experimental period ends.

So please do sign the petition to support it.

I have other reasons to support this route. Yes, it’s got people on their bikes. But the biggest benefit has been the reduction in traffic volumes and speeds. The coast is no-longer appealing to the hot-hatch people who used to like to drive up and down the road.

I had personal experience of the consequences of this in June 2014. I was the first on the scene of a fatal crash at the end of our street. I was the one trying to get the people who’d come out of their houses to see what was going on to stop any passing traffic until the paramedics arrived – I didn’t want a second crash caused by a rubbernecking driver. I was the one sending people down to the other side of the railings to see if there were any other bodies. I was the one who got the dead man moved (despite people protesting that you shouldn’t move an injured person) so we could get the motor tricycle off the woman who was pinned beneath it unable to breathe and slowly suffocating. I was the one who continued with CPR on the obviously dead driver until the ambulance arrived. I’m the one who could still see the blood between the paving stones for a week after, despite the hosing down the fire brigade had given the scene.

This was not an isolated incident. There have been several other serious crashes and fatalities within a mile or so of where I live. Several of my neighbours have had parked cars written off by joy-riders or the lethally inattentive.

The Sunrise Cycleway has changed the game on this stretch of road. It’s calmer, quieter, and safer. It’s become a place that’s full of life and the joy of children. Don’t let it go back to how it was before – let’s use the changes that the pandemic has forced on us be the start of building something better instead.

So PLEASE do sign the petition to support it.

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Am I The Problem?

There’s a school of thought that if, as a driver, you constantly find cyclists are angry at you, then you’re probably a terrible driver.

Over the last six months though, I’ve been starting to wonder if this doesn’t cut both ways. As a result of the road works on the Coast Road & Beach Road, I’ve got a new route to work, going through Battle Hill on a 30mph distributor road that has frequent traffic islands. I’ve had one of those continual runs in which pretty much every week I fear for my life on the road. Constant cases of close passes (often at speed), drivers overtaking on the approach to, or actually on blind bends, drivers cutting in at traffic islands, drivers remonstrating with me about how much of the road I want (clue: when passing those traffic islands, it’s 100%), and yesterday a shouty driver who got out of the car to get even more shouty.

Just as an aside, some anecdotal observations on the demographics involved:

  • Casual, totally oblivious close passes: older drivers, both men and women
  • Cutting in at traffic islands: younger female drivers
  • Punishment passes: Younger male drivers

I’ve tried to find solutions to all this. First of all, I implemented the “Give Me Some Flippin’ Space Stick”. It’s a PVC pipe wrapped in duck tape & hi-vis attached to the pannier rack via a prop-stand. This means I can fold it to vertical when cycling on shared paths etc, but once in traffic, it sticks out at about the minimum safe distance I’d ever want anyone to come when overtaking:

It was actually hugely effective, and I found myself basically riding in secondary position, even in situations where my brain would usually be screaming “TAKE THE LANE” at me. Then one evening in November, I met a white van man who obviously thought I was getting above myself and so deliberately drove along side me and swung into the stick. It bent the prop stand, I gave chase, got his number and reported it to the police. I spent nearly two hours giving a statement, and in the intervening four months have heard NOTHING.

I also don’t really like The Stick – another cyclist I passed commented that it was a bit provocative, and I can’t help feeling that he’s not wrong.

So I decided that if the stick wasn’t working, I should get myself a pair of cameras (£65 each. Oh, and the bracket on one snapped and the camera was lost, so that’s £195 in total). Most of the incidents I’m part of are close passes, and most of these are not close enough to actually cause me to lose control of my bowels. So I just hold them up for public ridicule, like this:

Or this:

Or this:

If you’re driving a taxi, chances are that I WILL report you to the licensing authority. If it’s North Tyneside Council, they’ll drag the driver in pretty promptly to remind them that their taxi license can be revoked:

A couple of weeks ago I had two drivers overtake me even closer than any of these, within three minutes of each other. The video footage from these is with the police, so we’ll see what happens this time.

I’m also putting in a lot more road miles on the weekends this year. Sundays involve an ever increasing mileage that takes me off out into the countryside. Right now, these are four hour rides, but by the time June comes around, they’ll be more than six hours. With camera batteries lasting just 90 minutes or so, I don’t have footage of the kind of craziness I experience EVERY FLIPPIN’ TIME I go out on these rides.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I am genuinely starting to wonder if it’s ME, and not THEM that’s the problem. The solution is probably to get one of the many Bikeability instructors I know to come out on a rush hour ride with me, observe what I do & how I ride, and then give me either some “constructive feedback”, or the thumbs up.

Of course, there two alternative solutions:

a) UK local authorities – PLEASE segregate me from the Muppets that seem to get driving licenses nowadays. Or…

b) Even assuming we leave the EU, I’d still be able to emigrate to the Netherlands, right?

Posted in Bike Culture

New Project

A couple of years ago I built a bamboo bike. This was based on a kit from the Bamboo Bicycle Club – you can either go on a weekend course with them in London, or for quite a bit less money, they send you a kit in the post. I opted for the latter, and built a bike frame from the box of sticks, epoxy resin, hemp cloth, assorted stainless steel inserts, and bottle of beer that turned up:

Setting out the jig

Setting out the jig

Mitred joints

Mitred joints

 

Mitred Joints

Mitred Joints

 

Tacking in place

Tacking in place

 

Rear Triangle

Rear Triangle

 

Rear triangle

Rear Triangle

Layup with hemp cloth & epoxy resin

Layup with hemp cloth & epoxy resin

 

Cured lugs - bumpy finish!!

Cured lugs – bumpy finish!!

 

Lugs after MUCH sanding & fettling

Lugs after MUCH sanding & fettling

 

Finished bamboo bike

Finished bamboo bike

 

On the whole, it was an immensely satisfying process, and taught me a whole lot about how to put together a bike frame. Ever since, I’ve had a hankering to do another one, using my new skills on something a little different. The method for building the lugs in situ would work just as well with other composites, and I think the next logical step is carbon fibre. I was thinking of building myself a new touring bike from a titanium tubeset.

But then I got thinking… I’ve always wanted a recumbent. It’s taken me a year or so of mulling over designs, sketching and thinking, scrapping the whole idea, and then coming back to it after some 3am inspiration. But here’s what I’m going to build:

Recumbent bike

Recumbent bike

It’s based on a couple of scrap frames I saved from the skip. The green is a late 1980s / early 1990s Dawes Discovery, in either Reynolds 530 or chrome-molybdenum, while the yellow is a Paul Donohue road bike in Reynolds 653. The rear triangle is from a no-name full sus mountain bike, and the forks are from a late 1980s kids bike, though I may see if I can stretch to a set of Brompron forks instead. The wheels are 26″ on the back, and 16″ on the front. The drive uses a tandem chainset for the BB at the front, with the chain running down the left side of the bike to a second BB. This may seem to complicate things, but means I can run a cheap single speed chain over that enormous length. The second BB takes the drive back to the right hand side, and will have a 9 x 3 setup. The steering will be under-seat, with a joystick on either side, and cable connection to the forks (yes, I’ll build this as a dual-system for redundancy). I may also add a set of parking wheels, so I can stop without having to unclip… Oh, and I haven’t fully made up my mind, but I’m probably going to make the seat rather than buying one. This will connect to the frame via rubber bushes at the front, and a suspension damper at the back.

Construction will be similar to the bamboo bike, but with some changes:

  • I think it’ll be jigged vertically rather than horizontally. This will make it easier when doing the layup
  • I’ll fill the acute angles with epoxy putty & smooth them to a sensible radius. This will make it easier to get wrinkle free layup
  • The layup will be with two different materials.
    • The main structure will be from around six layers of carbon fibre tape. So unlike the hemp I used on the bamboo bike, there’ll be no cut & fraying edges to fret over
    • On top of this, there’ll be a cosmetic layer of carbon fibre cloth in a twill weave. This will drape & conform well to the complex shapes, but will still need a lot of care to get right. Most of the joints will need two accurately cut pieces to achieve a uniform finish.
    • Rather than going straight to the PVC tape for compressing the composite while it cures, I’ll then add a layer of release film, a layer of plasticine (or similar), and then the PVC tape. I’m hoping this’ll give a much smoother as-cured finish, requiring a lot less work to get cosmetically satisfactory results

All this is going to be quite involved, and there will be many experiments and trials along the way. And once this is done, maybe I will build that titanium-carbon bike after all.

Posted in Bike Build

Light Segregation

You know how it is. The local council is trying to encourage cycling, and they’ve spent literally hundreds of pounds on some paint to make cycle lanes on roads with high levels of traffic that’s doing 40 mph. They’ve even taken the unprecedented step of making the cycle lanes mandatory rather than advisory. And still they don’t seem to be working…

The scene: A small meeting room in the council offices. It is very modern, yet at the same time, rather shabby. The lime green chairs are showing signs of grubbiness from handling, and the occasional coffee stain. The too large meeting room table isn’t quite level. One of the carpet tiles by the door has lifted slightly at the corner, and catches when the door is opened or closed. Attending the meeting are the JEFFREY CLARKSON (Senior Highways and Infrastructure Director), JAMES BAY (Senior Road Safety Specialist), ROBIN HAMMOND (Road Network Capacity Analyst), and OLIVER TWIST (Junior Highways Officer (Cycling) (40% post, shared with canine faeces reporting and removal, footways)).

CLARKSON – So what’s all this about, Twist?

TWIST – It’s the new cycle lanes, sir. People are driving in them, ignoring the white lines.

BAY – Have there been any collisions?

TWIST – No, but cyclists are making a fuss on social media.

HAMMOND – I don’t see how that’s our problem. Our job is to keep the traffic flowing. Studies have shown that 85% of cars are sticking to the 40 mph speed limit on this road.

TWIST – Yes, but a significant number are still driving too fast – they apex the bends, using the cycle lane, and this is discouraging cycling.

BAY – But there have been no collisions?

TWIST – No, sir. But unless we can encourage more people to cycle, we’ll never hit the Council’s strategic target.

CLARKSON – Ah, yes. Cycling is a sport we are supposed to be encouraging. And of course, gentlemen, we all fully support that, don’t we? [nods of encouragement and general muttering of agreement from the other two managers]. I mean, I myself am doing my bit for this – only the other week, it was Cycle to Work day, and I brought my bike to the Country Park opposite the offices, got it off the RangeRover’s tow-bar rack, and actually rode across the road to these very offices!

BAY – Very commendable, Jeffrey. I was particularly pleased to see you wearing the hi-vis, helmet, knee & elbow protectors, and safety glasses we provided

TWIST – But sir! What about the cycle lane?

CLARKSON – Well, I didn’t need to use it – I was only crossing the bally road. And besides, my wife wouldn’t let me cycle along your route anyway. It’s far too busy, and the traffic is far to fast.

TWIST (seeing his opportunity) – What about if we segregated the cycle lane from the cars? Like this…

(He jumps up to the white board, and on his third attempt finds a pen that works. He quickly sketches a section of the route, and adds a kerb line & concrete separators)

CLARKSON – Well, yes. That might work.

HAMMOND – Good God man! That reduces the available space for traffic to drive on. You can’t be serious.

BAY – But what if a car loses control and crashes into all that concrete? Think of the damage that’ll be done to the paintwork. Think of the compensation claims against the council!

(There is a knock at the door, and it opens. It is NORMAN REDBUSH, the Elected Mayor)

REDBUSH – Sorry chaps. I’ve got this room booked for an important meeting with our Private Sector Outsourcing Partners about how they’re going to save us even more money. So scram.

CLARKSON – Of course Norman. We were just finished here anyway. Hammond, Bay, I think there’s something in this “segregation”. See if you can come up with a lightweight, less fundamentalist version that’ll keep these Lycra fanatics happy.

At this instruction, the wheels of The Council fly into immediate action. Barely six months later, three plastic bollards are installed at the exits from two roundabouts on the cycle route. Within ten days, they’ve been declared a runaway success:

bollards1

 

bollards3

 

Posted in Bike Culture, Motorists, North Tyneside

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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Posted in Bike Culture

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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Posted in Bike Culture

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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Posted in Bike Culture
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