Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The City That Never Walks

In The City That Never Walks, Robert Sullivan discusses the changes that some American cities are making to encourage their residents to walk or cycle, rather than taking the car:

places like downtown Albuquerque, where one-way streets have become more pedestrian-friendly two-way streets, and car lanes are replaced by bike lanes, with bike racks everywhere

Some of the schemes listed are already taking place in Darlington, but lots are not.

* a walkable town centre
* purposely limited parking
* a new bus plaza that is part of a mass transit renaissance
* an urban walking and biking trail [linking] neighbourhoods
* charges drivers a fee to enter the core business area
* police sting operations arrest speeding drivers
* replaced parking spaces near a subway station with rows of bike racks
* some traffic lights are programmed to change for approaching buses

We have the Pedestrian Heart, but what of some of the other schemes?

Someone needing to travel between Bishop Auckland or Newton Aycliffe and Darlington for work or education has very little choice but to drive. Should Darlington not be pushing for changes to the train timetable?

Any new scheme in the centre of town seems to need more car parking. When the TK Maxx building was built on the Crown Street car park, why did it need the car park addition? When the Commercial Street development takes place, will the multi-storey car park built near Gladstone Street increase traffic in that area? What will this do to the residents' health and lifestyles?

Some work is being done to increase the number of off-road walking and cycling tracks around the town, but could more be done? I can almost get from my house to the town centre without touching a main road. Almost. Whatever way I go, I end up having to make the last part of the journey on North Road or Haughton Road. We need these last missing links putting into place.

We could go even further than that, it is possible to link Hurworth village into the Riverside Path/McMullen Road cycle path that gives an off-road link to the town centre and both Further Education colleges, but part of the route is along a muddy bridleway. Imagine being able to ride from Hurworth to the town centre without having to use a main road. It's possible.

I've seen speed cameras on North Road recently, but not as often as I've seen speeding cars. I've seen traffic wardens, but I see a lot more illegally parked cars, vans and trucks. I see buses sat in queues of traffic, and cyclists on the pavement because they've been hounded off the roads by bad driving and too many cars. I hear of people driving to Northallerton, Teesside or Tesco to shop, because it's so hard and unpleasant to get into the town centre.

Anything put forward as an idea to kerb car use is "branded as anti-car, and thus anti-personal freedom". Increasing parking charges or a bringing in a congestion charge or road toll is seen as yet another tax on the motorist.

But as matters now stand, the pedestrian [and cyclist] is taxed every day: by delays and emissions [...]. Though we think of it as a luxury, the car taxes us, and with it we tax others.

So, let's see some of the car parking spaces in Abbots Yard or Skinnergate replaced with bike racks. Let's see some pressure on the train operators to make their timetable useable and useful. Let's see a crackdown on irresponsible driving before a crackdown on irresponsible cycling. Let's see buses given more priority at more junctions. Let's see some effort put in to try and create the missing last sections of the cycle network. Let's see a blanket 20MPH speed limit across the town.

Let's stop 'taxing' our pedestrians and cyclists and let's make Darlington a real Sustainable Transport Town.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

2007 AGM, Saturday 3rd February

You are cordially invited to the Annual General Meeting of Darlington Cycling Campaign, which will be held in the upstairs meeting room of the Red Lion Hotel, Priestgate, Darlington, on Saturday 3rd February, commencing at 12.30pm.

Members of the retiring committee have kindly offered to provide a light buffet for members wishing to attend, so you can all enjoy a day out in Darlington town centre! Could you please let us know well in advance whether or not you'll be attending so that we can get the quantities about right.

This is the first AGM since our formation in 2005, long overdue, so I hope you'll all make an effort to attend. The agenda for the meeting is as follows:

1. Report of the retiring committee
2. Election of new committee
3. Debate : Cycling Campaign Symposium March 17th
4. Any other business from the floor.

Please let me know if you are able to attend.

Best wishes

Richard Grassick
Chair, Darlington Cycling Campaign

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Can I ride my bike in the Pedestrian Heart? - Part 3

The front page article on The Advertiser this week came about, in part, because of this 'series' of posts related to the Pedestrian Heart. While there are a few inaccuracies in the article (the 6 month trial on bike access, for example, was established in November 2004, not after recent campaigning from the cycle campaign), the points raised in favour of cyclists having access were all valid. However, the article didn't really address the main concern we have at present; the unclear signposting, and the ambiguity of where we can and can't ride (and in what direction).

We appreciate that there will be disruption during the works, but the signposting has been non-existent and there has been no clear notification for cyclists. There also appears to be some confusion on behalf of the Community Support Officers in the town about where we can ride, which has led to two members of the campaign almost receiving £30 fines; one for riding on a road which was closed to vehicular traffic, the other for riding on a pedestrianised former one way street in the wrong direction.

The council have, once asked by us, been good at answering most of these questions and we've published their responses in previous posts on this topic. The rule of thumb appears to be to obey any signs currently in place. This leads to some odd routes through the centre, as I've detailed previously, or doing odd things like stopping and dismounting at 'No Entry' signs, pushing the bike past the sign and then remounting, which is just silly.

According to the published timescale, work began in February 2005 and is not expected be completed until summer of this year. That's two years and 5 months of disrupted routes through a key part of this Cycling Demonstration Town's cycle network, with poor or no signposting and limited communication with cyclists. Imagine the same happening to motorists using the ring road.

This is what this recent series of posts (and emails to council officers) have been about, rather than the issue of whether we will receive any access once the work is completed which we hope is an accepted fact, although that remains to be seen, given the reaction of DAD presented in the Advertiser article.

The continued confusion suggests that there is a deeper problem - getting traffic engineers, the disability lobby, council officers, politicians, the police, not to mention motorists and pedestrians, to come to terms with the fact a bicycle is neither a motor vehicle nor a pedestrian, and new rules need to be developed to encourage its use. This is a complex issue, one that surely merits the consideration of a feature article rather than a simple "conflict" news story. Will the Northern Echo please take "Cycling Demonstration Town" seriously? Please - give us a call.

(Update: A slightly different version of the article appears in today's Northern Echo: Cyclists can use pedestrian area of town. This is closer to what we were expecting. Thankyou Northern Echo. We'd still like a feature article though.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Can I ride my bike in the Pedestrian Heart? - Part 2

With all the confusion surrounding where and how we can ride though the town centre, yesterday and today I took a slightly different route to work. I wanted to see whether it was possible to go through the town, as I think it's a nicer, safer route for me to take to work.

I think I go through the centre without passing any 'No Entry' signs, by detouring down Crown Street, but I'm not 100% certain of the right turn I took at the top of Priestgate (map). I'm certain we could turn right there before the works, and there's no sign currently. However, riding up Priestgate while signalling right is an odd experience when you can hear a number 20 bus approaching behind you.

I think this uncertainty I have as to whether I have ridden where I should underlines the confusion cyclists have at the moment and the lack of signposting there is for bikes during the works.

(Update: I think I've figured out a route for getting home that avoids riding on the St Augustine's Way section of the ring road and doesn't pass any 'No Entry' signs! (map))

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Saving 50p could cost someone's life

The Northern Echo website carries a story about car drivers parking on and blocking pavements, and the danger this causes, Saving 50p could cost someone's life.

This, and cars going through amber lights, is one of my current pet hates. We're back to pushing a single pushchair, but when we had a double buggy our way was frequently blocked by cars with two wheels on the path. I see it as one more example of drivers putting cars before people.

Can I ride my bike in the Pedestrian Heart? - Northern Echo story

I've just been interviewed by The Northern Echo in relation to the blog post Can I ride my bike in the Pedestrian Heart?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Flickr group: UK Cycling Facilities

Flickr group: UK Cycling Facilities

a collection of photos specific to the United Kingdom that will aid the development of safe and effective cycle facilities for UK

Sunday, January 21, 2007

You've got to ride it to believe

Todd at Clverchimp has posted quite an old video showing Selling the Revolution, a thirteen-minute documentary from 2000 about launching the then-new product, the Xtracycle.

I'm on the Xtracycle mailing list, so I might see if I can arrange a local test ride with someone on the list.

Anyone who hasn't seen an Xtracycle before need to take a look. If you're looking for a way to extend the way you use your bike, these are for you.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Can I ride my bike in the Pedestrian Heart?

"Can I ride my bike in the Pedestrian Heart?" is a question lots of cyclists in the town have been asking since the work began. So, I emailed the council cycling officer:

I'm unclear about when will it be legal for me to ride my bike through the town centre. If I use Bondgate to access Northgate and North Road on my way home from work tonight, am I breaking the law?

To enter the Pedestrian Heart on Bondgate (map), I have to ride between two 'No Entry' signs on Bondgate. I also asked when the six month trial period will begin.

I recieved the following responses:

Until the signs are in place and the No Entry signs only are in place then technically it is illegal to ride your bike past these points. My advice at this stage would be to get off and push your bike past the signs. We are awaiting approval from Department for Transport who have had our Traffic Regulation Order requests for a number of months. It isn't simply a case of putting the signs up as we need approval from DfT. The official six month trial will begin as soon as the works are completed in the town centre although cycling is allowed now as well.

I think the key is to take heed of the signs that are up at the moment - they have Traffic Regulation Orders behind them already. I know that the situation isn't ideal but some of the signs rely on the infrastructure being there - like cycle bypasses - for them to work and we don't have approval for the signs yet either. Once we have approval and all the signs go up then things will be much clearer.

So, it looks like I can ride that way, provided I walk my bike past the 'No Entry' signs. I assume this means we can ride anywhere within the Pedestrian Heart, provided we don't ride in past any 'No Entry' signs.

I'm still unsure whether I can ride along, for example, High Row from Bondgate towards Blackwellgate; is this currently designated as a One Way road, since it was before the scheme began?

Bikes on Trains provision

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make the provision for Bicycles on Trains Free and Compulsory by all train operators.

Make the provision for Bicycles on Trains Free and Compulsory by all train operators. This would make door to door journeys via trains more attractive, reduce road traffic, and reduce CO2 emissions.

I just signed this e-petition, you probably should too.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Cycling Campaign Should Champion Non-Cyclists

I was at an arts event today and, as you do, got chatting about cycling during the lunch break. The reason being that (car) parking around Darlington Arts Centre is totally inadequate at the moment. I of course suggested they use a bike instead.

What surprised me were the number (all women) who said they would like to cycle more but wouldn't dare because it's just too unsafe. When I told them about the cycling campaign, they suggested we should be representing the non-cyclists who would like to cycle but dare not.

We may see one or two turn up to our next meeting.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Check out these numbers

At the start of 2006, Scott of Large Fella On A Bike weighted 501 pounds. He currently weighs 338 pounds, which means he's lost 161.6 pounds in the last year! In English, that's 39 stone (250kg, or 0.25 tonnes!) to 24 stone (153kg), a loss of 11.5 stone (73kg). To put that into perspective, he's lost my total body weight in 12 months!

How? By riding a bike and eating less.

Impressive and inspirational stuff. Scott's site is also a realy good read (his newest post especially so); I've been reading it on and of for a while, but usually just when someone else linked to it, so I hadn't realised until today just how large the large fella was!.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Alternative routes

As a bit of an experiment, I used the advised route down Pendleton road this morning, rather than heading straight down North Road. It was quite nice to not be dodging cars, especially now that I'm on a different bike with much wider handlebars.

It did, however, remind me of one of the problems with these routes off the main transport corridor; at some point you have to rejoin the main road. This is my main problem with using back streets and off-road cycle tracks; it's usually impossible to complete an entire journey on them, so they don't really encourage people who dislike riding on the main road to start riding their bike and leave their car at home.

Other problems I have with these routes include:

* On my way home, it will be dark. I'd rather be on the well-lit, well-used main road, than in back streets or riding down by the river or on the Black Path.
* Less drivers will see me, which means they will think less about bikes. More bikes on the roads being seen by drivers makes the roads safer for cyclists. If cyclists are tucked away in little hidden sidestreets, back alleys and off-road tracks, they're not being seen riding their bikes.
* It reinforces the opinion of drivers that bikes shouldn't be on the road.

Going home, I'll be back on North Road, I think.

Another generation lost to car culture

A conversation my wife had with a mother at a child group:

Other mother: The traffic's terrible when I drive [child] to [Nursery X, 4 miles across town from home], so we've moved him to [Nursery Y, 2 miles from home (in a village outside town)]
Wife: Why not move [child] to [nursery Z, 0.7 miles from home]? We did that, so we could walk.
Other mother: Walk? I can't walk! I have things to do after dropping [child] off.

I'm afraid that this is what we (and the Local Motion campaign) are up against when trying to get people to consider alternatives to cars. The round trip walking to the closer nursery would take about 30 minutes, which wouldn't be too different to driving to the other nursery and back, but it just wasn't considered as an alternative. Another generation lost to car culture.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Site Upgrade

The site has now been upgraded to the new version of Blogger . For most of you it shouldn't make a big difference, but you will notice slight changes to the way the site archives are navigated. We will also be able to add labels to posts, which should make it much easier to navigate the site in future.