Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bikes on Trains - Letter from Berlin

As it is a European Parliament initiative that has raised the question of bikes on trains, Darlington Cycling Campaign felt it might be useful to observe how travellers in a bike friendly country handle the issue. By chance, one of our members is currently working in Berlin, and sent this photo of a father and his two kids using the city's S-Bahn.

In fact, all local trains in Berlin have carriages with flip-up seats that allow for bikes, prams and wheelchairs to occupy space. There is a small extra charge for bringing your bike on a train, but as so many people use public transport - and cycle - they typically buy an annual or monthly pass. A monthly pass costs 8 euros for a bike on top of normal fares. Students pay 145 euros for a full annual travel pass that includes a bike pass. All Berlin students are obliged to buy one. Given how little a monthly bike pass costs, and indeed an annual travel pass for students, the network is heavily used, frequent, and always being used by cyclists. As in this picture, there are often too many for the designated spaces, so cyclists use any other available open space on a carriage.

Bikes are expected on local trains - just as they are, interestingly on those Berlin pavements where a cycle path does not exist. Berlin is not the most cycle-friendly city in Germany, but the clear perspective of cyclists and non-cyclists is that cyclists can use their judgement to make joint use of pavements - and trains - safe for everyone. So rather than using restrictive travel laws that make it complicated and, judging by the previous post, impractical to take a bike on a train, here in Berlin it is a natural and easy part of getting around. And travel laws are flexible enough to allow cyclists to use spaces other than so-called "designated" spaces.

This essential trust in cyclists is what I think is badly lacking in the UK, due of course to the fact that so few Brits cycle, and this majority of non-cyclists stereotype cyclists around their chavs-on-bikes obsessions. Whilst the European Parliament debates compulsory designated space, those countries with a pro-cycling perspective are busy making it easier to use non-designated spaces. This picture, for the average thinking Berliner, is a sign of the success of their environmental policies. To the typical Darlington transport commentator, I suspect it is an outrage that should be punished with a £500 fine, skateboarder-style.

Comparing Berlin's approach to the debate in the UK, and the government's apparent desire to oppose compulsory space on trains for bikes, wheelchairs etc (could someone point to a website with the UK government's position - googling failed to come up with anything), it seems there is only one conclusion. The current regime of privatised railways - just as with our beloved privatised buses in Darlington - cannot deliver what is required in the 21st century. They are not fit for purpose. They badly need reforming so that they can actually serve our public transport needs.

All this sounds like very New Labour language. But New Labour seems so wedded to the companies currently delivering our public transport, that they have lost sight of their core ideology - to keep reforming and come up with something new. Is it too much to suggest that New Labour is the new Old Labour? And maybe even vice versa?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Bikes on Trains

Fiona Hall, Lib Dem MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for the North East, is visiting Darlington this Saturday, April 28th, as part of her campaign to make trains more accessible for cyclists and wheelchair users. Darlington Cycling Campaign are supporting the campaign and will be meeting her at the station.

The European Parliament voted for a resolution to require trains to have extra space for bikes, pushchairs, wheelchairs and sports equipment. This is going to the Council of Ministers and the UK Government have said that they will fight against the proposals in the transport ministers' meeting. The story so far is on Fiona's website:

* Fiona backs extra space for bikes, buggies and wheelchairs
* Government will fight against extra space on trains

Campaign members use the train on a daily basis, using bikes at either end of the journey:

I find my journey to York quite easy by bike and train and it is a lot quicker than driving. I think there is potential for a lot more cycle/train commuters in Darlington.

I use the train quite regularly for work and it often makes sense to take my bike. I have done this on several occassions from Darlington to Newcastle,
Durham, York and Middlesbrough.

So, bikes and trains can live happily together. Or, can they?

Booking a bike on a train is very difficult and time consuming, so I have a bike at both ends (bike 2 lives on York Station).

The main problem that I face is the insistence that I make a reservation for my bike. This is a problem because, if I'm attending meetings, I don't necessarily know what time they will finish. I have missed trains where I've made a reservation or faced a long wait for my train if the meeting finished early.

More space on trains is clearly needed, both for bikes and wheelchairs/scooters.

(we regularly use the train with our kids and it only takes a couple of families doing the same and the lobbies are stuffed full of pushchairs.)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Getting on their bikes for carbon challenge

From today, Julie, 43, and Alasdair Ross, 44, from Darlington, and their two children are to rely on bicycles for transport. Mrs Ross said the challenge was laid down at her Weight Watchers class after she reached her target weight.

To help Mr and Mrs Ross and Stephanie, 14, and Hannah, 11, with the task, Halfords have given each of them a bike.

Mrs Ross said: "The hardest bit is going to be for my husband, who has to travel quite far to see clients for his business. He's allowed to ride a bike to the station and catch a train and then ride it at the other end. I work for the business at home, but I do quite a lot of voluntary work with the Brownies and the church, and travel to that. It's not totally feasible that we can carry on without the cars afterwards, but, hopefully, we'll get quite fit and cut down how much we use them in future."

Halfords also gave the family a collection of accessories to assist in carrying out their day-to-day chores, including cycle locks, a selection of panniers and backpacks, reflective waistcoats and baskets.

Northern Echo: Getting on their bikes for carbon challenge

Good luck to the Ross family.

My own family gave up our car 9 days ago and we've not missed it so far. We hardly used our car, and resented spending money on car tax, insurance, servicing, MOT, etc, so we sold it. We're viewing it as a one year experiment, initially, but we'll see how it goes.

We're using internet shopping for our groceries, buy meat from a local butcher and have just signed up for an organic veg box delivery.

Our two kids are a lot younger than the Ross', so we've bought a bike trailer. Buses, trains, bikes and walking get us about. We've booked a hire car for our main summer holiday.

If the Ross family would like any advice or support, I would be happy to offer it. If anyone knows them, can you pass on this blog address?

Update: I just realised that we've not been given free bikes by Halfords! How does that work? Can we have some? ;)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Selling biking to the Dutch

If ever there’d be television ads for bicycling in the US, you can be sure they’d feature locations the actors drove to, and a whole lot of helmets and other specialty clothing. Dutch bicycle advocacy ads, in contrast, feature couples making out on a (single) bike, helmetless children on bikes, business suits and dresses on bikes blasting through motor traffic outside the lines, Saddam Hussein on a bike shooting Americans, and the pathetic qualities of drivers and driving, including the possibility of a car bomb taking you out. “Bicyclists live longer.”

Found on the excellent Cleverchimp blog.

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Bloody cyclists!" - a rebuttal of some anti-cyclist propaganda

"Bloody cyclists!" - a rebuttal of some anti-cyclist propaganda

This is a note prompted by recent anti-cyclist propaganda in the press. Although the cause of the ranting was, in this case, the presumably intentional misreporting of the EU's proposed Fifth Motor Insurance Directive, this is not the first time that journalists have chosen to pick on cyclists. Increasingly drivers seem to believe that the road belongs to them and anybody who strays onto it is asking for trouble. But it doesn't belong to them, it belongs to all of us, and the cause of road fatalities is not vulnerable road users straying into the motorised lions' den, it's careless, thoughtless, aggressive drivers.

The "usual suspects" of these rants are: cyclists don't pay road tax, cyclists don't have insurance, cyclists don't have to pass a test, cyclists jump red lights and ride on the pavement and cyclists should be on the cycle paths.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Good Time to Review Ambitions

15 months ago, The Guardian published a feature story by Matt Seaton about Darlington's ambitions as a Cycling Demonstration Town. The article was based on a long interview with then Cycling Officer Oli Lougheed.

Despite Oli's apparent chipper attitude to his job, with £1.5m rolling in from Cycling England to spend over 3 years, he moved on to Manchester shortly afterwards. But the article is instructive in laying out both the short-term ideas and long-term ambitions/vision of the local authority.

As we argued at our recent Symposium, the local authority alone can be quite good, if they get it right, at short-term plans. Witness the near doubling in cycling in Darlington over the past year. But long term ambition requires much more. Some quotes from the Guardian article are instructive:

Under the new scheme, Darlington's transport team plans to put in nine or 10 "radial routes", running from the periphery right to the centre....The new radial routes will reassign priorities where they intersect the ring road, and will make all the formerly pedestrianised areas dual use. The philosophy here is that cyclists can coexist perfectly safely with walkers, European-style; where it is clear that an area is dual use, cyclists automatically adjust their behaviour, slowing down and riding sensibly...."The object is to create boulevards rather than traffic corridors," says Tim Crawshaw, the council's chief designer of the public environment.

"The difficult thing is that you build the infrastructure and promote it," says Lougheed, "but it takes years for people to change their habits."

The hierarchy of road users that transport officers like Lougheed now work to reads as follows: disabled and visually impaired people first, pedestrians next, then cyclists, public transport, delivery vehicles, cars used for business with more than one occupant and, at the bottom of the heap, single-occupancy motorists.

As I cycle down a broad residential street with Lougheed, he tells me how a simple measure like taking out the central white line will reduce traffic speeds. Without the sense of a safe, segregated corridor down which they can drive at 35mph, motorists instinctively move towards the middle of the road. But then they become aware of needing to drive more slowly in case they meet a car coming the other way. All of a sudden, they're driving at 25mph - just because a white line has been taken out.

The Cycling Campaign has been doing considerable research on peoples', and especially motorists' habits. Yet we see very little sign yet of these being challenged by, for example, reassigned priorities where radial cycle routes intersect the inner ring road. Indeed, the current works behind Marks and Sparks indicate otherwise - cyclists will cross the ring road with pedestrians at a Toucan crossing.

With Darlington something like half way through its Cycling Demonstration Town period, this would be a useful time to reassess these ambitions:

*Were they really there in the first place, or was this just media spin?
*Will we still get our 10 radial routes, or have some been dropped?
*What happens when radial routes hit the inner ring road?
*How does the hierarchy of road users tally with the allocation of road space?

These and many other questions should not only be asked of the council. The reason why ambitions change or get dropped is as much through political opposition as lack of political will, and in Darlington there are certainly at least two outside lobbies who are doing everything they can to keep cycling at the very bottom of the hierarchy or road users.

But Darlington cannot simply "demonstrate" to the rest of the country what can be done. We also need central government support to get further up that hierarchy. Depressingly predictable, then, that our leaders failed to see the connection between the recent petition to 10 Downing Street (to give cyclists and pedestrians priority over motorists at minor road junctions) and their "new orthodoxy in transport planning", the hierarchy of road users. RIP Joined Up Thinking.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Skaters banned from Pedestrian Heart

SKATEBOARDERS could be fined up to £500 each for skating in Darlington's new-look town centre.

Darlington Borough Council has proposed the ban after receiving complaints from the public.

Shoppers have complained that the skaters could injure shoppers and damage the surface of the newly-laid Pedestrian Heart.

Northern Echo: Skaters warned: Stay out of centre or face £500 fine

The story seems to suggest that the main reason for the ban is because of safety concerns, and this seems to be how the disability group see it: "Skaters can really cause damage. They really put off partially-sighted people, and people in wheelchairs from coming to the town centre. There are places for skateboarders to go and that's where they should be. I would really like the same rule to be introduced for cyclists. They are just as big a problem."

However, sources at the council have confirmed to Darlington Cycling Campaign that the only reason for the ban is the fear of damage being caused to steps and stonework which, obviously, responsible cycling would not cause. Also, as cycling is a form of transportation whilst skateboarding is purely recreational, there is a significant difference between the two.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Vanunu Freedom Ride

Mordechai Vanunu spent 18 years in prison for telling the world about Israel's secret nuclear weapons. He is still being held under detention today.

Cyclists on a Freedom Ride from Faslane to London will pass through Darlington on Thursday 12th April at around 12 noon. You can get more details about the ride at the Freedom Ride site. We'll try to get details of their route in the next 24 hours, but we expect they'll be coming down the A167, so may like to view our previous post about the Newton Aycliffe - Darlington route!

11,000 signed Highway Code protest in vain

THE government has ignored the 11,000 emails protesting at the proposed changes to the Highway Code, said the CTC, the national cyclists organisation last week.

The revised Highway Code will require cyclists “to use cycle facilities...where provided”, unless it is overturned by the Commons or Lords in the next month. Many so-called cycle lanes are poorly designed and some expose the rider to more danger than on the road itself.

Not withstanding the government's recent reassurance that “The use of cycle lanes is not compulsory for cyclists”, the CTC fear that insurance companies will use the revised wording as an excuse to reduce compensation they pay if a motorist hits a cyclist. They may do this on the grounds that the rider had not used the adjacent “facility” as advised by the Code.

The 11,000 email protest last year was described as “brilliant” by Charlotte Atkins MP who said cyclists had had last punched their weight and protested loudly for their rights to the road.

Now it appears that the biggest protest in modern times has fallen on deaf ears.
It is too late to amend the Code at this stage, say the CTC, which is considering what political and legal avenues are available to them.

Cycling Weekly: 11,000 signed Highway Code protest in vain

If the revised Highway Code goes through unchanged, you're likely to have insurance companies trying to get out of paying full compensation in the event of an accident. If you're knocked off your bike on McMullen Road, they could refuse to pay up because you were not using the cycle path which runs parallel to the road.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Bike trailer works a treat

Highlights of riding with a bike trailer so far:

* giggles when we go over a bump
* "weeeeee" when we go down a short fast bank
* "pedal faster, daddy!"

I've made a couple of short trips with the trailer, to my parents house. We can get there using off-road bike routes and quiet roads, so it's a pleasure to do. I'm hampered slightly by the fact the bike is far too small for me, and way heavier than I'm used to, but there's only one really steep hill round here (which I could get up easily, though I do have a nice bruise on my knee where it hit the handlebars).

My wife took our eldest daughter to the Dolphin Centre using the trailer. This is a journey which really shows up the gaps in the bike-path network. To get from our house to the town centre, by any route, is not possible to do legally without riding at some point on a dangerous bit of main road. Highlights include getting under the railway bridge on North Road if taking that route or pretty much all of Haughton Road if going that way. Where bike facilities are available they are often hard to get to; just how does someone heading into town on Haughton Road get onto the bike path which begins at Albert Road?

So, a law or two may have been broken in getting from our house to town, although it would have be a very hard-hearted police officer who ignored the Home Office advice to only act against irresponsible/reckless/anti-social cycling on pavements and issue a fixed penalty notice to a woman pulling a three-year-old in a trailer.

Some positive part of the the journey into town included the new crossing over the ring road from Russell Street, the patient bus drivers who waited while my wife rode on Tubwell Row and The Dolphin Centre for allowing the trailer to be stored in the room they use for storing pushchairs.

The car goes in 1 week!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Which Way from Newton Aycliffe?

Following up on Tuesday's post about a route from Newton Aycliffe, two Campaign members have checked the various options.

Tuesday was a miserable day, intermittent rain, cloudy and cold, but even so we set out to Patches lane to see whether that was a viable option. Basically - no chance. This former railway line should not be designated as anything but a bridleway, with mud up to the hubs at numerous places. Apparently, this is the case all year, apart from a few days at the height of summer.

Tim advised that the bridleways to the east of the A167 were in a similar state, so we declined the chance to try these. Instead we had a look at the A167 itself. Interestingly, there is a shared cycle/foot path on the Newton Aycliffe side of the motorway roundabout (southern side of road). The crossing of motorway-leaving or bound traffic is not as onerous as it might be. We then hit the footpath on the Darlington side of the motorway featured in the video.

This is officially designated "walk your bike", but we believe that this could easily, and justifiably, be upgraded to a shared-use cycle/foot path. Bear in mind that, until Harrowgate Hill, this is a rural area. We didn't encounter a single pedestrian all the time we were filming this route. And we even came across some expensively paved parking space as we approached Darlington. Whose money financed THAT folly, I wonder? Surely, if there was ever a case for a shared path, this is it.

Issue will be raised with the local authority imminently.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

New purchases, and a sale

Today we became a seven-bike family (four of them are mine). My wife got a free bike from her brother which has been sat in his garage for a couple of years. It fits her and is serviceable enough, although it's not the best bike in the world.

Since she wanted to be able to take out youngest around and about on it, we were thinking of a rack-mounted child seat, but when we was Halfords were selling the two-child trailer for 30% off, we bought that instead. This has the advantage that we can fit both kids in, as well as shopping and toys, and it seems pretty waterproof. It also converts very easily into a pushchair, which will come in useful.

We've had a play with it in the street, but not taken it on a longer ride yet. Once we put four stone of children in you can feel it but it's much easier to pull than riding a bike with heavy panniers fitted, which is what I expect a seat would feel like.

Tomorrow is the big test, when she takes out eldest to the town centre. Thinking about the route has shown to us again that there are still major gaps in the cycle network; pavements will be ridden on at times. If "The Magnet problem" is ever solved we will have an almost traffic-free route from home to town, but for now when faced with a choice between riding on a badly laid out bit of road with the cars or on the pavement we'll be choosing the pavement option I'm afraid.

So, that's the new purchase, what's the sale? Our car. We hardly use it but it costs us a fortune, so a week on Saturday it will make its final journey with us, to some friends in Leeds who are buying it off us. After that we will be car-free.

We've been lucky in that we made decisions which mean we had already minimised our car use: we chose to buy a house close to our family, I only applied for jobs I could get to on public transport, we live near to local shops (and only a ten minute walk from Asda), and we tend not to drive unless we have to. We'll see how it goes, and will report back here.

Which Way from Newton Aycliffe?

The Cycling Campaign this week received a query from a resident of Newton Aycliffe, asking about a "safe and pleasant" cycle route for families to use between the two towns. As this straddles two local authority areas, this is something that they would have to tackle through cooperation. But always wanting to short circuit such difficulties, we have decided to look at the problem ourselves.

Above is the section of the Darlington Cycle Route map concerned - green routes are labelled "traffic free path", brown "rough bridleway". The dotted green lines along the A167 from the motorway to the White Horse in Harrowgate Hill signify "walk your bike", an interesting concept for a cycle route map.

The Campaign will be sending out two members shortly to rekki the area. Reports to follow. Meanwhile, any on the ground experience from cyclists would be welcome on this blog.