Monday, 4 May 2015

Remove the barriers to cycling

Sign the petition to remove access barriers in Rhondda Cynon Taff 

Access barriers are a common sight on cycle paths across the UK. They are particularly prevalent in Rhondda Cynon Taff, my local authority.

Lifting 23kg of Dutch bike above your head twice isn't fun
For me, the barriers are at best irritating, meaning I have to dismount and lift my 23kg Dutch bike over my head. At worst, they mean I avoid the traffic free route altogether and ride along the main road instead. I'm relatively hardened when it comes to cycling in the UK, most people would be put off cycling completely if this was the case.

For other people, the barriers will completely prevent access. Anyone who is elderly or has a disability wouldn't be able to lift their bike over their head. Wheelchairs and pushchairs may be equally denied access. It isn't right that a large group of legitimate users should be blocked from using a facility in an attempt to block motorised access.

Yes, I emphasise attempt because these barriers do not block all motorised access. Some motorbikes can still get through these barriers. It is incredibly frustrating that I, as a legitimate user am denied access while the very people the barriers attempt to block pass through with ease

 This is why I've started a petition to get these barriers removed. While the petition relates to my local area, please still sign. Maybe in the future it will gather enough momentum to put pressure on other local authorities too.

Access barriers are, and never have been, appropriate for a cycle route and should be gone, and never, ever installed in the future.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

A light at the end of the tunnel?

There has been a lot of media coverage recently about plans to turn an abandoned railway tunnel at the top of the Rhondda Valley into a cycling and walking route linking the towns of Blaencwm and Blaengwynfi. Much has been made of the tourism benefits of such a scheme, however I am more interested in the possibilities to cycling as a mode of transport that a project like this presents.

The tunnel is over 3 kilometres long, which would make it the second longest cycling and walking tunnel in the world. The shortest road route between Blaencwm and Blaengwynfi is currently about 17 kilometres. There is no public transport between Blaengwynfi and the Rhondda Valley, meaning that if you don't own a car in Blaengwynfi, this is currently a near impossible journey.

Red line is roughly the Rhondda Tunnel. Blue line is existing traffic free cycle route. The Rhondda Valley is the urban strip consisting of Treherbert and the railway stations
Google Maps link
The Rhondda Valley on the other hand, is very well serviced by public transport. Although only a having single track branch line, the Rhondda Valley has a half-hourly service into Cardiff and beyond to Barry Island and Bridgend. Accessing this service from Blaengwynfi currently involves a 20 minute drive to Treorchy station along the A4061, and as mentioned previously, is a journey only possible by car.

However, cycling through the Rhondda Tunnel puts Treherbert Station, further up the same train line, also a roughly a 20 minute cycle away from Blaengwynfi (averaging 15kph). This means cycling can compete well with driving here, potentially becoming the naturally better option for accessing train services. This follows the Dutch method of the carrot rather than stick approach to achieving mass cycling.

It is therefore of great importance to link the tunnel to Treherbert station with a further traffic free link, otherwise the transport potential of this project would be lost.

Future cycling and walking route?
I guess the important question is how feasible is this project. The society certainly has a large following, and the project has the backing of Plaid Cymru. It would certainly be an expensive project (although pales in comparison to the £1bn for the M4 Relief Road), and the project currently hinges on a survey currently being carried out this week about the safety of the tunnel.

Overall, I think this is a project to be supported. The potential for providing independent mobility to the residents of Blaengwynfi without reliance on cars is huge. The important task now is ensuring that this project is done correctly, with the cycle facilities being constructed to a high standard, without relying on shared use or access barriers that plague the other cycling routes in the Welsh Valleys.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

National Cycle Network in Pontypridd

My first attempt at a video with narration, following National Cycle Network Route 4 through Pontypridd. I spend more time off the bike rather than on it.

This is not cycle provision.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Superhighway? Super disappointment.

TFL have released plans for the East-West Superhighway (EWS) from Parliament Square to Lancaster Gate. And I'm angry. Let me go through the reasons below:

The route

The route of the EWS though this section goes along West and South Carriage Drive, though Hyde Park Corner, along the Mall and then Horse Guards Parade. This means taking large detours off the most direct route.

Sending the EWS along the Mall instead of along Birdcage Walk adds an extra 500 metres for the route via Parliament Square.

But the main detour is from the northern end of Horse Guards Parade to the eastern end of Northumberland Avenue. The most direct road route between these two points is about 650 metres according to Google Maps. The route of the EWS takes 1,600 metres to get between these two points, meaning nearly a kilometre added onto the route.

Actual route in red. This is almost one kilometre longer than the black line
What would be good is a link between these two points along the direct road route, while obviously still keeping the planned route too. But we don't need to imagine what this could look like, because Westminster Council have already done it for us!

Yes, the connections are extremely poor, but the route itself keeps together well.
Yes, these plans were only ever created in an attempt by Westminster to completely derail the EWS project. However, I feel it would be an awful shame for the effort put in by Westminster to go to waste, as these are probably the best cycling plans the council has ever produced. Yes, compared to rest of the superhighway these plans are crap, but I feel the hilarious irony of using Westminster Council's attempt at derailing the EWS to instead improve it would be worth it. 

The plans by Westminster also don't involve any of the next thing that annoys me about the new plans.

The shared use

Shared use in busy urban environments is a bad idea. We already knew that the shared use at Hyde Park Corner would be staying but this is an existing environment, and while proper segregation would be best, maybe it is slightly acceptable given that this is already a popular cycling route.

Some improvements, but still pedestrian and cycle conflict galore.

What is not acceptable is shared use on what will be brand new sections that are being created from scratch. Carrying on from the traffic signal fetish that was apparent along Embankment, a zebra crossing with a separate (non-priority crossing) for cycling is being replaced by a toucan crossing. Not only will this cause extra delays for pedestrians crossing, it will bring cycles and pedestrians into conflict. This would be a perfect location for the new cycle zebras but instead we get this.
Why not have one of the new cycle zebras rather than conflict and delays?
The section exiting the park into Lancaster Gate can only be described as complete and utter bollocks. It simply looks like the engineers gave up here.

"We need to design the section leaving the park"
"Yeah, OK then"

Horse Guards

As this tweet from @nuttyxander points out, TFL have backed down from the plan to close Horse Guard's Parade to through traffic:
This means that cycles will now share with motorised traffic using a cut through. This was a chance to create a pleasant environment at one of London's tourist attractions, but never mind, eh?

The missing gap

As someone who is studying in South Wales, but spends time in between term in Maidstone, it is common for me to use my bike to travel between Paddington station and either St. Pancras or Victoria stations. My route between Paddington and Victoria is generally pleasant except for the section outside Buckingham Palace, trying to get from Buckingham Gate to the existing segregated cycle track along the Mall.

This remains a large gap in cycle provision. Getting from point A to point B on this map will remain terrifying, despite there being cycle infrastructure at these two points.

It seems that this section is being blocked by the Royal Parks for some, currently unknown reason. This is ridiculous and we need to put some serious pressure on the royal parks here.
This will remain terrifying for cycling

Should I support?

I am seriously finding it difficult whether to recommend supporting these plans or not. I may have written a negative post about the original EWS plans, but I was very clear that I partially supported the plans, and recommended that others do the same.

But the plans here have serious shortcomings that need addressing. However while this post focuses on the negative there are some positives here too. Should I partially support or not at all? I will need time to decide. 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A zebra can't change its stripes

Zebra crossings are in my opinion, the best type of crossing for pedestrians. They provide priority for pedestrians crossing, all of the time, and so cause the least delay for pedestrians. Obviously they are not appropriate all of the time, but in most urban settings, they are.

UK Zebra crossing. Also this one is a bit famous
I also believe that the UK has a much better design when it comes to zebra crossings compared to other countries. The flashing yellow beacons make it very clear as a driver where zebra crossings are. When I'm driving, the yellow beacons are a message to me to drop my speed and to expect pedestrians may want to cross.

A zebra in the Netherlands. To British eyes, the crossing is much less visible
However, the zebra crossing regulations are potentially in the way when it comes to cycle provision. Zebra crossings over cycle tracks are common in the Netherlands. However when it comes to attempting to implement them in the UK, they have to be horribly over engineered because the regulations are designed for motor traffic.
I visited Bristol on Saturday (guided by Wheels On The Bike) and had a look at Baldwin Street. In my opinion it is one of the best designed pieces of cycling infrastructure in the UK to date. Bristol has used a bit of a work around to get zebra crossings on the cycle track

Is it an actual zebra? It certainly has the stripes
It is clear when cycling that this is a zebra crossing. Because cycling speeds are lower, flashing beacons are not needed, nor markings to say not to stop near the crossing.

If you want evidence that this design works at slow speeds, visit a private car park. The majority of car parks in the UK have zebra crossings consisting only of zebra stripes, yet I hardly ever have problems with motorists ignoring priority

From my University campus. Not regulation, but everyone knows what this means.

That's why regulations for zebra crossings on cycle tracks should be relaxed. Belisha beacons are great when it comes to zebra crossings for motor vehicles, but are completely unnecessary when it come to cycling provision.

TFL want zebra crossings for a cycle track as part of CS5

It will be interesting to see if they have to stick to the letter of the regulations, or whether some elements will be relaxed by the Department for Transport.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Old Street redesigned

TFL are currently releasing lots of consultations at the moment. This part of the better junctions scheme, which is planned to improve 33 junctions for cycling. Some of these have already been released, ranging from disappointing (such as Elephant and Castle) to needing very few changes to be very good (such as Blackfriars)

From the consultations so far, I think I can raise the following two points:
  • TFL have realised that good cycling infrastructure should be designed to the same standards as roads are
  • However, TFL have not realised that cycles need to be treated differently to cars
I think these are made most apparent in the consultation for Old Street Roundabout. This includes some very promising cycle tracks through the junction, and most importantly, all left hook conflicts have been removed. Also, not a single ASL in sight, which is also another huge step forward.
Promising, but the cycle facilities still need improvement
However, most of the problems in this design stem from the fact that TFL are still treating cycles the same way they would treat cars. This is apparent by the excessive signalisation of cycle only conflicts, and of pedestrian and cycle interactions.

Yes, there are conflicts, but cycles don't need signals to deal with them.
That's why I've done a redesign of TFLs consultation plan. This isn't because you should oppose TFLs plans, far from it. However, it needs to be shown to TFL how cycle tracks need to be designed, because bikes are not cars, and so interactions aren't the same.

Much safer for cycling, and much quicker to cycle through
The T-junctions now have cycle track crossings on all arms, and allow cycles to make a left turn or go straight ahead at all times without signals. Cycles also don't have to wait for pedestrian crossings. Pedestrians cross the crossings either on an informal crossing, or though a zebra crossing, however my diagram has these missing.
Closer to a standard Dutch junction

All the changes can be seen in the PDF of my amendments

Overall, I think people need to partially support the TFL proposals. They are among some of the most promising UK cycling infrastructure plans to date. But there are problems, and to fully support the proposals purely because they are better will, in my opinion, mean we will never progress to anything better. I know TFL look at my plans, for Kings Cross my designs made it into the appendix. Therefore when responding to the consultation, link to this blog post, and show TFL how to improve their designs even further.

Too much praise leaves you where you are, but well put criticism will lead to progress.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Heavy Duty NL

I've moved! I'm no longer living in Maidstone, and am now studying at the University of South Wales, near Pontypridd. However, I am still going to keep the name that everyone knows me by.

It's been almost a week now since I picked up my Heavy Duty NL. It's a Dutch import from Royal Dutch Gazelle, and frankly, I think it looks stunning.

My bike outside my student halls

Since it is a Dutch import, there are features on it that are very uncommon in the UK. Firstly, the back wheel has a lock built in. Without the key, a metal bar goes between the spokes in the back wheel. This means no key, no movement.

I wouldn't leave it for long on the wheel lock, but it's great for going into a shop for a few minutes

The bike has front and rear racks. I'm yet to properly utilise the front rack, although I have used it to carry my jumper when I've gotten to hot riding (it's possible to multi-task, eating, taking off clothing ect!). I'm planning on getting a crate so that I can carry shopping or any other items. As a student, the front rack is also the perfect size for carrying a crate of beer!

Although today I used it to carry potatoes.

The back wheel has a seven speed hub. I'm probably going to do some modification to the gearing, as my student accommodation is on a very steep hill (welcome to the Welsh Valleys!) so it's a bit of a struggle getting up some of the hills at the moment. The chain is also fully enclosed by a chain guard, so no more oil or grease on my trouser legs.

Low maintenance, important for a bike designed for transport

So would I recommend a Dutch bike? Certainly. Although you can feel a little bit more vulnerable in UK traffic because it won't go quite as fast, riding one of these is by far more enjoyable than trying to ride a sports bike to the shops. I love my sports cycling and racing around in lycra, but that is a completely different activity to travelling to lectures carrying textbooks.
And yes, it just about gets on the train!
I bought my bike from Rob at Really Useful Bikes in Bristol. And the Royal Dutch Gazelle website is here.