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.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The negatives of positivity

Earlier this week I wrote a blog post about the East-West Superhighway, entitled 'Get off the hype train'. I suggested that you only partially support, rather than fully support. This is despite it being probably the best cycling scheme to be proposed in London, and well, probably the rest of the UK.

Now I would like to explain my reasoning, with a little bit of help from Royal College Street.

Hooray for pointless conflict!
I'm sure most people know about the Royal College Street scheme. It consists of plastic armadillos and planters, which are are constantly breaking. There have been plenty of blog posts about the failings of the scheme, so I won't go into detail.

An Armadillo, working exactly as planned.

Last night, Camden Cyclists tweeted this:
Just like the original Royal College Street, there are things to be praised. Space is being given to cyclists, and often conflicts with parking have been removed.
Why the loading bay conflict?

But there is terrible stuff here. There are loading bays with door zone problems, the fact armadillos don't really work, and also an appalling bit where cycles and cars are expected to just merge together through a pinch point

This is incredibly dangerous. Why are Camden Cyclists supporting this?

The big problem here is the amount of praise and awards. Here is a tweet from a Camden councillor:
Why does Camden need to improve on the Royal College Street scheme. They know they got loads of awards and praise the last time, so why bother? There is no point working any harder if the results are the same. The level of effort required for praise has been set so low, the designers needn't consider proper cycling infrastructure. Just place out a load of armadillos, and the cyclists will be happy.

This is why I have my reservations about praising the East-West superhighway too much. Yes, it deserves praise. But too much praise, and it sets the benchmark too low.

London and the rest of the UK will never progress while praise is just given out on a whim.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Get off the hype train

Last week I went to the Netherlands, on one of David Hembrow's study tours. You can look at photos as long as you like, but to fully understand Dutch infrastructure I believe that you have to see it first hand.

Standard cycle path, with separate space for pedestrians.
I will do a proper blog post on the brilliant infrastructure I saw, however this post is more focused on the not so great infrastructure that came from London while I was away.

Feel the space, ignore the design

Don't get me wrong, the two new superhighway routes are a huge step forward. The amount of space being allocated to cycling is great and the chance to have safe cycling routes along Embankment and Blackfriars junction is a great proposition.

However, they don't deserve the hype that they have been given. The design of these routes is clearly lacking, and in many places, it's appalling. I fear with the amount of hype these routes are being given, we cannot progress. If TfL get the message that these are good enough, this is all we will ever get.

I think TfL has a surplus of traffic lights. Why innovate when there are solutions that work in other countries?

Take "early start" as an example. For years, cycle campaigners have been telling TfL that the addition of these to Bow Roundabout is not enough. With 60% of cyclists refusing to use the roundabout and continuing to use the flyover, it is pretty clear that it is an awful design. Yet I am still told that I have to wholeheartedly support the new superhighway, despite Early Start being used 3 times just on Parliament Square

Staying on the superhighway? Wonderful.  But it's a pile of crap if you are going anywhere else. This is one of the sections I recommend you say "no" when asked to support this in the consultation.

Tegelijk groen

I have actually already done plans for two parts of the superhighway, at Parliament Square and the end of CS7 at Upper Thames Street. However, these were made before I knew about the wonderful Simultaneous Green Junctions that exist in the Netherlands.

Simultaneous Green would solve many of the problems with the new superhighways, namely that the junctions are crap. The fact that TfL have gone with two way tracks leads to problems with connectivity. Simultaneous Green solves this without a dangerous two stage turn which kills in Denmark.

No problems with this two way track connecting to the other roads on this crossroads in Assen. Location here.
Below is a video of Simultaneous Green working at a 10 lane junction:

The first design I have done is on the East-West Superhighway, at Blackfriars. This junction has excessive traffic lights, with all movements through the junction but one, require cyclists to use two sets of traffic lights. By replacing these with a simultaneous green junction, at worst cyclists will only get one set of traffic lights here, and at best, zero.

Sea of traffic lights replaced by one junction., allowing cyclists to take the most direct route.

The second design is the junction of Embankment with Savoy Place and Savoy Street. I've replaced the two stage ASL with a simultaneous green junction, which is quicker for cycles. I've also made Savoy Place two way for cycles.

A new type of roundabout has to be test for months. A new type of ASL doesn't for some reason...

PDF files for the Blackfriars junction and Savoy Junction.

Sitting on the fence

So should you support the East-West Superhighway? Well, partially. The amount of space given to cycling here is great, and on some individual sections, I'll happily support completely. But there is just too much shitty junction design to give wholehearted support, and some sections where I have said no completely (Parliament Square and north of Hyde Park). So since TfL gives the option, I suggest people support partially. 

Too much hype tells TfL the job is done. It isn't, so don't give that impression.