At War with Patronising Signs

This is a guest post by Alice Bell.

Part of my usual cycle route to work goes through Clapham Common. It
has a long cycle lane through the middle which runs alongside a
similar strip of standard pavement for everyone else.

I tend to avoid the cycle lanes in parks if I’m in a hurry to get
anywhere (as I often am on the way to work…) simply because I don’t
feel I can go as fast there as I can on the roads. As a cyclist in a
park, I know I’m dangerous if I go fast, so I tend to see them as a
space to travel through for fun rather than function. But in this
case, even cycling slowly on this lane is much quicker than going
around the park, and a more leisurely slew through the greenery of the
park makes for a nice pause between Brixton and the Kings Road.

In recent weeks, I’ve been annoyed by this sign next to the cycle lane:

this annoys me

I’m a considerate cyclist, but I’m not so egotistical to assume the
sign is just for me.
I know some cyclists tend to push through the park fast, and that they do
not always stop for pedestrians at crossings. I can understand why
people might have complained to the council and they’ve felt the need
to put a sign up.

It still annoys me though. Because when I do cycle (oh so
considerately) through the park’s cycle lanes I constantly have to
deal with other park users lack of consideration as they blithely
traipse up and down the cycle lane as if it was another pavement and
generally get in my way. Joggers and buggy-pushers are annoying, but
the dog-walkers are just plain dangerous, and frankly I find all these
interlopers a bit dim and selfish for taking up space assigned for us

So, I’ve been tempted to add to that sign with several more, ones that
ask the walkers, joggers, parents and dog walkers to be considerate
too. Then I realised how small the notice pointing it out it is a
cycle lane in the first place is:

this annoys me

Or here’s a wider shot of the big ‘be a considerate cyclist’ notice
next to the cycle lane and it’s general labeling:

this annoys me

It’s like those shared pedestrian and cycle spaces with tiny bike
signs so cyclists using it get tutt-tutted at by pedestrians who don’t
realise we are actually encouraged to cycle in the pavement here.
Indeed, when I stopped to take this photo I spotted two cyclists
riding down the pedestrian lane. They knew cycles were allowed through
that bit of the park, but the signage is so bad it was hard for them
to tell where to go.

This is all a long way of saying: Dear Lambeth Council, I totally get
why people might have complained and you felt the need to put that
sign up, but maybe if you just labelled the cycle lane more obviously
a cycle lane in the first place (as it is in many other parks in
London) more people might work out how to be considerate for
themselves. We’d all rub along together a bit more effectively, and
you wouldn’t need to be so patronising (or label cyclists as the ones
at fault…). At least worth a try, no? Totally with you on the no
BBQ’s thing though – the stench of petrol in the summer is horrid and
it leaves ugly marks on the grass. Yours, with love, etc etc.

Is Dangerous Cycling a Problem? A Look at the Stats.

Cylists are awful. They run red lights, they take up too much space, and they kill pedestrians. Cyclists are so awful that a Private Member’s Bill has been introduced to make dangerous cycling a crime.
So how much of a problem is dangerous cycling? We’ve collated the statistics on pedestrian deaths between 1998-2007 and created a visualisation, showing the relative number of deaths caused by types of vehicle. You can find it here, and play around with it, looking at the total, or the individual years.
I’m not sure the problem is so endemic that it requires a new law, or as much media attention as it’s garnered, and I’m not sure laws that are lobbied for by the families of a lone victim are the best way forward. But the data’s there, in case you fancy some stats to back up your argument.


Boris Johnson recently addressed People’s Question Time at Battersea Arts Centre, by talking of his delightful cycle, carried on a river of blue from City Hall to Battersea Arts Centre on the CS7. As a local resident who cycles regularly down that route, I thought I’d share a snapshot of the glorious journey myself and Boris are accustomed to. This section of the CS7 is split level and comes with a fetching red fence.

What a smooth surface. Sublime.

The CS7 can also
be used to park any signs you may have.

traffic flow. By letting cars park on it.

This is the ghost of the CS7. not even one year old. Joking aside, the CS7
shows several faults in Boris’s transport “legacy”. What was trumpeted as a transport revolution was clearly a very expensive PR stunt, now that they can’t be bothered with the upkeep. Yet again, Boris uses the fact that he cycles to detract from the fact that he
can’t provide for cyclists. Within two days of the CS7 being laid it was being dug up by a water company. If the CS7’s dilapidated now (and these photos are taken over a quarter mile distance) what will it look like in May 2012, election time?

Just Stay Indoors

How best to get the road safety message to the yoof of today? A catchy hook? A rap? Too passé. A cartoon? Too juvenile. What about zombies. Brilliant. Depict an apocalyptic world populated by undead victims of road traffic accidents. The kids will love it. Or be too terrified to ever leave their homes. But that’s a risk you take if you’re Newcastle City Council. The first line of the council’s new Road Safety website states:

Traffic is the single biggest cause of accidental death for 12 to 16 year olds.

The second is suicide. Being a teen is ace! Alongside gory, gratuitous mocked up photographs of zombified traffic victims, are tabs on cycling and pedestrians. These are divided into facts and, er, survival skills. Because transporting oneself outside of a vehicle is that dangerous. Here are a few of those facts.

  • Teenage boys are six times more likely to be killed or seriously injured on bikes than teenage girls.
  • Young people aged between 11 and 16 are more at risk of being killed or seriously injured as a pedestrian or cyclist in road accidents than any other age group.
  • Wearing a cycle helmet can improve your chances of survival, and reduce the chance of serious injury.

Firstly, your chances of being killed as a cyclist as ridiculously low. Far, far lower, than as a motorist. There were 104 pedal cyclist fatalities in 2009. To begin a section on cycling with the assumption that YOU MAY DIE is to basically scare off a generation of teenagers from forming walking and cycling habits that could become embedded in part of a healthy lifestyle.

In a similar vein, the section on walking warns teens that:

  • Young people aged between 11 and 16 are more at risk of being killed or seriously injured as a pedestrian or cyclist in a road accident than any other age group.
  • Traffic is the biggest cause of accidental death of 12 to 16-year-olds.
  • 1 in 5 teenagers report having been involved in a road accident.

Again, I see this as scare-mongering – in addition to being told that if they walk home late at night they will be kidnapped and murdered, they will now also be mown down by vehicles, unless they drive or board them.

Why are the council ploughing money into an “edgy” campaign that will only serve to turn teens away from cheap, healthy modes of transportation? People who start walking and cycling in their teens, generally keep walking and cycling. I’ve lost count of the number of peopel I’ve met in their twenties who want to cycle, but are unsure of where to start, and wish they had kept it up instead of stopping once they hit 13. Cycling isn’t dangerous, if you teach drivers to look out for cyclists properly, and if cyclists feel safe on roads. Similarly, if pedestrians have places to cross, they don’t get run over.

A savvy website may grab attention, and make the council feel “hip”. Unfortunately, the cost of outreach schemes, when the health service is overstretched due to heart disease rates skyrocketing years down the line is a lot harder to predict.


The Coalition Government Don’t Care About Your Transport Needs

The Telegraph today got hold of a leaked document detailing the quangos the government plan to scrap under their brutal “spending review”, which has felt more akin to a knife in the gut than a budgeting exercise. Amongst those for the chop are Cycling England and the Disabled Person’s Advisory Committee proving yet against that the Tories and Lib Dems don’t care about your transport needs. Cycling England work hard to deliver, using a very limited budget to get thousands of children and adults cycling. This pie chart shows how negligible the spend on Cycling England is in comparison to the total transport spend:

Even the Department of Transport’s own figures show a benefit to cost ratio of 3:1(links to PDF) Cycling England do excellent work, with a high profile for a team of only three full time member sof staff, getting school kids cycling by identifying safe cycle routes, helping to build cycle racks, and coordinating the national institution that is the Cycling Proficiency Scheme. If we’re to combat childhood obesity, doing things like cutting Cycling England and cutting free swimming are the stupidest things imaginable: they lower the likelihood that exercise becomes part of peoples routines at an early age, and have such high returns for such low costs that they make no difference to the spending of the public sector. Until, that is, 30 years down the line, heart disease and stroke rates implode. Just yesterday, ministers reported that school sports were growing, but not fast enough and that interest in cycling was surging. And now they are cutting an organisation that fosters exactly that.

The loss of the Disabled Person’s Advisory Committee is indicative of the lack of consideration towards disabled people and their transport needs that has become endemic. Recently, as reported here by Adam Bienkov, the Tory London Assembly Members walked out of a debate on staffing at TfL ticket offices whilst members of disability rights group Transport for All campaigned outside. It’s tough enough to get around cities and rural areas with a disability, without having local and national government decide they’d rather save a few pennies than ask you what you need, or how you’d like to get around the streets and community you call your home. But when a government reduce society to pennies, pounds and economic terms instead of people, families and community bonds, that’s what we get.

So in summary, this government don’t care about public transport. They don’t care about eco-friendly transport. They don’t care about transport that benefits people. They don’t care about transport that benefits the marginalised. They don’t care about transport that works for the poor. They don’t care about the type of transport that most people in cities use. They hate bus passes, they hate bikes, they love cars. I hate this government.


Part Two: Test-driving the Cycle Hire Scheme

First things first: I’m cynical as all hell, and I have an unbridled antipathy towards Boris Johnson. In spite of this, I adore the London Cycle Hire scheme. After outlining my previous impressions of and concerns surrounding the scheme, I cycled along to the Southbank with my artfully unbranded key.

The fruits of two minutes and a spot of nail varnish.

The docks in Waterloo were all full, whereas many I passed in the City were 75% empty. In a touristy area prior to casual use, this wasn’t a surprise. Removing the bike from its dock was straightforward, with instructions clearly printed on the dock. Handy tip for easy removal: lift the back of the bike, then pull. We had some issues when attempting to replace the bike in the dock: the dock wouldn’t recognise the bike, despite being used correctly. There’s a button to report a broken bike on the dock, but not a button to report the dock. A passerby on a bike told us he was having a similar problem and had tried a number of docks. It sounds as though TfL recognised this, and as a result all journeys were retrospectively made free on the launch day.


The bike was heavy. I knew this from research and nosing around docks prior to the launch, but its still a shock when you handle one for the first time. The wheels are fat, and that combined with the weight made the bike stable: a factor that will hopefully increase safety by minimising the wobbling of new or unsteady cyclists. I struggled a little to work out how to use the bell and gears. The gears are integrated into the handlebar, though it’s not immediately obvious. A three speed is all you really need in Central London, and it prevents people racing them.

Having experienced dynamo lights before, I was wary on hearing TfL had decided to install them on the bikes. Dynamo lights are notoriously unreliable, often cause drag on tyres and are prone to ceasing to work without the cyclist noticing. My university days were marked by regular swearwords and dynamo fiddling on the delightful streets of Coventry at 2am. Luckily, the dynamo mechanisms used on the bikes are top of the range, fully incorporated into the wheels with minimal drag, and staying bright rather than flashing with each pedal as standard dynamos do. They’ve sensibly added a picture between the handlebars, warning of the dangers of cycling on the left hand side of Heavy Goods Vehicles.

There’s both a chainguard and skirtguard, to prevent skirt-caught-in-the-wheel-whilst-its-pouring-with-rain-and-you’re-swearing-like-a-trouper moments, and a half-basket with a bungee attached to secure your belongings. But not your friends: 10kg maximum weight, a sticker chides. The seat post is a masterstroke: a small lever releases the seat to be adjusted, then locks it, with a rim preventing it being stolen. It’s a great design, and I’d love to see it on more bikes. At least 11 people took the bikes on Critical Mass. I spoke to two of them, who remarked that though the bikes were heavy, they were easy to manouevre, and the weight didn’t affect speed. I was chided for using the term “Borisbike” by a male cyclist who was worried the scheme would work well, and we’d have to give him credit for pulling it off. Snagging another bike on Grays Inn Road, we gave it another test drive at the pub. Friends of all heights gave it a go, with Lizzie at 5″2′ having no problem, even with the seat not at its lowest. The boys predictably attempted to do wheelies (it’s possible, but not really worth the effort). A couple were entranced when I docked it, and I let a woman ride it briefly before returning it. It turned out she’d never ridden before, but after a few screams and some premature braking she was steady and enjoying herself.

Here’s the crux: whenever people chimed “London’s no Paris though, it won’t work” I dismissed them with a flippancy and gauche that only comes with being young, immature, a bit thick, and having lived here for just shy of five months. London’s great! It’ll be a cycling city to rival Copenhagen in a decade. You wait. I bundled into Euston close to midnight after a day out, noting the slew of drunks weaving into the Underground. Aware that the Northern Line was closed south of Kennington I knew I’d have to change at Stockwell and get a bus regardless. Why not take a bike to Kennington, and catch the N155 from there? A couple spotted me grabbing a bike and quizzed me about it, enthused and intrigued. After a brief chat, they thanked me for answering questions and left planning to register themselves. I set off, buoyed by their enthusiasm. Then I met with the maddening chaos of Oxford Street, littered with roadworks and one way systems. The only signs I encountered bore A-road codes, which meant nothing to someone whose mental map of London is constructed entirely of Tube stations and gig venues. Frustrated by my inability to escape a quarter mile radius of W1, cycling in ever-decreasing loops and resenting the helpful jeers I’ve come to expect from taxi drivers, I tried to spot a docking station. This took a further ten minutes. I abandoned my bike in a dock next to Broadcasting House and headed towards the Tube.

Overall, I love them. I have no issues with the bikes, and I find it fantastic how Londoners feel completely comfortable asking you about them, and feel a sense of ownership over the scheme. I’m not sure I’ll renew my 7 day access however. Until the shambles that is the London road system is rectified, road safety and cycling will still struggle to reach the level instigated by Paris’s Velib. Little has been done to prepare the roads for  a sudden, large increase in casual cycling. Simple things, like more signposting of areas, rather than just roads, and contraflow cycle lanes would make cycling simpler, more accessible and benefit London cycling far more than a few gallons of blue paint.

London Cycle Hire Scheme – First Thoughts

London’s gaudily sponsored Cycle Hire Scheme launches tomorrow. After the seeds were planted during the 2008 Mayoral Election, London will follow Montreal and Paris’ lead in providing docks around the capital from which tourists and Londoners can hire bicycles. There have been teething problems, notably a month-long delay to the date at which casual users can hire bikes, planning permissions wrangles with London boroughs, and initial software issues with the registration process. For some incomprehensible reason, the map showing where docking stations can be found is not due to go live until the 30th July. Ever helpful, TfL.

My access key arrived less than 24 hours after registering, along with a foldout map showing the locations of docks in Central London and a letter full of bluster informing me I was a “pioneer”. A few seconds with some nail varnish remover, and my key’s now unbranded. Before:

A few gripes:

1. The over-zealous branding. It may not bother some people, but cycle lanes are traditionally green, so painting great swathes of London Barclays Blue rankles. Every cyclist is prone to philosophising on how traversing the streets on foot, or outside of a metal tin gives you a greater sense of ownership of your city. Branding the roads takes that away. Excellent post on this point here. Also, “Barclays Cycle Hire” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Velib” or “Bixi“.

2. They’re only in Zone 1. I understand they’re primarily to help people get around central London, but there are very few south of the Thames, and installing a few docks at say, Clapham Junction, Balham or New Cross would enable people to commute quickly and cheaply into Zone 1, using the new Superhighways.

3. The sheer weight of them. I had a little poke at one in Vauxhall earlier. They’re heavy. About 20kg. This won’t be an issue to everyone: I’m a three-speed, Dutch bike hipster, so heavy is normal. But it takes a while to get used to heavy bikes, and if users without much experience ride straight into the road, turning corners or braking suddenly could cause problems. I’m not sure how adjustable they are either. I’m 5″9′, so I’ll be fine, but I can’t imagine women under 5″4′ having a lot of fun on them.

4. Oyster cards. Why on earth can’t the docks accept Oyster cards? Surely the software can be programmed to only accept registered Oyster cards, removing the problem of people buying an Oyster card, then disappearing with a conspicuously branded bike?

And some good points:

1. The first half hour is free. There have been some gripes that the scheme is expensive, but you can get pretty much anywhere in Zone 1 in half an hour. I’m relaxed on a bike, and spend most commutes getting steadily overtaken by the Clapham Cycling Mafia. I can cycle from Vauxhall Bridge to Regents Park in half an hour whilst daydreaming: and it only costs £1 for an hour. Plus, the average bike hire cost in London is currently around £5 an hour, with the extra hassle of paperwork.

2. There are plenty of docking stations around, and if you find one that is full, you can add an extra 15 minutes to your journey time for free. I might use the hire bikes instead of my own if I’m ambling about the city all day, as it means I don’t have to carry a lock, lights and then return to the original parking space.

3. It’s exercise, and it’s cheap. A non-cyclist friend is excited by the scheme, as it’s both cheaper than the gym and a travelcard. He thinks he’ll get a bus to Vauxhall from Battersea, and bike from there. Even with the bus fare, if he bikes for less than half an hour at a time, he’ll have saved at least £2.80 a day.

4. There will be bikes, every where. Cheap bikes. Masses of my friends envy cyclists, and explain how they’d like to get a bike, but they’re not sure if they can cycle, or if they’ll panic on the roads. Now they can try them out in their own time, without having to fork out for a bike, accessories and a lock.

I’m willing to be optimistic about it until I try it. I think that having registered users using them exclusively for a month is annoying, and a failing of TfL and the Mayor, but I also think that means more enthused people ride first, whilst the kinks are being ironed out. I’d like to think Londoners will embrace the scheme as Paris and Montreal have done, and that TfL won’t screw up too dramatically. We’ll report back tomorrow once we’ve given them a test-drive. Happy Cycling.