What point are you tryin to make, mate?

Confession: before friday, I had never joined a Critical Mass.  I liked the idea, but I had always been busy, or else it had slipped my mind.  But on friday I remembered, had no excuses, and it was a lovely day to head down to the river after work.  Clearly, several hundred people agreed that it was a nice afternoon for a bicycle ride.

A colleague declined to join me.  “Yeah, because that’s a brilliant way to win people over and promote cycling.”  A cabbie asked what point we were trying to make, as we blocked his entry to the Strand to let the mass pass.  A North American gentleman out for a walk on Picadilly asked us what we thought we were doing, and raised the excellent philosophical point that no man has any right to block the traffic.  A young lady on Shaftesbury Avenue asked what we thought was achieved by a thousand people riding around in a slow moving block?

What we were doing was having a nice afternoon bicycle ride in the sun.  What we achieved was a nice afternoon bicycle ride in the sun.  The point that we made is that it’s nice to have an afternoon bicycle ride in the sun.

If Critical Mass had to make a point at all, I would suggest that the point it should be making is that no man has any right to block the traffic.  That no man has the right to hold a city hostage, to intimidate and inconvenience the people who are out trying to enjoy a summer evening in town, to make an unpleasant racket, and to destroy our heritage, environment, and health.  And all day every day of the month the Motorist is blocking the traffic.  Every traffic jam in London, every dead pedestrian and uncrossable road, every background drone and booming truck, every smog cloud and dirty building is caused by the Motorist, and they get away with this without comment the width and breadth of the city, all day, every day.  Critical Mass is a couple of hours a month where some people stop them and say: this is you.  These five minutes when we piss you off and laugh in your angry face: this is what you do every day to everybody in this city.

But Critical Mass doesn’t have a point.  It’s just a nice bicycle ride on a sunny afternoon.

Weekly War Bulletin, 26 June

It was budget week, and the nation is up for sale bit by bit — before the bailiffs can get to it.  Starting with High Speed 1.

The government can’t even make money by bleeding the poor hard-done-by rule-breaking motorist dry.  The BBC reports that 1.5 million drivers could have been illegally fined for breaking no-right-turn signs.  This is an outrageous act of war on the motorist, and as the BBC article rightly intones, we should feel sorry for those who are innocent on a technicality.  There’s nothing more dignifying for a driver than being not-guilty of a crime on a technicality.

Olympics organisers are fretting about how they could hold cycling events without — horror — inconveniencing other people who might be trying to use London’s roads.  Olypics organisers have never before shown any sign of caring about the lives of those living in the cities that they descend upon.  We suspect that this spontaneous display of sympathy is actually cover for a more vexing problem: how to deal with all the athletes who would be desaddled by the potholes along the route chosen.

Stats say: cycling miles up 4.4%, driving miles down for the second year running — a historic first — cycling deaths down 10%, but injuries up.  So cyclists are no less likely to “collide” with vehicles, they’re just less likely to kill themselves in the process.

We were wrong: “Superhighways” will have specialised engineering features — mirrors for truck drivers to see people passing on the left at traffic lights.  This initiative assumes that truck drivers stop at traffic lights, rather than at an angle just beyond the advance stop line, where they will be unable to use the mirror.  Still, it’s not really about anybody being able to see anything: it’s to remind cyclists that “they should not be on the left-hand side of vehicles.”  And what could be a better reminder?  A one-metre wide green strip with a bicycle icon running to the left of the vehicles leading up to the lights, perhaps?

Hurrah!  Boris will run for another term.  We can only guess at what fabulous fantastical and revolutionary ideas for fixing London’s transport he would come up with in a further four years.  No need to guess his rival Ken’s policies, though.  He’d fix it with an iphone app for parking spaces — a sure solution to the problem that most people driving in central London are supposedly looking for one.

Meanwhile, in the regions…

In Buckinghamshire, Peter Silverman has become a local hero for restoring a great national beauty spot — the M40.  Fed up with the litter lining the once pleasant chocolate box motorway, he took none other than our old friend Phillip Hammond to court to force him to go and pick it all up.  The Guardian article even provides a helpful picture of the great piles of rubbish blotting the roadside — presumably taken by Mr Silverman stopping on the hard shoulder and exiting his vehicle for the shot.  Possibly while having one of his M40 picnics.

In Devon, killer has weapon confiscated for two years; sentenced to community service.  It was all just an accident that occurred in two seconds of distraction.  The Cycling Layer ponders on the law that says it’s fine for people to put themselves within two seconds of killing somebody.

Gunman on rampage in Kent.

Dog arrested for driving while intoxicated.

And finally, via els76uk on twitter, the traffic cam for the Strand near Charing Cross during last night’s Critical Mass:

Superhighways

Otherwise known as “motorways”.  Freeways.  Die autobahnen.  A road specifically designed for those whose journey takes them quite some distance, designed to carry a large volume of traffic at speed.  They have special engineering features and special rules and regulations.  Junctions are grade separated such that through traffic can sail past unperturbed; there are no zebra crossings for pedestrians, level crossings for railways; the carriageways are wide, to accommodate vehicles of a variety of speeds and power.  No bicycles, no farm tractors; cars and motorcycles must meet a minimum power requirement.

What’s a “cycle superhighway”?  What special engineering features and special rules and regulations are they marked by?

Blue paint.

Certain cycling campaign groups, political parties, and local authorities subscribe to a belief that cyclists should be on the road, in traffic.  There are good reasons for this belief, and I agree with it: the road is a much better way for a cyclist to get around London than any of the variety of styles of pisspoor cycling infrastructure put in by the boroughs, and we should certainly be doing all that we can to reclaim the City and West End streets from the Motorist for the people.  The problem is that the aforementioned organisations are dogmatic in this belief.  They believe that all cyclists should be in traffic, all of the time.  But a street lined with bus stops and 25 sets of traffic lights per mile is not the best that we can provide for cycling, any more than it would make a suitable intercity infrastructure for a Motorist.

A true cycle superhighway, providing an efficient and safe route between the parts of London where people live and the parts where they work, would have some specific engineering characteristics.  It would not be a lame blue strip along the side of a road, too narrow to accommodate the required volume of cyclists and variety of cycling abilities, surface smashed by the buses, air stuffed with the fumes of the trucks, too saturated with signals and crossings to allow reasonable journey times.  Nor would it be like the embarrassing wastes of money that are our current selection of useless and dangerous segregated roadside bicycle paths; the ones that weave through street furniture, over kerbs, in and out of traffic, and force the cyclist to stop to cross every small side-road.

A true cycle superhighway is a cycling freeway.  It is not shared with inappropriate transport modes: no cars, no buses, no motorcycles.  It does not have level intersections with roads: minor roads that cross its path cease to be through routes, while major roads fly over or under, with slip lanes for access.  It can accommodate high volumes and variable abilities — at least two lanes in each direction, with a verge for those who need to stop.  And it’s straight enough, flat enough, and smooth enough for people to cruise uninterrupted at speed.  It looks a bit like the Bristol and Bath Railway Path, the arterial cycle path through north-east Bristol along the route of an old railway: gentle gradients, gentle radii, and no level-crossings with roads.

If London were serious about cycle superhighways, that is what it would be building.  In the outer boroughs the superhighways would follow suburban streets that have been fully closed to other traffic — having the beneficial side-effect of making neighbourhoods more pleasant as they are freed from speeding taxis taking short-cuts through residential streets.  As they reached the inner boroughs they would converge to continue as elevated cycleways, often alongside or above existing railways — in the south, for example, three great arterial routes alongside the elevated railways that come in to London Bridge, Elephant & Castle, and Waterloo; finally converging, perhaps, upon a de-Motorised Southwark Bridge.

That would be expensive, compared to a few barrels of blue paint.  But the pay-out would be huge.  It’s called “investment”.

Weekly War Bulletin, 19 June

Previously, Jag-driving cycle-fearing new Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond candidly told interviewers that his teenage son had asked him, “so, ah, what is the point of your job?”  Politics Home is now reporting that he has been candidly telling interviewers for The Spectator that not being a Lib Dem is the only possible reason he didn’t get a real job, the job of the moment, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.  It’s almost as though he wishes he weren’t Secretary of State for Transport.  That’s one thing we’re all agreed on, at least. (Tip of the hat to Railway Eye)

However, the power hungry petrol head did find time amongst all the other Very Important Things that transport secretaries do to end the speculation over whether the new government would drop tools on Crossrail: they’ve promised carry on and finish the whole thing.  Just not said when by.  Presumably this means that it’s Thameslink upgrade, Great Western electrification, and HS2 that get cut instead.  (HT to London Reconnections)

Luckily, the economics boffins advising the government have developed a cunning plan for saving money on running trains.  It’s all about supply and demand, see.  If demand outstrips supply, you’ve got to do something to bring the two back into line.  The boffins suggest that the way to do that with rain travel is to rip out the seats.  Perfect!  Make trains even more crap and demand is bound to fall back into line with supply.  Even better, raise the fares by 7%.  If that doesn’t get ’em back in their cars, what will?

Meanwhile, we find ourselves unlikely allies of the Daily Mail, who report that even in the age of the economy drive there’s still one publicly funded ministerial limo left in Westminster.  It belongs to one David Miliband, who has been clocking up the miles on the campaign trail, and allegedly leaving it on the double yellows while he pops out for some hand-shaking and baby-kissing amongst the party members.

Also, pity the poor hard done by driver as there are more new calls for a reduction to the drink-drive limit — do check out the wonderfully vacuous and inarticulate statement from the not-even-entertaining-anymore Association of British Drivers, who were brave enough to take a stand against those who will take away the right of the humble Motorist to go out and kill somebody of a Friday evening.  And then there are the trials of countdown displays on pedestrian crossing lights.  These should be fun: pedestrians have been so well trained by drivers to think that the phase when the green man and the amber traffic light are both flashing is a phase designated for rapid acceleration of vehicles, and now traffic planners have decided to make the situation more interesting by re-training pedestrians to think that they can still safely step out into the road just at that moment when drivers are eyeing the amber light with their feet poised.

Meanwhile, in the provinces…

York has decided against having congestion charging, in favour of “improving public transport and making walking and cycling more attractive”.  Staff at Dulux are on standby for a large order of blue and red from the city council as I write.

Pavement cyclists in Norfolk.  Tut.  More on these later.

Look at these unsporting fellows in Manchester, installing average-speed cameras.  That’s basically a war crime.  Everyone knows that average-speed cameras take all the thrill out of speeding without getting caught.  The comments are, as ever, entertaining.

Cyclist rides naked through Suffolk village.  “We don’t have this sort of thing in Acton.”  Nope, I tellin’ ee, that’s the sorta nonsense them there folk up London way gets up to, with their disgusten by-cyclen ways.

Sustrans claims huge success in getting kids to cycle to school.  The people of Northamptonshire must be shocked and appalled.  There, the council’s opposition Labour group think it’s an absolute disgrace to suggest that kids should be doing something so dangerous as cycling, and want a stop put to it at once.

In Wales, man with mentally crippling micropenis condition desperately seeking some sense of purpose but running out of ways to try finding it.

And finally, secret recordings leaked from the BP boardroom, here re-enacted by actors:

France sends naval support for War On The Motorist

The scene at Tower Bridge during the evening rush hour, 6:25-6:50 this evening, a French Naval frigate arriving in the pool, to the faint notes of La Marseillaise blowing on the fresh sea breeze:

While not especially known for their military prowess, the French fought hard and brave, with an inspired strategy, sitting stationary downstream of the bridge for a good ten minutes after it opened, ensuring that the traffic was halted for the best part of a half hour at the height of the evening rush.  Word had leaked out in advance and assorted photographers and media gathered, while tourists and City workers flocked to the river to enjoy the evening sunlight and the show.  A flotilla of tourist river boats accompanied the French for their arrival, and open-top tourist buses accumulated on London Bridge.  It was a great street party; all the citizens came out onto the streets of London, happy, relieved, hopeful, excited by the developments.

And all the while that the French were dawdling up the river, a vast crowd of subversives quietly moved in for a parallel attack: while the bankers, drug dealers, and delivery vans (collectively, “the types of people who drive in London”) grew ever more irate over the money they were being forced to waste by burning petrol while going nowhere, just watching the queue ahead of them, the subversives were creeping past them with bicycles, cleverly building up a critical mass surrounding the Motorists.  So when the seamen finally pulled up alongside HMS Belfast, and the bridge decks had crept back into position, the poor white van drivers were still unable to go anywhere, as the cyclists held the bridge for the next five minutes.  (click thumbnails for full size images.)

The rumours are that the French will be playing the same hilarious military trick in reverse during the morning rush hour on Monday.  But for now: at ease, boys.  Mission accomplished.

On Oxford Street

Wikipedia / GFDL

The Grauniad Bike Blog asks, “why are taxis the king of the road when they carry so few passengers?”  That is, the obvious question that most people in London have been asking for some time, why, given that taxis are responsible for at most one in every 200 commuter journeys in London, and given that for the vast majority of these journeys a taxi is a needless and extravagant luxury, and given that taxis are a major contributor to congestion and pollution, why the fuck do we publicly subsidise their industry by allowing them to use the infrastructure that is supposed to be set aside for the transport modes which actually solve those problems?  Why, when politicians words are of increasing bus and bike share, do their actions say: we don’t care for bus users, we will penalise your transport choice by creating taxi jams to hold up your bus; we don’t care for cyclists, we will force you to share space with some of the widest, tallest, most polluting, and most erratically driven vehicles on the road?

Well, think, dears.  Who uses taxis in London?  The people who can afford it.  Politicians, for example, and the businessmen that fund their parties.  Councillors, mayors, and assemblymen aren’t going to do anything to inconvenience taxi drivers, because that would inconvenience themselves, and perhaps even make the businessman who arranged to buy them lunch late.

And anyway, taxis need to use London’s bus lanes: they need to make sudden swerves into the pavement on a red route, cutting up bicycles and buses, because they need to pick up fares.  It’s in the interest of everybody’s safety if they only brake suddenly in one lane, without having to cut across two.  But still, they would need to use bus lanes for a third reason, because otherwise it would take them hours to get across town, and then how would they be able to compete in the free and fair market for transport modes?

But one bus lane they don’t need to use is Oxford Street.  People who can afford taxis don’t go to Oxford Street.  They go to the arcades of Knightsbridge or Kensington; Smithfield boutiques if they’re trendy; or jump on a Eurostar and combine it with lunch.  So taxis don’t need to go to Oxford Street for their fares.  But do they need to go through Oxford Street in order to avoid the jams on the conventional roads which would amount to an unfair burden on their industry?  Well, according to the BBC, taxi drivers are complaining about how long it takes to get down Oxford Street — because of all the buses and pedestrian crossings full of common non-taxi using plebs getting in their way.

Perhaps Westminster council and the London authority could consider doing a little something to help taxi drivers, by banning them from Oxford Street entirely — thus doing their bit to end the end the war on the motorist, and, in the process, creating the city’s first real bus lane.

In pictures: Bollard collides with motor vehicle

Here on the Old Kent Road, a bollard has been involved in a collision with a motor vehicle.  It is not yet clear which party was at fault.

Bollard collides with motor vehicleBollards are fascinating creatures.  Over the course of a number of posts, I want to show you how the once humble bollard turned its back on life as an innocent east end docker,

and took up position on the front line of the War On The Motorist, multiplying, moving west, and infiltrating every part of the city.  Bollards are at right in the thick of the action, and I will explain how they represent perfectly the issues that are the centre of this dispute.

I will tell you of the history of bollards, and how the history of bollards is a history of the war; how the different varieties of bollards reflect the various major developments in the conflict; and why the true test of whether the war is over would be whether Britain could survive without its tens of millions of bollards.

Ceasefire!

The new transport secretary, Philip Hammond, who enjoys driving his Jaguar and is frightened of the dangerous situations that cyclists bring upon themselves, has pledged to bring an end to the war on the Motorist.  We, the British people, welcome Mr Hammond’s position and hereby declare our willingness to enter into negotiations for a ceasefire.  Here are our demands.

  1. Stop the killings.  The occupying Motorist governments have systematically turned a blind eye to the massacre of British civilians, including countless women and children, by Motorist soldiers.  The institutions of Motorist society have handled such atrocities internally, punishing the worst war-crimes, such as the herding of pensioners onto their mandatory “Zebra crossings” before violently killing them, with symbolic non-punishments, such as the six-month suspended sentence and the £60 fine.  If the Motorist establishment expects a ceasefire, they must make the first move.
  2. End the occupation of our cities.  The Motorist government must set in motion the withdrawal of troops from our historic centres of culture, ending the destruction of British cultural heritage and the intimidatory disruption of daily civilian life and health.  The Motorist administration must arrange for the dismantling of illegal Motorist settlements in the few existing designated de-Motorised zones — the pavement, footpath, cycleway, and pedestrian shopping street.
  3. Equal treatment.  The British Citizen has subsidised the Motorist way of life (contrary to their propaganda that a mythical “Road Tax” and meagre “fuel duty” sufficiently cover the cost of their infrastructure, mitigation of their environmental destruction, lost economic productivity, and the injury, ill-health, and loss of life that they cause); the motorist has enjoyed superior publicly funded infrastructure and services at the expense of our communities and environment.  Under a ceasefire, we would therefore expect this situation to be replaced by one of equal treatment.  The Motorist government must give equal per-user street space to the non-motorist; Motorist councils and businesses must consider the safety and needs of the non-motorist, not just the convenience of Motorist troops when planning construction and maintenance projects in our streets.  While the cost of most conventional forms of travel, such as bus and rail, has consistently risen above the rate of inflation since conventional infrastructure was given away by the Motorist government to private companies with a focus on taking money rather than providing service, the Motorist government has engineered for the cost of the (still largely nationalised) Motorist way of life to fall behind inflation.  The Motorist administration must dismantle these state mechanisms for making the Motorist way of life cheaper and those for increasing the burdens on the normal citizen.
  4. Re-integration of troops.  The occupying forces must integrate into British society, including, but not limited to, adopting and being bound by the British legal system.  If the war is to end, Motorist forces will become civilians, and must therefore cease breaking civilian laws, and cease to be allowed to get away with breaking civilian laws.  Reintegration of troops into society requires that Motorist troops accept the responsibilities of civilian life and an end to their exemption from the laws that are in place to protect life and limb, and to preserve our cities and environment.

These are the initial simple demands that would allow the British people to live and work alongside the Motorists, and we hope that the Motorist generals will agree to these reasonable first steps towards dialogue and peace.  Over the coming weeks and months, this blog will track the progress of our negotiations to end this bloody war.