31 January 2010

No pavement cycling here

Kennington Cross, yesterday morning.

Dammit, that's not the right place for a plastic waste bin big enough to smuggle an army of Trojans. You can't have it left out in the middle of a pavement blocking the way for pedestrians, cavalier cyclists, corner-cutting motorists, and everyone.

It should be locked safely to a bike rack, like this one on Baylis Road.

30 January 2010

More confusing signs for cyclists

We're all for reducing street clutter. But sometimes this means that bike facilities are used as makeshift signposts, with confusing consequences.

This cycle-hoop in Cleaver Square (right) for instance is labelled 'motorcycles only' - a reference to the bay in front of it, not the post, which presumably would struggle to hold a half-ton Harley.

While this rack on Walworth Road, just outside the excellent 24-7 grocery Oli Centre, is marked 'No loading at any time'. Presumably it means motor traffic, not cyclists filling their panniers.

Not the most confusing sign I've seen, though. On a coach on the M1, somewhere southbound by Luton a few weeks ago, I saw a series of notices with the Bertrand-Russell-style self-referential paradox THIS SIGN NOT IN USE.

29 January 2010

Heart warming: St John Ambulance cyclists

St John Ambulance, the charity which provides first aid at public events, has a thriving bike section in London. We ran into one of their training sessions over the weekend by the Barbican.

Seeing all that lurid, fluorescing, hi-viz yellow and orange paint nearly gave me a cardiac. With half a dozen first-aiders on hand, all with panniers full of defibrillators, aspirins, blankets, and I'd like to think flasks of tea and biscuits, this would have been a good place to have one. They have some 'medical gases' in there too, which sounds really cool.

The St John's cyclists were happy to chat and clearly take great enjoyment and pride in their role. They're volunteers, and work for nothing. A bit like being a cycle blogger, only they do a lot more cycling.

London's SJA group has 11 bikes and consists of thirty volunteers, attending a hundred events a year. (There are about a hundred bikes nationally.) London is one of the leaders in cycling first aid, along with Stockholm and Amsterdam, and they work in partnership with the ambulance service.

Bike ambulances are the best way to supply mobile first aid in many crowded modern event situations where vehicles would struggle, particularly in city centres - outdoor concerts, fun runs and so on. (What about marathon runners dressed as carrots and bananas? Do they require special vegetable knives to cut them out of their costumes?).

And they're cool bikes. I wouldn't mind one of those at all. I bet you don't get cut up too often.

Perhaps it's because of all that training they do: National Standard Level 3 cycling and the Public Safety Cycling Advanced Training Course. I didn't know what the National Standard levels are about, but there's a summary of what the levels mean at cyclinginstructor.com.

(Personally I'd like to see a Level 4: You can now mix it in London with the more psycho drivers. Milestones: 1 - You have the 'Customer complaints' page for buses bookmarked at the TfL website; 2 - You can take video of taxis and buses driving dangerously and post it on YouTube, and so on.)

And, if yet another close encounter really does give you a heart attack one day, then you know help is at hand from the SJA bike guys. And you can talk to them about their bike while you're waiting for the ambulance.

28 January 2010

New KSI map of London

City Cyclists have produced a new Google map that shows the locations of all accidents resulting in a cyclist killed or seriously injured in London between 2000 and 2009. Some details are provided with each one.

Marked by their red blobs, the accidents look like an attack of measles. Blackspots stand out visually: north ends of bridges; Trafalgar Square; Theobald's Road; Elephant and Castle... all too many more.

Generally it's the junctions, where you have impatient traffic turning across you in a fast tangle of lanes and priorities. Sobering stuff, especially when you see so many KSIs on your doorstep you never heard about.

Parkinson's Law of Cycle Storage

Estate agent Ludlow Thompson have started putting prominent 'how to cycle here' links on properties advertised on their website. They seem quite keen generally on the bike thing, with positive bike features on their website. They're the first estate agent we've noticed that treats cycling as a significant factor for the buyer, and obviously we're all for it.

On similar lines, a recent article in the Independent reckoned that cycling convenience - mainly parking possibilities but also route access - is becoming more of a factor for buyers.

It points out that cycling levels in London have risen dramatically since 2000 "partly thanks to Government efforts", which is an interesting use of the word 'partly', and of the word 'efforts'. Now, it's the sort of article that comes round every few months and should be taken with a pinch of salt - which is about all our local council have left for the next cold snap - but it's something, I suppose.

Bike storage in London is a problem, especially in flats. We're all familiar with the hallway assault course, where you have to vault a Brompton, snake past a Dawes Galaxy, and limbo under the handlebars of a Dutch bike just to get to the bog.

In new buildings it's particularly bad: Southwark Cyclists' experience is that developers get away with providing as little bike storage as they can, with councils are reluctant to pressurise them. No doubt market forces would work better, so let's hope that house descriptions begin to make more of cycle storage possibilities where they exist, and make it a routine part of house details.

Was bike storage information provided on our house details, even though we are lucky enough to have a small outhouse perfect for the purpose? I don't know, and to get to the box in the cupboard under the stairs they're stored in, I'd have to shift cratefuls of old mudguards, spent inner tubes, worn saddles, disused handlebars, and tangles of oxidised ironmongery of no clear purpose. There must be a Parkinson's Law of domestic cycle storage: however much room you have, cycle stuff expands to fill the space available.

27 January 2010

From Thames to Tweed

The Tweed Run will be returning to London on 10 April. Lots of riders dress up in 1920s gear - caps, plus-fours, serge jackets, that sort of thing - and troll around the capital making people smile. (Why do buses cut you up and shout abuse if you're wearing reflective gear and signalling properly, but hang back and grin and give you time if you're dawdling in Harris Tweed and smoking a pipe? I don't get it.)

They've done various rides out from London in the past, and have been featured in various magazines, but the first London run was last year (right). Registration starts on 27 February at the Tweed Run website.

26 January 2010

A bit of Christiania in the Barbican

Pleased to see this Christiania bike parked outside the Barbican at the weekend. Good to see them involving their kids in cultural activities. Or perhaps they are just borrowing an awful lot of books.

And hats off to anyone who manages to pilot one of these around London. Finding a parking space big enough must be tricky, and finding a cycle lane wide enough even trickier.

They're an easier proposition in Copenhagen, though I didn't actually see any in Christiania itself. But then I've never seen a Brompton parked outside Brompton Oratory.

25 January 2010

Suffering from Burns

It's Burns Night tonight. At celebrations round the world they'll be reading out Address to a haggis. Some bits of it were clearly written with cycling in mind. Here are they, and some other bike references in his work.

On buses and taxis
...cut you up wi' ready sleight... Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive: Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive... Address to a haggis

Mechanical mishaps
On Glenriddell's Fox breaking his chain

On touring
...maybe, in a frolic daft, / To Hague or Calais takes a waft, / To mak a tour an' tak a whirl, / To learn bon ton, an' see the worl' The Twa Dogs

On arguments with drivers
In danger's hour still flaming in the van Ode for General Washington's Birthday

On freewheeling
oil'd by thee, / The wheels o' life gae down-hill, scrievin, / Wi' rattlin glee Scotch drink

If you haven't had enough by tomorrow morning, Hackney Cyclists' annual Burns Night is coming this Saturday.

Elephant in room: No room in Elephant

Not sure who's at fault here on the Elephant and Castle cycle by-pass, snapped on Saturday: the council, for not painting double yellows all the way to the end? Or the driver? As ever, by extraordinary coincidence, the registration number is again appropriate...

Other sections of this by-pass will, unmodified except for blue paint, form part of the forthcoming Cycle Superhighway route 3. It doesn't bode well.

24 January 2010

Wholly true, Batman: Alfred rides a Moulton

Alfred, the butler in the camp 1960s kids' TV series Batman, rode a Moulton. He called it the Alfbike, and used it to help rescue Batman when the Batbike broke down.

I learned this at a party on Friday from a Moulton fan. Obviously I don't believe anything I hear at parties, and assumed it was just the beer talking. (I can often hear the beer talking, especially the Zywiec, but I don't understand Polish.)

But no, it's all true, and helpfully summarised on the Moulton Buzz blog. Alfred Pennyworth - Real Cyclist, trouser clips and all - therefore joins Peter Gabriel in the celebrity-Moulton A-list.

Why American popular cinema always makes its villains and butlers English I'm not quite sure, but if they equate Englishness with cycling that's OK by me.

23 January 2010

More about sandwiches

Pleased to see this cargo bike outside freshfood sandwichmongers Pret a Manger in Stamford St the other day. Pret don't appear to mention bikes on their website though.

In London, you don't see many cargo bikes. The ones you do seem to be used solely to ferry sandwiches, cakes and beer. Which says a lot about cyclists' priorities, I suppose.

22 January 2010

Wrong-side cycling at the Elephant

I like these little bits of the continent in London: double-contraflow places where both you and oncoming cyclists have to keep to the right.

Savoy Court has been Britain's most famous example of a wrong-side 'road', with cars, taxis, cack-handed traffic lights and all. Sadly, it's being semi-pedestrianised, which will spoil that experience.

Cyclists using the separated cycle path in Tavistock Place though can continue to enjoy life on the other side, if briefly, and bewilderingly.

So I was pleased to notice this one (both pics) the other day, on Southwark Bridge Road just north of the Elephant, by Keyworth Street.

I noticed it because I nearly collided with an oncoming cyclist who was as temporarily confused as me.

So why go to Paris for a weekend and pay £6 for an overbranded lager just for the privilege of right-side cycling, when you can do both of those in London?

21 January 2010

London Bike Hire docking station: see it first here

One of the first London Bike Hire Scheme docking stations is being built already on Stamford St, near Waterloo Station (right). Once you've been to see the display of how the docking stations and the bikes themselves will look, at City Hall, come five minutes along the South Bank here, to watch the progress between now and the launch in May.

It's right outside a King's College building (right), and raises the question of cycle parking. There were suspicions that some docking stations would be coming at the expense of existing cycle parking space. Southwark Cyclists has been lobbying hard to preserve or increase cycle parking space at docking sites. Here it's clearly an issue: the racks outside the entrance to King's are jammed full, and the railings used up too.

Round Waterloo generally, bike parking is abysmal. Cycle parking was put in last year on the corner with the Cut, by the Old Fire Station pub and Emma Cons Gardens, but within months had all been removed because of roadworks.

20 January 2010

Cycle Superhighways egged on at City Hall

In the basement of City Hall (right), over by Tower Bridge until 31 Jan, you can see for yourself what Cycle Superhighways and the Bike Hire Scheme - both starting in May - will look like. (If you were at the Bike Show in London last autumn you might have seen these. If not, get down to the steel'n'glass egg and try them out.)

A Superhighway simulator puts you on a stationary bike hooked up to a screen running film of the coming route CS3, Merton to City, on sections from Wandsworth to Elephant and Castle. The faster you pedal, the faster the film goes. As you go, a blue strip rolls out in front of you, Andrex-puppy-like.

Pop-ups (right) inform of you of the triffic features the Superhighways will have: regular inspection and maintenance to keep them smooth; clear signs showing distances in minutes to other destinations; and 'continuous wide blue lane going through junctions will help you on your route'.

It's fun, and it's great to see money and credibility being staked on cycling. A continuous blue strip - well, yes, fine: that's good, and will send a clear message that cyclists are legitimate users of this route. Signs: good. Distances in minutes: good, though I'd prefer geographical distances too. Smooth, rigorously-maintained surface: good, if it happens.

But you still come away with a nagging feeling that it's mostly branding. No mention of bricks-and-mortar stuff: no improved junction layouts, no changed priorities, no give-way-to-cyclists.

On the film, all the lights are at green, which would be wonderful in practice, but unlikely. And nobody cuts you up or shouts abuse at you, ditto.

And it ends, amusingly, just at the currently illegal left turn on to Churchyard Row before the Elephant and Castle's Dantean Southern Circle of Hell, where CS3 will limp, stutter and fumble its away along the 'Elephant and Castle cycle by-pass', as one wag amusingly dubbed it.

I look forward to the Cycle Superhighways, I really do. I'm glad that a fuss is being made and that cycling is being promoted, with genuine enthusiasm. It will encourage new cyclists and that's a good thing. And I'll be among the first to explore them for their commuting and leisure potential. If they work I'll be absolutely delighted. But on the basis of the City Hall Simulator, I'm not expecting them to be much more than a bright addition to the city's cycling colour scheme.

There's also a London Bike Hire Scheme docking post and bike (right). Enticing to see; but the test of the scheme will be in how efficient and reliable are the onscreen and online renting systems, how sturdy are the bikes, how convenient and dense are the docking stations, and - most crucially - how London's drivers take to the new addition to the roads. As it happens, we're very positive about it.

But maybe the City Hall's display suggests the best solution for the whole Cycle Superhighways thing. The simulator, for what it is, is pretty impressive.

So why not ditch the actual Cycle Superhighways, just make a really good Nintendo Wii version of cycle commuting instead, and encourage everyone to work from home?

19 January 2010

Potholes meet their Waterloo (loo, loo, loo...)

Goodbye snow, farewell ice, congratulations on your retirement frost. Hello potholes [on the radio version of this blog, you now hear a comedy echo, followed by studio laughter].

Anyway, Waterloo Bridge is swamped by traffic cones at the moment. From space or the top of Strata, whichever is the higher, it must look like a tube of toothpaste. At last they're resurfacing it and 'reseating the ironworks'.

It's a comprehensive reskinning for a bridge whose recurring pothole at the north end was suspected by some geologists to have been the crater from an ancient extinction-event meteorite.

So it's currently down to single-lane both ways. Northwards (above, right) it's too narrow for a car to pass, which isn't too much of a problem in rush hour as the traffic is crawling anyway. Still, it can get pretty claustrophobic as you jostle with all those buses.

Southwards (right) the traffic goes in quicker pulses, released from the traffic lights like spawning salmon from a sluicegate.

I've had a couple of unpleasant fast-passes from buses, but most of the car drivers pay no attention to the CYCLE LANE CLOSED sign and give room for bikes. For once I'm glad they ignore a sign.

Still, at least it's goodbye potholes. [Comedy echo, followed by studio laughter]

18 January 2010

Recession Hull: the biking good news

Sad to see in today's news reports that Hull, my old home town, has suffered the largest increase in joblessness since the recession began - and that from a terrible economic position to begin with.

Still, it promotes itself as a cycling city, and with justification. Look at that amount of bike parking in Hull city centre (right) and dream on, Oxford St cyclists!

Why struggle in London's frantic shopping free-for-alls? Up here you can enjoy nice quiet, almost empty shops, and no problems finding a vacant rack, even right outside the main railway station (right).

And Hull should be in a good position to capitalise on the cycling boom people like me keep going on about, as this snap from outside TJ Hughes shows. There must be scope for creating jobs in bike repair, at least.

17 January 2010

Hole story

More of the cold snap's tectonic aftermath today. Potholes galore: lots of this sort of thing.

Craters thrown into sharp relief by the sun. Hopefully nothing gets thrown into the craters.

16 January 2010

The art of dodging puddles

It's a taste of the future: the glaciers on London's roads have all melted. The resulting giant puddles hide all sorts of pothole trouble, where the freeze-thaw cycle has created submerged relief maps of the Kenyan Rift Valley.

Anyway, if your waterproofs are better than mine - whose one-way miracle fabrics perform the trick of letting through the rain, but keeping all the sweat inside - you might nip into Llewellyn Alexander art gallery on The Cut, just opposite the Old Vic. They've got an exhibition of paintings of London.

If your pockets are as shallow as ours you can just play spot-the-bike: we saw seven, not including views of Cambridge colleges which obviously bump up bike count considerably.

The two here are by Fraser King: Bar Italia (top) and Chelsea Embankment (detail, bottom).

15 January 2010

Biking in the office supplies

We chatted to the friendly bloke cycling this delivery bike for Office Depot the other day. They deliver boxes of printer paper and other stuff to offices round London.

It's a vital service. Without them, nobody's personal emails, holiday booking details, cake recipes, or Google maps of the friend's house they're going to next weekend, would ever get printed.

Office Depot seem pretty modest about their environmental image - I couldn't find anything about their bikes with a cursory online search. (But see the comment below.)

They're electric-assist rather than pedal-only jobs, but they cart around an astonishing quantity of stuff. You could hold a small party in the back - Labour after the next election, perhaps.

The street is Austin Friars, one of the City's narrow and quaintish cul-de-sacs. (With not enough cycle parking.)

It's quite short - there are City-bistro wine lists longer - but it manages to have three 90-degree bends. That makes it unsuitable for lorries (which nevertheless try to get through, with sometimes disastrous consequences). But perfect for bikes.

14 January 2010

The right kind of snow

Proper snow at last yesterday: snowball snow, snowman snow, Playdoh snow. It covered our local park like the cotton wool stuff the BBC use for shooting Christmas specials on location in May.

And as it was the polite sort of snow that melts fast on tarmac but not grass, the roads were OK, not icy at all, and whizzing around London on a bike was a delight. Even cycling across the park was enjoyable.

Ooh, everyone said, you're intrepid, and I said yes, well, Shackleton and me, we're quite similar, him with Elephant Island me with Elephant and Castle. Mind, Shackleton wouldn't have liked the roadworks on Waterloo Bridge. Sod it, he'd have said, we'll row back to South Georgia. It's safer that way.

Councillor knocked down by Southwark cyclist

On 7 Dec, the Evening Standard quoted Westminster Councillor Angela Harvey as saying that "little old ladies are always getting knocked down by yobs on bikes". She'd also said in a council press release: "Pedestrians are being knocked down on pavements by a hardcore element of anti-social cyclists who often shout at the pedestrian before cycling away. They have little regard for their own safety and that of other road users."

Southwark Cyclists' Barry Mason challenged Ms Harvey to produce data to back her claims. After some persistence he managed to get a reply, full of vague, hand-waving, filibustering nonsense: "mis-conflation of a number of [my] comments... [we] have heard from a number of residents who have been injured by inconsiderate cyclists... there is widespread underreporting... action must be taken now..." etc etc.

No, that's not data. That's waffle. As waffly as a waffle stand owner waffling about his waffles. While waving a waffle iron.

Hearsay doesn't count. Quite a lot of midwest Americans say they've been abducted by aliens but that doesn't mean it's remotely true.

Helpful note to councillors: 'data' means figures, such as those in police reports. Actual incidents with a paper trail. You can tell figures because they consist of a selection of the characters 0 to 9, a little like telephone numbers.

For example, 0 is a figure. It's the number of actual, verifiable, reported incidents of pedestrians being knocked down by cyclists in Westminster.

13 January 2010

Green light for red-light jumping on lethal London Road

Here's another example where a cyclist is much safer jumping the red lights. It's London Road, which runs northwest from the howdah riders of the Elephant and Castle to the trapeze artists and clowns of St George's Circus.

The pic right shows the view looking south towards the Elephant. The cyclist has just jumped a red light. And he's quite right to do so.

Here's why. Going north (right), from the lights, the left-hand lane is buses and cycles only. The rest of the road carries two lanes of oncoming regular traffic.

So what happens if you obediently wait for the green before setting off? You probably have a bus on your tail. And, unfortunately, not all the drivers are patient enough to wait for safety before overtaking you.

Many buses, perhaps finding the oncoming traffic is oncoming faster than they expected, cut in lethally close as they overtake you at high speed (right). Riding assertively, in the middle of the lane, is no use; it only makes drivers more impatient and more liable to overtake dangerously. Roughly speaking, I'd say that if you obey the lights, you get cut up between one in ten times, and five in ten times, depending on how fast a cyclist you are.

We had a very unpleasant such incident on Monday night. A near-death experience. A brush with mortality and a bus's boundary layer. I glimpsed my doppelgänger, riding a ghostly bike identical to mine, and he looked just like me, only older. It wasn't nice at all. And what did the driver have to say for himself? 'I dunno what you're talking about', before slamming the window shut. Anyway, the matter is currently in the hands of Transport for London's email profanity filter.

A few days ago I covered the new cycle lane at the north end of Blackfriars Bridge, whose only effect is to stop cyclists while giving no safety benefit. No wonder cyclists ignore the red there. (TfL haven't done anything about it yet, though they say they're aware and that the current signal phasing is only a temporary measure. Yeah, well, the Eiffel Tower was only a temporary measure in 1889.) But busting a red there is a matter of bypassing stupidity and inconvenience. Busting the red here, on London Road, is actually a safety benefit: you can put a safe distance between you and the assassin driving the wheeled office block behind you.

As it happens, I always stop at reds. Always. It's a sort of pride-cum-PR thing: I have a superiority complex as a cyclist, and want to show that I'm better than those idiot drivers who ignore ASLs and push their luck at the lights.

But my advice for anyone cycling this stretch is, for your own safety, to ignore the reds (if safe to do so, of course). I won't. But in this case you should do as I say, not do as I do.

12 January 2010

Bikeable art on Blackfriars Bridge (and in a pub)

Blackfriars Bridge is an art gallery until September. Sort of.

During extensive building works (which have caused trouble for cyclists in the past, and still do), Network Rail are displaying four specially commissioned artworks, depicting local views, on the hoardings on the downriver side of the bridge (right).

It claims to be 'arguably London's longest and most viewed outdoor art exhibition, with a 246m hoarding line acting as a new gallery space'.

Hmm. The use of the word 'arguable' is arguable. Cyclists are just about the only people who can appreciate them. Pedestrians can't: there's no footway on the artwork side, and pedestrians on the other one are too far away to see anything.

And obviously traffic is moving too fast, and isn't allowed to stop on the double-reds. (Unless you're a can with a private hire badge, in which case you can obviously stop anywhere you damn well like.)

All you see from inside a passing vehicle is four horizontal smudges: Blaaafffrrrrbrr, by David Paskett; Blaaaabrriiloongee, by John Duffin; Shaaerrlloee, by Mychael Barratt; and Firrlllaafarrr, by Gail Brodholt (right).

On a bike, though, you can stop in reasonable safety.

But there's an alternative. All four paintings are on display (right, also until September) in the Founder's Arms. That's the modern pub right on the riverside a couple of canvases upriver from Tate Modern, with rather nice riverside views (below right). There's a couple of bike racks by the upriver entrance, and unlimited railing space.

Look closely on one of the paintings (John Duffin's), and you can see a couple of cyclists (right). They are not busting red lights, not cycling on the pavement, and are probably real cyclists because they're not wearing helmets. Shame about the lack of mudguards and panniers though.

The project was done in conjunction with Bankside Gallery, which is immediately behind the pub. Inside you can see more work by the artists. I could only find one pic with a bike in it, though, and that was a humorous pictorial catalogue by Barratt called 'Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover'.

Art on bridges, art in pubs, excuses to cycle... we rather like the whole idea, actually.

11 January 2010

For all you cycling trombonists on ice

The most intriguing musical instruments in any London museum are the collection of keyed trombones (right) in the Horniman Museum. The excellent and child-friendly collection of world stuff, music stuff, and stuffed animal stuff, is just yon side of Dulwich in the south of the city.

Intriguing because, as the card (right) informs you, 'Specially shaped valve trombones were designed to be played at times when moving a slide was difficult, such as while marching, riding, cycling or playing in orchestra pits'.

Music for a cycling trombonist? Guaranteed cult status awaits any young composer.

If you're inspired to cycle there, the museum has decent onsite Sheffield stands.

The area also offers some sweeping, and surprisingly elevated, views of the city skyline. Not just from the museum gardens (right, which were delightfully snowed over and full of tobogganing kids over the weekend), but also from Ringmore Rise on the other side.

But if you're cycling up there in this weather, be prepared for tricky use of the slide, even without a trombone.