Sunday, 15 June 2014

UK Women's Cycle Forum

On Saturday I made a rare trip across the central belt to our eastern neighbours in Edinburgh to attend the inaugural UK Women's Cycle Forum - the first of it's kind in Britain (unless someone can prove otherwise!). You might say to yourself "hang on, aren't you male?", the answer to which is "of course"*, in which case your next question might legitimately be: "why did you go to a cycling forum for women"? That's a good question, and one I probably can't adequately answer, other than to say "it sounded interesting".

To expand a little: in the last few years, I've been reading more about the politics of feminism; everything from the Patriarchy and masculine hegemony, Fourth Wave and Intersectionality, to the more radical approaches of the Separatist movements**. I don't really know a good reason for me to be interested in this other than being a person living in the modern world; I believe you have an obligation to keep yourself informed and to ignore the female perspective is to miss half the picture. I was brought up in the 80s and 90s in a single parent home by my Mum (although Dad was around). I don't think my mum is "radical" with a capital "R", but she is one of the baby-boomer generation who went to college and carved herself a career in special needs education, all whilst maintaining a household with two kids and assortment of pets. I've always been surrounded by strong female figures, including my sister, my maternal grandmother and aunts (formidable people who all went onto senior roles in their chosen fields). In addition, we were always brought up with a sense of social conscience and an awareness of our privilege. But I dare say whole swathes of men my age had similar upbringings who don't know their Dworkins from their de Beauvoirs.

Perhaps a more pertinent question might be: "Should you go to an event aimed at women?" Well, that's another point I don't really have a good answer for. Part of the motivation for the organisers in creating the event was the lack of representation for women at cycle-related events. There aren't many dedicated spaces for women in the cycle world it seems and it might seem churlish for men like me to insist on being involved at some level. In mitigation, I haven't been at this cycle advocacy game for very long and - other than Pedal On Parliament - I'd never been to anything similar; the forum seemed like a good opportunity to get involved in the conversation in some way, although I recognised the limited contribution I could make to it. I saw my "role" (in as much as I had a role) was to listen and to understand. In addition, the organisers had indicated that "all were welcome", it was only a fiver and food and drink were being provided (!) - what's not to like? I think the only circumstance where I'd have considered declining would be either if it denied access to other women (through a shortage of tickets) or if other attendees felt uncomfortable discussing issues around men. I certainly did not get the impression that I was not welcome, despite some gentle teasing by the hosts! :-)

Getting there

Given my previous problems getting to Edinburgh, I was determined to make it through on the bike. Interestingly, just getting to the venue presented some of the problems we all face. My train arrived at Waverely around 20 past 5 on Saturday afternoon - peak weekend traffic time, with Princes Street being filled with tourists, shoppers, buses, trams and taxis (so many taxis!). The area around the junctions with North Bridge and Leith Street is particularly bad, with narrow footways on the southern carriageway, taxis and coaches loading and unloading outside The Balmoral Hotel and a gaggle of pedestrians laden with suitcases and shopping bags. Given that I'm usually a positive road cycle user, I was surprised at how intimidating this small stretch of Edinburgh (Scotland's "Cycling City", remember) really is - I ended up walking my bike halfway down the St. James Centre before I felt confident enough to take to the road.

View Larger Map

After going through the two busy roundabouts at the top of Leith Walk and a short jaunt up a be-cobbled hill, I arrived at the venue, Edinburgh's "Ukranian Club", replete with yellow and blue flags and ambiguously-signed toilets (люди or жінки?).

View Larger Map

The Panel

I'd arrived a little early, helped myself to a complementary Irn-Bru and picked my seat in the middle of the room by the wall, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible (quite hard for a 6'3" bloke with a slightly scruffy beard). As the room filled up, it became clear that there was a fairly broad spectrum of people - there were young folk, more mature people as well as some mothers with kids and handful of men, most of whom seem to be with female friends or partners.

The panellists lined up behind the desk at the front and were prompted to introduce themselves and to talk about their expertise, passions and (varied) experiences with cycling. All of the panellists gave superb introductory speeches, although the highlight for me was probably Sue Abbot's (a.k.a. Freedom Cyclist) sinister, absurd but hilarious telling of her travails with the Australian justice system over her refusal to adhere to their moronic mandatory helmet law. 


Thereafter, everyone was encouraged to circulate around the room and form loose groups, to which members of the panel were assigned individually. I sat in on the small group that convened around Jayne Rodgers, a CTC officer who works with and advocates for the needs of disabled bike users. We were joined at the group by a woman who has some form of neuro-muscular condition and who is a trike user. It was a really eye-opener to hear of her experiences as well as the great, useful work Jayne is involved with. We discussed the problems with many cycle routes which form unnecessary barriers to disabled users - bollards, fences, A-gates - anything that reduces the effective width of the path and therefore excludes trikes or quads (incidentally, the variety of cycles that can be provided to meet people's needs is startling - it's a travesty that these aren't more widespread). We also discussed the merits of using cycles compared to other mobility aids such as mobility scooters and wheelchairs. I was reminded of As Easy As Riding a Bike's recent blogpost about mobility, and how dutch-style infrastructure helps many different types of road users, including people on bikes.

Indeed, it was striking the apparent consensus in the room regarding the need for high-quality, dutch-style separated infrastructure as the clear way forward - I wonder if we would get the same level of agreement at a similar event with a majority male presence?

Nosh and Networking

After the group discussion ended, we got down to the proper business of the evening, namely the buffet! You can tell its a posh do when there's cheese on the go. This also precipitated the main part of the event, the post-talk networking. Being a little introverted, I'm often a bit wary of this sort of situation, and I'll tend to move to the back of the room - I think mainly because I'm afraid of being found out as a slightly dull person without much to say. As such, I probably only have myself to blame for not fully engaging with the panellists, even though I was keen to hear more from the likes of Rachel Aldred, and Jo Holtan from Cycle Hack, with whom I'll no doubt speak to next week!

(I was however approached by Lee from the City Cycling Glasgow Forum who revealed that she reads this blog, which was rather gratifying - I have at least one reader!)

Without doubt, the event was a resounding success. With that said, I have a couple of points to make: 

Q and A?

I think the event maybe missed a Q and A element. I knew the format was fairly open, but I had expected something akin to "Question Time", with the panel fielding questions from the floor. I guess there just wasn't time for this - the group discussions took up the majority of time and as I've said above, this was in the end more of a networking event.

Scottish Representation

Okay, it was admittedly called "The UK Women's Cycle Forum", but I felt it was notable that there weren't many Scottish accents on the panel; Claire Connachan from Belles on Bikes was the de facto "token" Scot :-). I think this is more a comment on the state of cycle advocacy in Scotland than on the efforts of the organisers - in my (limited) experience, there are a lot of non-natives who seem to be driving things north of the border. I wonder if this is just my impression or if it's genuinely reflective of reality. Do we need others*** to get a better perspective of how cycling could be?

Minority Representation

I was really pleased that there wasn't solely white faces in the room, but I'd be interested to know how people from different races and backgrounds could be encouraged to come along to another forum. I live in Govanhill; quite a diverse area (for Scotland), with concentrations of different immigrant populations from Ireland, South Asia and Poland as well as recent arrivals from the Roma communities of Slovakia and Romania.

Car usage appears to be quite low amongst the latter groups, particularly the Roma, with a lot of people relying on their feet to get around. Despite the name, the area is pretty flat and features many quiet, mostly non-through route, residential roads and a lot of local shops and businesses to visit; it therefore should be quite good for cycling about in and yet I can't recall seeing anyone other than the children of these communities on bikes. What are the barriers for these women? Is their experience substantially different to their (white) peers? Would they be interested in giving cycling a go if given the opportunity? I'm genuinely not sure how best to approach this to be honest - but it's worth asking the question.

I should stress that these are small points of order and shouldn't detract from the excellent work done by the organisers, the panellists and the participants. I hope this will be the first of many such events - and I'll be happy to turn up again, even just as the token bloke with a beard.

(*) weekday evenings and weekends excluded
(**) Admittedly, this mostly involves "reading about it on Wikipedia" - I don't claim to be a particularly dedicated scholar!
(***) I don't want to come across as a Little-Scotlander here - in my view everyone should have the freedom to be wherever they want to live. I probably should point out that my father is an "other" too, being originally from Sheffield but who has lived in Glasgow for most of his adult life and still speaks with a yorkshire accent - at what point are you considered "native"?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Response to East Dunbartonshire Council's Bears Way Scheme

This blog is my response to the above consultation as referenced here:
Firstly, I have to commend EDC for their vision. I am encouraged that there appears to be a recognition that separating modes of travel is vital to increasing the number of people cycling, by improving both actual safety and (crucially) a subject sense of safety - the latter is particularly important for encouraging demographic groups such as children and the elderly who are currently excluded from cycling through fear of hostile road conditions.

I'm pleased that priority for the cycle path will be given over minor side roads - this is particularly important as it:
  1. Signals that cycling is considered a serious form of transport, rather than something associated with leisure
  2. Facilitates journeys along the path by minimising interruptions by give ways and junctions - cycling is most suited to continuous travel conditions at steady speeds
  3. Will encourage potential users onto the facility who, under normal circumstances, would forgo the use of cycle infrastructure which typically impede progress
Combining the above with the raised tables for pedestrians at junctions, a clear message is being sent that active travel methods have priority at these junctions.

I also welcome, in principle, the concept of continuing the protected cycle path in proximity to bus-stops. Often with poor quality implementations, cycle lanes give up at "difficult" points like this, thus forcing cycles into conflict with buses; two forms of transport that are least suited to mixing.

To reiterate, I approve of these measures - EDC have the opportunity here to provide good quality facilities that outstrip the ambition of neighbouring councils. With all that said, I have some comments that I'd like you to consider:

1. Bus-stop by-pass

The Royal College Street bus-stop cited in your document is an inferior example to follow. It puts people on cycles into direct conflict with people boarding or alighting buses. There is only a narrow strip on which to stand and the bus shelter is on the wrong side of the cycle path. As such, it has been necessary to force cycles to give way, thus impeding progress. In addition, elderly, disabled or passengers with pushchairs may feel uncomfortable crossing the path at this point, even if they have notional priority.

This potential for conflict should not be necessary with a well-designed scheme. Much better examples exist in the UK already, specifically in Brighton (see below):
A Bus-stop bypass in Brighton with plenty of space for passengers - first class
As you can see, the (wide) cycle path diverts around the rear of the bus-stop and the shelter. Pedestrians will still have to cross the path, but the crossing takes places away from the actual stop itself, thus completely avoiding the potential for conflict with passengers on a recently arrived bus. The effect is similar in function to existing unmarked road crossings with pedestrian refuges - an arrangement most users will already be readily familiar with.
This sort of facility is very common in the Netherlands. For further continental examples, please follow this link:
I appreciate that it may be that lack of space behind the bus-stop might be cited as justification for your approach here, but it would be worthwhile considering narrowing the road and pushing the bus-stop further into the lane, as is commonplace for other crossing points. Alternatively, it might be necessary to relocate the bus-stop to a more suitable location. It also might be easier to implement a scheme on a uni-directional path (see point 3).

2. Junctions with Minor Roads

As I stated above, giving cycles priority over minor side roads is a major step forward. However, the design used is sub-optimal.
Typical junction treatments where cycle paths cross minor roads in the Netherlands have the cycle (and pedestrian) path divert slighty in order that they cross slightly into the minor road. This means that there is sufficient space for vehicles turning in and out of the road to wait whilst giving way:

For right turning vehicles, this helps in keeping the main carriageway clear and thus removes the requirement for a right-turn waiting lane (as per QCC2). Secondly, vehicles make the turn manoeuvre in two distinct movements - this means that the driver does not have to wait for clear oncoming traffic as well as a clear junction to cross the carriageway. Thirdly, it means that the driver is facing the cycle path at right angles, providing better lines of sight between driver and cyclist or pedestrian and hence minimising the potential for error.

3. Cycle Paths: Bi-directional vs. Uni-directiona

It would be better if a way could be found to keep the cycle path on one side of the road for the whole length of the facility. Indeed, it would be even more worthwhile considering implementing two uni-directional paths on both sides of the road, rather than a single bi-directional path which switches sides. The reasons as three-fold:
  1. It is a more natural arrangement, particularly where the path isn't continuous and cycles are coming from roads which don't have separated paths.
  2. Crossing the road is inefficient and inconvenient - this will be a particularly acute problem if the phases of the crossing aren't optimised to favour cyclists and pedestrians
  3. Width - if the path is heavily used in both directions, congestion could become a problem as there isn't sufficient space to over-take slower-moving riders
Regarding point 2, commuter cyclists will likely not want to use the facility, or will only partially use it if they find their progress is hampered unnecessarily by having to cross at the toucan - alternatively, you might find people will attempt to cross the road against the red signal, thus increasing the risk of a collision.

On that note, the recommended width of paths is as follows (although width recommendations vary with the volume of cycle traffic) - note both below require a 50cm margin between the path and the road:
  • Uni-directional path - 2m
  • Bi-directional path - 3.5-4m
Note that both of these solutions should fit within a single "car" lane. In addition, it is worth nothing that there are ways to resolve conflicts between bike lanes and residential parking - namely by putting the cycle path behind the line of parked cars. This is a common solution in both the Netherlands and in the USA:

(note that is bi-directional path in the picture above).

4. Shared Use and The Roundabout

I can see why this method has been chosen for the top part of the route - it allows users travelling along Main Street to bypass the roundabout entirely. But I can't stress this point enough: shared use paths represent poor quality cycle infrastructure which benefits no-one other than motor vehicles, except perhaps where pedestrian use of the path is negligible in the first place. All shared use paths do is put pedestrians into direct conflict with cycles - the reason why bikes were banned from the pavements in the first place. This creates ill-will between the two user groups, whilst impeding the natural progress of quicker, more nimble bike users (although, the priority at minor roads mitigates this to a degree).
It also avoids dealing with the most problematic element: the roundabout itself. There are ways to upgrade roundabouts to make them safely navigable by bike, particularly ones as large and with as much unused space as this example. Upgrading the roundabout will also extend the usefulness of the facility for those travelling further north along the A81 Glasgow Road. Southbound riders coming from that direction would have difficulty gaining access to the path as a result.
The following video illustrates a number of potential solutions for the roundabout. I would strongly advise giving it a watch:

Alternatively there are a number of examples discussed here:

If these measures were to be combined with uni-directional paths on either side of the carriageway, it would be possible to travel down either route and through the roundabout without interacting with traffic at all for the entire length of the facility. This would be a major incentive to for all types of cycle user.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Parking: New Victoria Infirmary

A few years ago, a local hospital was built on the site of the old Queen's Park Secondary school, just across the road from the soon-to-be-closed Victoria Infirmary, whose in-patient, geriatric and A&E services are due to be migrated to the New Southern General.

The "New" Victoria is purely a day hospital, which amongst other things incorporates a nurse-led Minor Injuries unit and an Out-of-Hours GP service. I had recently been afflicted by a fairly nasty case of dermatitis, which seems to have developed out of a sweat rash around my wrists, courtesy of my cheapo synthetic cycling gloves (£5 from Sportsdirect - I suppose you get what you pay for).

As per typical male behaviour and having not been inside a GP surgery for well over a decade, I'd been avoiding consulting the experts on this for a few weeks and months, until last week it got the point where it was unavoidable. My eye had swollen up so much that people were wondering how I'd managed to come off my bike...

Here's it at it's worst. Those in the process of eating should look away now:

Hmmm... lovely! Word of advice to those suffering similar problems: get it checked out without delay; it'll make things much more pleasant in the long run.

Anyway, I couldn't wait any longer for my proposed GP appointment, so I took myself over to the New Vicky to get seen. I took the bike of course. When I arrived at the main entrance off Grange Drive, this is what I came across.

seems pretty clear what this means - bikes = not welcome!

As you can probably tell, I was a bit non-plussed by this, and it wasn't immediately clear where else I could go. After a bit of searching (and after what one might consider a naughty salmon against a "no entry" sign) I discovered the bike parking in the large underground car-park:

Not bad, but still not that much for a large public facility...
... ahh that's better!
In hindsight, having the facilities in the covered, sheltered basement makes much more sense than being partially exposed at street level, but there are some problems with this approach. There isn't an obvious way to get to the basement from the main road outside. If we look at the map:

View Larger Map

You notice a couple of things:
  1. The main entrance is a little one-way loop back onto the main road
  2. The next road one comes up against is a one-way exit - no official access this way
  3. The route you should take on bike is the same as for cars i.e. along Queen's Park Road, right at the roundabout and through the car park
It might seem a little pedantic of me to complain about this, but the issues here remind me of what Mark Treasure wrote about inhumane road layouts, whereby the access to larger sites - both public and private - is designed almost exclusively with motor vehicle use in mind; other forms of ingress are tacked on as an afterthought, if thought of at all.

The troubling thing here is that the nature of the building - an NHS hospital - is as public a site as one could possibly imagine. New Victoria Hospital should be universally accessible to all and, given the public health imperative, there ought to be an advantage to using more active methods. Sadly, the opportunity has been at least partially missed this time around. Given Magnatom's lamentation on bike access at his work, it looks like a pattern in the NHS is forming.

Thus, it isn't just about the number of spaces provided: it's the mindset that privileges cars above all else that needs to be revisited.

p.s. the infection cleared up nicely! Am on the road to recovery

Supermarkets: Morrisons Pollokshaws

Just a quick one. To take advantage of yesterday's glorious weather, I took a somewhat circuitous route* to a not-so-close by Morrisons supermarket at the back-end of Shawlands (or Pollokshaws, to be more accurate). Clearly a bunch of other people had similar ideas, as evidenced by the cluster of bikes surrounding the entrance. Unforunately, Morrisons Pollokshaws' bike parking consists of this:

Bike parking provision at Morrisons Pollokshaws

Yes, that is indeed a grand total of two uncovered Sheffield stands you can see there. The other bike users who arrived concurrently with me had to resort to chaining our bikes to the less than ideal over-sized covered parking for trolleys.
Bear in mind this isn't your typical out of town big-box store - this is an urban supermarket in a fairly densely populated residential part of the south-side. A significant proportion of its customers will be arriving on foot and could potentially travel there by bike, particularly on sunny days like Saturday.
Not great Morrisons! 

On a slightly more positive note, you can see the kids bikes in the picture - the top few belonged to a father and his two sons, who took to the pavement as they set off later along Pollokshaws Road - in this environment, who can blame them?

(*) somewhat ironic, given that I'm forever railing against this sort of thing on the blog!