Monday 3 September 2012

Twitter & Premeditation

I'm not sure why but in the last few days I've taken to searching 'cyclist' on twitter to see what it throws up, the results are not so good. In the space of any given hour there seems to be up to half a dozen people wishing violence and injury on cyclists.

I wonder, should any unfortunate cyclist encounter one of these people and end up in an accident with them, could their mindless ramblings on Twitter be used to prove premeditation? Here's a few from the last hour...

Good luck Team GB at your Manchester headquarters, James here is goin' ta getcha!

This charmer works at Universal music, but don't worry his opinions are his own.

Now this young fellow is a young pro footballer at Stirling Albion who just failed his driving test, thank God.

And Sahara here's heart is obviously barren.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

The Social Cost of Motoring

In round terms, ...the Government raises close to £50 billion from road users.
The Campaign for Better Transport extrapolates from the Government research on marginal external costs (above) to reach a total cost of externalities of £70 billion–£95 billion per annum at [2009] prices.
House of Commons Transport Committee - Taxes and charges on road users 2009

A great deal of those costs fall on individuals rather than the government, bereavement, noise, congestion, air quality, essentially standard of living costs borne by the wider society. So it might appear that the government raises £50bn but only spends some £9bn on maintaining roads, but the other £41bn goes towards offsetting the costs to society. A non motorist cannot claim back the cost of their reduced standard of living directly from anyone, but by raising taxes from motorists, the government can reduce other taxes paid by everyone. Even so there is still a £20-45bn shortfall between what motoring costs society and what motorists pay. Put another way, £45bn is half of the total raised by National Insurance, an even more direct tax on jobs than fuel duty. In fact, if you raised that extra £20bn in taxes from motorists (increase fuel duty by 40p, probably more like 50-60p to account for reduced sales due to changing behaviour) the income tax personal allowance could be raised to about £12,000, just about the right amount for those who insist on a living wage. OK, some inflation will follow offsetting things a bit, but we're in the ballpark.

Low taxes on motoring is not essentially right wing idealism, indeed, undertaxing it as we are is effectively socialising the cost of motoring.

Thoughtfully a list was drawn up of the cheapest and most expensive fuel around the world, the list of the cheapest countries could almost be a list of the world's greatest tinpot dictatorships. Meanwhile, Norway, the highest priced place in the world for fuel has been found to have the highest standard of living in 10 out of the last 11 years. Not a causal link of course, but I think it's safe to say that low taxes on fuel is not a necessity for making life better. I've been to Norway, I don't need to go to Turkmenistan to know which country I would rather live in.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Gazelle Toer Populair - That's how I roll

A.K.A. A bike too far?

A little while ago a new position became available in my fleet and I knew it was time to get myself a comfy town bike as none of my other bikes fit the role of relaxed cruising around in regular clothes.

Being of a contrary nature I opted against the available Pashley and Raleigh Roadsters for no particular reason and bought a single speed Gazelle Toer Populair with coaster brake. I would have liked a 3 speed but for a couple of reasons 1. It was £250 more and for less than half that amount I can change the hub if I ever really feel the need to move up. 2. For 2012 Gazelle have stopped making the mens three speed with coaster brake and I really wanted a coaster brake as I think it suits the cruising style.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Gazelle Toer Populair finds a new fan
The single speed came with black tyres, cheap black saddle and rubber grips all of which I changed. If you are wondering about the weird statue look here.

Gazelle Toer Populair
New kit
Cream Delta Cruisers, £11 each from Spa Cycles. I'll be keeping these well inflated as taking the rear wheel off is a hell of a job.
  • Remove axle bolts
  • Remove rack supports
  • Take off as much of chain guard as possible
  • Unscrew chain tensioners
  • Unscrew coaster brake
  • Push wheel forwards and take chain off sprocket
  • Pull wheel backwards and unship chain from axle and drop wheel out
  • Then get it all back together without forgetting where all the washers went
When I did get it back together I pulled the chain a bit too tight and could feel some friction in the drivetrain coming through the pedals when riding. So I eased off the tensioners a bit and it's smooth as silk now.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Brooks B67 Aged Saddle
The Brooks B67 Aged saddle actually comes as OEM on the three speed, my impression so far is that it is very comfy.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Nori-San cork grips
The rubber grips that came with the bike were hard on the hands and sticky when warm, these cork grips by Nori-San from Hubjub are soft and cool. The bell is nice too it's of the r-r-r-r-ring rather than ding! variety.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Axa Defender Lock
The lock is quick and simple to use, these are quite rare in the UK, I wouldn't use it as a primary means of security, but if I'm in a shop and the bike is outside but visible to me it would befuddle a thief long enough for me to run outside.

Gazelle Toer Populair
The little clip holds the stand to the rack strut
The rear stand folds up and the clip snaps it to the rack strut although it is stiff enough to hold itself up, but a nice touch.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Head badge
One very minor disappointment, from other photographs I thought the fork crown was chromed, but it turns out it is some sort of cover just sitting over the top.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Front Light
Not had the opportunity to use the light yet, it looks the part but would be nicer if it was full chrome rather than half chrome, half plastic.

I can't remember ever having sat on a roadster type bicycle before and the first impression was, "Damn, that steering is light, and that front wheel is a long way away!" After a few yards it was no problem.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Just the one brake lever for the front drum brake which is not that powerful, but the rear coaster brake certainly is. I'm 5'9" with a 29" inseam, this is the smallest 57cm frame but i still have the saddle quite low and have raised the bars up quite high.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Rear Light
The rear battery operated light and large reflector. The mudguard support loops around to form a little protective barrier in case you reverse the bike into anything.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Really good stretchy straps
These straps are very strong and very stretchy, I strapped down a full 10kg backpack confident that it wouldn't shift about, and it didn't!

Gazelle Toer Populair
Front mudguard detail
A little flare on the front mudguard.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Fork crown cover
Another view of that fork crown cover.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Bottle dynamo
Bottle dynamo, not seen one of these since my brother's Raleigh Grifter.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Front drum brake
The front drum brake connections, quick and simple to remove.

I have a variety of bikes from all out road, to CX to Shopper, but none of them is anything like this to ride, and that was kind of the point for me. On the other bikes you are always leaning forward, a bit or a lot, nose pointing down, weight on your palms, the Gazelle is a totally different animal. You sit up, way up, in a way that most people under 40 in the UK have probably never experienced a bike. Get the wheels turning and it glides along smooth as silk, of course it takes a bit of effort to build up speed, but once up to speed the momentum of that weight and centrifugal force of the wheels lets it roll along at 12-15mph almost effortlessly on flat ground.

The 635 x 40 (or 28 x 1 1/2 if you will) Delta Cruisers are lovely and smooth my CX has 35s with small knobbles and other bikes have 23s or 25s at 100+psi, so a 40 road tyre with <60psi is a further revelation, no crashing around, no vibration, no tyre noise. The combination of tyre, steel frame, Brooks saddle and 22kgs manages to damp out all unwanted stresses yet the steering still inspires confidence.

Add in the practicality of fully enclosed chain, full mudguards, skirt/coat guard, big rack, straps, lock, lights and stand and it fulfills most of my daily biking needs and does so with no small degree of aplomb.

That's the practical and physical side covered, but how does it really feel... You're sat high up, you're facing ahead not down, you can look at the world again, lay back and cruise, smile at girls, wear regular clothes, leave the road warrior red mist at home and enjoy the ride. The only thing I can think to compare it to are three things I can't compare it to because I've never been in any of them, a Range Rover for the view, a Rolls Royce for the stateliness or if you're a motorcyclist something like a Honda Goldwing. In fact it is so composed and nonchalant I am sure had the need arisen Major Carlyle would have commandeered one on his Dutch vacation.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

On Civil Rights

Q. How do you turn educated, affluent, young, white males into a downtrodden minority group?

A. Give them all bicycles.

NB I promise to not use the phrase "I have a dream" anywhere in this post....other than just there of course. Not least because it would seem rather bad form to have a dream that calls for segregation of the minority.

Before I begin and due to the usual sensitivities that we must take account of I want to say I am not directly likening cycling to the Civil Rights movement, but there are similarities it might be useful to explore.

First up, what is a minority in the political sense, for speed we'll turn to Wikipedia which quotes 
Feagin (1984) states that a minority group has five characteristics: (1) suffering discrimination and subordination, (2) physical and/or cultural traits that set them apart, and which are disapproved by the dominant group, (3) a shared sense of collective identity and common burdens, (4) socially shared rules about who belongs and who does not determine minority status, and (5) tendency to marry within the group.
So how does cycling stack up against those criteria?
  1. Cyclists have nominal equality before the law, although I would be interested to learn if they really do receive equal protection and redress. However cyclists definitely have to play a subordinate role to the motor vehicle if for no other reason than their sheer vulnerability and they have to contend with persistent intimidation.
  2. Cultural traits...which are disapproved of by the dominant group, simply being on a bicycle seems enough to get a lot of drivers' backs up.
  3. Yes.
  4. Ride a bike? You're in.
  5. I don't believe there are enough female cyclists to go round, but if one were interested it would certainly count in her favour.
So we're definitely in the ballpark. Add to all that the 100+ cyclists killed every year and the thousands injured due to deliberate acts of violence, or, more commonly, drivers not giving a crap, and the issue becomes rather more serious.

Anecdotally, a cycling buddy was knocked off his bike a year ago, he was on our local A-road minding his own business when some white van man took an exception to him. The van went to overtake him and swerved into the side of him, he kept his balance and a torrent of abuse was yelled from the window of the van. White van man came back for another go and this time did a proper job. Buddy was thrown from the bike and landed face first on the tarmac his helmet smashed to pieces as did several of the bones in his face. The van driver was convicted of dangerous driving and warned to go home and prepare for a custodial sentence, he did a bit of begging though and it was reduced to 12 month ban, has to pass an anger management course before he can reapply for a provisional licence. Fined £1200, 140hrs community service.

Then just a week ago a friend of a friend was riding along when somebody lent out of a passing car window, pushed him off his bike and into a ditch.

I can't imagine that either of these situations would have ended in violence if the victim was walking, driving or even riding a scooter.

The one advantage the cycling fraternity has going for it though is its demographic. I'm in a not so great part of Liverpool, but even here the majority of cyclists fit in to the white, male, young-middle aged, educated and affluent categories. The greater portion of my commuting buddies comprises 4 doctors and a surgeon, all white, one female. Cycling is also quite Londoncentric and on 'our side' we have lots of city boys, journalists, politicians, a Lord, even Rupert Murdoch for christ's sake! Seriously, if this group of people can't get something done the next step must be to employ the Iraqi Information Minister to do our PR.

Back in the 70s the Dutch went through the era of protesting and campaigning for safer streets, a battle they largely won, watch this wonderful video brought to you via BicycleDutch

Notice also the campaign posters


There's a similar theme here


Through direct action, civil disobedience and plain old making a racket they got the best cycling infrastructure in the world. Largely segregated from motor traffic and with laws to add weight, strict liability and priority for traffic going straight on. The Civil Rights movement using similar tactics won its early battles and secured an amendment to the US constitution

How might the UK's battle be won? Feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments. While you think, here are a few of mine, I'm sure you'll do much better...
  • A cyclists' strike - all cyclists in London hang up their helmets for a day and get on the tube. Add more overcrowding to an overcrowded network. Alternatively, anyone who can drives to work, adding more congestion. Give people a taste of how bad it could be if nobody bothered to cycle.
  • A nationwide cycle to work day - if your company could be persuaded, have them support a cycle to work day whereby anyone who cycles to work on that day gets breakfast bought for them.
  • Much of the Dutch protest was an appeal to the heart to stop the deaths of children. Along similar lines and with permission from families, a campaign of posters, flyers or balloon releases with details and photos of people killed while cycling.

Monday 27 February 2012

What if the HSE ran the DfT? part II

In the previous article I looked at the hierarchy of risk control and the sorts of things the HSE might expect to be considered when attempting to reduce risks for cyclists.

In this section we are going to get rather cold hearted I'm afraid. If we are to continue imagining how the HSE might approach the topic of road safety then we must familiarise ourselves with one of the basic characteristics of their method, 'reasonably practicable'.

We would like to prevent all road deaths however it would not be practicable to do so. You would either
  • Have to ban all motorised transport.
  • Spend an incredibly huge amount of money to prevent as many as possible.
The plain fact of the matter is that society doesn't value a life high enough to justify the amount of spending that would be required. When we say value, we mean just that, cold hard cash, a few years ago the HSE did some research and found that we're willing to spend just over £1m to prevent a fatality. Add in the other costs such as emergency services and loss of output and the figure we arrive at is £1,778,000 per non-motorway fatality. The cost of serious injuries is £208,000 and the cost of slight injuries is £22,000. These figures are known as the Value of Prevention of Fatality/Accident. It's a tricky concept, the HSE describes it as...
VPF is often misunderstood to mean that a value is being placed on a life. This is not the case. It is simply another way of saying what people are prepared to pay to secure a certain averaged risk reduction. A VPF of £1,000,000 corresponds to a reduction in risk of one in a hundred thousand being worth about £10 to an average individual. VPF therefore, is not to be confused with the value society, or the courts, might put on the life of a real person or the compensation appropriate to its loss
This spreadsheet kindly tells us how many cyclists are injured. Multiply it all together and the figure we arrive at is £1,067,746,000 quite a large number. I'm willing to agree that approximating a true VPA/VPF figure is very difficult, so if we strip out the guesstimated part for a minute leaving only the actual costs of cycling accidents we get the figure £292,849,372. Of course government doesn't bear all the costs of an accident but eventually 45% of everything flows through the government's coffers, which would be £131m of our £292m. So depending on which figures you choose it would be considered reasonably practicable to spend between £131m and £1.067bn on cycling infrastructure.

Alternatively the HSE might say an amount proportional to the quantity of cycling should be spent, this article says £13.4bn was spent on roads and we know that cyclists account for 1% of distance travelled which means spending should be £134m (remarkably similar to the figure of £131m above). However, the government is trying to encourage cycling so we might expect them to spend a disproportionately high amount on cycling. Rather than distance though we could use a time spent travelling equivalence, in the previous article I used 12mph average speed for bicycles and 30mph for cars, both guesstimates, but it bumps the spending requirement up to £335m, kind of in the ballpark of the £292m mentioned earlier.

Even the HSE might blanche at spending £1bn per year on cycle infrastructure but a lower bound of £130m up to £300m seems reasonable, or indeed, reasonably practicable.When you consider that an accident is money down the drain year after year, but infrastructure spending keeps giving back, year after year and that what is good for cyclist will also be good for pedestrians to an extent, then the figures look even better.

Sunday 26 February 2012

What if the HSE ran the DfT?

As someone who had some H&S training and responsibilities in a prior life I would like to apply some of that thinking to the cyclesafe debate.

The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA) sets out some basics, Wikipedia sumarises them pretty well...

Duties of Employers
  • Provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health;
  • Arrangements for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances;
  • Provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees;
  • So far as is reasonably practicable as regards any place of work under the employer’s control, the maintenance of it in a condition that is safe and without risks to health and the provision and maintenance of means of access to and egress from it that are safe and without such risks;
  • Provision and maintenance of a working environment for his employees that is, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe, without risks to health, and adequate as regards facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work.

Duties of Employees
  • Take reasonable care for the health and safety of him/herself and of other persons who may be affected by his/her acts or omissions at work; and
  • Co-operate with employers or other persons so far as is necessary to enable them to perform their duties or requirements under the Act.
I hope that's fairly clear. For the purposes of comparison the employers is the authority in charge of the highway and the employee the user of the highway.

So the authority has to ensure the design, construction and maintenance of the highway is safe and the employee has to use it responsibly.

The next thing we would need to do is undertake a risk assessment. We know that ~3000 people die on the roads each year but it would be useful to know the rate at which they die to help us to know where to allocate resources.

This tells us how many deaths per billion vehicle miles, but due to greatly different average speeds it's not that helpful so by using some guesstimated average speeds I've converted it to an average based on time exposed to danger
  • Pedestrians - 37 per billion miles at 3mph = 111 per billion hours
  • Cyclists - 36 per billion miles at 12mph = 433 per billion hours
  • Motorists - 3 per billion miles at 30mph = 90 per billion hours
From this we see that cyclists are the most at risk of the main different types of road user (this is comparative data, I'm not saying cycling is dangerous). We might then decide that protecting cyclists should be given a proportionately higher priority due to this higher risk.

Next we'd go on to look at how we might reduce the risk to cyclists for this we would turn to the hierarchy of risk control

Hierarchy of Control

The beady eyed amongst you might notice (with a wry grin) right away that PPE is at the bottom of the hierarchy, due to it's ineffectiveness and reliance on mitigation rather than prevention.

Let's briefly run down the hierarchy and try and apply its teachings to the public highway

I don't think it is either desirable or practical to eliminate all motor vehicles from the highway but we could certainly eliminate some journeys, close off more roads from motorised traffic or even reduce available parking spaces. Alternatively it could mean the elimination of cohabitation, by providing roads for non-motorised vehicles we eliminate the hazard, we could call these cycle lanes!


Through a system of positive and negative incentives people can be persuaded to change their mode of transport. A very simple example would be the tax system as money talks better than most incentives. 

  • A positive incentive might be an incentive for using cycles while commuting as I have discussed previously
  • A negative incentive might be an increase to the marginal cost of motoring by scrapping VED and applying the cost to fuel duty, this would raise the cost of a litre of fuel by 10p
I don't think it would make a huge difference but it would have an effect.

This is probably where most of the work can be done, cycle lanes, redesigning junctions, traffic flows, traffic lights, good engineering solutions won't let people make mistakes. From the HSE's guidance

Separate the hazard ... by methods such as enclosing or guarding dangerous items of machinery/equipment. Give priority to measures which protect collectively over individual measures.
There we find something the HSE is very keen on collective protection, it's good because it is usually fit and forget, if you want to protect people working at height you fit safety nets rather than relying on individuals to use their fall restraint harnesses correctly. Similarly, you build a segregated cycle lane rather than relying on drivers not to hit cyclists and pedestrians.

Administrative & Behavioural
Begin with training, tell people how they need to behave, provide laws and regulations as a framework, then provide supervision and discipline. This comes towards the ineffectual end of the hierarchy because it is largely self policing, drivers aren't constantly supervised so we have to trust them to behave well.

Personal Protective Equipment
At the very bottom of the hierarchy is the thing so many people seem to think is the answer to cycling casualties. Here's what the HSE have to say about PPE 

Only after all the previous measures have been tried and found ineffective in controlling risks to a reasonably practicable level, must personal protective equipment (PPE) be used.
The two types of PPE associated with cycling are
  1. Hi viz clothing. The need for hi viz clothing just proves all the other parts of the hierarchy have failed. The risk has not been eliminated, substituted or engineered away, the cyclist is still placed in a risky area, and administrative solutions have failed because drivers don't concentrate enough to see a cyclist not wearing hi viz.
  2. Helmets. Anyone who suggests helmets are the primary way to prevent cyclist injuries has obviously never had their granny tell them prevention is better than cure. As a cyclist I'd rather not get hit in the first place than rely on a helmet to protect me. Unfortunately, because the risk hierarchy is almost never implemented by road designers, I do have to rely on one.

The other side to this is what the HSE calls reasonably practicable, would it be reasonable to spend X to prevent Y. Would it be reasonable to spend £1m to redesign a junction to prevent 1 cyclist death? I'll look at that next time.

Edit: Part II available here

Thursday 23 February 2012

Cyclesafe debate - Hi viz and Helmets

I didn't have the opportunity to watch today's debate on cycling safety, but it is available online now, so far I have made do with reading The Times' live blog of it. It seems like a good show all round.

The best quote I have read so far is
"Wouldn't it be great if you didn't *have* to wear all this safety clobber, and you could just go out your front door, jump on your bike and go. Wouldn't that get more people cycling, if it were just safe to do so?"
Which pretty much sums up the entire thing. I shouldn't have to dress like a twat because someone else can't be arsed to look where they are going. Hi viz and helmets is not a solution, it's what you have to resort to when you don't have a solution. Just ask any Health & Safety professional, personal protective equipment is at the bottom of the risk control hierarchy and should only be implemented when no other solution can be found.

I'm sure everyone has their own ideas of ways of improving things and what they would put in their own cycling manifesto and if I could pick one thing that I've not heard much about that I would include it would be....
  1. The proposed cycling commissioner would have to approve every road being built and every junction being redesigned and that every junction being redesigned must include a "Dutch" level of cycle provision whenever possible.
If they have to redesign the junction anyway it's not going to cost much more to lay a few extra kerbstones or red tarmac to segregate cyclists and motorists. That way we wouldn't have to put up with substandard proposals such as the recent example from Liverpool.