Wednesday, 18 January 2017

In which choosing a night-time route can be a stab in the dark

At the darkest time of the year, another cycle route test has occurred to me. Is this route usable in the dark?

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

In which I do my bike finances

It has been 2 years since I bought my second-hand Gazelle, and I recently took it for a service at the excellent Flying Dutchman shop in Camden. They were friendly, very competent, and surprisingly cheap.

So, how much does it cost to own and run a bike?

Thursday, 21 July 2016

In which it's cool to cycle

This is the hottest week of the year so far, and if you only cycle commute once or twice a month, it seems like a good week to leave the bike at home.

But oddly, that's not what I've found.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

In which chatting is a good measure of cycling

There are various ways of measuring how suitable a road is for cycling. For example, Transport for London has the Cycling Levels of Service (CLoS) score, and Wales has the Cycling Route Audit Tool. These are useful tools for engineers and planners to check that the specific details of new schemes are beneficial to cyclists, and won't lead to injuries or deaths.

But useful though it would be to apply them to every road in the city, the process would take a while. And whilst it is very good to have an objective measure of safety, these complex descriptions don't make it easy to convince residents that a road is genuinely not suitable for everyone to cycle.

Enter: the chatting index. This is my simple 3-step scale for ranking roads for cycling.

Can you chat whilst travelling?

Level 3: Cycling side-by-side, chatting away.
Level 2: Mostly chatting, but with interruptions.
Level 1: No chatting possible, interruptions too frequent.
(Level 0: Not sure the other person is even still alive, but can't spare the attention to check.)

This is a remarkably easy scale to judge roads on. Simply get 2 people to cycle together, and ask them where they could and couldn't talk. If you can't do that, it's fairly easy to just imagine!

Everywhere that there are high volumes of motor vehicles or pedestrians sharing the same space, they will have to keep separating to get through or let others pass.
Everywhere that the path is muddy or potholed or overgrown, they need to concentrate on weaving a safe path.
Everywhere that it is too narrow, or there are barriers to negotiate, they will have to go single file and shout back over their shoulders to talk.
Everywhere that they have to dismount, they will have to concentrate on not whacking their shins or anyone else.
Every time a route is not obvious, they must switch to discussing where to turn next.
Everywhere that they feel nervous, late at night in an unlit alleyway, they won't feel comfortable slowly chatting along.
Everywhere cobbled, they will be jolted too much to talk.
Everywhere that it's too steep, they'll need to save their breath!

So, how sociable is cycling near you?

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

In which I redesign the Old Kent Road

Segregated cycle lanes are popping up all over London at the moment, with what seems like a dozen more in the works once the current crop are complete.

So I wanted to consider the Old Kent Road in Southwark, and wonder: could we fit a cycle lane down here?

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

In which Westminster is fantastic for chocolate shops, and terrible for cycling

The City of Westminster has several Themed Cycle Rides. You can join an organised tour, or follow the route on your own. We did the tour of chocolate shops on our own, in an outing that was both delicious and sadly illuminating.

Firstly, the chocolate shops themselves: whoever thought this tour up was a genius. The staff were friendly and helpful, very knowledgeable and with personal recommendations for what to try. Not one of them was grumpy and uninterested in us, though we turned up only intending to sample a single item. In every new shop, I decided that this was where I was buying presents for everyone I know for the foreseeable future.
Even if you don't eat chocolate, the décor alone was worth a look in Prestat, Choccywoccydoodah, and Pierre Hermé - and the others weren't bad either!

But the cycling - wow, Westminster. Ouch. Has anyone from the council ever ridden a bicycle?

There are 3 types of streets in Westminster: broad main roads, which are terrifying to cycle on; back streets full of queueing cars, too narrow for overtaking, even on a bike; and quiet, empty little streets, which are a joy to cycle on - until either a black cab comes whizzing up from behind and honks at you for having the temerity to be on their shortcut, or the street comes to an abrupt end at a busy main road.

The shops are far too small to bring a bicycle inside. A fellow Londoner sums it up:
And if you are unlucky enough to be doing this with friends, good luck finding enough free lamposts for all of you.

If you are going to take this Cycle Ride, book into the official one and take safety in numbers. Or even easier, ditch the bike, and use your feet. A train to Knightsbridge for the finale is cheaper than hiring a city bike anyway - because obviously TfL want to incentivise more people to travel on the Piccadilly line. But that's a rant for another time.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

In which UK cycling is lacking the Pit of Success

There is in programming a concept called the Pit of Success.

Success should not be a mountain summit that you work towards, but rather a pit that you can fall into. Failure should not be a pit that you accidentally fall into, but hidden behind barriers that you have to deliberately circumvent.

The author of the article I linked to describes it like this:
a well-designed system makes it easy to do the right things and annoying (but not impossible) to do the wrong things

This sounds intuitively obvious, but it can be difficult for the designers of any system to achieve. It is easy to leave pits of failure all over the place: simply don't consider any user different to yourself, who knows less than you, or who might make a mistake, and bam! There they are, lurking.

Some examples in transport


Transport for London have already applied this principle to a lot of their transport infrastructure.

Take modern tube stations. It is very easy to leave your train and head straight for the surface with everyone else, and very difficult to find a passage which will take you against the flow. The pit of success: easy to do the right thing, annoying (but not impossible) to do the wrong thing.

Or take Oyster cards: touch in when you arrive, touch out when you leave. You always have a valid ticket for the journey you are making. Not paying for the correct journey involves deliberately circumventing the system, which is annoying, though not impossible.
(For comparison, the ticketing system for mainline trains is a Pit of Failure: it is frequently more difficult to buy the correct ticket than to evade the fare entirely. Achieving success is an uphill struggle.)

Why is this relevant to cycling?

A lot of poor cycling infrastructure is not poor because of inherent failures. (Although a lot is.)

Inherent failures are simple to explain to people: I can't cycle through lampposts. I can't cycle up stairs. My handlebars won't fit through that narrow gap. But simply fixing these obvious mistakes is not enough.

A lot of cycling infrastructure is poor because it does not make it easy to do the right things or annoying to do the wrong things.

The right thing is cycling safely and legally; the wrong thing is breaking the law or endangering yourself or others.

Cycling is easy when the infrastructure makes it:

  • physically easy
    • easy to maintain a continuous speed, not lots of starting and stopping
    • no unnecessary hills
    • no bumps and jolts
  • mentally easy
    • obvious what behaviour is expected at every point
    • obvious which direction the route goes next
    • no conflict with motor vehicles
    • no conflict with pedestrians
  • convenient
    • possible to get to workplaces, schools, shops, and other destinations
    • no large detours

Almost every route I've tried in London - including NCN4 - is not actually impossible to do on a bike. But it is annoying, and certainly not easy.

It is easy to get lost. It is easy to suddenly find yourself on a fast, multi-lane road with no visible exit. It is easy to take short-cuts across the pavement. It is easy to jump red lights. It is easy to filter up the left-hand side of a lorry into the driver's blind spot.
It is difficult to maintain a steady speed. It is difficult to find a smooth route. It is difficult to know where to position yourself in the road. It is difficult to travel directly from start to destination.

These should be the other way around.

And in The Netherlands, they are. Why not here?