Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Southampton City Council Strategy for Cycling

Southampton City Council have recently published a DRAFT strategy for cycling in the city. The report is called "Cycling Southampton – A plan for our city 2016 – 2026". It is currently “out for comment”,  and can be found at http://www.southampton.gov.uk/council-democracy/have-your-say/cycling-plan-consultation.aspx

The deadline for responses is 31st December 2016, and they should go to

A copy of this report annotated by me is at: http://tinyurl.com/z32dyao

But annotations tend to focus on the minutiae of a document, and the document is 20 pages long, so what follows is 

a. My summary of the Strategy, followed by 
b. My Top Level Comments on the Strategy.

Summary of the Strategy.

Our City Vision for Southampton  
“Southampton – City of opportunity where everyone thrives.”

Our Vision for Cycling in Southampton
“To transform Southampton into a true Cycling City, creating a liveable, integrated, thriving and mobile city where cycling is a daily norm not an exception”

The document is motivated by an introduction with some fine words about the benefits of cycling to the individual, to the economy, to the environment and to society as a whole.  It is then divided into a further five sections

2.     Where Are We Now? A Picture of Cycling in Southampton today
This section looks at the statistics for how much cycling happens in Southampton, comparing it to some other cities in the UK, and then looks at the extent of the current infrastructure in Southampton.
Headline figures:
·      Southampton has above national average levels of cycling to work, with 4.6% of all trips to work made by bike compared to 2.8% nationally.
·      However, Southampton lags behind places such as Portsmouth (7.4%), Bristol (7.7%), Gosport (10.8%), and the extremes of Oxford (17.5%) and Cambridge (29%).
·      5.4% of all journeys to school are by bike, growing from 1% in 2011. This is above the national average of 1.8%
·      Cycling’s mode share is 1.4% of all daily traffic
·      Almost 16% of all accidents in Southampton involve bikes
·      Many short journeys across the city are still made by car, with just under half (48%) of all journeys to work less than 3 miles (5km)
·      Supporting these journeys is a cycle network that is currently 45 miles in length

3.     Where Do We Want To Be? – Transforming Cycling
“Create a healthy and safe cycling culture over 10 years,by delivering and promoting cycling improvements along 10 corridors, that will see a 10% increase the number of journeys made by cycling each year”
 This section includes a useful table outlining the challenges to achieving this vision (both in terms of the infrastructure and peoples’ attitudes and perceptions), and suggesting some “opportunities” – i.e. what could be done to address these challenges.

4.     How Are We Going To Get There? – Our Approach
The strategy focuses on three themes:
·      Better Cycling – delivering the Southampton Cycle Network, integrating cycling into the city and providing places for people to park their bikes.
This section shows the proposed cycle routes discusses the different categories of infrastructure it is intended to support, ranging from
Core (“segregated, dedicated and safe paths and spaces for people to cycle separated from traffic. Space and priority will be managed intelligently and effectively”);
City (“a series of quieter less busy corridors .. will use less trafficked routes that can run parallel to a core corridor or cross one to link with destinations not on the core corridor .. a good degree of segregation and priority for cycling .. but this may not extend for the whole length”);
Neighbourhood .. a permeable mesh of easy and safe local routes that are ..well linked together through neighbourhoods on quiet streets, cut-throughs (e.g. alleyways or cycle bypasses, or traffic-less areas.. They will connect people from their front door to the city and core routes. Within the city centre all the roads will be treated this way improving the public realm so that it becomes a space that works for people;
Greenways .. completely traffic free routes through parks and open spaces .. (some of which may be) not suitable for cycling at high speed and require courteous behaviour to all.
·      Safe & Easy Cycling – educating about cycling to raise its profile and train people so that they can start and keep cycling confidently and safely.
This sub-section contains important proposals about signposting and maps of the cycle routes, as well as proposals about cycle training and maintenance.
·      Inspiring Cycling – promoting and realising what cycling can do to change behaviours. 

5.     How We Will Get There? - Implementing the Transformation
This section lists partnerships that will be needed to fund these changes, and provides a top level plan of the projects that are planned for 2016-2019 to realise the 10 year plan, along with the source of funding, timescale and approximate costs.

6.     Did We Do It Right? Bicycle Accounts
This sections suggests following a methodology developed in Copenhagen for monitoring the plan by measuring
o   Key facts about cycling in Southampton, 

o   Delivery of initiatives and their impacts, 

o   2017 Southampton Cycle Survey and Travel Attitudes Survey, 

o   Attitudes and perceptions about cycling in Southampton, 

o   Number of people cycling and their reasons, 

o   Mode split into the city centre and city wide, and 

o   Security, casualties and safety. 

My Top Level Comments on the Strategy.

This is an enormously encouraging document form Southampton City Council, and the people who have put the time into this should be thanked and encouraged to continue to see the strategy through to fruition.

Some “old-hand” cyclists from Southampton are very cynical about this plan, as they feel they have seen similar plans before, but the vision has not turned to reality, and nothing has changed.  It seems really important that we understand how this plan will be enacted.

The three areas I would suggest for its improvement are:

Its all about Bikes

This seems an odd criticism for a cycling strategy!  But my point is that what we are trying to achieve is more than a city in which people cycle lots. The vision talks about “creating a liveable, integrated, thriving and mobile city” – and that is indeed the point.  A liveable city is not one that is dominated by cars and lorries and choked by pollution – it is one in which is people centred and in which people move around easily and safely and can hear each other talk at a normal level.

If this strategy is to be successful it needs to be part of a strategy for transforming the city, and for any transformation to be successful we need to think about where cars and lorries are prioritised, and where the people are put first. 

So I would like it to be more aspirational about the sort of city that we will have that will have this excellent cycling infrastructure, and to demonstrate how that aspiration aligns with the vision and strategy for the city as a whole.

How we will get there

The report was not convincing to me on the subject of how much funding will be needed to make this transformation, or whether this funding will be available.

Page 19 and 20 of the report have a useful table of the expected projects for 2016 to 2019.  The report is not very clear about the scale of funding expected from any of the sources listed but a quick back of the envelope calculation shows that this plan would require about £8M over 4 years or £2M a year.  This is less than 10% of £21M Council Transport and Environment  budget (taking no account of the £10M Transformation budget – or any of the other sources listed such as LEP, Sustrans, Cycling UK or external developers). 

Furthermore, the plan for 2016-2019 does not look like getting anywhere near to 40% of the total aspiration described.

Governance and Transparency

There is absolutely no discussion about how this plan will be governed, directed and managed.  My fear is that it will happen behind closed doors, and that the plans will be changed internally or by external pressures without proper consultation.

In the ideal world
·      The council would have a board of governors for the project, with a number of externals who have experience in making such change happen (Amsterdam? Copenhagen?  Cambridge? Even London?)
·      The budgets would be transparent and the results of the “Bicycle Accounts” monitoring and evaluation made openly available.  
·      The council would co-opt a number of cyclists representing the range of types of cycling, ages, abilities and areas of the city, who would be actively consulted about any infrastructure changes.
·      The priorities of the cycling (and pedestrian) infrastructure would be properly understood by all parts of the council, and planning permission would never be granted without proper consultation and agreement that cycling has been properly considered and improved by the changes.  (This is definitively NOT what has happened in the past).


My annotated copy of the strategy at http://tinyurl.com/z32dyao contains comments about individual facts and sections of the report, but I think the following are worth pulling out:

·      Cyclists are subject to a very high rate of injury. We really need cycling to be safer and more social. This is not about better lights, brighter clothes and crash helmets – it’s about people (in vehicles) treating people (riding bikes or walking) with more respect. In particular, it would help if
  •      The police were signed-up to the cycling strategy, and took the example from the West Midland Police of actively pursuing aggressive driving.
  •       Local public transport and taxi firms sign up to the policy to educate their drivers to set the best examples of respect and care.
·      The 10:10:10 strategy asks for a 10% increase in cycling each year for 10 years (which is a 260% increase over 10 years when you do the sums).  This is really quite a modest goal – not really a step change.  For example, using the figures in the report, if such an increase happened we would have just under 12% of all commutes by cycle (assuming no other growth in the population or traffic).  This only just exceeds the figure in Gosport now, and gets nowhere near the figure in Oxford.  Even Bristol (which has a really difficult geography and historic infrastructure to make cycling work) already has 7.7% of commutes by bike.  

I agree that we need realistic and achievable targets, but do wonder if this is setting sights a little low? This looks more like organic growth than step-change. But in the end perhaps, in spite of the inspiring vision at the start of this strategy, organic growth is all we can hope for. I have had no convincing evidence, prior to the publication of this draft strategy, that Southampton City Council is interested in growth in cycle usage, let alone step change.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Are the Police Simply Lazy?

Prompted by a recent case (see below) I have been watching a number of videos taken by people on bikes using Go Pros and other head mounted cameras.  (Search for "Cycle Near Miss" in YouTube to get a selection).  These videos certainly raised my adrenaline levels.  But the sad thing is that I would have to admit that pretty much every day in a life of cycling as my main transport I get a frighteningly close pass or some other event such as a left hook, or a car pulling out ignoring my presence, or a parked car opening its door, or a bus half overtaking then pulling in to stop,  etc.    And I talk to those of my friends who use cycling for their main transport and the story is the same. Thankfully, I have developed pretty good self preservation, and  I have only actually been hit once, but that nearly killed me. And it is interesting to note the number of my friends who have cycling injuries caused by third parties.  And one friend was killed.

The fact is that it is quite scary out there on Britain's roads.

Why is it scary?

Obviously one of the reasons is that our infrastructure is not good enough. The motor vehicle is king, and to not drive is seen by some as social failure. As a country we have simply not chosen to invest in cycling as a form of transport, in spite of the manifest benefits to society.  The rest of Northern Europe have a different story.  See this video to see what difference having proper space for cycles can make (and bad weather is no excuse!)

The other reason its so scary on the roads is the thoughtless and dangerous behaviour of a small percentage of people driving.  In most cases I suspect that drivers are just thoughtless.  I don't think the 75 year old who scrapes past inches away from me at 25mph is being deliberately aggressive, but nevertheless they scare the wits out if me, and they need to understand the difference between successfully missing the bike, and overtaking properly. 

But some of these people driving are deliberately being aggressive to "cyclists" (you know  -- those people who cycle on pavements, cycle without lights, slow down traffic,  cross traffic lights on red and don't pay road tax in spite of the fact that they insist on the right to have space on the road). These aggressive drivers feel justified in performing close passes if they are unable to go at the speed they want and they cannot overtake.  Some take pleasure in seeing the fright they cause - some even shout into the ear of the person on the cycle as they pass!

Is this the same in other countries?  My experience (and evidence from other cyclists) is that aggression to people on cycles is considerably less in other countries in Europe. I have no hard evidence as to why this is,  but talking to residents of other countries I suspect that the following factors are important

  1. Better education - other countries put more into educating people who do not cycle about the experience of those who do.
  2. Empathy in society.  In a country where cycling is acknowledged as a "good thing", and indeed many drivers also cycle, people driving tend to be much more tolerant. 
  3. Insurance and the Law.  In many countries, if a vehicle hits a cycle the default liability is on the driver,  and the vehicle's insurance pays regardless of fault. The extreme care with which French drivers approach any interaction with a cycle is partly explained by this.
  4. The support of the police. In the extreme, where a person driving a tonne or more of steel does behave aggressively towards a largely unprotected person on a cycle we ABSOLUTELY NEED that the police take some action against the driver - even if it is only a warning.  And this is the topic which started me writing this blog and inspired its title.
The video below was one of the near misses I watched. The cycle had a SolarStorm on, an Electron flashing away and a dynamo driven halogen lamp, and the cyclist was wearing hi-vis with lots of reflective strips. But car HY62 NUB pulls out right into the cycle forcing him into the oncoming lane.

The evidence is all here, and was handed to Hampshire Police (@HantsPolRoads). But here is the response

So what this says is

  1. We see and agree with your evidence
  2. Noone was hurt
  3. We can't be bothered when there was no actual damage.
  4. We have made a policy not to be bothered
(There is no other possible explanation for this opt out.  As discussed below, other police forces are happily prosecuting bad driving on video evidence)

This is disgraceful, and just sums up all the problems.  At the very least the police should take the video and show it to the driver, give the driver a warning and get the driver to apologise.  I had a similar beef with the Devon and Cornwall Police (@DC_Police) when a lorry full of rubble overtook @suukii on the brow of a hill  in Exeter where the road narrowed considerably.  For an agonising moment, watching from behind I could not see her at all and thought she went under the wheels.  The overtaking was completely unnecessary at that place and was appallingly dangerous driving. I had all the evidence, but Exeter police said that if no-one was hurt they could not be bothered ("Its not our policy").

BUT Something must be done.  I repeat - If a person takes responsibility for driving around a tonne or more of steel then they must be made to accept responsibility for other people, especially cyclists and pedestrians, who are naked and not clothed with a tonne of steel. Or do we have to wait till people get killed before the police will take this seriously?

Hampshire Police are not acting to make society a better place - they are acting to save themselves what would be an admittedly difficult task.  "If its difficult - don't bother".

There are police forces that are much better than Hampshire and Devon and Cornwall. Traffic police in the West Midlands say that third-party video footage has so far resulted in the prosecution of 78 motorists for passing cyclists too closely.  AND YET NO DAMAGE WAS DONE.  Well done and thanks @trafficwmp.

I'll leave you with this lovely video to remind you what a city that cares about cycling can look like.  (And note: no Lycra and almost no helmets in sight) 😀