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Cycling in Enfield - the view from the saddle - Episode 10
09 Jan 2015 22:10 #767

David Hughes David Hughes's Avatar Topic Author

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On Thursday evening I was due to attend a so-called Cycle Enfield Partnership Boarding Meeting at the Civic Centre. The idea was to garner ideas from cyclists and residents' associations which would advance the council's plans to increase the number of people biking to 5%. Quite a modest target given the need to reduce congestion in the borough.

So I biked. It was a relatively mild evening for early January with a low wind speed, and I enjoyed it immensely, largely because by the time I started the worst of the evening rush hour was over. Good exercise without the worst of the traffic pollution.

But the strange thing was that the anti-rise-in-cycling-lobby at the meeting were all saying or implying that cycling in winter is an unpleasant experience. Either they have kidded themselves that winter cycling is a no-no, or they use it as an excuse not to exercise themselves. Personally I would say it was much nicer than cycling in full sun.

The meeting went well (I hope the council found the ideas people came up with helpful) with a few grumps from the car-centred lobby, and we finished early. And then I remembered! I'd promised to ring my wife about something or other. Calamity, and out came the mobile in the depth of the council's car park.

Just as my wife picked up a voice behind me - belonging to one of the council's security staff - said something like: "I can't stand it any longer.". "You've got your high-viz jacket on inside-out." And he promptly started to undress me, or at any rate to remove the jacket, and then to replace right-side-out. Hard to have an intelligent conversion on the phone with your wife whilst that's going on. But I think I achieved it.

The ride home, about six kilometers, was serene and pleasant. I thoroughly recommend biking on mild, serene, nearly traffic free, winter evenings.

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Cycling in Enfield - the view from the saddle - Episode 10
19 Jan 2015 22:14 #815

David Hughes David Hughes's Avatar Topic Author

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This morning I set out to take the Green Lanes route to a Woodgreen dentist whilst the sun was still behind the houses and rime adorned the roads. It was cold, but I enjoyed my ride. Well, with one reservation: I found out how much slower I am than the much, much younger people who raced past me on their journeys to work; men and women alike. Of course it's not surprising. Many of them are probably only a third of my age, and the reduction of muscle strength and endurance as you age is only too well documented; breathing too I find.

Still I did the journey more quickly than I could have done by bus, I had some beneficial exercise, I emitted no harmful emissions, and I took up only a fraction of the space I would have occupied had I driven. Nevertheless the journey revealed more lessons to learn; especially the return trip home when the cold affected my breathing and the slower ride - even though much of it was uphill and against the barely detectable breeze - prevented exertion from warming me up.

Would I do it again despite the discomfort the cold put me through? Certainly because the exercise is good for me and I enjoyed the outward ride. Also the experience taught me lessons; get a pair of warmer gloves for example.

But how would a younger person, stimulated to cycle by a new cycle lane and council advertising, possibly with no experience of feeling the weight of exertion, and, even more likely, with no previous experience of exposure to very cold weather on a bike, fare. Unprepared? And only too likely to give up winter biking?

There will be more than creating road space for cyclists in a successful Mini-Holland campaign. By now we have created several generations of people who mostly have different expectations and experiences to my generation, and who, by and large, wanted a car at 18 rather than a bike.

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Cycling in Enfield - the view from the saddle - Episode 12
21 Jan 2015 22:37 #825

David Hughes David Hughes's Avatar Topic Author

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Today's episode is less about the experience of cycling, and more about observed behaviour/outcomes on today's ride to that dratted dentist in Wood Green (he's a smasher really).

Whilst I at the dentist I parked my park on the stands outside the entrance to the tube station. Where, as you'd expect, quite a few bikes are parked. Fine, but there were several bikes which had obvious been there a long time - cannibalized for spare parts, leaves trapped under wheels, dust on saddles and so on. Frankly they made the place look a mess in sharp contrast to work going on across the road to make the town a better place. It's a phenomenon I've seen lots of times before in the cycling cities of northern Europe, and one I think Enfield should plan to avoid - the appearance of towns matters to quality of life/social behaviour, and footfall.

When I came out of the dentist's I walked back to tube station - feeling very lighthearted about my release from the dreaded chair - on the eastern side of the road stopping at a red traffic light opposite the tube entrance. There were three of us there in line, waiting of course for either the pedestrian red light to clear or the carriageway to clear of traffic. For a moment it did clear from the nearside lane whilst the far lane traffic was stationary - the man to right made to cross, checking himself immediately because a van travelling fast swept into the nearside lane, blowing its horn ferociously.

No harm done, and the van driver - despite his speed - had made his feelings known about this 'unthinking' pedestrian. Personally I was more than outraged about the behaviour of the van driver - no one should be driving that fast in a killing machine in an urban area, especially near a public transport hub. People will always make mistakes/poor judgements and urban areas are primarily for people.

Comments on my anger would be welcome.

So then I set out for home meeting long delays on the approach to the North Circular - I don't creep up on the left hand side of stationary vehicles. About 30 metres from the traffic lights a mammoth refuse vehicle throbbed on the outer of the two lanes going north, presumably I thought, going right or straight on when the lights changed. The lights turned green, the cars in front of me raced away to whatever fire their drivers were worried about, and I set off to find the refuse lorry cutting across my front wheel under hard acceleration. My slow speed and excellent brakes saved me, but what possessed the driver of a multi-ton lorry to go hard left under high acceleration in an urban setting? S/he must know that vision to the left is poor, that s/he is in an urban setting, and that pedestrians/cyclists do thoughtless things in a territory which is for them rather than killing machines.

Comments on my view would be welcome.

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Cycling in Enfield - the view from the saddle - Episode 12
26 Jan 2015 23:57 #841

David Hughes David Hughes's Avatar Topic Author

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Here's another experience of driver choice, no formal rule broken, but dangerous all the same.

Today I popped down to Palmers Green high street via Aldermans Hill to show myself off as an old gent' on a bike. Approaching Old Park Road the combination of parked cars, a central island/zebra crossing and oncoming traffic meant that the car closest behind me had to check its speed. So far so normal.

But then the carriageway situation cleared, the car behind me accelerated fast, cut in front to avoid the central island, braked hard, then signalled and went left. There was no real danger to me (a touch on a brake probably, but I don't recall), but what was the point? What were the dangers?

Time saving for the driver, probably a few seconds. Consequence for pedestrians? Probably the sound of a disturbing growl of acceleration, which is the sort of thing which makes parents worry about letting their kids bike. For me? A brief primordial flash of fear before thinking kicked in. For pedestrians and me a very unhealthy burst of exhaust.

Readers may know or not that I've campaigned for years for calm traffic - including a 30kph (20mph) speed limits - because that's better for pedestrians and cyclists......and drivers. Drivers because calm driving in urban areas is more relaxing and safer, pedestrians and cyclists because it makes for a better/nicer/less polluted/more democratic environment. AND ON THIS OCCASION note that at the mouth of a side street pedestrians have priority, and had there been any on Old Park Road the driver may not have been able to see them/think about the rules as s/he dashed for the corner.

Calm is best in town.

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Cycling in Enfield - the view from the saddle - Episode 1
27 Jan 2015 20:45 #845

Tom Mellor Tom Mellor's Avatar

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Ah the classic 'must get in front'. It is amusing really as most of the time you catch up with the driver at the lights. Why they feel the need to gain up to 5 seconds - but more often 0 seconds - I'll never know...

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Cycling in Enfield - the view from the saddle - Episode 1
08 Feb 2015 17:28 #897

David Hughes David Hughes's Avatar Topic Author

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I’m responding to Tom Mellor’s comment on January 27th : “Ah the classic ‘must get in front“, because I think I know: “Why they (motorists) feel the need to gain up to 5 seconds…….”.

It’s a long story, but in a nutshell it’s our own fault, society taught drivers to be as they are.

In short how did we teach them? By allowing car ownership to convert residential streets into routes for traffic (rat-running); because we thought that long sight lines and separating traffic from people would be the safer option whereas in reality it gave drivers an incentive to speed; because we neglected to check whether confining walkers to pavements would create carriageways which invited speed; because we erected ‘helpful’ signs which turned out to limit drivers’ thinking; because we developed road rules encouraging traffic to speed by adding segregation (zebra crossings) to the process of crossing the road; because we built cars which divorced driver’s from the realities of speed and power for pedestrians and cyclists, but haven’t thought how we could ameliorate that fact.

What is the background? In the1950s people claimed the kerbside street space outside their house as personal parking space (notices were screwed to fences and walls), and inevitably this was challenged in court. As a result gardens became car parks, and in consequence hundreds of kilometres of hedges, endless garden trees and shrubs, disappeared; even pavement trees were lost to access for the car. Consequence? streets lost much of what defined them as places (sometimes the word ‘destination is used instead), prompting drivers to think of them as routes, not a place to live.

Fortunately Monderman (creator of the idea of Shared Space) realised very early that the look and atmosphere of places affects driving behaviour, so at least we have a model for how things should be done.

More mistakes Back then people believed that longer sightlines created safer streets, and didn’t realize that removing all that greenery invited faster, inevitably less considerate, driving.

But it’s a mistake which could have been rectified on many residential streets by using the growing number of cars parked on streets as a means of traffic calming. Unfortunately the government scuppered that by a set of rules which allowed the destruction of front gardens to create off-road car parking. Another mistake, which became even less excusable as narrow streets with gardens too short for car parking became lined with kerbside-parked cars creating some of the quietest, calmest, safest, streets in the country; proof of what could have been achieved.

Of course nose-to-tail parked cars on wide streets would not on their own have reduced carriageway space/sight-lines sufficiently to modify traffic speed. But introducing echelon or vertical parking would have done so, particularly if the street width allowed the parking space to be staggered from side to side creating bends in the available carriageway space. Altogether it would have been an admirable way to create the habit of quiet driving in residential areas, a habit also transferrable to other situations. Good habits can be passed on as well as bad, and an excellent side effect would have been to discourage rat-running; another bane in the lives of people who live on residential streets.

‘Through roads’, roads like Green Lanes, have delivered a different set of reasons for drivers to acquire a sense of entitlement because they are generally wider than residential streets, and different in character at points along their length: residential in places, but frequently peppered with high streets, shopping areas, public transport hubs, even places dense with restaurants. Typically on a residential stretch the view is wide and long, an open invitation to speed, and historically pedestrians have been left to their fate and drivers to their speeding apart from an occasional pedestrian crossing, and more recently regular central refuge for walkers. Historically bikers took their chance and most simply stopped cycling. Significant junctions are controlled by traffic lights, social spaces often by traffic lights and pedestrian crossings.

So what features and decisions have defined this type of road? Long sightlines inviting speed, encouragement to pedestrians to obey instructions and keep off the carriageway between designated points (pedestrian crossings &.traffic lights) No wonder drivers have acquired a sense of entitlement, a strong tendency to speed and sometimes lose concentration between sets of traffic lights/pedestrian crossings – cyclists gone, pedestrians diverted away from their best route to pedestrian crossings, children driven off the roads; I’m a driver, I matter most.

What should/could have been done on through routes to ensure equality of travel and reduce drivers sense entitlement. And how might motorists have been trained to drive at a slower speed in urban space? Here’s a list of ideas:

  • In social areas revive Victorian unregulated streets (nowadays we call it Shared Space), removing the need for traffic lights and pedestrian crossings with all their implications of driver priority.
  • Think hard about the place of pavements. No wonder drivers feel a sense of entitlement when pedestrians are encouraged to walk perhaps hundreds of metres out of their way to a traffic light or pedestrian crossing.
  • In residential areas on through routes consider all the following. Reducing carriageway lanes to one each way with regular pull-in stopping points. Using build-outs to reduce traffic space and encourage cycling, finding ways of slowing traffic including narrowing the road to one way at suitable points, widening central islands where appropriate to push traffic to the left, and providing staggered build outs/central islands causing vehicles to weave along the route. Anything to ensure driver concentration and realization that cities belong to citizens not to cars.

  • Given that drivers must have good eyesight Monderman never understood why road administrators installed ‘STOP’, or ‘SLOW’, or indeed ‘COWS ON THE ROAD’ signs. His point: drivers need above all to be aware, thinking and responsible; why would anyone approaching a narrow, humped bridge take it at high speed.

    And finally.

    Cars crept up on us, many mistakes have been made. Now we have a chance to review and change. Whether cars are powered by electricity in future, even by hydrogen; whether they are driverless or not, we know the effect their speed can have on community. There can be no excuse for allowing them to have the negative effects they have now – much more thought should be given to what streets are for.

    Purely residential streets must be allowed to fulfil that role; no speeding, no rat-running, no pinning kids behind the garden gate, no dangerous journeys for kids to high street, park or school. These are places for living, maximum speed not higher than 30kph. And within a residential area at least one street, and preferably more, should be Homezones, maximum speed 15kph

    Through roads – roads governments have unforgivably called secondary roads, defining them in terms of their traffic rather than their residential and social areas – are bound to be complex, and, because they usually have high streets and local shopping areas along their length, very important to local quality of life. Here the default speed limit should be 30kph, traffic should be calmed, carriageways should be easy and safe to cross, normally traffic lights and pedestrian crossings should be removed; through social areas Shared Space road rules should apply. Traffic should just drift quietly along these roads at low engine revolutions. Where, exceptionally, a higher than default speed limit is allowed cycle lanes should be installed.

    Problems of exceptional difficulty

    There’s bound to be a small number of drivers/motorcyclists(very hard to calm) who don’t respond to cues, and who don’t see their vehicle as a means of transport, but as an expression of their personality,. On social/crowded sections of through routes, on residential streets calmed appropriately, they’re unlikely to be much of a problem, but elsewhere they will be hard to contain until responsible behaviour becomes a community habit.

    Whatever happens please save us from VAS (Vehicle activated signs). Flashing lights on the kerbside are an offence to visual amenity. Fortunately Haringey Council is already showing how calming can work on through routes.

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    Cycling in Enfield - the view from the saddle - Episode 1
    22 Feb 2015 14:30 #980

    David Hughes David Hughes's Avatar Topic Author

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    It's more than 3 months now since I acquired a new bike, and set out to return to cycling. So how has it been?

    Well, first of all I have kept to my promise, and drivers have allowed me to keep my promise by their behaviour, to treat it at as a very ordinary way getting about: no helmet, no 'high viz' clothing. Just get on the bike and go; well almost, I do sometimes don a 'high viz' jacket after dark out of courtesy to drivers' though I really don't see the point. A driver driving safely and courteously for ordinary urban conditions should never fail to see a cyclists with lights.

    After my very first post to this thread Paul Mandel tut-tutted about my approach and pointed me in the direction of the Highway Code. Frankly I think that both he and the government come very close to blaming the victim, much as people (mostly drivers?) clamour for kids to wear high high visibility clothing on dark January mornings. Personally I think that's blaming the victim ( I can feel anger rising as I type. Why the hell should a driver in an urban areas be going so fast that s/he can't stop?).

    And all this matters because if short convenience journeys (of the type the council wants to be replaced by cycling) are to be replaced by cycling bikers really must be pedestrians on wheels - just put on your jacket and go.

    Turning now to the general experience of biking in Enfield I'd say in summary that I've not been fazed by the traffic, and that the vast majority of car drivers have behaved well enough: given me room to wobble, been patient behind me, sometimes even foresaw my needs. However, though this not researched evidence, I feel that van drivers as a class have been less responsible; I feel that they tend to maintain their speed and trajectory without giving me plenty of space on the assumption that I will be able to hold my course. Lorries are not frequent, which is just as well because I group them with van drivers, but with the inevitable menace of the vehicle. Bus drivers seem a mixed bunch, but their generally stately way of progressing has given me no trouble.

    Only once have I ventured far enough north to leave urban streets behind. There driving standards were much worse; plain thoughtlessness. Hugging the verge round left hand bends they couldn't see round, that sort of thing. On this minuscule evidence I'd say very dangerous unless on a cycle lane.

    Returning now to the paved streets of Enfield what do I feel about the future of cycling? More than anything else speed is the problem. Firstly because it doesn't give time to correct mistakes, secondly because it is threatening in and of itself, and thirdly as a consequence of the whoosh of air over vehicles and the noise of tyres on tarmac. Speed in urban areas is just not part of civilized behaviour, and is very destruction of quality of life.

    And finally would I encourage my grandchildren to cycle in Enfield as it is today? On some residential streets yes, but not under the age of 16 on though routes or rat-runs. Speed is simply too high.

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    Cycling in Enfield - the view from the saddle - Episode 1
    22 Feb 2015 20:28 #982

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    David, in contemplating your point about a future where people feel able to simply hop on a bike in day to day clothes and pedal off in what will be seen as normal behaviour, it may be useful to look at the Mayors Transport Strategy, a statutory document alongside The London Plan itself, and the linked Mayors Vision for Cycling in London; cycling obviously being one means of transport. The intent is clear, not only are we on the early stages of a planned cycling revolution (what the Mayors Transport Strategy refers to as “bringing about a revolution in cycling in London”) but all the driving issues as to why it’s needed which have been so long communicated in channels such as this site and the local press are clearly documented: climate change, air quality, congestion, obesity, inequality. What it all might look and feel like is there and for real detail see the 358 page London Cycle Design Standards. This one is not going to go away. And that I believe is the point which needs to be understood by a vocal minority before sensible discussions can begin as to what it means at the local and micro and personal levels. Much noise is currently at the wrong end of this impact spectrum and so risks being terribly counterproductive.

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