Thursday, 15 February 2018

GWR

Great Western Railway (GWR) is the rebranded First Great Western (FGW) railway, and is owned by First Group. They lay claim to wanting to bring back Brunel's railway to the public, and - as part of the rebranding - have been highly successful in portraying GWR as a massive improvement over FGW.

Photo by  Phil Scott (Our Phellap) - English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=769483
Nobody can in all honestly deny that FGW needed rebranding and improving - they had become known by names such as First Late Railway, and similar. The rolling stock was old, and noticeably so, the trains were very often late, and capacity was pitiful at times.

But it wasn't all bad! For starters, you need to look at the history of the original Great Western Railway, which stopped existing almost 100 years ago. They hired a certain Isambard Kingdom Brunel to be their chief engineer, and Brunel did some spectacular work for them. If ever you travelled by train from Exeter down to Penzance, you will see just how stunning the scenery is. Indeed, Brunel originally wanted to build part of the line out to sea, going past Dawlish, to offer passengers a better view.

It was for very good reason that the original GWR became known as the Holiday Line, as people from elsewhere flooded into Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, carried in trains through numerous tunnels, and over spectacular viaducts and bridges.

More recently, prior to FGW rebranding as GWR, there was still much positive to be said. Countless groups of cyclists found they could easily travel down from London to Penzance on trains that would take up to six bikes at a time, ready to start their Land's End to John O'Groats cycling sabbatical. Many more cyclists found it easy and convenient to simply hop on the train with their bikes, to go explore different parts, or perhaps as part of a multi-mode commute.

But change was afoot. A competing train operator, Cross Country, had far newer rolling stock, and their carriages were far more modern. For cyclists, catching a Cross Country train meant the train could carry a maximum of three bikes, in special compartments, where the bikes hang by their front wheels. With FGW/GWR trains, some, or all spaces could be reserved in advance, while on Cross Country trains, only two spaces could be reserved, with the third bike space being available on a first-come-first-served basis.

And then the new MD of GWR, Mark Hopwood, implemented other changes. GWR started insisting that cyclists had to have reservations for their bikes, else they won't be allowed to take their non-folding bikes on trains. Yes, even if there was ample spaces available for bicycles.

The reasoning given was that this would help prevent trains being delayed at stations, which is of course pure rubbish. After all, it takes just as long to board a train with a cycle reservation as it does to board the train without one.

It wasn't long before GWR staff mostly have up trying to enforce this stupid requirement, and even the audio announcements at stations no longer said that bike reservations were essential. GWR then changed it's official stance, allowing cyclists to reserve a bike space on a train even minutes before that train arrives at the station.

This softer approach may seem completely reasonable, until you were running late, and got to the train station with just enough time to board the train, but nowhere near enough time to go queue up to get a cycle reservation.

Now here's the thing: on most trains, GWR has the ability for passengers to only buy their ticket once they've boarded the train. If they can do that for normal tickets, why can they not also do that for bike reservations?

To be clear, nobody is saying that cyclists should be allowed to board each and every train at will. If there are no bike spaces, then no more cyclists can board with their bikes. Nobody objects to that. There is one additional hurdle: If I boarded a train with my bike at Station 1, intending on traveling to Station 3, via Station 2, and I take the last bike space on the train, without having a reservation, it could cause conflict if you had a reservation from Station 2 to Station 3.

This can easily be dealt with by train staff, by issuing me a bike reservation once on the train. Their system would alert them that a conflict would arise at Station 2, and that therefore I would only be able to get a reservation up to that point.

More importantly, you will remember that Cross Country trains can only carry three bikes per train, and of those three spaces, only two can be reserved, with the third operating on a first-come, first-served basis. I've never heard of any cyclists with a reserved space who couldn't get their bike on a Cross Country train, and like other cyclists, I accept that without a reservation I may be left on the platform with my bike. Again, nobody objects to that system, and if GWR followed the same system, their current stupid policy can be scrapped.

GWR are quick to brag about having invested in new trains. The problem is, the new trains supposedly have space for three bikes per train, just like Cross Country trains. Again like Cross Country trains, the bikes will be hooked, to hang from the front wheel.
Where the new trains differ from Cross Country trains is the amount of space available for bikes - it is VERY cramped, and bikes with wide handlebars won't fit at all.

Also, the bike cupboard where two bikes are meant to fit is so small, both bikes will need to be quite narrow, else only one bike will fit. There simply isn't enough space to fit two flat-bar bikes side by side.

Image from here:
www.railwaygazette.com/news/single-view/view/
gwr-unveils-hitachi-iep-trainset.html
But wait! It get's better! The bike cupboards also double up as luggage space. Imagine you're waiting on the platform with your bike, ready to board a new GWR train. The train pulls in and stops, and you confidently wheel your bike to the bike carriage, cycle reservation help proudly in your hand. As the doors open and you start to take your bike onto the already very crowded train, you notice the bike cupboards are filled with other luggage.

At this stage, you think, quite indignantly, that you'll get the train manager to get someone to clear the luggage away, so you can stow your bike, right? Well, you'd be wrong. In this scenario, all that would happen is the train manager will tell you that - despite your bicycle reservation - there simply is no space on the train for your bike, and your choice would be to board the train without the bike, or to not board the train at all.

This is the policy that GWR claims is fair, reasonable and even forward-thinking! It stinks to the high heavens and it is actively anti-cycling.

So what do we do about this, I hear you ask? An excellent question! Now here's the thing: First Great Western came extremely close to losing the rail franchise they're now running under the GWR branding.
Provided GWR operates in your constituency,YOU need to contact your MP, and explain in great detail how utterly unacceptable GWR's attitude is. Then YOU need to contact your local cycle campaign, cycling clubs and individual cyclists you may know, and get them to also contact your MP.

We need to make sure all MPs throughout GWR'd franchise area realise just how unacceptable GWR's attitude is, and we all need to relentlessly lobby them to ensure GWR's franchise is NOT renewed, unless they radically alter their current anti-cycling stance.

We need to get Mark Hopwood to understand that his stewardship of GWR will be seen as a failure, unless he reverses his draconian rules and extremely poor provision for cyclists.

Remember, none of this will happen if YOU don't act.

UPDATE: I've been told that GWR are looking at actively reducing the number of bike spaces on their HSTs, and are also planning on implementing the same mandatory bike reservation system across all their trains, even the branch lines.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Just go for a ride

There is a German word, weltschmerz (literally world pain or world grief) that roughly translates as a general feeling of gloom with regards to life overall, and weltschmerz sometimes perfectly describes how I feel when I've been overwhelmed with negative things.

In life, we magnify what we focus on, and it is a sad side effect of cycle campaigning that we will often point out the failures, the mistakes, and the very slim chances of getting things right. If that is what we focus on, it's only natural that it will seem big and important to us. All-consuming, even.

And let's be honest here - there's a LOT wrong with cycling on public roads in the UK and no amount of prettying up will disguise the fact that we, as people on bikes, are often handed the dirty end of the stick.

Here's where free choice come into it: we can choose to shift our focus elsewhere. We can choose to look away from that which is wrong. I'm not for a moment suggesting ignoring the ills of society, and I'm certainly not advocating walking away from cycle campaigning.

Well, actually I am, in a way. See, sometimes, we need to recharge our batteries. Sometimes, we need to ignore (even if only for a short while) the wrongs around us, and focus on restoring balance within.

Right now, it's late January, which means - being in the northern hemisphere - it should be mid-winter. Except, it's not and spring has started, even if hesitantly. We can rage against climate change, and how pollution from motorised transport is one of the major contributing factors, but that won't alter the fact that spring has begun quite early.

So I suggest you get on your bike, and go for a ride.

Most people aren't as fortunate as what I am, and don't live in a rural location. When living in a town or city, it can be more difficult to spot the signs announcing the start of spring, but they're still there. You just might have to look a bit harder, is all.

Now down here in Devon, we're used to daffodils blooming in mid-December in certain places, so generally they're not a good indicator to go by. There are other, far more reliable signs. On the rural part of my commute, there's one particular spot where the snowdrops blossom up to two weeks before they do so anywhere else on my commute. When I see the first snowdrops, it always makes me smile, as to me, that is the start of spring.

I was amazed when they started blooming in mid-January, and was cautious to accept that spring had actually begun, so I kept looking out for other signs, and sure enough, there are plenty. Some trees have since started sprouting buds, while I've even seen the beginnings of leaves on others. In the places where the daffodils tend to bloom at the right time, the first yellow flowers have started appearing, and I expect it won't be long before the primroses are in bloom, too.

But it isn't limited just to plants - the blackbirds have become noticeably friskier, and yes, in parts of Devon the first lambs were born a few weeks ago. There can be few things more enjoyable to watch than excited lambs frolicking in a field.

Here's my advice: get on your bike, and go for a ride, even if only through a local park (but ideally through the countryside). Don't turn it into a training ride, and don't go fast. Instead, go slow, give yourself time to look around, to stop often, and to savour the experience. See the signs of life returning to the hedges and meadows, and do stop to smell any flowers you encounter.

Accept that there is much wrong with the world, most of which you cannot do anything about, then stop worrying about it. Be present. Smell the air. Feel the wind, and if it rains, surrender to it, accepting that you will get a soaking.

You're alive, and despite what cycling on UK roads sometimes feels like, you're safe. You live in a civilised country, free of maniacs with guns. You're not being bombed to smithereens by some foreign invader, you have clean water, hot food and a warm, dry bed available, and you get to cycle through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

Sure, there's a lot wrong with the world, but if you change your focus, you will see there is far more that is right with it. Go on. Get and your bike, and go and find the magic. It's out there, waiting just for you.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

When police fail you...

Two things almost any cyclist will tell you is that they've had dangerous, close overtakes from drivers, and that reporting it to police more often than not results in nothing being done.
As a result, many (most?) cyclists have very little faith in police actually enforcing the law and taking action against drivers, when the person on the receiving end was a cyclist.

Certain police officers, like Devon and Cornwall Police's Sgt Harry Tangye, work very hard to build up a significant social media profile, then tweet utter rubbish about cyclists, like saying he can't understand why cyclists ride on the road when "there's a perfectly good cycle path". Bad police attitudes like that actively endanger cyclists, as the incorrect information they give is accepted by drivers as the gospel truth, and subsequently used to justify such drivers' poor driving around cyclists.

This needs to change, and police officers throughout the country need to drag themselves into this millennium, with regards to their attitude towards cyclists.

If you're a cyclist, you will probably have experienced first hand what a monumental waste of time and effort it is to try and report a close overtake to police. You may have been given rubbish reasons for police not acting on your report, such as "But you were riding too far out", "You were cycling two abreast" or many more equally ridiculous excuses.

The purpose of this post is help you understand why that happens, and what you can do about it. Oh, and believe me, there is a great deal you can do about it.

First the why:
I'm not proud of admitting this, but before I got back into cycling, I know I'd given some cyclists close overtakes. I didn't do so because I was spiteful, nor malicious, but because I didn't understand. Well, the blunt truth is that I was pig-ignorant, and there simply is no excuse I can ever offer to make up for it.

Most drivers are the same, even if they're police officers. They simply do not understand how scary, nor how dangerous a close overtake is, especially one received at speed. Moreover, they will most probably never believe you if you tried to tell them.

Police officers are actually usually worse than normal drivers in this respect, as they will  think you're wasting their time with your complaint of a close pass, and will try to do as little as possible, and get rid of you as quick as possible, to crack on with other more important tasks.
And from a cop's perspective, there ARE more important tasks. You see, police forces around the UK are judged by their respective crime stats, and "Number of cyclists receiving close overtakes" is not one of those stats they are judged on.

As a result, with slashed budgets and decimated numbers of officers, cops will try to solve those crimes that they are measured on, leaving you and your report of a close pass by the wayside.

There are a number of ways this can be changed. For starters, we can campaign for close overtakes to be considered under their stats. Or we can campaign for additional resources for police, Or we can do any one of a myriad other things that stand an equally unlikely chance of ever happening.

Sadly, that means the door is firmly shut in your face. Except for one more option:
You can (and should!) submit a formal complaint to police. Not a complaint about the close overtake, which you will already have reported, but rather a formal complaint about how police handled that report.

When you make a formal complaint to police about the handling of a report you'd made, that complaint is automatically elevated to Inspector level. The Inspector dealing with your complaint may well delegate it to someone of lower rank, but ultimately they are in charge of it.

Crucially, this also means they carry responsibility for it.

In all likelihood, your complaint will be investigated by the same group of officers you complained about. Just accept this as standard (if poor, in my opinion) practice, and wait for the conclusion of the investigation. Police almost always will try to get you to settle for something they call "Local resolution". Local resolution pretty much means the matter is resolved, never to be mentioned again.

In my view, local resolution will often be a thinly veiled attempt of sweeping the matter under the rug, although there will always be cases where local resolution is indeed the correct outcome.

But here's the thing: regardless of what any police officer may say (or allude to), you don't have to accept the outcome of a local resolution. Now it may well be that such an outcome is absolutely fair and reasonable, in which case I'd suggest you accept it, but if it is not, then you can appeal that outcome.

An appeal is automatically escalated to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), removing the investigation completely from your local police's hands. And yes, not accepting the outcome of local resolution is indeed one of the reasons officially lsited as grounds to escalate an appeal to the IPCC: https://www.ipcc.gov.uk/appeals

Formal complaints made against police counts against their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and police quite understandable want as few of those as they can. Force-wide KPIs impact on the career of the Chief Constable, and is a very effective way of raising the profile of an issue.

Officers found to have bungled reports made by cyclists may find their own careers have been harmed through such poor decisions, and Inspectors overseeing formal complaints about police handling of such reports stand to potentially suffer considerable career harm should they be found to have tried to sweep a bungled report under the rug.

When a local force has been the subject of a formal complaint, especially one escalated to the IPCC, police officers start waking up to the fact that it is very much in their own best interests to stop simply dismissing reports from cyclists as not worth acting on, and that is a game-changer. After all, this means it is no longer necessary for you to convince them that this is a matter that needs to be taken seriously, but instead it has become a matter they know they need to take seriously, even if only for reasons of self-interest.

Some may object to me advocating a strategy that can harm police officers' careers, and in answer to that I will simply point out that only officers who didn't act correctly will be impacted by that.

I would strongly urge you, and every single other cyclist, to follow the procedures I've detailed above, and to always report close overtakes, or any other driving that endangered you. It would greatly help if you had video of the incident, as quite rightly, police will be forced to say they cannot act if it's simply your word against that of the driver.

At the same time, I would suggest you should be reasonable in your expectations of the outcome of reports made. In my experience, only a few reports will actually be acted on by the driver being prosecuted.

Finally, you need to email your Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) with details of each such formal complaint. PCCs are heavily involved in setting the priorities of local police forces, and are usually blissfully unaware of the scale of the road violence cyclists are faced with.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Driver malfunction and a false dawn

Those of you familiar with the origins of the entire Operation Close Pass that's been slowly spreading across the UK will no doubt recognise that this post's title is based on the blog post by West Mids Traffic Police that started it all: Junction Malfunction and a New Dawn

If you're unfamiliar with Close Pass (where have you been?), I suggest clicking that link first, and reading their excellent blog post, before coming back here.

From that blog post, we get this absolute gem:
"Our time and effort, we have quickly realised, is better spent enforcing the law and prosecuting, thus creating a scenario whereby should someone not give a cyclist the time and space necessary or fail to see them completely they should expect to be prosecuted. In other words the carrot goes out the window and in comes the stick. Why some might ask? Well if drivers expect to be prosecuted for committing offences they suddenly stop committing them, unsurprising correlation I know but it’s the truth. Once drivers become aware that an infringement involving a cyclist is one they should expect to be prosecuted for, they suddenly become more aware of them on the road and in turn start giving them the time and space they should lawfully have as an equal road user.  Cyclists suddenly occupy a drivers attention, they actively look out for them and so are less likely to miss them at junctions and contribute to our KSI statistics."

Now originally, West Mids Traffic started by educating drivers that gave cyclists a close overtake, though from the outset, this was their strategy:
"Those who are committing any other offence as well as the “close pass” due care offence will be prosecuted for all offences, no immediate educational alternative for those who show such a low standard of driving."

Additionally, they had this as part of their strategy from the outset:
"Following a period of education at a particular location if offences persist we will have “enforcement” only days where education isn’t an option for those committing close pass due care offences."

The underlying motivation is clear: start off by giving drivers education about why close-passing cyclists is a bad thing, then move on to prosecuting drivers for close-passing cyclists.

West Mids Traffic realised they were on to a good strategy here, and invited all police forces around the UK to attend a day, to learn about the initiative. Sixteen forces attended that training day, but Devon and Cornwall Police decided they didn't need to attend.

Following a great deal of campaigning by various individuals, Devon and Cornwall Police changed their mind, and attended a second such training day. In fact, even the local Police and Crime Commissioner, Alison Hernandez, attended the training day. Those who attended came back all enthused, with plans to launch a similar operation in Devon, Cornwall, as well as Dorset. D & C Police and Dorset Police share a traffic department, under a Strategic Roads Policing Alliance, in case you were wondering about Dorset.

On the day D & C Police launched Operation Close Pass simultaneously in Plymouth and Dorchester, it was raining heavily in both locations. So much so, that both events were stopped early. That's nobody's fault, but rather just pure bad luck.

A few months later, a second Op Close Pass was held in Exeter, along a road where some cyclists have even been assaulted by drivers.

Sounds like D & C Police are getting on board with Op Close Pass, doesn't it?

Well, all is not how it seems. For starters, the Roads Policing team covering Devon, Cornwall and Dorset is small, and vastly overstretched. Factor in the fact that Devon alone has more miles of road than all of Belgium, and the scale of the problem becomes more clear. To make matters worse, over the past six months, there have been a spike in road fatalities this small team has to deal with.

Think about that for a minute. The same officers are exposed to traumatic events again, and again, and again. And if you don't consider a traffic fatality from a collision traumatic to deal with, then you've never seen mangled bodies in wrecked cars before.

Obviously, this will - over time - take a toll, and indeed several of the Roads Policing Alliance team are suffering.

So how does this impact on Operation Close Pass, I hear you ask? Heavily, is the short answer! For starters, clearly, there is a rather obvious difference between a cyclist suffering a close pass, even if at speed, and a crash where one or more people died.

When people are continuously exposed to trauma, they become jaded to it. This is an expected effect, and to a degree forms part of a healthy mind's ability to try and protect itself from the horrors it's seen.
Only, when severely jaded minds review video footage of a close pass, it will be oh so easy to simply dismiss it with a snort, and by saying "Yes, but did you die?" And there, in one fell swoop, the extremely negative, often very dangerous experience the reporting cyclist may have had is dismissed.

This becomes more obvious when we look at some of the responses police gave to reports of close overtakes. In Exeter, an officer told the cyclist they shouldn't have been riding in primary position (the middle of the lane, specifically to try and deter close passes), while I've been told they won't act on a deliberate close overtake (we call that a punishment pass) because two cyclists were riding abreast in the video!

For what it's worth, the cop who said that was completely wrong - even a cursory examination of the video would've shown one rider had actually overtaken the other, and they were briefly abreast. Perhaps D & C Police know of a way for cyclists to overtake each other without ending up riding two abreast, for however short a period of time?

More importantly, the particular Highway Code rule that was referred to is an advice only rule, while a close overtake is actually covered in law. As Surrey Roads Police have often publicly stated on their @SurreyRoadCops Twitter account, cyclists remain perfectly legal if they ride two, three or even five abreast. Perhaps they know a bit more about the law than D & C Police?

Basically, D & C Police have said that they can't  take any action against a driver who willfully and intentionally endangered cyclists, because two cyclists were briefly alongside each other. Now, being a chocaholic, I'm intensely aware of the difference between chocolate and bullshit, and I can assure you, that excuse certainly isn't chocolate!

Let's put that into perspective: less than two years ago I was told that I'm completely mistaken about the scale of the issue, and that cyclists in general aren't endangered on the roads policed by D & C Police. When they challenged me to get other cyclists to report incidents, I managed to do so to such an extend that very recently they told me they're swamped with reports.
If I hadn't pestered and pushed this issue all the time, D & C Police would still be denying that there is a problem at all.

I've been told that I'd been given unprecedented access to police, as if I should be extremely grateful. I have a problem with that:

I don't want unprecedented access to police, I want effective roads policing that is responsive to reports about driving that endangers cyclists!

I've been told, in as many words, that my having sworn at a driver giving me a stupidly close overtake means police can't take action against the driver. Remember, boys and girls, if ever you're stabbed by a mugger, that you mustn't swear at them, else police simply will not be able to do anything about it. See how ridiculous that sounds?

I had such high hopes when D & C Police announced they will after all be running OpClosePass (remember, at first they couldn't even bother to respond to West Mids Traffic Police's invite to go have a look). The sad reality is what D & C Police implemented is an extremely poor facsimile of OpClosePass, and it is delivered so infrequently that a driver wanting to be caught by it will probably never be caught. It is a joke, and police ar pretending it is a brilliant success, as part of a PR campaign designed to make them appear to be doing something, while actually delivering effectively nothing at all.

There are some rays of light, though: apparently police are looking at employing a dedicated gatekeeper, whose job will be reviewing video footage. They're being swamped with video, not only from cyclists, but also from dashcams.

There's an honest attempt to increase the number of roads policing officers, and they're currently working on implementing a secure system for video to be uploaded.

Time will tell if these aspirations become reality, and until then, I'm afraid to say as a cyclist, you're pretty much on your own out there.





Tuesday, 1 August 2017

It's not about YOU all the time...

Imagine for a moment that you're having just a normal, boring day. Perhaps you're at work, perhaps you're at home, or maybe you're out shopping. And on this bog-standard, boring day, you discover the badly mangled body of a person. Yes, someone died, in a very gruesome manner, and you find them.

What do you do? Do you call 999? Do you stay until the emergency services arrive on scene? Do you run away? Or do you sit rocking back and forth against the wall, too shocked and saddened to function? Again, what will you do? How will you behave?

Imagine you were on your lunch break, when this happened, and now you have to return to work. How will you cope? Will you be able to function? Will you tell your boss that you're too traumatised, and ask to go home? Will you tell co-workers all the detail?

OK, now imagine you're a police officer, responding to a serious car crash, and you get there just in time to hold the hand of a dying person. Imagine that there's carnage around you, and some bodies have been pulverised into a mess that's hard to think was a human being until but a short time ago. Imagine you've been giving CPR to someone, until the paramedics arrived, but despite your best efforts, you watch that person die.

Now imagine this - the fire service arrived on scene, as have the paramedics. As a police officer, your duties now change to traffic management. Due to the seriousness of the crash, the road will need to be closed. This is to allow the emergency services to operate safely, to allow the injured to be treated, then taken to hospital, to allow crash investigators to try and piece together the cause of the crash, to allow specialist teams to remove the bodies, perhaps to allow Highways to repair damage to the road surface, and finally, to clear debris from the road.

Naturally, road closures cause significant disruption, and you're faced with many angry drivers. Imagine one (or more) yelling that you're wasting their time, that they have *impostant* things to be getting on with, and that you should stop just standing around and instead go catch criminals. All while you're still trying to deal with what you've just witnessed.

How would you react? Would you lose it with that driver? Would you start crying? Would you quit your job?

Imagine going home, at the end of that long day. Would you want to offload onto family members? Would you look to them for comfort, or perhaps distraction? How would you cope with what you've seen and experienced, especially knowing you may well encounter more of that the next day?

Chances are, you're not a cop. Chances are, you'll never have to deal with the scenario I painted above. But the chances are that you may well be a driver caught in the front of a queue of traffic, on a road that's just been closed, watching a police officer seemingly idly stand around with not a care in the world.

How will you react? What will you do? Will you have a go at that copper doing their job - even if their job is to simply stand there, ensuring nobody gets past?

Next time you're caught up in a road closure, think about what's actually happening in the background. Be grateful that copper is there to prevent you from having to see the carnage. Be grateful you're safe, in one piece. Yes, you'll be late, but in the bigger picture, is that really such a big deal? Think of the family and friends who will be told their loved one is no longer coming home, then think of your loved ones.

Next time you're having any interaction with a police officer, bear in mind that they may well have experienced such a scenario shortly before you encountered them, and cut them some slack? Yes, they're trained, but there's no amount of training in the world that can completely shield you against the lasting affects of such carnage.

Next time, smile at the copper, and ask them if they're OK. Next time, be more human.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Devon and Cornwall Police - Operation Closepass

After much anticipation, the day finally arrived on which D & C Police would launch their Operation Closepass! For those unfamiliar with this, it is a method of roads policing pioneered by the West Mids Police Roads Policing Unit, and basically involves a cop, in plain clothes, riding a bicycle up and down a stretch of road. He (or she) has a radio, and the bike has a forward facing camera and a rear facing camera. If the police cyclist receives a close overtake, they radio to colleagues up ahead, who pull the driver over.

The operation is NOT meant to be punitive, but rather educational, so drivers aren't prosecuted (initially, anyway), but are given a brief education on why they should give cyclists more space. The idea is that drivers go away, realising they'd done something wrong - often without fully realising it at the time - to hopefully not repeat the mistake in future.

The vision was to have a fantastically successful day, launching the operation in Plymouth and in Dorset at the same time, with the ironic hope to catch (and therefore have the opportunity to educate, not prosecute) many drivers.

Now I'm fond of quoting Lennon;s words: Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans. And life indeed happened. Or rather, the weather happened! The day before was dry, and the day after forecast to be dry, but on the day of the launch, it rained - heavily at times.

As a result, the operation was cut short in Plymouth, and in Dorset it was almost totally rained out. As one police officer said: I don't mind standing in the rain, but I can't exactly ask a driver to get out of their car and get soaked, while I explain things to them using the special mat.

BBC Spotlight News and ITV Westcountry News both covered the event, as did Heart Radio and the Plymouth Herald.
Chief Inspector Adrian Leisk, head of roads policing for the D & C Police and Dorset Police Roads Policing Alliance was there, as was Sergeant Gary Williamson from the roads policing unit. Sergeant Williamson, far more than anyone else, deserves the credit for making the operation happen. He has worked tirelessly, for quite some time, to make it possible.

Exeter Cycling Campaign attended, represented by Caspar Hughes, while Plymouth Cycling Campaign was represented by Stuart Mee. The surprise supporter of the day was Alison Hernandez, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall.

So was the day a failure, given that only three drivers were pulled over and educated, which is a very low number?

In short, no - absolutely not!

This was the 1st of many such operations throughout the force's area. The Roads Policing Alliance has two mats, and two sets of cameras, so they can deliver two operation simultaneously on the same day, in different locations.
Nobody had any real expectations of an enormous success on the first attempt, and the officers involved acknowledged that to them it was very much a learning experience.

Already, there's been a lot of good that came off the operation: Chief Inspector Leisk was interviewed on BBC Spotlight News, where he gave a very fair explanation of why Operation Close Pass is needed, and why the force will continue to repeat it throughout its area. As a direct result of that, potentially tens of thousands of drivers were told about Operation Close Pass, and told to expect more.

This simply means there's an increased likelihood that drivers will start giving cyclists more space, either because they've been told to (and the reasons were explained) or because they're worried that the cyclist up ahead may just be an undercover police officer.

Alison Hernandez was extremely supportive of the operation (her office purchased one set of cameras for police to use) and was keen to see it repeated. We also learned that the police officer cycling up and down on the camera-equipped bicycle, when the operation is repeated in Exeter, will be the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police himself.
With both the PCC and the Chief Constable supporting Operation Close Pass, it's fair to say it now has buy-in from the very top.

So was the day a complete success? Well, that's a no, too. It would be wrong to think of this in such black and white terms as success or failure. Instead, we should think of this as the start of a journey.

Many positives have already come from this, but there's more to follow, and many of those aren't obvious. For instance, it is tempting to want bad drivers arrested, fined, or even banned from driving, and while punishments sometimes are inevitable, research tells us we get far better results through education.
For a very long time, cyclists have said they have no trust in police, and as a result, stopped reporting incidents to police. Police, on the other hand, proceeded on the basis that there was no problem, as cyclists weren't reporting incidents. This miscommunication led to an almost complete breakdown of communication from both sides, and that wasn't helping anyone.

More than that, many officers simply didn't think a report of a close overtake, or similar near-hit, warranted them spending any time on it. As one senior officer said to me, a number of years ago: "We have real police work to do".

But we've moved on from that!

Now, police openly acknowledge that there is indeed a problem, and they're assigning resources to it.

Reporting incidents can still be a hit and miss process, and is best done directly to Sgt Williamson. Chief Insp Leisk is planning on setting up a peninsula-wide cycling forum, with members from the community, as well as police. That would be another huge step forward, allowing for better communication again.

Next year, a group of officers, including Chief Insp Leisk and Sgt Williamson (and hopefully Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton), are joining members from the cycling community in cycling Devon Coast To Coast over two days. I'm still hoping to recruit Alison Hernandez, too, but she doesn't know this yet, so don't tell her!

Police have clearly shown they are ready, willing and able to engage with the cycling community, and we cyclists need to reciprocate by reporting incidents we encounter on the roads.

Of course this isn't all one-sided - D & C Police are launching a programme highlighting cyclists' rights and responsibilities. They have an agreement with Halfords, that every bike sold will have attached a leaflet showing cyclists' rights on the one side, and their responsibilities on the other. Any other bicycle retailers who wish to join that programme are more than welcome to do so, by contacting Sgt Williamson.

If you thought the very first instance of Operation Close Pass delivered by the Roads Policing Alliance would result in fireworks, raised tempers and loud voices, you'd have been disappointed. Equally, you'd have misunderstood what it was about.

We turned a corner, yesterday. There's a long road ahead, but the future, as far as cyclist safety in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset is concerned, is looking far, far better than what it did just six months ago!





Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Darkmoor 2017

After what seemed forever, Darkmoor 2017 finally arrived, and everything was looking good. Even the weather was cooperating, with very light, broken cloud cover, mild temperature and little to no wind.
As per usual, I was early at Cap'n Jaspers, feeling slightly apprehensive and hoping at least one other person would be crazy enough to join me on the ride.
Still recovering from injury that resulted in me riding far less, I was also wondering how my calf muscle would hold up, and whether my fitness was sufficient to get me round the new 100 mile route.
Usually, I'd simply ride the 11 miles from home to the starting point, then afterwards cycle back home, but in view of my less-than-stellar fitness, and earlier injury, I drove to near the start.

The first rider who turned up was Matt, who'd casually cycled the almost 50 miles from Exeter, and who was still making his mind up whether or not to cycle back to Exeter afterwards! Oh, and his idea of casual cycling more accurately matches most people's idea of rather quick.

Slowly other riders started appearing, either on their own, or in groups. Two riders from The Falmouth Wheelers club had casually cycled up from Helston. That's around 70 miles cycling, just to get to the start!

Now some may scoff, as they said they'll be peeling off at Okehampton, some 40-odd miles into the ride, but from there, they still had around another 70 miles to cycle back. Like Matt, they are audaxers - Audax is long distance cycling - and this just served to highlight just how hard average audaxers tend to be.

Dan and Max, who last year went on a 3 500 mile cycle tour through Europe just to escape riding Darkmoor didn't have any valid excuse this year, and were both raring to go. Paul, a rider from the same club as me, also turned up. Paul's idea of a slow pace is usually my idea of going very fast.

Ross and his dad were doing the ride (as usual) and were joined by a friend of theirs. A number of others also joined, and in total, 13 riders left Cap'n Jaspers.

My plans were quite clear: I was going to stop for a pint at The Skylark, the pub in the village of Clearbrook. When we got to Clearbrook, three more cyclists were waiting for us: Karen, David and Jeremy. Most of us went into the pub for a drink, while Ross, his dad and their friend cycled on.

The first real climb was the one out of Tavistock, and that spread the group out a bit. I heard someone was well behind, so I stopped and waited. Unfortunately, I'd miscounted, and there was nobody behind, so I had to ride at quite a pace to catch up with everyone again. Not my brightest moment!

A rider (I believe he was called Jan?) said the pace was too fast for him, and said he was happy to plod along on his own. Jeremy, who had friends from afar visiting, and had less than 5 hours sleep the night before, said that he'll have to peel off and hed back, so our numbers were reduced by two.

A few bumps later, we rode through Lydford (it seemed there were still people in the pub, but we didn't stop) and the mostly flat Granite Way allowed us to make good progress. Soon enough we rode through Okehampton, where sadly we were not entertained by a lonesome fat drunk, shouting that we needed to get a life, as what happened a few years ago.

The two audax riders from Helston turned back at Okehampton, reducing our group to nine.

The man doing the graveyard shift at the 24-hour petrol station outside Okehampton by now are used to a bunch of crazy cyclists paying him a visit at stupid-o-clock once per year, and didn't even bat an eye when we rolled in to put their coffee machine to productive use.

Soon enough we passed through Moretonhampstead, the halfway mark for the route. Those of use who knew the route, also knew of the climb out of Moretonhampstead, as well as the Three Steps that lay ahead. Paul and Matt, as well as another rider on a Pinarello said they'll ride on, at a far faster pace (did I mention they are rather quick?) so we said our goodbyes. And with that, our group was reduced even more.

Much huffing and puffing later, we finally saw the mast on North Hessary tor, just outside Princetown. The cloud cover was very thin and broken, so we were often rewarded with bursts of bright moonlight.

David was suffering a bit - quite unusual for him - and that meant we stopped more often. My calf muscle had been softly moaning for a while, so I was grateful for stops, although I knew I'd regret it later, once the midge bites started making themselves known.

At one stop, just before the climb into Princetown, even David was forced to ride on, as the midges were simply eating us alive! Next year I will certainly invest in Smidge - apparently the only product that wards off midges!

In Princetown, we found Matt waiting for us again. We had as long a rest stop as the midges would allow, before setting off for Dousland. From Princetown, there are really only two climbs that matter: the one out of Devil's Elbow and the one up Peak Hill. If you go fast enough on the descent to Devil's Elbow, you almost don't have to pedal on the climb that follows, so that's exactly what I did.

Those that know the road won't think much of this, but I feel it's a great way to demonstrate the effectiveness of my dynamo lights: they're bright enough to allow me to safely descent at 30mph in the dark. Darkmoor 2017 was my first all-night ride using dynamo lights, and if I liked them before, I now absolutely LOVE them!

At various times during the ride, people were discussing battery life of this particular light versus that one. I didn't join in - I just smugly smiled, knowing I'm not limited by battery capacity.

The descent from Peak Hill is where I set my personal speed record of 53mph during the 2014 Dartmoor Classic. On this ride, I only managed 40mph. By now it was getting lighter, although quite a segment of road before Dousland was dark, as the road is enclosed by tress overhead.

At the top of Peak Hill I'd already told the group that I didn't think my calf muscle would hold up if I rode the full 100 mile route, and that I intended to simply continue straight down the Plym Valley instead. After short deliberation, everyone else agreed to do the same. Max was the exception - he wanted to do the full route, but reluctantly decided to stick with the majority.

Slowly, riders began to peel off and by the time we reached Coypool, there were just four of us left. Cycling in along Embankment Road, Dan and Max peeled off towards Mutley, leaving only Matt and I to ride on to Cap'n Jaspers. We arrived at Jaspers at 05h50 and waited. They were meant to open at 06h00, but when they were still closed at 06h05, I looked at my phone and saw the nearest MacDonald's was open, so we rode there instead.

Having had breakfast, Matt phoned his wife for a lift, and we said our goodbyes. I cycled back to my van, loaded the bike, and drove back home.
Later I would learn that I'd apparently driven past Ross, his dad and their friend. I saw some cyclists, but wasn't paying any attention to the identity of those riders, so I never even realised.

In the end, I rode exactly 15 miles. Yes, it was disappointing that I wasn't physically able to do the full 100 mile route. In the end, nobody actually followed the whole 100 mile route, something I need to bear in mind for next year. Still, over the past year I'd learned the hard way that overdoing it only results in further injury, so I'm glad I was wise enough to cut my ride short. Trust me, wisdom isn't something I'm renowned for!

And that's it! Darkmoor done and dusted for the 4th year running, and I'm already looking at dates for Darkmoor 2018. In 2018, I'm planning on riding the Dunwich Dynamo - the all-night ride that started it all - which is usually on full moon in July. That means Darkmoor 2018 will need to shift back to June, to avoid clashing with the Dynamo.
Hopefully you'll join us next year!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Crowdfunding for police

Devon and Cornwall Police have at last agreed to start implementing a Close Pass initiative, such as that first done by West Mids Police.
The short version is that West Mids Police had done their homework, and reviewed all their crash data. This showed the primary causes of crashes, and delving deeper into the data they were able to determine that cyclists hardly ever cause crashes.
Yes, despite what you UKIP uncle always likes to claim. But don't take my word for it - read for yourself: https://trafficwmp.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/junction-malfunction-and-a-new-dawn/

They also determined that one of the greatest threats to cyclists are from drivers who overtake, often at high speed, without giving sufficient space.

For those that don't understand how big a deal this is, think back of sitting in a queue of cars at temporary traffic lights, and feeling the car you're in shake with the force of the wind created by oncoming traffic.
Alternatively, try standing on a train platform when a high-speed train is due to come by without stopping. Be sure to stand with your back to the approaching train, and to stand between the yellow line and the platform edge. There is a very valid reason that yellow line is there, and why station staff will tell you to step away from the platform edge!

West Mids Police's initiative was so successful, it's being rolled out to many other police forces. In fact, it's being implemented by all but the most backward-thinking police forces.

To assist with the programme being rolled out to many different police forces, Cycling UK crowdfunded the cost of the training mats used to educate drivers. The total cost was £12 000, and that was met within weeks.

This led me to set up a crowdfunding page, with the aim to raise the money to buy a GoPro forward-facing camera, and a Fly6 rear camera for the police cyclists to use. You can see that page here: https://www.gofundme.com/d-c-police-cycle-cameras. The reason behind this campaign was to ensure that the entire initiative would be completely cost-neutral to police, thereby ensuring lack of budgets cannot be used as an excuse not to deliver the initiative.

As you will see, the target is a very modest £350, which I thought would very soon be achieved.

Sadly, I was mistaken. Not only did the crowdfunding campaign not take off, but I've beein on the receiving end of quite a lot of criticism from other cyclists. Oddly enough, none of those cyclists had any issue with Cycling UK having crowdfunded the mats.

I've heard all the arguments against crowdfunding the cost of the cameras, and to me, none of those hold up. In fact, I see no difference between crowdfunding this and fundraising to purchase additional hospital equipment. After all, both would help to save lives.

So if you think you can help, even with just a small contribution, please do so? Every penny raised will be fully accounted for, and any surplus money (which doesn't currently look very likely) will be donated to the Cyclists' Defence Fund



Thursday, 9 March 2017

Shafted

Cycling from east of Plymouth into the city leaves precious few routes. Cyclists starting from (or passing through) Ivybridge have essentially one route to take (albeit with a few minor variations that may be chosen in places).
Those cycling in from further to the South, starting from or passing through Yealmpton, have two routes - the fast, narrow and busy A379, or a convoluted route via some rural lanes. As would be expected, the second option is longer and slower, but a bunch more scenic.

The trouble with the rural lanes route is the new town being planned, callled Sherford. Sherford is being built just south of the Deep Lane junction on the A38. This rural route takes Deep Lane, then continues along Sherford Road.

Both these roads are narrow, and already carry more traffic than what they ought to, before adding lots of construction traffic into the mix. Construction traffic means lots of HGVs, specifically tippers, cement mixers and similar. The number one killer vehicle for cyclists is tippers.

To the best of my knowledge, there is NO requirement for the HGVs to be fitted with side skirts, nor are there any plans to offer cyclist awareness training to the drivers. There certainly is not even a hint of a cyclist-friendly traffic management scheme through the area during construction.
That is unsurprising, given how Plymouth City Council finds it perfectly acceptable to close a main cycle commuter route into the city, along Embankment Road, for 5 months. The only "cyclist provision" along there is the dreaded "Cyclists Dismount" signs, and workmen harrassing those cyclists that don't dismount.

Sherford Road itself is to be ripped up and completely removed. The plans call for a new cycle route, alongside the main flow of motorised traffice between Sherford and Plymouth, to Vinery Lane, from where cyclists are to cycle uphill to Billacombe Road. Yep, cyclists will be forced to ride downhill, then back uphill on a narrow road that will carry vastly increased traffic.

The current route, which is as level as can be for the area, is to be scrapped. Clearly this wasn't thought through!

The explanation given was that a new cycle path (read that as botched shared path, not properly segregated path!) was to be built through the adjacent playing fields. Now this route could potentially be very good, provided a) there was a safe way to cross Vinery Lane (which will carry the bulk of traffic to and from Sherford) and again Haye Road, on the other side of King Henry V Playing Fields, and b) that it was properly segregated.

The new route is then meant to continue along the disused railway line, towards the river Plym.

If there were safe, light-controlled crossings that won't take absolute ages to turn green to cyclists, and if that entire route was in place, then what is being planned would make sense.

Sadly, there simply is no funding available to develop the route further, so current plans may well have great aspirations, but won't alter the reality that in its current format cyclists are yet again being shafted. After all, it may be many years before the path is extended beyond Vinery Lane, and even then getting signalised crossings would be very unlikely.

The town of Sherford is being toted as a sustainable town. It would have its very own HQPT (High Quality Public Transport) otherwise known as a bus service. The team behind the design appear to think that the very existence of the buses would be sufficient to lure people out of their cars and onto public transport.

When I asked what would happen if people don't use the bus service as envisaged they were visibly taken aback, as if that possibility hasn't occurred to them. They fumbled for words, admitted that such a scenario would create congestion, then went on to say such congestion would be good as it would help people leave their cars to take the bus instead.

There simply was no recognition of the fact that such congestion would necessarily increase danger to cyclists, as well as delay cyclists more. Neither of those two factors are likely to lead to increased cycling, but the team appeared unable to grasp this simple fact.

Cycling provision in Devon is a hit and miss affair. West Devon Borough Council seems to have grasped the fact that cycling is an economic lifeline for many rural towns and villages, and North Devon seems to be very pro-cycling. The South Hams, under whose jurisdiction Sherford falls, appears if not actively anti-cycling, at very best to not care about cycling at all. This shows in on-the-ground implementations, with no real success stories within the South Hams.

Now the South Hams is arguably the richest part of Devon, with many highly-paid people commuting from rural locations to Plymouth, Exeter or Torbay. Those people don't see cycling as an alternative form of transport, and are often likely to be the very people giving cyclists narrow overtakes at speed on rural roads.

As a result, there simply is no political motivation for South Hams Council to ensure decent cycling provision is delivered throughout the area and indeed, at times they roll over and give in to the slightest objection from landowners. A good example of this is the fiasco around the re-opening of the disused railway between Yealmpton and Plymouth. If re-opened, that would be an excellent community facility, allowing many people to safely and easily cycle into Plymouth, while also allowing Plymothians to escape the city and spend their money in the South Hams.

Unfortunately, South Hams Council agreed with the landowner to not even try and re-open this route for another 20 years! That is simply shocking and mind-boggling!

Plymouth City Council certainly talks the talk when it comes to cycling, but delivery on the ground shows it is all hot air. I cannot think of a single piece of really good cycling infrastructure recently delivered by Plymouth City Council. What they feel is good cycling infrastructure is in fact botched shared paths, which increases conflict between cyclists and pedestrians.

Such paths also tend to follow round-the-houses routes, and never the most direct routes.

Certainly within Plymouth City Council there is no appetite whatsoever for even considering, let alone implementing, Dutch-style high-quality cycling infrastructure.

As a result, with Sherford being a collaboration between the South Hams and Plymouth, it is utterly unsurprising that despite all the big talk of a sustainable community and all the promises of good cycling infrastructure, cyclists are yet again being shafted by both local authorities.






Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Devon and Cornwall Police Close Pass Initiative

How I wish I was able to tell you that D & C Police had firm plans to implement West Mids Police's brilliant (and sorely needed!) Close Pass Initiative. Sadly, the reality is quite different, despite what many other sources may have told you.

Here's how things currently stand: D & C Police have three road casualty reduction officers and of the three, two are on long-term sick leave - we wish them a speedy recovery for their and our sakes. That leaves a single such officer, plus a police sergeant who has since realised how big an issue this actually is. Together, the pair of them are trying to push water uphill, so to speak and if there is little to no visible progress, I do believe it isn't for lack of trying on their part.

D & C Police confirmed they have NO short-term plans to implement a close pass inititative at all. In fact, the closest they get to offering any sort of commitment is to say that once all three road casualty reduction officers are available again, they will look into the possibility of delivering such an initiative in Devon and Cornwall.

As D & C Police works closely with Dorset Police in a policing alliance, and given that Dorset Police also said they'd look into the possibility of delivering a close pass initiative, D & C Police indicated they might even explore this further in partnership with Dorset Police.

This sounds hopeful, and certainly - for the first time ever, many cyclists would say - D & C Police are starting to act on reports of dangerous driving as reported by cyclists. It may not seem like much, but D & C Police is a large organisation, and like a big ship on the ocean, turning around takes a long time before it's noticeable.

Recently I spoke with Alison Hernandez, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall. When I raised this issue with her, she said it hasn't been raised before, and that quite understandably, she feels she should focus on issues raised by the majority.

Think about that for a moment, as it directly affects all cyclists in and around Devon and Cornwall. To put it simply, if YOU don't raise the issue by emailing Alison Hernandez, then YOU are failing to raise the profile of the problem and YOU are failing to help turn things around. It really is down to each and every single one of us to bombard both police and the PCC with reports highlighting the seriousness of this matter.

 It's down to YOU!

Here's what YOU can and should do:

  1. Report every instance of dangerous driving you experience while out cycling. Yes, even if you don't have the reg number of the vehicle involved. This is (at this stage) more about getting the scale of the problem recognised, and for that YOU need to report things. Reporting is quick and easy via D & C's 101 email address (101@devonandcornwall.pnn.police.uk).
  2. Email Alison Hernandez. Email her every month, asking what she is doing about this issue. Tell her that the facts speak for themselves: KSI stats overall on the force's area are down, except for cyclists, where KSI stats are climbing fast. Yes, cycling is now more dangerous than a year ago, and Alison Hernandez needs to address that. Of course, she won't, unless YOU email her, or call her, and pile on the pressure.
  3. Get each and every cyclist you know in Devon and Cornwall to do the same. Tell them again, and again, and again. Because if YOU don't do this, nothing will get done. It really is that simple!
There are other points you can raise with Alison Hernandez too. For example, D & C Police think they need special officers to deliver this, when West Mids Police delivered it without any new resources, and on a cost-neutral basis. This is a vital point - after all, if West Mids Police can do it, why can't D & C Police?

Find out when your next neighbourhood policing meeting is. These meetings are usually attended by people who love to moan about dog mess and similar issues. Yes, those matter, but people's lives aren't directly at risk, while poor driving often kills. 
The points raised at these meetings collectively add up to help set overall policing priorities, so if YOU don't attend and if YOU don't raise cyclists' safety, then YOU are failing yourself, as well as all other cyclists.

Seriously, this is a numbers game - we need to ensure more of our voices are heard. There simply isn't any other way to get this moving forward.

So if YOU want to be safer on the roads, you know what to do!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Police Lottery

This is a story of a lottery. No, not that national lottery, but a post code lottery. Specifically, a post code lottery in which where you live determines whether or not, as a cyclist, you can expect to receive any justice from police.

If you live in Devon or Cornwall you're bang out of luck, as Devon and Cornwall Police don't take driving offences, that other forces prosecute drivers for, seriously at all when reported by cyclists.

On the 2nd of November 2016 I was subjected to a very close, dangerous and utterly pointless overtake, which you can see here.


As you can see, I was cycling in primary position (specifically to try and discourage overtakes where clearly it would be unsafe) when the absolutely idiotic driver insisted on overtaking me, despite oncoming traffic. Twenty seconds into the clip you can briefly see both the oncoming car and the overtaking car in the video clip, proving that they were both alongside me at the same time.

The oncoming car looks to me like a Seat hatchback, while the overtaking car was a Vauxhall Corsa, which is 1.944 metres wide. Assuming for the moment that oncoming car was indeed a Seat Ibiza, that would mean it was 1.81 metres wide, which is a fair average width for a large number of hatchbacks in the UK. Placed side-by-side, with the wing mirrors touching, the two cars would be 3.754 metres wide.

The road itself is 6.8 metres wide - yes, I went and measured it with a tape measure. In the video you will see a manhole cover in the road. This extends over a metre into the road and is over a metre wide. As I was riding to the right of that we can see that I was riding at least two metres away from the kerb.

If we deduct the combined width of both cars (3.754 m) from the road width (6.8 m) we end up with 3.046 metres road space. My bike is 40 centimetres wide, reducing that further to 2.646 metres. From that we should deduct the minimum of 2 metres I was away from the kerb, bringing us down to 0.646 metres in total. What we haven't factored in yet is the distance the oncoming car was away from the kerb. Given that cars cannot drive properly with their tyres scraping the kerb, it would be fair to look at a distance of at least 0.3 m from the kerb. That reduces the total available space between both cars and me on my bike to 0.346 metres. Divided by two (assuming there was an equal gap between the two cars and between the overtaking car and me, we're looking at an overtake distance of 17 centimetres.

Next time you see a cyclist ride through a puddle, look at the wet tyre tracks they leave behind: they're not in a straight line. This is part of what the Department for Transport refers to a bicycle's "dynamic envelope". In the DfT's LTN 2/08, Cycling Infrastructure Design it suggests the dynamic envelope of someone cycling will be 0.2 metres (20 centimetres) wider than their static width, and significantly wider than that at low speeds.

Without factoring the dynamic envelope in, we're still looking at 17 cm, which is stupidly close already.

I think we can all agree that this certainly amounts to a dangerous, close overtake.

Now let's look at Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidelines for driving offenses, specifically for the charge of driving without due care and attention. The guidelines are available by clicking here.

Specifically, read the following:

"There are decided cases that provide some guidance as to the driving that courts will regard as careless or inconsiderate and the following examples are typical of what we are likely to regard as careless driving:

  • overtaking on the inside;
  • driving inappropriately close to another vehicle;
  • inadvertently driving through a red light;
  • emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle;
  • tuning a car radio; when the driver was avoidably distracted by this action;
  • using a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use (note that this is an offence itself under Regulation 110 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2003).  If this is the only relevant aspect of the case it is more appropriate to use the specific offence;
  • selecting and lighting a cigarette or similar when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use."


Given the distance of the overtake I experienced, I'm confident you will agree that we have indeed met (or rather far exceeded!) the CPS threshold for charging a driver with driving without due care and consideration.

Except Devon and Cornwall Police disagree, and repeatedly said the evidence supplied falls short of what courts would require. Despite repeated requests, they have yet to clarify WHY they say that.

Allow me to regale you with the deep joys that are to be found in trying to report bad driving to Devon and Cornwall Police when you're a cyclist. I first reported the incident to the force's 101 email address, on the 2nd of November (the date of the incident):

"Dear Roads Policing Unit,
This afternoon, 2nd of November 2016, at around 15h35 I was cycling along Millbay Road, Plymouth in a westerly direction, when I suffered a very close, dangerous and utterly pointless overtake by the driver of a Vauxhall Corsa, reg WL12 FSO.
You can see video of the overtake here: https://youtu.be/FvNlWCxuTTc
It was clear and sunny, with excellent visibility and I was doing 18 mph, pacing the speed of traffic ahead of me. As that segment of road is a downhill, I can go significantly faster, but didn't as I'd simply need to brake for traffic ahead of me anyway.
As I was approaching a roundabout, I was riding in what Cycle Craft (available from the Government Press, and upon which Bikeability cycling training is based) refers to as primary position: this means riding in the middle of the lane specifically to try and discourage overtakes.
There was oncoming traffic, yet the driver of the Corsa still decided she was going to overtake me, no matter what.
I've spoken with the operators of D&C Police's Twitter account, who asked me to email a report to yourselves.
Many thanks in advance.
Kind regards,"

The first human response to that email was to say they couldn't view the attachment. This is hardly surprising, given that I didn't attach anything to the report, but instead sent and email containing a link to YouTube.

Various emails were exchanged, many of which were NOT inspiring confidence in the technical abilities of D & C Police. I was asked to send the video via email. This I did, attaching the 16 MB video, only to receive an immediate bounce-back saying the attachment (of 16 MB, remember) exceeds the force's attachment limit of 20 MB. Last time I checked, 16 was certainly smaller than 20, but apparently D & C Police feel differently.

I tried using WeTransfer.com - you upload the file and the recipient receives an email containing a hyperlink to the file. They couldn't access that either. Next, I shared it via Dropbox, but they couldn't access that either. I'm still unsure whether this was due to system limits or people struggling with hyperlinks. Suffice it to say I don't rate D & C Police's collective IT skills very high at all at this point.

I emailed the head of Armed Response and Traffic directly, and also contacted him via Twitter. He informed me that he assigned the case to a named officer. Some time later, on the 10th of November 2016, the named officer emailed me to explain that he's looking into my report, but that he's terribly busy.

Police are, quite unsurprisingly, governed by many laws. This includes the requirement to issue what is known as an NIP (Notice of Intent to Prosecute) on an offending driver within 14 days from when the offense was comitted. If the NIP period expires without an NIP having been issued, police will simply turn around and say that there is nothing more they can do and close the case without taking action.

Mindful of this, I kept emailing, asking for an update. Finally, on the 28th of November 2016 I received an email from an Inspector, saying the following:

"Regarding the cycle camera footage that this email chain refers to. This footage was viewed by various officers including myself. In this type of incident, we as police officers decide on the evidence available, whether there is sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. I fully appreciate that you feel this was an incident that caused you concern, due to the actions of the driver. Unfortunately the video evidence was not sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. This was because of continuity issues around date, time and the ID of the cyclist, at the time of the incident. This is not in any way placing your integrity into question but would be points raised by a defence that would put in place reasonable doubt and therefore prevent a conviction.

With that in mind I don’t believe that a NIP was served on the other driver, but I do believe that the driver has been spoken to by MPC [name redacted]. I believe it was for these reasons and others that MPC [name redacted] requested a telephone number from you, so that he could fully relay the information to you in person.

As there is no planned prosecution there is no case number."

And there is was: the NIP notice period had run out, and D & C Police's finest couldn't give two hoots about an overtake calculated above to have been 17 centimetres, in the face of oncoming traffic, despite this clearly exceeding the threshold for successful prosecution set by CPS.

What a lovely work-reduction strategy that is: simply sit on something and do nothing, until the NIP notice expires, then fob the cyclist making the complaint off with an entirely spurious reason.

Let's examine those reasons given, shall we? The YouTube video (the only video police have seen) doesn't contain any date or time stamps, so there absolutely are no "continuity issues around the date and time". Bizarrely, the good Inspector also claimed there are continuity issues around the ID of the cyclist! What does that mean, given that *I* am the cyclist? Have I suddenly become Schrodinger's Cyclist, being me and not me at the same time? Do I fade in and out of existence? Does my identity change like some super spy?

I have objected to the reasons given, and asked for clarification regarding what exactly is meant by them, but it seems I'll be growing very old while waiting for an answer.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Dynamo update

Several months ago I finally got round to rebuilding my bike's front wheel around a Shimano hub dynamo and I fitted a dynamo front light.

I've had a crash in May 2016, which injured my spine in three places, damaged my left thigh and left shoulder and resulted in a torn right calf muscle. As a result I've not cycled much recently - certainly FAR less than I otherwise would have.
I used to cycle to work and back daily, with my commute a round trip of 30 miles. That's 150 miles per week just commuting - on top of that I used to go on club rides (typically around the 60-mile mark) on Saturdays, and often on Sundays I'd do Sky Rides, as I'm a Ride Leader.

Lately it's a good week if I manage to ride 60 miles, and almost all of that would be by occasionally cycle commuting. This means that I actually had little chance of properly testing out my new dynamo lights.

Even commuting home wasn't in real darkness and I got home well before dark. Despite this, I kept the front light switched on all the time. As is the case with most dynamo lights, it has a built-in sensor that can cause it to switch off automatically during the day, and back on when it starts to get dark. I leave it switched on because I try to be as visible as I can be on the bike.

As I was told by many dynamo evangelists would be the case, I couldn't notice any extra drag caused by the dynamo, even with the light switched on, so at least I managed to test that part.

And then the clocks changed, meaning was dark by the time I leave work, and pitch black before I get home. I've now had a good many proper dark commutes with the dynamo light and I am as happy with it now as when I first received it!

My dynamo light is everything I had hoped for.

Before, when I used to ride with a 5 x Cree T6 battery light, I also used a single Cree T6 torch, zoomed to light the road much further ahead. This is because, despite the large amount of light produced by the 5 x T6 light, it's scattered everywhere and only a relatively small amount directly lit the road ahead.

The dynamo light outputs less light, but uses it SO much more effectively that I never felt any need to slow down for lack of light. According to Strava, my fastest speed was 34 mph on one descent and even then I had plenty enough light to safely ride.

The Cree lights undoubtedly lit the road directly (as in a few metres in front of me) better than the dynamo light does, but that caused my night vision to be affected by glare. The dynamo light doesn't have that same glare, but I can clearly see debris, potholes, etc in the way.

The beam pattern of the dynamo light is just SO much better!

If you're still sceptical about dynamo lights, like I was for a very long time, and if you're anywhere near Plymouth, I'd be happy to meet you somewhere like the Coypool Park & Ride, then go cycling up the Plym Valley for a bit, where it gets proper dark.

Failing that, turn up for Darkmoor 2017 and you'll have all night to see my dynamo lights being used in anger.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Sorry

Dear Kids,

I'm sorry. I have failed you. As a dad, my job is to try and make your lives as safe, secure, stable, happy and good as I can.

I've tried to be a good role model (even if I can be a tad grumpy at times, and despite having worked WAY too long hours for several years until around 7 years ago). I tried to teach you right from wrong, but still allow you to freedom to make your own decisions. I tried to create a safe space where you can be you and I tried to not constantly impose my will upon you, but to also listen to your point of view.

I suppose the varying tastes in music must mean that at least to some extent I have succeeded! :-) (Seriously, I don't like RAP and I don't think I ever will!)

I have tried to make the world a slightly better place for you, in so many different ways.

From where I stand, there are several threats I needed to protect you against.
The world isn't a fair place, and I needed to teach you that you won't get what you're after simply by relying on it being fair, but that instead you need to learn to trust in your own abilities and go after your goals with everything you have.

I needed to keep you physically safe, warm and well fed, and that I have done until you became so independent that you could go off on your own to places.

I needed to make you feel loved, and valued as a human being and I hope I have succeeded in this (though I suspect even if I did I wasn't nearly as good at it as your mom).

People often refer to the pyramid of human survival, which starts at the very base level with food & water, warmth and shelter. Without those things we die, and I have provided you with those.

Now here's the bad news: I thought I have succeeded in protecting you, at very least at the base level, but the reality appears to be that I have probably failed you.

See, our world, your world is under threat, grave threat. The very survival of your world as a host to human life is under threat. CO2 pollution is increasing and the Earth is warming faster than expected. At this stage, we're looking at a 3 degree Celsius overall rise in temperature within your lifetimes and quite frankly the effects of that will be catastrophic.

The Arctic will soon be ice-free in summer. Australia is slowly turning into a dust-bowl and deserts in Africa are growing at an enormous rate. Here in the UK the air will be able to carry more water, resulting in heavier rains than ever before, destroying food crops and causing widespread flooding.

Food and water wars will become reality in a world where millions will face starvation.

And I am partly to blame. Yes, little old me. I carry part of the blame because I didn't campaign hard enough against cars, against burning fossil fuels, against pollution. I carry part of the blame because once I didn't believe there was anything wrong with burning as much fuel as I could afford to.

I carry part of the blame because I failed miserably in the campaign against greed. In fact, in the end good old human greed was such a powerful enemy it simply decimated us. Greed consumed our financial institutions, our corporations and eventually even our leaders.

See, campaigning to get people to burn less fuel would have resulted in less profits for the oil giants, and they spend enormous amounts of money on propaganda wars to ensure most people remain fooled. And they succeeded.

Despite enormous scientific evidence of global warming, there are still many who refuse to believe it, who instead choose to dismiss it as some fairy tale. They do that because we have lost the propaganda war.

Adolf Hitler once wrote something along the lines of "if you keep a lie simple enough and repeat it often enough, people WILL believe it". That is exactly what the oil giants had done, and Hitler was proved correct in that theory, as most people believed it.

Even as I'm writing this, the oil giants are moving closer with plans to drill for oil in the Arctic, ironically only made possible due to the devastating ice-melt global warming already caused.

Our government is complicit, and has turned against the people it is meant to protect and is instead protecting the profits of large corporations. They are changing laws to take rights away from people, they are actively vilifying the poor, the infirm and the disabled. They are implementing "terror laws" which ironically are mostly used to spy on and terrorise their own citizens. They are reading all your email, eavesdropping on your phone calls and monitoring your web usage.

Greenpeace coined a slogan a long time ago: think global, act local. The idea was that if each of us only made small changes, together we could achieve enormous amounts. That strategy is absolutely true, but sadly there weren't enough of us to really make a change.

Greed has won. The rich has it all and will punish you for trying to change that. Greed is killing our world. Large corporations need you to be good little consumers to maintain good profits.

Sorry kids. I've failed you.



Thursday, 24 November 2016

Seaton and the Rame peninsula

If you live in Plymouth, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to gorgeous cycling routes. From coastal vistas to high moorland and much more are within reach, so it always surprises me that so many people cycle the same route again and again.

To me (well, this is my blog after all) a good route offers a combination of things: we want half-decent road surfaces, not too much traffic, several good climbs to get the blood pumping, views that make you glad to be alive, and of course a pretty decent cafe to stop at. Whether you ride with friends, a cycling club or on your own doesn't really matter, as long as you get out there and ride.

This post is about one of my favourite routes, a route that crosses the Tamar into Cornwall, to meander over the Rame peninsula. Where in Plymouth you may be starting from doesn't matter - just make your way down to the Torpoint ferry (Europe's largest chain-driven ferries, in case you didn't know) and cross into Cornwall. Cyclists, like pedestrians, cross for free in either direction on the Torpoint Ferry.

Once off the ferry in Torpoint, follow the road, but turn left into Marine Drive and follow the water's edge. After a while Marine Drive will become Carbeille Road - just follow that up the gentle hill until you get to a mini-roundabout, by the Carbeille Inn, where you should turn left onto Trevol Road.
Follow Trevol Road all the way, past HMS Raleigh, until it merges with the A374 (you'll be turning left here) then just follow the A374 all the way, keeping the Lynher river on your right.

A word of caution: the A374 can get a bit busy, with fast traffic. If this concerns you, go ride this route early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, when the road should be nice and quiet. Also, the road surface along here is quite rough in places - just grin and bear it, as the rest of the route will make up for this temporary annoyance.

Stay on the A374 through Antony and Polbathic, then turn left on the A387, sigposted Looe and Hessenford. Although still an A road, the A387 is far more quiet than the A374, but it is also far more narrow. Soon after turning left you will encounter the first real climb of the ride, as the road winds its way up to the top of the hill. You will be rewarded with a nice descent down into Hessenford, but do slow down once there are houses either side as you need to turn left on Hessenford Road just after having crossed the river Seaton by the bridge.

Hessenford Road will take you all the way to Seaton, where you will find the first option for a cafe stop at the Seaton Beach Cafe. The coffee here is pretty good and the cake is acceptable.

Should you wish to forego the cafe stop for the moment, simply continue along across the bridge over the river. The road now is called Bridge Road, and will skirt the edge of the beach before turning up a sharp little hill to take you into Downderry. Just follow the road all the way. It will change names a few more times, first to Brenton Road, then Main Road and finally Tregannus Lane. Tregannus Lane will make a U-turn before presenting you with quite a relentless climb. This is one of my favourite climbs in the general area and you will find it goes on for just over a mile and is fairly steep, hitting 15% or so in a few places.

Follow the road as it curves to the right at a junction shortly before the climb ends, and simply continue along. Soon you will be rewarded with often breathtaking views over Whitsand Bay on your right. The road will undulate for a while and will take you through Crafthole. Just continue to follow the road until you can see an old fort on your right.  This is Tregantle Fort, which is still in military use. A mild uphill later you need to turn right (not the entrance to Tregantle, but the road soon after).

Be careful here - lots of beachgoers park on the edge of the road and often simply walk out on to the road without checking! The road will sweep closer to the sea and will follow the cliff tops, taking you through Freathy. Soon enough you will see a road turning left, with signs for the Whitsand Bay Fort Holiday Park. Directly opposite that road there is a little dirt track leading off downhill. Tucked away just out of sight is the Clifftop Cafe - well worth visiting, even if it does mean walking your bike a very short bit down the track.

If you choose not to stop (well, it's your loss) then simply follow the road, which is now called Military Road. A while further there will be two lanes leading off to the right - don't take those, but instead stay on the road you've been following. As you turn the corner, the road changes name to Trehill Lane. It's a nice descent but there are some sharp corners. One curve in the road especially from a distance looks like the road continues almost straight, when in fact you need to take a sharp left turn, so if you're not familiar with the road I suggest at first taking it easy here. Trehill Lane becomes Rame Lane, and shortly thereafter Forder Lane, before taking you down into Cawsand as it becomes New Road.

Simply follow New Road through Cawsand. Where it turns uphill it becomes Jackman's Meadow and you should follow it all the way up the hill to a junction with a bigger road. This is right by Fourlanesend Primary School, and you will have a choice to make: turn left, towards Millbrook to (eventually) take the Torpoint Ferry again, or turn right towards Mt Edgecombe, to catch the Cremyll ferry. Just be aware that the Cremyll ferry charges for pedestrians, plus extra per bike.

Cremyll Ferry
If you opted for the Cremyll Ferry, you will turn right at Fourlanesend and simply stay on that road. You will ride past the Mt Edgecombe chapel entrance and past the Mt Edgecombe entrance to descend all the way to Cremyll. If you've timed it well, you will just have missed the ferry and be forced to make good use of the Edgecombe Arms pub while waiting for the next ferry.

Millbrook
If you opted to take the Torpoint Ferry, you will turn left, towards Millbrook. Exactly half a mile down the hill you need to turn right on Millpool Head, then follow that road as it winds its way through the village to the waterside. You will end up cycling on The Parade, with the water on your right, before taking the 1st exit at the first roundabout you encounter.
This will take you up St John's Road and you will have quite a sharp little hill ahead of you.

Simply follow St John's Lane all the way through the village of St John's, veering right at a junction where i signpost on a grassy circle points towards Torpoint. Follow the road uphill until you get to the junction with Trevoll Road, where there are yield signs painted across the road you're on. Turn right on Trevoll Road, and head back through Torpoint, past HMS Raleigh. When you get to the mini roundabout, at the junction with Carbeille Road, you can either turn right and return the same way you came, or just continue straight to the T-junction with Antony Road.  Turn right on Antony Road and follow it all the way to the Torpoint ferry.

Here's a link to the route map, from where you can download the GPX. The map opts for the route through Millbrook.
https://ridewithgps.com/routes/17819138

Friday, 14 October 2016

There's a long, long road a-winding...

Sometimes I despair when I realise how far we still have to go to get safe cycling conditions. On the 11th of October, a man called Quentin Willson posted the following tweet on Twitter:

The picture is of a new Cycle Super Highway (CSH) - yes, I agree, it IS a stupid name - in London and the point Mr Willson was trying to make is that the road is congested, yet despite all the road space given over to cyclists, only a single cyclist was using it. Seems legit, doesn't it?

Well yes, to a degree, until you realise that the CSH in question is still under construction and isn't open yet. This is something Mr Wilson would have been painfully aware of at the time, as the closure was just behind him when he took the photo. 
This is a classic example of misinformation by a motoring journalist and is downright dishonest. And yet, as Churchill said, a lie is halfway around the world before the truth even has it's trousers on.

This is the view from roughly the same spot, but looking back:

The opening you see above is NOT to allow cyclists access to the CSH, but rather to allow pedestrians to cross.

So far it seemd a dishonest attempt to build opposition to CSH's in London was rapidly countered by cyclists - not much of a story and quite a common occurrence.

So let's skip to Devon and Cornwall quickly. Or rather, let's skip to look at the response to this from Devon and Cornwall Police's finest. 
In D & C Police, armed response officers double as traffic officers. This is an important point, because naturally you'd expect such an armed response officer to be well trained not only in firearms, but also as a traffic officer.

In particular, you would expect a prominent sergeant, in charge of a section of traffic/armed response officers, to know the law and know it well.

And yet, this was the response from such a police sergeant on Twitter to Mr Willson's tweet:

Yes indeed - a fairly senior police officer, working in a traffic police capacity tweeted that he doesn't agree with cyclists being on the road when there's a "cycle lane". He failed to respond to requests to let us know where this cycle lane is and he quite clearly doesn't understand the limitations of the vast majority of "cycle lanes".

In case it isn't clear, here's the "all of the above" Sergeant Tangye agreed with:


In doing so, Sergeant Tangye added official police approval to the attitude of drivers who often deliberately intimidate cyclists who don't use inferior cycle infrastructure. He evidently also doesn't understand the difference between a cycle lane, a cycle track and a shared path, which is worrying, given his role in roads policing.

Policing is a profession that prides itself on an evidence-driven approach, but Sergeant Tangye was quick to publicly condemn cyclists and completely failed to do basic fact-checking in this instance.

Had he done so, he would've seen the CSH in the original tweet is NOT open for cyclists to use. Furthermore, he would also have learned that often cycle infrastructure is poor quality and really not fit for purpose.

Clearly Sergeant Tangye prefers to NOT have cyclists using any part of the road, given his agreement that he tweeted. This is despite cyclists being legally entitled to use practically any road (aside from motorways).

Attitudes such as what was publicly displayed by Sergeant Tangye actively emboldens the worst sort of drivers, who feel that they now have official police support for their hatred of cyclists. As such, the good sergeant has succeeded in making the roads that bit more dangerous for cyclists. 

For an officer tasked with roads policing, surely that is a massive failure?

I invited Sergeant Tangye to meet up and discuss why he feels cyclists shouldn't be on the road whenever there is a cycle track present (regardless of the quality of such a track) but he didn't reply to my invitation. 
His views are also at odds with the Highway Code (Rule 61), which specifically states: Use of these facilities is not compulsory.


It really is time for Devon and Cornwall Police to nail its colours to the mast: either the force will take roads policing seriously - especially the protection of vulnerable road users - or it won't. Either way, it needs to be upfront and honest about it.

To date, D & C Police have always been quick to respond with "Many of our officers are cyclists" in the face of any criticism from cyclists. There's a simple reply to that: So what? 
That doesn't automatically mean the force does all it can to help protect cyclists on the roads. It certainly doesn't mean the force isn't institutionally anti-cycling.

Contrast D & C Police's approach to that of West Midlands Police, who decided to base their approach on actual research and evidence. After all, isn't that exactly what we could reasonably expect all police forces to do?

In fact, as Sergeant Tangye's approach clearly shows, D & C Police have a long road to walk to eradicate an anti-cycling bias from its ranks.