the Great Big Plumbing the Depths Bike Blog Roundup

Last week we reported about the guerrilla bike lane plumbers - this week we learned that their DIY protection had been made permanent while People for Bikes tracked down the initially anonymous team behind it, who know a thing or two about savvy stunts. All of which raises the question - is it more effective to be a town planner by day or a masked superhero (or, indeed, plumber) by night when it comes to safer streets?

Bikes and other causes of gridlock

Toilet plungers famously clear blockages - but are bike lanes the cause of congestion and pollution as claimed by one MP who even the Daily Mail refers to as a petrolhead? This is a widespread problem, as bike lanes cause gridlock in Seattle that had absolutely nothing to do with a truck full of butane crashing on the Interstate. At all. While Denver clearly has too many of those pesky bike lanes too as its road network simply isn't working. Fortunatly Belfast is onto it, closing a pedestrian and cycling crossing to make space for expanding traffic - and just in time too as the city has some of the worst congestion in the UK, and clearly needs to road-build its way out of it. Meanwhile Portsmouth is planning a 'sustainable' new town without thinking through its bike access at all. Boston is subsidising parking like it's 1989.

Sarcasm aside, Austin understands that the way to grow without gridlock is to build a bike network - and Washington DC has been quietly getting on with it. Berlin is planning a network of superhighways but even a city like Hull could have cycling rates to rival the Dutch if the infastructure was there. And in Surrey, a couple of hospitals recognise the inherent efficiency of parking bikes over cars.

A fine balance

'But what about the needs of all road users?' we hear politicians cry - or by 'balance' do they mean entrenching the current (unbalanced) status quo? If London's leaders try and avoid controversy and confrontation it will mean a lost year for cycling in London (even if the mayor seems prepared to think the unthinkable about the school run) - if the policies are right they will be able to overcome the barriers to building active travel infrastructure locally. We need policies that explicity restore the balance - such as Colombia's Ciclovias, apparently the cheapest public health initiative per head there is - for anywhere in the world, closed road events such as these in Seattle make walking and cycling with kids so much easier, while even before it's been finished, a greenway in Vancouver is already filling up with walkers and cyclists of all sorts - but you don't need to wait for a railwayline to close to use it as a bike path. And as some roads become less important for motor traffic they can be repurposed as recreational routes, bringing tourism into the countryside. One area where balance might need to be restored is between cyclist and pedestrians - put yourselves in the shoes of a ninety-six year old and you might cycle differently when you're both sharing a pavement - although the vicious rumble strips beloved of the Royal Parks do nothing to help; perhaps Glasgow's drivers have found a more effective solution. Or perhaps we should be taxing vehicles according to the inconvenience they cause instead.

Streets fit for people

Instead of talking about baland, it may be more productive to talk about streets fit for people - as plans for Sauchiehall Street might provide but unfortunately, despite many calls for better cycling facilities, plans for the A23 in LambethWon't. Heavy traffic doesn't makeTonbridge High Street a place to linger, and many families get put off shopping in streets they can't safely cycle to, however attractive they might be otherwise. More to the point we simply shouldn't have road building policies that result in people being killed - and changes to streets like these can't come soon enough for those who have to live on them.

Equally, how we plan our cities matters: high-density blocks like the ones communist governments built might not look terribly attractive but they delivered freedom for children, while Portland tries to retrofit a car-dominated suburb into a bike-friendly commercial hub. Highway building programmes and car domination have fractured cities except where some citizens have fought back - and if you want your bike share scheme to grow, you need a dense network of stations in a major city.

Mr Smith goes to Washington

In the US, the National Bike Summit has been underway, even as some campaigners wonder if it's worth lobbying federal politicians at all in the current political climate, and when national campaigning organisation themselves seem split on the matter. But as America gets involved in a giant 'national civics lesson, bikes can be part of the revolution - and besides if there is going to be a big transport spending bill, dedicating some of that money to walking and cycling would help - as is already in the works at state level in Colorado. And for new campaigners, it can be an energising and rewarding experience if only to meet so many other campaigners. Meanwhile, back on this side of the Atlantic, Go Bike takes the Walk, Cycle, Vote message to the Scottish Green party, while Cycling UK quizzes the Conservative candidate for Manchester mayor on his cycling policies. Irish cyclists are asked to lobby their politicians to take cycling seriously; maybe not bother with this one though.

The wisdom of crowds

As Cycling UK storms through its crowdfunding target in 48 hours, Sam Jones explains why they're providing police forces with 'close pass' mats, especially in a time of straitened traffic policing budgets. Possibly armed with some of Cycling UK's shiny new mats, Avon and Somerset police confirm that they'll be running a close pass operation, while the Northumbria police will be reviewing helmet camera footage from cyclists, but the danger remains that institutional pro-car mindsets will undermine these sorts of initiatives.

In Scotland, with some interesting rewards on offer, Pedal on Parliament's crowdfunding also racks up several hundred pounds within hours of going live (and is now more than halfway there). Things have moved on somewhat from campaigning priorities in the 80s - but perhaps some of the older hands need to understand the problems of agency and why getting people cycling isn't as simple as it looks. Elsewhere, the cycling industry are urged to become leaders for advocacy at the Taipei Bike show, while failures of communication mean opportunities for cycling are getting missed in Sutton.


Getting the basics right

Meanwhile, if the roads are right, then we don't need so many eye-catching initiatives - like simply working out how to keep bike lanes clear of snow - and not taking 14 months to do even the bodgiest of repairs on a Manchester tow path. In New York, it's clearly time to flip a door-zone bike lane into a parking protected one - maybe something for Toronto to consider too as doorings are on the rise. In Southwark, simply not reopening a railway bridge to motor traffic will ensure Quietway 7 is properly quiet, while in Bristol's latest quietway plans the use of 'parallel zebras' might not appropriate.

Cycling for all

This week we celebrated International Women's Day - and for the Women's Cycle Forum Scotland it was a chance to meet just a few of the women who are involved in cycling in Scotland (and beyond). Cycling UK also used the opportunity to gear up to celebrating women cyclists in its festival in July, Alix Stredwick rehearses some of the issues that keep women off bikes, at least in the UK. For those with childcare responsibilities, if you want to cycle with kids, talk to the women who know - perhaps they need to go and stage an intervention in Northern Ireland - while e-bikes and help with suitable routes can be just the thing to help women make the leap from wanting to cycle to actually doing it.

Bike make it better ...

For those of us feeling our age, there was yet more good news as scientists found that cycling slowed the ageing process and at least you won't be breathing in any more pollution than the drivers stuck in their cars. And if bikes do make it better, then e-bikes make it betterer still, despite the lack of support from the government, with UPS recognising e-bikes are the answer for Dublin's last mile deliveries - so it's good news that even truck drivers find e-bikes irresistable once they've had a go.

And finally

We leave you with the cyclist who seems to have misunderstood just what level of protection his helmet was offering him - perhaps leave off the hi-vis too, if you don't want to be spotted being naughty in the bushes next time?