Thursday 22 March 2012

Barton Road Traffic Light Junction

Barton Road Traffic Light Junction is a slightly strange junction in Newnham, Cambridge.

The main route in and out of town turns through a right angle with side roads coming straight in from the other 2 directions. Here's the satellite view from Google Maps (annotated at the end of this link).

Just on a side note, notice the cyclist on the crossing and the red car in the ASL. One of these two is not obeying the law (and my money's on the driver!).

This junction has 4 light phases.
  • The main route both in and out. This is reasonably long because this is the highest amount of traffic
  • The subsidiary route from the east (right) of this satellite view.
  • The subsidiary route from the south (bottom) of this satellite view.
  • The cycle crossing.
It may be that the last three are conditional. There is a button to push for the cycle crossing, and the 2 subsidiary routes may check whether there is a car there.

This junction is complicated by the pedestrian lights around 30m away (to the north/top of this picture). I say this complicates the junction, but it also makes it more dangerous. When lights are this close together it is not unknown for drivers to miss one set of lights and drive through on red. For a pedestrian light or this junction this puts vunerable road users and, to a certain extent, other car drivers at risk.

This clip shows it all really. I'm approaching from the west (left of the above picture).
  1. As I start, the phase for the main route is just finishing. 
  2. At 6 seconds, the car from the east (right on satellite view) goes through. I'm fairly safely presuming that it's green to them.
  3. At 11 seconds, I press the cycle crossing button.
  4. At 20 seconds, the car from the south (bottom on satellite view) passes into town. Again, I'm fairly safely presuming that it's green to them. 
  5. At 22-30 seconds,notice the red light for the main route traffic.
  6. Around the same time I can hear the pedestrian crossing beeping stopping.
  7. At 30-31 seconds, the cycle crossing lights change (although not shown, darn it!), and I move off.
  8. At 32 seconds the camera picks up 2 cars from the lefthand side (or north/top of above picture) just moving through the recently changed pedestrian crossing lights.
  9. At 35 seconds, as I'm crossing, AK60 YEY goes right through the junction red light and pulls into my path.
  10. My first reaction is to get off the road heading straight for the other side. My heart is pounding. I'm thinking what if I'd gone more quickly over the lights, I'd have been under their wheels.
  11. I turn round to get a look at what happened, and at 42 seconds there's a van stopped at the main route lights and the second car coming the other way is nowhere in sight.
  12. At 44 seconds, the van starts to move. Again, I'm fairly safely presuming that it's green to them. 
So, having had a very short moment thinking I might have gone through the cycle crossing when it was red, I quickly followed the logic through. If the main route had been green when AK60 YEY came through, it would have been a main route phase between 30 and 42 seconds only, as the van is stopped. This is hardly time to go through the light changes! So, it's obvious that I was right, the lights were green for me and not AK60 YEY.

On another side note, red light jumping is something that the general public believes all cyclists do, it's just not true. From Tfl, The majority of cyclists (84%) obey red traffic lights. And it's quite clear that the damage done by cars when they do this can be a lot more serious.

So, why are the pedestrian lights away from the junction?

The flow of pedestrians is from the west (left of the satellite view) and into the green space north-east (top right of the satellite view), along the path into town. There is some flow from the north on the west side of the road but it's going south and not turning back on itself (there are no houses or other start points up to the next junction). So, moving the pedestrian lights is not going to effect journey distance at all.

The reason the pedestrian lights are there is probably so that it can be separated from the phasing of the junction lights. And yet, this puts vunerable road users at risk simply to try to improve the throughput of motorised traffic. And with both lights, does it do that anyway?

Surely, pulling the pedestrian crossing down next to the junction and phasing them at the same time as the cycle crossing is the safest option here. It's hardly going to destroy traffic flow.

Compulsory Helmet Laws and Current Safety Measures Shown Up

A study done in Australia a little after the compulsory helmet laws were brought in (early 1990s) shows the hypocrisy and failure to follow evidence. The text abstract is here, but it is a little unwieldy. I've tried to punctuate it into bullet points below, whilst maintaining the full text.
  • The first year of the mandatory bicycle helmet laws in Australia saw increased helmet wearing from 31% to 75% of cyclists in Victoria and from 31% of children and 26% of adults in New South Wales (NSW) to 76% and 85%. 
  • However, the two major surveys using matched before and after samples in Melbourne (Finch et al. 1993; Report No. 45, Monash Univ. Accident Research Centre) and throughout NSW (Smith and Milthorpe 1993; Roads and Traffic Authority) observed reductions in numbers of child cyclists 15 and 2.2 times greater than the increase in numbers of children wearing helmets. This suggests the greatest effect of the helmet law was not to encourage cyclists to wear helmets, but to discourage cycling. 
  • In contrast, despite increases to at least 75% helmet wearing, the proportion of head injuries in cyclists admitted or treated at hospital declined by an average of only 13%. The percentage of cyclists with head injuries after collisions with motor vehicles in Victoria declined by more, but the proportion of head injured pedestrians also declined; the two followed a very similar trend. 
  • These trends may have been caused by major road safety initiatives introduced at the same time as the helmet law and directed at both speeding and drink-driving. The initiatives seem to have been remarkably effective in reducing road trauma for all road users, perhaps affecting the proportions of victims suffering head injuries as well as total injuries. 
  • The benefits of cycling, even without a helmet, have been estimated to outweigh the hazards by a factor of 20 to 1 (Hillman 1993; Cycle helmets—the case for and against. Policy Studies Institute, London). Consequently, a helmet law, whose most notable effect was to reduce cycling, may have generated a net loss of health benefits to the nation. 
  • Despite the risk of dying from head injury per hour being similar for unhelmeted cyclists and motor vehicle occupants, cyclists alone have been required to wear head protection. Helmets for motor vehicle occupants are now being marketed and a mandatory helmet law for these road users has the potential to save 17 times as many people from death by head injury as a helmet law for cyclists without the adverse effects of discouraging a healthy and pollution free mode of transport.
My analysis of this is as follows.
  1. Helmets do very little to protect cyclists in car-bike collisions.
  2. Reducing head injuries is better done by dealing with misbehaving motorists.
  3. Helmets would do an enormous amount more to protect car occupants. Where is the cry to have them wear helmets?
Of course that last point is simply meant as a jibe and not to be taken seriously. From other studies it is known that the more that car drivers (and occupants) are coddled up and protected from the violent disturbance their vehicle is causing outside, the more danger they cause to others. Risk Displacement describes this well.

Talking of other studies, we have Dr Ian Walker's study showing that wearing a helmet increases the danger to cyclists as motorists give less space. And the simple fact that helmets are designed for impacts of 12mph and less, equivalent to a fall off a bike, shows that all this bluster about helmets is a complete distraction from safety on the road.

If the same money used to perpertuate (and police in some places) the myth that helmets help in bike-car collisions was spent on measures that might make a difference, we may have a lot more lifes saved than we do currently. Essentially this focus is costing lifes.

This is also a message for Red Light Jumping policing. Not that I favour jumping red lights, but it such an insignificant factor in safety for cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians as to be another waste of time and money. Why are we spending time and effort on dealing with cyclist-fault collisions (around 7% of all bike-car collisions) whilst generally ignoring the 13 times as many driver-fault collisions? And even looking at pedestrians put at risk by cyclists or drivers, evidence (follow links here) shows that they are 40 times more likely to be hurt by a car than a bike. Again, if the same money was spent on measures that might make a difference, we may have a lot more lifes saved than we do currently. Essentially, again, this focus is costing lifes.

So, in summary, the kneejerk response to helmets and policing we are currently doing is costing lifes. All in a desire to be perceived as making the street "fair for all" whilst perpetuating the inequality of it.

Thursday 15 March 2012

Over Kirkby Malzeard Moor to Pateley Bridge

(UPDATE: More routes and maps on this later post or just scan for Nidderdale.)

I'm up in Pateley Bridge again, this time as the winter starts to disappear and spring feels like it's round the corner. I'm exploring the local ways and byways looking for good exciting road and offroad routes. And this time I'd thought I'd go back to a route I first tried to navigate last year but got stopped because they were shooting over it: Kirkby Malzeard Moor.

It's a 17-18 mile route (in Google) if you're based out of Pateley.

You get on the right start road by going towards the Police Station from the east side of the river bridge (so not up the High Street!).

Getting out of Pateley shows a bit of what you're in for as the gradient ramps up past the Police Station. I manage to miss this as I'm coming from a slightly different start point. Then a slightly less difficult section along the gorgeous valley side until the bottom of one of the serious challenges, Silver Hill (at 0m26s on clip below).

Silver Hill doesn't look too bad on the map, until you spot just how close the contours are and how many of them there are. With more accurate measurement welcome, I reckon it averages around 15% with topping out at over 19%. And that's for a not inconsiderable amount of time.

The slope consists of 3 sections. The first bit you see as soon as you turn off the Wath Road. It looks like a wall and a rapid descent through the gears ensues. My joy this time was being chased (very carefully, I might add!) by a reversing postal van. Even they don't try to go up here forward! Then a slight turn in the road leads to the steep section. This is where it really ramps up and it's difficult to keep the wheels moving forward. Finally, a slightly flatter section enables you to recover slightly. You've still at full pant but not actually having a heart attack.

I usually stop at the top.  Because of the view and nothing else, of course. No, I'm not done out by Silver Hill, no, it's just a pretty view to the south end of Gouthewaite Water. I'll just put my hands over the handlebars for a couple of minutes. *crash, wheeze*

Gouthewaite Water is a reservoir probably most famous for being in the opening credits of Emmerdale.

The remainder of getting up onto the moors is probably as far as Silver Hill. It's just the it has the decency to do it over a lot longer distance thus allowing a steady but unfazed peddle up the side of the valley. You'll notice in the clip (at 2m07s and a little later) I pull over for cars. I'm in no hurry to get anywhere and I'm doing around 5-6mph. I've got time to pull over and let them through. I have no need to assert my rights to the road here (unlike in other places of course!), and both drivers thanked me for letting them through. Smiles all round!

The final top of Bishopside comes quite a long way after, just as I drop down and turn left onto a slightly bigger unclassified road (at 3m23s on clip below). I lost a spoke here once. Anyone give me a reason why? This is slightly, very slightly downhill and usually has the wind behind me. Speeds of 30mph are very easy here, although I tend to hold at that, the road surface can suddenly throw up the odd obstacle.

Halfway across the moor there's another road junction just before dropping to cross Skell Gill (at 3m53s on clip below). I wish it could be done a little quicker, but the turn over the bridge takes all the speed out just before the uphill section. Skell Gill disappears off to the south, heading for Fountains Abbey where it provides the water for their wonderful water gardens.

Just after this the south edge of the moorland area comes to the road and there's a sign I find useful to check (for closures, before cycling another 5 miles just to return). It uses the name "Harper Hill" which I find strange. I'm not local but I can find no other references to this anywhere else other than the name of the farm opposite (online PDF version of sign).

I did have a good look through it and there seemed no hint of banning bikes on the tracks across the moorland. They do ban dogs at times due to nesting ground birds, but that's it. It'd be nice to find out a bit about the Right to Roam legislation, although I suspect there's very little about bikes in it. Well, with no direct instructions I think I should carry on. After all even cycling along a footpath is not illegal.

At the other side of the moor, I take the turning for the first bit of off-road exploration through Dallowgill (at 5m05s on clip below). This is a bridleway, so fully allowable for bikes. It is a little pretty valley even after dropping into the trees. There's a chance at a ford, although I'm always a bit wary after sliding 10 foot across one on my backside in Essex once. River slime is amazingly ungrippy!
And back out onto a small road for the ride back up to the bottom of Kirkby Malzeard Moor. A slow and steady slug again, getting back all the metres lost whilst dropping across the moor from Bishopside. I speed up the clip here as although gloriously beautiful to ride, it's a tad dull from the camera's perspective. A small check of the moors sign here to see if there any other notices attached (at 8m00s on clip below). No, so on!

At the end of the tarmac road, a small waterfall appears effectively marking the top of Dallowgill (at 8m24s on clip below). Having spent my entire time concentrating on getting up the moor, I've not noticed the land disappearing away behind me. Just here is where the gill sharply drops and turns into valley and not moorland. This marks the beginning of the top although I've still got a good 50 metres altitude to gain yet.

And finally I'm up onto the moor! The track is rough strewn with rocks around the size of my fist, with a few twice that size. Avoiding the former helps to keep the bike from jarring too much, avoiding the latter helps to keep the bike upright. I pick a route out carefully, eyes following the track concentrating hard. The odd gaze at the scenery allowed, but mostly eyes down for a full ride.

I top out at a gate and 386 metres altitude which is 240 metres above my start point (at 8m57s on clip below). This isn't a massive gain compared to some of the Alpine and Pyrenean climbs I've done, but it's still big for this country and on a much rougher surface. The air up here is cooler than the valley, and a lot cooler than my Cambridge home!

Now for the descent back into Nidderdale (at 9m26s on clip below). This side of the moor is much steeper, dropping 200 metres in less than a mile. Coming up, I did the same altitude gain in around 3 miles, so this is going to get wild.

"Rough descent" actually doesn't really get near the experience. A deeply rutted track with large water diverts (10 inch kerbs across the track) and boulders the size of my head mean I'm descending on full brakes, desparately picking my way and avoiding going head over heels into the rocks. Also, numerous gates make this quite an awkward place for cycling.

Finally, I get to a gentle bit and have a chance to look at the top end of Gouthewaite Water (at 10m35s on clip below). I'm just at the top end of Ramsgill, which is a slightly odd hamlet. A few pretty stone houses around a central green and a large building called "The Yorke Arms". In the middle of nowhere (and a rather nice place!) this is a One-Star Michelin restaurant. And, yes, I've eaten here. It was fantastic!

The road alongside Gouthewaite Water allows me glimspes (but not much for the camera at 11m37s on clip below) of the reservoir over the wall and through trees. Until dropping down and back onto the Wath Road to the bottom of Silver Hill again. This is also marked as steep, but as it's nothing like as long as the other part of Silver Hill it seems a last minute doddle before flying back into Pateley.

So, all in all, a fun ride. Would I do it again? Well, maybe, but all the gates and rocks on the descent leave me wanting to go elsewhere. I've done the Scar House reservoir route (Upper Nidderdale Two Lake Figure of Eight) many times and much prefer it. I was trying to find a route that might give me some variety. I think I'm still looking.

Play "Spot the Grouse"!

Monday 12 March 2012

Letter In Response to Tony Sparsis

A letter appeared in Cambridge News on Friday titled "Protection for Drivers Please!" which sought to sound fair and from an educated basis, just to repeat the same erroneous views that often get used by those who espouse their own experience only. Unfortunately, letters do not seem to appear in the online version. I decided to reply as follows.
UPDATE: The letter did not make the weekly printed version. One letter asking motorists to behave and stop thinking that they are without blame did appear, but none of the factual errors have been taken up. The problem is that doing so does create a rather long behemoth like below! --------------------------------------------------------------------------

I’m sorry to see so many factual errors and unsupported hypotheses from someone who claims to want to work for both cyclists and drivers. Let me take some of his points and explain why they are wrong. This is based on peer-reviewed scientific study, available on the internet (please do look for yourselves!) not some ad-hoc guess or random personal anecdotal experience.

  1. Ignoring red lights. Yes, this is a problem, and I urge cyclists to think what they are doing. I also urge drivers to do the same as nationally studies show a higher percentage of drivers jump red lights than cyclists. For drivers this usually occurs when the lights are changing, just when pedestrians are about to cross. Also, some studies show that some cyclists jump red lights to get out of the way of danger, usually waiting next to HGVs in their blind spot. 
  2. Wearing Cycle Helmets. This is a common misconception amongst many, so let’s make it clear. Cycle Helmets are designed to protect heads when in a fall from a bike under 12mph. They are not designed for collisions with vehicles. The British Medical Journal suggested recently that kids should wear helmets, as they are more likely to suffer a fall. It also said the evidence they protect adults against serious head injury is “equivocal” (i.e. questionable). It’s sad that Mr Sparsis uses his experience in the medical profession in such a misleading manner. Clearly he is not an expert in this area despite hinting at it. Also, a study by Dr Ian Walker (Traffic, transport and environment psychologist) shows that wearing a helmet leads to drivers pass closer when overtaking, thus increasing the danger to the cyclist. 
  3. Riding poorly maintained bikes. Again, I urge cyclists to perform maintenance. It’s actually not that difficult to do. I also urge drivers to do the same, as many cars are not fit for the roads either. 
  4. Ignoring the need for lights. Cycling without lights is silly. I just got another pair for £3. However, in a recent crackdown, police only managed to catch 1 person every 80 minutes. Hardly the problem it would seem to be. 
  5. Ignoring the basic rules of the road. Without repeating the first item above, this is something for everyone again. Looking at police studies, over 158 thousand drivers where spotted speeding in 17 weekly locations last year in Cambridge. And in another police study, only 25% of vehicles were driven in a way that would avoid prosecution for speeding in a location in south Cambridge. 

 I think it wrong to think of cyclists versus cars versus pedestrians, we all have to share. And all of us are responsible for our own behaviour when doing so. We all make mistakes, that is inevitable. However, making a mistake in 1 ton of metal has much more consequence than when on a bike. I drive and cycle and know that I make mistakes on both. I try very hard to limit them, and when driving, spend a lot more effort being slower and much more aware of possible dangers, like someone stepping off the pavement without looking. I take on that responsibility, as we all should do, when I get in a car and take control of a large, powerful machine. The best protection against having an collision in a car where the cyclist is at fault (which is pretty rare) is to give enough space, and spot potential issues a long time before they occur. Far too many drivers seem to switch off from this behaviour and follow an automaton process not paying enough attention.

Finally, the little disc on the front of each car is Vehicle Emissions Duty. Paying for this disc is based on how much the car pollutes the air. Lots of low emission cars pay nothing. This, and petrol duty, and parking charges, and all the other things do NOT pay for the roads. In fact, even if it were ring-fenced (and it’s not), if you added it all up, it still comes in short. Our roads are paid for by general taxation, including council tax. Again, studies have shown that nationally those who cycle earn more and thus contribute more to this than those who don’t.

As I say, if you disagree with the above analysis, please do search amongst the studies that are available online. Don’t just assume because you think you see differently sometimes, that you know everything. And don’t assume I do either, read the research!