Wednesday 7 December 2016

Is BikeAbility Useful

So, there was a little come back on the Volvo "educational kit" post I made last week. I did bring into question the nature of the Volvo idea and how it lacked substance compared to what we already do in the UK, BikeAbility. And the comeback was not about how bad the Volvo programme was, but how they don't like BikeAbility.

So, there was a little comeback, just not to me at all. I spotted it going back and forth on Twitter amongst people I know and often share discussions, enjoyment of riding, and fun with. They didn't include me for whatever reason, although that was a little disappointing. And it reminded me that there is a strong anti-training bent to some cycling advocacy people, some with good reason, and some a little less so.

So some of the issues fall down as follows.
  • Training doesn't increase the numbers of people riding.
  • The money could be better spent on building infrastructure.
  • It's just the foundation of vehicular cycling which for decades now hasn't worked for the UK.
Now, a few years back, I'd agree wholeheartedly with these concepts. However, having spent a considerable amount of time since then involved in BikeAbility, I think it's a lot more nuanced than that. There's just a lot more to it, it needs more consideration than just simple statements.

Cycling Levels

We'll start with cycling levels. First, a study has shown that BikeAbility does increase numbers riding to school.
"the survey results show trained children reported they cycle more often, cycle more to school, cycle more on the road, cycle with more confidence on the road, and enjoy cycling more"
This is something I've seen a lot of people denying. But it is there, BikeAbility does increase numbers riding to school (⁰ extra below). The obvious caveat is that this is still nothing like the revolutionary change in numbers required to make ourselves a cycling nation. What's important to note is that The Association of BikeAbility Schemes agrees with that last caveat. That's right, the people who deliver this training do not think it's the be all and end all of cycling. Training is not an alternative to good infrastructure. And that brings us on to the next bit, surely it's better to build infrastructure.


Infrastructure is the way forward. Full Stop. It is the way in which we get more people riding, more often, and further. This needs to be done at a national level, with national standards, with joined up thinking between different authorities. At the moment we have small schemes, that do help locally, but are a long way from delivering the cycling infrastructure needed to make a difference, nationally.

So, what would it take to do this? Well, the Dutch experience tells us a minimum of £20 per head per year is something like it. That's around £2bn per year across the country (¹ extra below). And we'd need to do that for decades to catch up with the Dutch. What if we dropped BikeAbility for a year or two and took that money and put it into building? Well, at the last round BikeAbility got £50m for 4 years training. So that's £0.0125bn we could add into that £2bn per year, or just under 1% more. Anyone think that's going to make an iota of difference? No, me neither. And in the meantime children everywhere are not involved in any kind of formalised cycling fun (and I'll back that up later).

Vehicular Cycling

So, is it all about forcing children in front of lorries, getting them battle-scarred so they will either adapt (like the 2% of vehicular cyclists) or run away? This premis would suggest that the majority of kids learning will never do it again. But we know that doesn't happen. And actually BikeAbility is so much more than that.

For a start, level 1 never goes near a road. It's all about helping kids get to grips with controlling a bike, usually in a playground setting. It's a laugh! It's fun, it's riding around when they might have had Maths, English, or whatever. And that's a big point. It's fun!

Playing games during this is aimed to cover a series of simple outcomes, but it's still fundamentally bike control. Something you need to ride a bike, wherever you are. You'll be surprised just how many kids may have most of these, but still not quite it all. I think those who've ridden their bikes for a decade or three since, cannot remember those initial learning moments. Some do think there's no need for any training, just get on the bike and pedal. Well, at an early age there can be a lot more to it than that. True, it might not take long, which is why this course is just 2 hours.

So level 2 starts getting the kids on the road. Years 5 & 6 enrol to do this course, often decided by the school, and usually with around 70-80% uptake from the class. Most of them start a little nervous but end up loving it. One or two do keep those nerves through the course, and a tiny amount stop. I'd suggest around 1-2%. This is usually on quieter roads, although sometimes they can be a bit busy. Kids actually respond much better in those circumstances.

In addition to that, part of level 2 is looking at use of cycle infrastructure. This is where we get to point out how bad some of it is, and how to deal with it in all circumstances, both on- and off-road.

So, it's not all about roads. It's aimed at what the kids need for today's cycling. Not next year's, not a decade from now, but right now, in the environment we have. If we decide to wait until the infra is built, there will be no riders left to get on it.

So what if we get loads of new infra? We adapt to training to suit, like it's already being adapted. And this is again, how the Dutch deal with it. Yes, they do cycle training over the North Sea. In fact, it's pretty clear they do something similar to BikeAbility, including being on roads, albeit with a change of focus for the amount of infra they do have. Use a route to school and cope with the differing hazards along the way. This is pretty much how level 3 is delivered here. This will involve less roads but clearly not none and have the same kind of hazard perception learning that BikeAblilty is all about. Hazard perception is another thing linked with BikeAbility successes. So this is something that the Dutch seem keen on as well. Again, this isn't just about motor traffic but it does form a key part.

BikeAbility does a lot more educationally that just bike riding


One final thing that could be levelled at BikeAbility is that it gives those in charge the excuse to do nothing else. Again, this is the argument of defeat. Dos anyone really think that if we stopped training we'd have loads of time from people in authority deciding they need to now spend time working on cycle infrastructure? No, I don't think so. We do need to do push to do more, we need to do it all. Cycle Training for kids is not the most important thing, but it is part of the solution.

So let's go back to those issues.
  • "Training doesn't increase the numbers of people riding." - Well it does, but we do need to do more.
  • "The money could be better spent on building infrastructure." - Well, not really, it's just not enough to make a difference. We do need lots more to do infrastructure.
  • "It's just the foundation of vehicular cycling which for decades now hasn't worked for the UK." - Again, no longer really the case. Whilst some of it is based around realistic training, there's lots outside of that.
I do still get why people feel uncomfortable as BikeAbility was born out of a vehicular cycling manual. However, it's changed a lot since the start, and actually wasn't as VC as some people might suspect. Put simply, BikeAbility is fun, does get more kids cycling to school, is a good use of money, is realistic in training needs, isn't all about roads, and the kids love it!

We have the firm blueprint from over the North Sea, infrastructure and training, let's get on with it.


⁰ Newly developing courses such as BikeAbility Plus, which has an even more holistic approach, have been shown to really improve cycling numbers.

¹ Whilst we get this figure from the Dutch, it's interesting to note that similar schemes in the UK to those in NL seem to cost around 5 times as much. The suggestion is the Dutch spend a lot more, just don't see it as part of cycling building. It's folded into other budgets but benefits cycling as part of something else.

Saturday 3 December 2016

Volvo Road "Safety" Programme

Fantastic! Some altruristic company that makes trucks is finally acknowledging their part on keeping vulnerable road users safe. I can't wait!

But then I looked through the "educational kit" material. Oh, it's for people riding only, with a few notes about how hard it is for people driving, because obviously they are the only people thinking about this. Hmmm.

Well, let's keep going. I was thinking there would be lots of "see and be seen" actions that are taught in #BikeAbility, about moving out and holding the right part of the road from an early position, about getting eye contact, about signalling, about knowing when you have priority. And how people driving respond to that.

But no, there's none of that.

A Bit More Analysis

There's lots of pretty pictures, lots of photos showing sharks have sharp teeth and cactuses have sharp needles. Yes, I hear you asking, quite what that has to do with cycling? I've no idea too!

The only bit that has any relevance to road cycling is a few diagrams showing where truck drivers can't see people low down. Yes, this is just a sexed up version of Exchanging Places.

So, let's just get this straight. A company that can design a truck so that the driver could see people lower than their cab, doesn't do it. Something in their control and THEY DON'T DO IT. They just tells others that their lorries are designed NOT TO SEE YOU.

To show you just how poor this response is, look at the way one truck company in Cambridge, the cycling capital of the UK, is working on this. Mick George is phasing in these lorries where the driver can see much clearer.

In Depth

The presentation is very flash, there are lots of very cool images and videos, although embedded in a Powerpoint presentation so there's no way of pulling them up and analysing them bit by bit. Then, to add to the confusion, they are all based on the European standard of driving on the right. This does get very confusing, and probably especially so to any child that this is aimed at. Why do all this flash photo and video stuff, then not get it the right way round for the UK? It's not hard to do!

So, onto the key frames that are important. Here they are in one diagram.

So, A and B are about people walking not riding. Let's knock them off for now, although they are also pretty ridiculous. C is a definite stupid move from someone riding. I'm not sure anyone disagrees with that and also it's pretty obvious. What's the education statement here? Even young kids know this. Don't move out in front of a large vehicle. Duh!

Then there's D and E. Oh gosh, I don't know where to start. The diagram at D is a classic example of just very poor driving from the LORRY DRIVER. How did they overtake, then turn across the rider? When looking at the notes, this is not what the lesson is meant to be about, the diagram is very misleading. This is meant to show a lorry stopped at traffic lights, then a rider coming up the inside (on the wrong side for the UK), then the lights changing and the driver turning to the inside (on the wrong side for the UK). Has the driver indicated they are turning whilst stopped? No idea. Why are there no lines on the diagram showing a traffic light scenario? No idea. What educational value does this have set out like this? Really, really not sure it has any the way it's presented.

And then E. Again, not very clear what on earth this is about. Looking at the notes, this is meant to be a quick lane change due to something going on ahead. So, this is ON THE DRIVER again. They shouldn't be doing emergency moves into vulnerable road users, whatever is ahead.

And, as a final point to the absurd, the presentation has lots of film of people mountain biking. What on earth has that to do with utility riding? And, just to push another irrelevancy, one section starts with the silliness of not wearing a helmet. YES, I'd use a helmet when off-road jumping and risky riding. This has no relevance to road riding. Go on, show me how well that'll go down in The Netherlands. The land of cycling that virtually no-one uses helmets because they are not relevant. Or, importantly, will do ANYTHING FOR YOU IF YOU ARE HIT BY A LORRY.

So, to parody Macbeth, this a a flash, pretty presentation full of sound and fury signifying nothing. And yes, you need to look at the quote just before that.

What Should We Do When Riding?

Well, the first thing would be to not accept these dangerous lorries on our roads. They are designed dangerously. Simple. Another thing would be to press for places where people cyling and lorries do not mix. Again, design the danger out.

And, what's the positive thing to do right now? Simply put, read the Highway Code (221) that says don't ride up the inside of HGVs. Make sure you are seen by putting yourself in a position where you can see drivers. Look for mirrors. That's it. That's more than this presentation is about.

Further training, if you want it, is through #BikeAbility. This is so much more than this presentation. It involves quite a bit and teaches so much more. It's also taught to ~10 year old pupils in the UK, and around 2 million have been through it. Which does bring up another issue with this presentation. They are aiming it at 12 year olds. This is well behind the UK aim for training.

One thing can be said, there's no mention or visual image of hi-viz clothing or paint. I think Volvo got their fingers burnt when they did that little promotion a year or so ago. That's another story.

Final Marks

So, what's the final score for this? How much educational benefit does it have to people riding? Well, I think I'd give it a 1 out of 10. It does cover "don't pull out of a side road in front of a lorry".

Thursday 1 December 2016

Traffic Calming

So NICE have come up with some important things about how poor our road infrastructure is and how it increases pollution.

I'm especially pleased to see they've pointed out the negative issues speed humps cause.
“Traffic calming measures such as speed humps ... may increase emissions by adding to decelerations and accelerations,” it says. “Ensuring motorists drive steadily at the optimum speed can reduce stop-go driving and reduce emissions.
I'm sad to see they don't talk about the better alternatives, just what doesn't work. I'm sure a lot of motorheads will start yelling "Rip them out now, pollution, think of the children (and let me speed without concern for others)". Obviously, completely the opposite of what NICE is suggesting, although it'd be "nice" if they pointed that out.

Again, we've not got far to go before we see what does work, it's just over the North Sea in, yes, The Netherlands.The Telegraph did a piece (all the way back in 2012) on how they work it out with something called "woonerfs". There are 3 principles behind these areas:
  • traffic speeds are forced down to "footpace", typically well below 12mph. 
  • the principles are applied consistently nationwide so they are instantly recognised by road users everywhere. 
  • legal liability is heavily weighted against the motorist in the event of an accident.
It's interesting to note that this has support from the population and professional drivers organisations.

The piece then talks about how this is engineered on the ground.
Clever use of planting, play areas, chicanes, even the position of the houses, means there isn't a straight road in sight.
And it's praise of the result is great!
there's little need for speed signs; our pace automatically falls to a crawl, underlining the designers' dream that children should roam the streets in safety
Note that this starts to sound like UK schemes like Exhibition Road which many speed campaigners really don't like. But compare the "Clever use" quote above and look at the picture of this development and you can easily see how the UK scheme totally fails. It's a massive straight space, encouraging speeding and, as a result, pushing other transport modes out of the way.

So, why can't we do this in the UK? Actually we already do. Look at new developments in St Neot's and Peterborough.

In Hargate, a new development south of Peterborough, you'll find it hard to find a place with a straight road. Additionally, there are no quick routes through, no road to start on that'll take you all the way through. You have to know your way and make a variety of turns.

Entering (picture shows leaving) St Neots from the east and the road wiggles around, for no obvious reason. There's space for it to go straight, but it doesn't, it has an open space with trees instead. This naturally slows everyone driving down without thinking about it.

These two areas are showing the main signs of the engineering of woonerfs, although still have a few things to work on. And, of course, it's missing the principle priority issue. The result is ground breaking, as The Telegraph points out.
woonerfs are not only possible but desirable, because they transform neighbourhoods into garden cities
underlining the designers' dream that children should roam the streets in safety
Not only do The Netherlands do this with new developments, but they retrofit older neighbourhoods. The've figured out it's not that difficult to do, unlike our country that seems to accept the blank myth that "we don't have space". We do, we just choose not to be clever about it. The Dutch have been clever.
Woonerfs have been retro-fitted over several square miles of side roads
And to complete the quote from above.
Amsterdam proves that retro-fitted woonerfs are not only possible but desirable, because they transform neighbourhoods into garden cities
So, while we moan about pollution, invest vast sums of money in speeding up our journeys on major trunk roads by a few minutes for a few years only (before it returns to the same old congestion), there's great examples of what we can do to transform our neighbourhoods and remove urban pollution at the same time.