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Just what is it like to work as a 'Cycling Officer' in a local authority in the UK? Howard Peel laboured in such a role for The East Riding of Yorkshire Council between August 1999 and July 2001. His Confessions appear in full on his site, The Bike Zone. The story of his experiences "stands as a testament to just why the UK is failing to develop an integrated transport system in the European model and in particular it goes some way to explaining why the UK remains to be one of the most cycling unfriendly countries in the EU."

How Green was my Green Team
and other Confessions of a Cycling Officer

by Howard Peel

The East Riding of Yorkshire Council had a 'Green Team': a collection of officers who were supposedly interested in lessening the environmental impact of the authorities' activities. Feeling that encouraging employees to walk and cycle to work might fit in with the aims of the Green Team I went along to a meeting.

Involved and earnest discussions included topics such as how best to recycle toner cartridges and the advisability of using both sides of a sheet of paper when taking notes. Then I took the stand. I outlined the aims of the Local Transport Plan and in passing mentioned that whilst there was no 'mileage allowance' for 'business' cycle usage, the council did have a banded car user mileage allowance that effectively subsidized those choosing to drive larger-engined, more environmentally unfriendly vehicles. I also noted that the single biggest environmental impact the council had was almost certainly due to the huge business mileages most officers clocked up.

I suggested that they might like to recommend the adoption of a single, lower mileage rate to encourage drivers to use more economical cars on council business and in order to give the message that the Authority was genuinely committed to reducing the environmental impact of its activities.

How was this received? Negatively... Then, what can one expect when people will in all seriousness argue that they drive a 'green' car?

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Have ever wondered what words and phrases such as 'fast but safe' actually mean? Use this to decode the real meaning behind the 'weasle words' of the popular press.

accident - A crash, especially when death or injury is involved.
to go out of control - as in 'the vehicle went out of control'. The driver lost control of the vehicle.
I didn't see you - 1) I didn't look. 2) I looked but as you are only a cyclist I decided to pull out anyway.
road tax - Motor vehicle excise duty.
fast but safe - a driver who habitually speeds and is a danger to other road users.
killed (by a motor vehicle), as in 'the cyclist was killed by the lorry' - Usually used to deflect responsibility away from the driver of the vehicle and as a way of avoiding saying 'The cyclist was killed by the lorry driver.'
in collison with, as in 'the cyclist was in collision with the car'. The cyclists was run down by the car driver.
hurtling, as in 'the cyclist was hurtling along'.The Cyclist was doing 14 MPH.
racing, as in 'The Cyclist was racing along''. The cyclist was doing 16 MPH.
madman or 'maniac' as in 'The cyclist was riding like a madman/maniac'. The cyclist was doing 18 MPH.
dawdling, as in 'The driver was dawdling along'. The diver was only exceeding the legal speed limit by 2-3 MPH.
obstructive, as in 'The driver was deliberately obstructing me.' The motorist was driving along at 29 MPH in a 30 MPH zone.
social inadequate - 1) any cyclist, 2) a motor vehicle driver who keeps to the speed limits.
two wheeled terrorist - any cyclist who in consideration of their own safety takes to a section of footway.
lycra lout - Any cyclist who rides in an assertive and confident manner or appears to expect other road users to recognise that they have equal rights on the public road.
innocent motorist - All drivers of motor vehicles, including those who speed or drive without due consideration of others.
persecuted motorist - A driver who has been prosecuted for breaking road traffic law.
occasionally drift over the speed limit - 'habitually and wilfully flaunt the speed limit.

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Meet 'The Great British Motorist' *
(*Copyright of the Automobile Association).

The following is typical of the sort of calls a traffic management section gets every day, and all the caller comments are genuine, albeit from more than one caller.

Caller: I want to register an official complaint about all these bloody humps that have been put down my road.
Self: Could you tell me what the nature of the problem is, sir.
Caller: I banged the exhaust of my car on them. If there is any damage I am going to sue you.
Self: You should be able to pass over them without a problem if you keep to the 20 MPH speed limit. Is your exhaust securely fastened?
Caller: Of course it bloody is, are you trying to pass the blame onto me?
Self: Well, the cushions are constructed to a nationally recognised design.
Caller: Why are you lot and the police always trying to persecute the motorist, I got a speeding ticket last week. How the hell is a driver supposed to know what the speed limit is where there are no signs?
Self: Actually sir, if you read your copy of the Highway Code you will note than in a built up area the speed limit will be 30 MPH unless there are signs indicating otherwise. Each lamppost is effectively a sign showing that a 30 MPH speed limit is in force.
Caller: That's not good enough, you should put signs up as well. Anyway, the speed limits are too low for modern cars. Modern cars have air bags.
Self: But even if modern cars have better crash protection, this only is of help to the driver, not other road users.
Caller: But the roads are for cars.
Self: Actually, sir, pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders have a legal right to use the road as well.
Caller: Well in this day and age they shouldn't be allowed on the road. Bloody cyclists don't even pay road tax.
Self: Speed checks showed that almost 80% of drivers were exceeding the 30 MPH limit on that section of road.
Caller: But people only do 40 MPH up there, it is not as though anyone would be hurt if you hit them at that speed.
Self: Actually sir, at 40 MPH there is a 95% likelihood that they would be killed.
Caller: That's rubbish. Racing drivers crash at 100 MPH and don't get hurt.
Self: That stretch of road has a very poor record for injury accidents.
Caller: I have lived down here for years and never seen a crash.
Self: The police accident computer shows that there have been 14 injury accidents on that stretch of road in the last 3 years, of which 4 were children. That is why the scheme was approved.
Caller: Why should I care, I don't have any kids. Anyway, if they get run down it's their parents' fault, they shouldn't let them out into the street...

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The Case of the Goole Right Turn Facility

I had learnt that it was advisable to keep an eye on what the design teams were working on as I had reason to believe that schemes it was thought I might criticize were sometimes kept away from my sight. One day I noticed plans to remove a right turn facility for cyclists in Goole, a small and economically disadvantaged town in the East Riding where almost 20% of all journeys are made by bicycle...

The facility (pictured above) allows cyclists using the main road through Goole to access the pedestrianised area where the shops are located. When this street was pedestrianised in 1997 local cyclists were promised a cycle route through the zone. The proposals stated:

Pedal cycles are an important mode of transport within Goole and therefore it is intended to make provision for a cycle route through the area. Cycles will be confined to a clearly designated route to minimise any conflict with pedestrian.

Of course, this route was never created, and shortly after the area was pedestrianised cyclists were banned from riding though it. However, the right turn facility was built.

There is a right-turn lane just before this junction so cyclists can access the cycle lane and cross the road when the lights are favourable. It is not possible for cyclists to leave the road on the left-hand side as there is a deep underpass running to the local train station (and naturally cyclists are banned from using this). Given that without this facility there would be no means for cyclists to access the shops safely, I was concerned to see plans outlining its removal. Consequently I went to speak with the Principle Officer concerned. This officer seemed a little put out by my inquiries. I soon found out why.

I asked to look at the relevant file and at the top of the consultation list was my name. This was dated six months previously, yet this was the first time I had sight of it. Also on the consultation list was the name of a local cycling representative. Strangely, there was no reply from this individual in the relevant folder (nor from myself, naturally). On asking about this letter I was told that it "couldn't be found". However, replies from the police, etc. agreeing to the scheme were present and correct. Intrigued, I wrote to the cyclist asking him to repeat his comments and wrote a memo expressing my own worries regarding the removal of the cycle facility. A short while later this reply arrived and, as I had expected, raised similar concerns.

I requested a meeting with the officer involved and was told that he wished to see the facility removed as he "didn't agree" with the provision of facilities for cyclists as they made cyclists "more arrogant" and led them to "believe that they had a right to be on the road". I also learnt that the officer had intended that once the facility was removed, cyclists would simply wait on the left hand side of the road just before the pedestrian crossing and then cross on foot when the pedestrian signals allowed them to. As can be seen from the photo, the crossing is situated on a bend. A large number of HGVs use this road, making it a distinct possibility that waiting cyclists would be mown down by the trailer of a turning articulated lorry. The possibility of this happening did not seem to concern the officer at all and he tried to dismiss my concerns. However, by now the cat was out of the bag, and modified plans were accepted that retained the right turn facility.

I had thought that the authority was committed to providing more cycle facilities, not their removal, so I was convinced that I had done the cyclists of Goole a small service....

More fun in Goole
The East Riding of Yorkshire Council's Local Transport Plan contains the following:
Policy 12.27: Targets include installing advanced stoplines at all traffic signal sites by 2006.
2000/01 PROGRAMME. Introducing advanced stop lines in Goole:

Despite the above policies the advance stop line pictured above is the only such facility to be installed in Goole up to April 2002. I submitted proposals for comprehensive ASL's in this part of Goole in accordance with current best practice and DETR requirements. All these came to nothing and the above 'facility' (the work of the same senior officer who had tried to get the right turn facility removed) is in contravention of the requirements for such facilities as it has no access lane. It also ignores best practice as it has no green surface to differentiate it from the rest of the carriageway. Another senior officer in the Traffic Management section informed me he was opposed to the use of coloured surfacing for ASL's on the basis that it will "make them easier to remove when there are no cyclists left on the road in a few years time."

Will ASL's be installed at all the signal controlled junctions in the East Riding by 2006? Well, the Principal officer who is in charge of the street lighting team which must be closely involved in any such works is none other than our old friend who does not agree with providing cyclists with facilities on the basis that it "encourages them to be arrogant" and to "believe that they have a right to be on the road."

And the icing on the cake for the Cyclists of Goole

This priceless facility is to be found along the A161 in Old Goole. Probably the narrowest 'cycle lane' in the United Kingdom.

The same cycle lane a little further along the road. I was told that these lanes were so narrow because there "wasn't room" to install wider lanes. Although this suggests that this means there wasn't enough to room to install a cycle lane at all, one might argue that if the road is so narrow it cannot be safe to overtake a cyclist so perhaps proper width cycle lanes should have been installed in any case. Strangely enough you can see on the higher resolution image [not shown] that they seemed to find plenty of room to install parking spaces outside the shop.

The Highway Code recommends
Rule 49. Cycle Lanes should keep within the lane wherever possible.
Rule 52. Leave plenty of room when passing parked vehicles and watch for doors being opened into your path.

The same scheme as above on the opposite side of the road this time. This is quite simply taking the piss.

© Howard Peel

 

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