Cycling is (or should be) FUN!

As Easy As Riding A Bike

I couldn’t make it to Street Talks on Monday, to hear Mustafa Arif of the London Cycling Campaign discuss the Space for Cycling campaign, although I did manage to follow some of the discussion on Twitter. One tweet in particular stood out –

That is, how does cycle campaigning break out of the bubble, and convince people who don’t go anywhere near a bike on a day-to-day basis that demanding change is something they should be involved in?

There are no easy answers here, but I think one profitable angle is fun. People who don’t consider themselves ‘cyclists’ will ride bikes at some point during the year, but usually only under certain conditions.

They will ride bikes along seafronts, when they are on holiday.

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Some thoughts on #cycling safety and #space4cycling

Today on my way to work on my bike I was hit by a car. The driver had made a snap decision to turn left into a side street to avoid a traffic jam. In his haste, he executed the manoeuvre quickly and without checking his mirrors or indicating. I was filtering down the left hand side of the lane past the static traffic and went into the side of his car. Through skill, good fortune and thanks to my awesome disc brakes, I avoided any damage to myself or my bike. The guy’s wing mirror came off worse in fact. If I could choose the outcome of being hit by a car I would certainly choose this.

Anyway, this got me thinking. If cycling is truly a safe activity (and we are regularly told that it is a statistically safe activity), why do I, and everyone I know who cycles, have so many stories about near misses and collisions?

One of the statistics that regularly gets rattled off is that cycling is safer per kilometre travelled than walking. But most people I know, myself included, have no such horror stories of near misses and collisions while walking. I am beginning to doubt that this statistic holds true.

Either way, a reason why one perhaps hears relatively few horror stories from walking occurred to me. There is effective segregation between motor traffic and pedestrians – people walking have dedicated space in the form of a pavement and separation in the form of a kerb. With the exception of road crossings, which are often in controlled circumstances at pedestrian crossings, pedestrians never have to mix with motor traffic. Hence the reason pedestrians are free to relax, to amble, to be distracted by kids, music, mobile phones, etc. without fear for their lives.

In contrast, to survive while cycling in the midst of motor traffic, as we are obliged to do in London, requires a state of hyper-alertness at all times (“having your wits about you” as Boris Johnson calls it). While I do really enjoy my cycle to work, this takes its toll and even while maintaining this hyper-alertness, near misses and occasional collisions are clearly unavoidable. I am more convinced than ever that we need safe space for cycling in London. Take a look at the Netherlands, where they have consciously in the last 40 years decided to make space for cycling. Statistically, cycling is safer there than it is in the UK but that only tells one part of the story. Take a look at photos of people cycling there – I have added a selection from Flickr below. Take a look at the demographics – men, women, the young, the old, families, people from all walks of life. Finally, take a look at their faces – they are clearly relaxed and enjoying cycling. They are not in a tense state of hyper-alertness waiting for a driver to do something unexpected that may endanger their lives.

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Courtesy of Daniel Sparing


Courtesy of Joe Dunckley


Courtesy of Amsterdamize


Courtesy of Amsterdamize


Courtesy of Amsterdamized


Courtesy of Amsterdamized


Why we need space for cycling

As Easy As Riding A Bike

Ahead of today’s parliamentary debate on cycling, and subsequent Space for Cycling protest, I thought I’d give a brief reminder of why change is so urgently needed in Britain, and to persuade you to come along to the ride.

The first graph, below, shows the percentage of all trips made by bike – split by age group – in the Netherlands and the UK (click to enlarge) –

With the proviso that the age groups are slightly different, the contrast is remarkable. Note in particular the extraordinary differences in the amount of cycling in the under 16/17 age groups, and in the over 65s. Dutch people over the age of 65 make 23% of all their trips by bike; just 1% of trips by British over 65s are cycled. Likewise Dutch children under 17 make 40% of all their trips by bike; just 2% of all trips by British under…

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Will Jim Dowd MP Help Get Britain Cycling?

I previously posted regarding my letter to Jim Dowd MP asking him to attend the Get Britain Cycling debate in the House of Commons on 2 September. I got a response recently, saying the following:

Thank you for your e-mail regarding the forthcoming debate on Get Britain Cycling in the House of Commons.  I recognise the importance of cycling and the need to improve conditions for cyclists, especially in London.

Although I have several other commitments in my diary for September 2nd, I will endeavour to attend the debate at some stage if at all possible.

You may also be interested to know that I added my name to an Early Day Motion in the last Parliamentary session, which read;

That this House notes that cycling benefits public health, the economy, the environment and quality of life; further notes the strength of public and parliamentary support for The Times newspaper’s Cities fit for Cycling campaign, and its backing for an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group on Getting Britain Cycling; further notes calls from national cycling organisations for a cycling action plan to increase cycling among people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, and to reduce the actual and perceived risks of cycling, whether for day-to-day travel, outdoor recreation or sport; and calls on the Government to provide leadership, resources and Cabinet-level co-ordination across Government departments and external partners to produce and implement such a plan as part of our Olympic legacy, including measures to strengthen road traffic law and its enforcement, improve cycling conditions and perceptions of safety, integrate cycling with public transport, promote cycling through schools, colleges, workplaces, community organisations and beyond, and embed cycling into the heart of transport, planning and other relevant policies.

Thank you again for contacting me about such an important issue to many of my constituents and I hope I have been able to provide a positive response.

Best wishes

Jim Dowd MP

So, tentative support but no commitment to attend. I have replied to Jim, seeking a firm commitment to attend:

Dear Jim,
Thank you for your email. Now that we are approaching the date of the debate in the House of Commons, have you any more clarity on your availability to attend?
I am pleased to hear of your support for the Early Day Motion you mention.  However, this has failed to achieve any traction within the Department for Transport, as evidenced by the Government’s response to the Get Britain Cycling report published this week. The response is a recipe for the status quo, and will see little in the way of investment (despite their attempts to spin a small one-off financial commitment as a ‘cycling revolution’) and real change on the roads to create safe cycling for all. This makes it all the more important that as many MPs as possible attend and let the Government know that the status quo is not good enough.
I look forward to hearing from you.

It’s not too late to urge your MP to attend. This is all the more important now in the face of the Government’s disappointing response to the Get Britain Cycling report.

Leon Daniels and ‘knee-jerk reactions’

As Easy As Riding A Bike

In the wake of the latest cycling death in London, the head of Transport for London’s Surface Transport, Leon Daniels, told BBC News

I think it’s very important we don’t have too much of a knee jerk reaction. Of course, as I said, one cycling death is one too many, but the circumstances for these accidents take a while to come through while all the investigations take place. And I’m sure there’s a whole range of measures that, over time, we will be taking in order to try and ensure cycle safety.

The problem here is that this isn’t just ‘one cycling death’. This is just the latest in a long line of deaths and serious injuries involving people riding bikes in London, deaths and injuries that are increasing in frequency.

To say we shouldn’t have a ‘knee jerk reaction’ rests on an assumption that the death on Monday was…

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A snapshot of climate science

Make Wealth History

powell climate survey

Here’s a striking pie chart that’s been doing the rounds recently (thanks to Simeon for drawing it to my attention). It doesn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know, but it does make a point pretty succinctly. The survey was by James Lawrence Powell for a book called The Inquisition of Climate Science.

There’s a degree of subjectivity to all these things. You need to decide what constitutes rejecting global warming, for starters. The most contentious bit of the debate isn’t over whether the planet is warming or not, but why. You also need to choose your pool of articles to survey, and I’m not sure if it’s possible to be 100% comprehensive. Here’s the methodology, and take it for what it is.

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Environmentally friendly weed killer


Being a man who now owns land, I also now own weeds it seems.  I have weeds in my lawn, weeds in my flower beds, weeds in my gravel drive and weeds growing between my paving slabs.  So how should I deal with these menaces in an environmentally friendly manner?

Weed killer in whatever form is basically herbicide.  While some herbicides are selective, many will kill all plants, whether desirable, or undesirable.  So the use of a typical weed killer in an area where desirable plants are growing is perhaps something to be avoided.  The only method for weed control that is appropriate for these locations is old-fashioned pulling up the weeds on a regular basis.

So that covers the lawn and flower beds, but what about other areas where traditional weed killers might be used?  Traditional weed killers use a range of chemicals, some with significant toxicity and even carcinogenicity.  Weed killers also have known effects on bird populations due to their toxicity.

Armed with this knowledge, I began a search for a weed killer with minimal health and environmental impact.  My local DIY shop only sold traditional weed killer, with active ingredients such as glyphosate, so I turned to the web for inspiration, and there I found a great idea I put to the test.  Several websites and forums recommended a simple home recipe for weed killer – four parts vinegar, one part washing up liquid (that’s dishwashing liquid to you Americans) and one part salt.  Shake it up (though not too vigorously to avoid turning the washing up liquid to bubbles) and put it in a spray gun.  Apply liberally to weeds.

The theory as described is that the vinegar kills the weed (or any other plant you happen to spray, so be careful), the washing up liquid helps the vinegar cling to the leaves of the weed, thus aiding this process, and the salt prevents the weed from re-growing.  This is where I would advise caution; excess salt may render the soil where the weed has grown too saline to support any desirable plants.  That is why I stick with old-fashioned weeding for my lawn and flower beds.

So I tried this recipe, with a certain amount of scepticism, but I was pleasantly surprised with the results.  I had a good number of weed species growing in my garden, including many dandelions, and all have been vanquished by this weed killer.

I was rather limited in the ingredients available for that initial trial, and used malted vinegar and supermarket own-brand washing up liquid.  This concoction worked well, as I have described, and I will continue to use malted vinegar.  However I have had reservations about the use of a standard washing up liquid in the recipe.  Surfactants are a key ingredient in many washing up liquids, and many surfactants are known to cause environmental damage.  Ecover washing up liquid purports to use eco-surfactants that have less environmental impact, and will hopefully not damage my soil or the surface and ground waters it is linked to.  So the second phase of my environmentally friendly weed killer trial will use some of Ecover’s washing up liquid.  Let’s hope it is as successful as the first and I will truly have an environmentally friendly weed killer to recommend.

flat for sale

first things first.  before i can buy the house i would like to make into my smart sustainable home, i need to sell my current residence.

it’s a great flat, a fantastic place to live, and pretty sustainable too – energy efficient with the best public transport links you can imagine.  we’re only looking to move to get more space for our daughter.  i really am going to miss the spectacular waterloo sunsets.