Monday, 4 December 2017

Northern Fail

I mix up my commute to work, alternating between cycling in and catching the train. I'm on a Northern Rail route on the train and generally on the A6 on the bicycle. The only other alternative cycle commute route being the canal tow path which at this time of year is a slithery muddy mess designed to get you into work in filthy clothes you'll need to put back on to ride home in. It's also dark, and with the added slosh, the opportunities to end up in the canal are greatly increased. As a woman alone, it also feels like I'm taking an unnecessary risk of encounter with someone who might randomly wish me ill.

I alternate depending on which journey, the bicycle or the train was more unpleasant last time I travelled to work.

The bike offers up a route so clogged with traffic, lorries, buses, that even the most accomplished filterer in the world cannot get through Hazel Grove in a fashion which feels even bordering on safe. Even stuck not moving in the middle of tightly packed traffic I feel intensely vulnerable. When there's a bus in front of you, a lorry next to the bus, a lorry behind you, and cars in the outside lane, nobody moving until the lights change, the vulnerability of my position is more than just mild discomfort. What if the lorry behind me has got so close to me he can no longer see me, what if he forgets I'm there? What if he's impatient and I don't set off quickly enough? What if a car doesn't see me inside them because they are looking for something larger and moves into the lane where I am, thinking I'm actually a space? What if the bus in front does something random and I'm sucked under its wheels. What happens at the next bus stop? How can I get myself to safety? The answer tends to be get off, get on the pavement and walk. This is massively slow - after all, what kind of commute of 16 miles is efficient when you're walking? Am I ever going to get to work? It's not that I'm in a massive hurry but there's the difference between what's a reasonable commuting timescale and what isn't. Any mode of commute which takes nearer to 90 minutes than 60 is not acceptable in my eyes, for my work-life balance. So I get scared off the bike and I catch the train.

The train. It too has many many many drawbacks. Firstly, there is a daily cost of near £10, somewhat more than the cost of cycling. It's more costly than driving too, which in my eyes makes it something I can only tolerate doing 2 times a week. Any more than that and the weekly ticket of around £28 is the way forwards, and when I do that, I feel defeated somehow.  The train service is appalling. It really is. Even with my two return journeys a week, my expertise in operating the Delay Repay system is telling about the tragedy of the thing.

The things which drive me most nuts are the operational decisions over number of carriages. I can understand a little bit when they are genuinely short of carriages and send two out on a rush hour service that normally fills four. What I find intensely irritating is the trains which they only ever schedule as two carriages. The stopping train from Sheffield to Manchester is a case in point. I don't believe that Northern Rail have any kind of way of knowing how many people get on the service from Manchester in the evening rush hour. What I know is that standing at Ashburys station awaiting the train due at 16:53 is pointless. I don't know why they schedule it to stop because nobody gets off and nobody can possibly get on. I sometimes wonder if it's a way of Northern being able to say there are trains at Ashburys x number of times an hour. On paper, I have three possible trains home from Ashburys

1. The 16:53 which I can't get on but which should get me to New Mills for 17:19
2. 17:09 where I change at Romiley for a train scheduled to arrive there at 17:34 but which oddly is always 10 minutes late. This should get me home for 17:44 but I'm generally still at Romiley then, awaiting my train.
3. 17:37 which should get me back for 18:05 but has been late on every single occasion I've ever caught it.

It's a little infuriating, this on paper 27 - 30 minute journey which has not one single time got me from A to B in that time. Northern really need to try harder to understand their own service needs, and customer volumes. Travelling on the 16:53 train for starters, or perhaps seeking feedback from the guards on a systematic basis. Planning, organising, acknowledging and accepting.

So, I submit complaints via their website. I put forward suggestions. I plead with them to look at their service needs, to understand that the Sheffield train should be a four carriage not a two carriage train. They schedule it as two, and there seems to be no way of shifting them from this thinking. No way at all. They don't even seem to understand it as a suggestion, always coming back with a "we use all available carriages" explanation. That's not an explanation as to why it's actually scheduled as a two carriage. It's a beating head against a wall thing to try to get them to know, to deeply, truly know their own service needs. I have no idea how to influence change on this. Nobody can do anything and nobody will take this seriously. It's infuriating. If I ride home from work, leaving at somewhere around 17:15 I am reliably home for somewhere between 18:30 and 18:45, pretty much identical to the time I get there on any of the three services above, except that the train sometimes gets me home for after 19:30 and on the bike I've never been that late.

I don't know how to get Northern Rail to listen and how to influence change. I really don't.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

My Manchester

The thing is, I love Manchester. The people have a way of reacting to things unexpectedly and creatively, often subversively. They bounce back from horror and respond to ugliness in whatever way you anticipate it least.

I ran the Manchester 10km in the days after the Manchester Arena attack, and it felt like solidarity. Manchester reacted by filling St Ann's Square with flowers Sea of Flowers, and people did this: Bee tattoos. We paint stuff More bees, we do poetry Tony Walsh poem. We do Pride better than anywhere else. The city is a crowded, churning, passionate place where folk don't take stuff sitting down.

I'd expected some kind of reaction to the Mobikes but hadn't thought it would be one of such criminality.  People steal the bikes, and I don't know why.  With the locks removed, that's it, nicked.  They put them in canals, they mindlessly trash these fantastic things.  I don't know why you'd steal one.  Kids as young as 11 years old.

Man tries to sell stolen mobike
11 year old done for stealing mobike

This was more what I was expecting:
Gold painted mobike more of this please

I had hoped for better.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Mobike - Nobike

I was a little over excited when I heard that the dockless bike hire scheme from Mobike was coming to Manchester.  I wanted this. I mean, really wanted this.

Basically, the plan for Mobike was that the company would drop off a large number of their bikes in town for people to use. You had to enrol with an app with a deposit of £29 and pop some credit on your account, with each 30 minute journey being 50p. People are encouraged to drop them into specified parking areas, of which there are only a small number in Manchester, coinciding with areas of heavy footfall. You can, however, drop them off and click the lock down pretty much anywhere, provided it's a public area, not anywhere daft, and preferably in a dedicated bike parking space.

It sounded like a great alternative to short bus journeys, a solution to short distance park and ride or station to workplace / shops. Convenient, practical, healthy and above all, fun. Bit more info here about what the owners had planned:

Mobike in Manchester

I embraced it. I like the idea of more people on bicycles around Manchester. I am a fervent believer, without any true evidence that safety in numbers applies, and that the more accustomed people are to seeing people on bikes, the safer it is to cycle in the area, because we're normal and anticipated and people driving expect to see people on bicycles around town.

There were issues, and in a born again disciple fashion, I believed we'd get over those.  Bikes were being vandalised, locks removed, bikes were being parked inaccessible on private property, in people's back yards, in lobbies of apartment buildings. I liberated one from inside a hotel in the fire stairwell with my obsession in full flow. Bikes started disappearing. They appear on the app but when you get there, they just aren't. You can stand in the middle of an empty car park showing a bike as present, but it's simply not there. Missing, presumably dead. I search high and low for evidence, for some kind of GPX device to show where it ought to have been. I diligently report them on the app. Some of them I report a couple of times a week, in the hopes that customer service might delete the misleading dot on the app so that others don't waste their time.

It became a lunchtime Pokemon for me. I'd walk miles, looking for a bike to go for a ride on. I'd report 6 in an hour as missing or mis parked in someone's security fenced compound. It started to stop being an adventure and become annoying.

On paper, you'd think there were maybe 15 - 20 in a mile's radius of my workplace.  There isn't one.  I've looked for every one of the bikes showing on the app (as below), and not one of them is an actual bike.  I've reported every one of these. Some I've been reporting for upwards of six weeks and have reported frequently and regularly, including photographs of the area from all kinds of angles. The bikes have gone, and I've no way of warning other people looking for a way to ride to their destination that they'll not find a bike to make their journey. I'd like to do my civic duty and help people but I just can't, the app doesn't change, it just keeps showing these bikes as really here. Nobikes.


I'd love to be able to pick one up at the station and ride to work, changing a 20 minute plod into a 10 minute bike ride. Truly I would.

But, for me, for now, it's not working any more, it's just not working. For me, Mobike has become Nobike.

Monday, 11 September 2017

No sacrifice

Never sacrifice style for speed. As a wise man or two once said to me. It's a phrase that makes me smile, mostly because I can picture the twinkle in John Herety's eye as he said it, and attributed it to Charly Weglius. In my mind, it's an urban myth, but one I love.

Never sacrifice your smile for speed is another. I don't work hard at trying to be a fitter, stronger, speedier, more powerful cyclist. I'm well aware that aging brings about a loss of power, sprint style muscles. A little bit of me says I won't miss what I never had. Another bit of me plain doesn't care. Let me age with dignity, as long as I can still ride ponderously up hills with a smile on my face. I'm happy to save the speed for the descent.

I understand what an interval session is, what an FTP test is, what sweet spot training involves. On a theoretical basis. Although, actually, I have, at some point done each of these. They don't involve a whole lot of pleasure or smiles.  I'm happy to maintain what I've got and not expect to make any kind of progression, except for a more sustained smile.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Alt Traffic

We have alt left, alt right. Alt is breaking out everywhere. Pretty sure we have alt cyclists and alt drivers these days.  Maybe we also have the Anticy and the Antica.  They might make nice names for a new model of car and bicycle.

The rules from the alt drivers seem to be:

Although I'm not actually connected in any way to the driver in car in front or the driver in the car behind who just happen to be going the same way as me, it's different for people on bicycles. People on bicycles are clearly associated with every person on a bicycle over a  mile stretch of road. They should act together, and group together to make life easier for people in cars. Who are more important.

Cyclists should obey the rules. These would be red lights in the most part. Because clearly all cyclists break that rule. Drivers, on the other hand, even if they have points on their licence for going over 30 in a 30 zone have not disobeyed any kind of rule at all; and if they have, it was a stupid rule, and it was applied too strictly.  People in cars don't pose any danger to anyone around them because they are safe inside their car.  Can't they read the signs?

Cyclists should pay road tax. Ignoring the fact that under current road tax rules, zero emissions vehicles don't actually make a payment.  We should, of course, create this law because really, the administering of it will be cost effective because then cyclists will have been made to pay road tax. Logical.

Cyclists should have a registration number. Not unreasonable, not sure where, but modern technology would allow of GPS tracking. Not sure how that would be funded or who would police it or where we stand with privacy issues, would also be helpful with thefts. If you're going to do that, of course you'd extend it to all traffic.  It be good for all cars to also have GPS tracking, would no doubt help police with the higher frequency of hit and runs made by cars, not to mention dealing with burglaries. You could also use it to automate the issue of speeding fines and parking digressions, maybe even immobilise people without insurance or tax automatically. Big Brother, your time has come.

Bicycles are not appropriate on the roads. I've read this one recently. I think there are some roads which are appropriate for bicycles and not for cars. The roads not appropriate for bicycles are called motorways. This is about movement of people, remember, it's not about the style in which we move people from place to place, it's about how human beings get to work, to the shops, to schools. Whichever is the more efficient for a modern world gets my vote. If done properly I suspect a balanced mix of means of transport is probably the right one. Fewer people in cars equals fewer traffic jams, and if we can get 100 cars off the A6 between 07:00 and 07:30am and onto 100 bicycles I think the space those bicycles will take up will be insignificant; cars sail by me without having to change line most of the time.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Dirty Davey

In the words of the Levellers (as far as my memory accurately gets them right anyway), there's a law for the rich and a law for the poor and a law for dirty davey.

We should probably have new laws. But there are completely convergent views on what they should be. The laws according to Alison (therefore automatically the right laws) are:

  • Signage for road problems should be on the road, not on the pavement unless a minimum pavement space is retained sufficient for a double buggy
  • Cyclists dismount signage should be outlawed unless there is also signage suggesting people in cars get out and push those and people on foot take off their shoes.
  • A closed cycle path should have a similar diversion put in place to a road diversion
  • When a road is resurfaced or has work done, it should be automatic to reinstate adding in a  minimum of a painted cycle lane unless there are valid reasoned arguments made as to why this is not possible. Default should be to use this opportunity every time. 
  • All new roads / road schemes must have a cycling provision (other than motorways)

Pedestrian crossings
We need to get with the programme.
  • Traffic lighted crossroads which require a person on foot to separately cross 6 different segments are to be outlawed. People should be able at a minimum to cross the entire road at once, with preference being to crossing diagonally and prioritised for that to happen with a minimum of one minute waiting time.
  • Traffic lighted press button crossings must work on the basis of getting someone across the road soonest, not waiting for a gap in traffic to react. 
  • Zebra crossings must have a road hump incorporated
  • Where pavements are under 3 foot wide, the adjacent road speed limit must be 20 miles per  hour
  • All residential streets must have a 20 miles per hour limit
  • All playing fields and parks must have a zebra crossing at their entrance if there is a road crossing
  • City signposting should be ambitious. Walking signs for journeys of five minutes or under lack ambition.  For example, signs for walking from one side to the other of town should be in place. You should be able, in Manchester City Centre to pick up a sign for walking to Manchester Piccadilly Station from anywhere within a one mile radius
  • Signage and maps.  The GPS signal in the City Centre is bad. You can't use it to navigate. Alternatives, pavement painting, symbols on lamp posts, maps, maybe interactive like you'd find in the Trafford Centre should be part and parcel
  • Cycling signage should be continuous through different boroughs.  Stockport does signage wonderfully but only to places within Stockport.  
  • And let's encourage simple walking for walking sake.  Have you seen France? Circular routes with timings on and signs that are actually reliable both in terms of actually existing, being unambiguous and accurate in distance / times would be pretty damned awesome. This can work in a city as spectacular as ours. 
Spaces off road
We only prioritise looking after the spaces which run next to a convenient road, where policing and care are easy because, hey, motors, eh?

The routes which need looking after are the non vehicle ones. Parts of the canal towpath are no go zones after about 8 in the morning, particularly near the city centres. They are intimidating, with the fear of mugging or being pushed in the water particularly scary. They aren't well populated because one by one people are scared off.  I have a test run of using the towpath which goes between Eastlands and Manchester City Centre every six months or so. It's unpleasant for a woman alone, and you are alone because everyone else has been scared off using the damn thing. Last time I tried I ended up on the phone to the 101 number reporting anti social behaviour.  I don't think there's been one afternoon walk / ride along there where I haven't come across something intimidating. Admittedly the last time involved shouting, abuse and threats which was a bit of a ramping up of the normal fear laden drug using / drunk people thing.

The entry to the Fallowfield loop is not somewhere to venture alone, either. Litter, glass, needles, discarded detritus of humanity and all this surrounded by walls and fences and trees where nobody can hear you scream. We need to be thinking about lighting and regular patrols of anything, neighbourhood teams, volunteers, anything really, filling the place with people who outnumber the unsavoury element would make a difference but we can't get started little by little because the little people get eaten up quite quickly. 

Spaces to leave your bike - Manchester Piccadilly have bike racks, and there aren't enough.  The railings either side of these are full of warnings about not chaining your bike to them when the racks are full but there's nothing to suggest to people alternative parking, nothing at all. It's ridiculous. Why, when there's a problem with overflowing bikes are you simply telling them to go away instead of solving the issue?

And other rants
Traffic lights and crossings - let's make a change here so that when a light is red, if it's safe to do so, a cyclist can turn left. Why can't we do this?

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Bygone times

The trouble with nostalgia is, well, that it's nostalgia.  There's no point harking back to a time that's gone forever, changed, behind us, it's place taken by something new.  Brexit, for example, we can't go back to how we were before Europe when apparently the sun always shone and everyone was happy.

It may be that cycling has had its day.  The days when we could allow children at ten to pass a cycling proficiency and immediately be given permission by parents to ride their bikes on the public roads to school, scouts, guides, doing stuff with friends, exploring their area have gone.  That was so 1978. Or at least, for me, that was the year when I passed the cycling proficiency and was out there on the public roads, using my bicycle to get to places.  It's gone. Forget it. That's no longer the dream and we shouldn't wistfully seek to go back to the 1970s in the same way as we wouldn't be looking to go back to pre decimalisation. It's gone.

We should settle for the modern compartmentalised life. Exercise must happen in the gym, where it's clean and safe. Travel should be in the car, even the train is out moded, inefficient, a victim of it's own lack of success, unusable because the frequencies and destinations make it defunct.

Everyone should order all their shopping on the internet and have it delivered. We should not have any kind of casual conversation as a result of shopping or anything dangerous like that. We might meet nutters. We need to be kept safe, preferably hermetically sealed in houses. On no account should anyone have fun which has not been pre prescribed, signed off as accepted by at least 80% of society as normal. Everyone should probably work from home.

If we're on the roads and we're not in cars, we need to get with the programme. The car is the safe way, it's the right way, it's the capitalist way and it keeps us in jobs and keeps the economy afloat.

Pavements are for people walking, but we need some better rules here, things about making sure if the car needs the pavement more, the people walking just disappear. There should be rules about minimum walking speeds, maximum walking speeds to make sure that nobody runs and nobody gets in anybody's way. Sigh.

The 1970s are over. Deal with it.