Posts Tagged cycling

UK Cycling Culture

There’s things I find fascinatingly perverse about cycling culture in the UK, having experienced cycling in the Netherlands as a child. By cycling culture I mean both the culture and norms amongst those who regularly cycle in the UK (and the various sub-cultures), as well as in the general culture.

It struck me most the other week, when I cycled out of Glasgow early on the morning of the Pedal For Scotland event, out along the road leading back to Glasgow Green, where that event starts. There was a little more traffic than normal for a Sunday morning, because of the cars heading to PFS. It hit me that the UK is a country where, every weekend, people drive to cycle. They drive out to parks, country lanes, and sportives. They drive along roads they dislike cycling on, out to those roads to cycle on that are least quiet, if not free of cars. They drive out to sportives on open roads,  looking for a feeling of safety in numbers.

Clearly there is a great demand for cycling. Those ferrying their bicycles on their cars are just the tip of the iceberg – there are surely many more potential, casual cyclists who don’t care enough to invest in cycle racks, etc. Yet, the cycling culture, nay, the entire transport culture is so perverse here.

  • The letter of the law is that children must cycle in with 50 km/h (30 mph), even 65 km/h (40 mph), motor traffic on many roads, because there is no cycle-path provision and it is illegal for them to cycle on the footpath. Only children under the age of criminal responsibility can safely get away with this, as they will not be prosecuted. However, legally, little children are supposed to cycle in amongst fast motor traffic on such roads!
  • Even adults can feel uncomfortable cycling on these roads, and will cycle on the footpaths. The Scottish governments’ answer to this problem of a clear lack of safe cycling infrastructure? Run an ad campaign to tell such adults to grow up.
  • There is never any room for dedicated cycle paths, even though most towns and cities are criss-crossed by multi-lane roads.
  • At best, the cyclist gets either a useless little lane painted on the road that does nothing to protect them from motor traffic, but does bring them through the dangerous door-zone of parked cars; or the footpath gets designated “shared use”, bringing the cyclists into conflict with pedestrians instead, and having to cede priority at every little junction and property exit. The more experienced cyclists often ignore such useless infrastructure, with good reason.
  • A sub-culture of cyclists are derisory of any attempt to argue for quality dedicated cycling infrastructure.
  • A sub-culture of cyclists are afflicted by Stockholm Syndrome and believe in mandatory helmets for cyclists, even mandatory HiViz.
  • Organisers of low-risk cycling events often impose a requirement to wear helmets on participants, typically by justifying it as a requirement of their insurer (even when false, e.g. British Cycling non-race event insurance does not require helmet use), thus condoning the ongoing “dangerising” and de-normalisation of cycling in the UK.
  • Motorists who injure or kill cyclists are given derisory sentences, if they are even prosecuted and found guilty. Even motorists who deliberately knock down cyclists do not go to jail. If you want to murder someone in this country, use a car and claim “the sun was in my eyes” or “a bee came into my car”.

I could go on and on. It’s almost enough to make me despair.

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De Tour van Bauke: English subs

If you’re into bicycle racing, you might enjoy the “De Tour van Bauke” (“Bauke’s Tour”), a behind the scenes look at Team Belkin’s 2013 Tour de France campaign, by Kees Jongkind of the dutch NOS public service broadcaster.

It has a few fascinating insights, such as into the echelon stage where Saxo, OPQS and Belkin managed to split the field; managing egos within a team with several top riders; and generally some of the dynamics within a top WorldTour team. The film doesn’t spend much time on explaining the background, and does sort of assume you’re fairly familiar with how the TdF ’13 played out, and perhaps how the team had had to scramble over the winter before to find a new sponsor after Rabobank pulled out, succeeding in finding Belkin as title sponsor. If those assumptions are met, the documentary is very enjoyable.

I obviously can’t remove the original dutch sub-titles that are embedded in the video. So I’ve had to position the sub titles above, which means I’ve had to use the “Alpha Sub-Station” format, rather than the more common SRT format, as SRT does not support positioning. Ideally, NOS would prepare an English subtitle version, with the subtitles professionally rendered. I did contact someone at NOS to see if they’d be interested – they apparently have their own plans for further releases to non-Netherlands markets, but I didn’t get any specifics. I’d be more than glad to licence the subs back to NOS for web use for free, to say thanks for making “De Tour van Bauke” available on the web.

As some of the Belkin DSes have strong regional accents, I’ve sometimes used regional english words. E.g. in my mind, the english subtitles for Nico should be read with a strong Irish accent – think Sean Kelly 🙂 crossed with Mrs Doyle from Father Ted (“Go on, go on..”). I’ve also snuck in one or two Liggettisms for the TV commentary subtitles!

In order to use these subtitles you need a video player that supports “Alpha Sub-Station” format subtitles, such as VLC 

To watch it with VLC:

  1. Download the documentary from NOS. You have to save one of the following links to your computer, so you can watch it in VLC – watching in your browser probably wont work:
  2. Rename the downloaded video file to, e.g., tour_van_bauke.mp4
  3. Download the subtitles file from OpenSubtitles, and save it as, e.g., tour_van_bauke.ass to the same folder as the video.
  4. Open the video in VLC.

VLC should then automatically play the sub-titles. If it doesn’t go to the “Video” menu, then “Subtitles track”, then choose “Open file…” and manually locate and open the sub-titles file.

Feedback/corrections would be appreciated!

Enjoy.

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The case against bicycle helmet advocacy: a quick guide

Bicycle helmets are tested with vertical drops from a maximum height of about 3m onto flat surfaces (BS/EN 1078:1997). In such testing, helmets definitely help. However, the scientific evidence on helmets & population wide injury rates is far from clear that helmets actually are beneficial.

While amongst cyclists who suffer injury, helmets of themselves do reduce head injuries significantly, they also increase neck and facial injuries, so that there appears to be negligible benefit overall (Accident Analysis & Prevention: … meta-analysis of bicycle helmet efficacy). Study of bicycle injury rates in Australia around the time of introduction of mandatory helmet laws suggests that, though there is a noticeable dip in injury rates around the introduction of the law itself (not necessarily attributable to the helmet itself in my opinion) that injury rates then started increasing again, to the point rates were nearly the same at the end of the study period as before the helmet law, and trending to surpass it! (My Blog: study-shows-australian-cyclist-helmet-law-leads-to-increasing-head-injury-rates). Helmet use also appears to induce risk-compensation behaviour in motor vehicle drivers – they make closer passes (Accident Analysis & Prevention: Drivers overtaking bicyclists…). No doubt the cyclists themselves also are subject to risk compensation. Thus, by wearing a helmet there may be an increased risk of getting into an accident.

There may be further population wide psychological effects caused by a culture of “Must be wearing a helmet to be safe!”. It is sending the message that cycling needs safety equipment, and hence must be dangerous, which surely will put off many – certainly where mandatory helmet use laws are introduced rates of cycling then significantly decrease. The reverse is of course true: the overall health benefits of cycling greatly outweigh the quite tiny risks – risks which are not greatly changed by helmet wearing, the studies appear to say. In other words, by advocating helmet use, one may be harming the rates of cycling by sending the wrong message on safety, and hence harming public health overall.

Further, as cyclist safety on the roads correlates strongly with rates of cycling – more cyclists leads to more awareness & safer roads, and similarly fewer cyclists means less safe roads – this means a culture of helmet use may well lead to increased injury rates amongst cyclists (in addition to the general adverse public health effects of fewer people cycling). This would be very hard to categorically prove or disprove in causal terms, however the Australian experience certainly suggests a correlation, as I think would a comparison of the UK and Netherlands.

Finally, in the Netherlands, one of the safest places for cycling in the world, cyclists almost universally do not wear helmets, including very young cyclists. Thus, we can be quite certain that helmet usage is not a pre-requisite for safe cycling. Indeed, it is in places like the UK and USA, with some of the worst cycling safety in the developed world, where the focus on safety equipment for the cyclist seems to be greatest.

In short, the focus needs to be on those things around the cyclist (e.g. default legal liability to influence motorists’ behaviour, safer road infrastructure, etc) – not what is on cyclists. Focusing on cyclist safety equipment to me seems futile at best, and perhaps even detrimental to the cause of mass, safe cycling, if that’s a cause you believe worthwhile.

NB: Helmet use should always be a personal choice. The issue is complex, the trade-offs may differ greatly in different scenarios – helmets may be very beneficial in some settings, e.g. some kinds of racing. The choice should be your own. However, general advocacy of cycling helmets seems inappropriate and probably harmful, to me.

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Is this rusty bollard safe for bicyclists?

Glasgow City Council have acted on my previous complaint to them, on the part about a bollard with a strange bit of jagged, rusty metal on top at the access to the quiet side road off the Broomielaw/A814, by having their cycling officer inspect it. The officer has found that it’s safe – sufficiently at least that no action will be taken it seems. I’ve taken photos of it, to see if anyone else might agree with me…

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Reducing car/cyclist conflict: Dutch v Glasgow Style

Recently I sent a letter to GCC with some complaints about NCR75. To their credit, they appear to have acted on at least some of that letter (with thanks to Alison Thewliss for raising my letter with GCC LES) – they seem to clean the previously glass-strewn path a lot more often now, and they may have put up more signs to show which paths are meant to be shared-use.

However, regarding the Clydeport car-park entrance on the Broomielaw and how it interrupts and inconveniences the national cycle route that crosses its entrance with a dropped kerb, their response was:

At the Broomielaw, National Cycle Route 75 is located on the north side of the Casino, using a shared use pedestrian/ cycle track. Drivers exiting the Clydeport car park have poor sightlines, hence the kerbs nearest the wall on the cycle track have not been dropped, thus encouraging cyclists to stay away from this area, where they are harder to see.

Now, bear in mind this is an almost unused car-park – I’ve never seen a car going in or out there, even though I commute past there every morning and evening. The cycle-path there on the other hand is heavily used. Further, the kerb, though lower toward the outside, is still a raised kerb and an impediment to cycling! Never mind the road surface is also broken up to at least one side.

So the message is, when it comes down to the convenience of a large number of cyclists, versus that of a property holding company and its under-utilised, city centre car park for a couple of employees, well the cyclists can more or less go and get stuffed.

Update: Went past the Clydeport car-park later in the day today and it does seem full.

Entrance to the Clydeport car-park on the Broomielaw, with the National Cycle Route 75 crossing it. The cycle-path has a dropped kerb, very inconvenient for cyclists, particularly any carrying luggarge, and any on normal, non-offroad bikes. Note the cyclists having to stand up to negotiate the kerbs, even though they are out from entrance. Still looks like urban mountain-biking, sadly.

Another view of the car park entrance. Note that cars actually have plenty of visibility to this direction. It is only the wall on the other side that is impeding visibility. Note also the broken surface of the road, making the far kerb even harder to negotiate.

It is actually quite possible to engineer minor side-streets and entrances that must cross cycle-paths so that cyclists progress and safety is not  compromised. They manage it all the time in the Netherlands. The line-of-sight issue could be better resolved by modifying the wall, and/or installing a lowish, progressive projection/kerb around the entrance wall to ensure cyclists move further out (indeed, this would be a good idea either way). Further, it should be Clydeports’ responsibility to ensure that its property does not impose undue risks on the passing public. At least, I would hope there is legislation and/or by-laws in place, to that effect.

So how do the dutch do it?

Dutch cycle-lane, with a minor-side-street junction. The junction is engineered to safely allow cyclists on the busier street the right of way over the quieter joining entrances. Note the conspicuous signage to remind drivers of the cycle lane, and note the concrete segregation barriers immediately before the junction, to prevent car drivers from turning in fast and early.

Note how the road is further engineered to slow down any cars before they cross the cycle lane, and so reduce conflicts. The cycle lane is raised up slightly with a smooth gradient, while the roads have a steeper kerb to negotiate, to force them to slow down and further help make them aware of the cycle lane.

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Glasgow city cycling infrastructure, only for mountain bikers?

Glasgow City Council plan over the next few years to build new segregated cycling paths across the city. This is amazingly welcome news, of course. Work is already underway on a segregated path from Saltmarket, down London Rd towards the East End (to the under-construction velodrom perhaps?). Unfortunately, whether through lack of cash or lack of co-ordination and/or sheer institutional inexperience with building cycling infrastructure, the infrastructure that exists often comes with design and maintenance faults. At least, faults that would be immediately obvious to any regular cyclist. Unfortunately, the new segregated paths, though not yet finished, seem to suffer the same problem of some other such existing cycle paths in Glasgow: You need a mountain bike to use them!

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Study shows Australian cyclist helmet law leads to increasing head injury rates

This is an edited version of a comment I made elsewhere.

A new study has been published recently on the impact on head injury rates of cyclists by the compulsory helmet laws in New South Wales, Australia. This claims there’s a positive effect on injury rates from such helmet laws, even adjusting for the reported fall in cycling rates due to the introduction of the law. This is being reported by some as evidence that compulsory helmet laws work or even that they lead to a 29% drop in head injuries. However, that seems a misleadingly simplistic view of it.

A careful look at the study  shows there appears to be a significant benefit only over a short-period of time, across the few months where the law is passed. While beyond that the helmet law has managed to turn a decreasing head injury rate into an increasing head injury rate (fig 3). This is despite accident rates themselves being somewhat stable (fig 2). Within a year and a half of the law coming in, the head injury rate is almost back to the same level as before! Given the increasing trend, it is likely that not long after the study period head injury rates would have been worse than before!

So what is happening? There is a divergence between the arm injury rate and the leg rate in fig 3. The arm injury rate has increased, mirroring the head injury rate, while the leg rate stays flat – possibly reflecting the stable-ish overall accident rate. This suggests the nature of accidents may have changed.

The study itself notes there are some possible limitations to its findings:

  • Injury rates are seasonal, and they have only very limited amount of data (less than a year) on the pre-law rates.
  • They assumed exposure to potential injuries was identical for head, leg and arms. While this seems a reasonable assumption, as they say, their own data shows this assumption may not be entirely safe.
  •  They have no data on cyclist types or behaviour, so they can’t factor out things like proportionally more cyclists in riskier environments having given up, or cycling in safer environments having increased (e.g. commuter v recreational cycling).

One possibility is risk compensation, that the extra perception of safety from the wearing of helmets leads to drivers and/or cyclists taking on more risks. E.g. a study on the behaviour of motorists when passing cyclists  has shown that motorists pass closer if the cyclist is wearing a helmet. Another possibility is that injury rates just happened co-incidentally to be at a high prior to the law, and that the law has had little causal effect. Further, the very proposal of the law no doubt lead to a lot of media exposure of the issues around cycle safety. That media exposure no doubt had a strong impact on awareness, even prior to the law’s passing – awareness which faded in time after it was all done and dusted. Or some combination thereof.

That means, so far as the study is accurate, that beyond a short-period, the study actually shows an apparent detrimental impact on safety in terms of head injury rates, and only a transient impact on head injury ratios relative to arm and leg injury rates (the metric they relied on to normalise out changes in cycle use).

Wearing a helmet may well protect your head from serious injury if you get into an accident, the problem is that in wearing one, it you may also be more likely to get into an accident and that accident may even be more serious. Which of those is better is a hard question, but it should probably be an individual choice. Interestingly, some of the safest countries for cycling have very low rates of cycle helmet use – almost no-one wears them in the Netherlands, except for serious sports cyclists.

Update: dg01d linked me to this interesting discussion on cycle helmet safety in the BMJ. Also fine-tuned the language in the conclusion on the possible trade-offs in risk.

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