Monday, 5 November 2012


In a previous post I touched upon the cost of commuting across the river, the main issue being that the pricing of the various means of transport does not encourage people to leave their cars at home, time to look at this more closely...

A person driving through either of the tunnels in a normal car will pay the following fees


There is no discount for a return journey but a regular commuter can use a Fast Tag and receive a 20p reduction on each journey, this makes a return journey cost £2.60. The Fast Tag is a good choice because you pay on a per-use basis rather than a fixed monthly cost, so if you miss a day here or there you do not lose money.

These are the fees for using the train from Hamilton Sq to James St, this is one stop, a journey of about a mile.


You can see immediately that a single is £2.30 compared to £1.50 for a car, a return is £2.80 compared to £3.00 for a car.

It's the rail passes that are interesting though, for a 5 day commuter a weekly pass is £1.72 each way, more ven than just paying on the day. The monthly pass is £1.36 assuming 22 working days in a month. However, unlike the car commuters who only pay when they use the tunnel, a rail commuter pays a fixed fee for a month, so if you miss a couple of days the cost per journey can jump to £1.50

The ferry is a bit better


A weekly pass will set you back £1.10 per journey and the monthly pass £1.02, again provided you don't miss any days. But the ferry is slow and cold and if you miss it you could be waiting half an hour for the next one, having said that it is a lovely way to travel.

While researching this I noticed Merseytravel is to introduce a new smartcard, the Walrus, but it doesn't say if the pricing structures will be affected, in fact it looks like it will stay the same, certainly until the pay-as-you-go version is introduced in 18 months time.

So where does this leave us? Well as we've seen in many scenarios it is cheaper or no more expensive to travel by car than by train or ferry which is no incentive for Wirralians to commute by bicycle. The river is an unfortunate barrier to cycling, in most parts of the country a cycling commuter could travel their whole journey by bicycle, a cyclist commuter between the Wirral and Liverpool is forced to interrupt their journey with another mode of transport. Many cyclists will ride down to Hamilton Sq/Woodside so that they get the most exercise and spend the least amount of time possible on the train or ferry, but even this very short journey is more expensive than the tunnel.

It would be nice if Merseyrail/Merseytravel show some commitment to getting people out of cars by restructuring their pricing and they could start with this most obvious discrepancy, a reduction to £1 single, £1.50 return would not significantly reduce revenues but would provide an incentive for people to change and would be symbolic commitment to nudge people into changing their habits.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Cyclist's Compromise

Whilst considering the previous post regarding the Strand I read an article on which inspired me to conduct a little experiment.

The Strand is the best, most direct route, from one side of the city to the other, but it is also treacherous and when it comes time to argue for a segregated cycle path alongside the Strand I'm sure we'll be told, what about this or that other route, because people planning cycle routes will send cyclists all over the place to prevent having to actually put in a safe cycle path.

So I set myself an experiment, the premise of which is - I am an office worker living near the Marina where there are lots of flats at the south end of the Strand, I work in an office in the commercial district, Old Hall St is the centre of the commercial district. If I want to commute to or from work each day, which route should I take? There were just two rules
  1. Do not break the law.
  2. Do not dismount.
So no riding on the pavement except shared use, no running red lights, and remain on the bike at all times, as cyclists should never be expected to dismount as we don't expect car drivers to get out and push.

Route 1 Sustrans
For time saving only this leg was done in reverse though it turned out the wind was following me in this direction and it felt much easier.

This is the Sustrans route, for the most part it follows NCR 56 along the riverside. It is almost all on shared use paths some sections are heavily cobbled, some are narrow. As I was riding on the shared use path I cycled considerately, I had to come almost to a stop at one point and ask three ladies to step aside so I could pass, they did so but one did remark (in a non-aggressive way) that 'We're on the pavement, you should be on the road'. I thought this was amusing as I never ride on pavements and on this rare occasion that I try riding on shared use I get told off. On the plus side, the route is almost completely traffic free.

2.88km in 11min 20s

Route 2 Through the city


I think in terms of danger this is even worse than the Strand, there are so many points of conflict, traffic lights, junctions, filter lanes, hills, it was just a nightmare and at 3.85km much longer, at commuting hours I could have cut off a bit of distance by going up Lord St and Church St, but these are off limits to bicycles during the day. No matter though it is still a route nobody would ever choose. (PS to the cab driver who raced past me and then slammed on to pull over and drop off a fare, you are a c***)

Route 3 The Strand


This is the most direct route, at 2.35km it is half a kilometre shorter than the Sustrans route, it was also three minutes faster despite the wind being against me and spending at least 1m sat at traffic lights. On the other hand I received punishment passes from two consecutive cab drivers. This is the route any utility cyclist would want to take, the shortest, flattest route, though many would be forced to choose a less convenient route out of fear for their life.

Cycling in the city will only take off when routes like the Strand are turned in to places people can happily, safely cycle. They should not be 8 lanes wide with no cycle path, they should not have luscious green central reservations while cyclists risk death and injury. The developers of the Strand have only one question to ask themselves "Would I let my children cycle along here?" If they can't answer it 'Yes' then they aren't doing their jobs.

This Stuff Matters

Any cyclist who pedals for utility will know how important a good route is. Above all other considerations two things make a good route, it must be safe and it must require the minimum of effort.

A flat straight road between two points is the ideal, unfortunately though the same things that make a good route for a cyclist usually make a good route for a driver, so what should be the best route to take is often the most dangerous.

Due to the fact infrastructure planners don't want to be held responsible for killing anyone they take the view that safety is more important than speed and will divert a cyclist along all sorts of indirect routes to keep them off main roads. This also has the benefit of keeping cyclist out of the way of drivers without having to build any actual infrastructure.

When I read the new Strategic Infrastructure Framework for Liverpool I was very interested to see some intention to improve the situation on the Strand.

The Strand is an enormous urban motorway up to 8 lanes wide in some places and with a huge central reservation


According to my father, who knows a bit more about these things than I, the Strand is where the foreshore existed before the building of the docks reclaimed the river to the west. It now cuts off the riverside attractions from the main part of the city, on the riverside you have the Three Graces, the Museum of Liverpool, The Maritime Museum, the Albert Dock and the Echo Arena and convention centre, on the other side lies all the retail, commercial and transport areas.

There are crossing at key points along the road, every couple of hundred metres or so, but a pedestrian has to wait an interminably long time. The plans set out in the SIF primarily want to improve the situation for pedestrians trying to pass from one side to the other, this is to be done by means of pedestrian 'bridges' the analogy being that this urban motorway is in some way comparable to the Thames or the Danube

These are the locations of the bridges


And this gives us a rough idea what one might be like


We'll come back to these images later.

For cyclists there is one crossing shared with pedestrians and one short stretch where there is a bus lane, for any other movements you have to negotiate with traffic. And what a lot of traffic there is, rush hour actually feels like one of the safer times of day because all the motor vehicles are at a stand still and the cyclist has the speed advantage, until you get to the front of the queue and the lights changes and you have dozens of cars urging to get past to reach the next red light.

The DfT has measured the traffic here, the results aren't great for cyclists


45,000 motor vehicles per day, 1,750 of those are HGVs, 1,300 buses, 4,000 vans and just 266 cyclists. It is a hostile place for an unprotected person to exist.

Let's remind ourselves of the Dutch rules about which infrastructure to implement

At over 3,000vph for most of the day this is a definite case for a cycle track.

This is what the SIF says about the developments to the Strand
Like the river bridges of other major cities these interventions will act not merely as crossing points but also as points of orientation, viewing points and meeting places: valuable additions to the city’s infrastructure.

Pedestrian ‘bridges’ will become landmark features in the public realm, allowing people to orientate themselves within their surroundings. These at-grade ‘bridges’ will manifest as major additions to the city’s infrastructure and become key locations for meeting and investment. They will be green where possible, major landscape statements along the corridor, though carefully planned to ensure traffic volume and flows are not compromised.

The crossings will prioritise pedestrian movement, slowing traffic speeds and improving the pedestrian journey into, and across the city.
See that bit at the end of the second paragraph "ensure traffic volume and flows are not compromised". There are only two  possible reasons to say this, 1. The author is crazy.  2.They are lying to keep the motoring lobby happy.

If traffic volume remains as it is there will not be people sitting on a wall relaxing in the middle of the Strand anymore than people go and sit next to the M6 on a Friday evening for a bit of peace and quiet. There will be no people 'viewing' or 'meeting', there will just be the same hostile environment with some prettier pedestrian crossings.

Look again at the artists impressions, a bloke on a bike (with helmet, bien sûr) but no cycle path, enormous green central reservations, but no cycle path. What are we to think? Can it really be true that we are going to have another redevelopment with no infrastructure for cyclists?

To return to the original point, the Strand is a long, straight, flat road that runs from the north of the city to the south, it should be an ideal corridor for cyclists but it isn't, it's a treacherous pain in the arse.

Traffic volumes on the Strand must be compromised to stand any hope of reconnecting the city with the historic waterfront, unfortunately for drivers there is no easy alternative, all the other routes through or around the back of the city already seem to be near capacity at rush hour so the only thing to do is to encourage people to change mode. There is a good north-south rail link and the stations have just been renovated, though I'm sure there are others like me who think that carriages could do with a bit of work to provide extra space for commuters with bicycles, after all, trains don't take you to the office door. There are buses running all over the city, the only mode of transport which is almost completely missing is cycling, and to get people on bikes we need safe, direct, routes that people can feel comfortable using.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Liverpool Strategic Investment Framework

Yes, in typical local authority speak, it's a mouthful, but it's a big name with big ideas that wants to change the look and feel of the city over the next 15 years.

It is the follow-up development plan from Liverpool Vision, the people who brought us the Strategic Regeneration Framework 2001, that plan included Liverpool ONE, the Arena, the re-imagining of Lime St and aiming to be the 2008 European Capital of Culture; so we can be fairly confident that the things Liverpool Vision dreams up have a good chance of being implemented.

Here's the promo video

Launched on 1st November at an event hosted at the Echo Arena the SIF is a new plan to bring a more coherent structure the the recent developments and the city as a whole, you can read the whole plan here. There are fewer of the major set-pieces that the SRF 2001 brought to us, the SIF seems more concerned about improving the overall feel of the city rather than large set-piece building projects and for the most part it looks very hopeful.

If this were a Bond movie what has gone before would be the dramatic pre-credit sequence, the plot and the character exposition are still to come.

Of most interest to us is what this will all mean for cyclists, as I have shown in the past, the opportunity provided by new developments and lots of money can easily be missed if there is a lack of will or imagination. It is vital that with this latest plan the developers understand that no city can consider itself to be a city of the 21st century without building in to its very fabric the most efficient form of transport known to man.

Thanks to Gas2 for this graphic
The SIF doesn't say an awful lot about cycling but it does offer a little encouragement. One of the proposals is called 'Great Streets' and recognises the importance, attractiveness and opportunity available in some of the city centre's largest roads; the Strand, Dale St, Water St, Lime St and Hope St. The SIF says
Improvements to pedestrian and cycle movement along Water Street / Dale Street, to provide a continuous safe and legible route from the Waterfront to Lime Street Station. The street is currently dominated by buses and little else, with the streetscape quality inconsistent. With Princes Dock becoming a point of embarkation and disembarkation for the world’s cruise liners, this will present significant opportunities to invest in the public realm, to generate significant visitor footfall and leverage private sector investment.
Exhibition Road in London is cited as an example of what this might mean, I've not visited Exhibition Road so I'm not exactly sure what this means, but as a shared space there is always the problem of might is right.

The Strand is to be given several pedestrian 'bridges' at key points, the thought being that the Strand is like a river bisecting the city, this is a polite way of putting it. The Strand is a hostile urban motorway with tens of thousands of motor vehicles travelling along it each day most of whom seem to be breaking the speed limit, often by a considerable margin, 50mph in a 30mph zone is commonplace. It cuts off the retail and transport sectors in the centre from the tourist attractions at the riverside. The current situation is, frankly, shameful and embarrassing to think that the hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting the city have to negotiate this route to see some of the city's best sights. The plans for the Strand seem *ahem*, unambitious and I will deal with them in a separate post.

The document returns later to consider walking and cycling as a separate issue.
In terms of connectivity, Liverpool has a legible grid of streets at a scale that is appropriate for walking and cycling around the centre.
However, there are areas of the city that are disconnected and feel ‘cut-off’ from the City Centre’s activity and energy due to the detailed design of street layouts which focus primarily on vehicle movement with walking and cycling considered secondary. Improving the connections for walking and cycling along key strategic routes will help to ‘tie-in’ currently dislocated areas into the city core.
Improving the journey for walking and cycling can involve:
• Appropriate sign posting
• Improved lighting
• High-quality surfaces which show continuation throughout the route
• Improved priority in favour of people walking and cycling, and
• Promotion of the route to the visitor where appropriate.  
They are making some of the right noises but we won't really know until we see the detail of the plans.

Overall I think the general aim of the SIF is admirable and by making it a more livable city it will encourage the investment it seeks. It's now up to us to make sure we aren't fobbed off with unsuitable cycle facilities and in this aim we must be uncompromising, only the highest standards of infrastructure must be allowed. Opportunities have been missed in the past, one again Liverpool is given the opportunity to become a leading 21st century city, one of the best cycling cities in the kingdom, let's hope this time the developers can see which way the tide is turning on the Mersey.

The Lost Soles Campaign

On Wednesday 24th October 529 pairs of shoes were arranged for display on the bandstand in Church St. The number represents the number of people killed or seriously injured on Merseyside's roads in 2011.

Councillor Tim Moore, Cabinet Member for Transport and Climate Change at Liverpool City Council said:
“We are proud to support this campaign and raise awareness of how we should all take responsibility for our safety on the roads. There are many simple steps that we can all take just to ensure our safety, such as making sure you have enough time for your journey; never using your mobile phone while driving and always wearing your seatbelt.”

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Watch Manager John Cousins, said:
“We rescue more people from road traffic collisions than fires each year." 
Gill Roberts of the Merseyside Road Safety Officers’ Group, added:
“We want the sentiment of the ‘Lost Soles’ campaign to really bring home the message that we are all responsible for our own and others’ road safety.
“It makes us think that if someone we loved were killed or seriously injured in a road traffic collision, how could their shoes ever be filled? A simple action like driving at an appropriate speed for the traffic or environment you are travelling in can help keep you, your loved ones and other road users safe on our roads.” 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

This is who you wish death upon?

To all those people on Twitter and to every impatient driver wishing death and destruction upon cyclists, this is the casualty of your war...
Mrs Lee worked with adults with learning disabilities in Barnet before retiring five years ago.

She volunteered at several organisations including the Samaritans, the Stroke Association and Talking Newspapers.

She had been married to husband Geoff, 67, a retired firefighter, for 42 years. They had two grown-up children and three grandchildren.
Mrs Lee suffered head and chest injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. 

Anatomy of a Crash

I was knocked off my bike a few weeks ago, ironically I was on my way to the doctor's at the time.

I was cycling along Park Road North in Birkenhead, passing the junction with Park Road West when I was hit by a car emerging from the side road.

It was raining, the middle of the afternoon in late September, I was wearing a bright blue jacket that contrasted as well with my surroundings as any hi viz product; and I was cycling in secondary position about 1-1.5m from the edge of my lane.

I was merrily cycling along considering the thorny topic of cycle helmets. I approached the side road and maintained my position, I don't recall or didn't notice if the vehicle approaching the junction from my left stopped at the give way line, either way, as I passed it I noticed in my peripheral vision that it was moving out into the road and towards me. It disappeared out of sight behind me as I braced myself in anticipation of the crash that I knew was coming.

About 1 second later the hit came, not particularly hard, just enough to put me off balance enough that it was not recoverable, I was probably only travelling at 12mph up a very slight gradient so as I hit the ground I didn't really slide. My left thigh and elbow took the most impact, my head didn't touch the ground.

My first thought was to check that the car had stopped and wasn't about to continue over the top of me, fortunately he had. next I lay still for a moment and audited my body parts, nothing seemed broken, nothing even hurt particularly except for my elbow which I could tell was cut. I stood up, clothes were ok, nothing ripped particularly badly; how was the bike? Remarkably okay on first impressions, I'd been hit on the back wheel but even this was still perfectly tru, a testament to Andrew at Spa Cycles wheelbuilding skills!

The driver was out of his car and approaching me, he was immediately apologetic, he hadn't seen me; I didn't actually grin at this, but I had to stop myself, properly smidsy'd. He said that he too was a cyclist, I was pretty ambivalent about this, when you are hit by a car it doesn't really matter if the driver is also a cyclist. I wasn't mad at him, I was probably calmer than he

We move to the side of the road, I take pictures there's not even a scratch on his car that I can see, calm down a bit, notice that my left hand brake lever is broken. I'm not in pain but I know I'm going to stiffen up and I need a bandage on my arm. I get the driver's details and eventually leave, I'm only a mile from my GP which is where I was heading, when I get there he bandages my elbow.

Over the next few days bruises start to appear all over me, some from hitting the floor, some from the bike hitting me. Including a whopper of a bruise covering a large part of my thigh, black, blue, purple, and yellow. The pain in my thigh became so great I went to A&E and had to have a couple of days off work. I also realised how lucky I was.

This side road has a very open junction, cars do not approach the main road perpendicular to it with the driver looking to his immediate right, in the last few metres of approach the driver is already turning left, by the time they are at the give way line they are at 45 degrees to the road and must look back almost over their shoulder into their blind spot to see what is approaching.


By my estimation, while the driver was doing this I was already in front of his car and he was looking in completely the wrong direction to see me. While he was looking back over his shoulder he had pulled out and tagged my back wheel and I had gone down. He only hit me quite lightly and if his eyes hadn't returned to looking forward at the right moment he could well have not known he had hit me until he felt the car drive over the top of me.

This is what the driver would have been looking at, a very open view, it's almost not necessary to slow below 20mph if the road is clear,


I think I was perhaps in a blind spot created by his A-pillar as he approached the junction, alternatively he REALLY wasn't paying attention.


There is an awful lot of space on the approach to this junction which doesn't encourage drivers to slow down. Even more crazily this junction is on a corner occupied by a sixth form college


It's not like Wirral Borough Council can even claim ignorance, the next junction along was modified to make the angle car approach it more perpendicular. You can just make out on the left hand side of the junction to Shrewsbury Road where the old kerb used to be and how it has been built out.


This road has many shops, a school, a world renowned park and a medical centre on the other side of the road. I find it difficult to believe these large junctions are either necessary or sensible. The roads were probably laid out 100-150 years ago when Birkenhead was having a heyday and the corporation and the rich men of the age thought broad boulevard type roads around the perimeter of the park were pleasant. Indeed they can be, but they do need redesigning as they encourage poor and sloppy driving, the head of the junction needs narrowing and Park Road West could easily accommodate a segregated cycling path, which would have the dual benefit of providing a place for safe cycling and slowing down the traffic in an area that ought to be safe and pleasant for pedestrians.