This week celebrates 5 years since I started this blog and what a revelation these years have been. For something which was started out of frustration and with a feeling of disconnection from my profession, it has constantly reignited my enthusiasm for civil engineering.
I wrote a bit about the origin of this blog on my (very occasional) blog from my other project, "City Infinity", earlier this year;
I started cycling to work at the start of 2011 because I was fed up with sitting in traffic on my 3.5 mile commute. Many people cite all sorts of worthy reasons why they cycle, but for me it was purely selfish and everything else good about cycling is just a bonus (although not spending loads on petrol is rather good too). At the time, I did have a bike, but it was used for a bit of local exercise and it really didn’t occur to me that it could be such an astonishing invention for transport. I was pretty familiar with the measures we could take to prioritise and enable walking, so I think that an interest in local travel was tucked away somewhere, but certainly, cycling was the missing link between the short and long journeys people take day to day.
As an engineer, I had simply followed the available design guidance which tended to add a bit of paint and a few signs to a road in order to call it a “cycle route”; my daily commute had started to change my understanding of what people needed in order to feel safe and comfortable and so something in my brain must have connected. In the latter half of 2012 I discovered that all sorts of people were writing about streets (and especially cycling infrastructure). One blog inspired me in particular; “Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest“. In it I saw road conditions I had been experiencing, together with explanations of why they were so bad.
The inspiration from this and lots of other blogs I was reading at the time finally spurred me to write something myself. I was reading lots of opinions from those campaigning for better streets and perhaps arrogantly I felt I should be giving some balance from the position of a practicing engineer who is constrained by professional orthodoxy, the dogma of design guidance and the political system in which I and my peers operate within.
Very quickly, I was forced to confront all of this and perhaps I had a crisis of faith (this is as close to religion as I get). Imagine having realised that something you had studied for and then worked at for many years might not be what you thought it was. However, a whole new world of interest opened up before me and through a combination of going to look at how we can rebalance our streets back in favour of people, a huge amount of research and speaking with many inspirational people, it has become clear to me that change is possible and indeed, it is desperately needed for so many reasons, but especially to address the inequality that the UK’s motor-centric policies have created.
Fast forward to the present day. I have been involved in some really interesting projects myself which have served to put some theory into practice. I have also visited quite a few projects around the UK and in the great tradition of engineering, the best ideas have been stolen and so I think I’ve now got a good grasp of the issues. On the cycling side, riding in rush hour on London’s cycle superhighways and then with a group of families for London Kidical Mass has shown me the power of what rebalancing our streets can achieve.
Since I wrote these words, I have been lucky enough to holiday in the Netherlands and I have spent the Autumn writing about the cycling infrastructure I just could help looking at while I was there. There's not been an epiphany for me, just a gradual realisation of how wrong we have got things in the UK and some regret about wasted time. But, I often say that there is always learning to be had in life and this blog has enabled me to explore and share ideas, so I've been playing catchup.
I originally set myself the mad target of a blog post a week and I have stuck to it. Some posts are a bit lazy and some are quite involved taking several hours to put together. This week is a little lazy (I think I earned it), but I thought it would be fun to go and look at the data to see what my top 5 most read (or reread) posts have been over the last 5 years and with nearly 440,000 hits (yes as of this minute as I write);
At number 5, with 3,808 hits, is a post from March 2013 - "20mph Speed Limits, Their Design and The Police". I discussed some controversy at the time where at the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group Inquiry on 4th March 2013 a comment about not enforcing 20mph limits made by West Yorkshire Police led to a hasty clarification by the Association of Chief Police Officers about that not being the case. Things have changed a bit with the refreshing attitude of the West Midlands Police Traffic Unit which is enforcing 20mph speed limits and their good practice is gradually being adopted by other forces.
At number 4, with 3,995 hits also from March 2013, we have one of my favourite headlines - "Portas Pedal Powered Parking Pickles". I took the opportunity at having a pop at both the former transport-interfering-local-authority-hating-self-appointed-parking-tzar Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles MP and the self appointed UK authority on high street regeneration, the marketing creative Mary Portas (so the headline worked).
I moaned about Eric's constant interference in how local authorities manage on-street parking and Portas's assertion that free parking was the saviour of the high street. The pedal-powered bit was about the costs, space and procedures around installing cycle parking. Eric is now out to grass and Mary is still banging on about the same nonsense and not doing very well with her high street vision. Luckily, local shop keepers are starting to embrace active travel as their saviours (from Sustrans);
At number 3, with 4,642 hits is my long and winding post about zebra crossings from February 2015 - "Why Did The Zebra Cross The Road?" This post was essentially everything I knew about this wonderfully flexible type of pedestrian crossing. It's actually showing its age as we now have "parallel" zebra crossings (below) which allow cycling as well as mini-zebra crossings over cycle tracks. I will be updating this post, but probably as some guidance through City Infinity.
At number 2, with 5,545 hits from June 2015 is an astonishingly short and lazy post - "A Lazy Post." In it, I noted the sad deaths of several people in London who were just getting about by cycle, that some exciting schemes were in the pipeline and that I was looking forward to the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain's AGM in Leicester!
And at number 1, with a huge 7,747 hits from August 2013 was perhaps my nerdiest post - "Kerb Your Enthusiasm". It is one of my favourites and tells you everything you wanted to know about kerbs, but were too afraid to ask. Earlier this year, it spawned a little update looking at kerbs and cycle tracks. I think it's going to be a subject to revisit with some City Infinity guidance as kerbs are a really important feature in our streets and their use can make or break a scheme.
So, there's a snapshot of the thousands of words I have written and the hundreds of photos I have taken (as well as all the miles I have travelled) to bring you this blog. If you keep reading it, I'll keep writing it!