Wednesday 25 November 2015

3 Years On

It has been 3 years since I started this blog with a crazy idea of writing something every week. Well, this is post #157 and mathematically at least, I have kept to my idea.

My very first post was a bit of navel-gazing where I mused "What do we really want" and it was in response to what I had read in that month's edition of Transport Professional, the magazine of the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT). I was interested in the juxtaposition of an historic idea of building more roads like the USA and the London Cycling Campaign's "Go Dutch" campaign of which I knew very little at the time. There was also thoughts on the DfT's plans to raise the rural speed limit for HGVs from 40mph to 50mph with part of the justification being drivers ignoring the 40mph limit and comment on the woeful lack of investment in our crumbling roads. 

I started the blog in response to a frustration of seeing the effects of business as usual in our urban places, frustration with politics at all levels wanting to maintain this status quo and to explore change from a professional point of view; especially where walking and cycling were concerned. My interest in walking stemmed from work I had been doing with CIHT and cycling from coming to the end of my second year of cycle commuting and putting up with the conditions myself. As a professional engineer, I have a responsibility to maintain a programme of continuing professional development (CPD) and I firmly believe that engineers have a duty to explain and educate other people in how we work and what we do.

So, then, to my highlights. My second post was about a wonderful weekend I spent in Copenhagen, where I didn't cycle, but it was still wonderful. I have managed to get round a few places such as Bruges which was a delight and Deventer which was of great interest to me given that I hadn't been to the Netherlands in over a decade (and the trip was an adventure in itself). Sadly, the overseas trips weren't to do with cycling, but I have had plenty to see in the UK. London often features in my ramblings as I am a local (although it is a huge city), but I have had the pleasure to join the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain in Brighton and Leicester for their AGMs. In the coming months, expect more kerb-nerdery from London and further afield, although this Saturday (28th November) and on Sunday 13th December, I will be leading an infrastructure safari around some interesting new London schemes in association with the Embassy.

It is on infrastructure safaris and other events where I have met some really interesting and passionate people both within my profession and other disciplines as well as tireless campaigners and advocates who are going all out to get the message out there for what we need to be doing to make our urban places liveable; and means putting walking and cycling first. There are so many people, I am not going to list them as I am bound to miss somebody! Two events of note were the launch of the Near Miss Project and an joint CIHT and London Cycling Campaign evening seminar on inclusive cycling - it was a great format and the joint meeting gave such cross-pollination.

Inclusivity is a topic I am increasingly becoming interested in. It has been there in the background when I have been thinking about transport, but it is becoming increasingly clear that those of us who want change need to engage far more with accessibility and inclusivity advocates and end users. It was brought home to me starkly when I watched the "Sea of Change Film: Walking Into Trouble" which showed how visually impaired people struggled to cope with street layouts, especially shared space (a subject I have't dared to talk about on its own as yet). 

The theme of accessibility has come up quite a bit in my technical posts which have covered subjects such as getting vehicle crossings right, traffic calming and zebra crossings. Technical posts have been a theme over the years and will continue to do so, although my post on kerbs still has the greatest number of hits ever! I am hoping some of my other posts such as the recent one on a "cycle road" will prove just as interesting, as well as my very occasional series on traffic signals. I have also seen how changes in London have developed after taking part in some off-street trials.

Beyond the infrastructure, there have been some sobering events. Last year, I attended a Stop Killing Cyclists vigil and a larger event which were times for me to reflect on how our streets influence behaviours and end up with people paying the ultimate price. If you can make it, Stop Killing Cyclists has a vigil this Friday (27th November). 

On a lighter note, there has been much fun. Whether it is Ride London which shows how wonderful a place can be with the motors kicked out (even in sideways rain over 86 miles). It is interesting to compare photos of Ride London on the Embankment with the infrastructure being built for the East-West Cycle Superhighway - every day can be ride London! Plus, I will never forget the sheer joy my family and I had at the London Kidical Mass last month (it was sunny - remember that). Yes, I am very interested in cargo bikes now! 

The final things which have interested me is the day to day stuff I am doing anyway, but where there is learning and experience I can share. Whether it is being roped in to drive a lorry, learning to ride with my cycle trailer or sneaking off from my family when on holiday to look at stuff!

What have I learned in three years? The short answer is a colossal amount and much of it from the many people I have had the pleasure to meet in person and to debate with over social media and through the blog. What of the future? Well, I think more of the same, but we will see better and better conditions for walking and cycling created with the very best being built, but I worry about what the current government is doing to active travel with its crazy road building schemes which lead to more traffic and congestion and the ever present crumbling of our local roads. We also have the threat of "business as usual" with electric vehicles and the constant deluge of stupid ideas which end up being a distraction.

Still, I must be positive. I am not a campaigner, but I think that professionals with an interest in liveable places must speak out. Not just urban fabric people such as engineers and architects, but health professionals, business people and anyone else who realises that doing what we have been doing for decades doesn't work. Building towns and cities around the motor car doesn't work and the sooner we realise this the better.


  1. Many thanks Mr RH for your rants. The technical information you share is really useful for those of us at the receiving end of professionals and lobbyists who DON'T prioritise walking and riding. Even in far flung parts of the globe (for example here in Tasmania). Please keep it up!

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I want people to understand that the technical stuff is relatively simple, it is the political and professional will which must change as we cannot carry on the way we have been!