Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Pervasive bigotry

Some mindless individual, R Henshaw of Liskeard, Cornwall, saw fit to write the following letter to the Evening Herald, Plymouth's local newspaper:

As ever, clicking the image will enlarge it on-screen, which should allow you to read it.
For the benefit of those who can't clearly read the picture, I copied the text of the letter below.

The printed version of the letter was in the paper published on the 14th of April 2014. Initially, there was no online version available, but early on the morning of the 15th, the Herald tweeted a link to the online version of the letter. Later on the same day they had pulled the online version again, though despite requests they have not disclosed why they did so.

"Cyclists should play by the same rules

When, and only when, cyclists are subjected to the same sanctions and penalties for breaking the law on the road, as other road users, should they be treated as equals.
  The minority who taint the remainder of responsible cyclists, must be made to realise that they do not own the road and that rules apply to them just as they do to the drivers of other vehicles.
  They should be liable to comparable fines for offences and costs for registration of their 'vehicles' the same as everyone else on the road.
  If there were any justice remaining in this once great country, all motorists would be allowed to eliminate rogue arrogant cyclists without penalty. Scores could be displayed on passenger doors (visible to cyclists) aka pilots in past wars. Seriously, until cyclists, good and bad, are subjected to the same rules and penalties regarding traffic lights, speeding, riding on pavements, vehicle lights etc, as other road users, no amount of official pontification will be of the slightest use.

R Henshaw
Liskeard"

The bigotry and sheer arrogant ignorance of the letter writer is staggering, but the fact that the Herald chose to publish such drivel is even worse.

So, let's deconstruct these "arguments", shall we?

We'll start with R Henshaw's opening sentence. Basically, they gist of it that cyclists cannot be seen as equals unless subject to the same sanctions and penalties for law-breaking. Now, like most cyclists, I have no issue whatsoever with errant cyclists being fined, or taken to court, but to have the same standard for every road user means vastly unfair real-life implementations of the law would be required.

For example, let us look at the contentious matter of skipping red lights. There is this urban myth that ALL cyclists skip red lights, yet the cold research paints a different picture.
Research shows 1 in 6 drivers skip red lights. Yes, that is 16% of all drivers. Add to that the fact that drivers cannot always skip red lights, due to other vehicles in front of them stopping, and the real image starts emerging.
To get back to cyclists, according to Transport for London's own research, a certain percentage of cyclists also habitually skip red lights. Guess what percentage? Yep, 1 in six, or 16% of cyclists skip red lights, despite most cyclists having the ability to move to the front of the queue to skip the lights.

Or perhaps it is simply a case of 16% of PEOPLE skip red lights? Clearly the letter writer realises that a minority of cyclistsbreak the law, but they are unable to grasp that the same holds true for virtually any group. THAT is signature behaviour of a bigot, who tries to shape the world to fit their views, as opposed to making informed decisions based on reality.

Now given that the same percentage of cyclists and drivers skipping red lights, does that mean R Henshaw would accept cyclists as equals? No, I didn't think so either.

Of course, the full picture is vastly more complex. For starters, cyclists who do skip red lights tend to slow down, often stop, before proceeding, although there are of course exceptions. However, when drivers skip red lights they more often than not do so at speed. Speed, combined with mass, gives a far higher level of kinetic energy than what cyclists can achieve, and kinetic energy ultimately is what does the damage.

See, a cyclist weighing 75kg travelling at 18mph has 2.1 kj of energy, while a 1.7 tonne car at 35 mph has 208 kj of energy. That is an absolutely massive difference that can literally mean the difference between life or death.


R Henshaw clearly doesn't know the law very well at all, and expects cyclists to be subject to exactly the same penalties "regarding traffic lights, speeding, riding on pavements, vehicle lights etc." Except speed laws don't apply to cyclists. At all. Yep, that's right, cyclists (who are capable of doing so) can legally barrel along at 40mph in a 30mph zone, provided their manner of riding isn't dangerous.

This clearly makes a mockery of their claim that all rules should apply to cyclists as much as other vehicles.

But wait, then we get the call for registration of bicycles. Hmmm. Shall we begin by asking what the object of this exercise would be? Around the world, compulsory cyclist registration schemes have all suffered a fatal flaw: they simply cost too much for the tiny benefit they may offer. Nothing to see here, folks, just another empty thought from R Henshaw.

Then we get to the real core of what R Henshaw is about: saying drivers should be allowed to "eliminate rogue cyclists" without penalty, with a score count being kept on the vehicle, like WW2 pilots used to.

Let's pause a moment to think about this. R Henshaw is advocating that drivers be permitted to kill or maim total strangers, based purely on their irrational hatred of such strangers due to them having a different form of transport, while compounding the situation through total ignorance of the law on the part of such drivers.

What sick and twisted mind wants to do that to fellow human beings?

Would it then be OK for pedestrians to be issued with machine guns to shoot and kill drivers that misbehave? Because drivers DO misbehave. Between 2006 and 2011 there were 1011 pedestrians killed ON THE PAVEMENT by drivers. Where would this end? Who would want to live in a world like that? It'd be like living in a Judge Dredd comic!

This letter is a twisted and failed attempt to back up sick, bigoted views using solid arguments. The arguments put forward are hollow and don't stand up to scrutiny, though I fully expect the writer to be unable to understand that.

In an ideal world, people with an attitude like the one displayed by R Henshaw shouldn't be allowed to drive at all, as there is simply no way somebody like that can be a safe driver.

As for the Evening Herald publishing a letter that clearly incites violence, and possibly death to cyclists, I can only shake my head in disbelief. To be fair, the Herald was never going to be winning oodles of rewards for good investigative reporting, but this is simply despicable.
Clearly somebody at the Herald shares the views of R Henshaw, or somebody at the Herald appears to have been utterly unprofessional in allowing such hateful drivel to be printed.




Wednesday, 9 April 2014

New Year

I've always viewed the start of a new year not as an event to be celebrated zealously, but rather as simply moving forward by another day. As a result, I don't make grandiose resolutions and I don't ponder the past year too much. That also explains why this post wasn't posted at the start of the new year.

Having said that, a calendar year is a nice (reasonably) precise usit of measure and indeed I use it as such. For example, at the start of 2013, I set myself a target of 4 500 miles. This wasn't an arbitrary target and actually wasn't as much a target as a prediction, based on my expected mileage commuting to and from work. At the end of 2012, I had moved house, and that meant a significantly longer commute, hence the prediction.
In the end, I cycled 5 052 miles in 2013 and that led me to set an actual target of 6 570 miles for 2014.

This sounds like a lot, but averages to just 18 miles per day. My commute used to be 12 miles each way, but I've since altered my route, opting for quiet and scenic rural lanes instead of the busy and very unpleasant A379. The upshot of that is that my commute is now 15 miles each way.
This breaks down to 30 miles per day, or150 miles per week, simply commuting.

As you can see, just by commuting I should hit my target. In addition, I ride for leisure and usually go riding on Saturday mornings with a group of riders local to the area I live in. Typically these Saturday morning rides are in the region of 30 to 50 miles.

This means that if I commuted for 40 weeks of the year, and went for a 30 mile ride for each of those weeks, I could be hitting 7 000 miles for the year, making my target of 6 570 seem rather tame. Then again, I could also cycle significantly fewer miles.

2014 will be the year in which I do my first cyclo-sportive, the Dartmoor Classic. Although officially not classified as a race, effectively it is a race. Entrants set off at different times, in batches of 100 or so, and cycle either the 107-mile or the 68-mile route criss-crossing Dartmoor, with final standings being determined by each individual's time. I've signed up for the 107 mile option.

I have a lot of training to do before then, as I have never ridden that distance in one go before, plus there are some rather sizable hills along the way. Haytor, Pork Hill and Merrivale are hills on the route that have all featured in previous Devon stages of the Tour of Britain, and for very good reason, too.

Also during 2014, and a week before the Dartmoor Classic, I'm doing something called Darkmoor. Darkmoor is a semi-organised ride, through the night, from Okehampton railway station to Plymouth's Barbican. It's only a 52 mile ride, but I'm extending it by cycling from Plymouth to Okehampton, via Tavistock and Lydford, adding another 38 miles.

2014 is the first year that Darkmoor is taking place, but I'm intending on making it an annual event. I'm rather hoping that the first event will be a success, but I suppose time will tell.

Also, 2014 will be my second year as a British Cycling Ride Leader. As a Ride Leader, we take groups of cyclists on organised rides (called SkyRide Local) - search for rides near where you live by going to www.goskyride.com.
Being a Ride Leader is very rewarding. You get to meet all kinds of people, from across almost all ages, and the rides themselves vary from a pootle in a park to 20 mile rides, and everything in between.

I'm very much looking forward to 2014's SkyRide Local rides starting again.

Once the Dartmoor Classic is over and done with, I look forward to doing less training and more riding. And yes, there is a difference. I'm looking forward to going on long rides, where I can simply stop and admire the view and not have to worry about any adverse affects on my Strava segment times, nor care about my average speed.

Competitive cycling is all well and good, and I am indeed looking forward to doing the Dartmoor Classic, but I took up cycling not to become a racer, but because I enjoy it.
And to me, that enjoyment is as much part of cycling now as it was when I started cycling again some six years ago.












Friday, 7 March 2014

Vicks Vapourhub

Last year I did a little over 5 500 miles of cycling, most of it with laden panniers on my bike. I ride a B'Twin Triban 3 road bike, which (although the frame offers anchor points for a rack) was never really designed for heavy-mileage, weight-laden commutes over often bumpy and poorly-kept country lanes.

In very wet months I seem to be wearing a set of brake pads out in around four weeks, which is also testament to how hilly my commute is. I tend to wear a chain and cassette out in around 2 000 miles, so must replace it several times per year.

Very recently, I replaced the chain and cassette with brand-new Shimano kit. When it comes to the drive train, I do believe in sticking with trusted brand names. This was in the second to last week of February 2014. On Monday, 24th of February, the chain snapped. Yes, the new chain.

I was on a roundabout at the time and for a moment or two things were a bit hair-raising. The chain wound itself around the cassette, and dragged the derailleur along, shearing the derailleur off and destroying it. The rear wheel locked as the derailleur and chain mess got in the way, and I was left unable to ride at all.

When I finally got the bike home (having phoned for a recue lift) I set about fixing it. As luck would have it, recently I purchased an older Shimano Sora derailleur, so I fit that on the bike to replace the destroyed Sora derailleur. I carefully inspeacted the chain, but couldn't see any defects other than the sheared off bits where it failed. After having removed those segments, I replaced them with the bits I took off when I fitted the new chain originally, to ensure the chain won't be too short.

With that out of the way, I tested the bike and it seemed fine, so I resumed cycle commuting the very next morning, without any trouble.

My trouble-free cycling came to a rude end on the last day of February - having cycled less than 50 metres from work on that Friday afternoon, a spoke snapped on the rear wheel, and the wheel immediately buckled noticably.

I limped along to Evans cycles, hoping that they'd have spokes in stock, as they're a larger national chain.

I have Mavic Aksium wheels on my bike, and they're brilliant. They also use bladed spokes of their own design, and Evans, I discovered, doesn't stock those, but instead must order them in. Except they couldn't, as they had no stock.

Over the weekend I located the right spokes and ordered it from JeJamesCycles.co.uk. But that didn't solve my immediate problem of being able to cycle.

When I upgraded the wheels on my bike, the rear wheel was failing, and I gave it to a friend of mine, Simon. He cleaned it up and rebuilt it, and immediately offered it back to me to tie me over. Of course I accepted his kind offer and by Sunday evening the wheel was on the bike and I was ready to roll.

Earlier this week, Simon asked me how the wheel was performing. Apparently, he was a little concerned. See, when he re-built it, he didn't have any grease available, so he used Vicks! Let's hope the wheel degongests the roads as I cycle along!I guess that redefines Vicks VapourHUB?


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

One step forward, two steps back

From the eastern parts of Plymouth, short of taking a huge detour, there are almost only two routes into the city: Embankment Road, or Laira Bridge. This is true for cyclists as well as drivers.

With very short notice, Plymouth City Council published notice of a new flood defense wall, funded by the Environment Agency, to be built along the edge of Embankment Road: http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/newsreleases?newsid%3D330356

As is usually the case, the council's pet contractors, Amey, will be doing the work, and as per usual, Amey makes NO allowances for cyclists at all.

The southern pavement along Embankment Road is a shared path, and a busy cycle commuter route. As part of the work, the pavement is closed, with pedestrians diverted onto part of lane 1, as lane 1 is closed to traffic.

Amey's idea of "cyclist provision" is the put up the despised, unwanted and unnecessary "Cyclists Dismount" signs.

I emailed Plymouth City Council about the issue before the closure, asking specifically what provision will be put in place for cyclists. The silence was deafening, so I followed up with a second email, only to be told that my request was forwarded to Amey, who would get back to me in due course. I have not received that promised response.

Clearly that means that Plymouth City Council has NO INTENTION of stepping to to ensure adequate provision is made for cyclists, and that (as usual) Amey couldn't care less.

The lane closure is actually only about 300 metres, and provided there is a break in traffic, faster cyclists can actually take to the road, sprint into the the traffic stream and ride on the carriageway past the works. That assumes several things:
1) That all cyclists are capable of sprinting at such speeds, which isn't the reality,
2) that there would actually be a gap in the traffic, which is highly unlikely during rush-hour and
3) that the cyclist is travelling into the city.
Cyclists travelling out of the city simply cannot go onto the carriageway at all.

The pavement on the northern side of Embankment road is NOT a shared path, and is NOT safe to cycle on, even if it was a shared path.

The approach taken by Amey, and apparently approved by Plymouth City Council, seems consistent: ensure that there is NO PROVISION AT ALL for cyclists just at the point where it is most needed.

This approach is also shown by the roadworks on Billacombe Road, where the cycle lane remains closed for a significant section of the road. There is NO other provision for cyclists, no temporary reduction in speed limit through the road works and no signs to tell drivers not to overtake cyclists.

There is a solitary "single file traffic" sign, which evidently means nothing to drivers, who still overtake any cyclist not riding in the middle of the lane, and there's no instruction telling drivers to let cyclists safely merge with the traffic stream.

Combined, the section of road works is dangerous to cyclists, but Plymouth City Council appears happy to dismiss or ignore that danger.

Along Billacombe Road, work was done by two different contractors. Those that dug up the cycle lane nearest the Morrison's roundabout did a very good job of restoring the surface, leaving a smooth cycle lane once they were done.
The contractors that dug up the cycle lane further along did a pathetic job, leaving a corrugated and uncomfortable-to-ride-on surface to the cycle lane.

Plymouth City Council appears to have no issue with this sub-standard surface.

What will it take to get the council to act on issues such as these?

Sometimes I really despair!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

To the brink

The city of Plymouth is mostly situated between the rivers Tamar and Plym, and as anybody with just a moderate degree of intelligence would gladly tell you, rivers tend to be disruptive to roads.
To cross the Tamar, drivers can choose between the Torpoint Ferry, the Tamar Bridge, or a very long detour via Tavistock.
To cross the Plym, driver can choose between Laira Bridge, Marsh Mills, or another long detour (via some at times iffy rural lanes).
Here's a rather crudely annotated map:


The blue bits are obviously water, and as you can see, there's a fair bit of that around. The two yellow shapes represent the new town of Sherford (building of which is to start during Spring 2014) and Saltram Meadow, a new housing estate already being built as I'm writing this.

Sherford will have 5 500 houses, while Saltram Meadow I believe will have up to 1 700 new houses. That is a potential 7 200 new houses, which is good for Plymouth. Except if the people moving into those houses want to travel across the river Plym into Plymouth.

Plymouth's arterial roads are, during rush hour, at capacity right now, before adding all those extra cars to it. Travelling into Plymouth from the South Eastern Area roughly drawn on the map would in almost all cases mean crossing Laira Bridge. Laira Bridge offers 2 lanes of traffic in either direction and during rush hour is struggling to cope.

A minor collision, or simply a broken-down vehicle usually results in delays of half an hour or more at the moment. Increasing the volume of traffic over Laira Bridge means the congestion will start earlier and last longer, while the risk of a collision or broken-down vehicle is greatly increased. Subsequent delays will also be far worse, due to the added traffic.

Travelling into Plymouth from the North Eatern Area would mostly pass through Marsh Mills roundabout, then following Embankment Road in. This route is also at capacity during rush hour, and minor disruption often causes very long tailbacks.

To make matters worse. most traffic from Embankment Road or Laira Bridge then merges onto Gdynia Way. Almost any disruption to Gdynia Way causes havoc with Plymouth traffic and when it's closed for whatever reason, the city gridlocks. When gridlocked, a journey of 3 miles from the city centre to Plymstock can take two hours, or even far longer.

There are very few alternative routes to choose from, and what alternatives there are rapidly gridlocks as drivers try and avoid the jams.

Plymouth simply was never designed to cope with such levels of traffic. Sure, it is theoretically possible to widen certain roads, and either widen Laira Bridge, or build another bridge alongside it, but the costs of doing so would be so vast it would certainly outweigh the benefits such schemes may bring.

Add to that the old saying of "Building more roads to easy congestion is like loosening your belt when overeating". Put plainly, that really is no solution at all, and as various new roads schemes around the world has shown, traffic simply grows to absorb any spare capacity.

Clearly we need a new plan, a better plan, a plan that will reduce traffic.

There are only a few ways of reducing traffic. We can force people to have staggered times of work, so everybody won't hit the road roughly at the same time, but that will create huge problems in itself.
We can improve public transport, to get as many people out of cars and onto buses, boats and trains as possible. While doing so will undoubtedly reduce traffic, it isn't an ideal solution. Ever tried taking a bus from Plymstock to say Derriford? First, you take a bus into town, then wait to catch another bus out of town. Not exactly an elegant solution, to be taken around two sides of a tri-angle, now is it?
More importantly, simply by ensuring public transport is available won't coax most drivers out of their cars. After all, we have public transport right now, yet most cars travelling into Plymouth have a single occupant.

A far better solution is to change the road hierarchy, favouring public transport and alternative modes of transport, such as cycling, over cars. To take road space away from cars.

Plymouth is standing at a crossroads and needs to decide where it's going.
Will it choose to continue tinkering with roads, trying to maximise motorised traffic flow, or will it make a bold decision?

Will the city decide that cities are all about people and not about cars? Will it accept that roads are corridors to move people, and that roads shouldn't be the domain of cars? Will Plymouth have the vision and the courage to free itself from its current bondage to cars?

The Plymouth 2020 Partnership has as strapline the aim of becoming one of Europes finest, most vibrant waterfront cities. That's a noble aim, which I support completely.
Except, let's go and take a look at Europe's actual finest, most vibrant waterside cities:
Paris banned HGVs from entering the city, and have turned roads into parks for people. Seville installed hundreds of kilometers of properly segregated cycle paths, igniting an instant boom in cycling (with an associated reduction in motorised traffic).
Copenhagen has exceptionally good cycling infrastructure, resulting in over a third of all journeys there being made by bicycle.
And that;s before we even mention Amsterdam.

It is time for Plymouth to be brave!

The only realistic way to significantly reduce traffic over a route such as Laira Bridge is to put in place safe, segregated cycle expressways that don't force cyclists to yield priority for no apparent reason. Cycle expressways that are as direct as we can make them, and that are safe due to being physically segegated from motorised traffic.

Research effort after research effort all confirm the same thing: there is a huge latent demand for cycling, but most current non-cyclists won't cycle due to the fear of mixing with motorised traffic. Build the safe infrastructure and watch cycling levels boom, with a corresponding reduction in motorised traffic. Everybody's better off, even those that can't or won't cycle.

Come on, Plymouth, we can do this!


Monday, 27 January 2014

Jacketts Coaches

On Tuesday, the 21st of January 2014, I was cycling to work as I do pretty much each working day. My commute leads me into Plymouth from the East, over Laira Bridge and along Exeter Street.
I was cycling on the last bit of Exeter Street, that goes over the top of Bretonside bus station,  at approximately 08h30, when I was overtaken very closely by a bus driver.

There are two lanes in each direction along this stretch of Exeter Street, and I was in lane 1, about a metre off the kerb, in what cyclists call the secondary position. Lane 2 was empty, and there really was no need whatsoever for the bus driver to give me such a close overtake as he had done. I could've touched the side of the bus without straightening my arm, as he went by.

This is the part of Exeter Street where it happened
 To be clear, I was dressed in a yellow hi-viz rain coat, with 3M retro-reflective patches all over. In addition, I had a steady red tail light, a second and flashing tail light, and yellow 3M hi-viz ankle straps with flashing LEDs on. Add to this the extra wide 3M reflective patches on my panniers, I know I had made myself as visible as I could.
In case you're interested, at the front I had three white strobing lights, one of which outputs 1 000 lumen and is rather noticable even in bright sunshine.

The weather was overcast, but it wasn't raining and being well after dawn, visibility without lights was good.


I followed the bus down into Bretonside bus station, and when he parked up I pulled up alongside the doors and knocked on them. The driver then opened the doors, and I politely asked him why he had given me such a close overtake.

His response was that he hadn't done so intentionally, which actually alarmed me more, as it implied he quite possibly hadn't even realised that I was there, and therefore may just as easily have run me over.
I replied by pointing out that intentional or not, he'd still given me a dangerously close overtake and in return he asked what I'd like him to do about it.

I told him I'd like him to read Highway Code Rule 163 and educate himself on how to safely overtake cyclists. For clarity, the following picture is from the Highway Code, and demonstrates how much space drivers are supposed to give cyclists:





 At my mentioning the Highway Code, the bus driver became visibly agitated, aggressive and foul-mouthed and he told me that he knows his f---ing Highway Code.
He then immediately followed up by saying "If you started paying f----ing road tax, then you can f---ing tell me what to f---ing do". Clearly the F-word is his absolute favourite.

In response to my pointing out to him that he doesn't actually pay road tax, as that was scrapped in 1937, and that he pays VED instead, he told me to go "f-ck" myself, loudly, and within earshot of a group of school kids walking by. Charming character.

At this point, he was getting out of the bus and I invited him to the bus station, to discuss his behaviour with a manager. I had made the mistake of at first having thought it was a First Bus driver, and knew First wouldn't tolerate such behaviour, but he corrected me by saying "They've got f---all to do with me."
I asked him for his name and he refused to give it. When I asked him what company he worked for, he replied by saying "Jacketts".
 
At no point at all did I swear at him, and I actually impressed myself by how composed I remained throughout the incident.


I looked up Jacketts Coaches and emailed them. Below is the email exchange between me and them:

"Dear Sir/Madam,

This morning, at approximately 08h30, I was overtaken by one of your coaches, registration NRBY05 HDV, displaying the number 52 on a sign at the front, inside the windscreen.
I was cycling along Exeter Street, in a westerly direction, between Charles Cross roundabout and Royal Parade, when your driver overtook me so closely that I could have reached out and touched the side of the bus, without straightening my arm. 
Exeter Street has two lanes there, and the second lane was empty at the time. I was wearing a British Cycling Ride Leader hi-viz jacket (I'm a trained Ride Leader with British Cycling) and I had one flashing rear light, one steady rear light, as well as hi-viz reflective anklets, with flashing LEDs. In addition, the panniers on my bike have large, wide reflective strips. No driver can ever claim that I am not visible on the road.

Highway Code Rule 163 clearly shows how much space drivers are supposed to give cyclists when overtaking, and I suggest you look it up and educate ALL your drivers.

I followed the driver into Bretonside bus station, where he parked up. I came alongside and asked the driver politely why he had overtaken me in such a dangerous manner. He replied that he didn't do so intentionally - which beggars belief, as it suggests he'd done so without realising, in which case I'd like to know why he wasn't concentrating on the road.

I replied that whether intentional or not, he'd still done it, and his retort was to ask me what I wanted him to do about it. I replied by saying I'd like him to read Rule 163 of the Highway Code. At this point he became immediately aggressive and abusive, and told me (verbatim) that he knows his "f---ing Highway Code".

He then immediately followed up by saying "If you started paying f----ing road tax, then you can f---ing tell me what to f---ing do". I was appalled that a professional driver is unaware that road tax was scrapped in 1937, and that drivers pay Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) instead. VED doesn't directly fund the roads.
Instead, roads are paid for from general taxation (PAYE, VAT, Stamp Duty, etc.) as well as Council Tax, which everybody pays. Additionally, VED is calculated on emissions produced, and even if cyclists had to have a VED disc, it'd be zero-rated, as bicycles are zero-emissions vehicles with FULL entitlement to use the road. Yes, even the full lane, should a cyclist so prefer.

Your driver continued swearing, and told me - in public, with a group of school children walking by within earshot - to go f-ck myself.

Is this the standard of driving and behaviour you expect of your drivers?

I'd like to know with some haste exactly what you intend to do about this.

Kind regards,"

The first reply I received was this:

"This is a quick email just to state that we have received yours and will be dealing with the complaint immediately.
Thank you
Dannie
Office Manager"
 The following day, having heard nothing at all, I emailed them again:

"Hi Dannie,
Do you perhaps have an update on this matter?
Regards,
William"

Here's their reply:

"Dear ,
We have investigated the complaint put forward by yourself. We have spoken to the driver in question he politely told us that it was you that swerved towards him and he had given you enough room. Unfortunately a bus cannot move as quickly as a cyclist. The driver also informed us that when you went down to the bus station he did infact apologise immediately it was only when you continuously pursued the matter and started to swear at the driver that he did so back. He apologised the matter should have ended there. 
Rather than waiting for us to get back to you with the conclusion of the matter you have gone onto post slanderous allegations across social media. This is an action that we do not take kindly to. 
Dannie"


Here's my last email to them:
"Dear Dannie,

If you feel I have slandered your company in any way, I suggest you proceed with legal steps. Good luck with that, as you won't get very far.
I will now endeavour to obtain CCTV footage from Plymouth City Council, which will clearly support what I had claimed. 

I find it extremely disappointing (though entirely unsurprising) that your firm simply won't accept that your driver had done anything wrong at all.

Let's evaluate things, shall we? 
1) I didn't swerve at anything, but instead your driver overtook me in a dangerous manner.
2) Your driver wouldn't have apologised at all if he didn't accept that what he'd done was wrong.
3) I am not in a habit of swearing at people and I certainly did not swear at your driver at any point.
4) I was polite to your driver, and walked away when he became aggressive.
5) I notice you didn't comment on your driver's incorrect views about "road tax", which suggests your firm holds the same views.

As a final note, Dannie, stating verifiable facts is not slander. I expect your solicitor would tell you the same.

Kind regards,"
Think about it for a moment - why would ANY cyclist endanger themselves by swerving towards a bus weighing however many tonnes? What could that possibly achieve, other than place the cyclist at great risk? Who would be stupid enough to do something like that? Certainly not me, nor anybody else, I expect.
Yet Dannie from Jacketts Coaches thinks it is entirely plausible. The mind boggles!
As for the next point, supposing I was suicidal enough to swerve at the bus, why would the driver apologise to me? That simply doesn't make any sense, and the fact that the driver admits he apologised indicates he acknowleged that he had done wrong.
That makes a mockery of their claim that the driver had given me enough room!
I did NOT swear at the driver - not even once. In fact, I didn't even almost swear, and I remained calm thoughout. I'm still pretty chuffed at myself for having remained calm.
Now as for my "slanderous allegations on social media", here they are - this is what I'd posted to Twitter:
"Had a run-in with a driver from @JackettsCoaches this morning, following a very close overtake he gave me despite an empty road"
 "The @JackettsCoaches driver became abusive & aggressive when I politely asked him why he didn't give me any space when overtaking"
 "The @JackettsCoaches driver said "If you started paying f---ing road tax you can f---ing tell me what to f---ing do""
"The @JackettsCoaches driver didn't like it when I told him that road tax had been scrapped in 1937 & loudly told me to go f-ck myself" 
"I emailed @JackettsCoaches & received a reply saying they're looking into the matter. Not holding my breath, to be honest"
"Oh, he is. A Class-A idiot and a foul-mouthed dangerous driver that shouldn't be on the road."

Then after their last email to me:

"Had an email back from @JackettsCoaches re. the incident where their driver gave me a close & dangerous overtake & ranted about road tax"   
"Sadly, as I expected, @JackettsCoaches say that a) I swerved at the bus (because cyclists are kamikaze pilots, right?)" 
 "b) @JackettsCoaches say the driver then apologised to me (whatever for, if he'd supposedly done nothing wrong) & c) that I supposedly swore"
"@JackettsCoaches didn't comment on the road tax rant the driver gave me & don't accept that he swore at me AT ALL." 
"Oh, and @JackettsCoaches said they're VERY unhappy about my "slanderous allegations" made on social media." 
"It seems just getting @JackettsCoaches to accept "road tax" doesn't exist might help!"

Now Jacketts Coaches very recently landed a contract from Plymouth City Council to run two or so bus routes. This means the people of Plymouth effectively paid that idiot of a driver to endanger my life (and who knows how many more?). That is simply not on!

Companies that expect to receive public subsidies paid by YOU should ALSO have to ensure that a) their drivers are safe, b) their drivers know and keep to the Highway Code and c) their driver agree to abide by a code of conduct.

Without these in place, the system is open to abuse, as this incident clearly demonstrates.

I'm rather disappointed that Plymouth City Council would award companies such as this ANY contract, and I view this as Plymouth City Council failing in its duty of care towards all road users.

As such, I will be campaigning hard to get the council to implement a compulsory cycle-safety scheme for ALL public transport companies it licences to use public roads.


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Police!

Recently, the Plymouth Cycling Campaign (PCyC) had a meeting with police officers from Devon and Cornwall Police. There's nothing special in that, except for how it happened, and who the police sent along.

Remember, PCyC is a small group, with not a very loud voice, and if I have to be honest, we're not as organised, nor as effective as we might be - though we're learning and improving as we go along. As such, it would have been entirely unsurprising if the police respresentative was a local PSCO.

Devon and Cornwal Police played this very differently. The meeting was discussed by the Assistant Chief Constable, as well as a Superintendent and then we were told that the officer who would attend would be a Chief Inspector - one of the most senior police officers permanently based in Plymouth. We really couldn't have asked for more.

As it happened, the Chief Inspector brought a police constable with him, who he has appointed as liaison officer and who would be attending the PCyC bi-monthly meetings from now on.

This immediately answered one of our concerns - the lack of communication between cyclists and police - and sets the scene for continued communication.

Various other issues were discussed, including poor or dangerous driving. Of course the police are tasked with preparing evidence against a guilty party, and not with deciding their guilt - that is a job for the courts, with evidence put forward by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

What was made clear to us is that the police simply don't have the resources to target all crime equally, including road offences. Instead, they have to pick their battles rather carefully, targeting their limited resources at those offences where they can have most impact. Naturally, they have to prioritise, too, with 999 calls taking priority, and those calls involving violence and/or weapons being at the top of the list.

This may paint a rather bleak picture, given that a close, scary overtake of a cyclist by a driver will not rate very high at all on that scale. Add to this the fact that Devon alone has more miles of roads than the whole of Belgium, it becomes even clearer just how stretched the police are down here.

And yet, what the police officers offered us were not simply excuses why they can't (or won't) take cyclists' complaints seriously. It would have been understandable, to a point, if their approach was simply one of "Sod off, we're very busy dealing with far more serious stuff, like murder", but it wasn't.

Instead, what we found was a refreshingly accomodating approach, backed by what seems a genuine desire to improve things for cyclists. That approach was open and honest, and they freely acknowledged that at times the police get things wrong. Again, this wasn't held up as an excuse, but rather as an opportunity to improve.

One of the better things that came out of the meeting is regarding evidence-gathering. D&C Police are in favour of cyclists using video evidence, as that changes things from a your-word-against-theirs scenario, to one where there may be cold, hard evidence.

We were also told, in no uncertain terms, that most video evidence simply may not be good enough. The example given was a cyclist wearing a helmet-cam suffering a close overtake. Due to idiosyncracies and variations between different camera lenses, the video footage may or may not accurately show how close the overtake was. If, however, the video shows a close overtake of another cyclist up ahead, it becomes far more valuable.

For any action to follow, there should be more than simply a close overtake. Apparently the law requires evidence of "diversion". This may be that the cyclist had to swerve, put a foot down, or even stop altogether.

It was also highlighted that in law, there is NO such offense as "close or dangerous overtaking" and that drivers may face other charges, including dangerous or inconsiderate driving, or driving without due care and attention. Crucially, not only are the police stretched, but so are CPS, and in order to get the best value from taxpayers' money, both organisations would only put forward to the courts strong cases where there is a good possibility of a guilty verdict in court. When you're overstretched, the last thing you want is get tangled up in long, drawn-out court cases that tie up resources and that you ultimately end up losing.

The real diamond was this: D&C Police, via the newly designated cycling liaison officer, offered us a method to submit video evidence for review. This means there would be a consistent approach to such complaints, and they would be reviewed to see if they would meet CPS requirements to take to court.

The police officers acknowleged that this would be a learning process for them, almost as much as for us, and at this stage it is more of an informal agreement, as opposed to official policy and will need to be reviewed from time to time. They would also endeavor to get some legal experts to review some test footage, and feed back to us the findings of those reviews.

Above all else, the meeting was a starting point to better communications between cyclists and the police, which can only be a good thing. It didn't solve any immediate problems and it didn't promise to solve any problems in the future, but then that was never the point. Besides, any such promises could easily become impossible to fulfil, due to uncontrolable external factors, and are therefore best avoided.

What we got instead was a genuine commitment to make things better.

As a bonus, both officers that attended the meeting are really nice guys, which always helps.