I was at the Cycling Scotland conference and tried to do a bit of live tweeting. Derek MacKay MSP stated in his speech that he prefers not to be photographed in hi-viz, to which I tweeted:

I was rather surprised by the reaction that this sparked off on twitter. Firstly, there was the comment that wearing nice clothes was not going to make the roads safer. But It was a comment that rather missed the point, as neither wearing hi-viz nor a helmet does. To make the roads safer we need to start with a danger reduction approach, which means reducing danger at source. The point of the tweet was to point out that we finally have a transport minster who is not following the Taliban approach to road safety and does not feel that he has to set an example by wearing hi-vis and a helmet to be photographed. Instead, for cycling occasions he is always photographed in normal clothes for press photo shoots, even when some around him choose to do otherwise.

More tweets followed from a number of people, suggesting that I was in some way “anti-Lycra”, and was in some way blaming people in lycra for putting off others. This is where trying to discuss issues on Twitter can get very confused, sometimes it can be very hard to make a nuanced point in 140 characters. My comment above was very much about the use of images and the message which such images can send. There were also comments from other about infrastructure being more important that clothing, but in many ways the two are interlinked.

Why is clothing important in normalising cycling? Ask anyone in the fashion industry and they will tell you that clothes speak volumes about who you are and how you feel. In places where cycling is a normal means of getting from A to B, people just ride in ordinary clothes. They don’t get dressed up to ride a bicycle, unless they are doing so to ride for sport (there is also a misunderstanding about Danish “cycle chic”, Copenhageners don’t dress up to ride a bike, that’s just normal dress for them). In the UK some people seem to believe that it is necessary to dress in a certain way in order to ride a bicycle, for what ever reason. Part of this is to do with something I refer to as the Taliban approach to road safety, the failed idea that making people dress in a particular way makes the roads safer – it doesn’t. Indeed, the promotion of hi-viz and helmets can create a barrier to cycling. Added to this, the motor lobby is always keen to promote the use of hi-viz and helmets, as a means of transferring blame to the victim, and to avoid liability.

Does this mean that we should all start to ride in ordinary clothes as a political statement? No, of course not. There are those who will do so, but for most people the choice of cycle clothing is more about comfort, or more correctly, comfort and fear. Before I moved to Aberdeen I had never felt the need to wear Hi-viz, but in Aberdeen I felt different, it was/is hostile to anyone cycling (or even walking). So I bought a yellow cycling jacket, which made me feel better, but made no real difference to the way I was treated. Drivers still treated me as if they couldn’t see me. Over time, I came to realise that in places like Aberdeen drivers simply don’t look for people cycling, as there are so few. Later I came to realise that bright lights were more effective for being seen in a hostile environment, but not a solution. Like bright clothing, they are a survival mechanism (the real solution is to change the road environment).

In places where there are more cyclists (and pedestrians), drivers are more likely to look out for those more vulnerable road users. However, that doesn’t automatically lead to greater safety or a feeling of safety, you only have to look at images from London to see that there is plenty of fear there. There is a flaw in the “safety in numbers” theory, the death rate on UK roads per Km walked or cycled is higher than in many other parts of Europe. In places where cycling is common, it is infrastructure and legal structure that make cycling (and walking) safe, and this is why you see people of all ages, wearing normal clothes, using bicycles as transport.

In the UK there is another thing going on, which has to do with group identity. This has led to the term MAMIL or “Middle Aged Men In Lycra”, and generally refers to male cyclists who treat travelling to work as an adventure sport. There are those who justify wearing Lycra for commuting on the grounds that they have to ride fast due to the distance of their commute. It is an interesting thing that the average cycle commuting distance in the UK is longer than on the Continent. This is probably because so many cycle commuters in the UK are keen cyclists and like to use their commutes as training rides. On the Continent, in places where cycling is seen as normal (something the 95% engage in, not just the 5%), the sort people who in the UK have 1-5 km journeys and would drive or take the bus, ride a bicycle instead. So there are a great deal more short journeys by bike. For longer distances, the Contintentals are more likely to travel by multimodal means, for example: cycling to the station to take a train, and then walking or using another bicycle at the other end, to get to their final destination. That is not to say that there aren’t people commuting distances of greater than 5 Km by bicycle in these countries, it is just that they are more likely to use an e-bike, so that they don’t arrive sweaty.

Is the MAMIL image a problem? I have been accused of being anti-Lycra or even anti-cycling for using the term MAMIL. Neither is true, there is a place for Lycra and it fine in its place. However, it can be a barrier to making cycling more inclusive, as it can put people off, especially those not currently cycling. No doubt there are some cyclists who will say that the sort of people who are put off by MAMILs wouldn’t cycle anyway. However, if you go to a Women’s Cycle Forum and listen, you will find women saying that the perceived need for lycra, hi-viz and helmets does put them off cycling. A case study: L. is a woman over the age of 40 who says she is put off by the MAMIL image of cycling. However, on a trip to Bruges, L. was persuaded to try riding a bicycle because people of all ages, shapes and sizes were cycling in normal clothes. She now occasionally rides a bicycle in Edinburgh, and although L. is not a regular cyclist, she now has greater understanding of cycling, which is useful, given that her current job is in transport policy.

Before going any further, I will return to the point I made above, people should be free to wear whatever they feel is comfortable for their cycling journey. Images are important here, and where everyday cycling is being promoted, images which show hi-viz and helmets should be avoided. It is always disappointing to see organisations which soak up large amounts of funding, using images of people on bicycles dressed up in hi-viz and helmets. Generally, the majority of people are less likely to engage in an activity that looks like a minority activity, where you need to dress up in specific clothes and that may be dangerous. This makes trying to increase funding for active travel much harder, as it is seen to only benefit the few rather than the many. If you make cyclists look like a small outgroup, it going to be far, far harder to get those with the power to take space from motor vehicles to act. The Dutch didn’t get their famous cycle infrastructure by campaigning for “cyclists”, they did it for the children. Now that those children have grown up, they are the most relaxed parents in Europe, as they don’t have to worry about the safety of their children outwith the home. If we want the same here, we have to make active travel attractive and desirable, and we also have to make it normal and inclusive.

Cycle chic inspires others

Remember images are important

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My idea of a Cargo Bike Club took a small step forward today, but first a wee bit of history:

Back in the autumn of 2010, Ulli and I were faced with the problem of getting a large pumpkin home from the allotment (not a problem that we have had since due to the poor summers). The solution I suggested then was to get a cargo bike, but at that time such bikes were very few and far between in Scotland, not that there are that many more now. This led me to come up with the idea of a Cargo Bike Club as a means of making cargo bikes available to the wider population (and a way of kick-starting the market for cargo bikes in Scotland).

When I first floated the idea of the Cargo Bike Club, it attracted a lot of positive comments. My initial idea was to use the City Car Club model, where the users would pay an annual fee to join the club and then have self service access to the bikes for a small hourly hire rate. There are, however, a few technical issues with security and self service access, which I have yet to overcome.

One person who thought he could over come these problems was Will Vaughan who took my idea (he did contact me and ask first) and started However, he was planning on using a prototype technology from a small German startup called LOCK 8. I have seen the Kickstarter campaign raising funds to develop the locking system, but was sceptical about the level of security it would offer (the cable shown in the pictures is up to Solid Secure Gold level, as required by insurance companies). [Up date: I met Philipp Meyer-Scheling, the MD of Lock8 at EuroBike and am hoping to have another meeting with him in November] At the present time, it doesn’t appear he has managed to get the self service access up and running, but he does have a Bullitt available for hire in the Hereford area, so all credit to him.

The idea of the Cargo Bike Club has continued to gnaw away at me, and I have re-visited the idea a few times, but mostly I have gotten on with other projects like the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling. Where is all this rambling going, I hear you ask? Well, this year the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling Ltd has acquired an Urban Arrow cargo bike, and from today it is available to hire when not in use for company business.

Urban Arrow for hire

It is a small step, but it is a start, this is currently the only cargo bike available for hire in Edinburgh. Who knows, if this bike proves popular, there may yet be a Cargo Bike Club in Edinburgh. I am still working towards getting it off the ground one day.

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The people behind Pedal on Parliament have just realised a new video, Katie rides to School, shows how if we were to make the roads safer everyone benefits. So please watch the video, join us on 25th April 2015 to Pedal on Parliament and share the message. We will all be better off when Katie rides to School!

Katie cycles to school. Katie loves cycling to school. Some of her friends do it too.

Katie’s mum bought a bike, too, to take Katie’s brother to nursery. Katie’s mum was surprised it was actually quicker on the bike. Now, when she doesn’t have to go to work, she has time to stop into town and meet her friends. On her way home, she pops into the shops.

Katie’s dad was told by his doctor to lose some weight, so he cycles too.

And at the weekend, they all go out together.

Katie cycles to school though she can only do it because her town built a cycle path very close to the school. Before that, she would have to ride in the road or on the pavement. It was just easier to go in the car.

Katie’s mum can only cycle into town because traffic is gone from the high street. Before, it was clogged with cars. It was just easier to go to the supermarket.

Katie’s dad only started cycling to work because they built a cycle track on the road on his office. Whatever the doctor said, he didn’t like having to deal with all the traffic before. He just wanted to get back safely to his family.

We believe making it safe for Katie and her friends to cycle to school, Katie’s mum to cycle to the shops, and Katie’s dad to cycle to work makes it better for everyone. Including people who don’t even cycle, like shopkeepers, pedestrians, and even other car drivers.

So that’s why we pedalled on parliament – If more kids like Katie are to cycle to school, we need safe space for cycling. If more people are to shop in the local town centre, we need roads where cars don’t dominate. If more people were to cycle to work, we need roads designed with cycling in mind.

This takes investment, but it is investment will pay back tenfold. If we do this then Scotland’s people will be healthier, our towns will be wealthier, our roads will quieter, our air will be cleaner, and our children will do better in school.But, more importantly, we will all be happier.

So join us, for Katie, for everyone – Pedal on Parliament.

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For 6,000 years the street was a place where people met and talked, they traded and did business, above all they could walk where they liked. The street was a democratic space which belonged to no one group or form of transport. This all ended in the 20th Century with the arrival of the motorists who demanded that they had a greater “right” to use the road than anyone else. Pedestrians were forced to the sides and restricted in where they could cross, cyclists were barely tolerated and expected to keep out of the way. How did all this come about?

When the car first arrived, they were few in number and tightly controlled as it was recognised that motor vehicles were a danger to all. However, as the people who owned cars were wealthy and powerful these measures were soon being watered down. First off, the 1865 “Red Flag Act” was replaced by the Highways Act 1896 which set a limit of speed limit to 14mph (23km/h). This change is still commemorated each year by the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. Then in turn this speed limit was replaced by the Motor Car Act 1903, which raised the limit again, this time to 20mph (32km/h), which is where the speed limit in built up areas should have stayed.

However, after a great deal of pressure from the motoring lobby, all speed limits for cars and motorbikes were removed by the Road Traffic Act 1930. It is very telling that Lord Buckmaster’s opinion at the time was that the speed limit was removed because “the existing speed limit was so universally disobeyed that its maintenance brought the law into contempt”. It is also worth noting that the AA was founded in 1905 to help motorists avoid police speed traps, and the RAC also has a long history of lobbying against speed restrictions.

At this time there were relatively few cars on the roads but the death rate was considerable. Data on road deaths in Great Britain were first collected in 1926, in that year there were 4,886 recorded deaths. The result of the removal of all speed limits for cars meant that in 1931 the death rate hit a new high of 7,343 deaths and 231,603 serious injuries. As a consequence, the new Minister of Transport, Leslie Hore-Belisha, described it as “mass murder” and reintroduced a speed limit for cars at 30 mph in built-up areas (defined in Scotland as areas where the lighting columns are spaced at 185m or less).

But is 30mph an appropriate speed for motor vehicles in a built up area? Well no, as this infographic from Pedal on Parliament [] clearly shows:

Speed & Fatalities

As speed increases so the survivability of a collision declines. Why would this be?

It’s a simple matter of physics, if streets have large amounts of kinetic (movement) energy moving along them they are more hazardous places to be. Kinetic energy can be shown by the equation Ek = 1/2mv2, where Ek is the amount of kinetic energy (usually given in Joules), m is mass or weight of the vehicle (usually given in Kg), and v2 is velocity or speed which is squared (usually given in meters per second). But what does this mean in reality? Let’s look at the kinetic energy of a small car, these weigh about one tonne (1,000Kg) travelling at 20mph (8.9m/s), so Ek = 0.5 x 1,000 x 8.92 = 39,969J (39.97kJ).

This also tells us that as speed increases, because velocity is squared, the amount of energy increases exponentially. If the vehicle speed doubles, then its kinetic energy quadruples, so at 40mph a one tonne car will now have a kinetic energy of 159.88 kJ. It also tells us that heavier cars are more lethal than lighter ones, so a big 4×4 which can weigh about three tonnes, will have a kinetic energy of 119.91kJ at 20mph and 479.63kJ at 40mph. Just to put all this into context, the kinetic/muzzle energy of a 12 bore shotgun is 4.45kJ. OK so there are some differences is the area over which the kinetic energy would be transferred, but it shows just how lethal cars can be.

Before I move on, just a quick note on the data source for the infographic above. When Donald was drawing it up, we at PoP had a discussion about which paper to take the data from and why. There are a couple of newer papers which appear to give higher survival rates at 30 mph. However, when you read the original source material, you find that the most vulnerable groups, children under 15 years and adults over 70 years, have been excluded from the analysis. No reason is given for this exclusion of data and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions, so we chose to use Aston & McKay 1979. We have received a certain amount of criticism for using “old” data, but as I have shown above, the laws of physics haven’t changed. People say that cars have changed, and yes they have, they have gotten bigger and heavier. A small car in 1979 would have weighed 500-750Kg, now 1,000 Kg, and there were very few 4×4 SUVs. The levels of kinetic energy on our roads for the same speeds are greater than they were before.

Of course the level of kinetic energy is not the only factor that makes lower speed limits safer in built up areas. There are other things to think about too, such as stopping distances, here again the same laws of physics come into play. There is the relationship between driving speed and braking distance. The kinetic energy of a vehicle is proportional to the square of its increased speed, this means that as the driving speed is doubled the braking distance quadruples. Of course there will be those who say the brakes on modern vehicles are better than they used to be. But they are not (as some drivers imagine them to be) magic, they can not overcome the laws of physics. Anti-lock brakes do not significantly reduce braking distance on a dry road, they merely reduce the risk of skidding out of control. Of course braking distance is only one component of Stopping Distance, the other part is thinking distance.

The speed with which the human brain can think hasn’t changed in well over 3 million years, no matter how much some people might want to think otherwise. (Insert your own joke here about Neanderthal taxi drivers). For an alert driver the average time between seeing a hazard and applying the brakes is 1.5 seconds. This means that at 20mph (32Km/h) the driver travels 13m while still thinking, this compares with 20m at 30mph (48Km/h) and 27m at 40mph (64Km/h). Remember this is for an alert driver, increasingly drivers are increasingly distracted by things like mobile phones and satnav systems. This can be the difference between life and death for a pedestrian or a cyclist using the same road.

As speed rises so the amount of time the driver has available to look around for hazards reduces and so does their peripheral vision.

peripheral vision image

In a busy environment there is a need for the driver to be more aware of what is going on around them. In less busy environments, i.e. motorways where the traffic is all moving in the same direction and there are fewer hazards coming from the sides, allowing the driver to focus more on what is happening in the distance. This is why motorways are generally considered to be safer than urban roads, even though motorways have higher speeds. As any trained advanced driver can tell you, driving at any speed requires constant attention and observation.

Aside from the clear safety benefits of 20mph speed limits for all road users, there are also other benefits to keeping the speed of motor vehicles below 20mph in built up areas. These include reductions in air pollution and noise pollution, both of which have an impact of human health.

There is increasing evidence that air pollution is shortening all our lives. Reducing motor vehicle speeds reduces levels of air pollution at source, so this has to be a good thing. There are some who claim that there are modelling studies suggesting that 20mph speed limits would increase pollution levels. However, there are no measurement studies I can find that bear this out. Models are only as good as the data and assumptions on which they are based, if they can’t be validated by real world data, they are worthless.

By reducing speeds by 10mph, traffic noise is reduced by about 3dB (depending on road surface). High levels of traffic noise cause stress and discourage active travel – who wants to walk along a noisy urban street? This not only bad for the health of people living in urban areas (and the majority of people do now live in urban areas), it is also bad for the local economy as it makes local shopping less attractive. “High street” businesses rely on footfall, not drive past. A study in the UK showed that people who walked to town centres spent an average of £91 per week on shopping, while motorists would spent £64 per week. Edinburgh’s bold move to bring in an almost blanket 20mph speed limit (excluding major roads), will help to make the whole city more vibrant.

The introduction of the 20mph speed limit in Edinburgh has been a long process, first we had the Southside trial. Then there was a two year consultation which showed there is significant support for 20mph speed limits. There was also cross-party support within the council with only the Tories objecting (and one of them called for more roads at 20mph in his ward, after he had voted against the city wide limit). The local chip wrapper did try to play up the “mass protest march” against 20mph, however this turned out to be 47 people organised by a taxi business. The police didn’t need to estimate the numbers which the organiser would then claim to be double. They just did a head count, as did an independent observer who said there were only 43.

Despite this evidence the politicians keep saying that reducing the national speed limit in built up areas to 20mph is unpopular with the electorate, so the question is, is 20mph so unpopular? In a recent poll commissioned by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, found that 58% of Britons “support reducing the national speed limit in built up areas to 20mph to attempt to reduce deaths from road traffic accidents”. The RCPCH recommend that we should: “Encourage physical activity for all children and young people – with and without disabilities – by creating more cycle lanes and promoting 20mph speed limits” and “Reduce the national speed limit in built up areas to 20mph to reduce the number of deaths by road traffic accidents”.

Edinburgh has now committed to doing something which Graz in Austria managed to do 23 years ago. Now if we could just get just Edinburgh to pick up a few other ideas from cities across Europe, maybe Zurich’s policy of one car out, one car in? But then that would need the City of Edinburgh Council to have the ambition to make Edinburgh a world class city.

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Some eight years ago when this blog was very new, I wrote a post called On cycle commuting, as it was “coming up to that time of year when people make resolutions to change their lives”. I think it is time to revisit that post. I hadn’t at that time seen just how much selling my car to fund my first year at university and getting a bicycle was going to change my life (OK, so the money only lasted the first term, but I did have a very good time).

That was how I came to sell my last car in 1994 and since then I have never looked back. The car was an MG Midget 1500 since you ask, and I had had two MKIII Midgets (one of which had round rear wheel arches, such a pretty wee car) before that, but despite the 1500’s ugly rubber bumper this one was my favourite, it was such fun. But I digress, at the time I sold the car I couldn’t imagine living without a car and thought that as soon as I graduated I would get myself another one. However, that was not the way things worked out, by the end of four years of car free living I had discovered freedom in the shape of a bicycle and my own two feet, and so I didn’t want to go back to owning a money pit. You never really realise just what a burden a car is until you get rid of it, it is a continual drain on resources. So people think of the car as freedom, but then constantly complain about congestion, the cost of fuel (even when it is getting cheaper), the lack of parking, the cost of insurance, etc. Drivers are never really happy.

When I was living in Aberdeen (2002-2005), I did for a short while consider buying another car. Aberdeen is an awful place to live as it is so car sick, it is difficult to get about by active travel even though it is a small city and distances are short. At the same time it is heavily congested, people drive everywhere, and as a result it can take over half an hour to make a two mile journey. Yes it would be quicker to walk, but there are continuous barriers put up to make walking unpleasant and dangerous, which further increases the incentive to drive. However, I discovered that even in Aberdeen I could get about by bike, although it was more stressful than anywhere else I have ever cycled. Have you tried cycling on roads used by Humvees? In a city where Range Rovers are two a penny, there are some drivers who feel vulnerable unless they are driving a light armoured car imported from a dubious source in the Middle East.

So while I did feel peer pressure to buy a car, especially for getting out of Aberdeen into glorious Aberdeenshire, the thing that ultimately stopped me was sitting down with a piece of paper and working out the economics of doing so. It didn’t take me long to work out that for what it would cost me to buy and run a well maintained five year old second hand car, I could hire a car for three week long rentals and several more weekends (which was as much usage as I could see myself needing at the time). Not only that, but by hiring I would always have the use of a brand new car, I could choose the right size for the journey I was making and if by any chance it did breakdown, I could just hand it back and get another one. Why buy, it really made no sense. After moving back to Edinburgh I did consider joining the City Car Club, but again found that it didn’t suit my needs, in Edinbugh I didn’t feel the need for so many weekend hires and the CCC is more expensive for longer hires, CCC cars are intended to be hired for a few hours at a time. In the last few years I haven’t even felt the need to hire a car at all, as I have discovered that car free holidays are really great fun.

Looking back at my blog post On cycle commuting I realise that it was only the tenth post I had written and the first on the subject of cycling. When I first started this blog I had no idea what I was going to write about, it certainly hadn’t occurred to me that cycling was a subject I was actually interested in. For me the bicycle was just a quick and convenient way of getting from A to B, it was transport, a utility item and nothing more. However, around the same time I found myself commenting on a cycling forum. I don’t quite remember how it happened, I think I was looking something up on the internet and found myself in the commuting section of the old C plus forum (now part of Bike Radar). For some reason I felt the need to join in the conversation, it was the first time that I had joined an internet forum. When the C plus forum was subsumed into Bike Radar, I, like many others, moved to a tiny new forum, run as a hobby by a guy called Shaun. This forum started to see exponential growth and in some ways being there at the start of the growth felt like being a pioneer. I became a regular poster and was involved in a few innovations which helped it to grow as a community.

I found that I made a number of friends through CycleChat, people I have broken bread (or should that be cake) with in the real world, not just on-line ‘friends’. However, over time I drifted away from forums and onto Twitter, here I was involved in a wider range of conversations. Around the same time I also became a qualified cycle trainer and for a while taught kids to ride bikes on the road. This, along with my experiences as a fully qualified driving instructor (before going to Uni as a mature student), changed my views on the safety of our roads. The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain formed around the same time (pretty much by accident). It looked like a good idea so I signed up to it, but as all the meetings were in London, a group of us started to talk about forming a Scottish Consulate, mostly over Twitter, but there was one memorable lunch as well, in our kitchen. Then one evening (24 Feb 2012, for the record) a couple of friends and I were discussing talk of a big protest in London. To quote an e-mail sent the same evening from Dave Brennan to Sally Hinchcliffe and myself:

Hi Guys,

The call has gone out […] for cyclists to go to London on the 28th April
in a show of support for the ‘cycle revolution’. I’d love to go, but I
just can’t make it. Too far, too expensive, too difficult. :-(

However, that got me thinking, surely this is the right time to push the
agenda north of the border. We have a separate parliament who have yet
to make any major noises about this campaign. So, I’m wondering if we
need a Scottish ride to coincide with the London ride. Probably an
Edinburgh ride to Holyrood.

What do you guys think?

So was born Pedal on Parliament. When we started, we had no idea just how big that would become. At one stage in the early planning we were filling out a form to get permission for the ride to go ahead, one question was about how many people did we expect? I suggested that we put down 300 and that if 50 turned up, we’d be doing well. On the 28th April 2012, 3,000 people turn out to ride to Holyrood in support of the PoP Manifesto. Following this first PoP protest ride, we were invited to meet the (then) Minister for Transport, Keith Brown MSP. Since then PoP has had a number of meetings with the Minister and we have made it clear that we are not going away until Scotland becomes a a cycle-friendly nation. It will, one day.

Having seen the turnout for the first Pedal on Parliament, I came up with another idea and innocently put up a blog post asking if there should be an Edinburgh Festival of Cycling? It seemed like a good idea at the time, I hadn’t really expected people to take it too literally, but they did and the next thing I knew, we were doing it. The first Edinburgh Festival of Cycling which was held between 15th and 23rd June 2013, the festival took place again this year (2014) and we are now planning 2015.

So if you are thinking about doing something in the new year to change your life, I would recommend, in the words of Mark Twain, “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live.”

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