Cycling


Today was one of those (supposedly) rare occasions, a sunny bank holiday. By way of celebration we decided to make uses of our Historic Scotland membership and visit one of their properties. One of the great things about living in Edinburgh is that there is so much to do within easy pedalling range, for today’s wee outing we chose Seton Collegiate Church, which we had not visited before.

Rather than join the tin box bampots, who seem to love sitting (fuming) in long stationary lines of traffic, we chose to follow much of the newly opened John Muir Way, mostly along off road paths, listening to the bird song. On reaching Musselburgh, we were please to find that the Electric Bridge was open (it being a race day) ,so we didn’t have the faff of negotiating the barriers at either end of the footbridge. For those confused by this statement, maybe I should give a brief explanation: the Electric Bridge was built in the 1960′s a few hundred metres north of the “New Bridge” built in 1806 (to replace the old bridge built by the Romans on their short holiday in Scotland, c. AD 71 to AD 213). The Electric Bridge was built was to allow transport of the turbines to Cockenzie power station. Having used it once and installed the turbines the Central Electricity Generation Board (CEGB) then offered the bridge to the Town Council for a nominal sum, but the offer was declined. As a result, gates were installed and the bridge is only opened on race days to allow access to the local racecourse. However, with the recent closure of Cockenzie power station (in March 2013), there is uncertainty about the future of the Electric Bridge.

The River Esk safely crossed, we headed down stream to the confluence of the Esk and the Forth, where we paused to look back to Edinburgh and take a few photos (note today I only had my phone with me and not the usual SLR).

View from the mouth of the Esk, looking west to Edinburgh

Had I had the SLR with me, I could have zoomed into the National Disgrace on Carlton Hill which was clearly visible. But I hadn’t, so we carried on around the coast past the former ash lagoons, now grassed over, to Prestonpans where we rejoined the road. From Prestonpans through Cockenzie to Port Seton, this was the least pleasant part of the ride, as you have to ride along a busy main road engineered to generate conflict. However, today the majority of motorists were tolerant (I have had bad experiences here in the past). Having survived this, we pulled off the road to look at the map and were passed by a smiling, waving Chris Oliver, AKA the Cycling Surgeon. The first time I met Chris we were viewing an x-ray of my clavicle, but that is another story.

The map consulted, we knew that just before the caravan park there is a wee path running up through the woods to the Seton Collegiate Church. We were greeted by Linda (?) of Historic Scotland who was very friendly and told us to leave our bikes along side her wee hut/office, as there is no cycle parking provided. She then gave us a brief history of the site and suggested the best way to view it, basically go left to the remains of the of priests’ accommodation, then peek over the gate at Seton House Castle (you are not allowed to go in, but peeking over the gate is free), and then enter the church through the west door. History wise, the original church was built in 1242 to serve the parishioners of Seton. Over time it was extended and adapted, it also became the private place of worship and burial vault of the Seton family. In 1470 the 1st Lord Seton introduced a college of priests, whose primary role was to pray for the souls of their benefactor, his wife, and his family. Evidently the Seton family had a lot of sins to atone for, as the “college” consisted of a provost, six priests, a clerk and two choir boys.

Over the years the church suffered damage during the various troubled periods of Scottish history, for instance during the Rough Wooing by the English army under the Earl of Hertford. They looted and stripped the vestments, communion vessels and stole the bells and organ, before setting fire to the timber work. Lady Janet, widow of the 3rd Lord Seton, did her best to repair the damage, demolishing the earlier chapel built by Lady Katherine St Clair (to house the tomb of her late husband, Sir John Seton) and building the present transepts and bell tower. A bell, cast in Holland in 1577, was installed, but the steeple was never completed. The church was further damaged around 1668 during the Scottish Reformation, with a number of the carvings being defaced by a mob of zealous Covenanters. Also at this time its role as a Collegiate Church came to an end, and for a short time it served as the parish church for Seton, until Seton was joined with the parish of Tranent and therefore was no longer needed.

The church finally left the control of the Seton family after the Jacobite Rising of 1715. The Setons were supporters of the Old Pretender (the self-styled James the 3rd and 8th), who caught a cold (or was it man flu) after the Battle of Sheriffmuir and beetled off back to France, leaving it to his son, the Italian coward Young Pretender to carry on the family tradition of romantic (or romanticised) failed rebellions. Anyway, I digress, back to the story, the kirk was desecrated, this time by the Lothian Militia in search of “hidden treasure”. Following this, the estates of the Setons passed to the Earls of Wemyss, who partially restored the kirk and used it as a burial place of deceased members of their family, until 1946 when they gave it to the Scottish people (probably in lieu of death duties). Enough writing, time for a few photos:

The Seton Collegiate Kirk
Seton Collegiate Church

The wee hoose next door
Seton Castle

Some of the Carvings
Carvings at Seton Collegiate Church

Carvings at Seton Collegiate Church

Effigies of an unknown knight and his lady (possibly Sir John Seton and Lady Katherine)
Effigies of an unknown knight and his lady

And a final carving, this one of Lady Janet Seton. If you are wondering about the colours, it is due to the sun coming through the stain glass windows.
Lady Janet Seton, Seton Collegiate Church

The bell. The kirk’s original bell was stolen along with the organ by the English Army in the 1544. This bell was cast for the 5th Lord Seton in 1577 by the Dutch.
Seton Collegiate Church bell

There were an number of Peacock butterflies (Aglais io) flying about the place, and this one dead on the floor
Peacock butterfly (Aglais io)

After an enjoyable hour or so wandering about the place, we decided it was time to head in to Longniddry to find a spot of lunch. Ulli suggested that we should go to the Summer House which has a wee café. The building was gifted to the village of Longniddry as a Reading Room in 1890 by the Countess of Wemyss and March. Its other claim to fame is that the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute held its first meeting there in 1917. There is a seating area outside where it would have been very pleasant to sit in the sun and eat, if it hadn’t been for the traffic noise which blights the village.

We returned to Edinburgh by much the same way as we had come.

On the way back to Edinburgh

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On a day when a man in his 50s has been killed while riding a bicycle in Angus and a 10 year old boy has been airlifted to hospital after being knocked off his bike by a van driver in Aberdeenshire, I feel the need to write about why we need #PoP2014 more than ever.

First off, I should explain that #PoP2014 is short hand for the Pedal on Parliament (PoP) protest ride which will be taking place on the 26th April this year. The first PoP took place in 2012, and when we started planning it we thought that it would be a one-off event, but things didn’t work out that way. When we were planning the 1st PoP, we didn’t think that many people would actually turn up, how wrong we were. We were far from alone at being worried how vulnerable road users are treated and wanting this to change.

The PoP Manifesto takes an evidence based approach, inspired by the idea that a great city is not one that has highways, but one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can go everywhere safely (Enrique Peñalosa). Active travel is a great idea, as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion in towns and cities, it is good for developing the sustainable local economies which much of Scotland needs, and it is healthy. Yet we have a Government which ignores all the evidence, which talks about making Scotland a modern Nordic nation, but then does the opposite. Far from learning from the Nordic Nations, such as Denmark’s green economy and Finland’s turn-around from being the sickest country in Europe (a title Scotland now holds) to being one of the most healthy. Successive Scottish (and British) administrations have treated roads deaths as being something beyond their control and refuse to take simple actions which could reduce the death rate. For this reason we have to stand up and make our voices heard, tell our elected representatives that it DOESN’T have to be this way. There are countries just across the North Sea which show that change is possible, and that this can lead to a better quality of life for all.

Please join us on the 26th April and show you care!

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I have been using the bicycle as an everyday means of travel for about 20 years now, and have done a fair bit of short touring. So when I saw this wee film I just felt the need to share it. Enjoy!

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We know that the health benefits to society from cycling outweigh negative impacts by up to a factor of 20. We know that cities with higher levels of cycling are more attractive places to live, work and do business. I have discussed before in this blog how to achieve this, it is not rocket science, as this recent report from the International Transport Forum at the OECD shows. They recommend reducing “urban road speeds to 30km/h [20 mph] or less, and the use of separated cycling infrastructure to increase the number of new cyclists. Attracting new cyclists gains the greatest health benefits through increased physical activity, including reducing risks linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type-2 diabetes.”

So why aren’t we doing more to encourage cycling in Scotland? It’s one of the fundamental duties of any government to protect the lives of its citizens. However, here in Scotland, both national and local government drag their feet on these issues. I have sat across the table from the Scottish transport minister and asked him to use the powers which have been devolved to the Scottish Government, to lower the national speed limit in built up areas (defined as places where the street lighting columns are < 185 m apart) from the current limit of 30 mph to 20 mph. This is would at a stroke save lives. However, he has refused point blank to do so, saying that it would take away powers from Local Authorities (LAs). This argument is utter nonsense as LAs have the power to raise or lower speed limits on individual roads as they see fit. So the real effect on LAs would be that they would have to justify to the voters why they wanted to raise speed limits in built up areas, where people live, work and shop, from 20 mph to 30 mph. It is well known that 20 mph speed limits are popular with people who live next to the roads where these limits apply. Therefore, it may prove difficult for LAs to raise the limits, but that's Democracy for you.

Here in Edinburgh, there has recently been an announcement from the City of Edinburgh Council that it intends to lower the 30 mph speed limit to 20 mph, across the whole city, but not until 2017. Why 2017? You may well ask, well for one thing, it is after the next local elections. Also it gives them three years in which to try and find justifications to maintain the higher 30 mph speed limit on “key arterial roads”, even though these pass through some of the most densely populated parts of the city.

Why are our elected representatives not acting in the best interests of the people? Why are they not taking simple steps to protect the health and lives of the citizens they are elected to represent? The only answer can be moral cowardice! For this reason I urge you all to join the Pedal on Parliament protest on the 26th April 2014 to send a message to those who have the power to change things – now is the time to grow a spine and show some moral backbone!

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This evening I will be attending the Road Share campaign for Strict Liability Parliamentary reception at the Scottish Parliament. Before doing so I though it a good idea to write a bit about use of the roads and moral hazard as a way of examining the concept of Strict Liability on the roads.

Imagine that you are walking along a pavement, a vehicle passes you, it kicks up a stone, which hits you and blinds you in one eye. Currently to gain compensation you must prove negligence, the driver is assumed to have done nothing wrong. Strict liability says that the possibility of kicking up a stone and blinding someone is an inherent risk of driving, the fact the driver chose to drive the car and put you at risk in that way means that they have accepted they will be held liable if that risk is realised. In the example above, this would be No-fault liability, which is defined as follows: “where a person is held responsible not for his failure to display the diligence of a reasonable man, but because he is in control of a source of danger to other people’s lives, health or property”

Strict Liability is not about criminal culpability, it is about civil liability. The concept of Strict Liability recognises that the driver is the one who has introduced the risk to the public space and they have done so for their own advantage, i.e. the person driving is benefitting from driving. Many drivers probably prefer not to see it that way, they prefer to focus on what they see as the high costs of driving. However, the perceived cost to the driver must be less than the benefit to themselves or they would leave the car behind and use another means of transport.

The driver accrues the benefits of driving but not all of the costs, many of those costs are externalised, and this includes an increased risk to other, more vulnerable road users. These road users do not benefit at all from a driver taking their car to the supermarket, but they do bear some of the risk. This can be seen as the moral hazard of driving.

The role of the law and justice system should be to attempt to rebalance the costs, so that if a driver does something risky they can be expected to bear the costs of this. Several methods are used: fines, removal of the licence to drive or finally imprisonment. However, these sanctions are not equal to the risk borne by other users. A driver is capable of killing a pedestrian, yet we do not expect the driver to be executed for doing so (nor should we).

All that Strict Liability does is recognise that if you wish to benefit from something but at the same time take risks at the expense of others, you should be prepared to pay up (or rather, your insurer should), if that risk is realised. Consequently strict liability isn’t limited to cars vs bicycles. It says the larger vehicle, the greater risk potential risk to others and therefore the greater the responsibility, leading to the following hierarchy: HGV > car > bicycle > pedestrian.

Strict Liability is reserved for “inherently dangerous” activities or products. A classic example would be that of a circus: If a lion escapes and injures a member of the audience, no matter how strong the lion’s cage was, or how closely the lion was watched, it is still the circus owner who would be held liable.

The reasoning behind Strict Liability is to hold whosoever benefits from putting others at risk – demolition, transporting hazardous materials, using dangerous machines, etc. – accountable for any damaged caused by that activity. It is not dissimilar to the duty of care owed by employers to their employees, the employer benefits most from putting the workers at risk, therefore the law believes they have a moral obligation to take all practicable steps to keep the workers safe. Yet another example of where the Health and Safety Executive is steps ahead of other branches of government.

A final thought, a form of Strict Liability already exists on our roads: where two motor vehicles are involved in a collision and the second vehicle runs into the back of the first (a rear end shunt). The driver of the second vehicle is automatically held to be liable (unless they can prove there were extenuating circumstances). It is only fair and reasonable that the same principle be extended to vulnerable roads user, as is already the case in the majority of other European countries.

This post was inspired by a blog post from lovelobicycles.

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