30 March 2011

A Coalition of the Willing

There are many obstacles to the goal of seeing separated infrastructure along the lines of the Dutch model here in UK towns and cities – ranging from economic issues to political problems. People often focus on the spatial issues, or the seemingly prohibitive costs, but I’d like to focus briefly on the technical challenges, as I believe this is another critical front in pushing the cycling infrastructure debate forward.

My proposal is that as well as building political will and social acceptance, building technical capacity is crucial. As might be imagined, highway engineering and design is a highly formalised and codified activity – this is not surprising. But what might be more surprising to some is the degree to which this comment also applies to urban design, architecture, masterplanning and landscape architecture – roles which might be traditionally regarded as somehow more artistic endeavours.

When embarking on a masterplan project, it is the connections which become one of the primary building blocks for the designers. Even at concept stage, with pencil in hand, designers need to be mindful of technical best practice and regulations, particularly when looking at public realm design, paths and roads. Vision splays, turning circles, fire appliance access – like them or loathe them, these are the ground rules of any scheme. There are a few key documents to refer to, notable amongst them the Manual for Streets and Manual for Streets Part 2 (particularly on residential or urban schemes).

I see an incredible opportunity in bringing the immense database of knowledge available on building cycling infrastructure in Holland – collected in large part on the Fietsberaad website – to a wider technical audience in the UK. Indeed, I see the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain as being the fundamental conduit for this to happen. The process is already underway with the development of the CEGB Wiki. I can imagine this developing as published design guides and easy-to-read factsheets on best practice, which would be available to all designers and masterplanning professionals.

The idea being that by influencing those who set the ground rules with pencil in hand, then you make it easier to make space for suitable and excellent infrastructure from day one.

I believe architects, urban designers and masterplanners will be open-minded to this kind of information, and they can in turn pressurise other design team professionals on design teams to push this agenda forward. At the same time, I can see the CEGB building alliances with the professional institutions such as the RIBA, RTPI and CIHT, who can in turn influence the preparation of technical guidance. For instance, the CIHT were authors of Manual for Streets Part 2 – this was not a “Government” publication handed down on tablets of stone, but rather a document prepared by a learned institute. It is that learned institute we need to influence and persuade as much as any politician or economist.

The Manual for Streets already pushes the boundaries of what many typical municipal highway engineers might have thought reasonable and acceptable just a few years ago. It is already allowing us to discuss in meaningful terms a rebalancing of the urban spatial environment in favour of pedestrians and non-motorised transport. By building a coalition of the willing and giving them the tools to deliver, who knows how much further we can go?

22 March 2011

A New Wonder Material for Paving

View down from Capital Tower, onto Greyfriars Road
Not a very remarkable image - although it does include a (blurry) citizen bicyclist, which is fairly remarkable in Cardiff sadly - but why not click on, to see it enlarged?

Can you see the millions of tiny white dots all over the road and pavement? Chewing gum. When you think about the sheer number of times used gum must have been gobbed out to create this urban patchwork, it is quite disgusting.

However, of more interest to me are the surfacing possibilities here - I mean, just look at this stuff, it is completely impervious to weather, traffic, cleaning, it doesn't rot (does it?), it won't discolour, it has great grip and a pleasant minty taste. It looks like the age of tarmacadam is over.

18 March 2011

Crystal Ball Gazing

We are pleased to have come across this site CFhub.org.uk, which is a forum to bring together everyone in Cardiff who has an interest in environmental issues. This seems like an excellent example of network building, with a extremely sensible and useful summary of events going on in Cardiff. Hats off to the clearly enthusiastic and passionate work of the organisers.

From this new (to us) site, we were reminded about the Retrofit2050 research project run by our friend and colleague Prof. Malcolm Eames. We did some architectural type research related to this back in 2005 at Gaunt Francis Architects, when we produced an imagined image of what Cardiff might be like in 2055, related to the Council's celebrations for 50yrs as a Capital City. I'd like to think that we anticipated many of the issues that have since come to the forefront; retrofitting, hydrogen, water transportation, green infrastructure - although the cancelling of the Severn Barrage was not one we got right; perhaps it will come back another day?

We also stupidly missed the inevitable return of mass cycling, heralded by a new appreciation and knowledge of cycling infrastructure, the seeds of which have been sown at the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain with their growing wiki; http://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk/node/226

17 March 2011

Wrong Signals?

Clas Ohlson, the trendy hardware store, has opened in Cardiff City Centre – another milestone in our quest to become a “world class capital”, no doubt.

I was initially pleased, then a little depressed, when I noticed there was a bike-stuff department, only to quickly  realise that it was stocked full of hi-viz reflective everything – hi-viz goggles, hi-viz gloves, hi-viz underpants (probably). Remember folks, cycling is dangerous – be prepared, and shoulder some responsibility for your reckless cheek in being on the road!

To be fair, I have checked their catalogue and they do stock a bike horn in the classic style with squeezy rubber bulb at one end, and mudguards and stands (which ought to already be on everyones bikes anyway), so all is not lost. However, any small green shoots of emerging cycle-chic are soon stamped on when you spot the reflective hi-viz pram cover. Start ‘em young with the crippling paranoia I say.

3 March 2011

Monorail planned for Cardiff

Monorail planned for Cardiff - Business News - Business - WalesOnline

Came across this story about a monorail planned for the city centre, linking Cardiff Bay with Cardiff Central station. Classic pie-in-the-sky stuff, but whenever this kind of story rears its head, I can't help but think of...

 Marge v The Monorail.

One technician suggests cutting the power, but alas, the monorail
is solar-powered.  (``Solar power.  When will people learn?'')
But miracle of miracles, Springfield suffers a solar eclipse!
The train grinds to a halt, and all celebrate.  The eclipse
ends, and the train speeds off again.

There truly is a Simpsons episode for every occasion.

2 March 2011

Licence to Speed?

I have just been "spammed" with an intriguing email from a company who offer insurance for drivers who lose their licence for speeding, either through an outright ban or "totting up". The insurance would cover the costs of alternative means of transport, possibly including a family member being employed as a chauffeur. The costs are not excessive (under £150) and the cover seems to offer reasonable recompense (about £15K for a 12month ban, maximum). I think this may have been around for some time, but I have only heard of it now.

I can't believe this is real, but it doesn't seem to be a scam. This is basically saying that drivers can, for a relatively small sum, buy the right to ignore the consequences of their actions. The company "blog" even says:

"Just think what would happen if you lost your driving licence? You could lose your job! how could you pick up the kids from school? how could you do your shopping, this list goes on and on, so just think about it."

Surely, just "thinking about it" is what keeps us one step away from total chaos and carnage on our roads. The Brazilian Critical Mass incident is testament to what can happen when consequences are forgotten. Also, it's nice to see such a positive spin put on the idea of thinking about alternative transport solutions...

How about considering the speed limit? That might work even better than insurance.