Tuesday, 31 July 2007

The River Blakewater

Blackburn, originally a village dating back to around the 6th century and mentioned in the Doomsday book, was a settlement on the banks of a small river called the Blakewater. The name Blakewater derives from 'black water', though this name probably described its appearance before heavy pollution took a hold in the early 1800s when sewage was discharged into the river and it became a source of infection for epidemics such as scarlet fever, cholera and typhus.

In 1849, Charles Tiplady a printer and alderman of Blackburn in the 1800's, in a letter to the Preston Guardian, called public attention to the polluted state of the Blakewater Brook at that time, and contrasted it with the purity of the Brook in his boyhood.
He wrote:
“Then, how beautiful to stroll, by its devious courses, along the fields to Brookhouse; to the rookery at Little Harwood Hall; and on to the confines of the Sour Milk Hall farm. Then, following its mazy current, we came to Whitebirk. There we sat down on its banks, listening to the sweet carolling of the birds; ever and anon refreshing ourselves with copious draughts of the pure liquid, and pulling our homely crust of ‘pie and other prog’ from our pockets, feasted right merrily. Ah, those were happy days! But now, poor old Brook, how art thou fallen!”
The river improved in the later 1800s as more sewage treatment plants were built but probably not to a condition fit for drinking. The river is a central feature of Blackburn's coat of arms where it appears as a black wavy line symbolising the origins of the town on the banks of the Blakewater at Blakey Moor.

In times of average rainfall it is no more than a stream. It is quite insignificant and people mostly ignore that it is there. It meanders down from the local hills to follow a course through the centre of town. It passes my cycling route in the vicinity of Little Harwood and trundles off townwards mainly out of site. For a lot of its course it is covered. It disappears under bridges, behind mills walls and down beneath culverts as it passes through Blackburn. The river is covered by main roads such as Ainsworth Street before going west to join up with the River Darwen at Witton.

Since the river disappeared in the 1960's underneath extensive culverts, it has now been realised that many of those changes, which gave priority to motorised traffic, are no longer suitable for the future needs of the town. In its master plan for the development of the town centre, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, has as one of its goals 'the opening up parts of the River Blakewater'. This will be an interesting part of an extensive regeneration plan that includes 'ribbons of green'.

Little Harwood has a tributary brook that is also culverted. Passing through Little Harwood you certainly wouldn't know it was there. It then joins Knusden Brook under Philips Road before reappearing as the River Blakewater to go under the railway line and past Cob Wall to town. Little Harwood Brook was recently the site of lengthy roadworks in Robinson Street where the culvert was repaired over a period of many months.

This also involved part of Philips Road near to where Little Harwood Brook joins Knusden Brook. Now it seems it is the turn of Philips Road proper to have extensive road repairs. The sign indicates more than 6 months of disruption to traffic (including bikes!).
You can see from the old photographs where the river was culverted in the 1960s how extensive this work can be. Perhaps it's too narrow? Look forward to some updates on progress in the coming months.

Some content was provided by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council and Lancashire Evening Telegraph for use in the Cotton Town digitisation project

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Nice day for a ride

Today, for a change, it hasn't been raining and the sun has been shining. The temparature has been hovering about 15C, which although on the cool side, is great for a bike ride. The view above is looking down the Calder valley towards Whalley with Longridge Fell and Kemple End in the distance.

I managed to double my usually weekly mileage in one fell swoop just by exploring routes round our neighbouring east Lancashire towns. From Whalley, via Great Harwood, through Clayton-le-Moors to Accrington (home of the famous Accrington Stanley and the historic Accrington Pals).

It struck me how unoriginal some of the street names are. Clayton Street in Clayton, Church Street in Church. I quite liked the play on words for a shop in Clayton - it was called Clayton l'Amour. Something else struck me as I passed through the urban landscape, how so many pubs are closed or for sale - a sign of the times. More of this in a future post.

From Church (west of Accrington), I picked up the Hyndburn Greenway, A track that provides access to the canal towards Rishton. Rather nice too. Fine views from here although the aqueduct over the M65 motorway was rather noisy. From Rishton, I took the Greenway towards Blackburn joining the canal path halfway before returning home. Oh, I forget to mention the reason for the trip. To buy a door. Who says shopping on a bike can't be fun?

Thursday, 26 July 2007

'Lock 'em up'

Is this sort of thing blighting your neighbourhood? There were three of these placards along my commute chained to either lampposts or in this case a tree. Most seem to have been destroyed. We must be a nation of horders to need all these lock-ups. You'll notice it is lying down in the picture. When the council chaps come to cut the grass they move it out of the way but don't remove it. Not their job, see.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Bike commuter mugged at knifepoint

Previously, I showed a route available to commuters on the west of Blackburn, taking the Leeds and Liverpool canal towards Rishton. Last week I also had a look the other way along that route. Access points to the canal around the Whitebirk area on the east of Blackburn are plentiful with access possible from the main A6119 shown here, Phoenix park and the Greenbank areas.

Travelling towards Blackburn has a distictly different feel from the route through the countryside towards Rishton and Accrington. In the Blackburn direction the towpath is more enclosed with a mixture of modern industrial units and large old mills combined with numerous road bridges.

This not only makes it a less fluid ride, but it also introduces hazards with sharp bends in the path. What is also noticable, is the graffiti, wasteland and industrial decay leading to a less secure feeling as I rode along. I did see another cyclist and a couple of other folk.

It was near these access points that, yesterday around 7am, Andy Seward, a commuting cyclist from Rishton, was robbed of his bike, rucksack and phone by two hooded men armed with a knife. More details from the Lancashire Telegraph here..

This route is of key importance to the local cycling strategy but crimes like this will completely put off potential cyclists from using the route. The more people use it, the safer it will feel but one feels much more has to be done to reassure users that it is safe.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Gone in 60 Seconds - The Bike Crime Wave

Tomorrow, Tuesday 24th July at 19:30, ITV1 The London Programme, shows a documentary on bike crime and the methods used to steal bikes. The program will apparently give an insight into how thieves are stealing bicycles from city centres. If you're about to buy a lock for your bike, it could be worth waiting until you've seen the program and then you know what you're up against.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Mobile phones

The ride home today and this article about a hit-and-run tragedy reminded me of the ever present danger on the roads as we cycle. The hit-and run incident ended in a poor girl's death. Allegedly the driver may have been using a mobile phone. There was insufficient evidence and the verdict was accidental death. The family are understandably upset and feel justice was not done.

Myself, I spotted three drivers using mobiles whilst I cycled home. One, a young Asian girl, unbelievably, appeared to be texting and was actually looking at the phone not the road. Frightening.

You and Yours

BBC Radio4 'You and Yours' program was on cycling today and touched on many of the issues and challenges facing improving cycling in the UK.
You can listen again for 7 days at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/youandyours.

It started by citing the examples of York and Oxford for the cities with the greatest use of cycling but mentioned large increases in uptake where there is traffic congestion and especially charging.
Cycling England were represented: two pronged focus on cycle training and cycling demonstration towns comparing spending in equivalent continental towns.

Guests also compared attitude between UK and Holland. Sharing facilities and respect of road/path space and other users being a common theme. Contrary anti-cycling views cited badly behaved cyclists.

The revival of road bikes vs. the boom in mountain bikes was mentioned by Bike Biz trade magazine, seeing a
trend in increasing demand for city bikes. The tax rebate scheme, 'Cycle to Work' also got a mention. Details http://www.bikeforall.net/. Also in the bike business, in 10-15 years UK indepedent retailers down in number from 4000 to about 2000 but knowledge and quality of service better.

Training was emphasised for both motorists & cyclists. Bikeability (formerly cycling proficiency) cycle training uk, 3 levels. Also: importance of asserting yourself on the road. 35/149 local authorities offering bikeability training check http://www.bikeability.org.uk/ and your local authority for details.

Safety with traffic and trucks - a planner's view was that we suffer from insufficient planning for walkers and cyclists.

Lyon in France have a scheme Velolyon similar to the one just launched in Paris. Paris will have over 20,000 bikes available by end of year.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Fecitt's memorial

Opposite a couple of mills on the way to work there is a stone mason's yard. It's been there many years and served the local community in providing memorials and stone products. Recently the stone saws and jib crane have been idle. It's a very basic place and would be quite tough to work there in the winter. First thing in the morning on cold days, I would see the fire stoked up as the mason prepared his daily work. Often he'd be there on the way back. He's not there now and most of the stone has gone. All that's left are the 40ft jib and the peeling paint. This can be their memorial because no doubt someone will come along and squeeze a few flats in the space it occupies between the road in front and the railway behind.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Vive la vélorution!

Today is a special day. As well as Bastille day, Parisians can celebrate having over 10,000 bicycles at their disposal for travel across their city. Link.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Cycling schemes

One of the features I thought would be good to include is to show you some of the improvements to the 'cycle network' that make up part of my route. Then I realised, there are none. Between Brownhill and Blackburn town centre or Little Harwood there is not one initiative that helps cycling.

In its cycling strategy Blackburn with Darwen council states:
"The Council plans to develop a number of schemes to link residential areas to the whole
range of needed facilities including employment, leisure, education, retail and health in a
traffic free environment. Such schemes are essential in widening choice for citizens and
promoting alternative sustainable travel”

None of the schemes include the A666 Whalley New Road or Bastwell, which is my shortest commuting route. It is acknowledged in their strategy document that there are shortcomings to on-road cycling facilities and that the busy A6119 Whitebirk Drive, which is my alternative, is not suitable for cyclists.

One scheme that has seen some activity in recent years is improvement to the canal towpath alongside the Leeds and Liverpool canal. The canal was opened in 1816 and now a section past Blackburn makes up part of National Cycle Route number 6. This provides a through route from east to west across the town. As an excuse to warm the muscles in the incessant rain we're having this July, I decided to forego the normal route home and explore this path towards Rishton. In the photo you can see we're quickly into the countryside on what is a reasonable metalled path. Commuting from Rishton to the east side of town at Whitebirk is easily achieved in 15 minutes although mudguards (fenders for our American readers) are advised, since there are some areas of standing water and the occasional pothole to contend with. From Rishton you can continue to Accrington or take a disused railway line to Great Harwood.

I've no idea how many cyclists use this route. I didn't encounter anyone apart from a couple of walkers exercising their dogs. From these communities, this route provides a great way to get to Blackburn without too much effort since it is flat all the way.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

It's that time of year

These coaches outside St. Stephen's school this morning probably mean it's that time of year again, when the summer term runs down and the children get the chance to go on the school trip. For most, it's a day trip to a museum or other attraction. For year six students in some schools they get the chance to do something more adventurous like a short break at PGL (known by the kids as 'parents get lost'! Where did you get to on your school trips?

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

It's not there now, the ground's all flat...

An update to the earlier post: Today was the day the material arrived. I was reminded of the Bernard Cribbin's song, 'Hole in the Ground':
"Well there we were, discussing this hole
Hole in the ground so big and sort of round it was
It’s not there now, the ground’s all flat
And beneath it is the bloke in the bowler hat
And that’s that"

And nearby, earlier in the day, three official sort of gentlemen were seen taking stock of the situation.

What situation? Not obvious, but has anyone seen them since?

So that's about a 3 week lead time from getting a hole acknowledged, to getting it filled (based on a limited sample size of 2!)

Monday, 9 July 2007

Cycle Friendly Cities

This YouTube video is about cycle friendly cities. It shows how bicycles can be part of everyday life and how increasing use results from good town planning, improving awareness of individual needs and the importance of safe coexistence of pedestrians, cyclists and other forms of transport. Holland, Denmark and Columbia are shown as examples. I particularly like the concept of accessible meeting spaces where people come together and can relax in a car free environment.

Here in Blackburn only 1% of commuters use a bike to get to work. In Copenhagen it is 33%. There's a gulf in the difference in the mindset. In England we need to reach critical mass where it feels normal to be able to take the bike anywhere local, whether it is to work, or to a social function.

To get an example of what that 'normal' car-free culture is like, stay somewhere like a Centre Parcs village. Once you leave your car, all facilities are in easy reach by paths and cycle ways. After a few days the driving drug starts to wear off and the cycling bug hits. If we could replicate this model on a larger scale, England could start to catch up with the rest of Europe.

Want to be a cycle hero?

Do you want to be a cycle hero? There's nothing particularly heroic about using a bike to get to work. It can be fun, invigorating, and rewarding on many levels. Of course, in this age of environmental concerns, one of the major benefits is reducing carbon emissions and helping to save the planet. You can also benefit from the savings you get from not running a car.

If you go to the cinema this summer, you are likely to see a commercial entitled 'CycleHero' funded by DEFRA and made by the CTC. The film features actress Genevieve Love Lake. It is aimed at commuters using cars for journeys of 3 miles or less and hopes to emphasise the difference you can make by giving up the car and cycling to work.

With less than a week to go to CycleHero week (July 14th-22nd), it's time get down to the shed and dust off that old bike. Try it for a week. You might just enjoy it more than you think. The CTC have dedicated the week as Climate Change Activation week. CTC clubs are arranging a series of dedicated rides and public events + film evenings across the country. See www.cyclehero.com for more details.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Mind how you go

Usually the daily ride is without incident. The only thing of note today was that it is still raining. Occasionally I get the odd car or van trying to pull out of a side road at me. This week I nearly got side-swiped by a 4x4 turning left. He must have misjudged my speed, because he still hadn't overtaken me before the junction came up. Luckily we both slowed down and he let me through.

The same can't be said for Marty. He ended up in hospital. His story is here. A sobering thought for when next out on the road.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Psychalist supplemented his weekly commute cycling with a trip out last night. Here is the river Ribble at Ribchester.

The river is high but thankfully it hasn't got to the levels experienced in Yorkshire. Just upstream from here the Lancashire Showground looks in good shape for the Royal Lancashire Show. It is quite vulnerable being in the bend of the river just below Dinkley.

Just across the road from the bridge is the De Tabley hotel. It looks like it closed again.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Laws and Physics

Most of the UK has been under deluge of heavy rains for the past week or so. It's like the monsoon season here. Psychalist has been getting wet this week, which is OK, but the camera has been staying in the dry. Here's a topic that isn't easy to get a photo of anyway - Seatbelts.

Not everyone enjoys physics at school, I'll grant you. However, the simple relationship between mass and velocity called momentum can't be lost on so many people, can it?. Every day there are reminders of these laws of physics: knocking down skittles; dropping something delicate on a hard floor; even walking into a door or other hard object.

Why, in the space of a 15 minute ride, can I see so many people in cars not wearing their seatbelts? Some days I don't notice so much but if I try, I can sometimes see, in the length of two and a half miles, up to a dozen folk risking theirs and other's lives. I would say this is significantly more than the 10% that research shows are not wearing belts. Perhaps I ride through pockets of resistance.

I used to think it was predominantly a certain sector of society but it isn't. It doesn't appear to be particular to any one community, religion or class. I see it all over. Some places it may be more noticeable but you can see it everywhere everyday without much effort. Perhaps the only consistent feeling I have about the people that I see without belts is that they tend to be younger drivers but not exclusively. This is confirmed by the Department for Transport's 2007/2008 road safety campaign:

"The 'Backwards' (Pizza) campaign was developed in 2003 and aims to demonstrate the importance of wearing a seatbelt in the front and back of a vehicle. It particularly targets short trips at low speeds in urban areas, as it is most frequently on these types of journeys that drivers don't belt up. 17-24 year old males are the main targets for the media as research suggests that this age group are the worst offenders, but the campaign will be seen by, and is relevant to, a much broader audience."

A recent newspaper called for a review of our stance on speed cameras because they aren't contributing to road safety. Apparently the UK road safety statistics used to be some of the best in the world but are now slipping down the league table of countries. One aspect of deploying speed cameras must be as a solution to limited police resources. The disadvantage of less patrols though, is more folk thinking they can get away with moving traffic violations. I don't think you notice as much from the inside of a car. Being on a bike enables you to see a lot more. I not only see belts not used but also more crafty culprits who leave the belt fastened and then sit on it to make it look like they are wearing it.

Education has to be major factor. I know from first-hand experience the value of a seatbelt. I wouldn't even be writing this today if it were not for one. Some degree of lazyness is also a factor and the younger drivers tend to have a greater sense of immortatlity. Perhaps it's time to bring back the public information adverts with the hammer and the peach. The Think Road Safety campaign is not so sure:

"Seatbelt wearing is not identified as a priority area in FY0607 but following the publication of the 2005 KSI statistics it was agreed that this topic still requires public education. It may be necessary to review the current creative strategy, partly because it is beginning to suffer from over-exposure and partly in order to target more explicitly the occasions when seatbelts are not worn."

Actually, I think my straw poll survey would have an even higher percentage for the non-wearers if I include all the van, bus and taxi drivers. They'll tell you they're exempt but they're not. Only the likes of milkmen and refuse collectors are. The rest are covered by the same laws but I bet not many of them know that.

I think a couple of patrol officers could have a productive hour every few weeks just to remind drivers not only are they breaking one law but they can't break the laws of physics.