Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Roadworks week 23

Over at the Whitebirk roundabout, the two million pounds spent on installing traffic lights, is being hailed a success as the work comes to a close. There's some way to go yet with the works on Philips Road. Last week, the junction of the two brooks was still having the walls reinforced and rebuilt.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Contrary road rules

The sequence of photos seen here illustrates one of my daily hazards. The cause of this hazard is parked cars. It shows the danger, road users, especially cyclists, are routinely exposed to as a result of contradictory policies and laws.

Here in the UK we have nearly enough cars to share one between two, and that includes people too old or young to drive! The side effect of having all these cars is many fold, from taking up all the extra space, to reducing road safety, even when not moving.

This wide road used to be an attractive boulevard with trams plying the route to Wilpshire. The idea of running trams again has recently been talked about, but the likelihood of them on this route is very low because of the number of cars. They are also
one of the reasons why Blackburn is unlikely to become one of Cycling England's Cycling Demonstration Towns.

Taken from the cyclist's eye view the three photos show how this increased parking near junctions is obscuring the view of drivers coming out of the junction.

From about 50 metres away, the junction on the left is barely visible, let alone any vehicles trying to come out of it. Nearer to the junction, at about 25 metres away, you can just see the nose of a car waiting to come into the main road.

The driver cannot possibly see traffic coming from the right, so cyclists coming down the hill, often at speeds in excess of 25 mph, will be unsighted. At 5 metres from the junction, the cyclist has to slow to a crawl to ensure the driver eventually sees him.

The latest revision of the highway code states 'a motorist must not park opposite or within 10 metres (32 feet) of a junction, except in an authorised parking space'. Previous versions of the code stated a motorist should not park within 15m of a junction. Road safety policy has changed, allowing councils discretion to create parking bays right up to a junction thereby reducing road safety.

These pictures were taken on the A666 main road into Blackburn. Whilst I understand residents want to be able to park outside their houses, the effect, of lines of cars parked either side of this busy road, is worse visibility for both road users and pedestrians. It reduces the width to a narrow lane either way. Although this part of the road is straight, it is one of the more hazardous parts of my daily journey.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Gisburn Forest Cycle Trail

Last weekend the weather was too good to pass up going cycling. We decided to go over to Gisburn Forest in the Forest of Bowland, near Slaidburn.

Forest Enterprise offer three choices of way marked trails and we chose to do the longest (16Km) red route. We were not alone as there were plenty of other cyclists out enjoying the weather as well. It had been about -5C overnight with a sharp frost, but in the sunshine it felt quite pleasant.

The trails are a mixture of forest roads and single track and, with the harvesting of trees and mixed planting schemes, the ride provided a variety of views, ascents and descents.

Some bits on the way marked trail allowed for a bit of technical challenge, but for those seeking more thrills, there appeared to be a number of 'unofficial' trails with ramps and drop-offs. Quite a few folk were in the trees trying out their expensive gear on these, but we stuck to the trail.

Leaflet (PDF): http://www.forestry.gov.uk
For a larger google maps view: http://www.bikely.com
GPS tracklog: http://www.bikely.com

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Old news

Our local paper, the Lancashire Telegraph has just run an article in its on-line edition about the restoration of the culvert in Philips Road, stating that work is under way. With the work ongoing for getting on six months already, you have to wonder if it's been a slow news day.

Quotes from councillor Alan Cottam in charge of regeneration, indicated completion will be around early May and the design of the repair will improve river flow. Really? He also stated the landscaping will be restored. Will that include the trees you can see in the picture above from August last year?

Commuting takes its toll

All around the world, there are numerous folks, like me, using fairly unsophisticated and old bikes to get to work on. Often these bikes are of mediocre quality and with good reason, since for the conditions they have to endure, it's not worth ruining a good bike.

I've been following the interesting saga of the bike of doom, the real life experiment in running a cheap department store bike as a commuter. Steve has detailed the life of this £50 bike over the last year. He's done over 3000 Km on it and had to do numerous repaiirs. He's documented the advantages such as, it's unattractive to steal and disadvantages, such as reliability of the components. Overall, the bike of doom seems to have been a surprise in that it is still going and has fuelled a passion for riding and maintaining bikes. Steve has just started commuting again last week - in temperatures down to -44 degrees (in F or C it's the same - bloody freezing!) Check out the Bike of Doom blog for some interesting reading.

Also using the same department store cycle is Urban Xavier in Montreal . He has similar tales to tell. Also good reading.

Commuting has been taking it's toll on my bike again. This nearly thirty year old rusting steel Raleigh is begging for some restoration. I think it deserves some new paint in the spring and I have been hoping it gets through the winter without too many problems. There was one last week though, as I discovered when another spoke in the back wheel broke. In September I had two fail and realised then, getting parts for 27in wheels is becoming more difficult. I looked somewhere new for a local bike shop that carries spares and was pleasantly surprised when Henry Gregson Cycles in Accrington were more than happy to keep my old machine going. Now I have the new spoke fitted and somewhere to go for tyres and bits when I need them. Well done HGC and thanks.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Culvert operations week 22

I hope readers are enjoying following the saga affecting the upper reaches of the Blakewater. Psychalist has received many hits from people researching the Blakewater so if nothing else, this diary of nonsense may provide a sort of historical record for the future when none of this is visible any more. Twenty two weeks have passed by since the works got under way. The road signs warning of delays appeared back in August and here we are, approaching spring, having witnessed the progress, over the winter, of the restoration work to the culvert. I've no idea if Bethell are on target to complete in the thirty weeks allotted, but my impression from passing each day is that there is light at the end of the culvert.

This week, at the downstream end of the works, activity has been taking place around the bridge parapet where the footpath from Little Harwood comes out on Beechwood Road. In the middle area earth has been moved to fill in around the restored sections of culvert. The site is not so dominated by huge mounds of earth and therefore looks tidier despite being a long way off finished.

In the upper section, the steelworkers have been preparing for the strengthening of the walls at the junction. This work has extended over the other side of the road to Knusden Brook. There is a small section that passes under the road at right angles. I guess at some stage this bit will also need the treatment and so the roadworks will switch sides of the road.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Double standards

Along the main road on my daily ride, the council are working on the lamp posts. Some parts of Whalley New Road A666 now have no lighting whilst other areas have two street lights.

The old light polluting orange sodium vapour lamps are being replaced with directional white light down-lighters. Where the new lights are, the light at road level is already noticeably better.

Cycling in the extreme

Over in Alaska, contestants are in the final preparations for an endurance race later this month, the Iditarod Trail Invitational. The human powered race runs for 1100 miles from near Anchorage in the south to the north west coast at Nome. It's a winter race for runners, skiers or cyclists with a choice of the full 1100 miles or 350 miles from Knik Lake to McGrath. It runs a week before the traditional Iditarod dog sled race. Competitors will brave Arctic conditions to travel overland in the midst of an Alaskan winter.

One of the cyclists, Jill Homer, has documented her preparations for the 350 mile race on her excellent and very readable blog, Up in Alaska. She's trained hard all winter in as extreme conditions as she was able to find locally in Juneau, Alaska. That included sleeping out in bivouacs in sub-zero temperatures and hauling her oversized Surly Pugsley bike up frozen snow clogged mountain trails. Along the way she has documented her equipment choices and what nutrition she'll need. Fascinating reading - check out her blog and wish her well.

Also running in the race are a number of Brits. Christian Cullinane is also going for the 350 mile distance. Interesting to compare what's in his nutrition plan compared with Jill's. He has a blog at cool-biker. Alan Tilling, going by foot to McGrath, Carl Hutchings, previous winner to Nome in 2005, James Leavesley endurance racer, and 21 year old, Joe Johnstone, youngest to attempt the 1100 mile route by foot.

The race starts Feb 24th. Good luck to Jill and all the other competitors.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Let there be light

I thought it worth noting the dramatic change in light levels at commute time. In the image above you can see cycling home is becoming more pleasant with increasing daylight hours. If I get away from work early enough, the lights will only be needed for a couple more weeks. The last few days have seen plenty of clear skies and sunshine. Even in the mornings, the frost has been light. There's something about dry cold that is much easier to bear than damp cold. What a contrast to January which ended OK but started with many cold wet days.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Roadworks week 21

Last week saw the next section of concrete roof go on the culvert just downstream from the junction of Knusden Brook and Little Harwood Brook. The inspection hole can be seen here (not as I assumed to go over the junction). The side walls of the next section have been strengthened. You might also notice the lighter nights improve the view somewhat.

London to get Velib like bike scheme

£500m over 10yrs: Five point plan:
  • £75m scheme to provide 6000 sturdy cycles located around London with 'stations' situated every 300m. Will be free for first 30 mins to registered users, and a £1/30mins after that.
  • Around a dozen radial cycling corridors into the city centre
  • Bike zones with cycle priority streets, 20Mph limits linking areas.
  • Legible London signage to help navigation for cyclists and walkers.
  • 'Streets of Gold' urban makeovers linking key local destinations such as schools, shops and stations.
Aim - by 2025 5% of trips to be made by bike (1.7m), 22m on foot and include major investment in cycle parking facilities. Today Mr. Livingstone also announced gas guzzling vehicles will get hit for £25/day to drive within the congestion zone.

London Cycling Campaign
Singletrack Magazine
Times online

Sheldon Brown RIP

Sheldon Brown, font of knowledge about bikes, died last week aged 63 years old. His writings on repairing and maintaining bicycles are famous the world over. His insights and tips on the ins and outs of bikes are exceptional, often giving much more detail than to be found in published literature. The cycling world has lost a valuable advocate.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Urban cycling gaining popularity

I know lots of statistics are available to show cycling, as a form of commuting, is on the increase. Many cities are experiencing improved uptake in cycling, due in part to the slowdown of journey times by car, an increased awareness of green issues and climate change and also the expense as petrol heads towards £1.10 a litre or £5 a gallon (for US readers, that's somewhere in the region of $8.33 a US gallon). How many of you are actually seeing more cyclists as you ride to work?

I'd have to say, even here in Blackburn, there are probably more people riding their bikes to work. It's not very scientific, I know, but before two or three years ago, I used to see very few cyclists in the rush hour. Now I regularly see one or two each morning and evening, even in the winter. As I'm rarely travelling at the same times, these are often different people. Therefore in my very blunt straw poll, I figure cycling to work is gaining popularity.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, if all commuters left their cars at home one day a week it would reduce the UK’s total CO2 emissions by almost 1 per cent. In the UK 71% of commuters travel by car but only 3% travel by bicycle, so there is a long way to go until we reach the level of bicycle use in countries like China or India. I know, they have the problem of increasing car ownership, but you get the picture. With the average commute being 8.7 miles, the proportion of journeys that could be cycled in less than 30 minutes must be quite high, but potential cyclists need to feel safe on the road.

Councils cannot expect the increase to happen organically and whilst I understand adapting streets to be cycle friendly is beyond the budget of most local authorities, you have to wonder whether they are doing enough when compared with many European cities such as Paris, Copenhagen and Berlin. Here, we have a lack of dedicated cycle lanes and no separation from motorised traffic. The roads are in a poor state with cyclists having to navigate pot-holes, grates and manholes and run the risk of being 'doored' when passing endless lines of parked vehicles.

Even where new developments occur, facilities for cyclists seem to come too far down the list of provisions. An example locally is our town centre, which is constantly having expensive imported paving replaced by other expensive imported paving, yet rarely are cycling facilities added.
Blackburn recently spent £1.2m on an improvement scheme at Sudell Cross and added a controversial column of light as an art installation, but no cycle stands for visitors to the local shops. Any cyclists stopping there will have to lock their bikes to the street furniture. Perhaps the planners intended all along for cyclists to park their bikes in the art work braid?

If cycling is increasing locally, from what I can see, it is happening despite any cycling strategy. Any credit should go to the cyclists not to the council. Rather than getting a pat on the back, they should be working out how much more it would increase if they really showed a demonstrable commitment to improving facilities.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Psychalist exclusive - Source of the River Blakewater revealed

This week, the fifth in January 2008, saw the momentous occasion down at the Philips Road works. Not seen for many years, the site where Little Harwood Brook and Knusden Brook come together to form the River Blakewater. This is the water course that early settlers chose when Blackburn was formalised as a settlement in Roman times.

The steelwork prefabrication in the foreground looks like it may be a cover for the junction and contains an inspection hole. This is this week's roadworks news.