Sunday, 27 April 2008

The end is nigh

Not long now. Major changes down at the road works this week. Gone are the safety fences. The kerbs are all in place as is the wall round the parapet. The footpath is prepared. Now we just need the tarmac. Will next week (34) be the last? Tune in next week to find out!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Taking a line

There will be a lot of people who are thinking about using a bike for local journeys but haven't quite got the confidence to start. This is partly what the UK government's £140m cycling program is about, persuading the marginal cyclists out onto the road again or for the first time. A lot of the people considering taking up cycling on public roads will be nervous about the traffic and rightly have concerns for how safe it is.

Over on Jeff's Bike Blog, Jeff highlights a concern on the traffic side of the bike, that is, how close vehicles are as they pass a cyclist. Jeff, impressively, has taken on the local law enforcers and educated them in their state laws regarding a minimum 3 foot clearance applicable where he rides. He has presented evidence gathered using a video camera mounted on his bike. It makes for some interesting reading and is another way that active cyclists can raise awareness of cycling. A number of times I've wished I had a video camera running when someone passing in vehicle has come too close. Luckily motorists in the main stay well clear of cyclists. Just occasionally I wonder if they have seen me, perhaps lazily cutting a corner or rushing to make a right turn. (Don't forget US and continental readers we drive on the left - Ed)

On the other side of the bike, the kerb side, the concern runs to parked cars, opening doors, pedestrians and animals stepping into the road and traffic emerging from side roads. A cyclist has to decide what line to ride in all these circumstances to maximise his own safety. These two pictures here clearly illustrate a good approach to this. When there is no danger kerb side, the cyclist is keeping well in to the left. When approaching a car waiting to enter the road from the left, the cyclist has moved out into the main carriageway to increase his safety margin for this new hazard to allow for problems such as the driver's foot slipping off the clutch. (Yes, most cars are manual in the UK - Ed). The cyclist made this move gently, without swerving, so that traffic approaching from behind had plenty of time to react and slow down, because now the cyclist is dominating his part of the road. This is what differentiates a confident cyclist from one that isn't.

The government funding for local authorities to spend on cycling resources includes scope for provision of local cycle training so those that aren't confident cycling on roads can become confident riders.

Keyhole surgery

Following on from the previous post regarding the pipeline colour theme, you can see the gas pipes being replaced on the A666 near Brownhill. Yellow in colour to signify natural gas. These are being assembled above ground before being pushed down into the ground inside the old gas pipe that is already buried. This saves digging a great long trench. Amazing what you can see from a bike!

Monday, 21 April 2008

Big Brother at Glenfield

Every day recently I've been passing the foundations of a mysterious installation at the junction of Philips Road and Blakewater Road. The purple piping sticking out of the concrete and the four sturdy bolts were a clue. These are just the sort of thing we've seen down the sides of motorways in the UK where traffic information signs have been installed. I could hardly imagine the density of traffic on Philips Road would warrant an information display. If I'd thought about it enough, I should have guessed it would be a camera. In future we will feel safe knowing the area is being watched and lunatic speeding motorists flying up Blakewater Road will be recorded. It won't stop them, but hey.

I found a certain irony that the guy installing the camera didn't look too pleased at having his photograph taken.

As an aside, do readers in other contries have colour schemes for pipes laid underground? Here in the UK we have yellow for gas (see next item), blue for water, purple for electronics and loads of other colour codes I'm not familiar with - all probably covered in a British Standard.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Making molehills out of mountains

Thirty two weeks ago, Philips Road, here in Blackburn, was dug up to get access to repair the culvert that covers the River Blakewater as it flows from Little Harwood on its way to Blackburn. Finally, the earth that was removed over six months ago, is being put back and the place restored to normality.

Bethell the contractors were out in force perparing the ground for re-laying the road. This last week the kerbstones for the road have been put in place over the newly restored culvert, ready for resurfacing Philips road.

In the first picture you can see the blue inspection access tower leading down to the culvert but by the end of the week it was all but covered.

It's not quite over as there is still a small section of culvert over Knusden Brook that needs repairing, but that can't commence until some new road is made available to allow the current single lane working to be shift over to make room. Personally I can't wait as the traffic lights are at a section where I can be doing 30mph but stopping every day spoils the flow of my ride. Not only that but the section of temporary road is so bumpy and worn out it's becoming dangerous.

Roll on the next couple of weeks when it will be all change, hopefully for the better.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Blackburn with Darwen promotes cycling with routes booklet

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council have produced a booklet containing six local cycle routes in the aim of promoting cycling in the borough. The emphasis is on the health benefits resulting from regular exercise. The routes are aimed at all abilities from beginners through to advanced riders. The booklet includes some on-road routes and a number of off-road routes including some mountain bike trails. The easiest of the routes is 8Km around Witton Country Park and the Leeds and Liverpool canal. The hardest is a 25Km circular tour of Blackburn.

The booklet is available from local libraries, the visitor centre in Church Street and town halls or via the council's website.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Budapest - cycling city?

I'm interested in comparing how good cycling is in other towns and cities, especially abroad. When considering alternatives for motorised transport, the humble bicycle is an obvious choice for getting around town. It's efficiency for getting from A to B is good and often better than the car and the ability to get places that cars cannot, often means time saved parking and accessing urban facilities such as shops, libraries, restaurants etc.

On a recent trip to Budapest, Psychalist was on the lookout for cycling facilities and how the Hungarian cyclists cope with their city. There were plenty of bikes around town and I got the impression cycling there is increasing in popularity.

One of my first impressions was of a busy and vibrant city that is pretty much dominated by cars. Many of the urban roads have been designed with the motorist in mind. Multi-lane highways course efficiently through the city using underpasses and flyovers to keep the traffic moving. This of course is a disinsentive to take up the bike. Conversely the cost of fuel is an incentive to cycle, being a similar price to fuel anywhere else in Europe. That said, the roads were very busy.

In 2004 Hungarians staged their first official critical mass bike ride to raise the awareness of the needs of cyclists and further the cause of improving cycling facilities. Every year since, they have had increasing numbers of cyclists taking part with an estimated 50,000 cyclists last year. Their efforts have been rewarded by getting cycling on the political agenda and being part of the urban planning. Appearently the number of people using bikes in Budapest on a daily basis has doubled each year since the first critical mass ride, showing the power of this peaceful form of demonstration.

For cycling, some parts of Budapest fare better than others. Along the Danube river and wider avenues, there are cycle tracks. These are well used as are the bridges to cross the river. Mixing with the pedestrians is a bit of a problem although most people seem to cope with it. Bicycle bells were heard often. In the busier parts of town, the roads are less suitable for riders. Here, the only cyclists appeared to be couriers, of which we saw a few. Some were riding fixed gear racers and others mountain bikes.

There are a few bike hire places in Budapest renting bikes for the day or for longer tours. A lot of the bikes we saw were quite smart bikes. The majority of them were mountain bikes, some racers and tourers and less so the urban bikes more commonly seen in western European cities. Schwinn started making bikes in Hungary in a joint venture with Csepel Bicycle, shortly after the change from communism in 1988. This was a common brand seen around the city including a fat wheeled cruiser but many other makes were also on show, most of them I hadn't heard of before.

There are many parks around the city for recreational use. The weekend proved to be a popular spot for joggers and riders to get their exercise.

I concluded Budapest isn't on the same level as other European cities for cycling but that shouldn't put anyone off cycling there as it has much better facilities than most towns, including the one I live in.

Major cities trying to raise awareness of cycling, hold regular critical mass bike rides around town. This Sunday April 20th (Earth day), Budapest is staging its annual critical mass ride. If you are in Budapest at the weekend I'm sure you could join in. Meet at Deák Ferenc tér, 5th District, 4:30pm.

Could we get a mass critical enough to have one in Blackburn?

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Blakewater renovation d-day

The original duration for the roadworks was 30 weeks finishing at Easter. Last week was the 30th week and there is still some way to go before all is made good. The brickwork on the parapet is progressing, as is finishing the concrete culvert before backfilling with the removed earth.

One thing I noticed whilst cycling past this week was the concrete was painted bright blue. It's a pity I didn't get a photo of it because it would be nice to know what it is for. All I can think is that it is a type of concrete sealer. It was soon covered with a layer of bitumen, so I can't show it you.

On the rest of the commute route I've seen a couple more cyclists. I think the lighter days and spring weather may be bringing them out. I mention spring weather as though it has been gloriously nice but really it's been very variable, swinging from mild spring sunshine to snow and cold rain. Typically British weather really. Here's some spring-time shots of some of our worst winter snow at Easter.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Down the culvert - week 29

Here's the concrete arriving for the last section of the culvert roof. Note cyclists are advised not to pass down the left of the wagon.

This last section was quite large. After it was poured, the contractors stayed late to compact it.

The brickies built the stone wall of the parapet. This is much higher than the previous one, which had railings on it.

Maybe the idea is to dissuade people from chucking road signs in the river.