Monday, 25 February 2013

The Everyday story of bureaucracy

A first attempt at mobile blogging this.

A couple of weeks ago I exchanged emails with a very nice man from North Somerset District council about a couple of junctions in my cycling parish. Let's see if I can successfully post them for you below.

I'd welcome any opinions as it strikes me that things are going backwards on this front. If I can't ride for a bit because of asthma issues, I met as well make myself useful in other ways.

What do you think?

Thanks for your response.
Whilst I appreciate your objective logic and the decisions you have therefore made, the end result is that cycling provision across these two junctions has gone backwards.
There may be few cyclists observed, but that is no comfort to those of us that cycle there regularly. It also does nothing to improve the chances of more people cycling in our area. Notwithstanding your comments about being a cyclist, there are references in your mail to “speeding up traffic flow” and seeking to “reducing drivers’ frustration” on the main road. Whilst I know you have to balance the needs of all road users, the encouragement of more cyclists, and their safety on the roads, must be a priority for you? These are main roads, and in the winter they are often the only ones that can be safely cycled on. All the more reason to make them safer.
When I commute through the Churchill junction on a bike, I am usually "taking the lane" in accordance with safe practice recommended by the Highway Code, and then turning right to Sandford. Drivers behind me rev their engines and are impatient at the lights, so that stop box gave me extra time to get across safely without being overtaken. If I'm in front of the line, and I think you are advocating this, not only is it technically illegal, but I run the risk of aggravating drivers behind me and encouraging them to encroach over the line too. If I stay behind the new stop line, as I did last night, as I should as a law-abiding road-user, I am subject to more pressure and have situations like last night, where a car attempts to overtake me half way across the junction. I'd say that's dangerous driver behaviour influenced by junction design.

Clearly, cycling is lower down the priority list than it should be in North Somerset in my opinion. Nonetheless, thank you for taking the trouble and time to share your thinking with me,

Sent from my iPhone

On 7 Feb 2013, at 15:14, "Mark Cogan" <> wrote:
Dear Guy,
I have received an email regarding an issue with Churchill Crossroads and thought I would kill 2 birds with one stone and update you on both matters.  Before I continue I would to point out that I am also a road and mountain cyclist so take these issues seriously when making modifications to the signal junctions.
A38/Sidcot Lane
As far as the progress with possible improvements we were hoping to carry out this year this is not likely to happy now and will likely done in 2015 when the traffic signals are completely refurbished.  I think in the meantime I will have a look at the timings to see if we can increase some timings without adversely affecting waiting times for other motorists getting frustrated on the main road.
A38/Churchill Crossroads
Before I carried out this scheme I made several site visits to monitor the different options and improvements to be carried out on the signals.  During my visits I observed that the cycle traffic volumes were extremely low and the majority of cyclists did not stop behind either of the stop lines and as such not in cycle box and were in fact ahead of both in the junction to get themselves ahead start.  Additionally it was apparent that motorists also crept forward in the advanced box or stop half way in it to begin with. 
I also spoke with our cycle team who ensured me this was not a national cycle route either.
In general for cycle boxes to function properly they require a cycle lane leading up to them to allow cyclists to get through the traffic safely without undertaking large vehicles or jumping the pavement to get to the front of the queue.  At this site there was not the option of providing a cycle lane up to the advanced stop line due to the traffic use and lane widths.
With these observations and design thoughts I had made the decision to remove the advanced cycle areas to provide further capacity to cars and lorries and in turn reduce waiting times all round the junction.  Following observations so far after the signals have been installed I noticed a lot more vehicles are stopping leaving a bigger gap between themselves and the stop line and waiting traffic volumes have reduced.
As a side from these changes it also meant that I am able to reduce my annual maintenance costs with the reduce lining, and loop detection required which in turn reduces the wear of the road surface and reduces the chances of pot holes appearing.
The result of this change I do not feel I have made the situation any dangerous then it was before and in fact not having the forward stop line will not encourage cyclists to undertake or mount the pavement, so as not to put them at risk of being cut up by other motorists, especially those turning left.
I hope this answers your email and my response makes sense

Mark Cogan
Senior Engineer
Highways Electrical & ITS
Highways and Transport

Phone : 01934 427 392
Fax : 01934 427 430
Post : Town Hall, Walliscote Grove Road, Weston-super-Mare, BS23 1UJ

Sent: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 12:55 PM
To: Mark Cogan
Subject: Re: Eform Submission - Customer suggestion form

Many thanks Mark, please keep me informed

Sent from my iPhone

On 10 Dec 2012, at 13:55, "Mark Cogan" <> wrote:
Dear Guy Buckland,
Thank you for your report on the Traffic Signals at the Junction of A38 and Sidcot Lane, Winscombe.
We are currently in the process of looking at improving the current detection system for that junction which includes improving the site generally. 
Your concern is one of the things being looked into as part of this process, which will improve the time given for cyclists to clear the junction.
I do not have currently have a date when this works will be going ahead as yet but if you would like me to keep you informed I am happy to do so.

Mark Cogan
Senior Engineer
Highways Electrical & ITS
Highways and Transport

Phone : 01934 427 392
Fax : 01934 427 430
Post : Town Hall, Walliscote Grove Road, Weston-super-Mare, BS23 1UJ


Saturday, 16 February 2013

A different place to shine

Home again. Let's get the moans out of the way first. I have another cold, a gift from my son on the way over to Tenerife, and one I've probably shared with all the occupants of the return flight. For which I apologise, I did my best to cover my mouth and blow my nose just like my Mum told me.

And our heating has broken down while we were away, so despite everyone in the village telling me what a lovely day it is, I'm acclimatising in reverse in two fleeces, some gloves and a  thermal hat.

Of course, while we were over there we had the usual flights of fancy about how nice it would be to leave England and live somewhere warm all the year round. Or, given our recent Summers' weather, warm at any time. But, for all my moaning, I do actually love Somerset. And I can't wait to reveal this jersey in the baking hot and dry Summer of 2013 that is on its way to these shores.

This one was taken just after dawn on my quick ride before breakfast on Tuesday. By then I had already come to the conclusion that family holidays and cycling trips do not really mix that well together. And like all multi-functional devices they end up being deficient in all aspects to a degree.

For starters the location of our hotel was about 10 miles away from Las Americas, a deliberate choice to take us somewhere a little quieter and more family-orientated. Which it was, but it also took us another 10 miles away from the base of the big climb up the volcano, and meant navigating through some confusing one-way systems. It was also not close enough to the really picturesque places either.

Nonetheless, I picked my hired bike up from the hire shop on the Saturday and rode it back to the hotel, complete with track pump in a bag over my shoulder. Not ideal, but it improved my bike-handling skills as well as sharpening up my wits to the traffic flow. The temperature the whole time we were there was in the mid twenties Centigrade at sea level, with some cooling at altitude.

Knowing that I was likely to catch the cold from junior Mendip Rouleur, (as he had sneezed on me on the flight all the way there!) I decided to have a go at climbing the volcano on the Sunday. Mount Teide is the highest mountain in Spain, as well as a dormant volcano, and offers the longest continuous ascent in miles and height in Europe on a road bike.

I set off about 8.15AM having promised to be back for child-entertaining duty by 3PM. I always knew this was going to be a difficult challenge to meet because of my lack of fitness, not made any easier by the lack of riding this year and lack of acclimatisation in Tenerife. Or by the puncture that I got after half an hour before I had even reached the base of the climb. Which then meant riding on an under-inflated back wheel, with only one spare tube.

Nonetheless, I gave it a very good crack, but boy was it boring. Unlike in the Pyrenees where there is always a beautiful view, and regular changes of outlook, this road just heads in one direction through the arid landscape. On and on the climb goes as you can see from my route. After climbing the short trip out of the resort, navigating Las Americas again, it was about 17 miles of climbing (27kms approx.) for a vertical height gain of about 5200 feet (1575metres), before eventually, I called it a day. I was about 8 miles from the summit, and another 10 miles to the base of the peak proper, but I had just run out of energy, interest and time, especially important for the harmony of the rest of the week.

And being a totally unsupported ride I had carried a gilet, leg & arm warmers and hat & gloves for the descent. I had been warned that it can get pretty cold at the top, it had been down at UK-like temperatures just the day before. And I did need it coming down too, pretty chilly at least until I got back down a couple of thousand feet or so.

I did a couple of short rides later in the week. One, on an empty stomach, just before breakfast, involved a nice climb up through a banana plantation.

As you can see it was a stunning morning, and although the road surface was pretty rough, it was quiet and empty, and much more interesting than the climb up the volcano. There wasn't enough time to do more that day as we had a day trip to the Santa Cruz carnival. Billed as being second only to Bridgwater, sorry, I mean Rio, it eventually turned into a fantastically entertaining day. Somehow, we ended up in the parade, albeit, as slightly disinterested British observers of the Latin mayhem.


Quite how a female crop-topped-wearing Star Wars stormtrooper came to be in the Santa Cruz carnival parade is beyond me, but junior certainly liked it, and the buzz about the place was amazing. My only other visit to Santa Cruz had been in 1975, when I was a very naughty boy indeed. I can now confess, that I didn't just "get lost" for four hours, I was in fact exacting retribution on my parents for some misdemeanour whose precise detail is lost in the mists of the volcano. I'm sure it ended badly however, so I hope this delayed confession can go some way to salving my conscience all these years' later.

On the coach back to the hotel I was feeling decidedly rough, I knew I was on borrowed time, so just had time for one quick ride next morning before I returned the bike to the shop. The bike, a Focus Cayo with Ui2 was pretty good. The tyres were a bit square but the set-up was just about right, notwithstanding a little niggle in my back. Given my back/neck issues that's fair enough, the main downside with hiring is not being fully confidant on the how the bike will handle on a fast descent. So I didn't do any and came back un-crashed!

For my last ride I took the coast road a bit further on the Wednesday, before turning inland again this time towards the town of Guia de Isora, with an 8km climb at a steady 6-7%. This was also quite beautiful, and I was able to ride straight back to the shop before the cold took hold.The final blast down the main road was great though, even allowing for some of the crazy driving, tunnels, and bends over the ravines. One thing you can definitely say about Tenerife is that there is no flat terrain anywhere, it's a miracle they managed to carve out space for an airport and roads.

For the whole week I managed 105 miles and 13611 feet of climbing. Not spectacular but respectable and very good training, I certainly felt the hills getting easier as the week went on. Above all it was great to cycle in warm sunshine and feel the skin soaking up the Vitamin D.

There is a different sky in Tenerife. Not just the procycling mob who use the place as their winter altitude training base. Nor even the brightness in the atmosphere that reflects the arid nature of the hillsides. And it isn't even the fireworks that erupted after the end of the carnival procession in Santa Cruz on Shrove Tuesday.

It's the eddies and echoes of the past. Someone wandering around not quite knowing what to do with himself, and yet still with some kind of inate purpose. All done for the best of intentions, that somehow didn't quite work out, or succeed in the way I planned. But, you make the best of it don't you, and do your best to get better next time.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Red is the colour of the new republic

I have not been doing enough cycling this year. Come to think of it, I have not been doing enough exercise and I have been doing too much eating. Reasons, explanations, analysis, evaluation, excuses. Take your pick, it doesn't matter really as the stomach expands and the fitness declines it all amounts to the same thing.

I have an improvised training camp in Tenerife next week, which should strain familial bonds to the utmost, despite prior permissions being sought, agreed and signed off in triplicate. What I hoped for when I planned it (don't laugh, plans do happen in my world, they are just much more statements of loose intent and flexibility than in the worlds of others) was to be pretty fit and raring to climb volcanoes in the temperate sunshine. In shorts with a light rain jacket for the descents.

Instead I will be puffing and wheezing, straining my thighs and spreading Rouleur DNA all over the lower slopes of the mountain. I don't know if I'll make the upper slopes, one day at a time. Let my cycling do the talking on the road.

Today was an ACG impromptu ride which ended up being just shy of 60 miles for yours truly. A fair amount of climbing too, and lots of great company. Honestly? I'm a bit wasted, and lacking in chutzpah to write long descriptions of the Mendips, Mells, getting lost (you didn't notice? Just shows how I carry these little things off with such adaptability and panache), mud, mist, wind (PLEASE WILL SOMEONE EXPLAIN HOW FOG AND WIND CAN CO-EXIST? No don't it will be too anoraky).

For some reason all seven of my companions were dressed in black. It was almost as if they had colour co-ordinated what to wear. I may have passed the odd comment, but actually I'm quite pleased at my colours.

In other news Grant and I have booked tickets for Stiff Little Fingers (Grant informed me that this song is his life, be warned they are a punk band!) and The Men they couldn't hang, (and this song, well I think it's about me) at the end of March. Quite what it's going to be like, I have no idea, although I don't think it will be as wild or significant as the last time I saw them. But that's another story.

Here is today's route to Mells and back, the longest of the year so far. I'm aiming to have doubled my mileage by the time I come back from Tenerife. I tell you, it better not rain or someone is going to be very, very cross.