Secret Santa

December 22, 2015
Pueblo road

you don’t have to be crazy to cycle here, but it helps

Committed utility cyclist though I am, it’s hard to shake off the feeling around here that to cycle to the actual shops – the big box stores where about 90% of the retail happens in Pueblo, not the little antiques places and coffee shops in the historic downtown – is to commit a category error. It’s not that you can’t, it’s just that to do so when you have access to a car is verging on the perverse, like hopping when you have two legs, or walking around backwards with your hair combed over your face.

However, I had a present to get for the other half. and wanted to take the opportunity to do so discreetly while he was out shopping for his father. Technically, I could have asked to borrowed the other car and driven myself but in reality given my driving skillz at the best of times let alone on the wrong side of the road, I didn’t want to do that to my in-laws. And besides, I had access to a bike, the weather was fine and not too cold, Barnes & Noble isn’t all that far away, and besides, I like the idea of using a bike to get around, even if it is against the grain. The other half might consider cycling to the shops as a good way to ruin a nice bike ride, whereas I think of it as a great way to improve an otherwise boring shopping trip.


So I set off. The river path joins up with a footway that runs alongside Highway 50 over the Fountain Creek, so it wasn’t as if I had to tangle with the really hairy roads, even though this part of town is pure driving country

Someone had decided to put a ginormous block of concrete across the path in the direction I wanted to go, but I didn’t let that stop me

river path blocked

Once under the highway, I realised why, but fortunately it wasn’t too hairy to ride around the gap along the drainage channel, with no real danger that I’d end up cycling into the river

damaged cycle path

Over the bridge, thanking my lucky stars that I wasn’t having to take the lane and man up or any of those other things the ‘real’ cyclists seem to think you should do.

crossing alongside Highway 50

Colorado law allows you to cycle on the sidewalk, except where prohibited. I decided that the ‘bike route’ sign implied this wasn’t one of the prohibied places. So all I had to do was get up the hill – Barnes and Noble was in the row of huge shops opposite the Walmart in the distance.

bike route sign

I’ll say this for Pueblo, it has sidewalks and pedestrian crossings everywhere you might need them. Even if it was just me and the homeless guy actually using them.

pedestrian crossing

In truth, with a bit of ingenuity and if you’re happy to ride on the pavement it was perfectly doable, and there was even bike parking right outside the bookshop door (and no problem finding a space). The only flaw in my plan was that there are very few shops in Pueblo that sell the sort of things we’re likely to buy, so just as I finished paying for the other half’s present, feeling very pleased with myself for managing to sneak out and get something all by myself, in he walked and caught me red handed…

One Good Thing about Wide, Wide Streets …

December 20, 2015

… is that when you want to put in a bike lane you don’t need to mess about.

Contraflow bike lane Pueblo

Wide enough for ya?

Yesterday, on our way back from a picnic at the reservoir, the other half & I detoured into Pueblo to stop for coffee, a spot of Christmas shopping and a very small infrastructure safari down Pueblo’s very own parking protected bike lane.

We’d stopped to chat with the busker playing something that looked like a cross between a zither and an accordion to admire his very nice Schwinn trike and talk cargo bikes, bike lane design and filtered permeability (why, what do you talk to buskers about?). He was bemoaning Pueblo’s ability to put bike lanes on the worst-surfaced part of the road, and it’s true that a good half of the lane was crumbling somewhat, and there was no sign of any snow clearance, short of the normal Pueblo tactic of waiting for it to melt.

parking protected bike lane

Astoundingly, every single one of these drivers managed to park in the parking bit, and not on the bike lane. What skillz

But – certainly from a UK perspective – never mind the quality, feel the width! That’s a whole lane of traffic removed with plenty of space to go around the potholes, snow, other bikes, and any stray jumbo jets someone might have left lying around. We got our own little bicycle shaped traffic lights (they kept going green before I could take a proper photograph so you’ll just have to believe me).

The only slight drawback is that it’s about 5 blocks long and not exactly integrated into the cycling network (turning left onto it across the approximately 17 lanes of Main St was interesting, although it would have been more interesting had the traffic consisted of more than one bemused pickup truck wondering what the crazy bicyclists were up to). That said, at the other end of 5th Street there is a very good cheese shop, while Main Street has a nice coffee shop that gives a 10% discount to those arriving by bike so in a broader sense it *is* integrated into the wider bike network. We didn’t have time to make full use of either of those amenities, so we will have to investigate it again…

Eye Opener

August 7, 2014

It’s odd. I am a founding member of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, I am a confirmed believer in ‘8-80’ cycling in towns and cities, I campaign constantly for the best cycling infrastructure, not some pitiful compromise that doesn’t involve inconveniencing the sacred traffic in any way shape or form, I’ve even blogged about this before – and yet I’m still surprised by just how good cycling infrastructure has to be in order to make it possible for kids to cycle comfortably on it without causing their parents or any other adults present agonies of anxiety.

This summer, for the third year, our local cycling campaign has been running easy paced summer rides around Bigtown. This year, we’ve been successful in attracting not just existing cycling families, but a couple who have clearly excavated their own and their kids’ bikes out of a shed where they have been interred for a while. These are children who can more or less ride their bikes but have never had any cycle training, accompanied by parents who haven’t much more experience themselves. And it’s reminding me just how far we have to go before we’ll see kids riding about routinely with their parents, never mind on their own. Now, Bigtown does have some decent cycling infrastructure, adjusted for the UK. We have two ex-railway paths, which are almost joined together (as long as you don’t mind going quite a long way round to stay off the road) and lit, wide, etc, although one of them does require you to navigate several toucan crossings where the wait for the lights is pretty endless and you then get about 15 seconds to cross. We also have a decentish shared use riverside path which is a bit narrow and crowded in the summer but most people are good natured about getting out of the way of a bunch of kids on bikes and the local dogs are largely well trained – standard dog manners around here are for the dog to be sitting at its owner’s feet whenever a vehicle goes past, and this applies to bikes as well as cars, so as long as you have rung your bell in enough time, the problem of elastidogs on endless expanding leads is not too much of an issue.

So we could just ride up and down these paths every Saturday afternoon, and we’d have a nice time, but except for those families who live on one of the paths and need to go to places on the other path, it wouldn’t really show them any useful routes and would be a bit boring. So we try and expand the routes using quiet residential roads, 20mph limit areas, rural roads, and the occasional bit of non-off-road infrastructure that the council has seen fit to provide. And this is where the eye opening comes in. Riding on these roads with kids under about 8, or kids of any age who haven’t ridden extensively with their parents, is terrifying. Even in strict formation, with an adult per child, adult on the outside, child on the inside, and the adult coaching the child (pull out round that parked car, watch out for that pothole, that’s great, keep pedalling, use your brakes, look out for that lady crossing the road, well done, use your bell, keep pedalling, don’t listen to that man, don’t worry about that car, it’s just beeping to say hello, no I don’t know what that word means either, keep pedalling, you’re doing fine…) it just doesn’t feel either safe or pleasant as a way of getting about. A couple of times, even on routes where I’d cycle quite happily on my own, I’ve ended up putting the kids on the pavement, or even getting the whole group to dismount and walk a stretch. It’s just too stressful otherwise.

It just goes to show how long a way we have to go – and how high our standards have to be. In many ways it’s depressing, because if even the semi okay stuff is not good enough, we’ve got even less of a network than we thought we had, and a higher mountain to climb. But in other ways it is encouraging because it’s a reminder of what can be gained. Last weekend it was absolutely pouring all day, and yet one of our ‘novice’ families still showed up to be counted. Indeed, they had almost given up on us arriving when we met up with them (they were joining us en route) and were heading off to McDonald’s when we spotted them. As I rode up to see if they were still up for a ride, both little girls’ faces lit up at the idea. Riding a bike, in the rain, along crap infrastructure, to a field, to see a stone circle that has, frankly, seen better days, was officially more fun than McDonalds.* Imagine what it would be like if we had really fantastic cycle paths for them to enjoy…

And if any of this rings a bell, or even if it doesn’t, could you please help some research of a friend of mine and fill in this survey?

* Of course, the tray bakes I bring along may have played a part in this.

Bike the Strike

April 29, 2014

So here I am in That London, having safely negotiated my way up to Palmers Green. I had to get myself first to the Holloway Road, which wasn’t too bad, at least until you get to Islington and the nice bike contraflows disappear and are replaced by a 20 mph zone, which is obviously awesome and everything, but not if you still end up at the wrong end of a one way street and having to cycle around some massive one-way system playing ‘please don’t kill me if you can help it Mr. Bus Driver’.*

Once done there, I decided to avoid the trains even though they were running, because even a folded Brompton is a bit too much bike to be squeezing onto a massively packed carriage full of Picadilly line refugees – and besides it’s actually easier to cycle the whole way to Palmer’s Green than it is to lug a Brompton through Highbury and Islington Station. I made my way northwards following a reasonably non scary route up to Alexandra Palace, from where I thought I knew way. Having made only a few wrong turns and stopped to check my A to Z hardly more than a dozen times, I found myself in the back streets north of Ally Pally consulting my map and wondering how pigeons manage to instinctively know where north is when I can’t even tell with the help of a map and two years in the Guides (there aren’t many trees with lichen on them in North London). A passing cyclist asked me if I needed any help and fortunately he was going my way because – and this is really the subject of tonight’s rant – because the way I thought I was going to go has been scuppered. I used to cut along the back streets and cross the North Circular at a handy pedestrian crossing, but apparently they have widened the road there since last summer and removed the crossing, replacing it with some topiary instead. Following my guide, we had to get onto Green Lanes (if you’re not familiar with North London this is neither green nor a lane but a standard issue scary London A road) and joust with the buses for road space to cross the North Circular on one of those head-down-and-pedal-like-all-the-hounds-of-hell-are-after-you junctions.*

I really cannot believe that they are taking pedestrian crossings out, in this day and age. Apparently, the Enfield mini-Holland funding will turn Green Lanes into, if not actually a green lane, but at least somewhere where you get your own space on the road without having to share it with double decker buses (which I swear have got bigger since I left London: were they always basically blocks of flats on wheels?) as long as the shopkeepers of Green Lanes don’t have their way and scupper it for the Great God Parking. Frankly, it can’t come soon enough, but even so, they’ve got to reinstate that crossing, if only for the pedestrians. Come on London, what on earth were you thinking?

Tomorrow, I think I’ll just take the train…

*If you’re reading this, Mum, I got off and walked at that bit

I’m on the Bridge to Nowhere

November 15, 2013

I’m back from a flying visit overnight visit to Glasgow where I was up mostly causing cyclist-related trouble one way or another. When I was growing up it was a city that seemed to consist entirely of motorways and knife gangs; having set such a low bar it always manages to pleasantly surprise me when I do actually visit and find it’s actually a rather handsome city full of shops, friendly loudmouths, knife gangs and motorways. And the odd cyclist, too.

My task yesterday was to get myself to Siempre Bicycle Cafe for a social meet up involving some of the aforementioned odd cyclists. Now, regular readers of this blog will know that my navigational skills are up there with my bike maintenance skills and my main tactic cycling in most unfamiliar cities is to get myself down to the riverfront, turn left or right as necessary, and hope for the best. This works perfectly well in Glasgow in the daytime (obviously going north or south is a bit tricky) but the Clyde waterfront didn’t really appeal after dark, what with the knife gangs and everything, while the non-river-based directions helpfully sent me by local cyclists were full of scary instructions like ‘the only tricky bit is crossing the motorway, you just have to make sure you get over to the right hand lane and you’ll be fine’). Trying to do that while keeping the right page of the A to Z open was going to be difficult so I was relieved when a kind soul (you should all totally book yourselves on one of his Tartan Rides, by the way) offered to swing by Glasgow Central on his way so we could ride together.

As a bonus, we got to go over Glasgow’s newest piece of cycling-and-walking infrastructure, the Bridge to Nowhere which has recently become the Bridge to Somewhere, or at least the Bridge-that-doesn’t-end-in-a-sheer-20-foot-drop-onto-a-motorway, which I think we can all agree is an improvement. In fact, even on my own I might have managed to find the bridge itself as there is a segregated cycle lane that runs pretty much directly to it from the station which would be almost Dutch if it wasn’t for the fact that the designers appear to have been under the impression that the Dutch cycle design guidelines measure everything in feet instead of metres. It even has its own traffic lights keeping bikes separate from turning traffic, although they do this by waiting until hell freezes over before giving the bikes a green light, rather than (gasp) giving bikes an actual head start over the cars.

The bridge itself is pretty fab though – especially the part where you cycle over all the gridlocked cars on the motorway and laugh because they’re stuck and you’re not and it’s only raining a little bit. And while it’s a little steep on the way down – just at the part where you cross a footpath and risk sending any unlucky pedestrians sprawling – the council have considered that and have spread a nice thick layer of slippery leaves all over the bottom of the ramp so you have to slow down anyway (bet the Dutch never thought of that, eh? No wonder our cycling infrastructure is the envy of the world…). And after that it was back to the cratered streets of Glasgow, dodging buses, cars, vans, drunks and all the other hazards that a city can throw at you.

Still, we survived, and spent a pleasant evening discussing how things could be better (washed down with some well-earned hot chocolate – you know you’re in good hands when your hot drink comes with a little cube of tablet on the saucer instead of a biscuit), and then I got another guided ride north to the outskirts of Glasgow in the dark, while lunatics in cars (and one lunatic dog) attempted to scare the life out of me. If you’re into adrenaline-fuelled white-knuckle rides, I can highly recommend the Greater Glasgow area and a bike. That left today’s trip in which your heroine attempted to get herself from Bishopbriggs to Glasgow Central on a bike and live to tell the tale (spoiler alert: I made it), but that must be a story for another day…

Dutchify That!

November 4, 2013

The Brompton and I have reached Newcastle where we will be attending the latest ‘Love Cycling Go Dutch‘ conference (the Brompton doesn’t really play much of a role, it just sits at the back and takes it all in). One important part of these events is the design workshop the day before where council officers and other important people meet with Dutch engineers to try and apply Dutch style principles to a typical bit of UK road. We thought we’d pedal up and have a look at what bit of road the Toon had chosen to look at in detail.

challenging road layout
motorway junction

You do have to admire their ambition. They’ve picked a junction where an important cycle route crosses a motorway slip road with, as the film blurb writers say, hilarious consequences … It was such a hostile road that in order to get from one side to the other it was easier to cross three other roads than go straight across, which meant those who came by bike ended up on one side and those who’d come on foot (which would be all the road engineers then) ended up on the other. Guess who was wearing all the hi vis…

Road engineers to the left

So what will the Dutch make of it? We’ll find out tomorrow. Suggestions on a postcard please – although we’ve already had a winning entry on twitter.

I seem to remember they weren’t all that impressed by Edinburgh either…

The Scenic Route

October 30, 2012

A combination of busy-busy and not particularly inviting weather means that my cycling outings of late have tended to follow the well-worn groove of down to the papershop and back with a bit of down to Bigtown and back thrown in for good measure. All on generaly lovely roads and scenic and everything but perhaps becoming a tiny bit routine. And then, coming back from Bigtown the other day, I realised that not only was it a gorgeous crisp and bright autumn afternoon, but I had time to take the alternative route home: down the road which used to be Big A Road and is now a half-forgotten appendix, an ox-bow lake of tarmac left over when they bypassed Bigtown and made some dual carriageway. Purely by accident, this has turned into one of the best bits of cycling infrastructure in the county

Old A Road 1

It starts off as a full-dress A-road, only without the traffic, except for visitors to the new not-really-farmshop and ripoff shortbread emporium just off the roundabout (I mean, seriously, charging entrance to a ‘nature trail’?).

Not long afterwards, it narrows and occasionally you get close enough to its replacement to see what fun you’re missing dodging lorries on a dual carriageway (deliciously, the old road even skips the worst of the hills). As the road is effectively a dead end, by now bikes only really have to share it with the few residents living on the road (one of whom was busy with a leaf blower as I passed, blowing the leaves off his lawn and into piles on the road. That’s how much traffic there is).

Old A road 3

There’s much fevered, if necessarily abbreviated, discussion on twitter at the moment on the merits of traffic reduction versus building separated tracks to encourage cycling. Obviously I’m all for traffic reduction in general, whether it encourages cycling or not. But it’s rare you can manage quite this much traffic reduction except by building a whole nother road.

Then again, when you come to the bit that’s just for bikes, as opposed to even just one or two cars, you can see why folk are sceptical of what separated dedicated bike tracks might be like (and this is the wide part).

Old A road 4

I think that tells us fairly clearly which is the more valued mode of transport around here…

Attention to Detail

July 31, 2012
Lambeth bridge northbound cycle lane 1

Lambeth Bridge bike lane before

Cycling over Lambeth Bridge on our trip to London this weekend – once I had got over nearly being wiped out by a bus – I was struck by a small detail. The bridge used to have ludicrously narrow bike lanes on it, so narrow they were dubbed the ‘worst cycle lanes in London‘ but they were widened last year (coincidentally just days before we launched the Cycling Embassy on that very corner). And not just widened. One of the really scary things about those bike lanes was that they took you right over the expansion joint of the bridge, just at the point where it ran parallel with the road, forming a lovely trap for an unwary wheel. On Friday I noticed that joint had been filled with some rubbery material that presumably still allowed the bridge to move a fraction in the heat – but which would no longer grab a bike wheel if you were too busy concentrating on not being killed by a bus to avoid it. Which is good. I mean, it’s not as good as giving bikes their own space on the road, away from all the killer buses, but it shows that someone who was responsible for putting a bike lane on the bridge had thought enough about it to remove a hazard.

Whoever that person was, I must say you don’t detect their hand at work too often anywhere else. Central London is now full of handy little cut throughs for bikes which allow you to go the wrong way down one-way street or out of dead ends – great for making the bike the fastest way to get around but designed in a way that leaves them a bit lacking. For instance, you can cut through onto Waterloo Bridge from Covent Garden really easily – bikes even get their own traffic light. On the way south, the other half saw the green light, nipped across the road and promptly ran a red light as he got onto Waterloo Bridge. Why? Because he’s used to driving, and if you’re in a car you’d never get a green light that let you onto a junction and then a red light that stopped you from getting off it. On a bike? Well, who really cares? Bikes are going to run the lights anyway. And coming back, we took a nice little short cut that let us through a closed-off street and then I nearly cycled the wrong way down a one-way street. Why? Because there was no no entry sign to warn me. Well, why would there be, no cars would be coming that way… no wonder bikes in London seem to break every rule of the road. Sometimes it’s hard even to know what you should be doing, unless you’re doing exactly what the cars do.

Anyway, despite the best efforts of the traffic engineers and London’s drivers, we survived. I’m not sure I’ll be signing up for another 15+-mile trip through London traffic on a bike again in a hurry, but I’m glad we brought our bikes, if only so we could enjoy getting around in the blissful conditions when they’d closed off most of the roads for the weekend. Oh, and so the contrast with the final ride back from Bigtown Station to home, with barely a car on the road, could be enjoyed in all its glory. Although I feel duty bound to note that it did start raining the moment we set off…