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Drivers: you may have noticed a lot of white stuff hanging about recently? That is called ‘fog’: It stops you from seeing quite so far as usual, I don’t know if you noticed. Actually, I suspect you probably didn’t, judging by the numbers of drivers who pass me while texting, reading their phones, navigators, and in one case a paperback.
However, take it from me, if you were to look up from these important activities, you’d probably notice the fog, or at least the fact you can’t see more than about a hundred metres.
In the circumstances, I’d like to ask a favour. No, don’t worry, I’m not silly enough to suggest you slow down, stop at red lights or even that you switch your phone off: I understand that your very important phone calls and text messages simply cannot wait until you reach your destination (how did society survive without your wisdom being constantly available?). My request is that you might, perhaps, consider turning your lights on when you are driving through the fog. Thus, when you are reading your text message/novel et c whilst racing toward or through the next set of red lights, we can see you and keep out of the way.
If this isn’t possible, could you at least refrain from the rude gestures aimed at us when we have the temerity to be occupying the road/pavement/cycleway/pedestrian crossing when you want to be driving on it. The reason we are interrupting your important journey (or conversation, or novel) is that we didn’t know you were there…
So yesterday I went back to have the bandage changed on the smallest industrial injury ever. I was a bit apprehensive about this to be honest because I wasn’t sure where the surgery was, and after the faff we’d had driving there I thought it may well be in the outer reaches of Karlsruhe, or possibly Paris.
Then I looked on Google and found that this same surgery that had taken almost an hour of stop-go traffic to reach, was ten minutes away by shared use pedestrian/cycle roads and residential streets.
It isn’t supposed to work that way: cycling is supposed to be really inconvenient, fine for a trundle on a summer Saturday but not a serious way to get anywhere you need to go. I know this because I’m told by several people a week. Driving -even allowing for taking wrong turns, shouting at the navigator when it claimed we were at our destination when we clearly were not, and getting stuck in a one way system- must still be faster. Because cars are faster. End of story.
I suppose this has one advantage of making sure the cycleways are empty. If the drivers of Stuttgart collectively notice how much easier it is to cycle even on the paltry facilities we have, then the currently quiet cycle ways may well be filled with ex-motorists all trying to cycle as if they’re driving along an Autobahn, scattering slower cyclists and pedestrians then promptly collapsing in a heap and blocking the way at the slightest hill, and no-one will be able to get anywhere…
Or maybe it will become safe to cycle along those wide, smooth, well-maintained roads and a virtuous cycle will start, of ever improving cycle facilities and ever decreasing car use, causing drastic reductions in urban pollution and traffic deaths, so the only thing visible in the otherwise entirely clear sky will be the flock of pigs flying overhead.
I can dream. Still, cycling is a lot faster and easier than people think. I’m just saying…
In what seems to be becoming an annual event, the Bakfiets was a Fair Trade chocolate shop again over the weekend for a local festival. The people organising asked for a copy of this picture, which I sent them, thinking it would just go on the website.
Later someone recognised the bike from the local newspaper, which was a surprise.
I know there’s a school of thought that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but… most of the local readers are also local drivers, and if the reactions I sometimes get out on the road are anything to go by, then they may have pushed some customers away…
Middle Son watching a tram pass near our village. There are a lot of routes all around Stuttgart using these serving the local towns (unfortunately not including ours). According to Wikipedia the trams are 3.7m high, 2.6m wide, and 38m long. They are, as you can see, bright yellow and have headlights, indicators and rear lights, and being rail vehicles they tend to follow the same route every time they pass. You will notice the crossing is protected with lights and signs.
So, I’m wondering, how do you manage to drive a car into or in front of one, or otherwise cause a collision?
Apparently drivers in Stuttgart manage this several times a year, and last month one managed to get tangled up with a tram on a straight road in broad daylight. I happen to know because I was waiting for said tram to come and pick me up so I could go home. Nothing happened for about half an hour, whereupon I gave up, walked to the railway station and caught the train instead. I appreciate that having the choice of tram or train, a service that runs more than once an hour* and a ticket I can use on both, marks me out as spoiled and I should be ashamed of myself, but I’m still wondering.
It turns out that a driver on a straight road parallel to the tramlines simply turned onto a crossing a couple of metres in front of the tram. As the car weighed about 1.5t and the tram is 55 tonnes empty, plus passengers, the car came off rather worse out of the situation.
This is why I don’t bother with reflective high-visibility clothes: if there are drivers out there unable to spot a massive yellow box full of lights, I don’t see that making myself look like an isotope is going to help very much.
*or once a day/week/month, delete as applicable.
You are driving downhill on a narrow road and are faced with a gap that is currently occupied by a heavy truck struggling up the steep hill. Do you:
1: Wait for the truck to drive past.
2: Drive into the gap in the confident expectation that said truck will magically vanish.
Eventually the driver realised that this wasn’t going to work and got out of the way.
Eighteen months of cycling to the bus stop has taught me I need fifteen minutes for a relaxed ride, ten at speed, and about seven and a half when I forget my wallet and have to go back and get it. The bus leaves the next village at 0635, so I aim to set off by 0620.
How I expected to catch the bus on Wednesday after leaving home at half past six I’m not sure.
On arriving I cunningly worked out that I’d failed in this by the empty bus shelter and clock showing it was 0640. meaning I had to cycle to the railway station, five kilometres away from our village, and 200m lower, and the other end of a busy road. I’m a fairly experienced cyclist, I know how cars usually react and I know the road. The weather was dry and visibility clear. What could possibly go wrong?
Apart from, say, falling off at high speed and being run over by an SUV.
With this comforting thought I went through the traffic lights and dropped off the end of the world. There were a couple of interesting moments like the point the street lights stopped and we plunged into darkness on a sharp bend with a drop on the left hand side of the road. Fortunately a helpful driver assisted by driving close enough to my back wheel that he lit the road ahead of me. Stopping for traffic lights was interesting and my bottle dynamo will never be the same again, but I made it in plenty of time, and the bike was still in the bike shed -with wheels- when I came back in the afternoon.
I doubt I’ll make a habit of this as the ‘ride’ back took almost an hour of climbing via a road cycle-cross riders would reject out of hand, getting lost in a strange isolated housing estate with a thousand identical houses and crossing a seriously muddy field.
On the other hand, I could look smug when the students who commuted by car came in late, again.
Kim Harding, and others, are trying to get trying to Strict Liability back into the political agenda in Scotland. Strict Liability is part of traffic law in Germany, and in fact most of the world, outside of the UK.
Some time ago, Eldest Son had a very minor collision with a car on a Spielstrasse (shared space street, 7km/h limit). Being about six at the time, Eldest Son didn’t know that in Germany you give way to vehicles coming from the right, didn’t stop on a junction, and was clipped by a very expensive vehicle speeding up the hill. Eldest Son was fine, but Expensive Car had some minor damage.
Beautiful Wife learned to drive in Japan, and didn’t know that in Germany you should always call the police when you have an accident, so when the driver said “we don’t need to bother calling the police”,* gave her his address, then drove off saying he needed to go to an appointment, she accepted it.
A few weeks later a rather large bill arrived.
We have liability insurance, so we wrote to our insurance company and explained what had happened. They found it very amusing, wrote to the driver and reminded him about Strict Liability, in particular that if a car hits a child, the driver is always liable. (Driving over the speed limit was also a bit naughty, as was not calling the police, which in Germany made it a hit-and-run, but we’ll ignore that)
The driver tried to make much of the point that he technically had right of way on the junction, and his lawyers sent us a threatening letter with an even bigger bill in the hope we’d panic and pay up, which we passed on to the insurance company. They wrote to said Lawyers and asked them to kindly stop messing about, and that was that.
Had Eldest Son been injured, the rules would mean the driver of Expensive Car would be held responsible. whereas in the UK it would have meant a long legal battle for us to get compensation or simply not be held liable for scratching his paint. His insurance would have had to pay, at least partly, for treatment and rehabilitation, pushing up his premiums. Drivers -unfortunately- seem to be more aware of this than just the danger posed by a ton of metal to vulnerable road users, and it makes them slightly more careful. As I recently heard a policeman complain: “Unfortunately, as soon as you drive a car in Germany, you are assumed to be responsible if any accident happens” ** I’m still convinced that German drivers are more cautious around pedestrians and cyclists than British drivers, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t because German drivers have a better understanding of the value of human life.
It also sends a clear message that the law is there to protect more vulnerable people. I’d have thought this was a given in any civilised country, but that’s just me.
*A phrase rarely heard except from drivers involved a motor vehicle collision and from people with a black jumper, crowbar and torch, kneeling in front of a broken safe at midnight. They could be right, of course.
**And this was the policeman supposed to be telling us about pedestrian and cycling safety. The mind boggles…
Our local town has a free newspaper printed by the local government. It is as exciting as you’d expect.
This week the headline is about how our town is a ‘safe place to live’ according to the police (which would explain why they closed the police station).
They do admit that there was a 6.5% increase in traffic incidents, which would seem rather a lot for a ‘safe town’. This includes two fatalities, but with about eleven fatalities a day in Germany, most towns will get a couple each year. Two deaths aren’t enough to make the traffic situation officially ‘dangerous’.
No mention is made of motor vehicle vs. pedestrian/bicycle collisions involving adults but we are told that there were seven ‘accidents’ which involved children under thirteen. The article tells us: “It is noticeable that three of the children were riding on Roller Scooters. A further three accidents involving children occurred on traffic lights on a pedestrian crossing with a red light showing.”*
So they were all ‘accidents’. Not the driver’s fault: all the fault of those irresponsible children, as the ‘official in charge’ concludes: “It is important that children are carefully prepared for road traffic”.
At no point does anyone seem to stop and ask any further questions.
For example, how fast the vehicles were being driven, and why they were unable to stop in time. Weather conditions or the type of vehicles involved are not mentioned.
We don’t know if the children were driving on a pavement or a ‘Spielstrasse’ (Lit: ‘Play Street’, a street where children should be able to play safely). The speed limit is 7km/h (4mph) on these but motor vehicles normally bounce down them at twenty or thirty Km/h.
We don’t know if the drivers were using their phone or adjusting their navigator.
There are no details at all about the seventh ‘accident’.
We are left to assume we have the information we need: children were driving on roller scooters or crossing the road. Tut, tut, they should know better.
So that’s all right then, keep driving as fast as you like and if no-one takes those naughty children in hand and teaches them to be responsible with traffic, it isn’t your fault if you ‘accidentally’ run one down.
*German: “Auffällig sei, das dass drei der Kinder jeweils mit Tretrollen unterwegs waren. Weitere drei Unfälle mit Kindern ereigneten sich an einem Fußgängerüberweg bei roter Ampel” Any native German speakers are welcome to correct my translation.
My experience with the infernal combustion engine is limited, which was fine until someone at work realised that the apprentice lurking in the corner could drive back to the workshop and get whatever had been forgotten, so I’m getting a lot of quality time with the two company vans. These are both rather elderly and probably not in showroom condition. Other vehicles seem to be magnetically attracted to them and roads magically become narrower as I approach. I have yet to successfully make a hill start in the largest of the two, and every gear change is an adventure.
So last week, when I was working within the village and I’d just got back to the workshop to collect something, I realised I had an empty van and threw the Xtracycle inside before anyone could object, on the basis that I’d probably be sent back to get something else fairly soon, and sure enough, my supervisor found he was missing a small but rather important bracket that he needed, as in, now.
Downstairs, Xtracycle out of van, off we went. Through industrial estate, round shunting trucks that would have held up the van, a braked briefly for driver turning in front of me because despite having lights on I was still apparently invisible, into the village proper, past some children playing, into residential streets, where I was buzzed by a large SUV until we came to cars parked on both sides of the road that left him trying to squeeze through the remaining gap without losing his mirrors, and through the secret bike and pedestrian cut through (although not so secret that the town hasn’t managed to add a chicane halfway through to make it that little less convenient). I popped out of the other side, through more houses, over the main road and down through the old village centre to the workshop.
Off bike, searched workshop, no sign of bracket.
I got back on the bike, made the same journey in reverse*, and used all my acting skills trying not to look smug at “How did you get here so fast?” look on supervisors face.
We found the bracket under a toolbox.
*Even down to being buzzed by another SUV: it was one of those mornings…
Yesterday evening I had an invitation to visit a friend in York, and decided to ride. I’d borrowed a bike*, and York is one of the UK’s three ‘cycling cities’** that were being trumpeted to rival Amsterdam and Copenhagen as world-class cycling centres, so I figured I’d be okay. And I was, mostly because I started on a fairly minor road and some kind soul reminded me that in the UK people drive on the left before I met any traffic.
I can’t say I’m overwhelmed by the bike lanes: certainly I’d have preferred them to have priority over side roads like in Germany, and it would have been even better if the one I was using hadn’t given up after a couple of hundred metres and pitched me into the road, but it wasn’t too bad.
In the other hand, I liked these nifty speed lumps in the roads. I’m sure you’re all used to them by now, but humour me while I ramble on about them like some country cousin discovering electricity: they are just narrow enough for a car to drive over them fairly quickly without spilling the drivers coffee, so cars seem utterly focussed on keeping their wheels either side of the things. I soon noticed that vehicles overtaking would go over (round?) the more distant bump, giving me a reasonable amount of room. Just as well as I was on the road all the way to my friend’s house and back: if I’d followed the designated cycle route I’d most likely still be out there.
Come to think of it, none of the drivers who passed were using their phone either, because they had to concentrate on the road to avoid leaving part of the car on the road. If only we could get them to treat pedestrians with the same respect as their own vehicles…
**The others being Bristol and… where are the others exactly?