Safe cycling, safe walking, safe motoring. What’s the answer?

Shared use of roads by cyclists and motorists and of paths by pedestrians, cyclists and (sometimes) motorists is an issue that won’t go away in the UK these days.

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I’ve just read an online news snippet about BBC presenter Jeremy Vine being stopped by the police for cycling at 16mph on a path. His quote is “If cyclists are forced to travel at walking pace, they will return to the roads and mix it with trucks.” Local papers here in North Somerset have had a series of quite emotional letters from outraged pedestrians, who feel they are being pushed off the paths by cyclists; outraged cyclists, who feel that their lives are at risk if they are forced to cycle on roads and would like to be able to cycle on paths without being criticised; and outraged motorists, who cannot bear the fact that they sometimes have to slow down when there is a cyclist on the road.

The problem is that roads in the UK are often quite ancient, having developed from lanes where occasional horsedrawn vehicles made their slow and steady way between farms and settlements. Other than in new town developments where there is space to provide separate lanes for motor vehicles and for cycles, our roads are often narrow to begin with and then further narrowed by being lined with parked cars. All forms of transport are pushed into close and dangerous proximity.

We are all at risk. Far too many cyclists are killed on the roads – even one death is too many – but there are risks for pedestrians when people cycle on the path, much as cyclists would like to believe it is a risk-free activity. I know this to be true because as a small child I stepped out of my garden gate while waiting for my parents to go shopping and was knocked flat by a cyclist who was moving fast and couldn’t stop in time. I ended up in hospital having a head injury stitched, and the cyclist ended up in shock/trauma/guilt.

The best solution is sadly unachieveable in the short term: to have dedicated cycle tracks everywhere there are cyclists.  Much credit needs to go to the many organisations working to get safe cycle routes established, but there are planning issues in establishing route and usually funding issues too,  so they cannot be quickly built. In any case, they usually run between towns, so they rarely address the problem of how we can all safely share roads and paths in our towns.

I believe the short term solution arises from increased awareness, consideration for others and training.

Cyclists need to develop and use the same observation and anticipation skills as advanced mtorists – look to see what is happening around you and what think about what might reasonably be expected to happen next. If you are cycling down a residential path, anyone could step through a gate at any moment. If there are tall fences and hedges either side of a gate, you may not see someone until it is too late. If there is an adult with a pushchair ahead of you, they might have a toddler you haven’t seen, who might run in front of you. A person walking in the same direction as you may have sight or hearing problems, and may not be aware of you, even if you ring a bell at them.  If the route runs beside a beauty spot, people might stop suddenly or step to the side to look at the view, or to take a photograph. If you are approaching a corner, anything could be out of sight on the other side. Pedestrians are unpredictable – they veer across paths to head for a shop, pub, toilet, a chat with an old friend or to take a seat, so when pedstrians are about, you have have to expect the unexpected.

If it is dangerous for a cyclist to use the road and they switch to a path, they need to be aware of all the potential risks. While they are unlikely to kill someone if they hit them at 16 mph (unless the person has a weak heart and dies of the shock, or has brittle bones so sustains life threatening injuries in the fall, or falls badly and suffers a fatal head injury) the pedestrian can suffer nasty injuries. They can also get a fright from having a cyclist whizz past them at speed, and for the elderly or infirm this can make getting out for a walk a trial when it should be a pleasure and a health-giving activity.

To return to Jeremy Vine’s point ( “If cyclists are forced to travel at walking pace, they will return to the roads and mix it with trucks.”) I think that most reasonable people, including most police officers, wouldn’t expect to enforce a 5 mph limit if the cyclist is on an empty path with excellent all-round visiblity and there are plainly no pedestrians anywhere near. However if there are, or might be, pedestrians around they must be given priority on the path, and cyclists must make sure they can move out of the way or stop quickly if needed. Logically, that means going slowly, and a 5 mph speed limit sounds about right.

Road Safety training is generally available. If you aren’t confident about cycling safely, or feel that as a driver you need more training on how to safely  interact with cyclists on the road, make enquiries locally to see what is available for you. You can also get plenty of hints and tips from revisiting the Highway Code.

I walk everyday, drive occasionally and would love to cycle more. I really hope we can all work together to make sure we can use our roads and paths safely and enjoy getting out and about.

 

Taking the pressure out of everyday meals

I love food and relaxing over a good meal but I do worry about food related things too: how much cooking fuel costs, how sustainable the food I eat is, how I can eat well on a budget.

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If that makes me sound neurotic, I’d rather say that I prefer to think about the best way to do things, rather than putting my head in the sand and carrying on in the way I always have. And the messages about thinking about what and how we eat are really stacking up.

  • Obesity in the west is still a growing problem, while people are starving all over the world. I read that in the UK weight and diet related illnesses such as diabetes are the biggest drain on the health service. 
  • In the UK we throw away around 30% of all food produced – I haven’t seen the current figures, but I am pretty sure we haven’t turned things around significantly in the last couple of years. And this is at a time when most people are finding the cost of living is rising, and income is at best static.
  • Fuel prices are gong up year on year, and likely to continue to do so.
  • The amount of meat eaten in the west per person is unsustainable – as summarised on the BBC Horizon programme last week. Plus eating more than a very small amount of (red) meat each day leads to health issues too – fat around your internal organs for one. Part one of Horizon focused on the amounts of meat we can healthily eat.

So in our house we’re reviewing our food and cooking choices to see if we can manage our budget better, eat more sustainably and generally feel we have less to worry about. This is what we’ve done so far:

  • We’re reducing the size of the meals we eat – and this is easier if you eat food like stir fries and shepherd’s pie. You just have a modest portion to begin with, eat slowly and enjoy, and then think carefully about whether you really need a second helping. This ties in well with our efforts to manage our weight through exercise.
  • We make truly delicious vegetable soups from the rather scrawny looking items left in the vegetable rack and fridge on a Saturday, sometimes supplemented by anything seasonal and good value from a shop. You can easily make six servings for just a couple of pounds, and we freeze what we don’t eat to have for lunches later. 
  • We’re trying out meat free days, rediscovering things like jacket potatoes and salads. We’re finding that if they are well done they are delicious. Vegetarian recipes from around the world are well worth checking out.
  • We’re eating more dishes that combine small amounts of meat with terrific vegetables to make food that doesn’t feel meat free – stir fries with a sprinkling of pork, or chicken, or prawns, for example. Shepherd’s/cottage pies with lots of veg in the mix to make the meat go further. We’re slowly learning how to use lentils and pulses well – so they add to the meal rather than dominating it.
  • We’re careful about when we buy meat – we cook a roast on the days when we have company, or know we will use it all through the following days, or have the time to cook something from the leftovers and put a dish in the freezer. Never throw away meat, and only throw away vegetables if you really have to.
  • We check through the freezer regularly to make sure we eat the things we have put in there, rather than having a yearly (or less frequent) sort out, when spoiled food ends up in the bin.

We’ve also bought a pressure cooker, and think this will work well for us.

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It’s a bit of an investment – the one we bought cost close to £100, but it reduces the cooking time by up to 60%. This means it also reduces the amount we spend on fuel by 60%, and this should come into its own when we get to the colder weather and stews becoming appealing again. I wonder how long it will be before we have saved £100 in gas bills? Stews are easy to cook in the pressure cooker, and they are another great way to use cheaper cuts of meat, and to increase the veg: meat ratio without anyone noticing. We’ve also invested in a couple of recipe books focusing on stews from around the world, so the choice is much more exciting than the word sounds. The plan is to cook up a good quantity and freeze enough for a couple of meals. Then we’ll only need to reheat to enjoy – saving time and minimising energy costs.

Stew really is a word that needs reinventing. Suggestions anyone?

I remember pressure cookers from the old days – terrifying things hissing away threateningly on the cooker. I always felt that the cook was taking their lives in their hands every time they turned the thing on. Not so with the modern incarnations, which are quiet and feel much safer – although you do of course have to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully, and there is a little trial and error initially in getting the timings right, as you get to know the equipment. 

We had considered getting a slow cooker for many of the same reasons, but decided this wouldn’t work for us. We are not quite organised enough to get everything we need ready for a meal long enough in advance of wanting to eat. The pressure cooker means we can be spontaneous and cook something pretty quickly when we are ready to eat. 

I haven’t unpicked the costs involved in all these decisions, as I haven’t been using the pressure cooker for very long. My feeling is that we are managing to reduce our basic food bills, so it is less of a burden to afford celebration meals for a treat. We shall see how all this works out, but it’s definitely food for thought!

 

 

The What Cup?

Now, I have never claimed to be a football fan (soccer fan, to some of my readers) but I didn’t realise just how out of touch I was until I discovered just on Thursday that the World Cup is starting in less than two weeks.

Well, that’s not strictly true, as in some part of my brain I was generally aware that it would be happening this year, this summer even, but the details had passed me by. So I watched the England – Peru friendly on … one day last week … with some interest. Nice to win, but especially nice to see a young team with hardly any big names. After the last big tournament, I voiced the opinion that we would stand a better chance of winning if we sent out youngsters who genuinely wanted to play rather than older, overpaid players who have an inflated idea of their own worth and a complacent attitude to the sport. Their attitude seemed to say – “I am one of the highest paid  players in the world, so I deserve to win. In fact, it’s an affront to my status if I don’t win.”

It’s about skill, of course, but it’s also about attitude, team spirit and endeavour, and that’s why the women’s game is so entertaining to watch.

I am thrilled to read that no-one expects us to get through to the final eight or whatever it is, let alone win so I hope that the press don’t lash the players if/when we lose. Because that’s the other side of this – the willingness with which pundits look for a scapegoat to blame for failure. All the national teams are well coached, skilful and fit, and the result of each game is a combination of many factors, not least luck.

I would far rather go out in a blaze of glory after an exciting and entertaining match than scrape through to a nervy penalty shoot-out, but that’s just me. And what do I know anyway?

 

Floods and gales part II. It’s getting personal.

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I wasn’t going to add to the amount of words being bandied about over the continuing rain and floods, but my hand has been forced.

How unhelpful to have Eric Pickles and others in government sniping at the Environment Agency! Without unlimited funding, how could they have put in sufficient water management and flood defences to stop flooding with the amount of rain we have seen this winter?  And can you imagine the uproar there would have been if they had pushed for extra funding for flood defences five years ago, when the UK was in the middle of a dry period, with very low rainfall each winter? Well I can imagine the headlines, and they wouldn’t have been pretty!

The situation is dreadful and steps need to be taken to help those affected as much as possible in the short term, but almost more importantly we need to prevent this extent of flooding happening again.

Long term solutions are going to take real leadership and imagination. Yes, we need to spend money, but we need to spend it wisely. We need to hear about all the ways in which we can capture heavy winter rain to hold it back from causing floods to be used during dry months, as I can’t imagine dredging rivers alone will be enough. Perhaps large rain storage tanks installed wherever possible (new developments, parks, public land …) to be pumped out during the summer for irrigating crops, watering gardens, flushing toilets and the like.   Perhaps a law that buildings on low lying or flood risk land need to be raised up above the possible flood levels on stilts.  It should not be beyond our collective skills to come up with solutions that manage water to save properties, businesses and lives, but which can also help the wider environment including wildlife.  Maybe we can build in some green energy production into the bargain.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that we need to be clever and collaborative to do this well. Come on, politicians!  Stop blaming everyone in sight and starting working on a big plan for the long term.

 

Floods and Gales

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On Friday evening we had an automated call from the Environment Agency to warn us that Clevedon was one of the many places in the West of the UK to be at risk of flooding.  Although we are tucked away on the Bristol Channel, well away from the ocean waves that lashed Cornwall in the gales, the high tide, strong winds and heavy rain meant a surge was excepted although the way the Severn.

We came off very lightly compared to many people, but it was exciting, and as you can see many drivers were stopping along the promenade for a photo opportunity.

The water was almost level with the promenade, as you can see.  Here’s the height of water against the pier …

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compared to a typical view.

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The Environment Agency site gives lots of information and advice but we have got so used to being safe from floods we hadn’t thought in advance of getting any extra defences.  Where we are the risk really is very low – we are in a wide, flat area some distance from the sea.  We shall see what the weather brings from here on in … Hopefully a bit less rain for us all.