Friday, 22 June 2012

Bike to work week - what my council is doing

 I'm getting into this guess post malarkey after the last one, so this week it's my colleague Caroline Brown (@DrCarolineBrown) (pictured) who has agreed to help me write this post with her review of Edinburgh's Quality Bike Corridor below.

So, it's Bike to Work Week. As followers are probably aware, that's a pretty normal week for me. As I've talked about on here before, I do a multi-modal commute, the vast majority of which is by bike. I vaguely enjoy cycling, would like to enjoy it a lot more, and journey times for me are about the same by bike as they would be by any other form of transport.

I've been quite critical of how my local authority - City of Edinburgh Council - manage their roads for cyclists, but since them and they're community planning partners are using Bike to Work Week to launch their Streets Ahead road safety campaign, I thought I'd see what their policies actually are.

From what I can gather (it's a bit tricky to follow), policy that is focused specifically at cyclist is spread between six different policies:
The fact that you have to read at least six policies to find out what provision should be made for cyclists says a lot to me - cycling is not a central part of the transport strategy and the way that the city designs its transport infrastructure. Yes, cycling is covered in many policies, but this fragmentation does suggest something of a strategic vacuum. Interestingly, the final policy - the Design Guide - which is mentioned in some of the other policies is seemingly no longer held on the Council's website. It's a shame that it's become this neglected as it's actually a very good policy. If all of Edinburgh's roads and cycle paths were designed in line with those guidelines there would be a massive increase in cycling (and I'd feel a lot safer).

The frustrating thing looking at all these policies is that Edinburgh Council clearly, in policy, do have a commitment to improving cycling infrastructure. They acknowledge the roads need safe cycle space on them if we are to increase the amount of cycling. But what do we get? This mess.

For example, the Active Travel Plan states that: "surface quality is especially important for bikes, which have minimal suspension. When reviewing carriageway maintenance priorities we will take this factor into account, increasing maintenance priorities appropriately."  Every cyclist in Edinburgh knows the state of the roads is just a joke. In fact, as I stated in a recent email to the Council about one stretch of road, it's beyond a joke; it's just dangerous. When your choice is to hit a gigantic hole and fall off, or cycle down the middle of the road, then the aims of the Active Travel Plan are not being met.

And after a recent trip to the Netherlands, I'm now even more convinced that we need to "go Dutch". I was staying in Amsterdam, just around the corner from here. It took me a wee while to realise that, since they've prioritised the two bike lanes (both wide enough for two bikes to ride side-by-side comfortably) the road was actually almost too narrow for two cars to pass. The bike lanes also run alongside the car parking spaces, so cyclists weren't in danger of hitting a parked car. The bike lanes also go around the back of the bus stops. Even so, the road next to the bus stop was slabs of concrete so the tarmac wouldn't end up looking like crumpled newspaper.

I cycle up Easter Road every morning - a road which is probably equally as busy as that Dutch road - and it looks like this. Across that width of road there is absolutely no excuse for not prioritising cycling on an equal footing as cars. But we just get two advanced stop lines and these aren't there at the two stop lines where they would probably be most useful.

A major part of what Edinburgh are trying to do to help cyclists is contained in the Quality Bike Corridor. Caroline Brown lives in that part of town so she's provided me with this review of this model provision (with photos)

The City of Edinburgh Council says ‘A Quality Bike Corridor from George IV Bridge to King's Buildings is now under construction by the Council. The corridor will include new cycle lanes and bus lanes, and changes to the parking and loading restrictions along the route so that these lanes aren't blocked as often by stationary vehicles.’

The leaflet promises a lot – new bike lanes, new bus lanes and reorganised parking. It’s a great idea, and it is good to see:

More cycle parking along the route 
Clearly marked cycle lanes and ASLs:
But, but, but...

Painting lines on the road does little to change the habits of drivers who park where they like....
[The driver of this white BMW did at least move when I pointed out that she was parked on double yellow lines AND a cycle lane. Note the completely empty P&D parking bays only a few metres further down the road... !]

And I doubt very much whether the forest of new signs that is springing up along the route will do much either.:
Why is it necessary to have all these poles foresting the pavements? What do they do for cyclists? CEC seems to have a very bad case of street sign-itis, as you can see here:

Not only is this short stretch of kerb painted to distraction, it also has a sign! Note how the placing of this sign now creates a pinch point on the pavement. Multiply this by a zillion, and that means the QBC is bringing with it a zillion more obstacles for pedestrians along its route. That doesn’t help with the outcomes the QBC is supposed to be addressing:
National Outcome 6 – ‘We live longer, healthier lives’
Local Outcome – Active travel, namely walking and cycling, allows people to integrate health promoting physical activity into their daily lives
Supports National Outcome 10 – ‘We live in well-designed, sustainable places where we are able to access the amenities and services we need’
Supports National Outcome 12 – ‘We value and enjoy our built and natural environment and protect it and enhance it for future generations’
Supports Local Outcome – Edinburgh residents and businesses find sustainable travel options increasingly attractive resulting in growth in traffic levels being contained.

So, to return to the issue of cycle parking: while it’s good to see cycle hoops along the route, given the width of the pavement along Ratcliffe Terrrace, these also have the potential to simply create more obstacles for pedestrians.
Why isn’t it possible to put some of these obstacles in the road rather than on the pavement? How about on-road cycle parking, rather than on-pavement cycle parking? What about the award winning car bike port from CycleHoop?
Finally, looking back to the consultation leaflet about the QBC, it is clear that implementation is far from complete. Presumably things are being phased in a logical way; but there is no information about this on the CEC website, and no info about when things are supposed to be completed. As a result, the QBC is currently a dogs dinner of half painted and half implemented ideas. It is full of good intentions, but let down by: poor road surfaces; poor enforcement of parking controls; the ‘advisory’ nature of the cycle lanes; and, the forest of poles, signs and other pedestrian obstacles appearing along its length.

To be honest, the creation of a joined up route of cycl lanes, parking controls and increased cycle parking will be an improvement. However, the quality bike corridor could be more than that – a demonstration route where cyclists and pedestrians are given more space and more priority, and cars and parking are given less space and less priority. Imagine it: 20mph along its length; a dedicated cycle lane which is uninterrupted by parking bays; wider pavements; a narrower carriageway, oodles of cycle parking. That would be the start of a real revolution.

Thanks Caroline - and I have to agree with her. While it seems Edinburgh's policy could be revolutionary and really prioritise space on the roads for cyclists, we actually have very poor quality provision, that puts lives in danger, and prioritises high speed motor traffic over anything else.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Debunking “the pink pound” – LGBT poverty and place in Scotland

I did a research project recently with our fantastic Research Associate Kirsten Besemer (pictured). One of our finding was so interesting I've invited Kirsten to write this entry - my first "guest blog"! Do get in touch if you want to write something for me.

Over to Kirsten...

Arguably the most pervasive myth about the wellbeing of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in the UK is that of the “pink pound”, the idea that LGBT people are prosperous, with an extensive disposable income which allows them to afford an abundant range of luxuries. According to this stereotype, LGBT people are childless and somewhat self-centred, with no dependents inhibiting them from spending their ample salaries on a lavish lifestyle. The “pink pound” myth may have its origins in a longstanding association between gay men and high-end fashion, and has certainly been perpetuated by stereotypes in popular media.

Further, in terms of planning and land-use, as LGBT people were often excluded from mortgage markets, they were also one of the groups commonly identified as “urban pioneers” in processes of gentrification – upgrading cheap properties they could afford and investing their sweat equity to improve the neighbourhood. This picture of a cool, hip, young couple living in a fancy loft conversion is all too common in the media. Non-mainstream sexuality is not commonly associated with poverty or economic disadvantage.

Yet there are a number of reasons to suppose that LGBT people are probably more likely to be in poverty than heterosexual people.  Firstly, employment discrimination against LGBT people has only recently become explicitly unlawful in the United Kingdom. It was only after European Union legislation came into force at the end of 2003 that discrimination in the work place on the basis of sexual orientation became officially recognised as against the law. Although there has been fairly little research in this area, there is some empirical evidence that homosexual men continue to earn less than heterosexual men with similar characteristics.

Lack of access to marriage may be another contributory factor linking poverty and sexuality. Until 2004, there was no way for same-sex couples to form a legally-recognised union in the UK. Although the 2004 Civil Partnership Act created a form of union which is very similar to marriage, civil partnerships are not fully identical to marriage in terms of their legal protections and responsibilities. Successive Governments have gradually removed some of these legal differences, for example by extending domestic violence legislation to all couples, by calculating benefits according to household occupation rather than married status and by extending occupation rights to partners and parental responsibilities to all categories of persons.  As these changes have all occurred within the last ten years, particularly older LGBT couples may have experienced a long periods of considerable economic disadvantage resulting from their barriers to marital union. These advantages include, among others, easier access to a mortgage, and various tax advantages including exemption from capital gains tax and inheritance tax in the event of the death of a spouse.

Furthermore, family conflicts and estrangements over coming-out may have considerable economic implications. At the extreme end, LBGT people may experience a sudden need for independent accommodation resulting from severe family conflict over their ‘coming out’. On a more subtle level, they may simply receive less or no family support in times of financial difficulty (See also this pdf working paper).

For all of these reasons, we would expect to see an association between poverty and not identifying as heterosexual. In this light, it is interesting to note an incidental finding from a study recently conducted where we analysed the representation of a number of equalities groups in the 15% most deprived areas in Scotland. From our analysis it emerged that people who identified as heterosexual were significantly less likely to live in the most deprived areas than people with other sexual orientations (p<0.05).  The table below shows just how striking this difference is. If populations are distributed evenly then there should be 15% of that particular group in the most deprived 15% of neighbourhoods in Scotland. As we can see, only 13% of all people who declared themselves heterosexual live in the most deprived neighbourhoods, whereas 17% of those who declared themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual or “other” do so. Quite a finding.

An interesting observation was that of those who refused to answer the question about their sexuality (which was asked as self-completion and therefore anonymous even from the interviewer), were as likely to live in deprived areas as the people who had indicated they were lesbian, gay, bisexual or “other” (LBGO).  Although inferences should be made only hesitantly, it may be that this population is more likely to belong to the LBGO group than to the heterosexual.

Further analysis also showed that people who did not identify as heterosexual were much less likely to live in owner-occupied accommodation, and were overrepresented in the social and private rental sector. This difference might be indicative of earlier-mentioned barriers to access to mortgages.

In terms of the debates around urban regeneration and deprived neighbourhoods this is a really interesting finding. Firstly, we know of no area-based regeneration policies that have specifically focused on sexual orientation as something that might lead to concentrated deprivation. Further, Scotland’s deprived neighbourhoods are not blocks of tenements awaiting gentrification. They are predominantly peripheral social housing estates around our major cities. These are not capable gentrifiers, but people who find themselves in a neighbourhood of concentrated poverty.

Low sample sizes make the LBGT population difficult to study statistically.  However, it may be possible, for example by using merged years of large statistical datasets, to look more closely at possible correlations between sexuality and poverty, and gain a better understanding of why people with non-mainstream sexualities are overrepresented in Scotland’s poorest areas.