jeudi 11 février 2016

Obesity epidemic caused by sedentary living not diet

from the what-made-you-think-you-could-stop-using-your-legs? department

I took out a subscription to the London Review of Books a few years back, in the hope that some of its literary excellence would rub off on my translations. And to have something to read in the bath. My attitude to it is generally one of respectful awe at the elegant mastery of the canon displayed therein, but when finance specialist John Lanchester strayed into an ill-founded discussion of the current obesity epidemic, I quite naturally composed this grumpy letter to its editor. Unsurprisingly rejected, for its ill-tempered criticism of both the writer, and the editor who sent him thence, and its slight inaccuracy (he mentions inactivity twice, not once), it appears here, in suitable obscurity.
John Lanchester laments the ill effects of the general increase in occidental adiposity, but sadly, as is all too common of articles in the genre, he mentions 'inactivity' as a factor only once, discusses it not at all, then lapses into a contentious and unsystematic review of possible dietary factors.
But the average Briton walks on average eight miles per day less than they did fifty years ago. In 1949, fully one-third of all miles travelled using a mechanical mode of transport were by bicycle: by the year 2000 only 1-2% were [1].
It's quite simple. The scales do not lie. If you eat more calories than you burn off, you gain weight; if you eat less than you burn off, you lose weight. What's more, the relative error of the hypothalamic mechanisms that produce the sensation of satiety is greater when energy requirements are low.
I realise I sound like some ruthless P.E. teacher when I tell people to get out of their bloody cars and start using their legs again, but that is what is required. As for those poor little underage prisoners strapped into car seats everywhere they go, never getting to explore their world for fear of getting knocked down, I weep for them.
It is disappointing indeed that Lanchester aimed so wide that he missed an obvious target by a mile: the re-examination of the Fordist mode of revictualment represented by the private motor car and the supermarket car "park".

mercredi 13 janvier 2016

Rearranging the urban furniture

from the because-we-need-the-space-for-other-things department

The Bristol Traffic blog, which claims to be about "getting around Bristol", obviously got off on the wrong foot when it was named "bristolcars", so suppose it was hardly surprising that it failed to publish this comment, beneath a post there regretting "the war on the motorist." They are, of course, under no obligation to publish any remark of mine, though their unwillingness to debate their ideas is duly noted. As ever, I offer it here instead:

"The car is a victim of its own success. Car ownership over the last twenty-five years has continued to increase linearly—see this RAC report for example on: Car ownership in Great Britain According to the RAC, there were 20 million cars on Britain's roads in 1991; by 2007 there were 26 million, with considerable growth in two- and three-car households. Whilst these might at first sight be considered figures in support of your argument for more parking and roads, the problem in town is that space is limited and choices have to be made. If every trip into the centre of town were to be made by car, congestion would rise. Consider the graphic attached to this tweet
which illustrates the amount of road space needed by 48 people using various transport modes: a car, the bus, walking, or a bike. It is clear that cars occupy a vast amount of urban space—and the faster they move, the more they need. This high requirement for space is to the detriment of all other modes, and choices have to be made. Presenting this as a war on the motorist is to fail to understand the impossible demands of the mode for urban space in any streetscape conceived before the 20th century. A streetscape designed for the car looks like Los Angeles, not Bristol, and if you want a city like Bristol to work for everybody, car use has got to be limited in some way."

mardi 5 janvier 2016

Elisabeth Carnall 17 July 1935 — 23 December 2015

Sad to report that my mother died recently. Apologies for the delay in announcing this, and any distress that may have been occasioned if you thus heard the news by a tortuous route. 
All who knew her personally are most cordially invited to her Memorial Meeting 2.30pm Saturday 30 January 2016, Quaker Meeting House, Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh.

Donations to Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre (online possible via PayPal button top right of that page). 

Memories and messages to

mercredi 11 novembre 2015

Is cycle infrastructure the new helment?

from the new-Fordist-distractions department

The open access arm of the BMJ has just published the results of an ecological study from Canada, where legislators have created an interesting natural experiment by requiring cyclists to wear helmets in some provinces, but not others. The authors claim surprise that they found no effect in either the overall injury rate or the head injury rate between the provinces, though those of us who have followed what BikeSnobNYC calls the helment (non-)issue are perhaps less surprised. Forced by their negative results to admit helmet legislation has no effect on the substantive issue--reducing danger for cyclists--the authors then proceed to claim that "more cycle infrastructure" is the solution. Although they review the literature, they themselves have no data to add, and as the issue of road design and behaviour is fraught with complication, conflicting interests, and perverse effects, I thought they weren't entitled to a free pass at their sweeping and not altogether well-founded discussion.
As ever when someone is wrong on the internet, I freely composed a comment for the delectation of both the authors and the public. This the BMJ have failed to publish, so, in the best traditions of this blog, it appears here:
These are valuable results and the authors are to be congratulated on their clear presentation.
Given the health and well-being effects of regular cycling, the overall risk of hospitalisation of 622/100 million trips is worthy of wide attention: a chance of ~1 in 160,000 that your trip will end in hospital rather than your intended destination is really rather low, even in the present motor-dominated environment.
However, the recommendation by the authors that more "bicycling infrastructure" is the answer to increasing modal share, thereby augmenting the "safety in numbers" effect is controversial, and is neither justified nor refuted by the evidence presented here. (Cyclists were asked about whether they used their bicycles, not about the routes they took).
My own view is that developed countries already have a highly developed infrastructure that is ideal for cycling called the roads, and that the real problem is negligent driving. Some design features that privilege more direct routes for cyclists and exclude excessive motor traffic (cycle contraflows, modal filters, bicycle boulevards) may be useful, but the real enemies remain excessive speed and drunk driving, and the newer menace of distraction by mobile devices.
Effective measures to reduce these, including stricter policing, driver education, strict civil liability for drivers who collide with cyclists, and proper accident investigation to ensure lessons are learnt, are more important elements for those who would emulate (and surpass) best European practice.
I shall footnote this comment with two more:
1) I am surprised and disappointed at the BMJ's failure to publish the comment in situ, though I suspect this reflects organisational failure to monitor the relevant disqus account rather than any conspiracy to silence me.
2) I suppose it is not surprising that people deluded into a focus on the victim-blaming issue that is cycle helmet promotion and compulsion, will, brought to their senses by the lack of supporting data, switch their allegiance to the unicorn of "cycle infrastructure," instead of the elephant in the room of much-needed motor traffic reduction, better driving-related laws, enforcement thereof, and driver education. These present real challenges of course: but addressing them is what's needed, not demands for a parallel reality of "cycle infrastructure" before cycling can be widely adopted.
And given that such infrastructure is often second-rate while delegitimizing existing cyclists' right to the road, they may be assured that this cyclist at least, will keep calling them out, until his dying breath has been finally drawn.

lundi 5 octobre 2015

Separate development? Or civilised behaviour?

I recently commented on a Guardian article discussing recent deliberate attacks on cyclists in the UK, which uncritically presented the statement:
building segregated bike lanes [is] proven to be the best way to prevent such deaths
 I reproduce it here, for ease of navigation:

Reference required? It is rather a controversial matter. It is true that the countries where extensive segregation of cyclists has long been practised (Denmark, the Netherlands) have markedly better safety records than their neighbours. They are no paradise though: there are still 200 cyclist deaths a year in the Netherlands, for example.
But their segregated networks have been obtained at a certain price: the exclusion of cyclists from many parts of the road network (and its superior surfaces and direct travel lines), and slow and complicated junctions.
A Canadian study has showed higher accident rates for cyclists who habitually use footpaths rather than the carriageway. Most collisions happen at junctions. Footpath (and cycle lane) users generally find themselves at a positional disadvantage with respect to the traffic flow just when they most need to be correctly positioned.
A pre-eminent Dutch road safety expert has just published a paper (paywall, sorry) admitting that, in part, his country's superior cycling safety record is because their cyclists ride more slowly. They have to, on often tight cycle paths. Waits at complicated junctions can be long too.
Building cycle paths does reduce the space available for other modes. Such paths are the cowardly choice of the policymaker too timid to confront head-on the reality that the private motor vehicle is a dysfunctional form of urban transport, but nevertheless would, understandably, appreciate less noise, pollution, danger and fewer parking spaces in their town centre.
It has little to do with increased road safety for cyclists though: in fact, life for the cyclist may well be more difficult after they have been implemented, though if this also means fewer motor vehicles in town, this may be nicer for everyone.

Here's a video from the UK of the kind of angry entitlement we can expect from motorists once a cycle path, however unsatisfactory, has been built alongside a main road. Talk about realpolitik! (Cyclists in the UK retain their right to ride on the road, and are not obliged to use any cycle path.)


Thanks to the authors of these tweets for inspiring this post:

dimanche 30 août 2015

Sorting out saddle problems

from the keep-dancing-on-the-pedals department

This article appeared in the pages of Cycle, the membership magazine of the CTC, almost ten years ago. It doesn't seem to be easily available online there, and it's still useful, so I'm pasting it here for those in need.

 When I confessed to my own saddle problems in the rather public forum of the London Cyclist ten years ago, I certainly discovered one thing: cyclists' bottom problems are a taboo area. There were lots of giggles for a few months after publication, though fortunately the dignity of my profession enabled me rise above them. The article also proffered the anecdote of my own resolution of the problem--a couple of boils on the perineum. Round town I switched from gel to sprung leather, and, on long distance rides, adopted a recumbent. Result: no more problems.
The part of the body that relates to the saddle on a conventional machine is technically termed the perineum. Now, most animals are quadrupeds, and their perineum has less to do, being vertically inclined and acting as the side, rather than the base of the bucket. But humans' upright stance makes the pelvic outlet (as it is known) an insoluble conflict between ease of labour in childbirth and mechanical efficiency when walking on two legs.
The umbrella of muscles suspended from the inside of the pelvis and sacrum collectively is known as the pelvic floor. In men its only defect is the anus, but woman need the space of the birth canal too. Hence, as is widely understood, the adult female's broader girth about the hips, on average, than males.
This fact of nature—the distance between the ischial tuberosities that form the lateral bony boundary of the pelvic outlet—is an important variable in saddle selection. Best bought in person, grasp the demonstration model in the shop, and bring it firmly into alignment with the your ischial tuberosities there and then. Any saddle whose widest part is narrower than this distance runs the risk of inflicting pressure injuries potentially deeper than the skin, as the right and left perineal blood vessels and nerves course forward to the genitalia close to the midline. The anus is also in the midline, but its internal and external sphincters are reasonably robust to saddle trauma.
Out of the shop, saddle correctly fitted, the most obvious saddle injury, instantly painful, is an unexpected blow from an unyielding saddle on an unsprung bike. Unexpected road surfaces--I speak of potholes--can result in a stiff biff where the sun don't shine that is rarely appreciated if unanticipated. Usually the pain settles in a few minutes and the damage is minor, but you certainly don't do it for fun.
More insidious but with the same disastrous potential as a direct hit, is damage caused by lack of blood flow when the pressure of the saddle exceeds the pressure in the blood vessels. The circulation of the skin and pelvic floor muscles is rarely a problem in young adults of either sex, but older riders may start to notice problems, with the first symptom noticeably slower recovery and healing times after longer rides.
The perineal skin can suffer local infection at any time, though it is more likely in summer or warmer climes, when the increased transpiration of moisture from the sweat glands encourages yeasty organisms such as Candida, and mechanical problems such as chafing and maceration of damp skin. If you're prone to a spot of groin rot over the summer months it's probably safe to suggest a strategy of a couple of days of rest off the bike, preferably in a sarong rather than a pair of Y-fronts, and the application of a little clotrimazole cream twice a day, while nature runs its course. Hint: a small folding mirror and a good light can be very helpful when monitoring the progress of your perineum through the course of its cycling career.
There's much more that could be said of course, but do so would require longer than the editor allows: consult your doctor if symptoms persist.
Among cyclists who really know about these matters: the randonneurs and racers of this world, opinion divides on both prevention and treatment of perineal problems, but on one fact all will agree: if you're not dancing in the pedals, you are already finished. As to the merits of padded shorts, the application of pre- and post- ride ungents (such as Vaseline), or specially-shaped saddles (once the basic requirement of physical fit has been satisfied), none agree, as you would expect from the ruggedly individualistic body of cyclists.

samedi 1 août 2015

On the road to cycling hell

This is a translation of an original post I published in French here.

"Be careful what you wish for: it might just come true one day..."

We, as London cycle activists, were always careful not to fall into the pockets of the road engineers and planners, whose responsibility was always for "the possible." We, on the other hand, were struggling with "the impossible"—the end of car culture in town, with its impossible demands for space, its danger and pollution. My vision is still to reclaim the roads for the cyclist, and leave the pedestrian unmolested on the sidewalk. And the Dutch method of "cycle apartheid" has absolutely damn-all to do with promoting cycling; rather it is a dangerous source of oppression.

It's true that planners can do useful things for cyclists: allowing cycle contraflows in one-way systems for motor vehicles (the principle of cycle permeability), and reducing speed limits on roads where necessary. But if each "advance" is accompanied by a degradation, such as, for example, the appearance of "No cycling" signs on roads with cycle paths alongside, one begins to doubt the good faith of the authorities. (This happened in 2012 around Nantes, on the D39 between Nantes and Sucé-sur-Erdre, the D75 between Indre and St. Herblain, and the D107 between Chantenay and Indre).

So I went to a meeting organized by Place au Vélo (Nantes' most significant cycling organisation) to hear a talk by the author and transportation journalist Olivier Razemon yesterday evening, and to criticize their strategy.
I spoke up against this pavement cycling (and separatist infrastructure) during the meeting.

I began my remarks by quoting the aphorism "The road to hell is paved with good intentions", and my opinion that, in the seven years I have lived in Nantes, conditions for cyclists have worsened. And I read an extract from Olivier Razemon's latest book to illustrate the true problem which prevents sharing the road:
"We've all met, at least once, an arrogant, overweight driver, steering wheel in one hand, the tyres of his 4x4 squealing, as he accelerates towards pedestrians, while giving the finger to cyclists."

(They're certainly more common in England, hence my preference for life in France! And the beautiful strict liability law—the loi de Badinter—passed in 1985, gives strength to the cyclist's elbow as well). And I asked Olivier Razemon, and the auditorium in general, if we were ignoring the true problem, that he so expertly describes, whilst scrabbling round in the details of local authority expenditure on street design, with €80 millions budgeted to the year 2020, etc, etc.? Behavioral problems are solved by education and the law, not just road design.

I didn't say at the time, though I might have, that one could justly revise this extract to read "Everyone has already met, at least once, a fit, arrogant cyclist holding the handlebars with one hand, tyres skidding, as he accelerates towards pedestrians, middle finger held aloft to drivers," as a reminder of the new daily experience for crossing pedestrians since Nantes' main north-south cycle route was laid past Commerce. The enemy isn't the transport mode chosen, nor the road design nor its marking: it's the users of wheeled vehicles who lack respect for others.

I think my French was sufficiently fluent to express my ideas, but I don't think my intervention was particularly welcome. The president of Place Au Vélo contradicted my remarks by expressing his affection for the now obligatory cycle path running alongside the D39 to Sucé, and made an ad hominem remark, that, as I was already a convinced cyclist, I was not part of the group of new cyclists they were looking for.

I'm certainly familiar with this line of argument from my time in England, but, to speak frankly, it's bullshit. I have no problem with a choice between a cycle path and the road. But why do you have to make the cycle path compulsory? Because it is inferior.

And there you have it: that's how the rights of cyclists are trammelled whilst claiming to enhance them! It's a manoeuvre of Fordist political genius. The Fordists never forget their fundamental principle: everybody must drive a car. Pedestrians and cyclists alike are an insult to this principle. What could be better then, than to mix them together on the sidewalk in conflict with one another, while leaving the road clear for the real travellers? And if the cyclist has the temerity to continue to use the road when there's a cycle path alongside, give him a good blast of the horn, the rebel! Defenders of cyclists' rights? I don't think so!