Sunday, 10 December 2017

Taking the beloved bike on the train

Part of my volunteering with Sustrans includes attending events away from my local area.  In the last year I have attended events in places including Bristol, Birmingham, Stafford and Leicester.  I always try to cycle to events if possible if they are close enough or use public transport if they are not.  How easy is it to do this?

Luckily most events are held within reach of the train station where the event is held so in most cases I will leave my bike at Burton Station, where there is currently ample storage on the platform with CCTV covering the area.

The events in Birmingham are usually a 10-15 minute walk into Digbeth from New Street so there is no particular need to ride a bike at the Birmingham end.  The event in Bristol was a bit further away from Temple Meads but over a 20 minute brisk walk I was no more than 5 minutes later than a fellow ranger who had taken his Brompton.

At this point I will mention that my bike Jose is a non folding hybrid.  I have looked into buying a folding bike for these occasions but they are not frequent enough at the moment to justify spending the money on buying a decent one that is easy to fold and has gears.  Never say never though!

In October this year I attended an all day event in Stafford which included a led ride around Stafford.  As I was leading the ride I really needed to take the bike!

The last time I had taken the bike on the train I had come back from Nottingham via Beeston Station and was unable to get my bike on the first train towards Derby as it was a 1 coach East Midlands Trains service that already had a bike on.  I will say that I had not planned my journey in advance that night and the next train back was a 3 coach Cross Country Service which took me back to Burton without any further issues.

Previously back in my youth I had taken my bike from York to Sunderland on train and despite making a reservation that day I was turned away from my Transpennine service due to lack of space.  Luckily I was more then welcome on the next train to Newcastle where my bike fitted in well in the huge driving van trailer of a GNER service.  Taking my bike to university was a pivotal moment to my love of cycling so getting it there was key.

Waiting at Burton.
My journey to Stafford was shorter than the above but I was still anxious to ensure I could get my bike there and back.  This journey involves 2 short journeys using 2 different companies - Cross Country and London Midland.

The ticket booking was easy enough as always but the information for making bike reservations was more complicated and contradictory at times.  For my outgoing journey from Burton to Tamworth I was able to book a reservation for which I received confirmation from Cross Country.  However there was no reservation necessary for the return journey.

On London Midland I could not find any useful information on cycling reservations other than services that you definitely could not take a bike on.  In order to double check about reservations I used the contact page on the website but disappointingly did not receive a reply.  I have used the much maligned London Midland service several times for family trips to London and have found them to be of excellent value.

Storage on Voyager type train
Whilst at Burton station I observed the announcements as usual - the stations the trains were stopping at, whether there was food on board and the all important announcement of where first class is situated.  Interestingly there is never any announcement about the location of cycling or disabled access so you have to work it out quickly when the train arrives.

The journey from Burton to Tamworth was on time and very smooth.  As I had set off very early the train was nearly empty.  The service was a long distance one using a voyager unit which had 3 designated and secure cycling spaces.  It was a shame that the journey was only 10 minutes long.

On arrival back in Tamworth I was then able to use a lift between the 2 platforms on different lines before a 20 minute wait for the service from London to Crewe which formed the once hourly service via Stafford. I had seen a train pull in on the opposite platform so had an idea where the best place might be to board.

Again the service was on time and I was able to find a space in the disabled area - which fortunately from my point of view, was empty.  I was relieved to be able to get on the train without any reservation.  The journey was smooth and around 25 minutes long with just a small delay getting into Stafford.  The conductor was very knowledgeable and was dealing with a number of customer issues further up the line with good humour.
On the London Midland service

After a good day in Stafford I eventually returned to the station at around 4.50pm so was once again relieved when I saw there was space for my bike, although it was busier than earlier.

At Tamworth the change of platforms was slightly more complicated due to the position of the lifts - this time requiring 3 lift rides.  The Cross Country service on return was the Cardiff to Nottingham service using a 3 car unit with cycling storage near the disabled area - which was probably why I could not make a reservation for this part of the journey.

So while my journeys were all on time and I was able to fit my bike on all of them, I feel that it was rather by luck and the fact I set off early.  Even on the voyager long distance service there were only 3 spaces (although I understand Cross Country are bringing in more of the older Intercity 125s which have more space).

I found the reservation system to be inconsistent and open to interpretation and I think there needs to be more information at the stations as to where the cycling facilities are on the trains.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

New Cycling Sessions in South Derbyshire

The New Year often heralds changes in our lives.  Many people use new year to choose to get fit and cycling is one of those activities often chosen.

For some it is often difficult to start cycling or to get back into it.  South Derbyshire District Council are looking to rectify that by running 2 different types of sessions as seen on the posters below.

Whether it be a gentle ride around the paths within Maurice Lea Park or a couple of bikeability sessions at Rosliston Forestry Centre, if you or anyone you know might be looking for help in riding a bike then contact the council as shown in the Posters below.



Sunday, 1 October 2017

Talk on Ashby Canal at National Forest Youth Hostel

The National Forest area is rich in Industrial Heritage and the Ashby Canal played a significant role in the growth of those industries.

Vital to the industries in bygone days, the canal is now perhaps even more important to the area as an artery in the tourism infrastructure of the National Forest.  Where there are canals there are towpaths and where there are towpaths there are bicycles so the development of the canal is of great interest to us as a group.  The project to complete the canal is progressing but there are many challenges ahead.

A talk is taking place on Tuesday 17th October at the National Forest Youth Hostel to discuss the past, present and future of the canal.  Please see below poster with details if you are interested in attending.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Spreading the Word

Although Autumn has well and truly arrived we are still actively engaged in our activities.

As well as our work on the National Cycle Network we are always looking to spread the word of our work in the local area.

We have 2 events coming up on 7th and 8th of October in Stafford and Leicester which aim to engage with people on the work that Sustrans does and also gives volunteers the chance to do some networking.  For more information, see the below flyers.




 We are also looking to recruit new volunteers to help us in the National Forest area.  You don't have to be an avid cyclist a there are many skills that can be of use to the group.  Below is the recruitment leaflet that has been circulated throughout the National Forest area and includes contact details.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Closure of St Peters Bridge Burton


Anybody commuting into Burton by motorised means at the moment will be well aware that St Peters Bridge is currently closed and will be for 3 months in total.

A tranquil, traffic free St Peters Bridge.
The bridge carries traffic in and out of Burton via the A444 across the Trent Washlands via Stapenhill and is a vital artery in Burton's delicate traffic network.

Many of the bearings on the bridge which allow it to contract and expand are seizing up and need to be replaced otherwise the bridge will either have to have severe weight restrictions or face complete closure.  There has also been talk that the work may make the ill-conceived 3rd lane a possibility in the future.

Users were not given a lot of notice to make other plans.  Due to the funding process the grant awarded for the scheme needs to be spent within a certain time-frame so rather than more sensible measures like phasing the work over a longer time period or planning the works during the school holidays there has been a complete closure of the bridge forcing traffic over already busy alternative Burton Bridge or Walton bailey bridge.  Pedestrians are slightly less affected with the Stapenhill viaduct and Ferry Bridge being the alternative route.

The disappointing aspect from a sustainable travel point of view is that there was not a great deal of time to improve the cycling infrastructure or have a collaborative promotion of sustainable travel by the relevant authorities.

When initially reported it was stated that the reason for complete closure was due to the grant timeframe but more recently Staffordshire County Council have stated that the nature of the work means that the bridge can not be open even one-way through the works.

What is clear from the first few weeks is that businesses are struggling in Burton as people try alternative places such as Swadlincote, Ashby or Lichfield.  There will, no doubt, be discussions on compensation.  Bus companies have had to produce new timetables whilst emergency services have to plan around the closure.

The Stapenhill Viaduct is busier than normal though this
picture is from around 0730.
The positive side is that there are far more people using parts of the cycling infrastructure either by bike or on foot as reported in the Burton Mail although the article focuses mainly on walking but there has certainly been an increase in cyclists.

With the bridge closed, other than the sound of the works, the area is far more tranquil than usual!

With the extra amount of people on the Ferry Bridge and viaduct this does restrict the amount of space.  The cycle lane is already a narrow feature so care needs to be taken and there are some tips for those who are new to cycling and also for pedestrians.


  • Although the cycle lane is clearly marked there is no legal right for cyclists over pedestrians and tolerance of other users is important!
  • Cycle at a speed appropriate to the space available.  It is about the fine line between cycling assertively rather than aggressively.  Use the bell well in advance and slow down when near pedestrians, especially young children and those with dogs, whose movement can be unpredictable.
  •  Remember that a lot of people have headphones on and are unable to hear cyclists approach (and this carries on into the town centre).  Pedestrians also have a habit of walking close to the cycle lane so ensure there is space to pass and let them know you are there.
  • On windy days be aware that cross winds can have an effect on cyclists so give yourself more space when passing pedestrians.
  • Don't build up too much speed at the Stapenhill end as there are paths crossing beyond the Kiosk shop and due to lack of footpaths up the Dingle pedestrians are likely to be in the road.
  • Be courteous to other cyclists too especially when passing as one of you will have to give way and move out of the cycle lane.  My unwritten rule is to give way to those who have been on the bridge longer than you, and, of course, to ladies!
  • The National Cycle Network is designed to be a leisure route as opposed to a fast commuter route so please bear this in mind.



Cycling Laws to be subject of debate?

A prominent recent case involving the tragic death of a pedestrian knocked down by a cyclist has led to an increase in public and governmental scrutiny in cycling laws with the issue being raised in Prime Ministers Questions recently.

The case in question saw Kim Briggs knocked over and killed by a cyclist who was riding a fixed gear bike with no front brake.  The speed at which the cyclist was travelling was cited as a factor in the incident.

Upon determining the outcome of the case, the judge cleared the cyclist Charlie Alliston of manslaughter but convicted him of a 19th century charge of "wanton or furious driving" as it was the most logical charge.  He has now been sentenced to 18 months in a young offenders institute.

Calls have been made to update cycling laws as a result of this case perhaps unsurprisingly.  Most of the cycling laws still in force today came into force when there were very few cars on the road and do seem at times to be archaic.  If a serious review of cycling laws is to come into play then, in my opinion, they need to be used to protect both cyclists and pedestrians.

This article is not a protest by a cyclist on behalf of cyclists. I believe Kim Briggs tragic death was avoidable and I feel desperately sad for her family. I also have admiration for the way her husband has campaigned with great dignity.

The BBC Breakfast news headlines were "Tougher punishments for cyclists" whereas the aim of Matt Briggs' campaign is to address the gap in the law to find a more appropriate punishment and ultimately resolve the case in a more timely and less harrowing manner.  Such headlines are sensationalist and promote divisive opinions.  The aim of this article is to consider, with sensitivity, all sides of the issues and subsequent implications of the case.

From my brief experience of cycling in central London it is a melting pot of all types of transport and pedestrians trying to achieve their journeys in a very restricted and busy space - just like many towns and cities across the U.K.

There are clearly lessons to learn.  Although not a factor in the case mentioned, there are far too many people cycling on pavements in built up areas.  A 10 year old child on a pavement cycling slowly is very much different to an adult cycling down a narrow pavement at much more than walking pace.  Some do it because of lack of confidence and knowledge and fear of being on busy roads, often in areas where infrastructure is poor.

Due to the increase in traffic over recent decades and some poorly designed and often incomplete infrastructure, this does put cyclists and pedestrians in some positions which have the potential to increase the likelihood of issues.  Again, this was not a particular factor in this case.

The above points lead into a counter argument in the debate and cyclists do need to be considered in the law making process.  There were many good points made prior to the judgement by those angered that a cyclist was facing manslaughter charges at all.  Several cases of cyclists being killed by cars were referred to on a number of social media posts and comment made regarding the subsequent punishments for the drivers which were not as severe as manslaughter charges.

Cyclists can be an easy group to target as can be seen in the tweet below in Greater Manchester.  Cycling Tsar and Olympic Gold Medallist Chris Boardman recently responded as below to a tweet by Greater Manchester Police:

If there is a serious issue with "anti-social cycling" then the police are to be applauded for their approach but as Chris suggests there are more important issues to address and he, in particular, has good reason for his stance.

Chris Boardman's mother Carol was an extremely competent and experienced cyclist who was killed when knocked off her bike by a vehicle - another very personal and tragic side to the debate and why cyclists need to be protected. It took over a year for prosecutions to be made subsequent to this article.  A person was only recently charged with causing death by dangerous driving and perverting the course of justice.

In cases of bad driving / speeding this initiative is falling more to the community.  A recent blog item on 20mph zones and monitoring speeding vehicles can be found by clicking this link.  This shows that considerable effort needs to be made in order to combat speeding / bad driving.

In the case of Charlie Alliston the media focused on the fact that the cyclist had insufficient means to stop as he was riding a fixed gear bike with no brake.  In theory a bike without brakes should not be on the road but imagine a scenario where a cyclist (child or adult) is involved in a collision and is found to have defective brakes.  What would the court decision be in this case and what are the implications?  Would poor infrastructure be considered?

Such questions and scenarios can be debated over and over.  The deaths of victims including Kim Briggs and Carol Boardman must not be in vain.  In both cases there were unsavoury actions in the aftermath - comments on social media in one case and perversion of the course of justice in the other.

Whatever Parliament decides to do going forward needs to consider all sides but there needs to be understanding that the relationship between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians must be one of courtesy and tolerance and not of confrontation and anger.







Sunday, 17 September 2017

Community Speedwatch on Castleton Park

Although not strictly cycling related, an initiative has started on the Castleton Park area of Church Gresley.  We have noted issues with the cycling infrastructure in the area (see previous article) and calming traffic will help improve safety for cyclists and walkers alike.

The Castleton Park community group, which has a sizeable and active social media following from it's residents, has recently started a Community Speedwatch group.

Residents have concerns over several issues including parking, inconsiderate driving and also speeding.  There are aspirations of making the estate a 20mph zone in an attempt to make it safer.

As nothing in life is simple the creation of a 20mph zone will involve a lot of lobbying the highways authority (Derbyshire County Council).  Recent history of engagement suggests this will not be easy - despite the best efforts of the previous County Councillor, essential double yellow lines on the Brunel Way / Westminster Drive roundabout have still not been installed.

Most traffic calming measures will only be installed where there is a history of accidents but as Castleton Park is still relatively new this data set is small.  In industry the methodology around safety measures is based on near misses but this is not the case with public highways.

Interestingly in Scotland, there is currently a consultation on all urban roads becoming 20mph zones as can be read here.  In England it seems that there is a lot more red tape to get through.

The Community Speedwatch is being run by volunteers in conjunction with members of the Swadlincote Safer Neighbourhoods Team (SNT).  Members, including myself, have been given training by the SNT before they can start the speedwatch.  The training includes where the speedwatch can be done and when and also how to set up signage and, most importantly, how to use the equipment and record details.

The SNT also support the groups on the first sessions and provide the equipment.  The first session focused on 2 different areas.  There were a significant number of motorists caught speeding in one of the locations.  The next step for these drivers will be a letter informing them of the speeding, meanwhile the data showing the amount of speeding will hopefully be significant in the groups aims at making the area safer in terms of reducing speed.

The initiative has already drawn attention from several sources.  Notably, local social media sites alerted drivers to the presence of the dedicated members of the team on an early session, whilst more positively there are other groups wanting to start schemes in other local areas.

We are grateful to the Castleton Park Community group leaders for getting this initiative off the ground and to the Swadlincote SNT team (especially the local PCSO's) for their support.