Category Archives: CarNage

The Morbid Truth About Transport Planning


Some of my classmates at UWE have a hard time accepting the fact that governments knowingly and routinely approve new road projects that result in greater numbers of violent deaths of pedestrians and cyclists. They have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that well meaning politicians and planners who go home every night to their families would be capable of designing a physical world that crushes children under the wheels of “progress” just as it does inattentive pigeons and anything else that gets in its way, leaving families with an empty bedroom and horrific personal grief. .


“But they’re just accidents…………….”


When the number of children killed or seriously injured reaches about 4,000 a year in the UK, they’re no longer “accidents” but predictable costs of our car addiction problem, and I have a hard time accepting those facts.


So, of course, it is assumed that the transport planners who work for our civilized western democracies put safety first, and do everything in their power to prevent unnecessary death. Well……to a point. In my Transport Economics and Appraisal module, we learned that transport economists have decided how much your time is worth, and guess what? The value of cyclists time is among the lowest of the low, at £14/hr, just above that of taxi drivers (£8) and bus drivers (£8). Taxi passengers are considered to have the most valuable time, at £37, and car drivers are estimated to be worth about £22. Interestingly, walkers’ time is valued at £24.


In the transport economists world, a human life is worth exactly £800,000. So what this means is that if a proposed road widening project is predicted to kill 8 people over the next decade, yet the new road would save over 300,000 hours of car drivers time, at least in the transport economist’s view, that is an acceptable price to pay. I’m not sure the parents of the victims would agree.
























Having spent the last ten years fighting dangerous and ill conceived road projects in California, I have direct knowledge of this ugly calculation, and it is unfortunately not limited to the United Kingdom. In the States, traffic planners routinely use the LOS (level of service) measure to justify building new roads, widening existing ones, reducing pedestrian crossing times, or failing to provide safe cycle space, often perversely in the name of environmental protection.


It is heartening that the instructors on my course have a poor view of this methodology, that it is balanced with more qualitative measures, and that we are to think critically about its use as part of project appraisal. To me, pricing someone’s time based on their choice of travel method, adding up the seconds that a road scheme will save each commuter, then weighing this in financial terms, against a child’s life, amounts to murder by committee.


Car Choked Bristol


There are always two sides to every story, and Bristol has many tragic transport tales to tell. On the first day of my Transport Planning masters course at UWE, I needed to take the bus, as my bike had a broken chain. I waited over 45 minutes at the bus stop, with about a dozen other frustrated students. Then we sat in gridlock for another 45 minutes- a whole hour and a half to get from my St. Andrews home to Frenchay Campus, a distance of only 2 miles which takes about ten minutes on a bike. On top of that, it costs £2 (about $3.75) for a single ticket. Needless to say, I got my trusty “push bike” fixed the next day, and have sustained a bus “bikecott” ever since.


The deregulation of the bus industry (in the UK outside of London) has apparently resulted in more expensive and less reliable service. No doubt this state of affairs has led many to the driver’s seat, exacerbating an already bad situation.


It is a sad tale of congestion, frustration and woe every rush hour in “Brizzle,” with Chelsea Tractors (SUV’s) and a queue of single occupant vehicles crammed into narrow lanes and oversubscribed ring roads. There is an epidemic of pavement (sidewalk) parking in Bristol, forcing mothers with strollers and everyone else into the path of speeding cars, and choking neighborhood walkways.


Added to a proposed south ring road in Bristol, ambitious and destructive plans to expand Bristol International Airport, artificially low parking fees (and ample parking lots) at UWE, the rejection of light rail up the Gloucester Road, a real lack of cycle parking in front of stores, and the highest car ownership rates in the UK, and suddenly the green sheen of Bristol starts to lose its luster.


Quite a hefty burden for a transport planner to deal with really. One of my fellow Transport Planning students, Nick, when presented with a series of transport prediction models the other day, asked why these were necessary when we know what we have to do, and that is get cars off the road. “It’s a bloody emergency, how can we sit around fiddling with models when the planet is burning?”


We don’t have to be led like lambs to slaughter. We can restore true transport choice, create livable, safe, beautiful communities, and escape the vicious cycle of fossil fuel dependency, all while improving quality of life.

We just need to come together and agree that is what we want– then build the cycle paths, the rapid accessible transit networks, homezones, and wind turbines that will make living carbon neutral lives so much more possible.

Do we really need that new plasma TV or that cheap cardigan made in China? That cheap flight to the continent? That new BMW X5 with onboard navigation? We need it like we need flooded cities, 500 million refugees, and an atmosphere gone haywire, a home in space we can no longer depend on.

To put it bluntly, If the wealthiest people and nations wish to carbonize the atmospheric commons more than the rest of us, they should have to purchase carbon credits from those of us who pollute less. As energy cuts become ever more urgent, a carbon rationing market will have to emerge, bringing the true costs of energy to bear, and perhaps bringing social equity to a world desperately in need of it.


Thank god the following organizations are riding a wave of popularity at the moment and promise to bring transport sanity back to Bristol- please give them your full support:


The growing campaign to Stop Bristol Airport Expansion –The airport wants to TRIPLE flights by 2030- scientists say we need carbon CUTS of 70% by that year- there is a disconnect here people….


An Alliance Against the South Bristol Ring Road is fighting a new road through open space and greenbelt in the South of Bristol


Bristol Cycling Campaign reminds local politicians we need more resources and attention to those on two wheels


And a colorful group setting the record straight about Bristol’s TRUE history:

Bristol Radical History Week


An eerie similarity between addiction to nicotine and gasoline (DON”T MISS!)

Why can’t we give up fossil fuels? Ask a smoker!

George Monbiot, populist climate change leader holding their feet to the fire on climate change: Turn Up the Heat- George Monbiot

UK or Bust: Police Brutality and Resistance: Montreal Critical Mass 25 Aug. 2006

As it was the last friday of the month, I decided to ride down to Philips Square to check out the monthly Montreal Critical Mass ride, which gathers at 5:30 and rides at 6pm. The sun was shining, and attractive Quebecois were going about their day, buying flowers from the kiosk in the square, going home from work and passing by, observing the growing crowd of cyclists. There was a guy in a Bush mask and a suit who riding with us, and two sisters, Fanny and Marion, had made stencils out of old t-shirts, and were handing them out to the assembled massers. I pinned one to my guitar case that said “vive le velorution”. Thought that was appropriate….(my e-mail is


We pulled out of Philips Square, about 40 cyclists, some with plants draped around their handlebars and some with papier mache palm trees. I think there was some sort of Earth theme going on, as it was Katrina- Climate connection ride, organized by the climate justice group Rising Tide North America.


A police car drove close behind us, announcing over his loudspeaker: Envoye En n’avance!! (Get going- get a move on….) (What a great name this would be for a new Montreal based bike direct action campaign along the lines of Times Up in NYC…..vous ecoutez les Montreal velorutionaires??)


Everyone was in high spirits, cruising down St. Katherine, exclaiming in French and English: “A qui la rue??? A NOUS la rue!!!!! and “Whose streets? OUR Streets!!”. The mood was light and people were chatting and socializing as we rode along. All of a sudden, word was passed forward that a woman was being arrested by the police. Everyone turned around and weaved back through traffic to see what had happened, and it turned out that the police had picked off a rider who was passing out flyers to passersby at the back of the ride. There was a crowd of shoppers gathered (as this was the main shopping district) and as the ride rallied around the woman being arrested, the police lunged for two more riders (who happened to be non-white) and threw them to the ground, knees in the back, arms wrenched behind them, simply for riding their bikes, and enquiring what had happened to the woman being roughly shoved head first into the police car.


In total, I believe that 3 people were arrested. The three were transported to the police station, and the rest of us rode on, sans police company. Many people on the street, and in windows above, waved and cheered, and later one guy in a Humvee yelled at us, “get a job!” We yelled back, “get a bike!” We ended up in a park, where we held a leaderless, mutually facilitated debriefing in a circle, consistent with the tradition of Critical Mass, where everyone shared their observations about the incident, and what was to be done about it.


Many thought that it was important to write to the papers about it and let others know this is happening.


I shared my experiences riding San Francisco Critical Masses almost monthly since 1997, and suggested ways to deal with police repression, as San Francisco, and most other masses throughout the world, have dealt with violence and intimidation tactics from police forces in the past.


A man from Winnipeg, Manitoba shared that the Critical Mass there was badly brutalized a couple months ago, with people being beaten as they were arrested, and then later while being held in jail. The next months ride swelled to 300 riders in protest. You can seen the video of the Winnipeg incident here.


And here I was thinking Canada was so progressive and environmentally friendly. Police, even in Montreal, are beating up peaceful cyclists riding lawfully and environmentalists speaking out against climate change.


Apparently, Montreal police are known for being aggressive, so watch out if you come to Montreal and want to ride a bike or speak out!


Those who witnessed this incident should speak up and protest these heavy handed tactics.


Envoye en n’avance!!!!