Last Ecomishmash post

October 23, 2013

Ecomishmash has been my online identity for some time and this blog has been at the centre for reaching out to you. At that time of launching this blog, I was living some distance away from the place called home. The internet is there to make distances a little shorter. So Ecomishmash aimed to bring you closer to my world, my way of thinking. I spend much closer to home last year and Ecomishmash became quieter.

About a week ago, I went back to the UK. I could still vividly remember the last time I was standing on the docks in Dover, waiting for the ferry to the continent whilst the rain washed away the last remainders of the summer of 2012. At that moment I was very conscious I was leaving aspects of my life, slightly affright and sad. But deep inside I knew I had to let go, not to stick to the place.

At my arrival last week, I was dropped off in the centre of London at six in the morning. Memories of the first time I came to the UK came back to my mind. It was on a Sunday morning nine years ago I got off the Eurostar at Waterloo station. I was 20, on my own, naive and immature. My command of English was sub-standard, good enough for travel, but not to live there permanently.

Student accommodations where I lived between 2004-2005 (Uxbridge-London)

I went to sit in Waterloo station for some time, observing and reflecting what has changed over these nine years. That time, commuters were listening to their new iPods, closing themselves off from others whilst texting on their Nokia’s. Now, everyone is being social in the online world whilst ignoring their surroundings. We drink better coffee, electronic tickets make it easier to get on and off the public transport and a diversified selection of free newspapers helps us keep up with the important changes in society. Sorry I am being sarcastic, no major changes happened apart from the Eurostar going to St. Pancras now instead, leaving a death space at the station.

Than I came to the realisation many aspects of me as a person changed from living in the UK. At first I had to change my behaviour according to the system. Use different money, look at the right side to cross the street, speak a different language, get used to different food,… basically it is essential for survival. Shortly after, I became aware of the different norms. I bounced into odd habits like queueing to get in an empty venue or being over polite with strangers. I started to understand the nuances in the language, the manners, how to get something done and also, the humour starts to make sense. After some time living according to this new behaviour and norms, the new environment starts to penetrate deep in my mind. I can say that, apart from getting older, my experience of living in the UK definitely altered the way I look at stability, freedom, ambiguity, privacy, conformity, equality, participation, collaboration, creativity, the outdoors, joy, quality, tradition,

The house where I lived between 2008-2009 (Cranfield-England)

But reflecting back on all the changes over these years, the biggest change happened during the last one and a half years, a change within me. Before this transition-point, my mind was slowly becoming my world and I think this got amplified by being in the UK. I was a knowledge worker and the main thing going on in my life was mental activity, including; fighting, forcing, stressing, doubting, wondering, trying, frustrating, exaggerating and a lot of pondering and procrastinating. Even “relaxing” became a tiring mental activity. So even-tough my mind was formally trained, it was still a wild animal. Its diet was a monotone mix of all I could read, hear and taste. Its actions were driven by either wanting or avoiding situations. It was fighting or being exhausted from it, in both cases unable to listen to subtle signals. Signals from my body, the people and environments around me.

I am turning away from this destructive pattern and start to see the world around me much clearer. I am much more aware of my body and the impact of my actions. I seek a balanced lifestyle where both my mind and body can stay healthy, fit and active. I am slowly learning not to let my mind take over my world. Not to waste energy in the fighting but to work patiently on peaceful solutions. To let a big one-off exciting thing for what it is and to appreciate the subtleties in everyday life. I am learning to listen to my body and to use all my senses. I see it as a positive transition.

Galleon way

view from my Cardiff apartment 2009-2012 (Wales)

So last week I went back with a fresh pair of eyes to the place where it all happened. The country where I learned so much, met the most inspiring people, made friends for life, got the wildest natural experiences and cultivated unique values.  The place where I was much more free to be myself, but also drove me to something I was deeply unhappy about, yet couldn’t see.

So what I saw was something I already knew, but never took the impact of it seriously. It is a society on the surface doing well, but suffering under a lot of stress. A society where individuals are being proud of their busy-ness, but getting frustrated with everything slowing them down on their way (cyclist for example). A society where ego’s are cultivated by brands, money, history, narcotics, politics and education.

This stress becomes obvious in the way it gets released. Alcohol, meat, 3G, gadgets, cheap travel, promiscuous fashion, bling-bling, petrol-heats,… very impermanent, addictive and highly valued in British society. Every weekend city centres turn into bonkers. Fashion victims and binge drinking could be seen as the sub-cultures of millennials. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, ‘binge’ is an important ingredient in mainstream British culture. Buy one get one free, meal deals, unlimited watching, go for ‘a’ pint after work, a 3th runway, 4G,…  It is excellent fuel for the economy, but it is not good for body nor mind and undermines the social fabric.

Last weekend was good to reflect on my experiences of living in the UK. Many good values I formed over there will stick, some of those even clash with the values embraced at home, but that is how it is. I am grateful to everyone who made this experience possible to me. I am happy I am creating distance of the destructive behavioural patterns I got involved in and feel compassion for the people who are stuck in it.

The trip helped me realise that in my life, the biggest innovation and the greatest innovator are equal, it is me, myself. I learned not to stick to one place, one set of values or believes and to know when to let go. I am not going to let my experience, wisdom and judgment blocking me from approaching truly new things and rather use it to enjoy more meaningful things.

For me it is also time to let go of Ecomishmash. I enjoyed writing to you and I hope you enjoyed it too. I think Ecomishmash succeeded in creating a ‘mishmash’ i.e. a confused mixture. But I am at a point where I want to create more clarity. Probably this is my last post and hopefully we bump into each other in the real world or find me back under an other online identity.

So long,

Ecomishmash

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September 16, 2013

Preparing to cycle Land’s End to John o’Groats

October 31, 2012

“Land’s End to John o’Groats” is a well know British term, but once leaving the island, no one knows what you are talking about. To compare it to the pilgrimage Santiago to Compostela for Catholics, is Land’s End to John o’Groats to any British charity challenger or record seeker. It refers to the ‘end to end’ journey between Britain’s most South-Eastern and North-Western point. The most common means to make this journey is to cycle it, I also heard of people walking it and met a guy doing it by public bus services.

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This guy is doing a bus challenge Holt – Land’s End – John o’Groats – Holt

It feels like much longer, but it’s only been five months since I completed the challenge. I am trying to recap why I wanted to take on this challenge in the first place. Around Christmas last year I made the decision to do it. But the intention to do it I made during earlier cycle tours, once from Cranfield University to Dover in 2008 and in 2011 I went from Belgium to Calais followed by London to Cardiff. I loved those journeys as they gave me inner peace whilst putting me out of my physically and mental comfort zone. These tours also changed my awareness of distances and detail of places I am usually passing on long distance travels. So I taught that the end to end tour would give me peace after a stressful time and give me the opportunity to experience the full scope of the UK whilst improving my stamina.

My other tours were made without many preparations. The first touring was with a backpack strapped on the rack and without any accurate map nor camping gear. I learned navigating away from main roads is difficult and making last minute overnight arrangements is challenging and expensive. During my second tour, I decided to stick to the Sustrans National Cycle Network and to take a small pop-up tent with me. I was lucky with the weather being extremely good and realised if it was even a little bit colder, I would have needed cooking equipment.

So for a tour that would take about a month, I definitely needed to be prepared. Staying in B&Bs or hotels and eating out all the time would be too expensive, so camping became the preferred option. Considering that doing a prolonged self supported tour would require more stuff to carry and as a result put extra load on the bicycle, I found out that cargo trailers could reduce the ballast on the rear wheel. Since this tour was an experiment, I did not want to go for the expensive high end outdoors equipment, but it also needed to be of sufficient quality to at least sustain the full tour. This is a video and list of the equipment I took with me me:

  • Bike: Trek 7.3 Fx Disk
  • Trailer: Adventure Ct1 Single Wheel Cargo Trailer
  • Tent: North Ridge Sphinx 2p
  • Mat: Hi Gear Discoverer Sleeping Mat
  • Sleeping bag: Vango Ultralight 600
  • Stove: Wild Woodgas Stove MK II + Spirit Burner
  • Coat: Berghaus goretex + Regatta soft-gel + Regatta fleeze
  • Underwear and T-shirts: Howies Marino light 1 short & 1 long sleeve, cycling shorts, waterproof and wool socks
  • Trousers: Craghoppers quickdry and Mountain Warehouse rainproof
  • Shoes: Karrimor Waterproof Walking Shoe
  • Navigation tool: Sustrans App (OS maps) via iPad 3G
  • Power supply: Freeloader Globetrotter Solar Charging System
  • Action camera: Chilli Technology Action 3 HD 720P Head Cam
  • Head torch, Reelight battery free bike lights
  • Emergency kit, Bike-horn

The trailer has a maximum load capacity of 30kg and I packed my equipment to these guidelines. I also had one pannier where I could store things I needed quick access to during the day such as food, navigation and rain clothes. Now I was ready to do some test riding. I explained a little bit of my test ride to Schumacher College in a previous post. At that time I was able to eliminate about 6kg of luggage that I wouldn’t need. Devon was a good place to start and Cornwall put the test to an extreme. I encountered a few difficulties. First, quick-dry clothing isn’t good enough for continuously being outdoors, second, I still had too much load to carry, especially going up-hill and third I had problems with my disk-breaks vanishing going down-hill. I aimed to cycle from Schumacher College to Land’s End, but these three problems caused me to call a halt to the cycling in St Austell and to take the train to Penzance.


First miles into Cornwall, on the edge of a windy cliff. The gear and rider weren’t tested to the extreme yet.

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bottom of hill where my brakes stopped working

I met up with Gordon about two months before the tour and told him about my plans to cycle the end to end. He bought a touring bike a year before and was keen to test it out. I am not sure Gordon committed himself to cycle the end to end but he was definitely up for some adventure. I arrived to Penzance the day before we were supposed to meet, but Gordon informed me he was delayed due to the delay in delivery of a tent he bought on ebay. But no worries, he pointed me towards a very nice campsite I could relax the extra day.

The campsite was at Treen, a tiny village a couple of miles out of Penzance in the direction towards Land’s End. The way to get there was extraordinary, first there were the coastal towns that had a Mediterranean atmosphere, once going up the cliff-side there was a deserted plane than valleys cut along it. These valleys had a tropical micro climate and finally arriving at the campsite felt as being on a Caribbean Island. Despite the beauty I was surrounded by, there was not much time to fully enjoy because of the three problems I had to sort out, i.e. getting waterproof clothing, reducing my luggage and fixing my breaks. This was challenging to organise at a remote place with few public transport links and poor mobile coverage. Luckily I was able to enjoy the beautiful evenings and went to see a musical an open air cliff-side theatre. After one more day, Gordon arrived without his new tent, I got rid of another 6kg of luggage and we were ‘ready’ to go.

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‘old’ versus ‘new’ brakes

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Treen

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Musical ‘Titanic’ in memory of the boat sailed along this coastline exactly 100 years ago that day

The next post will elaborate on the route we took:

  • Day 1 – 13/04/2012: Land’s End to Truro (45m or 72km)
  • Day 2 – 14/04/2012: Truro to Bodmin Moor (46.5m or 75km)
  • Day 3 – 15/04/2012: Dodmin Moor to Tarka trail (59m or 94km)
  • Day 4 – 16/04/2012: Tarka trail to Exmoor (51.5m or 83km)
  • Day 5 – 17/04/2012: Exmoor to Tirverton Parkway (26m or 42km)
  • 18/04/2012 – 27/04/2012: break (meditation in Hereford)
  • Day 6 – 28/04/2012: Tiverton Parkway to Taunton (25m or 40km)
  • Day 7 – 29/04/2012: Taunton to Wookey Hole (48.5m or 78km)
  • Day 8 – 30/04/2012: Wookey Hole to Bristol (46m or 74.5km)
  • Day 9 – 1/05/2012: Bristol to Forrest of Dean (30m or 48km)
  • Day 10 – 2/05/2012: Forrest of Dean to Black Mountains (46.5m or 75km)
  • Day 11 – 3/05/2012: Black Mountains to Newbridge on Wye (40m or 64km)
  • Day 12 – 4/05/2012: Newbridge on Wye to Machynlleth (52m or 83.5km)
  • Day 13 – 5/05/2012: Machynlleth to Blaenau Ffestiniog (42m or 67.5km)
  • 6/05/2012: break (visit friend on Isle of Anglesey)
  • Day 14 – 7/05/2012: Blaenau Ffestiniog to Caernarfon (30m or 48.5km)
  • Day 15 – 8/05/2012: Caernarfon to Holyhead (32.5m or 52km) + ferry to Dublin
  • 9/05/2012: break (visit friend in Dublin)
  • Day 16 – 10/05/2012: Dublin to Clogherhead (36m or 58km)
  • Day 17 – 11/05/2012: Clogherhead to Portadown (64m or 103km)
  • Day 18 – 12/05/2012: Portadown to Belfast (35m or 56.5km) + ferry to Cairnryan
  • Day 19 – 13/05/2012: Cairnryan to Maybole (66m or 106km) via Galloway Forrest Park
  • Day 20 – 14/05/2012: Maybole to Isle of Arran (37m or 59.5km) via Ardrossan-Brodick ferry
  • Day 21 – 15/05/2012: Isle of Arran to Loch Caolisport (35mor 56.5km) via Lochraza-Claonaig ferry
  • Day 22 – 16/05/2012: Loch Coalisport to Oban (59m or 95km)
  • 17/05/2012: break (Oban visit)
  • Day 23 – 18/05/2012: Craignure (Isle of Mull) to Malaig (85m or 137km) via Oban-Craignure ferry and Tobermory-Kilchoan ferry
  • Day 24 – 19/05/2012: Isle of Skye to Isle of Harris (64m or 103km) via Malaig-Armadale ferry and Uig-Tarbert ferry
  • Day 25 – 20/05/2012: Isle of Harris to Knockan (48m or 77km) via Stornaway-Ullapool ferry
  • Day 26 – 21/05/2012: Knockan to Durness (55m or 88.5km)
  • Day 27 – 22/05/2012: Durness to Thurso (71m or 114km)
  • Day 28 – 23/05/2012: Thurso to John o’Groats (21m or 34km)
  • total of about 1300m or 2100km

Continuity in disruptive times

October 27, 2012

After some time of silence at this blog, I am back with the first in a series of posts I am planning to write this month. So far 2012 has brought many challenging, changing and exciting moments for me and I want to share with you the highlights of my stories via this platform. I could blame my silence on multiple difficulties I encountered to write blogs on an iPad whilst on the move. But lets be honest and admit that in times the flow of life counts may interruptions, its easier to jump into the action than to document the story.

The previous post was written whilst preparing the challenge to cycle from Land’s End to John o’Groats. The tour took about 30 days and as you probably can see from the pictures, I’ve got a few stories to tell about what happened in between. I’ll keep this for the next post.

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Lands’s End 13th April 2012

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John o’Groats 23rd May 2012

In my previous post I also mentioned briefly that I took a course at Schumacher College. For over 20 years the college has been a place for transformative courses on sustainability. Back in 2008 I took a course in designing for sustainability which at that time gave me a leap in my professional development. The course I followed this time was titled “Cultivating an Ecoliterate Worldview: Person, Place and Practice”. The two week-residential was an experience that changed my values and reconnected me with the ecosystems we are part of. The course is still ongoing via a global study circle. Although I see the whole experience more as personal development, I might write a post about “design and innovation versus emergence and transition for sustainability”.

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Dr Stephan Harding explaining 1 meter will represent 1 million years

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During the 4.5km walk references are made to the 4.5 billion years geological and biological evolution of the earth

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Last 20 centimetres introduces the human species on earth, last 2 millimetres the industrial revolution

Other personal development experiences since my last post included a ten-day Vipassana meditation course and volunteering on a later course. Vipassana is a meditation technique where, by experiencing the impermanence, you learn to eradicate yourself form misery by controlling deep behavioural patterns of craving and aversion. I would recommend everyone to try a course! An unexpected outcome of a course that only caters vegan meals is that I have overcome my phobia about eating fish.

In July I went to Italy to attend a summer school in designing the semi public space. Izmo associations, the organiser of the summer school, are a dynamic bunch of people somewhere between architects, researchers, design activist and just very nice Italians. I was particularly interested to attend because of the participatory design workshop and the realisation of community based design interventions. As you can see from the pictures there is a lot to tell about this experience, too much for this blogpost.

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Participatory design workshop

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design team and installation

After the summer school I began actively seeking work, i.e. job-hunting. In hunting terms I can say the climate is changing and this season isn’t going to bring an easy catch, a good time to master some survival skills! How I approach my hunt will be for a next post. What I can tell you for now is that I want to make sustainability happen via design and for this I am looking into three possible types of meaningful work:

  • eradicate poverty by designing products, services or systems in third world countries
  • supporting meaningful and good design by providing qualitative research services to any type of ‘sustainable designers’
  • creating systems change by bringing design-led approaches to policy development/delivery

Another challenge was, and still is, the ambiguity of me being an expatriate versus native. I haven’t relocated yet and have been hopping between the UK and Belgium finding a space to work anywhere with wifi or 3G. It’s an organisational and legal challenge and sometimes creates interpersonal difficulties. I can now say I have an temporary operating base in my hometown, Poperinge, Belgium. This situation not only taught me to travel light, but also to live light. It has also been a time of (re)connecting with friends, family and masters two languages simultaneously.

So the last half year brought adventure, professional development, personal mastering, hunting experience and a nomadic lifestyle. I am keen to use this blog to go into more detail on a few aspects of this transitional period, starting with a long post on the big cycle tour. Leave a reply below if you are interested in a particular story. You can also follow me on twitter for instant updates.


Cycling the UK

April 8, 2012

At the end of last year, I made a decision to leave my job at the Ecodesign Centre in Cardiff and to look out for other adventures. When I made the decision, I came to the realisation I have been living on the island for about half of my adult life. I am not sure yet where my next adventure will bring me, elsewhere in the UK or maybe somewhere totally else on this continent or planet. In any case, I would like to see, explore, experience and get to know the good sides of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). And as a keen cyclist wanting to get closer connected to the real world, I made a plan to cycle the four regions of the UK.

The big tour will go from Land’s End to John o’ Groats via Ireland. Gordon will be my companion along the way and we aim to start on Wednesday morning. I have commitments in Belgium on the 27th of May so that sets the deadline for the challenge.

My weapons of choice are a decent bicycle with trailer, decent camping gear and an iPad. I am not sure yet if the last one will bring me closer to the real world. At least it will help me to navigate and keep you updated on this blog.

I left Cardiff behind me two weeks ago for a warming up tour to Schumacher College in Devon. I left too late to get on time for my course at the college, so I cheated a little by taking the train from Bristol to Exeter. The main learning, from that was I that had too much stuff with me

It will be a cycle tour, not a race so there will be time along the way to reflect, explore, enjoy and to build on a plan for the next adventure after this challenge.

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Last night in Wales

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Crossing the bridge between Wales and England

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Taking a bridleway as alternative for missing cyclepath leading to crossing river near Newton Abbot.

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Spectators whilst cooking lunch in Devon.


A road safety question

February 5, 2012

Dear South Wales Police, Cardiff Council’s Road Safety Team and all residents of Cardiff

I am under the impression that cyclist lack acknowledgment as being a legitimate part of the traffic system. This could cause unconfident cyclists to be intimidated and confident cyclists to become arrogant. My impressions have been confirmed as you reported that many local residents raised concerns about cyclist riding on pavements and/or failing to obey red traffic lights.

In addition to this impression, I am starting to develop deep concerns about the polarisation between cyclists on the one hand and drivers and pedestrians on the other. This polarisation could manifest itself in two ways.

Firstly, the lack of awareness for each other’s road position. Businesses and motorist are systematically using cycle lanes and pavements as parking bays, pedestrians are often not expecting cyclists on shared facilities and cyclist thinking they have to ride in the car door zone, in the gutter (secondary position) or even in summer having to dress up as hi-vis Christmas trees.

Secondly, the lack of respect for each other’s road position. Motorists often dangerously overtake cyclists followed by cutting in sharply, the majority of pedestrians systematically ignoring red lights even during rush hour, a minority of outlaw cyclist ignoring red lights and highly skilled/equipped cyclist appearing more arrogant towards cars in order to reclaim their place on the road.
The Times Cities fit for cycling

This polarisation heads towards a culture where cycling is either not recognised as option for mobility, not being recognised as a legitimate activity, or being marginalised to a few minority groups. This is worrying, mainly for maintaining and improving road safety for all road users, but in addition to this, also for making Cardiff a more enjoyable and equitable city for all.

Despite all efforts to improve road safety for all road users, the Department of Transport most recent figures showed that killed and seriously injured (KSI) statistics for pedestrian, motorcycle and car users fell by between one and seven percent in the past year where as cyclist for the same period, however, increased by eight percent, including a four percent rise in the number killed.

These statistics feed my suspicion that the polarisation between cyclist and other road users is counter productive for cycle safety and I am hoping authorities can take action to counteract this trend. On the 25th of January, I was happy to find this leaflet attached to my bike outside Cardiff’s central library with a road safety message. In respect to my deep concerns for the increasing polarisation and decreasing road safety for cyclist, I was hoping to find an encouraging message, but instead read the following:

“In an effort to educate riders of the potential dangers they are creating for pedestrians and other road users, South Wales Police is working in partnership with Cardiff Council’s Road Safety Team to reduce the risk of a pedestrian, cyclist or other users being involved in a collision”

Genuine message? Read again and spot the nuance. This message stigmatises cyclist by hinting they need to be educated because they are the main source of danger on the road. Indeed cyclist can cause injury to other road users, but are you considering ‘a car’ as ‘the road user’? I challenge you to find a statistic that indicates a rider inflicted an injury to a driver. I applaud your attempt to stimulate cyclist to take training in order to gain confidence (further down the leaflet). But saying cyclist need education is failing to recognise that cyclists are legitimate road users.

Moreover, this leaflet highlights all the rules cyclist must or must not obey. I understand these rules are necessary to maintain road safety, however, there is a problem that cyclist cannot obey some of these rules in all cases. By, giving a few examples in the context of Cardiff, I hope to make you aware that there are systematic problems provoking cyclist to break the law.

Rule 64: You MUST NOT cycle on the Pavement.

Some roads are so daunting for cyclist that the pavement is the safer option. Roads with dual, triple or quadruple lanes without cycle facilities where the average speed is above 20mph can be very intimidating for cyclist. If these places are at the heart of Cardiff’s busy centre, it is inevitable that unintended law breaking behaviour is very visible to residents and tourists.

Single lanes with pinch points can also scare cyclist on the pavement. The illustration below is an example where most cyclist will choose the pavement. Where you see the bus, it is clear a cyclist can’t be overtaken. But its not uncommon drivers try to do so at the spot where the google picture is taken. I have found the guts to always take the primary position at this spot but this comes at the price that I am perceived as arrogant cyclist.

Rule 69 You MUST obey signs and traffic lights signals.

Due to improved infrastructure and the increase of dedicated signs for cyclist, cycle facilities in Cardiff are improving. But these improvements are very fragmented and in some cases miss any common sense. I have two examples for this.

The first example where obeying signs becomes absurd is the following. There are facilities in place to avoid the Gabalfa roundabout. But cycling further towards Caerphilly road, the signs will guide you onto the pavement in the opposite direction of a single direction, triple lane road. You can understand cyclist don’t like this. But if it is followed by a sign that makes an abrupt end to the cycle path, cyclist can’t see any logic in obeying signs like these. Moreover as you can see, drivers can not be aware of this and as a result this gives the public an impression that cyclist are law brakers.

Cyclist don’t question the importance of traffic lights, they are designed to allow flows of traffic to cross each other in a safe manner. Segregated cycle facilities are great because cyclist and/or pedestrians can cross each other without having to wait for lights. However, segregated cycle facilities need to link up with the road network. This second example illustrates that cyclist can’t go from the park into Corbett road. Since this google picture was taken, Cardiff Council have made many changes and created a connection to the main road, yet failed to provide cyclist nor pedestrians the option to enter Corbett road. The nearest crossing is 3 minutes walk from this point, one way. Hence many drivers might think crossing cyclist and pedestrians are red light jumpers, however their are no lights in place at all.

Rule 71 You MUST NOT cross the stop line when the traffic lights are red. Some junctions have an advanced stop line to enable you to wait and position yourself ahead of other traffic.

Because cyclist are mainly on the left side lanes, advanced cycle stops provide the opportunity to cut across multiple lanes before turning into a side road. The quadruple lane example mentioned before illustrates advanced cycle lanes are key in allowing cyclist to turn right. Its also great because it gives cyclist the possibility to breathe less polluted air. The following junction below is an example where the advanced cycle lane gives riders the possibility to wait whilst other traffic turns left. This junction is timed to have trafic turning in at the same time. You can imagine it is absolutely crucial for cyclist not crossing the line. But it’s not uncommon to find a car in this advanced cycle lane, note google also spotted the red car. An other aspect of being ahead of traffic is that you know when someone jumps a red light in front of you. Many advanced cycle lane users will be able to tell cars systematically speed up when lights flash amber and as result often jump red lights by split, yet crucial seconds. Jumping a red light on a bike is illegal and can be dangerous, jumping a red light using a motor vehicle is just as illegal but potentially causes a lot more death and injury.

I hope these few examples illustrate that following the cycling rules is not always possible for riders due to poor infrastructure, intimidating heavy traffic or some selfish drivers. Moreover, these unintended law-braking actions give cyclist a bad image. Road safety in Cardiff is everyone’s interest and responsibility. No pedestrian has been killed in collision with a cyclist either on the pavement or following a cyclist going through a red light in London in any of the last ten years. 54 pedestrians have been killed on the footway in collision with other vehicles in London over the last ten years. Cardiff is of total different size but you can see the trend. Based on this and the KSI figures, I have strong reasons to believe the residents’ concerns are based on perceived risk with a strong bias against something they don’t understand, i.e. cycling. I am concerned about this as this could results in inaccurate road safety assessment by pedestrians, cyclist, and motorist.

Cardiff Council has an obligation to facilitate local services such as traffic management and road safety. I know the council has a cycle strategy, did a cycle consultation and has a cycle officer appointed in order to improve cycle experiences in Cardiff. However, since you (South Wales Police, Cardiff Council’s Road Safety Team) distributed this road safety message, I am asking you directly what you are doing to improve cycle safety in Cardiff? I applaud your effort to crack down on outlaw cyclist and the attempt to encourage unconfident cyclist to take training. I am sure you are making more efforts to improve road safety in Cardiff. However is ‘educating’ cyclist the only effort you can make in reducing the risk of pedestrians, cyclist or other road users to be involved in a collision? Many drivers and pedestrians are unaware of cyclist or fail to anticipate to cyclists’ different road behaviour. A small group of drivers are intentionally ignorant to aknowledge cyclists’ rights to use public roads. So can you if your effort to improve road safety, on a regular basis, remind drivers they have obligations and responsibilities in sharing the roads with cyclists and pedestrians aswell.


British customs

December 10, 2011

Yesterday at 6.30 in the morning, I had to pass British customs. This activity is routine for me so it shouldn’t be worth writing a blog post about it wasn’t it apart from the extraordinary amount of questions I had to answer and the timing of this happening. I was asked a series of about six questions that started around my Belgian nationality.

My lifestyle requires meeting the British border agency on a regular basis, in some occasions even multiple times in a single day. My Belgian ID card gives me a quick and friendly entrance to the UK. I rarely get any question, even with a rich collection of strong Belgian beers in my luggage.

Less than a couple of hours before my last entry to the UK, David Cameron blocked the new European treaty with veto. It is funny some British press put more emphasis on David’s veto than to the content of the treaty. To my understanding the treaty basically tries to prevent the collapse of the whole European economy, not only the euro countries. The Brits have historically been scared for the European continent, however their leaders understand the UK is part of the wider European economy. With his veto, David tried to defend bankers’ interests and gained more respect from the “great British society”. I am having strong doubts if any one is a winner here.

The day before, the British press was sharp to Belgium because British border staff have faced threats of arrest by Belgian police over the problem with the “Lille loophole”. You can read the full story here, but the following quote is worth a short discussion.

“This has got to stop. You are not in Britain now, you are in Schengen. If they make a complaint you will be arrested.”

I don’t see this as a threat from Belgian police, but rather a signal of companionship. They don’t want to be forced having to arrest their British colleagues.

I must say that my normal greetings with British customs take place at a French ferry port, a Eurostar station or a British airport. This time I entered via the port of Harwich after returning form a genuine one-day business trip to the Netherlands. The standard for this type of trip is to fly and have an overnight in a hotel. I opt for an environmentally friendly mode of transport and took the rail and sail from London to the Hook of Holland via the overnight ferry. This option was more convenient to me because I could stay online and plan meetings along the way. To my own surprise the whole trip was very comfortable, even during “severe weather conditions”.

Was the extraordinary amount of questions I had the first signal of how Britain is drifting away from Europe, was it revenge of the British border staff for the way Belgium blocked their work or did I have the wrong profile at that specific point of entry to the UK? I hope it was just the later. But even if this was the case, it also worries me because it indicates green business travel isn’t considered a genuine travel profile yet.


British Values

August 12, 2011

A week ago I was chatting with my good friend Jon who used to live in London, but moved back to the New York. We were talking about the different types of stress we noticed on both sides of the pond since we last saw each other. This is a little extract from our conversation:

me: here it’s not about ego

its about liability

Jonathan: ?

22:16 me: there is a lot of stress because the system is going to get stuck soon

22:17 and everyone tries to be according to the system so they can’t be blamed if something will go wrong

Jonathan: how will it get stuck?

22:18 me: the UK is still a mediaeval country

Jonathan: like with knights and horses?

me: the rules just emerged

like everyone made them up gradually

22:19 not like the French, they had Napoleon to clean it all up

and the German had their dark side of history where they thought they could all clean it up

UK never had a revolution

except the industrial one

22:20 so the rules of the country are still mediaeval

Jonathan: hm

me: but that is also good, because it allows people to stay creative


22:29 Jonathan: you’ll have to tell me more about this systemic UK thing later

i gotta go to a beisbol game

Well now we are one week further, we still have food and games but the world has made a significant change again for the forth time or so this year.

Despite I can get very annoyed with the UK (especially when liability takes over common sense), I also like this nation because it gives space and freedom to innovation. I use the following slides sometimes in work-presentations to explain innovation and to illustrate the good and bad sides of innovation.

This brings me to the following scene from Network 1976 and the London basmati looter 2011 (see below).

I haven’t seen the whole movie and I don’t know the context of this looting so my apology if I jump into conclusions here.

People got mad in England the last week and what they are saying is “I am a human being goddamit, my life got value”. Unfortunately innovations in this country have reduced or skewed the understanding of value towards the concept of Tesco Value. Tesco provides value because it’s cheap, but the downfalls are that its not of high quality, you always get more than you need, it creates a lot of waste and it destroys communities. The Brits (with the English on top) love this concept.

The problem in the current British society is that they put young people in a Tesco-value box without looking to the real value inside. We are creating an enormous mess behind us, we are facing an aging population, credit crunches and massive environmental problems. And now we are treating our young people as cheap forces. The question on how to deal with the problems we created will be their problem to solve.

The reason behind my argument about cheap forces is that one of the main innovations in the UK, the 24/7 consumption society, is based on favouring big companies who are not in need of skilful people. Traditional entrepreneurship, by small business where people build up skills, are doomed to fail in this model.

This basmati looter is as mad as hell and he can’t take it any more! In my economic view, what he is saying here is that he can get more value out of a bag of low quality rice than what he would gain from his time within a free society. In my sociological view, what he is saying is that he doesn’t respect Tesco value and he rather go to prison (by being recognisable on the picture) than to put his time in creating value in this society turning around cheapness.

Now Mr. Cameron wants to put some young people in the box of “Parts of our society are not broken but sick” I am not totally clear on how he sees the difference between broken and sick, but I think Mr. Cameron should look further than a few parts of the society.

I would put the looters in the box of skilled people with high potentials for the future society. They have the skills to create social change, be entrepreneurial with a very limited amount of resources (just a mobile phone) and being able to influence communities.

And I would like to finish this post with some good old British humour. What we need is nurturing our kids, not giving the little boy a little scare Mr Cameron.


Hi-vis Nation

May 8, 2011

Cycling and more specific cyclists’ roles and behaviour have been a hot topics of discussion in the UK over the last month. Highlights in this discussion are the revolting comments on a Daily Mail article, the Safe Our Cyclist campaign by The Independent and the AA ‘Cycle Safety Day’.

In my experience of cycling on both the continent and the island, I can say there is a cultural and infrastructural problem in the UK. For example, the flat where I live counts 10 bike racks over to 70 car spaces. Moreover, the five-story building does not have a ground floor any more … I can only find a “Car Park Level”. You can see you already have to be a bit rebel to get on a bike in this kind of place, but to really get somewhere, you have to be an outlaw! The reason for this is that only cars can trigger the gates. This leaves cyclist with the only option for ‘escaping’ or ‘entering the UK road network’ is via cycling on the pavement.

There are so many aspects of the cyclist-driver relationship I could go off in a rant, but maybe the AA ‘Cycle Safety Day’ could be the most relevant.

First, I don’t see why cycle safety should be a one-day concern, but let’s move on. The timing of their action demonstrates they totally miss the point. On the warmest and brightest day, they were handing out hi-vis and helmets. Are these attributes important to make cycling safer that day? The importance of helmets can be discussed (see video below) but I see their enforcement to move towards a hi-vis nation redundant and alienating.

The safety of cyclist in traffic should be paramount and I agree visibility of the cyclist is key in this. However hi-vis nation is not the right strategy for a multitude of reasons:

  • Hi-vis makes sense in dark and rainy winter weather. If drivers still can’t see cyclist during the day, they have a serious problem with their eyesight.
  • Cyclist should cycle in the primary position to be visible, communicate intentions and be able to anticipate to driver-errors. Wearing hi-vis would licence drivers to abolish cyclist’s primary position by intimidate them to the gutter.
  • I associate hi-vis with danger. When I am a cycling in a normal manner, I can’t see how I am a danger towards someone.
  • Hi-vis are not fashionable, they look like radioactive bin-bags! When there are probably 10.000 types of black to get your car painted in, hi-vis only comes in yellow and orange.

Apparently I am a post positivist

January 11, 2011

Yesterday, @sharprendeville from the Ecodesign Centre organised an internal meeting on research methods. We had an philosophical discussion on different approaches to science. Apparently I am a post positivist. This is my view on science:

Traditional science tried to explain what makes something common, modern science tries to explain what makes things or us diverse. I think there are huge opportunities for a new field of science by trying to explain what or evolution is. In this, I mean not evolution in terms of biology, but what is the evolution of society? How do we change our ways of thinking? How do we change or artefacts? How do the societal structures change? How do individuals change their behaviour and how does that influence societal change? How does technology influence society and vice versa? How do demographics change and what challenges and opportunities flow from this? How do different cultures understand change? I think I made a point, change is more than “climate change” and “change, yes we can”.