The other week I spotted a driver attempting to drive the wrong way down a one-way street in Horsham.
It’s tempting to do this, because it represents a big shortcut.
Starting from point A, driving illegally (south) down the road marked in red means that getting to point B is only a distance of 0.3 miles. Driving the legal route is over twice as long, and also involves waiting at several sets of traffic lights, which don’t exist on the ‘illegal’ route.
Here he is, setting off the wrong way down this one-way street…
Often this is explained in terms of ‘cyclists’ being able to ‘get away with it’, because they’re apparently not identifiable, with number plates, or fluorescent jackets with their names printed on, or some other nonsense.
Of course, this ‘explanation’ fails to account for how drivers consistently break laws in vast numbers, despite having number plates.
But there is actually something to this explanation. It is hard to get away with driving a car up a one-way street – much harder than riding a bicycle up a one-way street. However, this isn’t because you’ve got a number plate on your car. It’s because it’s physically hard to drive a car up a one-way street. There’s a strong chance you’re going to meet a vehicle coming the other way, and if that happens, you’re pretty much screwed, as in the case of the driver in the example described above. It’s a big risk.
By contrast, when you cycle the wrong way up a one-way street, it’s relatively easy to negotiate your way out of difficulty. For a start, you’re only the width of a human being, so you can simply stop against the kerb. Or you can become a pedestrian.
I’d estimate that, every day, around 50-100 people cycle the wrong way down the street this driver got caught out on. However, none of them will have encountered the kind of problem he did. There are some examples (and more background explanation) at the start of this post here.
And here’s a chap on a Dutch bike, cycling the wrong way, at precisely the position the driver met the bus.
We’re all cycling the wrong way precisely because we can get away with it. We can stop, walk on the pavement, get out of the way, and so on. Drivers can’t do this, because they’re cocooned in a much bulkier vehicle that is much, much harder to manoeuvre out of the way.
So the apparent ‘lawlessness’ of cyclists isn’t related to a lack of a number plate, or identification, but instead to the fact they’re much more like pedestrians, than drivers are. On a bike, we’re nimble and flexible; in a car, we aren’t.
I will often take short cuts in Tube stations, down passages that are ‘one way’ for pedestrians. I would think twice about this, however, if I was carrying a very large six-foot-cubed cardboard box. Because there’s a strong chance I’m going to get into difficulty if people come the other way.
This basic human psychology also explains why ‘red light jumping’ is associated with cycling (even if drivers actually jump red lights in roughly similar proportions). Drivers tend to jump lights by ‘gambling’ – nipping through the junction after the signals have turned red, on the (often mistaken) assumption that they’ve got just enough time to do so before traffic emerges from other arms of the junction. Here’s a gamble from a lorry driver.
People cycling, however, engage in a form of jumping that you rarely see drivers engaging in; creeping into the junction, looking around, seeing if it is clear, and progressing carefully across in stages.
It’s quite obvious why drivers don’t engage in this kind of behaviour, and again, it’s not because of number plates (because, again, that fails to explain why they’re jumping lights in vast numbers already). It’s because it’s risky to get yourself into the middle of a junction in a big bulky object, leaving yourself nowhere to retreat to, if things go wrong. You’re going to end up causing an obstruction.
On a bike, however, you can move onto the pavement, or you can position yourself against an island, or simply dismount, if things start going wrong. You’re small, nimble, and flexible.
One-way streets and traffic lights only exist in our towns and cities to accommodate the flow of big, bulky objects that can’t easily negotiate past each other. By contrast, present-day streets that carry tens of thousands of people a day on bikes (with very few, or even none, in motor vehicles) do not require traffic signals, or one-way systems, to accommodate flow. They are far, far more efficient.
So should we really be surprised that people using a flexible and nimble mode of transport will often ignore rules put into place to ease the passage of bulky and inflexible modes of transport? It’s their very flexibility that allows them to bypass those rules, without getting into difficulty – rules that came about because the drivers of motor vehicles were getting into difficulty.
I’ve been meaning to write a few words about ‘Secured by Design’, which is a national police project focused on reducing crime through the design of buildings and the built environment.
Established in 1989, Secured by Design (SBD) is owned by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and is the corporate title for a group of national police projects focusing on the design and security for new & refurbished homes, commercial premises and car parks as well as the acknowledgement of quality security products and crime prevention projects.
… Being inherently linked to the governments planning objective of creating secure, quality places where people wish to live and work, Secured by Design has been cited as a key model in the Office of Deputy Prime Minister’s guide ‘Safer Places – The Planning System & Crime Prevention’ and in the Home Office’s ‘Crime Reduction Strategy 2008-11′.
Their guidance on new housing development [pdf] came to my attention last year, when a developer took out the paths they had proposed in a local housing development from their plans, on police advice – referencing… Secure By Design. These paths would have connected their development to surrounding cul-de-sacs.
And it’s surfaced again recently, with Avon and Somerset Police recommending against permeability for walking and cycling in a new development in Bristol.
An explicit association is made here between walking and cycling routes, and crime – indeed, between ‘excessive permeability’ and crime.
Here’s another example, found at random, from an ACPO consultation for Lincolnshire Police, in response to a planning application – again referencing Secured by Design.
‘Permeability is perhaps the greatest threat as it has the capacity to facilitate both Anti-Social Behaviour and act as a classic ‘attack and escape route’ for criminals’.
Permeability as ‘threat’.
What does Secure by Design actually have to say on this issue?
There are advantages in some road layout patterns over others especially where the pattern frustrates the searching behaviour of the criminal and his need to escape. Whilst it is accepted that through routes will be included within development layouts, the designer must ensure that the security of the development is not compromise by excessive permeability, for instance by allowing the criminal legitimate access to the rear or side boundaries of dwellings or by providing too many or unnecessary segregated footpaths (Note 3.1)
And Note 3.1 states
The Design Council’s/CABE’s Case Study 6 of 2012 states that: “Permeability can be achieved in a scheme without creating separate movement paths” and notes that “paths and pavements run as part of the street to the front of dwellings. This reinforces movement in the right places to keep streets animated and does not open up rear access to properties”.
The clear implication here is that movement by people walking and cycling in new developments should not involve ‘separate movement paths’ (i.e. stand-alone walking and cycling routes), but should instead be on routes that ‘run as part of the street’. That is, alongside routes for motor vehicles. Limiting walking and cycling to these routes apparently ‘reinforces movement in the right places’.
The guidance goes on –
Cul-de-sacs that are short in length and not linked by footpaths can be very safe environments in which residents benefit from lower crime. Research shows that features that generate crime within cul-de-sacs invariably incorporate one or more of the following undesirable features:
If any of the above features are present in a development additional security measures may be required. Footpaths linking cul-de-sacs to one another can be particularly problematic
Again, permeability between cul-de-sacs, exclusively for walking and cycling, is disparaged as ‘particularly problematic’.
From the perspective of anyone interested in reducing car dependence and in making walking and cycling attractive and obvious ways of getting about, this is really dreadful advice. Actually recommending cul-de-sacs without permeability is just about the worst kind of design imaginable, if you want to discourage walking and cycling.
To take an example, plucked at random. Here’s a residential area in the east of Horsham, composed of bog-standard 80s-90s detached housing, with one of the paths that is disparaged by Secured by Design.
From this location, it’s possibly to walk to the main road, using this path – a distance of 360m.
These kinds of distances are fine if you are driving – you’re not exerting any effort – but converting what should be very short walking and cycling trips into long ones is plainly bad policy.
The advantages of walking and cycling are that they are much less space-hungry modes of transport than driving; consequently trips by these modes should be made as direct as possible. Lumping them in with driving – using the design of cul-de-sacs to effectively keep walking out – is deeply unsympathetic. But that’s what this policy amounts to – keeping burglars on foot out by keeping everyone else out.
Lurking behind this ACPO advice appears to be the assumption that driving routes are used by everyone, while walking and cycling routes are used by barely no-one, meaning that they are attractive to criminals.
But a route is just as a route, whether it is carrying motor traffic, walking and cycling, or whether it caters only for walking and cycling. Limiting access to just one route in and out of developments works (or ‘works’) because it concentrates activity (and hence natural surveillance) on that route. But there’s no reason why walking and cycling routes can’t work in precisely the same way, even if motor traffic is excluded from those routes.
What matters in preventing crime is that natural surveillance and activity; that can surely be achieved, with good design, on walking and cycling routes. The answer cannot be just to block these routes off.
The Dutch new town of Houten near Utrecht has plenty of permeability for walking and cycling; walking and cycling routes go pretty much everywhere. Indeed, the spine of many of these routes runs along what might be seen by ACPO as ‘the rear’ of properties, while car access is at the front.
However, I can’t really see these routes being hotspots for crime, because they are almost certainly busier than the car access at the front. They are routes people want to use.
It may be the case that there is a connection between design that involves acres of disconnected cul-de-sacs and lower rates of crime; and indeed a connection between higher rates of crime, and the presence paths connecting these cul-de-sacs, in Britain. But that’s almost certainly because we design permeability very badly in this country; we make these routes indirect, unattractive and/or intimidating, as I’ve written about here. Consequently they are not used in great numbers, and are seen as ‘crime hotspots’.
But we don’t have to design like this; we can design routes that people want to use, that are naturally busy, and naturally safe, with good visibility.
This is, seemingly, a distinction that the ACPO guidance is not picking up on, with its deeply unhelpful blanket recommendation against permeability, that doesn’t distinguish between crap routes that nobody wants to use, and busy walking and cycling routes that could actually serve to lower crime, by increasing eyes on the street. Instead, permeability is framed almost entirely as a network for criminals, with footpaths ‘generating crime’.
Is it time for a rewrite? I think so.
Below we recount the story of the introduction of these stickers and the problems they’ve caused for cyclists. As an episode of incorrect and abused messaging, the issue is important – but not one of the major problems most would cite about cycling policy and its implementation in London or elsewhere. Writing the day after yet another cyclist is killed under the wheels of a tipper truck in London, obviously we see dealing with this problem by reducing danger at source (as explained below) as the priority. Yet for us the issue is revealing of problems with the transport establishment’s treatment of cycling.
Firstly, the problems have not yet been resolved: inappropriate stickers and (more important) stickers on vehicles they were never intended for are still there – even on TfL vehicles!
Secondly, it’s taken nearly two years after complaints were first made to get even the limited progress we can now see. Bureaucracies like TFL will always have problems in rectifying mistakes (which is a good reason to not make them in the first place). But the length of time involved, the difficulties TfL had in realising that mistakes had been made, as well as the fact that stickers on the wrong vehicles are still out there even on TfL’s FORS members’ vehicles lead to us a question:-
Is this story an indication that Transport for London simply doesn’t understand cycling and/or take it seriously in the way it might consider other forms of transport?
People who cycle in London, and many who ride elsewhere in the UK, were annoyed by the stickers that started appearing on the back of commercial vehicles nearly 2 years ago, telling cyclists to STAY BACK. Intended for (large) lorries and buses, they were applied with a lack of discrimination to all sorts of other vehicles – cars, vans, taxis, short and lighter lorries with perfectly adequate ability (through use of mirrors and direct vision) for their drivers to see cyclists and pedestrians in their vicinity.
Irresponsible vehicle operators now had official stickers telling cyclists to know their place and stay out of the way of their betters.Timeline
I (CM) first complained to TfL about the stickers in Summer 2013. (The reasoning is described in a post here written on December 18th 2013.)
Road Danger Reduction Forum then co-ordinated a complaint – with CTC (the National Cyclists’ Charity), the London Cycling Campaign, RoadPeace (the national road crash victims’ charity) and the Association of Bikeability Schemes – to Transport for London, saying that the wording was inappropriate and that stickers should anyway not be on vans, taxis, small lorries and cars for which they had not been intended. Carefully reasoned and constructive suggestions as to how these failings should be resolved were explained here on February 19th 2014 .TfL responded in a rather inadequate fashion necessitating another co-ordinated response from the organisations on April 30th 2014. And then TfL chose to give yet another – let’s say “inadequate” again because we try to be polite – reply to press enquiries rather than replying to us directly. By now even seasoned campaigners were getting annoyed enough to say that we – road danger reduction and cycling groups – were being treated with contempt on 30th May 2014.
The anger expressed seemed to have an effect, and on June 25th 2014 RDRF and the other organisations involved, plus representatives of the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group, attended a meeting at Transport for London chaired by Lilli Matson, Head of Strategy and Outcome Planning, with nine other TfL officers concerned with safety, freight and fleet operations, buses, taxis, and marketing and communications. We were glad to say that the outcome was very positive. TfL agreed to reword stickers for larger lorries and buses, and 8 months later the reworded stickers are starting to outnumber the originals. (Lorry_BlindSpot_TakeCare and Bus_Caution_BusPullsInFrequently).
We understand that new stickers will be on all buses by mid-May 2015, and that some 5,000 stickers for HGVs have been distributed by TfL’s Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme, out of some 48,000 ordered (about 30,000 HGVs are on the roads in London daily).
At the time we concluded:
“Of course, none of this deals with the core issue of properly engineering HGVs so that their drivers are aware of cyclists and pedestrians – why is there a “blind spot” in the first place? It does not deal with engineering out the amount of space between the vehicle and the road surface which is implicated in them being crushed; nor the issues of highway engineering which would minimise this kind of occurrence in the first place; nor issues of rule- and law-breaking which endanger other road users as well as cyclists and pedestrians.
Nevertheless, one part of this problem was the idea that while a “blind spot” exists it would be useful to advise cyclists how to correctly position themselves, and we were prepared to support this. Unfortunately the issue was mishandled for some time – now we hope the mistakes are being corrected.
Finally, we suggest that all this is happening because of a concerted and well-argued response by RDRF and our sister organisations. (A similarly positive outcome in June 2014 has come here). This suggests that watchfulness informing coordinated action by groups wanting road danger reduction is necessary. We look forward to the changes outlined at our meeting with TfL. Watch this space.(emphasis added)”
So where are we now?
Above I mention the changes to stickers for buses and HGVs and their imminent introduction – some two years after initial concerns were voiced. That’s the good part. But what about the real problems of stickers on vehicles for which they were never intended?
In Mayor’s Question Time answer 2014/4047 Mayor Johnson stated that “TfL has emailed 6,069 operators registered with the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS), including all those working on TfL contracts, requesting that all safety stickers are removed from vehicles under 3.5 tonnes, including vans and cars, and that existing HGV stickers are replaced by the new ones.”
But this isn’t working. Either TfL hasn’t made the instructions clear enough, or operators are wilfully ignoring them – including parts of TfL itself! Here, are photos taken of London Underground and London Buses service vans with stickers taken in 2015:
And Clear Channel “operating for London Buses” in 2015:
And Initial “working in association with London Underground” last year (note the off-side mirror):
Or how about black cabs – nominally regulated by TfL? Here are a couple photographed recently:
And one also showing the use of a “Cycle Superhighway”:
If TfL can’t get it right, what chance is there of other operators doing so? Let’s take a look at some well-known members of FORS:
London Boroughs of:
Here are some recent pictures of other inappropriately used stickers by vehicles used by FORS members last year.They may have been taken off these vehicles since these photos were taken, in which case apologies, but stickers were recently seen on vehicles used by major contractors Murphy:
And other FORS members recently spotted (again, apologies if stickers have been removed from these vans since the photos were taken):Cappagh Group 2015) & Rexel (note warnings to pedestrians not to walk near van) Brammer & Abbey Gate (amended stickers, wrong position, wrong vehicle)
HaveBike (Yes, Bicycle recovery…) UK Power Networks
Remember, this is just a selection of vehicles belonging to FORS members .
The virus spreads
Once the signs were out, not only did they appear on vehicles they had not been intended for, but in other positions (captions below photos):
Such as the side of an HGV belonging D Smith (FORS member) above…
cut into pieces and put in three places…
…on the side of a van belonging to Active Plant (FORS member)
…and (my favourite) on the front of a van.
Oh yes, there is this one on scaffolding in the City (HT Cyclists in the City). Then other signs started appearing:
Sainsbury’s fitted new vehicles with a massive message trumpeting danger: as LCC pointed out, maybe this wouldn’t have been necessary with a better designed vehicle.
Or “We have done you and pedestrians a very big favour by being able to see around us, so that we can now see you if we feel like looking.” Errm, maybe “doing your bit” involves rather more than this?
And this one: perhaps just a more extreme expression of the basic message?
Naturally some of the worst cases of sticker wording, positioning, and use on the wrong vehicles, is not done by members of FORS. But if TfL in general, and FORS in particular, was clear about what was wrong in the first place, then it would be possible to :
But there is no well-known website page which operators can be referred to.
In 2014 we asked TfL to publicise a web page which could (a) remind FORS members of what they are supposed to (not) do and (b) could be used by members of the public – or a TfL/FORS member of staff? – to inform non-FORS member operators about sticker (ab)use.
We have asked again, but as yet there has been no response.
Perhaps vehicles cold be leafleted, for example:OPERATOR TO REMOVE THIS STICKER See Highway Code Rules 159, 161, 163, 169, 180, 182, 184, 202. See www…..
All of this has spawned pro-cyclist stickers, the most well-known of which is:
See it’s use here . But others have appeared on bicycles, such as these :
..with designs for posters to go on motor vehicles circulating:
And adaptations on existing stickers:
As well as a personal statement:
The HGV problem
We have been working on the safety issue for cyclists and pedestrians posed by HGVs, specifically in cities, since the early 1990s. There is a range of solutions which require implementing, namely:
Highway engineering which could eliminate potential collisions of all severities, and also do so with collisions involving all motor vehicles and create safer space. This is restricted to specific locations, and is less relevant for pedestrians, so attention is also needed to engineering HGVs so that drivers can be aware of who and what is around them. An absolutely critical factor is that HGVs should also be engineered so that it becomes far more difficult (or impossible) for pedestrians or cyclists to be crushed, by skirting HGVs or otherwise reducing the gap between road surface and the body of the vehicle. Safety standards on HGVs can also be enforced by the police. Swift and high quality post-crash investigation, and the threat of deterrent sentencing for unsafe HGV operation are required. Construction sites and operators can be subject to appropriate procurement procedures to push forward relevant measures. Additional technologies such as black box recorders and pedestrian/cyclist-activated vehicle braking systems should be introduced, not least for introduction on to other motor vehicles.
HGV driver training is necessary, although low down the list of priorities. We are believers in cycle training, but the essential issue is reducing danger at source – from HGVs (particularly construction industry HGVs) which are currently unfit for purpose in a city. Not all of the million people who sometimes cycle in London can be reached or – even if experienced and careful – expected to avoid HGVs that hit them from behind or overtake and turn left. Even where a cyclist or pedestrian is careless or ignorant (as we all are on occasion) they do not deserve a death or serious injury sentence. After all, motorists have their carelessness accommodated by highway and vehicle engineering – why shouldn’t cyclists or pedestrians?
Our analysis indicates that through the early 2000s a “Safety in Numbers” effect occurred as HGV drivers became more aware of the growing numbers of London cyclists – but this is by no means enough for us to rely on by itself. The measures above have to be implemented. This the real issue which need to be addressed, with the “Cyclists stay back” issue – in itself – of minor importance.
But sometimes these minor issues become important. The lack of understanding – or perhaps unwillingness to accept – what has been problematic about the messaging and (ab)use of the stickers by TfL is important to us. We think it indicates general problems in TfL‘s thinking and practice, which impede addressing the HGV and other issues for cycling and sustainable transport in London.
Sometimes minor issues are indicative of big problems.
This post written by Colin McKenzie as RDRF Committee member and Dr Robert Davis, RDRF Chair.
Hat tips to all who submitted photographs or whose photos I have used, including Bill Chidley, Cyclists in the City, The Ranty Highwayman, Jono Kenyon, Ken Peters and Alex Ingram, . Apologies to those we have missed out.
If any operators shown have since removed stickers, do feel free to notify us through submitting comments below.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with ‘backstreets’ routes for cycling. Some of the highest quality routes I have cycled on in the Netherlands have been of this form, running away from main roads, passing through residential areas and parks.
These routes are excellent because they are direct, continuous, and involve little or no stopping. This is, in fact, an advantage over routes on main roads, which because they will be accommodating more traffic tend to require traffic signals, which unnecessarily delay cycling. They also have filtering, either in the form of physical blocks to stop motor traffic (the street in Nijmegen is closed at the far end to motor traffic), or simple signed exclusions on motor traffic, as on the pictured section of the Utrecht fietsstraat. Motor traffic can drive on this fietsstraat up to this point, but must turn left at the junction. The purpose is to keep motor traffic levels low enough for cycling on fietsstraats to be a comfortable experience for everyone.
I haven’t had a great deal of time to look in detail at the newly-released proposals for Superhighway 1, but it is quite obviously ‘a backstreets route’, running away from the A10, the most direct, north-south route that Superhighway 1 parallels – and indeed the road that CS1 is in fact an the obvious and explicit substitute for. Some parts of it – especially in Haringey – appear to be desperately poor. Meandering through the backstreets, Superhighway 1 has to take a turn up this tiny alley to avoid the A10 –
… and when it does run alongside the A10, it looks particularly shoddy, nothing more than a minor tidying of the existing (and deeply substandard) shared use arrangement on the footway.
The route in Hackney is a little better, but it is still meandering, it loses priority when it crosses major roads (a broader issue with Quietways), and, while there is some new modal filtering, it does not have a great deal of it. For instance, there is no filtering at all between the new closure where Pitfield Street meets Old Street, and Northchurch Terrace, a straight road of over a mile, open along its length to all motor traffic, in both directions. It’s not clear how quiet this route is actually going to be.
And of course there is the issue of whether this route even deserves to be called a ‘Superhighway’ at all. From the Mayor’s 2013 Vision for Cycling –
We will offer two clear kinds of branded route: high capacity Superhighways, mostly on main roads, for fast commuters, and slightly slower but still direct Quietways on pleasant, low-traffic side streets for those wanting a more relaxed journey.
From this definition, Superhighway 1 is most definitely a Quietway, not a Superhighway. It runs on low-traffic side streets for almost its entire length, barring a short stretch on the footway of the A10 at Seven Sisters. It is not ‘mostly on main roads’.
I think this risks damaging the whole concept of Superhighways, and indeed opens the door to a return of the failed LCN+ approach of routing cycling onto wiggly backstreet routes that are less attractive than main roads, and (because of an absence of provision on main roads) don’t form part of a coherent network. Read this from David Arditti on the failures of LCN+, and it all starts to sound eerily familiar.
Since the LCN+ strategy was basically not about segregation, or even road-space reallocation, there was no coherent picture to put to councils, be they pro or anti-cycling, of what was supposed to be put in place on proposed main road routes like LCN+5 on the A5, and in the end it became a strategy just to spend the money somehow. The money for the A5 route just got spent on a few blue signs, cycle logos on the road, and speed tables on side-roads in Brent – none of which did anything to make cycling no the A5 any better.
For ‘A5′, substitute ‘A10′.
To repeat, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with routes away from main roads. High quality routes on minor roads can make sense. But they certainly should not be used as a substitute for addressing barriers to cycling on what should be more attractive, direct routes. And this appears to be precisely what is happening with Superhighway 1 – it has been shunted onto backstreets because of political opposition (and probably because of opposition from within TfL) from running it on the A10.
I don’t think the distinction between Quietways and Superhighways is particularly helpful, in general, but if these terms are going to be used, then in its current form, this route through Hackney and Haringey simply shouldn’t be labelled a Superhighway. It should be called a Quietway, because that’s what it is.
Calling it a Superhighway opens the door to other boroughs putting ‘Superhighways’ on fiddly back streets routes as a convenient way of avoiding the barriers to cycling on their main roads – a return to the LCN+ strategy of avoiding hard choices. That’s really not acceptable.
What is it about cycling in front of motor vehicles that makes for an unpleasant experience?
This is a pertinent question in the light of a number of related issues – principally, how we should go about designing for cycling (and the design of the public realm in general), but also how we should train people to cycle, how cycling and motoring should work as distinct modes of transport, and how advances in car technology might affect cycling.
The last issue relates to driverless cars. Last week saw the release of an official Department for Transport review into this technology. This review was rumoured to contain suggestions that the Highway Code may need to be changed, rumours encapsulated by this rather strange Daily Telegraph article on Tuesday –
The Highway Code may need to be re-written to stop driverless cars from bringing Britain’s city centres to a halt, an official review will say.
Passing distances between cyclists and pedestrians may have to be changed to prevent robot vehicles clogging up roads across the country. Under the current Highway Code, drivers are expected to leave as much room as they would leave for a car when overtaking cyclists. There are fears driverless cars could be left crawling behind cyclists for miles as they wait for enough space to overtake if the rules are not changed.
The implication here being that driverless cars programmed to obey the rules set out in the Highway Code – and thus programmed to overtake in accordance with the Highway Code, moving entirely into the next lane to overtake, as per Rule 163 – will cause gridlock.
I’m not entirely sure whether this is true, of course. Opportunities to overtake properly do present themselves, and if they are absent (when traffic is that heavy), then issues of delay and inconvenience are probably being caused by an excess of motor traffic. In urban areas, being genuinely stuck behind someone cycling at 10-15 miles an hour might only amount to arriving at the next red light, or queue of motor traffic, slightly later.
But equally it may be true that motorists will be delayed in many instances, stuck behind people cycling – which isn’t particularly attractive for either mode, as will be discussed below.
As it turns out, the DfT Review itself didn’t contain any of this speculation, only the mild
The Highway Code may need to be updated in due course to take into account the use of highly automated vehicles on the roads. It may be necessary to wait until experience has been gained with these vehicles and possibly research has been conducted into the interactions between such vehicles and other road users.
… with no mention of gridlock, ‘clogging’, ‘crawling’, or overtaking.
Nevertheless, this issue of how driverless cars will behave does raise broader issues of policy, and about how cycling should be designed for. The discussion actually draws into focus the fact that something is already fundamentally wrong with the way our roads and streets accommodate cycling and driving, even with our current low levels of cycling. Putting cycling and driving in the same space on main roads simply makes no sense at a strategic level – both modes of transport will impede each other, in different ways.
For instance, if we are aiming for cycling to be a mode of transport accessible to anyone, this will inevitably mean that cycling will increasingly be dominated by people who are cycling more slowly than those who are cycling at present. Does it make sense to place these people in front of motor traffic, either from the perspective of the person driving, or of the person pedalling in front of them? Equally, does it make sense to place queues of motor traffic in the way of people cycling?
These are issues that are already emerging in relation to cycling in bus lanes. Tentative research suggests that with increasing cycling levels, putting buses and cycling in the same space simply won’t work, for either mode – a problem recognised by Transport for London themselves –
with or without the Cycle Vision investment – population growth, increased cycling levels and increased traffic flows are likely to result in delays occurring for general traffic and buses in central London (if not mitigated). [my emphasis]
More research is obviously required, but even from a ‘common sense’ standpoint, it is plain that high cycling levels in bus lanes are incompatible with an efficient bus service. Buses should be travelling at smooth speeds between bus stops; that’s not going to be possible if bus lanes are clogged with people cycling at slower speeds. (This is to say nothing of the inconvenience and unpleasantness from the perspective of the person cycling).
I suspect that these kinds of issues – both cycling in bus lanes, and the broader issue of cycling with motor traffic – have not been addressed until now principally because cycling has been such a minority mode of transport – with so few people cycling – its impacts on other traffic didn’t need to be considered.
But equally it is likely that the issues have been ignored because our highway engineers have expected people cycling to behave like motor traffic, and also because our politicians, planners and engineers are seemingly happy to completely ignore the needs of those who are not willing or able to cycle like motor traffic – those people who aren’t cycling, but want to. Dishonesty about the fact that cycling and motoring are entirely different modes of transport is politically convenient. The ‘driverless car issue’ is exposing some of that dishonesty, even if the issues and problems are being exaggerated for journalistic effect.
I’ve already written about how the reactions to driverless car technology – both from cycling campaigners, and from those with an interest in driving – will be entirely different in the Netherlands, principally because this is a country that, sensibly, already treats cycling and driving as distinct modes of transport. Consistent application of the principles of sustainable safety – homogeneity of mass, speed and direction, in particular – means that it does not really make any difference who is driving motor vehicles, humans or computers. Cycling and driving are separated from each other where it matters, and only mixed where it doesn’t.
In short, cycling is not in the way of driving, and driving is not in the way of cycling.
Consequently the issues that are provoking discussion in Britain are absent. With or without the presence of driverless cars, the Dutch system is one we should moving towards, simply because it makes sense. Not only does it make cycling (and indeed driving) considerably safer, it also makes both these modes of transport easier and more pleasant. In particular, from a cycling perspective, interactions with motor vehicles are minimised or even eliminated, and that makes a big difference to how enjoyable it is to cycle around.
The contrast with Britain could not be more stark, where something called the ‘primary position’ is official cycle training policy – a policy that explicitly involves cycling in front of motor vehicles, not because this is attractive or pleasant, but in an attempt to mitigate the consequences of bad road design.
To take just one of a million potential examples up and down the country, cycling in the ‘primary position’ on Pall Mall, below, is, thanks to a crappy new design, an absolute necessity. Failing to do so means you risk being squeezed against parked vehicles by overtaking traffic, and/or being ‘doored’. The only safe way to cycle here is to put yourself in front of drivers, deliberately stopping them from overtaking.
This isn’t good for cycling, or for driving. Forcing people to cycle ‘in the way’ of people driving to keep themselves safe is not good policy.
This design on Pall Mall is probably only accidentally awful – I doubt whether the engineers seriously considered how cycling would even work on this street. Yet placing people in front of motor traffic on main roads continues to be a deliberate feature of new street design.
We have public realm designers – in reference to designs that explicitly place motorists behind people cycling – describing those people cycling as ‘lock gates… effectively monitoring the speed of motor traffic.‘ That is – putting people in the way.
And, more recently, Urban Design London published guidance, suggesting that
Integrating cycling into narrower carriageways can encourage all road users to engage better with each other. This can also help retain a constant, but slower, traffic flow
Again, deliberately placing people in the way, to slow traffic.
There is some logic here – let’s put a slow mode of transport in front of a faster one, and attempt to prevent that faster one from overtaking the slower one, in order to slow down the faster one – but important issues appear to be being ducked completely. Mainly
I’ve already touched upon the Dutch approach of sustainable safety, which seeks to reduce the severity of collisions by aiming towards homogeneity (or uniformity) of mass and momentum (and direction). Fast objects, and heavy objects, should not be sharing the same road space as slower ones, or lighter ones. By contrast, ‘mixing’ cycling with objects that carry considerably greater mass and momentum can have disastrous consequences.
The unattractiveness of cycling directly in front of motor traffic rests not just with the innate uncomfortableness of being in front of a large heavy object that can do you harm. Psychologically, I don’t think anyone likes to be ‘in the way’ – causing inconvenience or delay to others. Just as it is natural to want to be able to make progress on foot, or on bike, or while driving, so the flip side of that coin, for empathetic human beings, is that it is natural to feel uncomfortable at obstructing the progress of others. Even if we could persuade the general population that it’s a good idea to cycle in front of motor traffic, it would be very hard to persuade them that it is actually enjoyable or pleasant, for these reasons.
We can already see this at play in those (allegedly) ‘shared space’ streets that function as through routes. Here, despite the obvious design intention of encouraging pedestrians to walk freely where they want, the subjective unpleasantness of walking in front of motor traffic, coupled presumably with an unwillingness to obstruct drivers, leads almost inevitably to streets that are not really shared at all – streets that function like conventional streets, albeit with pretty paving.
People on foot, or on bike, do not take too kindly to being treated as traffic-calming devices. There are a whole host of measures we can employ to slow down motor traffic, that don’t involve placing people in the way of it, including
And so on. Beyond these self-reinforcing measures, we can even employ enforcement of existing speed limits. These measures involve physical objects and design (and potential conflict with other motor vehicles) to slow drivers down, rather than potential conflict with soft, squishy and unprotected human beings.
Finally, there is the question of whether this kind of approach – deliberately placing people in the way – actually achieves the kind of harmony and good feeling it is purported to. Rather than creating a calm environment, having to trundle behind someone cycling ‘in the way’ could actually foster resentment and frustration, leading to hostile (and potentially dangerous) driving.
So for all these reasons, we should be endeavouring to treat cycling as a distinct mode of transport, with its own network, separate from a driving network, to reduce the extent to which these two modes of transport are ‘in the way’ of each other.
But unfortunately Britain has something of a problematic legacy among cycle campaigners, in that measures to separate out conflict between driving and cycling are framed as getting cycling out of the way of driving, or a ‘surrender’ of the road network. These issues have been covered before at length in that post, and also in this one by David Arditti. At root is an almost umbilical tethering of cycling as a mode of transport with the convenience of motoring; every kind of policy with regard to cycling is viewed through the prism of how it might affect driving.
But this is actually really quite unhelpful, especially when it results in a failure to focus clearly on the kinds of policies that would actually make cycling more attractive to ordinary people. Being ‘in the way’ of motoring is not attractive.
Nor does this kind of attitude make any kind of sense. We don’t think this way in relation to other modes of transport, beyond cycling. We don’t consider how to design for walking through the prism of how it might affect driving; we simply go about creating good routes that feel safe, are convenient, and attractive. The potential impacts on driving of these walking environments are neither here nor there, nor should they be. We don’t think about the fact that walking might be ‘out of the way’ of motoring, because that’s a nonsensical way of looking at things. Walking can be prioritised, even if it is ‘out of the way’.
And precisely the same is true of cycling. We are seeing, with the tremendous political battles to get the first major cycling routes built on main roads in central London, that separating cycling from driving on these roads is itself a way of prioritising cycling, even if this mode is ‘out of the way’ of driving. Not only is capacity for motor vehicles being reduced, but also cycling will become a smoother and more direct mode of transport, absent from conflict with motor traffic, and with reduced delay. No longer being ‘in the way’ is actually beneficial, even if we don’t consider the added benefits of greatly improved safety, and comfort.
The tremendous breakthrough represented by these routes in London is an emergence of designing for cycling in its own right; considering what intervention is required for cycling on each and every road or street to make cycling a viable mode of transport for everyone. On many streets (perhaps the great majority) this will involve changing their nature; turning them into access roads, rather than through roads. But on others – the roads that remain as through routes – it will inevitably involve separating cycling from driving. Treating cycling a distinct mode of transport isn’t anything to do with being in, or out of, the way.
The tired stereotype that ‘cyclists’ are especially prone to lawbreaking really isn’t going to go away if public bodies like police forces persist in employing it.
Take this today from Thames Valley Police’s Roads Policing Twitter account –
Remember cyclists must obey all traffic signs and traffic lights just as other road users must #itsnotworththerisk P4031
— TVP Roads Policing (@tvprp) February 13, 2015
Would the same Twitter account post this (equivalent) piece of ‘public information’?
Remember motorists must obey all traffic signs and traffic lights just as other road users must #itsnotworththerisk P4031
No, because that would be nonsense. Someone driving doesn’t stand out from ‘other road users’ in failing to realise they must obey traffic signs and lights. They already know they have to obey them, and when they break speed limits, or jump red lights, or ignore parking restrictions, or talk on their mobile phone, they do so knowing that they are breaking rules, while hoping that they can get away with it. They are not breaking rules because they think they have some kind of special exemption as a ‘motorist’, a misconception upon which they need correcting by Thames Valley Police.
‘Ha! Those other road users are saps! They have to obey laws while I, as a motorist, have liberty to pick and choose which rules I obey!’
That, however, is the implication of the tweet that @tvprp actually posted. That ‘cyclists’ think they have some kind of special exemption to break rules – that they believe themselves to be above the law, and that consequently they needed to be ‘reminded’ of their obligation to obey rules.
It’s total bollocks, of course, but nevertheless a revealing insight into the mindset of a copper who has obviously just seen someone trundling on the pavement, or through a red light, or up a one-way street, and then instead of thinking to themselves –
Oh look, there’s someone breaking the law, who happens to be on a bike. I’ll take a considered, rational assessment of the danger they were posing to themselves and other road users, and have a quiet word.
… instead thought –
Oh look, there’s another typical cyclist who thinks they are above the law, and doesn’t need to obey the rules, because they’re on two wheels. I’m going to post a sermon on Twitter about the behaviour of this entire group of road users.
As I’ve argued before, it’s preposterous to attribute characteristics to ‘cyclists’, because a ‘cyclist’ is an ordinary human being who happens to be using a particular mode of transport, at a given moment. At another moment, that same person could be a pedestrian, a motorist, a ‘train-ist’ or a ‘bus-ist’. Any propensity to lawbreaking, or a belief to be above road rules, cannot be an innate characteristic of ‘cyclists’, because such a group simply doesn’t exist, any more than ‘plane passengers’ can be described as having particular characteristics that distinguish themselves from other human beings.
The individual behind the Thames Valley Police Twitter account evidently thinks differently – that ‘cyclists’, unlike ‘other road users’, need to be reminded that laws must be obeyed.
Not only is this drivel, I think it’s actually very dangerous drivel, because it reinforces in the public mind the (stereotyped) notion that ‘cyclists’ are somehow less worthy of consideration because they are lawbreakers, because they are ‘self-righteous’ and consider themselves to be above rules. On a number of occasions I have had poor, inconsiderate and even dangerous driving around me justified (or ‘justified’) on the basis that ‘you’ (or ‘you lot’) jump red lights, or terrorise grannies on pavements (see the opening paragraphs here for just one of these instances).
I think it’s pretty shameful that a public body which should be aiming to keep all road users safe is actually serving to endorse these harmful attitudes.
I can’t really add much to Cyclists in the City’s excellent and thorough analysis of the problems facing the East-West Superhighway route through the Royal Parks – problems, it seems, that are entirely being caused by the Royal Parks themselves, as the Evening Standard reports.
But I would like to examine the apparent rationale the Royal Parks are advancing for blocking a separated route for cycling, on the existing carriageway – a route that would look like this, in the visualisation that Transport for London have already prepared.
As is clear from this visualisation, the route would run on existing road space, separated from motor traffic by what look like removable wands, visible on the right of the image.
It is very important to note here that the Royal Parks are not actually objecting to the principle of a Superhighway running through this area; their objection is specifically about the form cycling provision should take.
As the Superhighway comes down Constitution Hill, instead of running it on the road, the Royal Parks want the route to pass directly through this area of shared use, shown below, at the foot of Green Park.
This is already a very busy area, heaving with pedestrians who are coming to and from the Palace, or making their way from Hyde Park into central London. I don’t think mixing cycling and walking here works at all, even at present – the numbers of people walking and cycling here are just too high.
Yet the Royal Parks are apparently proposing that this shared footway is appropriate for what will likely be one the busiest cycle routes in London, pushing more people cycling into this area.
It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, especially when – just over that wall, visible in the picture above – there is an ocean of road space that could quite easily be used for a protected cycle route, without having any effect on motor traffic, while simultaneously keeping cycling and walking separated from each other at this very busy location.
Locating the cycling route here would therefore actually represent a considerable improvement for pedestrians, because cycling would no longer be mixed in with walking on the existing shared use footway. These issues are summarised very well by Andrew Gilligan in the early part of this BBC report from Tom Edwards.
So what is the reasoning the Royal Parks are employing for blocking a segregated track on the road, and insisting that the crap status quo should be maintained (and indeed worsened, through the addition of more cycle traffic into a shared use area)?
All we have to go on at present are the minutes of their Board meeting back in December, at which Andrew Gilligan and Transport for London representatives are present (thanks to Jon Stone, for uploading them) –
TfL set out the consultation concept designs for the east-west cycle superhighway within the Royal Parks. The Board agreed that TfL could undertake public consultation on the proposed road based scheme through Hyde Park. The proposals for St James and Green Parks were not satisfactory for safety, operational and aesthetic reasons. The Board asked TfL to look again at the concept design and come back with revisions and mitigations.
Unspecified ‘safety, operational and aesthetic reasons’.
I have to say is not especially clear why an expanse of tarmac is more aesthetically pleasing if it is entirely used for motor traffic – perhaps the Royal Parks could provide more explanation. The ‘operational’ reasons don’t make a great deal of sense either, as we’ve known for some time that the segregation at this location would have to be removable, for events.
As for ‘safety’, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to pretend that running a busy cycle route directly through an area of footway used by huge numbers of pedestrians is safer than separating that cycle route from those pedestrians, by using excess carriageway space.
The total inconsistency of the Royal Parks on this issue is betrayed by the fact that they are simultaneously insisting that it is not safe for the Superhighway to run along Rotten Row –
Because of… concerns about pedestrians!
How can the Royal Parks profess concern for conflict between walking and cycling in Hyde Park, while simultaneously blocking a Superhighway route by Buckingham Palace that would serve to remove that conflict?
There was a anair bit of discussion last week about the value – or lack of value – of promotional marketing campaigns related to cycling. On the one hand, we had the view that any kind of policy, promotional or otherwise, that purports to increase cycling levels is a good thing. On the other, we had the view that these policies are largely pointless without the kinds of conditions on the ground to enable cycling; safe, convenient, attractive and direct routes.
Those who take the former view argue that every little thing helps. Therefore every little thing is good. The phrase ‘marginal gains’ is even employed, echoing Team Sky’s strategy of improving in all areas of performance, to extract maximum benefit. By this logic, glossy promotion is a ‘marginal gain’, a boost to cycling, alongside cycleways. This view, I think, is summarised below, in the words of Carlton Reid –
Sir Dave Brailsford’s system of aggregating marginal gain is an example from cycle sport that demonstrates that great things can come from lots of little tweaks. I want brilliant, Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in the UK. I don’t want yet more ‘crap cycle lanes’. I’m not holding my breath. Nevertheless I will campaign long and hard for such infrastructure, as I have been doing for the best part of 30 years.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor was Amsterdam’s cycle infrastructure. Before we get a UK version of the wonderful Dutch National Cycling Plan there are many smaller fixes that the UK Government and local authorities could do tomorrow.
By all means aim for the big stuff, but let’s not ignore lots and lots of the little stuff. That’s why I’ve started the Twitter hashtag #nudges4cycling Some great, simple fixes have already started arriving and I’ll compile a list of these to give to the Department for Transport and other relevant Departments.
Marketing presumably being one of these ‘nudges’.
However this ‘marginal gains’ analogy is deeply flawed. Team Sky are applying the aggregation of ‘marginal gains’ while their riders are using extremely expensive Pinarello bikes, honed in wind tunnel testing, and fitted with top-of-the-range components. It makes sense to apply ‘marginal gains’ when you already have fantastic equipment.
However, it would make very little sense for Team Sky to do so if they were equipped with secondhand 1990s Halfords Apollo ‘full suspension’ mountain bikes, with flat tyres and rusty chains.
You can hire the best sports psychologists and nutritionists; you can ferry your team about in the fanciest tour buses; put them up in the most expensive hotels; manage their sleep patterns; religiously organise their training programmes; clothe them in the lightest, most aerodynamic skinsuits.
But really, if your riders are bouncing around on creaky £90 specials while the rest of the peloton vanishes over the horizon, is there any point? Indeed, it could justifiably be argued that – while the equipment your riders are forced to use is so deeply sub-optimal – employing Steve Peters to help your riders find their ‘inner chimp’ is a total waste of money.
This is, unfortunately, analogous to the role of promotion with current conditions for cycling in Britain. The equivalent of the rusty mountain bikes is the conditions we expect people to ride in; and the equivalent of Steve Peters is the promotional activity that attempts to persuade people to ride in those conditions.
The very reason cycling has such a poor image in Britain is due to these hostile conditions. It is a marginal, fringe activity precisely because so few people are willing to cycle on our roads and streets, and those that are prepared to do so choose to wear equipment that they feel – rightly or wrongly – will mitigate that danger and hostility. The image problem flows from the physical environment.
This is why marketing has failed – and will continue to fail – as a strategy to enable cycling in Britain. The conditions need to come first, then promotion needs to follow, just as you need to go out and buy the Pinarellos, before employing Steve Peters. Don’t waste your money employing sports psychologists, when your equipment is so desperately below par.
Meanwhile, marketing remains a very convenient outlet for cycle spending for those authorities who don’t wish to address the unattractive conditions for cycling on their roads. I’m thinking here particularly of Kensington and Chelsea’s Bikeminded, a glossy EU-funded promotional scheme from a borough that continues to block cycleways on its main roads.
Spending cycling money on marketing is uncontroversial, and allows many councils to pretend they’re actually doing something while failing to address the largest and most significant barrier to cycling; the unwillingness of the general public to share roadspace with motor traffic. Marketing needs to be employed when you have a product that’s actually worth selling; otherwise it amounts to polishing a turd.
Indeed, this essential point appears to have got lost in all the back-and-forth last week. Nobody is knocking the principle of marketing, any more than critics are knocking the principle of employing sports psychologists. There’s nothing wrong with either. The issue many campaigners have is one of ordering.
Just as you wouldn’t waste money on sports psychologists when your team is equipped with embarrassingly crap bikes, don’t waste money attempting to market a product you already know the public doesn’t want to buy. Develop a good one, then market that.
See also Joe Dunckley on the logic – or otherwise – of campaigning for marginal gains
5. Tile cycleway surfaces (klinkers) are not the best thing for riding on when it’s wet and autumnal. Especially not on thin racing tyres.— Paul James (@pauljames) November 4, 2014
The surfaces of the cycleways in Rotterdam are either smooth red asphalt or are made up street bricks.
Uni-directional cycleway tiled with street bricks, aka “klickers”.
Bi-directional cycleway surfaced with smooth asphalt.
The asphalt is amazing, but the bricks, when they’re uneven, or when it’s wet, then they’re “fun”. It’s a very uncertain surface.
Luckily, they’re gradually being phased out, hopefully before I end up on my arse one dark rainy night.