It’s been just over a year since we left London to move to the Dutch city of Rotterdam after 10 years of living in the British capital. The reasons for our move were many, and although we miss the roots we put down in London, overall we’ve settled into life here very quickly and easily.
The first 6 months was mostly spent getting settled into a new rented flat (twice the size of our London maisonette) and looking for our new permanent home, which we quickly found out was going to be this old little farm house in the middle of the Zuid Holland countryside.
We spend the next 3 months doing up the farm house and getting it into a state we could live in. We’ve been in for about 3 months now, it makes quite a change from living in the city.
“But how do you get to the city to work?” I hear you ask, good question, glad you asked it. A few weeks ago I tweeted my journey to work, but here I have a little more space to expand on it.
Being a sitting behind a computer at a desk while interacting with real people kind of a professional, I need to get to the office in the city everyday, and so that was priority number one for me. I was used to cycling 8 miles for an hour or so each way in London, so this wasn’t something I was afraid of, but it needed to be a realistic prospect. It turns out we’re about 14km from Rotterdam centre, which although doable is a tough call for me twice a day, so I banked on going multi-modal and mixing in a train trip via Gouda, two stops on the Intercity service from Utrecht.
Gouda is famous for its cheese, and to make cheese you need lots of cows and thus lots of farms. So my morning commute starts me off on a road across the polders between the farms. The road is narrow, single track, with passing places for vehicles, approximately 4 metres wide with water on either side and is pretty straight. The straightness combined with the narrowness means that it’s quite comfortable to ride along, vehicles can see and be seen from a long way off so there’s never a nasty surprise around the corner.
Morning traffic is mostly children cycling to school and people heading out to work from the houses along the road. It’s a through road, but makes up two sides of a square with two provincial roads, so it doesn’t make any sense to use it unless you are accessing property along it.
After a kilometre or two I get to the cycleway across the fields.
It looks (and is signposted) just like a regular side road, but the entranceway is only 2.5 metres across and the big blue cycle sign shows everyone that this road is only for bikes. Warning markings on the road warn traffic of the potential danger of bikes turning in or exiting from the cycleway, although there is no actual road hump/table.
This action shot shows the cycleway. It runs alongside the fields across to the village of Gouderak, linking our road with the village.
To get to Gouderak by car you have to go a longer way around, in principle there’s nothing from stopping this cycleway from having been a fullsized road (in fact it’s used by tractors to access fields) but if it was it’d mean that motor traffic from this direction would have to travel through the residential areas of Gouderak and would have a negative effect on the residents.
Like many villages in the area, Gouderak sits behind the dyke that keeps the river from the polders below.
Once through the houses, you emerge onto the dyke road through the village. This is the main road through the village, it is narrow and twisty with bad sightlines, but as you’d expect for a village street it has a 30kph speed limit and a brick surface that helps calm traffic.
Leaving the village, the surface changes to smooth asphalt with suggestion lines and red asphalt shoulders.
The suggestion lines have the result of visually narrowing the roadway to look singletrack, this is a common treatment in the region for dyke roads that carry motor and bicycle traffic to the villages and where road width is limited by the width of the dyke.
At the end of the dyke road we reach the Gouda ringroad which has a bi-directional cycleway running alongside it.
We join the cycleway and cross the ringroad at the roundabout. Bi-directional cycleways are common on out of town main roads where the cycleway can be physically separated from the roadway by a metre or more of verge, and there are no side turnings and only major junctions (roundabouts or light controlled junctions) with other roads to deal with.
Then we’re off ringroad cycleway and onto the city streets proper. Suggestion lines again but this time in an urban setting.
Overall this section is fine due to the low volume of motor traffic but it’s the worst part of my journey and would be much nicer if separate cycleways were added to each side of the road.
Note that trucks are banned from this road but only overnight (10pm til 6am) presumably due to night time noise.
Finally we reach Gouda train station and hunt for somewhere to park in amongst the sea of parked bicycles.
The journey is just over half an hour all in.
Many people I see cycling to the station cycle much shorter distances from within Gouda or from Gouderak, but there are many high school children cycling as far as myself or further from the villages to the school in Gouda. It is possible to drive and park at the station (€5 per day with a train ticket) but you have to approach the station on the main road from the other direction, the town side of the station has a minimal amount of paid on street parking.
Almost all of what passes for ‘cycling infrastructure’ in Britain has never generated a backlash, for one simple reason. It has never represented a direct challenge to the way our roads and streets are designed to prioritise motor traffic flow, without giving time or space to cycling in a way that might impinge on that prioritisation of motor traffic. That ‘infrastructure’ has never reallocated road space in any meaningful sense.
The cycle lane in the picture above did not generate any controversy when it was painted, because it gives up at the point when things get a bit difficult. A decision was made to allocate the fixed amount of carriageway space on the approach to the roundabout in the distance entirely to motor traffic – two queuing lanes – and so the ‘cycling infrastructure’ had to end. There was no backlash against this painted bicycle symbol, because it didn’t impinge on motoring in the way a protected cycleway, replacing one of those lanes of motor traffic, would.
In much the same way, the old painted lanes on Tavistock Place in London, captured in this photograph from Paul Gannon, generated no backlash – meaningless blobs of paint at the side of the road are not something anyone is going to excited about.
This contrasts starkly with the situation today. Camden Council have reduced the amount of space for motor traffic on this street to just one lane, allocating the rest of it to cycling. The two-way protected track on the north side of the street is now a one-way track, with the westbound motor traffic lane converted to a mandatory cycle lane. This has generated a furious backlash from taxi drivers, in particular.
In places where there is competing demand for the use of road space – in urban areas currently dominated by motor traffic flow – these kinds of decisions about what that space should be used for are inherently political. Reallocating road space, or re-directing motor traffic away from what we think should be access roads onto main roads, are effectively statements about what modes of transport we think people should be using for certain kinds of trips, and about what our roads and streets should be for.
David Arditti has astutely observed that in these places of competing demand, effective measures to enable cycling should be generating a backlash. If there is no backlash, then whatever it is you are doing is unlikely to make any significant difference. If you are designing a Quietway, for instance, and nobody is moaning about it – that probably means you aren’t doing anything to reduce motor traffic levels on the route so that it is genuinely ‘quiet’, or, alternatively, it means you are sending it on a circuitous and indirect route in order to avoid difficult decisions.
If you are designing a route on a main road and there is no backlash, again, something has probably gone wrong. You aren’t reallocating space and time at junctions; you aren’t moving parking bays where they get in the way of your infrastructure; you aren’t dealing with bus stops; you aren’t repurposing motor traffic lanes for cycle traffic.
London is experiencing a significant backlash against cycling infrastructure because, for the very first time, that cycling infrastructure is itself significant. It is a visible and clear statement that cycling should play a role in the transport mix of the city, rather than being completely ignored – it is a challenge to the status quo, rather than being an accommodation with it, in the form of shared use footways, or discontinuous painted lanes. Or (most often) nothing at all.
Of course this backlash is using all the tired, contradictory and even downright confused arguments about cycling infrastructure.
In London, LBC radio seems to have emerged as a mouthpiece for these kinds of arguments, getting particularly excited (for some reason) about the fact that some people aren’t using Superhighway 5.
One of their reporters, Theo Usherwood, stood by the road for half an hour on the bridge, apparently in an attempt to demonstrate that the new infrastructure is pointless because a majority of people cycling northbound aren’t using it.
This is not hard to explain. Heading north across Vauxhall Bridge from the western approach on the gyratory, you would have to bump up onto a shared use footway, then wait for a crossing to get across the road to enter the Superhighway –
… and then deal with a slightly confusing junction on the north side of the river to get back to the left hand side of the road, where you were originally, just a few hundred metres down the road.
Given that there is also a bus lane northbound on the bridge (which the LBC reporter himself mentions someone using), it’s not hard to explain why a good number of people are choosing not to add this inconvenience to their journey. If Usherwood had bothered to ask anyone why they were not using CS5, he would have found this out for himself. But instead he was happy to parrot his statistics in isolation, as they fit into a pre-constructed narrative about how apparently pointless cycling infrastructure is.
Really, the problem here is the discontinuous nature of the infrastructure. It’s only ‘pointless’ for some users because so little of it has been built, meaning that, from some directions, people have to go out their way, pointlessly crossing the road twice (to go to the other side, and back again) to use it for a few hundred metres. The people using the cycling infrastructure will have been arriving from the Oval direction; those not using it will have arrived from the south. It’s that simple.
Equally, if there was a northbound cycleway on the western side of the bridge, linking up with cycling infrastructure on Vauxhall gyratory (plans for which have just been announced today) then I guarantee everyone would be using it. Indeed, statistics for southbound use of the CS5 (which doesn’t add any inconvenience to journeys) would show that nearly everyone is using it. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Andrew Gilligan comes to, in reference to an earlier ‘count’ Usherwood made –
I personally counted 750 cyclists using the Vauxhall Bridge track, more than 12 a minute, a figure which appeared in our press release. That, by the way, as the press release also stated, is a nearly 30% rise on the figure crossing the bridge before the track opened.
Why do you think Mr Usherwood made no mention of this, or of his earlier visit to the superhighway? Why, I wonder, did he hang around for several hours, until “just after lunch,” and until it had started raining, to begin his count and do his report? Could it be because he was trying to make the facts fit a pre-cooked agenda that there are no cyclists using the facility?
Usherwood also demonstrated a troubling willingness to strip passages from the emergency services’ responses to the Superhighways to imply they are opposed to them, when in fact they support them.
I’ve just dug out the the responses of all three emergency services to the Cycle Superhighway. The London Ambulance Service says the narrowing of the road could affect their – and I’m quoting here – ‘time critical lifesaving journeys’.
The Metropolitan Police is even more scathing Nick. It lists 14 separate concerns with the North-South route linking Elephant & Castle to Kings Cross. It says it will impact on response times, starting – and again I’m quoting – ‘increased congestion will result in longer travelling times for MPS officers coming into central London which will have an operational impact at times of prolonged public order demand.’ And it says that when it comes to transporting VVIPs like members of the royal family, or for that matter high risk suspects that need an armed guard – think terrorists here – it will have to close the opposite carriageway so that there is an escape route at all times for the Metropolitan Police convoy.
Clear enough, you might think – the emergency services are plainly up in arms about these schemes.
Except that if you refer to the document from which Usherwood stripped these quotes, it turns out that the Metropolitan Police, far from being ‘scathing’, actually support the North-South and East-West Superhighways.
Likewise the London Fire Brigade (not mentioned by Usherwood) also support this both Superhighways, and the City of London Police. The London Ambulance Service make no comment either in support or opposition of the Superhighway schemes, only voicing concerns about how it might affect their response times. Against this, all four of London’s major trauma centres; hospitals; and the London Air Ambulance service, have all voiced strong support for the Superhighway schemes.
So, far from being ‘scathing’, London’s emergency services actually support the Superhighways – but a listener to LBC would have gained precisely the opposite impression.
Of course, this kind of response – however misleading and incoherent it might be – is actually a sign that Transport for London is building cycling infrastructure that is effective, and that matters. It is making a statement that highway space shouldn’t just be solely for the flow of motor traffic; that cycling can and should be accommodated, for sound strategic reasons, set out by the Mayor himself.
With London’s population growing by 10,000 a month, there are only two ways to keep traffic moving – build more roads, which is for the most part physically impossible, or encourage the use of vehicles, such as bikes, which better use the space on the roads we’ve already got.
London – and other British cities – are starting to build something that people feel the need to oppose. That means something. Bring on the backlash.
Last March I took part in a conference devoted to the promotion of cycling in Madrid. My presentation, in essay form, has now been published by World Transport: Policy and Practice. Herewith the abstract –
This essay is a response to an invitation to provide an overview of the current state of cycling in Britain, and more specifically London, for a conference in Madrid – a city, like London, striving to promote more cycling. The essay focuses on the importance of both the volume of motorised traffic and perceptions of safety as determinants, over time, of the volume of cycling. It notes the dramatic decline (over 95%) since 1950 in the road accident fatality rate in Britain as cyclists, pedestrians and motorists competed for the right to the use of limited road space and how, in selected areas of London, cyclists are in the process of regaining their right to the road.
From 1950 to 1973 (the year of the energy crisis) the number of kilometres cycled in Britain plummeted – by about 80%. Over the same period the fatal risk of cycling, per kilometre, increased dramatically. The enormous increase in motoring was, physically, driving cyclists off the road. This displacement was officially sanctioned by what became known as the “predict and provide” policy underpinning transport planning. Forecasters were employed to predict future levels of car ownership and car use, and official policy was to provide sufficient road space to accommodate the forecasts. At public inquiries into road-building plans the problems of cyclists and pedestrians did not feature.
Their problems are only now beginning to be acknowledged as issues deserving of consideration alongside those of motorists stuck in traffic jams. Change does appear to be taking root in people’s minds.
The published paper can be found here (starting on page 10) – http://worldtransportjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/29th-Oct-opt.pdf
One of the most baffling aspects of British cycling policy is the contrast between the periodic clampdowns on ‘pavement cycling’ (and the intolerance to this kind of activity in general) and the way cycling is actually designed for by most councils across the country – namely, with shared use footways, and shared paths.
Footway cycling is simultaneously something that people hate, and that the police expend resources on dealing with, while at exactly the same time councils are putting cycling on footways, and lumping cycling with walking on new paths, bridges and underpasses.
To take just one example – there are undoubtedly many – Reading’s cycling strategy has this to say.
… we recognise that cyclists have varying abilities and needs. As a result, we will consider providing off-carriageway facilities by officially re-designating a footway to permit cycling when there is a high proportion of inexperienced cyclists and children to cater for, and the alternative is a busy traffic distributor route or to improve route continuity.
What this really amounts to is a lack of willingness to design cycle-specific facilities that would be suitable for any user, whatever their abilities and needs. Shared use footways are the lazy, tick-box option; roads and streets already have footways alongside them, so just punting cycling onto the footway is an easy way of dealing with the problem of hostile roads that are too hostile to cycle on for the majority of the population.
This, of course, puts cycling into conflict with walking – which is annoying for pedestrians, and for people cycling, whether it is legal, or not, and which of course provokes the periodic ‘clampdowns’ on those stretches of footway where cycling isn’t legal. Meanwhile telling the difference between footways that allow cycling, and that don’t, is often rather difficult – this case is a typical example.
If we’re allowing cycling on some footways, it is completely incoherent that it should be illegal on identical footways a few hundred metres away, or even on the same stretch of footway. The incoherence exists because the footway is a convenient place to put cycling if you can’t be bothered to do a proper job where it gets difficult; blobs of footway cycling on an overall network of footways where cycling isn’t allowed are a natural result of a policy building ‘cycle routes’ that take the path of least resistance, from point A to point B. Councils are against footway cycling; except when it’s a convenient way of dealing with a problem.
Cycling and walking are different modes of transport, and should be catered for separately. Indeed, as Brian Deegan of Transport for London has rightly said, we should be building ‘roads for bikes’ – an excellent way of capturing the broad design philosophy required.
When we drive around in motor vehicles, we don’t ever drive on footways (except to cross them to access private properties, or to cross in to minor side streets, in those rare places continuous footways exist). And precisely the same should be true for cycling. In the Netherlands you will never be cycling on a footway. You will cycling on roads for bikes, designed everywhere for this specific vehicular mode of transport.
Naturally where people are walking in significant numbers, a footway, separated from the cycleway in much the same way you would build a footway alongside a road – is provided. This limits conflict between these two modes of transport. People walking can travel at their own pace, not worrying about possibly coming into conflict with people travelling faster on bicycles.
Footways aren’t provided everywhere, of course. In places where very few people are walking – out in the countryside, for instance – it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to build them alongside a cycleway.
People can walk on this ‘road’ for cycles; the volumes of people walking are low enough that conflict will not be a problem. Indeed, there is guidance in the Dutch CROW manual that states explicitly when footways should be provided. Above around 160-200 pedestrians per hour, per metre of width – which would mean, for instance, a 3m bi-directional cycleway like this one should have a footway for pedestrians if there are more than eight pedestrians, per minute, crossing a hypothetical perpendicular line across the cycleway.
By analogy, this is the same kind of situation as on a country lane, where we don’t build footways for pedestrians, because there aren’t very many of them to justify it, nor is motor traffic fast enough, or large enough in volume, to do so. This situation above amounts to a 3m ‘country lane’, used only by people cycling and walking – albeit one alongside a road for motor traffic.
This is a crucial distinction; the Dutch don’t cycle on ‘shared use footways’, but instead on roads for bikes, that people can walk on, where there wasn’t a need for a footway. This means that junctions are designed for cycling, not for walking, avoiding these kinds of ambiguous bodges you encounter on shared use footways in Britain.
Lumping cycling in with walking ducks these crucial issues of cycle-specific design. It’s easy to put cycling on footways, but it presents significant design and safety problems at junctions, as well as storing up trouble for the future – shared use footways are not a place where large numbers of people cycling will mix easily with walking. They are a ‘solution’ (if they are even that) only for the current low-cycling status quo.
This issue extends beyond footways to paths, bridges, routes and tunnels. If we were starting from scratch, we wouldn’t combine walking and cycling on a busy 3-4m footway alongside a road – so it baffles me why we design the two modes together on brand new bridges and paths in areas that will have high footfall. The new shared bridge in Reading seems to me to be a recipe for conflict, especially if cycling levels increase.
‘Sharing’ in this kind of context makes cycling slow, and walking uncertain and less comfortable; precisely the same kind of difficulties we might expect on a shared use footway with equivalent numbers of pedestrians using it.
Problematically, some councils even see lumping walking and cycling together as a way of slowing cycling down. This effectively amounts to using pedestrians as mobile speed bumps, in much the same way people cycling are used as traffic calming on new road layouts with deliberately narrowed lanes, and it’s bad policy for much the same reasons. If you’re using humans to slow down other modes of transport, that means discomfort.
It’s far better for both modes to separate; to provide clear, dedicated space for walking and for cycling. That doesn’t mean dividing up inadequate space, of course, but providing adequate, separated, width for both parties. Two examples from Rotterdam, below – the first a small bridge on a path to a suburban hospital –
The second the main tunnel under the (enormous) Rotterdam Centraal train station.
In each case, conflict is removed – people walking can amble at their own pace, while people cycling have clear passage, travelling along with people moving at roughly the same speed as them.
Lumping cycling in with walking might be easy, and not require much thought, but it’s a bad solution for both modes of transport, and will become increasingly bad if cycling levels increase.
6.15 Tea and biscuits
6.30 Opening statement from Lord Berkeley, President RDRF (Tony now can’t be with us, so his place as chair for the evening will be taken by RDRF founder member/ treasurer Ken Spence)
6.35 LB Lambeth Transport Portfolio holder, Cllr. Jennifer Braithwaite.
6.45 RDRF Mayoral candidates Manifesto, Introduction by RDRF Chair Dr Robert Davis
6.50 The Mayoral Candidates Manifesto and responses: EACH ITEM WILL START WITH A 5 – 10 MINUTE TALK BY RDRF COMMITTEE MEMBER OR SUPPORTER, FOLLOWED BY either RESPONSES BY REPRESENTATIVES OF CANDIDATES or READING OUT RESPONSES BY CANDIDATES THAT HAVE BEEN SENT IN. So far we have had 3 responses and have been promised responses by Labour and Conservative candidates.
7.45 – Discussion.
..and don’t forget our Manifesto and replies received so far are here:
There is a set of traffic lights in Utrecht that must be amongst the most widely ignored in the city. They are located on Vredenburg, a new road layout right in the centre.
You can stand at this junction, and the people who stop at a red light will be in a definite minority.
Yet on the opposite side of the road – literally, only a few feet away – I managed to take this picture of about 60 people waiting patiently at a red light. The difference in behaviour could not be more stark.
What accounts for this difference? It can’t be the people – they are all residents in the same city, making the same journeys on this same road. People stopping at the red light when heading west along Vredenburg – as in the photograph above – will often cycle through the red light in the opposite direction when they make the return journey.
The most likely explanation is that the red signal people are ignoring doesn’t make a great deal of sense. The side street that is being crossed is a dead end; a place where taxis wait in the evening, and that is barely used during the day. People cycling along here know that the chance of a motor vehicle entering or exiting this area on the right is very small indeed.
Traffic signals are designed to manage interactions that wouldn’t work as well if they weren’t there; pedestrians crossing a busy road, for instance, or allowing two opposing streams of motor traffic to cross each other’s path when traffic volumes are too high for this to work informally at a normal ‘priority’ junction.
But the interactions at the junction in the video are rarely happening; no motor vehicles are coming in and out of the side road, and it just feels pointless to wait at this red signal.
The queue on the other side, however, does make sense. It does feel right to wait there, because you have to cross a relatively busy junction, with lots of buses coming in and out of it. I’m sure a small minority of people might take a chance and skip across when the signals are red, but the great majority won’t. And many will be crossing diagonally across the junction once the lights go green, which of course isn’t something that you would attempt to do when the signals are red. You are having to deal with multiple potential risks – the two lanes going in and out of the side road, and the two lanes on the main road, and pedestrians crossing the road. It’s much better to wait for the green.
So what I am driving at here is that compliance with traffic signals largely flows from whether they make sense or not. Signals that can be seen to be easily ignored without risk will be ignored by a larger proportion of people than those waiting at signals where the lights are obviously serving some useful purpose – where the traffic lights are actually on your side.
This is something that was touched upon in BicycleDutch’s latest post on technology that might potentially help people cycling to arrive at green signal more often. Mark quotes the city’s alderman for traffic and the environment –
“Utrecht is growing and we try to let the growth happen within the boundaries of the current city. That means it gets busier. It is a challenge for the traffic light guys… to guide all road users safely through the intersection in a time that also makes them a bit happy, at least happy enough to keep obeying these lights.”
Here an explicit link is made between compliance and the way traffic signals work. ‘Happiness’ means not keeping people waiting; if people find that a particular junction has a ridiculously long wait for the next green, then they will get restless, and be more likely to chance a red, especially if there are minimal risks involved in doing so.
We can see this connection between happiness and compliance at another junction in Utrecht, a much bigger one. As I arrive at the junction, people are already waiting to cross. After the lights have been red for at least 90 seconds, a man on a scooter jumps the signals. Everyone else waits.
After the lights have been red for over two minutes, the man on the scooter (who had been obeying the red light, all this time) also jumps the lights, while a woman cycling does so from the opposite direction.
After the lights have been red over three minutes, a woman cycling also gives up, and jumps the red light.
The full video is below; I’ve kept it in real time so you can see how frustrating it is to be waiting for so long. I could almost feel the annoyance and incomprehension rising around me; people looking at each other, people pushing the button repeatedly, and others just giving up and using common sense to cross in the gaps of traffic.
People who were law-abiding (nobody just blasted through the red signals without waiting) were converted into law breakers, simply because they felt the traffic signals no longer made sense, and in the absence of those traffic signals making sense, the balance shifted in favour of their own judgement. Precisely the same is true of the (much smaller) junction in the video at the start of the post; the traffic signals don’t make sense, so people exercise their own judgement.
And we can apply these lessons to Britain. The main reason traffic signals are perceived to be obeyed by drivers of motor vehicles is because they make sense. They work in your favour, stopping flows of large vehicles that you would otherwise have to negotiate your way through.
Traffic lights are all out on A30 Great South-West Road at A312 The Parkway. pic.twitter.com/aoyBPgg87s
— TfL Traffic News (@TfLTrafficNews) April 21, 2015
And of course (as I’ve observed before) it’s actually quite hard to jump lights in a motor vehicle. More often than not, you will stuck in a queue, surrounded by other motor vehicles – you couldn’t jump the lights even if you wanted to. And of course trying to sneak through the junction when lights have been red for some time (I’m not talking about ‘amber gambling’, or even ‘red gambling’, which I would argue is endemic) carries big risks, if you are in a large, bulky vehicle.
People cycling 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.
It really doesn’t make sense to jump lights in this way when you are in a car, unless there’s a genuine emergency. You will get stuck, or come to grief. But on a bicycle it will often make a great deal of sense to jump a light, even if it is illegal, because your mode of transport is small, and flexible, you are more connected with your surroundings, and you can bail out a of problematic situation quite easily.
So the kind of red light jumping by people cycling in Britain actually takes the form of ‘red light jumping’ that is accommodated, both through design and law, in the Netherlands. Going ahead across a T-junction, where you won’t come into conflict with motor traffic, for instance. Or Just turning left, around the corner.
These are the kinds of manoeuvres that it doesn’t make sense to stop people cycling from performing, and so the Dutch design for it. We shouldn’t be surprised that these are the kinds of things people cycling do in Britain, regardless of law, just like we shouldn’t be surprised when people jump lights in Utrecht.
The difference is that the Dutch appear to recognise human behaviour, and adapt junctions in accordance with it, to minimise law breaking. The response to my second video would be to realise that there is something clearly wrong with the signals. The waits are so long that law-breaking is occurring.
In other words, law-breaking represents a failure of design, not of human behaviour. Sadly, I don’t think this is true in Britain, where law-breaking by people cycling is bizarrely seen as some innate condition of being a ‘cyclist’, rather than as a symptom of road system that very often doesn’t make sense to those who happen to be behind handlebars, instead of behind a steering wheel.
‘Sharing the road’ sounds like an unobjectionable and friendly concept – what’s so bad about sharing? But in practice, the message is ambiguous and unhelpful, and might actually stand in the way of genuine improvements to our roads and streets.
A large part of the problem is captured by this Bikeyface drawing.
People cycling see the ‘sharing’ message as a way of getting drivers to be nice to them; to be patient and to overtake properly. Meanwhile drivers – by complete contrast – interpret the message through the prism of people cycling ‘hogging’ the road, and not letting them past. For them, ‘sharing’ means being accommodating and getting out of the way of motor traffic.
Just another day cycling in London (from a friend of mine). How many times a day does this happen and go unreported? pic.twitter.com/S4nOkRp3Rl
— The Alternative DfT (@AlternativeDfT) August 10, 2015
This interpretation isn’t perhaps all that surprising, given the history of the ‘share the road’ message. The motor lobby promoted ‘share the road’ in what amounts to an early form of ‘smoothing the flow’ of motor traffic.
Through 1940, the five million claimed members of the Share the Road Club “are on the war path” against “heedless drivers and pedestrians” who “are a hazard – yes!” “Shell Research has discovered,” this 1940 version of the ad breathlessly proclaims, “that they take a lot out of the joy of motoring — add plenty to its cost — by causing 35% of Stop-and-Go driving!”
Of course, a commenter on the blog (justifiably) observes that
as far as i can tell the meaning of the phrase hasn’t changed….
In that ‘share the road’ today means ‘don’t take more than what I consider to be your fair share of it’ – effectively, a polite version of ‘get out of my way’.
‘Share the road’ also lives on in official road safety campaign messages in Britain –
Here ‘share the road’ manifests itself as insipid guff about how it would be nice if everyone could just get along and not lose their tempers, with the added implication of equal responsibility between people who pose very little risk, and those who pose a great deal of risk.
Our driver and cyclist tips and Share the Road adverts are also helping to give people the information they need to stay safe… By working together, we can make London’s roads safer for everyone.
This logic is made explicit by Brighton and Hove’s woeful Share the Road, Share the Responsibility campaign. Hey – if we’re asking people to share the road, we might as well pretend they share responsibility, right?
As Bez of Beyond the Kerb has astutely observed (with regard to Northern Ireland’s similarly woeful ‘share the road’ messaging) –
… “share the road” campaigns always fall into the same trap: the belief that if you’re sending a set of messages to one set of road users, you have to send an equivalent set of messages to another.
This campaign clearly implies that the journeys – made by the combination of the person and the vehicle – are equivalent, and thus by extension it implies that person-plus-car and person-plus-bicycle are equivalent. They are not. And this is, once more, the crucial failing. The authors of the messages wilfully blind themselves to the fundamental inequality of danger due to people’s choice of kinetic energy and base the whole campaign not on danger, but on diplomacy.
So, in the case of Brighton and Hove’s campaign, the set of messages sent to drivers have to be ‘balanced’ with another set of messages sent to people cycling. The end result is a campaign that tells people using a mode of transport that poses little risk to other users not to listen to music because it impairs hearing, while simultaneously having nothing to say about music reducing hearing for the users of modes of transport that pose much greater risk to others.
It’s almost as if ‘Don’t use headphones’ has been plucked out as a message in an attempt to balance out the ‘don’t squash pedestrians under your car’ message that has to be sent to drivers.
But perhaps what’s most problematic about ‘share the road’ isn’t the mixed message it sends out, or the way it gets misinterpreted and misused in road safety campaigns. It’s the low ambition of the message itself; that space for cycling can’t be provided, and that the only way cycling can be catered for on roads is by ‘sharing’, as an allegedly equal partner with motor traffic.
People don’t want to share roads with motor traffic. They want their own space, where they can cycle in comfort and safety; an environment where that comfort and safety isn’t conditional on the willingness (or otherwise) of motorists to ‘share’ with them.
‘Sharing’ really doesn’t work because fundamentally motor vehicles and cycles are very different modes of transport, with different requirements. This is why ‘share the road’ messages are doomed to failure; not because of any latent unwillingness, uncooperativeness, or hostility on the part of people driving or cycling, but because these two modes of transport don’t fit together at all well, something captured brilliantly by the Alternative Department for Transport’s series of photoshopped images. Cycling only seems to go well with driving because the cycling demographic has been eroded to a point where the only people ‘sharing’ are those who are able to attempt to cycle like motor vehicles.
In the absence of footways alongside roads, a ‘share the road’ message aimed at pedestrians and drivers would be hopelessly ineffective. Why should we expect any different outcomes for cycling and driving?
Should an advocate of Road Danger Reduction appear on Top Gear? Back in 1993 the programme was reasonably civilised and I was pleased to appear on it. So here is the current Chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum explaining a basic point about the measurement of danger.
For more on the measurement of danger, see this
A fairly self-explanatory post, this one. Bus lanes are not cycling ndeednfrastructure.
There are lots of reasons why they shouldn’t be, which we’ll come to, but it might be worthwhile looking first at how we’ve ended up thinking that they are cycling infrastructure.
The main reason seems to be, in no particular order;
They’re better than nothing. Better than not being allowed in bus lanes at all, which is (bizarrely) the case in Crawley –
Better than cycling in general traffic lanes – rather than having to deal with buses, taxis and general traffic, you ‘only’ have to deal with buses and taxis.
And better than crap cycling infrastructure (for those people confident enough to cycle in bus lanes). This is indeed the position taken in LTN 2/08, Cycling Infrastructure Design –
Bus lanes form an important part of cycle route networks. They are often placed on primary transport routes, providing cyclists with direct routes to town centres and other important destinations. Bus lanes are generally popular with cyclists (Reid and Guthrie, 2004). They are often preferred over offroad facilities as a result of the advantage of remaining in the carriageway and therefore having priority at side roads (Pedler and Davies, 2000). Cyclists in bus lanes are able to avoid queues, and they value the separation from general traffic that these lanes afford
As Joe Dunckley has written about this passage
This is the guidance for providing for bicycles and it can not even imagine a world in which bicycles might have priority over turning vehicles… The authors of LTN 2/08 can’t imagine that world — can’t imagine that there could be any alternative to our might makes right of way world.
Bus lanes are only ‘an important part of cycle networks’ if you have very low horizons; that you can’t imagine any kind of ‘provision’ for cycling beyond a choice between crap off-road provision, general traffic lanes, and bus lanes.
It turns out – if you read the Reid and Guthrie report quoted in the passage in LTN 2/08 – that bus lanes are only ‘popular with cyclists’ because they’re less crap than the alternative of… ‘no bus lanes’.
The principle finding was that cycling in bus lanes was very popular with cyclists, compared with cycling in the typical traffic conditions of the area. [my emphasis]
This is a very weak basis for claiming that bus lanes are actually ‘popular’ – by analogy, it would be like suggesting swimming across a fast-flowing river is ‘popular’, because it’s less unpleasant than swimming across a fast-flowing river with crocodiles in it.
Indeed, this report – which attempts to make the case for cycling in bus lanes – actually reveals some rather fundamental problems with putting cycling in bus lanes –
On the negative side, bus drivers and cyclists appeared to have a generally low opinion of each other and it is recommended that efforts be made to address their mutual concerns. This may be achieved by reducing the opportunity for conflict, which appeared to be directly related to the narrowness of the bus lane, and by educating both classes of users as to each others’ needs.
Cycling in bus lanes creates antagonism, which is unsurprising given the different needs and requirements of these two modes of transport. Note that the only solutions proposed for reducing this antagonism are education, and widening the bus lane.
Buses are not usually as fast as other motorised traffic, although at times, they exceed what cyclists might consider to be a desirable speed.
Again, this is the ‘desirable speed’ in the opinion of cyclists, not the general public. A bus travelling at 20-30mph isn’t at all ‘desirable’ for the people who aren’t already willing to cycle with motor traffic.
cyclists feel more threatened by buses than they do by cars, probably because of their greater size… The acceptable passing distance for overtaking buses on the highway is, therefore, likely to be larger than the acceptable distance of overtaking cars.
The report considers that an in-lane overtake by a bus, within a 4.2m wide bus lane, ‘might be considered safe by 100%’ of cyclists, based on 1970s research about acceptable passing distances. Again, digging out that research reveals that this is based on a sample of just 25 cyclists, ‘most representative of the national cycling population’ – i.e. drawn from people already cycling on the roads in 1978, who were likely to have a much lower threshold of ‘acceptability’ in overtaking compared to people not cycling.
So the research and recommendations examined here are based around the preferences and value judgements of existing cyclists – not of the people who aren’t cycling at all, but might like to – and also framed around the relative benefits of cycling in bus lanes compared to general traffic lanes, not compared to the benefits of cycling in dedicated cycleways, separated from both buses and general traffic.
The report also reveals some fairly obvious problems with bus lanes – namely, bus stops.
Most negative comments focused on problems at the bus stops, e.g. ‘bus stops in cycle lanes are dangerous for cyclists’, ‘They’re fine except for buses pulling into stops’ and ‘Dodgy at bus stops’. Other negative comments included, ‘They’re very unsafe as buses are inconsiderate and don’t heed cyclists’, ‘They are dangerous – a contest between cyclist and bus driver’.
Other revealing comments from users include the need for some form of separation of cycles from buses, for instance by means of a cycle lane –
Other comments included, ‘Saves buses and cyclists time, stops leapfrogging’… ‘Not logistically possible, would need to go round bus stops’ [not possible?] … ‘Need a kerb between buses and bikes’, ‘Wouldn’t feel under pressure to go faster if buses were behind’ … ‘I don’t like holding buses up, don’t like feeling buses behind me.’
And to be fair, the report does take this feedback on board, but only by suggesting bus lanes should be wide, and that advisory cycle lanes ‘should’ be provided inside 4m+ bus lanes, and that ‘more research is necessary into the optimum methods of resolving conflicts and delay to cyclists at bus stops’.
Overall, this is a very weak basis for trumpeting the benefits of bus lanes for cycling, and indeed for suggesting that they are an ‘important part of cycle route networks’, as LTN 2/08 goes on to do. This claim is only really justified on the basis of the alternatives being even more dismal; the research used actually shows that buses and cycling sharing the same space does not work well, at all, for either party.
This isn’t just about cycling; if we’re interested in greatly increasing cycling levels, and broadening the cycle demographic beyond the existing ‘traffic tolerant’ group, then that’s going to create serious problems for bus journeys. Putting young children and the elderly in bus lanes just means that buses will be trundling at very slow speeds.
Of course, even if we do theoretically manage to achieve this level of cycling in bus lanes, more generally putting large numbers of people cycling in them just won’t work. Buses would be swamped with people cycling swarming around them; journeys by bus would be painfully slow.
This is one of the main reasons cycling is not accommodated in bus lanes in the Netherlands. Buses are treated almost as more of a light rail mode of transport, with stops less close together, along high speed direct bus corridors, free from things that might slow the buses down.
And of course the other substantive reason why cycling is separated from bus lanes is safety. Buses are large, heavy objects that travel faster than people cycling, and have the potential to seriously injure, or kill. Sustainable Safety demands that these two modes of transport should be separated as much as is possible.
With all this in mind, it’s pretty disappointing that the message doesn’t seem to be coming across clearly and simply in UK cycle campaigning. Hearteningly, the London Cycling Campaign has adopted policy – described here by Rachel Aldred – making it fairly explicit that bus lanes are not cycling infrastructure.
Bus lanes are not ‘protected space’ so, regardless of their presence, we use our normal assessment of when protected space is needed. This threshold is over 20mph speeds or over 2000 Passenger Car Units, PCUs – for total two-way motor traffic flow, in all lanes. According to TfL a standard (non-bendy) bus is 2 Passenger Car Units.
… Too often decision-makers assume zero-sum trade-offs between sustainable modes. But separating buses and cycles at network or street level may provide benefits for both, such as time benefits. We believe decision-makers should consider wider benefits of providing well for cycling, such as better public realm, improved health, and increased mode choice.
And some of this clarity has started to filter through to road designs in London. The higher standard Superhighways now being in the capital do not (for the most part) lump cycling in with buses, but provide protected space for cycling, separated from general motor traffic and from bus flows.
But it seems that there is some unfortunate inertia in other areas of cycle campaigning. Sustrans’ recent Bike Life survey had this unhelpful graph included within it.
Not only are ‘bus lanes’ (along with shared pavements) described as ‘measures to encourage cycling’, but it is possible to draw the mistaken implication from this graph that 61% of people who do not ride bikes (but would like to) would be happy or willing to cycle in bus lanes. This isn’t the case; 61% of this group have merely said that bus lanes might help them start cycling, which is quite a vague statement.
And unfortunately the CTC aren’t particularly clear on bus lanes either. This December 2014 Cycling and Local Transport briefing is useful, but is unhelpfully woolly on whether bus lanes are acceptable –
On both residential streets and rural lanes, low traffic speeds should preferably be achieved through quality design, to make the street or lane feel like it is primarily for people not motor vehicles. Cruder forms of traffic calming, such as road humps and narrowings can be unpleasant and unsafe for cyclists. On busier urban roads, some form of dedicated space for cyclists should be provided. Alternatively, this may include use of decent width bus lanes or on carriageway cycle lanes, preferably with coloured surfacing. It may also include cycle lanes created from carriageway space involving physical segregation both from motor vehicles and pedestrians, where the relevant highway authority has the will to do this to a high standard. Where there is insufficient space for this, the aim must be to reduce traffic volumes and/or speeds, so that cyclists can share the road safely with the other traffic using it. [my emphasis]
Bus lanes might be okay for ‘cyclists’ – they’re marginally better than the alternative of cycling in general traffic lanes, and I must admit I do feel a slight easing of tension once one appears, knowing that I have slightly less to deal with.
But they’re not acceptable if we’re designing for all ages and abilities. Nor is putting cycling and buses in the same space acceptable for bus passengers, in the long term. There needs to be clarity that these are two very different kinds of transport, and that while fudging them together might be acceptable in the absence of any other alternatives, bus lanes are most definitely not cycling infrastructure, nor should they form any part of a serious modern cycle network.