Views

A ‘cyclist’ is not a different species; just another human being

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 15 August, 2014 - 10:27

Short version – it’s as preposterous to attribute characteristics to ‘cyclists’ as it would be to attribute them to ‘trainists’, ‘busists’, ‘planeists’, ‘tubists’ or ‘pedestrians’. A ‘cyclist’ is just a human being who happens to be travelling by bike, just as a ‘pedestrian’ is a human being who happens to be travelling on foot, and a ‘trainist’ one who happens to be travelling by train.

 

 

Last month Radio 1’s Newsbeat programme ran a short segment on cycling safety, featuring MaidstoneonBike, among others.

About halfway through the programme, a number of tweets from the audience were read out, presumably in the interests of ‘balance’. That ‘balance’ being that on a programme arguing we need to do more to keep ‘cyclists’ safe, we need other people arguing that ‘cyclists’ need to do more for themselves.

Among these tweets, read out to an audience of millions, were the following statements -

cyclists have no spatial awareness

and

bike riders are irresponsible

There are, I think, only two ways these comments – and countless others like them – can conceivably make sense.

1) It’s possible that a ‘cyclist’ isn’t a normal human being, but rather some variant of the species that lacks spatial awareness, or that is more irresponsible than a standard human being.

2) Alternatively, a ‘cyclist’ is a normal human being – but there is something about a bicycle that immediately removes their spatial awareness, and makes them more irresponsible; or, that a bicycle appeals uniquely to that subset of humanity that is lacking spatial awareness, or is irresponsible.

The first is obviously absurd; the second bears slightly more serious consideration, but not much.

But I think that the first (absurd) explanation does actually correspond to the way plenty of people think, reflexively. Perhaps it is what the word ‘cyclist’ conjures up in the popular imagination – a skinny young male, dressed in lycra, wearing funny shoes and a funny helmet. This person isn’t ‘one of us’. They’re a bit alien.

A clear example of this phenomenon came on a Radio 4 comedy programme last night – The Show What You Wrote, on which the ‘ensemble’ perform ‘the best’ listener submissions, chosen from thousands of entries. The very first sketch of this programme – indeed the first of the entire series – was remarkable, for what it says about these kinds of attitudes.

It starts with the sound of a car being driven, followed by a loud crashing sound, and a squeal of tires.

Man: I think I’ve hit something! Oh, I can’t believe this. A nice, country drive, and this happens. I feel awful.

Woman: Poor little thing. Do you think his little family are wondering where he is?

Man: Oh my God it moved! It’s still alive!

Woman: Well we’re going to have to put it out of it’s misery. Here – use this stick.

[Sound of a beating]

Man: Oh, that wasn’t nice.

Woman: Okay, now you get rid of his body, and I’ll stick his bicycle in the boot.

LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE

The ‘humour’ here – such that it is – relies upon the audience believing that the man and the woman are discussing hitting and dispatching something not-human, when it turns out they hit and dispatched a human, or a sort-of-human. Presumably the image the audience have in their mind is of a kind of skinny, lycra-clad, helmeted ‘species’, like in the picture above.

The ‘joke’, however, would be preposterous if the word ‘cyclist’ conjured up these images in the popular imagination.

You get rid of her body, and I’ll put her bike in the boot. Ho ho ho!

So – as ridiculous as it is to think of ‘cyclists’ as a different kind of human, or not-human, this is unfortunately the instinctive reaction of plenty of people. Radio 4 comedy programmes would not run segments like this if it were otherwise.

The other explanation – that a bicycle itself somehow transforms an otherwise ordinary human being into an irresponsible one, or that bicycles uniquely appeal to those that lack spatial awareness, or variants thereof – is almost as ridiculous.

People who ride bikes use plenty of other modes of transport; they all walk, they almost all drive motor vehicles (except, of course, children), they take the train, the tube, and the bus. For it to be true that ‘cyclists’ have particular characteristics of lawlessness, or of irresponsibility or cluelessness, that other transport users don’t have, these characteristics must suddenly appear when they sit astride a bicycle, and then just as suddenly disappear when they dismount.

Is this likely? Can ‘spatial awareness’ suddenly come and go, according to the mode of transport someone is using? Obviously not; someone’s spatial awareness is a constant. Likewise ‘irresponsibility’ is a constant; an irresponsible person will be irresponsible regardless of their mode of transport.

A man who pushes you out of the way while cycling will undoubtedly be the same kind of person who pushes you out of the way while walking, or while trying to get onto a train, or who will use his horn while driving. But this kind of behaviour – equally likely across all modes of transport – is never used as an attribute of ‘pedestrians’, or ‘trainists’, or ‘motorists’.

A moment’s reflection will show that it makes absolutely no sense to attribute characteristics to people who happen to be using a particular mode of transport.

‘Motorists have poor hearing.’

‘Trainists are sweaty’.

‘Busists lack a sense of direction.’

All utterly, utterly preposterous; yet BBC presenters are quite happy to read out precisely these kinds of statements on air, to millions of people.

Think about what you’re saying.


Categories: Views

Friday Throwback: the 1954 Tour of Britain looks HARD!

ibikelondon - 15 August, 2014 - 08:30

It's nearly the weekend and time for our Friday Throwback, our occasional series looking at the most interesting images of cycling from the archives of the internet.

This week's image is not a photograph, but the cover from the 1954 Tour of Britain race programme, when the Tour consisted of a 13 stage continuous relay around the country.  Starting out in Great Yarmouth, riders worked their way north via Manchester and Harrogate to Glasgow, before making their way down the west coast and across Wales via Prestatyn, Llandudno, Weston-super-Mare and Torquay, then pushing on for the last stage from Bournemouth to London, finishing at Alexandra Palace.  Here's a vintage map of the course.  Riding 1461 miles over 13 days on a steel bike, no wonder the cover model with his square jaw and Biggles goggles looks hard as nails.



The Tour of Britain has a strange origin. It came about following an argument between rival cycling organisations during the Second World War about the validity of racing on Britain's roads, with the National Cyclists Union (a precursor of today's British Cycling) worried that racing would lead to all cyclists being banned from the roads.

Of course, none of the teams competing in the 2014 modern Tour of Britain will be worried about being banned, at least not from the roads.  The teams who will compete were announced this week; this year's race has been elevated to 2.HC level by the UCI and forms part of the European Pro Tour.  Sir Bradley Wiggins will defend Team Sky's title against Belkin Pro Cycling, Tinkoff Saxo, and Giant Shimano among others.   After a disastrous summer, other pro teams can smell blood and will be keen to spoil Team Sky's party on their home turf.  Belkin Pro Cycling's Lars Boom won the Tour in 2011, and also had a famous victory on the cobble stage of the Tour de France this year.  If the weather stays wet and stormy, perhaps he will ride in Britain and succeed again?

This year's Tour of Britain kicks off on the 7th September in Liverpool, and - like the 1954 race - concludes in London 8 stages later with a high velocity circuit race along the Embankment and the Mall on Sunday 14th September.

Never miss another post from ibikelondon blog again; join in the conversation on our Twitter feed or catch up with us on our Facebook page. Enjoy the weekend!
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Categories: Views

Is it always wrong to take space from footways?

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 13 August, 2014 - 08:24

A couple of recent things got me thinking about the question in the title – is it always unacceptable to reallocate footway space, to provide attractive conditions for cycling?

The first is this passage from the draft London Cycling Design Standards (page 212) -

In general, it is not desirable to take space from pedestrians to provide for cycling, nor to create cycling facilities that resemble the footway. However, there may be examples of very wide or little used footways that may be suitable for reallocation or shared use.

I don’t see a great deal to disagree with here, apart from the suggestion that wide pavements could be employed for ‘shared use’ rather than reallocation (and, by implication, that it’s acceptable to create cycling facilities that resemble the footway, which isn’t acceptable at all). Shared use, I would argue, is very rarely appropriate in an urban context, and shouldn’t have any place in a design manual for London.

Nevertheless the rest of this paragraph rightly argues that while it is undesirable, as a general rule, to reduce pedestrian space, there are circumstances where it might be acceptable – where pavements are wide, or little used by pedestrians, or a combination of both.

And the second thing that got me thinking was a vivid demonstration, by Andrea Casalotti, of how the space on the bridge over the railway line at Farringdon Station could be used differently.

Picture (and arrangement) by Andrea Casalotti

This road is one of the most heavily-used cycling routes in London, yet there is no clear carriageway space; people cycling are stuck in stationary motor traffic, as shown in this picture of the same location, again by Andrea -

So this strikes me as a location where pavement space could entirely reasonably be reallocated for cycling, provided that pedestrian comfort is not significantly worsened.

Handily enough, Transport for London already have a pedestrian comfort guide [pdf], which could be used, in this context, to establish whether it might be acceptable to take space from footways. It is based around the number of pedestrians, per minute, per metre of width. It’s found on page 13, but here’s the most relevant bit -

Grade A+ comfort corresponds to 3 pedestrians, per minute, per metre of width. So if your footway is – for instance – 3m wide, 9 pedestrians travelling along it, per minute, would be extremely comfortable; 24 pedestrians per minute would still be comfortable (although with restricted movement), and 33 pedestrians per minute (B+) would be the recommended maximum on a 3m footway in London.

Guidance like this could be employed at places like Farringdon to assess whether taking pedestrian space could be achieved without reducing comfort (my instinct is that, at Farringdon, it wouldn’t).

Obvious other locations include Superhighway 2 (the dreadful bit), which runs alongside some very wide footways, parts of which are effectively unusable thanks to clutter; clutter which could be rearranged, to provide cycling space, with minimal impact on pedestrian comfort.

There’s an obvious location for a cycle track here, and it’s not the pointless blue stripe with vehicles on it

Likewise – clear away the clutter, and there’s an obvious cycle track, between the trees and the motor vehicle.

This would have the added benefit of freeing up carriageway space for bus lanes – genuine bus lanes, for buses only, unimpeded by slower cycle traffic.

I suspect this approach won’t get employed, however, when CS2 comes to be upgraded in the near future, because adjusting kerb lines is much more expensive than tinkering around with the existing carriageway. Indeed, I suspect this is why ‘shared use’ pavements are employed so often, despite plentiful carriageway and footway width which could be reallocated specifically for cycling – doing the latter would involve serious engineering work to rebuild the way the street is set out, whereas putting up a blue sign on the existing footway is very, very easy.

This is a pity – we should be able to think imaginatively about the building to building width of our roads and streets, and how it can be used most profitably, while ensuring that pedestrians retain A+ levels of comfort. It might cost more, but we will save in the long run.


Categories: Views

Uh Oh…

BicycleDutch - 12 August, 2014 - 23:01
Sorry about that… the post “Beautiful people passing by on their bicycles” was announced to my followers 24 hours too early, because I messed up the date of the post. … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Beautiful people passing by on their bicycles

BicycleDutch - 12 August, 2014 - 23:01
Posts in which I give you the opportunity to watch ordinary people cycling are usually very popular. They form an attractive balance to the posts about infrastructure and they show … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Protest at 6pm tonight at Kings Cross

Vole O'Speed - 12 August, 2014 - 15:21
I don't have time to keep this blog up to date with developments much anymore, but historically I did cover, and try to promote, the "flashride" (originally called "flashmob") cycle protests that started in London on 20 May 2011 at Blackfriars Bridge. These did a lot to move cycle safety up the London political agenda, and were more effective than many years of organising petitions, letter-writing, and polite diplomacy from London Cycling Campaign, although the immediate objective, a safe design for Blackfriars Bridge and its junctions was not achieved, and has still not been.

Despite this rise in the political prominence of the cycling issue, there is still very very little tangible progress on the ground in London. The Mayor's Vision for Cycling was published 17 moths ago, and a greeted it quite enthusiastically, but with substantial concerns and caveats. These now seem to have been very well-founded. Since then, no cycling infrastructure, resulting from that vision, of any substance, has been built at all. One wouldn't have expected things to start at once, of course; plans need to be laid, people put in place, and things need to be done in a sensible order. But that should only have taken about a year. The summer is when things are built on the roads: if much was ever going to happen, we would expect it to be happening right now, in a very obvious way. It isn't.

I'll have to do a longer post on what appears to be going wrong with progress on implementing the Vision at some stage soon; however, my purpose now is to note that there seems to have been no fundamental change in attitude at Transport for London towards bicycles as transport. There are certainly some good people working at TfL,  and I don't doubt the sincerity of Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, but it is clear that the message of the Vision just hasn't got through in practice to most of the people to whom it needed. So we still see consultations on major schemes for junctions and stretches of roads controlled by TfL where fundamental design change is needed in favour of safe cycling, and where TfL is deluged with informed and precise responses from lobbyists for cycling telling them exactly what they need to do, and yet these demands are swept aside much as they would have been 10 or 20 years ago.

The Kings Cross junction is a high-profile case in point. This should have been one-of TfL's highest priorities for installation of high-grade cycle infrastructure, whatever the effect on motor vehicle flows, because of the number of cycling fatalities that have occurred there. There is indeed a scheme on the table for significant and expensive and disruptive remodelling of the junction. For cycling, however, it amounts to a pretty old-style feeble paint job that does not provide the physically separated space and separate, direct signal phasing we need for truly safe and inclusive cycling through this horrible junction.

TfL's proposals
As the estimable maidstoneonbike says,
There are some improvements to the current situation. For example, a widened cycle lane, the addition of ASLs in some places, and a tiny bit of segregation. But while these are improvements, these will only improve conditions for vehicular cyclists, and will not attract new cyclists.He has his own worked-up plans for a proper, high-quality inclusive cycling alternative design, which you can see on his blog.

So once again, London cyclists need to take direct action to show the powers-that-be that progress on safe cycling in London for all is too slow, too half-heated, and that we can't accept this green lipstick on a pig at King's Cross and similar junctions. Tonight's protest has been organised independently from LCC, but I have no hesitation in supporting it, and I will be there. It starts at 18:00 on Kings Cross Square, and sets out at 18:15 on this route.



There is more information on a Facebook page. If you can get there, please respond to this late plea, and do add your presence on foot or on bike to help us make an impact. If Transport for London discovers that they get disruptive, media-savvy and politically challenging protest every time they approve a scheme like this that falls so lamentably below the aspirations of their own Mayor's Cycling Vision, maybe that will have an effect. I can't guarantee it, but it is the best I can suggest until we have the next election for Mayor.
Categories: Views

Pragmatism. When campaigners and planners should use it. How such things as car parking and beer delivery in the Netherlands are made to coexist with excellent cycling infrastructure

A View from the Cycle Path - 11 August, 2014 - 15:32
Cycle-paths in red. The truck has to travel a considerable distance along cycle-path to reach the club and then must drive the same way back again to leave. It may not look like it, but the photo above is actually an example of very good infrastructure being used as intended. The photo shows where cyclists have gained a great cycling facility due to pragmatism. I'll explain, with help fromDavid Hembrowhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/14543024940730663645noreply@blogger.com0http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/08/pragmatism-when-campaigners-and.html
Categories: Views

Just another London cyclist... Ted Baker joins the peloton, and looks fantastic!

ibikelondon - 11 August, 2014 - 11:57

There are some things which are seen as ubiquitous to London, and as demonstrated over the incredible Ride London weekend the humble bicycle is gradually becoming one of them

So is a unique sense of sartorial style and clothes which are cut to perfection, blending functionality with a bit of flair.  Which is why I was excited to hear that London fashion house Ted Baker had been so inspired by the re-emergence of the bike that they've created their own special range of super stylish cycling togs.  


One of the reasons I love cycling so much is because it allows you to be part of the city whilst enjoying the city - the streets are like theatres where we all play a role, which is why I like to look my best when on my bike.

Ted Baker are based in St Pancras, their offices wedged between the Royal College Street bike track and the Regent's Canal.  Looking out their window they saw cyclists of all shapes and sizes rolling past every day and knew there was a place for a new range of clothing for on and off the bike.  As they explain on their blog: "We concluded that the only thing for it was to design a cycle-friendly collection that would survive even the most strenuous commute and still look freshly pressed on the dismount."  
The name of the collection?  Raising the Handlebars by #TedBiker.

So having designed a range of clothes for London cyclists, they needed a cyclist from London to take them for a test ride, and I was more than pleased to oblige...



The collection features a wide range of cycling apparel; from long sleeve zip through jerseys in navy blue and burgundy with track detailing, to a beautiful blazer in anti-bacterial treated premium cotton to ensure you're smart and fresh on your bike or in the boardroom.  Test riding the collection gave me first hand experience of how it handles when you're riding around frenetic old London, and I loved the Dipstic printer collar polo which has a cute bicycle chain motif, and the trim chinos which were so comfortable to ride in and will last a life time with their quality tailoring.


Of course, cycling clothes are dime a dozen these days with some more elegant and practical than others, but what I particularly like is how Ted Baker have really paid attention to detail with their cycling range.  The chinos have secret zip up pockets to squirrel away your Boris Bike key, or something to eat for a longer ride.  The buttons on the blazer are embossed with tiny bicycle wheels., whilst the collars on the jerseys lift up to reveal a simple safety feature; a reflective stripe for those late night rides home.  Greasy bike chains can be a pain, but the trouser legs fold up and can be pinned in to place with a cleverly concealed fastener, whilst the rear pockets can be turned out to show off a reflective trim.  Both the shorts and trousers have reinforced seats to ensure longevity in the saddle.. the list of little cycle-friendly touches goes on.


Riding around Camden with a film crew and photographer in tow, dressed up on a beautiful British-built bicycle was such a fun experience, we had a great time putting the film together showing off these fantastic London cycling clothes.  If I look like I'm concentrating really, really hard in the film above it's because I was focused on riding without ending up in the back of a filming truck which the cameraman, sound crew and director were hanging out the back of...  just another typical London bike ride, right?

You can check out the entire collection exclusively on the Ted Baker website here, whilst their blog explains how they were inspired to create a cycling rangeThis interview on their site features more photos and looks at my favourite places to ride in London and why I love it so much, do have a look around and see you looking smart rolling on the roads soon!

This is a sponsored blog post.

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Categories: Views

On the buses

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 8 August, 2014 - 08:46

A hot topic at the moment is potential conflict between London’s bus network, and an expanding cycle network – one suitable for all potential users.

It’s becoming a prominent issue, I suspect, because in the places where cycle provision is being installed, or proposed, space is – in some instances – being taken from the bus network. The Superhighway 2 extension along Stratford High Street has taken a lane away, in each direction, from a six lane road. However, that road did, in the recent past, have (intermittent) bus lanes in each direction – bus lanes that aren’t there now.

Likewise the new proposals for Superhighway 5 show that the cycle tracks on Vauxhall Bridge will come at the expense of one of the two bus lanes, rather than at the expense of a general traffic lane.

Six lanes down to five, but a bus lane has gone missing.

The West End Project in Camden is also being presented by some as a ‘conflict’ between bus priority and cycle priority, although it is not clear to me that the parties who are demanding a much higher standard of cycle provision in the scheme are suggesting that bus priority should be watered down. Importantly, there is no reason – in principle – why a good bus network, equivalent or better to the bus provision currently running north-south through this area of Camden – cannot work alongside a cycle network of a high standard.

The problem, I think, is that Transport for London see the bus network as the easiest thing to erode, when it comes to installing cycle-specifc provision. Bus lanes are already the ‘domain’ of Transport for London; there isn’t a large, vocal group standing up for them, apart from the bus companies, who are themselves contracted by TfL. It’s probably much easier for Transport for London to put cycling provision in place of a bus lane than it is in place of a general traffic lane, and they are taking the path of least resistance.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. Vauxhall Bridge could have excellent cycling provision, and two bus lanes in each direction. Those four lanes of private motor traffic could come down to three, with bus priority maintained. As I’ve said above, there is no necessary conflict between bus provision and cycle provision.

Space for cycling should come first from private motor traffic, then from the bus network, if necessary, and if that can be achieved without eroding the quality of the bus network as a whole. Indeed, this is how Dutch cities, in my experience, function. Space for walking and cycling comes first, then space for a bus or public transport network, and space for private motor traffic then has to fit in around that. This ordering means that many ‘main roads’ in Dutch cities aren’t open to private motor traffic at all, except for access. In Haarlem -

Courtesy of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain

Or in Utrecht -

Potterstraat – a bus- and cycle-only main road

You can find numerous examples of where private motor traffic has been squeezed out, to make space for a good public transport network, alongside comfortable, attractive conditions for cycling and walking.

So to that extent, any ‘battle’ between public transport and cycling in London is most likely a reflection of a failure to take space away from private motor traffic, or to reduce it to the extent that buses are not impeded. This is, I think, the strategy for the ‘Clerkenwell Boulevard’ – to maintain bus and cycle priority along the length of the route, while allowing private motor traffic to use the bus lanes, but for access only.

And in Camden, there is again no reason why – in theory – priority bus routes cannot exist alongside high quality cycling infrastructure in the West End Project, although I appreciate that politically and strategically this is very difficult.

The biggest part of that political and strategic difficulty lies with the fact that cycling remains very much a minority mode of transport in London. It is a huge ask to demand space for it, in its own right, when it still forms a small percentage of trips in the city, compared to driving and public transport.

And yet… This is all very circular. People do not cycle in large numbers in London primarily because space has not been allocated for cycling. Cycling has not been prioritised, or given the space necessary to make it a comfortable, safe and attractive mode of transport, suitable for more people than the small minority who cycle now.

What is needed is a strategic vision about the future of London, and other British towns and cities, built around the way we would like people to be making trips, and certainly not one built around maintaining existing mode share. A central part of this strategy should involve opening up cycling as a genuine choice for all, alongside walking, driving, or taking public transport. That choice does not exist, at present. It is clear that people drive or take public transport for trips that would actually be more convenient by bike. They are forced into driving or taking the bus because conditions for cycling are sufficiently hostile to remove ‘choice’ altogether. The Alternative Department for Transport has written a very good blog about precisely this point.

The table below (courtesy of Transport for London) gives some indication of the problem.

66% of all bus stages in London are under 3km, and nearly 90% are under 5km – about 3 miles (with the caveat this data is ‘as the crow flies’, i.e. a direct line from bus stop to bus stop).

Now of course many of these trips are ones that are inconvenient, or impossible, to cycle – they might be connecting trips on public transport, or a bus genuinely is the best option for the trip in question. Likewise many people making these trips won’t be able to cycle – they might be too infirm, or carrying too heavy a load, or it might just be raining, or too cold. This is what transport choice is all about! But surely a considerable proportion of these trips could be cycled, and more importantly the people making them might prefer to cycle them if we had Dutch-equivalent conditions in London.

This is fun! Why would you take the bus, if you could do this instead?

Going by these TfL figures, on average something like 4 million bus journeys are made by London residents every day (and I’ve heard figures of 6.5 million trips per day, in total), but we haven’t arrived at this position spontaneously. Such a large number of bus trips has arisen out of the bus network being developed and prioritised, and made an easy and obvious choice for ordinary people.

To argue that cycling is for fit young men, while (by implication) bus travel is for ‘everyone’, a universal mode of transport, is to spectacularly miss the point. Cycling isn’t for everyone precisely because it hasn’t received the care and attention that bus travel has received. Humane, civilised cities offer people a genuine choice between bus travel, cycling, and walking; they don’t pretend that the fact ‘everyone’ takes the bus while ‘cyclists’ (fit, young and male) continue to cycle is a natural state of affairs.

Does this look like an environment where people have a free choice between cycling, and taking the bus?

Cycling and public transport co-existing; a genuine choice between the two.

So the respective modal share for buses and cycling in London isn’t in any way ‘natural’, or spontaneous. We should think carefully about what London can and should look like if cycling was an available choice for everyone, and the benefits that would bring, rather than tying ourselves to defending existing levels of public transport use (and, even worse, existing levels of driving). 

Indeed, there are many good reasons why we should be prioritising cycling ahead of public transport; reasons that no doubt explain why many London boroughs, including Hackney and Camden, continue to place cycling ahead of public transport in their road user hierarchies. (Although in practice this does not happen – presumably because of the weight of numbers of people using buses, compared to the numbers cycling).

Cycling offers public health benefits that are harder to achieve with public transport. Cycling involves being physically active; taking the bus does not, at least not to the same extent. If we are serious about public health, and reducing the burden on the NHS, then walking and cycling should obviously be prioritised ahead of public transport.

Buses present danger. They are much better for cities than private motor traffic, but the fact remains that they are large heavy objects that travel quite fast, carrying considerable momentum. They can, and do, kill and seriously injure people on a regular basis – 2000 people have been killed or seriously injured by TfL buses since 2008, nearly one a day.

Although emissions technology is improving, and much more progress can be made, buses pollute - here’s just one example. More people cycling means fewer buses are needed, and cleaner air.

While children and the elderly go free on London buses, most people have to pay to use a bus. £1.45 for a single trip, while a bicycle – once you have one, of course – remains free at the point of use.

Buses are slow. This might come as a surprise to most people, who would never dream of cycling on the roads in London, but a journey by bus is typically much, much slower than one by bike, especially when the fact you have wait for a bus is accounted for. (To take just one example, a trip I used to make from Kentish town to Old Street on the 214 typically took 30 minutes, to cover 3 miles. This is one of the reasons I started cycling in London; most people are not as confident or as happy as me cycling on roads busy with motor traffic, and not have the choice I did).

Buses are indirect. Quite obviously, buses don’t go from door-to-door. You will have to walk to the bus stop at the start of the journey, and away from it at the end, and very often this will involve travelling indirectly – away from the most direct route. Cycling, by contrast, offers a door-to-door journey. You go where you want to go (at least, this is something you should be able to do).

And finally buses are antisocial. They disconnect you from the street, and the people on it. If you see someone you know when you are cycling, you can stop and talk to them. If you see someone you know when you are on a bus, you’ve probably missed that opportunity.

It should be emphasised again that these are merely reasons why cycling should be prioritised ahead of public transport, and definitely not reasons against public transport per se. Public transport is vital, and important, and should be strongly defended ahead of private motor traffic, and taxis. We should have space for cycling, and space for public transport. But in recognising that importance, and acknowledging the huge part buses play in transporting Londoners, we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for failing to make cycling a viable for mode of transport, for all.


Categories: Views

It's London's big bike weekend! Are you ready to RideLondon?

ibikelondon - 8 August, 2014 - 08:30
Bicycles will take over the streets of London this weekend, and there's something for riders of all abilities and backgrounds with a packed calendar for the second annual cycling extravaganza.  Here's ibikelondon's top tips for the next two days of two-wheeled fun:



SATURDAY 9th AUGUST

RideLondon Freecycle

10 miles of traffic free central London roads wait to welcome cyclists of all ages at this family-friendly cycling fun day.  You're sure to see some of our city's finest sites along the way, from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament, and the Tower of London in the east, riding along the banks of the river Thames in the company of 60,000 or so other cyclists.  It's not fast, it's not furious, but it is a lot of fun.



New for 2014:  you can get off the busy main route and explore a host of the City of London's back streets totally traffic free as the Square Mile is given over to the "explore zone"; a network of roads linking festival sites at the stunning Leadenhall Market and in the Guildhall Square.  Be sure to check out the bike bell ringing world record attempt at the Guildhall at 9AM.


Nervous about getting to and from central London?  Those wonderful folks at the London Cycling Campaign are hosting a plethora of guided bike rides in and out of London to help families ride from their home boroughs.  It's a lovely way to get safely to the centre, and to meet your neighbours! See if there's a guided ride from your home borough here



Refresh, rest and enjoy bike-based activities - from a street velodrome to BMX stunt displays - in the Festival Zones at Green Park, St Paul's Churchyard, Guildhall yard, Leadenhall Market (covered) and Tower Hill.  Here's the full list of all activities.  The timetable of events - including Penny Farthing Bike Polo - is here.

RideLondon Grand Prix

Britain's pro female cyclists take over the streets around St James' Park at 5PM, in the rip roaring RideLondon Grand Prix.  This event is fast and furious (last year's race hospitalised Olympic champ Jo Rowsell) and the best women awheel will be battling it out for a place on the podium once again. 



Fresh from the Commonwealth Games in Scotland Laura Trott OBE will be pushing hard to retain her title against field leaders Marrianne Vos, Lizzie Armitstead and Hannah Barnes.  London's Matrix Vulpine cycling team will also race.  The event is being broadcast live on BBC2 so line the streets to band the boards, get your mug on the TV and show the rest of the UK that London loves women's bike racing.


SUNDAY 10th AUGUST 2014

RideLondon 100

Think the "London Marathon on bikes" and you'll have an idea of just how epic the RideLondon 100 is going to be.  20,000 enthusiastic amateur cyclists will set out from east London's Olympic Park, tearing through central London before heading out to the hills of Surrey to cycle the route taken by the 2012 Olympic road cyclists.  Leith and Box Hills (which is harder? You decide!) will punish riders, before they race back in to London crossing the finish line on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace - just like the riders in this years Tour de France.



If you're in the pack and riding, look out for a certain bike blogger (me!) handing out bananas on the feeding station at Hampton Court - don't forget to say hello and fuel up!

The riders are set to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for charities from across the country with sponsorship money, so why not cheer them on?  They'll pass through Kingston twice - the only place on the course to do so - and the town is putting on a fantastic day of sea-side themed activities, so it is sure to be one of the best places to watch.

Hand cyclists will pass through the town from 8:30AM onwards, with the amateur cyclists passing from approximately 7AM on their way out, and from 9.30AM onwards on their way back (some will be later than others!)  Kingston will be car-free for the day, lending the town centre a festival atmosphere with special events being put on by local shops, pop up cafes and bars, a Helter Skelter and Punch'n'Judy show and deck chairs to relax in.  Some of the world's best pro cyclists will follow the amateur riders in the London - Surrey Classic from 1PM to 6PM, which brings us to... 

London - Surrey Classic

Loved the Tour de France Grand Depart in London?  Still have fond memories of the Olympic Road Race? Now's your chance to relive the moment, when some of the world's best pro riders return to our streets to race for the finish line on the Mall.  

Following the same course as the amateur cyclists (and no doubt overtaking a few) the likes of Russ Downing, Simon Yates, Team Sky's Ben Swift and Luke Rowe will all be hoping to scalp 2012 medallist and Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins who confirmed his participation in the race on Thursday morning, in a coup for the organisers.  Scotland's David Millar will race for the last time in London, prior to his retirement.


Leith Hill and Box Hill will be phenomenal spots from which to spectate, but expect to encounter very busy trains and to have to walk up the hill (don't even think of coming by car!)  Once again, Kingston town centre will give you two opportunities to spot your favourite riders, whilst the Mall will be packed for the sprint finish.  The race will be broadcast live on BBC1.  See here for a preliminary start list.  All the spectator information that's fit to print can be downloaded here, so why not pack a picnic and find a spot from which to waive them on?

If that's not nearly enough bike-based activity for you, there's also a Cycle Show today and on Saturday at the Excel Exhibition Centre, which should be more than enough cycling stimulation for anyone.  Phew!  Enjoy your RideLondon weekend!

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Bicycle parking at Rotterdam Central Station

BicycleDutch - 6 August, 2014 - 23:01
It was built in 22 months, the underground bicycle parking facility at Rotterdam’s new Central Railway Station. It was opened in November 2013 and it has parking spaces for 5,190 … Continue reading →
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The Green Waves of Copenhagen

Copenhagenize - 5 August, 2014 - 09:46


The City of Copenhagen established the first Green Wave for cyclists back in 2007 on Nørrebrogade and, since then, the concept has spread to other major arteries in the city. The idea is simple. Coordinate the traffic lights for cyclists so that if they ride at a speed of 20 km/h, they will hit green lights all the way into the city in the morning rush hour. The wave is reversed in the afternoon so bicycle users can flow smoothly home, too.

20 km/h was decided upon as the speed in order to improve the traffic flow of bicycles. The average speed of bicycle users in Copenhagen is about 16 km/h. A wave of 20 km/h encourges some to go a bit faster but it also encourages the faster cyclists to slow down in order to benefit from the green lights. The rush hour on the cycle tracks is intense in Copenhagen and speed demons do more harm than good regarding safety and, almost more importantly, perception of safety.

As it is now, the Green Wave is in place on Nørrebrogade, Amagerbrogade, parts of Østerbrogade and along Farimagsgade.

The City is currently testing a pilot project involving a detection system on Østerbrogade. Green Wave 2.0. It will detect bicycle users approaching an intersection. If there are five or more cycling citizens roughly cycling together, the light will stay green up ahead until they pass.

Given the mainstream nature of cycling in Copenhagen, you rarely see cycling computers on bikes. Nor do people have any idea of how far they ride or how fast they go. Most people know how long it takes to get from their A to their B. You don't need an on board tech solution to hit the Green Wave. If you cycle the same route everyday, you quickly learn the rhythm of the lights and, regarding the Green Wave, you learn intuitively how fast you should be going. In the rush hour there is the added benefit of herd psychology. A whole bunch of people are heading in the same direction and the speed needed to hit the green lights is seemingly communicated subliminally.

There are, however, some interesting solutions for guiding bicycle users along certain stretches of the Green Wave. As a rule they are along longer stretches without intersections. On these stretches, the herd spreads out based on the varying speeds of the individuals. It's easy to lose the sense of the necessary 20 km/h required to keep surfing the wave.

Clarence from Streetfilms was in town recently and he made this film of the recent innovations on Copenhagen's bicycle landscape. In it you can see a clip about the LED lights used to help nudge users to hit the light up ahead.

Journey Around Copenhagen's Latest Bicycle Innovations! from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.


In the Frederiksberg, these countdown signals are in place along sections of the Bicycle Superhighway. While there is no Green Wave present, they serve the same function. They count down to every light change. If the light is red, it is counting down to green and vice versa. Meaning you can speed up a bit or apply your foot brake a bit in order to maintain your flow. While easily 90% of bikes in Copenhagen have foot or coaster brakes, people with sporty hand brakes can obviously do the same.

There are also a few digital radar signs on longer stretches. For cars they tend to be warnings of speeding but on the cycle tracks they are friendly reminders about the 20 km/h Green Wave flow.

This is unrelated to the Green Wave but bear with us. It is a simple countdown at traffic lights to help curb bicycle user impatience by letting them see how long it will be until the light changes.


The Green Wave also has its own signage on the cycle tracks and on signs.



Copenhagenize Design Co. made this episode about the Green Wave in our series of Top Ten Design Elements that make Copenhagen a Bicycle Friendly City.



In this film we made back in 2009 you can see what it's like to surf the Green Wave at 08:15 in the morning.

The Green Wave is only in place on major arteries where volume and flow is important so not everyone gets a piece of it. About 80,000 people will ride it each day in Copenhagen, which is roughly 26% of the bicycle users entering the city centre. Nevertheless, it is important, visionary and contributes to the re-creation of a truly liveable city where pedestrians, bicycle users and public transport users are prioritised.

You can bang on about the tech aspects of these solutions but at the core lies Plato: "Necessity is the Mother of Invention". Tech solutions are only useful if they actually make sense and serve a purpose. The Green Wave does exactly that.


And while there may be days where 20 km/h in the morning rush hour may be optimistic, like above, the herd forms it's own flow in adverse conditions until the cycle tracks are cleared of snow. Which doesn't take very long in Copenhagen.


Other improvements go hand in hand with the Green Wave. On Nørrebrogade, with over 35,000 bicycle users a day, there is a need for wider cycle tracks. Above you can see how wide the one way track is across Queen Louise's Bridge. Bicycle traffic has increased by 15% on this stretch since the Green Wave was first implemented. Creating more space for bicycle users is important.Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
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Want safer lorries in London? Say Yes to this consultation

ibikelondon - 5 August, 2014 - 09:43

London's streets seem to be managed by an endless carousel of consultations - some of which seem to resonate with Transport for London's powers that be more than others.  But we have to work within the system we have, and that means getting involved from the outset.

The very serious threat that lorries pose to cyclists in London is well known and has been documented in depth on ibikelondon here, and here all the way back in 2010.  Last year, HGVs were involved in 9 out of 13 cyclist fatalities on London's roads.

Following years of campaigning by bloggers, activists and the London Cycling Campaign, TfL now plan to introduce a "safer lorry zone" where all lorries over 3.5 tonnes - including, most importantly, skip lorries and construction lorries - must have side guards, class V mirrors and class VI mirrors.  The area will be the same as the Low Emission Zone - roughly the boundary of greater London.  Trucks that don't have the right safety kit will effectively be banned.  By their calculations TfL estimate an additional 2,500 to 7,500 vehicles will be fitted with side guards as a consequence of the scheme.



For too long in London poorly run construction firms have argued that their trucks need ground clearance higher than the height of a man merely in order to access unpaved building sites.  This has been a foil to avoid spending money on much needed side guards, which save cyclists lives.  I'm exceptionally pleased that TfL, directed by the Mayor, no longer intend to tolerate this.  The more progressive corners of the freight industry should welcome these moves too.




However, those same construction companies who have so steadfastly refused to clean up their act will now be responding to this consultation to try and have the good work undone.  The Freight Trade Association have been terrifyingly wide of the mark in the past as well, so who knows how they will respond.  Policy is shaped by those who input, which is why I'm responding to the consultation positively, and would encourage you to do so too.  It is vital that the voices commending this proposal outweigh those who would seek to distract from its benefits.

You have until September 22nd to respond, and can use my response below as a template if you want. 


Not sure how to cycle around an HGV safely?  This post is for you.


consultations@tfl.gov.uk 
Re:  Safer Lorries Proposals

Dear TfL,

I write a popular cycling website, and am emailing to respond to your Safer Lorry Proposals.

The proposal by TfL to implement a safe lorry zone across Greater London is to be highly commended.  As the shocking fatality statistics for HGVs show it is much needed, and none too soon.

It is crucial that any attempt to lobby for exemptions from the fitting of side guards - particularly for skip, concrete and construction lorries is discredited.  HGVs kill a disproportionately high number of other road users, and within this minority road user group, construction industry vehicles are even more frequently involved.  Any argument that these vehicles might need extraordinarily high ground clearance which cannot be accommodated via the fitting of side guards must be demonstrated with statistical evidence.

I fully support the safer lorry proposals, and would welcome their implementation on our roads.  

To enable further complimentary safety measures, I would strongly urge TfL to consider revising the London Lorry Control scheme (the "night ban") which currently encourages the most dangerous vehicles to come on to our streets exactly as the AM peak is occurring.  A simply adaption to this legislation would also save lives, as discussed in the following article; http://ibikelondon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/im-with-chris-boardman-control-lorries.html

Kind regards,

Mark Ames
Editor, i b i k e l o n d o n blog 

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A difference between Horsham and Farnham

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 4 August, 2014 - 23:58

Horsham and Farnham are ostensibly quite similar. Two prosperous towns in the south of England, about 25 miles apart, as the crow flies. Farnham has a population of about 40,000 people; Horsham is slightly larger with a population of 55,000.

Although, beyond these main similarities, there are presumably many differences, one noticeable difference one stands out. The number of pedestrians who are being seriously injured in their town centres.

Looking at Horsham first – just four pedestrians have been seriously injured in the town centre in the last ten years.

From Crashmap.

Noticeably, every single one of these casualties occurred on the inner ring road; a dual carriageway with a 30mph speed limit. All occurred at crossing points into the town centre. There were no serious casualties, at all, within the inner ring road.

The town centre of Farnham, at the same scale -

From Crashmap.

Rather different. 18 pedestrian KSIs over the same period, including one fatality. Four of these occurred on the A31 Farnham bypass, which has to be crossed to get into the town from the station. 13 pedestrians have been seriously injured in the centre of Farnham in ten years. News reports on two of these incidents are here and here. (The data doesn’t include last year, and so does not include this incident).

Why might this be? Why is nobody being seriously injured in the centre of Horsham, while a pedestrian is being seriously injured in the centre of Farnham at a rate greater than one a year?

Horsham is a far from brilliant place to walk and cycle around, but the town centre itself has largely been civilised. Much of it is pedestrianised, and there is very little motor traffic travelling through it. What traffic that is moving through is generally travelling at a low speed, thanks to a 20mph zone (zone, not limit) with tight corners, humps, and cobbled surfaces.

The only route through Horsham town centre.

Farnham, by contrast, is not so much a ‘town centre’, more a funnel for motor traffic.

It really is this bad.

A one-way system dominates the shopping streets in the centre, motor traffic travelling at 30mph, with tiny pavements on either side (see for yourself).

The price of this arrangement – beyond how awful it is, as a place – is a pedestrian seriously injured, at least once a year. Somehow Horsham manages not to do this to people visiting its town centre.

Interestingly enough it appears that the problem has been recognised – proposals from Jeremy Hunt (yes, that Jeremy Hunt!) for pedestrianization of some of the problematic streets in Farnham has just been narrowly endorsed. Worth keeping an eye on.


Categories: Views

Innovative Elevated Cycle Track in Copenhagen

Copenhagenize - 4 August, 2014 - 11:05

Bryggerampen - the new elevated cycle track in Copenhagen.

UPDATE: 04 AUGUST 2014

New Streetfilm about The Bicycle Snake!

UPDATE: JUNE 16, 2014. IT'S ALMOST FINISHED!



UPDATE: Now they're calling it Cykelslangen - The Bicycle Snake. Construction starts in Sept. 2012 and it will be open for use in late 2012/early 2013.

Unique locations require unique solutions, whatever the city. Construction starts in February on a fantastic and innovative solution to fix an important missing link in the Copenhagen bicycle infrastructure network - Bryggerampen.

Bryggebroen - bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Copenhagen Harbour.

In 2006, a bicycle and pedestrian bridge - Bryggebroen - was opened across the harbour in Copenhagen, connecting the Vesterbro neighbourhood with Islands Brygge on the other side. It was the first fixed link over Copenhagen harbour for a few centuries. It was an immediate success. Bicycle users from not only Vesterbro but the rest of Copenhagen were given a faster connection to the island of Amager. Easy access not only to Islands Brygge but also to the universities, Danish Broadcasting and the whole new urban development of Ørestad - as well as bicycle users commuting in the opposite direction.

There are currently 8000 bicycle users crossing the bridge each day. That number is estimated to be almost double if it weren't for an irritating missing link on the north side of the harbour. Two options are currently available. You can walk your bicycle down the stairs, using the ramp, to get to the harbourside and on to the bridge or you can cycle a detour around the Fisketorvet shopping centre. Both are a pain. Especially for cargo bike users.

Harbour bath on the harbourfront and the Bryggebroen cyclist and pedestrian bridge.

In the summer, there is a lot of pedestrian activity on the harbour in this area, with a harbour bath, boat rental, kayak sport and shopping centre customers milling about on the quay. There is no clear division between bicycle users and pedestrians and it is an exercise in weaving to get through to the bridge. In addition, the route involves a couple of sharp corners with limited visibility. All in all, while 9000 people still cycle across the bridge, there were many things to be fixed in order to reach the full potential. Many people ride their bike to the harbour activities, sure, but the majority are just interested in getting from A to B and cycling past this location.

Enter the Danish architect firm Dissing+Weitling - who are also the architects behind Bryggebroen and the bicycle bridge Åbuen. They have designed an elevated cycle track that is, in effect, a 235 metre long bicycle ramp with a gentle slope that will allow bicycle users to travel directly from the bridge at Dybbølsbro to the harbour bridge - Bryggebroen. Separated from cars, of course, but also pedestrians. Below the ramp, people can mill about the harbourfront at their leisure. On the ramp, it'll be A2Bism at it's best.

A solution that is typical for Copenhagen. Elegantly designed, practical, incredibly innovative and with bicycle users at the forefront of the concept. The City sent out a call for ideas and had 20 million kroner for the project. They liked this idea so much that they found an extra 18 million in order to finance it. 38 million kroner in all. That's about $6.6 million or €5.1 million.

Here are some of the renderings from Dissing+Weitling. Bryggebroen is at the bottom right and, at top left, is the upper level at the end of Dybbøls Bridge. Here is the Google Map link of this location. It isn't updated so all the new architectural pearls on the triangular Haveholmen aren't on the satellite map.

235 metres in length, with the columns spaced at 17 metres apart. Lightweight - it's only bicycles who are going to use it - and relatively easy to construct. It is planned to be finished in December 2012. It will be bi-directional - not always an intelligent choice for streets - but at 4 metres wide, there will be ample space for bicycles and cargo bikes.

An aerial view of how the elevated bicycle ramp will skirt past the shopping centre, above the bustling harbourfront.

A gentle slope down to the ground before reaching the start of the Bryggebroen bridge.

View from below. A little bit optimistic, because there will still be bicycles along the harbour, but hey.

We're looking forward to the completion of the ramp and a doubling in the number of bicycle users crossing the harbour at this point. While it's tecnically a ramp, let's chuck it into the bridge category - along with the many other bridges that are under construction over Copenhagen's harbour like these ones.Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

Legacy ? What legacy ? Sporting events _don't_ change peoples' behaviour. But proper cycling infrastructure certainly leads to more cycling.

A View from the Cycle Path - 1 August, 2014 - 18:18
It's become popular for there to be claims that sporting events will be followed by a "legacy" of changed behaviour. Somehow, the public are expected to behave differently after seeing other people exercise. London's Olympics were supposed to have inspired a generation to take up sport and to improve the population's health. Similarly, the Tour de France starting in Britain this year is supposed David Hembrowhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/14543024940730663645noreply@blogger.com0http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/08/legacy-what-legacy-sporting-events-dont.html
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‘Culture’

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 1 August, 2014 - 08:29

Over the course of the last few years, an area of Horsham – East Street and Market Square – has seen the gradual removal of motor traffic. Five years ago East Street was a conventional ‘road’, with narrow pavements, and, with Market Square, was open to motor traffic, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

East Street was given a ‘shared surface’ treatment back in 2010, and this was combined with the banning of the use of the street by motorists, except for loading and deliveries, and blue badge parking in a handful of bays. Subsequent to that change, the council went further, and removed motor traffic completely from the street, with temporary bollards, between 10:30am and 4:30pm. Deliveries take place before and after these times. Market Square – which can only be accessed legally from East Street – effectively became pedestrianised too, as a result of these changes.

There was some chuntering about these developments from many locals. The changes the council made were driven in large part by the numerous cafes and restaurants on East Street and Market Square, who wanted to put tables and chairs out on the street and on the square. This wouldn’t be possible without removing the motor traffic.

The grumbling – presumably from people who still wanted to drive down the street, during the day – focused on how Britain doesn’t really have a ‘cafe culture’, and that it would be silly to put table and chairs on the street. That’s just not for us Britons, the argument implied -we don’t really ‘do’ that sort of thing. People on the continent, maybe, but not us.

Well, of course, the tables and chairs did go out on the street, and, lo and behold, it turns out that we do have a cafe culture!

Market Square – full of tables and chairs, with people using them

The truth is that ‘culture’ was a pretty empty causal explanation for why Britons – and people in Horsham in particular – didn’t eat and drink out and the street. Compare the above picture of Market Square with how it used to look in 2009 (from the opposite direction) -

The old Market Square. (Picture from here).

Nobody was sitting outside here, because, frankly, it was a bit shit. Essentially a car park.

And precisely the same was true of East Street. Compare today -

East Street today. People eating and drinking, on the street.

with the previous arrangement -

The old East Street. Nobody eating and drinking on the street.

It wasn’t our ‘culture’ that stopped us from sitting on the street. It was the physical environment. As soon as that was good enough, then our ‘cafe culture’ suddenly appeared.

I think there are important lessons here for anyone who mistakenly tries to attribute the differences in the amount of cycling between Britain and the Netherlands to ‘culture’. Yes, of course, the Dutch do have a ‘bicycle culture’, but that doesn’t explain why they cycle so much. Perhaps by a combination of historical accident, good fortune, strong campaigning and bold political leadership, they’ve ended up with an environment that allows cycling. What ‘cycling culture’ they have flows from that environment. Impose British-style conditions on the Netherlands and that ‘culture’ would rapidly evaporate.

Likewise it would be absurd to attribute Britain’s low cycling levels to any lack of ‘bicycle culture’. People don’t cycle here because – again through a combination of historical misfortune, poor planning, and poor political leadership – the environment for cycling is dreadful. Where conditions for cycling are – even temporarily – made good, then suddenly our ‘bicycle culture’ materialises.

Sky Ride, London 2013 – mass cycling for one day of the year, on roads that suppress cycling for the remaining 364

That’s why this quote, from Charles Rubenacker -

The Dutch have created the safest and most complete bicycling network in the world, but we need to look beyond infrastructure and into their collective souls to better understand why riding a bike is so normal in the Netherlands.

is so baffling. The true explanation is grasped in the first half of the sentence, before being discarded for an explanation that is not so much genetic, as mystical.

Do we Britons need to ‘look into our collective souls’ to understand why we don’t ride bicycles? We could do, but I don’t think it would get us very far.

‘Culture’ is an empty explanation. It asserts that the way things are is due to things being that way. Arguing that the Dutch have high cycling levels because of ‘cycling culture’ is akin to arguing that Britons don’t eat out on the street because we don’t have a cafe culture – we don’t have a culture because we don’t have a culture. It’s circular and meaningless.


Categories: Views

Cycling in the Utrecht Science Park

BicycleDutch - 30 July, 2014 - 23:01
The Utrecht University Area (or Utrecht Science Park) lies to the east of the city of Utrecht. It measures about 2 kilometres from east to west and about 1.5 kilometres … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Ghosts in the water: cycling in the shadow of Roger Deakin

ibikelondon - 30 July, 2014 - 08:30

Last year I wrote a glowing endorsement of Jack Thurston's new cycling guidebook "Lost Lanes: 36 Glorious Bike Rides in Southern England".  I loved the wide selection of routes, the philosophy of discovering quiet and car-free rides in our congested corner of the country, and the stunning photographs that illustrate Jack's engaging writing.  What follows is not so much a ride report of one of the routes, and more a musing on all of the thoughts and ideas a ride provoked:

Cycling in the shadow of Roger Deakin; the Waveney Weekender
(Ride no.27)

Start & finish: Diss, Norfolk.  Distance: 48 miles / 77km.  Total ascent: 183m
Terrain:  Country lanes and a short section of B-road.  Moderate.



The river Waveney weaves languidly from Diss to Bungay through a broad-backed valley of Suffolk fields which hummed with combines as I cycled through at the height of last year's harvest.  The air was thick with corn dust as storm clouds built up in to sticky towers on the horizon.Jack's bike route, dubbed the Waveney Weekender, charts a looping figure of eight around the river valley, starting at the train station in Diss.  A disembodied voice with a sense of humour reminds us that "CCTV operates at diss station".. 




It's a surprising roller coaster to the busy market town of Bungay.  I thought that Suffolk and Norfolk - Britain's 'big sky country' - was mirror-glass flat, but I was wrong.  It's a fun run of ups and downs, with the waters of the Waveney in the valley below periodically appearing at each crest before disappearing again on the descent.

The Waveney was naturalist and author Roger Deakin's local river.  He swam in it time and again, and lived nearby in a moated farm house.  It was here he first conceived of the idea to make a swimming journey across Britain, sloshing through every canal, tarn and river he crossed.  The resulting book, Waterlog, is a modern classic with the late Deakin seemingly awakening the nation's wild swimming conscious by asserting that swimming in the open air - like cycling - had become an outlier activity.
 He wrote; "“Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things."  
He explored the Waveney by canoe for a BBC radio production, and as I waded in to the cooling peaty waters myself after a hot, dusty ride through the valley I half expected to see his ghost paddling out from between the rushes.  Instead, I came eye to eye with pairs of aqua blue damsel flies dancing on the surface, accentuating the blackness of the water below.  Cows watched suspiciously from the river bank and I half feared they might, at any time, make off with my clothes and inform on me to their farmer, leaving me stranded with only the dark enveloping river to spare my blushes.

But the cows grew disinterested, no ghosts or farmers came, and with my bike safely stashed in a hedgerow I was left to swim slowly upstream to picturesque Mendham Mill alone.  There has been a Mill here for nearly a thousand years, but it is no longer a scene of roaring, pounding agricultural industry.  Now it is a picture postcard of rural peace with flowers growing in the gardens, water buttercups blooming in the mill race and otter spraint on the river banks.



I floated back downstream, back to my cows and neatly folded clothes, looking up at the sky as I passed beneath fallen trees that crossed the river and the long hanging strings of willows.  The roads of Norfolk lay off one river bank, the laneways of Suffolk off the other.  London seemed far away, and I thought about Deakin and his connection with water and the landscape, and how alien that connection seemed to my day to day urban life.  Seeking an escape from the city, Deakin has acted as a literary lilly pad for me.  I came to him from Jack's cycling book, and after Waterlog sprang on to Robert Macfarlane and his writing on The Wild Places.  He in turn lead to Olivia Coleman's account, To The River, of hiking and swimming the Sussex Ouse, on the banks of which Virginia Woolf had written A Room of One's Own and in whose clawing, muddy shadows she drowned herself.



Cumulonimbus clouds like great forger's anvils built higher as the sun waned, their towering reflections deepening the dark shallows of the Waveney.  The air felt thick with static heat, like the river itself was dissolving in to atmosphere and hissing about me.  Avoiding the road I pushed my bike along the deserted river bank, thinking about somewhere to sleep.

"Can I help you?" asked a headless voice.

Startled, I looked around, but there was no one to be seen.

"Can I help you?" asked the voice again.  Perhaps I had swallowed too much of the river.  Perhaps Deakin's spirit had returned after all. 

"You should not be here, this is a private reserve"

A door that was not there before opened, and revealed the interior of an expertly camouflaged bird watching hide.  A disapproving farmer, of whose view of darting kingfishers I had disturbed, looked out at me and repeated;

"You should not be here, this is a private reserve."

Startled by this apparition I spluttered an apology, mumbling excuses that I thought I was on a public footpath.  He looked me up and down, checked my packed bicycle and softened, explaining that he maintained the river bank and adjacent field to ensure it was kept in the best condition to encourage kingfishers.  Britain's most colourful - and illusive - bird is highly sensitive to water quality and the health of fish stocks. I wondered if pesticide run-off from bordering fields had affected the small bird's population at all?  The farmer, warming to his subject, thought the Waveney was improving every day.  Local land owners used GPS to only spray pesticides as a spot treatment instead of blanket coverage, and never where they'd been sprayed before.  The Waveney was burgeoning with the return of otters, trout and kingfishers.  

"King Edmund the Martyr was abducted near here hiding from the Danes beneath a bridge in 870.  Man has been changing the river for over a thousand years.  It used to an industrial water course.  Nowadays it is the healthiest it has been in decades and I love it.  This is a renaissance river."



As I climbed away towards the village of Hoxne - where the hapless King had been captured - I thought about the farmer's words.  Too often those who keep the land are accused of exploiting it, but many have as deep a love for the country as any landscape-starved city dweller.  The quiet road took me on, past troughs of cows, windmills, and rows of quaint cottages.  

Making my way back up the valley towards Diss, the accompanying Waveney grew narrower and less prominent, a river running in reverse.  Fields picked over by swifts gave way to housing estates and gardens.  Trees began to admit road signs and fences among their number.  The sound of the train line and the main road running through Diss grew louder ahead, as the trickle of the Waveney - the renaissance river - receded behind me in to overgrown channels, its waters disappearing underground, their beauty hidden from view.  In Bungay, at the other end of my ride, the sense of the sea had been palpable just over the horizon.  My bike ride back up the valley had not felt like a ride against the flow of the water, but instead the narrowing river banks and contracting channel had drawn me forwards, to the end of my ride, back in to the roaring real world and reality.  

"CCTV operates at diss station" welcomed the tannoy as the train for London pulled in.


Jack Thurston's book Lost Lanes; 36 Glorious Bike Rides in Southern England is available in all good bookshops and via the author's website now.  More photos of my ride can be found on Flickr here.
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The going rate

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 29 July, 2014 - 09:13

I’ve just spotted that Transport for London’s new Draft Cycle Safety Action Plan attempts to pull the same trick that Norman Baker and Mike Penning tried to pull back in 2012.

That is, it makes a comparison between cycle safety in London and Amsterdam (along with other cities) on the basis of deaths per head of population, rather than deaths per total distance travelled by bike (or by total time spent travelling by bike).

Here’s the graph in question, from page 10 of the Plan -

Followed by the helpful explanation -

Internationally, in terms of cyclist fatalities per million population (Figure 2), London had fewer cyclist fatalities in 2012 than many other cities such as Amsterdam and New York.

So, looking at this graph, you might think that London (in yellow) is fantastically safe! Just look how much lower the number of fatalities there are, compared to Amsterdam, per capita. London had just 1.7 cycling fatalities in 2012 per million population, where Amsterdam had 6.5 – nearly four times higher.

But of course this is an entirely misleading comparison. It doesn’t take into account the fact that, across London, cycling only accounts for around 2% of all trips made, whereas in Amsterdam cycling accounts for nearly 40% of all trips made. There is much, much more cycling in Amsterdam per capita, so comparing cycling fatalities purely on a per capita basis is absurd. It’s like concluding it’s much safer to cycle in London than in Amsterdam if you have a Dutch name, because many more people with Dutch names are killed cycling in Amsterdam than in London.

This is the same logic that led Mike Penning to argue

I think the Netherlands may want to come and see us, to see how we are making sure that so few people are killed cycling

And (more recently) Denis McShane to suggest

@patmcfaddenmp @KenPenton Cycle deaths much higher in France than UK and truly awful in Netherlands

— Denis MacShane (@DenisMacShane) July 7, 2014

How much of this is down to stupidity or dishonesty is hard to tell. You would certainly think Transport for London and a Transport Under-Secretary (as Penning was, at the time) should know better.

The other thing that’s worth mentioning here – beyond the failure to use an appropriate rate – is that, in Amsterdam, children and the elderly (both more vulnerable groups, for different reasons) ride bikes in large numbers.

24% of all trips made by Dutch over-65s are cycled, while in London 95% of over-65s never cycle. If people that are, in general, more frail – and more likely to suffer death than a younger person in an equivalent incident – aren’t cycling at all, that will have a further skewing effect on casualty figures.

A demographic cycling in Amsterdam, but not cycling in London 

Thanks to the Road Danger Reduction Forum, who spotted this ‘measurement’ issue.


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