Imagine if your town or city had just one suitable driving route across it, or just one suitable walking route – a line drawn on a map from A to B.
How many trips would be driven, or walked, in your town if this was the extent of the driving or walking network?
The answer is clearly ‘not very many’ – only those trips that happen to start or finish at some point along the line of the route, or reasonably close to it. A very small proportion of the overall number of existing or potential trips.
So we shouldn’t be at all surprised that that cycling levels remain low when the full extent of a ‘cycle network’ in a town or a city is this kind of line, drawn on a map. Even if the quality of the route is high (and very often it isn’t) the use of cycles will be limited because the vast majority of people simply can’t get anywhere near that route in safety, or in comfortable conditions.
So as impressive as the initial amount of use of the new cycling superhighways in London might appear, especially at peak times, the use of this cycling infrastructure is undoubtedly suppressed because there is so little of it. The people using it will mostly be the small minority of people already willing to cycle on the hostile roads and streets across the rest of the city, that need to be cycled on to access the superhighways.
This partly explains why use is relatively low outside of peak times. Non-commuting trips like, amongst others,
will all rely to a much greater extent on a dense network that takes people from A to B in comfort and safety, and not on a specific commuter-focused route. In addition, these kinds of users – particularly, children and the elderly – are of course much more sensitive to hostile road conditions, the kind of conditions that will have to be tolerated to get onto ‘the superhighway’.
This explains the marked contrast in cycle use during the daytime on a typical cycleway in a Dutch city centre, compared to the superhighways in London.
Unlike London, Dutch cycleways will still see heavy use during the day. However, that use is dominated not by commuters, but instead (unsurprisingly) by all the people who aren’t at work. The reason for this is not some difference in Dutch character or behaviour; it’s because a typical Dutch city has a high quality network that connects up all the start and finish points of the journeys these people are making, not just one ‘route’ that goes from A to B.
This is why it is so important not get bogged down on drawing ‘a cycle route’ and agonising in great detail over where that ‘route’ should go, because the long-term goal has to be a dense network of routes that go everywhere.
I was reminded of this by some of the reaction to the news yesterday of the cancellation by Mayor Khan of the proposed route for the ‘East-West Superhighway’ extension, along the Westway, into west London. Much of the discussion focused on whether the Westway was actually the appropriate location for such a ‘route’; whether there might be better alternatives at ground level nearby; whether Kensington and Chelsea might be persuaded to allow protected cycleways to be built on parallel main roads within their borough.
My own view is that, if we are indeed focused on building ‘a route’, the Westway is (or was) the best option, given Kensington and Chelsea’s intransigence in refusing to allow cycling infrastructure on its roads, and the generally poor quality of back-street ‘Quietway’ routes that have been delivered in London so far.
But this kind of discussion is really missing the bigger picture. There should be a ‘cycle route’ on the Westway and cycle routes everywhere else. Not one or the other.
Westway is 2km from High St Ken. TFL knows we need cycle tracks every 400m so deliver both routes. No excuse for cancelling pic.twitter.com/H5qjxSGKnL
— Tom Harrison (@TomBHarrison) November 15, 2016
Why should there just be one route into west London from central London? To take just one example, how many people will cycle from Hammersmith (in the bottom left of the map above) into central London if there are no cycle routes in Kensington and Chelsea apart from one on the Westway, some 2km or more north of the direct route? Quite plainly, there needs to be a cycle route on the Westway, and on Kensington High Street, and on Holland Park Avenue; and on all the roads that people will use to get from A to B.
This is why the logic of cancelling the Westway scheme, and coming up with an alternative somewhere else, is flawed. Not just because the Westway scheme had been consulted on, and was ready to go, and because devising an alternative route will inevitably result in years of delay. It’s because the Westway scheme is needed alongside many other east-west routes in Kensington and Chelsea, and alongside north-south routes. Everywhere.
So, regrettably, it appears that the Westway decision betrays a failure to understand how cycling should be planned for. Cycling doesn’t just require ‘a route’; it requires a network, of which the Westway should have been just one component.
The N470 is a main road that runs east from the Dutch city of Delft, connecting it with the city of Zoetermeer. It is 12 kilometres long between the junctions with the A13 motorway (bypassing Delft) and the A12 motorway (which runs between The Hague and Utrecht).
As can be seen from the map above, it is, effectively, a bypass of the town of Pijnacker, bending south around it. Before this road was opened in 2007, a large proportion of the motor traffic running between Delft and Zoetermeer would have passed through the town. Now all that motor traffic is far away from human beings. This applies both at the large large scale – the way the road is built away from urban areas – and also at the scale of the road itself, where, as well shall see in this post, human beings are kept completely separated from it.
This modern road has been built according to the principles of Sustainable Safety, or Duurzaam Veiling – the Dutch approach to road safety. This programme was only developed in the mid 1990s, so it is relatively recent, but it completely underpins the way roads and streets in the Netherlands, both old and new, are designed and built to maximise the safety of human beings. The N470 is an excellent example of these principles in action, and this post will look at them in turn.
Perhaps one of the most important principles of Sustainable Safety, ‘Functionality’ means that every road and street in the Netherlands should have a single function – mono-functionality – and that every region should classify their roads and streets accordingly, either as a
Quite clearly the N470 falls into the ‘through road’ category. It is a road for transporting people from A to B; it is most definitely not a road that people will be exposed to in any form. There is only one junction on the 12km length of the road between the two motorways, and that is a turbo roundabout which human beings cannot go anywhere near. There are absolutely no access points anywhere else along this road. It is effectively hermetically sealed away from the environment it is travelling through – walking and cycling are entirely separated, via underpasses, and even other roads are again grade-separated.
This principle applies to the mass, speed and direction of road users. Heavy objects should not share space with light ones; fast objects should not share space with slow ones; and objects should be travelling in the same direction. Differences in mass, speed and direction should be minimised as much as possible.
We can see these principles clearly in operation in the design of the N470 road. Perhaps the most obvious application of homogeneity is that light objects – human beings – are completely designed out of this road. They go nowhere near it. In fact the photograph below is about the closest you can get.
The three junctions on this stretch of road – two at the end, and one in the middle – are all turbo roundabouts, and all have total separation between human beings and motor traffic.
The roundabout at the Delft end of the N470 has signs explicitly banning walking and cycling from the roundabout – but really nobody would choose to negotiate the roundabout at surface level on foot, because of a fast, convenient cycle road to the side, that bypasses it completely.
The roundabout in the middle is another turbo roundabout, again negotiated by an underpass – or, perhaps more specifically, where the road has been built up on an embankment with a bridge.
And the final roundabout at the Zoetermeer end is exactly the same, with two underpasses allowing people to negotiate the arms of the the roundabout, complete with noise barriers. As with the previous example the roads and roundabout have been built up high so that cycling remains at ground level, at the same level as buildings in the neighbourhood. These are bridges, more than underpasses.
I did manage to scramble up the bank here to take a photo of the roundabout – narrow lanes with hard physical dividers, combined with heavy, fast traffic, means that this is not somewhere you would want to be on a bike.
Especially when you can bypass it, completely oblivious to the traffic overhead.
But of course Sustainable Safety applies to all users of the road network, not just people cycling. The road is designed in a way to keep motorists safe too.
Perhaps most notable is the median between the two lanes, that prevents any attempts at overtaking. The speed limit on this road is 80kph (about 50mph) and that applies uniformly to all vehicles, from HGVs right down to small cars. Quite sensibly, if everyone is travelling at the same speed, there can be no justification for overtaking, and the design prevents people from even attempting to do so.
A couple of years ago the DfT raised the speed limit for HGVs on single carriageway roads from 40mph to 50mph, partially on the grounds that it would (allegedly) reduce the temptation on the part of some drivers to indulge in dangerous overtakes. But the Netherlands has solved this problem at a stroke by equalising the limit for all users at 80kph, and by simply banning overtaking altogether on this category of road (and physically preventing overtaking in new road design).
Overtaking presents an unacceptably high level of danger – it involves vehicles occupying the same space but travelling in completely the opposite direction, at great speed. The opposite of homogeneity! It is much safer to ban it, and to simply design it out of these roads altogether. On the N470 all vehicles are travelling in the same direction at all times, and at approximately the same speed. Overtaking conflicts have been removed, as have any turning conflicts, with no motor vehicles crossing the paths of other motor vehicles – because there are no junctions.
Another implication of the principle of homogeneity is that mopeds (which aren’t capable of travelling at 80kph in any case) are banned from these roads, and instead placed on the cycle path, alongside people walking, cycling and jogging. This makes sense according to the principle of homogeneity – their mass and speed is much closer to that of pedestrians and cyclists than it is to the vehicles on the road.
Another principle of Sustainable Safety is ‘forgivingness’, which implies pretty much what you would expect from the title. Essentially, mistakes by road users should not result in death or serious injury. Road and street design should account for the fact that human beings are fallible, and will inevitably make mistakes.
We see this principle reflected in a number of aspects of the design of the N470 road. The road lanes themselves are narrow, to help ensure that people do not exceed the 80kph limit, but there are large overrun areas on either side of the road, composed of a concrete mesh.
Probably not very enjoyable to drive over, but if you do drift off the road, you won’t die.
Naturally, forgivingness also applies to people cycling. It lies behind the systematic removal of bollards from Dutch cycle paths, where at all possible. Bollards are not good things to crash into, and can cause serious injury and death. It is definitely preferable to have the occasional driver venturing (either mistakenly or deliberately) onto a cycle path than it is to have a permanent hazard on it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also means that kerbs and other elements of cycling infrastructure should allow mistakes to happen, without serious consequences.
And, of course, at a higher level, the fact that there aren’t any human beings outside of motor vehicles on the N470 road, or even near it, means that cycling is very safe. The fact that Britain persists with accommodating cycling on busy 60 or even 70mph roads is extraordinary by objective comparison – the consequences of errors and mistakes when you have such enormous differences in mass and speed in the same space will be deadly.
A better way of expressing ‘predictability’ would be ‘instantly recognisable road design’. The users of a road or a street should understand how they are expected to behave, from the appearance of that road or street. The design should be unambiguous. For instance, if you want motor vehicle users to travel at 20mph, the road or street should look like that, and it should make the majority of users travel at no more than that speed.
From the photographs in this post you won’t need me to tell you that the appearance of the N470 will obviously inform its users that it is a through road! There are no junctions; no interactions with non-motorised users; a median; and a design that suggests a speed of 50mph or so. As already mentioned, the design of the N470 should make users travel at or around this speed – the speed limit should be self-enforcing. Design should lead behaviour – we should not expect people to do unnatural things.
In a nutshell, Sustainable Safety is really about a strategic separation of fast, heavy objects from slower moving, lighter ones, across an entire country, both along roads like the N470, passing through rural areas, but also in urban areas. It is universal.
It is noteworthy that there are multiple cycle routes between Delft and Zoetermeer, all of them completely separate from the road network. Some parts of these are shown below. These cycle routes pass through the places where people actually live and work, while the motor traffic is shielded away from human beings. All these routes are more direct than the N470, or alternative driving routes on the motorways.
So despite the name, Sustainable Safety is not just about safety, but also about creating more attractive and more pleasant places for people to live, work, shop, and relax. People can still drive, of course, and with great ease, but their journeys will be separated to the greatest possible extent from human beings. It is a bold and ambitious project, but one that, despite only being a few decades old, has had dramatic and impressive consequences. We should be paying close attention.
You can read more about Sustainable Safety in a number of places –
Pedalling into the Dutch city of Delft last Tuesday I went past a branch of Albert Heijn, which is (approximately) the Dutch version of Waitrose – or at least, a supermarket at the slightly higher end of the Dutch price scale.
Naturally enough I stopped to have a look at was occurring, an easy thing to do given that the cycleway along this road runs right the supermarket entrance.
At about 10:30 in the morning, the front entrance was heaving with bikes – people shopping in ways that they would do in the UK, but loading their goods onto those bikes.
There was a mum loading a trolley full of goods (and her children) into her cargo bike.
And other people loading the contents of trolleys and baskets into their panniers.
What was fascinating to me was how all the space in front of the supermarket was completely dedicated to people arriving on foot, and by cycle. There was no parking for motor vehicles anywhere in sight.
But that, of course, isn’t quite the whole story! There is car parking at this supermarket. It’s just that it is hidden from view, on top of it, with an entrance around the back.
And it’s free, all day long.
This is despite this supermarket being in a city-centre location. There isn’t anything to stop you driving to it and parking above it, at no cost (save for your fuel).
So in many ways this supermarket is actually a microcosm of the Netherlands in general. You can still drive to the supermarket, with ease. There probably won’t be a queue to get in and out of the car park, because so many other people will be cycling to it. The parking itself will be free, even at peak times. In these respects driving in the Netherlands is actually easier and more ‘available’ than in Britain. If you wish to drive your car, your journey will be more attractive, and cheaper, simply because so many other people aren’t driving.
What does make the difference is the way that cycling to the supermarket is extremely painless. The people arriving here by bike will have started their journey on quiet, access-only streets, and then pedalled along the main road in comfort, safely separated from motor traffic.
Planning is also a factor here, in that the Dutch does not really have out of town supermarket shopping, which would clearly make cycling more inconvenient, adding distance to ordinary shopping trips, and making the car relatively more attractive. It also makes smaller (more cycle-friendly) shopping loads an easier prospect, if your supermarket is close at hand. Daily shopping, for instance, is much easier when your supermarket is not out of town. Dutch supermarkets have to be within urban areas – but at the same time that doesn’t stop them from offering free car parking to their customers.
Mainly, however, people choose to cycle in the Netherlands not because driving has been made inordinately difficult – it certainly hasn’t in the case of this supermarket – but because cycling has been designed for, has been made a safe and easy mode of transport, so much so that it naturally becomes an obvious choice. It’s simply easier and more convenient than driving, right down to the way you can arrive at the front door and park, rather than having to take your car around the back, and upstairs. It’s very much carrot, rather than stick.
Back in June I received my Riutbag R15 and i have been using it as my go-to backpack ever since. Riutbag are a company descended from a Kickstarter to make a backpack which is only accessible through the back panel, meaning that it is extremely theft-resistant when worn. The company states that Riut is pronounced “riot’ and stands for “revolution in user thinking.” This is probably the only thing I really dislike about this bag, as it feels excessively wanky and corporate for a company which started out as a Kickstarter.
The bag appealed to me for two reasons; firstly I frequently travel for work and I am often unsure of what to expect with regards to petty crime in the places I visit and secondly, the bottle pockets looked perfect for my Klean Kanteen Insulated 591ml which I usually have with me. Since June, in addition to numerous day trips in the UK, the Riutbag has come with me to Kunming in China, Copenhagen and various cities (and crappy industrial towns) in Japan. Other than finding it unpleasant to wear when severely overloaded (two laptops, 500 ml water and work tools) I have been extremely happy with the bag.
The outward facing side is plain, but does not draw unnecessary attention to its unusual design. The bottom is a waterproof plasticy material, so that the bag is less likely to absorb water if put on wet ground.
When taken off, the back panel can be unzipped and folded out. There is also a small pocket at the top and two small pockets in the straps. The pockets in the straps are a bit of a disappointment because the contents are on the wrong side of the strap padding, so anything hard will dig into your body.
The R15 has a bottle pocket on either side (other than capacity, this is the main thing distinguishing it from the R10). Unlike most backpacks, the bottle pockets take space away from the inside of the bag, but they give the bag a certain sleeknesss which it would otherwise lack. The recessed bottle pocket design also retains the bottle very well and as mentioned earlier, will comfortably fit a 591ml Insulated Klean Kanteen bottle (the 946ml will also fit, but is a bit tight).
The R15 is not a massive backpack, but it is large enough to be a practical day-pack for me. Shown here, the bag has a coat, jumper, headphones, 3DS, 13-inch laptop, bottle and numerous other small items in it.
At the back of the main compartment are two mesh zipped-pockets for small items.
The back panel is well organised, with two open pockets (the large one has retaining straps for a laptop, so it would not slide out when the bag is opened up like this) and a smaller zipped pocket. The zipped pocket has a small business-card sized pocket inside it. The outside of the middle pocket has pen holders.
The R15 construction is very good. It mostly consists of a mildly padded, thick Cordura type fabric, with some neoprene also used where appropriate. There are some really nice details, such as the elastic loops on the end of the straps which allow any excess strap to be folded away rather than left dangling. There is a small loop on the top of the bag which I assume is designed for hanging the bag from a hook, due to the presence of a much larger, padded handle adjacent to it. The design of the bag is updated based on user feedback, if you were to order an R15 today, it would not be quite the same as mine.
As this is primarily a cycling blog, I have tried cycling with the bag on whilst on a hire bike in Copenhagen. The R15 is not any worse to cycle with than any other backpack, but of course under most circumstances anyone who is not extremely silly would use pannier bags to carry stuff when on a bike.
Based on the past five months, I would recommend the Riutbag R15 to anyone looking for a versatile and secure day-pack.
In the wake of the Daily Mail publishing a series of photographs of cycleways with nobody using them at the moment the photograph was taken, and asserting that those cycleways are therefore ‘lunacy’ (apparently in the belief that doing so is any more meaningful than publishing a photograph of an empty road or footway and making conclusions about lunacy) the Guardian’s Dave Hill has evidently decided to join in the fun, publishing his own photograph of an empty cycle lane above an article that applies a thin veneer of earnest, chin-stroking consideration to precisely the same tabloid arguments.
This is at the same level of intellectual endeavour as publishing a photograph of an empty bus lane on the same road, before making questioning noises about how much bus lanes are being used, and whether the new mayor ought to consider using all that valuable road space for other modes of transport.
Newsflash – a photograph of an empty bit of infrastructure is absolutely meaningless, and it remains meaningless if you attempt to garnish it – as Dave Hill does – with some anecdotes about how you hardly ever see anyone using that bit of infrastructure.
You might wonder at this point why any journalist who takes himself seriously is so eager to recycle the arguments of the Daily Mail.
Of course what actually matters is numbers and efficiency, and unfortunately for Dave Hill, all the evidence is pointing in the opposite direction. In his article he is happy to quote Transport for London’s Director of Road Space Management, Alan Bristow, when he commented that the speed of implementation of the latest superhighways was ‘suboptimal’, during the latest London Assembly Transport Committee session on congestion. But if Hill had listened to the session from the start, he would have heard Bristow saying this –
‘we are committed to sustainable transport, and walking and cycling are one of the key parts of the mix that any city must have, for moving people around. And it’s actually a very efficient way of moving people. We’re seeing a lot of activity on the cycle superhighways, and we’re getting about 3,000 people an hour in the peaks, moving along the Embankment. We’re moving five percent more people.’
Get that? Bristow is quite explicitly stating that, even at current usage levels, the superhighways have made roads like the Embankment more efficient than they were before at moving people. This is hardly surprising – 3,000 people per hour in the equivalent of a single motor vehicle lane far exceeds the ability of such a lane to carry people in private motor vehicles.
So when it comes to ‘the matter of how much they are being used’, as Hill phrases it – well, let’s put it like this. If you think cycling infrastructure is a bad idea because the numbers of users fall away, outside of peak times, you are effectively arguing that roads should be made less efficient at times when that efficiency is most needed. No amount of anecdotes about how few people cycling you see outside peak times will change that blunt reality.
None of this should be surprising given Hill’s eagerness to distribute a discredited statistic about how much road space has been reallocated to cycling in London. Nor should it be surprising that Hill’s article also covers, again, other familiar territory, claiming that the new Deputy Mayor for Transport Val Shawcross believes ‘cycling policy should not only be about servicing the existing (and rather narrow) commuter and otherwise committed cyclist demographic but properly recognising others’ interests too’ – interpreting this to mean a
pointer to a broad, consensual approach, seeking to harmonise and give equal weight to the needs of cyclists and pedestrians and to introducing new infrastructure with the greatest possible consent.
But unfortunately this is a misreading of what Shawcross actually said.
“I’m really keen the cycling work we do isn’t just about the commuter cyclists, it’s about the little short journeys, not necessarily for work. It might be mums, it might be the retired, so the local communities get the benefits of this.”
In other words, designing for cycling shouldn’t just be about commuting, it should be about designing for all other kinds of cycling trips – cycling trips by mothers, and by elderly people, for instance. When Shawcross refers to policy ‘not just being about commuter cyclists’ she is explicitly talking about making cycling itself more inclusive, and not about watering down cycling policy to create ‘equal weight with pedestrians’, a spin Hill has added himself. (Note – ‘equal weight’ with pedestrians would actually mean cycling infrastructure on every main road, lowering the level of danger people cycling have to safe to an equivalent level to those who choose to walk).
Hill has evidently leapt on the ‘commuting cyclist’ term without pausing to look at what Shawcross actually said, which is unsuprising given his evident obsession with a desire to paint cycling in London as dominated by white middle class, middle-aged men, speeding to work, a conclusion not borne out by actual statistics.
The problem for Hill is that the very best way to enable cycling beyond the allegedly narrow demographic he repeatedly refers to – to enable cycling by women, by kids, by the elderly – is to build precisely the kind of infrastructure his own articles keep denigrating. This is the conclusion of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine report he keeps tediously linking to –
In cities where cycling uptake is low, the challenge for healthy public policy is perhaps to de-couple cycling from the rather narrow range of healthy associations it currently has, and provide an infrastructure in which anyone can cycle, rather than just those whose social identities are commensurate with being ‘a cyclist’.
Building cycleways is the very best way of achieving inclusivity. Not building them limits cycling to the people who are only prepared to cycle in hostile conditions on the road network.
You might argue Hill’s position on cycling infrastructure is disingenuous. I couldn’t possibly comment.