I couldn’t make it to Street Talks on Monday, to hear Mustafa Arif of the London Cycling Campaign discuss the Space for Cycling campaign, although I did manage to follow some of the discussion on Twitter. One tweet in particular stood out -
— Bruce McVean (@brucemcvean) February 24, 2014
That is, how does cycle campaigning break out of the bubble, and convince people who don’t go anywhere near a bike on a day-to-day basis that demanding change is something they should be involved in?
There are no easy answers here, but I think one profitable angle is fun. People who don’t consider themselves ‘cyclists’ will ride bikes at some point during the year, but usually only under certain conditions.
They will ride bikes along seafronts, when they are on holiday.
They will ride bikes around central London on a day out, when the roads are closed for them.
British kids in general like to whizz about on two wheels, even at a very young age.
The trouble is that this experience of cycling – on holiday, or on seafronts, or under certain conditions – does not seem to correspond to the British public’s everyday perception of cycling, which is… not fun. In fact it often looks like absolute misery.
To be clear, I’m not blaming people for wearing hi-visibility clothing, or helmets, or pollution masks. They are a response to generally atrocious road conditions – a way for people to help themselves feel safer.
And those road conditions are the central issue. People cannot imagine themselves cycling around in our towns and cities, even if they are happy to hop on a bike when they are on holiday. It just looks completely foreign, dangerous, even absurd.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Ordinary day-to-day cycling could be as fun and enjoyable as it is on a seafront, or on a day out. We just have to change our streets to allow it.
Cycling to school could be fun.
Cycling in cities could be fun.
Cycling across a busy urban junction could be fun.
Cycling by a dual carriageway could be fun.
Trips from the city into the countryside could be fun.
Cycling around as a family could be fun.
You get the idea.
The challenge, of course, is convincing the British that this fun, stress-free mode of transport could be available to them on a day-to-day basis, if we want it to be; that it doesn’t have to look like it does now, on the streets of most British cities and towns.
Can we bridge that gap? I hope so.
We borrow the phrase from the CPRE campaign and its opposition to the National Networks National Policy Statement which is out to consultation. CPRE have a helpful page for those of you (like , regrettably, us) who have let this one slip by. Essentially the NNNP statement is based on Department for Transport thinking which we commented on last year. Below is what we sent in – do try and send in a reply by the end of 26th February 2014.
Dear Department for Transport,
I am writing to you because the Road Danger Reduction Forum opposes the draft National Networks National Policy Statement you are consulting on. You are:
• Making official forecasts of traffic increasing by 46% by 2040 unchallengeable, even though traffic has stabilised at 2003 levels. More importantly, the urgent need is to REDUCE motor vehicle traffic rather than assume it will increase.
• Your return to what CPRE and others call “Roman-style road building with roads that plough straight through Green Belts, nationally treasured landscapes, ancient woodland and wildlife sites” etc. will generate more motor vehicular traffic and exacerbate any attempts to control problems of mass motor vehicular use such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, noxious emissions, danger, community severance, visual intrusion, loss of local community, children’s independent mobility, healthy travel etc.
While this proposal is a terrible threat to public health, local and global environments etc., this document, the first national road and rail policy, is a fantastic opportunity to plan transport better. Instead we would like the policy to:
• Commit to extending the rural rail network and improve its resilience.
• Require better facilities on the main road network to get new bus and coach services moving and, for shorter distances, to make cycling and walking safer and easier.
• Roll out nationally the measures used so successfully at the 2012 Olympics to prevent congestion by reducing the need to travel and demand for road space. These would be particularly effective to manage growth of van traffic.
* Commit to increasing costs of motor vehicular use and levels of road traffic law enforcement which, while valuable and necessary in their own right, would reduce the amount of motor vehicular traffic and the supposed need for more road building.
Dr. Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum
Could one of the biggest barriers to the implementation of the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling be… the Mayor himself?
I ask, because of an extraordinary discussion at the Transport for London Board Meeting on the 5th February, kindly uploaded to Youtube by Tom Kearney.
Here’s what Boris had to say during this discussion of cycling in the capital. (If you wish to listen for yourself, this passage starts at around 7min30).
What we did, for instance, between the Bow roundabout and Stratford – we’ve taken huge amounts of road, because, basically, there isn’t much traffic there. But, on the Embankment, for instance, it might be that some of those lavish-looking drawings just produce too much congestion.
…. I think one of the reasons you’ve got to go for segregation is partly demonstrative. You’ve got to show to potentially timid, new cyclists that a lot of work is being done to try to help them. You’ve got to show the world that cycling is stuff that is going on in a big way in London. But for my money (actually it’s all of our money) the best investment you can make, I think, is just in designating large sections of the road network… as places where you are going to find loads of cyclists. That was the philosophy behind the Cycle Superhighways. I still think it’s the right way to go. I still think, broadly speaking, an integrationist approach is the right way to go. What you want to create is a culture amongst all road users of all classes that cycling is going to take place, in a big way, on this road. And you’re not going to have segregation everywhere… It costs too much, and in my view, speaking as a cyclist, once you get beyond a certain level of proficiency, it is totally pointless. Totally pointless.
For instance, on the stretch between Stratford and Bow, you’ve got this beautiful oxbow lake kind of thing that goes off behind the bus stop – floating bus stops – at colossal expense. I forgot to use it the other day. Y’know, because I was just bombing down the road. And lots of cyclists will take that attitude.
There is so much wrong with this it provokes the question at the start of this post. On the basis of what Boris is saying here it appears that Andrew Gilligan – the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner – will have to fight against the attitudes of the Mayor himself to implement the policies in the Mayor’s Vision.
Boris explicitly states here that, in his eyes, the purpose of segregation is simply demonstrative. To ‘show’ people that something is being done - even if he doesn’t agree with the policy.
Boris still thinks that the old form of the Superhighways – without any separation at all, and just a blue stripe on the road, ‘is the right way to go’.
Boris thinks that ‘creating a culture’ amongst road users that cycling is ‘going to take place’ on this road is the way forward – an ‘integrationist’ approach.
Boris thinks that segregation is ‘totally pointless’ as an intervention, ‘once you get beyond a certain level of proficiency’.
That is – Boris is apparently only thinking about ‘cyclists’ like himself; not about what the vast majority of Londoners might want. He is not listening to what campaigners are demanding. He is denigrating the very policies that will be required to increase cycling levels in London in any significant way.
These comments are so clueless I had to double-check the date – but yes, they were uttered just a few weeks ago. Shocking.
The epithet ‘kerb nerds’ seems to have been coined to describe those people who think that, on roads that carry a certain volume of motor traffic, travelling at a certain speed, cycling as a mode of transport should not share the same physical space as that motor traffic.
This label tends to ignore the fact that the Dutch model of cycle provision – which ‘kerb nerds’ like me tend to highlight as best practice – actually involves a surprisingly small amount of this kind of lateral separation. The Dutch employ other methods – usually falling under the umbrella of ‘unbundling’ – to separate cycling from motor traffic. Motor traffic is removed from the vast majority of streets in urban areas, concentrated on a larger grid of distributor roads, or displaced onto through roads. (Bypasses genuinely are bypasses in the Netherlands).
‘Kerb nerds’ don’t believe in cycle tracks everywhere. They’re just another tool in the toolbox – one which, for some reason, a certain group of cycle campaigners insist on ruling out anywhere.
Beyond this basic misunderstanding, the label ‘kerb nerds’ also serves to overstate the important of kerbs in creating physical separation on the routes that actually require it. I suspect the problem here is that the people most vigorously opposed to ‘kerbs’ are only aware of the kind of physical segregation they see on a day-to-day basis, in the places where they live in Britain. (This is the most charitable explanation – wilful ignorance of Dutch practice is another).
This is the kind of physical separation they might be imagining – a hard step down into the carriageway, then a hard step back up over another set of kerbs.
I can only assume it is this type of cycle provision that – to take just one example – Councillor Vincent Stops of Hackney has in mind when he writes things like -
The problem with kerbs
At the heart of the cyclecentric, separated space campaign is a desire to see additional kerbs installed to “protect cyclists from motor vehicles” or for cyclists to be diverted onto the pavement in tracks, for example around the back of bus stops… This is said to benefit cyclists, but ignores the problems that will be caused to pedestrians, particularly older people and the visually and mobility impaired. Pedestrians (whom hitherto transport planners have put at the top of the transport hierarchy) want to see wide, level, continuous and clear pavements and to be able to cross the street at will. Pedestrians do not want additional kerbs and complexity introduced into the street. Pedestrians do not want to have to look out for cyclists on the pavement, nor do they want to have to cross a cycle track and perch on a foot wide kerb before crossing the carriageway.
The introduction of kerbs and the paraphernalia of separated tracks flies in the face of years of work to establish that our streets are not there simply to cater for movement, but are also places for public life. Just at the time that walking policy has made a shift towards reduced segregation – for example by the removal of guard railing etc. – and more shared space some cycle bloggers and campaigners want to shift cycling provision towards more separation.
His post has this picture of a ‘cycle track’ in it, apparently to demonstrate what ‘kerb nerbs’ want to install on every street in London.
This is the contraflow cycle track on Pitfield Street, Hackney, which Cllr Stops writes
serves a cycling function, but by no stretch of the imagination can this be described as an attractive and walkable street. For able bodied pedestrians it’s horrible to cross, for older people and disabled pedestrians it is un-passable. It is poor urban design.
Here’s the thing - kerb nerds would agree with this description.
There shouldn’t be any need for this kind of treatment on Pitfield Street – it could have motor traffic removed on it, through filtered permeability, or through opposing one-way systems. The parallel main roads, the A10 and the A1200 should be taking the through traffic.
But more than this. Cycle tracks do not need to look like the one Pitfield Street. They do not need to resemble ‘trip hazards’, or obstructions.
How many miles of trip hazards is Boris going to install. I’m sure Hackney will continue to focus on what’s important for cycling and peds.
— Vincent Stops (@VincentStops) March 7, 2013
Good cycle tracks – the kinds ‘kerb nerds’ want to see – are not something anyone will trip over.
Now of course it is undeniable that cycle tracks represent something ‘extra’ to cross, if you want to walk from one side of the road to the other. But this isn’t necessarily worse. How much harder is it to cross a busy road, with cycles in the traffic stream, than it is to cross the road in stages, with cycles subtracted from that general traffic stream? (Indeed, how many people on that route are cycling, instead of driving, because the environment is attractive to do so?)
And, rather than presenting barriers to Dutch people with mobility problems, cycle tracks are liberating – they are an excellent way to get about.
If cycle tracks are designed well, then the distinction between ‘pedestrians’ and ‘cyclists’ disappears. Cycle tracks are simply another way for people – everyone - to get about, not just ‘cyclists’.
Only if you have a fixed conception of what a ‘cyclist’ could possibly be would you describe cycle tracks as ‘cyclecentric’. They aren’t barriers; quite the opposite.
The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain has more detail on what good cycle tracks should look like.
You might be the kind of person who thinks that someone riding a bike should do everything possible to make themselves visible to drivers. That they should wear hi-visibility jackets. That they should be reflective, and illuminated.
Well, if you ever cross the road at night, you might want to pay attention to what judgements that are emerging from courts – judgements like this one - might mean for the clothing you have to wear.
A MINICAB driver who struck a pedestrian in Kingsbury has been cleared of causing death by careless driving.
Wahidullah Hoori, 41, had just turned off Edgware Road in Kingsbury when his 05-reg Seat Alambra people carrier hit Barry Southgate as the slow-moving 64-year-old crossed Kingsbury Road, at 11.50pm on April 11 2012.
Mr Southgate, of Theobald Crescent, Harrow, died nine days later from his injuries at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London.
Prosecutor Nicholas Bleaney told jurors: “The prosecution say he should have seen him and had plenty of opportunity to see him and Mr Southgate was doing nothing dramatic.
“He was walking along at a relatively slow, pedestrian speed – something any driver in any part of the country, particularly in London, has to deal with all the time.
“He did not suddenly come out from behind a tree and his movements, we say, were pretty obvious. Speed isn’t an issue. The turn was conducted at a normal speed. The accident, we say, was caused by carelessness.
“He [Hoori] should have stopped in time to avoid a collision or at the very least swerved to avoid him.”
Mr Southgate had helped plaster a wall at a friend’s house before he and his friend went for a drink at The Moon Under Water in Varley Parade, The Hyde in Colindale, where the victim drank two pints of real ale.
His bus home sped past as the two left the pub and so Mr Southgate, who was also known as Barry O’Reilly, decided at 11.30pm to walk down Edgware Road and had just turned the corner into Kingsbury Road when he was hit by the nearside front grill of Hoori’s minicab.
Mr Bleaney said the defendant made a statement to police that he had been working since 2pm on the day of the collision, that he had had a day off the previous day and had consumed neither alcohol or drugs before the crash.
Witness Raluca Frunza told the court: “I saw the old man. He was on the other side of the road. He was walking really slowly because he was on crutches. He was not using [the traffic island] to cross the road. I heard a noise like a metal-to-metal noise and heard a male scream, a yell, and then I realised that the car had hit the old man.
“I saw a lot of blood on the floor.”
There is some more detail on this case from the ‘expert witness’ providers, Wayman Experts, who provided ‘expert witness’ testimony in court, that appears, by their own estimation, to have contributed to the driver being found not guilty.
Mr Dave Burgess of Wayman Experts was instructed in this matter following a road traffic collision that occurred on the A4006 Kingsbury Road, London at approximately 2353 hours Tuesday April 10th 2012.
Mr Hoori, the driver of a Seat Alhambra taxi, collided with a pedestrian who sustained fatal injuries. During their investigation the Police obtained CCTV footage of the movement of both the pedestrian and vehicle immediately prior to impact, although the collision itself was not in view of the camera.
The prosecution alleged that the pedestrian should have been seen and that there were no obstacles preventing Mr Hoori from seeing the pedestrian.
The pedestrian was wearing dark outer clothing and walking with the aid of at least one crutch at a slow pace.
Within his report Mr Burgess highlighted a number of issues, to include the blind spot created by the vehicle ‘A’ pillar and the pedestrian conspicuity. [my emphasis]
Following a trial at Wood Green CC, the jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty to the charge of Causing Death by Careless Driving.
What does this all mean?
It means that if you are walking in a lit, urban area at night, wearing ordinary clothes, and you are struck and killed by a driver who should reasonably be able to see you as you cross a road, that driver will be found not guilty due, in part, to your lack of ‘conspicuity’.
Don’t think that wearing hi-visibility clothing is just a ‘cycling’ issue.
Following the initial concerns raised on our website before Xmas 2013, the Road Danger Reduction Forum has come together with other organisations to explain our concerns to, and ask for action from, Transport for London. Along with the RDRF they are the London Cycling Campaign; CTC: the national cycling charity; RoadPeace: the national charity for road crash victims; and TABS: the Association of Bikeability Schemes:
The organisations that have signed this document have agreed the following statements about stickers aimed at cyclists on the rear of commercial vehicles in London.
(1) The ‘cyclists stay back’ wording is not acceptable for use on any vehicle, because of its implication that cyclists are second-class road users who should defer to motor vehicle users. It also undermines the responsibility of drivers of such vehicles to use their nearside mirrors as required by the Highway Code in Rules 159,161,163, 169, 179, 180, 182, 184, and 202. Non-use of nearside mirrors is associated with a significant proportion of incidents where cyclists are hit by motor vehicles.
(2) It is not appropriate to have stickers aimed at cyclists on the back of any vehicle smaller than a heavy goods vehicle.
(3) Stickers are appropriate on the rear of high-cab lorries, because of these vehicles’ blind areas, and the resultant danger to other road users.
(4) Stickers on lorries should be worded as warnings rather than commands, with appropriate graphics. A suitable graphic is attached
Accordingly, we ask for the following to be done immediately:
(1) FORS to instruct their members to remove ‘cyclists stay back’ stickers from all vehicles except high-cab heavy goods vehicles, by the end of March.
(2) London Buses to instruct operators to remove ‘cyclists stay back’ stickers from all buses, until such time as a more appropriate design and wording is agreed with cycling organisations, by the end of March.
(3) TfL to inform all other vehicle operators, such as Hackney carriages (LTDA etc.) that TfL do not want such stickers to be used on their vehicles, by the end of March.
(4) TfL to develop and produce a more appropriate sticker for heavy goods vehicles, similar to the one attached to this statement, and agree the design and wording with cycling organisations, by the end of May.
(5) TfL to supply the new sticker to freight operators, with instructions only to use it on high-cab lorries. This should be in widespread use by the end of August, with no ‘cyclists stay back’ stickers remaining after this date.
(6) TfL to invest in designing and promoting use of lorries that do not have blind spots around the cab. Stickers are, literally, a sticking-plaster solution. The long-term solution includes designing out the source of the danger by engineering lorries to reduce or eliminate the possibility of cyclists and pedestrians being crushed in collisions with them, engineering the highway to reduce potential conflict, eliminating lorry driver “blind spots”, and by training drivers to check their mirrors properly when turning or changing lane.
(signed)for CTC, Roger Geffen for LCC, Charlie Lloyd for RDRF, Dr Robert Davis for Roadpeace, Amy Aeron-Thomas for TABS (The Association of Bikeability Schemes) David Dansky
Not having anything new to post, but having been reminded of this antique scrawl by last week’s Cycling Embassy response to the Department for Communities and Local Government’s consultation on whether they should interfere in local parking policies, I figured I could fob you off with something originally posted way back in august 2011.
This week, the Department for Communities and Local Government put out a press release about town centre parking. Unlike last time, they didn’t even have to announce that Pickles is ending The War On The Motorist™. On that point, their work was done for them, by 36 newspapers and the Daily Express. Aren’t they well trained?
This time around, Rubberknickers Pickles is ending The War by lifting restrictions on how much of our town centres can be given over to car parking. The idea is nothing new, of course, but it is assumed that most will have forgotten the previous occasions when it was announced. The “news” is that the paperwork has gone through: the new version of the government’s planning rules are complete.
As far as I can tell, the notorious limits on car parking provision that have been dropped were Policy EC8, “Car parking for non-residential development,” in the Planning Policy Statement 4 of 2001 [PDF]. This policy instructs local authorities:
Local planning authorities should, through their local development frameworks, set maximum parking standards for non-residential development in their area, ensuring alignment with the policies in the relevant local transport plan and, where relevant, the regional strategy.
In determining what their maximum should be, the policy suggested that authorities think about the needs of non-car users, the effects of congestion and need to tackle carbon emissions and air pollution, and:
h. the need to make provision for adequate levels of good quality secure parking in town centres to encourage investment and maintain their vitality and viability
j. the need to provide for appropriate disabled parking and access
k. the needs of different business sizes and types and major employers
That is, the notorious Labour control-freakery over town centre parking was, er, an instruction for local authorities to develop guidelines that they think are suitable for their own local situations. The Policy document goes on to state that these local standards that authorities have developed should then be applied to planning applications — unless the planning applicant gives a good reason for them not to apply.
So these maximum limits are locally decided and not really binding. That doesn’t quite look like “centrally controlled parking quotas” to me. In his press release, Pickles says:
The Government believes councils and communities are best placed to set parking policies that are right for their area and based on local need – not Whitehall. Local people know the level of parking that is sustainable for their town centre.
Which seems to be exactly what the old Policy document supported.
Perhaps there was some other Labour policy, rule, or law that I haven’t been able to find? Anybody?
I’m not sure what real difference the removal of this policy makes. Previously councils were made to think about the effect of congestion and pollution and the like on their town centres, and the needs of people on foot and bike and bus. When a planning application came in they would know how to recognise whether it would be bad for their town, and they would have a good pre-prepared excuse to reject a development that would make their town centre a more congested and polluted place, or which would hinder walking, cycling, and public transport. But I assume that they’re still allowed to reject those developments if they still don’t like congestion and pollution and dead places?
But perhaps the new policy document will send a message to local authorities: your town centres are in a bad way, and you need to do something about it. In his press release, Pickles says that the removal of this rule will “provide a big boost to struggling high streets”:
The new draft National Planning Policy Framework, recently published, will do away with these anti-car restrictions introduced in 2001 and give high streets a boost to compete for shoppers. It will encourage new investment in town centres, provide more jobs and encourage more charging spaces for electric cars.
Unfortunately, Pickles doesn’t explain how the new Policy will translate into more competitive town centres with more jobs. More importantly, he presents no evidence to support the statement. So I went looking for it. Luckily, Greg Marsden has already reviewed the evidence on parking policies.
One of the studies that Marsden reviews is the 2002 Lockwood Survey, which divides “town centres” by size of the town/catchment area, and whose summary states:
4. Findings of the parking survey:
Major District Centres: Poor store performance is linked with low levels of parking, reliance on car parks more than 5 minutes walk from prime shopping streets and high charges (the report gives indicative levels).
Sub Regional Centres: Poor store performance is linked with reliance on car parks more than 5 minutes walk from prime shopping streets and high charges (the report gives indicative levels).
Regional Centres: Poor store performance is linked with high charges for 3 and 4 hour stays (the report gives indicative levels).
But when Marsden looked at the data he found it a lot more difficult to support these conclusions. In “major district centres”, those with very low levels of parking were indeed more likely to be performing badly. But those with mildly low levels of parking did better than those with high levels. And in regional centres, those with higher levels of parking were struggling more than those with lower levels. But those with very high levels of parking did a little better than those with very low levels.
There simply doesn’t seem to be any pattern in this data at all. The authors of the original report had cherry picked those parts of the data that made it look like low parking provision was harming shops, while ignoring those parts that said the reverse. Marsden found the same for parking charges and the proportion of parking spaces within a five minute walk of the main shopping area: the data was all over the place, showing no obvious and consistent relationship with economic performance. Why not? Because if variation in parking provision has any effect on town centre attractiveness and competitiveness at all, it is masked by far more important factors — perhaps factors like whether the town centre is easy to get to, has shops people want to use, and is a nice place to be.
So why is Pickles press releasing his new policy as the saviour for struggling town centres? Why did most of the newspapers toe that line? We’ve developed a national myth that giving over more of our town centres to parking is good for the businesses in them.
Sustrans documented the nature of this myth by talking to traders and shoppers on Gloucester Road in Bristol. Bristol is relatively dense and affluent with above average cycling and car ownership rates and, even by British standards, appalling public transport. Gloucester Road doubles as a major artery with many bus routes and a neighbourhood centre lined with mostly independent shops. As Bristol Traffic documents, its bus and bike lanes are usually filled with parked cars.
Not Gloucester Road, but a near-by case study which might teach us some things about why town centres are in decline
Shopkeepers on Gloucester road estimated that more than two fifths of their customers came by car. In fact it was only just over a fifth. They greatly underestimated how many people walked, cycled, or took the bus. The shopkeepers were perhaps being big-headed, believing that their businesses were capable of attracting people from a wider catchment area, when in fact most customers lived within an easily walkable distance.
And the shopkeepers greatly overestimated the importance of drivers to their business in another way: while the people who walked were likely to stick around and visit several shops and businesses, the drivers typically pulled up, ran in to one shop, and got out of there as fast as they could. Perhaps that’s because often they couldn’t even be bothered to park up properly and instead stopped in the bike lanes outside their destination.
High street shopkeepers and business owners greatly overestimate the importance of drivers to their success. Why? Perhaps proprietors are more likely to be drivers themselves, and, as is so often the case with motorists, can’t get their heads around the fact that so many others aren’t? Perhaps their view of the street through the big shop window is dominated by the big metal boxes passing through? Perhaps they see the apparent success of the big soulless out-of-town supermarkets and shopping malls, attribute that success to the acres of car parking, and leap to the conclusion that car parking is all that a business needs for success — that the model which succeeds on the periphery can be applied to the model that is failing in the centre.
I suspect that the opposite might be true. Those who are attached to their cars will go to the barns on the ring-roads. You won’t attract them back to the town centres. But by trying — by providing for the car parking at the expense of bike paths and bus lanes and wider pavements — you might drive away the surprisingly high proportion of town centre customers who don’t come by car, who come precisely because, unlike the malls, the town centre is walkable and cycleable and because the bus can get through. Town centres aren’t just competing with out-of-town malls and supermarkets any more. Those who don’t want to drive to out-of-town barns can sit at home, click on some buttons, and have things driven to them. Compared to most of the traffic-choked high streets in this country, that’s quite an attractive option.
Imagine that you are responsible for improving the walking environment in an area where walking rates are exceptionally low – perhaps making up around a few percent of all trips that are made.
You would probably start thinking about the kind of changes that would be required to make walking a pleasant, attractive and obvious option.
Routes for walking would have to be direct. They would have to be free from stress and danger, and obstructions. They would have to be convenient, and be of suitable width. And they would have to go everywhere that people needed to go.
You would, ideally, like to end up with a dense walking network, which has all these qualities. In short, you would be designing for walking, to ensure that it makes sense as a mode of transport in its own right.
After this period of abstract thought, you reach for your bookshelves, and pull out the official guidance, published by the Department for Transport – Walking Infrastructure Design.
You start reading the Introduction.
Planning and designing high-quality infrastructure involves developing individual site specific solutions, but there are some common requirements that need to be satisfied. The underpinning principle is that measures for pedestrians should offer positive provision that reduces delay or diversion and improves safety.
Sounds good! You read on.
When designing improvements to walking infrastructure, the hierarchy of provision (Table 1.2) offers useful guidance on the steps to be considered.
Eagerly, you flick to this Table 1.2, which offers ‘guidance on the steps to be considered’. You discover that the first ‘step’ you should consider is
Traffic volume reduction
‘Traffic volume reduction’? You scratch your head.
This makes little sense. What does this have to do with walking, and improving the environment for walking? ‘Traffic’ (meaning motor traffic) is an entirely different mode of transport; shouldn’t a manual for improving walking infrastructure focus on precisely that?
Perhaps, you wonder, the Hierarchy of Provision in ‘Bus Infrastructure Design’ suggests considering first ‘train travel reduction’, or ‘plane travel reduction’.
But of course it doesn’t, and nor does ‘Walking Infrastructure Design’ (mainly because neither of these documents exist). However, Cycling Infrastructure Design does exist, and unfortunately it suggests you go about planning for improving the cycling environment in precisely this unfathomable way – by suggesting you reduce an entirely different mode of transport as a first step.
A strong objection here is that the Hierarchy is confusing policy with outcome. Reducing motor traffic should be the result of improving the environment for walking and cycling, yet it is presented here as the actual design policy.
But an even stronger objection is that the Hierarchy fails to focus on what it should actually be dealing with – the bicycle. In a recent lecture, Professor John Parkin described the Hierarchy of Provision as
a completely inappropriate way of planning for cycling. It denies the existence of cycling a a distinct mode.
Indeed, the Hierarchy represents
planning for cycling with reference to another mode, rather than designing for cycling itself.
It’s hard to disagree with this assessment. As I’ve argued before, the Hierarchy of Provision embodies the historical fixation of cycling campaigning on fighting motor traffic. The focus here is not on improving the environment for cycling, but on abstract goals that may, or may not, have side benefits for cycling.
It is woolly and unfocused, and when used as a planning tool we find that it is all too easy to skip through all the steps and end up right at the bottom, with the conversion of footways to ‘shared use’ – because this is the easiest option. Indeed, at this same lecture, a transport planner working for a client mentioned that the scheme she was implementing involved shared use pavements – not because this was the best design solution, but because that was what the council wanted. And the Hierarchy does little or nothing to stop councils plumping for this option.
At another lecture last week, I heard Keith Firth of SKM Colin Buchanan stating that
What’s great about the Hierarchy of Provision is that infrastructure is quite a long way down the list.
Well, this might be true in an ideal world, a world in which councils would actually consider the wholesale removal of motor traffic from their towns, reducing the need for the amount of physical alteration needed to the street environment. But unfortunately we don’t live an ideal world, and that means the fact that design solutions that might be very, very important in particular contexts are ‘a long way down the list’ is actually a serious problem.
Dutch town and city centres, while often largely devoid of private motor traffic, do not simply relegate physical infrastructure into last place. Even on wide roads that only carry a limited amount of motor traffic, we still find the same kind of cycling infrastructure that would be appropriate on much busier roads.
This kind of approach makes no sense according to the Hierarchy, because it is a combination of serious motor traffic reduction, and physical separation. The difference flows from the fact that the Dutch design for cycling. They design to make sure that cycling is comfortable, safe, attractive and convenient. They don’t design for it with reference to other modes of transport.
The other manifestation of the curious way we design for cycling around other modes of transport is the distinction we have between ‘on carriageway’ and ‘off carriageway’ provision. We can have ‘on carriageway’ cycle lanes that, protected by a kerb, amount to a cycle track. But we can also have ‘off carriageway’ provision that essentially amounts to the same thing.
The distinction is hard to fathom, but it stems, again, from a failure to design for cycling as a mode of transport in its own right. ‘On carriageway’ means treating bicycle traffic like motor traffic; ‘off carriageway’ means treating it like walking traffic. In other words – how do we fit cycling in, around other modes of transport.
But we shouldn’t be thinking like this. We need a comprehensive approach to planning for bicycle use, that starts from the kind of thinking we would employ for designing walking networks, and ensures the quality of routes, whatever kind of treatment is appropriate at a local level.
We need to design for cycling in its own right.
Thanks to John Parkin for providing the inspiration for this piece