A brand new section of road in Horsham – widened and rebuilt at the location of a new development – tells you everything you need to know about how ‘the highway design machine’ across the vast majority of this country still trundles along in its complacent way, taking no account of the needs of people who might want to cycle, or even those who are currently cycling.
The site of this development – Parsonage Road – has dreadful cycle lanes along it, barely 70cm wide.
Industrial units along this road mean that there is plenty of HGV traffic on it. The photograph above is a typical reflection of traffic levels at busier periods of the day.
The new development – which has seen the road being widened, at the expense of the greenery seen on the left in the photograph – should have been a perfect opportunity to build-in high quality cycling infrastructure for at least the short stretch of road being improved.
But evidently that was too difficult. The new road has cycle lanes that are exactly the same width as the dreadful pre-existing ones. 70cm wide.
A new verge has been created; the implication here is that grass is more important than the safety or comfort of anyone attempting to ride a bicycle down this road.
The road has been widened by around 50% – but only to make space for a turning lane for motor traffic, so that nobody is held up while driving. The cycle lanes are exactly the same width as they were before.
How this location looked back in 2012, courtesy of Google Streetview.
All the trees on the right have gone. The 2015 equivalent of those kids cycling on the footway will still be cycling on the footway today, rather than attempting to use a paltry 70cm strip right at the edge of a thunderous road.
Prior to this development going in, the local cycle forum had asked for protected cycleways as part of the highway changes, and subsequent to that had been promised 1.5m lanes.
Plainly, cycle campaigns and cycle forums shouldn’t even have to be doing this job. They shouldn’t have to chase up highway engineers and developers in their spare time in an attempt to persuade them not to build total crap. It just shouldn’t happen. Doing a proper job, in this instance, would have cost nothing extra, but institutional inertia within West Sussex County Council – that essentially amounts to not giving a toss about cycling as a mode of transport – means that the pre-existing crap is simply reinstated.
I’m not even jumping to conclusions here. Here is the actual defence that West Sussex County Council have produced in response to complaints about these cycle lanes.
A West Sussex County Council spokesman said: “These highway works are associated with a new residential development of 160 dwellings on the former Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Limited site.
“The works are not yet fully complete. They involve adjusting the existing kerb lines to improve pedestrian facilities and refuge islands, and a new right turn lane access into the site.
“The designer has had to manage competing demands for road space. The advisory lanes are below the desirable 1.5m – however they were like that before the scheme was implemented and this is not out keeping with the advisory lines on the remainder of the marked advisory route (beyond the scope of these works).
The ‘competing demands for roadspace’ explanation is both glib and bogus. Glib because the finished product tells us plainly that the designer weighed up the ‘competing demand’ of removing potential minor inconvenience to motorists against the ‘competing demand’ of the safety and comfort of anyone cycling, and plumped for the former. And it’s bogus because high-standard cycle provision could have been included in this design anyway; it’s just that nobody bothered to do so.
More telling, however, is the spokesman’s comforting explanation that the cycle lanes ‘were like that before’.
Well, yes. They were. They were crap before, and they’re crap afterwards. (In fact, in context, they are slightly worse, given that pinch points in the form of crossing refuges have now been added to the road). Quite plainly, West Sussex do not even think that this is a problem. They think that pre-existing crap cycle lanes, or crap cycle lanes elsewhere, mean it is perfectly acceptable to keep on doing the same terrible job.
So here’s what I’m proposing. I’m going to call it The Gummer Test, named in honour of the Minister of Agriculture who, at the height of the BSE crisis, attempted to feed a beef burger to his daughter.
The Gummer Test would involve highway engineers, council officers or developers involved in these kinds of decisions to put their young child on a bike, and letting them cycle independently on the ‘infrastructure’ they think it’s acceptable for ‘cyclists’ to use.
Not only would this quickly bring into sharp focus the shortcomings of a bit of paint 70cm from the kerb line on a main road, it would also change the mindset of these people before any design decisions are made. Complacent shrugs about something tokenistic for ‘cyclists’ would necessarily have to be replaced by hard thinking about genuine, safe, comfortable and inclusive design for all potential users.
Highway engineers, councillors and planners in the Netherlands would, I suspect, happily sit this kind of test – because they build cycling infrastructure that is suitable for all ages and abilities.
The failings of dreadful infrastructure like 70cm cycle lanes, bus lanes ‘for cyclists’, narrowed carriageways on busy roads, Advanced Stop Lines, ‘Quietways’ that really aren’t anything more than a bicycle symbol painted on the road, and so on, would quickly be exposed by The Gummer Test.
These various forms of rubbish are only tolerated because those responsible are not exposed to the consequences of their designs. They can put a bit of paint at the side of the road, safe in the knowledge that it’s exactly the same as it was before, and besides, isn’t this kind of thing that gets splashed down everywhere else?
A Gummer Test – or something like it – would rapidly change that attitude.
A new cycling (and walking) bridge has recently been opened in the Dutch city of Zwolle. It’s an attractive structure, around 50m long and 7.5m wide – nothing particularly remarkable by Dutch standards.
— johan witteveenCU (@johanwitteveen) December 7, 2015
— Ilse Bloemhof (@IBloemhof) December 7, 2015
You can read an article about the opening here (albeit a slightly garbled Google translate of it.)
What is remarkable (to me at least) is the purpose of this bridge. It doesn’t cross a river, or a railway line, or some other physical barrier that couldn’t be crossed without it. It only crosses a road where there was already an existing (direct) singe-stage cycle crossing, which I used a number of times when I visited Zwolle in the summer earlier this year.
I didn’t find the delay particularly remarkable; perhaps only 30 seconds or so, each time I used it. In fact in the video I took (in the post, below), it so happens that I wasn’t delayed, at all.
You can see that crossing (and the road) on Streetview. Six lanes are crossed in one go.
Now that the bridge is open, it has taken this crossing completely out of the equation. The road is now crossed on the new cycle bridge, which runs approximately parallel to the railway bridge just visible in the background. The road can be crossed without any delay, and in complete safety. In essence, the purpose of this whole major construction project is simply… to remove a minor bit of inconvenience for people cycling.
Here is my video, taken using the route the bridge will replace. As you can see, it’s actually very good by British standards – but evidently not good enough. The bridge will remove the potential for any delay.
Now that the bridge is in place, the new developments to the north of Zwolle are connected to the city centre without any traffic lights at all. Another major road is crossed on another spectacular bridge, all part of this same route, allowing painless cycling, right into the city centre, in complete safety.
The reason I had been anticipating the new ‘yellow’ bridge appearing was because I had spotted the engineering works taking place while I cycled past them in the summer. Here is the view northbound, towards the road being crossed.
The earthworks on the right are for the new embankment, a gentle slope rising to meet the location for the new bridge, just to the left of the railway bridge. The picture is taken on a new path, built because the old path (on the right) is too close to the earthworks and the embankment. (Typically for this area of the Netherlands, this cycleway is composed of very smooth concrete.)
This whole project exemplifies of the seriousness with which cycling is taken in the Netherlands. It’s a major engineering scheme, just for cycling, for a pretty minor benefit.
Cities like Zwolle and Utrecht, which already have very high levels of cycling, are pushing for more; not resting on their laurels, but building in extra convenience and safety where they can, even at tremendous expense. It’s amazing to see, and definitely something that Britain can – and should – aspire to.
Last weekend’s Sunday Politics on BBC One devoted a large segment of the programme to the subject of the new Superhighways in London.
A roving reporter had been duly despatched to examine Superhighway 5, running between Oval and Vauxhall Bridge Road. Besides asking drivers sitting in traffic what they thought of the new scheme (a ‘disaster’, unsurprisingly), the reporter managed to capture congestion on the road while the Superhighway was empty, the result of a broken down lorry blocking one of the lanes.
A casual observer would probably come to the conclusion that the Superhighways are therefore a waste of space, ‘causing’ congestion on the road network, for little or no benefit.
But note that the footway here is also empty. Nobody was walking along this road at the time this footage was taken. Is that a problem? Does that mean that under-used footways on both sides of this road – and indeed alongside other congested roads – are ‘causing’ congestion? Should they be trimmed, or even removed altogether?
Only two footists on that footway! Crazy TfL building footways no footists are using – causing gridlock! Remove ‘em pic.twitter.com/CWBpT6pRv8
— Mark Treasure (@AsEasyAsRiding) November 26, 2015
Of course not – nobody thinks like this, because footways are an established part of highway design. Walking is a legitimate way of getting about towns and cities, and we don’t think twice about footways being provided for walking on both sides of the road, even if that is valuable space that could be used to ease congestion for motorists.
Parking of motor vehicles also takes up valuable space on main roads; space that again could ease congestion for motorists. If we look back in time to just last year, we can see that the exact same spot the BBC chose to film a ‘waste of space’ in the form of the new Superhighway, an awful lot of highway space is being ‘wasted’ in the form of on-carraigeway parking, on both sides of the road.
If cycleways ’cause’ congestion, then surely the same is true for the on-street parking in the picture above, which reduced this road to effectively just one lane for motor vehicles at this point.
But again, clogging up through roads with parking in this manner is ‘legitimate’; it’s completely ordinary and background, and nobody bats an eyelid or attributes causality, even when they are stuck in a queue right beside parked vehicles taking up valuable highway space.
If Embankment such a critical through road, why aren’t taxis complaining abt its use as empty all day coach park? pic.twitter.com/OqIcLgDOIe
— cyclistsinthecity (@citycyclists) December 5, 2015
Cycling, by contrast, isn’t ‘legitimate’. It’s not seen as an ordinary mode of transport for everyday people, and that’s why we are seeing these curious reactions to the repurposing of highway space. Unlike footways, bus lanes, and parking bays – all of which take away valuable road space that could be used for free flow for motorists – cycling isn’t taken seriously, even when these new, isolated pieces of infrastructure, that aren’t part of a coherent network of cycle routes, are shifting people more efficiently at peak times than a motor vehicle lane that takes up an equivalent amount of space.
This is also why the BBC Sunday Politics programme – which has never even glanced at the major difficulties people walking around London face on a day-to-day basis, managed to focus with a straight face on the difficulties the Superhighways present to pedestrians.
I doubt that one word has been spoken recently into a BBC camera about junctions in the city where there are no green signals for pedestrians; or junctions where there are no dropped kerbs; or pavements completely obstructed by parked motor vehicles; or awful pig-pen pedestrian fencing; or staggered crossings.
Yet as soon as some cycling infrastructure appears, suddenly previously absent concern for pedestrians materialises, with bus passengers apparently ‘stranded’ on bus stops, as a serious voiceover intones
While they have made the road better for cyclists, have Transport for London really just made it a worse place for pedestrians and people who want to use the bus?
This selective concern for pedestrian comfort again flows from legitimacy, and the established order. The established order has motor traffic flow at the top of the tree, with pedestrians waiting minutes just to cross the road, or corralled into zig-zag crossings, or prevented from crossing roads altogether. This passes without comment, because it is ordinary, and legitimate. We can’t imagine things any other way.
We have systematically – over a period of several decades – made roads and streets in our urban areas very very bad indeed for pedestrians. In that context, asking whether some new cycling infrastructure has made things a bit worse for them is an absurd distortion of priorities, a perspective that only really makes sense against a background assumption that cycling is an ‘illegitimate’ mode of transport in urban areas, that doesn’t deserve serious consideration.
These are problems of perception that will be hard to shift, and perhaps will only be shifted once this new infrastructure -incomplete as it is – itself establishes new patterns of behaviour. Until then it’s worth reminding ourselves that these ‘issues’ with cycling infrastructure really flow from starting assumptions about legitimate uses of road and street space.
I recently rediscovered this sensible Telegraph article about cycling safety from earlier this year. It contains (amongst some useful statistics and comments, particularly from Rachel Aldred) this little anecdote –
There was a hope that the sheer weight of cyclists on the roads would force both drivers and local authorities to create a safer environment. But this has not happened.
One who knows to his cost is John Whiteley, 71, who has been cycling seriously for 55 years – much of it in the dramatic hills surrounding his Halifax home.
John Whiteley, 71, near his Halifax home (Photo: Paul Macnamara/Guzelian)
On January 2 this year, a clear day, he was out with a friend for a pleasure ride on the B6118, a country road that runs around Huddersfield up to the Emley Moor television aerial. As usual, he was wearing his fluorescent orange vest.
“It was about midday. And this Volvo estate came up from behind and the corner of his car hit me.” The impact broke his leg, and he went flying into the grass verge, spraining his ankle into the bargain.
A high visibility jacket in this instance was obviously useless; it failed to deal with the basic problem of a driver who either wasn’t looking, or who failed to overtake with sufficient clearance, at midday, on a bright, clear day.
Likewise it is unlikely that painting yellow stripes on Dartmoor ponies, and cows in the Cotswolds, will make the slightest bit of difference to the rate at which these animals are being killed by drivers.
Bloody hell, this new Chris Morris' Jam is even more surreal than the old stuff. pic.twitter.com/6bPLm49ZCh
— JobRot (@job_rot) November 30, 2015
An earlier trial of reflective collars on cows in Gloucestershire apparently failed to stop road deaths; this has apparently prompted the shift to reflective paint, an idea that seems to have started in Finland, in an attempt to prevent reindeer deaths. 4,000 reindeer are killed every year on Finland’s roads.
A cursory search hasn’t revealed any news on whether these trials of reflective paint on Finnish reindeers have had any effect on the death rate. But that hasn’t stopped Volvo essentially borrowing this reflective paint and promoting it as a cycling safety product – ‘Life Paint’.
Life Paint is the brainchild of spin-doctors, not safety engineers.UK-based Grey London, Volvo’s global creative agency, spent a year developing the Life Paint idea. The paint comes from Swedish startup Albedo100. Prior to supplying its product to Volvo, Albedo100 made headlines by spraying its reflective product on Finnish reindeer, up to 4,000 of which reportedly die in traffic accidents ever year.
“Our job isn’t just to advertise our clients,” Grey London chairman Nils Leonard told Adweek regarding the Life Paint project. “It’s to help them make a positive impact on culture.”
Grey London—and its army of 30-plus people working on the campaign—moved the needle in a way that seat-belt technology and additional airbags don’t. Web stories ahead of free giveaways of a neat product help create real commotion and awareness about a serious, avoidable safety issue for cyclists: visibility.
There’s no evidence of effectiveness; Life Paint is explicitly a marketing gimmick that simultaneously allows Volvo to pretend it cares about ‘safety’ while simultaneously shifting the onus of responsibility onto the people that are being hit, and away from the people doing the hitting, all wrapped up in the issue of ‘visibility’.
What scientific evidence that does actually exist on the effectiveness of high-visibility clothing is mixed, patchy or non-existent. A 2006 Cochrane review found that, while it may improve driver detection during the day,
the effect of visibility aids on pedestrian and cyclist safety remains unknown… Whether visibility aids will make a worthwhile difference needs careful economic evaluation alongside research efforts to quantify their effect on pedestrian and cyclist safety.
In other words, it is not established whether simply being ‘more visible’ makes any difference to whether you actually end up being hit.
A recent literature review is more conclusive.
Wearing visible clothing or a helmet, or having more cycling experience did not reduce the risk of being involved in an accident. Better cyclist-driver awareness and more interaction between car driver and cyclists, and well maintained bicycle-specific infrastructure should improve bicycle safety.
Hi-visibility clothing seems like an obvious safety intervention, but there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that it makes a significant difference at the population level. With more and more people, animals and objects now apparently ripe targets for hi-visibility clothing or paint, this satirical article from 2007 comes ever closer to being reality.
Cyclists in Milton Keynes have reacted angrily to a decision by town planners to make buildings, trees, street furniture and the road itself much easier to see by painting them all luminous green.
… Cars, lorries and pedestrians will also be compelled to be repainted in high-visibility luminous yellow paint while cats, squirrels and urban foxes will also be made more visible, following a study that a number of accidents are caused by drivers swerving to avoid badly lit mammals that have strayed onto the highway.
But local cyclists are furious at the plan that has made them the same colour as their immediate surroundings. ‘We’ve all spent a fortune on these luminous jackets, trousers and cycle clips’ said local cyclist Mark Randle. ‘Suddenly our hi-visibility cycling gear has turned into the most effective camouflage available. Now we’re completely invisible.’
But a cycle shop in the town is cashing in on the crisis by advertising ‘normal clothes’ for cyclists to make them stand out.
It’s been just over a year since we left London to move to the Dutch city of Rotterdam after 10 years of living in the British capital. The reasons for our move were many, and although we miss the roots we put down in London, overall we’ve settled into life here very quickly and easily.
The first 6 months was mostly spent getting settled into a new rented flat (twice the size of our London maisonette) and looking for our new permanent home, which we quickly found out was going to be this old little farm house in the middle of the Zuid Holland countryside.
We spend the next 3 months doing up the farm house and getting it into a state we could live in. We’ve been in for about 3 months now, it makes quite a change from living in the city.
“But how do you get to the city to work?” I hear you ask, good question, glad you asked it. A few weeks ago I tweeted my journey to work, but here I have a little more space to expand on it.
Being a sitting behind a computer at a desk while interacting with real people kind of a professional, I need to get to the office in the city everyday, and so that was priority number one for me. I was used to cycling 8 miles for an hour or so each way in London, so this wasn’t something I was afraid of, but it needed to be a realistic prospect. It turns out we’re about 14km from Rotterdam centre, which although doable is a tough call for me twice a day, so I banked on going multi-modal and mixing in a train trip via Gouda, two stops on the Intercity service from Utrecht.
Gouda is famous for its cheese, and to make cheese you need lots of cows and thus lots of farms. So my morning commute starts me off on a road across the polders between the farms. The road is narrow, single track, with passing places for vehicles, approximately 4 metres wide with water on either side and is pretty straight. The straightness combined with the narrowness means that it’s quite comfortable to ride along, vehicles can see and be seen from a long way off so there’s never a nasty surprise around the corner.
Morning traffic is mostly children cycling to school and people heading out to work from the houses along the road. It’s a through road, but makes up two sides of a square with two provincial roads, so it doesn’t make any sense to use it unless you are accessing property along it.
After a kilometre or two I get to the cycleway across the fields.
It looks (and is signposted) just like a regular side road, but the entranceway is only 2.5 metres across and the big blue cycle sign shows everyone that this road is only for bikes. Warning markings on the road warn traffic of the potential danger of bikes turning in or exiting from the cycleway, although there is no actual road hump/table.
This action shot shows the cycleway. It runs alongside the fields across to the village of Gouderak, linking our road with the village.
To get to Gouderak by car you have to go a longer way around, in principle there’s nothing from stopping this cycleway from having been a fullsized road (in fact it’s used by tractors to access fields) but if it was it’d mean that motor traffic from this direction would have to travel through the residential areas of Gouderak and would have a negative effect on the residents.
Like many villages in the area, Gouderak sits behind the dyke that keeps the river from the polders below.
Once through the houses, you emerge onto the dyke road through the village. This is the main road through the village, it is narrow and twisty with bad sightlines, but as you’d expect for a village street it has a 30kph speed limit and a brick surface that helps calm traffic.
Leaving the village, the surface changes to smooth asphalt with suggestion lines and red asphalt shoulders.
The suggestion lines have the result of visually narrowing the roadway to look singletrack, this is a common treatment in the region for dyke roads that carry motor and bicycle traffic to the villages and where road width is limited by the width of the dyke.
At the end of the dyke road we reach the Gouda ringroad which has a bi-directional cycleway running alongside it.
We join the cycleway and cross the ringroad at the roundabout. Bi-directional cycleways are common on out of town main roads where the cycleway can be physically separated from the roadway by a metre or more of verge, and there are no side turnings and only major junctions (roundabouts or light controlled junctions) with other roads to deal with.
Then we’re off ringroad cycleway and onto the city streets proper. Suggestion lines again but this time in an urban setting.
Overall this section is fine due to the low volume of motor traffic but it’s the worst part of my journey and would be much nicer if separate cycleways were added to each side of the road.
Note that trucks are banned from this road but only overnight (10pm til 6am) presumably due to night time noise.
Finally we reach Gouda train station and hunt for somewhere to park in amongst the sea of parked bicycles.
The journey is just over half an hour all in.
Many people I see cycling to the station cycle much shorter distances from within Gouda or from Gouderak, but there are many high school children cycling as far as myself or further from the villages to the school in Gouda. It is possible to drive and park at the station (€5 per day with a train ticket) but you have to approach the station on the main road from the other direction, the town side of the station has a minimal amount of paid on street parking.
Almost all of what passes for ‘cycling infrastructure’ in Britain has never generated a backlash, for one simple reason. It has never represented a direct challenge to the way our roads and streets are designed to prioritise motor traffic flow, without giving time or space to cycling in a way that might impinge on that prioritisation of motor traffic. That ‘infrastructure’ has never reallocated road space in any meaningful sense.
The cycle lane in the picture above did not generate any controversy when it was painted, because it gives up at the point when things get a bit difficult. A decision was made to allocate the fixed amount of carriageway space on the approach to the roundabout in the distance entirely to motor traffic – two queuing lanes – and so the ‘cycling infrastructure’ had to end. There was no backlash against this painted bicycle symbol, because it didn’t impinge on motoring in the way a protected cycleway, replacing one of those lanes of motor traffic, would.
In much the same way, the old painted lanes on Tavistock Place in London, captured in this photograph from Paul Gannon, generated no backlash – meaningless blobs of paint at the side of the road are not something anyone is going to excited about.
This contrasts starkly with the situation today. Camden Council have reduced the amount of space for motor traffic on this street to just one lane, allocating the rest of it to cycling. The two-way protected track on the north side of the street is now a one-way track, with the westbound motor traffic lane converted to a mandatory cycle lane. This has generated a furious backlash from taxi drivers, in particular.
In places where there is competing demand for the use of road space – in urban areas currently dominated by motor traffic flow – these kinds of decisions about what that space should be used for are inherently political. Reallocating road space, or re-directing motor traffic away from what we think should be access roads onto main roads, are effectively statements about what modes of transport we think people should be using for certain kinds of trips, and about what our roads and streets should be for.
David Arditti has astutely observed that in these places of competing demand, effective measures to enable cycling should be generating a backlash. If there is no backlash, then whatever it is you are doing is unlikely to make any significant difference. If you are designing a Quietway, for instance, and nobody is moaning about it – that probably means you aren’t doing anything to reduce motor traffic levels on the route so that it is genuinely ‘quiet’, or, alternatively, it means you are sending it on a circuitous and indirect route in order to avoid difficult decisions.
If you are designing a route on a main road and there is no backlash, again, something has probably gone wrong. You aren’t reallocating space and time at junctions; you aren’t moving parking bays where they get in the way of your infrastructure; you aren’t dealing with bus stops; you aren’t repurposing motor traffic lanes for cycle traffic.
London is experiencing a significant backlash against cycling infrastructure because, for the very first time, that cycling infrastructure is itself significant. It is a visible and clear statement that cycling should play a role in the transport mix of the city, rather than being completely ignored – it is a challenge to the status quo, rather than being an accommodation with it, in the form of shared use footways, or discontinuous painted lanes. Or (most often) nothing at all.
Of course this backlash is using all the tired, contradictory and even downright confused arguments about cycling infrastructure.
In London, LBC radio seems to have emerged as a mouthpiece for these kinds of arguments, getting particularly excited (for some reason) about the fact that some people aren’t using Superhighway 5.
One of their reporters, Theo Usherwood, stood by the road for half an hour on the bridge, apparently in an attempt to demonstrate that the new infrastructure is pointless because a majority of people cycling northbound aren’t using it.
This is not hard to explain. Heading north across Vauxhall Bridge from the western approach on the gyratory, you would have to bump up onto a shared use footway, then wait for a crossing to get across the road to enter the Superhighway –
… and then deal with a slightly confusing junction on the north side of the river to get back to the left hand side of the road, where you were originally, just a few hundred metres down the road.
Given that there is also a bus lane northbound on the bridge (which the LBC reporter himself mentions someone using), it’s not hard to explain why a good number of people are choosing not to add this inconvenience to their journey. If Usherwood had bothered to ask anyone why they were not using CS5, he would have found this out for himself. But instead he was happy to parrot his statistics in isolation, as they fit into a pre-constructed narrative about how apparently pointless cycling infrastructure is.
Really, the problem here is the discontinuous nature of the infrastructure. It’s only ‘pointless’ for some users because so little of it has been built, meaning that, from some directions, people have to go out their way, pointlessly crossing the road twice (to go to the other side, and back again) to use it for a few hundred metres. The people using the cycling infrastructure will have been arriving from the Oval direction; those not using it will have arrived from the south. It’s that simple.
Equally, if there was a northbound cycleway on the western side of the bridge, linking up with cycling infrastructure on Vauxhall gyratory (plans for which have just been announced today) then I guarantee everyone would be using it. Indeed, statistics for southbound use of the CS5 (which doesn’t add any inconvenience to journeys) would show that nearly everyone is using it. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Andrew Gilligan comes to, in reference to an earlier ‘count’ Usherwood made –
I personally counted 750 cyclists using the Vauxhall Bridge track, more than 12 a minute, a figure which appeared in our press release. That, by the way, as the press release also stated, is a nearly 30% rise on the figure crossing the bridge before the track opened.
Why do you think Mr Usherwood made no mention of this, or of his earlier visit to the superhighway? Why, I wonder, did he hang around for several hours, until “just after lunch,” and until it had started raining, to begin his count and do his report? Could it be because he was trying to make the facts fit a pre-cooked agenda that there are no cyclists using the facility?
Usherwood also demonstrated a troubling willingness to strip passages from the emergency services’ responses to the Superhighways to imply they are opposed to them, when in fact they support them.
I’ve just dug out the the responses of all three emergency services to the Cycle Superhighway. The London Ambulance Service says the narrowing of the road could affect their – and I’m quoting here – ‘time critical lifesaving journeys’.
The Metropolitan Police is even more scathing Nick. It lists 14 separate concerns with the North-South route linking Elephant & Castle to Kings Cross. It says it will impact on response times, starting – and again I’m quoting – ‘increased congestion will result in longer travelling times for MPS officers coming into central London which will have an operational impact at times of prolonged public order demand.’ And it says that when it comes to transporting VVIPs like members of the royal family, or for that matter high risk suspects that need an armed guard – think terrorists here – it will have to close the opposite carriageway so that there is an escape route at all times for the Metropolitan Police convoy.
Clear enough, you might think – the emergency services are plainly up in arms about these schemes.
Except that if you refer to the document from which Usherwood stripped these quotes, it turns out that the Metropolitan Police, far from being ‘scathing’, actually support the North-South and East-West Superhighways.
Likewise the London Fire Brigade (not mentioned by Usherwood) also support this both Superhighways, and the City of London Police. The London Ambulance Service make no comment either in support or opposition of the Superhighway schemes, only voicing concerns about how it might affect their response times. Against this, all four of London’s major trauma centres; hospitals; and the London Air Ambulance service, have all voiced strong support for the Superhighway schemes.
So, far from being ‘scathing’, London’s emergency services actually support the Superhighways – but a listener to LBC would have gained precisely the opposite impression.
Of course, this kind of response – however misleading and incoherent it might be – is actually a sign that Transport for London is building cycling infrastructure that is effective, and that matters. It is making a statement that highway space shouldn’t just be solely for the flow of motor traffic; that cycling can and should be accommodated, for sound strategic reasons, set out by the Mayor himself.
With London’s population growing by 10,000 a month, there are only two ways to keep traffic moving – build more roads, which is for the most part physically impossible, or encourage the use of vehicles, such as bikes, which better use the space on the roads we’ve already got.
London – and other British cities – are starting to build something that people feel the need to oppose. That means something. Bring on the backlash.
Last March I took part in a conference devoted to the promotion of cycling in Madrid. My presentation, in essay form, has now been published by World Transport: Policy and Practice. Herewith the abstract –
This essay is a response to an invitation to provide an overview of the current state of cycling in Britain, and more specifically London, for a conference in Madrid – a city, like London, striving to promote more cycling. The essay focuses on the importance of both the volume of motorised traffic and perceptions of safety as determinants, over time, of the volume of cycling. It notes the dramatic decline (over 95%) since 1950 in the road accident fatality rate in Britain as cyclists, pedestrians and motorists competed for the right to the use of limited road space and how, in selected areas of London, cyclists are in the process of regaining their right to the road.
From 1950 to 1973 (the year of the energy crisis) the number of kilometres cycled in Britain plummeted – by about 80%. Over the same period the fatal risk of cycling, per kilometre, increased dramatically. The enormous increase in motoring was, physically, driving cyclists off the road. This displacement was officially sanctioned by what became known as the “predict and provide” policy underpinning transport planning. Forecasters were employed to predict future levels of car ownership and car use, and official policy was to provide sufficient road space to accommodate the forecasts. At public inquiries into road-building plans the problems of cyclists and pedestrians did not feature.
Their problems are only now beginning to be acknowledged as issues deserving of consideration alongside those of motorists stuck in traffic jams. Change does appear to be taking root in people’s minds.
The published paper can be found here (starting on page 10) – http://worldtransportjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/29th-Oct-opt.pdf