To add to the distressing news of the death of the climatologist Kat Giles on Victoria Street two weeks ago, a young man on a Boris Bike was seriously injured in London last Friday in what seem to be very similar circumstances – crushed by a left-turning lorry, on Grays Inn Road. Both of these incidents are close to home for me – I frequently cycle down Victoria Street, and last Friday’s incident occurred directly opposite the Yorkshire Grey, the venue for Street Talks.
It wouldn’t be appropriate to speculate on the causes of these most recent incidents – just the latest in a very long line of deaths and serious injuries resulting from turning lorry conflicts. However, it is safe to say that human error is one of the most likely contributory factors; a failure of observation, too much haste, a lack of concentration, and so on.
While it is right that much more can and should be done to make lorries safer – better mirrors and warning devices, cabs with better visibility, higher industry standards – the fact remains that human beings are not infallible. They will make mistakes. And that does include cyclists, who will naturally incline to staying close to kerbs, and will consequently find themselves in dangerous positions at junctions (please do read Mark Ames’ excellent guide on this topic).
So for that reason I agree with Danny Williams, that the simplest and ultimately most effective solution is
to keep tipper trucks and people on bikes apart from each other.
One way of achieving this would be a lorry ban at peak hours, which has been mooted, but this doesn’t seem to me to be particularly likely, or workable. Even if it does come into force, there will (or at least should be) plenty of other cyclists about in London at other times of the day. Cycling should not just be about commuting; it should be about going to the shops, or visiting friends, or going out for the evening, or cycling to school – basic, everyday trips that will occur at all times of the day. We should try to protect all cyclists from interactions with lorries at all times, not just commuters. So a peak time ban would only amount to a stopgap intervention.
Danny quotes a Dutch Road Safety fact sheet, which states that
Truck drivers do not make the best possible use of the different mirrors [and] cyclists insufficiently take account of the fact that trucks have a limited visual field. The ultimate solution for the blind spot problem is a structural separation of trucks and cyclists.
The sad thing is that we should already know how to do this; we have examples of how to keep lorries and cyclists apart. The Netherlands has perfected road design that remove interactions between heavy goods vehicles and cyclists to an enormous extent.
Here’s an example, a busy junction in Amsterdam.
I’m cycling past a tipper truck, the type of vehicle involved in the latest collisions in London. But I will not interact with it at all.
If I’m turning right, I won’t need to go anywhere near the road; the cycle track merely continues around the corner, uninterrupted, and fully protected from the road. If I wish to go straight on, the truck will be held at a red signal while I have a separate green signal. Conversely, when the truck starts to move, I would then be held at a red signal.
Here’s another example of what this looks like, again from Amsterdam.
Here cyclists are progressing straight ahead across the junction (alongside pedestrians, who also have a green signal on their crossing). But note, crucially, that motor vehicles wishing to turn right are held at a red signal.
So there is no turning conflict here, of the kind that has resulted in dozens of deaths and countless more serious injuries in London in just the last few years alone. Cyclists are separated in time and space from the movements of motor vehicles, just like pedestrians are.
What I find almost incredible is that we can potentially implement a very good approximation of this kind of Dutch design, right now. The elements are already in place.
We can put motor vehicles on different light signals for different turning movements. We already do this.
Likewise, we can put cycle tracks, separate from the road, around corners. They’re often called ‘shared use pavements’ (our disastrously bad version of off-carriageway provision) or they are poorly-implemented cycle tracks, with confused or dubious priority and separation. We can already do this; we just need to do it much better, with wider, better designed provision for cycling, and with clear priority for pedestrians, where appropriate.
And we can let cyclists and pedestrians cross the road simultaneously on green signals; we have toucan crossings. We even attempt to separate the movements of pedestrians and cyclists when they cross, although, again, we do it quite badly.
My point is that there is really nothing to stop us building a high-quality Dutch-style junction tomorrow. We don’t need to experiment; we know what works, because the Dutch have already done it. We just need to copy it, and do it well. Even better than that, take the things we can already do, and just implement them as well as the Dutch implement them.
When cycle tracks go round corners, make it clear that it is not a pavement, but also provide clear crossing points for pedestrians, where they have priority.
And where cyclists cross junctions with pedestrians, greater clarity is required.
In principle, there’s absolutely nothing stopping us from doing this right.
So it is more than a little disconcerting to read that Transport for London are
[hoping] to be able to test what interventions work
as the Alternative Department for Transport blog reports. He writes – and I’m inclined to agree -
TfL would rather figure it all out for themselves from scratch. This is madness – all the research is available from the Netherlands, which went through the learning process 35 years ago (and is still improving its cycling facilities). They made the mistakes so we don’t have to.
Yet TfL will “test what interventions work”? We already know what interventions work! They’re going to play around with our money, making it up as they go along because they can’t be arsed to go see what makes roads in the Netherlands work so well.
In a similar development, Transport Extra magazine reveals that
Transport for London is refining its traffic modelling to improve the representation of cycling and pedestrian behaviour. “Until recently, relatively little research had been undertaken worldwide to understand the behaviour of vulnerable road users at traffic signals and therefore be able to accurately represent them in traffic models,” TfL has told the London Assembly’s transport committee.
“We are leading on a world-first piece of research to understand cyclist behaviour as they discharge from signals and travel between signals. The research will also look at the impact cyclists have on general traffic discharge where they comprise a high proportion of road users.”
TfL says the work is being complemented by TRL research on pedestrian behaviour at traffic signals. “Once findings from the research are received [later this year], the new algorithms for cyclists and pedestrians will be available to update the capabilities of the modelling tools,” TfL explains.
Well, there are already countries with high volumes of pedestrian and cycle flow at junctions, countries very near to us, so it’s hard to understand why Transport for London are spending time and effort coming up with fancy models when we have real world examples of large numbers of cyclists flowing through busy junctions. The impression being given is that TfL have no idea how cycling works in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, and that cyclists ‘comprising a high proportion of road users’ is a unique, new problem, requiring new, unique modelling.
What we need to see is an end to bodging, and in its place, bold plans that would privilege cycling as a mode of transport, not just by making it convenient and comfortable, but most importantly of all by making it safe. We cannot go on with road designs which expect cyclists to fight for position with road vehicles turning across their path. We don’t send pedestrians across the road at the exact same time when motor vehicles will be bearing down on them; we shouldn’t do it with people on bikes either.
It is no exaggeration to say that people are dying because we are failing to take action.
The seasons matter to cycling. And cycling makes the seasons matter.
In the north-west of England we’ve finally emerged from the harshest Winter. The days are growing longer and warmer. The deep cold has gone and life is returning to the land.
Struck by a cold, I was off the bike for a week but, with my strength coming back, each of the past few days I’ve ridden out of town for a short, gentle ride towards the end of day. It’s a lovely way to spend an evening, enjoying the quiet lanes and lengthening shadows as the sun falls over Morecambe Bay.
Last night I left the house at 7:30 to do a little loop into the Forest of Bowland and up to Jubilee Tower. Lambs bounced around the fields, hares sprinted away at my approach, and birds busily prepared themselves for the night ahead. Occasionally a farmer’s tractor or quad-bike trundled somewhere in the distance, but the lanes were empty of cars. I love the feeling of having all this countryside, all this space, virtually to myself; I sink into it, become blurred, am content.
I hurtled back down to the quiet Sunday night city, passing the Town Hall clock as it chimed a-quarter-to-nine, some light left still in the sky. For the next two months each evening will grow a little longer, and hopefully warmer too. Isn’t this the very best time of year to be on a bike, with the longest days and best weather up ahead? Our bodies turn with our pedals towards the optimism which Spring surely brings.
Winter’s cold and dark tempts the closing of curtains and indoor retreat. Spring seduces us back to the world outside. The scope for cycling becomes suddenly so much greater. The traditional pro-cycling calendar reflects this – we’ve had the early season Spring Classics and can now anticipate the Summer’s Grand Tours. Locally too Winter’s dormancy has retreated and the cycle racing season begun, the weeks now crowded with events.
Winter cycling is great, but includes a certain amount of ‘getting through’. Winter cycling matters, but always buried within it is an orientation to brighter, better days ahead. Many people cycle only once it gets warmer, but surely no one cycles just in Winter.
We know how seasonal cycling is, how warm weather triggers the inclination to cycle. The bike shops get busy, new people on new or refurbished bikes are out and about. Of course we need to create conditions which compel people to cycle all year round, but in the absence of bolder, broader institutional support for ordinary cycling it’s understandable that most people’s interest in riding changes with the weather.
We are ‘a cycling family’, but cycling is seasonal for us too. On Saturday morning I went with Bobby and Flo to our brilliant local children’s cycling club, Salt Ayre Cog Set, where weekly sessions have resumed. Both complained bitterly at being made to go; I was ‘the baddie’ forcibly breaking their long winter hibernations in which lazy stasis inspired by staring at screens has taken centre-stage. But the sunshine, sociability, fresh air and exercise boosted their energies, and they came away bubbling with enthusiasm, as though participating had sprung Spring within their very souls.
Springtime cycling is a mechanism for lifting our spirits and horizons, taking us to other, farther, more interesting places.
Of course for those of us who ride year round Spring feels so good partly because of the Winter that came before, as well as the Summer that lies ahead. Contrasts are everything: even the places through which we most regularly ride change dramatically; and as the temperatures rise and the days lengthen cycling becomes less shackled by some Winter essentials: lights, layers, gloves and hats; things can gradually be discarded. There’s a ‘freeing-up’ both of cycling and our selves.
My little ride last night was not cold, but we have yet to experience a truly warm evening this year. At long last, though, it’s feeling possible; the dreamy, delicious prospect of the after-dinner short-sleeve and shorts ride through warm and windless air has moved one step closer.
A selection of recent news items in 2013, concerning bicycles losing control.
In Hull -
Police said the bicycle lost control, span round and hit the lamppost opposite the Holiday Inn.
In Croydon -
The London Fire Brigade told the Advertiser the bicycle lost control, flipped over and hit the two pedestrians
In Nantwich -
Father-of-three Rob was killed after his bicycle lost control and hit a tree at 55mph on Marsh Lane, Nantwich.
In North Wales -
Eyewitnesses told how the bicycle lost control on the A548, struck a kerb before careering through the air, across the central reservation and smashed into the AdHoc building. On the way it also destroyed a tree, sign, fence and lamppost.
In Bromsgrove -
A bicycle towing a catering unit on the A448 near Dodford crashed into a road bridge over a stream and a second bicycle lost control, left the road and went into the stream below.
In John O’Groats -
A bicycle lost control on the A836 Thurso to Castletown road at Murkle when it landed into the garden of a property at 11.55am
In Davistow -
The porch of a house in North Cornwall was completely destroyed at the weekend after a bicycle lost control on the A39 and careered into the building.
In Callington -
A woman had a lucky escape after her bicycle lost control, hit a hedge and flipped near to Callington today.
In West Sussex -
She and her friend had watched in horror as a bicycle lost control on a bend and slid down a hill on its side, crashing into two cars in its path
In Rugby -
Oliver, 17, died during the crash when a bicycle lost control and collided with a lamppost just after 4.30pm.
In Greater Manchester -
A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police told Saddleworth News: “At approximately 3.30pm this afternoon, a bicycle lost control and crashed into a ditch on the A635 Road above Greenfield, it ended up shedding its load of scrap metal. Thankfully no one has been injured.”
In Southend -
A WOMAN had to be cut free from her bicycle after a collision in Southend. The crash happened at 8.40pm on Monday in Eastern Avenue. Firefighters worked to cut her free after another bicycle lost control and ended up on the wrong side of the carriageway.
In Kent -
Dale West was riding a silver Batavus when his bicycle lost control and was involved in a collision with a lorry parked in a layby on the opposite carriageway.
In Bromsgrove (again) -
A bicycle lost control and smashed into a tree during an early morning Bromsgrove Highway crash.
In Tyrone -
One man remains seriously injured in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast after a bicycle lost control on the A5 Omagh to Newtownstewart Road on Sunday.
By now you’ll have probably guessed that a bicycle was not involved in any of these incidents.
As we all know, bicycles do not ‘lose control’. They are controlled by human beings.
All I have done, in each of these news items, is to exchange the word ‘car’, ‘van’ or ‘lorry’ for ‘bicycle’, to demonstrate the absurdity of the conventional phrasing, so commonly used in news items – impersonal language that denies agency. Motor vehicles do not lose control. People lose control of them, with disastrous, and often fatal, consequences.
What’s also interesting about these stories is how the carnage, injury and death seem quite farcical when the mode of transport involved is the humble bicycle. Bicycles do not career through the air, smash into buildings, or crush pedestrians. They’re really quite safe, and when people do lose control of them, the consequences are quite mundane when compared to the consequences detailed in these news items.
In the aftermath of the 2005 7th July bombings in London I wrote a piece entitled “7/7: What kills you matters – not numbers”
I illustrated it with a diagram highlighting the remarkable lack of correlation between quantified measures of risk and common response. I identified two key variables that helped to explain this lack of correlation: the level of control that those taking, or exposed to, the risk felt that they had and, in the case of involuntary risks, the perceived motives of the imposer of the risk.
52 people were killed by the 7/7 bombers. I noted that in Britain at that time “on an average day nine people die and over 800 are injured in road accidents. The mangled metal, the pain of the victims, and the grief of families and friends, one might suppose, are similar in both cases. Measured in terms of life and limb, 7/7 represented six days of death on the road. But thousands do not gather weekly in Trafalgar Square to manifest their collective concern.” Why?
Simon Jenkins has become a routinely calming and rational voice in the aftermath of such events. Discussing the Boston marathon bombs he provides a good answer in today’s Guardian. He succinctly describes the problem: “Such deeds are senseless murders. … What makes them terrorist is the outside world rushing to hand their perpetrators a megaphone.” See “After the bomb, hysteria is the terrorist’s best weapon”. I recommend it.
Another recommendation from yesterday’s New York Times by Thomas Friedman: Bring On the Next Marathon.
I recently attended the first seminar in a new LCC Policy series, at which the Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan addressed an audience of about a hundred people, discussing in detail the future plans for cycling in London.
Gilligan made it quite clear that he wanted to be informed of new developments being proposed in London that were not up to scratch, as far as cycling was concerned. He gave the example of the Heygate development in Southwark, which would have compromised cycling if the original plans had been left unaddressed. He also wanted criticism of TfL plans to continue; a message he repeated at a meeting with Camden Cyclists on Monday -
Gilligan encouraging campaigners to keep pressure up on TfL on delivery. Reception of Cycling Vision from activists was “almost too good”.
Well, from what has been posted on the City Cyclists blog this morning (please do read this important post in full), there is an issue – a big issue – at Aldgate. The plans to remove the gyratory and replace it with a two-way road look absolutely miserable.
The roads in the area are enormously wide. The space between buildings is vast.
The plan is to remove this gyratory, and restore the roads here (including the similar eastbound section just to the north) to two-way running.
But there is nothing for cycling. Here’s what the plans for this particular bit of road look like -
The westbound capacity of this road has been reduced from four lanes to one, and yet somehow no space has been reallocated for cycling. Even the bus lane has disappeared. Given the amount of space between the buildings you can see in the photographs above, this is an extraordinary oversight.
A huge opportunity is being missed here. Gyratory removal is seemingly taking place in a complete vacuum; motor vehicle capacity is being reduced, without considering how the space could be used for cycling, and for public transport. This is something I wrote about, at length, recently – it seems that trend is continuing.
We desperately need to start using the enormous amount of road space available in London in a more constructive way.
I spent an interesting hour or so yesterday discussing cycling in London, and the potential implications of the new strategy appearing from Transport for London, with Jack Thurston of the Bike Show, Bill Chidley, and Trevor Parsons of Hackney Cycling Campaign. You can listen to what we had to say this evening on Resonance FM, although be warned, it does get a bit nerdy.
It turns out that Bill has recently written an interesting critical piece which addresses, in part, my recent blog article about the legacy of historical attitudes in cycling campaigning, ‘No Surrender’. I started forming a comment response, but it soon morphed out into a larger piece that I thought would be better served here (that’s me being wordy again!).
The general thrust of Bill’s piece is a critique of infighting amongst cycling groups and individuals – ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’, as the article is titled. The strongest criticism is reserved for Freewheeler of Crap Waltham Forest, about which I don’t have a lot to say, for the main reason that it doesn’t really concern me. Bill quotes Freewheeler as arguing that
I am not suggesting arson as the route to mass cycling but I do think that cyclists need to consider challenging the status quo in other ways than tea and biscuits at the Town Hall… Non-violent direct action stunts are long overdue in British cycle campaigning.
We chatted about this a little before we went on air yesterday; I’m of the opinion that taking to the streets can be very useful indeed, as long as it does not appear to be confrontational and deliberately difficult. I think critical mass rides in London – which I have occasionally attended – fall into this trap. Whatever message there is gets lost in the aggro. By contrast, I went on the Blackfriars ‘Flashrides’ in 2011, and on the LCC’s Big Ride, precisely because they had a clear message, and were more consensual.
Much of the rest of Bill’s article is fair, and indeed by the sounds of it (and from our discussion yesterday, both in the studio, and later in the pub) there’s probably not much disagreement between us. However he attributes some opinions to me that I don’t really hold; perhaps that’s my fault for a lack of clarity in my original article.
Bill takes me to task for stating that Hackney’s modal share is not all that significant, pointing out that it is the highest in London. That’s true, of course, but I suppose I was pointing out that Hackney’s modal share is not all that significant in a European context. A modal share of 8% is just miserable by Dutch standards. So the idea that Hackney represents the way to a cycle track-free future strikes me as a bit overblown.
Granted, it is much better to cycle in Hackney than in most other London boroughs – something I am always happy to acknowledge – but it is perverse to insist that, because Hackney is the best place to cycle in one of the worst cities in western Europe for cycling, it should be some kind of template. Hackney does many good things, particularly filtered permeability, which makes residential streets pleasant to cycle on, but the main roads in the borough are intimidating, even for a fairly hardened cyclist like me, and the insistence on keeping cycle tracks out of the borough is unreasonable.
Beyond Hackney, I also think Bill slightly misinterprets the point of my ‘No Surrender’ piece. He writes
It is a several thousand word treatise on what is wrong with the CTC, and how the CTC’s tactics, historically and currently, are undermining the efforts to get more people cycling.
The proposition that because the CTC once espoused ‘bad’ policies, that the CTC is irrecoverably ‘broken’ as an organisation long after the main characters responsible for the policy (or policies) are dead is not really sustainable.
The first paragraph is broadly correct, with the exception that I wasn’t writing exclusively about the CTC, or focusing on them, as much as that might have appeared to be the case. My intention was specifically to write about an attitude that the CTC leadership demonstrated in the past, and might, arguably, still hold today. Namely, that the roads are for bicycles, and any attempts to separate modes, or to put bicycles ‘out of the way’ of cars, giving cars free reign on the roads, is unacceptable. Closely connected to this belief is the attitude that cycle tracks, particularly in urban areas, represent an abandonment of roads and streets motor vehicles.
Naturally enough, I think these attitudes are wrong, for reasons I won’t go into here, mainly because I’ve done so at length many times before (as have others). But these beliefs weren’t, and still aren’t, the exclusive preserve of one organisation. I wasn’t out to ‘get’ the CTC; I was critiquing this particular philosophy, not an organisation.
So for that reason I don’t think the second paragraph – which suggests I believe that the CTC is ‘irrecoverably broken’ because of what happened in the 1930s – is fair. It’s perfectly possible for organisations to change; they aren’t necessarily stuck for life to any one particular idea. The LCC – of which I am a member – is a good example. It’s changed beyond measure over the last two to three years.
Instead of suggesting that this is the way to redesign our streets -
They’ve come up with a bold, inclusive vision of cycling for all, which draws heavily on best continental practice.
Even as recently 2010, Mark Ames was having to ask whether the LCC
are really pushing for cycle lanes and segregation on the busy main roads or not?
So the LCC have changed strategy considerably. But what about the CTC?
In 2009, they were arguing that
Cycle tracks away from roads fine if direct and/or attractive for leisure cycling. But alongside urban streets they are rarely suitable. Traffic restraint is best: capacity, parking, pricing.
Cycle tracks are apparently only suitable as connecting routes away from streets; all urban streets should remain the preserve of cyclists mixing with motor traffic.
I can’t think of any other explanation for this kind of attitude beyond the historically-influenced reluctance to ‘surrender’ roads, which my original piece talked about. Of course, it is now absurdly out of step with the emerging consensus, particularly in London, that cycle tracks are an essential and necessary intervention to civilise urban streets, and for making cycling an option for all.
The CTC are adapting, slowly, to this consensus – indeed they are being forced to. So to that extent they are not ‘irrecoverably broken’.
However, I think they are considerably hampered by the attitudes of much of their membership, and by the inertia of decades of this form of campaigning, which dismissed continental approaches as unworkable in the UK.
The reason I and many others have criticised the CTC is not just for the fun of it; it’s specifically because they have had – and still have – bad policies. The Hierarchy of Provision is flawed. Dual networks are flawed. Attempting to get most people to ‘share the road’ is flawed.
Pointing this out does not imply that I think that the CTC are solely responsible for the current state of affairs, with desperately low modal share and rubbish infrastructure. Of course it doesn’t. But their policies certainly don’t help, and those policies needed to be criticised, so that better policy gets implemented. Whether you characterise this as pointless infighting, or a constructive way of moving things forward, is up to you.
Exhibition Road -
The top picture is taken from this flyer, advertising a talk given by Ben Hamilton-Baillie, entitled New Directions in Street Design, Safety and Movement. It was taken in early August last year, when the street was closed to motor vehicles for the Exhibition Road Show (more pictures here).
The bottom picture was taken by me at the same location, just over a month later, in September 2012, when the road was open to motor traffic, as it usually is.
It nearly always looks like this, particularly during the day.
I don’t know who was responsible for choosing that picture on the flyer. Nevertheless it is surely more than a little misleading to select an image taken when there were no motor vehicles present at all to illustrate how shared space street design can ‘reconcile traffic movement with the quality of public space’ – because, quite obviously, there was no motor ‘traffic movement’ on the days in question.
From the description of the talk -
Ben Hamilton-Baillie, one of the UK’s leading practitioners in street design and placemaking is coming to Leeds Met to deliver a lecture on current thinking, practice and issues surrounding traffic movement and the concept of shared space.
The need to reconcile traffic movement with the quality of public space in cities, towns and villages is widely recognised. We all use public or pivate transport to move around and we all want beautiful and safe places to live and work in. Shared space is one approach to resolving this issue, with a number of high profile schemes (eg Exhibition Road, Kensington and Ashford Ring Road in Kent) being delivered over the past decade where principles have been put into practice and from which experience has been gained.
What Exhibition Road actually demonstrates is that ‘traffic movement’ cannot genuinely be reconciled with ‘quality of public space’ without a considerable reduction in the amount of that traffic composed of motor vehicles.
The use of that picture on the flyer amounts to an implicit admission of the very same thing.
Lengthier analysis of Exhibition Road from me here
Below I outline three possible scenarios for cycling’s global role in 2050. I then extrapolate current major trends to conclude with what I personally consider to be cycling’s most likely role in the world of 2050.
1. Mass velomobility
Widespread concerns about health, climate change and livability have translated into advocacy for and implementation of a radical set of policies, re-shaping the transport environment, and especially cities, away from motorised modes and towards cycling. Massively increased fuel prices combined with high levels of tax on both ownership and use of motorised vehicles have accelerated social and cultural change towards sustainable modes of mobility. These processes started first in the world’s most prestigious cities – such as London, New York, Berlin and Paris; but caught on quickly and spread across the globe, including to cities which in 2013 had been leaving cycling behind.
Little motorised traffic penetrates urban space, which is characterised instead by parks, trees, and people meeting, walking or cycling. The benefits of these changes have ensured they are embraced, encouraging still further change. The private car is extinct and has disappeared as a status symbol. Short journeys are walked, but cycling is the normal mode of transport for almost everyone for journeys beyond two kilometres but less than ten kilometres: some people use e-bikes to help with lack of fitness, steep hills or longer distance; some people (particularly young children) and freight are transported locally by load-carrying (often electrically-assisted) velomobiles. High quality public transport systems exist, but within cities their use is considered inferior to the making of journeys by bike.
Urban space is pervaded by a spirit of community, neighbourliness and conviviality. The release of space from parked and moving cars has ensured plenty of room for walking and cycling to mix without conflict. A new understanding of cycling has developed – as a practice which has helped safe-guard human well-being on the planet; cycling is therefore considered fundamental to ‘the good life’ and is rarely seen as difficult. History books and children’s stories tell of ‘the time of the car’, but the youngest generation scarcely believes it; imbued with an ethic of living sustainably on a finite planet, it takes for granted the localised, resource-lite, energy-efficient lives which are now normal.
2. Going Dutch
Increasing concerns about health, fitness, pollution and climate change have led to re-shaping of urban space away from the car and towards the bicycle following the lead shown by (and the best practice pioneered in) the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. Growing public demand and government support for cycling form part of a broader desire for less car-centric cities in which people choose between different modes, with cycling favoured for shorter journeys beyond walking distance.
Cycling is generally regarded as ‘a good thing’, but partial resistance to it remains across areas of the world which had previously embedded car use as normal (north America, Australasia, much of Europe) or which adopted a culture of car ownership and use more recently (Latin America, Africa, Asia). Levels of cycling vary greatly: continuation of pro-cycling policies in many northern European countries means cycling usually accounts for over half of urban journeys; elsewhere cycling (including assisted cycling) typically accounts for between 10 and 30% of all urban journeys.
Cycling is still being actively promoted by government and other institutions, and remains in competition with other modes (trams, buses, trains and cars – whether privately or collectively owned). It is designed into the urban fabric in various ways: in central urban areas, which are now generally car-free, it tends to share space with (and give way to) pedestrians; further out it tends to be separated from other modes along bigger, busier roads but to mix with them on quieter residential streets, where speeds are below 30 km/hr. Cycling is typically afforded priority over motorised modes within urban space, but this priority is challenged across suburban space, and reversed across rural space (where cycling remains predominantly a leisure practice).
As urban cycling levels have increased, people have gradually re-organised their values, attitudes and lifestyles around it, so that whilst some groups remain resistant to actually doing it, hostility to the idea of cycling has declined, and it is widely accepted as a normal means of moving around. However, the bicycle’s status is highest and cycling as a mode of transport most popular amongst affluent, educated urban groups (and very popular amongst retired people as an active, healthy mode of (mainly rural) leisure). Attempts to sell ‘the Dutch model’ of cycling have expanded to all parts of the world, including India and China.
Levels of cycling remain relatively high across parts of northern Europe, reaching 50% of all journeys in a select few Dutch, Danish and German cities. Elsewhere there are some ‘cycling beacons’ (often hyped by short-lived institutional efforts to boost cycling in particular places), but levels of cycling remain generally negligible, at a few per cent of total urban trips. Countries where cycling was once common, such as India and China, have become more organised around the car; problems associated with transport congestion and pollution have grown dramatically.
Cycling continues to be seen in some places as a potential solution to assorted problems but it remains a struggle to convert positive rhetoric into more utility cycling; in other places cycling has become a discredited ‘solution’ – past efforts to promote cycling have failed, so the search for solutions has moved on to other ‘eco-friendly’ transport projects which fit better the interests of neo-liberal capitalism, such as new generations of ‘smart cars’, car-sharing schemes, and high-profile public transport projects.
Outside the few places where utility cycling is ‘normal’ it continues to be seen as a fringe activity of small, inconsequential sub-cultures; many people from these sub-cultures still advocate cycling as the most efficient, healthy and sustainable means of urban transport but their advocacy fails to make much impact, either on public opinion or governmental and other institutional agendas and policies. However, cycling does attract small, isolated pockets of funding for little local projects aimed mainly at children or ‘hard-to-reach’ groups.
Conclusion: cycling futures
The least likely of these scenarios is surely the last, ‘business-as-usual’. Culture and society change continuously; nothing stays the same; so the idea that things 37 years from now might remain much as they are today seems unrealistic.
Three major trends likely to have an impact on people’s willingness to cycle are obviously underway:
This suggests two potential futures for cycling:
1) Based on cycling remaining an elective practice
The urban rich embrace cycling as a genuine response to anxieties around climate change as well as a marker of a new, middle-class lifestyle which prioritizes livability. Urban governments will increasingly respond to and seek to capitalise on cycling’s rising status, both with public bike schemes and more cycle-friendly spaces. But poor people will be pushed out from cities and, together with rural populations, will be less inclined as well as less able (because of longer distances and less hospitable conditions) to cycle.
2) Based on cycling being increasingly structured into the urban environment
Here an urban elite institutionalise their increasingly favoured practice of cycling, and – if they are able to do so across urban space generally – there is a chance they might also democratise it. This ‘democratisation’ will occur both because improved infrastructure for cycling will enable people from beyond the urban elites (temporarily) to gain its (diminishing) status effects, and because the ‘colonisation’ of urban space by this ‘elite infrastructure’ will coerce people into using it. (I am not shying away from the difficult language of coercion and colonisation here, but would note that it can just as easily and equally be applied to on-going processes which result in car-centric cities and lifestyles.)
Of these futures, I think the first is more likely and the second is more desirable, especially if it can be facilitated and made more palatable by informed, critical and progressive cycling advocacy. It is the second which would best ensure 2050 is characterised by mass velomobility.