About 6 weeks ago I did a series of tweets of my initial thoughts on cycling in Rotterdam. I want to spend a few minutes expanding on them.
1. You can cycle everywhere, the quality of the infrastructure varies but you can guarantee that it exists.— Paul James (@pauljames) November 4, 2014
Rotterdam is not renowned within the Netherlands as a great place for cycling, but you have to remember that it’s got a lot of serious competition. First a quick history lesson.
In the Second World War, as a key position between Germany and Britain, Rotterdam was bombed completely flat by the Nazis in a bid to break the Dutch resistance and force the Netherlands to surrender. After a day of intense bombing, the entire city centre (2km square) was burned to the ground, the only medieval building to survive was the church of St Lawrence.
This meant the city had to be rebuilt, between the 1950’s and 70’s it was transformed into a modern US style city with large blocks and wide boulevards. Luckily, at this point the Dutch had already started down their path of building cycleways along main roads and so a comprehensive cycle network along the boulevards was also built.
The centre of the city has cycleways on each side of the main streets, they are 2+ metres wide, smooth and flat and meet at block corners with large traffic light controlled junctions. Due to the width of the cycleways and the streets in general (2 x tram lanes + 4-6 x traffic lanes + 2 x cycleways + 2 x footways), salmoning is common as there’s plenty of space to pass people coming the other way while crossing and then crossing back to get to a destination on the near side is much slower than going against the flow for a short distance.
Further out of the city centre, in the newer parts of town and along the Nieuwe Maas riverside, bi-directional cycleways are the norm as sideroads are fewer and further between and there’s more space between the main roadway and the cycleway reducing the problems when roadway and cycleway must cross.
Sometimes the cycleways do run out, but when they do you are either out of the city and have a quiet access road without through traffic, or there are still cycle lanes better than any in London. Some areas of the city are old and the bike infrastructure looks it, but motor traffic numbers are restricted or there are much better alternative parallel routes.
Although Rotterdam isn’t like the medieval streets of many European cities, I think there are many lessons for London and beyond to learn from it.
What is ‘natural’?
The word, formally, means something that is not made, or caused, by humans. But this strict definition is very rarely employed. We use the word ‘natural’ to describe all kinds of things that are not ‘natural’ at all. Indeed, Britain has a very confused sense of what is actually genuine ‘nature'; very little of the landscape of this country is ‘natural’ at all.
Places like the Lake District – perhaps the archetype of ‘natural beauty’ – really aren’t very natural, in the conventional sense of the word. The Newlands Valley, pictured below, was extensively mined from Elizabethan times until the 19th century, and the current landscape is essentially the product of sheep grazing; human intervention writ large.
And our impressions of the value of ‘natural’ have changed over time. Genuine wilderness was seen as something terrible; scary and forbidding. Upland areas like the Lake District were not valued at all by societies that relied upon productive land. It was only with the advent of the romantic movement, arising in response to growing industrialisation, that the British public began to value landscapes that had little apparent sign of human intervention, although in truth these were landscapes largely created by humans. The romantic movement attached value to the pre-industrial, in the context of their concerns about the spread of industry and urbanisation across Britain, and we are still living with this attitude to ‘nature’ today.
So we have a confused, and evolving, sense of what is ‘natural’. What this word really means, in practice, is a landscape that has been formed by human activity, but human activity of a certain kind. Implicitly, this is human activity that is ‘rural’, not involving features associated with the urban environment, or industry.
This has particular pertinence for cycling infrastructure, and the forms of it we are seemingly prepared to tolerate in ‘rural’ areas. Muddy paths, or tracks formed of rough or loose stone, are acceptable. They look ‘natural’, despite the fact they are clearly a human intervention on the landscape.
But providing tarmac paths, properly surfaced with good drainage, is something that is still anathema in many parts of Britain, almost certainly because it falls under the description of something that is not ‘natural’. This is the legacy of the early 19th century Romantic movement, and its revolt against industrialisation – that only certain forms of human activity are acceptable in an ill-defined ‘countryside’. Muddy paths – while as obviously anthropogenic as tarmac ones – fit into our ‘natural’ template, while tarmac paths don’t.
For whatever reason, these attitudes do not seem to bedevil the Netherlands. To speculate, this might be because so much of their country is engineered, and reclaimed – a selfmade land, built by humans, for humans. But even in areas that look, to British eyes, ‘natural’, smooth tarmac paths are always provided. If it is a route that serves a useful transport function, then the surfacing reflects that, rather than preconceived ideas about fitting it in with a hypothetical ‘natural’ character.
Earlier this year, I cycled from west to east across the country, predominantly through rural areas, and not once was I ever cycling on anything other than tarmac or concrete.
Yet in most parts of Britain I suspect this kind of provision would be met with resistance. This is especially true in West Sussex, which I think has a particular problem, probably worse than other parts of the country.
To glimpse why, we need only look at the Downs Link. This is the former railway line, that used to run between Guildford and the English channel, at Shoreham, until the railways running on it – the Cranleigh Line between Guildford and Horsham, and the Steyning Line, between Horsham and Steyning – were closed in the late 1960s following ‘the Beeching Axe’. In hindsight, this was obviously a huge mistake, as a railway link between Horsham and Guildford in particular would be tremendously valuable today.
But even without the railway returning, the Downs Link has great potential as a transport link between the villages and towns it connects. With shallow gradients and direct routes into the centres of these places, it’san open goal to open up mobility in these rural areas, blighted by dwindling public transport. Even as it stands today, it’s tremendously popular as a leisure route, mainly because it’s one of the few areas where families can easily cycle long distances in West Sussex without being menaced by motor traffic.
But there is – of course – a problem here, namely that the Downs Link does not have a suitable surface. It is mostly composed of mud, interspersed with large chunks of gravel (at best!); just about acceptable in summer, but come the autumn, it becomes very muddy, and unsuitable for use by anyone who does not have a mountain bike, or who is not willing to get covered in mud.
That means that it does not form part of the National Cycle Network, despite being a direct, traffic-free link between some pretty major towns and villages. On the Sustrans’ website, it even comes with a health warning.
This is because West Sussex County Council refuse to provide a tarmac surface on the Downs Link. Which – let’s remember – was a railway line until 1966, so hardly ‘rural’ in origin. It passes through cuttings and tunnels, and along embankments, and in form is plainly a human intervention in the landscape, albeit one that West Sussex County Council continue to insist should have a mud and gravel surface, rather than one of tarmac.
Below is an excerpt from an email sent by a West Sussex County Council Transport Planner, in response to requests to provide tarmac surfacing on this route.
tarmac creates an urbanising effect for recreational walkers and creates more surface water run-off and drainage issues. Many off-road leisure cyclists with mountain bikes (myself included) also prefer non-tarmac surfaces. Cyclists with road bikes do, of course , have alternatives to the Downslink… It is therefore, unlikely that WSCC will be seeking a tarmac surface for the Downslink, except where it crosses any new roads [my emphasis]
New roads (of which there are many now being built around Horsham) will, of course, have tarmac surfaces, so where the Downslink crosses these new roads – hey, you’ll get some tarmac! For free! Because that’s a new road! Enjoy that tarmac as you momentarily cross it!
Elsewhere, you’ll just have to carry on with the mud and gravel, because laying tarmac ‘creates an urbanising effect’. Which is fine if we’re building lots of new roads through the countryside, but plainly not for cycling, which West Sussex County Council persist in seeing as some kind of leisure pursuit, a ‘keep fit’ activity for mountain bikers, rather than as a viable mode of transport. Witness the implication that the preferences of ‘off-road leisure cyclists’ should be considered ahead of people who don’t want to get covered in mud, or people with pushchairs, or people using wheelchairs, or mobility scooters.
Indeed, this isn’t really just about ‘cycling’, at all. The refusal to provide high quality surfaces on these kinds of paths means that they are a no-go area for many people with mobility problems. This was an issue picked up (believe it or not) by Prince Charles when he guest-edited the BBC CountryFile programme last year. Muddy paths and tracks, in combination with poorly-designed gates, mean that these routes are not usable by these groups, as well as by anyone who wants to use a bike for practical, utility purposes, not just for leisure, or mucking around. This is to say nothing of the relative attractiveness of these routes as an alternative to the car if they are surfaced in mud and gravel, compared to the tarmac you will obviously find on the equivalent route for motor traffic.
By contrast a properly surfaced route is something anyone can enjoy.
This refusal to upgrade bridleways and footpaths in allegedly ‘rural’ areas on the grounds of having an ‘urbanising effect’ is sometimes ridiculously myopic, and counterproductive in policy terms.
To take an example. The large village to the west of Horsham, Broadbridge Heath, is currently being greatly expanded by a new housing and shopping development, adding many thousands of people to the area. You can see the scale of this development in the satellite view on Google.
A new dual carriageway is being built through this development (you can just about see the route on the view above), running east west and connecting with the existing bypass of Horsham (running north-south) at a gigantic new grade-separated junction, near the bottom of the image above.
This is what it looked like during construction in October.
And then being surfaced (with tarmac, naturally) in November.
Plainly, this is a large, ‘urban’ (if you like) intervention in the landscape.
The Horsham Cycling Forum had spotted – in the context of all this development – that there was some potential for this new area (and indeed the village of Broadbridge Heath as a whole) to be connected up to Christs Hospital railway station, which sits on a main line into London Victoria, which also carries trains to the south coast, including Portsmouth and Southampton. From Christs Hospital you can be at Victoria in around an hour.
Such a route would have significant distance advantage over the driving route, which is circuitous, and involves country lanes as well as A-roads.
There is an existing path that runs approximately along the line of the red arrow; but (unsurprisingly) it is not suitable for anyone who doesn’t have a mountain bike, or a pair of wellies. The picture below was taken in June.
At Christs’ Hospital station itself, this path uses a pre-existing bridge under the railway line, which hints at a slightly more functional route, at some point in the past, than the current muddy bog would suggest.
Closer to the new development, to the north, the path skirts around the edge of these fields.
This could quite easily be a beautiful, safe and attractive walking and cycling route to a mainline railway station, reducing the current amount of driving to the station, and future demand created by the development. In the context of the amount of money being spent on the development here, it would cost peanuts, and in the context of the intrusion into the landscape of the whole development, a 2-3m tarmac path running through this landscape would pale into insignificance.
But this is West Sussex, and of course our suggestions have been rejected, due to – guess what – such a surface having an ‘urbanising effect.’
So sadly many more people will be driving this short distance to Christ’s Hospital station, needlessly clogging up local roads, and exacerbating the existing parking problems at the station itself.
More motor traffic on the roads; more pollution, more noise, more queues, and (probably) a much bigger car park required here. Ironically, all because tarmac is ‘urban’ rather than ‘rural’.
The final example also involves Horsham and a different satellite village, this one a couple of miles to the south – Southwater. Below is the current state of Horsham District Council’s official designated ‘Cycling Route’ – grandly entitled ‘Pedlars Way’ – between these two large settlements, of around 55,000 and 10,000 people, respectively.
As you can see, it is effectively unusable for anyone who does not want to get muddy between September and April, and pretty uncomfortable for the remaining part of the year. Once again, this official ‘route’ is nothing more than a muddy track, composed of mostly of slippery clay and leaves, as well as bog.
Yet with a little bit of willingness and imagination, it could be transformed into a really attractive link between the two settlements, suitable for use all year round, by anyone. With some clearing of foliage and minor excavation at points, the path is easily wide enough to accommodate both a 2m wide tarmac strip and a muddy track alongside, for use by horse riders or mountain bikes.
Perhaps something like this.
The issue of a safe and attractive route between Horsham and Southwater was brought into sharp focus by the death last week of a man cycling on the road (which naturally has a tarmac surface) which runs parallel to the official muddy ‘Pedlars Way’ route – killed in what appears to be a head-on collision with a motor vehicle.
Kerves Lane – where the collision occurred – lies only a few hundred metres to the east of this track, but if you have not got a bike capable of handling mud, or you simply don’t fancy getting muddy yourself, it is (currently) the best available option for cycling between Horsham and Southwater. (The most direct route – the main road south out of Horsham – carries tens of thousands of motor vehicles a day, and also involves negotiating an insanely dangerous 70mph roundabout on a bike).
Despite being a rural road, Kerves Lane carries a significant volume of motor traffic, principally because it is a much more direct route to Southwater for drivers travelling from the east side of Horsham than the main A24, and also because it avoids the need to negotiate the aforementioned large roundabout on the bypass that passes between Horsham and Southwater. It is unattractive, so much so that I have stopped using it myself, opting instead for a lane even further east (just visible on the map above).
How many people are cycling on Kerves Lane (which is clearly less direct), because of the conditions on the muddy ‘Pedlars Way’ route? In principle, it should be much more attractive, because it is more direct, and also traffic-free, but I suspect many are opting for the road because of the poor conditions on the official route.
I think these examples (doubtless there are many, many more, across Britain) point to the desperately poor outcomes that result from a refusal to consider high quality surfaces in an allegedly rural context. Our strange ideas about what is apparently ‘natural’, and therefore valuable – informed by a centuries-old romantic movement – are actually inhibiting good policy outcomes, in terms of transport, health and environment. It is more than likely that the refusal to tarmac the kinds of routes outlined in the post here is, at a national level, creating huge environmental problems in terms of car dependence, and needless car use for short trips. Ironically, it is this, if anything, that is doing most to erode what we perceive as ‘natural’ – not good surfaces for walking and cycling in rural areas.
To summarise, this obsession with ‘natural character’
For all these reasons, isn’t it time we jumped forward two hundred years to 2014, and engaged seriously with the benefits of properly designed infrastructure for walking and cycling, wherever it happens to be, and wherever it needs to go?
If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to read Martin Porter’s cool and neutral summary of a case he was involved in – the inquest into the death of Michael Mason, hit by a car on Regent Street in London in February this year, dying a few weeks later.
The facts speak for themselves. Mr Mason was cycling north on Regent Street, and was hit from behind by a Nissan whose driver, by her own admission, completely failed to spot him ahead of her, despite him having a bright rear light, rear reflectors, and travelling on a road well lit by street lights (the collision occurred at 6:20pm). She did not brake before the impact, and was travelling at between 20 and 30 mph.
Regent Street is – as anyone who has walked or travelled along it will know – a busy shopping environment, with pedestrians thronging the pavements, and (frequently) crossing the road, informally. The point at which the collision occurred is maybe slightly less busy than the areas further south, but still a place that is dominated by pedestrians, especially at rush hour. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the driver made this remark at the inquest, about what she did after the collision occurred -
I stopped and ran back, it could have been a pedestrian.
Unaware of what, or who, she had hit – having failed to see it, or him, or her – quite rightly, she reasoned that it could have been a pedestrian. Someone innocently crossing the road. As it turns out, it was someone on a bike.
Why should that matter? What difference does it make, when you are hit by a motor vehicle whose driver has completely failed to see you in the road, whether you were on foot, or astride a bicycle?
Well, apparently it does – if you are on a bike, then you should come to expect comments about the kind of ‘safety equipment’ you should probably have been wearing. A hi-visibilty jacket, and a helmet.
The Court News UK report of the inquest is entitled (rather crassly, given the circumstances of the case)
MASON: BIKE SAFETY CAMPAIGNER WAS NOT WEARING A HELMET WHEN HE WAS KILLED
If Michael Mason – a safety campaigner – had been crossing the road on foot when he was killed, would such a headline have been employed?
Mr Mason, who was not wearing a helmet, was rushed to St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, immediately after the accident at about 6.25pm on 25 February, but slipped into a coma caused by catastrophic head trauma.
Again, would a pedestrian killed in an identical fashion on Regent Street be subject to this editorialising?
Martin Porter does point out that the Coroner – while commenting on the lack of hi-visibility clothing and helmet – did not go so far as to suggest that the wearing of a helmet, or a hi-viz jacket, would have made any difference whatsoever. However, he did have this to say -
Recording a verdict of accidental death, coroner Dr William Dolman said: ‘Mr Mason was clearly a very fit 70-year-old man who had been cycling for many years, cycling was his preferred mode of transport… Mr Mason was not wearing a helmet, and while this may not be a legal requirement his most severe injuries were head injuries both inside and outside the skull.’
Which does carry an implication that his injuries may have been lessened, or indeed that he may have survived, had he been wearing a helmet.
Again, it is worth observing here that comments of this ilk would not have been made had Mr Mason simply been crossing Regent Street on foot, rather than travelling along it by bike, when he was fatally struck.
There is a good reason for this.
We simply don’t expect the millions of people who use Regent Street and Oxford Street, on foot, to look like builders. We do not expect them to wear helmets and hi-visibility clothing; we do not expect them to don personal protective equipment to visit the shops, cafes and restaurants in this area, or to get to work. That would – rightly – be seen as a very silly proposition indeed.
By contrast, there is a subtle and insidious expectation that people using Regent Street and Oxford Street on a bike should be wearing this kind of equipment. This despite the fact that someone like Mr Mason was killed in a way that a pedestrian could very easily have been killed, by an inattentive driver. Indeed, it was nothing more than chance that meant that it was him in the way of that driver, at that moment, and not someone else, probably wearing darkish clothing, crossing the road on foot.
If we were to be more consistent, as a society, we would acknowledge this similarity, and appreciate that people in the act of crossing urban roads and streets on foot are just as at risk (perhaps even at more risk, given that they are not accompanied by bikes with reflectors and lights) as people navigating those same roads and streets by bike. It seems to me that it is nothing more than prejudice about a minority mode of transport that is stopping us from doing so.
Last year I wrote about how Ben Hamilton-Baillie – one of the foremost proponents of the ‘shared space’ philosophy – does not appear to be all that concerned about addressing motor traffic in urban areas. His designs are mere rearrangements of the way motor traffic moves down a street. In his talks and presentations, his vision of ‘urban realm improvement’ tends to involve removal of the physical manifestations of our attempts to control motor traffic, without reducing or removing that motor traffic itself.
Yesterday Matt Turner spotted an interview with Hamilton-Baillie that provides a remarkable insight into the mindset of ‘leading international expert on the development of “Shared Space”’, as he is described.
It’s a relatively old interview – dating from 2010. However, it appears to confirm not only that Hamilton-Baillie doesn’t really care about motor traffic reduction in urban areas or (more specifically) prioritising more efficient and safer mode of transport within them, but, more than that, he actually seems to think existing levels of motor traffic in British towns and cities should be maintained.
It starts with some odd explanations from Hamilton-Baillie for the apparently rising popularity of ‘shared space’, and its philosophy of ‘integrating’ human beings and motor traffic in urban areas.
The Genome Project, understanding our DNA, and the remarkable intricacies of our interconnections, has allowed us to question many of the assumptions that gave rise to conventional traffic engineering and the principle of segregating traffic from other civic and social aspects of cities.
Because we’ve sequenced the base pairs in the human genome, we’ve understood that motor traffic shouldn’t be separated from civic life in cities? If you are not convinced by this ‘DNA’ explanation, maybe a change in the nature of political philosophy over the twentieth century could tempt you.
During the last century, governments of both the left and right tended to assume that the state should assume responsibility for resolving all potential conflicts and interaction through increasingly complex regulation and control. The evolution of the traffic signal illustrates this tendency perfectly, removing the need to think and respond from the driver, and attempting to control behaviour through technology and legislation. We now understand more about the downside of states over-regulating and over-planning.
Or maybe it’s just that traffic control is expensive, and shared space is cheap.
In addition, the fiscal realities of the European Union are having an effect. Even if they wished to, governments can now no longer afford the huge costs of regulating, controlling and enforcing every aspect of traffic behaviour. Traffic lights, signs, markings, barriers and bollards cost a fortune, and the recent public spending crises have highlighted the need to question the role of the state in many areas. The idea of streets and spaces being left to informal negotiation and local social protocols chimes with initiatives such as the new “Localism Agenda” in Britain, or what David Cameron refers to as “The Big Society”.
It’s worth reminding ourselves here that one of the most widely-known and prominent ‘shared space’ schemes in Britain, Exhibition Road (which is lauded in this interview) weighs in at a cost of around £35,000 per metre - £29m for 820m of road. But clearly it’s ‘conventional’ street engineering – tarmac, kerbs and so on – that is expensive. Or so we are led to believe.
We then move on to Hamilton-Baillie’s philosophy, which is quite explicitly argued.
I think shared space represents a fundamental rethink of the principles of segregation espoused by Colin Buchanan and his team when he wrote the influential “Traffic in Towns” in 1963. In contrast to Buchanan, I see no need to separate or segregate urban traffic from other aspects of civic space. [my emphasis]
Well, on the contrary, I see plenty of reasons to keep urban traffic (in this context, clearly motor traffic) away from civic space. Noise, pollution, danger, amenity, to name just a few. If you continue to allow motor traffic to flow, unrestrained, through urban areas, and the civic space within them, you will end up with a low quality environment.
This is what Colin Buchanan, and the ‘Traffic in Towns’ report, appreciated, even if the solution it prescribed was misguided. Streets full of motor traffic are fundamentally pretty awful. We don’t need to ‘rethink’ the principles of segregation – we just need to apply them in a more humane way, a way that puts people walking, cycling and using public transport first, and segregates the car away from them, rather than segregating human beings away from motor traffic. This is something I’ve argued at length before.
Curiously, however, Hamilton-Baillie doesn’t appear to believe in putting efficient, safe, urban-scale modes of transport like walking and cycling first, and prioritising those modes of motor traffic.
… Shared space is all about integration, and that means avoiding over-attention on any one factor or group… We are asked to support groups campaigning for motorists, and groups campaigning against the car – all sorts. But shared space is not about promoting the interests of one particular group or user over another, but merely about setting the stage for different activities to interact.
Shared space is ‘all about integration’, and when different modes are ‘integrated’, it is of course impossible to prioritise one over another, because such prioritisation requires separation.
All we are left with is some cod nonsense about a blank slate – a ‘stage’ on which ‘different activities’ can ‘interact’.
Having already stated that
Traffic and movement is the life-blood of cities
(again, a reference to motor traffic), the interview concludes with a curious pean to the virtues of motor traffic in urban areas, juxtaposed against Jan Gehl’s philosophy of creating people-centred urban areas -
I am a great admirer of Jan Gehl and his colleagues, and they’ve done absolutely wonderful work. Copenhagen is a phenomenal success story. But I feel that that generation has run its course in the sense of that there’s only so far you can go with exclusion [of the car]. For them the removal of the car is an overriding theme. At times, of course, it’s appropriate. But reality is that the car is with us, for better or worse, for at least a couple of generations. It’s a wonderful liberating technology. For all its downside it has transformed most of our economic and social lives. And shared space offers the opportunity to welcome and exploit the good side of motor traffic, as it were. It needn’t be a destructive force for streets, for cities. [my emphasis]
It would be interesting to know what the ‘good side of motor traffic’ in urban areas actually involves. My personal opinion is that we should be doing everything we can to make the alternatives to travel by car in urban areas as attractive and as easy as possible, because doing so would make our towns and cities vastly safer and more pleasant. This isn’t about engaging in a ‘war’ on the car, but more about opening up choice, and prioritising the alternatives.
But it seems that Hamilton-Baillie doesn’t share this approach. The status quo – with a huge percentage of short urban trips made inefficiently, inconveniently and expensively by motor car – is something he apparently wants to preserve, albeit with that motor traffic travelling around on fancy paving, rather than conventional tarmac. No mode of transport should be prioritised; we should all be ‘equal’ on the stage of ‘shared space’.
It’s not a hugely enticing vision.
It is hard to know what tools might be needed in an unexpected situation when you are out and about, whether on or off the bike. Multi-tools can be a useful way to stay prepared without the impracticality of carrying a selection of individual tools around with you.
The Leatherman Surge has the following tools accessible from the folded position:
A plain blade.
A serrated blade.
A T-shank adaptor compatible with either the file or saw provided, or any other blade with a common T-shank end.
When unfolded, additional tools are accessible:
Pliers including replaceable wire cutting/stripping blades and two crimping cut-outs below the pivot.
An awl, large and small flat-head screwdrivers.
A bottle/can opener and a bit-driver which is compatible with proprietary Leatherman bits (available separately) or regular hex bits with the use of an adapter (available separately)
Proprietary Leatherman bits (not necessarily included with every Surge)
In addition to this, my Surge came with a leather pouch which can be worn on the belt. This is useful as the weight of the Surge is a bit too much to be comfortable in trouser pockets.
The build quality is really quite impressive. There is no play in the pliers or any of the other tools, the tools are made from an appropriate grade of steel for their intended purposes and the blades are designed in such a way that their edges do not strike or sit in contact with the housing when folded away.
Sadly, in the UK at least, the Leatherman Surge is not a legal carry item for most people because it features two locking knife blades. Whilst there are exceptions for those with a “good reason” for carrying one, such as profession, the vagueness of that clause could lead you to think that you’re safe whilst actually falling foul of the law. Because of this, and the absence of an adjustable spanner, I would not recommend the Surge as a multi-tool for cycling purposes. However, I would recommend it for anyone who would benefit from having a really good general purpose multi-tool.
This week saw the launch of ‘Street Design for All’ [pdf], spotted by KatsDekker. It’s been produced by PRIAN (the Public Realm Information and Advice Network), with advice from the Charted Institute of Highways and Transportation, and carries the official DfT stamp of approval.
The title is a curious one as far as cycling is concerned, because while the advice inside includes footways and carriageways that are undoubtedly suitable for all kinds of pedestrians and drivers (although with perhaps some question marks over the suitability for partially-sighted or blind pedestrians) it certainly does not include designs suitable for all potential users of bicycles. Quite the opposite – this guidance only appears to include designs that are suitable for existing cyclists, those people currently using the road network by bike. This isn’t ‘Design for All’, by any means, when it comes to this particular mode of transport.
The cover itself is startling.
As Kat herself said in relation to this picture, this is not an environment that many people would be happy to cycle in; nor is it even that attractive for people currently cycling.
Roundabouts can, of course, be genuinely inclusive when it comes to cycling.
The background issue here appears to be the now familiar confusion over ‘place’ and ‘movement’ function, whereby street designers, councils and highway engineers want to emphasise more of the ‘placiness’ (if that’s a word) of their roads and streets, while downplaying the movement function. Unfortunately this is accompanied by an unwillingness to do anything about the actual movement of motor vehicles through these environments.
The end result is the kind of placefaking I’ve talked about before; streets and roads that have been prettified, yet still have similar volumes of motor traffic flowing through them. And cycle-specific design tends to get squeezed in these arrangements. As I wrote in that piece -
cycle-specific design tends to get squeezed out by placefaking. For instance, I am not aware of any new ‘placemaking’ scheme on a road in Britain that incorporates cycle tracks where they should reasonably be provided…
Presumably this is because they reinforce the impression of a ‘movement’ function, interrupting the ‘placeishness’ of the new design. But there’s a degree of sticking heads in the sand here; cycle tracks are required because of the volume of motor traffic, and if that volume is high enough to demand cycle tracks, then it is fanciful to imagine you are creating a place – there is still too much motor traffic thundering through.
And this new guidance – ‘Street Design for All’ – continues in this trend. Streets look nice and pretty, and the intention is to get drivers to play more nicely, but there is very little, or no, attention being paid to
This is a huge oversight, not just in terms of opening up cycling as a potential mode of transport, but also on a broader level, about the actual purpose and function of our roads and streets in urban areas. Unlike the Netherlands, where there is clarity over what the role of a particular street or road is, with regard to access, or as a through-route, in Britain we seem to be converging on a muddled mess of place and movement simultaneously, accommodating motor traffic movement on all our streets, and attempting to make them places at the same time. (This dichotomy between place and movement also fails to take into account that some kinds of movement – walking and cycling – are considerably more benign than motor traffic movement, and actually contribute to place, as Rachel Aldred argues).
Typifying this approach are the opening paragraphs of ‘Street Design for All’ -
Most streets have been designed, or adapted, over the last fifty years or so primarily for the movement of motor traffic. This function continues to be important but it should no longer dominate in the way it used to – it needs to be balanced with the street’s place function.
Enhancing the sense of the place and maintaining efficient and safe movement of traffic can be achieved by careful design. [my emphasis]
Note here how it is assumed that streets will continue carry the movement of motor traffic; any ‘placemaking’ that will occur is in the context of that continuing motor traffic movement, attempting to reduce its dominance through design, rather than actually addressing the problem at source. This is the template, or the foundation, on which improvements must be made – accommodating motor traffic.
This same junction – complete with traffic signals – is, with the buildings added, and the motor traffic removed, labelled as ‘a place to meet friends’.
It’s noteworthy here that the ‘movement’ elements of the street in the previous diagram include motor vehicles and people cycling – yet the ‘place’ elements just include people walking. Cycling is – unconsciously perhaps – lumped in with motor traffic, as associated with movement. Is this fair? As Rachel argues in the post I’ve just linked to -
Separating ‘movement’ from ‘place’ is inherently problematic. Different types of movement have different impacts on ‘place’. It depends on speed and mass. In city streets mass is critical: London’s slow-moving HGVs regularly cause catastrophic injury.
Non-motorised movement has relatively benign mass-speed combinations. Although cycling and walking can have negative impacts on others, they often instead enhance place. When I walk to the high street I chat to neighbours en route; cycling, I smile at strangers while letting them pass.
So active modes can positively contribute and form part of a place. The same can’t be said for rat-running through motor traffic. So again – in casting movement and place as opposed, or at least separate – the movement/place dichotomy implicitly casts movement as motorised.
A failure to address the real problem of movement on our town and city streets, and lumping in cycling together with that motor traffic movement, unfortunately means that the attitude to cycling – or ‘encouraging cycling’ – in this guidance is really very weak.
If we really want to encourage cycling (or more properly, enable cycling) then we really need to stop pretending that narrow cycle lanes on roads shared with buses are going to cut it. The only people ‘encouraged’ onto roads like this are the people who are already cycling; making a genuine difference requires genuinely different design, not preaching about the cardiovascular benefits of cycling.
And yet the only tangible piece of advice this guidance has on cycling is the following -
STREETS FOR CYCLISTS
There are advantages for cyclists in areas where traffic speeds are 20 mph or lower. Low speed roads are more comfortable for cyclists and allow them more freedom to use the full width of the street.
This does not necessarily require a formal 20mph speed limit. Lower vehicle speed can be achieved by subtle traffic calming, see page 11.
Permitting cyclists to use streets and other places where motor vehicles are prohibited, allows them to take convenient short cuts. Providing convenient and secure cycle parking is also important.
Lower motor vehicle speeds, and cycling in pedestrianised areas. That’s it. No serious engagement with the actual policies we now know are required to get people cycling in serious numbers; principally, separating people from motor traffic through a variety of interventions.
The Cut in Lambeth is cited here as an example of good practice, yet as far as I know it is detested by people who are currently cycling on it, because it combines an intimidatingly narrow carriageway with relatively high volumes of motor traffic. Likewise Poynton is also referenced, which whatever the benefits in terms of public realm and safety specifically excludes cycling as a mode of transport. This isn’t ‘Design for All'; it’s only ‘Design for All’ with reference to particular modes of transport.
Unfortunately Sustrans – who really should know better – also appear to fall into this trap. The entire third chapter of their brand new (currently out to consultation!) Cycle-Friendly Design Manual is devoted to… Placemaking.
It begins -
Many urban streets are not wide enough to provide separate cycle facilities or have frontage activity that makes such provision impractical. Design for such environments needs to think beyond standard highway design, defining a slow speed highway environment where cycles, pedestrians and motorised traffic can safely integrate.
There is no reference here to whether motor traffic should properly continue to be accommodated in these volumes on these kinds of narrow streets. If they are genuinely too narrow, then rather than attempting to ‘safely integrate’ cycling with motor traffic, measures should surely be taken to reduce or remove that motor traffic, as a first priority, rather than delving straight into the ‘Placemaking’ toolbox.
This approach means that this chapter – which, remember, is from a cycling manual! - is littered with examples of roads and streets where cycling is ‘integrated’, falling far short of the conditions required to make cycling a viable mode of transport for everyone. Poynton, Kensington High Street, Oxford High Street, Ashford, and so on.
Pretty schemes, I’m sure, but how many of these are genuinely suitable for cycling, for all, rather than just placemaking bodges that attempt to ameliorate motor traffic-dominated environments?
Nice paving, removal of markings and attractive street features simply aren’t good enough; physical separation is required for motor traffic volumes above 2000 PCU. If that can’t be achieved then steps should be taken to remove that motor trafficc.
What’s required in these design manuals is some honesty about the attractiveness of ‘integrating’ cycling on roads and streets that retain a significant through-motor traffic function. It’s no longer acceptable to pretend that we are ‘Designing for All’ without addressing this fundamental issue.
In the last week of November 2014, the Labour shadow Minister, Michael Dugher MP, set out Labour’s “cycling vision”. I reproduce the statement from Local Transport Today with comments:
Where this Government has refused to act, a future Labour government will deliver for cyclists
This week, I visited Pakeman Primary School in north London and saw first-hand how the ‘Bikeability’ cycle course can give children the skills and confidence on their bikes. Later that day, I also went to the Archway Gyratory to view exciting new plans for a remodelled junction and new cycling infrastructure.
Getting more people cycling through initiatives like these is really important. But there is still a lot more that needs to be done.
In August last year, David Cameron said he wanted to start “a cycling revolution”. Over a year later, and just five months before the end of this Parliament, all we’ve had from the Government is a draft Cycle Delivery Plan and an “informal consultation”. What we need is real action now to ensure that the country benefits from safer roads, increased levels of cycling and effective road sharing for all types of road traffic. Where this Government has refused to act, a future Labour government will deliver for cyclists.
More people cycling every day is not only good for public health, it’s good for the environment and the economy. And it’s also good for other road users too. It frees up the roads for motorists, which results in less congestion, safer roads and better air quality.
That’s an interesting view of the role of cycling: “It frees up the roads for motorists…” But if it does so, then more cars will be there than otherwise, which in terms of sustainable transport is the opposite of what is required. Even if the same number are there as before, problems from emissions etc. have not improved.
There is a growing consensus that the Government’s draft plan is not even close to what is needed to make a difference. British Cycling, for example, said the so-called plan “falls short” on delivering on David Cameron’s promise and the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC), a national cycling charity, called it “derisory”.
This verdict chimes with the Government’s overall record on supporting cycling. It shut down Cycling England, the independent body to promote cycling, and abandoned Labour’s ‘Cycling Towns and Cities’ programme, which helped to promote the use of cycling locally.
Labour has a good record of promoting cycling in government, with both the number of people cycling increasing and the number of road casualties dropping.
No, Labour does not have a ”good record of promoting cycling in government” . Cycling England was essentially a low-key quango which was set up because the commitment and expertise inside the Department for Transport was so low that help had to be sought from outside. Labour, under Chancellor Alistair Darling, repeatedly refused to allocate the funding Cycling England requested.
What Labour does have is a record of overseeing massive increases in motor vehicle traffic, despite claiming when it came to power that it would reduce motor traffic. With the exception of London, it would be difficult to see any significant overall rise in cycling during the Labour years, despite it being far easier to increase a mode’s share when it is as very low, as it was when Labour came to power in 1997.
It is unclear whether the road casualties he refers to are in general or among cyclists – but both of these numbers tend to decline irrespective of formal “road safety” interventions – and there are hardly any which Labour could claim that it introduced to any significant effect during its reign.
In 2002, there were 300,000 trips made by bike in London per day, and 20 fatalities. And by 2010, there were 490,000 trips made, and the number of fatalities had halved.
London is the exception, with Labour in power for most (but not all) of this period. The rise in cycling in London can be attributed to – well, what exactly? I would claim that I assisted in a small take-up of cycling in projects I ran when working for a London Borough in this period. But on the whole very little of the rise in cycling can be claimed as due to initiatives from London government under Mayor Livingstone.
Cycling was due to increase in London for the simple reason that it could hardly go any lower, and there was rising demand for all forms of transport with population increase. Possibly the initial rise was due to the concerns about raising the costs of motoring with the prospect of the Congestion Charge – although eventually this only happened on a very small proportion of London’s roads where the Congestion Charge applies. And Labour is hardly pushing road pricing now.
As for the death rate decline, that can largely be put down to a Safety in Numbers (SiN) effect as drivers became more aware of the increased presence of cyclists, as well as the long-term underlying trend. Some work in making lorry drivers less dangerous (although a lot of that is purely a SiN effect in the HGV driver community) was done; HGVs were involved in about half the cyclist deaths. But the outlook for serious injuries has been less dramatic. I don’t think it is possible to link specific interventions by Transport for London (with the possible exception of work with HGV safety) to casualty rate declines in any clearly significant way. I would say these have been marginal at best.
This progress did not just happen by chance, but through decisions that were made – initiatives such as ambitious road safety targets, Cycling England, and funding for Cycling Towns and Cities. In addition, our ‘Sustainable Travel Towns’ – Darlington, Peterborough and Worcester – resulted in increased cycle trips by between 26-30 per cent. And the six ‘Cycling Demonstration Towns’ (Aylesbury, Brighton and Hove, Darlington, Derby, Exeter and Lancaster) proved how targeted investment can deliver results with cycling rates increasing by 27 per cent between 2005 and 2009.
I have mentioned Cycling England. I don’t think declines in road casualty statistics happen because of “road safety” interventions (including the setting of road safety targets) to anything like the extent that road safety professionals and Government think, The effects of projects in the programmes described are highly debatable. What can be said is that selecting a few cases of “low-hanging fruit” where interventions could most easily increase cycling and walking is hardly demonstration of a commitment towards active travel and sustainable transport policy, even if the results were as dramatic as claimed.
Labour would work to make further progress in government in 2015 by ensuring better cycling education, stronger road safety enforcement and enhanced road engineering for the benefit of cyclists. To achieve these objectives:
First, we will outline a proper long-term plan with clarity over funding sources.
Why not do that now? The figure used by those pressing for the Get Britain Cycling programme is £10 per head of the population, rising to £20 per head.
This all has to be put in the context of spending on road building for more motor traffic. When the initial Government plan for £15 billion to be spent this way came out on November 10th he attacked Cameron over for not spending enough on road building. (And in fact the £13 or 15? billion was probably an underestimate ) Anyway, we have had the announcement on December 1st – which was Mr. Dugher responded to as follows: “yet another re-announcement” on road improvements, and in reality “no additional money has been announced“.
“We know David Cameron’s record on infrastructure is one of all talk and no delivery. Infrastructure output has fallen significantly since May 2010, and less than a third of projects in the Government’s pipeline are actually classed as ‘in construction. “If ministers were as good at upgrading roads as they are at making announcements about upgrading roads, life would be considerably easier for Britain’s hard-pressed motorists, who have been consistently let down by this government.”
On top of this, Labour has not opposed the continuing decline in the cost of motoring under the coalition government. What it has done in power, and apparently intends to do in future, is to make motoring more convenient and attractive, and facilitate more of it.
Although this interview may well have been spun by the car fanatics at the Daily Mirror , his first major interview indicates an even more car-dominated approach (see the Appendix below)
Second, we will be ambitious in promoting active travel. Rather than waiting for over four years to produce a half-hearted ‘draft plan’ for cycling, we will act fast and ensure that our strategy delivers clear targets and has cross-departmental support. Over half of all car journeys are shorter than five miles, and one fifth are under a mile. We want cycling and walking to be made the easy and safe option for most short journeys.
I first heard a Minister (Lynda Chalker) saying that cycling would be “encouraged” in 1984 – that was one in power, not in opposition. The record since then for all parties in power is of a massive increase in car usage and no increase in cycling (except in London).
Third, we will ensure that the needs of cyclists are assessed at the design stage for major transport projects and maintenance schemes. Active travel was not a consideration when much of our current transport infrastructure was planned, but this is no longer an excuse. We will put pedestrians and cyclists at the centre of our roads policy, as opposed to the Government’s approach where they seem to just be an afterthought.
This is presumably the ”cycle-proofing” we have heard so much of. It is interesting that this is not on existing roads, but only new schemes. Pedestrians and cyclists are not at the centre of roads policy. More cars and motor traffic are.
Fourth, we will ensure cycling becomes an ever safer transport option by looking to follow what the Labour Government in Wales has achieved through their Active Travel Act.
Which is what exactly?
Fifth, we will introduce a powerful HGV Safety Charter, which will call on all HGVs to be fitted with safety kit, including rear-view cameras, rear warning signs for cyclists and flashing light beacons. HGVs are involved in nearly 20 per cent of all cycling fatalities, but make up only 6 per cent of road traffic. This cannot continue.
By 2017, we want all HGVs fitted with audible warning systems for drivers, and side-guards and blind-spot elimination devices. We believe these changes are paramount and, if necessary, we are prepared to legislate to ensure that they are brought forward.
The immediate issue is the EU delay (although to be fair Labour has made the right noises here) on bringing in safer HGV cabs hich undermines all these intentions, which are just fluff around the edge compared to a new design direct vision cab.
Before such cabs are standard – and for use of lorries when they are – there already is a national Standard for Construction Logistics: Managing Work Related Road Risk which addresses issues around the “blind spot”, driver behaviour and safer freight routing. That could be endorsed now.
And what about reversing the increase in speed limit for HGVs just brought in by this Government? No mention of that issue.
Sixth, we will restore national targets to cut deaths and serious injuries, which have been dropped by the current Government, alongside clear goals to increase the number of people walking and cycling.
The author Douglas Adams once said: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Targets for cycling’s modal share have passed by , with the actual modal share far – and dismally – lower for decades, if not exactly “whooshed”.
Seventh, we need to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done in cases where collisions lead to cyclist deaths and serious injuries.
The crucial point is to stigmatise behaviour which threatens other road users by having a clearly explained and understood programme of law enforcement and sentencing. Waiting until cyclists are killed or seriously injured (or even slightly injured) is missing the point. Penalising those who drive in a manner which endangers others only in that small minority of cases where someone is killed or seriously injured can be counter-productive.
And finally, we understand the need for sustained and certain support for cycling education. That’s why we have committed to providing funding for ‘Bikeability’, which will ensure all children are trained in cycle safety from a young age.
I have doubts about much of the “cycle training” which goes under the name of Bikeability: much seems to be creating the impression that cycling is inherently hazardous, with emphasis on hi-viz and helmets. How much genuinely empowering and enabling cycle training is going on? And if it of high quality, it needs to be available to adults who want to build up confidence.
So, Labour will implement real changes. We’ve seen over the last four and a half years that it’s easy for politicians to talk about their support for cycling and promise a “cycling revolution”. But people can see through the hype.
What is needed is real action and a long-term strategic effort to promote cycling from both national and local government. And this is what we will set out to deliver in 2015.
We’ll be watching.
APPENDIX Pandering to car fanatics?
Let’s look at what Labour’s spokesman says here.
“.. he admitted drivers have for too long been seen as a “cash cow” for governments who cream cash off them with fuel taxes and penalties.” Although motoring is cheaper, and law-breaking motorists stand little chance of (minor) penalties.
“.. he said he wants to represent “white van man, women drivers, small businesses and any other road user”. Although road users walking and cycling don’t seem to count.
Mr Dugher said: “Most politicians don’t talk about road users enoug,h and we have got to put right. The truth is the things that p**s off motorists are the things that p**s me off too.”
Does saying “p**s off” make you a man of the people?
Which motorists is he talking about? The lowest common denominator of rule- and law-breakers who think they have “paid a tax” which means they own the road? One of the major problems for cyclists is the abuse and prejudice which is based on the myth that motorists have “paid for the road” – this attitude feeds it.
The Barnsley East MP, who drives down the A1 each week to Westminster in his Vauxhall Astra,
( A minor point, affected by precise details of origin and destination – but why is the “proud son of a railwayman” not doing the 2¾ hour journey by train from Barnsley to central London rather than the 185-mile journey which would have be done at 67 mph average to be as quick?)
With regard to fuel taxes and road cameras, Mr Dugher – who admits he has three points for speeding – said: “The Government can’t see the motorists as a cash cow. Too often there’s that mentality”.
So paying a fair amount of taxation to compensate for the massive costs of motoring to public health, society and the local and global environment is “being a cash cow”?
“..11% of car journeys are under a mile. If car drivers switched just one car journey a month to a bus or coach that would mean one million fewer car journeys, and save two million tons of CO2.”
This is ludicrous. One journey a month is irrelevant – and how about switching to foot or bicycle? And no switch will occur with a few fine words, but making it far more attractive to walk or cycle and less attractive to drive might just work.
It looks like Westminster Council will today follow Lambeth Council in approving planning permission for the Garden Bridge.
I’ve been wondering what constitutes the most offensive thing about this project. Is it the way £30m of transport funding (and an additional £30m from the Treasury) is being used fund a scheme that quite explicitly has no transport function at all?
This isn’t just to do with cycling not being included – or even considered – as a mode of transport. Everything about this bridge suggests that it is a place to visit – a garden – and not something to move through. It’s not even a park. Westminster – tellingly – refer to it as ‘a popular visitor attraction’.
This huge amount of public funding comes despite claims last year that Transport for London’s contribution would be limited to £4m, with the Garden Bridge Trust itself raising the funding for construction.
And to be clear this is a ‘bridge’ in name only. It will be closed to the public between 12am-6am every day, and closed once a month for ‘fundraising events’. Parties of eight people or more are ‘required to contact the Garden Bridge Trust to request a formal visit to the bridge’, in advance, apparently because groups of eight people or more constitute a ‘protest risk’.
You are, of course, free to use other London bridges 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and indeed to protest on them – because they are public space. This Garden Bridge is not really public space at all, but a privately-managed garden, a ‘visitor attraction’, to be built at vast expense, in the middle of a river.
And yet, ironically, it seems Westminster Council would refuse planning permission outright for this development if it was entirely private, due to the harm to views up and down the Thames.
It is also clear that if this proposal was for a private commercial development of this height and size, the harm to these views would be considered unacceptable and the application refused
The Garden Bridge manages to skip around these objections by teasingly positioning itself on the line between public and private space.
All this is bad enough, but I think the most offensive thing about the Garden Bridge is something else entirely. It lies in one of the main justifications for its construction; namely, that it will create a much-needed area of peace and calm in the centre of London.
Take this, for instance, from Transport for London -
Inspired by the actress Joanna Lumley, the proposed bridge would be covered with trees and plants, offering an oasis of calm in the heart of the capital.
Or in this video, where Joanna Lumley claims she ‘longs for a haven, away from the noise and rush’.
Now of course there is nothing wrong with peace and tranquility. But what is offensive about the Garden Bridge is the unspoken assumption that peace, calm and tranquility can only be created in London by building it at vast expense in the middle of the river.
This isn’t true at all. We could create peace, calm and tranquility on the existing roads and streets of London, if we wanted to – and at a cost considerably lower than £180 million. For instance, we could pedestrianise and ‘green’ Soho, very easily. This is an area where people on foot vastly outnumber the numbers of people getting around by car, and yet for some perverse reason motor traffic continues to dominate.
Want some peace, calm and tranquility here? Limit motor traffic to deliveries only, in the morning. We don’t need to look too hard for how to do this. Waltham Forest managed to create ‘an oasis of calm’ in October, through the simple expedient of… using a plastic barrier to close a road.
A huge number of streets in the boroughs surrounding the Garden Bridge – I’m thinking here particularly of Westminster and the City – could become calm and pleasant places, at very little cost, if a concerted effort was made to remove through-traffic from them. Westminster seems to have a damaging policy of accommodating through-traffic on every single one of its roads and streets.
I think our streets, especially ones with a predominantly residential function, can and should function as calm and pleasant places, in their own right. We don’t need to build green space at huge expense in the river; we just need to reclaim it from the existing road network.
To me, the Garden Bridge project appears to completely overlook the enormous potential of our streets and roads to be different; to be safer, calmer and more pleasant places. It buys into the stale assumption that London is, by default, a noisy, dangerous and fume-filled place that can’t possibly be changed, and that can only be escaped by retreating onto an expensive vanity project in the middle of the river.
That’s what’s most offensive about it.
Last week the deputy prime minister announced something like £1.10 for every individual in the UK is to be spent on cycling per year for the next three years. I imagine that planners in Whitehall and the various local authority offices around the country are thinking how best to use this money to make the bicycle into accessible transportation for all. I thought I would compile some suggestions.
1. More car parking spaces
One of the major things which puts people off cycling is the fact that people on bikes have to mix with people in cars, which makes most people feel unsafe when using a bicycle. Spending money on providing more free car parking spaces will give people somewhere to put their cars, helping to reduce the numbers on the roads
2. Motivational advertising
People usually choose the path of least resistance when it comes to travel, both in the mode they choose and the route they take. A handful of advertisements on bus stops, television and radio should be sufficient to overcome this basic core component of human psychology.
When cycling amongst motor vehicles, people tend to want to minimise the speed differential between themselves and other types of vehicle. The fact that this can lead to sweating is a well known factor keeping people off bikes and the logical solution to this is earmark some cash for a fund which will enable employers, schools, pubs, restaurants, post offices, banks and retailers to provide shower facilities for those cycling to their premises.
Poorly maintained bikes are a big barrier to cycling, with many new bikes being used only a handful of times before before their owners, mindful of the wear and tear caused to bikes by actually using them consign their bikes to the shed, for no other reason than this.
Safety is a big concern for would-be bicycle users. Unfortunately the roads and the motor vehicles which use them are an unchangeable part of the environment, which we are as powerless to change as the tides or the natural processes leading to the continuous warming of the Earth’s climate. Thankfully we have two powerful solutions at our disposal, polystyrene hats and fluorescent waistcoats. When used together they completely solve al problems relating to safety.
6. Spread it around
Should significant sums of money be spent to significantly improve the experience of people travelling by bicycle on a single major route, or would the same resources be better spread much more evenly across the land? Whilst improving a single route to Dutch standards would significantly increase cycling participation and the safety of those on bikes in one area, it is far better to use the money for thousands of ASLs, sharrows and training places to help people cope with roads whose designs disregard their needs. Spread the money around so everyone benefits, much like pouring a bottle of Ribena into a reservoir.
This graph, from the Department for Transport’s 2013 Road Transport Forecasts (which summarises the results from their National Transport Model) has been doing the rounds on social media this week.
It shows that the amount of distance we are travelling by car, per capita, in Britain has fallen consistently since the early-2000s; and yet their model predicts that this decline will reverse, and car miles per person will increase by 15% by 2040.
What is just as remarkable, however, is the Department for Transport’s own analysis of this graph -
Figure 16 below shows that, according to our forecast, miles per person will increase by 15% percent by 2040 (9% above pre-recession levels) despite an increase in GDP per capita of 66% and fuel cost decreasing by 24%. [my emphasis]
The key word here being ‘despite’.
The DfT believe that increases in GDP per capita, and falling fuel costs, should really push car miles per person even higher than the projected 15% increase. Coupled with a projected 20% increase in English population by 2040, the DfT are forecasting that overall road traffic will be 46% higher in 2040 than 2010.
They acknowledge that the effect of their ‘key drivers’ on road traffic levels (GDP per capita, population, and fuel prices) is becoming less elastic, as the market becomes saturated -
As explained in section 2, the elasticity of miles per person to key drivers is falling over time, and will keep falling into the future as the market moves further towards saturation.
However, they still think that this 15% rise in car miles per person will happen, principally because of falling costs per mile, meaning people will be incentivised to travel further.
This increase in miles per person [15% on 2010], however smaller than it would have been in the past, reflects the fact that people will be able to travel longer distances with their cars, as the cost per mile will decline sharply compared to ability to pay.
Whether people will actually want to do this – to spend more time stuck in cars – appears to simply be assumed.
The other interesting detail from this report is… London. This document essentially acknowledges that the National Transport Model has failed to predict that the amount of car traffic in London would fall as much as it has -
… analysis of our forecast from 2003-2010 shows that although the NTM predicts a fall in London car traffic of 1.5%, this was not as great as the actual 7.8% fall in traffic count statistics.
What’s the explanation?
We believe that the reason for this short-term model error and long-run discrepancy with other forecasts is due to:
Car Ownership – the number of cars per person in London has been relatively flat over the last decade. While we have different car ownership saturation levels for different area types, including London, these may need to be re-estimated.
Public Transport – London has seen high levels of investment in public transport, capacity and quality improvement on buses and rail based public transport. London will continue to see high levels of investment in public transport with increase in capacity into the future, e.g. Cross Rail. We will need to revisit our modelling on the impact this may have on car travel.
Road capacity, car parking space cost and availability – There is evidence to suggest that In recent years London road capacity has been significantly reduced due to bus lanes, congestion charge and other road works. There is also a significant constraint and cost to parking in London which would reduce the demand to travel by car. We will need to revisit our modelling on the impact this may have on car travel.
On each of these three factors, the DfT are admitting that their model needs to be ‘revisited’ – their model simply hasn’t correctly taken into account the effect of public transport, and reallocation of road space, on the amount of car traffic that might be on the roads.
It’s also worth noting this ‘London’ example appears to show that levels of car ownership – which the DfT tie closely with GDP per capita – might be much more strongly affected by these other two factors assessed here, public transport and use of road space. Again, a challenge for the DfT modellers.
It seems that the DfT are admitting that their model doesn’t accurately take into account factors beyond income, population and fuel costs, their ‘key drivers’ – which is hugely significant if, as is likely to be the case, urban areas (in particular) in England continue to reallocate road space to other modes of transport, and prioritise these other modes, ahead of car travel.
Certainly, planning for future growth in car travel using a model that the DfT itself admits isn’t properly reflecting other factors on car demand looks increasingly silly.