Views

Let’s get vehicular

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 1 July, 2014 - 08:30

The new edition of Cyclecraft was published last week. I haven’t had a chance to give it a good read yet, but at first glance it appears to contain much of the same dogma previous editions contained. For instance, the obviously untrue -

No alternative to the general road network has yet been devised which is as safe or advantageous overall for cycling

There is, however, this interesting – and quite correct – observation -

In countries renowned for cycle-friendly infrastructure, such as the Netherlands, vehicular design is the norm and can be used safely and easily by a broad range of people cycling. In the UK, unfortunately, most cycling infrastructure is pedestrian in design and this can have serious consequences for both safety and easy of use at typical cycling speeds.

The word ‘vehicular’ here might send shivers down the spine of some, given its long association with ‘vehicular cycling’ – an ideology that suggests ‘cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.’

But Franklin is exactly right to point out that the success of cycling in the Netherlands (and a large part of its universal appeal) lies in vehicular design – treating bicycles as vehicles capable of speed, and designing accordingly.

It means that when they bolt a cycling bridge onto a railway bridge, it looks like something you could drive your car along.

Or that when they build a path through a forest, it has a good tarmac surface.

Or, when a cycle track meets a road, it just looks like something you would ride your bike across, not a fudged compromise.

In short, it means designing for something substantially faster than walking; no sharp bends, no sudden turns, better visibility where conflict might occur, and so on.

Cycle ‘infrastructure’ in Britain is so unattractive because it doesn’t achieve this. As Franklin argues, it is pedestrian in design, and people cycling are merely given permission to use it. Be it shared use pavements when things get a bit difficult -

Or toucan crossings that are obviously designed for pedestrian use, with sharp corners -

Or extraordinary turn-on-the-spot markings -

Or side road arrangements that treat you with contempt -

They all fail the attractiveness test because they require you to cycle like a pedestrian; so awkward and inconvenient you might as well walk.

The genius of the Dutch system of bicycle provision is that it caters for vehicular cycling, while simultaneously ensuring that it is suitable for all users. It’s fast and direct, yet also provides the subjective safety needed to make cycling feel safe and pleasant, for all, however old or young. Proper cycling infrastructure should allow you to go as fast or as slow as you want, comfortably, without fear or harassment, and this is what the Dutch aim for, and usually achieve. It means that you will see fast cyclists -

and slow cyclists

using exactly the same infrastructure, while cycling at very different speeds (these two pictures were taken within about a hundred metres of each other). And both parties are comfortable – although in different ways.

‘Vehicular design’ doesn’t mean designing out other forms of use, like dawdling, or slow leisure riding, any more than well-designed pavements that allow fast walking or running design out the ability to linger. It means accommodating all forms of use; treating cycling as a serious mode of transport.

‘Vehicular’ shouldn’t be a dirty word.


Categories: Views

Better than nothing

At War With The Motorist - 30 June, 2014 - 08:30

So the scandalously inappropriate and inadequate designs for the Bedford turbo roundabout have come a step closer to construction, receiving DfT approval, and with grim inevitability Sustrans have proudly press released their support for this barefaced misappropriation of cycling funds for the construction of a high capacity motor road junction in an urban centre. Their defence of the scheme seems to be that, because they anticipate that motorist speeds will probably be a bit lower than in the current arrangement, cyclists will be able to “take the lane” as they ride amongst the heavy motor traffic; and if people do not wish to take the lane then they will instead be allowed to pootle on a pavement designed for pedestrians. A dual provision of equally, but differently, unattractive prospects.

But they’ll be less awful than what is there now.

And that seems to be enough for Sustrans. No need to fight for anything better, if it’s less awful than what’s there now then it gets the Sustrans stamp of approval. Perhaps it’s unfair to expect anything more from Sustrans after years of being ground down by the conditions in which they’re trying to operate, but “better than nothing” seems to be the limit of their aspirations in everything they do these days. On the National Cycle Network, where signposting flights of steps, heavily eroded sheep tracks, and private roads marked “no cycling” is for misguided reasons considered better than having no signed cycle route at all. And in the latest edition of their design guidance, where, for example, such guidance is given as to paint bicycle symbols on the carriageway at pinch points caused by traffic islands — rather than simply to stop squeezing bicycle users in with motor traffic in such a way — because such symbols are taken to be better than nothing.

I’m not convinced that paint on busy roads is in the slightest bit better than nothing for cycling. I think it’s delusional — or colossally gullible, perhaps — to believe that putting a piece of trunk road engineering in a city centre is worth anything at all for cycling. And I think that luring people onto heavily eroded sheep tracks is far worse than nothing for cycling.

But I don’t have time to argue about the specifics of cases like these, and I shouldn’t have to. Rather I have a more general point to make.

Things that are a marginal, almost imperceptible, or questionable improvement on what is there now are not better than nothing.

Marginally reduced speeds and crap shared footways are not better than nothing when they’re being employed in the theft of half a million pounds from the budget.

Rebuilding a junction to a design that you hope, maybe, might make things marginally less bad than they were, is not better than nothing if it means perpetuating a fundamentally anti-cycling and traffic dominated town centre for perhaps another fifty years.

Mediocre guidance is not better than nothing if it’s used in place of genuinely good guidance — if the Sustrans brand allows professionals to dismiss the recent London and Cambridge guidance as foreign or utopian when all that the cyclists themselves say they want and need is some paint at a pinch point.

Signing inappropriate cycle routes is not better than nothing if they give aspiring bicycle users an even worse experience of cycling than they would get from following their streets. They are worse than nothing when they are cited as an example of cycling already having been catered for and nothing more needing to be done.

Better than nothing is not good enough. Marginal gains aren’t good enough.

That’s one reason I’ve never got all that into local campaigning, much though I appreciate and admire those who do have the energy to do so. I don’t actually think it’s worth my time. I don’t think the tiny single victories are ever worth it. Call me selfish but I don’t think that one shared pavement that allows half a dozen or so additional kids to get to school by bike is worth it. I don’t think the lighting on that one path in the park that makes a couple more people feel safe getting home by bike at night is worth it. I don’t think that one bike lane that keeps one pensioner riding to the shops for an extra year or two is worth it.

I mean, I guess I’m happy for them and everything, but, whatever.

What motivates me is extreme selfishness and some bigger picture selflessness. That’s the selfish interest in the quality of the places where I spend my time, and my journeys around and between them. And the big picture of the problems that our communities, society and planet face. Transport policy has a big impact on public health — through air pollution and active vs sedentary lifestyles it impacts pretty much any non-communicable disease you can think of — on climate change, energy use and economic productivity, and so ultimately on quality of life. And on all of those counts a policy of mass modal shift away from motor vehicles and to cycling would be a huge net positive. But nothing short of a revolution will do.

A real revolution — not a 5% mode share target shoehorned in beside business as usual.

Anything less is not going to make the slightest meaningful difference. Not going to make any noticeable difference to my journey being spoiled by heavy traffic and air pollution. Nor is it going to make any noticeable difference to population, planetary, or economic health. Not even going to add up to something that does in time, or reach a “tipping point”. A “cycling revolution” that is not registrable in things like morbidity statistics, by air quality measurements, in transport sector energy consumption and carbon emissions, or in the population’s quality of life, is not a revolution. And if it’s not a revolution (and if it doesn’t help me personally), sorry, I don’t really care. It’s not worth my time asking for it.

And “better than nothing” is worse than nothing when it stands in the way of changes that are actually worth giving a shit about. One tiny aspect of one tiny tiny part of the whole being “better than it was before” is worse than nothing when it takes the pressure off and makes a handy excuse to allow everything else to continue as it was before. As an organisation or campaign, settling for better for nothing is worse than nothing when the people who have invested their time and money in you begin to lose the motivation to ever do so again. Better than nothing is worse than nothing when it distracts our attention from our actual goals and what actually needs to be done to achieve them: when it gets us too tied up in projects instead of policy.

They tell us that perfection is the enemy of the good. Well better than nothing is the enemy of anything actually worth having. And that, Sustrans, is why you’re losing so many friends.

(And before you start telling me that trite cyclesport-inspired cliché about marginal gains again: that only works when you’ve already done the big stuff and made it to the top of your game. Marginal gains make the difference when you’re a top olympic athlete. They’re not going to help when you’re the kid who doesn’t get picked at games.)


Categories: Views

It's David vs Goliath! Why I'm thrilled to be nominated for a London Cycling Award (and need your vote)

ibikelondon - 30 June, 2014 - 08:30

Last week I was nominated for a London Cycling Award in the "Best Bike Blog" category - and I wanted to share with you how thrilled I am about this!


The awards - administrated and issued by the London Cycling Campaign - are handed out each year to those making an outstanding contribution to our capital's cycling scene.  From "cycling champions" to "best bike project" they are a rare moment of celebration in the campaigning calendar, and I'm delighted to have been nominated.

I've been editing ibikelondon blog continuously since 2009 and in that time have published nearly 500 articles covering everything from the dry (bicycle parking on the East London Line), the comical (how to survive a Skyride), to rallying cries about more serious issues that affect us all; particularly dangerous junctions, poor road design and HGVs.

I'm proud to have contributed to London's Go Dutch and Space4Cycling campaigns, to have helped formulate the thinking behind The Times' Cities Fit For Cycling campaign and to have contributed to the parliamentary Get Britain Cycling report. 



And the writing you see online - all of which is done in my own time and at no commercial profit to me - is just the tip of the iceberg, as I attend campaigning meetings and off-line events to gather stories, meet contacts and help with talks and rides.  I'm a founding member of the Movement for Liveable London, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, have lectured on cycling and cities at Oxford and Westminster University and have even been lucky enough to report on cycling in cities as far away as Barcelona, Nice, Copenhagen and Taipei.  
Oh, and I even got invited on to Newsnight, too!

In short, ibikelondon is a real labour of love for me, something that I really enjoy doing but which has grown bigger than I could possibly have imagined when I started out 5 years ago.  Subsequently it is really touching to be nominated for a London Cycling Awards and for my efforts to be recognised in this way, I'm very pleased.

The Award winners will be chosen from the short list of nominees by a system of public voting over the following week.  Readers can choose their favourites by following this link between now and Tuesday 8th July.  It is a real David vs Goliath situation, with ibikelondon in the same category as commercial website Road.CC and professional blogs London Cyclist and Total Women's Cycling but to be in such august company is in itself an honour.  

If you feel inclined to vote, I appreciate it.  Thank you!

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Categories: Views

Friday Throwback: WWI's cycling soldiers in pictures

ibikelondon - 27 June, 2014 - 08:30

Politicians from across Europe gathered in Ypres, Belgium this week at the Menin Gate, to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.  As speeches were made and wreathes laid, here at ibikelondon we've been looking back through the online archives of Flickr at images of the cycling soldiers who took part in the conflict.



Today's "Friday Throwback" forms part of a series looking at the best images hosted in The Commons by cultural instritutions and seats of learning from around the world.  The above photo of allied soldiers moving forwards through a recently captured village shows how bicycles were used to move small units of soldiers.  A dog watches from the muddy sidelines in this image from the National Library of Scotland.

Bicycles were also commonly used to relay messages from command to outposts on both sides of battle lines.  German soldier Adolf Hitler was a bicycle message during World War I, long before he dragged the world in to a second terrible war.  London had its own battalion of cyclists, as detailled on Roads Were Not Built for Cars blog, whilst recruitment posters exhorted British young men "Why Not Cycle For the King?"

The below image from the United States Library of Congress shows French cycling solders, with their guns slung over their shoulders, in the village of Chauconin-Neufmontiers in 1914.  A single woman appears in the photo smiling on the left, perhaps proud to see these soldiers off, or happy after they've returned from their first tour at the outbreak of the conflict.


 
In this final image, again from the National Library of Scotland, cycling orderlies come under enemy fire on the front line.  Whilst the two cyclists have upturned their bikes and appear to be using the frames to offer some protection from the enormous shell blast, a third man in the centre of the image is using a chisel - seemingly unconcerned - in the centre of the road.  For me, this strange and violent photo powerfully captures a dramatic second of the four years of experiences of men using bicycles through the world's first global conflict. 



As we mark 100 years since the start of WWI its humbling to consider the role of the simple bicycle in this, the first "mechanical war".

Never miss a post from ibikelondon; connect with us on Twitter or join the conversation on Facebook.

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Categories: Views

Transport for London sees sense at last over “Cyclists stay back” stickers

Road Danger Reduction Forum - 26 June, 2014 - 18:29

We raised our concerns about the widespread (mis)use of “Cyclists stay back” stickers over 6 months ago , sent a letter of complaint with our colleagues the CTC (the National Cyclists’ Charity), the London Cycling Campaign, RoadPeace, and the Association of Bikeability Schemes, followed by another complaint due to an inadequate response by TfL . And then TfL chose to give yet another – let’s say “inadequate” again because we try to be polite – reply to press enquiries rather than replying to us directly. By now, even seasoned campaigners were getting annoyed.

 
But yesterday RDRF and the other organisations involved, plus representatives of the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group, attended a meeting at Transport for London chaired by Lilli Matson, Head of Strategy and Outcome Planning, with nine other TfL officers concerned with safety, freight and fleet operations, buses, taxis, and marketing and communications. We are glad to say that the outcome was very positive.

Vehicles smaller than large lorries:

TfL now agree that stickers of this type have no place on lorries below 3.5 tonnes, vans, cars or taxis. On such vehicles there is no “blind spot” making it difficult for drivers to see cyclists in places where they are entitled and likely to be. Our concern was that the need for motorists to “stay back” where there is inadequate room to overtake (Highway Code Rule 153) and/or to use nearside wing mirrors (Highway Code Rules 159,161,163, 169, 179, 180, 182, 184, and 202) would be eroded, with drivers using the stickers as an excuse for not watching out.

 
TfL are asking members of its Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS) to remove the incorrectly placed stickers. So, hopefully, no more of these:

 
TfL are also saying that “where TfL has influence” action has been taken to prevent stickers on other vehicles where they are inappropriate. I would have thought that, even where operators are not members of FORS, TfL has “influence”. This is particularly so where the stickers are ones with “Transport for London” and “Mayor of London” logos – but we would hope they can get involved in all types of case where stickers are misused.

 

Buses

Despite the fact that the stickers were originally intended just for large lorries, they have found their way on to London buses. The issues there are different, but there are concerns about potential conflicts involving cyclists when overtaking buses. On that basis, a differently worded sticker for use with buses is to be considered.

 

Re-wording of stickers

One of the matters raised in the discussions over these stickers over the last year has been the precise effects of the “Cyclists stay back” wording. Where exactly are cyclists being told to go? Shouldn’t there be an explanation of why cyclists should be doing what is suggested? And of course, a “command” can be – without any legal justification – be used to justify inappropriate driver behaviour.

 
We’re pleased that TfL has agreed to re-wording of these stickers – probably with different messages for buses on the one hand and heavier lorries on the other. This wording will be created with input from the cyclists and danger reduction organisations involved and is already in progress.

 

The TfL advice web page

Fleet operators may still be using the out of date stickers, including ones inappropriately placed. TfL have agreed to put up a web page explaining the problems with the old stickers and their positioning on inappropriate vehicles. They can use this in explaining not only to members of FORS but other operators why they should remove the old stickers. Hopefully members of the public will be able to refer vehicle operators who don’t comply with the new guidance to TfL and see results.

Of course, none of this deals with the core issues of properly engineering HGVs so that their drivers are aware of cyclists and pedestrians – why is there a “blindspot” in the first place? It does not deal with engineering out the amount of space between the vehicle and the road surface which is implicated in them being crushed; nor the issues of highway engineering which would minimise this kind of occurrence in the first place; nor issues of rule and law breaking which endanger other road users as well as cyclists and pedestrians.

 
Nevertheless, one part of this problem was the idea that while a “blindspot” exists it would be useful to advise cyclists how to correctly position themselves, and we were prepared to support this. Unfortunately the issue was mishandled for some time – now we hope the mistakes are being corrected.

 
Finally, we suggest that this is happening because of a concerted and well-argued response by RDRF and our sister organisations. (A similarly positive outcome in June 2014 has come here). This suggests that watchfulness informing co-ordinated action by groups wanting road danger reduction is necessary.
We look forward to the changes outlined at our meeting with TfL. Watch this space. And meanwhile

              

 

 


Categories: Views

The Green Connection in Rotterdam

BicycleDutch - 25 June, 2014 - 23:01
My pictures of a new bridge in Rotterdam got a lot of your interest last weekend*. Not surprising, because the Green Connection (De Groene Verbinding) in Rotterdam indeed is a … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

The Green Connection in Rotterdam

BicycleDutch - 25 June, 2014 - 23:01
My pictures of a new bridge in Rotterdam got a lot of your interest last weekend*. Not surprising, because the Green Connection (De Groene Verbinding) in Rotterdam indeed is a … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Global Warming: a debate re-visited.

John Adams - 25 June, 2014 - 16:18

I have posted a near final draft of what became chapter 9 of my book Risk, published in 1995. The process of writing it transformed me from a firm believer in man-made global warming into a climate change agnostic – a position to which I still adhere. In 1995 it seemed  to me that most of the explanations being offered for what was happening to the climate were extraordinarily crude and simplistic relative to the complexity of  the system that the participants in the debate  purported to understand. I choose to call myself an “agnostic” rather than a “sceptic” because this appears to me to still be the case. The sceptics cast doubt on the “fact” of warming – I simply don’t know.

However my sympathies have shifted in favour of the sceptics in response to the disgraceful treatment of Professor Lennart Bengtsson after he recently proclaimed his scepticism and joined the Global Warming Policy Foundation. It is difficult to imagine a scientist more honoured and qualified to comment on this issue. The vicious personal response to his expressions of scepticism to me speaks volumes for their lack of confidence in the strength of their case.

I intend soon to post a review of these almost 20 year old thoughts – after deciding which ones I still agree with.  But meanwhile …

Categories: Views

Designing for existing mode share

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 25 June, 2014 - 09:01

There’s been plenty of discussion already about Camden’s West End Project - on Cyclescape, and in detailed blog form on Fitzrovia NewsCity CyclistsI Bike LondonVoleOSpeed and Rachel Aldred, as well as this open letter from the Movement for Liveable London. A summary can also be found on the Cycling Embassy forum.

So I won’t bore you by writing a long post to go with these detailed analyses, principally because my position is virtually identical to that of Rachel’s and David’s – namely, that whatever the merits of the scheme, and the good intentions of Camden as a borough (both of which are undeniable) it falls short on cycling, and to such an extent that it really has to be improved.

I also think it might be more worthwhile to summarise some of the central issues, both with this scheme, and more generally for cycling in London (and Britain as a whole).

It seems that there is broad agreement, from pretty much everybody, that this scheme is inadequate for cycling, whatever its wider benefits. Even Camden Cycling Campaign – who support the proposals currently on the table from Camden - state that

we feel that it will not do much to encourage new people to cycle

So the debate centres on whether the broader scheme objectives should be supported by cycling campaigners, despite that failure, and, relatedly, how the scheme should be approached by them, either in terms of ‘engagement’ or ‘criticism’ (although it’s not entirely clear where the boundary between the two lies; when ‘engagement’ becomes ‘criticism’, and vice-versa).

What is quite fascinating to me is how cycling campaigners – people who think that cycling can and should play a significant role in making our towns and cities more attractive places – are often happy to sacrifice the quality of the transport mode they want to see more of, in the interests of wider scheme objectives. This isn’t necessarily a comment about the Camden scheme in particular; it’s more an observation about how cycling campaigners almost expect themselves to be selfless.

I can’t imagine pedestrian user groups arguing something along the lines of ‘well, the pavements in this scheme are a bit awful, and not suitable for children. But bus users get a great deal – let’s support it!’

But effectively that’s what’s happening with this scheme, and has happened many times in the past. It’s almost expected. People wanting to see more cycling will defer to those wanting to see improvements in the bus network (for instance) in a way that would never happen in reverse.

Of course a large part of this is due to existing mode shares in London, and other British towns and cities. It seems unreasonable to demand more for a mode of transport that, while increasingly visible, and on the agenda, doesn’t really exist, at least compared to bus travel and walking.

I also get the impression that the fact cycling is very much a minority mode has informed how the West End Project scheme has developed. Cycling is an afterthought, and is fitted in around other modes. If it’s too difficult to accommodate, then sharing with a relatively large volume of motor traffic will just have to do. This is completely understandable, even if it is unacceptable from a strategic, long-term point of view, one where we are aiming for a cycling modal share well into double figures, in percent.

Conversely, in a city like Utrecht, where something like 50% of all trips in the city centre are made by bike, a scheme that neglected the quality of the cycling environment would be completely unthinkable.

A serious mode of transport that can’t be ignored

This gets us to the nub of the issue, and a Catch-22 that bedevils cycle campaigning in Britain. Namely, it’s politically difficult to allocate space for cycling, and to prioritise it as a mode of transport, when so very few people cycle, and so many people are excluded from it. But to get us to a position where it is politically easy to prioritise cycling requires those changes to the street environment that open up cycling to everyone. Which won’t happen while nobody cycles. And round we go.

Seeing a child cycling in central London is incredibly rare, outside of a closed road event. Children get driven, or they walk, or they take the bus. So why should we create conditions that would allow children to cycle, when they don’t cycle now? Again, we’re stuck in a vicious circle.

How do we get out of this rut? The answer has to lie, somewhere, with the advantages cycling would bring at an individual level – the ease of making short trips without having to worry about parking, independence of children under 17, and so on – combined with the economic, social, health, transport and environmental benefits that would come with much greater levels of cycling, at a general level.

But it’s not going to be easy, and the West End Project scheme points to the level of difficulty. It is being developed by a borough that, to my mind, probably ‘gets’ cycling more than any other authority in Britain – on streets they control. It’s an area that already has (for Britain) relatively high levels of cycling use, declining private motor traffic, very good public transport below ground level (and soon to get even better with the arrival of Crossrail), and wide building-to-building widths (although obviously with many competing demands on that space).

Yet apparently the best that can be achieved for cycling, with all these factors in play, won’t be good enough to make any significant difference.

That’s profoundly depressing. If the surface can barely be scratched here, with all the good intentions, and opportunities, then the prospects for the rest of the country are grim. It suggests a glacial pace of change.

Is there a way forward? David and Rachel both have a number of good suggestions about possible alternative arrangements on the two main N-S streets that form the central part of this scheme. As Rachel writes

surely one of them should be good for mass, inclusive cycling. That shouldn’t be an unreasonable thing to hope to see, in 2018, which is when it’ll be built, surely?

It’s hard to disagree. The proposed scheme involves two inadequate approaches on both streets; one with with no separation at all from plenty of buses and a fair amount of traffic passing through (and of course open to all in the evening), the other with inadequate separation on what will likely prove to be a busy road.

At the very worst, we should consider the space required for just one good approach, on either of the streets in question. They are only around 200 feet apart, so as long as the connections between the two are good enough (and they should be) it won’t be too arduous to divert to the other to make a north or south journey by bike.

It’s up for discussion what form that ‘good route’ could take, but it’s worth bearing in mind the dimensions of these streets at worst. The smallest building-to-building width on Tottenham Court Road is 17 metres. The smallest building-to-building width on Gower Street is 15 metres.*

So if we consider these two streets together, as a whole (this is reasonable enough as the layout of both is being completely altered by this scheme) there is a total of 32m of width available, even at the very narrowest points of both of these streets, within which to create a high quality cycling route, suitable for all potential users.

‘High quality’ means 4m of width, either in the form of a bi-directional track, or two 2m tracks, properly constructed. That leaves 28m of width for footways, bus lanes and motor traffic, at – to repeat – the very narrowest combined point of both of these streets.

Now of course this will be complex, and there will have to be discussion about how this could be achieved. The point, in quite general terms, is that if 32m of space, at minimum, can’t be imaginatively arranged to allocate just 4m of it to proper cycling provision, in a sympathetic borough with all the opportunities detailed above, then we are really in a tremendous pickle.

Even if we accept the difficulties at these narrowest points, the quality of the cycle provision could, at worst, be compromised or abandoned at these ‘pinches’; there’s no reason to jettison the potential to implement high-quality cycling infrastructure in places where it is easily achievable, simply because it’s difficult in other places.

Making the case for the value of designing well for cycling shouldn’t mean trashing Camden’s scheme, or trampling all over it. It should be about improving it, and ensuring that it has cycling provision within it that will enable cycling for all, rather than making things slightly better for the tiny minority of existing users. Doing so would make this scheme considerably better.

I think this is tremendously important; we have to break out of the current model of incremental changes that do little or nothing for the people excluded from cycling. So – as everyone else is saying – get involved, constructively!

 

*These are the very narrowest points; the average width of Tottenham Court Road is about 23m (it gets as wide as 28m, but for the great majority of its length it is wider than 20m). The average width of Gower Street is 16m (the street width here is more uniform, hovering at a shade over 15m for the great majority of its length).


Categories: Views

Designing for existing mode share

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 25 June, 2014 - 09:01

There’s been plenty of discussion already about Camden’s West End Project - on Cyclescape, and in detailed blog form on Fitzrovia NewsCity CyclistsI Bike LondonVoleOSpeed and Rachel Aldred, as well as this open letter from the Movement for Liveable London. A summary can also be found on the Cycling Embassy forum.

So I won’t bore you by writing a long post to go with these detailed analyses, principally because my position is virtually identical to that of Rachel’s and David’s – namely, that whatever the merits of the scheme, and the good intentions of Camden as a borough (both of which are undeniable) it falls short on cycling, and to such an extent that it really has to be improved.

I also think it might be more worthwhile to summarise some of the central issues, both with this scheme, and more generally for cycling in London (and Britain as a whole).

It seems that there is broad agreement, from pretty much everybody, that this scheme is inadequate for cycling, whatever its wider benefits. Even Camden Cycling Campaign – who support the proposals currently on the table from Camden - state that

we feel that it will not do much to encourage new people to cycle

So the debate centres on whether the broader scheme objectives should be supported by cycling campaigners, despite that failure, and, relatedly, how the scheme should be approached by them, either in terms of ‘engagement’ or ‘criticism’ (although it’s not entirely clear where the boundary between the two lies; when ‘engagement’ becomes ‘criticism’, and vice-versa).

What is quite fascinating to me is how cycling campaigners – people who think that cycling can and should play a significant role in making our towns and cities more attractive places – are often happy to sacrifice the quality of the transport mode they want to see more of, in the interests of wider scheme objectives. This isn’t necessarily a comment about the Camden scheme in particular; it’s more an observation about how cycling campaigners almost expect themselves to be selfless.

I can’t imagine pedestrian user groups arguing something along the lines of ‘well, the pavements in this scheme are a bit awful, and not suitable for children. But bus users get a great deal – let’s support it!’

But effectively that’s what’s happening with this scheme, and has happened many times in the past. It’s almost expected. People wanting to see more cycling will defer to those wanting to see improvements in the bus network (for instance) in a way that would never happen in reverse.

Of course a large part of this is due to existing mode shares in London, and other British towns and cities. It seems unreasonable to demand more for a mode of transport that, while increasingly visible, and on the agenda, doesn’t really exist, at least compared to bus travel and walking.

I also get the impression that the fact cycling is very much a minority mode has informed how the West End Project scheme has developed. Cycling is an afterthought, and is fitted in around other modes. If it’s too difficult to accommodate, then sharing with a relatively large volume of motor traffic will just have to do. This is completely understandable, even if it is unacceptable from a strategic, long-term point of view, one where we are aiming for a cycling modal share well into double figures, in percent.

Conversely, in a city like Utrecht, where something like 50% of all trips in the city centre are made by bike, a scheme that neglected the quality of the cycling environment would be completely unthinkable.

A serious mode of transport that can’t be ignored

This gets us to the nub of the issue, and a Catch-22 that bedevils cycle campaigning in Britain. Namely, it’s politically difficult to allocate space for cycling, and to prioritise it as a mode of transport, when so very few people cycle, and so many people are excluded from it. But to get us to a position where it is politically easy to prioritise cycling requires those changes to the street environment that open up cycling to everyone. Which won’t happen while nobody cycles. And round we go.

Seeing a child cycling in central London is incredibly rare, outside of a closed road event. Children get driven, or they walk, or they take the bus. So why should we create conditions that would allow children to cycle, when they don’t cycle now? Again, we’re stuck in a vicious circle.

How do we get out of this rut? The answer has to lie, somewhere, with the advantages cycling would bring at an individual level – the ease of making short trips without having to worry about parking, independence of children under 17, and so on – combined with the economic, social, health, transport and environmental benefits that would come with much greater levels of cycling, at a general level.

But it’s not going to be easy, and the West End Project scheme points to the level of difficulty. It is being developed by a borough that, to my mind, probably ‘gets’ cycling more than any other authority in Britain – on streets they control. It’s an area that already has (for Britain) relatively high levels of cycling use, declining private motor traffic, very good public transport below ground level (and soon to get even better with the arrival of Crossrail), and wide building-to-building widths (although obviously with many competing demands on that space).

Yet apparently the best that can be achieved for cycling, with all these factors in play, won’t be good enough to make any significant difference.

That’s profoundly depressing. If the surface can barely be scratched here, with all the good intentions, and opportunities, then the prospects for the rest of the country are grim. It suggests a glacial pace of change.

Is there a way forward? David and Rachel both have a number of good suggestions about possible alternative arrangements on the two main N-S streets that form the central part of this scheme. As Rachel writes

surely one of them should be good for mass, inclusive cycling. That shouldn’t be an unreasonable thing to hope to see, in 2018, which is when it’ll be built, surely?

It’s hard to disagree. The proposed scheme involves two inadequate approaches on both streets; one with with no separation at all from plenty of buses and a fair amount of traffic passing through (and of course open to all in the evening), the other with inadequate separation on what will likely prove to be a busy road.

At the very worst, we should consider the space required for just one good approach, on either of the streets in question. They are only around 200 feet apart, so as long as the connections between the two are good enough (and they should be) it won’t be too arduous to divert to the other to make a north or south journey by bike.

It’s up for discussion what form that ‘good route’ could take, but it’s worth bearing in mind the dimensions of these streets at worst. The smallest building-to-building width on Tottenham Court Road is 17 metres. The smallest building-to-building width on Gower Street is 15 metres.*

So if we consider these two streets together, as a whole (this is reasonable enough as the layout of both is being completely altered by this scheme) there is a total of 32m of width available, even at the very narrowest points of both of these streets, within which to create a high quality cycling route, suitable for all potential users.

‘High quality’ means 4m of width, either in the form of a bi-directional track, or two 2m tracks, properly constructed. That leaves 28m of width for footways, bus lanes and motor traffic, at – to repeat – the very narrowest combined point of both of these streets.

Now of course this will be complex, and there will have to be discussion about how this could be achieved. The point, in quite general terms, is that if 32m of space, at minimum, can’t be imaginatively arranged to allocate just 4m of it to proper cycling provision, in a sympathetic borough with all the opportunities detailed above, then we are really in a tremendous pickle.

Even if we accept the difficulties at these narrowest points, the quality of the cycle provision could, at worst, be compromised or abandoned at these ‘pinches’; there’s no reason to jettison the potential to implement high-quality cycling infrastructure in places where it is easily achievable, simply because it’s difficult in other places.

Making the case for the value of designing well for cycling shouldn’t mean trashing Camden’s scheme, or trampling all over it. It should be about improving it, and ensuring that it has cycling provision within it that will enable cycling for all, rather than making things slightly better for the tiny minority of existing users. Doing so would make this scheme considerably better.

I think this is tremendously important; we have to break out of the current model of incremental changes that do little or nothing for the people excluded from cycling. So – as everyone else is saying – get involved, constructively!

 

*These are the very narrowest points; the average width of Tottenham Court Road is about 23m (it gets as wide as 28m, but for the great majority of its length it is wider than 20m). The average width of Gower Street is 16m (the street width here is more uniform, hovering at a shade over 15m for the great majority of its length).


Categories: Views

The Tour de France is welcomed to South Yorkshire – with this “road safety” rubbish

Road Danger Reduction Forum - 23 June, 2014 - 22:17

Although the image  below is a bit difficult to make out (the original is here), we reproduce it and take some time to examine its message as delivered by the “South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership” (SYSRP) . It is typical of why official “road safety” – as opposed to the real road safety of road danger reduction – is part of the problem of danger on the roads and discrimination against cycling and sustainable transport.



“Cycling can be a quick and inexpensive way to get around, helping to keep you fit”

The classic cheery official way to address cycling: apparently friendly, but actually starting off from the premise that there is something unusual and problematic about it. Would any advice to motorists start in the same tone? (“Driving can make you feel like a real man or an independent woman…”*). Let’s briefly look at some of the attributes of cycling selected:
“Quick”. Well, it can be, but not as much as it should be if you live in the car-centred communities of South Yorkshire, built up by??? the local Highway Authorities and the Highways Agency – who sit on the South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership”.
“Inexpensive”. Cycling in London – one of the few places where it has increased significantly in the last decade – is largely the preserve of the middle class, partly because of its cost, while the cost of motoring remains low
“…helping to keep you fit”. The health benefits of cycling are one of its best features, but not as a sports activity or a desire to “keep fit” – the health benefits of cycling happen in societies with mass cycling. And these societies are, above all, ones where cycling is a normal everyday activity, carried out by ordinary people wearing their normal clothes, looking like this:

Somewhere in the rest of northern Europe

And not like the helmeted hi-viz chap in the South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership poster:

Poor definition image, but you get the picture

In a society where cycling is taken seriously as a form of transport, starting off any serious publicity campaign with the patronising assumption that cycling is doing something remarkable or unusual would just not happen. It is wrong from the start.
Of course, you could say some things about cycling if you actually wanted to support it. You could say that cycling, instead of using motorised transport:
Is less dangerous to other road users, emits less noise pollution, reduces noxious emissions and greenhouse gas emissions, and is part of promoting local sustainable communities. But my guess is that the Councils of South Yorkshire are not really into that sort of thing. And saying that cycling is less dangerous to others than driving might direct attention to the source of danger, where we think it belongs. But do South Yorkshire Police and others on SYSRP?

So let’s look at the “road safety tips”:

1. “Wear a fluorescent reflective jacket to make yourself more visible”. If you want to consider the evidence and context for this classic theme in “road safety”, look here: More recently campaigns have been commented on here and here . According to their representative at the last meeting I attended with him, even the Department for Transport can’t come up with any evidence on hi-viz reducing casualty rates among cyclists.
If you want to be visible, you can cycle in a more prominent position on the road (which might well annoy uneducated motorists), but otherwise work for a society where the responsibility for seeing goes back to where it should always have been – with the person looking, not the person being seen. This is exactly what all the “road safety” lobby, with its pushing for hi-viz, works against.
2. “…always wear a correctly fitted cycle helmet”. If you want to see why there is no evidence for cycle helmet wearing reducing chances of being hurt or killed, look here  . But you probably don’t. Particularly if you are a member of the “road safety” community.
3. “Always use lights at night”. Er, yes, but why do you have to make this point? Most cycling in South Yorkshire right now will not be at night. Bicycle light use doesn’t seem to have much relationship to whether you get hurt or killed on a bike  . This is just another example of one of the numerous things which cyclists should be doing (all road users have numerous things they shoudl be doing), so you just chuck it into the list without evidence of its importance as a real factor in a significant proportion of incidents leading to cyclist casualties. Which is what “road safety” does all too often.
4. “Jumping red lights is illegal and puts you in danger”. Illegal you say? Are South Yorkshire Police going to be enforcing the law on speeding apart from at some well publicised sites where the right number of casualties have been reported? And isn’t the real problem that pedestrians might be put in danger? No, that means looking at the danger you pose to others, and you would have to go after drivers.
5. “Use cycle lanes and bus lanes where possible”.
(a) Cycle lanes. Now, there’s a bit of history with “cycle lanes”: not least the victory for the CTC in defending a cyclist who correctly refused to use one when ti was not to his safety advantage  Hopefully any such lanes we find in South Yorkshire will be to the highest standard of design and implementation – in which case cyclists are going to use them anyway. What is interesting is that when the cyclist rides in the way taught in National Standards (“Bikeability”) training, as the one in the illustration appears to be doing, he will be riding close to the edge of the Advisory Cycle Lane. Unfortunately, the evidence is that many drivers seem to feel that it is all right to drive right up to the edge of such lanes.…
(b) Bus lanes. If there is a bus lane you’re highly unlikely not to use it. Unless you have been terrified by what we might euphemistically call “inappropriate” behaviour by bus drivers. (See examples of this at the end of this post). Or unless you’re going right and the bus lane is by the nearside kerb – in which case using the bus lane is the most dangerous thing you can do. (This applies even more to kerbside cycle lanes).
But most of all, we need to note the reason for inclusion of this “road safety tip”. It seems to be based on the patronising assumption that the Highway Authority has “done something” for this deviant group of people, and that they need to repay the special favour supposedly done for them. This attitude definitely exists and is hardly likely to help people view cycling as a normal activity. We think it needs serious critical examination, (a brief example is here)
6. “Undertaking long vehicles is dangerous. They may not see you if they are turning left”. RDRF has been involved in cycle training programmes which get this message across for 15 years, but it might still be worth pointing out that:
(a) However well trained you are, we all make mistakes – after all, “road safety” highway and vehicle engineering is based on the idea that drivers are going to get things wrong as a matter of course. Hence the “forgiving” environments of cars (seat belts, roll bars, collapsible steering wheels etc.) and roads (felled roadside trees, crash barriers, anti-skid etc.) to accommodate the careless and rule-breaking driver. How about some engineering of lorries and the highway environment to accommodate cyclists who may not always be doing the right thing?
(b) Er, it’s not the object; it’s the person in charge of it that “may not see you”.
(c) Actually, it appears that a large proportion – if not the majority – of incidents where HGVs end up crushing cyclists involve the cyclist being hit from behind or by an overtaking lorry. What are SYRSP doing about this?
(d) And a properly equipped HGV should have the tools (such as infra-red sensors) to make it easier for the lorry driver to see the cyclist in the first place. Are SYRSP doing anything on this?

CONCLUSION

The nice lady in the SYRSP facebook page, or other members of the SYRSP, may not understand what I am talking about. They may well mean well: But most of the people who endanger others on the road are not necessarily bad people, they just happen to do bad things.
And that’s what I think SYRSP are doing – bad things. I actually got the point about the introductory comment wrong*, as SYRSP do have “advice” for drivers, prefaced by:” We all enjoy the freedom of driving and being able to travel in our vehicles, but we must also take responsibility for our actions and follow the laws of the road”. But actually, drivers DON’T have to take responsibility; otherwise there wouldn’t be the mass law- and rule-breaking which make the roads more hazardous for other road users – including other motor vehicle occupants – than they should be.
None of this means that cyclists have no responsibilities – although anything which might empower cyclists with good quality confidence training doesn’t get highlighted by SYRSP. What it means is that, whatever pedestrians and cyclists do, they will be at the mercy of road danger coming from the motorised, while the converse is not true. It is a simple matter of natural justice, equity and civilised values, to emphasise that the priority for real road safety is to reduce road danger at source by making those responsible for it – be they highway engineers, vehicle engineers, police officers or drivers themselves – accountable.
That is not happening in South Yorkshire, and people who want a civilised approach to safety on the road will point out what’s wrong with the road safety lobby until it does.


Categories: Views

Camden's West End is changing. For better or worse, if you want safe space4cycling you have to get involved

ibikelondon - 23 June, 2014 - 08:30

New plans by Camden Council to transform Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street have got everyone talking.  Their "West End Project" has been devised to accommodate thousands of extra pedestrians who will pour in to the area after Crossrail opens in 2018, but there are very valid concerns about the effect this will have on cyclists on these key north / south routes. Is this the Tottenham Court Road of the future?On Thursday I signed an open letter - along with a number of other campaigners - praising the principles of the West End Project and agreeing to engage with the proposals as productively as possible.  When plans that can effect cyclist's safety are under scrutiny it is understandable that emotions can run high, but in this instance I do believe a positive attitude with an informed, constructive and cooperative approach will procure a much better result for us.


There are plenty of cycle design horror stories in London where boisterously pointing out their inherent daftness is, frankly, the only scrutiny they deserve (Elephant and Castle, Bow roundabout, Vauxhall Cross, anyone?)  In the past I've been the first to call on people to stamp their feet, badger their politicians and take to the streets in protest.  

But in this instance I truly believe that Camden's heart is in the right place, even if I don't agree with all of their proposal.  Their stated objectives for the scheme are to "make streets safe, attractive and easy to cross, to create new public space for the whole community to enjoy, to improve the experience for pedestrians and cyclists, to reduce congestion, pollution and casualties and to provide a public realm to cope with more pedestrians for Crossrail".  

Gower Street at present: three lanes of fast moving traffic with no safe space for cycling.  Horrible for pedestrians too.  A traffic sewer.
You don't have to look far from Camden's borders to see just how far ahead of other boroughs the ambition of the Council is, and that's something to be applauded, not scorned.  Putting this kind of proposal on the table risks raising the fury of the taxi trade and the freight transport lobby, not to mention the irk of local residents and Councillor's vote-wielding electorate.  Standing on the sidelines throwing our toys out of the pram will not get the result we want; the Council will either withdraw from discussion completely or simply comply with those they perceive to be reasonable whilst we rant and rave from the unreasonable margins.  It is the job of cycle campaigners over the next few months to ensure our voices are more reasonable and more compelling than those who will respond (like the cab trade) who'd like to see all the benefits of this scheme undone.

The West End Project has been conceived in good faith; removing the Tottenham Court Road / Gower Street one-way system has been in Camden's transport strategy and under discussion with local stakeholders since 2007.  Their proposal is not perfect for cyclists, but is considered by the Council to be the best of some 30 different scenarios they have drawn up and chewed over.  If only all streets in London were created with such care!

My interpretation of the plans has very much been whilst wearing two hats; as a Londoner who often uses the space on foot for shopping and entertainment, arriving by train; and as a cyclist who often cycles through the area and sometimes stops and shops there whilst using a bicycle, too.


As a pedestrian and public transport user the current proposal to make Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street two-way are good.  Speeds on both streets are currently very high (certainly considerably higher than the area's new 20mph zone limit) due to the straightness and width of the road.  You have to go to two different streets to catch a bus, depending on which direction you're going in.  The pavements - most especially around the Dominion Theatre and TCR station - are narrow, cluttered and unable to cope at peak times.  Gower Street - despite the host of historic buildings and cultural institutions that line it - is nothing better than a traffic sewer.  

The plan to return to two-way will deliver slower speeds, easier bus interchange with TCR station, more pavement space, the ability to cross narrower streets more informally, not to mention significant new public space including a very large plaza at the foot of the Centre Point Tower, a "pocket park" half way up Tottenham Court Road itself and a completely new park on Alfred Place turning what is presently acres of half empty asphalt in to the first new public park to be built in the West End in over a century.  All good stuff.  But despite traffic levels falling across the district for a number of years, bus numbers remain steadfastly high, and there will still be a very significant number of noisy, dirty buses transiting the area in the future.

As a cyclist, the plans for the area are not quite so fantastic.  Existing confident cyclists will certainly benefit from decreased speeds if the streets revert to two-way (both in terms of a limit and speeds restrained by the physical environment) and there are promises of more bike parking space which is currently scarce indeed in the West End.

Tottenham Court Road itself will be made bus and cycle only from 8AM to 7PM, Monday to Friday, travelling from north to south - certainly an improvement on the current wide-laned free-for-all that exists.  But there are no plans for any segregated cycling infrastructure here at all; the best we can hope for are a few Advanced Stop Lines and carriageways that are just wide enough to allow you to filter or play leap frog with the 90 or so buses which will travel through in each direction each hour.  Other traffic - including taxis - can still traverse TCR east / west and no passenger would be more than 60metres from a store entrance doing this, putting paid to the myth that the cab trade will be cut off, even if they won't have direct north / south access.


Proposals for Gower Street
Camden envisage that if you are just general traffic passing through (whether in a car or on a bike) you take a slight detour via Gower Street to go north or south.  That's okay - I have no problem with minor detours so long as the quality and comfort of that detour outweighs the most direct route.  On Gower Street, Camden propose "lightly segregated" lanes of a maximum 1.5 metres width in each direction.  The light segregation will be similar to the "armadillos" currently used on Royal College Street, which has much lower traffic volumes and wider bike lanes.  Can sporadic implementation of rubber bumps provide adequate segregation against the high volumes of motor traffic expected here? And with such high traffic levels - and throughput of cyclists - will 1.5m wide lanes give sufficient space for cycles to offer sufficient protection?  In recent years levels of all types of other private traffic have been falling in the area whereas cycling is growing - will these narrow lanes be sufficient enough to cope with future cycling growth?



Royal College Street (above) and a dense application of armadillos on a centre-of-carriageway cycle track in Barcelona, Spain (below).
I've seen armadillos used to good effect in Barcelona when placed at an angle and at closer intervals (indeed, this particular route was full of kids cycling to school and other "indicator species" for a successful cycling scheme) but doing this on Gower Street would also need more space.  Can enough space be found here for safe cycling of all levels? (Dr Rachel Aldred does a superb job on her blog analysing the impacts of the proposed scheme on inclusive cycling in the future, and comes up with interesting proposals)

So if the proposed cycle tracks on Gower Street aren't good enough, why not keep the one way system and put in a segregated cycle track alongside it?  Fellow bike blogger David Arditti, aka the Vole O'Speed - in a well researched and considered proposal on his blog here - comes to a similar conclusion, but I have reservations about this approach too.

One of the key purposes of the West End Project is to think about how the streets in the area will operate in the future, and what seems to be lacking from much of cycle campaigner's consideration is an awareness of just how significant an impact the opening of Crossrail will have in the area.  London's new high-frequency underground train route is breath-taking in scale: this single line will add 10% capacity to the entire London Underground network alone.  By 2018 (when the new line opens) Tottenham Court Road train station will be used by 200,000 passengers a day, rising to 306,000 a day by 2026 according to latest predictions.  Some 38,000 people an hour will use the station during week day peaks.

The problematic point on Tottenham Court Road lies just north of the station where a pinch between two buildings leaves just 9 metres of space to play with.  If you maintain the one-way system you will need to put any segregated cycling infrastructure on the "wrong" side of the carriageway in order to avoid buses pulling over in to your path continually, despite there being many side roads and this being a shopping precinct where cyclists may wish to make stops.

Tottenham Court Road at its narrowest point.
I've been a strident cheerleader for more segregated cycling infrastructure in London for many years, but at this 9 metre pinch point I just don't think an off-side cycle track with buses on one side and so many thousands of pedestrians coming out of the station on the other is going to work.  I can't help but feel that campaigning for that would be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. We'd get the safe space for cycling we've all been calling for, but it would likely be full of some of the thousands and thousands of pedestrians Crossrail will bring to the area.  As a Londoner (and public transport user) I also can't bring myself to push for this solution when taken in to consideration against the disbenefits for pedestrians, including likely higher traffic speeds if the one way system is retained and having to catch buses in different directions from two different streets.

 New Oxford Street today
New Oxford Street, to the east of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street (the road that runs between the Dominion Theatre and the Centre Point Tower) is presently a terrifying melange of buses, bordered by the Holborn / Shaftesbury Avenue gyratory to the south.  Yet despite this it is the beginning of what I like to call the "Hipster spice route", the insanely popular cycling route from the West End to East London following New Oxford Street, Theobald's Road and Old Street where London's highest cycling rates have been recorded (51% of AM peak traffic) and it is not uncommon to see 50+ cyclists at every junction during rush hour.  But despite this, the West End Project's only concession to cycling on New Oxford Street are raised tables to keep speeds down.  See the desperately scant proposals here - it's almost like they ran out of steam.


London's "Hipster Spice Route" starts on New Oxford Street before joining Theobald's Road, above.
So what can we do?  As I stated at the start, stamping our feet on the sidelines will get us nowhere whilst other more effective lobbying groups erase whatever benefits may be on offer.

As I've outlined above, personally I don't think keeping the one way system and having segregated routes alongside it will work.  I'd go as far as to say that with such high pedestrian numbers we should effectively "give" Tottenham Court Road itself to them, and the buses and train station that will deliver and take them away.

Two way working on Gower Street will significantly improve what - as Londoners - we all deserve to enjoy as one of our most beautifully built streets, full of interesting institutions and seats of learning.  But the current space for cycling on offer is insufficient.  If light segregation is going to be used then it needs to be much more along the Barcelona model, and to do that we need to find more space.   Can enough space be squeezed from the existing carriageway to deliver this?  Perhaps.  Could even more space, better results for pedestrians and an improved public environment be delivered by making Gower Street pedestrians and cyclists only?  Undoubtedly.  But is this politically palatable, and will the taxi and freight transport lobby - not to mention local residents - stand for it?

The consultation for the West End Project closes on Friday the 18th of July.  My key responses will include asking for:
  • Extended operating hours of the "bus and cycle only" exclusion on Tottenham Court Road, including later at night and on Sunday.
  • More space for cycling for existing riders on TCR itself, including deep bike boxes at junctions, cycle-only advance lights, and more cycle parking at stages along the route if two-way running is introduced.
  • A return to the drawing board for New Oxford Street proposals, which desperately need to do more to keep existing riders safe, let alone those who will ride here in the future (including the young and elderly)
  • More safe space for cycling on Gower Street; either through wider and better separated cycle tracks, or via the complete exclusion of motor traffic on this route all together.
I would encourage you all to read up on the plans, to respond to the consultation, and to get involved.  People on bikes undoubtedly need to stand up and be counted if the scheme isn't going to be watered down by other responses, and we need to find common ground to push forward where we agree on what the next steps should be.  One thing is for certain, the West End's streets are going to change and it is up to us all to ensure there's a place for cycling on them.

What can you do?

The consultation to the West End Project is here whilst the plans are here.

Camden Cycling Campaign (the local branch of the London Cycling Campaign) are holding an engagement meeting with Camden's planner and local Councillors on the 30th June at the Indian YMCA at 7PM (Entry ticketed due to demand, register for yours here.)

Other blog posts on this subject worth your consideration:

Movement for Liveable London: An Open Letter to Camden's West End Project
Dr Rachel Aldred: Is there room for inclusive cycling?
Vole O Speed: To gyrate or not to gyrate?
Cyclists In The City: Londoners voted for space4cycling. Should people support these plans?
Cycling Embassy of Great Britain: Forum thoughts and facts
Cycle Scape: campaign space run by Camden Cyclists
London Cycling Campaign: Will West End deliver?

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Categories: Views

To gyrate, or not to gyrate?

Vole O'Speed - 19 June, 2014 - 17:53
There seem to be no hard and fast rules as to when a roundabout becomes a "gyratory system", or a "gyratory system" becomes a "one way system";  it seems to be a matter of opinion, but I think we all know what a gyratory is. It is a big system of traffic that circulates in one direction, often so big that there are many buildings in the middle. It is also fair to say that gyratory systems are widely hated by cycling and pedestrian campaigners and assorted other environmentalists and urbanists: associated, in their UK application, as they usually are, with heavy traffic flows, speeding motor vehicles, inconvenient pedestrian crossing arrangements, hellish cycling conditions – where cyclists have been effectively just "thrown to the lions" and told to fend for themselves, with no facilities – pollution, noise, decay, alienation, an un-human, bad-scale environment, and general awfulness.

But then again, we may wander, or sedately pedal, around some of the environmentally best-organised cities in Europe; what about Amsterdam, Utrecht, Copenhagen, Bruges, Münster? We find them to be largely free of this nastiness: clean, easy to traverse, quiet and sociable. But look! Actually, so many of the streets we are traversing are one-way for motor vehicles (two way, of course, for bikes, and often also for buses and trams). And, examined on a larger scale, we will see that these streets are often organised as gyratory systems. So what's happening here? Are gyratories intrinsically bad, or is it just their normal UK application?
This subject has been covered in a very good blog post from last year by As Easy As Riding A Bike, with plenty of pictures of examples from the UK and the Netherlands. I recommend study of this, and I won't repeat what he says, but I'll try to relate it here to some current discussions over gyratory systems in London. The general point is that gyratory systems are just tools of planning which may be used to create very different types of environment, depending on what the intention is. If the planner is determined to force a maximal volume of traffic through a junction, or district of streets in a city grid, they can use an appropriately-designed gyratory system to accomplish this. If they wish to prevent motor traffic from using streets as through-routes, or if they wish to reduce motor traffic in an area of a city to an essential minimum, or if they wish to make space for wider pavements, segregated cycle tracks, or bus lanes, or do a combination of these things, then a system of appropriately-designed one-way streets and gyratory systems is also the way in which to do it. It is the intention behind the planning that matters, not the number of directions of motor travel on any given bit or road. Importantly, one-way and gyratory systems can be designed to give motor vehicles longer, slightly less convenient journeys, and cyclists direct, convenient journeys, and can thus be used to bias travel patterns towards the bike.
I came to understand, way back at the end of the last century, that one-way traffic systems are not necessarily evil creations that cycle campaigners should be on principle opposed to. Paul Gannon, when he started campaigning with Camden Cycling Campaign, had returned from living in the Netherlands, where he had noted the constructive use that was made there in introducing one-ways in narrow grid-pattern city streets to create the space for cycle facilities and block through motor traffic from large areas. I described the campaigns of this period before, in this blog post, where I explained that the Seven Stations Link cycle route through Bloomsbury that we planned was predicated on creating new one-way streets to make space for two-way cycle tracks. (This pattern was common in the Netherlands in this period, though it has become less common since, as such streets tend to have been closed entirely to through motor traffic in more recent schemes). The reason the Bloomsbury cycle tracks are so narrow and compromised now was that Camden Council did not do what we wanted, but attempted to fit two-way tracks into the space that should have been used for a single direction. The tracks were planned to be twice as wide, but lobbying by the black cab drivers, who wanted to preserve their two-way back-street rat-run between Euston and Kings Cross, foiled the plan, amid changes at the council which removed the people who might have had the determination to see the proper scheme through.
The Seven Stations Link in Bloomsbury: half the width it should have been, because the road was not made one-way for motors.More recently, I observed, and David Hembrow explained, on his excellent study tour of Assen and Groningen, how carefully-worked out one-way systems, with merely signed cycle exception, are the entirely standard, non-intrusive, low-engineering model used in Dutch towns to minimise traffic in small residential streets, which become excellent routes for cycling and walking in consequence. In another type of environment, the one-way system of Camden town, with its many bad features remaining, is at least such that it allowed Camden to progressively reduce the single direction of motor traffic on Royal College Street from three fast lanes to one slow one, which has allowed the construction of the (fairly) successful cycle tracks there, part of the Somers Town route from Camden to Euston Road, give or take a few planters demolished from time to time.
Standard Dutch residential street, where a system of one-ways, with signed cycle exception, minimises through motor traffic while allowing easy access to all properties.
Whereas I used to think, at one time, that roundabouts were necessarily anti-cycling, and that they should be all replaced by signalised crossroads, I've come to realise that this was a simplistic idea, and really quite wrong. Lots of signals are the last things we need on the streets, if we wish cycling to be an efficient, pleasurable and competitive mode of transport. The Dutch and Danes show us how roundabouts properly designed for cycling are an excellent replacement for signalised junctions, reducing delays and congestion for both cycle and motor traffic, enhancing safety, reducing pollution (due to idling traffic waiting in queues), and making the cycling experience easy and smooth. Classic (and usually correct) cycle blogger Freewheeler noted, somewhere that I can't find now, that though removal of London's bad gyratory systems and replacement with normal junctions would make conditions a little better for existing cyclists, it was in no way a prescription, or even part of the prescription, for the conditions for mass cycling, Dutch-style, which requires almost total separation of cyclists from heavy flows of motor vehicles (both for the reason of subjective safety, and the because it is the only practical way of making space for really large-scale cycling).
We've seen the recent disastrous example of Piccadilly and Haymarket, where the return of these streets to two-way working, heralded by the Mayor as a great public realm project for his Olympic city, has resulted in conditions (on Piccadilly) no better for pedestrians than they were before, a hellish cycling environment, as much congestion as before, if not more, as much pollution, no improvement, so far as I can see, in bus service or convenience, and no improvement, so far as I can see, even in conditions for taxi drivers and other motorists.
So I think the subject of what to do about London's anti-cycling, and generally bad, gyratory systems deserves careful consideration, and not dogmatic position-taking. I think there are cases and cases; there are probably cases where the best cycling and walking environment can be most easily got, at minimal expense and reworking, and with minimal opposition, by keeping gyratory systems, for private motor traffic and taxis, as they are, but introducing changes for other road users. There are other cases where the best and easiest solution is the abolition of the gyratory system. I'll raise here two current cases of discussion which I think are examples of both these situations.
I last discussed Tottenham Court Road (in what has become, surprisingly, the second most popular post on this blog), in August 2011. I pointed out then that Camden's plan to transform this road (the northbound arm of the one-way system that also includes Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street) was the best opportunity so far presented of usefully extending Camden's still slight segregated cycle network, that had remained unexpanded since the completion of the Camden section of the Seven Stations link around 2002. I criticised the plans produced at that time by the council, which showed a dishonest artists' impression of a future Tottenham Court Road, two-way and reserved for buses and cyclists, in which cyclists and pedestrians happily thronged. I pointed out that successful cycling systems do not mix cyclists with buses in the same space, that Camden, on past form, would be unlikely to be able to prevent black cabs from using the route, and that the result would probably be very like the environmental sink of Oxford Street, one of the most polluted streets in the world.
These things grind excruciatingly slowly, and three years on, still nothing has happened, but there is a new, supposedly more definitive plan for these streets being put out by Camden, with a consultation, under the title "West End Project", which you can read all about (or all about to the not very high level of detail that has been provided) here. On this page you may see the new dishonest artists' impression of the future Tottenham Court Road.
Camden's current envisioning of the future Tottenham Court RoadThis is similar to the 2011 version, except it is slightly better, as there is no fashionable "median strip" to trap cyclists next to the wheels and exhausts of buses a la Piccadilly. But it still has no protected space for cycling, it doesn't show the situation when cyclists get trapped between buses,  or have to pull out around stopped buses into the path of other buses (as the simple, standard Dutch and Danish expedient of the island bus stop with a cycle track passing behind it seems to be regarded as an impossibility here, for some reason, even by the erudite back-room boys and girls at Camden Cycling Campaign), and, importantly, it is a part-time and incomplete vision. Even assuming Camden succeed in banning black cabs, which I still doubt, the road will only be reserved for cycle and bus through-travel between 8am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday, not Sunday, and even between those times, Local access for cars, taxis and loading would be allowed on short sections of Tottenham Court Road via side roads. So this whole thing is really not how it is presented in the sunny artists' impression. (Funny how they are always sunny, isn't it?)
The other main part of this plan is the design for Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, which are proposed to go two-way for all traffic. This is where, under the current concept, cyclists get some semi-protected space. This will be in the form of one-way cycle lanes on both sides of the street protected by rubber armadillos, similar to those used in Royal College Street. Differences with that street design will be, however, the lack of planters (which have not proved too successful), and the lack of parking. In Royal College Street, parking outside the armadillos protects sections of cycle track from moving motor vehicles. It seems to me that in the Gower Street design, the cycle lanes protected only by armadillos will be highly vulnerable, in a very pressurised traffic space, far more so than Royal College Street, to getting driven and stopped upon by taxis and loading vehicles.
Royal College street, with planters and armadillos. The line of residential parking, there most of the time, protecting the track, is, I feel, a critical feature of this facility, which will be absent in Gower StreetUnfortunately, the details for the design of Gower Street as given on Camden's site are very poor. There is this image, not produced at any proper resolution, for the northern section, and a similar one for the southern, which contain no dimensions, and in no way explain how the cycle routes northbound and southbound are meant to work. There are, incomprehensibly, loading bays shown within the armadilloed cycle lanes at two points. There are lots of advanced stop areas, features which have nothing to do with Dutch or Danish cycle design for highly-trafficked roads, and which smack of a "dual network" concept (not all cyclists using the cycle facilities, in other words, because the are not good enough).
My understanding is that the "protected" cycle lanes will be 1.5m wide. This is just about wide enough for overtaking in, but not generous, for a main cycle route. I am therefore slightly confused as to what the route concept really is here. I am not sure there is a coherent concept at all. The street that offers the most obvious north-south high-capacity cycle route option through the area remains Tottenham Court Road, as I said in 2011. It connects with Hampstead Road, to the north, and Charing Cross Road, to the south. Though Gower Street offers a route southwards towards Covent Garden and Waterloo Bridge (a currently highly unpleasant route, not all of the problems of which, by any means, would be solved by these plans), the north end of it is not accessible, except via the intimidating racetrack lane system on Euston Road, which is not proposed to be changed. Furthermore, there will be no northbound route on this alignment north of Grafton Way. These look like a pretty fatal flaws in the plans to me.
The most detailed graphic (not very) from Camden's site shows that the protected lanes on Gower Street go no further north than Grafton Way, that there's no further route north on this alighnment, and that access from the north is only from Euston Road via unpleasant high-speed slip lanes. These are really bad flaws in the route design.As a gyratory-removal scheme, too, note that it is only partial. The northernmost part of Gower Street remains only southbound for motor vehicles, for the same reason as for cyclists: there are no changes to the Euston Road system (suggesting there is no collaboration between Camden and Transport for London, who control Euston Road). So, instead, the Camden plan creates a mini-gyratory system at the north end, via Grafton Way, which I submit is an inappropriate, small side road to take this main flow of traffic.Gyratory removal? Actually, a mini-gyratory where one does not exist now is created in the Camden plans on Grafton Way, an inappropriate street.It seems that the concept is that cyclists will only use parts of the Gower Street corridor, connecting with it via the side streets, which are promised to have permeability improvements (i.e. more of them will be two-way for bikes) according to Camden Cyclists. On the other hand, on the obvious, continuous and straight north-south route, Tottenham Court Road, for most hours of the week, cyclists will be mixing with general two-way traffic, so the situation is likely to resemble how Piccadilly is now. At the better times of the week cyclists will only be mixing with heavy flows of buses, and cars and lorries on certain stretches. And I'm assuming perfect enforcement of the complicated and part-time restrictions. Does all this sound like a very cycle-friendly plan? I think not. I hear, incidentally, that the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan is none too impressed with the scheme either, and is refusing to contribute to the costs from his budget, though he cannot stop Camden doing what it wants on its own roads.
I think Camden Council has got obsessed by this idea of "gyratory removal" and is not thinking radically enough about how the whole area could be optimised for buses, cyclists, pedestrians, and, indeed, businesses. I think a far better result could be got for cycling, and no worse for buses and pedestrians, probably better, by retaining the one-way system, but reducing the capacity of it by having only one general traffic lane lane northbound in Tottenham Court Road and one southbound in Gower Street. I would put a dedicated bus lane all the way down Gower Street and a full kerb-segregated cycle track there as well. These would be southbound only. In Tottenham Court Road I would put one-way kerb-segregated cycle tracks in both directions. In the northern, wide section of Tottenham Court Road I would put a dedicated northbound bus lane, expanding out from the single motor traffic lane in the narrower southern part, and I would have it separated by bus boarding islands from the northbound cycle track at the stops. There would be loading areas for lorries in appropriate places outside the cycle tracks.
My scheme would seriously reduce general motor capacity, and I think this is a good thing. It is what is needed. The trouble with the Camden scheme is that it is more or less capacity neutral. It is another Piccadilly and Haymarket: it is not really prioritising cycling, it is just shifting the deckchairs around a little, pushing flows in certain directions from one street to another. My scheme would instead seriously reallocate road space and seriously protect cyclists, while allowing the other essential functions in the street to continue, and it would do this by retaining the one-way system, making it more like a Dutch city-centre one-way system. The environmental benefits to everybody, cyclist or not, would be enormous.
Gower Street now. I would reallocate these lanes by making the left one a wide cycle track with kerb segregation, making the middle one the bus lane, and keeping the outer lane as it is. All would be southbound. This fits with the traffic system at the northern end as currently configured, which only facilitates the southbound route.Tottenham Court Road, north of Goodge street, now. I would reallocate this space by getting rid of the rubbish in the middle of the road and creating wide, kerb-secgregasted cycle tracks running in both directions, plus a bus lane and a separate general traffic lane running northbound. Bus stops would be on islands.Tottenham Court Road, south end, now. I would reallocate this space to wide, kerb-segregated cycle tracks running in both directions, with one northbound lane for all other traffic. Taxis could still have their waiting area, outside the contraflow cycle track, and there would be spaces for loading for shops outside the track.The benefits of my plan would not only be motor traffic reduction: it is also simpler. The current motor flows are not altered and there is no need for any large junction changes. There is no small gyratory system inappropriately routed via Grafton Way. The current cycle route towards Covent Garden and Waterloo Bridge is maintained and made far better. The Charing Cross Road to Camden Town route via Tottenham Court Road is made safe and pleasant for cycling, and the exact direct reverse route becomes possible, and just as easy and pleasant. This scheme would really open the West End up for cycling and give us a taste of a proper transfer of Dutch principles to central London. Importantly, it would be the same all the time: no time-dependence, no uncertain enforcement. It would be self-enforcing all the time.
Here is the biggest problem with Camden's proposals: for most hours of the week, between 7pm and 7am, and all day on Sunday, they are making Tottenham Court Road a free-for all, no bus lanes, no prioritisation at all, opening it up to all traffic, in both directions, as it is not open now. This is an utterly retrograde step. This is the aspect of the plan that neither Camden's consultation, nor the commentary from Camden Cyclists, nor that from Cyclists in the City dwells on. So I draw attention to it, and I invite you to think about it. This is going to be a massive opening up of the West End to new motor traffic movements, making many car journeys in the evenings, at night, and on Sundays, in central London easier and more convenient. This is the exact reverse of what Camden should be doing.
I said I would mention an example of a gyratory which I think should be removed. So I'll briefly describe another Camden scheme, where it looks like they might actually be getting it right. This is at an early stage, and there is no consultation yet I can point you to, and no clear official plans yet, but I have seen proposals for the removal of the Swiss Cottage gyratory, and these look like a thoroughly good thing – subject to details, not yet present, being got right. This is connected with Cycle Superhighway 11, which on current plans will run round the Outer Circle, up Avenue road, and into Finchley road via Swiss Cottage. The gyratory removal plan is a crucial part of this, and it has support from Andrew Gilligan. 
One option that I have seen sketched out by Camden involves making the main general traffic route up the A41, Finchley Road, continuous, with a signalised junction with the west end of Adelaide Road (to the south of the Odeon Cinema on the current gyratory island). The part of Avenue Road outside the library, the current east side of the gyratory, would be taken out of the traffic system, and only used for buses and bikes, which would have a direct signalised route through to the part of Avenue Road south of Adelaide Roads, and to Finchley Road, to the north. The connection of the A41 with Fitzjohn's Avenue (B511) would be closed off, thereby cutting traffic through into the leafy residential streets of Hampstead on this axis off in one stroke.
Map of Swiss Cottage, for orientation, for those unfamiliar with the areaCycle Superhighway 11 would run in some sort of segregated or semi-segregated format up Avenue Road, and would cross into the bus-bike section by the library with signals. There would be ample space here to segregate it from bus traffic and to put the bus stops on islands. It would go on northwards into Finchley Road via more signals.
The critical advantage of making the main A41 route continuous on Finchley Road is that we would loose the circulating system that pushes so much traffic from the north down into Avenue Road (B525) and through to Regent's Park. The design of the gyratory at the moment encourages this totally inappropriate flow. Traffic from the A41 semi-motorway from the outer suburbs just goes bombing into this narrow, leafy road, with its big new schools on the left hand side, and ends up at the Outer Circle. Though there will still be a connection between the northern A41 and Avenue Road, in the new plan, it will involve a left signalised turn at the Adelaide Road / Finchley Road /Hilgrove Road (B509) junction, and then a right signalised turn at the Avenue Road junction. It will no longer be an obvious route, the obvious route will become the A41 Finchley Road down towards Baker Street. The traffic in Avenue Road should be massively reduced, and there will be space for a decent Cycle Superhighway there.
This is the pint at which narrow, residential Avenue Road becomes, inappropriately, the obvious route for traffic heading from the north towards central London. The abolition of the gyratory would end this situation.As I say, these are early days on this scheme, and I wouldn't get my hopes up too far that it will be as good as this. People have been talking about removal of the Swiss Cottage Gyratory for decades, and nothing has happened. But hopefully we will be able to get agreement between TfL, the Cycling Commissioner, and Camden, on a scheme along these lines that I have described, and, if we do, it will be a thoroughly good thing that the widely-hated Swiss Cottage Gyratory goes. So, with gyratories, there are cases and other cases, as I said at the beginning, to be judged on their exact details.
I the meantime, what can be done bout Camden's poor "West End Project" plan? There is a consultation, which can be filled in here.  In addition, Camden Cyclists are organising a public meeting, at the YMCA, Indian Student Hostel, 41 Fitzroy Square W1T 6AQ at 7pm on Monday 30 June. Camden councillors officers will be present to explain their scheme and take questions. I suggest people attend this and make their views known there as well. Register for the meeting here.
There has been a tone to the commentaries so far published by cyclists that the Camden West End scheme should probably be supported, as it will be an improvement on what we have now, and there is no hope of getting anything better, or no-one can come up with anything better. Camden Cyclists say:We have concluded that we will support the Camden proposal unless some much better alternative comes up. However, we feel that it will not do much to encourage new people to cycle, although the increase of permeability will allow those that want to to escape via the side streets. But being able to escape isn't really the main function of a cycling street, particularly one that is likely to be part of the new Central London Cycle Grid.Cyclists in the City says:I would much rather see this scheme happen than see nothing happen, as is the case in other parts of London. Space4Cycling should be better than this. But this is better than what's there and better than nothing. It's all a bit of a damp squib, really.I say, this is all rather weak. It's not difficult to come up with a better, more radical plan, and I've done so. The critical step is letting go of the idea "evil gyratory system must go". My plan, to reiterate, is to keep the general traffic system as it is now, but to make a radical reduction in general motor capcity through having only one general northbound lane on Tottenham Court Road, and one general lane southbound on Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street. There would be a dedicated southbound bus lane in Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, and a dedicated northbound bus lane in the wider, northern part of Tottenham Court Road. There would be segregated cycle tracks, southbound only on Gower Street and Bloomsbury Street, and in both directions on Tottenham Court Road. There would be island bus stops so buses would never cross the paths of cyclists. The whole system would be full-time. You can call this the Voleospeed West End Plan if you like. You can refer to it in the consultation and at the meeting, and direct Camden Council and others here.
I suggest we lobby for this Voleospeed West End Plan. What have we got to lose? As I think Schrödinger's Cat recently asked, rhetorically, are we afraid that what crumbs there are for cycling in the current plans will be removed from the table if we object, and that we will get something even worse? I hardly think that's likely.
What is likely is that Camden will do what they have already decided to do anyway, or they will make some minor modifications to their plan. But if everybody makes enough of a noise, with pressure from Andew Gilligan and parts of TfL as well, perhaps they can be forced to go back to the drawing board. I certainly don't believe we will be sitting here in a few years' time, thinking "If only we had not objected to that West End Project as proposed by Camden and not proposed our own silly, impractical, too-ambitious plan to make London WC1 really look like Amsterdam, then we would not have got this horrible thing that doesn't even have the half-hearted cycle facilities that Camden was offering us then". In my two decades of cycle campaigning experience, I can't recall a case that has ever unfolded like that. We have never regretted scuppering a half-hearted plan because we asked for something better. Either we suggest the best and lobby for the best, and get something a bit worse, or we moan a bit, let the planners do their own thing, and we get the crumbs that they offer. Let's have a bit of courage about this. 
Keep the Tottenham Court Road gyratory gyrating for motor vehicles, and civilise it for cyclists and everyone else.
Categories: Views

The trouble with our physical environment

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 19 June, 2014 - 17:07

A device that offers mobility to people who have great difficulty walking, that is limited to a maximum speed of 8mph, and poses little or no danger (at least relative to other forms of transport like the private car) should never be framed as a problem. Yet somehow the BBC contrived to do so on Wednesday night, with a programme entitled The Trouble with Mobility Scooters.

The tone was set from the very beginning, as a terminally ill lady with chronic lung disease, who could not walk for more than a few paces, slowly reverses her mobility scooter out of the garden, the presenter asks ‘do I need to be worried?’

Throughout the programme the visuals, music and editing strove to create an impression of uncontrolled, reckless or ‘lawless’ behaviour on the part of scooter users. Statistic-free statements like ‘few mobility scooter users give way to pedestrians’ (really?), or that ‘pedestrians on pavements are a common victim of scooter users’ (well, how common?) were a repeated feature of the programme.

Indeed, this was just one of many parallels with the way the media often frames debates about cycling – in this case, presenting a form of transport that in truth poses very little objective danger to other people as some kind of terrible risk that needs to be legislated against. While cycling faces continual debates about ‘road tax’, licensing, and number plates – absurd over-legislation in the face of the actual danger posed, and the benefits accruing from cycling – so the agenda of this programme was clearly one of increased regulation and training,

The other striking parallel – an unsurprising one, given that both mobility scooters and cycling are minority modes of transport, that are not catered for properly on our roads and streets – was in the way mobility scooters are seen as a problem, wherever they are.

They are a problem on the pavements. They are a problem on the road. As one of the people interviewed suggested, mobility scooters are ‘technically alien, whichever environment they are in, because they are not motor vehicles, and they are not pedestrians.’

Sound familiar?

And just as the British ‘solution’ to the problems posed by ‘cyclists’ as a group typically involves MOAR TRAINING in an attempt to get us to behave, so the BBC programme would have us believe that the ‘problem’ of mobility scooters can be solved with – yes – training.

At no point in the programme was it suggested, or even hinted at, that the physical environment of our roads and streets could be adjusted, to minimise conflict between pedestrians and scooter users, and between motor traffic and scooter users. The obvious answer to the ‘alien’ issue – that mobility scooters aren’t at home on pavements or the road – is to give mobility scooters their own space, one that could be shared with cycling (fancy that – two problems solved for the price of one). But despite the issue being framed so plainly (if accidentally), the programme didn’t stop to consider it.

The problem, as with cycling, lay with the users and their behaviour, not with the physical environment, or with the danger posed by motor traffic itself.

Witness the patronising ‘red light’ test, as a trainer says ‘well done!’ to a man stopping for a red light in a test centre, which had me wincing with recognition. The absurdity of this kind of test – given that mobility scooters aren’t really a vehicle, and can use the crossing themselves – didn’t appear to occur to the trainers. 

The police officer is then filmed stating that ‘I wouldn’t say that they [mobility scooters] are lethal weapons, but they can cause serious injuries.’

But how many? There are 330,000 users in Britain – at what rate are they injuring people? The programme didn’t supply any answers, merely content to create a vague impression of a ‘problem’, stripped of context, without even the merest hint of a comparison between the genuine danger posed by motor traffic in our towns and cities, and these small, slow vehicles.

Later there was the pitiful sight of an 84-year-old man effectively being admonished for wishing to have some independent mobility, despite his failing eyesight. The idea of making our streets safe for people like this was not considered by this programme, which viewed this man as a danger, showing him ‘jumping’ a red light. Nor did it consider the consequences of denying him the use of a mobility scooter – the prospect of being housebound.

A strong presence in the programme was a campaigner for a compulsory test for mobility scooter users. Her son had been knocked down by a mobility scooter user. Intriguingly, just as (apparently) everyone seems to have been ‘nearly knocked down’ by a cyclist on the pavement, so this campaigner claimed that nearly everyone she knows ‘knows someone who has been hit by a scooter’. Ah, precious anecdote.

This isn’t to deny that collisions can, and do, happen, and can be serious, but the single-minded focus on training, at the expense of any context about the actual statistical danger being posed by scooters, or even more importantly the adjustment of the physical environment so that scooters and pedestrians aren’t forced to share the same absurdly narrow pavements, struck me as completely absurd. In describing the incident in which her son was hit, the campaigner argued that the person on the mobility scooter ‘shouldn’t have been on the pavement’ on a one-way road, which of course hints at the real underlying problem – but the programme failed to address it, or indeed even to recognise it.

The campaigner also argued that scooters travelling at 4mph in a pedestrian precinct were ‘too fast’, apparently because ‘we don’t walk at 4mph’. I suppose that’s a claim that technically can be made, but the difference between this speed and a fast walking speed is so marginal a sensible programme would have asked her what speed she believed to be acceptable, or indeed raised why scooters are limited to 4mph in pedestrian environments in the first place. This programme didn’t.

The problems with our physical environment were even presented to the programme makers on a plate as they followed a mother with multiple sclerosis. It was painfully obvious – to me at least – that her problems with getting about on her scooter were principally due to the awfulness of the physical environment, not due to any lack of training, but again the programme chose to focus entirely on the latter.

Most tellingly of all, a moment when she struggles to bump her scooter down off of a high kerb at a typically hostile British side road -

is framed by the programme as some kind of demonstration of her incompetence, a dashcam filming her wobbling about, out of control.

The programme makers evidently have no idea that junctions need not be designed like this – that they could be easy to traverse for people with mobility problems. Instead they choose to segue into a piece about this mother realising she needs to… get some training!

‘She’s not the smoothest of drivers’, the narrator tells us, ‘so she’s signed up for a course.’

On the matter of whether or not mobility scooter users should be insured, the programme is content with the unchallenged opinion of… the managing director of a mobility scooter insurance company! Clearly someone in a position to offer impartial, considered advice, he tells us that ‘this form of insurance should be made compulsory. The public need protection. And certainly the users of scooters need protection.’

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Unfortunately this is all the programme has to say on the matter, a farcical treatment of the issue.

Solemn music then ensues as the programme talks about the risk users face on the roads. Just as with the failure to appreciate that the problems scooter users face (and cause) on pavements are almost entirely a symptom of our crap streets, rather than a result of bad user behaviour, so, again, the programme makers skip deftly away from the real issues, choosing instead to focus on training. This reaches a peak of absurdity as, following a voiceover about the number of deaths of mobility scooter users, over a montage, including this lingering image

Clearly a lack of mobility scooter training to blame here

… we go straight back to our compulsory proficiency test campaigner, who uses the deaths of these people to argue her case, which is more than slightly distasteful, given that there is no analysis of how these deaths happened, or whether compulsory training would have made any difference at all.

She has, however, received a response from the Secretary of State for Transport to her petition for scooter users to be given compulsory testing, which she reads out -

We have no immediate plans to make [testing] mandatory, because we lack comprehensive evidence that the use of a mobility scooter vehicle as a whole is a major public safety concern.

This is the only evidence-based piece of discussion in the entire programme.

The campaigner is infuriated that the Department for Transport, rather than using her anecdotes and small petition as a basis for policy, have chosen instead to rely on actual evidence – but the silliness of her position is, again, unchallenged. Her concerns are presented as well-founded and serious, with silence, followed by solemn music.

A programme like this could have been a genuine opportunity to assess the problems of mobility in Britain for those who can’t drive a motor vehicle, or who choose not to. But instead we were served up dross, a patronising programme that ignored the serious issue of how a poor physical environment needlessly creates conflict, causing huge problems for a vast swathe of the population who are forced to choose between crap pavements and highly dangerous roads. Rather, it chose to ridicule some of its subjects, adding ‘wacky’ music to their attempts to get about safely, while striving, transparently, to present them as some kind of serious problem.

The parallels with attitudes to cycling were unsurprising, given the similarities between these two modes of transport – ‘problematic’ only by virtue of the fact that they have been neglected and ignored.


Categories: Views

The trouble with our physical environment

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 19 June, 2014 - 17:07

A device that offers mobility to people who have great difficulty walking, that is limited to a maximum speed of 8mph, and poses little or no danger (at least relative to other forms of transport like the private car) should never be framed as a problem. Yet somehow the BBC contrived to do so on Wednesday night, with a programme entitled The Trouble with Mobility Scooters.

The tone was set from the very beginning, as a terminally ill lady with chronic lung disease, who could not walk for more than a few paces, slowly reverses her mobility scooter out of the garden, the presenter asks ‘do I need to be worried?’

Throughout the programme the visuals, music and editing strove to create an impression of uncontrolled, reckless or ‘lawless’ behaviour on the part of scooter users. Statistic-free statements like ‘few mobility scooter users give way to pedestrians’ (really?), or that ‘pedestrians on pavements are a common victim of scooter users’ (well, how common?) were a repeated feature of the programme.

Indeed, this was just one of many parallels with the way the media often frames debates about cycling – in this case, presenting a form of transport that in truth poses very little objective danger to other people as some kind of terrible risk that needs to be legislated against. While cycling faces continual debates about ‘road tax’, licensing, and number plates – absurd over-legislation in the face of the actual danger posed, and the benefits accruing from cycling – so the agenda of this programme was clearly one of increased regulation and training,

The other striking parallel – an unsurprising one, given that both mobility scooters and cycling are minority modes of transport, that are not catered for properly on our roads and streets – was in the way mobility scooters are seen as a problem, wherever they are.

They are a problem on the pavements. They are a problem on the road. As one of the people interviewed suggested, mobility scooters are ‘technically alien, whichever environment they are in, because they are not motor vehicles, and they are not pedestrians.’

Sound familiar?

And just as the British ‘solution’ to the problems posed by ‘cyclists’ as a group typically involves MOAR TRAINING in an attempt to get us to behave, so the BBC programme would have us believe that the ‘problem’ of mobility scooters can be solved with – yes – training.

At no point in the programme was it suggested, or even hinted at, that the physical environment of our roads and streets could be adjusted, to minimise conflict between pedestrians and scooter users, and between motor traffic and scooter users. The problem, as with cycling, lay with the users and their behaviour, not with the physical environment, or with the danger posed by motor traffic itself.

Witness the patronising ‘red light’ test, as a trainer says ‘well done!’ to a man stopping for a red light in a test centre, which had me wincing with recognition. The absurdity of this kind of test – given that mobility scooters aren’t really a vehicle, and can use the crossing themselves – didn’t appear to occur to the trainers. 

The police officer is then filmed stating that ‘I wouldn’t say that they [mobility scooters] are lethal weapons, but they can cause serious injuries.’

But how many? There are 330,000 users in Britain – at what rate are they injuring people? The programme didn’t supply any answers, merely content to create a vague impression of a ‘problem’, stripped of context, without even the merest hint of a comparison between the genuine danger posed by motor traffic in our towns and cities, and these small, slow vehicles.

Later there was the pitiful sight of an 84-year-old man effectively being admonished for wishing to have some independent mobility, despite his failing eyesight. The idea of making our streets safe for people like this was not considered by this programme, which viewed this man as a danger, showing him ‘jumping’ a red light. Nor did it consider the consequences of denying him the use of a mobility scooter – the prospect of being housebound.

A strong presence in the programme was a campaigner for a compulsory test for mobility scooter users. Her son had been knocked down by a mobility scooter user. Intriguingly, just as (apparently) everyone seems to have been ‘nearly knocked down’ by a cyclist on the pavement, so this campaigner claimed that nearly everyone she knows ‘knows someone who has been hit by a scooter’. Ah, precious anecdote.

This isn’t to deny that collisions can, and do, happen, and can be serious, but the single-minded focus on training, at the expense of any context about the actual statistical danger being posed by scooters, or even more importantly the adjustment of the physical environment so that scooters and pedestrians aren’t forced to share the same absurdly narrow pavements, struck me as completely absurd. In describing the incident in which her son was hit, the campaigner argued that the person on the mobility scooter ‘shouldn’t have been on the pavement’ on a one-way road, which of course hints at the real underlying problem – but the programme failed to address it, or indeed even to recognise it.

The campaigner also argued that scooters travelling at 4mph in a pedestrian precinct were ‘too fast’, apparently because ‘we don’t walk at 4mph’. I suppose that’s a claim that technically can be made, but the difference between this speed and a fast walking speed is so marginal a sensible programme would have asked her what speed she believed to be acceptable, or indeed raised why scooters are limited to 4mph in pedestrian environments in the first place. This programme didn’t.

The problems with our physical environment were even presented to the programme makers on a plate as they followed a mother with multiple sclerosis. It was painfully obvious – to me at least – that her problems with getting about on her scooter were principally due to the awfulness of the physical environment, not due to any lack of training, but again the programme chose to focus entirely on the latter.

Most tellingly of all, a moment when she struggles to bump her scooter down off of a high kerb at a typically hostile British side road -

is framed by the programme as some kind of demonstration of her incompetence, a dashcam filming her wobbling about, out of control.

The programme makers evidently have no idea that junctions need not be designed like this – that they could be easy to traverse for people with mobility problems. Instead the choose to segue into a piece about this mother realising she needs to… get some training!

‘She’s not the smoothest of drivers’, the narrator tells us, ‘so she’s signed up for a course.’

On the matter of whether or not mobility scooter users should be insured, the programme is content with the unchallenged opinion of… the managing director of a mobility scooter insurance company! Clearly someone in a position to offer impartial, considered advice, he tells us that ‘this form of insurance should be made compulsory. The public need protection. And certainly the users of scooters need protection.’

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Unfortunately this is all the programme has to say on the matter, a farcical treatment of the issue.

Solemn music then ensues as the programme talks about the risk users face on the roads. Just as with the failure to appreciate that the problems scooter users face (and cause) on pavements are almost entirely a symptom of our crap streets, rather than a result of bad user behaviour, so, again, the programme makers skip deftly away from the real issues, choosing instead to focus on training. This reaches a peak of absurdity as, following a voiceover about the number of deaths of mobility scooter users, over a montage, including this lingering image

Clearly a lack of mobility scooter training to blame here

… we go straight back to our compulsory proficiency test campaigner, who uses the deaths of these people to argue her case, which is more than slightly distasteful, given that there is no analysis of how these deaths happened, or whether compulsory training would have made any difference at all.

She has, however, received a response from the Secretary of State for Transport to her petition for scooter users to be given compulsory testing, which she reads out -

We have no immediate plans to make [testing] mandatory, because we lack comprehensive evidence that the use of a mobility scooter vehicle as a whole is a major public safety concern.

This is the only evidence-based piece of discussion in the entire programme.

The campaigner is infuriated that the Department for Transport, rather than using her anecdotes and small petition as a basis for policy, have chosen instead to rely on actual evidence – but the silliness of her position is, again, unchallenged. Her concerns are presented as well-founded and serious, with silence, followed by solemn music.

A programme like this could have been a genuine opportunity to assess the problems of mobility in Britain for those who can’t drive a motor vehicle, or who choose not to. But instead we were served up dross, a patronising programme that ignored the serious issue of how a poor physical environment needlessly creates conflict, causing huge problems for a vast swathe of the population who are forced to choose between crap pavements and highly dangerous roads. Rather, it chose to ridicule some of its subjects, adding ‘wacky’ music to their attempts to get about safely, while striving, transparently, to present them as some kind of serious problem.

The parallels with attitudes to cycling were unsurprising, given the similarities between these two modes of transport – ‘problematic’ only by virtue of the fact that they have been neglected and ignored.


Categories: Views

An Open Letter to Camden's West End Project (and why I support its principles)

ibikelondon - 19 June, 2014 - 17:00

Campaigners with their fingers firmly on the pulse will not have escaped recent announcements to transform a large area of London's West End by Camden Council.  The plans are bold and sweeping and - crucially - look at the area as a whole as opposed to taking a street-by-street approach.  

There is some concern, and justifiably so, about the provision for cycling in these plans.  Some of the plan's results will be beneficial for cyclists, some less so, and I will endeavour to highlight in detail on my blog over the coming weeks exactly where I think there are problems and where the focus for improvement should be.






However, I do believe that these are very carefully considered plans from Camden that deserve to be considered carefully by us in return.  I've been a vocal proponent of more separated cycling infrastructure in London from the start, but I know that shouting "Stick a cycle track down the middle!" loudly without considering the wider area is not always the right solution.

A key theme emerging around these proposals is that not all of the cycling community agree on what is good and what is not here, and the most important outcome of this is that we all talk about it and that there is more debate; firstly to alert Camden that their ideas may need improvement and secondly to try and form consensus before the consultation is over in July.

However, I very strongly believe that Camden should be applauded for their commitment to turning Tottenham Court Road and surroundings in to a more people-focused area and our approach should be cooperative, informed and constructive.  

Much more will be achieved with these plans if we take an open-minded approach as oppose to just standing on the sidelines shouting, which is why I have added my name to the following open letter along with Councillor Caroline Russell, (Local Transport Spokesperson, The Green Party), Bruce McVean (Founder, Movement for Liveable London), and John Dales (Director, Urban Movement)



To view this text in full, visit the Liveable London website.

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Categories: Views

Sharing Space well in ʼs-Hertogenbosch

BicycleDutch - 18 June, 2014 - 23:01
People walking and cycling dominate Visstraat in the historic city centre of ʼs-Hertogenbosch. Until the late 1990s this was an ordinary street designed for motor traffic, but since then it … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Sharing Space well in ʼs-Hertogenbosch

BicycleDutch - 18 June, 2014 - 23:01
People walking and cycling dominate Visstraat in the historic city centre of ʼs-Hertogenbosch. Until the late 1990s this was an ordinary street designed for motor traffic, but since then it … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

"Attention! Le Tour de France!" Start planning your Monday off work now...

ibikelondon - 18 June, 2014 - 08:30

With less than 20 days to go till the 101st Tour de France races through town, Transport for London are stepping up their efforts to persuade people to plan their journeys ahead with a magnificent poster campaign.


Their "Attention! Le Tour de France!" posters were conceived by advertising agency M&C Saatchi (who pioneered the "Get Ahead of the Games" concept in the run up to the 2012 Olympics) and show cyclists wearing the colours of London's transport lines, with the famous Transport for London "roundel" for wheels.  The striking art works are appearing at train stations, bus stops and in print media in a bid to encourage people to think about planning their journeys in advance for Monday July 7th.

There will be significant road disruption around the Mall, Embankment, Canary Wharf, City Airport and the London Olympic Park on the 7th, with stations in the area busy with spectators too.  With rolling road closures from 10AM lasting in to the early evening, the particularly busy cycle routes along the Mall and Embankment are especially likely to be closed or restricted, so cyclists should also consider alternative routes.


I've loved seeing these colourful posters around and being reminded that our city is about to host one of the most exciting sporting events in the world, and I think they're likely to become poster design classics.  You can buy copies for yourself at the excellent London Transport Museum shop here and here.

Want our advice for a cracking Tour de France day in London? As well as being able to line the route for free, a series of free Fan Parks containing entertainment, refreshments, bike parking and very big screens will be showing all the action live in Green Park, Trafalgar Square and Canary Wharf.  See details here.  Times the race will pass certain points along the route can also be found here.

Start planning your Tour de France long weekend now!

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Categories: Views

First users of the elevated bicycle track of Copenhagen

Copenhagenize - 18 June, 2014 - 05:00


The long-due first elevated cycle track of Copenhagen is not finished yet but already used and appreciated by bicycle users... and pedestrians.

The new bicycle infrastructure named "the snake" is still under construction but every day, when workers are gone, users find a way to test it and most of all to benefit from the shortcut to reach their destination. They avoid doing a detour all around the boring shopping mall. Actually, due to the works, the former space used by the cyclists under the new bridge is closed. This is clearly confirming the need for this almost-fixed missing link between Bryggebroen and Dybbølsbro. Users are impatient to get back their shortcut, blocked during the works.
Generally speaking, developing a good network for the cyclists is a lot about creating the relevant shortcuts thought the city. In general, Danes respect the road signs, but when it comes to forcing them to make a more than 800 m. detour on their daily commute for over 2 months, the bicycle users disagree.



After a first ride on the newly orange surface, I can say that cycling on this infrastructure is a new kind of urban experience. Coming from Dybbølsbro after turning right and then waving through the buildings, the view opens up on the Copenhagen harbor: an urban landscape made up of glass, water and sun reflections.

We're looking forward to getting this bridge definitely open and to see how the Municipality will rearranged the connections around this infrastructure. While waiting for it, you can have a look at the Copenhagenize's suggestions.



Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

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