As odd as it may seem to British people, surveys of Dutch citizens that ask them why they choose to cycle for the trips they make very rarely find them mentioning ‘cycling infrastructure’ as a reason for doing so – be it in the form of protected cycleways, or filtered permeability that keeps levels of motor traffic low on streets that are shared.
Take, for instance, this 2006 Netherlands transport ministry survey which examined (amongst other things) the reasons people cycle instead of drive for short trips under 7.5km (about 4.5 miles). It found that the most common reasons for doing so were (in order of importance) –
[The full table is near the start of the document, but it is in Dutch].
All these reasons, but no mention, at all, of protected cycleways, or of infrastructure in general. Does this mean that cycling infrastructure isn’t a factor in whether or not Dutch people might choose to cycle?
It’s highly unlikely. The reason Dutch people don’t mention cycleways (or low traffic streets, or the other basic components of high-quality cycling infrastructure) when they come to describe why they choose to cycle is in reality because cycling infrastructure is almost entirely invisible to Dutch people. Not literally invisible, but so mundane and ordinary they don’t even notice it. It’s just a part of the street, like drains, or lampposts, or bus shelters.
If that doesn’t sound convincing, imagine an equivalent survey that asked British people why they might walk instead of drive for trips of under a mile. I can think of several possible reasons that might be given –
And so on. (You might think of other reasons). But very few British people will say they walk instead of driving ‘because there are pavements’. It would just sound… weird, even nonsensical. Pavements are there – we take them for granted, because they are just a basic, ordinary, mundane component of British streets. If you walk to the shops, of course you are going to use a pavement, so why even mention that as a reason?
Of course, if pavements were taken away, and British people had to walk in streams of motor traffic, they would suddenly seem quite important. But we take them for granted, in precisely the same way that Dutch people take their cycleways for granted. That’s why Dutch people don’t mention cycling infrastructure when they are asked why they cycle, and why British people don’t mention ‘walking infrastructure’ when they are asked why they walk, even if that infrastructure is a fundamental component that explains why they are actually able to walk or cycle in the first place.
Like cycle infrastructure, the presence of the Earth’s crust is pretty much ubiquitous in Amsterdam. Surprisingly, none of the survey respondents identified the presence of a crust above the Earth’s mantle as a factor when asked why they like cycling in Amsterdam. The logical inference is that the importance of the presence of the Earth’s crust to cyclists is overestimated.
Either that or, as a ubiquitous presence, the Earth’s crust is something which Amsterdam’s residents take for granted, and thus neglected to mention the Earth’s crust when asked why they like cycling in Amsterdam. A bit like the infrastructure really.
Nobody notices the earth’s crust when they’re travelling around, but (it’s safe to say) it is pretty important, in much the same way breathing oxygen is pretty important when it comes to staying alive, even if other more obvious things kill people.
Your average Dutch citizen really isn’t the best person to ask about the importance of cycling infrastructure, simply because they don’t appreciate it, for the reasons set out above. This isn’t meant as a criticism – it’s not a personal failing – simply an attempt to understand their point of view. I’ve spoken to Dutch people in Utrecht, and – as the conversation turned to why I was visiting (good cycling conditions) – their explanations for high cycling levels were completely different to mine, the kind of explanations we hear in Britain from the uninformed about why the Dutch cycle. ‘It’s flat’ (Dutch people will obviously appreciate flatness when they are cycling); ‘Our cities and towns are small, and close together’ (maybe so, but not of any great relevance); ‘it’s our culture’ (maybe, but let’s see how long that culture would last in British road conditions); and so on. Similar reasons British people might give to, say, a perplexed American from a town without any footways, who had never seen so many people walking before.
I’ve been reminded of this failure of understanding by a couple of recent articles about cycling in London, one late last year (by a Dutchman), and one this week (by a Dane). Both betray a certain blindness to the importance of cycling infrastructure in their own countries, in a very similar way. Take the first article, by Henk Bouwman, a director of the Academy of Urbanism.
… the strategy of going Dutch [in London] seems strongly focussed on creating a safe infrastructure by separating cyclists from cars through segregated cycle paths. However, what we have learned in the Netherlands is that safety is by and large a result of behaviour, not infrastructure. Dutch car drivers are also cyclists so they know how to anticipate a cyclist’s behaviour.
If cycling infrastructure is ubiquitous, mundane and ordinary to you, because you have grown up with it, and it has surrounded you your entire life, of course you are going to underestimate its importance, and even go so far as to say that nebulous ‘behaviour’ is even more important at keeping people safe. This kind of comment is simply boggling to someone who has experienced cycling in a variety of street contexts in both Britain and the Netherlands, and is seeing both with ‘British’ eyes. What keeps me safe when I am cycling in the Netherlands is not ‘behaviour’, but a thorough and systematic approach to design that minimises interactions between people driving and cycling, and ensures that where they do unavoidably have to occur there is clarity about who should be doing what and as little risk to either party as possible.
… most importantly, work needs to be done to encourage a behavioural shift amongst cyclists themselves to become more aware of other people on and around the road. Speeding men in Lycra still represent the majority and encouraging them through the roll out of cycle super highways only exasperates the challenge to transform cycling from a sport to transport. This shift in behavioural attitudes is so important that we believe it should be funded on par with infrastructure. [my emphasis.]
If you have a certain innate blindness to the importance of cycling infrastructure, then when you arrive in a different city and you see people cycling about in a very different way to the people in your own city, then of course you are going to see that different behaviour not as response to a very different environment, but as some kind of personal choice on the part of people cycling, a decision to cycle in a certain way that can somehow be beaten out of them.
Notice also in this passage that building cycling infrastructure on main roads is actually framed as a way of encouraging men in lycra – a diametrical inversion of what cycling infrastructure will achieve in reality, namely enabling everyone to cycle, in ordinary clothes, something that is already happening.
— Cyclist London (@cyclist_london) April 3, 2016
This inversion is again only explicable if the author fails to appreciate the fundamentally important role cycling infrastructure plays in allowing people to cycle, and to cycle in a manner they choose. A similar example is his suggestion (not in the article, but in a conference, reported via Twitter) that it is the absence of workplace showers in the Netherlands that keeps people cycling slowly. Again – this is a simple inversion of reality. Showers are (rarely) provided at workplaces in the Netherlands because they’re not needed, because people are already cycling more slowly thanks to cycling infrastructure. To argue it is the absence of the showers themselves that somehow compels people to cycle slowly is completely back to front. But this is what happens when you can’t see what is in front of your own eyes. If you can’t see cycling infrastructure, then people in Britain are obviously choosing to cycling fast, choosing to get sweaty and then take advantage of showers – building infrastructure will only encourage more of these choosing to cycle around fast in lycra, when we need to take those showers away and ask them to change their behaviour.
The second article – by Camilla Siggaard Andersen of Gehl architects – is eerily similar. Again, we see a suggestion that cycling infrastructure will reinforce the existing culture, fostering more lycra, and faster behaviour.
getting more Londoners on bikes is not simply a matter of safety, but of culture. What kind of culture is the Cycle Super Highways fostering – more or less lycra?
Why would anyone think creating safer, more attractive and more comfortable conditions to cycle in would lead to more lycra? Only if you have a selective blindness to the importance of infrastructure in enabling cycling – you will tend to believe that building it will only reinforce the existing types of cycling.
In Copenhagen, the cycling network is great. However, the actual efficiency of the network relies as much on behaviour as it does on the infrastructure itself
An almost exact parallel of the claim from Bouwman that ‘safety is by and large a result of behaviour, not infrastructure’. Both are looking at London, seeing a different ‘culture’ and ‘behaviour’, and failing to diagnose why that behaviour and culture is different.
We do have an awful lot to learn from the Netherlands and Denmark, but we should be wary of taking the opinions of people from these countries at face value, principally because the fundamental importance of cycling infrastructure will often tend to be underestimated or downplayed completely. Not wilfully; but because it is so ubiquitous and mundane in their own countries as to be invisible.
It’s fundamentally important to bear in mind that the (sometimes vociferous) opposition to cycling infrastructure does not in any way represent mainstream attitudes and opinions. The vast majority of the British public are open to persuasion on cycling infrastructure; they have an open mind and are willing to see changes to the roads and streets they live on and use. As we’ve seen time and again with consultation responses, there are hundreds (even thousands) of angry opposition comments to schemes, but these are nearly always outweighed by the positive responses to the consultation itself, and always outweighed by the silent majority, who may not even be aware that changes are taking place, but support them once they have happened.
We’ve known this for some time. 2011’s Understanding Walking and Cycling Report found that only 9% of the population are what they call ‘automobile adherents’ –
[people] most satisfied with the present car system… underpinned by the belief that people have a choice of how to travel around and it is up to them to exercise it. Walking is regarded as a leisure activity and cycling practiced by enthusiasts or by committed environmentalists. People who subscribe to this discourse are against any measures that infringe their liberty to drive such as traffic calming even if this could improve conditions for walking and cycling. Indeed, this discourse suggests that walkers and cyclists should take more responsibility for their own safety when moving around the city.
By contrast, the remainder of the population are either people who see walking and cycling as ‘normal’ ways of getting about for everyday trips, and a part of their identity, or for the most part (58% of the population), people who don’t have any transport identity at all – people who are open to changing the way they travel about. These are the kinds people who don’t get angry and yell when changes are proposed on the streets and roads where they live, but are quietly appreciative when those changes happen. And they’re the majority.
We don’t have to look much further for similar evidence. The latest British Social Attitudes Survey on Transport (published December 2015) found that, for journeys of less than two miles travelled by car, 41% of respondents said they could just as easily cycle (with the caveat that 64% of respondents felt the roads were too dangerous for them to cycle on). There isn’t hostility to cycling, per se, rather a reluctance to cycle on hostile and unpleasant roads.
Similarly the same survey shows that removing through traffic from residential streets – such a live issue at the moment – isn’t something that is out of favour with the general public. Opinion is actually finely balanced.
A persuasive, compelling campaign for making residential streets safe and attractive places, that engaged with undecided opinion, could win the day, even in the most unlikely of places – especially as the elderly are actually more in favour of ‘filtering’ than the the young.
When it comes to building cycling infrastructure on main roads, again, surveys and polling suggest wide public support. Vociferous opposition should not be taken to represent mainstream opinion. A YouGov poll conducted for Cycling Works London found 74% for building safer routes for cycling in London. Support was still strong (64%) for building cycling infrastructure, even when the question explicitly mentioned taking lanes away.
Support was even stronger in younger age groups.
Even if cycling infrastructure might make some journeys by motor vehicle longer , 51% of respondents felt cycling infrastructure should be built. Just 26% felt otherwise.
We have further evidence in the form of a more recent, nationally-focused poll (with a slightly larger sample) for British Cycling, covered by Peter Walker in the Guardian, with remarkably similar results. Again, there is strong support for building cycling infrastructure on main roads in their local area (71%), with just 18% of those polled opposed. Support was even stronger if journey times would be unaffected, or improved – 79%.
Even if journey times might be five minutes longer, building cycling infrastructure on main roads still commands majority support (54%).
Even amongst people who commute to work by car, cycling infrastructure on main roads which might delay driving by five minutes is still supported by 51% of respondents, with 34% opposed.
What all the research shows is that the majority of the British population are open-minded or willing to see change, and that the noisy, angry opponents really are a small minority. There is a large audience out there that is receptive to the idea of adapting and improving our roads and streets to make them work better for all users. Campaigns need to reach beyond the placard-waving objectors and engage with that audience, selling a positive message about how we can make the places where they live better.
Meanwhile councils and politicians shouldn’t be scared off by protestors who might seem to be numerous, but will only represent a very small proportion of local opinion. Change is happening – has to happen – and the British public will embrace it when it arrives.
Here’s the latest update. For the main story see this account with a timeline and our latest on lorry safety here and here . The “Cyclists stay back” stickers seem to have disappeared from Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS) registered members’ vehicles. But there is still an obvious problem with stickers on the wrong kind of vehicle – those without “blind spots” such as smaller lorries, vans and cars – belonging to FORS registered members. This includes those registered as Gold in FORS, such as the London Boroughs of Brent and Camden, Murphy and Travis Perkins. Because of continuing concern Darren Johnson MLA asked the Mayor the following question:-
Inappropriate use of cyclist warning stickers
Question No: 2016/0621
Despite providing an assurance (2015/1512) that TfL had contacted operators signed up to its Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) to stress that blind spot stickers should not be used on vehicles under 3.5 tonnes, I have been informed that many operators including gold standard operators are still doing this. Please set out what new measures TfL will take to promote the use of consistent signage by operators and stop the arbitrary use of these stickers from bringing FORS into disrepute.
…and received this answer Written response from the Mayor
Please see my response to MQ 2015/1512.
The Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) standard requires fleet operators to fit approved blind spot warning signage to vehicles over 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight, as these vehicles have larger blind spots. FORS guidance is that blind spot warning signage is not required on vehicles under 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight. This guidance is communicated to all FORS accredited operators via e-news bulletins, the FORS website and in FORS training and toolkits. This guidance is available online at http://www.fors-online.org.uk/cms/warning-signage/.
The FORS annual audit verifies that approved blind spot warning signage is fitted to vehicles over 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight. Operators that use non-approved or badly placed stickers, or who fit signage to smaller vehicles, receive an action plan and are expected to address this prior to the next audit. (RDRF emphasis)
I believe this approach is reasonable and proportionate for operators that have blind spot warning signage fitted to smaller vehicles, and therefore does not bring FORS into disrepute
The implication is that operators like Murphy
and LB Camden
have either changed since these photos were taken (they might have – I haven’t checked recently) or have received “action plans” and are in the process of doing so. If that is the case, then we may be finally able to leave this sorry saga behind. However, my perception is that FORS have not managed to get members to follow advice laid down some time ago. And my suggestion is that there has had to be a lot of pressure from TfL’s danger reduction and cyclist stakeholders to get them this far.
So you may want to nudge FORS by contacting email@example.com
A recent contact led to: “Thank you for your email and informing us of these companies not displaying the correct signage. We will be contacting the companies and will make sure they are displaying the correct signage from now on. We do our best to ensure that all companies are displaying the correct signage. This is through our audits and our compliance checks. If you have any further queries do not hesitate to contact …”
So you can get results, and we’re happy to be of assistance to TfL/FORS.
Along with many others, I’ve banged on for a long time about the inherent problems of ‘dual provision’ – the idea that you can provide two different types of cycle provision, in parallel, for different types of users. Typically this might involve a shared use footway for ‘less confident cyclists’, alongside some half-hearted measures on the carriageway like advanced stop lines and narrow painted cycle lanes.
The shared use footway might provide some more comfort, but at the expense of convenience and directness, while the painted stuff on the road is direct, but at the expense of comfort and safety. They both fail, but in different ways. Neither are suitable for all users; both are flawed.
By contrast, high-quality cycling infrastructure should have uniformity of provision. It should be uniformly suitable for any potential users – convenience should not be traded off against safety; directness should not be traded off against comfort, and so on. All parts of a cycle network should reach a high standard of comfort, safety, directness and attractiveness. If parts of it don’t match a high standard for all of these criteria, then it’s not good enough.
So I’m a little bit troubled by this recent piece on the Sustrans blog, by Will Haynes, principally because it argues that we should set out to expect compromise, and to trade off requirements against one another. I’ve quoted the relevant part below.
… I would like to suggest that the reality of most situations means that there is rarely a perfect solution that can be lifted from the design guidance.
At Sustrans we consider the key is the way in which designs are arrived at. Our Handbook for Cycle-friendly design and accompanying design manual recommends 10 top tips that designers should follow.
One of these relates to the adherence to the widely quoted Five Core Principles (Coherence, Directness, Safety, Comfort and Attractiveness). However, how the principles are actually implemented is often relatively subjective and in many cases may conflict.
One way to objectively consider the principles is to use a level of service or route audit tool, such as the Cycling Level of Service assessment tool in the London Cycling Design Standards and Cycle Route Audit tool in the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 Design Guidance.
In most cases different route options within a corridor, or different types of provision for a particular route, will have a number of advantages and disadvantages. By applying these tools it is possible to compare different options for a particular route, or to compare different options for a corridor and have meaningful information on which to make a decision as to which is the best solution.
For example a traffic free greenway is likely to provide a high level of safety in terms of being segregated from motor traffic, but is likely to be less advantageous in terms of personal safety at night and directness.
Alternatively, a high quality segregated cycle track may provide good levels of safety and directness but by increasing severance for pedestrians wanting to cross a route it may not contribute to an attractive provision where a high place function is desired.
In summary designing good places to cycle is more than just implementing standard solutions, no matter how high quality they are.
I don’t think this stands up to much scrutiny, to be honest. Nobody is saying a cycle route has to be absolutely perfect. However, the impression given here is that compromise is inevitable, and that delivering a route from A to B will necessarily involve sacrificing one of the key requirements.
For one thing, the audit tools mentioned here shouldn’t be used to choose the least worst option – as implied – but instead should be used to identify failings, to remedy them, and to ensure that what is being built meets the highest possible standard.
Nor should the route that is built necessarily sacrifice on one or more of the requirements for high-quality infrastructure. The examples given are unconvincing. Why should greenways through parks be indirect or socially unsafe? Make them direct. Make them feel safe, with street lighting, and activity.
Likewise, why should cycleways on main roads be unattractive, or contribute to ‘severance for pedestrians’? They are necessary on main roads, and they should be built to a good standard, in keeping with their surroundings, and easy for pedestrians to cross.
I simply don’t recognise these kinds of trade-offs when I cycle around the Netherlands, be it in towns, cities, villages or in the countryside. The routes I use feel safe; they are direct; they are comfortable, and they are attractive. Where they are not, there is an obvious problem that needs remedying, and that almost certainly will be remedied when the route or the road comes up for review. The problems are not ones without a solution.
Of course, it’s harder to do things properly. Ensuring that cycle routes are direct, and that they feel safe, comfortable and attractive, requires political commitment, particularly when it comes to reallocating road space, or reducing the amount of motor traffic travelling on residential streets, through physical interventions. But these are problems of political will, not insurmountable problems inherent with delivering cycling infrastructure itself. (It’s no surprise that the highest quality infrastructure in cities like London has required the most coherent and sustained campaign to persuade those in power to deliver it). By contrast, it takes next to no effort at all to deliver rubbish, be it an alleged ‘cycle route’ that disappears off onto indirect and socially unsafe backstreets and alleyways, or shared use footways, or painted rubbish, on main roads because protected cycleways are just too difficult.
Indeed, for that reason, it’s actually quite dangerous to suggest that cycling infrastructure can’t be done to a high standard, because it provides politicians, planners and highway engineers with a ready-made excuse for doing a poor job. That’s not what I want to see at a time when cities in the UK are – in a number of places, and in piecemeal fashion – actually starting to deliver infrastructure that doesn’t compromise.
A while back I wrote a helpful guide for journalists thinking about writing a lazy article about cycling.
In a similar vein – and with so much attention now being focused on new cycling infrastructure, particularly from objectors – I thought it would be similarly constructive to provide some handy hints and tips for people who want to complain about a cycling scheme.
The first step, and perhaps the most important one of all is – don’t bother reading about what’s actually being proposed. Why bother informing yourself? That would waste valuable time, time that could instead be spent moaning, or signing an angry petition, or appearing in the local newspaper with your arms folded. Just respond to what you think is rumoured to be happening. Evidence and facts are for chumps.
If that doesn’t convince you, consider this – engaging with the consultation might lead to you discovering that the proposals you are so angry about don’t actually represent any kind of earth-shattering change. How unsettling would that be!
When you do write something – either on a petition, or on Facebook or Twitter, SCRAWL in CAPITAL letters, seemingly at RANDOM. That’s the best WAY to get YOUR point ACROSS.
You are the expert. Highway engineers and transport planners – so called ‘experts’ – are responsible for the scheme. However, you sometimes drive on the roads in question, so remember, that makes you the real expert. They might have done modelling on traffic flows, and examined all potential permutations, but because you live nearby you already know they must have got their facts wrong. It’s obvious this cycling scheme will inevitably cause ten hour delays to drivers. (Just pluck a scary figure out of thin air; it’s bound to be more accurate than anything the ‘experts’ could come up with).
Expand your horizons. Does the cycle scheme only involve one small stretch of road? That might not be much to get excited about, so it’s important to emphasise the effects this scheme will have on all roads and streets within a ten mile radius. Or even more! Go for it! See the example of Raymond, who predicts (correctly) that a slight change to the route drivers have to use to get into a park will have a profound effect on the whole of north London.
Don’t be shy – remember, you are the traffic expert.
Don’t hold back on the language. Use words like ‘catastrophic’; ‘mayhem’; ‘destruction’; ‘chaos’; ‘insane’; ‘punitive’; ‘will create a ghetto’; ‘a living hell’; ‘armageddon’. Be creative! The more apocalyptic, the better – this is all about speaking truth to power.
You absolutely have to convey how this cycle scheme will bring about the downfall of civilisation, as surely as if it were connecting your street with Hades. (Which it probably will be – you haven’t checked the consultation details, remember).
Superficially, this might just be a bit of cycling infrastructure, but you know better. It’s actually a sinister plot to devastate your city.
It’s all about a minority. This is an easy one to get right. Remember, it’s only weirdo cyclists who want these changes. Why should they be privileged at the expense of cars?Forget about all those normal-looking people in ordinary clothes, cycling about where you live – they’re quite happy mixing with motor traffic, obviously. Just look at them! No, it’s only Lycra Louts and The Spandex Taliban who want special treatment in the form of cycling infrastructure.
Emphasise the weirdness. Nobody likes weirdos.
Think of the children. A cycling scheme – it is claimed! – might actually allow children to cycle around by themselves, but we all know that is preposterous lunacy.
The proper place for a child is on the back seat of a car, being ferried everywhere in safety. So these cycling schemes will actually harm children – it will delay them getting to school, trap them indoors, and also fill their lungs with pollution. Literally. Speaking of which…
Think of the pollution. It’s a well-known fact that the air in our towns and cities is sweet and fragrant. But if a cycling scheme goes ahead in your area, think again! A cloud of thick, noxious fumes will descend over your town or city, a direct result of all motor vehicles everywhere being brought to a complete standstill. All thanks to that innocent-sounding cycling scheme.
Of course, we all know pollution is caused by cycling – it’s just common sense! – but don’t forget to hammer home the message. It’s so important to ensure that all available space on our roads and streets is used for motor traffic – that’s the only way to stop pollution.
Think of the gridlock and traffic jams. ‘What’s a traffic jam’? I hear you ask. Well, you might not have heard of them, or seen one actually happening, because they’re very, very rare – but it’s when motor vehicles start queuing behind each other.
Yes, it does sound unbelievable! We all know that roads and streets flow smoothly at all times. But if you let a cycling scheme go ahead, these so-called ‘traffic jams’ will suddenly appear, and you will be ‘gridlocked’, stuck in your car for days on end.
The choice is simple – either start preparing food, provisions and supplies for every single car trip, trips that could take days or even weeks, or stop the cycling scheme. Which brings us to…
Don’t bother engaging with the consultation, or even responding to it. Sign an angry petition; yell at people at public meetings; provide flowery quotes for the local newspaper. Anything! But whatever you do, don’t make your views known through the proper channels – that’s how they trick you.
I can’t really believe I am having to write a piece saying this, but good road design is not conditional on the good behaviour of users.
Why am I having to say this?
Because Boris Johnson and Leon Daniels – respectively, the Chair of Transport for London, and the Managing Director of Surface Transport at Transport for London – have produced some very silly comments in yesterday’s TfL board meeting.
Almost as soon as the discussion turned to delivery on the Mayor’s Cycle Vision, Johnson himself got straight on to one of his personal ‘concerns’. (You can listen for yourself from around the 1:27:00 mark).
Johnson The one thing I am worried about is, on the new Cycle Superhighways, which are really fantastic (although they’re not quite open), the thing I am worried about now is there are people actually going too fast. I think there are some very very aggressive male cyclists out there who are just bombing along when really you should have a climate of tolerance and gentleness on those. And you’ve spent an absolute fortune on these things. They’re wonderful. And people do not need to tear along in such a way as to scare other users.
Daniels And Angela [Knight, TfL board member] referred to things in the Standard recently with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Boardman in which it was indicated, clearly, that as part of being granted segregated road space, and more facilities for safer and higher volume cycling, that cyclists really must comply with those rules that do exist, including red lights, including speed, as part of having these wonderful new facilities.
Johnson I mean cyclists do not make great friends for themselves, sometimes, by the way they conduct themselves on the road. The aggression with which people try and break the land speed record on what should be a, you know… We’ve opened this up to make it safer for everybody, and they should be respecting people who want to get along.
Daniels And there are of course websites where people can post their times between two points.
Johnson Well I think we need to look at all this. I really do.
People are going ‘too fast’ on this new cycling infrastructure, apparently.
The first reasonable question here is – are they? Is there any evidence? None has been produced. If this actually was a genuine problem you would think some monitoring would have taken place.
Then we get to the next question. How fast is ‘too fast’? Bear in mind that these ‘Superhighways’ have all been built alongside roads that continue to have 30mph speed limits for motor traffic. Is it really the case that there are swathes of people cycling around in excess of 30mph, a speed that only fit and powerful athletes can sustain on the flat?
Even if we grant the extremely unlikely possibility that a large number of people are cycling along Superhighways at or close to 30mph, why should this be highlighted as a particular problem, given that it appears to be perfectly fine for the large volumes of motor traffic right next them to be travelling at this speed?
We might even say that cycling between 20 and 30mph is ‘too fast’, but then we would be opening ourselves up to ridicule, given that the speed limit for motor traffic across London remains 30mph on most of the capital’s roads, even on residential streets. Could we really argue, with a straight face, that cycling at these speeds is a problem while we continue to allow 30 tonne HGVs to thunder past houses, shops, businesses, at 30mph?
But this ‘speeding’ silliness isn’t even the worst thing here. It is Leon Daniels’ bizarre suggestion that the building of cycling infrastructure in London is (or was) somehow conditional on good behaviour. That the ‘granting’ of road space (a telling expression) was some kind of pact; we’ll give you what you ask for, as long as you behave. Compliance is a ‘part of having these wonderful new facilities’.
It is actually laughable to imagine any other mode of transport being framed in this way.
It was indicated clearly that, as part of being granted new roads, and better surfaces for driving, and new traffic lights like SCOOT to smooth traffic flow, that drivers really must comply with those rules that do exist, including red lights, including speed, as part of having these wonderful new facilities.
It was indicated clearly that as part of being granted new buses, and better bus routes, and a more comprehensive service, that bus users really must comply with those rules that do exist, including not swearing, or being aggressive, or listening to loud music, as part of having these wonderful new services.
Why? Should good roads, good public transport, good walking and cycling infrastructure really be dependent on everyone behaving themselves? Does anything ever get improved in London with these strange – and indeed rather patronising – covenants in place? ‘We’ll grant you this new tube line, but let it be clearly indicated that, if we do, we really don’t expect any more antisocial behaviour from tubists’?
Of course not – it’s the worst kind of outgroup thinking, along with Boris Johnson’s reference to ‘cyclists not making friends for themselves’, as if people who happen to ride bikes are some neat little collective, rather than a random selection of people making about 600,000 trips every day in London. It’s fantastical to imagine such an enormous amount of humanity trying to police themselves in order to present a better image, without any of them being aware that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. What’s really happening here is the invocation of the ‘bad name’, this persistent canard that the reputation of anyone who rides a bike should be harmed by the behaviour of complete strangers.
Enough. I think the new Superhighways are great; I enjoy riding on them. Please don’t pretend that their existence – and indeed future improvements for walking and cycling in the capital – should in any way be conditional on behaviour, or even related to it. Do your job, and design streets and roads that work well for all users, even if – as surely as night follows day – many of those users will be antisocial or lawbreakers.
I went to an interesting talk at the Guardian’s offices in London yesterday evening, entitled ‘What Can We Do to Get More People Cycling in London?’, featuring a panel of Chris Boardman, Andrew Gilligan, Rachel Aldred, Peter Walker and – as the token ‘opposing’ voice – Steve Macnamara of the LTDA.
The debate was wide-ranging, and largely consensual, with even Steve MacNamara stating that he ‘agreed with 90%’ of what Transport for London was building in central London, and making the reasonable point that taxi drivers don’t really want to be sharing space with people cycling on main roads – it doesn’t really work for either mode of transport. He also made the case for more cycling across London, arguing that more cycling means fewer motor vehicles on the road, and that (humorously) ‘we don’t really want anyone else on the road apart from cabbies’.
But a feature of the discussion that leapt out – for me at least – was delivery. For instance, despite Chris Boardman’s willingness to see improvements in his home town, any potential for change petered out in the face of council indifference and reluctance to do things that weren’t officially approved by central government.
Andrew Gilligan stated that he was ‘jealous’ of New York’s Janette Sadik Khan, who had control over all of that city’s roads, while in London TfL only controls about 5% of the road network. That means boroughs have a big say in whether schemes go ahead, and can effectively block cycling infrastructure if a few awkward individuals have a particular antipathy to it. This is the reason the E-W Superhighway completely bypasses the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for instance, and why Superhighway 9 was cancelled.
And while there is obviously some very exciting stuff happening on a number of roads in central London, delivery in outer London is very patchy indeed, even when schemes are on TfL roads, designed by TfL. A case in point is the A24 in Morden. This is a road where, way back in 2012, TfL proposed some very poor changes ‘for cyclists’, which I reported on at the time. It essentially consisted of retaining 3-4 lanes of motor traffic, with shared use footways and narrow cycle lanes – repeatedly interrupted by parking bays – running in parallel with each other. I wrote that
with just a little more imagination, and a bit more budgetary commitment, there is great potential for good, separated infrastructure, suitable for all cyclists of all ages and abilities, to be provided along this road. The consultation proposals also bear the hallmarks of compliance with the Hierarchy of Provision; that is, conversion of pavements to shared use in the event that the authority responsible is unwilling to reduce traffic, slow it, or reallocate carriageway space. Likewise it is presumed that those using the pavement are willing to sacrifice their journey time for the privilege of cycling away from traffic.
I also wrote that
I’m not entirely convinced that the A24 immediately to the south of this area has to remain a four (and in places, five) lane road. There is scope for the reallocation of a vehicle lane for a cycle track, at least along the section until the junction with Central Road (but note that reallocation is not strictly necessary, given the existing width available).
I reached that conclusion because, although this road is 3 or 4 lanes wide at the moment, long sections of it are effectively only 2 lanes, because of the parking bays that take up most of one lane.
Well… it turns out that there is a new consultation on this road, or at least a part of it – the southern end – and the proposal is indeed to reduce the four lanes for private motor traffic to just two. But what is proposed for cycling is barely any better than before.
We have a mandatory cycle lane, yes. But it is directly on the outside of parked cars, in a dangerous position, rather than between those cars and the footway.
There’s a bus lane in the opposite direction, which wasn’t there before, but that is the extent of the cycling provision. Right at the bus stop itself, the footway becomes shared use. A ‘bus stop bypass’, but not a very good one.
And that’s pretty much the extent of this scheme – a bus lane in one direction, and an unfriendly and dangerously-positioned cycle lane in the other.
A cycle lane which also gives up at a bus stop –
And in the opposite direction, a cycle lane starts from behind a parking bay, leading you into a three lane-wide ASL. Good luck turning right here.
Given the width of this road – it is really very wide! – and the fact that two of the four lanes for motor traffic are now being lost, this is pretty thin gruel.
The wide grassy median is of course being retained too – valuable space that could have been used for cycling, and would also help to reduce vehicle speeds if it were to be removed.
This is the second attempt at sorting this road in barely three years, and although it is progress of a some degree, what is proposed is very far away from the kind of inclusive cycling design that we are starting to see in central London, and in other British towns and cities. We need more – a lot more – of this higher-quality infrastructure if cycling is going to continue growing; it’s the only thing that will reach those parts of the population that aren’t cycling now. Cycling in bus lanes, or cycling between parked cars and fast motor traffic, on busy roads really isn’t going to cut it.
I’m not quite sure what the root problem is with this scheme. It might be that it hasn’t been allocated enough funding to alter the road properly, to create decent, parking- and kerb-protected cycleways in both directions, and to remove the median. It might be that officers and planners just don’t care enough. Or it might be that there’s only a relatively small amount of people in TfL who ‘get’ how to design for cycling.
Whatever the explanation – it’s still not good enough. If you can, respond this evening to the (very brief) consultation, saying exactly that.
John Dales’ recent column for TransportXtra argued that the term ‘shared space’ should be quietly phased out. In fact he doesn’t even use the words in the article, replacing them with Sh… !
… the use of the term Sh… has increasingly become a hindrance to the creation of better streets for all. That’s not just my opinion; it was shared by most, if not all, of the 50+ attendees at a street design seminar I spoke at last month. It’s a term that has led to babies being thrown out with the bathwater; it has led to schemes being implemented that some people find particularly difficult to use; and it has led to streets being shunned by people who could enjoy them simply because they assume, from the description, that they won’t.
I think this is exactly right. ‘Shared space’ (or Sh…!) has become a catch-all word for street treatments that apparently solve problems, or make roads and streets better, often with little regard for the context or nature of the roads and streets in question. I’d much rather see highway engineers and urban designers looking at what works for all potential users, rather than employing ‘shared space’ in the hope that it works (or at least won’t make things worse). In particular, I’d like to see an abandonment of the lazy assumption that ‘removing things’ – crossings, signs, distinction between footway and carriageway, and so on – will always represent an improvement.
To be clear, I think some of the things that might fall out of the ‘shared space’ toolbox do work, in certain contexts. I think there can be a role for reducing the height difference between footway and carriageway in low traffic environments. For one thing, it makes it easier for people with mobility issues to get from one side to the other.
There’s also a role for reducing visual distinction between carriageway and footway, again, in low traffic streets. It makes it clearer to drivers (and indeed to people walking and cycling) that this is a different kind of environment, and different behaviour should be expected.
These are all sensible techniques that can be used to improve streets, and they work in their own right. The problems start to emerge, however, when ‘shared space’ (or Sh…) is picked up and used in an attempt to solve the problems with a road or street, ignoring the reality that some of the elements that come with it might actually be poor design solutions for the particular context.
I’m thinking here particularly of Frideswide Square in Oxford, where a ‘shared space’ design has been pushed through with little sensitivity for the needs and wishes of the users of this busy area. Cycling – a significant mode of transport here – has been totally ignored, despite vociferous objections, with no cycle-specific provision. Crossings of the roundabouts – the main route into the city centre from the train station, and from the west – are ‘informal’, which essentially means pedestrians have to make their own way across busy roads without the reassurance of a zebra crossing, or other types of formal crossing.
Lower Clapton Road scheme looks similar to recent scheme in Oxford. Not good for vulnerable pedestrians or cyclists pic.twitter.com/KiioXbnzNH
— Hackney Cyclist (@Hackneycyclist) February 1, 2016
The overall ‘vision’ – a nice-looking, symmetrical road layout, with pretty paving – appears to have been more important than actual usability. The ‘shared space’ concept trumps the concerns of users.
That’s why the term itself is a hindrance; it appears to have limited the ability of the people responsible for this road design to think clearly about what kind of road design would actually work best. And at the other end of scale – exactly as John suggests – lumping all this together as ‘shared space’ can lead to people being afraid or scared of streets that are very different in nature and character, simply because they’ve been proudly described with exactly the same term.
So the ‘shared space’ term inhibits clear thinking about how we want our roads and streets to work, and how to go about achieving the best outcomes.
A good example of this is the recent changes to Seven Dials in Bath, allegedly improvements for walking and cycling, paid for with £1.2 of DfT ‘Cycle City Ambition’ cash. Apparently the plan was to
re-establish Seven Dials as a key public space with a greater focus on cyclist and pedestrian needs through the use of shared space, which ackowledges the significantly higher pedestrian to traffic ratio. Conventional road signage is removed and perceived hierarchies between users are broken down, enabling greater freedom for pedestrians to use the space. This is encouraged through the use of surfaces and street furniture which reduces the distinction between road and footway.
Here we see the classic, quasi-religious belief in the magical properties of ‘shared space’ to break down ‘perceived hierarchies’, simply by ‘removing stuff’. This ‘ breaking down’ turns out, in the same paragraph, to be merely ‘encouraged’. It’s up to the individual to challenge the perceived hierarchy, rather than the road or street changing it for them.
On the approaches to this scheme, there are signs asking or advising us (certainly not telling us!) to ‘Share Space’.
Unfortunately, despite the flush surfaces and new paving, there was little sharing in evidence, largely because the section of road in the distance is a busy bus corridor.
Queues form behind these buses, creating ‘platoons’ of private motor vehicles too, an impenetrable stream of traffic that essentially makes it impossible to cross the road, despite signs informing you that this area is ‘shared’.
The amount of motor traffic suggested that this is a busy through-route – at least, with the way the roads are currently configured. I don’t really think there’s any ‘greater freedom’ for people to walk across this space than there was before, when the road was surfaced with asphalt, or that any ‘perceived hierarchies been broken down’. A bus is still a bus, cars are still cars, and you will keep out of their way, even if the road they are being driven on looks a bit more like the footway you are standing on.
If the council here were really interested in ‘breaking down hierarchies’, then this kind of scheme should surely involve crossings that establish pedestrian priority, rather than attempting to do so. (Or measures to reduce the amount of through traffic). But that kind of pragmatism is harder to achieve if you are setting out to build a ‘shared space’ scheme, which in John’s words can often lead to ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’. The concept is everything; what might actually work best is in a given location is secondary. ‘Removing’ must be good, because thats’ what ‘shared space’ involves; ‘adding’ a crossing stands contrary to that dogma.
What was most interesting to me is that, just around the corner from this expensive new ‘shared space’ scheme, there are a series of streets that appeared to be genuinely shared, with pedestrians crossing when and where they wanted to.
These are streets where people are quite happy to linger in the road, even if they don’t have the design cues associated with ‘shared space’. They’re happy to do so because there are very low motor traffic levels on them; measures have been taken to eliminate through traffic.
But although there was more sharing in evidence here than in the ‘shared space’, these aren’t particularly sexy streets. The road surface is crumbling asphalt, and they could certainly do with sprucing up. In fact, they’re precisely the kind of streets that would benefit from less (or no) distinction between footway and carriageway, and surfacing and paving that would make them look more like ‘rooms’ than ‘roads’. That’s fine! These are design elements that would make the environment better, given the background context and the nature and function of these low-traffic streets.
The issue is when the same design elements are lumped together and used in the hope of fixing problems they can’t possibly solve, particularly on busy streets. Yes, they might improve things a bit, but if you are spending millions of pounds on a short stretch of road, you really need to engage with what it is you are trying to achieve, rather than supposing that a pretty street design that looks a bit less like a road is automatically going to be better for users than a design which might involve thinking outside the fixed template that the ‘shared space’ term implies. And that might be why the term itself is a problem.