Imagine that you are responsible for improving the walking environment in an area where walking rates are exceptionally low – perhaps making up around a few percent of all trips that are made.
You would probably start thinking about the kind of changes that would be required to make walking a pleasant, attractive and obvious option.
Routes for walking would have to be direct. They would have to be free from stress and danger, and obstructions. They would have to be convenient, and be of suitable width. And they would have to go everywhere that people needed to go.
You would, ideally, like to end up with a dense walking network, which has all these qualities. In short, you would be designing for walking, to ensure that it makes sense as a mode of transport in its own right.
After this period of abstract thought, you reach for your bookshelves, and pull out the official guidance, published by the Department for Transport – Walking Infrastructure Design.
You start reading the Introduction.
Planning and designing high-quality infrastructure involves developing individual site specific solutions, but there are some common requirements that need to be satisfied. The underpinning principle is that measures for pedestrians should offer positive provision that reduces delay or diversion and improves safety.
Sounds good! You read on.
When designing improvements to walking infrastructure, the hierarchy of provision (Table 1.2) offers useful guidance on the steps to be considered.
Eagerly, you flick to this Table 1.2, which offers ‘guidance on the steps to be considered’. You discover that the first ‘step’ you should consider is
Traffic volume reduction
‘Traffic volume reduction’? You scratch your head.
This makes little sense. What does this have to do with walking, and improving the environment for walking? ‘Traffic’ (meaning motor traffic) is an entirely different mode of transport; shouldn’t a manual for improving walking infrastructure focus on precisely that?
Perhaps, you wonder, the Hierarchy of Provision in ‘Bus Infrastructure Design’ suggests considering first ‘train travel reduction’, or ‘plane travel reduction’.
But of course it doesn’t, and nor does ‘Walking Infrastructure Design’ (mainly because neither of these documents exist). However, Cycling Infrastructure Design does exist, and unfortunately it suggests you go about planning for improving the cycling environment in precisely this unfathomable way – by suggesting you reduce an entirely different mode of transport as a first step.
A strong objection here is that the Hierarchy is confusing policy with outcome. Reducing motor traffic should be the result of improving the environment for walking and cycling, yet it is presented here as the actual design policy.
But an even stronger objection is that the Hierarchy fails to focus on what it should actually be dealing with – the bicycle. In a recent lecture, Professor John Parkin described the Hierarchy of Provision as
a completely inappropriate way of planning for cycling. It denies the existence of cycling a a distinct mode.
Indeed, the Hierarchy represents
planning for cycling with reference to another mode, rather than designing for cycling itself.
It’s hard to disagree with this assessment. As I’ve argued before, the Hierarchy of Provision embodies the historical fixation of cycling campaigning on fighting motor traffic. The focus here is not on improving the environment for cycling, but on abstract goals that may, or may not, have side benefits for cycling.
It is woolly and unfocused, and when used as a planning tool we find that it is all too easy to skip through all the steps and end up right at the bottom, with the conversion of footways to ‘shared use’ – because this is the easiest option. Indeed, at this same lecture, a transport planner working for a client mentioned that the scheme she was implementing involved shared use pavements – not because this was the best design solution, but because that was what the council wanted. And the Hierarchy does little or nothing to stop councils plumping for this option.
At another lecture last week, I heard Keith Firth of SKM Colin Buchanan stating that
What’s great about the Hierarchy of Provision is that infrastructure is quite a long way down the list.
Well, this might be true in an ideal world, a world in which councils would actually consider the wholesale removal of motor traffic from their towns, reducing the need for the amount of physical alteration needed to the street environment. But unfortunately we don’t live an ideal world, and that means the fact that design solutions that might be very, very important in particular contexts are ‘a long way down the list’ is actually a serious problem.
Dutch town and city centres, while often largely devoid of private motor traffic, do not simply relegate physical infrastructure into last place. Even on wide roads that only carry a limited amount of motor traffic, we still find the same kind of cycling infrastructure that would be appropriate on much busier roads.
This kind of approach makes no sense according to the Hierarchy, because it is a combination of serious motor traffic reduction, and physical separation. The difference flows from the fact that the Dutch design for cycling. They design to make sure that cycling is comfortable, safe, attractive and convenient. They don’t design for it with reference to other modes of transport.
The other manifestation of the curious way we design for cycling around other modes of transport is the distinction we have between ‘on carriageway’ and ‘off carriageway’ provision. We can have ‘on carriageway’ cycle lanes that, protected by a kerb, amount to a cycle track. But we can also have ‘off carriageway’ provision that essentially amounts to the same thing.
The distinction is hard to fathom, but it stems, again, from a failure to design for cycling as a mode of transport in its own right. ‘On carriageway’ means treating bicycle traffic like motor traffic; ‘off carriageway’ means treating it like walking traffic. In other words – how do we fit cycling in, around other modes of transport.
But we shouldn’t be thinking like this. We need a comprehensive approach to planning for bicycle use, that starts from the kind of thinking we would employ for designing walking networks, and ensures the quality of routes, whatever kind of treatment is appropriate at a local level.
We need to design for cycling in its own right.
Thanks to John Parkin for providing the inspiration for this piece
On Wednesday, Beyond the Kerb wrote
Much of the time, it feels like the view that it’s simply not acceptable to kill people in completely avoidable collisions and then say “Well, it happens” is some form of extremism, and that the rest of society stands around blankly and says, “What are you on about? Of course it’s acceptable. You expect me to actually not drive into people?”
This was provoked by the case of a man who had been killed cycling in Southampton, David Irving, killed despite doing everything he could to keep himself alive, beyond not even cycling in the first place, and yet ended up being blamed, by implication, for his own death. Nobody else was at fault.
A very different case was reported by the Evening Standard yesterday – that of a nine-year-old boy, killed outside his own home. But it betrays the same extraordinary willingness to exonerate and excuse the person who crashed into him, and to blame the victim.
The family of a nine-year-old boy who was killed by a speeding driver today branded British justice a “joke” after the man’s 21-month jail sentence was cut almost in half.
Redwan Uddin was riding on the handlebars of his brother’s bike as they played near their east London home when Ibrahim Waseem, 23, crashed into them at 39mph in a 20mph zone.
He was jailed for 21 months at Snaresbrook crown court in November but on Tuesday had his sentence cut to 12 months by appeal judges. It means he could be released after serving six months following his conviction for causing death by careless driving.
The boy’s tearful uncle, Abu Ahmed, 25, an accountant from Whitechapel, today told of the family’s “devastation” at the new sentence, which he branded “a holiday”. He added: “We have lost faith in the British justice system. It’s a joke. We applied to have the 21-month sentence lengthened but we didn’t even get a reply. He appeals and he has his sentence halved.
“We have to live with this for the rest of our lives and he could be out after six months. The justice system favours the criminals and not the victims.”
Marks & Spencer worker Waseem had been driving in Woodhouse Grove, East Ham, near the brothers’ home, when he lost control of his Mazda on a speed hump and ploughed into the boys in June 2012.
Waseem, who was convicted of driving without insurance in 2008, fled the scene and dumped his car but later turned himself in to police. Lady Justice Rafferty, sitting with Mr Justice Collins and Judge Nicholas Hilliard, said the appeal court’s “heart goes out to Redwan’s family”. But Waseem was “extremely remorseful”, she said, and pointed out the crash occurred as Redwan was perched on the handlebars of a bike, without a helmet, travelling the wrong way down a one-way street.
Lady Justice Rafferty concluded: “We are confident that 21 months was manifestly excessive.”
Waseem was also disqualified from driving for at least 12 months.
‘At least twelve months’. Great news.
In the David Irving trial, the jury was directed, by the judge,
to ignore Highway Code [rules 93 and 237, advising drivers to] slow down or stop if dazzled [because the] Highway Code is not law.
That’s fine if you are driving a car. If you are driving a car, the Highway Code isn’t relevant, because it isn’t law.
But in the case of Redwan Uddin – who, let’s remember, was a nine-year-old boy, someone we should hardly expect to be fully conversant with road rules - the Highway Code suddenly becomes relevant in mitigation.
(Let’s not even stop to think here about the absurdity of a situation in which young children can’t even play on a bicycle, travelling in any direction, on the tiny street in front of their own house, and have to wear helmets in case a car comes flying out of nowhere at 40mph).
Was he wearing a helmet? No – well, that’s relevant.
Was he on the handlebars? Yes – well, that’s relevant.
Was he cycling the wrong way on a one-way street? Yes – well, that’s relevant.
But in any sane assessment of what happened here, all these details are completely irrelevant. Redwan Uddin could have been crossing the road, on foot, without a helmet, without being perched on handlebars, and would have been killed in precisely the same way.
He could have been cycling the correct way, with a full face crash helmet, on a saddle and not the handlebars, and would have been killed in precisely the same way.
What killed Uddin was a very heavy metal object flying off a speed hump at 40 mph, on a residential street, piloted by a deeply irresponsible man.
Yet once again the judicial system scrabbles around to find minor details, to lessen his responsibility.
Halfords, as well as being a large car parts and servicing business, is a major cycle retail business and operates a “Cycle to Work” government approved initiative to enable employees to use a bike and accessories to cycle to work. We think the extract from their “cycle2work” leaflet sends out the wrong message about cycling. Here’s why:
· Wear a comfortable, well-fitting helmet.Cycling, even in contemporary conditions is low risk – comparable to walking, and even more so car journeys over longer distances, for which helmets are never recommended. Cycle helmets are – and can only be – designed to withstand low impact forces, equivalent to falling of a bike from a stationary riding position. They are not designed for impacts with motor vehicles, especially not heavy vehicles or those moving at speed. This means that they can’t be relied on to give any protection in life-threatening impacts. The injuries they can reduce are generally minor and easily survivable. Factor in the adaptive behaviour of other road users to helmeted cyclists - and the adaptive behaviour of helmeted cyclists themselves – and you see why there is no evidence of any safety benefit over a population over time for their effect.
· Be seen – wear bright clothes and something reflective. Again, an absence of evidence, and a victim-blaming slant which takes attention away from the responsibilities of motorists. “Being seen” means pressuring drivers to look where they are going: “Never drive in such a way that you cannot stop within visible distance”. Are Halfords well known for effective attempts at promoting this? And is the cyclist in the photo – not in the kind of position recommended by “Bikeability” National Standards cycle training – positioning himself so that he is more likely to “be seen”?
· “Stop at junctions and look, look and look again. If you’re not sure, wait”. Hardly a description of a confident and assertive cyclist, is it? Where do you look and what are you waiting for? None of the “Top Tips” includes developing cycling confidence through Bikeability training. Of course, on the other side of the leaflet they do refer to cycle training delivered by the Institute of Advanced Motorists. Will this be empowering, and provide knowledge of cyclists’ rights as well as responsibilities?
· “Carry emergency contact details with you”. You’re probably going to die! At this point we have to draw breath and remind people of the paradox of road safety. Cycling is not inherently hazardous. Even in current conditions casualty rates are low. You are probably NOT going to die. This DOES NOT mean that what many motorists (the source of road danger) are up to is in any way at all acceptable. It shouldn’t be difficult to see that this is an apparent contradiction (or paradox) and not an actual one. The point is to understand the level of risk and to deal with danger at source – for all road users.
· “If going on a long bike ride let someone know when you expect to return and the route you’ll take.” Infantilising and “dangerising” cycling. This is exactly the right way to put people off cycling. It feeds in to the “fear of cycling”.
· “Keep tyres inflated: it makes for a smoother ride, means less effort to pedal and makes the bike easier to handle.” Something which actually makes sense. A big problem in the UK is that since the loss of cycling as a normal form of everyday transport since the 1950s, basic knowledge of what is actually needed to cycle has been lost. Are Halfords actually helping to create a cycle culture?
· “If you are riding at dusk or in the dark make sure your bike has lights”. A legal requirement, but how important is it on the scale of things you might need to know about cycling? And how much will your safety be improved?
· “Use hand signals to show where you are going. Help drivers to help you.” Hand signals are taught as part of Bikeability training – but look at the wording here. It betrays an interestingly patronising attitude: Is rule and law obeying motoring something which is about “helping” your potential victims? Isn’t it about doing what you are required to do by law and your basic obligations to the well-being of others to whom you have a duty of care?
Unlike some commentators, we don’t believe that achieving significant modal shift to cycling is simply a question of mimicking some features of countries where there are better cycling modal shares. But we do think that moving towards a larger share of journeys by bicycle means: Seeing cycling as a normal, everyday form of transport carried out by normal people in normal, everyday clothes. Whatever the reason given for a larger share of journeys by bicycle by other societies, present or past, it is always based on this idea of cycling being done by normal people in normal clothes just getting about and not engaged in a danger sport, and with society reacting to cycling accordingly.
Look at the people below:Somewhere in the Netherlands Amsterdam Ghent, Belgium Seville, Spain
Halfords may think these people are doing something wrong and asking for trouble. We would disagree.
The deadline for responses to the consultation on Transport for London’s Central London Grid is this Friday. Both London Cycling Campaign and Rachel Aldred have provided detailed responses, which I recommend you read; I thought I’d add some comments of my own to complement theirs, and also to remind you to respond yourself.
The idea of a Central London Grid is an excellent one – a network of direct routes that connect up across Zone 1, and that are (or should be) suitable for anyone who wants to ride a bike. The stated intention is to compose it mostly of routes away from main roads – around 75%. The remaining 25% of the Grid will be composed of main road interventions. These percentages can be quibbled about, but they sound reasonable. What is absolutely essential, however, is that the form of the Grid, and the treatments at ground level, are suitable, and there are worrying signs that the Grid will fail on both counts.
This isn’t all the fault of TfL. There is intransigence from Boroughs, particularly Kensington and Chelsea, who (as we shall see) have effectively eviscerated the Grid network in their borough. There is a higher density of Grid in Westminster, but again this is a borough that seems determined to fit cycling in around the margins, not provide for it in any useful way. There are also problems with the Royal Parks, firstly with even allowing cycling within them, and also with closing times.
But there are issues with how Transport for London is approaching the Grid. Firstly, in regarding what, precisely, is an ‘adequate’ Quietway, and secondly with ‘dual networking’ – treating Quietways as a kind of network for a slow, nervous cyclist, while main roads remain the preserve of the faster, confident existing cyclist.
Some of the proposed Quietway routes will follow streets and roads that have had measures already put in place to cut out through traffic – Goldsmiths Row in Hackney fits into this definition. However it is not clear from the TfL Grid document whether measures will always be put in place to ensure that motor traffic is greatly reduced on the Quietway routes.
It seems to me as if the Grid is being put on streets that have already had proper traffic reduction measures installed, and on streets that are deemed to be ‘adequately’ quiet already. But the scheme is crying out for a definition of what ‘adequate’ actually means, in terms of the volume of motor traffic – this could then set a benchmark for when measures like filtered permeability would have to be applied. The TfL document states
Like the name suggests, Quietways will use the quietest roads possible while balancing the need for directness, usability and safety. In some busy parts of central London there are no absolutely quiet roads, but all will be significantly less busy than the alternatives, with fewer vehicles, travelling at lower speeds
Well, there may be ‘no absolutely quiet roads’ in some parts of central London, but that suggests that the Grid should create these quiet routes, through deliberate interventions, not attempt to pretend that they are suitable simply by virtue of being a bit quieter than the horrendous main road nearby. The Grid is being presented almost passively, when it should be an active intervention to create safe and inviting conditions.
The other issue is the aforementioned ‘dual networking’. The TFL document has this definition -
Quietway routes are slower than the main roads. They are not aimed at speedy commuter cyclists, who will almost certainly stick with the fast main roads. They are intended for people who want to avoid the main roads and want to take it more slowly and calmly – the new kind of cyclist we want to attract.
The problem here is that if Quietways are ‘slow’, then nobody is going to want to use them, be they a faster lycra type, or just an ordinary person on a Boris bike. Quietways should be suitable for all – they should precisely be aimed at commuter cyclists as well as everyone else, because cycling needs fast direct routes to be attractive.
The additional danger here is the age-old problem with dual networks; that you end up with two different types of route that are both inadequate in different ways. The Quietways are fiddly and unusable, while the main roads remain hostile and unsuitable for most, justified on the grounds that if you don’t like it, well, there’s a Quietway over there, somewhere else. The Grid has to have Uniformity of Provision - the idea that all its routes should not trade off safety against convenience, and should be desirable and attractive for anyone who rides a bike. This is the essence of the Dutch approach to designing bicycle networks. They do not design different kinds of route for different people – that is a recipe for poor provision.
Now onto various specific issues. The Grid network in Kensington and Chelsea is hopeless.
Not only have Kensington and Chelsea blocked the routing of a Superhighway down Kensington High Street – they do not want cycle tracks on this road – they have also provided some suggestions for a ‘Quietway’ network in their borough that are, frankly, insultingly bad. There are lines on this map that just stop and start – they don’t even join up! Kensington and Chelsea need to be told in the strongest possible terms that this simply isn’t good enough. There has to be a coherent east-west route as part of the Grid here – through Holland Park (where cycling is currently banned) and the Royal Parks, and/or through the streets of the borough, to the south.
There are issues here with Parks too – as I understand it Kensington Gardens closes at dusk, effectively rendering it useless for much of the winter as part of a cycling ‘Grid’. If routes are being placed in parks, access should not be compromised. Hyde Park as a whole closes at midnight.
Sections of the Grid that run through The Royal Parks will form useful, pleasant routes. The proposal to close the Outer Circle of Regents Park to motor traffic will make this an excellent route, as well as improving the quality of the park as a whole. Likewise a route up the eastern side of Green Park is much needed. The Royal Parks need to be urged to support these suggestions, and also to ensure that the routes are properly designed, and wide enough, to ensure that people walking and cycling do not come into conflict with each other.
Westminster, for all the criticism it has come in for, is actually ahead of Kensington and Chelsea in one important regard – it will be allowing (hopefully) Superhighway 11 to run across its borough, and of course the main East-West route will run along some important roads in Westminster. Both of these routes will (or should) be fully segregated. However, there are issues with the fiddliness of the proposals for Quietways in Westminster. Particularly around Paddington, and in St James, the Quietways seem to meander all over the place, avoiding roads and streets that require interventions. Back street routes in Westminster need to be pleasant and direct.
In Camden, Hackney and Islington, the Grid looks pretty good, and includes some streets that already carry high volumes of cycle traffic, particularly the Tavistock Place segregated track, and the Clerkenwell Road.
It’s good to see these kinds of direct routes in the Grid. It is important, however, that whatever treatments are employed on these roads, they will be made suitable as genuine Quietways.
The final issue I’d mention here (doubtless there are many more) is in the City, where there are a number of serious blockages, particularly London Bridge, where a Superhighway doesn’t actually connect with anything.
This area is crying out for a sensible, continuous north-south route, straight across the City, and doesn’t seem to have got it. There isn’t one. The obvious choice would be across the horrible five-fingered Bank junction, with closures or filtered permeability on some of the approach roads. The area is teeming with people on foot, on public transport, and on bikes, and yet most of the space has been allocated to the private car. The Grid should represent a golden opportunity to address that imbalance.
So please do comment on the Grid before the end of Friday – reply to email@example.com. All responses to the Consultation will be used to bolster the Grid concept, to revise it, and to improve it. It’s vitally important that it is implemented properly.
At the last Street Talks, a panel presented on the theme of “The quick, the cheap and the temporary: Speeding up the transformation of London’s streets and public spaces”. Hannah Padgett of Sustrans talked about projects that get communities to suggest and try out improvements to their streets and places; Brian Deegan talked about Royal College Street and the research that has gone into Transport for London’s new Cycle Design Standards; and Ben Kennedy from Hackney Council talked about their trial de-motorification of the Narroway.
It was all very encouraging to hear how transforming our streets to reduce the blight of traffic and enable walking and cycling doesn’t necessarily have to take decades and hundreds of millions of pounds, and so I look forward to Boris and the boroughs making some rapid progress rolling out this kind of flexible “segregation lite” around the city. It’s good to have it spelled out and spread far and wide: budget cuts are not an excuse.
Except I’m a little worried about the quick and the cheap. Sometimes I just can’t quite see how it can do the job. Take the proposals that TfL are currently consulting on for the A21 in Lewisham:
There are two elements to this scheme: the long straight link, and the crossroads node. A mandatory cycle lane is proposed for the link — dedicated space found for cycling within the existing carriageway, but protected only by a stripe of white paint. This cycle lane looks like exactly the sort of place that Royal College Street-style segregation could be quickly and cheaply implemented. It would be far from perfect — minimal separation from passing trucks, and only on one side of the road — but it would at least be a quick and cheap interim solution that could be in place on the street within days of a consultation ending.
The junction is the problem. Perhaps I just lack the imagination but I can’t picture any amount of the quick and the cheap segregation-lite making a safe, inviting and effective crossroads — especially one in which cyclists have to get past a long dedicated left-turn lane. And fixing the junction is the main issue, since it is junctions that are the least safe and least inviting part of our streets.
The best way to solve crossroads — and perhaps the only proven way, since Danish and German junctions don’t have such a great record for cycling safety and convenience — is the Dutch way: providing good, direct, high-capacity dedicated space with plenty of separation — in space and, where there are signals, in time — from the jostling and turning motor traffic. And that can not be done with a wheelbarrow load of armadillos.
@AnoopShah4 has already reached for the crayons box and sketched out a basic idea for the sort of things a junction like this needs. Carriageway narrowing, removing the left-hook lane, and putting in dedicated tracks set back from the carriageway:
The fact is, the carriageway on the A21 is in the wrong place. It’s the wrong shape and size. Fixing it, to make it the right shape and size, will require at least digging up the road to move the kerbs, but probably also moving some of the things on the street (like lamp posts) and under it (like rainwater drains). That’s not cheap and easy (well, not compared to Royal College Street; it’s still a bargain beside the M74), which is why in TfL’s plans, there is only some minor tinkering with the kerbs to tighten up the turnings in a couple of places, while absurd abominations like that left-turn lane are untouched.
It’s not cheap and easy, but without digging up the road, I just can’t picture how this junction could ever match the Mayor’s promise for TfL schemes:
Timid, half-hearted improvements are out – we will do things at least adequately, or not at all.
The current plan out for consultation is inadequate; to do things at least adequately here would require the mayor to spend some money correcting the carriageway.
This junction is far from alone amongst London’s main roads — the ones which require dedicated space for cycling — in being a place where I can’t see how the quick and easy could work, and it’s not just junctions where this is a problem. A great many of our streets seem to have been assembled quite clumsily, with carriageway and lane widths bouncing around erratically according to the space available between buildings, obstructions strewn across footways without thought, and decades of added and moved and sometimes removed buildouts and islands, stacking lanes, bus stops and loading bays. They’re a mess, and trying to retrofit them for cycling could only make them an even bigger mess. To do things adequately, you’re often going to have to sweep away the accumulated mess, cast off the constraints of the motor-centric streets we’ve inherited, and do things properly. But we managed to put the money and effort in to install all of those ill-conceived left-hook lanes and junction stacks in the past. We should be able to find the same to now fix those mistakes.
The car industry seems to have convinced itself – understandably enough, from their perspective – that the solution to transport in urban areas is simply to convert existing private motor vehicles to run on electricity, rather than combustion engines.
The latest evidence of this belief comes from Renault UK, who appear to be arguing that electric cars should be allowed in bus lanes.
Leading cities should do more to encourage the use of electric cars by investing in charging facilities and allowing zero emission vehicles to use bus lanes, says the head of Renault UK. Kenneth Ramirez said that it was important to create a “wave of acceptance” around electric vehicle technology to encourage their uptake, calling on London Mayor Boris Johnson to follow Norway in allowing electric cars to use lanes reserved for public transport.
He told RTCC: “In London that would be an interesting approach. In other cities having legislation that requires new buildings have a dedicated number of parking spaces with charge stations already included.”
But bus lanes don’t exist to encourage the ‘uptake’ of electric cars. They exist to relieve congestion, and to make more space-efficient modes of transport viable. Flooding bus lanes with electric cars would render them redundant, because buses would become mired in the same congestion that necessitated their implementation in the first place.
This is all part of a wider pattern of failing to address the problem of excess car use in urban areas, and for short trips. Electric cars only deal with one particular issue – tailpipe emissions.
Motor vehicle manufacturers would like to imagine that the only issue that matters is carbon emissions. Or – more specifically – reducing carbon emissions from private transport, because unless electric cars are charged from power provided by renewable energy, the emissions are simply displaced elsewhere.
They do this by pretending that demand for driving is fixed, and not created by the physical environment – by the way our roads and streets are laid out. A classic example of this kind of thinking is a piece by Paul Everitt, CEO of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, in the Times, a few years ago. He wrote (£) -
From its invention, the car has provided an unquestionable level of personal mobility, giving people the freedom to travel where they like, when they like. For many, owning a car is no longer a luxury but a necessity that allows them to commute to work, take the kids to school and do the weekly shop. There is, and always will be, an important role for the car. But in a low-carbon future, the car will have to be cleaner and greener than ever before…
… As the global demand for cars increases it is essential that we retain and grow our share of the market. Designing, developing and manufacturing the technologies and vehicles of tomorrow is our route to a more sustainable future.
Well, not really. Electric cars are still a very inefficient use of resources and energy, and don’t address the myriad other problems caused by excess private car use. If we are truly aiming at a ‘sustainable future’, we need to be shifting a good proportion of the 40% or so of trips of under 2 miles that are made by private car in Britain to genuinely sustainable modes.
While there is a sensible case to be made for powering motor vehicles with better energy sources, the motor industry should not be allowed to pretend that this is the end of the issue. It’s not just the clogging of bus lanes that is counterproductive; it’s clogging our urban areas as a whole with the inefficient private car that is destructive and wasteful. That means we need space for cycling, not a continuation of the same patterns of designing for private motor vehicle use, however it is powered.
Health warnings on car ads?
First, the good news. The idiotic ruling of the ASA described here has been withdrawn following a veritable storm of protest. It is good to see that a diverse (and normally often disunited) community of cyclists and others concerned about a civilised approach to cycling and safety on the road can swiftly summon up good quality arguments and have an effect.
But this is just the start. This matter is far from being resolved, and it may well be that the outcome is a quite unsatisfactory judgement about the portrayal of cycling. We need to examine the issues regarding ASA judgements on matters of safety on the road in more detail.Where we are now:
The ASA has in effect admitted that it was wrong to object to Cycling Scotland’s video presentation of the position of the woman cyclist. Since this is the position recommended by National Standards cycle training they could do nothing else. However, on the matter of a helmet and the normal clothing of the cyclist (without “safety aids”) we do not yet know what decision the so far unspecified “independent review” to be set up by the ASA on this matter will make.
Supposedly, decisions by the ASA on matters such as these are based on the Highway Code. On that basis, the CTC has raised the issue of advertisements which show pedestrians not wearing hi-visibility clothing in the dark: after all, the Highway Code requires that, so why shouldn’t the ASA censure such advertisements? It’s an interesting issue to raise as it suggests some absurdity about the ASA’s methods.
The politics of it all
But we need to go rather further than this. To start off with, let’s look at the rules in the Highway Code. In our opinion there is no adequate evidence base for either the cycle helmets or the pedestrian hi-viz recommendations.
What this suggests is that the problem lies with some of the recommendations in the Highway Code. That is certainly the case, but it also raises the issues of Highway Code rules (and the law) as they relate to the behaviour of motorists. That is where it gets interesting. You might wish to consult a copy of the Highway Code as it relates to driving.
What becomes apparent is that the rules – including the more important laws, on matters such as speed – are broken as a matter of course. Typical driving involves infringing the recommendations of the Highway Code. Otherwise you would not have some four million motor insurance claims annually. Car occupants would not want to wear seat belts (and that’s even without going into the effects of the use of these “safety aids”) .
Now, I am not one to exaggerate the dangers posed by motoring in a way which might put people off cycling and walking. I am just saying that rule and law breaking by drivers is so commonplace and is regarded as such by the powers that be to such an extent that motorists feel the need to be protected from it.
So, take 4.1 and 4.4 of the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code ), namely that “Advertisements must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18” (rule 4.1) and “Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health or safety” (rule 4.4).
Now, there is an argument for “Health Warnings” such as these on car advertisements
Or the one at the top of this post. But I am not referring to the environmental issues about car use: at present it is legal to pollute, congest, and cause widespread environmental destruction, poor health etc. by regular use of the cars that are advertised or shown in advertisements. The point is that even without such “behaviour that prejudices health or safety”, just in terms of the recommendations of the Highway Code, typical driving which we know will be done in cars shown in advertisements will indeed be “behaviour that prejudices health or safety”.What is the ASA for?
My view is that the ASA is basically a self-regulating body set up by the advertising industry. A large part of the advertising is, of course, for motor vehicles. These vehicles will inevitably be used on UK roads in ways which damage people’s health and safety through breaking of the rules and laws pertaining to legal motoring. Is there any real possibility that the ASA will take any effective measures to prevent the advertising of these vehicles? In that sense, the blogger who says “The Advertising Standards Authority – not fit for purpose“ is wrong. The problem is exactly that the ASA is fit for the purpose of facilitating car advertising.
That doesn’t mean that advertising of cars should be stopped, although the idea of health warnings may be an interesting way of raising consciousness Also, it may seem a little unfair for the ASA to have to mediate in matters of safety on the road. As the fortnightly transport professionals’ magazine Local Transport Today (7/20 Feb 2014) suggests “When asked to think of influential organisations in the transport debate, the Advertising Standards Authority wouldn’t be at the front of most people’s minds”. Ultimately we need to be looking at the recommendations in the Highway Code as the source of the problem. But the ASA is in it now, and as LTT say “…the ASA should be prepared for criticism…”.
In the meantime…
There is a lot at stake here for cycling and sustainable transport. If every organisation (including commercial advertisers) is effectively forced to ensure that all cyclists in adverts (other than ‘fantastical’ adverts) are wearing helmets, this would really undermine the ability of advertisers to use smart-looking cyclists to epitomise free-thinking, healthy, independent-minded individuality. A source of positive promotion for the image of cycling would be denied to us. We really need to take this very seriously indeed.
It could be worthwhile getting the cycle industry to understand the potentially negative long term effects of portraying cyclists in the way the forthcoming London Bike Show does:
Of course, the ASA codes do not refer to online and print advertising, but the principle is important.
Along with concerns about surrendering the road to motor vehicles, one of the main reasons for opposition to the physical separation of cycling from motor traffic is a fear of being ‘held up’.
This is the worry, from people who cycle already, that their journeys will be slowed down, by being blocked on narrow cycle infrastructure by people who can’t cycle as fast as them. I’ve attempted to dispel this notion – at least with regard to Dutch cycle infrastructure. Separation from motor traffic should not mean that you are impeded.
But with the tube strikes over the last couple of days, it’s quite clear that physical separation of cycling would provide considerable benefits. The pictures of Superhighway 7 in particular that appeared yesterday show the uselessness of ‘cycle routes’ that become clogged by motor vehicles.
Danny Williams also took a picture of Superhighway 7 yesterday -
Here is cycle super highway 7 in action this afternoon. It’s so good you can only use it by dismounting pic.twitter.com/TJfm5tLJck
— cyclistsinthecity (@citycyclists) February 6, 2014
Contrast this with the videos that have emerged of people cycling along the segregated sections of Superhighway 2 over the last few days. The segregation is far from brilliant (indeed in places it is worryingly bad), but cycling has flowed smoothly and easily past static motor traffic.
I suspect this uselessness of the original Superhighways was built in from the start. There’s a very revealing interview with TfL by Andreas of London Cyclist, dating back from when the Superhighways were launched, in 2010. TfL provide this justification for not segregating the Superhighways -
Segregation however, is not something that is being considered for the cycle superhighways. TfL said the routes are simply not being used frequently enough to warrant separation of traffic. It is only during peak hours that you will see many cyclists in the lanes. TfL claim that segregating the lanes would create many problems for loading vehicles. They also claim that cyclists don’t want to be treated differently to other vehicles.
The implication of this is essentially that cycling was not considered enough of an important mode of transport in its own right to necessitate space being set aside for it – ‘routes not being used frequently enough’. TfL believed that the space properly-designed Superhighways would have taken up needed to be used instead for motor vehicles. Indeed, despite much progress in the last couple of years, this is probably the prevailing attitude within the organisation.
But I think we’ve seen over the last few days how wrong-headed this approach is proving to be. Despite the chaos on the transport network, with very little tube network running, desperately overcrowded buses, and clogged roads, cycling remains a non-option, principally because cycling through traffic – even traffic that is mostly stationary – is just deeply unattractive for most people.
I noticed that David Arditti left a comment below that London Cyclist article, in July 2010, which sums up the problem.
The big thing that tends not to be understood in the UK about segregated cycle lanes, Dutch-style, is that their main purpose is not safety, per se, as cycling is inherently quite safe anyway, it is the prioritisation of space for cycle traffic. It is, in other words, to give the bike a competitive advantage in the struggle for space on the roads, which makes bike journeys quicker and more efficient, as well as more pleasant. There is no other effective method of preventing parking, loading, queuing, bus and taxi stopping in cycle space, and general obstruction by motor vehicles, other than physical segregation. This is why it is used so extensively on the continent. It is not that the continentals have some malign control agenda to push cyclists off the general roads. Arguments that segregation slows down fast commuter cyclists are incorrect. It only has this effect if badly done, with insufficient capacity or other design faults. Fast commuter cyclists benefit equally with slower cyclists from the advantages that proper continental-style cycle tracks create. [my emphasis]
It’s hard to put it better than that. Space for cycling is needed for competitive advantage; to ensure that it isn’t impeded by congestion, and that journeys by bike are painless and pleasant.
This applies in the Netherlands too, where long queues of vehicles can easily be bypassed on cycle tracks – so easily you forget there’s actually ‘congestion’ on the road network.