Last year Norman Baker – sitting alongside ex-road safety minister Mike Penning – told the Transport Select Committee that Britain has a better safety record for cycling than the Netherlands, because fewer people, per 100,000 of the population, die cycling in Britain than in the Netherlands. This meant – according to him – we don’t have much to learn from the Netherlands about cycle safety.
These statements (partly) provoked a column by the Guardian’s Peter Walker, bewailing the fact that when it comes to cycling policy we are in the hands of dimwits -
Baker’s response was astonishing, not least because, as the sole Lib Dem in the DfT he is, in theory, the department’s voice of cycling. Statistics, he said, showed that the Netherlands actually had higher cycling casualty rates than the UK: “What we can learn from the Netherlands, in my view, is probably not safety issues, particularly.”
[...] Baffled – it’s more or less universally known that cycling in the Netherlands is considerably safer than here – I called the DfT press office. The response was amazing. Baker and Penning were quoting casualty rates per 100,000 people. That’s right, a statistic which takes no account of the fact that the average Dutch national cycles around 10 times further per year than the average Briton.
After that impressive performance in 2012, I am pleased to report that Norman has sprung back into action, with yet another misleading statistical comparison between Britain and the Netherlands.
Not content with informing us that Britain is apparently the safer country to cycle in, Baker is now telling us that more money is spent on cycling here, per capita, than the equivalent spend by the Dutch government -
The Coalition Government’s level of funding for cycling compares very favourably with other European countries. In this Parliament we have allocated £3.50 (€4.20) per person per year to cycling (based on £277 million invested since 2010 directly for cycling and the £600 million allocated for the Local Sustainable Transport Fund where 94 out of 96 projects contain a cycling element). For example, research by the European Cyclists’ Federation states that national funding in Denmark is only around €4 and around €3 in the Netherlands—two countries recognised for their commitment to cycling.
Baker is claiming here that ‘national funding’ for cycling in the Netherlands is around €3 euro per person, per year, which falls below the amount of money ‘we’ (i.e. Government) have allocated to cycling in Britain, per person, per year, since 2010. The source for this figure of €3 seems to be this ECF fact sheet, which states that the Dutch government spends €49m per year on cycling, which – with a population of around 16 million people, does indeed work out at about €3 per person, per year.
The problem with this figure, however – as several Dutch residents pointed out to me on Twitter – is that only a very small proportion of cycle funding in the Netherlands comes directly from central government. This figure of €49m is in fact only 12% of the total €410m spent each year on cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands, according to this very same ECF fact sheet, which amounts to a rather more impressive €26 per person, per year. The great bulk of the spending on Dutch infrastructure flows through towns, cities and provinces, not directly from central government.
So this is statistical sleight of hand by Baker – it is the equivalent of claiming that money the Dutch government has allocated to councils for spending isn’t actually spending at all; only the money spent, directly, by central government counts. To make an accurate comparison with Britain, Baker should surely only compare the money spent on cycling by central government here, through the Highways Agency.
But he hasn’t done that – he’s added up all the tiny sums of money spent on cycling by councils and by central government in a rather silly and transparent attempt to make his government look far better than it actually does.
And not just money spent on cycling; oh no, he’s even chucked in the entire Local Sustainable Transport Fund spending into his sums, on the grounds that many of the projects have ‘a cycling element’.
Well, yes… But of course in reality only a fraction of that £600m is actually being spent on cycling. The academic Rachel Aldred estimates it to be around 10% of the total LSTF pot, while Matt Turner has been compiling an LSTF spreadsheet which shows cycle spending to be, at best, around 30% of the total spend in the LSTF projects he’s examined so far. So Baker has included hundreds of millions of pounds of spending on projects that don’t involve cycling, at all, in his comparison between the two countries.
The more you examine this, the more and more dishonest it looks. Not only has Baker made a comparison between the total amount of money spent across Britain on cycling with the tiny percentage spend directly on cycling by Dutch central government, he’s even included a huge amount of spending that has nothing to do with cycling. Baker should, quite obviously, be comparing British spending specifically on cycling with the €410m spent per annum in the Netherlands.
It is also important to mention that this €410m total figure for the Netherlands does not even tell the whole story, as David Hembrow (in an update to an earlier post) explains. Total spending actually amounts to €487m, but even this doesn’t include spending on cycle parking, or on non-infrastructure measures, that have undoubtedly been included in Baker’s tallying up. Dutch officials estimate that spending on these measures is roughly equivalent to the €487m spent per annum on infrastructure.
And beyond this, as David Hembrow notes, a huge amount of cycle spending in the Netherlands is actually invisible, coming as it does from other departments – ‘only where something exceptional is needed do the funds come from the cycling budget.’
So, all things considered, this is really quite an embarrassing attempt by Baker to suggest parity between the two countries. Britain is still spending a pitifully small amount on cycling.
In four days in Utrecht last week, I took nearly 400 photographs of people cycling.
Part of this exuberance with a camera can be attributed to my innate geekiness about cycling, but mostly it stemmed from the sheer excitement I got from seeing a city functioning so beautifully, with calm streets that are safe and pleasant for walking and cycling, wherever you wish to go.
I gorged on cycling while I was there like a starving man at a banquet, sneaking out of the hotel at night for extra pedalling around, fully aware that the holiday wouldn’t last, and I would soon be back to being menaced and threatened – both intentionally and unintentionally – by drivers once I got back to Britain.
By complete contrast, in all but a handful of the hundreds of photographs I took, the people cycling in Utrecht were doing so free from interactions with motor traffic. No matter where they were – on main roads, on side streets, in residential areas, or out in the countryside, people were cycling in isolation from motor vehicles.
This separation takes different forms, but it is almost total (David Hembrow has written about how it works in Assen). Many of the streets in Utrecht’s city centre are either completely motor vehicle-free, or are designed in such a way that their use will only make sense for drivers making necessary access to properties.
But this isn’t, of course, the only type of separation in Utrecht; there are the more familiar cycle tracks on main roads.
The removal of motor traffic from city centre and residential streets means that it is concentrated on distributor roads like this one. And while ‘concentrated’, in practice the amount of motor traffic using these streets is significantly lower than the equivalent British urban distributor road, largely because a considerable proportion of the journeys being made along them are being made by bicycle – as you can see.
While cutting out motor traffic from residential streets and centres in Britain – without any other measures – would, I think, probably result in increasing the amount of traffic on other roads, in the Netherlands there is a coherent over-arching strategy aimed at facilitating bicycle use. That means separating bicycle users from motor traffic, even on main roads that – by British standards – carry very little motor traffic at all.
These roads have low speed limits, and low traffic levels, which would lead many British cycle campaigners to argue that separation is not necessary alongside them. Cycling on the road here would be much more enjoyable than it would be on an equivalent urban street in Britain; the speed and volume of traffic is appreciably lower.
But the Dutch think differently. They care about the quality of the cycling experience; they will not place children in front of buses and lorries travelling at low speeds, and in low volumes, unless it is completely unavoidable. The purpose of these cycle tracks is, specifically, to insulate cycling from driving; to ensure that cycling from point A to point B is entirely safe and comfortable, for anyone.
This is where many British cycle campaigners get confused. They think that cycle tracks are a form of surrender of the road, when the truth is that they are a form of liberation. They make cycling better. The streets in question will often have all the conditions they typically demand – 30 km/h (18mph) speed limits, and low traffic levels – but cycle tracks are still provided, for the simple reason that they make cycling considerably more enjoyable and relaxing. The infamous Hierarchy of Provision makes no sense in this context.
The cycle tracks form part of a coherent strategy of modal separation, that makes journeys across a major city as stress-free as a ride along a quiet country lane. The quality of the cycling experience is not sacrificed to some nebulous higher goal of retaining the carriageway – ‘our carriageway’ – as a place where motorists should be deferential. Cycling is put first because of separation. To pretend otherwise is as absurd as arguing that removing pavements and making people walk in front of motor vehicles is a way of prioritising walking.
It is this ability to cycle anywhere you want to, without fear, and in total safety (both objective and subjective) that explains why people of all ages cycle in such huge numbers in Utrecht.
My partner has not cycled on any British roads – ever. The only time she has ridden a bicycle since she was a teenager was on our last visit to Utrecht. She won’t like me mentioning it, but she has, for the moment, some trouble steering around tight corners. And yet – once again – I felt completely happy taking her with me on a 15-mile ride, heading straight out from the city centre into the countryside, and back again. She was happy too, despite her lack of bike handling skills, because she never felt threatened, or unsafe. (In fact her most serious problem was in the city centre, where she had to steer around pedestrians and other people riding.) She can’t drive, so the sense of liberation she got from travelling such a distance independently was palpable.
Coming out of the city, the ring road was easily negotiated.
Most of the route we took from this point on was on this kind of cycle path – wide enough for side-by-side riding in each direction.
Outside of the city limits, most of our riding was on rural lanes. The separation of cycling from motor traffic applies here too, with most of the lanes we used limited to residents only.
This transforms these routes into blissfully peaceful tracks, where you will essentially only encounter other people cycling – as well as the occasional driver accessing their house, or delivering to a property.
Over the course of our day out on the bike, we directly interacted with no more than ten motor vehicles – the scariest of which was a large tractor using one of these access roads to get to his fields. We also had a taxi driver who left me muttering ‘so much for strict liability’ as he came towards us at some speed, leaving only inches to spare, on the narrow lane below.
Oh, and this driver too, who, just like the tax driver, came past us like a bullet. Again, strict liability in action.
These incidents were really jarring, coming as they did out of the blue, during a day of almost complete freedom. Not only did they demonstrate to us that Dutch drivers really aren’t all that better behaved than their British counterparts (that could be the subject of another post), but they also showed how the quality of the Dutch cycling experience is built around separation from driving. In Britain these kinds of interactions would be much more frequent, given that cycling will almost always involve continuous exposure to drivers. Even with much higher driving standards, you will still encounter idiots, but in the Netherlands your chances of meeting them are considerably lower.
It took us about twenty minutes – at a relatively slow pedal – to get back into the city centre from the countryside, and it was easy to see why these paths are so popular. They form a crucial part of typical cycle journeys, that are fast, safe and direct – and, of course, free.
Dutch riders like to wheelsuck (they’re not stupid) and small, disparate groups would form and disperse as we pedalled along.
And back in the city centre, we returned to streets that, while in principle are ‘shared’ with motor vehicles, are almost entirely free of them in practice.
There was one jarring moment on our journey back into the city – a driver had parked on the pavement, partially blocking a cycle lane at the point where motor traffic is (very briefly) reintroduced into close physical proximity, to separate it out from the bus lanes on the left.
We had to abandon at this point, and walk for a little bit, because my partner did not have the confidence to negotiate this kind of situation. But this was – tellingly – as bad as it got during our entire trip.
There are, of course, bits of infrastructure in the city that are not quite up to scratch, but you can see that they are old, and it is surely only a matter of time before they are upgraded. It seemed to me that there is a huge amount of improvement work constantly being undertaken across the city; infrastructure is continuously being updated.
Old cycle tracks with paved surfaces are – of course – being replaced with improved surfacing, as junctions get rebuilt.
You can almost smell the fresh tarmac on many cycle tracks in the city centre. And to our amazement the rural road we used (that, for the purposes of driving, is limited to residents only) had been beautifully resurfaced since our last visit.
Even the temporary cycle infrastructure is of an extraordinary quality.
The overwhelming impression given by this continuous improvement, and more importantly by the whole way in which cycling is catered for, is that you are really and truly valued. Dutch towns and cities want you to cycle, and show you that they do through the effort they put in to making it a safe, convenient and enjoyable experience.
The way you can completely bypass large junctions and only realise afterwards what had been on your left.
The way you can cycle on the same road as triple section bendy buses, and not worry about them.
You can cycle like this – without a care – because you are insulated from danger, both objective and subjective, wherever you go. This is the liberation that comes from separation.
I should stress that these efforts are not strictly anti-motoring. If you want, you can still make journeys by car in the city of Utrecht, although your route (especially in and around the centre) may be much more circuitous than you might expect. The policy is more specifically about putting motoring in the correct context in urban areas; prioritised below walking, cycling and public transport. These have been made the obvious and attractive choices.
Outside of urban centres, where motor vehicle use is a more appropriate mode of transport – a way to travel between towns and cities – driving is less inhibited, but in urban areas, it is indirectly restricted by measures that ensure cycling remains safe and direct. Where cycling would be made subjectively or objectively dangerous, or inconvenient, it is motoring that gives way. And that’s not a problem at all if you make cycling the safe and easy option it should be.
My old friend Tom Vernon has died aged 74. I was honoured to be asked by his wife Sally to write his obituary for the Guardian. Here it is – http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/sep/18/tom-vernon
I nearly threw my lunch up in response to this gruesome bit of victim-blaming – so do prepare yourselves before viewing it. A natural reaction of any civilised person concerned with safety on the road would be outrage, and that’s entirely appropriate. I have to say that there is also plenty of justification for just expressing that outrage and refusing to go any further – many will feel that addressing elements of this message might dignify it as part of a responsible discourse on the subject.
Nevertheless, we will do so because, if nothing else, we can show how the ideology of traditional “road safety” allows those who endanger others to try and justify themselves. Critically analysing this garbage should help us in dealing with the problem of danger on the roads in general, and not just from the RHA. So, have your sick-bags at the ready and here we go…
Some of us have been campaigning for over 20 years about the situation where freight is carried on roads used by pedestrians and cyclists in vehicles which are not fit for purpose. After much campaigning, the industry has finally installed mirrors on HGVs enabling drivers to see where pedestrians and cyclists might be. We have to ask, how have we got into a situation where it’s seen as acceptable for large vehicles to move into space that their drivers cannot see?
Some operators consider electronic surveillance devices. Some have delivery of cyclist awareness courses like Safe Urban Driving as part of the legally required Certificate of Professional Competence. But they don’t push for all vehicles to have the latest electronic surveillance linked to black box recorders, or to have devices closing the gap between the vehicle body and road surface (which is how pedestrians and cyclists come to be crushed when hit). A range of practices would be seen in other industries as basic health and safety requirements – but not here. In fact, even the emphasis on the “blind-spot” forgets that the basic requirement should be on the potentially dangerous to be able to see, rather than on their potential victims to be seen (“Never drive in such a way that you cannot stop within visible distance”).
After plenty of campaigning from cycling groups and others, the Mayor of London has recently been making more of an effort to enforce requirements on basic safety equipment in parts of London – to which parts of the freight industry have reacted angrily .
We have a (limited) move towards some basic law enforcement on dangerous lorry use. That’s the reason for the rubbish from the Freight Transport Association, and now the RHA.THE ANALYSIS
Cue hysterical laughter.
Well, how dare you? But that’s the point: the culture generated by official “road safety” ideology allows the dangerous to present themselves as partners with their actual or potential victims. The difference between endangering others and being endangered is neutralised as if we are indeed, “all in it together”.
The key issue is to show how “road safety” ideology allows evasion of key responsibilities – if you allow it. That’s why we constantly analyses and criticise it.
But more needs to be done here. There needs to be some serious questioning of the viability of partnership working of cyclists and other groups – and bodies like Transport for London – with the FTA and RHA if they carry on behaving like this.POSTSCRIPT ONE
The current issue of Private Eye (no 1349, p.12) quotes the FTA’s EU affairs manager describing how – due to cutbacks in DfT staff in London – he sometimes represents the Department for Transport in EU meetings. “…recently FTA defeated the European parliament” on proposals to make small goods vehicles carry digital devices to record speed and driving hours.POSTSCRIPT TWO
The RHA is a key collaborator in the activities of Fair Fuel UK . Apart from the environmental destruction inevitably associated with not increasing the cost of petrol, these efforts are a central part of the belief system that motorists have “paid their way” or “paid for the road” – with inevitable hostility towards the non-motorised.
Some recent examples of driverless cars, rampaging out of control. Something really must be done about these mechanical beasts!
In Gorleston -
A crash between a woman on a bicycle and a car has partially blocked Suffield Road in Gorleston. Paramedics are at the scene, and called police to the incident at 8.35am. Police said the accident involved a Ford Fiesta and a cyclist. Suffield Road is partially blocked at the Lowestoft Road junction.
The BBC report from West Sussex -
A spokesman said: “This is a very busy road with a 60 mph limit, and unlit at night. There are increased safety concerns that as a responsible highways authority we must address.” He said there had been a number of incidents in the road which gave rise to new concerns, including an incident where a man climbed a tripod in the middle of the road, which cars had to avoid.
Sixty children were delayed in getting to school, he added. “Local schools have started a new term and as a result there is likely to more traffic using this section of road,” the statement said. “There has also been rain and that brings with it the risk of vehicles skidding if they are distracted by activity in the road, or on the verges.”
Cars are dangerous enough at the best of times. Can you imagine how dangerous they get if you distract them? They skid out of control!
And finally, from the Guardian -Woman dies after car hits pedestrians
Two more people injured as car leaves road in Birmingham and ploughs into small crowd on pavement
One woman has died and two other people were injured after a car hit pedestrians. West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) was called to reports of a collision involving a car and a number of pedestrians in Small Heath, Birmingham, at 12.50pm.
A WMAS spokeswoman said: “When crews arrived, they found a car which had left the road and collided with a group of pedestrians and a wall. One pedestrian, a woman, sustained multiple injuries and was in cardiac arrest.
“Crews immediately commenced advanced life support at the scene but, due to her critical condition, they decided to ‘scoop and run’, conveying her by land ambulance on blue lights to Heartlands Hospital whilst they continued emergency treatment en route. Sadly, despite the best efforts of ambulance crews and hospital medics, nothing could be done to save the woman and she was confirmed dead a short time later.”
A four-year-old boy had abdominal pain and suspected fractures to his pelvis and leg, and a woman in her 20s sustained a facial injury.
The male driver of the car was uninjured in the crash.
Only in the very last sentence is it made plain that this car actually had a ‘driver’.
You won’t need me to tell you that John Forester is the ‘father of vehicular cycling’.
One of his biggest apparent obsessions is the notion that cycle tracks and cycle paths foster ‘incompetent’ cycling. He has written, for instance, that
For decades American society accepted incompetent operation by cyclists as a consequence of keeping cyclists out of the way of motorists. The acceptance was tacit instead of explicit; nobody really wanted to admit it, and the laws, contradictorily, both required and prohibited operation in accordance with the rules of the road. Now government demands, as a patriotic measure, that bikeways be installed specifically to encourage a greater volume of incompetent cycling.
both of the two major groups [motorists, and cycling advocates who want bikeways] want cyclists to operate in the fearful, deferential, and incompetent manner, while bicycle drivers want to operate in the confident and competent manner of drivers of vehicles.
At its most extreme, this viewpoint extends to blaming the victims of collisions with HGVs. According to Forester’s logic, it is a failure to ride a bike in his ‘proper manner’ – that is, exactly like a motor vehicle – that has directly caused people to end up under the wheels of lorries in London.
This association of cycle tracks and cycle paths with ‘incompetent’ cycling features in the thoughts of John Franklin, the man who has done so much to introduce Forester’s ideas to Britain. In an infamous letter to John Grimshaw, Franklin wrote
Sustrans has often cited the fact that Dutch cyclists sometimes leave the ferry at Harwich and find traffic so difficult to deal with that they go back home! Interestingly, this problem is not experienced by cyclists arriving from France, Spain or the USA. Proficiency in using roads on a regular basis is essential to maximise safety, and to maximise one’s cycling horizons. I would not like to see Britain on the slope down to Dutch levels of cycling competence.
The concluding word is a giveaway. ‘Competence’ for Franklin – just as for Forester – means the ability and willingness to ride in motor traffic. In this version of events, those Dutch tourists who arrived at Harwich, saw the conditions they were expected to cycle in, then turned around and went home, lacked the ‘competence’ of their British and American counterparts.
Of course, those Dutch riders were in an all likelihood perfectly capable of cycling on British roads – they just didn’t want to. They were competent, but unwilling, a distinction Franklin is apparently blind to. It was the unattractiveness of the cycling conditions that pushed the Dutch tourists back on to the ferry, not any lack of ability (indeed, the unattractiveness of the John Franklin model of cycling has recently been dissected).
Dutch cyclists are of course perfectly competent at riding on roads, as well as on cycle tracks and paths. It is, frankly, completely insane to imagine that the reason some Dutch tourists refused to ride on the main road out of Harwich is because the Dutch nation, as a whole, is worse at riding bicycles than the British or American nation. They just didn’t want to ride in British conditions, any more than tourists wouldn’t want to walk through dangerous or forbidding areas.
On any visit to the Netherlands you will see ample evidence that the Dutch are actually highly skilled bicycle users. They can easily ride along while propelling a bicycle for someone else.
Are these examples of ‘incompetent’ or ‘competent’ riding?
It’s certainly not the kind of cycling you would want to do in motor traffic, so I suppose it doesn’t conform to the incredibly narrow version of ‘competence’ that Franklin and Forester use. What they really mean when they refer to ‘incompetence’ is an unwillingness to do things their way. I’m quite glad the Dutch are free to be incompetent. I’d like to be incompetent too.
I’m just back from the 10th annual Cycling & Society Symposium, hosted this year by the University of Central Lancashire at their outdoor campus, Ty’n Dwr, near Llangollen in mid-Wales. It was superbly organised by Richard Weston, and pulled together around 35 of us face-to-face, as well as Jennifer Bonham in Adelaide, Australia via Skype.
As someone who’s been around since the start, I was invited to say a few words about where as a research community we’ve come from, where we might go, and how in the wider world cycling is changing.
I decided to start by telling the cycling story of my daughter, Flo, who like Cycling & Society is 10 years old.
Flo was born into a bubble structured by cycling; her parents love cycling and live without a car. For a decade she has developed through that structured space, into a skilled and experienced cyclist. At the start she had to be physically carried or pulled …
But she soon learnt to propel herself, initially on a balance bike, then through a series of pedal-driven machines; the bikes grew bigger and she became stronger, faster and more independent.
For so long as her friends were the children of our friends, cycling remained normal. But then slowly, inevitably, she has through school developed friends of her own, friends whose lives are not based around the bicycle but the car.
And cycling is steadily becoming less ‘natural’; it is becoming more unappealing. We’ve taught Flo to cycle, but it’s getting steadily harder to make her cycle in a world which mainly doesn’t. Her agency is being structured less by us her parents, and more by the world outside. For now she’s riding slowly away from us, towards the car. Her transport preferences are becoming normal. In her own little, sweet and innocent way, Flo shows how very far we remain from a cycling world.
The personal and the social are inextricably, complexly connected. I struggle with but also accept Flo’s resistance to cycling; she’s finding her way in the world, and wants to fit in. We’ve helped her – and some of her friends – to understand more about cycling, but they’re all part of a car-centric society in which ‘being normal’ matters. In the world as it is her reluctance to cycle is part of learning to be sociable.
So our challenge as parents is changing; if over the last decade we’ve taught and encouraged our kids to cycle, over the next one I hope we’ll teach them to navigate and negotiate a world of multiple and sometimes clashing visions and values – in other words, politics. We’ll explain cycling’s significance to a healthy, peaceful, happy, just, and green world, and we’ll try to nudge them some ways more than others, but they’ll figure things out for themselves, including what role cycling, if any, should play in their own lives.
But this next decade is crucial, either to cycling’s continued marginalisation or else to its normalisation. A decade ago cycling was ignored and/or treated as irrelevant by most academics, including those with expertise in transport and sustainability; today, in contrast, there’s a steady stream of peer-reviewed journal articles about cycling, major research funding for cycling projects, and more respect shown to those who argue for cycling’s importance. Cycling’s shift from the margins towards the mainstream of academia is an effect but also a cause of cycling’s shift from the margins towards the mainstream of society in general; both trends are tentative but have the potential to develop significantly between now and 2023.
So I look forward to the 20th Cycling & Society Symposium in 2023, and hope I might have good news to report there on Flo’s cycling trajectory over the coming decade, as she moves into adulthood. By then cycling could be much more normal, and Flo and her friends might perhaps be cycling, and less self-consciously.
Llangollen was a cosmopolitan affair. There were people from Brazil, China, Poland, Romania, Denmark, France, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, Hungary and the UK, as well as Jennifer from Australia. I find this truly inspiring and encouraging – the thirst for new cycling knowledge, like the push for cycling, is now happening almost everywhere.
The beautiful, rural and remote location provided good opportunities for riding. Many participants got out and about by bike at some point during the event; for myself, I rode over to Llangollen from Crewe with Tim Jones (above) – who gave a super presentation about the MAMIL (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) phenomenon – and Cosmin Popan (below) – who’s recently started a PhD on cycling at Lancaster University. And after a full day spent listening to twelve diverse but uniformly excellent papers, the three of us rode with Peter Wood – who’s close to finishing his PhD on cycling at The Open University – up Horseshoe Pass.
It’s a huge privilege to hang out with researchers such as Peter and Cosmin who, compared to Tim and me, are still starting out on their journeys into cycling research. The energies and enthusiasms of others who love cycling are infectious. And there’s still so much to know, both about cycling per se, and about how best to promote it.
Seeing in Llangollen the continuing passion for and growing expertise in cycling, it strikes me that thinking about cycling is in a pretty healthy place, and that it’ll continue to make important contributions over the next decade.
When I was in London last Monday ahead of the Space for Cycling protest, I found myself on the Mall quite near Buckingham Palace, and I wanted to head north towards Oxford Street.
The obvious option is a cycle route (indeed a road) running along the eastern side of Green Park, which would allow anyone cycling the option to avoid the fairly unpleasant St James Street to the east, which despite being returned to two-way running for all traffic is still unattractive for cycling.
There’s actually motor vehicle access for some distance along this route, for properties along it. However, when the motor vehicle access ceases – when the properties stop – so does the cycling access, with a threat of a £50 fine if you continue to cycle, across the white line.
The route stops – for no discernible reason – halfway up the eastern side of the park. You can’t go any further on this path, despite motor vehicles using it up to this point. There is no change in the volume of pedestrians, and no change in the width of the path, so it is quite inexplicable to me why cycling should be allowed south of this line, but not north of it (beyond the fact that it would be absurd to allow motor vehicles to drive up to this line, but not allow people to cycle up to it).
Without this route, you are stuffed. There is no north-south route across this park, at all. You can cycle west to Hyde Park Corner, but there you are abandoned, with no route back east along the perimeter of Green Park. Your only alternative is to use the traffic-clogged St James Street, which really isn’t much fun at all.
So there is no safe and pleasant option north from the Mall to Piccadilly. It would surely be very simple indeed to open up the wide track (that, remember, currently allows motor vehicle access) for north-south cycling, along the entire eastern perimeter of the park.
More than that, it could form a substantial part of a protected route from the Victoria area all the way to Camden.
From Green Park it could head north through (for instance) Berkeley Square, heading towards Portland Place, and into Regents Park.
There is substantial room for reallocating space to cycling along this route, by physical segregation on the wide roads in the Square and on Portland Place, or by closing off narrower streets to through traffic to create subjective safety.
And there is scope for improvement of Regents Park too, to allow safe and pleasant cycling conditions with very little effort or investment. I have been reminded of a decade-old proposal to close the Park to through-traffic.
The Outer Circle of Regents Park has larger roads running parallel to it, all the way around the Park.
So there is – in principle – absolutely no reason why the Outer Circle should remain open to motor traffic travelling elsewhere. The proposal from 2003 recommends three simple point closures, at the following locations -
This would leave the Park still completely accessible to those who want to drive into it – or indeed for those who live on the Outer Circle – but would create a safe and calm environment for people walking and cycling in the Park. The eastern part of the Outer Circle could form a genuine Superhighway from the Oxford Street area into Camden.
Obviously these kinds of improvements to parks should not be a substitute for creating safe and attractive routes on the main roads of London. But these changes – both in Regents and Green Park – could be implemented so simply and easily it’s a complete no-brainer. In fact it’s pretty shocking that the Regents Park proposals have been floating around since 2003, with no action.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Hyde Park routes – so useful for tourists who wish to pedal around on Boris Bikes, and for those who don’t wish to cycle on Park Lane, or battle with traffic through Knightsbridge – are frequently disrupted or closed without alternatives being provided, for music or sporting events. Indeed, they are closed (or disrupted) right now, for the rest of this week… For a triathlon.
It seems to me that the Royal Parks – which manage all three of these parks – need a bit of a push from the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner, so as to ensure that proper, consistent, high-quality routes for cycling (that are subjectively safe and suitable for all kinds of users), are provided across them. These routes would be quick wins, and would act as a spur to creating cycle routes that join up with them along the main roads.
There is, apparently, a Vision for turning London into the world’s best cycling city, yet safe and pleasant routes across its parks, which could so easily be opened up, remain unattractive, disrupted, or closed off entirely. Time for action?
The City of London have brought out what they presumably believe to be a charming ‘road safety’ video, entitled ‘Handle Like Eggs’.
The presenter of the video informs us that it is really important we ‘share the streets, safely.’ This is, apparently, because the City has ‘a global financial centre, packed into a medieval street pattern.’
The implication of these comments is that there really is no alternative to ‘sharing the road’ when you are riding a bike; that the City cannot do anything to separate bicycle traffic from motor traffic. Especially on streets like Cheapside, where it is ‘especially important to share safely.’
This is utter tosh. The reason people using bikes are being forced to ‘share’ the road with motorists is because the City has created a street design that pushes the two into conflict. The City Cyclists blog has assiduously documented the history of this £3 million scheme, pointing out that despite claims it will ‘greatly benefit cyclists’, it is actually deeply unpopular. Nobody riding here wants to have to place themselves directly in front of motor traffic to prevent dangerous overtakes, yet this is what you have to do. Likewise it is often impossible to filter on this street when it is congested with motor traffic. You simply have to sit behind buses and lorries, and breathe in the fumes.
This is not a consequence of the ‘medieval street pattern’. It is a consequence of the City creating a deliberately narrow carriageway.
There’s a vast amount of space here, but the City have pushed bike users and buses into the same tiny bit of road.
You can see this same scene in the City’s own video -
The pavement is so wide here, you can see a lorry parked on it, behind the presenter.
Now obviously taking carriageway space and reallocating it to pedestrians is a good thing, in and of itself. But frankly a huge opportunity to create safe and attractive cycling conditions on Cheapside has been lost.
There wouldn’t be any need for videos like this if the street had been designed differently. The impatient overtaking attempts illustrated in the video simply wouldn’t happen. The left hook as the cyclist enters an ASL wouldn’t happen. And, most importantly, there wouldn’t be any need to tell you to cycle in the middle of the road.
The simple truth is that the City have built a street that engenders conflict between people riding bikes and people driving, and have to had to resort to a silly video to try and ameliorate the consequences. If they had just designed the street with proper, protected space for cycling in the first place, it wouldn’t have been necessary.
Sadly I don’t think they are paying attention.
This news story featured yesterday in the Hull Daily Mail -
A Hull man whose back was broken in two places when he was knocked from his bicycle faces a long struggle to walk again. Cliff Hattersley, 59, was cycling to his son’s house from his home in The Quadrant when he was hit side-on by a car.
Mr Hattersley was thrown from his bike by the impact and suffered two fractures in his vertebrae. X-rays revealed emergency surgery would be needed to help it fully heal.
His wife Linda said: “He couldn’t get out of the bed at hospital. He couldn’t stand up on his own. I would rather it was a broken arm or a leg but it’s such a serious thing, a back injury. It’s not something you easily recover from.”
Mr Hattersley’s son was away from his home in Priory Road, so he was heading round to check on it. As he cycled around the roundabout where Fairfax Avenue joins Cottingham Road, he was in a collision with a silver Vauxhall Astra. He did not lose consciousness and even spoke to his wife on the phone after being picked up by emergency services. It was at first thought his injuries were minor, before an X-ray revealed the bad news.
Mrs Hattersley, 59, said: “He didn’t sound too bad on the phone. He got a bang on the head and he hurt his shoulder but he never lost consciousness. I didn’t think it was that serious.”
But a CT scan revealed her husband had suffered an unstable fracture. His vertebrae was broken his in two places, meaning his back might not heal properly on its own. The family was given two choices – 12 weeks of bed rest coupled with therapy from a specialist unit at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, or an immediate operation.
They decided surgery was the best option, and on Friday afternoon, Mr Hattersley had screws and rods put into his back to help it heal properly. He is still in hospital and is walking only hesitantly with a zimmer frame but hopes to make a full recovery.
Mrs Hattersley said: “They’re trying to get him home at the beginning of this week. But with the pain he was in and him not being able to stand, I will just have to see how it goes when the doctors see him. It’s hard not knowing what the outcome will be yet. Once I know the outcome, I will be relieved.”
Her husband, who no longer drives, is fitted with a pacemaker and started cycling to improve his health. The couple do not yet know if he will get on a bike again.
Mrs Hattersley said: “The doctors said he will have less mobility but whether he will be able to cycle again I don’t know. He’s usually full of jokes. He’s not himself at the moment but he will get back there. There was nothing he could have done to protect himself. The police said about him having a helmet but a helmet wouldn’t have stopped a broken back.”
The crash happened just before 8am on Wednesday last week.
Well, Mrs Hattersley isn’t quite right when she argues that ‘there was nothing he could have done to protect himself’.
Her husband could have been wearing body armour.
Of course a helmet wouldn’t have protected her husband’s back! That’s just silly. No, that’s what a reinforced spine protector is for; and that’s what her husband should have been wearing. As well as a helmet.
Now there are some deluded fools out there who insist on arguing that the real solution to keeping people toddling around on bikes safe from harm is to separate them from motor vehicles to the greatest possible extent, and to ensure – through design and enforcement – that vehicles are driven slowly and carefully when mixing is unavoidable. They say that a country called ‘The Netherlands’ has apparently achieved some success in keeping people riding bikes safe with these kinds of strategies.
But trauma surgeons in Canada know better. Because they’ve seen the effects of injuries to cyclists up close.
Trauma surgeons at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary conducted a study into cycling injuries and say the risk of serious injury can be reduced and even prevented by wearing body armour.
The doctors compared injuries between street cyclists and mountain bikers over a 14-year period and looked at incidence, risk factors and injury patterns.
One of the recommendations that came out of the report is that cyclists in both groups should consider wearing chest protection.
The research study was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Surgery and studied 258 severely injured cyclists in southern Alberta.
“Trauma to the head is still the No. 1 injury in both cycling groups, which underscores the importance of wearing a good-quality, properly fitted helmet,” says Dr. Chad Ball, the senior author of the research paper. “At the same time, almost half of the injuries we noted were either to the chest or abdomen, suggesting that greater physical protection in those areas could also help reduce or prevent serious injury.”
Yes, Canada’s cyclists are suffering serious trauma injuries all over their bodies. And not just to their heads. Isn’t it therefore completely frickin’ obvious that we should protect their entire bodies, and not just their heads?
So, use your head. Don’t just protect your head. Protect your chest and your spine. And your limbs! 38.4% of trauma injuries to cyclists are in ‘the extremities.’ Just think of the horrible consequences to your arms if you’re caught in a serious motor vehicle smash without your hard shell arm protectors. There’s no way I’d cycle anywhere without these bad boys. Even if I’m just popping to the shops. (I only have two arms, and I’d like to keep them, thanks.)
Of course, some might say we should address the so-called ‘root causes’ of those injuries, like being struck by motor vehicles travelling at high speeds, or being run over by heavy trucks, rather than taking the logical step of cladding people head to toe in safety wear.
But they haven’t seen a serious head injury, or a crushed chest. Just think how those injuries could have been very, very slightly lessened with a polystyrene helmet, or a hardened plastic thorax protector. Or reinforced limb armour.
Then you’ll understand. It’s for your own safety.