The Frideswide Square redevelopment in Oxford has got me thinking (again) about the ways in which current road design – even in places with relatively high levels of cycling use – continue to treat cycling as a mode of transport that doesn’t exist, and why.
To recap, although this is a ‘Square’, it’s a busy junction, with around 35,000 vehicle movements, per day.
This is, clearly, a vast area, but the plan is to create what amounts to a carbon copy of Poynton.
A ‘shared space’ scheme, with narrow carriageways and ‘informal’ roundabouts.
Where does cycling fit into this design? Answer – it doesn’t.
As with Poynton, people cycling will either have to share the carriageway with those tens of thousands of motor vehicles, combined with buses moving in and out of the bus stops, taking an ‘assertive’ position along the road, and through the roundabouts, or if they don’t fancy that, they are going to be ‘tolerated’ on the footways.
Council spokesman Paul Smith said: “We’ve had numerous discussions with cycle groups throughout the planning of this scheme and listened carefully to concerns.
“One of the most important things we’re trying to achieve is to keep vehicle speeds down to enable the whole place to feel more welcoming for pedestrians and cyclists as well as helping to keep traffic flowing more smoothly than now.
“If we provided cycle lanes on the road, the width of the road overall would increase to the point where we feel that vehicles will start to travel at higher speeds. This would make things less pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists.
“We have heard that there are still people who may not want to cycle on the road in Frideswide Square even if speeds are low and that is why we are proposing that some space in the paved pedestrian area of the square is shared between cyclists and pedestrians.”
Unfortunately nobody was asking for ‘cycle lanes on the road'; both the CTC and the Embassy were asking for cycle tracks, physically separated from motor traffic. The point about the ‘width of the road’ is therefore completely irrelevant. The road could be whatever width Oxford choose to make it, because cycling would be physically separate from it. (This basic misunderstanding isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring).
The final paragraph pretty much encapsulates the dead-end philosophy of catering for two different groups of ‘cyclist’. There are plainly many, many people who don’t want to cycle on busy roads; this is the main reason why cycling levels are so suppressed in Britain. Why this is apparently some kind of revelation to the council – ‘we have heard that there are still people who may not want to cycle on the road’ – is beyond me. These people are not being considered in these designs. They are being treated like pedestrians.
These kinds of proposals are a failure because they do not explicitly consider cycling as a mode of transport in its own right, designing for it in a way that responds to the needs of people actually using bicycles. What cycling that is taking place (and in this location, even with the existing poor conditions, quite a lot, several thousand movements a day) will continue to be bodged into a walking/driving model – that is, being treated as a motor vehicle, or as a pedestrian, neither of which is particularly attractive, to anyone. Cycling gets nothing, even in a location where it is reasonably dominant in an existing hostile environment.
I think this is why it is really important that a two-tier approach of catering for cycling – allegedly slow, less confident people on the footway, while the confident continue to use the road – is explicitly ruled out as a design strategy. It provides a mechanism for ignoring cycling completely, even in schemes that are being funded with cycling money.
The Perne Road roundabout in Cambridge, and the ‘Turbo’ Roundabout in Bedford, have both been funded with several hundreds of thousands of pounds of cycling money, yet what has been produced are roundabouts that do not design for cycling. At these roundabouts, you either continue to cycle on the roundabout itself, with motor traffic, like a motor vehicle, or you use the footway, like a pedestrian. This is fairly extraordinary, given the source of funding, but it remains possible because we allow cycling to be divided up this way, offering up a bit of what’s needed to different kinds of user, simultaneously watering down cycling to the point that it can safely be ignored, as it is in a multi-million pound scheme in Oxford. The two-tier approach is a complete disaster, and it has to be killed off.
Draft of essay commissioned for a special issue of the Mathematics Enthusiast entitled “Risk: mathematical or otherwise”. Still time to make changes so critical advice welcomed, especially from mathematicians.
What role might mathematicians have to play in the management of risk? The idea of turning a risk, a possibility of loss or injury, into a “calculated” risk, a quantified probability of loss or injury, is one that has obvious appeal not just to statisticians and mathematicians – but to large numbers of others who would like to know the probability of failure before pursuing some intended course of action.
Conclusion: even when risks can be calculated with great precision, they can only be used to inform judgment, but not substitute for it. And it matters who is making the judgment. Read more …
In yesterday’s BBC Sunday Politics piece on the Superhighways, presenter Tim Donovan repeated, in the form of a question, the City of London’s statement that the proposals are ‘heavily biased’ towards cycling and cyclists (that comment appears three times in this City response). Donovan included Canary Wharf in his comment that the plans are
heavily biased towards the cyclists
and he then followed this up with the statement that
They [the City] are saying that when you’re looking at changes, you are being biased towards the cyclist in the changes you’re putting in.
You can see these exchanges in this video of the whole section of the programme, from the six minute mark.
Gilligan makes the obvious point that this is (predominantly) a cycling scheme. If it wasn’t ‘biased’ towards cycling, something would be seriously wrong.
Cycling in towns is here to stay, and is going to grow, and we don’t resist that, we try to accommodate it… but normally… major infrastructure, you really want years to get everybody on-side… not just one group, you want everybody on side.
In the context of 50+ years of road and street design that has utterly failed to consider cycling as a mode of transport this is, frankly, a laughable comment. To suggest that when, for pretty much the very first time, cycling is being considered in a serious way on a few major roads in London, that such a scheme amounts to a sudden departure from the normal procedure of getting ‘everybody on side’ is deeply ahistorical.
Likewise, in an interview with the Guardian’s Peter Walker, Welbank makes a similar point, this time about cycling apparently being ‘prioritised’ -
All road users should have equal opportunities. At the moment [with these plans] we believe the cyclists are having priority to the disadvantage of other users.
This isn’t what’s happening, at all. Cycling is, for the very first time, being treated as a mode of transport suitable for anyone who might want to ride a bike, rather than the usual process of making token (and often completely ineffectual) changes. The only way in which this scheme could amount to cycling being ‘prioritised’ is if you are blinkered enough to believe that the existing road network has been designed and built to equally prioritise cycling and driving – that they are impartial, and mode-neutral.
Let us, hypothetically, imagine that there is no footway along the Embankment, as shown in the picture below. Understandably, very few people are prepared to walk along here. Transport for London then propose to install a footway, to make walking attractive enough for everyone, along this road.
Would that amount to ‘bias’ in favour of pedestrians? Would it mean that Transport for London are only considering the needs of pedestrians, failing to get everybody else on side’?
Let’s get one thing straight here. Roads and streets in London, and everywhere else in Britain, are almost without exception heavily biased – but heavily biased against cycling.
The changes that are being proposed to the roads like the one in the picture above aren’t some kind of ‘icing on the cake’ for the people already cycling there; a bit of extra ‘niceness’ for the existing cyclists.
These roads are extremely unsuitable for cycling, such that only a tiny percentage of the population would be willing to cycle there. The changes that will (hopefully) be implemented are really the bare minimum we should be expecting; they begin to put cycling on something approaching an equal level of consideration as motor traffic, and walking.
The only conceivable way in which these proposals could be seen as ‘biased’ is if the existing road network is taken to be equally attractive to people cycling, driving and walking. But that’s plainly a nonsense. Walking along the Superhighway route is not always pleasant, but it’s something that families can do, reasonably happily. By contrast, I have never, ever seen children cycling on these roads, except for the one day a year when they are closed to motor traffic.
So these comments about ‘bias’ and ‘too much prioritisation’ really amount to ignorance about cycling as a mode of transport, manifested as reluctance to move away from the existing state of affairs in which cycling remains the preserve of a small minority of the population. It’s perhaps forgivable that the general population continues to see ‘cycling’ and ‘cyclists’ as a minority pursuit, but the people in charge of transport – people who should be knowledgeable and informed – should really know better.