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Designing Bicycle Symbolism - Towards the Future

Copenhagenize - 22 August, 2014 - 09:00
The Bicycle as a symbol of progress, of renewal, of promising times ahead. This is not a new concept. Indeed it has been around since the invention of the bicycle. Many bicycle posters at end of the 19th century featured promising themes like liberation, progress, freedom. Here's an example:

In this beautiful poster, there is a lot of metaphorical gameplay. The young woman is riding a bicycle to the future. Dressed in white and seemingly casting fresh flowers as though leaving a trail for us to follow. The old woman is looking backwards to the past as she sits in a bed of thorns, almost resigned to the fact that the future - the bicycle - is passing her by.

When people in most cultures see art or photgraphy, our brain sees movement from left to right and interprets the piece based on that.

The German historian and psychologist Rudolf Arnheim who wrote, among other books, "Art and visual perception – A psychology of the creative eye" noticed that the way many cultures read - from left to right - has an influence on the way we look at art or photography.

‘Since a picture is “read” from left to right, pictorial movement toward the right is perceived as being easier, requiring less effort’.

Bicycles often look better when heading off to the right. In the photo shoots we've done for bicycle brands, we are always careful to shoot the right side of the bicycle wherever possible, so that the chainguard is visible. It just looks better with the chainguard in the shot, but it also looks better heading to the right.

Photo shoot for Velorbis catalogue.


Here are a couple of examples of  'reading' a photo.

At top left, the girl in the poncho looks like she is struggling into a snowblown headwind, which she was. At bottom left, by flipping the photo horizontally, she looks like she is sailing on a tailwind. The pedestrians, as well.

At top right, the bicycle users appear to have an easy go of it with a tailwind. Which they weren't. At bottom right they appear to be muscling into the snow and wind.

The flag at the top is the party flag for the Samajwadi political party in India. In 2012, their rising star, Akhilesh Yadav, won a landslide election in the Uttar Pradesh state elections. Yadav campaigned tirelessly and he rode hundreds of kilometres around the state on his bicycle and organised bicycle rides. Reuters has an article about his rise to power. He thrashed the heir-apparent in Indian politics, Rahul Ghandi by appealing to the working classes, sleeping in villagers huts and aligning himself with the demands of the regular citizens. And the man can even text and cycle at the same time. He's got our vote.

So a bicycle is a fitting symbol for the party. For any progressive party who aspire to be agents of change. I have no idea if the designer thought about the positioning of the bicycle on the flag at the top. Based on this Left to Right perception, the bicycle isn't heading away from us, carrying us to a better future and all the other metaphors you can think of.. The positioning of it - in our perception - suggests that it is going in the opposite direction. Going against the flow, or against the grain, as it were. Which can be symbolic in a positive sense for a political party wishing to embrace change and deconstruct the status quo, but that's far too subliminal. Interestingly, on the political party's Facebook group and elsewhere, there are versions of the flag reversed so it points left to right.

This started out as an article about Mr Yadav and his party's use of the bicycle as a symbol. A discussion started here at Copenhagenize Design Company, however, about how bicycles are positioned in signage and pictograms.

If we suppose that a bicycle heading from left to right is 'positive' symbolism for our sub-conscious perception, then surely bicycle pictograms and signage should feature this directional placement.

We all went over the window to look at the Danish standard on the cycle tracks outside and looked at other examples from around us in Copenhagen.



(Clockwise from top left) The Danish standard as dictacted by the Road Directorate is a bicycle heading from right to left, although the logo of the City of Copenhagen's Bicycle Office - "I Bike CPH" - features a bicycle in the 'positive' direction. The logo for The Green Wave in Copenhagen has the bicycle user in "metaphorical direction neutrality" - could be heading towards us or away from us. I've always percieved this as the bicycle heading towards me, come to think of it. While the standard for Danish signage is right to left, there are variations. Wayfinding for indicating routes on the national cycling network. On the bicycle seat belts on the train to Malmö, the bike heads right.

At bottom right is a vintage sign I cycle past each day, complete with chainguard, fenders and light. Nice. The Danish State Railways tend to use the standard symbol but they are happy to have the bicycle pointing to the right on variations of their signage.


Above are all the traffic signs in Denmark relating to cycling. At bottom left is the signage for bi-directional cycle tracks, which you don't see often for obvious design reasons. But it's there like a retro memory, like the man at bottom right sitting upright with a splendid hat - old Danish signage that we miss so very much. All in all, the pictograms are standardised to feature bicycles heading left.

The traffic engineer logic is that pointing a bicycle to the left indicates potential collision and serves, in their minds at least, to add a safety element to the road signage. Generally, there is a tendency to have the bicycle heading to the right if the signage indicates access or bicycle-friendly facilities, but this is not carved in stone, apparently.

"Bicycle Street - Cars are guests"

We chose, however, to aim the bicycle left to right in our proposal for signage for Bicycle Streets in Denmark. And, even more importantly, we were tired of all the boy bikes in all the pictograms we see around the world, so we made it a proper sit up and beg design with a ladies frame. We like the idea of the Dutch version of their Fietsstraat signs, featuring a cyclist heading towards you, in front of a car. The design, however, is clumsy and it looks hand-drawn. We developed the above proposal based on existing Danish signage. Interestingly, the Dutch signage isn't even official signage, but the Dutch put them up anyway and now people think they are. That's cool.

Farther afield, let's have a look through the Copenhagenize archives to see what's up in the bicycle pictogram world.



Looking from left to right, above, the bicycle symbols are right to left in Zurich, Rome, Ljubljana and Mexico City and then it points to the right in Ferrara. In Vienna, at far right, it's right to left but the crossing signal - one of the funkiest in the world - features a bicycle with casual-leaning cyclist looking right at us. Which sends positive connotations.



In Berlin we spotted what we assume is a vintage design, at left, featuring a chap wearing a suit and riding a normal bicycle. Citizen Cycling indeed. On street and on the parking sign, the bicycles are right to left.


Stockholm can't seem to figure out which way to go.


Nor can Trondheim. Even in Amsterdam they have some variations and varying directions.


In Barcelona, the signage is usually right to left, but left to right on the trains. Suggesting access - supported by the word "access" in three languages, just to be sure you get it.


The Finns work with the right to left concept, as does Antwerp - although they switch it around on the green sign. In Budapest, activists made their own pictogram and spraypainted it on streets all over the city. Great idea, although might have been symbolic to reverse the pictogram.


In Melbourne and on official signage in Riga (is that the world's shortest stretch of bicycle infrastructure?) it is right to left. The bike share in Riga, however is left to right, as is the sign on the door to the train station. The biggest warning on that sign tells you to watch out for the grates if you're wearing high heels. In Tokyo, right to left.


Brazil is a bit confused. At left is a somewhat standard pictogram in Sao Paulo showing the route for the Ciclofaixa each Sunday. The yellow symbol was made by activists - featuring an upright bike heading in the positive direction. On the second-last photo, the sign stating that Volkswagon sponsored the bike lane through a park has the bicycles heading left to right. And yes, we love that irony. The middle photo is from Rio de Janeiro with a rare example of a pictogram straight on. And the pictogram at the right is a newer version that I've seen in use in the city. Nice design, too.


It's a signage free for all in Canada, with different variations across the land. In the US - the only country to put plastic hats on their pictogram people, there is a general standard and it sends cyclists back out into traffic. In New York, this pathway has reversed them in order to show wayfinding.

The French are sending the bicycle backwards, then forwards to a progressive future and then back again. It's all very confusing, although their national standard is the white bike on green.

While some countries still need a national standard and there is an ocean of variations, there are still some people who get it hopelessly wrong. We spotted this, at left, in London in June 2014. It's hilarious. It's a Jackson Pollack interpretation of the British pictogram. At right, even the Copenhagen Metro can screw up. Lovely that it is a step-through frame, but seriously... how many things can you find wrong with that pictogram?

So, after all that, here's a crazy Copenhagenize idea.

Let's get all subliminal. Let's flip our bicycle pictograms on the streets and signage to send a sub-conscious message to all those who 'read' them. It's an inexpensive solution to influence perception of cycling. Think about it when planning your logo.

If, as we mentioned above, ‘since a picture is “read” from left to right, pictorial movement toward the right is perceived as being easier, requiring less effort’, THAT should be the general message on all bicycle pictograms. Send the bicycle from left to right - not only so we can see the damned chainguard - but to broadcast the symbolism of a progressive future.Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
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Friday Throwback: how would you get around your city with no gasoline?

ibikelondon - 22 August, 2014 - 08:30

It's Friday, which can only mean one thing: time for our next Friday Throwback - the ongoing series exploring the best of the images from internet archives celebrating the bicycle.

This photo was taken in Oregon, USA, in 1974 when the energy crisis meant that petrol stations were only allocated so much fuel to sell each day. This station has shut up for the day having sold its reserve, and in the background a local is finding an alternative way of getting around.




The fuel crisis led to a renaissance for the bicycle, as we explored previously in this post about children "forced" to cycle to school.  There had been hopes the renaissance would be long-lived, but when the oil started flowing again and the streets filled with cars the bicycle boom was quickly over.

Today's image comes from the US National Archives' contribution to The Commons on Flickr.

Whatever your cycling plans this weekend, be sure never to miss another post from ibikelondon again! You can join the conversation on Twitter or follow our Facebook page.  Happy cycling!

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Dual network strikes again

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 21 August, 2014 - 22:58

Yesterday Transport for London announced their plans for Elephant & Castle, which had been out to consultation earlier in the year. There are some good elements here, but there’s a worrying amount of inconsistency. Attractive conditions for cycling aren’t continuous through the scheme.

This is most obvious on the Link Road, the bit of road that connects the main roundabout with the junction to the south – the junction where Abdelkhalak Lahyani was killed in May.

What TfL are going to build on the Link Road. The roundabout is to the left; the southern junction is to the right.

A cycle track runs northbound on this stretch of road, at bottom (the TfL plan is oriented with north to the left). This bypasses a large bus stop. There is no reason why this won’t work, providing it is designed properly.

But curiously, in the opposite direction – southbound – there is no cycle track at all. Instead we have a cycle lane running outside of a long bus lane/stop, sandwiched between stopped, or moving, buses, and general traffic lanes.*

At both ends of this cycle lane there are problems. At the northern end, buses and cycles will be moving across each other’s paths, at the point where the protected cycle track ends.

And at the southern end, we have similar problems -

People cycling straight on (south) will have to deal with motor traffic (including HGVs) wishing to turn left cutting across them, and buses moving out in the opposite direction. And this at a junction where someone has recently been killed by a left-turning HGV.

It’s a mess. And, more importantly, a needless mess, when there is sound design on the other side of the road that could just be copied across. There should be a cycle track here, running behind the bus stop. There is little to no point attempting to do something properly in one direction, and giving up in the other.

There is plenty of space to play with here. You can see on the diagram above that a median (in yellow) is being retained between the two carriageways, which is 1.5m wide. It has a fence on it, in an attempt to stop people crossing the road; presumably this is why it is being retained.

In addition, it seems that space is going to waste, due to some familiar (pervasive) ‘dual network’ thinking. TfL write that they will be implementing

additional improvements for cyclists who wish to remain on the carriageway such as, widening the carriageway northbound on the Elephant and Castle Link Road to allow for 4.5m bus lane to offer space for cyclists to overtake buses, and introducing a new cycle feeder lane on the approach to St George’s Road to offer better protection to cyclists approaching the junction [my emphasis]

So rather than doing things properly, and providing cycle tracks away from the carriageway that anyone – fast or slow – would naturally want to use, a 4.5m wide bus lane is being implemented in parallel to the northbound cycle track.

This is a waste of everyone’s time. As David Arditti argues -

There is no question of us having a network of roads for “less confident drivers” and a different one for “fast and advanced motorists”, and this is how the places that get cycling right also treat cycling. They build cycle lanes, paths and tracks that work of all types of cyclists and all abilities at the same time, and have sufficient capacity to cope with all, taking the attitude that if it’s not safe enough for young children, it won’t be safe enough for anyone, and if it’s not convenient enough for commuters in a hurry, it won’t be an attractive option to anyone. They build up to a common standard that works for all, and don’t say “If you don’t like it, there’s always the busy, dangerous main road”.

But this is what TfL (and doubtless most other councils in Britain) are still doing. Indeed, quite explicitly, in this specific instance. In response to requests in the consultation for wider cycle tracks in the scheme, TfL respond [pdf] -

The proposed cycle lane will be two metres wide, which is the same width as the segregated cycling facilities that are being introduced elsewhere. This is wider than many cycle lanes in London, and because cyclists will also have access to the 4.5m wide bus lane there is in effect greater capacity.

In effect – we don’t need to do things properly, because we are fully expecting a large number of people to continue cycling with motor traffic on the carriageway.

The logic is circular – the low quality of the cycle tracks will hold up people who want to cycle faster, and these people will opt for the main carriageway; those people opting for the carriageway are then used to justify the low quality of the cycle tracks. It’s insane.

No country that does things well designs for cycling like this. Instead, they employ high quality, inclusive networks that anyone is happy to use, because they are fast, direct, safe and continuous, for everyone.

Can we really not achieve this here? Can we not build two wide cycle tracks, in each direction? Or are we going to waste space continuing to  attempt to cater for two different kinds of cyclists simultaneously?

 

 

_______________________________________________________________

*It’s not entirely clear from their response whether TfL will be employing this ‘cycle lane outside bus lane’ design – which appears on their updated design drawing, showing the new changes – or a a wide bus lane, with no cycle lane at all, which is mentioned in their changes. Either way these conflicting movements will still exist.


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Cycle route update: it’s all in the details

BicycleDutch - 20 August, 2014 - 23:01
Cycle routes in the Netherlands are constantly being updated. Wanting to keep things tidy and in a good order is a Dutch trait and you see that reflected in the … Continue reading →
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Why tunnels are better than bridges for cycling

A View from the Cycle Path - 20 August, 2014 - 18:47
A couple of weeks ago a campaigner from Cambridge in the UK asked me a question about bridge parapet heights in the Netherlands especially with regard to clearing railway lines. He'd realised that he'd not had any problems due to climbing bridges in this country and assumed that the Dutch had standards which were more suitable for cyclists than the UK. However, the answer to this question turnedDavid Hembrowhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/14543024940730663645noreply@blogger.com0http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/08/why-tunnels-are-better-than-bridges-for.html
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Copy-Paste Copenhagenization in Ljubljana

Copenhagenize - 19 August, 2014 - 13:04

I talk a lot about the Ljubljana. In conversations with journalists and in my keynotes around the world I highlight a simple move that boosted cycling dramatically in the Slovenian capital and that should serve as a great inspiration for other Emerging Bicycle Cities. It's a fantastic story. Wait for it.

One of the simplest ways to transform a city into bicycle-friendly place is to merely adopt the Best Practice from cities who have figured it out. Cycle tracks have been around for more than a century and the cities that rock the urban cycling world have spent years perfecting the design - making mistakes and fixing them.

Now that Ljubljana has been chosen as the Green Capital of Europe for 2016, it's appropriate to focus a bit on the impressive inroads the city has been making towards becoming a better place to live. In a country with one of the highest car ownership rates in Europe, Ljubljana is now working hard to restrict car traffic in the city centre - focusing instead on improving public transport, building more cycle tracks and pedestrian streets.

As it stands now, Ljubljana is a fine bicycle city. The modal share, last I heard, was 10%, which is very, very respectable.

One of the most irritatingly repetitive things I hear in my work is that "This isn't Copenhagen/Amsterdam... it can't be done here. Our streets are different/narrower/wider etc.". Blahblahblah.

Cities are just spaces in which a whole bunch of humans live together. We've been doing it for around 7000 years. Cities are organic creatures that are excellent at adapting to change. The problem, more often than not, is that certain inviduals fail to understand this and instead think that cities are some unchangeable construction that cannot be altered.

I've spoken about how we should design our city streets instead of banking solely on traffic engineering - largely a failed science when left to its own, archaeic devices.

Ljubljana's story is one of a human desire to change and to freely accept that foreign ideas and experiences could be copy-pasted onto the cityscape.

Last time I was there, I was taken on a tour of the city by the cycling officer. With 10% modal share, I knew that there was bound to be decent infrastructure in place. We started in the city centre with some infrastructure that was... well... interesting.


This is a classic example of someone regarding bicycles as an irritation. A traffic engineer who has been told to create space for bicycles and yet had no experience with it - even worse, no desire to find out about it. The above "infrastructure" has no respect for logic, design, the human experience or safety.

We headed out to the near suburbs, towards a "problem intersection" that needed some Copenhagenizing. It was on the way out there that I looked down. And saw something quite lovely.


I speed up alongside Janez, the cycling officer, and asked him what the hell it was we were cycling on. It looked remarkably like a Copenhagen-style cycle track.


Oh yes, he assured me. It was. Then he told me a splendid story.

Back in the late 60s/early 70s a team of urban planners travelled from Ljubljana to Copenhagen to study bicycle infrastructure. This was at the height of the Cold War - although the Iron Curtain as far as Slovenia/Yugoslavia was concerned was more of a dangly bead curtain, but hey. They studied infrastructure and went home and just built it. Copy/paste. Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V. They built 45 kilometres of these perfectly separated cycle tracks and THAT is where Ljubljana was launched onto it's journey as a bicycle-friendly city. From 2% to 10% in just a couple of years.

It boggles the mind that engineers and planners in other cities and countries don't do the same. Copy paste best practice from Denmark or the Netherlands. Save time. Save money. Save fixing the mistakes later. Amazingly, cities are still putting in bike lanes painted on the LEFT side of parked cars, instead of along the curb. Or putting in on-street, bi-directional cycle tracks on stretches with lots of intersections.


Here are some Citizen Cyclists heading home on a stretch of cycle track in the early afternoon. Squint your eyes and you're heading out of Copenhagen along one of the motorways.

Amazing. Since then a few of the cycle tracks have been removed and the city has been struggling with connecting the network. They've been at 10% for a few years, not least since independence. Slovenia also has higher car ownership rates than Germany. Urban planners started to think car as opposed to bike over the last decade.

But what a legacy. Cycle tracks since the early 1970's. With a bit of vision and dedication, the established mainstream bicycle culture in the city can easily move towards 15%-20%. If the right choices are taken.

A new bike share programme was established in 2011, and is a whopping success.


A bike box (pleasingly on the stretch that featured my Monumental Motion exhibition) is in place.

There is even a pre-green for bicycles at this intersection.


There are loads of bicycle traffic lights already, which is a brilliant sign.


Newer developments feature infrastructure bicycle infrastructure, as well, including a roundabout.


There are still glitches along the way. Great bollards separating the motorised traffic from the bicycles, but then cyclists are forced to stop as cars swoop to the right unencumbered. A traffic light for the motor vehicles, forcing them to stop - since the the drivers will otherwise look left for cars as they merge, instead of at the cyclists on the right - and one for the bicycles and that problem is fixed.

In a number of spots bike lanes lead towards a bridge and then disappear, while cars speed along at 50 or 60 km/h. Cyclists I saw just rode on the sidewalk. As we know, the majority of cyclists being 'naughty' do so because of sub-standard (or total lack of) sensible infrastructure. Or, in this case below, slow streets where cyclists dictate the pace.


It was a pleasure to be in the city and meet so many like-minded people. I reminded them not only to look at the negatives - the problem spots - but to remember the positives. It's a city that is lightyears ahead because of visionary planning forty years ago.

Capitalizing on the positives will only serve to speed the journey towards a more complete, more effective network of bicycle infrastructure. Constant focusing on the negatives in discussion with city planners and politicians will only end up sounding irritating.

This city has so much going for it. Getting to the next level - with the right tailwind - will be easy. There are already some great indicators in Ljubljana, parents with kids and kids cycling by themselves, as well as traffic calmed streets and people using the bicycle as they always have:



The future appears bright in Ljubjlana.


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

If people cycling are breaking the law, there’s a problem with the street

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 19 August, 2014 - 12:00

In Horsham, there’s a street where people cycling consistently break the law. South Street is a one-way street in the centre of town; stand here for any period of time, particularly in the morning or the evening, and you will see people cycling ‘the wrong way’ – either on the footways, or in the carriageway itself.

Going the wrong way

Also going the wrong way

Why is this? Well, South Street has to be seen in context.

South Street is the short link, marked in red, with the arrow showing the ‘correct’ direction

South Street forms part of the one-way route through the centre of the town; you can only drive through the town from the roundabout to the south-west, to the junction at the north-east – not in the opposite direction.

There were good intentions here – the centre of Horsham has very little motor traffic, and it travels at low speeds, thanks to a (self-reinforcing) 20mph zone with humps, sharp corners, and a cobbled surface. The idea is (and was) to make through traffic take the inner ring road, that loops around the town centre, and this generally works. (I’ve covered the background in this previous post).

However this policy has made it very difficult to negotiate the town centre by bike, because the one-way route through the centre has no exemptions for cycling. It makes it difficult – indeed next to impossible – to cycle across the town from east to west, and (for our purposes) from north to south.

Looking again at South Street, it’s quite easy to see why people are cycling through here; it forms part of a direct link between the Park to the north (where it is legal to cycle), to the routes through to the southern parts of Horsham.

The obvious route, from north to south, across the town centre

There isn’t any other alternative if you want to head from the north of the town, to the south, except for the inner ring road itself, which is a dual carriageway carrying around 20,000 motor vehicles a day, at 30+ mph.

Albion Way, Horsham’s inner ring road. An attractive route for cycling?

The additional detail – as well as the outright hostility of this road to cycling – is that it would be a lengthy detour to use this road, rather than taking the direct route. Fine if you are driving, which doesn’t require any physical exertion, not much fun if you are cycling.

So the ‘problem’ of cycling the wrong way on one-way streets is really a problem of failing to design safe, attractive routes for people who wish to cycle – indeed, ignoring cycling completely in the design process.  

The obvious solution here is to make South Street two-way for cycling – that is, simply legalising the illegal behaviour. I think this could be achieved quite safely without any physical alteration to the street, beyond changing the no-entry signs to include an exemption. There’s not much traffic travelling through here, and people are already cycling the wrong way, without the world ending! 

Long-term, it would be more appropriate to emphasise two-way cycling with this kind of design -

Two-way cycling in the centre of Assen, on a one-way road for motor vehicles

But in the meantime a simple exemption would work.

I think it’s worth considering these kinds of problems with two important principles in mind -

  • All the regulation and control on our streets – one-way roads, traffic lights, and so on – exists because of motor traffic. Prior to the existence of large volumes of motor traffic, almost none of this control was necessary. So people cycling have been swept up in, and inconvenienced by, a system that wasn’t necessary for their mode of transport.
  • We want more people cycling; more cycling is a good thing, as is less driving. So we should do all we can to exempt cycling from the controls that exist solely because of motor traffic.

It seems that these kinds of ideas are, sadly, completely alien to most people. The associate editor of the Irish Sunday Times, John Burns, had this to say in response to a comment of mine about ‘fixing’ the problem of cycling the wrong way on streets -

@cianginty@AsEasyAsRiding and when they cycle down paths, do we “fix” the paths? And when they break red lights, fix them too? #gerrup

— john burns (@JohnBurnsST) August 16, 2014

Presumably this was an attempt at a reductio ad absurdum, but it falls flat, because yes, this is precisely what we should do doing. If people are cycling on footways, there’s a problem with the street. If people are cycling through red lights, then there’s a problem with the junction. The problem lies not with the behaviour; it lies with the street itself.

I’ve already described how pavement cycling does not exist in the Netherlands, as a phenomenon. There simply isn’t any reason to cycle on footways, because the alternative is better.

And the same logic applies to jumping red lights. In the vast majority of cases, there’s either too much unnecessary delay, or there is no need to hold people cycling at a red light, when they could safely proceed. More generally, urban areas in Britain are bloated with traffic signals, a result of a failure to restrain motor traffic, or to redirect it to more appropriate routes. Dutch town centres have vastly fewer traffic signals, and hence vastly fewer lights for people to jump.

Earlier this year, a video of ‘bad cyclist behaviour’ in York went viral, featuring in the Daily Mail and a number of other national newspapers. The original YouTube video now appears to have been withdrawn – but you can view it here, in BT’s ‘motoring’ section.

Nearly every single example of ‘bad behaviour’ in this video would not exist in the Netherlands, because roads and streets there are designed to make cycling easy and painless, rather than throwing up pointless obstacles in their way.

The video opens with people bypassing a red traffic light to turn left, on a well-used cowpath.

Junctions in the Netherlands are designed to accommodate this behaviour. There is no reason to hold people cycling at red traffic signals unnecessarily – people in York have worked this out for themselves.

This is followed by a sequence of people cycling the wrong way on one way streets (being admonished by the dayglo finger of shame) -

This is behaviour that should simply be legalised, and made safe. Towns and cities should not have these kinds of restrictions on movement in these directions by people cycling.

Next up, someone cycling straight on through a red signal at a T-junction -

Again, streets should be designed to allow this kind of behaviour; there’s no need for people cycling to come into conflict with motor traffic while performing this manoeuvre.

Then a sequence of people jumping traffic lights that – judging by the locations – shouldn’t exist at all -

Should there be so much motor traffic in these kinds of locations to justify signalisation? Almost certainly not.

The video is rounded off with some people trundling on footways alongside some pretty dreadful-looking roads.

Would they be here if there were suitable conditions away from footways? Definitely not.

Rather than shaming and blaming, a more constructive (and more importantly permanent) solution to illegal cycling would be to design the problem out of existence. In doing so would we make our towns and cities vastly more attractive places.


Categories: Views

This is what 100 years of building bicycle tracks gets you... London has a long way to go.

ibikelondon - 18 August, 2014 - 08:30

When even sperm samples are being delivered by bicycle - on a specially adapted "sperm bike" no less - you know you've got a successful cycling city on your hands.  The Danes have been building bicycle tracks in their capital, Copenhagen, since 1912 - and now more than 100 years later they can truly call themselves a "bicycle friendly city".  



This video, the first in a series on bicycle friendly cities produced by Skoda, looks at what it is like to ride a bicycle in Copenhagen:



In the video Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize fame explains that bicycles are like vacuum cleaners in Denmark.  Everybody has one, nobody thinks that is unusual, and certainly nobody gets dressed up in funny clothes to do the Hoovering...





Before I visited the city for myself I thought that perhaps the people who chronicle the riders in Copenhagen were choosing their pictures subjectively, and casting the riders in a light they wanted to portray.  But I was wrong; the reality is just like the pictures.  





There are bikes of every shape and size, riders of every shape and size and people who are both very young and very old get around on two wheels.  Why?  It is the most simple and efficient way to get around, and it is subjectively safe enough for a majority of people to ride.


The really wide lane these people are cycling in is a bicycle lane.  There's another - equally wide - lane going in the opposite direction on the other side of the bridge.  In the rush hour it suffers from bicycle "traffic jams".
This concept of subjective safety - how it actually feels to ride a bike - is the basic foundation of creating a successful cycling city that Mikael talks about as being something that you can "cut and paste" in to cities all around the world.  And he's right.  The infrastructure might be slightly different from one country to the next, or certain cities might have their own little innovative quirks, but whether Berlin or Budapest, Lisbon or London, the activity of riding a bicycle for everyday transport has to feel sufficiently safe and inviting for enough people to actually do it in order for mass cycling to occur. 

I love riding in London, but watching this video and reflecting on these images, sometimes I feel we have a long way to go...

PS I thought it was odd that Skoda would choose to make a video about bicycle friendly cities, but they are at pains to point out on their Youtube channel that they were making bicycles long before the automobile came along and they still do today.

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A ‘cyclist’ is not a different species; just another human being

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 15 August, 2014 - 10:27

Short version – it’s as preposterous to attribute characteristics to ‘cyclists’ as it would be to attribute them to ‘trainists’, ‘busists’, ‘planeists’, ‘tubists’ or ‘pedestrians’. A ‘cyclist’ is just a human being who happens to be travelling by bike, just as a ‘pedestrian’ is a human being who happens to be travelling on foot, and a ‘trainist’ one who happens to be travelling by train.

 

 

Last month Radio 1’s Newsbeat programme ran a short segment on cycling safety, featuring MaidstoneonBike, among others.

About halfway through the programme, a number of tweets from the audience were read out, presumably in the interests of ‘balance’. That ‘balance’ being that on a programme arguing we need to do more to keep ‘cyclists’ safe, we need other people arguing that ‘cyclists’ need to do more for themselves.

Among these tweets, read out to an audience of millions, were the following statements -

cyclists have no spatial awareness

and

bike riders are irresponsible

There are, I think, only two ways these comments – and countless others like them – can conceivably make sense.

1) It’s possible that a ‘cyclist’ isn’t a normal human being, but rather some variant of the species that lacks spatial awareness, or that is more irresponsible than a standard human being.

2) Alternatively, a ‘cyclist’ is a normal human being – but there is something about a bicycle that immediately removes their spatial awareness, and makes them more irresponsible; or, that a bicycle appeals uniquely to that subset of humanity that is lacking spatial awareness, or is irresponsible.

The first is obviously absurd; the second bears slightly more serious consideration, but not much.

But I think that the first (absurd) explanation does actually correspond to the way plenty of people think, reflexively. Perhaps it is what the word ‘cyclist’ conjures up in the popular imagination – a skinny young male, dressed in lycra, wearing funny shoes and a funny helmet. This person isn’t ‘one of us’. They’re a bit alien.

A clear example of this phenomenon came on a Radio 4 comedy programme last night – The Show What You Wrote, on which the ‘ensemble’ perform ‘the best’ listener submissions, chosen from thousands of entries. The very first sketch of this programme – indeed the first of the entire series – was remarkable, for what it says about these kinds of attitudes.

It starts with the sound of a car being driven, followed by a loud crashing sound, and a squeal of tires.

Man: I think I’ve hit something! Oh, I can’t believe this. A nice, country drive, and this happens. I feel awful.

Woman: Poor little thing. Do you think his little family are wondering where he is?

Man: Oh my God it moved! It’s still alive!

Woman: Well we’re going to have to put it out of it’s misery. Here – use this stick.

[Sound of a beating]

Man: Oh, that wasn’t nice.

Woman: Okay, now you get rid of his body, and I’ll stick his bicycle in the boot.

LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE

The ‘humour’ here – such that it is – relies upon the audience believing that the man and the woman are discussing hitting and dispatching something not-human, when it turns out they hit and dispatched a human, or a sort-of-human. Presumably the image the audience have in their mind is of a kind of skinny, lycra-clad, helmeted ‘species’, like in the picture above.

The ‘joke’, however, would be preposterous if the word ‘cyclist’ conjured up these images in the popular imagination.

You get rid of her body, and I’ll put her bike in the boot. Ho ho ho!

So – as ridiculous as it is to think of ‘cyclists’ as a different kind of human, or not-human, this is unfortunately the instinctive reaction of plenty of people. Radio 4 comedy programmes would not run segments like this if it were otherwise.

The other explanation – that a bicycle itself somehow transforms an otherwise ordinary human being into an irresponsible one, or that bicycles uniquely appeal to those that lack spatial awareness, or variants thereof – is almost as ridiculous.

People who ride bikes use plenty of other modes of transport; they all walk, they almost all drive motor vehicles (except, of course, children), they take the train, the tube, and the bus. For it to be true that ‘cyclists’ have particular characteristics of lawlessness, or of irresponsibility or cluelessness, that other transport users don’t have, these characteristics must suddenly appear when they sit astride a bicycle, and then just as suddenly disappear when they dismount.

Is this likely? Can ‘spatial awareness’ suddenly come and go, according to the mode of transport someone is using? Obviously not; someone’s spatial awareness is a constant. Likewise ‘irresponsibility’ is a constant; an irresponsible person will be irresponsible regardless of their mode of transport.

A man who pushes you out of the way while cycling will undoubtedly be the same kind of person who pushes you out of the way while walking, or while trying to get onto a train, or who will use his horn while driving. But this kind of behaviour – equally likely across all modes of transport – is never used as an attribute of ‘pedestrians’, or ‘trainists’, or ‘motorists’.

A moment’s reflection will show that it makes absolutely no sense to attribute characteristics to people who happen to be using a particular mode of transport.

‘Motorists have poor hearing.’

‘Trainists are sweaty’.

‘Busists lack a sense of direction.’

All utterly, utterly preposterous; yet BBC presenters are quite happy to read out precisely these kinds of statements on air, to millions of people.

Think about what you’re saying.


Categories: Views

Friday Throwback: the 1954 Tour of Britain looks HARD!

ibikelondon - 15 August, 2014 - 08:30

It's nearly the weekend and time for our Friday Throwback, our occasional series looking at the most interesting images of cycling from the archives of the internet.

This week's image is not a photograph, but the cover from the 1954 Tour of Britain race programme, when the Tour consisted of a 13 stage continuous relay around the country.  Starting out in Great Yarmouth, riders worked their way north via Manchester and Harrogate to Glasgow, before making their way down the west coast and across Wales via Prestatyn, Llandudno, Weston-super-Mare and Torquay, then pushing on for the last stage from Bournemouth to London, finishing at Alexandra Palace.  Here's a vintage map of the course.  Riding 1461 miles over 13 days on a steel bike, no wonder the cover model with his square jaw and Biggles goggles looks hard as nails.



The Tour of Britain has a strange origin. It came about following an argument between rival cycling organisations during the Second World War about the validity of racing on Britain's roads, with the National Cyclists Union (a precursor of today's British Cycling) worried that racing would lead to all cyclists being banned from the roads.

Of course, none of the teams competing in the 2014 modern Tour of Britain will be worried about being banned, at least not from the roads.  The teams who will compete were announced this week; this year's race has been elevated to 2.HC level by the UCI and forms part of the European Pro Tour.  Sir Bradley Wiggins will defend Team Sky's title against Belkin Pro Cycling, Tinkoff Saxo, and Giant Shimano among others.   After a disastrous summer, other pro teams can smell blood and will be keen to spoil Team Sky's party on their home turf.  Belkin Pro Cycling's Lars Boom won the Tour in 2011, and also had a famous victory on the cobble stage of the Tour de France this year.  If the weather stays wet and stormy, perhaps he will ride in Britain and succeed again?

This year's Tour of Britain kicks off on the 7th September in Liverpool, and - like the 1954 race - concludes in London 8 stages later with a high velocity circuit race along the Embankment and the Mall on Sunday 14th September.

Never miss another post from ibikelondon blog again; join in the conversation on our Twitter feed or catch up with us on our Facebook page. Enjoy the weekend!
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Categories: Views

Is it always wrong to take space from footways?

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 13 August, 2014 - 08:24

A couple of recent things got me thinking about the question in the title – is it always unacceptable to reallocate footway space, to provide attractive conditions for cycling?

The first is this passage from the draft London Cycling Design Standards (page 212) -

In general, it is not desirable to take space from pedestrians to provide for cycling, nor to create cycling facilities that resemble the footway. However, there may be examples of very wide or little used footways that may be suitable for reallocation or shared use.

I don’t see a great deal to disagree with here, apart from the suggestion that wide pavements could be employed for ‘shared use’ rather than reallocation (and, by implication, that it’s acceptable to create cycling facilities that resemble the footway, which isn’t acceptable at all). Shared use, I would argue, is very rarely appropriate in an urban context, and shouldn’t have any place in a design manual for London.

Nevertheless the rest of this paragraph rightly argues that while it is undesirable, as a general rule, to reduce pedestrian space, there are circumstances where it might be acceptable – where pavements are wide, or little used by pedestrians, or a combination of both.

And the second thing that got me thinking was a vivid demonstration, by Andrea Casalotti, of how the space on the bridge over the railway line at Farringdon Station could be used differently.

Picture (and arrangement) by Andrea Casalotti

This road is one of the most heavily-used cycling routes in London, yet there is no clear carriageway space; people cycling are stuck in stationary motor traffic, as shown in this picture of the same location, again by Andrea -

So this strikes me as a location where pavement space could entirely reasonably be reallocated for cycling, provided that pedestrian comfort is not significantly worsened.

Handily enough, Transport for London already have a pedestrian comfort guide [pdf], which could be used, in this context, to establish whether it might be acceptable to take space from footways. It is based around the number of pedestrians, per minute, per metre of width. It’s found on page 13, but here’s the most relevant bit -

Grade A+ comfort corresponds to 3 pedestrians, per minute, per metre of width. So if your footway is – for instance – 3m wide, 9 pedestrians travelling along it, per minute, would be extremely comfortable; 24 pedestrians per minute would still be comfortable (although with restricted movement), and 33 pedestrians per minute (B+) would be the recommended maximum on a 3m footway in London.

Guidance like this could be employed at places like Farringdon to assess whether taking pedestrian space could be achieved without reducing comfort (my instinct is that, at Farringdon, it wouldn’t).

Obvious other locations include Superhighway 2 (the dreadful bit), which runs alongside some very wide footways, parts of which are effectively unusable thanks to clutter; clutter which could be rearranged, to provide cycling space, with minimal impact on pedestrian comfort.

There’s an obvious location for a cycle track here, and it’s not the pointless blue stripe with vehicles on it

Likewise – clear away the clutter, and there’s an obvious cycle track, between the trees and the motor vehicle.

This would have the added benefit of freeing up carriageway space for bus lanes – genuine bus lanes, for buses only, unimpeded by slower cycle traffic.

I suspect this approach won’t get employed, however, when CS2 comes to be upgraded in the near future, because adjusting kerb lines is much more expensive than tinkering around with the existing carriageway. Indeed, I suspect this is why ‘shared use’ pavements are employed so often, despite plentiful carriageway and footway width which could be reallocated specifically for cycling – doing the latter would involve serious engineering work to rebuild the way the street is set out, whereas putting up a blue sign on the existing footway is very, very easy.

This is a pity – we should be able to think imaginatively about the building to building width of our roads and streets, and how it can be used most profitably, while ensuring that pedestrians retain A+ levels of comfort. It might cost more, but we will save in the long run.


Categories: Views

Uh Oh…

BicycleDutch - 12 August, 2014 - 23:01
Sorry about that… the post “Beautiful people passing by on their bicycles” was announced to my followers 24 hours too early, because I messed up the date of the post. … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Beautiful people passing by on their bicycles

BicycleDutch - 12 August, 2014 - 23:01
Posts in which I give you the opportunity to watch ordinary people cycling are usually very popular. They form an attractive balance to the posts about infrastructure and they show … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Protest at 6pm tonight at Kings Cross

Vole O'Speed - 12 August, 2014 - 15:21
I don't have time to keep this blog up to date with developments much anymore, but historically I did cover, and try to promote, the "flashride" (originally called "flashmob") cycle protests that started in London on 20 May 2011 at Blackfriars Bridge. These did a lot to move cycle safety up the London political agenda, and were more effective than many years of organising petitions, letter-writing, and polite diplomacy from London Cycling Campaign, although the immediate objective, a safe design for Blackfriars Bridge and its junctions was not achieved, and has still not been.

Despite this rise in the political prominence of the cycling issue, there is still very very little tangible progress on the ground in London. The Mayor's Vision for Cycling was published 17 moths ago, and a greeted it quite enthusiastically, but with substantial concerns and caveats. These now seem to have been very well-founded. Since then, no cycling infrastructure, resulting from that vision, of any substance, has been built at all. One wouldn't have expected things to start at once, of course; plans need to be laid, people put in place, and things need to be done in a sensible order. But that should only have taken about a year. The summer is when things are built on the roads: if much was ever going to happen, we would expect it to be happening right now, in a very obvious way. It isn't.

I'll have to do a longer post on what appears to be going wrong with progress on implementing the Vision at some stage soon; however, my purpose now is to note that there seems to have been no fundamental change in attitude at Transport for London towards bicycles as transport. There are certainly some good people working at TfL,  and I don't doubt the sincerity of Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, but it is clear that the message of the Vision just hasn't got through in practice to most of the people to whom it needed. So we still see consultations on major schemes for junctions and stretches of roads controlled by TfL where fundamental design change is needed in favour of safe cycling, and where TfL is deluged with informed and precise responses from lobbyists for cycling telling them exactly what they need to do, and yet these demands are swept aside much as they would have been 10 or 20 years ago.

The Kings Cross junction is a high-profile case in point. This should have been one-of TfL's highest priorities for installation of high-grade cycle infrastructure, whatever the effect on motor vehicle flows, because of the number of cycling fatalities that have occurred there. There is indeed a scheme on the table for significant and expensive and disruptive remodelling of the junction. For cycling, however, it amounts to a pretty old-style feeble paint job that does not provide the physically separated space and separate, direct signal phasing we need for truly safe and inclusive cycling through this horrible junction.

TfL's proposals
As the estimable maidstoneonbike says,
There are some improvements to the current situation. For example, a widened cycle lane, the addition of ASLs in some places, and a tiny bit of segregation. But while these are improvements, these will only improve conditions for vehicular cyclists, and will not attract new cyclists.He has his own worked-up plans for a proper, high-quality inclusive cycling alternative design, which you can see on his blog.

So once again, London cyclists need to take direct action to show the powers-that-be that progress on safe cycling in London for all is too slow, too half-heated, and that we can't accept this green lipstick on a pig at King's Cross and similar junctions. Tonight's protest has been organised independently from LCC, but I have no hesitation in supporting it, and I will be there. It starts at 18:00 on Kings Cross Square, and sets out at 18:15 on this route.



There is more information on a Facebook page. If you can get there, please respond to this late plea, and do add your presence on foot or on bike to help us make an impact. If Transport for London discovers that they get disruptive, media-savvy and politically challenging protest every time they approve a scheme like this that falls so lamentably below the aspirations of their own Mayor's Cycling Vision, maybe that will have an effect. I can't guarantee it, but it is the best I can suggest until we have the next election for Mayor.
Categories: Views

Pragmatism. When campaigners and planners should use it. How such things as car parking and beer delivery in the Netherlands are made to coexist with excellent cycling infrastructure

A View from the Cycle Path - 11 August, 2014 - 15:32
Cycle-paths in red. The truck has to travel a considerable distance along cycle-path to reach the club and then must drive the same way back again to leave. It may not look like it, but the photo above is actually an example of very good infrastructure being used as intended. The photo shows where cyclists have gained a great cycling facility due to pragmatism. I'll explain, with help fromDavid Hembrowhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/14543024940730663645noreply@blogger.com0http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/08/pragmatism-when-campaigners-and.html
Categories: Views

Just another London cyclist... Ted Baker joins the peloton, and looks fantastic!

ibikelondon - 11 August, 2014 - 11:57

There are some things which are seen as ubiquitous to London, and as demonstrated over the incredible Ride London weekend the humble bicycle is gradually becoming one of them

So is a unique sense of sartorial style and clothes which are cut to perfection, blending functionality with a bit of flair.  Which is why I was excited to hear that London fashion house Ted Baker had been so inspired by the re-emergence of the bike that they've created their own special range of super stylish cycling togs.  


One of the reasons I love cycling so much is because it allows you to be part of the city whilst enjoying the city - the streets are like theatres where we all play a role, which is why I like to look my best when on my bike.

Ted Baker are based in St Pancras, their offices wedged between the Royal College Street bike track and the Regent's Canal.  Looking out their window they saw cyclists of all shapes and sizes rolling past every day and knew there was a place for a new range of clothing for on and off the bike.  As they explain on their blog: "We concluded that the only thing for it was to design a cycle-friendly collection that would survive even the most strenuous commute and still look freshly pressed on the dismount."  
The name of the collection?  Raising the Handlebars by #TedBiker.

So having designed a range of clothes for London cyclists, they needed a cyclist from London to take them for a test ride, and I was more than pleased to oblige...



The collection features a wide range of cycling apparel; from long sleeve zip through jerseys in navy blue and burgundy with track detailing, to a beautiful blazer in anti-bacterial treated premium cotton to ensure you're smart and fresh on your bike or in the boardroom.  Test riding the collection gave me first hand experience of how it handles when you're riding around frenetic old London, and I loved the Dipstic printer collar polo which has a cute bicycle chain motif, and the trim chinos which were so comfortable to ride in and will last a life time with their quality tailoring.


Of course, cycling clothes are dime a dozen these days with some more elegant and practical than others, but what I particularly like is how Ted Baker have really paid attention to detail with their cycling range.  The chinos have secret zip up pockets to squirrel away your Boris Bike key, or something to eat for a longer ride.  The buttons on the blazer are embossed with tiny bicycle wheels., whilst the collars on the jerseys lift up to reveal a simple safety feature; a reflective stripe for those late night rides home.  Greasy bike chains can be a pain, but the trouser legs fold up and can be pinned in to place with a cleverly concealed fastener, whilst the rear pockets can be turned out to show off a reflective trim.  Both the shorts and trousers have reinforced seats to ensure longevity in the saddle.. the list of little cycle-friendly touches goes on.


Riding around Camden with a film crew and photographer in tow, dressed up on a beautiful British-built bicycle was such a fun experience, we had a great time putting the film together showing off these fantastic London cycling clothes.  If I look like I'm concentrating really, really hard in the film above it's because I was focused on riding without ending up in the back of a filming truck which the cameraman, sound crew and director were hanging out the back of...  just another typical London bike ride, right?

You can check out the entire collection exclusively on the Ted Baker website here, whilst their blog explains how they were inspired to create a cycling rangeThis interview on their site features more photos and looks at my favourite places to ride in London and why I love it so much, do have a look around and see you looking smart rolling on the roads soon!

This is a sponsored blog post.

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Categories: Views

On the buses

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 8 August, 2014 - 08:46

A hot topic at the moment is potential conflict between London’s bus network, and an expanding cycle network – one suitable for all potential users.

It’s becoming a prominent issue, I suspect, because in the places where cycle provision is being installed, or proposed, space is – in some instances – being taken from the bus network. The Superhighway 2 extension along Stratford High Street has taken a lane away, in each direction, from a six lane road. However, that road did, in the recent past, have (intermittent) bus lanes in each direction – bus lanes that aren’t there now.

Likewise the new proposals for Superhighway 5 show that the cycle tracks on Vauxhall Bridge will come at the expense of one of the two bus lanes, rather than at the expense of a general traffic lane.

Six lanes down to five, but a bus lane has gone missing.

The West End Project in Camden is also being presented by some as a ‘conflict’ between bus priority and cycle priority, although it is not clear to me that the parties who are demanding a much higher standard of cycle provision in the scheme are suggesting that bus priority should be watered down. Importantly, there is no reason – in principle – why a good bus network, equivalent or better to the bus provision currently running north-south through this area of Camden – cannot work alongside a cycle network of a high standard.

The problem, I think, is that Transport for London see the bus network as the easiest thing to erode, when it comes to installing cycle-specifc provision. Bus lanes are already the ‘domain’ of Transport for London; there isn’t a large, vocal group standing up for them, apart from the bus companies, who are themselves contracted by TfL. It’s probably much easier for Transport for London to put cycling provision in place of a bus lane than it is in place of a general traffic lane, and they are taking the path of least resistance.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. Vauxhall Bridge could have excellent cycling provision, and two bus lanes in each direction. Those four lanes of private motor traffic could come down to three, with bus priority maintained. As I’ve said above, there is no necessary conflict between bus provision and cycle provision.

Space for cycling should come first from private motor traffic, then from the bus network, if necessary, and if that can be achieved without eroding the quality of the bus network as a whole. Indeed, this is how Dutch cities, in my experience, function. Space for walking and cycling comes first, then space for a bus or public transport network, and space for private motor traffic then has to fit in around that. This ordering means that many ‘main roads’ in Dutch cities aren’t open to private motor traffic at all, except for access. In Haarlem -

Courtesy of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain

Or in Utrecht -

Potterstraat – a bus- and cycle-only main road

You can find numerous examples of where private motor traffic has been squeezed out, to make space for a good public transport network, alongside comfortable, attractive conditions for cycling and walking.

So to that extent, any ‘battle’ between public transport and cycling in London is most likely a reflection of a failure to take space away from private motor traffic, or to reduce it to the extent that buses are not impeded. This is, I think, the strategy for the ‘Clerkenwell Boulevard’ – to maintain bus and cycle priority along the length of the route, while allowing private motor traffic to use the bus lanes, but for access only.

And in Camden, there is again no reason why – in theory – priority bus routes cannot exist alongside high quality cycling infrastructure in the West End Project, although I appreciate that politically and strategically this is very difficult.

The biggest part of that political and strategic difficulty lies with the fact that cycling remains very much a minority mode of transport in London. It is a huge ask to demand space for it, in its own right, when it still forms a small percentage of trips in the city, compared to driving and public transport.

And yet… This is all very circular. People do not cycle in large numbers in London primarily because space has not been allocated for cycling. Cycling has not been prioritised, or given the space necessary to make it a comfortable, safe and attractive mode of transport, suitable for more people than the small minority who cycle now.

What is needed is a strategic vision about the future of London, and other British towns and cities, built around the way we would like people to be making trips, and certainly not one built around maintaining existing mode share. A central part of this strategy should involve opening up cycling as a genuine choice for all, alongside walking, driving, or taking public transport. That choice does not exist, at present. It is clear that people drive or take public transport for trips that would actually be more convenient by bike. They are forced into driving or taking the bus because conditions for cycling are sufficiently hostile to remove ‘choice’ altogether. The Alternative Department for Transport has written a very good blog about precisely this point.

The table below (courtesy of Transport for London) gives some indication of the problem.

66% of all bus stages in London are under 3km, and nearly 90% are under 5km – about 3 miles (with the caveat this data is ‘as the crow flies’, i.e. a direct line from bus stop to bus stop).

Now of course many of these trips are ones that are inconvenient, or impossible, to cycle – they might be connecting trips on public transport, or a bus genuinely is the best option for the trip in question. Likewise many people making these trips won’t be able to cycle – they might be too infirm, or carrying too heavy a load, or it might just be raining, or too cold. This is what transport choice is all about! But surely a considerable proportion of these trips could be cycled, and more importantly the people making them might prefer to cycle them if we had Dutch-equivalent conditions in London.

This is fun! Why would you take the bus, if you could do this instead?

Going by these TfL figures, on average something like 4 million bus journeys are made by London residents every day (and I’ve heard figures of 6.5 million trips per day, in total), but we haven’t arrived at this position spontaneously. Such a large number of bus trips has arisen out of the bus network being developed and prioritised, and made an easy and obvious choice for ordinary people.

To argue that cycling is for fit young men, while (by implication) bus travel is for ‘everyone’, a universal mode of transport, is to spectacularly miss the point. Cycling isn’t for everyone precisely because it hasn’t received the care and attention that bus travel has received. Humane, civilised cities offer people a genuine choice between bus travel, cycling, and walking; they don’t pretend that the fact ‘everyone’ takes the bus while ‘cyclists’ (fit, young and male) continue to cycle is a natural state of affairs.

Does this look like an environment where people have a free choice between cycling, and taking the bus?

Cycling and public transport co-existing; a genuine choice between the two.

So the respective modal share for buses and cycling in London isn’t in any way ‘natural’, or spontaneous. We should think carefully about what London can and should look like if cycling was an available choice for everyone, and the benefits that would bring, rather than tying ourselves to defending existing levels of public transport use (and, even worse, existing levels of driving). 

Indeed, there are many good reasons why we should be prioritising cycling ahead of public transport; reasons that no doubt explain why many London boroughs, including Hackney and Camden, continue to place cycling ahead of public transport in their road user hierarchies. (Although in practice this does not happen – presumably because of the weight of numbers of people using buses, compared to the numbers cycling).

Cycling offers public health benefits that are harder to achieve with public transport. Cycling involves being physically active; taking the bus does not, at least not to the same extent. If we are serious about public health, and reducing the burden on the NHS, then walking and cycling should obviously be prioritised ahead of public transport.

Buses present danger. They are much better for cities than private motor traffic, but the fact remains that they are large heavy objects that travel quite fast, carrying considerable momentum. They can, and do, kill and seriously injure people on a regular basis – 2000 people have been killed or seriously injured by TfL buses since 2008, nearly one a day.

Although emissions technology is improving, and much more progress can be made, buses pollute - here’s just one example. More people cycling means fewer buses are needed, and cleaner air.

While children and the elderly go free on London buses, most people have to pay to use a bus. £1.45 for a single trip, while a bicycle – once you have one, of course – remains free at the point of use.

Buses are slow. This might come as a surprise to most people, who would never dream of cycling on the roads in London, but a journey by bus is typically much, much slower than one by bike, especially when the fact you have wait for a bus is accounted for. (To take just one example, a trip I used to make from Kentish town to Old Street on the 214 typically took 30 minutes, to cover 3 miles. This is one of the reasons I started cycling in London; most people are not as confident or as happy as me cycling on roads busy with motor traffic, and not have the choice I did).

Buses are indirect. Quite obviously, buses don’t go from door-to-door. You will have to walk to the bus stop at the start of the journey, and away from it at the end, and very often this will involve travelling indirectly – away from the most direct route. Cycling, by contrast, offers a door-to-door journey. You go where you want to go (at least, this is something you should be able to do).

And finally buses are antisocial. They disconnect you from the street, and the people on it. If you see someone you know when you are cycling, you can stop and talk to them. If you see someone you know when you are on a bus, you’ve probably missed that opportunity.

It should be emphasised again that these are merely reasons why cycling should be prioritised ahead of public transport, and definitely not reasons against public transport per se. Public transport is vital, and important, and should be strongly defended ahead of private motor traffic, and taxis. We should have space for cycling, and space for public transport. But in recognising that importance, and acknowledging the huge part buses play in transporting Londoners, we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for failing to make cycling a viable for mode of transport, for all.


Categories: Views

It's London's big bike weekend! Are you ready to RideLondon?

ibikelondon - 8 August, 2014 - 08:30
Bicycles will take over the streets of London this weekend, and there's something for riders of all abilities and backgrounds with a packed calendar for the second annual cycling extravaganza.  Here's ibikelondon's top tips for the next two days of two-wheeled fun:



SATURDAY 9th AUGUST

RideLondon Freecycle

10 miles of traffic free central London roads wait to welcome cyclists of all ages at this family-friendly cycling fun day.  You're sure to see some of our city's finest sites along the way, from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament, and the Tower of London in the east, riding along the banks of the river Thames in the company of 60,000 or so other cyclists.  It's not fast, it's not furious, but it is a lot of fun.



New for 2014:  you can get off the busy main route and explore a host of the City of London's back streets totally traffic free as the Square Mile is given over to the "explore zone"; a network of roads linking festival sites at the stunning Leadenhall Market and in the Guildhall Square.  Be sure to check out the bike bell ringing world record attempt at the Guildhall at 9AM.


Nervous about getting to and from central London?  Those wonderful folks at the London Cycling Campaign are hosting a plethora of guided bike rides in and out of London to help families ride from their home boroughs.  It's a lovely way to get safely to the centre, and to meet your neighbours! See if there's a guided ride from your home borough here



Refresh, rest and enjoy bike-based activities - from a street velodrome to BMX stunt displays - in the Festival Zones at Green Park, St Paul's Churchyard, Guildhall yard, Leadenhall Market (covered) and Tower Hill.  Here's the full list of all activities.  The timetable of events - including Penny Farthing Bike Polo - is here.

RideLondon Grand Prix

Britain's pro female cyclists take over the streets around St James' Park at 5PM, in the rip roaring RideLondon Grand Prix.  This event is fast and furious (last year's race hospitalised Olympic champ Jo Rowsell) and the best women awheel will be battling it out for a place on the podium once again. 



Fresh from the Commonwealth Games in Scotland Laura Trott OBE will be pushing hard to retain her title against field leaders Marrianne Vos, Lizzie Armitstead and Hannah Barnes.  London's Matrix Vulpine cycling team will also race.  The event is being broadcast live on BBC2 so line the streets to band the boards, get your mug on the TV and show the rest of the UK that London loves women's bike racing.


SUNDAY 10th AUGUST 2014

RideLondon 100

Think the "London Marathon on bikes" and you'll have an idea of just how epic the RideLondon 100 is going to be.  20,000 enthusiastic amateur cyclists will set out from east London's Olympic Park, tearing through central London before heading out to the hills of Surrey to cycle the route taken by the 2012 Olympic road cyclists.  Leith and Box Hills (which is harder? You decide!) will punish riders, before they race back in to London crossing the finish line on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace - just like the riders in this years Tour de France.



If you're in the pack and riding, look out for a certain bike blogger (me!) handing out bananas on the feeding station at Hampton Court - don't forget to say hello and fuel up!

The riders are set to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for charities from across the country with sponsorship money, so why not cheer them on?  They'll pass through Kingston twice - the only place on the course to do so - and the town is putting on a fantastic day of sea-side themed activities, so it is sure to be one of the best places to watch.

Hand cyclists will pass through the town from 8:30AM onwards, with the amateur cyclists passing from approximately 7AM on their way out, and from 9.30AM onwards on their way back (some will be later than others!)  Kingston will be car-free for the day, lending the town centre a festival atmosphere with special events being put on by local shops, pop up cafes and bars, a Helter Skelter and Punch'n'Judy show and deck chairs to relax in.  Some of the world's best pro cyclists will follow the amateur riders in the London - Surrey Classic from 1PM to 6PM, which brings us to... 

London - Surrey Classic

Loved the Tour de France Grand Depart in London?  Still have fond memories of the Olympic Road Race? Now's your chance to relive the moment, when some of the world's best pro riders return to our streets to race for the finish line on the Mall.  

Following the same course as the amateur cyclists (and no doubt overtaking a few) the likes of Russ Downing, Simon Yates, Team Sky's Ben Swift and Luke Rowe will all be hoping to scalp 2012 medallist and Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins who confirmed his participation in the race on Thursday morning, in a coup for the organisers.  Scotland's David Millar will race for the last time in London, prior to his retirement.


Leith Hill and Box Hill will be phenomenal spots from which to spectate, but expect to encounter very busy trains and to have to walk up the hill (don't even think of coming by car!)  Once again, Kingston town centre will give you two opportunities to spot your favourite riders, whilst the Mall will be packed for the sprint finish.  The race will be broadcast live on BBC1.  See here for a preliminary start list.  All the spectator information that's fit to print can be downloaded here, so why not pack a picnic and find a spot from which to waive them on?

If that's not nearly enough bike-based activity for you, there's also a Cycle Show today and on Saturday at the Excel Exhibition Centre, which should be more than enough cycling stimulation for anyone.  Phew!  Enjoy your RideLondon weekend!

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