I follow the Amsterdam-based photographer Thomas Schlijper on Twitter, mainly for his excellent photographs of street life, and cycling in particular. He’s well worth a follow.
This photograph of his, from a few weeks ago, caught my attention.
It shows the Haarlemerplein, a square to the north west of the city centre, with highly visible (and very new) cycle infrastructure, just completed. The name rang a bell – it’s the same square where the same photographer took this beautiful picture, back in May.
Slightly intrigued, I thought I’d see what this area looked like, before these improvements. Thanks to Google Streetview’s archive feature, we can see the state of roads and streets here, prior to the changes being put in place.
Looking southwest on Korte Marnixstraat (the street at the bottom right of the aerial view above), there was a poor cycle lane and ASL on the east side of the road, and nothing at all, on the west side -
This has been replaced by fully protected cycle tracks, on both sides of the road. The parking also appears to have been removed.
The north-west approach (over the bridge in the bottom left) had poor (by Dutch standards) cycle tracks.
Has become a wider, kerb-separated cycle track. Again, at the expense of a motor traffic lane.Perhaps the most remarkable change has come on the south-eastern arm, in the square itself, where a fairly grotty narrow road, shared with motor traffic (note the token British-style ASL) -
These kinds of changes aren’t particularly exciting – certainly not as eye-catching or newsworthy as a fancy bridge, or a solar cycle path. But they encapsulate the way Dutch cycling success is built upon continual improvement, and maximising the safety, comfort and convenience of cycling as a mode of transport.
This junction wasn’t even particularly bad before – certainly many junctions in the UK would benefit hugely from the kind of physical separation, with separate signalling, that was already present. But it’s been substantially improved, regardless. Indeed, every time I visit the Netherlands, I am struck by how quickly many of the paths, routes and tracks that I had used on my previous visit have been upgraded. This path to the university area – the Uithof – had been widened and resurfaced, with lighting, when I visited last year. Given the numbers of people using it, it really does need to be this wide.
The Dutch aren’t standing still – they are continually refining and enhancing (and adding to) their already excellent network. Meanwhile British towns and cities don’t even have a network at all, or, at best, a piecemeal one.
It’s profoundly depressing. The one glimmer of hope is that we have a living, breathing example of the benefits of this kind of design, right on our doorstep, and a template for how to do it.
3. “Give way from the right” takes a little getting used to, especially when it appears to be optional to some people.— Paul James (@pauljames) November 4, 2014
Unlike in the UK where at an unmarked junction you give way to whoever is deemed to be going straight on along the more major of the intersecting roads, in the Netherlands you always give way to traffic coming from the right.
And unlike the UK where unmarked junctions are few and far between due to our love of white paint, they are the default on access roads and quite common on distributor roads in the NL.
1. At road junctions, drivers must give priority to traffic approaching from the right.
2. The following exceptions exist to this rule:
a. drivers on unpaved roads must give priority to drivers on paved roads;
b. all drivers must give priority to tram drivers.
Trams are the exception, you don’t mess with trams.
What this means is that there are times when you are travelling straight on along a road but you have to give way to anything turning right from a sideroad into your path.
This has the effect of slowing traffic travelling along the road at junctions as they act like unmarked reverse priority mini-roundabouts (although in practice they are marked with a speed table).
When it comes to bicycles, it appears that either some cyclists and drivers don’t understand this rule of the road and inappropriately yield (or don’t yield) for each other, or it’s just that some drivers expect cyclists not to yield and so will wait for cyclists even when they actually have the right of way. This causes a little ambiguity sometimes, although usually with everyone yielding for each other rather than the other way around.
Urban Design London have recently released some new guidance (in draft form), entitled the ‘Slow Streets Sourcebook: designing for 20mph streets’. This manual – like other ones I have commented on recently – has revealing design recommendations for ‘cyclists’.
These are the kinds of recommendations that show the authors are only really thinking about ‘cyclists’ as the people who are cycling already, not anyone who might want to ride a bike – from a very young child, to someone in old age.
To take just some examples from this guidance -
Carriageway widths below 3m encourage cyclists to take up the ‘primary’ position in the middle of the carriageway, making it more difficult for vehicles to overtake cyclists. [my emphasis]
Whether being used as a mobile roadblock is something the person cycling would actually enjoy is, it seems, not considered. Likewise, I doubt the authors of this passage reflected on whether it is reasonable to expect, say, a young child to take up a position in the middle of the carriageway in response to it being 3 metres wide.
And, in a longer passage -
There are a variety of ways to indicate that the priority lies with cyclists and/or pedestrians and that drivers should slow down. Segregating or separating suchusers from vehicles may dilute their influence on driver behaviour. Therefore when thinking about designing for sub-20mph behaviours, integration may be the optimum choice. However, when designing with cyclists in mind, their needs should be fully considered to ensure that they are not put at risk.
Integrating cycling into narrower carriageways can encourage all road users to engage better with each other. This can also help retain a constant, but slower, traffic flow. This treatment is shown with a bicycle sign painted on the carriageway. Care is needed when designing junctions to ensure cyclists are visible and not ‘squeezed’ by turning vehicles.
There are some photographic illustrations of these kinds of designs.
Unfortunately the narrow carriageways which ‘integrate’ cycling in this example – note the helpful bicycle symbols ‘encouraging’ people to take up the primary position – also appear to be rather busy in this particular location.
TfL run five or six bus routes along this road, in addition to the seemingly copious private motor traffic. Is ‘integration’ here really something we should be aspiring to? Is this the kind of environment that will appeal to people who currently don’t feel willing or able to cycle in Britain?
I doubt it. In truth these kinds of designs are a way of integrating existing cyclists into the road network; they are not conceived with the needs of those people who aren’t cycling in mind. Consequently they will do little or nothing to address the problem of Britain’s cripplingly low levels of cycling.
Of course, it’s hard to think outside the box; to think in terms of the people we need to get cycling, rather than the tiny minority of people who are currently bold enough to venture onto our hostile roads. We still tend to think of ‘cyclists’ and ‘cycling’ in terms of the people already doing it.
Without wishing to single any particular comment out, there was a delicious recent example of this way of thinking below Diamond Geezer’s detailed blogpost about the proposed Superhighway 2 upgrade between Aldgate and Bow roundabout.
A busy cycle route yet I did not see any cyclists in your photos.
Well…. duh! The reason there aren’t ‘any cyclists’ is because the road in question is, well, atrocious.
This upgrade is needed precisely because there aren’t any cyclists; because it’s a hostile, scary and actually lethal road, even for those few who are brave enough to cycle on it. Yet ‘John’ appears to believe that proposals to build cycling infrastructure along this road are unjustified, because very few people are cycling there at present.
This kind of thinking is understandable from members of the public, who simply don’t see cycling as a potentially universal mode of transport, because they are not surrounded by evidence that it is. They need to be persuaded otherwise, to be shown how cycling could work for everyone, if we invested in changes to our roads and streets.
But a failure to ‘think outside the box’ is far less acceptable from politicians, councillors, engineers and transport planners – the people we are relying on to bring about the changes in cycling levels that they all say they want to see. This broader failure is displayed in a hostility to cycling that only makes sense when you appreciate that the objector is thinking in terms of ‘cycling’ as it is now in British towns and cities; something for fast (usually male) adults, or for anti-social yobs.
The town where I live has an unspoken policy of keeping cycling out of the town centre as much as is humanly possible, apparently on the grounds of it introducing danger and uncertainty to ‘pedestrians’. Their attitude betrays that they plainly aren’t thinking about these kinds of Horsham residents when they consider cycling -
Instead they are thinking only in terms of the cyclists they encounter when they are driving around the town’s roads – people striving to travel at the speeds of the motor traffic that surrounds them. The councillors are not thinking outside the box.
The Royal Parks in London appear to be exhibiting a similarly close-minded view of cycling; in their response to the East-West Superhighway consultation (see this more detailed post from Cyclists in the City), they argue that Serpentine Road (among other roads and routes in Hyde Park) is
not suitable for larger volumes of cyclists because of the scale of other use such as including event activity and vast pedestrian movements
Given that the Serpentine Road looks like this
this objection really shows that the Royal Parks are thinking of ‘cyclists’ in terms of a stereotypical lycra-clad horde, tearing through the park, rather than as the kinds of people you see cycling on very similar routes in Amsterdam’s equivalent park, the Vondelpark.
Finally, here’s an example from New Zealand of a new ‘cycling’ scheme, built around catering for existing demand, rather than for the people we need to reach.
… let’s put it this way. I always know if a cycleway has been designed right. The #NinjaPrincess is my expert in such matters. She is one of the customers whose needs should be considered most highly when such infrastructure is being designed and built.
… It is certain that every box in the performance specifications, set by the traffic engineers, has been ticked. But that is no guarantee that it will be a design that is conducive to the wider range of the 8-80 demographic. There is a difference between surviving and flourishing.
So while I don’t pretend to have the expertise of the traffic engineers who have installed this new infrastructure, nor do traffic engineers have the same valuable world view that the #NinjaPrincess possesses. It would be nice to think that her view has some value in the process of designing and building cycleways.
Well, exactly. I have my own ‘Ninja Princess’ – my own barometer of whether a scheme that purports to ‘encourage cycling’ will actually do so. My partner. She can’t drive, so cycling can and should fit her like a glove for the short trips she makes in urban areas. But she doesn’t cycle where we live. When we go on holiday to Dutch cities, she’ll leap on a bike; likewise, when we find traffic-free trails in places like Bath or Bristol, she’ll pedal for ten, even twenty miles, without even realising it.
But please don’t try to ‘integrate’ her into carriageway like this. You will fail.
She doesn’t want to be ‘integrated’ – she just wants to feel safe and comfortable.
If we’re serious about increasing cycling levels in Britain, shouldn’t we listen to people like her? Think outside the box of existing demand.
The appalling story of Victoria Lebrec – the young woman who was seriously injured by a left-turning lorry at the junction of St John Street and Clerkenwell in Islington in December last year – features in the Evening Standard today. She has lost her left leg, but as the article describes, she is very lucky to be alive. As Tom Konig states in the article -
Had she suffered her injuries two years ago, she wouldn’t have made it to hospital, which is a testament to the pre-hospital team that went to her.
What is remarkable is that if Victoria had been cycling through this junction at the same time last year, or even as late as July 2014, this collision would in all probability have not occurred.
Why is this? From September 26th 2013 until August 2014, St John Street was closed so that water mains could be repaired before the Crossrail machines tunnelled through the area. For nearly a year, in other words, St John Street had a form of ‘filtered permeability’, with no through traffic.
This was the state of affairs at the junction where Victoria was seriously injured in August 2014, just three months before her collision -
Streetview has captured a woman cycling westbound across the junction, towards Farringdon, just as Victoria was. The road into which the lorry turned left across her was, at this time, closed to through traffic, and had no HGV access.
Some argued that this closure should be retained once the works were completed, but the street was reopened to motor traffic in early August, meaning that people cycling were, once again, exposed to the danger of left-turning HGVs, on what is one of London’s busiest cycling routes. It’s not as if this kind of incident is exceptional – another woman was killed by a left-turning HGV at precisely the same location, just nine years ago. As the Evening Standard article describes, it is only advances in medical care that avoided the same outcome last December.
I’m not quite sure what rationale Islington employed in returning to the status quo after a whole eleven months with the road closed, but I wonder if they accounted for the likelihood of near-fatal collisions like this one, and their devastating consequences. Is it a price worth paying?
It’s been a while coming, heralded by regular progress updates and advance extracts from the author, but here we are: 2014 saw the publication (in a variety of formats and eventually to be available free in extracts) of Carlton Reid’s magnum opus. Has the advance publicity by the author been justified?Yes, it has.
It is indeed packed full of references, anecdote, social history, facts and illustrations of interest to anyone concerned about the status of different forms of road transport. I could have done with reference to the work of John Adams, the 1990s Road Danger Reduction movement and, yes, my book, but you can’t have everything – particularly if you have a packed 300+ pages to start off with. This book is a lot more than a dry history of road building with a focus on the 20th century: it fascinates with a steady stream of revelatory contemporary views on who those roads were for. As such it is, above all, a contribution to the debates we should be having now on transport policy.
Take the example of segregation as the answer to the problems for cyclists. Carlton Reid shows that the pre-war attempts at cyclist segregation in the UK were far from the boon you might think from considering many modern advocates. The views of the cycling organisations at the time were justifiably sceptical or hostile not just because of the poor quality of the cycle tracks, or even the danger as cyclists were at increased risk when dumped into motor traffic at junctions. They realised that the official view was essentially one of cyclists being a problem to be marginalised, not least as revealed in the 1938 Alness Commission.
As such they were rightly suspicious of what would befall cyclists not just where the inadequate and dangerous new tracks were proposed, but elsewhere as well. After all, segregation elsewhere had been very obviously to the detriment of cyclists. In the most car-centred society in the world (with the possible exception of the USA), Nazi Germany, use of inferior cycle paths was mandatory for cyclists and part of a clearly anti-cycling agenda (p.253).
What numerous examples like this show is how, above all, roads are about the rights, freedom and power of different kinds of road user. The discussion is therefore highly political: both in terms of the power exercised by different kinds of road user and the governments that support or undermine them.
And for the author, this has been a motivating factor in writing the book, not least over the “I pay a tax for the road” mythology espoused by too many motorists. It is not only justifiable, but necessary, to counter this mythology. I don’t think it is overstating the case to say that this mythology impedes the possibilities of having a sustainable transport policy. It supports subsidising motoring – as well as road building for more motor traffic – at a time of austerity. It backs up a sense of motorist entitlement which facilitates rule- and law-breaking driving and threatens the safety of cyclists, as well as being a part of abuse and discrimination.
So Carlton Reid is a man with a justifiably righteous mission: showing motorists that roads were in fact not built for them and that they ought to realise that cyclists were there first.
My problem is: is that approach actually going to deal with the anti-cycling prejudice and motorist sense of entitlement? After all, any old bigot can say that even if roads were built for cyclists they just think they should now be there for motorists (in general and themselves in particular). After all, what does the fact that roads were not built for cars actually mean?
Carlton seems to me to be overly optimistic in hoping that this history will win over the Great British Motorist. Indeed, he goes a lot further by pushing the story of – as the subtitle states: How cyclists were the first to push for good roads and became the pioneers of motoring. Are cyclists supposed to be proud of this? Does it have a useful and positive relevance to the struggles ahead?
What it does achieve is a Foreword from the President of the Automobile Association, Mr King. In it he suggests that “It would be healthy for some of the Mr. Toads out there to read this book…” but getting some of the most bigoted to read a book isn’t going to make much, if any, positive difference. And King wants to tell us that “Motorists and cyclists are not two tribes” and that “Car v Cycle arguments” should be demolished. But this “We’re all in it together” type of argument will not get us further in the right direction.
In fact, it confuses the issue. Many cyclists (but by no means all) are indeed also motorists. But that tends to obscure the fact that when driving they are far more likely to endanger others on the road, as well as damage the global and local environment and have an adverse effect on public health. My view is that we need to emphasise that fact. Indeed “Car v. cycle arguments” which show that the former mode is far more of a problem to society than the latter are exactly what we need.
Take the key example of the “road tax” myth. In my view it is not enough to talk about when a specific “Road Tax” was abolished and what Vehicle Excise Duty is. More robust arguments are needed. I have tried to show how costs of motoring have fallen and that driving is subsidised. There are dangerous pitfalls with cost benefit analysis, but if Edmund King could suggest to his members that motorists – compared to cyclists – do not pay their way we could get somewhere. There is nothing to suggest that he is going to object to the declining costs (to the motorist, that is) of motoring.
Nor is he likely to take a robust approach to law enforcement (too much of that and you start losing members of the AA). Or of the cuts in highway capacity for drivers that would be required if modern segregation for cyclists (unlike the 1930s type) is to work well; or the change in enforcement and culture to reduce danger from drivers to cyclists where there is no segregation.
Carlton Reid provides us with a splendid illustration of how the dominance of the motor vehicle has developed over a short period of time: the implication is that a more civilised and equitable relationship with the more benign forms of transport and the environment can obtain. The issue is how to make this happen.
2. Everyone rides, people from every walk of life, but distances seem limited to 3km. Pedelecs increase this distance and are very popular.— Paul James (@pauljames) November 4, 2014
Rotterdam is a pretty multicultural place, it’s arguably the most multicultural city in the Netherlands, according to Wikipedia, nearly half the population is non-Dutch, and yet it’s quite clear that all sorts of people cycle. Old, young, male, female, Dutch, non-Dutch, I would argue that there’s less middle aged people cycling, and less men than woman. To me, as a place, it totally destroys the old “the Dutch cycle because of culture” canard.
In the city centre, cycling is still the fastest and best way to get around. Even with the excellent tram network and the overall central district being quite small (London west-end sized), many people I know cycle to get around the city, and not just for getting to work, but for going shopping and visiting friends etc. too.
A 15 minute tram ride can be easily ridden by bike in 10 minutes, so as long as the wind and rain hold off, it’s usually the better choice. If you are travelling further, then it’s less clear cut for most people and more will instead elect for the tram and metro.
Living out of the city but commuting into the centre, you get the usual urban cyclists like you find in London, as well as students and high school children heading to local destinations.
But then you also get men and women in suits going into town, many on electric assist bikes. The winds can be strong and harsh, so if you’re lucky you can find a pedelec to draft behind and piggyback off of their motor.