Views

First users of the elevated bicycle track of Copenhagen

Copenhagenize - 18 June, 2014 - 05:00


The long-due first elevated cycle track of Copenhagen is not finished yet but already used and appreciated by bicycle users... and pedestrians.

The new bicycle infrastructure named "the snake" is still under construction but every day, when workers are gone, users find a way to test it and most of all to benefit from the shortcut to reach their destination. They avoid doing a detour all around the boring shopping mall. Actually, due to the works, the former space used by the cyclists under the new bridge is closed. This is clearly confirming the need for this almost-fixed missing link between Bryggebroen and Dybbølsbro. Users are impatient to get back their shortcut, blocked during the works.
Generally speaking, developing a good network for the cyclists is a lot about creating the relevant shortcuts thought the city. In general, Danes respect the road signs, but when it comes to forcing them to make a more than 800 m. detour on their daily commute for over 2 months, the bicycle users disagree.



After a first ride on the newly orange surface, I can say that cycling on this infrastructure is a new kind of urban experience. Coming from Dybbølsbro after turning right and then waving through the buildings, the view opens up on the Copenhagen harbor: an urban landscape made up of glass, water and sun reflections.

We're looking forward to getting this bridge definitely open and to see how the Municipality will rearranged the connections around this infrastructure. While waiting for it, you can have a look at the Copenhagenize's suggestions.



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

Bike-Train-Bike - Connecting Bicycles and Trains in Europe

Copenhagenize - 17 June, 2014 - 08:10

Copenhagenize Design Co.'s team, all the partnersinvolved in BiTiBi - Bike-Train-Bike – and the European Commission are glad to launch today our new EU project.
BiTiBi is an EU-funded, three year project to promote the intermodal use of bicycles and public transit in urban commuting throughout Europe. Indeed, the future of urban mobility is a return to a tried and tested combination of bicycles and trains. Combining the two most energy efficient modes of transportation, the bicycle and the train, provides a seamless door-to-door transport connection. The project aims at improving the livability of European cities and improving the energy efficiency of our transport.
It is not realistic to expect everyone to bicycle 15km to and from the office, but to cycle a few kilometers each way and hop on the train for the bulk of the trip could dramatically provide countless economic, social and environmental benefits for urban regions. From 2014 to 2017, BiTiBi will work with partner municipalities, train operators, bike share schemes and other actors involved in achieving a more energy efficient commute throughout several European cities.
Innovative pilot projects will be implemented in the regions of Barcelona, Milan, Liverpool and in Belgium with the help of ten partners, in order to inspire all European cities to consider a modern, multimodal approach to transport.
In the Netherlands, the OV-fiets public bike system is available at the train stations. It will be used as the model inspiring the development of the pilots in the other cities. Indeed, BiTiBi services will use the Dutch model in general as inspiration in promoting the bike-train-bike modal merger over cars and the combination of cars and trains. The project aims to solve the typical issues such as lack of parking for bikes at stations; no last mile solution when taking the train; ineffective fare integration or worse, none at all; bike services not corresponding to user needs; no bicycle friendly access to train stations; lack of knowledge about the available services and cultural barriers to use a train-bike-train combination.
In cities of Spain, England, Italy and Belgium commuters will find in the coming years an efficient way to reach every morning the train station and then their final destination.

In three years, in the scope of the pilots, safe and convenient bike parking facilities at train stations will be implemented, public bikes and integrate payment system of bike and rail services will be provided. During all these years, partners will communication the advantages for combining bicycles and trains and share the results of these intermodal experiences.
You will be able to follow all the news concerning BiTiBi on the dedicated website. Moreover, the Facebook page /biketrainbike– and the Twitter @biketrainbikewill allow to keep in touch with the newly launched project.
Discover the BiTiBi Vimeo channel and the Instagram #BiTiBi.
Please find on the website, the presentation of BiTiBi in Catalan, Dutch, English, French, Italian, and Spanish.We're looking forward to sharing with you all along the three years interesting news about how Europe in moving forward regarding combining bike and train.

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

Perspectives on Poynton

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 16 June, 2014 - 13:40

The Poynton ‘shared space’ scheme has attracted a large amount of attention, both in the UK, and abroad – attention driven principally by this seductive video, produced by Martin Cassini, an advocate of the removal, or reduction, of priority seen in Poynton.

With the best will in the world, it is hardly likely to be an objective presentation of the scheme, especially given that the councillors and designers responsible feature so heavily in the video. The only sceptics who feature are locals, who having initially voiced concerns then admit they were wrong.

The only ‘neutral’ assessment of the scheme that I am aware of is this rather good piece by Urban Movement’s Oli Davey, who raises concerns and issues, as well as outlining the benefits. So I couldn’t stop myself from taking a brief diversion to Poynton on a trip recently, to see for myself what the new scheme looks and feels like.

Now, like Oli, I had never been to Poynton before, so I can only really guess as to how much of genuine improvement the scheme represents. But I have to say that while I had many of my expectations confirmed, I was pleasantly surprised in other respects – about which more below. The scheme does seem to work quite well for drivers and pedestrians, although (as we shall see) it completely ignores cycling as a serious mode of transport.

The biggest (unresolved) problem - and one which is perhaps unfair to tie together with the redesign, since no redesign can deal with this problem – is the extraordinary volume of motor traffic passing through the town. It is still a very busy and noisy place, regardless of any benefits that might flow from the new arrangement. 26,000 vehicles a day pass through the main junction in Poynton (the one that has been changed). This is hardly a civilised environment, regardless of the way the junction is arranged.

The visualisations of Poynton (and to a certain extent the video produced by Martin Cassini) seem, to me at least, to wish away this motor traffic.

These are very busy roads, and there is certainly none of the ‘mingling’ in the carriageway by pedestrians that might be expected with the employment of the term ‘shared space’. In particular, while I wasn’t able to make counts, the proportion of traffic composed of HGVs seemed quite large.

Vehicles queuing on the approach to the centre of the town

While I am not able to make a comparison between the current situation, and the ‘before’ Poynton, there is still considerable congestion here. It may be slightly better, it may be slightly worse, I don’t know, but there were long queues on the arms of the junction, even in the middle of the afternoon.

It’s a slightly different form of queuing, in that, rather than being completely stationary, followed by bursts of movement, the traffic is just trundling along very slowly, at less than walking pace.

This does have benefits (which we’ll come to), but from a cycling perspective, this trundling, combined with the road layout, is just one of the ways in which the scheme is pretty awful. There’s nowhere to go, and you are left stuck, standing, in the fumes of the queuing traffic. This is particularly frustrating in the context of the wide footways that have been created.

Cycling as an inclusive mode of transport really hasn’t been considered at all in this scheme. The narrow carriageways block your progress on the approaches, and they are really quite intimidating on the exits, as you are forced to adopt a strong ‘primary position’ in the middle of the narrow lanes, to prevent overtakes. It’s not really for the faint-hearted, at all, especially given the nature and volume of the traffic. It was actually a relief for me to get back onto the ‘conventional’ and unadjusted tarmac road, where I could at least move over and let traffic past.

 Indeed, it was particularly telling to observe how distinctly the people cycling here fall into two types. Those using the road were, without exception, wearing helmets and lycra, and were almost all male.

Meanwhile, those cycling like pedestrians on the pavement looked like… pedestrians.

This kind of division is precisely the kind you would expect to see when you fail to design for cycling in its own right. People will fall into one or other of the available options – cycling like a motor vehicle (hardly an attractive option for all), or cycling like a pedestrian (not attractive for those who want to make progress, or indeed for pedestrians). Indeed, Poynton is almost a classic example of the poverty of the ‘dual provision’ approach. Both forms of provision are unacceptable.

To that extent, whatever the overall benefits of Poynton, it is worrying to see it being lauded from a cycling perspective. Indeed, it features in several places in Sustrans’ new ‘Handbook for Cycling Friendly Design’, which is quite troubling. Cycling has been completely ignored here, and any benefits are marginal and incidental. This is simply not what anyone interested in better cycling provision should be aiming for; this should be obvious from the types of cycling that have been produced by the scheme.

While the roundabouts (or ’roundabouts’) themselves seem to work well, with motor traffic slowly merging and moving smoothly on and off of them, the very reason they seem to work unfortunately acts to make them quite hostile from a cycling perspective. The lack of delineation and priority means drivers are not quite sure what’s going on, and slow right down – but that same lack of clarity also means that it is a bit of a free-for-all.


In the picture below I am making a right turn on the roundabout, while the driver of the Mini overtakes me through the roundabout. Unsettling.

On such a large expanse of paving, there really isn’t any way to control driver behaviour when you are cycling (taking a ‘strong position’ is meaningless). While nobody is driving especially fast, it is quite intimidating, and certainly not an attractive environment.

Another slightly irritating feature are the raised ‘pimples’ that mark out the ’roundabout’.


Fine to drive over if you are in a car, but not very good if you are on a bike, especially one with small wheels, or thinner tyres; one of these nearly caused me to come off my Brompton.

Another issue is the disintegration of parts of the carriageway (something else which gave my Brompton an almightily jolt). While the main roadways seem to be holding up acceptably, the paved areas that mark out the informal crossing points are crumbling under the weight (literally) of motor traffic -

And the areas around the drains also seem to be suffering, in particular.

Given that the scheme cost £4 million, I think questions have to be asked about whether corners have been cut on quality, and if not, whether spending that amount of money on this kind of road surface, when it carries such a high volume of motor traffic, is wise.

Coupled with this damage, there is of course the issue of roadworks and utilities. A large area of the scheme was being dug up when I visited. 
This raises the question of how well the surfacing can be ‘made good’ after these roadworks, and how much extra expense is involved in doing so.

That said – despite all these negatives – I did find some surprising positives about Poynton. Two in particular stand out.

The first, and most important, is that the previous signalised junction, with two queuing lanes for vehicles on each arm, has been replaced with a new junction with just one vehicle lane on each approach. The amount of space required by vehicles on each harm has been halved, with no (alleged!) increase in congestion or delay.

The lesson that can be drawn is that if you manage your junctions properly – for instance, as at Poynton, replacing signal control with roundabouts – there is no need to have such a huge amount of space allocated to queuing vehicles. That space can be reallocated. In Poynton it has been given over to pedestrians, but I see no reason why in other locations it couldn’t be reallocated to cycling as well. If a junction that handles 26,000 vehicles a day can cope with just one queuing lane on each arm, this is an approach that can surely be tried elsewhere.

The other important positive I took from Poynton is the importance of physical design in influencing driver behaviour. Poynton suggests to me, clearly, that British drivers are not idiots, or exceptionally dangerous, or more badly behaved than continental drivers. While I think it fails almost entirely from a cycling perspective, Poynton illustrates how the design of the environment can be used to make people behave in ways you want them to. The informal crossing points illustrate this well. Some examples below.

I have to say, I really didn’t think these would work. I didn’t think drivers would stop or give way; that they were just too ‘informal’. But they were working. Not just, I think, because of the way they look like an extension of the pavement across the road (this is an important detail to get right) but because the road has been designed in such a way that drivers lose nothing at all by giving way. They are already travelling very slowly, so it makes little difference to them whether they give way to pedestrians, or not. (Exhibition Road suffers badly in this respect because it still resembles a road, with no crossing points, and with nothing to slow drivers down.)

This is a lesson that can surely be transferred to cycling infrastructure in Britain. Our drivers are not badly behaved; we just have a road environment that encourages bad behaviour. If – as with Dutch roundabout and junction design – drivers are forced to travel slowly, and to think about the kinds of crossing movements they should be expecting, then they will behave just as well as their Dutch counterparts.

Poynton demonstrates this, with the way in which the drivers treat crossing pedestrians – the design of a scheme matters. Design for the behaviour you want, and people will respond to it, even if you think they are stereotypical British drivers who just won’t behave.

Given that Poynton is about to get a relief road, one that will (or should) remove the huge volume of motor traffic travelling through it, conditions there look set to change dramatically. Conditions would certainly be more cycle-friendly, if traffic volumes fall to those corresponding to access-only driving (although I would question how cycle-friendly the Poynton design is, even at low traffic levels).

It’s certainly an interesting experiment – albeit an expensive one – from which positive lessons can be drawn, despite the negatives I have attempted to describe here.


Categories: Views

Perspectives on Poynton

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 16 June, 2014 - 13:40

The Poynton ‘shared space’ scheme has attracted a large amount of attention, both in the UK, and abroad – attention driven principally by this seductive video, produced by Martin Cassini, an advocate of the removal, or reduction, of priority seen in Poynton.

With the best will in the world, it is hardly likely to be an objective presentation of the scheme, especially given that the councillors and designers responsible feature so heavily in the video. The only sceptics who feature are locals, who having initially voiced concerns then admit they were wrong.

The only ‘neutral’ assessment of the scheme that I am aware of is this rather good piece by Urban Movement’s Oli Davey, who raises concerns and issues, as well as outlining the benefits. So I couldn’t stop myself from taking a brief diversion to Poynton on a trip recently, to see for myself what the new scheme looks and feels like.

Now, like Oli, I had never been to Poynton before, so I can only really guess as to how much of genuine improvement the scheme represents. But I have to say that while I had many of my expectations confirmed, I was pleasantly surprised in other respects – about which more below. The scheme does seem to work quite well for drivers and pedestrians, although (as we shall see) it completely ignores cycling as a serious mode of transport.

The biggest (unresolved) problem - and one which is perhaps unfair to tie together with the redesign, since no redesign can deal with this problem – is the extraordinary volume of motor traffic passing through the town. It is still a very busy and noisy place, regardless of any benefits that might flow from the new arrangement. 26,000 vehicles a day pass through the main junction in Poynton (the one that has been changed). This is hardly a civilised environment, regardless of the way the junction is arranged.

The visualisations of Poynton (and to a certain extent the video produced by Martin Cassini) seem, to me at least, to wish away this motor traffic.

These are very busy roads, and there is certainly none of the ‘mingling’ in the carriageway by pedestrians that might be expected with the employment of the term ‘shared space’. In particular, while I wasn’t able to make counts, the proportion of traffic composed of HGVs seemed quite large.

Vehicles queuing on the approach to the centre of the town

While I am not able to make a comparison between the current situation, and the ‘before’ Poynton, there is still considerable congestion here. It may be slightly better, it may be slightly worse, I don’t know, but there were long queues on the arms of the junction, even in the middle of the afternoon.

It’s a slightly different form of queuing, in that, rather than being completely stationary, followed by bursts of movement, the traffic is just trundling along very slowly, at less than walking pace.

This does have benefits (which we’ll come to), but from a cycling perspective, this trundling, combined with the road layout, is just one of the ways in which the scheme is pretty awful. There’s nowhere to go, and you are left stuck, standing, in the fumes of the queuing traffic. This is particularly frustrating in the context of the wide footways that have been created.

Cycling as an inclusive mode of transport really hasn’t been considered at all in this scheme. The narrow carriageways block your progress on the approaches, and they are really quite intimidating on the exits, as you are forced to adopt a strong ‘primary position’ in the middle of the narrow lanes, to prevent overtakes. It’s not really for the faint-hearted, at all, especially given the nature and volume of the traffic. It was actually a relief for me to get back onto the ‘conventional’ and unadjusted tarmac road, where I could at least move over and let traffic past.

 Indeed, it was particularly telling to observe how distinctly the people cycling here fall into two types. Those using the road were, without exception, wearing helmets and lycra, and were almost all male.

Meanwhile, those cycling like pedestrians on the pavement looked like… pedestrians.

This kind of division is precisely the kind you would expect to see when you fail to design for cycling in its own right. People will fall into one or other of the available options – cycling like a motor vehicle (hardly an attractive option for all), or cycling like a pedestrian (not attractive for those who want to make progress, or indeed for pedestrians). Indeed, Poynton is almost a classic example of the poverty of the ‘dual provision’ approach. Both forms of provision are unacceptable.

To that extent, whatever the overall benefits of Poynton, it is worrying to see it being lauded from a cycling perspective. Indeed, it features in several places in Sustrans’ new ‘Handbook for Cycling Friendly Design’, which is quite troubling. Cycling has been completely ignored here, and any benefits are marginal and incidental. This is simply not what anyone interested in better cycling provision should be aiming for; this should be obvious from the types of cycling that have been produced by the scheme.

While the roundabouts (or ’roundabouts’) themselves seem to work well, with motor traffic slowly merging and moving smoothly on and off of them, the very reason they seem to work unfortunately acts to make them quite hostile from a cycling perspective. The lack of delineation and priority means drivers are not quite sure what’s going on, and slow right down – but that same lack of clarity also means that it is a bit of a free-for-all.

 

In the picture below I am making a right turn on the roundabout, while the driver of the Mini overtakes me through the roundabout. Unsettling.

On such a large expanse of paving, there really isn’t any way to control driver behaviour when you are cycling (taking a ‘strong position’ is meaningless). While nobody is driving especially fast, it is quite intimidating, and certainly not an attractive environment.

Another slightly irritating feature are the raised ‘pimples’ that mark out the ’roundabout’.

 

Fine to drive over if you are in a car, but not very good if you are on a bike, especially one with small wheels, or thinner tyres; one of these nearly caused me to come off my Brompton.

Another issue is the disintegration of parts of the carriageway (something else which gave my Brompton an almightily jolt). While the main roadways seem to be holding up acceptably, the paved areas that mark out the informal crossing points are crumbling under the weight (literally) of motor traffic -

And the areas around the drains also seem to be suffering, in particular.

 

Given that the scheme cost £4 million, I think questions have to be asked about whether corners have been cut on quality, and if not, whether spending that amount of money on this kind of road surface, when it carries such a high volume of motor traffic, is wise.

Coupled with this damage, there is of course the issue of roadworks and utilities. A large area of the scheme was being dug up when I visited. 

 

This raises the question of how well the surfacing can be ‘made good’ after these roadworks, and how much extra expense is involved in doing so.

That said – despite all these negatives – I did find some surprising positives about Poynton. Two in particular stand out.

The first, and most important, is that the previous signalised junction, with two queuing lanes for vehicles on each arm, has been replaced with a new junction with just one vehicle lane on each approach. The amount of space required by vehicles on each harm has been halved, with no (alleged!) increase in congestion or delay.

The lesson that can be drawn is that if you manage your junctions properly – for instance, as at Poynton, replacing signal control with roundabouts – there is no need to have such a huge amount of space allocated to queuing vehicles. That space can be reallocated. In Poynton it has been given over to pedestrians, but I see no reason why in other locations it couldn’t be reallocated to cycling as well. If a junction that handles 26,000 vehicles a day can cope with just one queuing lane on each arm, this is an approach that can surely be tried elsewhere.

The other important positive I took from Poynton is the importance of physical design in influencing driver behaviour. Poynton suggests to me, clearly, that British drivers are not idiots, or exceptionally dangerous, or more badly behaved than continental drivers. While I think it fails almost entirely from a cycling perspective, Poynton illustrates how the design of the environment can be used to make people behave in ways you want them to. The informal crossing points illustrate this well. Some examples below.

I have to say, I really didn’t think these would work. I didn’t think drivers would stop or give way; that they were just too ‘informal’. But they were working. Not just, I think, because of the way they look like an extension of the pavement across the road (this is an important detail to get right) but because the road has been designed in such a way that drivers lose nothing at all by giving way. They are already travelling very slowly, so it makes little difference to them whether they give way to pedestrians, or not. (Exhibition Road suffers badly in this respect because it still resembles a road, with no crossing points, and with nothing to slow drivers down.)

This is a lesson that can surely be transferred to cycling infrastructure in Britain. Our drivers are not badly behaved; we just have a road environment that encourages bad behaviour. If – as with Dutch roundabout and junction design – drivers are forced to travel slowly, and to think about the kinds of crossing movements they should be expecting, then they will behave just as well as their Dutch counterparts.

Poynton demonstrates this, with the way in which the drivers treat crossing pedestrians – the design of a scheme matters. Design for the behaviour you want, and people will respond to it, even if you think they are stereotypical British drivers who just won’t behave.

Given that Poynton is about to get a relief road, one that will (or should) remove the huge volume of motor traffic travelling through it, conditions there look set to change dramatically. Conditions would certainly be more cycle-friendly, if traffic volumes fall to those corresponding to access-only driving (although I would question how cycle-friendly the Poynton design is, even at low traffic levels).

It’s certainly an interesting experiment – albeit an expensive one – from which positive lessons can be drawn, despite the negatives I have attempted to describe here.


Categories: Views

Friday Throwback: hitching a bike ride from your Dad, what better way to mark Father's Day?

ibikelondon - 13 June, 2014 - 08:30

It's nearly the weekend, and this Sunday kids all over the country will be saying "thank you, Dad" and celebrating Father's Day.  So for this week's Friday Throwback - our continuing series of historic photos of cycles and cyclists - we've chosen this great shot of a father and his two boys going for a ride in rural New South Wales, Australia.




The photo was taken over 100 years ago, in 1913 in the small town of Bunnaloo (population 126 people according to the last census)  Life was probably tough in the country back then, but these three all have smiles on their faces and look like they are having a good time.  And when you're hitching a ride from your Dad, who wouldn't be smiling?

This week's Friday Throwback image is from the State Library of New South Wales. Our ongoing series selects the best pictures of cyclists from The Commons on Flickr.  

How are you marking Father's Day?  Let us know via Twitter @markbikeslondon, or on our Facebook or leave a comment below!

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Categories: Views

The myth of the "tipping point" and the fragility of cycling.

A View from the Cycle Path - 12 June, 2014 - 20:13
It has become popular to make statements about cycling somehow taking on a life of its own and growing without further investment once a particular modal share has been reached. A fairly recent example of this sort of thinking appeared in a grant application document from Birmingham City Council: "Birmingham is working towards the ‘tipping point’, a common pattern within cities, where a modest David Hembrowhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/14543024940730663645noreply@blogger.com0http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/06/the-myth-of-tipping-point-and-fragility.html
Categories: Views

‘Critical mass’

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 12 June, 2014 - 11:37

Over the last few years it has seemed (to me at least) that the notion of a ‘critical mass’ of riders being a key plank of cycling policy has lost its credibility. The idea of ‘safety coming from numbers’ has, quite correctly, been replaced by a more mature understanding that numbers should – and indeed have to – come from safety, and from feelings of safety.

To that extent I was quite baffled by the comments that the Labour Transport Secretary Mary Creagh came out with at the meeting yesterday in the House of Lords, to launch Bike Week.

It was a speech that could have been written five years ago, with claims that the debate about segregation is still ongoing, and an argument that cycling infrastructure can’t accommodate demand for cycling, so we shouldn’t have it. She pointed specifically to the cycle tracks along Tavistock Place as being oversubscribed, and unable to cope with the numbers of people cycling on it, as a reason why cycle tracks are bad.

To me, this missed the point spectacularly. The demand for these tracks – widely acknowledged as substandard, ever since their compromised construction – demonstrates that the principle of separation from traffic is popular.

Popular, despite the low quality

That’s not an argument for removing cycle tracks and simply mixing people with motor traffic. It’s an argument for either improving the standards of poor cycle tracks so they can cope with demand, or for separating cycling from motor traffic in other ways – through measures such as filtered permeability, both of which are potential solutions for this route through Camden.

But instead, Mary Creagh appeared to think that cycling infrastructure in principle isn’t capable of coping with the ‘critical mass’ of riders on London’s roads. Where 20mph limits exist, she argued, separation isn’t required. That ‘critical mass’ of riders is sufficient.

Firstly, this begs the question of how she imagines Dutch cities – which have cycling levels ten times higher than London, a genuine ‘critical mass’ – manage to function. Do they simply mix people with motor traffic? Absolutely not. On main roads they separate, employing the measures that Mary Creagh seems to think can’t cope with demand.

Secondly, the very notion of a ‘critical mass’ on London’s roads is deeply questionable. I suspect it is easy for MPs to convince themselves such a thing exists when they have been on a large group ride, with a police escort, through central London at rush hour. It feels as if there are lots of people cycling, and indeed this is genuinely true for many roads in central London, at rush hour.

But this phenomenon is very localised, both temporally and spatially. Spatially, it is limited to central London. There is no critical mass, at all, in vast swathes of London. Cycling is essentially non-existent in many boroughs. And just as importantly, the ‘critical mass’ is limited to a short period of the day. Outside of rush hour, cycling returns to being non-existent in central London.

Just after we had finished listening to Mary Creagh, @lofidelityjim and I pedalled from the Houses of Parliament to Kings Cross. I didn’t keep an exact count, but it’s safe to say we saw no more than a dozen people cycling on this four mile trip.

Where is the ‘critical mass’ of riders in these photographs?

I then had to head off to Farringdon area, visiting Old Street along the way. Again, cycling is non-existent here in the middle of the day, on routes that are informally famed for the high levels of cycling on them at peak times.

A ‘critical mass’ isn’t an effective way of making cycling more attractive, when its existence is very shaky indeed.

But much more importantly, it’s not even an acceptable way of ‘catering’ for cycling in its own right. When I look at large numbers of people cycling amongst trucks and buses, weaving their way through, or fighting for space, I don’t think to myself that that is a reasonable way forward for cycling. Quite the opposite – I’m horrified that we are essentially forcing people to cycle in this way; refusing to give them safe conditions that prioritise them as a distinct mode of transport, in their own right. This is what happens when you pour lots of people cycling onto busy roads. [Video by CycleGaz].

Espousing ‘critical mass’ as a way forward for cycling is, in truth, an abdication of responsibility. It says nothing at all about how you get a ‘critical mass’, and nothing at all about how that mass should be catered for, if it arrives.

Whether you have significant numbers of people cycling already, or none at all, it simply won’t do to employ it as a concept, in place of strategic thinking about the quality of the cycling environment. It’s high time it was put out of its misery.


Categories: Views

‘Critical mass’

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 12 June, 2014 - 11:37

Over the last few years it has seemed (to me at least) that the notion of a ‘critical mass’ of riders being a key plank of cycling policy has lost its credibility. The idea of ‘safety coming from numbers’ has, quite correctly, been replaced by a more mature understanding that numbers should – and indeed have to – come from safety, and from feelings of safety.

To that extent I was quite baffled by the comments that the Labour Transport Secretary Mary Creagh came out with at the meeting yesterday in the House of Lords, to launch Bike Week.

It was a speech that could have been written five years ago, with claims that the debate about segregation is still ongoing, and an argument that cycling infrastructure can’t accommodate demand for cycling, so we shouldn’t have it. She pointed specifically to the cycle tracks along Tavistock Place as being oversubscribed, and unable to cope with the numbers of people cycling on it, as a reason why cycle tracks are bad.

To me, this missed the point spectacularly. The demand for these tracks – widely acknowledged as substandard, ever since their compromised construction – demonstrates that the principle of separation from traffic is popular.

Popular, despite the low quality

That’s not an argument for removing cycle tracks and simply mixing people with motor traffic. It’s an argument for either improving the standards of poor cycle tracks so they can cope with demand, or for separating cycling from motor traffic in other ways – through measures such as filtered permeability, both of which are potential solutions for this route through Camden.

But instead, Mary Creagh appeared to think that cycling infrastructure in principle isn’t capable of coping with the ‘critical mass’ of riders on London’s roads. Where 20mph limits exist, she argued, separation isn’t required. That ‘critical mass’ of riders is sufficient.

Firstly, this begs the question of how she imagines Dutch cities – which have cycling levels ten times higher than London, a genuine ‘critical mass’ – manage to function. Do they simply mix people with motor traffic? Absolutely not. On main roads they separate, employing the measures that Mary Creagh seems to think can’t cope with demand.

Secondly, the very notion of a ‘critical mass’ on London’s roads is deeply questionable. I suspect it is easy for MPs to convince themselves such a thing exists when they have been on a large group ride, with a police escort, through central London at rush hour. It feels as if there are lots of people cycling, and indeed this is genuinely true for many roads in central London, at rush hour.

But this phenomenon is very localised, both temporally and spatially. Spatially, it is limited to central London. There is no critical mass, at all, in vast swathes of London. Cycling is essentially non-existent in many boroughs. And just as importantly, the ‘critical mass’ is limited to a short period of the day. Outside of rush hour, cycling returns to being non-existent in central London.

Just after we had finished listening to Mary Creagh, @lofidelityjim and I pedalled from the Houses of Parliament to Kings Cross. I didn’t keep an exact count, but it’s safe to say we saw no more than a dozen people cycling on this four mile trip.

Where is the ‘critical mass’ of riders in these photographs?

I then had to head off to Farringdon area, visiting Old Street along the way. Again, cycling is non-existent here in the middle of the day, on routes that are informally famed for the high levels of cycling on them at peak times.

A ‘critical mass’ isn’t an effective way of making cycling more attractive, when its existence is very shaky indeed.

But much more importantly, it’s not even an acceptable way of ‘catering’ for cycling in its own right. When I look at large numbers of people cycling amongst trucks and buses, weaving their way through, or fighting for space, I don’t think to myself that that is a reasonable way forward for cycling. Quite the opposite – I’m horrified that we are essentially forcing people to cycle in this way; refusing to give them safe conditions that prioritise them as a distinct mode of transport, in their own right. This is what happens when you pour lots of people cycling onto busy roads. [Video by CycleGaz].

Espousing ‘critical mass’ as a way forward for cycling is, in truth, an abdication of responsibility. It says nothing at all about how you get a ‘critical mass’, and nothing at all about how that mass should be catered for, if it arrives.

Whether you have significant numbers of people cycling already, or none at all, it simply won’t do to employ it as a concept, in place of strategic thinking about the quality of the cycling environment. It’s high time it was put out of its misery.


Categories: Views

How to make motor traffic feel unwelcome

BicycleDutch - 11 June, 2014 - 23:01
Utrecht has decided that the dominant types of transport in the old city centre should be cycling and walking. Streets which are due for maintenance are therefore reconstructed to reflect … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

How to make motor traffic feel unwelcome

BicycleDutch - 11 June, 2014 - 23:01
Utrecht has decided that the dominant types of transport in the old city centre should be cycling and walking. Streets which are due for maintenance are therefore reconstructed to reflect … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

True Story

Chester Cycling - 11 June, 2014 - 21:50

When talking with some colleagues in the tea room, the topic of bad driving, and more specifically bad overtakes came up. After hearing a few stories, I shared a few of my own horror stories of close passes on national speed limit roads from a cycling perspective. After this, the topic of cycle helmets came up, so I dutifully explained that the reality of cycle helmets falls short of what the general public often imagines.

From across the room, a chap chimes in with a story from the days when he used to cycle in to work. He told jus that several years ago, he was riding his bicycle without lights, in the dark down an unlit country lane. He collided head-on with another chap on a bike without lights. Both were injured, the other chap quite badly so.

At the end of his story, he turned to us and said, “I bet he wishes he was wearing a helmet that day. I know I do.”

Personally, I’d have gone for lights.


Categories: Views

Waiting at bus stops is dangerous

Vole O'Speed - 11 June, 2014 - 19:23
I'm not sure if this post might be interpreted as being in poor taste following on closely from a real death, but here goes. It's just that an incident that actually occurred yesterday has caused me to reflect on the risk of different transport modes, again.

I was cycling from Edgware to Willesden Sports Centre yesterday evening, when, almost there, I came across a police cordon preventing access to Harlesden Road. Both road and pavement were cordoned off. I managed to get through to Donnington Road by going round via the southern part of Harlesden Road. This was cordoned as well, but not across the pavement, so I wheeled my bike, and a policeman acknowledged me. I could see that a part of a tree had broken off and hit the bus stop in Harlesden Road near the Donnington Road junction. When I went back at 9:45pm, all was clear again and the tree was removed.

I learn from the Brent and Kilburn Times and Evening Standard today that a 57-year old woman was killed by the tree, and a man was seriously injured. Both were waiting at the bus stop.

The last cycling death in Brent that I know of was in 2008. So at least as many people have been killed in Brent waiting for buses as have been killed cycling in six years. There is risk of death in all transport modes. However, I don't think this latest incident will cause many people to stop using buses in Brent. It will lead to calls for better safety inspections of trees, probably, and that would be sensible, though clearly risk due to falling trees will never be eliminated. The risks associated with using buses, waiting for them, and walking on the pavements are randomised in such a way that no-one in good mental health is going to seriously worry about them, and be put off from those activities by statistics associated with them. If you have a concept of "Acts of God", then this fatal incident is close to that. It might have been preventable, but not obviously so.

The risks around cycling are totally different. They are far more predictable and they are connected, by and large, with the design of the roads. This is why those risks put most people off from cycling. Their systematic quality means that you can minimise them, as the statistics show most people who cycle in Brent minimising them, by diligence, alertness, tactics and behaviours designed and learned to diminish risk in an active, constant, dynamic manner. This is a two-edged sword, however. It creates statistical safety, but the fact it has to be done erects a giant behavioural and mental barrier to cycling that the vast majority of the people in Brent are not willing to scale most of the time (Brent's modal share for cycling is between 1 and 2%). Willesden Sports Centre contains travel advice printed on the foyer wall in big letters, telling users, amongst other things, what a good idea it is to cycle there, for all sorts of reasons. But even given the fit and healthy population who will be frequenting the centre, a small minority do so. The centre boasts about 20 bike stands, and a car park that will contain hundreds of cars.

Donnington Road, the road giving access to the Sports Centre, is a road where the engineers at Brent Council have tried really hard to reduce vehicular speeds and increase road safety. But they've done it in  all the wrong ways, and made it a trial to cycle on.

Donnington Road, looking east, on the approach to the sports centre, which is the next turn-off to the right (Google Street View)You can see that in this Google Streetview image of Donnington Road just approaching the sports centre from the west. The engineers have radically narrowed the lanes on an already narrow road with frequently-placed islands. Between the islands, road space is wasted with hatching. They've put speed tables at the islands. What perhaps you cannot see in this picture is that there is a significant uphill gradient going east. Also you do not see how the road surface has deteriorated at the speed table edges since this view was imaged in July 2012.

The problem is that Donnington Road remains a significant motor-traffic through route, as well as giving access to a school and the borough's largest sports centre. It's a useful cut-through for traffic between Harlesden and the Queens Park and Brondesbury Park area. So there's plenty of traffic, and if you are riding up that road, and riding defensively, or assertively, however you choose to put it, you will be putting yourself in the middle of that narrow lane for a long way, trundling slowly uphill, negotiating the decaying surface and hitting the sharp speed table edges, and choosing to act as a "rolling speed bump", holding up any traffic (including buses) behind you, exactly as Brent's traffic engineers intended. The result is not actually dangerous. It's just not a nice experience. It's the kind of experience that puts people off cycling in Brent.

Going back home I use an obscure route via the small pedestrian bridge over the River Brent off Lawrence Way, in Neasden, to avoid the giant gyratory systems in Neasden, that I have described before, and then get into Barnhill Road, and attempt to use the cycle facilities (that I actually originally requested and drew the first design for) between there and Old Church lane, Kingsbury. There's a nice cycle gap through the closure of Barnhill Road (or it would be nice if it wasn't so frequently blocked by the local inconsiderate car parkers), but the crossing on Blackbird Hill, used to reach the cycle contraflow in Old Church Lane, to head towards Kingsbury, is about 50 metres up Blackbird Hill from the Barnhill Road junction.

Looking north-west up Blackbird hill from the Barnhill Road junction, Google Street ViewThe planners' intention was that cyclists do a left turn at this junction, into the narrow inside traffic lane, on this road full of buses and lorries, then negotiate round any buses stopped at the stop you see in this view, then do a quick left up a short dropped kerb, just beyond the bus stop, on to a stretch of pavement designated "shared use", to do a "jug handle" manoeuvre to aim for the Toucan crossing, where you press a button, and wait a long time, and have to take care to avoid conflicting pedestrian flows.

This is all totally standard stuff, straight out of the Department for Transport's best cycle infrastructure advice, as in Local Transport Note 2/08. But in terms of convenience and effectiveness for cycling, it is all Professor Brainstawm amateurishness in design in action. It is an unacceptable risk to ask cyclists to take to join a hugely congested, fast road, with absolutely no space to cycle in, joisting with huge lorries, only for a few metres, before asking them to dive onto a pavement and shared crossing and asking them to play nice with children and parents and small dogs while performing a 270 degree turn on a sixpence. The result will be cyclists cycling on the pavement, and behind the bus stop that you can see, annoying people waiting at the stop. Or it will be people who don't want to risk their lives, or risk being a nuisance to pedestrians, and getting hated, just not cycling. If you have to keep walking stretches with your bike, that's not cycling. You might as well choose another method of transport. On this occasion, as I did this manoeuvre, as required by the design, as safely as I could, trying to avoid conflict with people at the bus stop, I got honked by the driver of a police car, not apparently on an emergency call, who didn't want to let me on to the road. "Why bother to try to cycle legally?" I asked myself.

This place could have been so much better, if there was integration between transport planning, and building planning, in Brent. Since this image was taken, Lidl have rebuilt their car park, at a higher level. They would have needed permission for this; it was major work. This planning permission should have been linked to a compulsory public land-take alongside this pavement; just 4 metres would have been enough, enough to build a cycle track between Barnhill Road and the crossing and put the bus stop on an island between the track and the road. This was a known issue. It is a pinch-point that has been flagged-up in (forgotten) Brent cycle network consultation exercises and rides that i have taken part in. It would not have soleve all the cycling problems in Blackbird Hill, but it would have been a big step forwards. But this sort of joined-up planning just does not exist in London's local government.

So the problem was not solved, and now, with the construction of a sort of castle wall around the car park, it is likely never to be solved, short of reducing Blackbird Hill from three lanes to two, which seems very unlikely.

The "castle wall" being built around the new, high-level Lidl car park last year, making the problem of lack of space for cycling on this critical corner even more permanent.It's not the statistical danger of cycling in Brent that causes it to be such an unpopular activity. It's the feel of it – the feeling that you are always in the way, doing something strange, something not properly accommodated by planning, something not really understood by anyone else on the roads. Waiting at bus stops is at least as dangerous, but doesn't have these characteristics. And, of course, the old and vulnerable wait at bus stops in Brent, they don't cycle. As I pointed out before, that skews the statistical risks. The risks of cycling are minimised by the fact the activity is done by the people with the fitness, skills, alertness and agility to minimise them. They don't reflect true environmental safety; far from it. Cycling here is done by the sort of people who go to sports centres, or, actually, by a small sub-set of those people. In the Netherlands it is done by everyone.

Another man at the activity I go to at the sports centre told me that, to get fitter, he was thinking of starting cycling there. I told him that, in all honesty, I could not recommend it.
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