After Bradley Wiggins’ annus mirabilis of success in 2012, his progress in 2013 has been disappointing: missing out on his aim of winning the Giro d’Italia and now announcing the end of his Grand Tour ambitions. We can now reveal the “real reason” for this – the same as for his injury and consequent failure in the 2011 Tour de France.
As readers of this topic know I really don’t want to rubbish the greatest ever road racing cyclist from Britain * (and my ex-club mate). But while he is justified in his status as sporting legend, when it comes to his views on cyclist safety – well, he should have read these posts, or just not commented on the subject. Because after his comments on the Barclays Bike Hire Scheme – a broken collarbone in the Tour de France. And after his comments after the Olympics he has had a so far lacklustre 2013. And now he has been getting it wrong again.
For we can reveal that the “real reason” for these disappointments has been, yes :The Curse of the Road Danger Reduction movement
If you’re a legendary cyclist and you say these kind of things despite being given advice – well, The RDR Curse may be visited upon you.
Now, of course, there are those of you who like thinking and referring to evidence who might suggest that the notion of a curse is ridiculous, superstitious, nonsensical rubbish.
And yes, it is.
But then so are plenty of beliefs in contemporary society, and people still hold them. Of course, belief in the effectiveness of cycle crash helmets is not necessarily worse than “asking the angels” for good health, or throwing salt over your shoulder to ward off the “evil eye”.
But there are problems with ignoring evidence. Not least the red herring of cycle helmets being trailed across the national press recently, with even a reasonably balanced article getting it wrong on some issues. Before the crucial debate in Parliament on September 2nd we need to get the right facts in front of us, and that is not happening.
We want Brad Wiggins to win the World Time Trial Championships in 2013. No curse will get in his way. But we would like him to talk sense like another legend of British cycle sport or just stick to what he does well and leave the topic alone.*Chris Froome has a British passport, but isn’t actually from Britain.
Eric Pickles was in the news again yesterday with his fourth pronouncement – within a matter of weeks – on car parking. It comes ahead of some new Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) guidance that will, apparently, aim to make sure councils do not ‘undermine’ themselves with parking policies that make parking and driving in towns too difficult.
Pickles seems obsessed by the idea that High Street decline is entirely a consequence of the alleged onerousness of driving and parking within towns. This new guidance – to appear later this week – is accompanied by Pickles arguing that
“Anti-car measures are driving motorists into the arms of internet retailers and out of town superstores, taking their custom with them. Over-zealous parking wardens have inflicting real damage on local economies and given many towns and councils a bad name. Town Halls need to ditch their anti-car dogma. Making it easier to park will help support local shops, local jobs and tourism.”
Evidence for these assertions remains lacking. Indeed the document Pickles seems to refers to [pdf] on parking seems to contradict what he is arguing (H/T John Dales); namely, it shows that there is no clear relationship between footfall and the cost and availability of car parking.
In another soundbite, Pickles argues
“Draconian Town Hall parking policies and street clutter can make driving into town centres unnecessarily stressful and actually create more congestion because of lack of places to park.”
Again, no evidence for the assertion that a lack of places to park is creating congestion.
To be clear, I have no particular problem with car parking being provided for those who wish to drive to town centres, at a reasonable price. But what Pickles – and indeed his department – seem to be arguing is that car parking should be provided exactly where motorists want it to be. Right on the High Street itself; right outside the shops people want to visit.
It is surely this thinking about the ‘convenience’ of parking that lies behind Pickles’ silly ideas about allowing people to park on double yellow lines for short periods; the notion that a short walk from a car park to the places people actually want to shop or visit is incredibly difficult, or off-putting. Parking must be provided right where people want it, because we can’t expect them to use their legs.
Applying these kinds of policies would be tremendously counter-productive, because it would destroy the attractiveness of high streets. We know that pleasant, thriving streets – the ones people want to visit – are the ones where traffic and parking is restricted. There may be parking nearby, but the street itself is free from parked vehicles, and motor traffic in general.
By contrast, streets where driving is easy, and parking is provided directly outside shops, are usually awful, unattractive places, even if they lie in prime locations.
These are not thriving places. They are places where the street environment has been poisoned by accommodating motor traffic.
The most curious aspect of Pickles’ arguments is his opposition to ‘clutter’, or ‘unnecessary physical constraints’; the clutter that makes ‘driving into town centres unnecessarily stressful’.In another quote provided to the press, he argues that
“street clutter is a blight, as the excessive or insensitive use of traffic signs and other street furniture has a negative impact on the success of the street as a place.”
From a man who seems hell-bent on increasing the amount of motor vehicles cluttering up our streets, this is a curious approach. To my mind, this is a cluttered street -
Pickles doesn’t seemed concerned at all about this kind of clutter, concerning himself instead with intrusive signs, or bollards, or humps, which he thinks discourage people from driving. But this is just complete nonsense. Streets clogged with motor vehicles like this are unpleasant places.
There is a good example in my town, where the council has commendably taken action to convert a horrible, traffic-filled street into a place where people actually might want to hang around. About ten years ago, it looked like this -
Just ghastly for anyone who wanted to visit the shops here on foot – that is, everyone.
About three years ago the street scene was improved with a ‘shared space’ surface, with restrictions on motor traffic to just loading and disabled access. Then last year the street was closed fully to motor traffic during the day, so the restaurants could use the space, and people could go about their business without having to worry about motor traffic.
The picture below was taken today, at the same location. Judge for yourself the difference to this street, from closing it to motor traffic and removing parking.
Now of course I suspect many people here did arrive by car; not many people walk or cycle (or take the bus) into Horsham. However these motorists simply used the many car parks in Horsham, and then walked to the streets they wanted to visit. The same is true for most of the people walking on the streets in Horsham’s centre, which is now almost entirely pedestrianised. These people have not been put off by a bit of walking.
Scenes like these would be destroyed by allowing parking anywhere on double yellow lines, or by by removing these constraints on motor traffic. Councils like Horsham would kill the very thing that makes High Streets attractive; they’ve worked this out form themselves.
Eric Pickles seems to want to declare a war on clutter; on bollards like this
that stop people from driving and parking wherever they want. The clutter and unpleasantness that inevitably results when you remove restrictions on motor traffic in town centres is, amazingly, completely invisible to him. It’s shockingly shortsighted.
September 2nd looks like being a critical day in the history of attempts to achieve the aims of the RDRF – reducing danger in the roads as part of a sustainable transport policy. Here are three things for you to do:ONE: GET YOUR MP THERE AND IN SUPPORT:
Get your MP to attend the debate and make them aware of the issues and the need to support the motion: That this house supports the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s report ‘Get Britain Cycling’; endorses the target of 10 per cent of all journeys being by bike by 2025, and 25 per cent by 2050; and calls on the Government to show strong political leadership, including an annual Cycle Action Plan and sustained funding for cycling.
A list of organisations has supported a briefing to MPs (RDRF has so far been missed off the list for some reason, but even if don’t get put on we support it). You can use this briefing to write to your MP on templates that the CTC and BC have set up, or just do your own. Here is my off-the-cuff effort:
Dear Ms Jackson,
As one of your constituents and Chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum, I urge you to attend the debate on September 2nd.
This is the current text of the motion to be debated on 2 September 2013:
“That this House supports the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s report ‘Get Britain Cycling’; endorses… and sustained funding for cycling.”
I ask you to speak in favour of this motion. Our view is that a civilised society should aim to reduce danger to cyclists through a variety of means such as:
* Good quality highway engineering
* Reduced speed limits on roads where people live work and play – and which are enforced
* Increased road traffic policing and deterrent sentencing, primarily through endorsement of driving licences
* Engineering of motor vehicles to reduce the potential to endanger others
These measures would be of benefit to the safety of all road users, particularly pedestrians , as well as cyclists. They would also encourage more cycling, to the benefit of public health and alleviation of a variety of social and environmental problems.
The ringfenced funds required may appear large at a time of austerity – but viewed in the context of the fiscal costs of the problems that can be alleviated by cycling, and the massive expenditure on less sustainable and healthy forms of transport, they can be fully justified.
I do hope you can attend the debate and support the “Get Britain Cycling” report’s reccomendations.
Dr. Robert Davis, Chair RDRFTWO: SIGN THE PETITION
It is here . You should have already signed it, but you probably have friends and social media contacts who haven’t.THREE: GO ON THE RIDE.
London Cycling Campaign have organised a protest ride on the day of the debate. It is London specific, but that shouldn’t stop it from being linked into the national issue of the need to support cycling.
It is directed at Mayor Johnson, but if – like us – you see a lot that is positive in his Vision for Cycling - you can see the ride as helpfully urging him to move forward in the directions he and Transport for London have indicated they wish to progress on.
I personally wouldn’t have organised it around “dedicated space for cyclists” – a bit on road traffic justice would have been nice , but I didn’t organise it. And the segregationism is tempered by “Local streets should be transformed into spaces that are safe for cycling and walking by removing through motor traffic and reducing its speed”.
The point is the show of numbers. And you might want a “We ARE the traffic”; “Yes, we DO pay for the road” slogans on banners, although carrying banners on bikes is always a little clumsy.
One excuse for the continued discrimination against cycling as a mode of transport is that supporting cycling requires money. I will address this excuse in the next post.
In the wider policy context of how cycling should be catered for on London’s streets, there’s some fairly astonishing guidance being drafted by Southwark Council on cycle lanes. It’s so weak that I think it is fair to say, as Southwark Green Party are arguing, that it represents a ‘U-turn’ on the council’s prior commitment to Going Dutch.
Cllr John [Labour leader of Southwark Council] promised to change the council’s approach last year following a campaign of tens of thousands of cyclists calling for more protection on main roads. In March 2012, Cllr Peter John appeared to sign up to the “Go Dutch” principles, telling Southwark News that the existing policy of integrating cyclists with main traffic “was not the best strategy”, and said his change of heart came “since the meeting with Southwark Cyclists” where they presented a new set of policies including proper, protected cycle lanes.
Last year’s change of heart does not appear to be reflected in this guidance, which seems to go out of its way to ‘integrate’ cyclists in Southwark with motor traffic.
On the very first page, we have this table, setting out Use Requirements.
The important points to note here are that, in principle, no cycle lane is to be provided at all on any street with a 20 mph limit, apparently regardless of the volume of motor traffic on that street. Worse, on 30 mph streets cycle lanes are only to be used ‘potentially’, on a ‘case specific basis’ – and that if employed they should only be advisory, rather than mandatory, meaning motor vehicles are free to drive and park in them.
These proposals are explored in greater detail in the guidance, which states, in Section 2.2 -
With-flow cycle lanes should not generally be necessary on two-way 20mph streets. Other methods to improve the carriageway environment to make it safe and comfortable for cyclists should be used in preference.
‘All alternatives’ to cycle lanes on these streets should be fully explored, and indeed if cycle lanes are encountered in a project area, ‘they should be reviewed with the intention of designing them out if appropriate’. The only reasons given for actually retaining cycle lanes on streets with a 20mph limit are if other options are prohibitively expensive, or for ‘legitimate safety reasons’. And the sole permitted exception for cycle lanes on 20 mph streets is purely for bypassing mode filters; these cycle lanes ‘should not be longer than around 6-8m’.
It’s worth reinforcing, at this point, that cycle lanes on 20 mph streets (good cycle lanes, of course) are extremely common in the Netherlands.
This residential street in the city of Assen, which has a 30km/h (19mph) speed limit, also has wide, continuous cycle lanes. One of the main purposes of this kind of arrangement is to ensure vehicle speeds are kept low, by narrowing the carriageway and removing the centre line, which creates uncertainly with oncoming motor traffic. But these kinds of arrangements – highly beneficial for cycling – are being explicitly ruled out in this Southwark guidance. 20mph limits mean no cycle lanes.
Indeed the guidance seems really quite keen to do away with cycle lanes on 30mph roads too; it states that ‘it will need to be demonstrated that… – on balance – a lane is the best means of addressing the needs of cyclists’. Likewise
any existing instances of mandatory or advisory cycle lanes encountered within a project should be reviewed to check that they remain both necessary and are still the best way of meeting cyclists’ needs.
In a cop-out, the guidance states that mandatory cycle lanes (lanes that are illegal to drive in, unlike advisory lanes) should not be introduced, because they are
problematic in terms of cost, street clutter, order making and enforcement. They are also unlikely to provide substantial additional benefit compared with advisory cycle lanes.
Why mandatory lanes cost more, or create more clutter, than advisory ones is not explained.
Concern with visual appearance extends to cycle lanes being painted a particular colour -
Generally, this is only likely to be permitted where cycle lanes on 30mph roads pass side road junctions and an evidenced safety need that could not otherwise be avoided (else addressed via less visually intrusive means) can be demonstrated
And the Appendix states that
guidance also emphasises that – even where providing cycle lanes or cycle tracks would appear justified – they may not always be appropriate for design and safety reasons. This is especially so in urban streets where the road environment can be very complicated because of the frequency of side roads, vehicle crossings, parked vehicles and other turning movements. This is supported by research. In relation to cycle lanes, this suggests that lanes encourage riskier overtaking of cyclists by other road users in some circumstances – even when cyclists are not using them.
Well, the road environment need only be as complicated for cycling as you are willing to make it. Bad cycle lanes will have problems with turning conflicts and parked vehicles, as well as encouraging close overtakes. This isn’t, however, a universal problem with cycle lanes, which can be designed properly.
The hostility to cycling provision that seeps from this document extends to the ‘segregation’ of cycle lanes, using kerbs. It states
In instances other than [the use of splitter islands to provide occasional physical separation] cycle lanes should not be separated from other vehicle lanes by lengthy kerbs or extended reservations/traffic islands. [my emphasis]
The reasons given for this policy are quite remarkable -
Creation of kerb separated cycle lanes is generally discouraged by national guidance owing to the considerable road safety issues that they pose – both for cyclists themselves and other road users. In addition, feasibility is likely to be limited within busy London streets owing to various factors. These include: spatial and engineering constraints; the considerable additional cost of adapting roads to accommodate such facilities (compared to other interventions to assist cyclists); and likely opposition from other street users to proposals (for instance in relation to loss of parking. [my emphasis]
At a time when separated tracks are now being adopted as policy across London (and indeed at a national and international level), Southwark have chosen to insist that they pose ‘considerable road safety issues’, based presumably on the opinions of dinosaurs like John Franklin.
The second part of the explanation essentially amounts to ‘we can’t be bothered.’
It is most interesting that the justification in this guidance for the refusal to build infrastructure, or to provide cycle lanes, lies with the Hierarchy of Provision (cited, wrongly, in “LTN 1/10 Cycle Infrastructure Design”, rather than LTN 2/08). Southwark’s guidance refers to it as follows -
Designers are encouraged to consider first reducing traffic speeds and volumes so that cyclists can share the carriageway with other vehicles without the need for any form of special facility. Designers are advised to consider the reallocation of carriageway space to create cycle lanes or the creation of segregated off-road routes only where reducing traffic speeds and volumes would not be possible
I think this is a textbook example of how the Hierarchy of Provision is open to exploitation by councils who find it difficult to bring themselves to cater for cycling in any meaningful way. They can point to LTN 2/08, and reference it, copying its argument that cycle lanes and tracks should only be considered last after other measures like speed reduction or traffic volume reduction – conveniently ignoring how 20 mph limits, in and of themselves, do little to create subjective safety, and how (as in this document) no mention is made of traffic reduction, or removal. Southwark seem to think that a 20mph limit on a given road is enough, and that nothing else is required to make cycling a safe and pleasant experience.
The Hierarchy desperately needs replacing by a network-based guidance approach, which sets out precisely how cycling should be accommodated on a given road street, with a certain volume of motor traffic travelling at a certain speed, and a particular function. That is, guidance which maximises the degree of separation of people riding bikes from motor traffic, either through the removal of through traffic from side streets, or through the physical separation on main roads. I’m hoping this will come in the new revised version of the London Cycle Design Standards; but, at the moment councils like Southwark seem to be able to get away with it.