So, as promised here is the second and final part of my cycling trip between the Dutch cities of Zwolle and Assen, in July last year – part one here. As already mentioned this was about 45 miles, and done at a steady and relaxed pace on a heavy Dutch bike.
In the ‘first half’ post I’d got as far as the town of Meppel. This is in fact only about one-third of the way to Assen from Zwolle –
– but this part of the route contained most of the ‘interest’ of the day’s journey, because (as we shall see) there wasn’t a great deal that was remarkable between Meppel and Assen, given that my plotted route consisted entirely of a beautiful cycleway running parallel to a fast and (mostly very straight) main road.
Meppel was effectively bypassed again on a small main road that skirted the town centre; a road with industrial units that might have been quite unpleasant to cycle on. As it was I had quite an old ’tiled’ style path; definitely not as good as smooth asphalt, but still preferable to the road, especially given the type of traffic on it. (Incidentally the van parked on the cycleway in the photo appears to be a ‘path inspection’ vehicle).
Leaving Meppel I was quickly onto the infrastructure that would carry me all the way to Assen – a cycle path fully separated from the main road that speeds north, the N371.
As with all Dutch cycle paths alongside main roads, this was essentially designed like a road for cycles; 3m wide (or more), but with no separate pedestrian provision. There aren’t many people walking here, given the rural nature of this area, and any pedestrians simply use this ‘bicycle road’. Where pedestrian numbers are higher, the Dutch will of course provide a separate footway.
As had been the case throughout the day, there were plenty of HGVs on the main roads, and on this one like the others. To give some indication of the level of comfort Dutch infrastructure provides, this situation in the photograph below felt like a ‘close pass’, given the way the HGV seemed almost to be coming towards me as it came around the bend, at 80kph.This despite the presence of a reasonable large verge separating me from the vehicle. Most likely in the UK I would have actually been on the road in this situation, or at best on a shared use footway directly adjacent to it.
Typically the separation from the fast main road itself was much greater. In the photograph below, the road is actually on the other side of the canal (which ran in parallel with it all the way to Assen) you can just about see an HGV directly above the boat. Note here that there is also a service road for properties on the left, entirely separate from the cycle path.
While there was obviously priority over private properties and minor roads and tracks, at more major roads the cycleway lost priority.
This didn’t feel like a particular problem to me; I might actually have felt quite exposed venturing out across the road, having to assume drivers would yield, especially on such a straight, fast main road. It was easy enough for me to gauge for myself when it was safest and easiest to cross these few interruptions. (All roundabouts in the north of the Netherlands are treated in this way – with no priority for cycling).
Mostly, however, tedium was beginning to set in. This was by no means arduous or hazardous cycling, using such well-designed infrastructure on a beautiful day. But unfortunately this was mile after mile with only the occasional bend or junction to divert my interest – I even found myself counting trees to keep myself occupied, working on the assumption that counting one hundred trees would equate to roughly a kilometre or so, ticking off the tens of kilometres remaining to Assen.
Happily, as planned, I soon met David Hembrow coming the other way to meet me, and we immediately diverted away from the main road, taking a winding scenic route through the countryside before heading into Assen.
We used a variety of types of path, but all of them were wonderful to cycle on. The example below is a new strip of farm access road, complete with tractor tyre marks in the mud to the sides. The strips either side of the brick paving in the middle are (of course) billiard-table-smooth concrete.
As on the earlier part of the journey from Zwolle, even tiny recreational paths also have a smooth concrete or tarmac surface. You will occasionally have to ‘single up’ as you meet people coming the other way, but these are not utility routes, so the amount of cycle traffic is very low.
And again, as with earlier in the day, there were plenty of people out cycling in the afternoon, enjoying the Drenthe countryside – mostly elderly couples, and kids.
The connection between these rural areas and Assen itself is painless; both the motorway skirting Assen, and the city’s ring road, were negotiated with underpasses.
And in the blink of an eye I was in the centre of Assen.
If I had to do this route again I would probably avoid cycling along the N371 for so long; not because it was difficult or hazardous (far from it), but because it did get quite boring. It was certainly the quickest way, but it might be worth venturing cross country, just to make the route a little more lively. That said this second half of the trip was almost entirely free of interactions with drivers, given most of it was on fully separated paths, either alongside the main road, or through forests and fields. It was a lot of fun!
Hackney Cyclist has recently put up a series of blogs on his experience of cycling between Dutch cities. They’re well worth reading in detail, and they’ve inspired me to do the same for a ride I made last summer between the cities of Zwolle and Assen, in the north of the Netherlands.
This is a distance of around 45 miles, or 70 kilometres. I did it on my omafiets, shown below during a ‘rest stop’ on this ride.
As you can see it has two full panniers carrying everything I needed for a week’s worth of cycling (this was part of a trip that included visits to Rotterdam, Utrecht, and a three days in Assen and Groningen on a David Hembrow study tour). I was wearing ordinary clothes; I’ve never felt the need for special equipment or special bikes when doing these kinds of distances in the Netherlands because the environment allows me to go at a smooth, relaxed and consistent pace, never really exerting myself. Indeed, part of the fun of these trips is covering large distances as a ‘wheeled pedestrian’, hopping on my heavy machine straight after breakfast without even really thinking about it, and heading off over the horizon.
l left the centre of Zwolle on one of its ubiquitous bi-directional cycleways. Zwolle itself is very much a mixed bag; some really high quality new stuff, mixed with some low-quality infrastructure – just paint, essentially – that is very dated and often left me feeling quite exposed.
Heading north, I turned off this path onto an access road, with no centre line, and cycle markings at the edges.These kinds of markings have recently hit the headlines, so to speak, having been employed on a main road in the north of England. That’s a very different context from this street, which only serves a handful of properties, and is very quiet.
My route then took me onto a temporary path, and the crossing of the main road that has been upgraded, as described here, and shown in the video below.
On the other side of the road the cycle path climbed gradually, reaching a high bridge that took me over a large canal. There was a fast, busy road alongside me here, but cycling was comfortably separated from it.
In the distance in the photograph above is the impressive cycling suspension bridge shown in this Good Facility of the Week. You can cross a large junction on this bridge to enter the suburb of Westenholte, or you can veer around underneath the bridge to head north out of the city, as I did. Note the two very different types of cycling!
The path continued on seamlessly, bypassing a roundabout without me having to go anywhere near it…
… before leading me onto another access road, this time in a new development.
Again, just as with the example before, these markings are only appropriate on these kinds of quiet streets. Motor traffic (as can be seen) stays out of the lanes, because there is rarely oncoming motor traffic. This particular street only serves the dwellings on the left here; it is closed at the far end with a bollard (which retracts, only to allow buses to pass).
From here I left the city completely, moving onto a beautiful access-only road running beside a branch of the Ijssel river.
Motor traffic can use this road, but again, only around a handful of houses along here (a white one can be seen in the background) and I didn’t encounter any drivers along it. At this point, in fact, I still haven’t had any encounters with motor traffic, at all, nor have I even had to stop. My journey out of the city has been blissfully smooth and painless.
Checking my directions carefully on my phone, I eventually find the correct country lane I need to take to head towards the town of Hasselt. Even this quiet little lane has had a smooth concrete cycleway added alongside it, within the last few years. This concrete is actually smoother than the tarmac of the road.
This lane took me to the busy N331 road (‘N’ is the Dutch equivalent of a UK ‘A’ road), which was carrying plenty of fast, intimidating HGVs. Naturally enough, however, I had some parallel provision in the form of a service road, some distance from the main road itself.
In this agricultural part of the country these service roads are used by farm traffic, too slow for the fast main road – and obviously by any residents who live along the service road as well. This led to my very first shock of the day, an overtake from a large tractor pulling a vicious-looking piece of equipment, perhaps only a foot away from my left elbow. (The farmer had obviously momentarily forgotten about strict liability, which makes everyone play nice in the Netherlands).
Happily this service road ended as I arrived on the outskirts of the town of Hasselt, and I was back on a cycleway, which followed the N331 as it bypassed the town.
I was treated to a lovely, almost stereotypically ‘Dutch’ view of Hasselt as I crossed the river, and here I made my first (entirely voluntary) stop of the day. I’d made great progress – not with any great speed while cycling, but without ever having to have stopped moving.
Leaving Hasselt I was back on a service road again, parallel to the main road, and this one was definitely uncomfortable by Dutch standards, with what seemed like a large number of vehicles turning in and out of it at a busy junction which I had to cross, feeling quite exposed. Just like the overtake from the tractor driver, this was another bump back to earth, and it felt distinctly ‘British’. Note how the drivers are driving on the cycle markings – a clue that they aren’t appropriate.
From here, though, I was rewarded with perhaps the best cycling of the day, winding my way towards the next town of Meppel along a combination of tiny, tiny little tracks through the countryside, and broader farm roads, again only used by farmers to get to and from their properties, and not used by people cutting through, avoiding main roads.
These little tracks were surfaced with beautifully smooth concrete – this might be the ‘countryside’, but the surface was wonderful to cycle on.
It’s important to note that paths like these are merely ‘recreational’ routes, and are definitely not part of any formal or official utility cycle network. That’s why they are often not particularly wide, because they aren’t being used heavily – only by people like me taking the scenic route, or people cycling around for leisure. (The width isn’t a problem because you are unlikely to encounter someone coming the other way). In essence they are a nice ‘extra’ on top of the dense grid of utility routes.
Indeed, as I got closer to Meppel I joined one of these ‘proper’ routes, a much wider concrete path, with lighting – even though I was still in the countryside,
… cycling past herons…
… distinctive cattle…
… all on gloriously smooth paths, even the farm roads themselves, composed of wide concrete that I just rolled along on.
These little lanes had no motor traffic at all on them, but I still managed to suffer a close pass from a lady in a battered old Ford Fiesta, who then immediately turned left, right in the midst of her attempted overtake, into the farm where she evidently lived. Again, that hallowed ‘strict liability’ effect was evidently only intermittently effective…
On the outskirts of Meppel these tracks and paths joined a tarmac road, busy with leisure cyclists of two distinct types – elderly couples, and people whizzing past them in lycra, both groups enjoying the morning sunshine.
I’d reached Meppel – about 30km from Zwolle – having only had four or five direct encounters with motor vehicles (unfortunately, most of them quite bad!), and with only having had to stop a handful of times, whisked along on a combination of genuinely impressive cycle engineering on a grand scale, right down to modest, tiny paths in the middle of nowhere.
Part 2 – in which I cycle from Meppel on to Assen, with a diversion along the way – to come!
Last week I wrote about Transport Tribalism, the curious habit of parcelling people up according to the mode of transport they are using – even defining them by that mode of transport. It was prompted by articles from Linda Grant and from David Aaronovitch, the latter a plea that polarised viewpoints should be avoided. I attempted to argue that Grant’s article itself was itself an example of just that kind of polarising, simplistic, black-and-white moralising that Aaronovitch was objecting to, in that it presented ‘cyclists’ as a unique kind of human being, without ever appearing to realise that human beings are multi-modal, and that they carry their characteristics with them as they switch their mode of transport. An ‘angry cyclist’ is really just an angry human being, who might have an ‘angry busist’ the day before – except of course we don’t ever describe people who get the bus in this way, because it’s faintly absurd.
At the end of the post, I said I would explain why this way of looking at the world is problematic, and why so many ‘cyclists’ (really, people who happen to feel strongly about using a bike for certain kinds of trips) objected to Grant’s article.
Mainly, it’s because it has consequences. Aaronovitch was fairly dismissive of any potential negative outcomes from Grant’s piece. He wrote
Some accused her of inciting attacks on cyclists as though maddened drivers would mow down anything in lycra while shouting “THIS IS FOR LINDA!!!” One man compared what she had done to the hate-articles which accompanied gay-bashing in his native Ireland back in the old days.
Now I can’t imagine any driver choosing to attack someone on a bike specifically because of an article in the Guardian – one by Linda Grant, or otherwise. Nor can I imagine some kind of strange vengeance attack, getting retribution ‘FOR LINDA’. But that wasn’t really the objection. It’s not that an article like this would lead to any specific incident. Rather that it, and the countless others like it, contribute to an already fairly poisonous background climate surrounding cycling, that reinforces prejudice.
We live in a world where people are apparently willing to use their cars to bully people on bicycles, even using their cars as a weapon to attack them, and undoubtedly many will do so because of their general attitude to ‘cyclists’ – an attitude that will be framed and shaped by the things people read, and see.
A recent trial provides a case in point. Last week a delivery driver was found guilty of careless driving, following an incident in which he knocked a woman off her bike at the Bank Junction in the City of London. The evidence presented – which included onboard video camera in the van) – is strongly suggestive that this was quite deliberate, even if the driver himself was only found guilty of careless driving.
The onboard CCTV camera in Baker’s van captured the delivery driver saying ‘Oh God’ as she moved in front of his vehicle. As she moved off and signalled to turn right, Baker was heard to say: ‘Come on get out of the bloody way’ and beeped his horn.
Mrs Kempster told jurors: ‘I got a beep which I regarded as an angry beep which I was rather annoyed about because it was a hugely busy day and I knew I was cycling impeccably. I am afraid I made an unsuitable gesture and stuck two fingers up. I continued and heard a roar of the van coming up my side. Then he slowed to my speed and came closer and closer getting towards the edge of his lane, then he must have been in my lane.’
… Baker carried on driving until a motorcyclist caught up with him and tapped on his window to tell him he had knocked a cyclist off her bike. The delivery driver allegedly replied: ‘Really, did I? Did she not run into me?’
In the context of discussion about attitudes towards people riding bikes, this particular passage is instructive –
In interview Baker admitted cursing at the cyclist and spoke ‘disparagingly’ about cyclists in general, the court heard. He also admitted hearing a bang but claimed he thought he had driven over a manhole and didn’t realise he had knocked the cyclist off. Prosecutor Martin Hooper said Baker was ‘rather irritated by this cyclist in particular but also cyclists generally.
How much did Baker’s general dislike of ‘cyclists’ (note, any person moving around London who happens to be on a bike at the time Baker encounters them) contribute to this incident? It’s obviously impossible to say, but it’s more than plausible that a person harbouring an intense dislike of users of a particular mode of transport is more likely to be involved in this kind of incident than someone who is more equanimous.
What is certain is that people behind the wheel of a motor vehicle will yell at you, or abuse you, or bully you with their vehicle, simply because you happen to be on a bike. I know this, because it has happened to me. I have been going about my business quite blamelessly, when someone decides to punish me with their vehicle – and when I ask them why, the justification is almost always along the lines of the general behaviour of ‘cyclists’, not anything that I myself had done. Whether it’s ‘you all go through red lights’, or ‘you mow down grannies on the pavement’, their behaviour towards me is rationalised by the bad behaviour of complete strangers, who simply happened to be using the same mode of transport as me. To these particular drivers, I am an embodiment of ‘cyclists’ and all their ills. It’s similar to the kind of ‘outgroup’ thinking that leads to abuse and attacks on innocent, but visible, members of a particular minority group following an atrocity committed by a member of that minority group – even if the outgroup identity of ‘cyclist’ can be shed at a moment’s notice simply by stepping off the bike.
To be clear, Grant’s piece – despite the fact it contained well-worn tropes like ‘lycra-clad cult’ – wasn’t particularly bad, as least as far these kinds of articles go. I’ve seen much worse. But as I’ve mentioned earlier, it all adds up to a kind of toxic soup, one that serves to reinforce hostile attitudes, and even to inflame them.
My personal view is that hostility towards people cycling, of the kind that Dennis Baker displayed, is almost entirely a symptom of a crap road environment that fails to take account of cycling as a mode of transport. It’s an environment that pushes cycling and motoring into the same space, two modes of transport with disparate requirements that are not suited to being treated in the same way. It’s an environment that pushes cycling onto the pavement when things get a bit too tricky, lumping it in with pedestrians in a way that again creates needless conflict. It’s an environment that inevitably restricts cycling to a small minority of the population, fertile grounds for outgroup thinking – phrasing like ‘them’, ‘they’, as opposed to ‘us’ and ‘we’. To me it’s not the least bit surprising that people walking and driving hate ‘cyclists’, because the needs of anyone choosing to use a bike are rarely catered for in a sensible way.
But newspaper articles that present ‘cyclists’ as some kind of uniquely awful species on our streets certainly do nothing to ameliorate that hostility, and just as problematically, they make attempts to improve our streets, so that they work for all users, even harder. Witness the way improvements in London are being presented as ‘for cyclists’, particularly by hostile parties on social media, but also by journalists on mainstream newspapers.
The battleground for the clash of commuters is Victoria Embankment, where the two-wheeled Utopia of a Cycle Superhighway is being built, and it is causing all manner of discord.
On one side are the high achievers reliant on Porsches and petrol to glide between engagements. Pitted against them are their cycling evangelist colleagues, Lycra-clad executives who splurge their bonuses on 1,000-pound Brompton bikes or fixie racers, pedalling their stress away by turning the city’s roads into race tracks.
Of course, current users of the Embankment are probably disproportionately composed of males, on faster bikes, principally because this was a very hostile road to cycle on. But the Superhighway isn’t really ‘for’ these users. It’s for everyone, for anyone who might want to ride a bike, whether they are a City type on an expensive carbon racing bike, or families with children.
— Christopher Day (@IndieChris71) December 30, 2015
The potential users of cycling infrastructure like the ones shown in the photograph above disappear from view when the debate is narrowly focused on current users of bicycles in London, and their apparently unique mode-specific ills. Debate framed in this way not only contributes to a more hostile environment for existing users, but also makes the struggle to open up our streets to anyone who wants to ride a bike even harder. That’s why it’s problematic.
There’s an interesting and thoughtful post from David Aaronovitch in the Jewish Chronicle, examining the fallout from a recent piece written about cycling by a friend of his. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to state that the article was this one, written by Linda Grant.
The thrust of Aaronovitch’s piece is – quite reasonably – that polarisation is bad. That seeing things in black and white terms is deeply unhelpful. The example given at the end of his article is a discussion – chaired by Aaronovitch – of a film on Zionism at a film festival. Constructive discussion about any merits the documentary possessed became impossible, simply because a large portion audience became swayed by an argument that the film was too anti-Zionist. The audience had became polarised and blinkered, too fixated on whether the film was pro- or anti-, when in reality being pro- or anti- anything might not even have been that relevant to the film itself.
By analogy, the debate about behaviour on the roads is apparently also polarised. As Aaronovitch argues –
…. even the “more in sorrow than in anger” critics of [Grant’s] piece could not admit, even for a second, that she might have a point. To do so would simply be to concede too much to the other side, to the enemy, to the four-wheeled cyclophobes and their allies. A line had been drawn: all virtue on this side, all sin on the other. To blur the line was to betray the cause.
Indeed, that would be unhelpful; just as unhelpful as those in the audience at the film festival who refused to consider a film on its own terms, but instead through an ideological prism of whether it was ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
But hang on. What was the point that Grant was making, that apparently critics refused to concede? Aaronovitch says
The point was that she had been frightened [by someone cycling], and many pedestrians in London could tell a similar story.
Is that really something that the people who responded to Grant would refuse to concede? I doubt it. There are something like 600,000 trips made every day by bike in London. That means it’s simply inevitable that people walking and cycling are going to come into conflict with one another, and that there will be collisions and near misses, and that a good number of these collisions and near misses will have been caused by people making misjudgements, and even behaving badly.
Because that’s what people do.
People make mistakes, and people behave badly – and they do this regardless of the mode of transport they are employing, whether they are on foot, on a bus, on a train, behind a steering wheel, or behind some handlebars. To use Peter Walker’s memorable phrase, there are multi-modal arseholes, people who just don’t show consideration for others, whether they are barging to get the last seat on a train, pushing on to a crowded tube carriage before people disembark, running to get a bus, cycling home, or driving to work.
It’s totally unreasonable to expect people to behave well when they are using one particular mode of transport, because, frankly, humanity is imperfect, and the inner fallibility, or worse, loutishness, of some people will inevitably manifest itself, to a greater or lesser extent (depending on the person) as they travel around a city, whatever the mode of transport they are employing – bus, train, tube, car, bicycle, or shoe. So the idea that critics of Grant’s piece were upset because they refused to accept the notion that anyone on a bike could behave badly is pretty untenable.
The real issue with the piece (at least for me) was not that it pointed out that people can behave badly while using a bicycle. To deny that would be absurd, as absurd as maintaining that nobody from a particular city could possibly commit a crime, or that nobody with the name ‘Linda’ could ever behave badly. Instead it was one of curious framing, and context. For instance –
With a bit of reflection, is it sensible to pigeonhole people in this way, given that all of us will quite happily slip from one of transport to another without really thinking about our behaviour, let alone adopting any kind of transport-related identity as we do so?1
At what point does this family’s outlook on the world change as they move from being people on foot, to being people on bicycles?
Here? As they touch their bicycles?
Here, as they sit astride them?
Or is it only here, once they are pedalling away, that they suddenly become ‘standard-bearers for an ethical higher calling and mode of being’? Are they suddenly more aggressive and unpredictable, compared to how they were seconds ago, as mere pedestrians? Are they more likely to ‘barrel’ somewhere, ‘scattering screaming pedestrians’, than would be the case if they were behind the wheel of a car?
It seems highly unlikely to me. Frankly, it just doesn’t make sense to look at the world in this way, to define people by the mode of transport they happen to be using at a particular moment in time. To talk of a ‘cycling community’ is as meaningless as talking about a ‘hatchback community’, but to read Grant’s piece again it’s almost like reading about a different species, and an invasive one at that, a new, unpredictable and even incomprehensible threat to London’s pedestrians, as if people cycling could never themselves be pedestrians at any point in time.
In fact, it’s as clear an example of polarising debate as anything that appears in Aaronovitch’s article. And in a follow-up piece, I’m going to explain why this matters.
1. Just to give a little bit of context here, around 1/5th of inner London residents ride a bike at least once a month. It’s as meaningless to generalise about such a large swathe of the population as it would be to generalise about tube users.↩
A brand new section of road in Horsham – widened and rebuilt at the location of a new development – tells you everything you need to know about how ‘the highway design machine’ across the vast majority of this country still trundles along in its complacent way, taking no account of the needs of people who might want to cycle, or even those who are currently cycling.
The site of this development – Parsonage Road – has dreadful cycle lanes along it, barely 70cm wide.
Industrial units along this road mean that there is plenty of HGV traffic on it. The photograph above is a typical reflection of traffic levels at busier periods of the day.
The new development – which has seen the road being widened, at the expense of the greenery seen on the left in the photograph – should have been a perfect opportunity to build-in high quality cycling infrastructure for at least the short stretch of road being improved.
But evidently that was too difficult. The new road has cycle lanes that are exactly the same width as the dreadful pre-existing ones. 70cm wide.
A new verge has been created; the implication here is that grass is more important than the safety or comfort of anyone attempting to ride a bicycle down this road.
The road has been widened by around 50% – but only to make space for a turning lane for motor traffic, so that nobody is held up while driving. The cycle lanes are exactly the same width as they were before.
How this location looked back in 2012, courtesy of Google Streetview.
All the trees on the right have gone. The 2015 equivalent of those kids cycling on the footway will still be cycling on the footway today, rather than attempting to use a paltry 70cm strip right at the edge of a thunderous road.
Prior to this development going in, the local cycle forum had asked for protected cycleways as part of the highway changes, and subsequent to that had been promised 1.5m lanes.
Plainly, cycle campaigns and cycle forums shouldn’t even have to be doing this job. They shouldn’t have to chase up highway engineers and developers in their spare time in an attempt to persuade them not to build total crap. It just shouldn’t happen. Doing a proper job, in this instance, would have cost nothing extra, but institutional inertia within West Sussex County Council – that essentially amounts to not giving a toss about cycling as a mode of transport – means that the pre-existing crap is simply reinstated.
I’m not even jumping to conclusions here. Here is the actual defence that West Sussex County Council have produced in response to complaints about these cycle lanes.
A West Sussex County Council spokesman said: “These highway works are associated with a new residential development of 160 dwellings on the former Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Limited site.
“The works are not yet fully complete. They involve adjusting the existing kerb lines to improve pedestrian facilities and refuge islands, and a new right turn lane access into the site.
“The designer has had to manage competing demands for road space. The advisory lanes are below the desirable 1.5m – however they were like that before the scheme was implemented and this is not out keeping with the advisory lines on the remainder of the marked advisory route (beyond the scope of these works).
The ‘competing demands for roadspace’ explanation is both glib and bogus. Glib because the finished product tells us plainly that the designer weighed up the ‘competing demand’ of removing potential minor inconvenience to motorists against the ‘competing demand’ of the safety and comfort of anyone cycling, and plumped for the former. And it’s bogus because high-standard cycle provision could have been included in this design anyway; it’s just that nobody bothered to do so.
More telling, however, is the spokesman’s comforting explanation that the cycle lanes ‘were like that before’.
Well, yes. They were. They were crap before, and they’re crap afterwards. (In fact, in context, they are slightly worse, given that pinch points in the form of crossing refuges have now been added to the road). Quite plainly, West Sussex do not even think that this is a problem. They think that pre-existing crap cycle lanes, or crap cycle lanes elsewhere, mean it is perfectly acceptable to keep on doing the same terrible job.
So here’s what I’m proposing. I’m going to call it The Gummer Test, named in honour of the Minister of Agriculture who, at the height of the BSE crisis, attempted to feed a beef burger to his daughter.
The Gummer Test would involve highway engineers, council officers or developers involved in these kinds of decisions to put their young child on a bike, and letting them cycle independently on the ‘infrastructure’ they think it’s acceptable for ‘cyclists’ to use.
Not only would this quickly bring into sharp focus the shortcomings of a bit of paint 70cm from the kerb line on a main road, it would also change the mindset of these people before any design decisions are made. Complacent shrugs about something tokenistic for ‘cyclists’ would necessarily have to be replaced by hard thinking about genuine, safe, comfortable and inclusive design for all potential users.
Highway engineers, councillors and planners in the Netherlands would, I suspect, happily sit this kind of test – because they build cycling infrastructure that is suitable for all ages and abilities.
The failings of dreadful infrastructure like 70cm cycle lanes, bus lanes ‘for cyclists’, narrowed carriageways on busy roads, Advanced Stop Lines, ‘Quietways’ that really aren’t anything more than a bicycle symbol painted on the road, and so on, would quickly be exposed by The Gummer Test.
These various forms of rubbish are only tolerated because those responsible are not exposed to the consequences of their designs. They can put a bit of paint at the side of the road, safe in the knowledge that it’s exactly the same as it was before, and besides, isn’t this kind of thing that gets splashed down everywhere else?
A Gummer Test – or something like it – would rapidly change that attitude.
A new cycling (and walking) bridge has recently been opened in the Dutch city of Zwolle. It’s an attractive structure, around 50m long and 7.5m wide – nothing particularly remarkable by Dutch standards.
— johan witteveenCU (@johanwitteveen) December 7, 2015
— Ilse Bloemhof (@IBloemhof) December 7, 2015
You can read an article about the opening here (albeit a slightly garbled Google translate of it.)
What is remarkable (to me at least) is the purpose of this bridge. It doesn’t cross a river, or a railway line, or some other physical barrier that couldn’t be crossed without it. It only crosses a road where there was already an existing (direct) singe-stage cycle crossing, which I used a number of times when I visited Zwolle in the summer earlier this year.
I didn’t find the delay particularly remarkable; perhaps only 30 seconds or so, each time I used it. In fact in the video I took (in the post, below), it so happens that I wasn’t delayed, at all.
You can see that crossing (and the road) on Streetview. Six lanes are crossed in one go.
Now that the bridge is open, it has taken this crossing completely out of the equation. The road is now crossed on the new cycle bridge, which runs approximately parallel to the railway bridge just visible in the background. The road can be crossed without any delay, and in complete safety. In essence, the purpose of this whole major construction project is simply… to remove a minor bit of inconvenience for people cycling.
Here is my video, taken using the route the bridge will replace. As you can see, it’s actually very good by British standards – but evidently not good enough. The bridge will remove the potential for any delay.
Now that the bridge is in place, the new developments to the north of Zwolle are connected to the city centre without any traffic lights at all. Another major road is crossed on another spectacular bridge, all part of this same route, allowing painless cycling, right into the city centre, in complete safety.
The reason I had been anticipating the new ‘yellow’ bridge appearing was because I had spotted the engineering works taking place while I cycled past them in the summer. Here is the view northbound, towards the road being crossed.
The earthworks on the right are for the new embankment, a gentle slope rising to meet the location for the new bridge, just to the left of the railway bridge. The picture is taken on a new path, built because the old path (on the right) is too close to the earthworks and the embankment. (Typically for this area of the Netherlands, this cycleway is composed of very smooth concrete.)
This whole project exemplifies of the seriousness with which cycling is taken in the Netherlands. It’s a major engineering scheme, just for cycling, for a pretty minor benefit.
Cities like Zwolle and Utrecht, which already have very high levels of cycling, are pushing for more; not resting on their laurels, but building in extra convenience and safety where they can, even at tremendous expense. It’s amazing to see, and definitely something that Britain can – and should – aspire to.
Last weekend’s Sunday Politics on BBC One devoted a large segment of the programme to the subject of the new Superhighways in London.
A roving reporter had been duly despatched to examine Superhighway 5, running between Oval and Vauxhall Bridge Road. Besides asking drivers sitting in traffic what they thought of the new scheme (a ‘disaster’, unsurprisingly), the reporter managed to capture congestion on the road while the Superhighway was empty, the result of a broken down lorry blocking one of the lanes.
A casual observer would probably come to the conclusion that the Superhighways are therefore a waste of space, ‘causing’ congestion on the road network, for little or no benefit.
But note that the footway here is also empty. Nobody was walking along this road at the time this footage was taken. Is that a problem? Does that mean that under-used footways on both sides of this road – and indeed alongside other congested roads – are ‘causing’ congestion? Should they be trimmed, or even removed altogether?
Only two footists on that footway! Crazy TfL building footways no footists are using – causing gridlock! Remove ‘em pic.twitter.com/CWBpT6pRv8
— Mark Treasure (@AsEasyAsRiding) November 26, 2015
Of course not – nobody thinks like this, because footways are an established part of highway design. Walking is a legitimate way of getting about towns and cities, and we don’t think twice about footways being provided for walking on both sides of the road, even if that is valuable space that could be used to ease congestion for motorists.
Parking of motor vehicles also takes up valuable space on main roads; space that again could ease congestion for motorists. If we look back in time to just last year, we can see that the exact same spot the BBC chose to film a ‘waste of space’ in the form of the new Superhighway, an awful lot of highway space is being ‘wasted’ in the form of on-carraigeway parking, on both sides of the road.
If cycleways ’cause’ congestion, then surely the same is true for the on-street parking in the picture above, which reduced this road to effectively just one lane for motor vehicles at this point.
But again, clogging up through roads with parking in this manner is ‘legitimate’; it’s completely ordinary and background, and nobody bats an eyelid or attributes causality, even when they are stuck in a queue right beside parked vehicles taking up valuable highway space.
If Embankment such a critical through road, why aren’t taxis complaining abt its use as empty all day coach park? pic.twitter.com/OqIcLgDOIe
— cyclistsinthecity (@citycyclists) December 5, 2015
Cycling, by contrast, isn’t ‘legitimate’. It’s not seen as an ordinary mode of transport for everyday people, and that’s why we are seeing these curious reactions to the repurposing of highway space. Unlike footways, bus lanes, and parking bays – all of which take away valuable road space that could be used for free flow for motorists – cycling isn’t taken seriously, even when these new, isolated pieces of infrastructure, that aren’t part of a coherent network of cycle routes, are shifting people more efficiently at peak times than a motor vehicle lane that takes up an equivalent amount of space.
This is also why the BBC Sunday Politics programme – which has never even glanced at the major difficulties people walking around London face on a day-to-day basis, managed to focus with a straight face on the difficulties the Superhighways present to pedestrians.
I doubt that one word has been spoken recently into a BBC camera about junctions in the city where there are no green signals for pedestrians; or junctions where there are no dropped kerbs; or pavements completely obstructed by parked motor vehicles; or awful pig-pen pedestrian fencing; or staggered crossings.
Yet as soon as some cycling infrastructure appears, suddenly previously absent concern for pedestrians materialises, with bus passengers apparently ‘stranded’ on bus stops, as a serious voiceover intones
While they have made the road better for cyclists, have Transport for London really just made it a worse place for pedestrians and people who want to use the bus?
This selective concern for pedestrian comfort again flows from legitimacy, and the established order. The established order has motor traffic flow at the top of the tree, with pedestrians waiting minutes just to cross the road, or corralled into zig-zag crossings, or prevented from crossing roads altogether. This passes without comment, because it is ordinary, and legitimate. We can’t imagine things any other way.
We have systematically – over a period of several decades – made roads and streets in our urban areas very very bad indeed for pedestrians. In that context, asking whether some new cycling infrastructure has made things a bit worse for them is an absurd distortion of priorities, a perspective that only really makes sense against a background assumption that cycling is an ‘illegitimate’ mode of transport in urban areas, that doesn’t deserve serious consideration.
These are problems of perception that will be hard to shift, and perhaps will only be shifted once this new infrastructure -incomplete as it is – itself establishes new patterns of behaviour. Until then it’s worth reminding ourselves that these ‘issues’ with cycling infrastructure really flow from starting assumptions about legitimate uses of road and street space.
I recently rediscovered this sensible Telegraph article about cycling safety from earlier this year. It contains (amongst some useful statistics and comments, particularly from Rachel Aldred) this little anecdote –
There was a hope that the sheer weight of cyclists on the roads would force both drivers and local authorities to create a safer environment. But this has not happened.
One who knows to his cost is John Whiteley, 71, who has been cycling seriously for 55 years – much of it in the dramatic hills surrounding his Halifax home.
John Whiteley, 71, near his Halifax home (Photo: Paul Macnamara/Guzelian)
On January 2 this year, a clear day, he was out with a friend for a pleasure ride on the B6118, a country road that runs around Huddersfield up to the Emley Moor television aerial. As usual, he was wearing his fluorescent orange vest.
“It was about midday. And this Volvo estate came up from behind and the corner of his car hit me.” The impact broke his leg, and he went flying into the grass verge, spraining his ankle into the bargain.
A high visibility jacket in this instance was obviously useless; it failed to deal with the basic problem of a driver who either wasn’t looking, or who failed to overtake with sufficient clearance, at midday, on a bright, clear day.
Likewise it is unlikely that painting yellow stripes on Dartmoor ponies, and cows in the Cotswolds, will make the slightest bit of difference to the rate at which these animals are being killed by drivers.
Bloody hell, this new Chris Morris' Jam is even more surreal than the old stuff. pic.twitter.com/6bPLm49ZCh
— JobRot (@job_rot) November 30, 2015
An earlier trial of reflective collars on cows in Gloucestershire apparently failed to stop road deaths; this has apparently prompted the shift to reflective paint, an idea that seems to have started in Finland, in an attempt to prevent reindeer deaths. 4,000 reindeer are killed every year on Finland’s roads.
A cursory search hasn’t revealed any news on whether these trials of reflective paint on Finnish reindeers have had any effect on the death rate. But that hasn’t stopped Volvo essentially borrowing this reflective paint and promoting it as a cycling safety product – ‘Life Paint’.
Life Paint is the brainchild of spin-doctors, not safety engineers.UK-based Grey London, Volvo’s global creative agency, spent a year developing the Life Paint idea. The paint comes from Swedish startup Albedo100. Prior to supplying its product to Volvo, Albedo100 made headlines by spraying its reflective product on Finnish reindeer, up to 4,000 of which reportedly die in traffic accidents ever year.
“Our job isn’t just to advertise our clients,” Grey London chairman Nils Leonard told Adweek regarding the Life Paint project. “It’s to help them make a positive impact on culture.”
Grey London—and its army of 30-plus people working on the campaign—moved the needle in a way that seat-belt technology and additional airbags don’t. Web stories ahead of free giveaways of a neat product help create real commotion and awareness about a serious, avoidable safety issue for cyclists: visibility.
There’s no evidence of effectiveness; Life Paint is explicitly a marketing gimmick that simultaneously allows Volvo to pretend it cares about ‘safety’ while simultaneously shifting the onus of responsibility onto the people that are being hit, and away from the people doing the hitting, all wrapped up in the issue of ‘visibility’.
What scientific evidence that does actually exist on the effectiveness of high-visibility clothing is mixed, patchy or non-existent. A 2006 Cochrane review found that, while it may improve driver detection during the day,
the effect of visibility aids on pedestrian and cyclist safety remains unknown… Whether visibility aids will make a worthwhile difference needs careful economic evaluation alongside research efforts to quantify their effect on pedestrian and cyclist safety.
In other words, it is not established whether simply being ‘more visible’ makes any difference to whether you actually end up being hit.
A recent literature review is more conclusive.
Wearing visible clothing or a helmet, or having more cycling experience did not reduce the risk of being involved in an accident. Better cyclist-driver awareness and more interaction between car driver and cyclists, and well maintained bicycle-specific infrastructure should improve bicycle safety.
Hi-visibility clothing seems like an obvious safety intervention, but there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that it makes a significant difference at the population level. With more and more people, animals and objects now apparently ripe targets for hi-visibility clothing or paint, this satirical article from 2007 comes ever closer to being reality.
Cyclists in Milton Keynes have reacted angrily to a decision by town planners to make buildings, trees, street furniture and the road itself much easier to see by painting them all luminous green.
… Cars, lorries and pedestrians will also be compelled to be repainted in high-visibility luminous yellow paint while cats, squirrels and urban foxes will also be made more visible, following a study that a number of accidents are caused by drivers swerving to avoid badly lit mammals that have strayed onto the highway.
But local cyclists are furious at the plan that has made them the same colour as their immediate surroundings. ‘We’ve all spent a fortune on these luminous jackets, trousers and cycle clips’ said local cyclist Mark Randle. ‘Suddenly our hi-visibility cycling gear has turned into the most effective camouflage available. Now we’re completely invisible.’
But a cycle shop in the town is cashing in on the crisis by advertising ‘normal clothes’ for cyclists to make them stand out.
Almost all of what passes for ‘cycling infrastructure’ in Britain has never generated a backlash, for one simple reason. It has never represented a direct challenge to the way our roads and streets are designed to prioritise motor traffic flow, without giving time or space to cycling in a way that might impinge on that prioritisation of motor traffic. That ‘infrastructure’ has never reallocated road space in any meaningful sense.
The cycle lane in the picture above did not generate any controversy when it was painted, because it gives up at the point when things get a bit difficult. A decision was made to allocate the fixed amount of carriageway space on the approach to the roundabout in the distance entirely to motor traffic – two queuing lanes – and so the ‘cycling infrastructure’ had to end. There was no backlash against this painted bicycle symbol, because it didn’t impinge on motoring in the way a protected cycleway, replacing one of those lanes of motor traffic, would.
In much the same way, the old painted lanes on Tavistock Place in London, captured in this photograph from Paul Gannon, generated no backlash – meaningless blobs of paint at the side of the road are not something anyone is going to excited about.
This contrasts starkly with the situation today. Camden Council have reduced the amount of space for motor traffic on this street to just one lane, allocating the rest of it to cycling. The two-way protected track on the north side of the street is now a one-way track, with the westbound motor traffic lane converted to a mandatory cycle lane. This has generated a furious backlash from taxi drivers, in particular.
In places where there is competing demand for the use of road space – in urban areas currently dominated by motor traffic flow – these kinds of decisions about what that space should be used for are inherently political. Reallocating road space, or re-directing motor traffic away from what we think should be access roads onto main roads, are effectively statements about what modes of transport we think people should be using for certain kinds of trips, and about what our roads and streets should be for.
David Arditti has astutely observed that in these places of competing demand, effective measures to enable cycling should be generating a backlash. If there is no backlash, then whatever it is you are doing is unlikely to make any significant difference. If you are designing a Quietway, for instance, and nobody is moaning about it – that probably means you aren’t doing anything to reduce motor traffic levels on the route so that it is genuinely ‘quiet’, or, alternatively, it means you are sending it on a circuitous and indirect route in order to avoid difficult decisions.
If you are designing a route on a main road and there is no backlash, again, something has probably gone wrong. You aren’t reallocating space and time at junctions; you aren’t moving parking bays where they get in the way of your infrastructure; you aren’t dealing with bus stops; you aren’t repurposing motor traffic lanes for cycle traffic.
London is experiencing a significant backlash against cycling infrastructure because, for the very first time, that cycling infrastructure is itself significant. It is a visible and clear statement that cycling should play a role in the transport mix of the city, rather than being completely ignored – it is a challenge to the status quo, rather than being an accommodation with it, in the form of shared use footways, or discontinuous painted lanes. Or (most often) nothing at all.
Of course this backlash is using all the tired, contradictory and even downright confused arguments about cycling infrastructure.
In London, LBC radio seems to have emerged as a mouthpiece for these kinds of arguments, getting particularly excited (for some reason) about the fact that some people aren’t using Superhighway 5.
One of their reporters, Theo Usherwood, stood by the road for half an hour on the bridge, apparently in an attempt to demonstrate that the new infrastructure is pointless because a majority of people cycling northbound aren’t using it.
This is not hard to explain. Heading north across Vauxhall Bridge from the western approach on the gyratory, you would have to bump up onto a shared use footway, then wait for a crossing to get across the road to enter the Superhighway –
… and then deal with a slightly confusing junction on the north side of the river to get back to the left hand side of the road, where you were originally, just a few hundred metres down the road.
Given that there is also a bus lane northbound on the bridge (which the LBC reporter himself mentions someone using), it’s not hard to explain why a good number of people are choosing not to add this inconvenience to their journey. If Usherwood had bothered to ask anyone why they were not using CS5, he would have found this out for himself. But instead he was happy to parrot his statistics in isolation, as they fit into a pre-constructed narrative about how apparently pointless cycling infrastructure is.
Really, the problem here is the discontinuous nature of the infrastructure. It’s only ‘pointless’ for some users because so little of it has been built, meaning that, from some directions, people have to go out their way, pointlessly crossing the road twice (to go to the other side, and back again) to use it for a few hundred metres. The people using the cycling infrastructure will have been arriving from the Oval direction; those not using it will have arrived from the south. It’s that simple.
Equally, if there was a northbound cycleway on the western side of the bridge, linking up with cycling infrastructure on Vauxhall gyratory (plans for which have just been announced today) then I guarantee everyone would be using it. Indeed, statistics for southbound use of the CS5 (which doesn’t add any inconvenience to journeys) would show that nearly everyone is using it. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Andrew Gilligan comes to, in reference to an earlier ‘count’ Usherwood made –
I personally counted 750 cyclists using the Vauxhall Bridge track, more than 12 a minute, a figure which appeared in our press release. That, by the way, as the press release also stated, is a nearly 30% rise on the figure crossing the bridge before the track opened.
Why do you think Mr Usherwood made no mention of this, or of his earlier visit to the superhighway? Why, I wonder, did he hang around for several hours, until “just after lunch,” and until it had started raining, to begin his count and do his report? Could it be because he was trying to make the facts fit a pre-cooked agenda that there are no cyclists using the facility?
Usherwood also demonstrated a troubling willingness to strip passages from the emergency services’ responses to the Superhighways to imply they are opposed to them, when in fact they support them.
I’ve just dug out the the responses of all three emergency services to the Cycle Superhighway. The London Ambulance Service says the narrowing of the road could affect their – and I’m quoting here – ‘time critical lifesaving journeys’.
The Metropolitan Police is even more scathing Nick. It lists 14 separate concerns with the North-South route linking Elephant & Castle to Kings Cross. It says it will impact on response times, starting – and again I’m quoting – ‘increased congestion will result in longer travelling times for MPS officers coming into central London which will have an operational impact at times of prolonged public order demand.’ And it says that when it comes to transporting VVIPs like members of the royal family, or for that matter high risk suspects that need an armed guard – think terrorists here – it will have to close the opposite carriageway so that there is an escape route at all times for the Metropolitan Police convoy.
Clear enough, you might think – the emergency services are plainly up in arms about these schemes.
Except that if you refer to the document from which Usherwood stripped these quotes, it turns out that the Metropolitan Police, far from being ‘scathing’, actually support the North-South and East-West Superhighways.
Likewise the London Fire Brigade (not mentioned by Usherwood) also support this both Superhighways, and the City of London Police. The London Ambulance Service make no comment either in support or opposition of the Superhighway schemes, only voicing concerns about how it might affect their response times. Against this, all four of London’s major trauma centres; hospitals; and the London Air Ambulance service, have all voiced strong support for the Superhighway schemes.
So, far from being ‘scathing’, London’s emergency services actually support the Superhighways – but a listener to LBC would have gained precisely the opposite impression.
Of course, this kind of response – however misleading and incoherent it might be – is actually a sign that Transport for London is building cycling infrastructure that is effective, and that matters. It is making a statement that highway space shouldn’t just be solely for the flow of motor traffic; that cycling can and should be accommodated, for sound strategic reasons, set out by the Mayor himself.
With London’s population growing by 10,000 a month, there are only two ways to keep traffic moving – build more roads, which is for the most part physically impossible, or encourage the use of vehicles, such as bikes, which better use the space on the roads we’ve already got.
London – and other British cities – are starting to build something that people feel the need to oppose. That means something. Bring on the backlash.
One of the most baffling aspects of British cycling policy is the contrast between the periodic clampdowns on ‘pavement cycling’ (and the intolerance to this kind of activity in general) and the way cycling is actually designed for by most councils across the country – namely, with shared use footways, and shared paths.
Footway cycling is simultaneously something that people hate, and that the police expend resources on dealing with, while at exactly the same time councils are putting cycling on footways, and lumping cycling with walking on new paths, bridges and underpasses.
To take just one example – there are undoubtedly many – Reading’s cycling strategy has this to say.
… we recognise that cyclists have varying abilities and needs. As a result, we will consider providing off-carriageway facilities by officially re-designating a footway to permit cycling when there is a high proportion of inexperienced cyclists and children to cater for, and the alternative is a busy traffic distributor route or to improve route continuity.
What this really amounts to is a lack of willingness to design cycle-specific facilities that would be suitable for any user, whatever their abilities and needs. Shared use footways are the lazy, tick-box option; roads and streets already have footways alongside them, so just punting cycling onto the footway is an easy way of dealing with the problem of hostile roads that are too hostile to cycle on for the majority of the population.
This, of course, puts cycling into conflict with walking – which is annoying for pedestrians, and for people cycling, whether it is legal, or not, and which of course provokes the periodic ‘clampdowns’ on those stretches of footway where cycling isn’t legal. Meanwhile telling the difference between footways that allow cycling, and that don’t, is often rather difficult – this case is a typical example.
If we’re allowing cycling on some footways, it is completely incoherent that it should be illegal on identical footways a few hundred metres away, or even on the same stretch of footway. The incoherence exists because the footway is a convenient place to put cycling if you can’t be bothered to do a proper job where it gets difficult; blobs of footway cycling on an overall network of footways where cycling isn’t allowed are a natural result of a policy building ‘cycle routes’ that take the path of least resistance, from point A to point B. Councils are against footway cycling; except when it’s a convenient way of dealing with a problem.
Cycling and walking are different modes of transport, and should be catered for separately. Indeed, as Brian Deegan of Transport for London has rightly said, we should be building ‘roads for bikes’ – an excellent way of capturing the broad design philosophy required.
When we drive around in motor vehicles, we don’t ever drive on footways (except to cross them to access private properties, or to cross in to minor side streets, in those rare places continuous footways exist). And precisely the same should be true for cycling. In the Netherlands you will never be cycling on a footway. You will cycling on roads for bikes, designed everywhere for this specific vehicular mode of transport.
Naturally where people are walking in significant numbers, a footway, separated from the cycleway in much the same way you would build a footway alongside a road – is provided. This limits conflict between these two modes of transport. People walking can travel at their own pace, not worrying about possibly coming into conflict with people travelling faster on bicycles.
Footways aren’t provided everywhere, of course. In places where very few people are walking – out in the countryside, for instance – it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to build them alongside a cycleway.
People can walk on this ‘road’ for cycles; the volumes of people walking are low enough that conflict will not be a problem. Indeed, there is guidance in the Dutch CROW manual that states explicitly when footways should be provided. Above around 160-200 pedestrians per hour, per metre of width – which would mean, for instance, a 3m bi-directional cycleway like this one should have a footway for pedestrians if there are more than eight pedestrians, per minute, crossing a hypothetical perpendicular line across the cycleway.
By analogy, this is the same kind of situation as on a country lane, where we don’t build footways for pedestrians, because there aren’t very many of them to justify it, nor is motor traffic fast enough, or large enough in volume, to do so. This situation above amounts to a 3m ‘country lane’, used only by people cycling and walking – albeit one alongside a road for motor traffic.
This is a crucial distinction; the Dutch don’t cycle on ‘shared use footways’, but instead on roads for bikes, that people can walk on, where there wasn’t a need for a footway. This means that junctions are designed for cycling, not for walking, avoiding these kinds of ambiguous bodges you encounter on shared use footways in Britain.
Lumping cycling in with walking ducks these crucial issues of cycle-specific design. It’s easy to put cycling on footways, but it presents significant design and safety problems at junctions, as well as storing up trouble for the future – shared use footways are not a place where large numbers of people cycling will mix easily with walking. They are a ‘solution’ (if they are even that) only for the current low-cycling status quo.
This issue extends beyond footways to paths, bridges, routes and tunnels. If we were starting from scratch, we wouldn’t combine walking and cycling on a busy 3-4m footway alongside a road – so it baffles me why we design the two modes together on brand new bridges and paths in areas that will have high footfall. The new shared bridge in Reading seems to me to be a recipe for conflict, especially if cycling levels increase.
‘Sharing’ in this kind of context makes cycling slow, and walking uncertain and less comfortable; precisely the same kind of difficulties we might expect on a shared use footway with equivalent numbers of pedestrians using it.
Problematically, some councils even see lumping walking and cycling together as a way of slowing cycling down. This effectively amounts to using pedestrians as mobile speed bumps, in much the same way people cycling are used as traffic calming on new road layouts with deliberately narrowed lanes, and it’s bad policy for much the same reasons. If you’re using humans to slow down other modes of transport, that means discomfort.
It’s far better for both modes to separate; to provide clear, dedicated space for walking and for cycling. That doesn’t mean dividing up inadequate space, of course, but providing adequate, separated, width for both parties. Two examples from Rotterdam, below – the first a small bridge on a path to a suburban hospital –
The second the main tunnel under the (enormous) Rotterdam Centraal train station.
In each case, conflict is removed – people walking can amble at their own pace, while people cycling have clear passage, travelling along with people moving at roughly the same speed as them.
Lumping cycling in with walking might be easy, and not require much thought, but it’s a bad solution for both modes of transport, and will become increasingly bad if cycling levels increase.
There is a set of traffic lights in Utrecht that must be amongst the most widely ignored in the city. They are located on Vredenburg, a new road layout right in the centre.
You can stand at this junction, and the people who stop at a red light will be in a definite minority.
Yet on the opposite side of the road – literally, only a few feet away – I managed to take this picture of about 60 people waiting patiently at a red light. The difference in behaviour could not be more stark.
What accounts for this difference? It can’t be the people – they are all residents in the same city, making the same journeys on this same road. People stopping at the red light when heading west along Vredenburg – as in the photograph above – will often cycle through the red light in the opposite direction when they make the return journey.
The most likely explanation is that the red signal people are ignoring doesn’t make a great deal of sense. The side street that is being crossed is a dead end; a place where taxis wait in the evening, and that is barely used during the day. People cycling along here know that the chance of a motor vehicle entering or exiting this area on the right is very small indeed.
Traffic signals are designed to manage interactions that wouldn’t work as well if they weren’t there; pedestrians crossing a busy road, for instance, or allowing two opposing streams of motor traffic to cross each other’s path when traffic volumes are too high for this to work informally at a normal ‘priority’ junction.
But the interactions at the junction in the video are rarely happening; no motor vehicles are coming in and out of the side road, and it just feels pointless to wait at this red signal.
The queue on the other side, however, does make sense. It does feel right to wait there, because you have to cross a relatively busy junction, with lots of buses coming in and out of it. I’m sure a small minority of people might take a chance and skip across when the signals are red, but the great majority won’t. And many will be crossing diagonally across the junction once the lights go green, which of course isn’t something that you would attempt to do when the signals are red. You are having to deal with multiple potential risks – the two lanes going in and out of the side road, and the two lanes on the main road, and pedestrians crossing the road. It’s much better to wait for the green.
So what I am driving at here is that compliance with traffic signals largely flows from whether they make sense or not. Signals that can be seen to be easily ignored without risk will be ignored by a larger proportion of people than those waiting at signals where the lights are obviously serving some useful purpose – where the traffic lights are actually on your side.
This is something that was touched upon in BicycleDutch’s latest post on technology that might potentially help people cycling to arrive at green signal more often. Mark quotes the city’s alderman for traffic and the environment –
“Utrecht is growing and we try to let the growth happen within the boundaries of the current city. That means it gets busier. It is a challenge for the traffic light guys… to guide all road users safely through the intersection in a time that also makes them a bit happy, at least happy enough to keep obeying these lights.”
Here an explicit link is made between compliance and the way traffic signals work. ‘Happiness’ means not keeping people waiting; if people find that a particular junction has a ridiculously long wait for the next green, then they will get restless, and be more likely to chance a red, especially if there are minimal risks involved in doing so.
We can see this connection between happiness and compliance at another junction in Utrecht, a much bigger one. As I arrive at the junction, people are already waiting to cross. After the lights have been red for at least 90 seconds, a man on a scooter jumps the signals. Everyone else waits.
After the lights have been red for over two minutes, the man on the scooter (who had been obeying the red light, all this time) also jumps the lights, while a woman cycling does so from the opposite direction.
After the lights have been red over three minutes, a woman cycling also gives up, and jumps the red light.
The full video is below; I’ve kept it in real time so you can see how frustrating it is to be waiting for so long. I could almost feel the annoyance and incomprehension rising around me; people looking at each other, people pushing the button repeatedly, and others just giving up and using common sense to cross in the gaps of traffic.
People who were law-abiding (nobody just blasted through the red signals without waiting) were converted into law breakers, simply because they felt the traffic signals no longer made sense, and in the absence of those traffic signals making sense, the balance shifted in favour of their own judgement. Precisely the same is true of the (much smaller) junction in the video at the start of the post; the traffic signals don’t make sense, so people exercise their own judgement.
And we can apply these lessons to Britain. The main reason traffic signals are perceived to be obeyed by drivers of motor vehicles is because they make sense. They work in your favour, stopping flows of large vehicles that you would otherwise have to negotiate your way through.
Traffic lights are all out on A30 Great South-West Road at A312 The Parkway. pic.twitter.com/aoyBPgg87s
— TfL Traffic News (@TfLTrafficNews) April 21, 2015
And of course (as I’ve observed before) it’s actually quite hard to jump lights in a motor vehicle. More often than not, you will stuck in a queue, surrounded by other motor vehicles – you couldn’t jump the lights even if you wanted to. And of course trying to sneak through the junction when lights have been red for some time (I’m not talking about ‘amber gambling’, or even ‘red gambling’, which I would argue is endemic) carries big risks, if you are in a large, bulky vehicle.
People cycling engage in a form of jumping that you rarely see drivers engaging in; creeping into the junction, looking around, seeing if it is clear, and progressing carefully across in stages.
It’s quite obvious why drivers don’t engage in this kind of behaviour, and again, it’s not because of number plates (because, again, that fails to explain why they’re jumping lights in vast numbers already). It’s because it’s risky to get yourself into the middle of a junction in a big bulky object, leaving yourself nowhere to retreat to, if things go wrong. You’re going to end up causing an obstruction.
It really doesn’t make sense to jump lights in this way when you are in a car, unless there’s a genuine emergency. You will get stuck, or come to grief. But on a bicycle it will often make a great deal of sense to jump a light, even if it is illegal, because your mode of transport is small, and flexible, you are more connected with your surroundings, and you can bail out a of problematic situation quite easily.
So the kind of red light jumping by people cycling in Britain actually takes the form of ‘red light jumping’ that is accommodated, both through design and law, in the Netherlands. Going ahead across a T-junction, where you won’t come into conflict with motor traffic, for instance. Or Just turning left, around the corner.
These are the kinds of manoeuvres that it doesn’t make sense to stop people cycling from performing, and so the Dutch design for it. We shouldn’t be surprised that these are the kinds of things people cycling do in Britain, regardless of law, just like we shouldn’t be surprised when people jump lights in Utrecht.
The difference is that the Dutch appear to recognise human behaviour, and adapt junctions in accordance with it, to minimise law breaking. The response to my second video would be to realise that there is something clearly wrong with the signals. The waits are so long that law-breaking is occurring.
In other words, law-breaking represents a failure of design, not of human behaviour. Sadly, I don’t think this is true in Britain, where law-breaking by people cycling is bizarrely seen as some innate condition of being a ‘cyclist’, rather than as a symptom of road system that very often doesn’t make sense to those who happen to be behind handlebars, instead of behind a steering wheel.
‘Sharing the road’ sounds like an unobjectionable and friendly concept – what’s so bad about sharing? But in practice, the message is ambiguous and unhelpful, and might actually stand in the way of genuine improvements to our roads and streets.
A large part of the problem is captured by this Bikeyface drawing.
People cycling see the ‘sharing’ message as a way of getting drivers to be nice to them; to be patient and to overtake properly. Meanwhile drivers – by complete contrast – interpret the message through the prism of people cycling ‘hogging’ the road, and not letting them past. For them, ‘sharing’ means being accommodating and getting out of the way of motor traffic.
Just another day cycling in London (from a friend of mine). How many times a day does this happen and go unreported? pic.twitter.com/S4nOkRp3Rl
— The Alternative DfT (@AlternativeDfT) August 10, 2015
This interpretation isn’t perhaps all that surprising, given the history of the ‘share the road’ message. The motor lobby promoted ‘share the road’ in what amounts to an early form of ‘smoothing the flow’ of motor traffic.
Through 1940, the five million claimed members of the Share the Road Club “are on the war path” against “heedless drivers and pedestrians” who “are a hazard – yes!” “Shell Research has discovered,” this 1940 version of the ad breathlessly proclaims, “that they take a lot out of the joy of motoring — add plenty to its cost — by causing 35% of Stop-and-Go driving!”
Of course, a commenter on the blog (justifiably) observes that
as far as i can tell the meaning of the phrase hasn’t changed….
In that ‘share the road’ today means ‘don’t take more than what I consider to be your fair share of it’ – effectively, a polite version of ‘get out of my way’.
‘Share the road’ also lives on in official road safety campaign messages in Britain –
Here ‘share the road’ manifests itself as insipid guff about how it would be nice if everyone could just get along and not lose their tempers, with the added implication of equal responsibility between people who pose very little risk, and those who pose a great deal of risk.
Our driver and cyclist tips and Share the Road adverts are also helping to give people the information they need to stay safe… By working together, we can make London’s roads safer for everyone.
This logic is made explicit by Brighton and Hove’s woeful Share the Road, Share the Responsibility campaign. Hey – if we’re asking people to share the road, we might as well pretend they share responsibility, right?
As Bez of Beyond the Kerb has astutely observed (with regard to Northern Ireland’s similarly woeful ‘share the road’ messaging) –
… “share the road” campaigns always fall into the same trap: the belief that if you’re sending a set of messages to one set of road users, you have to send an equivalent set of messages to another.
This campaign clearly implies that the journeys – made by the combination of the person and the vehicle – are equivalent, and thus by extension it implies that person-plus-car and person-plus-bicycle are equivalent. They are not. And this is, once more, the crucial failing. The authors of the messages wilfully blind themselves to the fundamental inequality of danger due to people’s choice of kinetic energy and base the whole campaign not on danger, but on diplomacy.
So, in the case of Brighton and Hove’s campaign, the set of messages sent to drivers have to be ‘balanced’ with another set of messages sent to people cycling. The end result is a campaign that tells people using a mode of transport that poses little risk to other users not to listen to music because it impairs hearing, while simultaneously having nothing to say about music reducing hearing for the users of modes of transport that pose much greater risk to others.
It’s almost as if ‘Don’t use headphones’ has been plucked out as a message in an attempt to balance out the ‘don’t squash pedestrians under your car’ message that has to be sent to drivers.
But perhaps what’s most problematic about ‘share the road’ isn’t the mixed message it sends out, or the way it gets misinterpreted and misused in road safety campaigns. It’s the low ambition of the message itself; that space for cycling can’t be provided, and that the only way cycling can be catered for on roads is by ‘sharing’, as an allegedly equal partner with motor traffic.
People don’t want to share roads with motor traffic. They want their own space, where they can cycle in comfort and safety; an environment where that comfort and safety isn’t conditional on the willingness (or otherwise) of motorists to ‘share’ with them.
‘Sharing’ really doesn’t work because fundamentally motor vehicles and cycles are very different modes of transport, with different requirements. This is why ‘share the road’ messages are doomed to failure; not because of any latent unwillingness, uncooperativeness, or hostility on the part of people driving or cycling, but because these two modes of transport don’t fit together at all well, something captured brilliantly by the Alternative Department for Transport’s series of photoshopped images. Cycling only seems to go well with driving because the cycling demographic has been eroded to a point where the only people ‘sharing’ are those who are able to attempt to cycle like motor vehicles.
In the absence of footways alongside roads, a ‘share the road’ message aimed at pedestrians and drivers would be hopelessly ineffective. Why should we expect any different outcomes for cycling and driving?
A fairly self-explanatory post, this one. Bus lanes are not cycling ndeednfrastructure.
There are lots of reasons why they shouldn’t be, which we’ll come to, but it might be worthwhile looking first at how we’ve ended up thinking that they are cycling infrastructure.
The main reason seems to be, in no particular order;
They’re better than nothing. Better than not being allowed in bus lanes at all, which is (bizarrely) the case in Crawley –
Better than cycling in general traffic lanes – rather than having to deal with buses, taxis and general traffic, you ‘only’ have to deal with buses and taxis.
And better than crap cycling infrastructure (for those people confident enough to cycle in bus lanes). This is indeed the position taken in LTN 2/08, Cycling Infrastructure Design –
Bus lanes form an important part of cycle route networks. They are often placed on primary transport routes, providing cyclists with direct routes to town centres and other important destinations. Bus lanes are generally popular with cyclists (Reid and Guthrie, 2004). They are often preferred over offroad facilities as a result of the advantage of remaining in the carriageway and therefore having priority at side roads (Pedler and Davies, 2000). Cyclists in bus lanes are able to avoid queues, and they value the separation from general traffic that these lanes afford
As Joe Dunckley has written about this passage
This is the guidance for providing for bicycles and it can not even imagine a world in which bicycles might have priority over turning vehicles… The authors of LTN 2/08 can’t imagine that world — can’t imagine that there could be any alternative to our might makes right of way world.
Bus lanes are only ‘an important part of cycle networks’ if you have very low horizons; that you can’t imagine any kind of ‘provision’ for cycling beyond a choice between crap off-road provision, general traffic lanes, and bus lanes.
It turns out – if you read the Reid and Guthrie report quoted in the passage in LTN 2/08 – that bus lanes are only ‘popular with cyclists’ because they’re less crap than the alternative of… ‘no bus lanes’.
The principle finding was that cycling in bus lanes was very popular with cyclists, compared with cycling in the typical traffic conditions of the area. [my emphasis]
This is a very weak basis for claiming that bus lanes are actually ‘popular’ – by analogy, it would be like suggesting swimming across a fast-flowing river is ‘popular’, because it’s less unpleasant than swimming across a fast-flowing river with crocodiles in it.
Indeed, this report – which attempts to make the case for cycling in bus lanes – actually reveals some rather fundamental problems with putting cycling in bus lanes –
On the negative side, bus drivers and cyclists appeared to have a generally low opinion of each other and it is recommended that efforts be made to address their mutual concerns. This may be achieved by reducing the opportunity for conflict, which appeared to be directly related to the narrowness of the bus lane, and by educating both classes of users as to each others’ needs.
Cycling in bus lanes creates antagonism, which is unsurprising given the different needs and requirements of these two modes of transport. Note that the only solutions proposed for reducing this antagonism are education, and widening the bus lane.
Buses are not usually as fast as other motorised traffic, although at times, they exceed what cyclists might consider to be a desirable speed.
Again, this is the ‘desirable speed’ in the opinion of cyclists, not the general public. A bus travelling at 20-30mph isn’t at all ‘desirable’ for the people who aren’t already willing to cycle with motor traffic.
cyclists feel more threatened by buses than they do by cars, probably because of their greater size… The acceptable passing distance for overtaking buses on the highway is, therefore, likely to be larger than the acceptable distance of overtaking cars.
The report considers that an in-lane overtake by a bus, within a 4.2m wide bus lane, ‘might be considered safe by 100%’ of cyclists, based on 1970s research about acceptable passing distances. Again, digging out that research reveals that this is based on a sample of just 25 cyclists, ‘most representative of the national cycling population’ – i.e. drawn from people already cycling on the roads in 1978, who were likely to have a much lower threshold of ‘acceptability’ in overtaking compared to people not cycling.
So the research and recommendations examined here are based around the preferences and value judgements of existing cyclists – not of the people who aren’t cycling at all, but might like to – and also framed around the relative benefits of cycling in bus lanes compared to general traffic lanes, not compared to the benefits of cycling in dedicated cycleways, separated from both buses and general traffic.
The report also reveals some fairly obvious problems with bus lanes – namely, bus stops.
Most negative comments focused on problems at the bus stops, e.g. ‘bus stops in cycle lanes are dangerous for cyclists’, ‘They’re fine except for buses pulling into stops’ and ‘Dodgy at bus stops’. Other negative comments included, ‘They’re very unsafe as buses are inconsiderate and don’t heed cyclists’, ‘They are dangerous – a contest between cyclist and bus driver’.
Other revealing comments from users include the need for some form of separation of cycles from buses, for instance by means of a cycle lane –
Other comments included, ‘Saves buses and cyclists time, stops leapfrogging’… ‘Not logistically possible, would need to go round bus stops’ [not possible?] … ‘Need a kerb between buses and bikes’, ‘Wouldn’t feel under pressure to go faster if buses were behind’ … ‘I don’t like holding buses up, don’t like feeling buses behind me.’
And to be fair, the report does take this feedback on board, but only by suggesting bus lanes should be wide, and that advisory cycle lanes ‘should’ be provided inside 4m+ bus lanes, and that ‘more research is necessary into the optimum methods of resolving conflicts and delay to cyclists at bus stops’.
Overall, this is a very weak basis for trumpeting the benefits of bus lanes for cycling, and indeed for suggesting that they are an ‘important part of cycle route networks’, as LTN 2/08 goes on to do. This claim is only really justified on the basis of the alternatives being even more dismal; the research used actually shows that buses and cycling sharing the same space does not work well, at all, for either party.
This isn’t just about cycling; if we’re interested in greatly increasing cycling levels, and broadening the cycle demographic beyond the existing ‘traffic tolerant’ group, then that’s going to create serious problems for bus journeys. Putting young children and the elderly in bus lanes just means that buses will be trundling at very slow speeds.
Of course, even if we do theoretically manage to achieve this level of cycling in bus lanes, more generally putting large numbers of people cycling in them just won’t work. Buses would be swamped with people cycling swarming around them; journeys by bus would be painfully slow.
This is one of the main reasons cycling is not accommodated in bus lanes in the Netherlands. Buses are treated almost as more of a light rail mode of transport, with stops less close together, along high speed direct bus corridors, free from things that might slow the buses down.
And of course the other substantive reason why cycling is separated from bus lanes is safety. Buses are large, heavy objects that travel faster than people cycling, and have the potential to seriously injure, or kill. Sustainable Safety demands that these two modes of transport should be separated as much as is possible.
With all this in mind, it’s pretty disappointing that the message doesn’t seem to be coming across clearly and simply in UK cycle campaigning. Hearteningly, the London Cycling Campaign has adopted policy – described here by Rachel Aldred – making it fairly explicit that bus lanes are not cycling infrastructure.
Bus lanes are not ‘protected space’ so, regardless of their presence, we use our normal assessment of when protected space is needed. This threshold is over 20mph speeds or over 2000 Passenger Car Units, PCUs – for total two-way motor traffic flow, in all lanes. According to TfL a standard (non-bendy) bus is 2 Passenger Car Units.
… Too often decision-makers assume zero-sum trade-offs between sustainable modes. But separating buses and cycles at network or street level may provide benefits for both, such as time benefits. We believe decision-makers should consider wider benefits of providing well for cycling, such as better public realm, improved health, and increased mode choice.
And some of this clarity has started to filter through to road designs in London. The higher standard Superhighways now being in the capital do not (for the most part) lump cycling in with buses, but provide protected space for cycling, separated from general motor traffic and from bus flows.
But it seems that there is some unfortunate inertia in other areas of cycle campaigning. Sustrans’ recent Bike Life survey had this unhelpful graph included within it.
Not only are ‘bus lanes’ (along with shared pavements) described as ‘measures to encourage cycling’, but it is possible to draw the mistaken implication from this graph that 61% of people who do not ride bikes (but would like to) would be happy or willing to cycle in bus lanes. This isn’t the case; 61% of this group have merely said that bus lanes might help them start cycling, which is quite a vague statement.
And unfortunately the CTC aren’t particularly clear on bus lanes either. This December 2014 Cycling and Local Transport briefing is useful, but is unhelpfully woolly on whether bus lanes are acceptable –
On both residential streets and rural lanes, low traffic speeds should preferably be achieved through quality design, to make the street or lane feel like it is primarily for people not motor vehicles. Cruder forms of traffic calming, such as road humps and narrowings can be unpleasant and unsafe for cyclists. On busier urban roads, some form of dedicated space for cyclists should be provided. Alternatively, this may include use of decent width bus lanes or on carriageway cycle lanes, preferably with coloured surfacing. It may also include cycle lanes created from carriageway space involving physical segregation both from motor vehicles and pedestrians, where the relevant highway authority has the will to do this to a high standard. Where there is insufficient space for this, the aim must be to reduce traffic volumes and/or speeds, so that cyclists can share the road safely with the other traffic using it. [my emphasis]
Bus lanes might be okay for ‘cyclists’ – they’re marginally better than the alternative of cycling in general traffic lanes, and I must admit I do feel a slight easing of tension once one appears, knowing that I have slightly less to deal with.
But they’re not acceptable if we’re designing for all ages and abilities. Nor is putting cycling and buses in the same space acceptable for bus passengers, in the long term. There needs to be clarity that these are two very different kinds of transport, and that while fudging them together might be acceptable in the absence of any other alternatives, bus lanes are most definitely not cycling infrastructure, nor should they form any part of a serious modern cycle network.