The National Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT) is a powerful planning tool which shows existing commuting cycling trips (based on mapping the 2011 census), and then uses that data to illustrate where the main cycle flows are, or should be, and therefore where cycling infrastructure should be prioritised.
Importantly, it doesn’t just cover existing cycling flows; it can be updated to show what (commuter) cycling levels would be like if we had the same propensity to cycle as Dutch people (adjusted for hilliness), and where people would choose to cycle, based on directness.
The purpose of the route allocation is to see on which routes the most provision might be necessary as cycling grows rather than to show where people currently cycle. We recognise that many people currently choose longer routes to avoid busy roads. But for cycling to reach its potential safe direct routes are needed. The Route Network layer is therefore intended to show where (on which routes) investment is most needed rather than where people currently cycle.
I’ve been playing around with it over the last few days, based on the town of Horsham, and the results are quite instructive. Based on the census results, cycling to work levels are currently a fairly miserable 3% of all trips to work in the town centre.
I say ‘miserable’ because the town is flat and compact – only around 3 miles across, and with all trips (even from some surrounding villages) less than 2 miles from the centre.
Despite this favourable geography, the town (population around 60,000) is dominated by car commuting – between 40 and 50% of trips to work are driven.
The Propensity to Cycle Tool is great because it allows us to visualise alternative scenarios, and how to prioritise designing for them. We can plot the cycling trips currently being made from area to area (in the 2011 census) as straight lines.
Then (and here’s the clever bit) we can see how those trips would be made by the most direct routes, mapped onto the road network.
The levels of cycling can then be changed by shifting from the 2011 census to either the (unambitious) government target of doubling cycling levels, ‘gender equality’, ‘Go Dutch’, or ‘Ebikes’.
What is really interesting (but unsurprising) is that the routes being taken don’t change as the levels of cycling increase, as you can see from the ‘Go Dutch’ scenario shown above. It’s unsurprising, of course, because people will still choose the direct routes, regardless of whether they happen to be part of a small number of cycling commuters, or part of a town with mass cycling. Why would they change to less direct routes?
The great thing about this tool is that it shows exactly where interventions should be prioritised. I can see clearly from the map above that two of the most important routes (at least for commuting) in Horsham are the two roads north of the town centre – North Parade, and North Street.
It just so happens that these are two roads where there is plenty of space to incorporate high-quality cycling infrastructure, with only the loss of some grass, and central hatching – and the existing, poor, cycle lanes.
So if, for instance, we were looking to prioritise where to invest in cycling infrastructure for the most benefit (rather than just looking to do tokenistic improvements ) these two roads would be among the main priorities. The PCT tool even allows you to click on the roads in question, to bring up helpful information. For instance, ‘Going Dutch’ would mean taking nearly 200 car commuters off this particular road.
If it wasn’t already clear, main roads are quite obviously where interventions are required, and where they will be most useful. They are main roads for a reason; they tend to form the most direct routes, and they also connect between the places people are coming from, and going to. The Propensity to Cycle Tool isn’t really showing the equivalent of back street, or ‘Quietway’, routes. The cycle flows are all on the major roads, or on the distributor roads that connect up residential streets.
What will make this tool really powerful is when it is released in ‘Version 2’ next year, because it will incorporate other journeys, not just commuting – because obviously only a minority of the trips we make are actually trips to and from work.
Version 2 will go beyond commuting data to incorporate other trip purposes, including education trips at route and area level and other non-commuting trips at area level.
Apparently commuting flows are actually a good approximation for travel flows in general, but incorporating trips for education, leisure and shopping will make the case for cycling even more powerful.
I was in Leicester last week and (briefly) managed to look again at some of the cycling infrastructure the city has been building recently. There is an impressive-looking cycleway, complete with bus stop bypass, on Welford Road.
Like other new cycling infrastructure in the city, it has been built with distinctive, Dutch-style red asphalt, making it obvious that this isn’t part of the footway, and something that’s different from the road. The kerbs have also been designed well – low-level, and forgiving, meaning they can be ridden over without crashing, and also that the full width of the cycleway can be used, while retaining a height distinction from the footway, and the road.
This is something London hasn’t quite got right. The cycleways in London are of the same colour tarmac as the road, which has led to a number of incidents (presumably, mostly innocent) in which drivers have ended up using the cycleway, instead of the road. The kerbs alongside the new superhighways are also problematic, particularly on the section along the Embankment.
The height difference between the footway and the cycleway along here means that the effective width of the cycleway is reduced. At the narrower points of the superhighway here – around 3m wide – the usable width is reduced down to about 2.5m, which is pretty narrow for a two-way path, especially one that is only going to get a lot busier.
But unfortunately Leicester somehow manages to convert their beautiful cycleways, with their lovely kerbs, into a horrible mess at the junctions. Here is an exit-only side road from a residential street, that few drivers will be using.
That red tarmac comes to an end, merging into a shared use footway across an expanse of tactile paving, with no priority for walking or cycling across a minor side street. Not comfortable to cycle across; confusion and conflict with people walking, and loss of priority, and momentum.
I noticed that the same kind of problem appears at signalised junctions. Again, the answer in Leicester seems to be ‘give up’, and treat people cycling like pedestrians.
The red asphalt comes to an end, you merge onto a shared use footway, and cross the road on a toucan crossing.
It seems a little unfair to criticise Leicester here, because they are doing an awful lot more than most towns and cities across Britain, reallocating road space to build cycleways, and making a genuine effort to start prioritising cycling. But these kinds of junction designs just aren’t good enough.
Meanwhile London – while it might not be getting the designs of the cycleway kerbs and surfacing right – is doing precisely the right kind of thing at junctions, keeping cycling distinct from walking, and ensuring that cycling has clear priority.
Here an exit-only residential side street – very similar to Leicester – is treated in a very different way. There is no tactile, no giving up, no merging of walking and cycling. Both footway and cycleway continue clearly across the side road.
Nor is there any merging of walking and cycling together at signalised junctions. The two modes are designed for separately.
So London is getting some things exactly right, and other things a bit wrong, while Leicester is getting some things exactly right, and other things a bit wrong.
I suspect a large of the difference here probably flows from the starting premise. London is quite explicitly building roads for cycling, something that is obviously carriageway, designed and built like you would build roads for motor traffic. That’s good for junction design, less good for details like kerbs. Meanwhile Leicester appears to be building what amount to enhanced footways; cycling accommodated on the pavement, but in a well-designed and visually-distinct way. Until, that is, you encounter a junction, where that cycleway reveals its true colours as a bit of footway.
Two different approaches, both with mixed success, succeeding and failing in different ways. Really, London should just carry on doing what it is doing, but making sure that the cycleways are built slightly better, with higher quality kerbs, while Leicester should look to London to see how to design junctions. Combined, the two cities might actually be producing the genuinely excellent cycling infrastructure you see in cities like Utrecht.
So the question for Britain is whether this is really a sensible way to proceed. If two of the leading cycling cities in Britain – two places showing willingness to change their roads, and to experiment – are still managing to get things wrong, but in different ways, doesn’t that suggest a desperate need for some of kind of national pooling of design experience and expertise, so that both cities are arriving at the best possible outcomes, and – perhaps even more importantly, towns and cities across the country can get things right straight away, without making the same kinds of mistakes as the leading cities?
It’s admirable what Leicester and London are doing, but – particularly in the case of Leicester – a lot of what they’re doing simply isn’t up to standard. They’re fumbling towards the light, and if willing authorities are still struggling, the outlook for places with little or no interest or expertise in designing for cycling is desperately bleak.
It really doesn’t have to be this way. We know what works. We know the best ways to build cycling infrastructure, because we’re now actually getting it right in Britain, even if we’re not getting absolutely everything right in the same place. So rather than leaving local authorities to stumble upon it – and probably get a good deal of it wrong, even if they’re trying their best – why on earth are we not putting all the good stuff in one place? In some kind of easy-to-use manual, showing local authorities the absolute best ways to deal with side roads; to deal with signalised junctions; to build kerbs; and so on. All of the kinds of things that local authorities across the country are having to find out for themselves, in a ridiculous duplication of effort, with poor and wasteful outcomes.
‘Localism’ should really mean giving local authorities the freedom to build high quality cycling infrastructure, drawn from design elements included in Department for Transport-endorsed standards. It certainly should not mean leaving local authorities to work it all out for themselves, one-by-one. Because that’s just idiotic.
A few recent examples of dreadful cycling infrastructure design in Britain all seem to have something in common. They’ve been built in ways that we would never design a road for motor vehicles.
We wouldn’t build a road for motor vehicles that had trees seemingly at random in the middle of it.
The Hackney Cycle Superhighway Forest. Cyclist seems to be trying to work out what to do https://t.co/iRBxU54Xot
— Mark Treasure (@AsEasyAsRiding) April 4, 2016
No, we would build a road with trees… at the side. Because a road with trees in the middle of it isn’t very convenient, or safe. Nor would we install advertising display boards in the middle of a road.
— Matt Turner (@MattTurnerSheff) May 13, 2016
We wouldn’t put zig-zag barriers across a road where it meets another road; zig-zag barriers that drivers have to slalom through before they join the main road.
No – the road would just join the other road normally, and we would trust drivers to use their eyes and follow the markings on the road.
Let’s say a road has to cross another road, on a bridge. Would we put zig-zag barriers on the ramp of the bridge, to slow drivers down because, frankly, you didn’t design the bridge to be driven across at a reasonable speed?
No – we’d built the road smooth and straight, without barriers, and with an appropriate design speed. Because zig-zag barriers are inconvenient, annoying, and actually impossible to get through for some users.
When a road crosses a side road, we don’t expect drivers to cross some tactile paving, entering an ambiguous ‘shared’ area with pedestrians, that loses priority at the junction.
— Katy Holliday (@KatyHolliday) March 31, 2016
No – we design the road so that it crosses the side road with clear priority, because it’s a main road.
When a road has to change direction, would we build it with sharp, angled corners?
Why is so much cycling infra designed with ridiculously sharp angles? I see this in pics from many different places. https://t.co/r1lvYvtUMm
— The Alternative DfT (@AlternativeDfT) February 27, 2016
No – where roads have to go around corners, or have to change direction, they do so in smooth curves. Because vehicles make turns in curves.
Would we ever expect drivers to get out of their cars and walk along a pavement for a bit, because we couldn’t be bothered to create an actual joined-up route from A to B?
How does Bikeminded recommend you cycle down Kensington High Street then? It, er, says you should dismount! pic.twitter.com/yZCyplZNZS
— Alex Ingram (@nuttyxander) October 14, 2013
Would we ever build a road, or a motor vehicle lane, that simply came to an END?
No, that would be ridiculous. We don’t expect drivers to simply give up; we build lanes that go somewhere, that don’t just come to an abrupt halt.
Would we ever ban driving completely on a road if a small minority of drivers behaved in an antisocial way? Of course, we’re quite happy to do this with cycling, on the basis that inconvenience is something that ‘cyclists’ should naturally expect to put up with.
Would we cram driving and walking into the same space, either on busy routes, or through junctions?
No – we don’t build ‘shared use’ routes, or ‘Toucan crossings’ for motoring and walking, because that would be inconvenient for driving. We give motoring its own clearly distinct space, with footways for pedestrians, and separate crossings.
In all these examples, the basic design principles we would employ when designing for motoring are jettisoned. Cycling is something that can be bodged in with walking when things get too difficult, something that can be abandoned, obstructed, banned, in a way that we never contemplate with motoring.
When it comes to designing for cycling, a basic rule for discerning whether you are doing a good job is to simply ask whether you would design for motoring like that. If you wouldn’t, then what you are building is almost certainly not fit for purpose.
There’s a very good piece by David Aaronovitch in the Times (£) on how the Hillsborough disaster shouldn’t be seen purely as a result of police incompetence and negligence, but instead as the product of wider institutional failure and prejudice.
Aaronovitch identifies three contributory factors and one aggravating one’ – the three contributory factors being crumbing infrastructure and the absence of what is now called ‘health and safety’ culture; the violent sub-culture that had emerged amongst British football fans; and, finally, prejudice against football fans in general. Here’s Aaronovitch on that prejudice –
By 1989 the English football fan was pronounced, as a breed, to be scum. A presumption of guilt was made by politicians, authorities, press and by many ordinary people. So fans — all fans — became, by default, a disliked and even pathologised group. Consequently their comfort, their conditions, their civil liberties even, were regarded as moot. They could be herded, coerced, smacked about a bit sometimes, and anything could be believed about them. And then, when the bodies came to be identified, it was discovered that they were just people after all. Dads, daughters, lovers, sons.
Perhaps I’m too prone to reading a particular kind of parallel into everything I read, but this is, of course, highly reminiscent of the way ‘cyclists’ are presented in everyday British discourse – a ‘disliked and even pathologised group’ (check); subject to presumptions of guilt (check); their comfort and conditions regarded as moot (check); anything could be believed about them (check); and of course the appalling realisation that the victims weren’t ‘cyclists’ after all, but ordinary human beings.
Department for Transport research has captured these attitudes amongst the general public –
… a stereotype of cyclists in general does appear to exist among [other road users]. This stereotype is characterised by:
• serious failures of attitude, including a generalised disregard for the law and a more speciﬁc lack of concern for the needs of other drivers; and
• serious failures of competence and knowledge of the rules of the road.
This stereotype of cyclists is also linked to the fact that cyclists do not need to undertake training, are unlicensed and uninsured, and do not pay road taxes (at least not by virtue of the fact that they cycle).
Lawbreaking; scrounging; ‘they’ all dress the same and act the same; ‘they’ are self-righteous, and look down at you; and so on. I’m sure don’t need to run through all the clichés and stereotypes, the ones that are so prevalent cycle campaigners have wisely chosen to avoid even using the word ‘cyclist’ because of the negative connotations it carries. These attitudes and opinions are then used to legitimise claims that ‘cyclists’ don’t deserve any kind of ‘special treatment’ – i.e. cycling infrastructure – that would reduce risk of serious injury or death. The comfort and conditions of ‘cyclists’ regarded as moot.
The most recent (and typically appalling) example of this kind of stigmatisation appeared this week on the BBC, when Janet Street Porter was given a free rein to spew a stream of stereotypes. We are told that
cyclists breeze through the city with little regard for anyone else
why should cyclists get preferential treatment? What about the very young, the elderly, and the disabled?
The clear assumption here being that ‘cyclists’ aren’t like ordinary people; rather, a subset of society who stand in opposition to the most vulnerable.
Riding a bike is subject to few rules, and many London cyclists can’t even stick to those.
‘A pathologised group’. (Of course, this is in the same week that the CEO of Ryanair has said that people cycling should be taken out and shot.)
This kind of rhetoric poisons the well of public discourse to such an extent that it is contributing to lethal outcomes, just in the way the demonising of football fans as ‘hooligans’ partially contributed to disasters like Hillsborough. Just as ‘hooligans’ don’t deserve to be treated properly, with due concern for the safety, so ‘cyclists’ don’t deserve to be insulated from danger. To take only one example, witness a charming commenter who has ‘no sympathy’ for a 70 year old man left for dead, apparently because ‘they’ (and it’s always ‘they’) ‘get a kick’ riding far out from the edge. Of course.
Naturally, the sources of danger presented to ‘cyclists’ and ‘hooligans’ are very different, but the logic is identical. Just as ‘hooligans’ could be pushed around, squeezed through narrow gates, crammed onto the terraces, so ‘cyclists’ should get on the pavement, get on the road, get out of ‘our’ way, and frankly just disappear. Why on earth should ‘they’ get their own space?
And when the bodies appear, it turns out the people who are killed aren’t ‘hooligans’, or ‘cyclists’, but fathers, sons, mothers, daughters.
Just people. Not ‘hooligans’.
Someone cycling. Not a ‘cyclist’.
But attempts to stop ‘cyclists’ from being injured or killed collide, time and again, with the pervasive stereotype that ‘they’ are lawbreakers, that ‘they’ are dangerous, that designs to keep ‘them’ safe will be at the expense of ‘us’. Take the absurdity of an NHS trust – an NHS trust – launching a petition against cycling infrastructure on Westminster Bridge, apparently on the basis of a belief that ‘cyclists’ will pose a risk to the safety ‘vulnerable road users’.
The safety of ‘cyclists’ themselves plainly isn’t a consideration here; as far as Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust is concerned, anyone cycling, young or old, disabled or able-bodied, will just have to lump it on the road, because a failure to provide bus stop bypasses on Westminster bridge means people cycling mixing with heavy motor traffic. People cycling like this gentleman –
Or this lady –
Or this couple.
Concern for the safety and comfort of ordinary people is jettisoned as soon as they start cycling, because they’ve become ‘cyclists’, a pathologised group, pathologised in precisely the same way ordinary football fans became ‘hooligans’.
It’s deeply, deeply damaging, and it needs to stop.
There was an extraordinary report on cycling safety on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning (2:49:00 onwards). I say ‘extraordinary’, because it failed to focus on any sensible solutions to the problem, and instead devoted the bulk of the report to the rantings of an HGV driver – therefore, ‘extraordinary’, from an objective perspective. But sadly not that extraordinary at all in the context of the British media’s engagement with this serious issue, which all too often plumps for a wholly inappropriate adversarial take on it, pitting user groups against one another in a transparent attempt to identify blame on side or the other.
From the outset, it was clear the focus was on antagonism, rather than on solutions that are mutually beneficial. Highlighting the proportion of HGVs involved in cycling fatalities in his introduction, Humphrys said
‘Is it time to clamp down on trucks using the capital? Or, do the drivers get a raw deal?’
Or, could it be that we have a crappy road system that pushes HGVs and people cycling into the same space, which, when combined with the poor visibility that many of these vehicles have, is a recipe for collisions which will inevitably be very serious indeed? Is this not a terrible state of affairs for both the drivers of HGVs, and for people cycling? And one best addressed not by attempting to blame individuals, but by attempting to fix the system?
That’s the sort of reporting and investigation you should expect from the BBC’s flagship news programme. That is to say, looking at the problem in a serious way, and examining how to fix it – and talking to the people who are actually coming up with solutions right now.
— Joe Dunckley (@steinsky) April 20, 2016
This is the kind of thing that Transport for London are doing, on the streets of central London, where the BBC is actually located. They are re-building roads and junctions to eliminate conflict between HGVs and people cycling altogether. There’s simply no excuse for not engaging with this – not in 2016.
But instead of that engagement, we got a lazy, simplistic, one-sided and antagonistic report, from Sima Kotecha, about ‘them’ and ‘us’, one that blamed victims, that failed to recognise that even if people make mistakes (and that includes HGV drivers) the outcome shouldn’t be death or serious injury, and that failed to critically examine any kind of solution whatsoever. Here we go.
Kotecha: In London, Mayoral candidates are fighting it out for City Hall. But on the roads, there’s another daily battle. Between lorry drivers, and cyclists.
Oh dear lord, in the second sentence, we’ve already descended to ‘battle’ and ‘war’ language. This isn’t a conflict, certainly not one that anyone wants to engage in.
Driver: He’s being a complete idiot though, isn’t he. Look. He’s just sitting here. It’s just ridiculous. What am I supposed to do mate? I can’t move this 36 foot truck around. It’s a lot easier for you to move that, isn’t it.
Kotecha: Chris Parsonage has been driving lorries and buses around the capital for more than twenty years. Today he’s delivering malt to a brewery in south London, in a truck 8 feet wide, and 11 feet tall. A couple of cyclists whizz past.
Driver: The worst ones are like this guy here, the professional cyclists. They’re the ones that have got to go as fast as they can. A tiny little vehicle like that, and they’re doing 30 mile an hour. They’ve only got to hit one little pothole, and then they’re gone. You can see here in the mirror, he could easily just go, but he’s just being a complete idiot.
Kotecha: Nine cyclists died on London’s roads last year, seven of which involved lorries. All trucks in the capital now have to be fitted with sideguards to protect cyclists from being dragged under their wheels.
Yay, sideguards. How many of the HGVs involved in those fatal collisions already had sideguards? None? All of them? Hooray for investigative reporting!
Kotecha: Several large mirrors must also be installed to give the driver a better view of cyclists and pedestrians.
Are these mirrors stopping fatalities and serious injuries from occurring? How many trucks are entering London without them? Again, no answers. Just a factoid, thrown out there, stripped of any context.
Kotecha: The Road Haulage Association argues there must be penalties for cyclists who ride irresponsibly, and don’t use cycle lanes. Chris Parsonage says, for that to happen, every bike needs to have a registration plate.
Strangely no calls for registration plates for the people on foot who are also being killed and seriously injured in large numbers in HGV collisions in the capital. But at least we get a mention of cycle lanes, albeit from the antagonistic perspective of the haulage lobby.
Driver: Yes, I think they should all have some form of visible identification on them, so when they do jump these lights, and when they do cause accidents, then they can be called in to, err, answer their own questions, rather than just ride off, and never seen again.
Kotecha: Speaking to cyclists, they say that lorry drivers are getting worse.
That’s it! Go on, poke the lorry driver. Stir the pot of antagonism.
Driver: No, I think that’s ridiculous, like, the emphasis is always put on the lorry driver all the time, and, no, you’ve been with me now for a couple of hours, and you’ll see some absolutely ridiculous things that cyclists do. But they’re never held responsible for it, because they just cycle off to wherever they’re going, and nothing can ever be done about it.
Result! ‘I heard cyclists say that you smell’. ‘No way! They smell much worse!’. Public service broadcasting, at its best.
Kotecha: The main mayoral candidates say if they’re elected, they’ll ban lorries from driving in London during rush hour. London Cycling Campaign, which is calling for better conditions for cyclists, says all lorries should have panoramic visibility, so they have no blind spots. It says installing special cameras and kit in all HGVs would be a significant step forward.
Do we get to speak to these campaigners? No, instead we’re going to talk to ‘a cyclist’ who is apparently more than happy to continue engaging in the ‘war’ and antagonism narrative of the report.
Cyclist: It feels as if it’s like a battle for a lot of cyclists.
… Oh good grief…
Cyclist: I understand it in one sense, but I don’t understand the response by battling back, with traffic.
What? How does this work? How does someone on a bike ‘battle back’ against an HGV?
Kotecha: Derren is cycling to work. Helmet, and hi-viz jacket on.
Evidently it’s important to establish to the radio audience that Derren is ‘a good cyclist’ and that therefore his opinions are worth listening to.
Cyclist: I’ve been knocked off a couple of times. But that’s in twenty years of cycling.
Kotecha: What would you say to those lorry drivers who say that you manoeuvre in and out, that you cut across them when they’re turning, so they can’t see you in their blindspot?
I’d say that sounds like a structural problem that can only be resolved by designing the roads in a better way to separate HGVs and people cycling. But I don’t think that’s the kind of response Kotecha is angling for.
Cyclist: It’s really unfortunate we all get painted with the same brush. A lot of us are responsible cyclists. You know, I’m a driver as well, so I know how difficult it is to see cyclists.
By implication, the way to stop deaths and serious injuries is more ‘personal responsibility’ from scofflaw cyclists.
Kotecha: The blame game between the two sides goes on.
Ah, my favourite! Blame game! Which side are you on? Trucks or cyclists? Who will win? Boo! Cheer!
Kotecha: But as lives continue to be lost, and more cyclists hit the roads, attracted by green issues and fitness…
‘Green issues and fitness’. A great insight into the level of engagement there.
Kotecha: … pressure mounts on the Mayoral candidates to make a difference in one of the world’s busiest cities. Here’s Chris Parsonage again.
Driver: If every cyclist was an angel and stuck to the Highway Code, and stuck to their cycle lanes, everything would be perfect, wouldn’t it. But we don’t live in a perfect world.
A charming note to finish on – if only cyclists behaved, everything would be fine, but ‘they’ don’t, so the carnage will continue.
Guess what. It’s entirely unrealistic to expect everyone to be ‘angels’. We’re humans, and we’re fallible – we’ll all make mistakes, and a sizeable minority of us will be dicks, serial lawbreakers, whether we’re on a bike, or behind the wheel of a car or an HGV.
That’s why it’s frankly pointless (as well as utterly tedious) to attempt to apportion blame on one user group or another, because we’re all people. The solution to danger on the streets isn’t some stupid ‘blame game’, trying to find out who is most responsible for the problem, but structural, a top-down approach to the way roads and streets are designed and used, that separates people from danger as much as is possible, and ensures danger is minimised where encounters do have to occur.
That’s the kind of reporting that a public service broadcaster should be engaging in, not the kind of inane drivel the Today programme audience was subjected to this morning. It can and it must do better.
The biggest barrier to cycling uptake is the physical environment. Survey after survey, study after study, shows that it is road danger – and in particular, the unwillingness to share roads with motor traffic – that prevents people from cycling. When that barrier is addressed – even on a temporary basis in the form of events like Skyrides – cycling suddenly materialises, thrives and flourishes, quite naturally.
By contrast, we should be deeply sceptical of claims that the way individuals behave or dress while cycling has any bearing on cycling uptake. That behaviour, the way people dress, and the way the current cycling demographic is skewed towards men and away from the young and the elderly, isn’t the problem, merely a symptom of the actual problem. Or as Beztweets puts it, ‘a product of the true barriers to participation, not a barrier itself‘. Sure, opponents might like to score what they think are easy points about lycra, about middle class men on bikes, about bad behaviour, and so on, but these aren’t barriers to cycling for ordinary people. The demographic we are after won’t even identify as ‘cyclists’ when they happen to use a bike for sort trips.
In any case, it’s futile to attempt to address these alleged barriers while road conditions essentially guarantee this kind of skewing, both demographic, and in clothing and behaviour. And you can’t win. Forgo ‘safety equipment’ to appear normal, and you are branded as irresponsible. Wear ‘safety equipment’ like hi-viz and helmets, and you are branded as a weirdo. The kind of cycling behaviour that’s normal in countries with high-quality cycling environments – the kind that’s alleged to change hearts and minds here – is just as easy fodder for haters as things that are conventionally moaned about, like lycra. Wearing dark clothes (also known as ‘ordinary clothes’), no helmets, no hi viz, cycling with young children, wearing headphones – just mark them on on your bingo card, alongside ‘Spandex Taliban’.
Even if – by some miracle – we could get everyone who rides a bike to behave perfectly, at all times (and that would be a genuine miracle, because people who ride bikes are human beings, and human beings are idiots) that’s still not going to make a difference, because the haters will just move on to something else. Flagging up ‘behaviour’ is simply the easiest deflection tactic to hand.
All that said, however, I do think there is a genuine marketing problem with cycling in Britain. The way cycling is represented in visualisations of road and street changes; the kinds of bikes that are sold in shops; the way it is associated with sport and exercise; the way it is presented as a hobby; the emphasis on personal responsibility as a response to hostile roads and streets; the way ‘safety equipment’ is pushed onto people – all things that are relatively easy to change, and that could make a big difference to public perception.
One of the biggest indicators that this is a serious problem is the prevalence of what I would call the ‘not everyone can cycle, cycling isn’t practical’ canard. This is the argument that cycling won’t work for ‘ordinary’ people – people who don’t want to get sweaty or wear special equipment, or ‘rubber knickers’; people who have to cycle with children; people with disabilities; people who are elderly; people who have to carry shopping, or a briefcase, or any kind of load; and so on, ad infinitum.
Nobody would make any of these kinds of arguments about walking.
These are absurd claims, and yet they are routinely made about cycling, and measures to enable cycling. Why is this? Because walking is an easy, everyday mode of transport (at least, relatively easy) that people don’t think twice about engaging in. Cycling, by contrast, appears to be complicated, strange, difficult, sporty. People who make these claims about the impracticality of cycling simply aren’t aware that cycling could work them, and that’s a failure of explanation, a failure of message, and a failure of marketing.
Of course, as I stated at the start of this piece, the main reason for this problem of perception is a road environment that limits cycling to a subset of the population, and limits people to buying faster bikes, and wearing athletic clothing, in an attempt to adapt to the conditions. Cycling very often is complicated, difficult and unpleasant, thanks to the way roads and streets are designed. But at the same time we are getting straightforward, easy things wrong, and actually reinforcing those image problems.
We need to reframe cycling as enhanced walking, or (to use a phrase others have coined already) Wheeled Pedestrianism. In other words, it’s pretty much the same as walking, but just an extension of it, a version of walking that allows you to go further, to go faster, to overcome disabilities, to carry loads, and frankly, to have more fun.
It’s straightforward and easy – you can do exactly the same things you would do if you were walking, just with the advantage of wheels.
I suspect the general public has no idea that cycling could actually be this easy; that it involves nothing more complicated than walking, once you have the right cycle. If roads and streets are designed well, as they are starting to be in London, it’s a tremendously easy, enjoyable and painless way to cover relatively large distances, distances that would be a chore (or even unthinkable) to cover on foot. It’s just about making life easier, not about virtue, or healthiness, or exercise.
Just rode from Parliament Sq to Broadway Market in 35 mins on a very very heavy old post bike. New CSH helped. No delays. Stunning evening.
— James Holloway (@JamesNonchalant) April 19, 2016
Just cycled with a work colleague to a meeting in Berkeley Sq from City. In 11 minutes. Also dodging a goose. pic.twitter.com/SBbaXHJg6x
— cyclistsinthecity (@citycyclists) March 29, 2016
This message about the essential straightforwardness and utility of cycling is not getting through to the general public. As this blog observes, perhaps the best cycling advert in recent years still manages to make cycling look niche, and a bit odd, a specialist activity that looks like hard work, requiring equipment, exertion and effort.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the car industry that manage to make bicycle adverts with the same kind of selling power as, well, car adverts.
Cycling shown as a fun, easy and painless way to get around. What’s not to like? The United States is managing to do a good job too, selling bicycles with quite overt nods to the weird image of cycling that most ordinary people are subject to.
Or take a look at this (slightly wacky) Japanese video marketing a bicycle specifically for use while wearing a kimono –
It captures the essence of transport cycling; travelling around as if you were walking, but at a faster speed. No hassle, no equipment, just the enjoyment of travelling around.
We also don’t sell bicycles that enable this kind of cycling, the kind that looks like walking – robust, everyday, upright bicycles, maintenance-free ones with mudguards and chain guards that keep your clothes neat and tidy, with built-in carrying capacity, and practical features like integrated dynamo lighting and wheel locks that make it incredibly easy to transition from walking to cycling, and back again. I regularly see this kind of thing –
And it’s so needless. The bicycle actually becomes a hindrance because it’s not practical, and yet bike shops are still full of bicycles that – like this one – simply aren’t suitable for everyday transport cycling. I appreciate that the market for practical bicycles might be tougher – they will of necessity be more expensive than your bog-standard mountain bike or hybrid – but markets can be created (that’s what advertising is for) and for these bikes to even be sold in the first place they have to be visible to the public, and that so often isn’t the case.
The way roads and streets are designed remains the primary barrier to cycling. No matter how well cycling is marketed, no matter how convincing a case we make for its essential usefulness and practicality, and how it’s just a different form of walking, people simply won’t do it if it involves struggling with a hostile environment that looks and feels (and almost certainly is) dangerous. But there are simple things we can get right, particularly the way cycling is presented and framed as a mode of transport. This certainly isn’t about asking individuals to dress differently, or to cycle differently – I think that’s fundamentally illiberal, as well as pointless. Instead it’s about the message sent out by people with power and responsibility, and by people with an audience. It’s starting to change – to take just one example, I think councils are doing a better job when int comes to visualisations, including ordinary people cycling, rather than ‘cyclists’ – but there’s an awful lot more that can be done.
Last month I was kindly escorted along Quietway 1 by Sustrans, to take a look at the route – which was still under construction in a number of places at the time.
The route runs from Waterloo to Greenwich, and is reasonably direct – although not as direct as the main roads in this area, particularly the Old Kent Road.
Quietway 1 is talked about as being one of the better examples of the Quietway programme, which has come in for a fair bit of stick, even from TfL’s Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan –
Quietways should have been quicker and easier than Superhighways and junctions to build. They are on much lower-traffic roads and involve far fewer significant physical interventions. But they have been slower and more difficult.
By next month, we will have delivered four segregated Superhighways on some of the busiest roads in London. But on the Quietways, despite more than three years’ work, no route will be complete by the time the Mayor leaves office. This is partly due to flaws in the way the programme is run and partly to differences between some boroughs and TfL/City Hall over quality.
Quietways are supposed to be direct routes running on low-traffic back streets. They are meant to include filtering (bollards or other blockages) to reduce motor vehicle rat-running where necessary; full segregation wherever a route has to use a busy main road; and safe, direct crossings where the route has to cross a busy junction, road or gyratory. This is not always happening.
Some Quietway routes (in build and proposed) represent a step-change in quality from the old London Cycle Network. But most, so far, do not.
It was an interesting experience. I’d say in terms of length, the route is about 80-90% there in terms of quality, and is one of those Quietways that Gilligan might be identifying as a ‘step change’ from the old London Cycle Network (although, notably, Quietway 1 seems to make use of some existing LCN routing). The connections are mostly good, and cycling from Waterloo to Greenwich was a placid and enjoyable experience for the most part. But it’s the remaining 10-20% that presents the problem – particularly, a handful of streets that haven’t been ‘filtered’, and where motor traffic levels are just too high for comfortable sharing of the carriageway, and also a number of junctions where careful thought is needed about how to improve the cycling experience.
Most of those streets with the high traffic levels appeared to me to be at the Waterloo end of the route. Great Suffolk Street – below – had some traffic calming that obviously wasn’t doing anything to discourage people driving through, in numbers.
It was either on this street, or a similarly busy one nearby, that we were honked at by a driver for having the temerity to cycle side by side, preventing him from overtaking. That’s not the sort of thing that should be happening on a genuine cycle route. Traffic levels just shouldn’t be this high; if they’re nice and low, side-by-side cycling is easy because drivers will be able to overtake easily too. These streets just didn’t feel like somewhere I’d be happy cycling with my partner; too much traffic, too many drivers hurrying somewhere else.
Crossing the A3 (Borough High Street), you find yourself on a street that has been filtered, and that made an immediate difference to the quality of the cycling environment. Unfortunately, while the filtering is good, the filter itself definitely isn’t, an absurd double zig-zag that was easier to bypass on the footway.
This really isn’t good enough for a quality cycling route. I have no idea why it’s still here, but evidently residents’ opinions have won out over the might of Transport for London and Southwark.
From this barrier the route jinks left onto Globe Street, which was also already filtered, but has been ‘prettified’ as part of the Quietway scheme with some paving and a central median.
It seems churlish to complain, but the new design has narrowed the usable cycling space on what was already a street that was a dead-end to motor traffic – and you could also argue that there are better uses for hard-won cycling money than paving.
The crossing of the A2 (again, already a filter in place) has been tidied up, with some angled islands that make it easier to cycle into the side roads from the main road.
You’re then onto Tabard Street, which has a curious treatment – a (contraflow) cycleway southbound (which we used) but nothing northbound, with some humps in the road.
This really was a very quiet street, at least at the time we were cycling here, so perhaps a better treatment would have been some filtering, without any need for the cycleway. Tabard Street runs directly parallel to the A2, and seems to be very quiet already, so restrictions on through traffic, while allowing two-way cycling, would have been more appropriate. There wouldn’t be any need for humps, either.
The next part of the Quietway was the best part – a series of quiet residential streets, all filtered, and all connected up with good paths.
This was an area with large amount of car parking, both on- and off-street (and presumably relatively high car use) but the streets felt safe and comfortable to cycle on.
It was a good illustration for me of how car parking doesn’t need to impact on cycle provision if the streets are filtered properly, and vice versa – car parking and car use can go hand in hand with these kinds of measures that make residential streets pleasant to cycle on.
From here we joined a new path that runs around the Millwall football ground, which was really good – well built, smooth and wide. Unfortunately, however, this will be closed on home match days (basically, to separate home and away football fans from each other) and the ‘diversion’ route seemed pretty sketchy.
This is an area with what seemed like a high percentage of HGV movements on the main roads – there are industrial units, recycling centres, and a large incinerator. Plenty of tipper trucks thundering around, and dustcarts from several London boroughs. Along one of these roads – Surrey Canal Road – we were well-separated from the carriageway on a shared path (absolutely fine, not many pedestrians here), but the junction and minor side road treatments really aren’t good enough. They’re dangerously ambiguous, especially given the type of vehicles using them (and the way they’re being driven).
There’s a crossing of a busy roundabout where it is explicit you have to give way (I think that’s correct, again, given the volume and nature of the motor traffic here), but it would really help if there was an island in the middle to simplify the crossing.
It’s too much to look in several directions at once trying to gauge when you can cross both lanes on an arm of a busy roundabout – doing one lane at a time would make things a lot easier.
At the time we cycled the route, nothing had been done at the fairly horrible junction of Surrey Canal Road and Trundleys Road. The cycle route has to get across these roads with motor traffic coming from multiple directions, to enter a park. It will be interesting to see how this problematic junction is resolved.
From this park (Folkestone Gardens), there’s another attractive cut through under the railway line to Childers Street.
But Childers Street itself – a residential street – felt like another of those roads near the Waterloo end of Quietway 1 that seemed to have people driving through, and too many of them for a comfortable cycling experience.
The other part of Quietway 1 that deserves comment is the strange crossing of Tower Bridge Road.
This is, frankly, a bit of a bodge, involving shared use footway, and people cycling being forbidden from turning right (or left, depending on which direction they are coming from) onto Tower Bridge Road from the Quietway route.
The reason for this bodging is, essentially, that the cycle crossing and the pedestrian crossing right next to it run at the same time, but are ‘separate’. You’re not allowed to cycle across a pedestrian crossing when pedestrians have a green, so that’s why the turns are banned. Meanwhile, the shared use is to get people onto the cycle crossing, which has to run ‘separate’ from Webb Street, which still has motor vehicle entry permitted.
It got me thinking about how the Dutch might resolve this kind of problem. I thought about it for a while, and realised that basically the Dutch wouldn’t get themselves into this kind of problem in the first place. They wouldn’t be trying to join up a ‘cycle route’ across a main road where the side streets don’t line up. The side streets would just be ordinary, residential side streets, and there wouldn’t be a need for a dedicated cycle crossing, because this wouldn’t be ‘a route’. People would be cycling along the parallel and much more direct main roads just to the south and the north, the A2, and the A2206, if they want to go anywhere.
So this fudge on Tower Bridge Street is actually a useful illustration of some of the fundamental problems with routing cycling along back streets in an attempt to avoid main roads. Back streets will encounter major roads, and it will often be very difficult to square the circle when a major cycle route on a minor road meets major road. The problems with implementation of Quietways might actually point to a bigger problem with the concept as a whole. A better role for this kind of programme might be to focus on addressing individual problems, or missing connections, that have been executed well on Quietway 1 – small paths between estates, tunnels under railway lines, paths around football stadiums, and so on – rather than on trying to join these connections up into a ‘route’. It might be called ‘Missing Connections’, instead of ‘Quietways’, for instance. (Or something more catchy).
The overall structure of a cycle network would then be a separate programme, consisting of developing cycling infrastructure on main roads, alongside a strategy of reducing motor traffic to acceptable levels on residential streets. Some of these streets will then organically form parts of sensible (but not ‘official’) routes that develop spontaneously. It’s something to reflect on, certainly, when we look at the differing levels of success (and ease of implementation) of the ‘Superhighways’ and ‘Quietways’ programme to date.
A couple of months ago I wrote about the difficulties that have been created for cycling in London by the unhelpful use of ‘Superhighway’ and ‘Quietway’ terminology. That post looked at how the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling gave the impression that ‘Superhighways’ were places for fast cycling – confident, lycra-clad men speeding along main roads – while ‘Quietways’ were places for people who wanted a slower and calmer cycling experience. This passage, in particular, was especially unhelpful –
There will be greatly-improved fast routes on busy roads for cyclists in a hurry. And there will be direct, continuous, quieter routes on side streets for new cyclists, cautious cyclists and all sorts of other people who would rather take it more slowly.
The language of ‘Superhighways’ and ‘Quietways’, I wrote,
is actually leading to worrying problems of understanding (or, more cynically, wilful misinterpretation for political expediency), particularly by prominent members of the Conservative party in London, all describing Superhighways as some kind of Mad Max-style environment where testosterone-fuelled men in lycra go to lock handlebars with one another.
And it seems problems with ‘Superhighway’ language have surfaced again, this time with the RNIB (the Royal National Institute of Blind People), who staged a protest on Friday calling for the north-south ‘Superhighway’ to be routed away from their headquarters on Judd Street in Camden.
Fazilet Hadi, director of engagement at RNIB, said: “Hundreds of people with sight loss come to RNIB each week as staff, volunteers and visitors.
“We are extremely concerned that the dramatic increase in the number of cyclists, combined with the removal of the pelican crossing, will put many blind and partially sighted people at risk of injury.”
The problem here is that, even if the ‘Superhighway’ gets routed somewhere else, Judd Street will still remain a desirable road to cycle on, even more so if the changes that Camden are proposing – independently of TfL – go ahead, both to the northern end of Judd Street, and to Midland Road, which lies directly across Euston Road from Judd Street. Let’s briefly look at those changes.
The desired proposal is to completely close the junction of Judd Street with Euston Road to motor traffic, leaving a small cycle-only access road in and out of the junction.
This will be a huge change, given that this junction (looking north from Judd Street) currently looks like this.
Judd Street itself will be converted into a much more pleasant environment, with substantially lower levels of motor traffic. That’s better for all the users of the street, whether they have visual impairment or not. So this change should happen, independently of where a ‘Superhighway’ ends up going.
And across the junction, Midland Road, which is currently a fast one-way road that broadens out to four lanes at the junction with Euston Road, will be narrowed, with cycling infrastructure added in the form of stepped tracks on either side of the road.
Again, this is something that should happen, regardless of where a ‘Superhighway’ ends up going. It would represent a substantial improvement for pedestrians and people cycling on this road, as well as simplifying the junction for people driving.
If these changes go ahead – and they should, regardless of how you feel about cycling – then plenty of people will still want to cycle on Judd Street, even if it isn’t a ‘Superhighway’. Judd Street itself will be a much more pleasant cycling environment, and it will connect up Bloomsbury with the roads north of Euston Road, thanks to the improvements to Midland Road that will allow cycling northbound.
In short, the RNIB’s protest about ‘routing’ is a bit of a pointless one, because it doesn’t matter where the ‘Superhighway’ goes. It could be sent down streets 500m to the east, or 500m to the west, but whatever route is chosen for it, that won’t have any effect on the numbers of people cycling using Judd Street, because what matters are the changes Camden are proposing to make their streets and roads more attractive, not an arbitrary ‘Superhighway’ designation. The RNIB seem to think that shifting the ‘Superhighway’ onto a different street will stop people cycling on Judd Street, but that simply isn’t going to happen when Camden are proposing changes that will make a huge difference to the quality of Judd Street and Midland Road, a much bigger difference than where Transport for London draw a squiggly blue line on a map.
What I am driving at here (in case it isn’t obvious) is that the ‘Superhighway’ label is pretty irrelevant. What should be happening to roads and streets in London are the kinds of changes that Camden are proposing, and they should be happening to every single road and street, not just to a handful of routes drawn on a map. The future for London – and towns and cities across the country – has to be a dense network for cycling, composed of protected cycleways on main roads, and access roads without any visible cycling infrastructure, but with low levels of motor traffic, kept low through the use of interventions like bollards, one-way flow, and so on. The entire city should be a cycling network, a network that will inevitably include the headquarters of organisations like the RNIB.
So the RNIB have a fairly stark choice. They can either argue for maintaining the motor-centric status quo, keeping roads like Judd Street and Midland Road places where only a small number of people will be willing to cycle, in dense, fast flows of motor traffic. To be clear, this would involve actually opposing the proposals to close Judd Street to motor traffic at the northern end, and to improve Midland Road, regardless of where a ‘Superhighway’ eventually goes. It’s regressive, but it would at least keep cycling levels on Judd Street relatively low. (I note, in passing, that it hasn’t actually been specified by the RNIB exactly what amount of cycling on Judd Street, in terms of numbers per day, they might be happy with).
Or, alternatively, they can support the changes that Camden are proposing, and wider proposals to improve conditions for walking and cycling, on all streets, everywhere. Forget about the ‘Superhighway’ term, because it is misleading, one that I suspect will start to disappear completely as the density of routes in central London increases. (Hopefully). Cycling isn’t going to go away, and the best policy has to be one of constructive engagement, rather than a vain hope that it can somehow be routed away or even prevented on roads and streets that people want to use, whether they are on foot, a mobility scooter, wheelchair or cycle.
As odd as it may seem to British people, surveys of Dutch citizens that ask them why they choose to cycle for the trips they make very rarely find them mentioning ‘cycling infrastructure’ as a reason for doing so – be it in the form of protected cycleways, or filtered permeability that keeps levels of motor traffic low on streets that are shared.
Take, for instance, this 2006 Netherlands transport ministry survey which examined (amongst other things) the reasons people cycle instead of drive for short trips under 7.5km (about 4.5 miles). It found that the most common reasons for doing so were (in order of importance) –
[The full table is near the start of the document, but it is in Dutch].
All these reasons, but no mention, at all, of protected cycleways, or of infrastructure in general. Does this mean that cycling infrastructure isn’t a factor in whether or not Dutch people might choose to cycle?
It’s highly unlikely. The reason Dutch people don’t mention cycleways (or low traffic streets, or the other basic components of high-quality cycling infrastructure) when they come to describe why they choose to cycle is in reality because cycling infrastructure is almost entirely invisible to Dutch people. Not literally invisible, but so mundane and ordinary they don’t even notice it. It’s just a part of the street, like drains, or lampposts, or bus shelters.
If that doesn’t sound convincing, imagine an equivalent survey that asked British people why they might walk instead of drive for trips of under a mile. I can think of several possible reasons that might be given –
And so on. (You might think of other reasons). But very few British people will say they walk instead of driving ‘because there are pavements’. It would just sound… weird, even nonsensical. Pavements are there – we take them for granted, because they are just a basic, ordinary, mundane component of British streets. If you walk to the shops, of course you are going to use a pavement, so why even mention that as a reason?
Of course, if pavements were taken away, and British people had to walk in streams of motor traffic, they would suddenly seem quite important. But we take them for granted, in precisely the same way that Dutch people take their cycleways for granted. That’s why Dutch people don’t mention cycling infrastructure when they are asked why they cycle, and why British people don’t mention ‘walking infrastructure’ when they are asked why they walk, even if that infrastructure is a fundamental component that explains why they are actually able to walk or cycle in the first place.
Like cycle infrastructure, the presence of the Earth’s crust is pretty much ubiquitous in Amsterdam. Surprisingly, none of the survey respondents identified the presence of a crust above the Earth’s mantle as a factor when asked why they like cycling in Amsterdam. The logical inference is that the importance of the presence of the Earth’s crust to cyclists is overestimated.
Either that or, as a ubiquitous presence, the Earth’s crust is something which Amsterdam’s residents take for granted, and thus neglected to mention the Earth’s crust when asked why they like cycling in Amsterdam. A bit like the infrastructure really.
Nobody notices the earth’s crust when they’re travelling around, but (it’s safe to say) it is pretty important, in much the same way breathing oxygen is pretty important when it comes to staying alive, even if other more obvious things kill people.
Your average Dutch citizen really isn’t the best person to ask about the importance of cycling infrastructure, simply because they don’t appreciate it, for the reasons set out above. This isn’t meant as a criticism – it’s not a personal failing – simply an attempt to understand their point of view. I’ve spoken to Dutch people in Utrecht, and – as the conversation turned to why I was visiting (good cycling conditions) – their explanations for high cycling levels were completely different to mine, the kind of explanations we hear in Britain from the uninformed about why the Dutch cycle. ‘It’s flat’ (Dutch people will obviously appreciate flatness when they are cycling); ‘Our cities and towns are small, and close together’ (maybe so, but not of any great relevance); ‘it’s our culture’ (maybe, but let’s see how long that culture would last in British road conditions); and so on. Similar reasons British people might give to, say, a perplexed American from a town without any footways, who had never seen so many people walking before.
I’ve been reminded of this failure of understanding by a couple of recent articles about cycling in London, one late last year (by a Dutchman), and one this week (by a Dane). Both betray a certain blindness to the importance of cycling infrastructure in their own countries, in a very similar way. Take the first article, by Henk Bouwman, a director of the Academy of Urbanism.
… the strategy of going Dutch [in London] seems strongly focussed on creating a safe infrastructure by separating cyclists from cars through segregated cycle paths. However, what we have learned in the Netherlands is that safety is by and large a result of behaviour, not infrastructure. Dutch car drivers are also cyclists so they know how to anticipate a cyclist’s behaviour.
If cycling infrastructure is ubiquitous, mundane and ordinary to you, because you have grown up with it, and it has surrounded you your entire life, of course you are going to underestimate its importance, and even go so far as to say that nebulous ‘behaviour’ is even more important at keeping people safe. This kind of comment is simply boggling to someone who has experienced cycling in a variety of street contexts in both Britain and the Netherlands, and is seeing both with ‘British’ eyes. What keeps me safe when I am cycling in the Netherlands is not ‘behaviour’, but a thorough and systematic approach to design that minimises interactions between people driving and cycling, and ensures that where they do unavoidably have to occur there is clarity about who should be doing what and as little risk to either party as possible.
… most importantly, work needs to be done to encourage a behavioural shift amongst cyclists themselves to become more aware of other people on and around the road. Speeding men in Lycra still represent the majority and encouraging them through the roll out of cycle super highways only exasperates the challenge to transform cycling from a sport to transport. This shift in behavioural attitudes is so important that we believe it should be funded on par with infrastructure. [my emphasis.]
If you have a certain innate blindness to the importance of cycling infrastructure, then when you arrive in a different city and you see people cycling about in a very different way to the people in your own city, then of course you are going to see that different behaviour not as response to a very different environment, but as some kind of personal choice on the part of people cycling, a decision to cycle in a certain way that can somehow be beaten out of them.
Notice also in this passage that building cycling infrastructure on main roads is actually framed as a way of encouraging men in lycra – a diametrical inversion of what cycling infrastructure will achieve in reality, namely enabling everyone to cycle, in ordinary clothes, something that is already happening.
— Cyclist London (@cyclist_london) April 3, 2016
This inversion is again only explicable if the author fails to appreciate the fundamentally important role cycling infrastructure plays in allowing people to cycle, and to cycle in a manner they choose. A similar example is his suggestion (not in the article, but in a conference, reported via Twitter) that it is the absence of workplace showers in the Netherlands that keeps people cycling slowly. Again – this is a simple inversion of reality. Showers are (rarely) provided at workplaces in the Netherlands because they’re not needed, because people are already cycling more slowly thanks to cycling infrastructure. To argue it is the absence of the showers themselves that somehow compels people to cycle slowly is completely back to front. But this is what happens when you can’t see what is in front of your own eyes. If you can’t see cycling infrastructure, then people in Britain are obviously choosing to cycling fast, choosing to get sweaty and then take advantage of showers – building infrastructure will only encourage more of these choosing to cycle around fast in lycra, when we need to take those showers away and ask them to change their behaviour.
The second article – by Camilla Siggaard Andersen of Gehl architects – is eerily similar. Again, we see a suggestion that cycling infrastructure will reinforce the existing culture, fostering more lycra, and faster behaviour.
getting more Londoners on bikes is not simply a matter of safety, but of culture. What kind of culture is the Cycle Super Highways fostering – more or less lycra?
Why would anyone think creating safer, more attractive and more comfortable conditions to cycle in would lead to more lycra? Only if you have a selective blindness to the importance of infrastructure in enabling cycling – you will tend to believe that building it will only reinforce the existing types of cycling.
In Copenhagen, the cycling network is great. However, the actual efficiency of the network relies as much on behaviour as it does on the infrastructure itself
An almost exact parallel of the claim from Bouwman that ‘safety is by and large a result of behaviour, not infrastructure’. Both are looking at London, seeing a different ‘culture’ and ‘behaviour’, and failing to diagnose why that behaviour and culture is different.
We do have an awful lot to learn from the Netherlands and Denmark, but we should be wary of taking the opinions of people from these countries at face value, principally because the fundamental importance of cycling infrastructure will often tend to be underestimated or downplayed completely. Not wilfully; but because it is so ubiquitous and mundane in their own countries as to be invisible.
It’s fundamentally important to bear in mind that the (sometimes vociferous) opposition to cycling infrastructure does not in any way represent mainstream attitudes and opinions. The vast majority of the British public are open to persuasion on cycling infrastructure; they have an open mind and are willing to see changes to the roads and streets they live on and use. As we’ve seen time and again with consultation responses, there are hundreds (even thousands) of angry opposition comments to schemes, but these are nearly always outweighed by the positive responses to the consultation itself, and always outweighed by the silent majority, who may not even be aware that changes are taking place, but support them once they have happened.
We’ve known this for some time. 2011’s Understanding Walking and Cycling Report found that only 9% of the population are what they call ‘automobile adherents’ –
[people] most satisfied with the present car system… underpinned by the belief that people have a choice of how to travel around and it is up to them to exercise it. Walking is regarded as a leisure activity and cycling practiced by enthusiasts or by committed environmentalists. People who subscribe to this discourse are against any measures that infringe their liberty to drive such as traffic calming even if this could improve conditions for walking and cycling. Indeed, this discourse suggests that walkers and cyclists should take more responsibility for their own safety when moving around the city.
By contrast, the remainder of the population are either people who see walking and cycling as ‘normal’ ways of getting about for everyday trips, and a part of their identity, or for the most part (58% of the population), people who don’t have any transport identity at all – people who are open to changing the way they travel about. These are the kinds people who don’t get angry and yell when changes are proposed on the streets and roads where they live, but are quietly appreciative when those changes happen. And they’re the majority.
We don’t have to look much further for similar evidence. The latest British Social Attitudes Survey on Transport (published December 2015) found that, for journeys of less than two miles travelled by car, 41% of respondents said they could just as easily cycle (with the caveat that 64% of respondents felt the roads were too dangerous for them to cycle on). There isn’t hostility to cycling, per se, rather a reluctance to cycle on hostile and unpleasant roads.
Similarly the same survey shows that removing through traffic from residential streets – such a live issue at the moment – isn’t something that is out of favour with the general public. Opinion is actually finely balanced.
A persuasive, compelling campaign for making residential streets safe and attractive places, that engaged with undecided opinion, could win the day, even in the most unlikely of places – especially as the elderly are actually more in favour of ‘filtering’ than the the young.
When it comes to building cycling infrastructure on main roads, again, surveys and polling suggest wide public support. Vociferous opposition should not be taken to represent mainstream opinion. A YouGov poll conducted for Cycling Works London found 74% for building safer routes for cycling in London. Support was still strong (64%) for building cycling infrastructure, even when the question explicitly mentioned taking lanes away.
Support was even stronger in younger age groups.
Even if cycling infrastructure might make some journeys by motor vehicle longer , 51% of respondents felt cycling infrastructure should be built. Just 26% felt otherwise.
We have further evidence in the form of a more recent, nationally-focused poll (with a slightly larger sample) for British Cycling, covered by Peter Walker in the Guardian, with remarkably similar results. Again, there is strong support for building cycling infrastructure on main roads in their local area (71%), with just 18% of those polled opposed. Support was even stronger if journey times would be unaffected, or improved – 79%.
Even if journey times might be five minutes longer, building cycling infrastructure on main roads still commands majority support (54%).
Even amongst people who commute to work by car, cycling infrastructure on main roads which might delay driving by five minutes is still supported by 51% of respondents, with 34% opposed.
What all the research shows is that the majority of the British population are open-minded or willing to see change, and that the noisy, angry opponents really are a small minority. There is a large audience out there that is receptive to the idea of adapting and improving our roads and streets to make them work better for all users. Campaigns need to reach beyond the placard-waving objectors and engage with that audience, selling a positive message about how we can make the places where they live better.
Meanwhile councils and politicians shouldn’t be scared off by protestors who might seem to be numerous, but will only represent a very small proportion of local opinion. Change is happening – has to happen – and the British public will embrace it when it arrives.
Along with many others, I’ve banged on for a long time about the inherent problems of ‘dual provision’ – the idea that you can provide two different types of cycle provision, in parallel, for different types of users. Typically this might involve a shared use footway for ‘less confident cyclists’, alongside some half-hearted measures on the carriageway like advanced stop lines and narrow painted cycle lanes.
The shared use footway might provide some more comfort, but at the expense of convenience and directness, while the painted stuff on the road is direct, but at the expense of comfort and safety. They both fail, but in different ways. Neither are suitable for all users; both are flawed.
By contrast, high-quality cycling infrastructure should have uniformity of provision. It should be uniformly suitable for any potential users – convenience should not be traded off against safety; directness should not be traded off against comfort, and so on. All parts of a cycle network should reach a high standard of comfort, safety, directness and attractiveness. If parts of it don’t match a high standard for all of these criteria, then it’s not good enough.
So I’m a little bit troubled by this recent piece on the Sustrans blog, by Will Haynes, principally because it argues that we should set out to expect compromise, and to trade off requirements against one another. I’ve quoted the relevant part below.
… I would like to suggest that the reality of most situations means that there is rarely a perfect solution that can be lifted from the design guidance.
At Sustrans we consider the key is the way in which designs are arrived at. Our Handbook for Cycle-friendly design and accompanying design manual recommends 10 top tips that designers should follow.
One of these relates to the adherence to the widely quoted Five Core Principles (Coherence, Directness, Safety, Comfort and Attractiveness). However, how the principles are actually implemented is often relatively subjective and in many cases may conflict.
One way to objectively consider the principles is to use a level of service or route audit tool, such as the Cycling Level of Service assessment tool in the London Cycling Design Standards and Cycle Route Audit tool in the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 Design Guidance.
In most cases different route options within a corridor, or different types of provision for a particular route, will have a number of advantages and disadvantages. By applying these tools it is possible to compare different options for a particular route, or to compare different options for a corridor and have meaningful information on which to make a decision as to which is the best solution.
For example a traffic free greenway is likely to provide a high level of safety in terms of being segregated from motor traffic, but is likely to be less advantageous in terms of personal safety at night and directness.
Alternatively, a high quality segregated cycle track may provide good levels of safety and directness but by increasing severance for pedestrians wanting to cross a route it may not contribute to an attractive provision where a high place function is desired.
In summary designing good places to cycle is more than just implementing standard solutions, no matter how high quality they are.
I don’t think this stands up to much scrutiny, to be honest. Nobody is saying a cycle route has to be absolutely perfect. However, the impression given here is that compromise is inevitable, and that delivering a route from A to B will necessarily involve sacrificing one of the key requirements.
For one thing, the audit tools mentioned here shouldn’t be used to choose the least worst option – as implied – but instead should be used to identify failings, to remedy them, and to ensure that what is being built meets the highest possible standard.
Nor should the route that is built necessarily sacrifice on one or more of the requirements for high-quality infrastructure. The examples given are unconvincing. Why should greenways through parks be indirect or socially unsafe? Make them direct. Make them feel safe, with street lighting, and activity.
Likewise, why should cycleways on main roads be unattractive, or contribute to ‘severance for pedestrians’? They are necessary on main roads, and they should be built to a good standard, in keeping with their surroundings, and easy for pedestrians to cross.
I simply don’t recognise these kinds of trade-offs when I cycle around the Netherlands, be it in towns, cities, villages or in the countryside. The routes I use feel safe; they are direct; they are comfortable, and they are attractive. Where they are not, there is an obvious problem that needs remedying, and that almost certainly will be remedied when the route or the road comes up for review. The problems are not ones without a solution.
Of course, it’s harder to do things properly. Ensuring that cycle routes are direct, and that they feel safe, comfortable and attractive, requires political commitment, particularly when it comes to reallocating road space, or reducing the amount of motor traffic travelling on residential streets, through physical interventions. But these are problems of political will, not insurmountable problems inherent with delivering cycling infrastructure itself. (It’s no surprise that the highest quality infrastructure in cities like London has required the most coherent and sustained campaign to persuade those in power to deliver it). By contrast, it takes next to no effort at all to deliver rubbish, be it an alleged ‘cycle route’ that disappears off onto indirect and socially unsafe backstreets and alleyways, or shared use footways, or painted rubbish, on main roads because protected cycleways are just too difficult.
Indeed, for that reason, it’s actually quite dangerous to suggest that cycling infrastructure can’t be done to a high standard, because it provides politicians, planners and highway engineers with a ready-made excuse for doing a poor job. That’s not what I want to see at a time when cities in the UK are – in a number of places, and in piecemeal fashion – actually starting to deliver infrastructure that doesn’t compromise.
A while back I wrote a helpful guide for journalists thinking about writing a lazy article about cycling.
In a similar vein – and with so much attention now being focused on new cycling infrastructure, particularly from objectors – I thought it would be similarly constructive to provide some handy hints and tips for people who want to complain about a cycling scheme.
The first step, and perhaps the most important one of all is – don’t bother reading about what’s actually being proposed. Why bother informing yourself? That would waste valuable time, time that could instead be spent moaning, or signing an angry petition, or appearing in the local newspaper with your arms folded. Just respond to what you think is rumoured to be happening. Evidence and facts are for chumps.
If that doesn’t convince you, consider this – engaging with the consultation might lead to you discovering that the proposals you are so angry about don’t actually represent any kind of earth-shattering change. How unsettling would that be!
When you do write something – either on a petition, or on Facebook or Twitter, SCRAWL in CAPITAL letters, seemingly at RANDOM. That’s the best WAY to get YOUR point ACROSS.
You are the expert. Highway engineers and transport planners – so called ‘experts’ – are responsible for the scheme. However, you sometimes drive on the roads in question, so remember, that makes you the real expert. They might have done modelling on traffic flows, and examined all potential permutations, but because you live nearby you already know they must have got their facts wrong. It’s obvious this cycling scheme will inevitably cause ten hour delays to drivers. (Just pluck a scary figure out of thin air; it’s bound to be more accurate than anything the ‘experts’ could come up with).
Expand your horizons. Does the cycle scheme only involve one small stretch of road? That might not be much to get excited about, so it’s important to emphasise the effects this scheme will have on all roads and streets within a ten mile radius. Or even more! Go for it! See the example of Raymond, who predicts (correctly) that a slight change to the route drivers have to use to get into a park will have a profound effect on the whole of north London.
Don’t be shy – remember, you are the traffic expert.
Don’t hold back on the language. Use words like ‘catastrophic’; ‘mayhem’; ‘destruction’; ‘chaos’; ‘insane’; ‘punitive’; ‘will create a ghetto’; ‘a living hell’; ‘armageddon’. Be creative! The more apocalyptic, the better – this is all about speaking truth to power.
You absolutely have to convey how this cycle scheme will bring about the downfall of civilisation, as surely as if it were connecting your street with Hades. (Which it probably will be – you haven’t checked the consultation details, remember).
Superficially, this might just be a bit of cycling infrastructure, but you know better. It’s actually a sinister plot to devastate your city.
It’s all about a minority. This is an easy one to get right. Remember, it’s only weirdo cyclists who want these changes. Why should they be privileged at the expense of cars?Forget about all those normal-looking people in ordinary clothes, cycling about where you live – they’re quite happy mixing with motor traffic, obviously. Just look at them! No, it’s only Lycra Louts and The Spandex Taliban who want special treatment in the form of cycling infrastructure.
Emphasise the weirdness. Nobody likes weirdos.
Think of the children. A cycling scheme – it is claimed! – might actually allow children to cycle around by themselves, but we all know that is preposterous lunacy.
The proper place for a child is on the back seat of a car, being ferried everywhere in safety. So these cycling schemes will actually harm children – it will delay them getting to school, trap them indoors, and also fill their lungs with pollution. Literally. Speaking of which…
Think of the pollution. It’s a well-known fact that the air in our towns and cities is sweet and fragrant. But if a cycling scheme goes ahead in your area, think again! A cloud of thick, noxious fumes will descend over your town or city, a direct result of all motor vehicles everywhere being brought to a complete standstill. All thanks to that innocent-sounding cycling scheme.
Of course, we all know pollution is caused by cycling – it’s just common sense! – but don’t forget to hammer home the message. It’s so important to ensure that all available space on our roads and streets is used for motor traffic – that’s the only way to stop pollution.
Think of the gridlock and traffic jams. ‘What’s a traffic jam’? I hear you ask. Well, you might not have heard of them, or seen one actually happening, because they’re very, very rare – but it’s when motor vehicles start queuing behind each other.
Yes, it does sound unbelievable! We all know that roads and streets flow smoothly at all times. But if you let a cycling scheme go ahead, these so-called ‘traffic jams’ will suddenly appear, and you will be ‘gridlocked’, stuck in your car for days on end.
The choice is simple – either start preparing food, provisions and supplies for every single car trip, trips that could take days or even weeks, or stop the cycling scheme. Which brings us to…
Don’t bother engaging with the consultation, or even responding to it. Sign an angry petition; yell at people at public meetings; provide flowery quotes for the local newspaper. Anything! But whatever you do, don’t make your views known through the proper channels – that’s how they trick you.
I can’t really believe I am having to write a piece saying this, but good road design is not conditional on the good behaviour of users.
Why am I having to say this?
Because Boris Johnson and Leon Daniels – respectively, the Chair of Transport for London, and the Managing Director of Surface Transport at Transport for London – have produced some very silly comments in yesterday’s TfL board meeting.
Almost as soon as the discussion turned to delivery on the Mayor’s Cycle Vision, Johnson himself got straight on to one of his personal ‘concerns’. (You can listen for yourself from around the 1:27:00 mark).
Johnson The one thing I am worried about is, on the new Cycle Superhighways, which are really fantastic (although they’re not quite open), the thing I am worried about now is there are people actually going too fast. I think there are some very very aggressive male cyclists out there who are just bombing along when really you should have a climate of tolerance and gentleness on those. And you’ve spent an absolute fortune on these things. They’re wonderful. And people do not need to tear along in such a way as to scare other users.
Daniels And Angela [Knight, TfL board member] referred to things in the Standard recently with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Boardman in which it was indicated, clearly, that as part of being granted segregated road space, and more facilities for safer and higher volume cycling, that cyclists really must comply with those rules that do exist, including red lights, including speed, as part of having these wonderful new facilities.
Johnson I mean cyclists do not make great friends for themselves, sometimes, by the way they conduct themselves on the road. The aggression with which people try and break the land speed record on what should be a, you know… We’ve opened this up to make it safer for everybody, and they should be respecting people who want to get along.
Daniels And there are of course websites where people can post their times between two points.
Johnson Well I think we need to look at all this. I really do.
People are going ‘too fast’ on this new cycling infrastructure, apparently.
The first reasonable question here is – are they? Is there any evidence? None has been produced. If this actually was a genuine problem you would think some monitoring would have taken place.
Then we get to the next question. How fast is ‘too fast’? Bear in mind that these ‘Superhighways’ have all been built alongside roads that continue to have 30mph speed limits for motor traffic. Is it really the case that there are swathes of people cycling around in excess of 30mph, a speed that only fit and powerful athletes can sustain on the flat?
Even if we grant the extremely unlikely possibility that a large number of people are cycling along Superhighways at or close to 30mph, why should this be highlighted as a particular problem, given that it appears to be perfectly fine for the large volumes of motor traffic right next them to be travelling at this speed?
We might even say that cycling between 20 and 30mph is ‘too fast’, but then we would be opening ourselves up to ridicule, given that the speed limit for motor traffic across London remains 30mph on most of the capital’s roads, even on residential streets. Could we really argue, with a straight face, that cycling at these speeds is a problem while we continue to allow 30 tonne HGVs to thunder past houses, shops, businesses, at 30mph?
But this ‘speeding’ silliness isn’t even the worst thing here. It is Leon Daniels’ bizarre suggestion that the building of cycling infrastructure in London is (or was) somehow conditional on good behaviour. That the ‘granting’ of road space (a telling expression) was some kind of pact; we’ll give you what you ask for, as long as you behave. Compliance is a ‘part of having these wonderful new facilities’.
It is actually laughable to imagine any other mode of transport being framed in this way.
It was indicated clearly that, as part of being granted new roads, and better surfaces for driving, and new traffic lights like SCOOT to smooth traffic flow, that drivers really must comply with those rules that do exist, including red lights, including speed, as part of having these wonderful new facilities.
It was indicated clearly that as part of being granted new buses, and better bus routes, and a more comprehensive service, that bus users really must comply with those rules that do exist, including not swearing, or being aggressive, or listening to loud music, as part of having these wonderful new services.
Why? Should good roads, good public transport, good walking and cycling infrastructure really be dependent on everyone behaving themselves? Does anything ever get improved in London with these strange – and indeed rather patronising – covenants in place? ‘We’ll grant you this new tube line, but let it be clearly indicated that, if we do, we really don’t expect any more antisocial behaviour from tubists’?
Of course not – it’s the worst kind of outgroup thinking, along with Boris Johnson’s reference to ‘cyclists not making friends for themselves’, as if people who happen to ride bikes are some neat little collective, rather than a random selection of people making about 600,000 trips every day in London. It’s fantastical to imagine such an enormous amount of humanity trying to police themselves in order to present a better image, without any of them being aware that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. What’s really happening here is the invocation of the ‘bad name’, this persistent canard that the reputation of anyone who rides a bike should be harmed by the behaviour of complete strangers.
Enough. I think the new Superhighways are great; I enjoy riding on them. Please don’t pretend that their existence – and indeed future improvements for walking and cycling in the capital – should in any way be conditional on behaviour, or even related to it. Do your job, and design streets and roads that work well for all users, even if – as surely as night follows day – many of those users will be antisocial or lawbreakers.
I went to an interesting talk at the Guardian’s offices in London yesterday evening, entitled ‘What Can We Do to Get More People Cycling in London?’, featuring a panel of Chris Boardman, Andrew Gilligan, Rachel Aldred, Peter Walker and – as the token ‘opposing’ voice – Steve Macnamara of the LTDA.
The debate was wide-ranging, and largely consensual, with even Steve MacNamara stating that he ‘agreed with 90%’ of what Transport for London was building in central London, and making the reasonable point that taxi drivers don’t really want to be sharing space with people cycling on main roads – it doesn’t really work for either mode of transport. He also made the case for more cycling across London, arguing that more cycling means fewer motor vehicles on the road, and that (humorously) ‘we don’t really want anyone else on the road apart from cabbies’.
But a feature of the discussion that leapt out – for me at least – was delivery. For instance, despite Chris Boardman’s willingness to see improvements in his home town, any potential for change petered out in the face of council indifference and reluctance to do things that weren’t officially approved by central government.
Andrew Gilligan stated that he was ‘jealous’ of New York’s Janette Sadik Khan, who had control over all of that city’s roads, while in London TfL only controls about 5% of the road network. That means boroughs have a big say in whether schemes go ahead, and can effectively block cycling infrastructure if a few awkward individuals have a particular antipathy to it. This is the reason the E-W Superhighway completely bypasses the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for instance, and why Superhighway 9 was cancelled.
And while there is obviously some very exciting stuff happening on a number of roads in central London, delivery in outer London is very patchy indeed, even when schemes are on TfL roads, designed by TfL. A case in point is the A24 in Morden. This is a road where, way back in 2012, TfL proposed some very poor changes ‘for cyclists’, which I reported on at the time. It essentially consisted of retaining 3-4 lanes of motor traffic, with shared use footways and narrow cycle lanes – repeatedly interrupted by parking bays – running in parallel with each other. I wrote that
with just a little more imagination, and a bit more budgetary commitment, there is great potential for good, separated infrastructure, suitable for all cyclists of all ages and abilities, to be provided along this road. The consultation proposals also bear the hallmarks of compliance with the Hierarchy of Provision; that is, conversion of pavements to shared use in the event that the authority responsible is unwilling to reduce traffic, slow it, or reallocate carriageway space. Likewise it is presumed that those using the pavement are willing to sacrifice their journey time for the privilege of cycling away from traffic.
I also wrote that
I’m not entirely convinced that the A24 immediately to the south of this area has to remain a four (and in places, five) lane road. There is scope for the reallocation of a vehicle lane for a cycle track, at least along the section until the junction with Central Road (but note that reallocation is not strictly necessary, given the existing width available).
I reached that conclusion because, although this road is 3 or 4 lanes wide at the moment, long sections of it are effectively only 2 lanes, because of the parking bays that take up most of one lane.
Well… it turns out that there is a new consultation on this road, or at least a part of it – the southern end – and the proposal is indeed to reduce the four lanes for private motor traffic to just two. But what is proposed for cycling is barely any better than before.
We have a mandatory cycle lane, yes. But it is directly on the outside of parked cars, in a dangerous position, rather than between those cars and the footway.
There’s a bus lane in the opposite direction, which wasn’t there before, but that is the extent of the cycling provision. Right at the bus stop itself, the footway becomes shared use. A ‘bus stop bypass’, but not a very good one.
And that’s pretty much the extent of this scheme – a bus lane in one direction, and an unfriendly and dangerously-positioned cycle lane in the other.
A cycle lane which also gives up at a bus stop –
And in the opposite direction, a cycle lane starts from behind a parking bay, leading you into a three lane-wide ASL. Good luck turning right here.
Given the width of this road – it is really very wide! – and the fact that two of the four lanes for motor traffic are now being lost, this is pretty thin gruel.
The wide grassy median is of course being retained too – valuable space that could have been used for cycling, and would also help to reduce vehicle speeds if it were to be removed.
This is the second attempt at sorting this road in barely three years, and although it is progress of a some degree, what is proposed is very far away from the kind of inclusive cycling design that we are starting to see in central London, and in other British towns and cities. We need more – a lot more – of this higher-quality infrastructure if cycling is going to continue growing; it’s the only thing that will reach those parts of the population that aren’t cycling now. Cycling in bus lanes, or cycling between parked cars and fast motor traffic, on busy roads really isn’t going to cut it.
I’m not quite sure what the root problem is with this scheme. It might be that it hasn’t been allocated enough funding to alter the road properly, to create decent, parking- and kerb-protected cycleways in both directions, and to remove the median. It might be that officers and planners just don’t care enough. Or it might be that there’s only a relatively small amount of people in TfL who ‘get’ how to design for cycling.
Whatever the explanation – it’s still not good enough. If you can, respond this evening to the (very brief) consultation, saying exactly that.
John Dales’ recent column for TransportXtra argued that the term ‘shared space’ should be quietly phased out. In fact he doesn’t even use the words in the article, replacing them with Sh… !
… the use of the term Sh… has increasingly become a hindrance to the creation of better streets for all. That’s not just my opinion; it was shared by most, if not all, of the 50+ attendees at a street design seminar I spoke at last month. It’s a term that has led to babies being thrown out with the bathwater; it has led to schemes being implemented that some people find particularly difficult to use; and it has led to streets being shunned by people who could enjoy them simply because they assume, from the description, that they won’t.
I think this is exactly right. ‘Shared space’ (or Sh…!) has become a catch-all word for street treatments that apparently solve problems, or make roads and streets better, often with little regard for the context or nature of the roads and streets in question. I’d much rather see highway engineers and urban designers looking at what works for all potential users, rather than employing ‘shared space’ in the hope that it works (or at least won’t make things worse). In particular, I’d like to see an abandonment of the lazy assumption that ‘removing things’ – crossings, signs, distinction between footway and carriageway, and so on – will always represent an improvement.
To be clear, I think some of the things that might fall out of the ‘shared space’ toolbox do work, in certain contexts. I think there can be a role for reducing the height difference between footway and carriageway in low traffic environments. For one thing, it makes it easier for people with mobility issues to get from one side to the other.
There’s also a role for reducing visual distinction between carriageway and footway, again, in low traffic streets. It makes it clearer to drivers (and indeed to people walking and cycling) that this is a different kind of environment, and different behaviour should be expected.
These are all sensible techniques that can be used to improve streets, and they work in their own right. The problems start to emerge, however, when ‘shared space’ (or Sh…) is picked up and used in an attempt to solve the problems with a road or street, ignoring the reality that some of the elements that come with it might actually be poor design solutions for the particular context.
I’m thinking here particularly of Frideswide Square in Oxford, where a ‘shared space’ design has been pushed through with little sensitivity for the needs and wishes of the users of this busy area. Cycling – a significant mode of transport here – has been totally ignored, despite vociferous objections, with no cycle-specific provision. Crossings of the roundabouts – the main route into the city centre from the train station, and from the west – are ‘informal’, which essentially means pedestrians have to make their own way across busy roads without the reassurance of a zebra crossing, or other types of formal crossing.
Lower Clapton Road scheme looks similar to recent scheme in Oxford. Not good for vulnerable pedestrians or cyclists pic.twitter.com/KiioXbnzNH
— Hackney Cyclist (@Hackneycyclist) February 1, 2016
The overall ‘vision’ – a nice-looking, symmetrical road layout, with pretty paving – appears to have been more important than actual usability. The ‘shared space’ concept trumps the concerns of users.
That’s why the term itself is a hindrance; it appears to have limited the ability of the people responsible for this road design to think clearly about what kind of road design would actually work best. And at the other end of scale – exactly as John suggests – lumping all this together as ‘shared space’ can lead to people being afraid or scared of streets that are very different in nature and character, simply because they’ve been proudly described with exactly the same term.
So the ‘shared space’ term inhibits clear thinking about how we want our roads and streets to work, and how to go about achieving the best outcomes.
A good example of this is the recent changes to Seven Dials in Bath, allegedly improvements for walking and cycling, paid for with £1.2 of DfT ‘Cycle City Ambition’ cash. Apparently the plan was to
re-establish Seven Dials as a key public space with a greater focus on cyclist and pedestrian needs through the use of shared space, which ackowledges the significantly higher pedestrian to traffic ratio. Conventional road signage is removed and perceived hierarchies between users are broken down, enabling greater freedom for pedestrians to use the space. This is encouraged through the use of surfaces and street furniture which reduces the distinction between road and footway.
Here we see the classic, quasi-religious belief in the magical properties of ‘shared space’ to break down ‘perceived hierarchies’, simply by ‘removing stuff’. This ‘ breaking down’ turns out, in the same paragraph, to be merely ‘encouraged’. It’s up to the individual to challenge the perceived hierarchy, rather than the road or street changing it for them.
On the approaches to this scheme, there are signs asking or advising us (certainly not telling us!) to ‘Share Space’.
Unfortunately, despite the flush surfaces and new paving, there was little sharing in evidence, largely because the section of road in the distance is a busy bus corridor.
Queues form behind these buses, creating ‘platoons’ of private motor vehicles too, an impenetrable stream of traffic that essentially makes it impossible to cross the road, despite signs informing you that this area is ‘shared’.
The amount of motor traffic suggested that this is a busy through-route – at least, with the way the roads are currently configured. I don’t really think there’s any ‘greater freedom’ for people to walk across this space than there was before, when the road was surfaced with asphalt, or that any ‘perceived hierarchies been broken down’. A bus is still a bus, cars are still cars, and you will keep out of their way, even if the road they are being driven on looks a bit more like the footway you are standing on.
If the council here were really interested in ‘breaking down hierarchies’, then this kind of scheme should surely involve crossings that establish pedestrian priority, rather than attempting to do so. (Or measures to reduce the amount of through traffic). But that kind of pragmatism is harder to achieve if you are setting out to build a ‘shared space’ scheme, which in John’s words can often lead to ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’. The concept is everything; what might actually work best is in a given location is secondary. ‘Removing’ must be good, because thats’ what ‘shared space’ involves; ‘adding’ a crossing stands contrary to that dogma.
What was most interesting to me is that, just around the corner from this expensive new ‘shared space’ scheme, there are a series of streets that appeared to be genuinely shared, with pedestrians crossing when and where they wanted to.
These are streets where people are quite happy to linger in the road, even if they don’t have the design cues associated with ‘shared space’. They’re happy to do so because there are very low motor traffic levels on them; measures have been taken to eliminate through traffic.
But although there was more sharing in evidence here than in the ‘shared space’, these aren’t particularly sexy streets. The road surface is crumbling asphalt, and they could certainly do with sprucing up. In fact, they’re precisely the kind of streets that would benefit from less (or no) distinction between footway and carriageway, and surfacing and paving that would make them look more like ‘rooms’ than ‘roads’. That’s fine! These are design elements that would make the environment better, given the background context and the nature and function of these low-traffic streets.
The issue is when the same design elements are lumped together and used in the hope of fixing problems they can’t possibly solve, particularly on busy streets. Yes, they might improve things a bit, but if you are spending millions of pounds on a short stretch of road, you really need to engage with what it is you are trying to achieve, rather than supposing that a pretty street design that looks a bit less like a road is automatically going to be better for users than a design which might involve thinking outside the fixed template that the ‘shared space’ term implies. And that might be why the term itself is a problem.
This (short) post is going to look at a paradoxical situation in British road road design, one that means that a very dangerous way of dealing with turning conflicts is legal, while a much safer way of dealing with those turning conflicts is illegal.
Here’s the legal situation. Take any signal-controlled crossroads. It’s perfectly acceptable to paint a cycle lane, against the kerb, on the inside of a lane of left-turning motor traffic. We are then quite happy to release, with a green signal, both a person on a bike in that cycle lane – who might be going straight ahead – at exactly the same time as a driver turning left from the lane on that cyclist’s right.
We even do this with fairly new road layouts.
In other words, we’re completely okay with this kind of conflict being designed into new roads, as long as there’s only a line of paint separating you from the bus or the lorry waiting alongside you on your right.
But let’s say we change this arrangement slightly; change the position the person on the bike is waiting at, relative to the driver of the car, bus, or lorry. Something like this.
The person cycling is moved forward into the junction, where the driver can see them, so far forward, in fact, that if they get a green light simultaneously, the person cycling will have cleared the junction before the driver makes his or her turn. Even if they do happen to meet, they will do so at a perpendicular angle, so both parties can see that a conflict is about to occur, and adjust their behaviour accordingly. There’s even a nice BicycleDutch video explaining the advantages of this design.
But of course in Britain it’s not possible to do this, because it amounts to a ‘conflicting green’. Drivers turning left with a green must not meet someone crossing their path with a green signal.
So there we have it. It’s completely acceptable for drivers to turn left across someone cycling if that person on a bike is right next to them, separated only a bit of paint – that’s not a conflicting green. Meanwhile if that person on a bike is situated in a much safer position, more visible, and more likely to be out of the driver’s way before the turn is completed – that is a ‘conflict’, and not legal.
Such is the British approach to road safety!
What does ‘mass cycling’ mean?
It doesn’t mean everyone has to cycle, for every single trip. It’s worth bearing in mind that, even in the Netherlands, where cycling is a universal mode of transport, cycling only accounts for 27% of all trips the Dutch make. The Dutch drive, they catch buses, trains, trams, and walk, just as much as we do. Car ownership levels are very similar to Britain; the train network is extensive and efficient; and it’s easy to walk around.
These are all ‘mass’ forms of transport here, just as they are there. The difference is that, for the Dutch, cycling is essentially an optional extra that they are able to take advantage of. That 27% figure represents the proportion of all trips that cycling makes sense for. The Dutch will only choose cycling when it is the best option, not because they have any kind of innate attachment to the bike, or because they are ‘cyclists’. They have cars, and use them when they make sense; likewise they will cycle or walk, when that makes sense.
So ‘mass cycling’ simply means that everyone has the option to cycle, for any given trip, in much the same way that walking, driving and public transport are already available. It is about having transport choice; a better range of transport options to pick from.
I think this is often lost in debates about cycling, particularly in the way we refer to ‘cyclists’ and ‘motorists’ almost as distinct categories, and present binary oppositions like ‘bikes vs cars’. This is something that both cycling campaigners do, and opponents of designing for cycling, who are all too happy to point that people can’t cycle for every single trip, or that cycling isn’t a universal solution. It is deeply unhelpful – it creates the impression that to be ‘a cyclist’ you must cease to be ‘a motorist’, and vice versa.
Building cycling infrastructure isn’t about forcing everyone to be ‘a cyclist’, but about creating another transport option for people to get around, alongside walking, driving and public transport. Doing so reduces pressure on the road network for people who are driving; the same people who might be cycling for a different trip.
The problem in Britain is that this beneficial extra option simply isn’t available to most people, because of the hostility of road conditions. Cycling just isn’t a practical or easy mode of transport for the vast majority of Britons. 79% of British women never cycle.
The elderly man in the photograph below is cycling into the city of Delft, from a village about three miles away.
He could get public transport; he could drive. He has chosen to cycle, however. This isn’t an option available to his equivalent in Britain, because thunderous main roads, with HGVs travelling at 80km/h along them, do not have this kind of separated provision alongside them.
Likewise here in the town of de Bilt a couple are using the cycling infrastructure to get into the town centre – because it’s easy to do so. The cycling infrastructure happens to work wonderfully well for people who aren’t using bicycles, too. This is a trip that might have been driven, or involved public transport, but was cycled instead.
In Assen, children cycle to and from primary school in huge numbers, rather than relying on their parents to ferry them to and fro at the start and end of the day.
It’s so easy to do this that these children are actually heading home for lunch; cycling provides an extra amount of flexibility into the daily routine. Parents would have to make six driving trips every day without the presence of cycling infrastructure that allows their children to cycle independently.
Likewise teenagers can get around to after school activities, completely independently – for instance, hockey practice.
Obviously their parents could choose to drive them, but cycling creates more flexibility. Stand around in any Dutch town or city at around 4pm and you will see children and teenagers cycling around in all directions, heading off to sport, music practice, leisure, visiting their friends, all completely independently.
There is no parents’ ‘taxi service’. Children just get about by themselves, because it is easy and safe to do so. This stands in stark contrast to the situation in Britain, where over 50% of trips British children make are in cars – being driven! This is a tremendous waste of effort.
And for adults who might well have driven to and from work during the day, cycling represents a wonderful way to get in and out of town in the evening, without worrying about parking, or having a drink. Bars and restaurants in Dutch towns and cities are surrounded by swathes of bicycles of an evening; people who have driven through the day, and yet chose to cycle here in the evening, because it is their best option for a night out.
Cycling is also perfect in combination with other modes of transport in the Netherlands – it’s easy to get to train stations and find parking spots, without worrying about delays caused by congestion or having to rely on other people for a lift.
And in general the bicycle is a fantastic way to make short trips if you don’t want to have to worry about congestion or delay on the road, or paying for petrol, or finding a convenient parking spot, or hurrying back before ticket runs out. It’s the ultimate in reliability.
But, crucially, this flexibility is in addition to other modes of transport, not as a replacement for them. Mass cycling is about making life easier, creating conditions that allow everyone the freedom to choose a practical mode of transport, when it suits them. It most certainly isn’t about converting everyone into a ‘cyclist’ or expecting them to cycle for every single trip. It’s about choice.
Between 2011 and 2014, a relatively short 2.5 mile stretch of the A23 (the trunk road running between London and Brighton, on the south coast) was widened from two lanes in each direction, to three. This was a £79 million project – the plans for which are available here – which brought this short stretch of 4 lane dual carriageway into the line with the six-lane nature of the rest of the road. The A23 is now very much a motorway-style road.
Part of this upgrade included a properly separated walking and cycling route. Prior to the widening project, if you wanted to cycle along this stretch of the A23, you had to do so… on the carriageway itself.
This road carried (and still carries) around 60-70,000 vehicles a day, travelling at high speeds, so really, anything would be an improvement, compared to cycling in this kind of environment, which is only something the most hardcore nutters would even consider.
I’ve been told that the Highways Agency are proud of what they’ve done for cycling as part of this project – that they think it’s really excellent. So, my curiosity piqued, I headed out to have a look at it.
The first thing to say is, it’s much, much better than anything else I’ve seen built for cycling in this area. There aren’t any barriers along it, the path is smooth, and it looks like it’s been well-built (I guess it helps if motorway contractors are building it as part of a much larger scheme), and it’s reasonably direct. I’ve been passed comments by local cycling campaigners who have used words like ‘excellent’ to describe it, and ‘pleasantly surprised’.
To be fair, I was actually pleasantly surprised myself – it was better than I expected. But (and here’s the ‘but’) – ‘much, much better’ than infrastructure that’s been built in West Sussex is the definition of faint praise. It’s not really that hard to exceed expectations here, because the infrastructure is either non-existent, or dismally bad – even stuff that’s being built in 2015.
So while this section of the A23 is usable, and good by local standards, by Dutch standards – and by the standards we should be aspiring to – it’s pretty poor. It’s not of an acceptable width, and on the few occasions where it does have to deal with ‘technicalities’ (i.e. crossing roads and entrances) it fails dismally.
I’m reluctant to criticise the Highways Agency here. They have at least thought about designing for cycling, and done a reasonable job. But given that this was a £79m project, involving substantial engineering, basics like building the path wider than an (in my opinion, unsafe) width of two metres should really have happened as a matter of course. It would have cost next to nothing extra, in relative terms, set against the massive overall cost. But let’s have a look at it.
I cycled from south to north, and then back again; most of my photographs were taken on the northbound trip. I joined the scheme pretty much where it starts, at the ‘Warninglid’ junction, where the Cuckfield Road crosses the A23 on a bridge.
It was a little unnerving cycling down here, towards a slip road onto a massive trunk road. It just didn’t feel like somewhere you should be on a bike, given the long history of abandoning cycling on these kinds of roads in Britain. It’s the kind of environment I’ve approached in trepidation before, carefully assessing where I might need to bail out and retrace my steps. But sure enough, at the roundabout there were small cycling signs pointing in the direction of Handcross, sending me down a service road, marked as a ‘dead end’.
This turned out to be absolutely fine. The service road leads to two businesses – a car dealership, and a garden centre. That’s it. The entrances and exits to these businesses that used to exist on the A23 have been closed off, and the A23 is fenced away, on the right.
I only met one vehicle going down this stretch of road. Perhaps the road itself it could be designed a little bit better. The limit is marked at 40mph, which seemed a bit too high for a cycle route, and given the likely volume of motor traffic here it might make more sense to adopt ‘Dutch style’ cycle lane markings on either side, and no centre line. But despite that I think it works – service roads like this can be good cycling environments if traffic volumes are low, and that appears to be the case here.
At the end of the service road, there is another set of (confusing) ‘dead end’ signs. If you’re walking or cycling, again, you have to ignore these, because the ‘dead end’ is your route.
As the service road comes to an end, you are directed onto a 2m path, pretty close to the A23, but still shielded by a wooden fence. It feels okay, but (and this is my major quibble) it’s just not wide enough for a two-way path.
The path then meanders around a spill pond, presumably designed to ‘capture’ run-off from the A23 to prevent flooding. This pond must requires motor vehicle access, because the path immediately widens to 4m.
This was the best bit of the entire ‘upgraded’ route. The path was beautifully wide and smooth, and a good distance away from the A23 itself. We then meet Slaugham Lane, a minor country lane that used to have entry and exit slips onto the A23 – dangerous ones, which have sensibly now been closed, just like the direct entry and exit points for the garden centre, which is now only on a service road.
This is the right thing to do – it doesn’t make sense to have a motorway-style road butting immediately onto a small country lane, or onto businesses. There were some local objections to the loss of this junction, because they now have to drive further, but if you’re going to turn an A-road into something like a motorway, then that should also mean decreasing the number of access points. Motorways (and trunk roads) should be for long-distance trips, not for enabling short ones.
This ‘closure’ now means this country lane is completely separated from the A23 (except on foot and bike, of course), so it’s even quieter than it was before. This is definitely a positive outcome. We do, however, have to cross under the A23 (on the bridges in the photograph above), because the path switches sides and continues northwards on the other side of it, the east side.
Here we turn left onto the old entry/exit slip road leading back up to the southbound A23, which is now only an access to a farm and to the continuing cycle path beside the main road. (Annoyingly, it’s another misleading ‘dead end’ sign).
This section is, unfortunately, not as good – we’re back to a measly 2m. Meanwhile the farm has a nice and generous new 4m concrete road, as if to say, here’s what you could have won.
And it is very close to the road. HGVs come whistling past you a few metres away, as there’s no hard shoulder.
People commented on Twitter when I shared this picture that they would ‘take this’, given that it is on the correct side of the crash barrier, and that many UK A-roads don’t have anything like this, at all. That’s fair enough, but I don’t think our current low horizons and low expectations should mean being satisfied with something that is substandard. It can and should be better. In fact at this width I think this path is dangerously narrow for two-way cycling, given that this section of the A23 is on a reasonably steep hill.
This is what a path beside a major road should look like.
Wide enough to not have to worry about oncoming traffic. But clearly the people who built the path beside the A23 think, like me, that it is dangerously narrow, because there are six ‘SLOW’ markings painted on the path in the downhill direction.
It’s very easy to pick up speed here, given a continuous gradient of 6-8%. Just freewheeling on the way back down my speed quickly got up to 20mph, which felt very fast on such a narrow path. If I’d met anyone coming the other way I would have felt the need to slow down a lot more, and that’s really not good enough on a path built beside a motorway, designed for 70mph+ speeds. It’s the same basic template as the motorway – no bends, good sightlines – that should allow high speeds, but the width is so miserly ‘SLOW’ signs have had to be painted on it. That’s pretty embarrassing.
Slightly alarmingly the path is littered with debris from motor vehicles, particularly the legacy of HGV tyre blowouts. This reminds you just how close you are to the road, in case you had forgotten.
On the approach to Handcross, the northern end of this upgraded and ‘cycle proofed’ road, we encounter the one and only side road this project had to deal with. And it’s a big fat failure.
The cycleway quickly shows its true colours, reverting to footway-specific design, with sharp corners, no markings to indicate what you should be doing if you are on a bike (just like a pavement) and some tactiles to bump over.
This isn’t even really a side road; it’s just an entrance to a business, and not even a major one at that, just a chap selling vintage sculptures out of what looks like a a caravan. I suspect it would be quite easy to give cycling priority across the side road, given the very, very limited use of this entrance, and the fact it’s on the slip road, not the A23 itself. But priority or no priority isn’t really the issue. I wouldn’t have minded a two-stage non-priority cycle crossing. The real problem here is the ambiguity, and the lazy, easy (and crap) option of just designing a footway and then plonking cycling on it with a blue roundel, the kind of thing that is just so awfully typical in new ‘design’ for cycling in places that just don’t care. A two-way cycle-route crossing an entrance like this could be so much better.
So the ‘test’ of the one side road that had to be dealt with was flunked. That’s not particularly confidence-inspiring, if the Highways Agency think this a good scheme.
The path then goes up the slip road coming out Handcross village. Unfortunately the path stops halfway up the slip road, meaning you have to cross it (heading either south or north) just at the point motorists are accelerating towards motorway speeds, to join the A23.
Again, this is poor design. Cycling out of the village in the direction the photograph is taken, I have to look back through 180° over my left shoulder to see whether any motor vehicles are coming (at ever increasing speeds at this point) before attempting to cross, again on some bumpy tactiles that require 90° turns. ‘Box ticked’, in that some ‘cycle provision’ is here, but if this is the kind of thing that the Highways Agency are doing across Britain, then I think we should be concerned.
From what I’ve seen from this short stretch of the A23, ‘providing for cycling’ seems to involve putting a 2m footway alongside the road in question, designing it for walking, and then…. just allowing cycling on it. The sections of this ‘improved’ stretch of the A23 that are good – the service road, and the access road to the pond – are good simply because they’ve been designed for motor vehicles. If people weren’t going to be driving on these stretches, they would be the same 2m path as the rest of it. And of course the ‘cycle provision’ disappears at junctions, where you have to cross the road like a pedestrian. For schemes beside trunk roads – fast, arterial roads – that simply shouldn’t be happening.
The other problem – and this isn’t the Highways Agency’s fault – is that these schemes are built in isolation from the surrounding area. So while this section of cycle facilities – despite its faults – does allow people to cycle along the A23, it simply doesn’t connect up with anything else, because it is surrounded by roads and bridleways controlled by West Sussex, who are still living in the Dark Ages as far as cycling infrastructure is concerned. Really, the Highways Agency’s engagement with ‘cycle proofing’ has to extend to the surrounding network controlled by local authorities, otherwise it is pretty meaningless – you simply won’t be able to get to the roads that are ‘cycle proofed’.
So it’s a start. But there’s a huge amount of room for improvement.
For a while now, we’ve been looking for a bike for my other half. She hasn’t owned one since she was a child, but she’s started enjoying cycling again when we’ve been on holiday. We’ve hired bikes in the Netherlands, where she’s been able to ride without any difficulty at all, despite being off a bike for decades, and we’ve also hired them in Bath, where we’ve made use of the Two Tunnels path to get out into the countryside in traffic-free conditions.
She wanted something that was quite small and easy to manage, but also something that was obviously practical. A good number of modern Dutch bikes didn’t really fit with her – they looked clunky and heavy. She liked the look of old-fashioned bicycles, with more slender steel tubing. Peering at bikes as we walked around Dutch cities, we did spot some candidates – in particular, this bike we saw on the Oudegracht in Utrecht.
It was just right. Cute-looking, old-fashioned, small and nimble (and – to my eyes – practical!)
We spotted another one of these bikes in Gouda, and a bit of investigation revealed that they are Roetz bikes. It turns out that the reason these bikes look old-fashioned, despite being new, is because they are old. They are recycled bikes. The frames are second-hand, and have been restored, and fitted with new components. It’s a really nice idea – giving an old or discarded bike a new life.
So once we got back to the UK we set about ordering one of these omafiets! You can choose your frame colour, and what kinds of components you want. We opted for a basic black, and chose the ‘geared’ option (as opposed to a single speed, coaster brake version, which she didn’t feel she would be comfortable using, and is probably legally suspect in the UK), along with a practical rear rack.
It was quite a wait for it to arrive from the Netherlands, but it was well worth it, because it’s a really beautiful bike.
It looks, well, like an old bike, partly because it is (the frame being recycled), but also because the modern components are in keeping with it.
The hubs, gearing and brakes are all Sturmey Archer, and feel satisfyingly dependable. The brakes are drum brakes, within the hubs, meaning there’s no messy brake dust mucking up the wheels.
It’s a five-speed rear hub, with a clunky, certain, twist grip on the handlebars.
The chain is fully enclosed in a Hebie Chainglider, meaning there’s no need to worry about clothing getting oily or greasy.
There’s a convenient AXA wheel lock with the ability to ‘plug in’ a chain, meaning you can either take the key out and leave the bicycle parked up (but unable to be ridden), or lock the wheel in combination with chaining it to a suitable object.
The saddle is lovely and comfy, a Dutch-made sprung leather affair. The rear rack (as you can see) comes with elastic straps to hold items on the top.
All the cabling is completely enclosed, meaning it’s protected from the elements. And there are some lovely details that give this bike a real ‘vintage’ feel, particularly the shiny handlebars and bell, the laminated wooden mudguards, the cream tyres, and the cork handlebar grips.
I have made a couple of ‘upgrades’ since it arrived. It did come with a kickstand, but a single leg one that, while perfectly adequate, isn’t quite as good as the Hebie ‘twin leg’ design that’s now fitted.
The other was to change the lighting. The bike came with some really good Spanning lights, mounted solidly (and permanently) on it. They were battery-powered, and nice and bright. It wasn’t really necessary to change them, but I wanted a fun winter project, so I offered to change the bicycle over to dynamo power, meaning the lights will just come on as soon as she starts pedalling, with no need to worry about switches, or ever replacing batteries (she was worried about being forgetful!)
The change was simple enough, but did require rebuilding the front wheel with a (Sturmey Archer) hub dynamo. (I like building wheels). The Spanninga lights were switched for a B&M Secula rear light and Lumotec front light, in a ‘classic’ housing, shown below.
This is the light I’ve got on my own omafiets, and it really does the job – it’s nice and bright, with a standlight meaning it keeps running for at least five minutes once you’ve stopped, and even a ‘sensor’ system that turns the light on automatically if it gets a bit gloomy.
With the reflective strips built into the (Marathon) tyres, the reflectors in the pedals, and the front and rear reflectors, this is a nicely visible bike under all conditions, despite its vintage appearance.
It’s a modern machine, built around a classic frame.
My omafiets is larger and heavier, so on the few occasions I’ve been able to ‘borrow’ it I can say that it’s a really fun ride, a smaller, bouncier version of my own bike, but still upright and comfortable, with the classic riding position that we basically got right in the 19th century.
The only problem now is that we just need to find somewhere for her to ride it. The choices of routes in Horsham are (sadly) pretty limited (or even non-existent) for someone who really doesn’t want to ride on busy roads. It’s frustrating seeing her enjoying herself on the (reasonably) quiet residential streets around where we live, but being unable to go anywhere else in the town, without walking. It’s a bike that deserves to be ridden, on quality infrastructure.
This is a piece about the unhelpful problems Transport for London have (partly) created for themselves by developing separate ‘Superhighway’ and ‘Quietway’ concepts, but it’s more broadly about terminology, and how we should think not in terms of separate classes of provision for cycling, but in terms of a uniform network, suitable for all potential users, even if it is composed of a variety of types of treatment.
Some of these problems originate with the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling, which contains some curious distinctions.
We will offer two clear kinds of branded route: high capacity Superhighways, mostly on main roads, for fast commuters, and slightly slower but still direct Quietways on pleasant, low-traffic side streets for those wanting a more relaxed journey.
Here we see a puzzling split – that Superhighways are for ‘fast commuters’, while Quietways are for those ‘wanting a more relaxed journey’. This distinction is reiterated, in different words, in the Mayor’s own introduction –
There will be greatly-improved fast routes on busy roads for cyclists in a hurry. And there will be direct, continuous, quieter routes on side streets for new cyclists, cautious cyclists and all sorts of other people who would rather take it more slowly.
But these kinds of distinctions are unhelpful. It suggests Superhighways are unsuitable for people who aren’t tearing to work in lycra, and also that Quietways are not for people who might want to get somewhere in a hurry, but instead only for cautious types, or those new to cycling as a mode of transport. And it is actually leading to worrying problems of understanding (or, more cynically, wilful misinterpretation for political expediency), particularly by prominent members of the Conservative party in London, all describing Superhighways as some kind of Mad Max-style environment where testosterone-fuelled men in lycra go to lock handlebars with one another.
Here’s mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith arguing that Superhighways have an ‘aggressive’ nature, and that Quietways would be ‘less intimidating’. And more recently on LBC Goldsmith made similar claims, arguing that
I know plenty of cyclists who don’t like to use [Superhighways], they prefer quietways, they prefer to go down more gentle routes.
Meanwhile Conservative Assembly Member Andrew Boff has been telling the Assembly (08:15) –
We do not design London’s roads with the inspiration of Formula 1. So why are we designing Cycle Superhighways with the inspiration of the Tour de France? And that is where people can go as fast as they need to. They are… in many ways, they are seen as concessions to the testosterone-driven, lycra-clad cyclists…
… the inspiration is seen by residents as that is what Superhighways are about. Going as fast as you possibly can down those routes.
While Assembly Member Roger Evans appears to be even more confused (14:20) –
The cycling lobby seems to be full of people who want to get out there and claim their piece of the road, and mix it with the HGVs, and the buses, and the cars, and fight for that piece of space they want. I think we should be listening to the people who would cycle in quieter conditions and safer conditions, if they actually had those schemes planned. So I’ve nothing against segregation, but Andrew [Boff] is right when he says it should be for everyone and not just the Tour de France fans.
All three – Goldsmith, Boff, Evans – paint a remarkably similar picture of Superhighways. Aggressive, inspired by the Tour de France, people going hell for leather, fighting for space. Not a place for those people who prefer a ‘gentler’, ‘less intimidating’, ‘quieter’ experience. Evans even goes so far as to argue that the ‘cycling lobby’ actually enjoy the adeline-rush of mixing with HGVs and buses, presumably enjoying that kind of experience on the Thunderdome of the Superhighways too.
This is all bollocks, of course. The ‘new generation’ of Superhighways are converting unpleasant, hostile main roads into environments that will be suitable for anyone to ride in. There was not a cat in hell’s chance that I would have ventured anywhere near the Embankment, or the junctions at either end of Blackfriars Bridge, or the Vauxhall gyratory, with my genuinely nervous-on-a-bike partner, but we’re already planning cycling up and down the Thames once the weather gets a bit warmer, because the new cycleways are somewhere she will be entirely happy to ride.
Far from enabling hostility and aggression, they’re doing precisely the opposite. And even if some people using them might be doing so in lycra, or cycling fast, mixing with them is far, far more preferable to the alternative – mixing with motor traffic travelling much faster.
We can see just how silly these arguments are if we imagine that for – whatever reason – there weren’t any footways along the Embankment, and the only people on foot there were hardcore joggers, mixing it in the road with motor traffic. If Transport for London came along with a suggestion to build a Pedestrian Superfootway along the river, separating people from motor traffic, would Goldsmith, Boff and Evans argue that such a scheme would be a ‘concession to testosterone-driven lycral-clad joggists’, or that most such a footway would have an ‘aggressive and intimidating’ character, and that footists prefer gentler routes? (Or that the joggist lobby seems to be full of joggers who enjoy fighting for space with HGVs?)
Whether these kinds of arguments flow from basic ignorance about the purpose and function of the new cycling infrastructure in London, or whether they are simply a figleaf for a more general reluctance to repurpose road space, I can’t say, but they have to a certain extent been enabled by the language that Transport for London have themselves used in describing Superhighways – calling them ‘fast routes for commuters’, ‘for people in a hurry’. Almost exactly the same kinds of descriptions that are being used by Goldsmith, Boff and Evans.
But it doesn’t stop there. The problematic language used to describe Superhighways applies in parallel to Quietways, and has opened up opportunities for misunderstanding (or deliberate misinterpretation) in much the same way. Remember that the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling suggested that TfL will offer
Quietways on pleasant, low-traffic side streets for those wanting a more relaxed journey.
The Vision – after enthusing about London’s ‘matchless network of side streets, greenways and parks’ – states that
A cross-London network of high-quality guided Quietways will be created on low-traffic back streets and other routes so different kinds of cyclists can choose the routes which suit them.
Again, ‘different kinds of cyclists’ shouldn’t have to pick and choose a route which might suit them – anyone who wants to ride a bike, whether they are confident or experienced, or just starting out, shouldn’t have to choose. Any part of the network should reach a basic high standard of suitability for any potential user, whether it’s on a main road or on a side street.
But the bigger problem here is that while ‘Quietways’ are themselves being (wrongly) presented as some kind of attractive, gentle alternative to the cut-and-thrust of the Superhighways, the Quietway concept is itself being misunderstood, again because of this TfL language.
‘Creating routes on low traffic back streets’ ducks the central problem that most of the genuinely direct ‘back street’ routes in London aren’t quiet, at all. If they are direct, then drivers will be using them, because they’re useful. To create direct Quietways that are also genuiely quiet will actually require interventions to remove through motor traffic. So while, as Paul Gannon astutely observes, Quietways might be ‘the ideal solution for less confident politicians’, they require just as much political commitment as main roads themselves. London’s (potentially useful) back streets aren’t quiet, and they need action to change them, just as the main roads do.
Here’s just one example of how the ‘Quietway’ concept lends itself to being misunderstood. It’s a blog by a Hackney resident, opposed to the ‘filtering’ of Middleton Road in Hackney, which will (potentially) form part of Quietway 2.
my neighbour made probably the most sensible suggestion of the night. He had no axe to grind so listened intently to Hackney’s presentation. He noted that the Quietways initiative was Boris Johnson’s (not Hackney’s). And that the scheme didn’t require road closures at all – simply the routing of cycleways along roads with under 2000 vehicles a day. Middleton Road was currently 4500 a day (though the council/activists had inflated this to 6000 in their propaganda). Pushed by the activists, the solution had been to close Middleton Road when, as he quietly pointed out, if you moved the cycleway to any other road in the area, the vehicle count fell to just a few hundred. No other change was required, allowing the activists to create their “mini-Holland” without turning other peoples’ lives upside-down – or have I missed the point? [my emphasis]
This resident evidently thinks that because ‘Quietways’ should be using ‘quiet streets’, they should simply be re-routed onto the quietest possible streets in any given area, rather than requiring any kinds of interventions at all on busier roads.
The weakness of language that Transport for London have used themselves has created opportunities for what I might call a ‘double shunting’ of cycle provision. Firstly, shunting it away from main roads onto ‘gentle’ Quietways. And then, secondly, those ‘Quietways’ themselves get shunted away from routes that make the most sense, onto less direct roads that are already quiet – quiet because, of course, they’re not very useful routes for anyone. Those who are hostile to, or uncertain about, loadspace reallocation schemes on main roads can point to Quietways, and people who don’t like the idea of ‘their’ roads being ‘closed’ can point to London’s apparent ‘matchless network’ of already quiet streets as alternatives.
These problems have arisen because the terminology used in the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling has opened the door to this kind of ‘divide and conquer’ approach. It could have been avoided – and I think it can best be addressed – by starting to talk in terms of networks, rather than routes, and about high quality provision which limits interactions with motor traffic, regardless of the road or street context. Obviously this will require different kinds of interventions, but we shouldn’t parcel those types of interventions up into distinct categories of route. A typical journey from A to B in an area with a high-quality cycle network will be made up of cycling seamlessly between these interventions, without even noticing it.
I’m hopeful that networks, and network-style thinking, will naturally start to develop as the density of suitable routes increases, at least in central London. There are some obvious gaps that will present themselves, and need filling in, as the new protected cycleways on main roads are finished. But in the meantime it would be helpful if distinctions between Quietways and Superhighways could melt away, replaced with a concept of high-quality provision for all potential users.