The best of the new cycling infrastructure in London is almost entirely composed of bi-directional cycleways, placed on one side of the road. This includes pretty much the entirety of CS3 and CS6 – the former running from Parliament Square to Tower Hill, the latter from Elephant and Castle to just north of Ludgate Circus.
Bi-directional cycleways are often not the best design solution, but the decision to go with bi-directional cycleways is not an accident. Undoubtedly people at Transport for London have thought long and hard about the best way to implement cycling infrastructure given current UK constraints, and have plumped for two-way as the most sensible approach.
To be clear, bi-directional cycleways do have serious downsides – they can lead to more conflict at side roads as cycles will be coming from unexpected directions, and pedestrians in particular may find them harder to deal with. Head-on collisions with other people cycling are also more likely. On ‘conventional’ streets – one lane of motor traffic in each direction – uni-directional cycleways are clearly preferable, all other things being equal.
However, bi-directional cycleways do also have advantages, and one in particular that has probably swayed the decision-makers in London. It’s touched upon in this excellent summary of the advantages and disadvantages of bi-directional and uni-directional approaches by Paul James –
Depending on the roadway in question you could have less junctions to deal with, if you have many turnings on one side of the road, running a bi-directional cycleway on the opposite side so as to save on conflicts might be a good idea.
This is clearly the reasoning behind putting a bi-directional cycleway on the ‘river’ side of the Embankment. There are no junctions to deal with, cycling in either direction, so even though people are cycling on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, heading east, that’s a lot safer (and also more convenient) than having to deal with all the side roads that do exist on the non-river side of the road.
But this isn’t the only type of conflict-avoidance that explains why bi-directional cycleways have been chosen in London. Bi-directional cycleways also reduce conflicts at junctions that have to be signalised, by ‘bundling up’ all the cycle flows on one side of the road. This is actually very important, thanks to the limitations of current UK rules, and it’s the subject of this post.
In all the countries in mainland Europe (and also in Canada and the United States) it is an accepted principle that motor traffic turning right (the equivalent of our left) with a green signal should yield to pedestrians (and people cycling) progressing ahead, also with a green signal. Here’s a typical example in Paris; the driver is turning off the main road, with a green signal, but pedestrians also have a green signal to cross at the same time. The driver should yield (and is).
This approach actually makes junctions very straightforward, and efficient. A complete cycle of the traffic lights at a conventional crossroads requires only two stages to handle all the movements of people walking, cycling and driving. In the first, walking, cycling and driving all proceed north-south (with all ‘turning’ movements yielding to ‘straight on’ movements), and in the second, the same, but in the east-west direction.
Compare that with a typical UK junction, which will have three stages (if it takes account of pedestrians at all) and ignores cycling altogether, lumping it in with motor traffic. First, motor traffic (with cycling included in it) going north-south; then, motor traffic heading east-west; then pedestrians finally get a go on the third stage, with all other movements held.
This arrangement obviously doesn’t allow any turning conflicts (apart, of course, from motor vehicles crossing each other’s paths) – pedestrians don’t get to cross the road until all motor traffic is stopped, with an additional third stage. (This is, effectively, a ‘simultaneous green’ for pedestrians, although we are rarely generous to give pedestrians enough signal time to cross the junction on the diagonal).
And this gives us a clue to the problem when it comes to adding in cycling, when these kinds of turning conflicts aren’t allowed. You either have to add in stages where motor traffic is prevented from turning, or you have to stop pedestrians from crossing the road while cyclists are moving. Both of these approaches would add in a large amount of signal time, and would make for inefficient junctions.
One possible answer is including cycling in the ‘simultaneous green’ stage, but with sensible design – cycles moving from all arms of the junction at the same time as pedestrians have their green, and pedestrians crossing cycleways on zebra crossings. For whatever reason (from what I hear, DfT resistance) this kind of junction is still not appearing in the UK, forcing highway engineers to improvise within the constraints of the current rules. As Transport for London have done.
If we are trying to build uni-directional cycleways, those UK rules effectively mean we either have to ban turns for motor traffic, or we have to employ very large junctions indeed, to handle signalising different movements. Take the Cambridge Heath junction on Superhighway 2, which has to use three queuing lanes for motor traffic in each direction. One for the left turns (which have to be held while cyclists and motor traffic progress ahead), one for straight ahead, and one for right turns (which have to be separate from straight ahead movements, otherwise the junction will clog up).
That’s an awful lot of space when you add in the cycling infrastructure – space not many junctions in urban areas will have.
In an ideal world – and with sensible priority rules – these junctions could just be shrunk down to two queuing lanes in each direction. A left turning lane combined with a straight ahead lane, and a right turn lane. All these lanes would run at the same time as cycle traffic progressing ahead (as well as pedestrians), with the left turners yielding.
Unsurprisingly this is – of course – how the Dutch arrange this kind of junction.
This is much more compact than the kind of ‘Cambridge Heath’-style junction that we are forced to employ in Britain.
But, given that we unfortunately can’t do this, and that we rarely have the kind of space available that there is on Superhighway 2, bi-directional cycleways are the most obvious answer. As I hinted at in the introduction, this is why they’ve been used by Transport for London – they’re not stupid!
Let’s take one of the junctions on the North-South superhighway, at Ludgate Circus. Space here is much more limited than on CS2 – we can’t add in multiple turning lanes – so that means, given the constraints of UK rules, a bi-directional cycleway is the most sensible option.
Only two queuing lanes for motor traffic are required, in each direction, making this arrangement much more compact. It helps, of course, that a bi-directional cycleway is more space-efficient than two uni-directional ones, but the main win here is the fact that all the potential conflicts are ‘bundled’ on one side of the road. That means motor traffic flowing south doesn’t have turning conflicts on the inside.
Clearly, as I’ve outlined early on in this post, bi-directional cycleways will, more often than not, be less desirable than uni-directional ones, in urban areas. But they are currently – thanks to UK rules – probably the best way of building inclusive cycling infrastructure when space is genuinely limited, as they are the simplest way of side-stepping around British priority rules. (An additional benefit is that they will typically only involve converting, at most, a single lane of motor traffic, which helps when it comes to persuading reluctant local authorities worried about retaining capacity for drivers.)
Perhaps the way forward is to continue building bi-directional cycleways, but keeping in mind the possibility of adapting bi-directional designs into uni-directional ones, if and when UK rules become more flexible, or if and when ‘simultaneous green’ arrangements start to appear.
Namely, the claim that Mayor Boris Johnson exacerbated the problem of congestion in London
by removing the western extension of the congestion zone and by reducing road capacity in central London by 25% on key routes through the introduction of cycle superhighways [my emphasis]
Elsewhere in the report [p.26] this claim is even wilder –
… by removing the western extension of the congestion zone and by reducing road capacity in central London by 25% through the introduction of cycle superhighways
I’m not even going to bother with that one, because it’s so plainly ludicrous (at best only 3% of roads in central London have protected cycleways) and because it is most likely the result of a mistaken omission of ‘on key routes’.
But even the former claim is mysterious. Given that there are effectively just a handful of new superhighways in central London – CS5, CS6, CS3 and parts of CS2, how on earth has a figure of ‘reducing road capacity in central London on key routes by 25%’ been arrived at?
Charitably, we might interpret the claim as being a reduction in capacity on some key routes in central London by 25%. (This is an explanation some of those who have disseminated the statistic are desperately falling back on). But if that was the claim that was being made, why isn’t the word ‘some’ actually included, anywhere in the report where this claim is repeatedly made?
Further, in the context of the passage, the implication is quite clear – road capacity has been reduced on key routes by (allegedly) 25% overall, enough to justify comment. To put this another way, if road capacity had been reduced on just a handful of main roads, why on earth would that merit comment in a passage about London-wide congestion? This attempt at an explanation is incoherent.
We then come to the problem of ‘key routes’ themselves. Funnily enough TfL were careful to avoid ‘key routes’ for buses as much as possible when they build the E-W and N-S Superhighways, as you can see from this map of key bus routes, spotted by Jono Kenyon.
These high-profile interventions barely co-exist with these key bus routes, using routes where there is relatively little (or no) TfL bus activity. If there has been a reduction of 25% on ‘key routes’ it isn’t the ones buses are using. The Embankment, which has seen a reduction in the number of motor traffic lanes (a very different thing from capacity) from 4 to 3 (a potential source for a ‘25%’ claim) is very much not a key route for buses.
So where did this dubious statistic even come from in the first place? The answer (thanks to some digging by Carlton Reid and Peter Walker) appears to be from a Transport for London presentation made by Helen Cansick to the London Travel Watch board, on May the 12th last year.
… the 25 percent statistic is not as robust as it was portrayed in the bus report. For a start, it’s not from a written source. Professor Begg told BikeBiz:
“The statistic comes from Transport for London. Helen Canswick of TfL network management gave a presentation to London TravelWatch at which she was asked what the reduction traffic capacity would be as a result of roads modernisation. She told members they had modelled a reduction of network capacity in the central area of 25 percent.”
Extraordinarily Begg himself confirms here that “the statistic” is actually about reduction in capacity due to the road modernisation programme – a programme that encompasses improvements for cycling, but also public realm schemes and improvements for walking and public transport – and, err, road schemes.
This much is plain when we look at the minutes of the meeting during which the Canswick presentation was made.
The Policy Officer asked what the total reduction in road capacity would be under the modernisation plan. Ms Cansick said that following completion in December 2016 there would be a reduction of road capacity for motor vehicles of 25% within the inner ring road.
Exactly the same statistic that Begg says he used (albeit erroneously). Who might this Policy Officer be?
— Peter Walker (@peterwalker99) June 13, 2016
Vincent Stops is of course a London TravelWatch policy officer, one who was present at that meeting, and clearly the person who passed the ‘25%’ statistic on to Professor Begg.
The only remaining question is at what point a figure about 25% reduction due to TfL’s overall road modernisation programme became converted into a 25% reduction due specifically to cycling infrastructure, as the claim appeared in Begg’s report.
If by any chance you’ve missed it, do please read Paul Gannon’s forensic analysis of a report produced by David Begg for Greener Journeys, entitled ‘The Impact of Congestion on Bus Passengers’. I don’t really need to add much to what Paul has written; he has done a great job wading through the detail of a report that has some fairly odd things to say about cycling.
However, there is a curious case of repetition that bears further scrutiny. This paragraph appears on page 30 in the Begg report –
What is less well-known is how relatively affluent cyclists in London are compared with bus passengers. Transport for London describes the London cyclist as “typically white, under 40, male with medium to high household income”. A report by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s Transport & Health Group in 2011 describes cycling in London as disproportionately an activity of white, affluent men.
It’s a passage that corresponds closely to this one in a Dave Hill piece from October last year –
A study by academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) published in 2011, explores why in London “cycling is disproportionately an activity of affluent, white men” or, as Transport for London (TfL), has put it, why the London cyclist is “typically white, under 40, male, with medium to high household income.”
Exactly the same two sources on class, gender and ethnicity and, more tellingly, exactly the same two quoted passages, from those two sources. These are essentially two identical paragraphs, barring some shuffling and switching of words.
Coincidence? That seems extraordinarily unlikely, given a) the wealth of material out there on class and ethnicity, b) the age and relative obscurity of both of these sources, and c) the small chance of these two identical quotes being plucked from them. The blindingly obvious explanation is that exactly the same person has supplied exactly the same two sources to these two different parties, who have both parroted it uncritically.
This wouldn’t matter if the evidence being cited was convincing. However, (and sadly for both Hill and Begg) it isn’t.
As Paul points out, these sources are being used by Begg to present ‘cyclists’ as a more influential lobby than bus users by virtue of their class and wealth; to argue that they have more ‘power’ than bus users and are hence able to twist the urban transport agenda to their advantage more effectively than bus lobbyists. The section on cycling affluence in the Begg report follows closely after this assertion –
The more affluent and generally well-educated the traveller, the more vocal and powerful a lobby they form to be able to effect change that is advantageous to their choice of mode.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that they appear to be being fed exactly the same information, this is also a line of argument used by Hill.
@joelcacooney Middle class professionals dominate London cycling demographic. That's why they are listened to & bus users are ignored.
— DaveHill (@DaveHill) June 7, 2016
And this fairly explicit agenda was ‘recycled’ in an extraordinary TransportXtra piece that extends the class-based argument to Britain as a whole.
Unfortunately – at least as far as London is concerned – this ‘argument of power’ is far from persuasive. Even if we accept that the cycling demographic in the capital is ‘dominated’ by influential middle class professionals, the number of people cycling in London is still tiny relative to those taking the bus (a point that bus lobbyists are of course more than happy to point out). Around ten times more journeys are made by bus every day in London, compared to the number that are cycled. This means that the number of middle class professionals taking the bus in London will far outweigh the number of middle class professionals who cycle, given that ‘bus passengers are not primarily those on lower incomes, but are representative of the profile of Londoners.‘
What we are left with, then, is the deeply implausible assertion that the ‘influentialness’ of a middle class professional transport lobby flows not from its actual size but from the extent to which it ‘dominates’ its mode of transport. By this logic, if a town has just 100 cyclists (70 of whom are middle class professionals), and 1000 bus users (500 of whom are middle class professionals), its ‘cycle lobby’ will be more influential than its ‘bus lobby’. Make of that what you will.
We might also point out that ‘the London bus lobby’ isn’t simply composed of bus users; it’s also composed of large and relatively powerful bus companies – companies like Stagecoach (2015 revenue, £3.2bn; operating profit, £225m), Abellio (a subsidiary of the Dutch national railways group) and Arriva (a subsidiary of the German national railways group). By comparison, the London cycling lobby has… well, membership organisations like the London Cycling Campaign, and individual campaigners and bloggers. If this motley lot are more influential than bus companies, then I’m a Dutchman.
As for the evidence itself used to make the claims for the influential, well, they are unconvincing. As Paul observes in his piece, the statistic ‘only 1.5% of those living in households earning under £15,000 cycled compared with 2.2% of those living in households earning over £35,000’ doesn’t even appear in this study – it appears in another study (this one) that is merely referenced by the first LSTHM study. Paul points out how this statistic has been presented omitting the detail that, in households with an income of £15,000-£35,000, the cyclist percentage is virtually identical to that in households earning over £35,000 – 2.1%, compared to 2.2%. Even if we take these kinds of differences seriously, they really are negligible in the context of overall cycling share – see how these statistics look when they are presented as below.
Remember, it is actually being argued here that almost imperceptible differences between income groups at very low overall levels of cycling somehow makes the cycling lobby influential.
Cycling is not ‘disproportionately’ an activity of the affluent. Unfortunately, nor is it ‘disproportionately’ an activity of ‘whites’. More recent TfL research – from last year, not from 2011 – found that ‘cycling levels among BAME Londoners and white Londoners are very similar’ and that ‘there is also very little difference between white and BAME Londoners in frequency of cycling’.
The evidence that cycling is ‘disproportionately’ the activity of allegedly more influential members of society is weak or absent, and even if were present, the theory of ‘cycling influence’ fails to explain how an allegedly powerful cycle lobby is so influential despite being so relatively tiny compared to the numbers of similarly influential people taking the bus.
So here’s the thing. If bus groups want to lobby for more bus priority, they should do exactly that. They should lobby for bus lanes at the expense of private motor traffic, not at the expense of cycling. Crucially, they should be arguing for these bus lanes alongside cycleways, rather than instead of them. If you are concerned about the flow of buses, bus lanes full of people cycling are not efficient, and if you are not providing cycleways, that is where the people cycling will be. They won’t disappear into thin air; they will be in your bus lanes, holding up your buses.
So I’d like to see a bus lobby that is arguing for the right things – a coherent, fast system of bus priority at the expense of private motor traffic, rather than at the expense of cycling. I don’t want to see a bus lobby that is relying on dubious sources to launch a misguided and counterproductive class war against other modes of transport.
If you read the headlines, you might hear that Transport for London are spending ONE BILLION POUNDS ON CYCLISTS. Or that they are spending FIFTY MILLION POUNDS ON ONE CYCLE ROUTE FOR CYCLISTS. Crazy, right? That’s a huge some of money to be spending on a cycle route. What have cyclists done to deserve all that cash?
One response is of course to point that these big, scary sums of money are actually quite trivial in terms of the overall transport spend in London. Ranty Highwayman has already done the sums, so I don’t have to go over the same ground, but to take just one example, just stopping the Hammersmith Flyover from falling down cost £100 million – basic road maintenance on an ageing bridge for motoring easily outstrips all the spending on cycling infrastructure in London, thus far.
But another way of approaching this issue is to place ‘spending on cycling’ in historical context. Let’s take, say, the Blackfriars Underpass, just one small part of the contemporary east-west Superhighway route. It was built in 1967, to facilitate the flow of motor traffic. As is apparent from the film below, the convenience, comfort and safety of anyone walking and cycling in the area did not feature in the scheme.
In ‘1967 money’ it cost £2.6m, which funnily enough is equivalent to around fifty million pounds today – more than the entire cost of the east-west Superhighway itself.
Or take the aforementioned Hammersmith Flyover, a structure designed purely to facilitate the flow of private motor traffic, built in 1960 at a cost of £1.3m, which in today’s money equates to around £27 million. For – effectively – an 800 metre bridge across a roundabout.
Or take Park Lane, widened at around the same time to six lanes, at the expense of 20 acres of Hyde Park and a number of buildings, at a cost, in contemporary terms, of roughly £21 million, again for a very short stretch of road.
Or the Westway and West Cross Route, part of the (aborted) inner London motorway box, built in the late 1960s at a total cost of £36.5m, or around half a billion pounds in today’s money.
I could of course go on, listing scheme after scheme just in London, without even touching on other major projects in other British towns and cities. In reality, the twentieth century was a period in which our entire road and street system was reshaped and rebuilt to favour motoring, at enormous expense, and at tremendous cost to cycling in particular, but also of course upon walking.
Roads did not spontaneously arrange themselves into the kinds of form shown in the picture above. Political decisions were taken to shape our towns and cities around the car, a programme that required vast sums of money to be spent. ‘The natural order of things’ that is today being challenged by a small number of cycling schemes on a tiny, tiny proportion of the overall road network is not ‘natural’ at all – it’s the outcome of political choices, made over several decades. Just because we’re living in that environment today without appreciating how it came into being doesn’t make those political choices any less real.
Another picture from “Carscapes”, of Leeds today. The war on the motorist in evidence pic.twitter.com/O2KUsvcU
— Mark Treasure (@AsEasyAsRiding) February 15, 2013
It’s also worth pointing out that, at the time many of these decisions were being made, the motor car was still very much a minority mode of transport.
At the time of the ‘Traffic in Towns’ report in 1963, there were only 6.4 million cars in Britain, for a population of 54 million people. Of course, car use was growing, and may have continued to grow, even without any of the changes to the built environment that were occurring both before and after the Buchanan report. But I think it’s reasonable to point out that, essentially, you end up with the kind of transport use that you plan for. If you build very big roads in your towns and cities that make it easy to drive about, and difficult or inconvenient (or even dangerous and intolerable) to walk and cycle about, then we shouldn’t be surprised which mode of transport people decide to use for short trips.
As well as undoing the twentieth century’s failure to consider existing, established modes of transport in road design, the investment in cycling infrastructure that is taking place in Britain (albeit barely scratching the surface in London and a handful of other cities, and non-existent pretty much everywhere else) is really just an attempt to tip the scales slightly back the other way, towards a mode of transport that has never seen investment in any significant way, and that was erased from our towns and cities by an enormous historical programme of investing in motoring that we don’t notice today because its effects upon our built environment are so ubiquitous.
One of the most remarkable things about the new cycling infrastructure in London is not just the numbers of people using it, already, but the way it is being used spontaneously, by a wide range of users. Not just by tourists hopping onto hire bikes –
but also by people using many different kinds of transport. Scooterists.
— Laura Warrington (@themovingparade) May 24, 2016
— Adam Reynolds (@awjre) May 25, 2016
Mobility scooterists (even if they are let down by cycling infrastructure disappearing).
Handicapped mobility scooter suddenly has to merge w/ traffic bcos segregation disappears at Whitechapel market CS2 pic.twitter.com/zmkvPuDoIc
— Two Wheels Good blog (@TwoWheelsGoodUK) May 22, 2016
And even horseists.
— david dansky (@FixedFun) May 23, 2016
As well as, of course, the myriad types of cycling device that are starting to appear now that conditions are so much less hostile.
So although this is formally ‘cycling infrastructure’, it’s really more pragmatic to describe it as a bit of street space that’s useful for all those ways of getting about that aren’t motor vehicles, and aren’t walking.
It even makes sense for people to jog in these lanes, at quieter times – joggers are faster than people walking, and they can make their own decisions about when it is comfortable to use cycling infrastructure, and when it isn’t. Anecdotally, I think fewer people are jogging in them now they are busier (and indeed open!), but there’s no particular reason to get territorial. It’s space that can and should be used by modes of transport that don’t mix well (or safely) with motor traffic, and don’t mix well with people walking either.
So in a subtle way, this infrastructure is improving the pedestrian environment, by incentivising all these ‘awkward’ uses of footways into a much more appropriate space – including the obvious legal (and illegal) cycling on the footway, but also scootering, skateboarding and mobility scooters. If there’s cycling infrastructure alongside a footway you are walking on, you will only have to deal with other people walking.
It’s also showing that – despite the persistent stream of media noise about the alleged threat posed by speeding London cyclists – people are quite happy to share space with people cycling, in a way they plainly wouldn’t with motor traffic. People jogging, scooting, wheeling, skateboarding, and just travelling along a little bit faster than walking, all using cycling ‘space’, is really objective proof that cycling does not present a huge amount of danger. If it was that terrifying, all these people would still be using the footways.
This isn’t road space reallocation ‘for cyclists’ – it really doesn’t make sense to frame it so narrowly. Rather, it’s more space for all those people who wanted to cycle (because frankly cycling is a brilliant way to get about) but were put off by frankly horrible conditions, and just as importantly, more space for anyone who wants to travel around in a way that doesn’t quite fit with walking. Simultaneously it therefore also represents a freeing up of pedestrian space.
It’s just better for everyone.
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.