I recently chanced upon this amazing letter, written to the British Medical Journal, almost exactly 13 years ago.
I have been reading the responses to Douglas Carnall’s Editorial on cycling. None of your correspondents mention the factor I believe to be most important in encouraging my age group to cycle – separate cycle carriageways. I have just returned from an exchange trip to Munich, with a mixed group of eighteen Leeds 15 year olds. None of the Leeds students currently dare use their bicycles to travel to school, to friends’ houses or into town. However, when in Munich we all had lots of opportunities to cycle. All of the roads had segregated cycle paths, separate from both cars and pedestrians. I have also seen this sort of provision for cyclists in Denmark.
The German teenagers’ parents had no problems letting them take their bikes out for the day, knowing they would be safe on their journeys. This gives my age group much-wanted freedom AND EXERCISE !
Even if speed limits were reduced to 20 miles per hour (enforced at 27 mph) would you let your teenager out for the day on a bike in the majority of cities and towns in the UK ? I can only see a significant increase in teenagers wanting to (and being allowed to) use their bikes for transport if separate carriageways are introduced. These do not include the pathetic painted cyclepaths currently offered in Leeds where the roads are reasonably wide, which inevitably disappear when you really need them.
Could we send our transport planners and John Prescott to Denmark or Germany to see how its done?
I like to imagine that Zohra’s group looked like this.
A group of teenagers cycling in comfort and security; something that she and her friends wouldn’t dare to do back in Leeds, even if their parents had let them.
The letter is, almost paradoxically, both incredibly insightful and a statement of the blindingly obvious. Children do not like to cycle in motor traffic. Create the conditions that separate them from that motor traffic, and they will happily do so. Zohra and her friends were, unintentionally or otherwise, an experiment, and she was perceptive enough to realise what had made the difference. Nobody else was writing letters to the BMJ pointing out what was actually needed to make her choose to ride a bike; she obviously felt compelled to write in herself.
But direct evidence from children, stating in plain and simple terms what is required for them to feel happy about cycling to school, or to friends’ houses, or into town, simply could not do for a certain kind of cycle campaigner. Within five days, a response had appeared in the BMJ.
It is welcome and valuable to receive the viewpoint of a young cyclist such as Zohra Chiheb, who has sampled, and obviously appreciated, the situation of her contemporaries on the Continent. I am certainly glad she was able to experience the freedom of two wheels, a pleasure (and birthright, in my view) that has been denied young people in this country for more than a decade. I was lucky; I was a teenager back in the Seventies, when no one thought twice about allowing teenagers to roam the neighbourhood and even further afield on their bikes, if they so wished.
Contrary to what common sense would suggest, there are in fact problems with the German/Dutch/Danish solution of providing separate routes for cyclists. Studies repeatedly show that segregating cyclists increases their risks. For instance, in Milton Keynes during the last 11 years, 7 cyclists have been killed using the cycle paths, only 1 has been killed on the roads (1). In Berlin, cyclists were found to be four times more likely to crash off-road than on the road with the traffic (1). Cycle paths are invariably poorly engineered, they are narrow, also used by pedestrians, many cyclists ride too fast on them and junctions are anarchic. Also, where cycle routes encounter the road system, cyclists invariably lose all rights of way. High skill levels are not fostered by such arrangements.
“Cyclists fair [sic] best when they are treated as vehicular traffic”. So says American cycling safety expert John Forrester and so also says British expert John Franklin. To the inexperienced cyclist, such opinions appear nonsensical. But in fact, cycling with the traffic is not dangerous compared to other means of transport. One mile of cycling is significantly less dangerous than a mile of walking. The death rate of regular road cyclists is no higher than the death rate of car users (about 1 in 25,000 per year). And that is average cycling – there is plenty of bad cycling out there! Skilful cyclists face much better odds. An hour of skilful cycling is probably not much more dangerous than an hour of average driving.
Keeping cyclists in the traffic is the best solution for a number of reasons:
1) Cyclists have access to the same direct, well-surfaced routes as drivers;
2) Drivers get accustomed to dealing with cyclists;
3) Cyclists get accustomed to dealing with drivers;
4) Cycling skilfully in the traffic is the safest, fastest way to get about town on a bicycle;
Young people today are the victims of a decade of bucket-loads of negative propaganda being tipped over cycling; by the medical profession (until lately), by “safety campaigners”, by the media, by cyclists themselves (it cannot be denied). Young people now believe cycling is only “safe” away from traffic, and thus they lose most of the potential utility and enjoyment of riding. Young people must be taught skilful riding techniques and drivers must be made to understand that in years to come they will be expected to be tolerant of an increasing number of cyclists on the roads. This latter point is less of a problem than it might seem. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of drivers will return the courtesy of a courteously handled bike. But lower speed limits and proper recognition of cyclists’ right to safety will make the roads more inviting places for young cyclists (and older ones who have given up). Dropping the use of such words as “danger”, “accident” and “safe” is vital; try “convenient”, “healthy” and “quick”.
Ms Chiheb asks whether I would allow teenagers out to ride on today’s roads. That is a tough question, because the attitude today is that if you get hurt, you are in the wrong, especially pursuing a “dangerous” activity such as road cycling. The parents of a damaged teenager will attract the opprobrium of decent-thinking people for having been so “irresponsible” as to allow their offspring freedom. But if she and her friends are prepared to face that nonsense down and do what they actually want to do in the face of political correctness, I would suggest the following (at the risk of appearing presumptuous):
1) Dump the MTB and get a proper road bike. Since you cannot buy a practical road bike in a shop nowadays, I suggest you look about for a good second-hand 10-speed with a “male” frame. You should be able to get something quite smart for £60-£100. Make sure it has mudguards, a carrier rack, a good bell, and it must have good lights, ideally dynamo-powered with a rear light that remains on when you stop. These are expensive, but well worth it. You may need to put a female saddle on it.
2) Buy “Cyclecraft” by John Franklin (HMSO) or “Effective Cycling” by John Forrester. Read, absorb;
3) Start cautiously on quiet suburban backstreets and work up slowly. Be prepared to take 12 to 18 months to work up to a good skill level, and don’t be deterred if you have a crash – that’s the most important lesson you’ll ever have!
4) Always bear in mind that it’s fast traffic that is dangerous, not heavy traffic. One fast idiot every half hour is far more dangerous than a whole stream of slow-moving traffic. Congestion has slowed urban traffic and made it safer. British traffic is far more benign, orderly and predictable than it is usually made out to be;
5) Trust your own judgement; don’t listen to the hysterical claptrap about cycling being “dangerous”. Bear in mind what I said above – a mile of walking is more dangerous than a mile of cycling, but neither is really all that dangerous if you keep your wits about you.
So don’t be put off by political correctness. There’s a wonderful world of exploration out there. Just do it!
1. “Enabling and encouraging people to cycle”. Paper presented by John Franklin to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. See his home pagehttp://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/quinze/cycling.htm
Competing interests: None declared
Frankly this makes my blood boil. Maybe it would be wrong to single out one letter in particular, but this one typifies everything that was (and still is) so desperately wrong with cycle campaigning in this country.
The evidence was there in Zohra’s letter, but it just gets dismissed. Extraordinarily, the stated preferences of a child were completely ignored, and instead a futile attempt is made to persuade her that ‘cycling in traffic’ is the best way forward.
A whole paragraph is devoted to misinformation about the safety of cycle paths, and their quality. We now know that John Franklin misled a nation’s cycle campaigners, and his statistics about the Milton Keynes Redways (which are undeniably of dubious quality) were shoddy and essentially useless. Dutch cyclists are safer – far far safer – than their British counterparts.
We also know that cycle paths need not be ‘narrow’, or ‘anarchic’ at junctions, or ‘used by pedestrians’, or that ‘cyclists lose all rights of way’ when they encounter the road system. Bad cycle paths are like that, but even in the year 2000 there was plenty of evidence that cycle paths across the Netherlands did not conform to this shabby stereotype. Deliciously, there’s also a Forester- and Franklin-esque reference to the ‘skill levels’ of cyclists being diminished by cycling infrastructure. We should remember that John Franklin thought Dutch cyclists turned around and went home when they arrived at Harwich due to their ‘low skill levels’ -
Sustrans has often cited the fact that Dutch cyclists sometimes leave the ferry at Harwich and find traffic so difficult to deal with that they go back home! Interestingly, this problem is not experienced by cyclists arriving from France, Spain or the USA. Proficiency in using roads on a regular basis is essential to maximise safety, and to maximise one’s cycling horizons. I would not like to see Britain on the slope down to Dutch levels of cycling competence.
It apparently didn’t occur to Franklin that the reason Dutch cyclists were abandoning their cycling holidays in Britain before they’d even started was simply because cycling on roads full of heavy traffic is an unpleasant experience, and one they were not expecting. Their abandonment had nothing to do with ‘cycling competence’, and everything to do with the brute reality of cycling in Britain.
But Wardlaw – so obviously an acolyte of Franklin – makes precisely the same mistake in response to Zohra. He evidently thinks statistics claiming that cycling (or rather, ‘skilful cycling’) is as as safe as walking, or as driving, are any kind of substitute for the subjective quality of the cycling environment, when all the evidence shows that it is that subjective experience that matters. It’s even there in the child’s letter he’s just responded to, but he is so blinkered he cannot even see it.
As David Hembrow pointed out in his recent interview with The Bike Show, many activities are statistically safe, but that doesn’t mean they will automatically be attractive to the general population. Sky diving might be relatively safe, but not many people will be prepared to hurl themselves out of a plane, because it is quite a scary experience. You have to engage with people’s perceptions as you find them, otherwise you are sunk; yet that is precisely what Wardlaw, Franklin and a host of other cycling campaigners were unwilling or unable to do.
This astonishing inability to account for subjective safety explains why Wardlaw thinks a mass cycling culture can be built on removing the use of the words ‘safety’ and ‘danger’ from the discourse. Even if this were theoretically possible, and cycling was never again referred to by anyone as an unsafe or dangerous activity, that wouldn’t suddenly transform the experience of cycling on roads, where you have to continually negotiate with motor traffic flowing all around you, into a pleasant one. A cycle campaigning strategy built on attempting to remove the perception of danger by words rather than by action – an actual adjustment of the cycling environment – is plainly doomed to failure.
The real problem with Wardlaw, Franklin and others is their refusal to acknowledge that other people are not like them; that other people might not like cycling in motor traffic; that other people might not be able or willing to cycle as fast as them; that other people don’t want to be persuaded that cycling is safe, they just want it to feel safe.
This refusal to acknowledge that other people might be different is epitomised by Wardlaw advising a teenage girl to buy a ‘proper road bike’ with ‘a “male” frame’. That is, the kind of bike he would buy.
A small part of me hopes that Zohra emigrated to the Netherlands and – now in her late 20s – is trundling around with her friends in perfect comfort and safety on the kind of bicycle she wanted to own, not the kind that someone told her to get so she could fit into his particular vision of cycling in Britain.
I’m in the midst of reading the fascinating Noise – A Human History of Sound and Listening, by David Hendy.
Towards the end of the book, in a discussion of our recent ‘search for silence’ – how silence is increasingly valuable in our noisy world – Hendy turns to the soundproofing of buildings, and why it probably isn’t an adequate response to noise.
This passage leapt out at me -
[Writer] George Prochnik says, ‘ Soundproofing is terrific like bulletproof flak jackets are terrific.’ But, he adds, ‘wouldn’t it be better still if we didn’t have to worry about getting shot all the time?’
The answer has to be a resounding yes, for noise can only be successfully addressed if we engage with it in the public arena as a whole.
The comparison with bulletproof jackets reminded me of Chris Boardman’s frequently-used (and excellent) analogy between cycle helmets and bulletproof vests. When civilians start getting shot, we quite rightly focus on stopping people from being shot in the first place. Fitting civilians with bulletproof clothing would be a bizarre response to the danger of death. But precisely the same logic applies (or should apply) with cycle helmets. If people are receiving serious head injuries as a result of a dangerous environment, we should reduce the danger posed by the environment, at source. Fitting protective clothing, rather than dealing with the danger directly, is a retrograde step.
In the same way, we should ask why we even need to soundproof buildings. Doing so represents a ducking of the issue; the environment outside the building will remain noisy, and only the people inside the building will benefit. Noise should, ideally, be addressed at source, just like danger.
Hendy then describes the effect of reducing the need for soundproofing, by the method of making cities ‘silent’ places.
When we have done this in the recent past, the change has sometimes been dramatic. In Dutch cities such as Amsterdam, Utrecht or Masstricht, for instance, pedestrians and bicycles have long been given priority over motor traffic as a matter of policy. As a result the soundscape in their streets and piazzas and arcades is strikingly different from Britain’s car-ravaged town centres.
Far from being deafeningly loud – or, indeed, totally silent – these Dutch cities provide their citizens with a vivid spectrum of sounds that have been smothered elsewhere: street vendors, footsteps on cobbles, church clocks and bells, conversation, laughter.
That’s a particularly accurate description. Rather than silence, Dutch cities are actually filled with noise; lots of different noises, mingling with each other. The low level of each noise creates a palette of sound, unlike London or other British cities, where one noise – roaring motor traffic – tends to dominate (or even drown out completely) all others.
By contrast, a Dutch city centre typically has a far more diverse range of sounds. Motor vehicles form just a part of the broader spectrum of sound.
On the David Hembrow field trip back in 2011, organised by the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, I vividly remember cycling back into the centre of Assen with a handful other members of our party, at about 9pm in the evening, from a meeting about 2-3 miles outside the city. You can see and hear a small bit of that trip through the city centre below. Most of the noise is actually coming from my (poorly held) camera, and from the wind.
I remember being struck, at the time, by how beautifully quiet the city was. Not silent, but with a gentle and harmonious mix of the occasional car, bicycles, and people chatting. These kinds of noises are necessary. As Hendy writes,
Reining in the oppressive noises of industry or traffic has not put silence in their place instead. This is not only because it would be unrealistic to do so; it’s also because we don’t actually like it. Total silence sets our subconscious alarm bells ringing.
In many ways the Dutch approach has made cities sound like villages; places where everyday noises like conversation can be heard, and where no single noise is dominant, or oppressively loud.
Noise, or the lack of it, is just another aspect of what makes a town or a city a pleasant place, and I should really have mentioned it as another aspect of the value of reducing motor traffic, in my previous post about the amenity of urban areas.
Hendy concludes by writing
… The Dutch had a slogan during a noise-reduction campaign back in the 1970s, and maybe it’s time to revive it. It simply said, ‘Let’s be gentle with each other.’ That might sound a little wishy-washy to contemporary ears, bruised and bloodied as they are by all our disputes and anxieties and suspicions. Yet it reminds us that even today sound has to be managed not by technology or force but by ethics. It requires a world where none of us is noticeably louder than anyone else, and where none of us is cowed into deathly silence, but where all of us can hum and whistle and talk to each other – and hear others doing the same – as we go about our daily lives.
It’s interesting that the Dutch 1970s anti-noise campaign appears to have coincided with their campaign against danger on the streets. In many ways noise and danger go together, and it’s perhaps not all that surprising that the two issues were tackled at the same time; they were both symptoms of the broader problem of an excess of motor vehicles in towns and cities.
Indeed, the more intimidating and hostile streets to cycle on in London are precisely those places where it is all but impossible to have a conversation with someone cycling next to you (or, more likely, behind you). Not only is motor traffic so loud conversation is difficult, but that same motor traffic makes it hard to even cycle in a way such that conversation would be possible at all.
So – let’s have streets safe for cycling, but also safe for talking. Even safe for doing both at the same time.
Yesterday I gave a brief presentation at a Town Centre Opportunities event in London; the theme of the conference was on revitalising urban space and keeping ‘The High Street’ thriving.
I was invited to talk in a supposedly provocative capacity, forming part of a panel debate (along with John Dales, and others) designed to stimulate discussion about alternatives. Pleasingly, however, it seemed that what I had to say (namely, we need to focus much less on the car and car parking when we think about reinvigorating towns, and focus more on enabling different modes of urban transport, and the bicycle in particular) was actually part of something approaching a consensus.
This might have had something to do with the fact that representatives of motoring organisations, for instance the AA and the RAC, were not in attendance, despite having been invited. (Nor was Mary Portas). But it was encouraging nonetheless.
I started by talking about the difficulty town centres currently have in attempting to compete with out of town shopping centres, which are usually easy to access by car, and almost always free to park at. Indeed, one of the speakers before me mentioned how in the mid-1990s, the great majority of new urban development in Britain was out of town – she referred to this period as the beginning of the ‘great death’ of town centres.
Out of town land is cheap, and consequently it is relatively easy to accommodate huge areas of parking at low cost.
It’s also relatively easy to build big access roads to these shopping centres, so you can funnel huge numbers of motor cars into them. Conversely, it’s much more difficult to push motor vehicles around in towns and cities – although unfortunately that still doesn’t stop us trying to do so.
In addition, land is much more expensive in towns and cities, so inevitably storing cars becomes more expensive. Monstrous multi-storey car parks are required.
So, out of town centres are usually very easy to get to by car (without the congestion and stress involved in navigating town centres), and are free to visit. Town centres are at a competitive disadvantage.
The Portas Review [pdf] recommends a number of measures to redress the balance, including a presumption in favour of town centre, rather than out of town, development. But on the subject of access to towns, the Portas strategy is rather unimaginative – namely, to attempt to make high streets as cheap and easy to access by car as out of town centres.
In essence, the Review calls for
There’s even an attractive illustration of someone happily shopping, thanks to free parking.
But there is a problem with this Portas vision. Make parking free, or cheap, and allow it close to where people actually want to go, and the end result is streets like this -
Cluttered, congested and unpleasant.
And, of course, more car parking in towns means more driving, which means streets are noisier, less pleasant, and less safe.
(Second picture by Joe Dunckley)
But amenity is obviously important, and we shouldn’t sacrifice it just so people can get into towns more easily. Indeed, the Portas Review recognises this, stating that
“High streets… need to be spaces and places that people want to be in.”
“…small and cluttered pavements, as well as busy roads, can make high streets unsafe for family shopping [indeed, surely for any type of shopping].”
“our high streets need to offer a safe and pleasant place to shop and socialise.”
But making it cheaper and easier to park in town centres will inevitably result in the opposite – busier roads, less pleasant streets, and less safety. A worse environment for the people you actually want to visit towns, and to stick around in them. Places that you don’t want to be in.
We already know that attractive, convivial streets are usually low traffic environments, often without car parking.
(This is the southern section of Exhibition Road – only a matter of yards from the street in the previous photograph).
So – we know that town centre streets need cheap and easy access if they are to successfully compete with out of town shopping. But unfortunately too much cheap and easy access by car can ruin these places as destinations. For example, nobody wanted to hang around on the southern section of Exhibition Road when it looked like this.
So what’s the solution to this conflict between accessibility and amenity?
The answer is, of course, the bicycle.
At least 50 bicycles parked in front of a Dutch supermarket. Right in front of it. But no congestion, no difficulty in finding a spot to park, no noise, and very little danger. The street remains a pleasant place.
70% of Dutch supermarket shopping is carried out on foot, or by bike, and for very good reason – because the Dutch want things this way. Walking and cycling have been made the obvious way to get about for short urban trips. And as a consequence their town and city centres are calm, beautiful and attractive places.
This hasn’t happened by accident; making the bicycle easy to use has been designed into the streetscape.
But, as I said during my presentation, there is no reason why we cannot change. 66% of all British trips are less than 5 miles; 38% are less than 2 miles.
A considerable proportion of these trips could easily be cycled by most people if the conditions were right. Of course the Netherlands is flatter than the UK, but most short trips in British towns and cities are, to all intents and purposes, pretty flat. Topography is no excuse for our dismal failure to realise a sane urban transport policy. 56% – that’s over half – of all trips between 1-2 miles long in Britain are driven, which is both a consequence and an explanation of why our towns and cities are so often unpleasant, traffic-dominated places.
Just 2% of British trips under 3 miles are cycled; the equivalent figure for the Netherlands is 39%. That doesn’t mean that the Dutch have simply abandoned cars; they own more of them per capita than the UK. It just means that Dutch urban areas are designed in such a way that the bicycle – a brilliant mode of transport in its own right – naturally comes to the fore.
My final point in the presentation was that reducing car use in urban areas does not mean reducing trade. Not only are Dutch towns thriving, bustling places (at least, the ones I have visited), we already know that the amount of spending in towns corresponds poorly to motor vehicle use.
Even under current British conditions – with walking and cycling relatively unattractive, compared to driving – research consistently shows that people arriving on foot, by bike, or by public transport spend more over the long term than those arriving by car. They may not be filling up their large boot with goods (unfortunately, so easy to visualise), but they will be making more visits, and spending more overall.
People arriving in a town centre on foot or by bike are more likely to stop spontaneously. They are not committed to finding a parking space; if they see something (or someone) interesting, they can stop where they like. They can also stay around as long as they want, with no concerns about retrieving their vehicle. It’s also easier (and cheaper) for them to come and go more frequently – anecdotally, I am much more inclined to pop into town for a trivial purpose if it’s by bike, than by car, simply because it’s much less hassle.
And finally – and probably most importantly – if most trips into a town are by bike, or by foot, the town itself becomes an attractive place where people will want to be.
It’s a great pity that the Portas Review had nothing at all to say about how we get into our towns beyond the use of the car, and equally that it did not seem to appreciate how making it easier to drive into and park in them can destroy the very attractiveness that the Review itself recognises as important.
Thankfully, going by the discussion yesterday, I’m not the only one who was disappointed with the Review, and who appreciates that there is more to urban transport than the motor car.
Just over two years ago, around 40 people gathered in a cafe in central London. The meeting, which had arisen organically and informally out of discussion on a number of blogs, involved the founding the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.
Picture by Mark Ames
In attendance were founder/chairman Jim Davis, secretary Sally Hinchcliffe, Joe Dunckley of War on the Motorist, Danny of Cyclists in the City, Paul of Pedestrianise London, Mark Ames of I Bike London, Karl McCracken, and many others who plainly felt that things needed to change.
My own particular motivation for attending arose out of a sense of frustration; frustration that the strategies so obviously necessary to increase cycling levels in this country were seemingly being deliberately ignored, disparaged or marginalised, not just by those hostile to cycling as a mode of transport, but by those who represented cyclists.
A bit of background. Since my teenage days I had always been a stereotypical ‘keen cyclist’; short trips were almost always undertaken by bike, on top of leisure riding (including a trip from John O’Groats to Lands End in the late 90s). The bicycle always struck me as such an obvious way to get about, and my spare time was spent trying to persuade friends and colleagues to come around to my point of view; that although it seemed ‘dangerous’ it really wasn’t that bad once you got used to it, and the funny kit I wore (helmet, ‘special shoes’, hi-viz flashes, lycra for longer trips) was necessary, and ’odd’ only because a tiny minority of people wore it. If everyone started cycling, then everyone would look like a cyclist, and it wouldn’t be so odd. Although slightly laughable with hindsight, I suppose I was trying to normalise cycling by trying to get everyone else to be like me, even if the feeling, lurking at the back of my mind, that what I did wasn’t actually going to have mass appeal never really disappeared. But I didn’t know any different.
From about 2005-8, one of my best friends lived in Amsterdam, and I frequently went out to visit him, crashing on his floor after nights out drinking in the Jordaan. I was dimly aware that there were lots of people cycling around us as we walked the streets, but I had no real awareness of why, beyond a vague assumption that the Dutch just ‘loved’ bicycles, and that the narrow, dense street patterns in the city centre made it difficult to get around by car. I had no understanding, at all, of the overall Dutch strategy of mode separation; that is, keeping motor vehicles and bicycles apart from one another.
So when I chanced upon David Hembrow’s blog (it’s hard to pin down exactly when, but probably in 2009) it was completely revelatory. I couldn’t quite understand why someone like me, who (as my friends will attest) was basically obsessed with cycling as a mode of transport, and who had frequently visited Amsterdam, could be so in the dark about Dutch practice, and the quality of their cycling environment.
It wasn’t quite as strong a feeling as the sense of having been lied to, but it certainly felt as if something had been kept from me. I had a vague idea of how a ‘cycle path’ might work, but it always seemed to me to be something that was for slow trundling at little more than walking speed, with inconvenient and dangerous passages across junctions. Part of my attitude was undoubtedly coloured by the fact that most off-carriageway infrastructure in the UK is actually like this, but by the same token I had no real knowledge of how things could be different.
Why hadn’t Dutch infrastructure appeared on my radar before I found David Hembrow’s blog? The simplest answer is that nobody was talking about it. While plenty of effort was (rightly) being put in to disparage UK attempts at ‘infrastructure’, there was seemingly no effort being made, at all, to communicate best Dutch practice, and how it made cycling a comfortable and traffic-free experience. It didn’t appear in cycling magazines, nobody was taking pictures, or presenting it to a UK audience, and showing how it worked. The only exception, I think, was a small group of activists in Camden, but the internet was not as pervasive as it is now, and their ideas foundered on local political opposition and hostility from the wider cycling community.
Cycling campaigns showed no apparent interest in Dutch and Danish infrastructure, and this continued in the period after I discovered David Hembrow’s blog. Even as late as 2010, just a few months before the Embassy was founded, the Dutch and Danish approach was still being disparaged.
There is a long running debate among cycling protagonists about the pros and cons of segregated cycle facilities. They are often hailed as the solution for getting more people cycling. CTC and most local cycle campaign groups are sceptical.
… would [the Danish] approach work in Britain? Are there differences in UK driving culture or law which would need to be addressed before we could embrace continental-style segregation? Or is segregation – leaving most of the roadspace available for motor traffic – quite simply the wrong answer in principle, at a time of growing awareness of the need for drastic cuts in CO2 emissions?
(a passage that is, incidentally, indicative of the problematic attitude of a great deal of UK cycle campaigning; preoccupied with fighting motor traffic even at the expense of the quality of the cycling experience). And – remarkably, given subsequent events – Mark Ames was having to ask whether the London Cycling Campaign was actually in favour of segregation, or not.
It was precisely this sniffiness and wariness about the Dutch approach – a reluctance to come straight out and saying that mass cycling requires the separation of cycling from motor traffic – that meant that the Embassy needed to be founded. ‘Going Dutch’ – an approach that has now risen to prominence in Britain – was not even on the radar.
Of course the cycling landscape has started to change dramatically since early 2011, in a way that I suspect many of us at the first meeting would not have imagined. The London Cycling Campaign chose ‘Go Dutch’ as their campaigning strategy for the 2012 mayoral elections, and their excellent work appears to have led Boris Johnson (and Transport for London) to have a damascene conversion with regard to the way cycling is catered for as a mode of transport.
A tragic event in London brought a national newspaper into the cycle campaigning fold, fuelled by incomprehension that one of their own could be so seriously and arbitrarily injured, right on their own doorstep. Driven by the Times’ editor, the Cities Fit for Cycling campaign evolved brilliantly from an angry plea to keep people riding bikes safe from harm into a much broader strategy of making our towns and cities humane and attractive places, both for cycling and for people in general. Indeed, the recent Get Britain Cycling Inquiry has emerged out of the Times’ campaign, with News International providing funding for the evidence sessions and the report. On top of all that our own Sally has become involved in another excellent campaign, in Scotland - Pedal On Parliament, which goes from strength to strength.
What role should the Embassy play in this new cycle campaigning landscape? Our AGM in Newcastle on the weekend of June 1st-2nd is the perfect opportunity to discuss these issues. It won’t be all talk – there will be plenty of time out on the bike, as we get shown around the city by our hosts, Newcastle Cycling Campaign, and there will, of course, be an inevitable night out on the town. Anyone is welcome to attend and to help shape our future. Do come if you can.
There was a flutter of excitement at the Cycle City Expo in Birmingham last Friday when Andrew Gilligan mentioned that the important (in many senses) London borough of Westminster would shortly publish a very ambitious cycling strategy, and not just any kind of ’ambitious’ -
Gilligan said the soon-to-launch Westminster cycle strategy was *more* ambitious than the Boris one.
A draft of that Westminster cycling strategy was duly released this week [pdf], and, frankly, it simply can’t have been the same strategy that Andrew Gilligan was looking at, unless he was being exceptionally charitable. Because it’s miserable. It bears no comparison at all with the Mayor’s Vision.
It should be conceded that this is, of course, a draft of the strategy, and not a final version, but what is presented in the document as it currently stands is deeply uninspiring and half-hearted. In fact it’s not even half-hearted, it’s barely ‘hearted’ at all. I started reviewing it in a generous and open-minded way, but it’s so bleakly awful that I couldn’t help but end up trashing it. In places, it made me genuinely angry.
The introduction starts out promisingly enough, noting that
cycling is something that should be encouraged due to the returns that it delivers to the wider community through reduced congestion on the roads and public transport system, better local air quality [note - Westminster has some of the worst air quality in the country, with limits set by European legislation regularly exceeded] and improved health for residents and visitors.
and admitting that while, some measures have been taken in Westminster to make cycling more viable,
there is still far more that can be done to make cycling safer and more attractive, particularly with the enthusiasm generated through Britain’s recent Olympic and Tour de France successes. This means further investment and improvements are needed to overcome barriers to cycling and to encourage more people to take it up safely.
Here are the first worrying signs – why on earth should the Tour de France have anything to do with making cycling as a mode of transport safer and more attractive in Westminster? And instead of referring to making the act of cycling safer, it is ‘people’ that are being encouraged to ‘take it up safely’ – the burden of responsibility being shifted to the individual. Indeed, this actually forms the main basis of the ‘safety’ strategy outlined later in the Draft; cyclists being encouraged to look out for themselves (and, worse, the way individual cyclists are treated being framed as a consequence of the behaviour of ‘cyclists’ in general).
76% of Westminster residents never cycle. Beyond that statistic, there is huge potential for shifting hundreds of thousands of trips in the borough made by ‘mechanised modes’ (car/motorcycle/bus) onto the bicycle, particularly those up to 5 km. Even using Transport for London’s highly conservative estimate of Cycling Potential [pdf], 230,000 daily trips into the borough could be made by bike instead (around a quarter of all trips in, on a given workday). This would obviously reduce congestion on the road network considerably, as well reducing demand on public transport.
As always, the main barriers to cycling uptake are perceptions of safety, concern over motor traffic, and a lack of confidence. This is acknowledged by the Draft, albeit in a slightly mealy-mouthed way –
… there is a school of thought that suggests that safety fears in particular are sometimes over exaggerated as they are perceived as more of a valid reason to give for not cycling, particularly if the real reason is more to do with lethargy. Nonetheless, this tells us that for new cyclists, we must place greater emphasis on making cyclists feel safer on London’s roads, and reducing accident casualties. There is also much to be done to build confidence amongst a broader cross section of society that almost anyone can become a competent and regular cyclist, through training, education and regular engagement activities.
A not-so-subtle hint that those who don’t cycle for reasons of safety in Westminster might be lazy slobs rather than people who are genuinely scared of venturing anywhere near the roads, coupled with an emphasis on ‘building confidence’ as a substitute for actually making the roads subjectively safer. Hardly inspiring.
The Draft Strategy then moves on to ‘challenges’. Having already acknowledged that more cycling would reduce congestion and ‘pressure on the street’, paradoxically the Strategy then suggests it is ‘pressure on the street’ that will make it difficult to encourage more cycling.
[There is] significant pressure on our streets from people arriving and leaving by different modes, all competing with one another and with other modes for limited space on the footways, at the kerbside and in the carriageway – more so than any other borough.
This is ducking the issue, because high demand for limited space suggests an even greater need to shift trips in the borough of Westminster to efficient modes like walking and cycling than would be the case in ‘any other borough’. However Westminster are apparently too short-sighted to realise this, or to even acknowledge what their own Strategy has just stated. Later we have the sentence
Westminster’s roads serve a vital function and it is imperative that congestion is minimised
Again, deliciously oblivious to how more cycling in the borough would actually serve to reduce congestion, not cause it. To repeat, the Draft has already stated this in the introduction.
There follow more unserious attempts to suggest that cycling cannot be provided for -
The narrow, historic nature of many of Westminster’s streets means that providing separate space for each road user on every street is simply not feasible and a balance needs to be struck.
The word ‘historic’ is redundant, because the age of the streets in the borough is obviously irrelevant; nobody is going to be knocking down buildings of any age to build cycle routes. But ‘narrow’? Really?
Joking aside, the main streets in Westminster – the places where cycling infrastructure is most needed – are plainly enormously wide. There is no shortage of space, and to talk of ‘balance’ while the width of these streets is used almost entirely for the purpose of funneling motor traffic around the borough is preposterous.
Later in the document we have the priceless
limited road space and competing demands… mean that the ability to physically segregate cyclists on the majority of Westminster’s roads is likely to be limited.
Amsterdammers would wet themselves laughing at ‘limited road space’, but in any case this is disingenuous, as there is no need to segregate cyclists on the majority of Westminster’s streets; they can be separated from motor traffic by means of its reduction and/or removal from side streets, using measures that reduce these streets to access only for motor traffic.
The main roads in Westminster, however, are a completely different story. Included in the Draft Strategy is a map that marks out these roads –
A map that could, theoretically, form the basis for a cycling strategy in a borough that had any serious intent. The red, green and blue roads are almost without exception of ample width, carrying high volumes of motor traffic on multiple lanes (sometimes as many as five or six lanes, as can be seen in the photographs above). Naturally the ‘local access roads’ (in white) should be precisely that – local access only, not shortcuts to somewhere else, and without any need for segregation as a consequence. You wouldn’t even need to tackle parking on these streets.
Segregation from motor traffic on the coloured roads is eminently achieveable (again, just look at the pictures above!) were it not for those ‘competing demands’, which in Westminster language should be read as nothing more than a desire to maintain the current flows of motor traffic, at all costs.
Indeed, the overwhelming impression from this Draft is that nothing will be done that might inconvenience the act of motoring – any act of motoring – in the borough. The cycling ‘objectives’ are vague and guarded, and hedged with exceptions and conditions. For instance -
The Council will… aim to deliver a range of improved routes for cyclists of different abilities, whilst recognising the needs of other road users and avoiding changes that place unacceptable additional pressure on the road network and kerbside.
That is – not interfering with motoring. Westminster therefore seem keen to ignore completely the main intervention that will enable the uptake of cycling in the borough – separation from motor traffic – and instead employ the spurious, unproven strategy of ‘integration’ with that motor traffic -
There is a need to encourage all road users to show greater consideration for one another and share space in a safe and responsible manner, enabling safer integration and shared routes rather than a presumption for segregation
How will this ‘consideration’ be achieved?
through training programmes, enforcement, education and campaigns targeted at both cyclists and non-cyclists, whilst recognising that many people are now becoming more ‘multi modal’ in their travel characteristics and should [my emphasis] therefore start to demonstrate a greater appreciation of one another’s needs.
Wow. A truly inviting vision of cycling for all – a hopeful reliance on the consideration of drivers as they whizz around you in all directions (and ‘whizz’ they will, because 20mph limits are out of the question, as we will see below).
This reluctance to consider the separation of cyclists from motor traffic on main roads appears to threaten the proposed central London ‘Bike Grid’ outlined in the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling.
Given that Westminster will be at the heart of the proposed Bike Grid, the Council’s participation will be key to the success of the Mayor’s Vision. For Westminster, an important element of this vision is the recognition that physical segregation or the provision of cycle lanes will not always be feasible or expected, particularly where there is significant pressure on footway, carriageway and kerbside space from competing demand.
In other words, Westminster think the flow of motor traffic should trump the comfort and convenience of cycling, even when this directly interferes with proposals contained within the Mayor’s Vision. Westminster can’t even bring themselves to fully endorse pitiful interventions, like feeder lanes and ASLs, that have relatively little or no effect on motor traffic flow -
The needs of cyclists continue to be taken into account in the design of all transport and public realm schemes. Features that benefit cyclists, such as Advanced Stop Lines and feeder lanes, will be integrated where feasible.
And even cheap, easy and painless interventions like a 20mph limit in the borough are rejected by this Draft, on utterly ludicrous grounds -
Whilst the implementation of 20 mph zones falls within the remit of the City Council, this is not something the Council is currently seeking to implement. In terms of cycle safety it is considered that a 20 mph limit could have minimal benefit as traffic speeds in the City of Westminster are often below 20 mph already, with the average speed being just 10mph.
‘We don’t think a 20 mph limit is a good idea, because the motor traffic speeding around our borough occasionally travels at below that speed.’ Hopeless.
With regards to safety, the strategy seems to be ‘encouragement’, training, and expecting road users to ‘look out for each other’ in a way that suggests different mode users bear equal responsibility for danger. The document even suggests ‘cyclists’, as an undifferentiated, monolithic bloc, need to start behaving in order to encourage ‘mutual respect’.
Whilst some accidents may be prevented through improved junction and road design, it must be recognised that accidents are primarily caused by the way that cyclists and other road users interact, and many could be avoided by improved road user conduct and caution…
If cyclists are encouraged to adhere to the rules of the road, hopefully [again, my emphasis] this will also help them to be perceived more positively by other road users and to encourage mutual respect and courtesy.
As someone who is considerate and abides by the rules while cycling on the roads of Westminster, I find it quite offensive that the borough could even imagine that ‘courtesy’ and ‘respect’ towards me is in any way conditional on the behaviour of other people who might be using the same mode of transport. My safety while cycling should be a given, not attenuated because of moronic prejudice. Shame on you Westminster.
Cyclists also need to be aware that pedestrians and motorists will not always be aware of or anticipating their presence, and that they need to play their part in ensuring that they are well seen and heard (for instance through maintaining a prominent position in the road and using a bell to warn pedestrians of their presence.
Miserable, miserable stuff, and needless to say there are no strategies outlined in the document aimed at improving the attitudes and behaviour of private motorists around cyclists, only a ‘hope’ that as more people might cycle, so outright, naked hostility will diminish each group will ’have a greater appreciation of each other’s behaviour and frustrations’. Bless.
A big long list of piecemeal measures follows (including a passage that makes an erroneous connection between red light jumping and deaths as a result of poor visibility from HGV cabs), concluding with
The Council will also run a campaign called ‘Westminster chimes’ giving out free bells to cyclists, encouraging them to make use of their bell to warn pedestrians of their presence. The Council will also consider a campaign highlighting the dangers of the use of headphones whilst cycling.
Free bells! Such ambition!
It’s a stone-age document. What’s amazing is that some attempts have clearly been made to update it in the light of the publication of the Mayor’s Vision, which suggests it must have been even worse at some point before. There is absolutely no conception of what is required to make cycling an inviting and civilised mode of transport in the borough, even for those who currently cycle through it like me (albeit with some trepidation), let alone the vast majority of people who would not even dare to place their foot on a pedal on Westminster’s roads.
A re-write, please.
We saw yesterday what Transport for London have been asking the Transport Research Laboratory to test for them.
It is an almost exact copy of a conventional Dutch roundabout with perimeter cycle tracks. They have even copied across the Dutch road markings, which I suspect may have created some uncertainty amongst the test drivers, as the ‘sharks teeth’ give way markings are quite different to the British version. The roundabout, we are told, will subsequently be tested with standard UK road markings. The only addition appears to be a forest of Belisha beacons marking out the zebra crossings (and some luminous jackets and helmets).
Andrew Gilligan made a publicity visit to the site, testing it out for himself, before giving interviews with both BBC and ITV News. I think he did an excellent job in presenting the case for this design, pointing out that (most importantly) it will make what are currently big, scary roundabouts places that anyone on a bike will feel happy negotiating. He also argued, persuasively, that this design will yield instant safety benefits, even taking into account the immediate unfamiliarity of users. It forces drivers to take the roundabout slowly, and cyclists crossing exits and entry points are always directly in a driver’s eye-line, and will cross paths at right angles. If you compare this design with the current nightmare roundabout at the northern end of Lambeth Bridge (covered here and here, the video amply demonstrating what Gilligan calls a ‘Darwinian’ approach to road interaction), there is no contest in terms of safety and amenity.
It’s very pleasing to see Transport for London engaging with designs that have been proven to work, and the City Cyclists blog is correct to say that this is a huge step forward. The Netherlands has history and expertise in making the street and road environment safe and pleasant for cycling. They’ve made mistakes that we don’t have to, because we can simply copy their superior end product. So we don’t need ‘innovative’ solutions, when there are proven and established solutions already available.
That brings me to a flyer that was distributed on every seat at the recent Cycle City Expo in Birmingham, which suggested it was time to ‘put cyclists in the middle of the road’. The link on the flyer takes you here, to TTC transport planning. The website states
As a profession we are getting better at providing safe and well designed cycle provision, however cars are still viewed as ruling the road and current design guides and standards for on-road cycle facilities more often than not place cyclists on the nearside lane where they are required to deal with surface hazards and drainage services. In order to ensure that people have priority and feel comfortable when they are cycling we need to be more innovative and adventurous in our approach to providing for cyclists.
Just what kind of ‘adventurous’ provision for cycling is being proposed quickly becomes clear -
One particular exciting, innovative and possibly controversial way of putting cyclists first is by designating a central lane for bicycle traffic, which involves:
A ‘central lane for bicycle traffic’.
The reason these kind of designs are ‘adventurous’ and ‘innovative’ is because they are bad. They are ‘adventurous’ only because countries with proven experience of designing for cycling would not even contemplate employing them.
Further detail on this scheme is provided by a set of presentation slides, available here. The idea seems to be based around the assumption that putting cyclists at the side of the road is bad, because it means that ‘cars rule the road’.
Well, those are all plainly awful solutions (the last isn’t even a solution at all). But that doesn’t mean that ‘putting cyclists in the middle of the road’ is automatically better; for a start, we can put cyclists at the side in well-designed ways. Pointless, or intermittent, paint, that puts cyclists in dangerous positions, is not the only way of doing things.
But the presentation suggests that ‘putting cyclists in the middle of the road’ already exists in Europe as a strategy, even in the Netherlands.
The picture on the left looks to be from France; the picture on the right is of a fietsstraat in the Netherlands.
It appears, however, that the concept of the fietsstraat has been fatally misunderstood. The fietsstraat does not place cyclists ‘in the middle of the road’, ahead of motor traffic. A fietsstraat is, conceptually, a bicycle track on which motor vehicles are permitted to drive. Crucially, the only motor vehicles doing so will be those gaining access to properties along the fietsstraat; a fietsstraat is never a through route (the concept is illustrated well in this Bicycle Dutch post).
So the reason cyclists are in the middle of the road in that slide is principally because they know they will not have any motor traffic behind them, beyond the occasional resident. Being in the middle of the road flows naturally from the relaxed environment. How relaxed will the TTC scheme be?
‘Street open to all modes of transport’.
That is, the complete opposite of the fietsstraat, which makes sure the street is not open to all modes of transport.
The scheme smacks of ‘assertive cycling’ being forced upon cyclists who don’t want to be assertive in the first place; it puts markings on the road to position cyclists slap bang in the middle of the road, while motor traffic is tempted to undertake in lanes that are just wide enough for doing so (why would you even need signs telling motorists not to do this?)
Using cyclists as mobile traffic calming is a bad idea; it’s not good for motorists, and it’s not good for cyclists. To expect cyclists – even those who currently cycle, let alone those who are too nervous to ride at present – to hold a position in the centre of the road with a queue of traffic behind them is deeply unrealistic, as well as a suboptimal solution for making cycling attractive. You make cycling a mode of transport that people might want to use by increasing its comfort, not by forcing those on bikes into ‘dominating’ the road when they almost certainly don’t want to.
The ‘scheme’ even seems to accommodate on-street parking -
Which may, paradoxically, make it slightly safer by discouraging dangerous undertaking. The end result, however, is something rather similar, if not identical, to existing residential streets with parking on both sides, something the final slide (unintentionally?) acknowledges -
A central area to cycle, by default. Not exactly a great leap forward.
Employing a central cycle lane on streets without any car parking is not a ‘continental’ solution. The Dutch fietsstraat, so badly misinterpreted here, relies upon the removal of motor traffic, not the positioning of cyclists in front of motor traffic still free to use the street as a through route.
We don’t need ‘adventurous’ new designs, we need ones that work already, and that make cycling a pleasant experience. If you are deliberately choosing to force cyclists to cycle in front of motor traffic, you’ve already failed before you’ve even started.
A series of recent posts on the Dutch blog Magic Bullet argues that the high levels of cycling in the Netherlands are predominantly explained by geography, both physical, and social. [An earlier post, suggesting that an explanation lies with power in the Netherlands being held by 'wealthy, white, highly-educated middle class, working as decision makers', who cycle a lot themselves, alongside a concentration of cycling students, is probably not worth bothering with here, largely because it is question-begging - why are these groups cycling far more than their equivalents in for instance, the UK, in the first place?].
The posts are more general than a specific UK-NL comparison, arguing about the transferability of the Dutch cycling experience worldwide. Nevertheless, a comparison between these two countries is instructive, because it can serve to isolate reasons for high Dutch cycling levels.
As regards physical geography, he suggests that the Netherlands demonstrates that both flatness and mildness of climate are required. He writes
Physical geography is one of the most decisive factors determining the success of cycling as day-to-day transportation… The breeding ground has to be flat [and] the climate should be acceptable to get outside 7/7 days of the week, 12/12 months of the year.
Of course if the climate of a particular country is excessively hot or cold, that will have a discouraging effect on ‘ordinary’ cycling; it just becomes too unpleasant. But most of Western Europe does not generally fall into this category, except for small periods of the year. And, specifically, while the Dutch climate is conducive to cycling – it is mild – the author himself describes how the UK climate is ‘even milder’. Climate cannot be a reason why cycling levels are so low in Britain, if a country with a less conducive climate – the Netherlands – has considerably more cycling.
Flatness is, again, initially convincing as an ‘essential’ condition for high cycling levels; hills are a deterrent, and should be acknowledged as such. Research does suggest that cycling levels do decline with increasing hilliness. But the author takes this argument too far, and writes that
Dutch-type cycling infrastructure in [hilly] areas would be a complete waste of money
People will certainly be less inclined to cycle in hilly areas than they may be in flat areas, but this is not an argument for simply failing to make conditions for cycling better in these hilly areas. Quite the opposite, in fact; the harder cycling becomes, the more effort should be made to make it as comfortable and as pleasant as possible. Hilly towns and cities are places where good cycling infrastructure is just as important as it would be anywhere else (Dave Horton has written convincingly on this subject). Flatness is not ‘essential’ for mass cycling (by which I mean cycling being available as a transport option for a significant majority of the population); we can and should enable cycling in hilly towns and cities, and not give up. More cycling is worth it, even if the levels of cycling achieved are not as high as in flat areas.
So, I don’t think that flatness and a good climate are ‘decisive factors determining the success of cycling as day-to-day transportation’. My own town of Horsham is virtually flat, and has a very pleasant climate. There is not a hill to speak of within it, beyond an incline here or there, and it rarely gets exceptionally hot or cold. Yet cycling levels here are miserable, as they are in countless similar market towns in Britain. The same is true for major cities like London, Manchester and Birmingham; the ‘decisive factors’ of flatness and reasonable climate have only succeeded in making cycling an attractive prospect for a tiny percentage of all trips.
Plainly there is a much more ’decisive factor’ at play here in these UK towns and cities, although I should make clear that the author of Magic Bullet is more concerned with identifying the conditions that are required for high levels of cycling; he is not specifically arguing that these conditions, once identified, will automatically result in high cycling levels.His more recent post then turns to ‘social geography’ as an explanation for high Dutch cycling levels, or, specifically, as an ‘essential condition’ for the high cycling rate.
after you’ve climatized your country and moved all mountains, one has to put the country into a shrinking machine to make it truly ideal for cycling. As a result of the shrinking, all distances become within lilliput range of a lilliput vehicle: the bicycle. Upon shrinking, absolute speed is less important, because everything is nearby anyway.
That is, high cycling levels in the Netherlands are dependent not just on a good climate and flatness, but also on the country being ‘shrunk’; it has a high population density, and (separately) its towns and cities are small and compact.
David Hembrow has, of course, pointed out that England has a very similar population density to the Netherlands, yet very different cycling levels. This is critiqued by Magic Bullet as a sleight of hand, because England (unlike the Netherlands) is not a sovereign state, only a ‘constituting country’, part of the United Kingdom.
My response to this is essentially ‘so what?’
I see no reason to believe that cycling levels in England would be significantly different if it were to become a sovereign state, independent of the other members of the United Kingdom. It would have the same population density it has now, the same climate, the same geography, and the same low cycling levels. It’s perfectly acceptable to compare England with the Netherlands, even if they are not the same constitutional entities; the objection is as silly as saying a large town can’t be compared with a city of the same population because one is a city, and one is a town. If the population density of an area is important for cycling, it is surely important irrespective of whether the area under consideration is a constituting country or a sovereign country.
The argument then switches from apparent low density in the UK explaining low cycling rates, to high density explaining low cycling rates; specifically
Typical population densities of Metropoles e.g., London (5206/km2), Paris (21423/km2), New York (10.606/km2) are much higher than anywhere in The Netherlands (e.g., Amsterdam 3645/km2, Rotterdam 2850/km2).
How can this be? High densities should surely result in high cycling rates; yet the rate of cycling in London, as a whole, is barely better than the rest of the UK, and much lower than anywhere in the Netherlands. The explanation -
In true metropoles, subways, trams, buses and walking are completely taking over the role of the bicycle. Distances between one side of the metropole and the other are much too long to cover with a bicycle: London has a surface of 1577km2, Amsterdam is only 219km2(=11x20km). Amsterdam can be cycled through from one end to the other in an hour or so. London would take you half a day or more.
So it’s the size of London that is responsible; the assumption being that in bigger cities, trip lengths get longer. That’s why London has an extensive public transport system; because trips within it are long and consequently not attractive by bike.
I don’t have any information on typical trip lengths in Dutch cities (perhaps someone can supply them) but it is certainly not true that trips in London are mostly so long they are not cycleable. Joe Dunckley has helpfully put this information in graphical form (taken from the National Travel Survey), so I can borrow it shamelessly -
The relevant column for London shows us that 42% of all journeys in London are under 2 miles; 70% are under 5 miles; and 86% are under 10 miles. A large majority of trips in London, therefore, are of an eminently cycleable distance; they are under 5 miles long. We can also see that around 50% of all London trips are between 1 and 5 miles long; the ‘sweet spot’ for cycling distance.
The size of London has not resulted in a large proportion of trips being made all the way across the city; the majority of trips are composed of short distances within it. It’s entirely reasonable to expect the relative proportion of trip lengths made in Dutch cities – despite them being smaller – to be broadly similar.
The argument then finally moves to a discussion of the geography of the Netherlands as a whole; it is claimed that the Netherlands’ arrangement of small towns and cities, at close relative proximity to each other, is a critical factor in explaining why cycling levels are so high. Commenting on this pattern of small cities, positioned closed to one another, he writes
What a difference with the UK, where [the] entire top 20 [by city size] is larger than Eindhoven. Or Germany, where the entire top 30 is larger than Eindhoven. But the overall population density of these countries is still lower… that’s due to the horrific emptiness and long distances in between those big cities. These distances will kill all attempts to promote relaxed cycling from one city to the other.
Well, a sound basis for high cycling levels in a country is not the amount of cycling from one city to another, or even from one town to another; it’s cycling within towns and cities, so I have to say distance between large towns and cities is rather irrelevant. These longer trips, upwards of 10 miles, will not be as attractive for cycling, and will always remain a small minority of the total number of trips made by bike. Bicycle trips between towns and cities in the Netherlands will pale into insignificance compared to the number of trips made within them; so the proximity of their towns and cities to each other doesn’t strike me as a particularly determining factor. (You could even argue that large cities like London, Birmingham and Manchester represent an amalgamation of outlying towns and villages within the urban area, and in that sense are not all that different from the Dutch arrangement, albeit with the rural bits in between having disappeared).
And despite the apparent ‘horrific emptiness’ of Britain, we can borrow one of Joe’s graphs again to demonstrate that trip lengths in Great Britain are, for the most part, rather short -
These distances correspond closely with the distances cycled by bicycle in the Netherlands. 58% of all bike trips here are between 1 and 5 km long (a further 18% of all trips made by bike are between 5 and 10km long), and only 19% of all bike trips made are shorter than 1km. So there is huge potential for converting a significant proportion of those 66% of all British trips to being cycled.
And here we come to what I consider to be the most pressing ‘essential condition’ for high cycling levels. It isn’t flatness, or climate, or social geography (although these things can be important), because a high proportion of trips in Britain (and in London specifically) are short, the climate is mild, and large parts of the country are generally flat.
The reason why these conditions have not resulted in high cycling levels is due to the environment for cycling itself; how pleasant and attractive cycling trips actually are. This isn’t mentioned at all by Magic Bullet, and yet the evidence would suggest it is the most pressing ‘essential condition’. ‘Main roads’ in Britain typically look like this -
It is the environment for cycling that explains why short trips in Britain, despite a mild climate and general flatness, are cycled in only a tiny minority of cases. Dutch cyclists are insulated from road danger, while British cyclists are continually exposed to it. I suspect this is why Dutch people fail to identify – or downplay – subjective safety as a significant reason why people don’t cycle. They don’t know any different.
After writing recently about gryatories and one-way systems – and how they can actually be beneficial for cycling, if applied judiciously – I thought I’d turn my attention to another piece of much-maligned urban infrastructure, the humble bollard.
Frequently impugned as an ugly feature of the urban environment – ‘bollardism’ – bollards, applied properly, are a cheap and easy way of civilising streets; indeed a simple way to turn a ‘road’ in to a ‘street’.
There are several new examples in London. Stonecutter Street has recently been closed off to motor vehicles (but remains permeable to bicycles and pedestrians) at the junction with Blackfriars Road.
Likewise Earlham Street has been closed off at the junction with Shaftesbury Avenue, turning a nasty rat-run into a civilised street with people happy to mingle in the road (no particular need for any re-paving here).
In all of these cases, the intention is to force motor vehicles to use the appropriate adjacent road, instead of cutting through. Motor traffic should be using Euston Road, instead of Warren Street, for instance.
Likewise, Stonecutter Street is designated as a ‘Local Access Road’ in City of London documents, and it is now being treated appropriately by being closed off; it is now genuinely only an ‘access road’, rather than a shortcut to somewhere else.
Of course, a legitimate concern that is expressed is that these kind of arrangements simply displace motor traffic onto other roads and streets; that a problem is simply pushed elsewhere.
There are two ways of responding to this; the first is to point out that some roads are much more suitable for carrying motor traffic than others. Euston Road is the right place for motor traffic, and it doesn’t make any sense to dilute the amount of motor traffic on it by allowing some of it to progress down Warren Street.
Secondly, in closing out motor traffic from these ‘side’ streets, we shouldn’t abandon the main roads, and simply allow them to become dominated by motor traffic. Main roads should also be civilised places. Applying filtered permeability to side streets should only be a part of a comprehensive network strategy, one that sees main roads with appropriate treatments for walking, cycling and public transport. If main roads are comfortable and attractive places to cycle, for instance – with the addition of cycle tracks – then that ‘displaced’ motor traffic can and should evaporate entirely.
By way of example, it’s worth pointing out that ‘main roads’ in Dutch towns carry considerably less motor traffic than the equivalent urban roads in Britain, despite a policy of making side streets virtually impossible to use by motor traffic attempting to pass through. There is no ‘displacement’, because the entire urban environment is conducive to cycling, and so any excess motor traffic that might have been forced onto main roads simply doesn’t exist. That ‘traffic’ is on bicycles instead.
Indeed, when I present pictures of ‘main roads’ in Dutch towns and cities with cycle tracks, I am often met with comments that suggest the road is ‘quiet enough’ not to justify cycle tracks at all. There are many examples in the city of Assen, where ‘main roads’, with cycle tracks, appeared (to me at least) to carry far less motor traffic than an equivalent UK road, despite the side roads being closed off. And this is because people are travelling on bikes instead, to a large degree. This picture of a main road was taken at about 5pm -
Here are some more ‘main roads’, this time in Amsterdam. These are the only available routes to motor traffic, but are nowhere near as congested or dangerous as urban main roads in Britain, despite the smaller network available to that motor traffic.
The point is that motor traffic won’t be pushed onto these roads if you have a coherent policy of making cycling an attractive alternative to driving in urban areas; much of the motor traffic will cease to exist.
In Utrecht ‘main roads’ are even being removed completely, despite limited permeability elsewhere on the network for motor vehicles, because they’re not needed anymore.
A policy of ‘bollarding’ won’t necessarily result in displacement of motor traffic if a sensible strategy of enabling that traffic to shift to other modes is in place.
More bollards please!
I’ve presented here in chart form the age range of those dying while riding a bike in the Netherlands.
And for comparison, the age range of those dying while riding a bike in Britain (taken from the Times’ compilation of news reports) -
The difference is really quite remarkable. Dutch cycling deaths are skewed very heavily to the elderly; 71% of all cycling deaths are over the age of 60, and nearly 25% are over the age of 80. This is quite significant, because these are people who are the people who are more likely to die, either of natural causes while cycling, or as the result of any incident that may occur while cycling. By contrast the ‘death distribution’ in the UK is much more heavily weighted to middle age.
Of course these statistics don’t tell us a great deal in the absence of the relative amount of cycling being carried out by these age groups; but it is telling that just 9% of Dutch cycling deaths are in the age group 15-40, while in Britain 26% of all deaths are in this age group (indeed, the absolute numbers are rather similar, despite the huge difference in the amount of cycling between the two countries).
Part of the explanation must lie in the fact that the elderly cycle far more in the Netherlands than they do in the UK; they will inevitably form a higher proportion of deaths in the Netherlands on this statistical basis alone. But the graphs suggest that death while cycling in the Netherlands is much more attributable to the frailty of the population doing the cycling compared to the UK, where the age distribution of death seems to correspond more closely to the amount of cycling each age group carries out. Food for thought.
To add to the distressing news of the death of the climatologist Kat Giles on Victoria Street two weeks ago, a young man on a Boris Bike was seriously injured in London last Friday in what seem to be very similar circumstances – crushed by a left-turning lorry, on Grays Inn Road. Both of these incidents are close to home for me – I frequently cycle down Victoria Street, and last Friday’s incident occurred directly opposite the Yorkshire Grey, the venue for Street Talks.
It wouldn’t be appropriate to speculate on the causes of these most recent incidents – just the latest in a very long line of deaths and serious injuries resulting from turning lorry conflicts. However, it is safe to say that human error is one of the most likely contributory factors; a failure of observation, too much haste, a lack of concentration, and so on.
While it is right that much more can and should be done to make lorries safer – better mirrors and warning devices, cabs with better visibility, higher industry standards – the fact remains that human beings are not infallible. They will make mistakes. And that does include cyclists, who will naturally incline to staying close to kerbs, and will consequently find themselves in dangerous positions at junctions (please do read Mark Ames’ excellent guide on this topic).
So for that reason I agree with Danny Williams, that the simplest and ultimately most effective solution is
to keep tipper trucks and people on bikes apart from each other.
One way of achieving this would be a lorry ban at peak hours, which has been mooted, but this doesn’t seem to me to be particularly likely, or workable. Even if it does come into force, there will (or at least should be) plenty of other cyclists about in London at other times of the day. Cycling should not just be about commuting; it should be about going to the shops, or visiting friends, or going out for the evening, or cycling to school – basic, everyday trips that will occur at all times of the day. We should try to protect all cyclists from interactions with lorries at all times, not just commuters. So a peak time ban would only amount to a stopgap intervention.
Danny quotes a Dutch Road Safety fact sheet, which states that
Truck drivers do not make the best possible use of the different mirrors [and] cyclists insufficiently take account of the fact that trucks have a limited visual field. The ultimate solution for the blind spot problem is a structural separation of trucks and cyclists.
The sad thing is that we should already know how to do this; we have examples of how to keep lorries and cyclists apart. The Netherlands has perfected road design that remove interactions between heavy goods vehicles and cyclists to an enormous extent.
Here’s an example, a busy junction in Amsterdam.
I’m cycling past a tipper truck, the type of vehicle involved in the latest collisions in London. But I will not interact with it at all.
If I’m turning right, I won’t need to go anywhere near the road; the cycle track merely continues around the corner, uninterrupted, and fully protected from the road. If I wish to go straight on, the truck will be held at a red signal while I have a separate green signal. Conversely, when the truck starts to move, I would then be held at a red signal.
Here’s another example of what this looks like, again from Amsterdam.
Here cyclists are progressing straight ahead across the junction (alongside pedestrians, who also have a green signal on their crossing). But note, crucially, that motor vehicles wishing to turn right are held at a red signal.
So there is no turning conflict here, of the kind that has resulted in dozens of deaths and countless more serious injuries in London in just the last few years alone. Cyclists are separated in time and space from the movements of motor vehicles, just like pedestrians are.
What I find almost incredible is that we can potentially implement a very good approximation of this kind of Dutch design, right now. The elements are already in place.
We can put motor vehicles on different light signals for different turning movements. We already do this.
Likewise, we can put cycle tracks, separate from the road, around corners. They’re often called ‘shared use pavements’ (our disastrously bad version of off-carriageway provision) or they are poorly-implemented cycle tracks, with confused or dubious priority and separation. We can already do this; we just need to do it much better, with wider, better designed provision for cycling, and with clear priority for pedestrians, where appropriate.
And we can let cyclists and pedestrians cross the road simultaneously on green signals; we have toucan crossings. We even attempt to separate the movements of pedestrians and cyclists when they cross, although, again, we do it quite badly.
My point is that there is really nothing to stop us building a high-quality Dutch-style junction tomorrow. We don’t need to experiment; we know what works, because the Dutch have already done it. We just need to copy it, and do it well. Even better than that, take the things we can already do, and just implement them as well as the Dutch implement them.
When cycle tracks go round corners, make it clear that it is not a pavement, but also provide clear crossing points for pedestrians, where they have priority.
And where cyclists cross junctions with pedestrians, greater clarity is required.
In principle, there’s absolutely nothing stopping us from doing this right.
So it is more than a little disconcerting to read that Transport for London are
[hoping] to be able to test what interventions work
as the Alternative Department for Transport blog reports. He writes – and I’m inclined to agree -
TfL would rather figure it all out for themselves from scratch. This is madness – all the research is available from the Netherlands, which went through the learning process 35 years ago (and is still improving its cycling facilities). They made the mistakes so we don’t have to.
Yet TfL will “test what interventions work”? We already know what interventions work! They’re going to play around with our money, making it up as they go along because they can’t be arsed to go see what makes roads in the Netherlands work so well.
In a similar development, Transport Extra magazine reveals that
Transport for London is refining its traffic modelling to improve the representation of cycling and pedestrian behaviour. “Until recently, relatively little research had been undertaken worldwide to understand the behaviour of vulnerable road users at traffic signals and therefore be able to accurately represent them in traffic models,” TfL has told the London Assembly’s transport committee.
“We are leading on a world-first piece of research to understand cyclist behaviour as they discharge from signals and travel between signals. The research will also look at the impact cyclists have on general traffic discharge where they comprise a high proportion of road users.”
TfL says the work is being complemented by TRL research on pedestrian behaviour at traffic signals. “Once findings from the research are received [later this year], the new algorithms for cyclists and pedestrians will be available to update the capabilities of the modelling tools,” TfL explains.
Well, there are already countries with high volumes of pedestrian and cycle flow at junctions, countries very near to us, so it’s hard to understand why Transport for London are spending time and effort coming up with fancy models when we have real world examples of large numbers of cyclists flowing through busy junctions. The impression being given is that TfL have no idea how cycling works in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, and that cyclists ‘comprising a high proportion of road users’ is a unique, new problem, requiring new, unique modelling.
What we need to see is an end to bodging, and in its place, bold plans that would privilege cycling as a mode of transport, not just by making it convenient and comfortable, but most importantly of all by making it safe. We cannot go on with road designs which expect cyclists to fight for position with road vehicles turning across their path. We don’t send pedestrians across the road at the exact same time when motor vehicles will be bearing down on them; we shouldn’t do it with people on bikes either.
It is no exaggeration to say that people are dying because we are failing to take action.
A selection of recent news items in 2013, concerning bicycles losing control.
In Hull -
Police said the bicycle lost control, span round and hit the lamppost opposite the Holiday Inn.
In Croydon -
The London Fire Brigade told the Advertiser the bicycle lost control, flipped over and hit the two pedestrians
In Nantwich -
Father-of-three Rob was killed after his bicycle lost control and hit a tree at 55mph on Marsh Lane, Nantwich.
In North Wales -
Eyewitnesses told how the bicycle lost control on the A548, struck a kerb before careering through the air, across the central reservation and smashed into the AdHoc building. On the way it also destroyed a tree, sign, fence and lamppost.
In Bromsgrove -
A bicycle towing a catering unit on the A448 near Dodford crashed into a road bridge over a stream and a second bicycle lost control, left the road and went into the stream below.
In John O’Groats -
A bicycle lost control on the A836 Thurso to Castletown road at Murkle when it landed into the garden of a property at 11.55am
In Davistow -
The porch of a house in North Cornwall was completely destroyed at the weekend after a bicycle lost control on the A39 and careered into the building.
In Callington -
A woman had a lucky escape after her bicycle lost control, hit a hedge and flipped near to Callington today.
In West Sussex -
She and her friend had watched in horror as a bicycle lost control on a bend and slid down a hill on its side, crashing into two cars in its path
In Rugby -
Oliver, 17, died during the crash when a bicycle lost control and collided with a lamppost just after 4.30pm.
In Greater Manchester -
A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police told Saddleworth News: “At approximately 3.30pm this afternoon, a bicycle lost control and crashed into a ditch on the A635 Road above Greenfield, it ended up shedding its load of scrap metal. Thankfully no one has been injured.”
In Southend -
A WOMAN had to be cut free from her bicycle after a collision in Southend. The crash happened at 8.40pm on Monday in Eastern Avenue. Firefighters worked to cut her free after another bicycle lost control and ended up on the wrong side of the carriageway.
In Kent -
Dale West was riding a silver Batavus when his bicycle lost control and was involved in a collision with a lorry parked in a layby on the opposite carriageway.
In Bromsgrove (again) -
A bicycle lost control and smashed into a tree during an early morning Bromsgrove Highway crash.
In Tyrone -
One man remains seriously injured in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast after a bicycle lost control on the A5 Omagh to Newtownstewart Road on Sunday.
By now you’ll have probably guessed that a bicycle was not involved in any of these incidents.
As we all know, bicycles do not ‘lose control’. They are controlled by human beings.
All I have done, in each of these news items, is to exchange the word ‘car’, ‘van’ or ‘lorry’ for ‘bicycle’, to demonstrate the absurdity of the conventional phrasing, so commonly used in news items – impersonal language that denies agency. Motor vehicles do not lose control. People lose control of them, with disastrous, and often fatal, consequences.
What’s also interesting about these stories is how the carnage, injury and death seem quite farcical when the mode of transport involved is the humble bicycle. Bicycles do not career through the air, smash into buildings, or crush pedestrians. They’re really quite safe, and when people do lose control of them, the consequences are quite mundane when compared to the consequences detailed in these news items.
I recently attended the first seminar in a new LCC Policy series, at which the Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan addressed an audience of about a hundred people, discussing in detail the future plans for cycling in London.
Gilligan made it quite clear that he wanted to be informed of new developments being proposed in London that were not up to scratch, as far as cycling was concerned. He gave the example of the Heygate development in Southwark, which would have compromised cycling if the original plans had been left unaddressed. He also wanted criticism of TfL plans to continue; a message he repeated at a meeting with Camden Cyclists on Monday -
Gilligan encouraging campaigners to keep pressure up on TfL on delivery. Reception of Cycling Vision from activists was “almost too good”.
Well, from what has been posted on the City Cyclists blog this morning (please do read this important post in full), there is an issue – a big issue – at Aldgate. The plans to remove the gyratory and replace it with a two-way road look absolutely miserable.
The roads in the area are enormously wide. The space between buildings is vast.
The plan is to remove this gyratory, and restore the roads here (including the similar eastbound section just to the north) to two-way running.
But there is nothing for cycling. Here’s what the plans for this particular bit of road look like -
The westbound capacity of this road has been reduced from four lanes to one, and yet somehow no space has been reallocated for cycling. Even the bus lane has disappeared. Given the amount of space between the buildings you can see in the photographs above, this is an extraordinary oversight.
A huge opportunity is being missed here. Gyratory removal is seemingly taking place in a complete vacuum; motor vehicle capacity is being reduced, without considering how the space could be used for cycling, and for public transport. This is something I wrote about, at length, recently – it seems that trend is continuing.
We desperately need to start using the enormous amount of road space available in London in a more constructive way.
I spent an interesting hour or so yesterday discussing cycling in London, and the potential implications of the new strategy appearing from Transport for London, with Jack Thurston of the Bike Show, Bill Chidley, and Trevor Parsons of Hackney Cycling Campaign. You can listen to what we had to say this evening on Resonance FM, although be warned, it does get a bit nerdy.
It turns out that Bill has recently written an interesting critical piece which addresses, in part, my recent blog article about the legacy of historical attitudes in cycling campaigning, ‘No Surrender’. I started forming a comment response, but it soon morphed out into a larger piece that I thought would be better served here (that’s me being wordy again!).
The general thrust of Bill’s piece is a critique of infighting amongst cycling groups and individuals – ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’, as the article is titled. The strongest criticism is reserved for Freewheeler of Crap Waltham Forest, about which I don’t have a lot to say, for the main reason that it doesn’t really concern me. Bill quotes Freewheeler as arguing that
I am not suggesting arson as the route to mass cycling but I do think that cyclists need to consider challenging the status quo in other ways than tea and biscuits at the Town Hall… Non-violent direct action stunts are long overdue in British cycle campaigning.
We chatted about this a little before we went on air yesterday; I’m of the opinion that taking to the streets can be very useful indeed, as long as it does not appear to be confrontational and deliberately difficult. I think critical mass rides in London – which I have occasionally attended – fall into this trap. Whatever message there is gets lost in the aggro. By contrast, I went on the Blackfriars ‘Flashrides’ in 2011, and on the LCC’s Big Ride, precisely because they had a clear message, and were more consensual.
Much of the rest of Bill’s article is fair, and indeed by the sounds of it (and from our discussion yesterday, both in the studio, and later in the pub) there’s probably not much disagreement between us. However he attributes some opinions to me that I don’t really hold; perhaps that’s my fault for a lack of clarity in my original article.
Bill takes me to task for stating that Hackney’s modal share is not all that significant, pointing out that it is the highest in London. That’s true, of course, but I suppose I was pointing out that Hackney’s modal share is not all that significant in a European context. A modal share of 8% is just miserable by Dutch standards. So the idea that Hackney represents the way to a cycle track-free future strikes me as a bit overblown.
Granted, it is much better to cycle in Hackney than in most other London boroughs – something I am always happy to acknowledge – but it is perverse to insist that, because Hackney is the best place to cycle in one of the worst cities in western Europe for cycling, it should be some kind of template. Hackney does many good things, particularly filtered permeability, which makes residential streets pleasant to cycle on, but the main roads in the borough are intimidating, even for a fairly hardened cyclist like me, and the insistence on keeping cycle tracks out of the borough is unreasonable.
Beyond Hackney, I also think Bill slightly misinterprets the point of my ‘No Surrender’ piece. He writes
It is a several thousand word treatise on what is wrong with the CTC, and how the CTC’s tactics, historically and currently, are undermining the efforts to get more people cycling.
The proposition that because the CTC once espoused ‘bad’ policies, that the CTC is irrecoverably ‘broken’ as an organisation long after the main characters responsible for the policy (or policies) are dead is not really sustainable.
The first paragraph is broadly correct, with the exception that I wasn’t writing exclusively about the CTC, or focusing on them, as much as that might have appeared to be the case. My intention was specifically to write about an attitude that the CTC leadership demonstrated in the past, and might, arguably, still hold today. Namely, that the roads are for bicycles, and any attempts to separate modes, or to put bicycles ‘out of the way’ of cars, giving cars free reign on the roads, is unacceptable. Closely connected to this belief is the attitude that cycle tracks, particularly in urban areas, represent an abandonment of roads and streets motor vehicles.
Naturally enough, I think these attitudes are wrong, for reasons I won’t go into here, mainly because I’ve done so at length many times before (as have others). But these beliefs weren’t, and still aren’t, the exclusive preserve of one organisation. I wasn’t out to ‘get’ the CTC; I was critiquing this particular philosophy, not an organisation.
So for that reason I don’t think the second paragraph – which suggests I believe that the CTC is ‘irrecoverably broken’ because of what happened in the 1930s – is fair. It’s perfectly possible for organisations to change; they aren’t necessarily stuck for life to any one particular idea. The LCC – of which I am a member – is a good example. It’s changed beyond measure over the last two to three years.
Instead of suggesting that this is the way to redesign our streets -
They’ve come up with a bold, inclusive vision of cycling for all, which draws heavily on best continental practice.
Even as recently 2010, Mark Ames was having to ask whether the LCC
are really pushing for cycle lanes and segregation on the busy main roads or not?
So the LCC have changed strategy considerably. But what about the CTC?
In 2009, they were arguing that
Cycle tracks away from roads fine if direct and/or attractive for leisure cycling. But alongside urban streets they are rarely suitable. Traffic restraint is best: capacity, parking, pricing.
Cycle tracks are apparently only suitable as connecting routes away from streets; all urban streets should remain the preserve of cyclists mixing with motor traffic.
I can’t think of any other explanation for this kind of attitude beyond the historically-influenced reluctance to ‘surrender’ roads, which my original piece talked about. Of course, it is now absurdly out of step with the emerging consensus, particularly in London, that cycle tracks are an essential and necessary intervention to civilise urban streets, and for making cycling an option for all.
The CTC are adapting, slowly, to this consensus – indeed they are being forced to. So to that extent they are not ‘irrecoverably broken’.
However, I think they are considerably hampered by the attitudes of much of their membership, and by the inertia of decades of this form of campaigning, which dismissed continental approaches as unworkable in the UK.
The reason I and many others have criticised the CTC is not just for the fun of it; it’s specifically because they have had – and still have – bad policies. The Hierarchy of Provision is flawed. Dual networks are flawed. Attempting to get most people to ‘share the road’ is flawed.
Pointing this out does not imply that I think that the CTC are solely responsible for the current state of affairs, with desperately low modal share and rubbish infrastructure. Of course it doesn’t. But their policies certainly don’t help, and those policies needed to be criticised, so that better policy gets implemented. Whether you characterise this as pointless infighting, or a constructive way of moving things forward, is up to you.
Exhibition Road -
The top picture is taken from this flyer, advertising a talk given by Ben Hamilton-Baillie, entitled New Directions in Street Design, Safety and Movement. It was taken in early August last year, when the street was closed to motor vehicles for the Exhibition Road Show (more pictures here).
The bottom picture was taken by me at the same location, just over a month later, in September 2012, when the road was open to motor traffic, as it usually is.
It nearly always looks like this, particularly during the day.
I don’t know who was responsible for choosing that picture on the flyer. Nevertheless it is surely more than a little misleading to select an image taken when there were no motor vehicles present at all to illustrate how shared space street design can ‘reconcile traffic movement with the quality of public space’ – because, quite obviously, there was no motor ‘traffic movement’ on the days in question.
From the description of the talk -
Ben Hamilton-Baillie, one of the UK’s leading practitioners in street design and placemaking is coming to Leeds Met to deliver a lecture on current thinking, practice and issues surrounding traffic movement and the concept of shared space.
The need to reconcile traffic movement with the quality of public space in cities, towns and villages is widely recognised. We all use public or pivate transport to move around and we all want beautiful and safe places to live and work in. Shared space is one approach to resolving this issue, with a number of high profile schemes (eg Exhibition Road, Kensington and Ashford Ring Road in Kent) being delivered over the past decade where principles have been put into practice and from which experience has been gained.
What Exhibition Road actually demonstrates is that ‘traffic movement’ cannot genuinely be reconciled with ‘quality of public space’ without a considerable reduction in the amount of that traffic composed of motor vehicles.
The use of that picture on the flyer amounts to an implicit admission of the very same thing.
Lengthier analysis of Exhibition Road from me here
Last year I wrote about the mysterious case of a bollard in Wimbledon that had the temerity to make drivers crash into it.
Almost unbelievably, the council had placed a bollard in a position where drivers cutting the corner, driving on the wrong side of the road, and not looking where they are going, would inevitably strike it. Inattentive, unobservant and hasty drivers are being unfairly punished – and put at great danger – by these menacing stationary objects.
It seems the menace is not limited to south London. A bollard in north London, on Camden Road, also has a fearsome reputation for making drivers crash into it.
A WOMAN was airlifted to hospital after her car flipped over at one of Camden’s most dangerous junctions on Tuesday. The driver, in her 20s, had to be cut out of her car and was treated for minor injuries after the crash at the Camden Road junction with Brecknock Road in Camden Town.
The dramatic scene was a repeat of an accident this time last year when a car overturned at the same spot, leading to calls for safety measures to be put in place. Witnesses said it was the 10th crash at the junction this year and that accidents happened on a “weekly basis”.
Patrick O’Kane, 52, who was watching from the Unicorn Pub opposite, said: “The car went straight into the concrete island in the middle of the road. She didn’t see it, because only a few weeks ago another car crashed into it and knocked the yellow boulder off the top.”
Yes, the driver didn’t see a hulking lump of concrete in the road, because the enormous garish yellow beacon that normally prevents drivers from crashing into garish yellow beacons had been crashed into by a previous driver.
Here’s the offending object -
Just as in Wimbledon, it seems the island has been put in place to protect pedestrians waiting to cross the road. But honestly, who cares about them, when inattentive drivers – ordinary, hard-working drivers – are at such great risk of flipping their cars over when they don’t look where they’re going?
Quite what the ‘safety measures’ that are being demanded would constitute is difficult to grasp. I can only imagine it would involve the removal of anything a driver might ever crash into, or the coating of every single object in gaudy reflective paint.
The driver speaks out -
A BARRISTER who had a lucky escape after her car flipped over a traffic island on a road with a history of traffic accidents has warned that cutting basic costs could have left her paralysed.
Carolyn Blore Mitchell, 51, who had to be cut out of her overturned car and airlifted to hospital, did not see a concrete island in the middle of Camden Road, Camden Town, because, it is claimed, the bollard there had not been replaced after the last accident.
She said: “It’s lucky I wasn’t driving my old car, which was 11 years old. Who knows if the airbags in that would have cushioned me from the windscreen. If my face had been mashed up then TfL really would have had something to answer to and they wouldn’t have scrimped on simple jobs like this again.”
Quite right. Illuminated keep left bollards should be replaced the very second someone crashes into them, not just to stop people crashing into them, but to stop people crashing into the kerbs underneath the bollards, which the bollards are designed to stop people crashing into.
Ms Blore Mitchell said: “If this many people have had accidents there then it’s not just me, it really is Camden’s collision corner. The last person who crashed before me was a cab driver, someone who was a very experienced driver.”
It’s not just you – it was also a taxi driver, who, as we all know, are never in a hurry to get anywhere, and are always patient and attentive.
She added: “There were no signs warning anyone of this island slap bang in the middle of the road. At the very least it should have been painted a different colour so it didn’t just blur into the road.
Perhaps, as well as warning signs, there should be bollards – pre-bollards? – alerting drivers to the presence of a bollard further down the road? Good idea.
“If they had just replaced the bollard as they should have, then we could have saved all the time and money for an air ambulance, an ambulance, two fire engines, police time and the whole road closed off all afternoon, which must have cost the public thousands of pounds in total.”
Yes. Replace bollards when they get crashed into by drivers, so drivers don’t crash into them.
Or – this might sound radical – drivers could not turn across junctions on the wrong side of the road, and look out for objects that might be in their way?
No, that would never work.
There was some excellent news over the weekend, with the opening of the Two Tunnels route in Bath. The huge turnout, with people bikes and on foot eager to use this excellent new route into the centre of Bath, demonstrates that safe, pleasant and useful infrastructure is in great demand; demand that is being suppressed by current conditions for cycling.
The money for this project came largely from Sustrans; they put aside £1m they had received from lottery funding. £400,000 came from the local council, and the rest from local fundraising. Sustrans do great work. I cycled from Bath to Bristol last year with the Cycling Embassy on portions of the Two Tunnels route, and on the railway path, a wonderful facility that was full with ordinary people, enjoying the experience of cycling away from motor traffic; there are a huge number of similar routes across the country that almost certainly would not exist if it had not been for the efforts of Sustrans.
But I think it speaks volumes that a charity should be doing this kind of work; we don’t expect roads or railways to be built by charities, so why on earth should essential transport infrastructure for cycling and walking be left to groups like Sustrans? As good as their work is, they have to get a lot done with (relatively) little cash. That’s fine for out of town routes, or routes linking towns and cities, but I think Sustrans run into problems when their routes hit town and city centres.
To be direct and useful, routes in these places require substantial investment, and this is something Sustrans are not able to provide. As a consequence, their routes will inevitably be rather circuitous, because they will have to compromise on their directness to get around obstacles like large junctions where there they don’t have the funding or ability to adapt them.
A good recent example is Sustrans’ Connect London project. This predates the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling, as Sustrans themselves argue -
The Mayor has proposed a ‘Quietways’ network which will deliver direct routes for cyclists on pleasant, low-traffic side streets. Sound familiar? That’s because it is. You heard it here first… Elements of the Mayor’s announcement echo the Connect London plan which aims to see London become home to the world’s biggest cycle network by 2020.
Simple, yes? The Mayor is proposing a ‘Quietways’ Network, and that’s exactly what Sustrans is doing! So the two elements overlap – Sustrans and the Mayor are demanding the same thing.
Well, it’s not quite that simple. The problem is that the Mayor’s Vision is quite explicit, proposing
A cross-London network of high-quality guided Quietways will be created on low-traffic back streets and other routes so different kinds of cyclists can choose the routes which suit them. Unlike the old London Cycle Network, Quietways will be direct.
I’ve put that last sentence in bold, because I think it is very important. The Mayor and TfL have grasped that the old LCN was a failure, because it was hopelessly indirect. As David Arditti has written -
[LCN+] made very little progress, having little political backing, and being mainly on borough roads where the Mayor had no direct control. It embodied a confused strategy, with some of the routes being convoluted, up-and-down backstreet affairs inherited from the original LCN (such as the slalom-like route just east of Finchley Road in Hampstead) that no commuter would use… Since the LCN+ strategy was basically not about segregation, or even road-space reallocation, there was no coherent picture to put to councils, be they pro or anti-cycling, of what was supposed to be put in place on proposed main road routes like LCN+5 on the A5, and in the end it became a strategy just to spend the money somehow.
The ‘Vision’ document is, pleasingly, very clear that this old strategy of putting ‘nervous’ cyclists on wiggling back routes, where you can easily get lost, is out. The Mayor’s Quietways will be direct and straightforward, and, as the document states,
they will not give up at the difficult places… Where directness demands the Quietway briefly join a main road, full segregation and direct crossing points will be provided, wherever possible, on that stretch.
In other words, quality and usefulness are the governing principles, and money will then be spent to ensure that these Quietways match up. Whether this will happen in practice, of course, is another matter; but the document’s strategy is exactly right.
There are plenty of ‘quiet’ routes in Dutch cities and towns, away from the main roads, but importantly they are just as direct as the main roads themselves. They don’t wiggle around major junctions or roads, they go straight across them.
This is what the ‘Quietways’ in London should look like; routes that are safe and pleasant to use, but do not lose any of the advantages of directness that you would have cycling on the main roads.
Unfortunately the early signs are that Sustrans’ ‘Connect London’ project will not look like this; they will not have the directness or convenience suggested by the words in the Mayor’s Vision document.
As Christopher Waller commented on Twitter, the Connect London proposals
look more like a set of postcode boundaries than a network map.
Exactly right. But why does it look like this? At a guess, because usefulness and directness appear to have been sacrificed in order to create, in Sustrans’ words, ‘the world’s biggest cycle network.’
Sustrans want £80 million spent, over the course of 8 years, to construct this network of ‘over 1000 kilometres’. But the amount of money they are asking for to construct this amount of network does not fill me with confidence. Quantity of network is no substitute for quality – 1000 kilometres of meaningless network is 1000 kilometres of meaningless network, regardless of how much of it there is. We already have hundreds of kilometres of ‘quiet network’ in London, which amounts to very little because it is inconvenient, indirect and not very useful to anyone actually wanting to get somewhere. David Arditti again (writing about a ‘Greenway’ scheme in Brent) -
Apart from the fact that it has made practically no progress, in my view, this entire concept is wrong, of attempting to push cyclists onto obscure, un-useful byways. Large-scale popular cycling will only ever be achieved by giving people on bikes direct, convenient, safely segregated routes on main roads, as they have done in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.
Now of course we need ‘Quiet Routes’ alongside those safe and pleasant segregated routes on the main roads; Sustrans are quite correct to argue that their project should be seen alongside what might be called ‘Superhighways Plus’, or the new approach to cycling in main roads in London – the segregated tracks which will be appearing on new parts of the Superhighway network from later this year.
But my concern is that Sustrans’ proposals could lead to a worrying watering down of the whole Quietways project, which at least in intent gets things right. I don’t want to see money wasted on fiddly routes that are not useful to anyone. We’ve done that already, and it’s a proven failure. Money needs to spent doing things properly, or not at all.
We shouldn’t be trying to build “the world’s biggest cycle network” if that network is composed of wiggly circular loops around parks and meandering the long way around junctions. Quietways should not be going down the wrong track.
Before it was consumed in the ‘bonfire of the quangos’, Cycling England produced some pretty good guidance. One of their design principles was that cyclists should be exempt from Traffic Regulation Orders (or Traffic Management Orders, in London).
Cyclists should be exempt from restrictions within Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs), including banned turns and road closures, unless there are proven safety reasons for not doing so.
There were, and are, sound reasons for this principle. The restrictions imposed by these orders aim at controlling the flow of motor vehicles. There is – for instance – no logical reason why any street should need to be made one-way, save for easing the passage of motor vehicles, or for stopping motor vehicles from using a particular route. Bicycles and people on foot can flow quite happily in both directions on any given street; it was only the advent of mass motoring that gave rise to the restrictions we see on the roads today. Streets with two-way traffic became utterly clogged; others became congested with motor vehicles waiting to make certain turns.
So the bans on particular movements arose out of an attempt to deal with the problems created by excess motor vehicle use. But given that bicycles were never the source of the problem, it seems perverse that they should subject to the same blanket vehicular restrictions that control motor vehicles.
Junction movements have had to be simplified to accommodate vast flows of motor traffic, which cannot interact smoothly in the ways that pedestrians and cyclists can. Cyclists were swept up in these regulations, without apparently even being considered. It is deeply unfair that they have been forced into the same ‘vehicular’ box, penalised for problems they did not create.
Westminster in particular is awash with one-way streets from which cyclists are not exempt; a vast impenetrable maze of restrictions, designed to allow motor vehicles to continue to travel around the borough in tremendous numbers, while at the same time suppressing the use of bicycles.
Even new schemes continue to make these same mistakes. If you are travelling along Cromwell Road on a bicycle, you are not allowed to make what should be extraordinarily simple left turns off the road onto Exhibition Road, in either direction.
There is no good reason for these restrictions. The junctions have been designed to make crossings easier for pedestrians, but in order to maintain ‘traffic’ flow around the network, turning restrictions, without any exemptions, have been put in place.
Indeed, the movement of bicycles doesn’t really seem to have been considered, at all, on Exhibition Road – it’s even illegal to cycle northbound on the southern section.
Apparently nobody saw fit to provide an entirely reasonable exemption for cyclists on this street.
We have similar (older) absurdities in Horsham, particularly this street.
It’s part of a one-way system in the town that had the reasonable intention of cutting out through traffic. Very few motor vehicles used this street, because the one-way system was not a useful route to anywhere, except for access.
What is most strange is that it is only this particular stretch that does not have an exemption for cycling; barely 50 yards distant, as it turns to the left where the white frontage stops, this one-way road suddenly becomes two-way for cycling; both before, and after, it was turned into ‘shared space’.
Making the whole of this area two-way for cycling – while maintaining the one-way restrictions for motor vehicles – is now an absolute no-brainer, because this street is now completely closed to motor vehicles during the day, as I wrote about here. Despite no motor vehicles being on the street at all, cyclists still cannot legally enter it.
All that is really needed in this instance is the simple attachment of an ‘except cycles’ sign below the no-entry signs. A few hundred pounds for the signs, and for the labour.
But things aren’t that simple. Even to attach a simple square sign requires a new Traffic Regulation Order, as I was informed by West Sussex County Council.
….although there have been relaxations in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions to allow such schemes to be more easily signed, a contraflow cycle lane regardless of how it is signed or marked on the ground MUST have a Traffic Regulation Order to support it. Simply erecting “except for cycles signs” is not enough and without a TRO they would be unlawful, as would cycling the wrong way.
Therefore, in order to progress this request it would be necessary to make a new Traffic Regulation Order which will have to be considered as part of the North Horsham CLC’s “top 3″ at next year’s assessment. Should you wish to pursue this it will require the usual documents to be prepared including the Local Member’s written approval that they would support such a TRO being put on the list.
All very clear, and correct. The use of “Top 3″ here refers to the fact that ‘North Horsham’ county local committee (CLC) – which actually covers a population of around 50,000 people – can only put forward THREE Traffic Regulation Orders per year. Just three.
Given the extraordinary amount of work that needs to be done across Sussex to make it more cycling-friendly, this represents a glacial rate of progress, even if we ignore the fact the Traffic Regulation Orders are frequently used for other purposes, particularly the addition or amendment of double yellow lines, and new speed limits. A quick glance at the North Horsham TRO priority list shows the pressure that exists just to get on this shortlist of three; in particular, there are plenty of rural roads in the district with 60 mph limits that plainly need to be lowered, as well as countless excessively high limits that residents want lowered.
To be fair to West Sussex County Council, they are fully aware that ‘TRO backlog’ is a significant problem, and are looking at ways to speed up the process – in particular, they are ‘considering’ raising the number of TROs each CLC can submit each year from three to five. Even if this does happen, however, it is still nowhere near good enough.
Cycling exemptions to one-way restrictions on multiple streets can be bundled up into just one TRO – this happened recently in the North Laine area of Brighton. Indeed, the process of ‘bundling’ (and indeed the entire TRO process) was described very well in a recent Cycling Embassy blog post. But the bigger the area covered, the greater the likelihood objections.
Beyond that, I simply don’t think it should be this difficult to make easy and coherent changes to our streets, to improve them for cycling. Even if – by some miracle – every CLC in West Sussex decided to bundle up a coherent set of exemptions and improvements for cycling in their area (a big ‘if’), it would still take a decade to get anywhere, at the very best.
Central government is happy to pass the buck down to local and county councils, and to point out that it is ‘up to them’ to implement these exemptions to TROs. But I don’t think that’s entirely fair on councils, who have a vast amount to do, in particular controlling parking, and responding to concerns about speed limits. Cycling is very often not on the radar at all, with more pressing problems of congestion and speed control.
If central government is serious about promoting cycling, we need new legislation that makes these kinds of changes much simpler; perhaps even that exemptions on one-way streets should be the default situation, and that they can be signed as such, unless there are serious grounds for objection. That would speed up the process considerably.
David Arditti has written recently about precisely this same problem – his piece is worth reading, as always
Some recent news stories -
A man is seriously ill in hospital after a car crashed and ended up embedded in a house in Suffolk. The red Audi TT left the road and crashed into the home in Long Meadow Walk, Lowestoft, at about 01:45 GMT.
Note that in this case it was ‘the car’ that crashed, ‘leaving the road’ all by itself. The driver was a mere passenger.
Sgt Bob Patterson, of Suffolk Police, said investigators had been at the scene to assess how the accident happened. ”At this early stage we could not speculate as to what has caused the crash,” he said. A police spokesman said it was “far too early to say if the crash is weather related or not. This will all make up part of the investigation.”
Audis seem to make a habit of driving themselves; in another recent case, an Audi chose to drive through a red light, killing two passengers (but not the driver, who, curiously, was already disqualified from driving).
Two men have died following a police chase in north London.
The pair were killed when their Audi jumped a red light, clipped a van and hit a bridge in South Tottenham in the early hours of Friday, police said.
To be fair, sometimes it isn’t the car that’s responsible. Sometimes, like in this case from Ireland, the driver makes ‘a simple error’.
A BEAUTY therapist who “catapulted” a cyclist into the air leaving him with catastrophic injuries has avoided a jail sentence. Sinead King (29), a mother of two, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing serious harm on Monastery Road, Clondalkin, Dublin, on October 16, 2010.
She was given a 12-month suspended sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
King (29), of Riverside, Clondalkin, didn’t de-mist her car windows that morning before setting out on her drive to work. She accepted she couldn’t see out properly and later told gardai she had no idea she had knocked someone over.
She said she noticed four children playing on one side of the road and then heard a loud bang. She noticed her windscreen was broken and assumed her former partner, who she had difficulties with in the past, had attacked her car.
So she saw some children playing, heard a loud bang as she crashed into something, and just assumed it was her partner attacking the car, rather than her driving over a human being. Fair enough.
King drove on, leaving Peter Vaughan, a retired English man visiting his son in Clondalkin, on the side of the road with his leg broken in three places, a broken eye socket and mild brain damage.
Mr Vaughan told gardai he had taken his son’s bicycle to the local shops and “was catapulted” into the air. He had seen no cars around and thought at first it was a gas explosion.
King had one previous conviction for failing to give a breath sample and was banned from driving for four years in December 2010.
Paul Comiskey O’Keefe, defending, said his client had “made a simple error” but one with serious consequences.
Judge Patrick McCartan told King she had made a dreadful mistake because she didn’t have the patience to properly defog her car windows.
“She did a very foolish thing to get up and drive to work in an urban area when she could not see out,” before he added that she compounded her wrongdoing by driving away.
He accepted her remorse was genuine and said he didn’t believe anything would be achieved by sending her to prison. The judge then handed down an 12-month suspended sentence and banned King from driving for 10 years.
Even when you don’t de-mist your windows, people on bicycles can be awfully hard to see, especially if they have the temerity to wear dark clothing in the middle of the day. It can take as much as 30 seconds to spot them, and even then that’s not enough. Apparently.
A WOMAN accused of causing death by dangerous driving after killing a cyclist will stand trial on July 22.
Victoria McClure, 37, of Chiltern Drive, Charvil, pleaded guilty to killing Anthony Hilson on the A4 near Twyford on September 16 when she appeared at Reading Crown Court on Wednesday.
She claims Mr Hilson’s death was caused by careless rather than dangerous driving as she was not distracted at the wheel. Richard Clews, defending, told the court the cyclist may have been stationary at the time of the collision and that he was wearing dark clothing, making him less visible.
He said: “The evidence has to meet the high threshold for the dangerous driving conviction. I suggest that the evidence is not sufficient under the circumstances.”
Thankfully Mr Clews’ absurd notion of where the threshold for ‘dangerous’ should lie was not accepted by the Judge.
Charles Ward-Jackson, prosecuting, called on evidence from an expert who estimated that when driving at 40mph to 50mph, which is what McClure claims she was doing, it would take 22 to 27 seconds to travel 500m. He said: “In this case we have an empty, open road with exceptional visibility where you can see 500m, which is about as far as you can possibly see on an open road.
“A jury is entitled to ask themselves what on earth caused this defendant to collide with the bike?”
Judge Zoe Smith said: “Although the defendant has accepted her driving falls below the test for a competent and careful driver, the facts are that at around 10.40am on a Sunday morning a collision occurred on the A4.
“Mr Hilson was on a bike and, even accepting that he was stationary on his bike, it would appear that there should have been some 500m in which the defendant would have been able to see him.
“It is said that he was wearing dark cloth but the fact is that the defendant did not see the cyclist until the point of collision itself. She was unable to take any diverting action.
“You could consider that she was driving along that stretch far below the standard of a competent and careful driver. I conclude that a jury could convict for dangerous driving on the facts of this case.”
Finally, it seems that even Health and Safety consultants with exemplary driving records find it hard to avoid crashing.
At his second appearance at Bournemouth magistrates court, the 58-year-old entered a not guilty plea to causing the 16-year-old’s death by careless driving.
He did not enter a plea to the other eight charges – three charges of driving while disqualified, three charges of driving without insurance, one of failing to stop at an accident and one of failing to report an accident.
I realise this is probably as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, but the recent Daily Mail article about furious lawbreakers furious that they had been caught breaking the law (Mail translation – hard-working families hit by evil stealth tax) was too impossible to resist.
Yes, it’s the Daily Mail article about a bus gate that’s actually a ‘money making scam’, or some such.
The article is headlined
Furious drivers face two mile round trip to get home after council marks up 10 metre bus lane outside entrance to housing estate
Helpfully, the Mail themselves provide a diagram of the situation in the article, which shows that drivers will only face a ‘two mile round trip’ if they actually drive all the way up to the bus gate, realise they can’t progress through, and then have to drive all the way back the way they came. The bus gate is at the approximate location of the left arrow.
As is immediately clear, using the ‘proper route’ – as the Mail itself describes it – involves little extra distance, and is almost certainly quicker than the ‘shortcut’, given that it is a national speed limit dual carriageway, rather than a single carriageway country lane with a 40 mph limit.
Equally, given that the entire length of the blue ‘shortcut’ is just half a mile -
the only possible way drivers could end up taking a ’2 mile round trip’ is if they drove around one of the roundabouts thirty times, and then got lost. Gibberish.
We haven’t even got into the article yet, and there’s more nonsense. The bus lane has not just been ‘marked up’ by the council; it’s been there since (at least) 2009, according to Streetview.
The signs are quite clear to understand for anyone who’s recently sat their theory test, or who actually bothers to remember the rules. ‘No motor vehicles’.
Under the headline, we then have some helpful bullet points -
Sweet Jesus. The bus lane hasn’t been ‘created’ or ‘narrowed’, it’s always been there, and it’s always been illegal to drive through it. Nobody is ‘forced’ to make a detour, let alone a bogus ’2 mile’ one; they just need to drive on the dual carriageway, which will be a faster route to their destination in any case.
All that has changed is that the council are now fining people for doing something illegal.
The article starts with a repetition of the same nonsense.
Residents on a housing estate have been left facing a two-mile detour to get home after a council installed a 10-metre bus lane next to a junction. People living on Wixams estate, outside Bedford, now have to drive along the busy A6 to avoid the 32ft lane that is used by just two buses an hour at peak time.
No, no, no and no. NO!
Nearly 300 drivers been fined since the road was fitted with cameras and marked ‘Bus Only’ two weeks ago.
As you can see from the 2009 Streetview image, this bus gate has always been marked as ‘no motor vehicles’. People have been breaking the law with impunity; all that has changed is that they are now being caught.
The lane has been created in the middle of Kingsway road cutting off the access to the estate.
Not ‘created’, not ‘cutting off access’. There’s a big dual carriageway right next to it, that is faster!
People living nearby say the lane is nothing more than a money-making scam by Bedford Borough Council which has fined 284 drivers in the past two weeks.
It’s only a ‘money-making scam’ if you fail to obey signs, of which there are MANY.
That’s BUS ONLY painted on the road, in both directions, BUS AND CYCLE ONLY signs on both sides of the gate, AND a warning that cameras are operating.
Anyone who drives through this arrangement, and then has temerity to complain that they got fined, really shouldn’t be driving, it’s as simple as that. They are effectively admitting they are driving without due care and attention.
Katie Baughan, 32, was hit with a £50 fine for driving through the bus lane last week. She said: ‘It’s nonsense and completely pointless, you can drive either side of this red strip but not through it without getting a ticket.’
Katie, you are an idiot.
Ms Baughan added: ‘There are signs saying ‘bus only’ directly as you come up to it but not as you are coming off the A6 roundabout. It is completely ridiculous to have such a short bus lane.’
There are signs saying ‘bus only’, yet you still drove through, and are now complaining about it? Amazing!
Marie Jepps, 68, whose husband David was fined, said: ‘It is ludicrous. I think it is just another way to get money out of people. We always go that way to go to the shop or garden centre because it makes sense.’
If you don’t want the council to take your money, don’t drive through it! What is so hard to understand here? Mrs Jepps also seems happy to state in a national newspaper that ‘it makes sense’ to drive half a mile on a 40 mph road, instead of driving a fraction further on a 70 mph dual carriageway.
A note of something approaching sanity is then introduced into the article by another resident -
Mark O’Leary, 26, has been a resident on Wixams estate for 2.5 years and says that although the lane has been narrow for the duration of his residency, the cameras have shortened fuses in the area.
‘It has always been a bus lane, the only new addition is the actual camera which has gone up in the past few months and the camera sign which has been there for a couple of days.
‘I do agree that there are no signs either end of the “shortcut” road highlighting there is no access for vehicles other than buses.’
From this we can gather it’s not the bus gate that’s the problem – which Mr O’Leary confirms has existed since he has lived on the estate – it’s the fact people are now being caught using it. The only remaining issue is the apparent lack of signs warning people.
Well, no. On every single approach the signs mark quite clearly that the road is for buses and cycles only. Heading south on the A6 -
And heading north from the estate.
Maybe people don’t understand what these signs mean, but frankly that is their problem. They should know. And there is certainly no excuse for driving through the bus gate, if you did mistakenly end up driving down the lane.
Should we be surprised that the Mail is on the side of these chumps? The top-rated comment on the article gives us a clue -
The recent discussion on the ibikelondon and City Cyclists blogs about carriageway narrowing, and how it can be dreadfully unpleasant for cycling, started me thinking about precisely why these new arrangements are so awful.
Beyond the fact that it makes it difficult or dangerous to filter through stationary motor traffic, it requires cycling bang in front of those motor vehicles to prevent dangerous overtaking. For people who are fast and confident on a bike, this isn’t necessarily too much of a problem. But I think it’s a big problem for people who don’t want to cycle fast, or aren’t confident, and don’t really fancy the idea of cycling slowly in front of buses, lorries or vans. These people will cycle next to the kerb, where some of these vehicles will inevitably squeeze past them, with little room to spare – just as intimidating and scary as cycling in front of them.
A useful way of considering the issue is to ask whether a person would be comfortable walking in the space they are being forced to cycle in. I think this is a very reasonable comparison, not just because many people are in practice not capable of cycling at much more than walking speed, but also because the ability to choose to cycle slowly is an important indicator of the comfort of the cycling experience. A commenter on Danny’s blog hits the nail on the head (while discussing the City of London’s bizarre opinion that segregated tracks would lead to an increase in cycling speeds) -
If I’m cycling with traffic I speed to keep up with it for my own safety and to meet the expectations of motor traffic around me. With physical segregation I am no longer trying to get ahead of traffic for my own safety at junctions.
If the City of London creates proper physically segregated tracks I automatically will cycle in a more relaxed way and at slower speeds as I no longer need to keep up with traffic. I feel less stressed which will affect the speed at which I cycle. It really is that simple.
So – if walking in the street would fill you with dread, or unnerve you, then it’s not an appropriate place to cycle. Cycling will not have mass appeal, and will be limited in its attractiveness to those who are capable of ‘meeting the expectations of motor traffic’.
To take just one example of the recent fad for carriageway narrowing – Pall Mall – I wouldn’t want to walk in front of vehicles here.
So it is highly unlikely anyone who cycles at or around these speeds would want to cycle here. It’s not relaxing cycling on this street even for me, a confident and experienced cyclist capable of cycling at more ‘appropriate’ speeds, because I am constantly aware, like Danny’s commenter, that I have to ‘keep up’, and position myself correctly.
And there are more extreme examples. I wouldn’t walk in the road here.
I won’t walk, and a huge swathe of the population won’t cycle, in this road. If it’s not fit for an adult male to walk in, it’s not fit for children to cycle in, or the elderly, or anyone who just wants to cycle slowly.
I wouldn’t walk in the road here, either.
Exactly how it would feel for most people if they happened to be forced to use these roads on bicycles.
So the net effect is that cycling on these roads has, for all practical purposes, been designed out of existence – it only appeals to the small minority who are willing or able to cycle on the terms of motor vehicles.
There are, of course, streets in Britain where people feel reasonably comfortable walking in the road.
This same approach gives us clues as to why bus lanes are not appropriate cycling environments, and why cycling is more likely in some shared space environments than in others. Bus lanes are not for walking in, and nor are some shared space environments (for instance, the busiest section of Exhibition Road), unless you are especially bold.
By contrast, the reason why cycling in the Netherlands is so wonderful is that the cycling environment there is universally one where you can comfortably walk, if you wanted to.
Walking in the road here – mixing with that lorry – would not be pleasant, and once we have established that, we already know that cycling on that road has minimal appeal in the general population. By contrast the cycling environment would be a pleasant place to walk, and consequently has appeal for anyone choosing to ride a bike.
The Dutch cycling network is configured to these standards. Wherever you go by bike, you could quite easily stop and walk in precisely the same place, without difficulty, whether that street or road has cycle tracks, cycle lanes, or nothing at all.
You can walk comfortably where you have to cycle – and that explains, very simply, why cycling in the Netherlands is available to all.
Note that I am not suggesting that cycling infrastructure should be designed for walking, or for cycling at walking speeds. It should be able to accommodate all users, travelling at whatever speed they wish (within reason!), just as Dutch infrastructure does currently. Instead I am merely arguing that a very useful test of whether you are creating an inclusive environment for cycling is to consider how appropriate that cycling environment would be – hypothetically – for walking.
Would you walk there?