As Easy As Riding A Bike

Subscribe to As Easy As Riding A Bike feed As Easy As Riding A Bike
Well it should be, shouldn't it?
Updated: 12 min 37 sec ago

Picture post – Veenendaal

3 March, 2015 - 13:28

By British standards, the Dutch town of Veenendaal has some exceptional infrastructure, but this is really a rather quite unexceptional Dutch town, in many ways. When I mentioned to Dutch people that I intended to visit Veenendaal while I was in the country last year, they couldn’t understand why.

From a distance – through the haze of a Dutch spring morning – it looks rather Soviet.

Veenendaal is the equivalent of a British new town, expanding rapidly from a very small post-war settlement into the large town it is today, which accounts for the rather featureless architecture. It was, however, winner of the Fietsstad (best cycling city/town) award in 2000 – more detail (in Dutch) here.

As it happened, I couldn’t book accommodation in Veenendaal, so I stayed in the nearby town of Wageningen, and only briefly passed through Veenendaal on my way to Utrecht. Nevertheless I hope the pictures and video I managed to take convey a flavour of the town.

The approach from the countryside to the south east is typical. A quiet rural road merges into cycling infrastructure. Here the cycle track passes over a canal, then under the ring road, in one smooth transition.

This is how cycling through and around the town felt – seamless. The path alongside the ring road is of a similar standard.

As are the paths through and around the town.

The road pictured below is access-only for motor traffic – it ends at this point for drivers. Only cycles can progress further, either through the underpass on the right, or the cycle path on the left.

Paths through neighbourhoods are straight and direct, and without interruptions, with priority over roads, and with bridges and underpasses where they are are needed.

The railway station lies (literally) on one of these paths, which connects with it, and passes straight underneath the station platforms.

The town centre itself is a combination of bicycle-only streets (with rising bollards to allow deliveries) -

… and cycle streets, on which motor traffic is allowed to drive, but only for short stretches (and in one direction only) meaning those routes are only used for access by drivers, while forming straight, useful routes for cycling. (Notice the block, however, which has obviously been added because Dutch drivers were not obeying the ‘turn right’ sign).

Here’s a video flavour of this environment. It’s totally safe and inviting.

This really is a network that anyone can use, and would choose to use. When I passed through, at mid-morning, the people cycling in the town were all in normal clothes, going about their business as if they were casually walking. At this time of day, cycling was dominated by the elderly –

and by females, in particular.

It’s not uniformly excellent – some of the roads I cycle on in the town had no infrastructure at all, and felt distinctly British.

It may not be much to look at, but the town felt extraordinarily safe, friendly and peaceful. It’s a model of how the cycling infrastructure in our own new towns could have been constructed, with safe, direct and attractive routes everywhere you need to go, rather than discontinuous bits and bobs that abandon you unexpectedly.

Here’s a final video, showing the continuity of the infrastructure, from the railway station, right out into the countryside.

I’d like to go back to Veenendaal – I just need to persuade my partner it’s a suitable holiday destination…


Categories: Views

Using a flexible mode of transport to break rules designed for an inflexible mode of transport

25 February, 2015 - 12:11

The other week I spotted a driver attempting to drive the wrong way down a one-way street in Horsham.

It’s tempting to do this, because it represents a big shortcut.

The one-way section marked in red.

Starting from point A, driving illegally (south) down the road marked in red means that getting to point B is only a distance of 0.3 miles. Driving the legal route is over twice as long, and also involves waiting at several sets of traffic lights, which don’t exist on the ‘illegal’ route.

Here he is, setting off the wrong way down this one-way street…

… only to meet a bus coming the other way.

With – literally – nowhere to go, the presumably chastened driver had to reverse back, all the way he had come.

This incident got me thinking about why ‘cyclists’ have a bad reputation for going the wrong way up one-way streets, and drivers don’t.

Often this is explained in terms of ‘cyclists’ being able to ‘get away with it’, because they’re apparently not identifiable, with number plates, or fluorescent jackets with their names printed on, or some other nonsense.

Of course, this ‘explanation’ fails to account for how drivers consistently break laws in vast numbers, despite having number plates.

But there is actually something to this explanation. It is hard to get away with driving a car up a one-way street – much harder than riding a bicycle up a one-way street. However, this isn’t because you’ve got a number plate on your car. It’s because it’s physically hard to drive a car up a one-way street. There’s a strong chance you’re going to meet a vehicle coming the other way, and if that happens, you’re pretty much screwed, as in the case of the driver in the example described above. It’s a big risk.

By contrast, when you cycle the wrong way up a one-way street, it’s relatively easy to negotiate your way out of difficulty. For a start, you’re only the width of a human being, so you can simply stop against the kerb. Or you can become a pedestrian.

I’d estimate that, every day, around 50-100 people cycle the wrong way down the street this driver got caught out on. However, none of them will have encountered the kind of problem he did. There are some examples (and more background explanation) at the start of this post here.

And here’s a chap on a Dutch bike, cycling the wrong way, at precisely the position the driver met the bus.

Yes, I am also cycling ‘the wrong way’ here.

Here’s another.

And here’s someone cycling the wrong way, and actually meeting a bus, at this same location. No problem; he just waits out of the way, for the bus to go past.

We’re all cycling the wrong way precisely because we can get away with it. We can stop, walk on the pavement, get out of the way, and so on. Drivers can’t do this, because they’re cocooned in a much bulkier vehicle that is much, much harder to manoeuvre out of the way.

So the apparent ‘lawlessness’ of cyclists isn’t related to a lack of a number plate, or identification, but instead to the fact they’re much more like pedestrians, than drivers are. On a bike, we’re nimble and flexible; in a car, we aren’t.

I will often take short cuts in Tube stations, down passages that are ‘one way’ for pedestrians. I would think twice about this, however, if I was carrying a very large six-foot-cubed cardboard box. Because there’s a strong chance I’m going to get into difficulty if people come the other way.

This basic human psychology also explains why ‘red light jumping’ is associated with cycling (even if drivers actually jump red lights in roughly similar proportions). Drivers tend to jump lights by ‘gambling’ – nipping through the junction after the signals have turned red, on the (often mistaken) assumption that they’ve got just enough time to do so before traffic emerges from other arms of the junction. Here’s a gamble from a lorry driver.

People cycling, however, engage in a form of jumping that you rarely see drivers engaging in; creeping into the junction, looking around, seeing if it is clear, and progressing carefully across in stages.

It’s quite obvious why drivers don’t engage in this kind of behaviour, and again, it’s not because of number plates (because, again, that fails to explain why they’re jumping lights in vast numbers already). It’s because it’s risky to get yourself into the middle of a junction in a big bulky object, leaving yourself nowhere to retreat to, if things go wrong. You’re going to end up causing an obstruction.

On a bike, however, you can move onto the pavement, or you can position yourself against an island, or simply dismount, if things start going wrong. You’re small, nimble, and flexible.

One-way streets and traffic lights only exist in our towns and cities to accommodate the flow of big, bulky objects that can’t easily negotiate past each other. By contrast, present-day streets that carry tens of thousands of people a day on bikes (with very few, or even none, in motor vehicles) do not require traffic signals, or one-way systems, to accommodate flow. They are far, far more efficient.

So should we really be surprised that people using a flexible and nimble mode of transport will often ignore rules put into place to ease the passage of bulky and inflexible modes of transport? It’s their very flexibility that allows them to bypass those rules, without getting into difficulty – rules that came about because the drivers of motor vehicles were getting into difficulty.


Categories: Views

Secured by Design – ACPO’s blanket recommendation against permeability

23 February, 2015 - 09:55

I’ve been meaning to write a few words about ‘Secured by Design’, which is a national police project focused on reducing crime through the design of buildings and the built environment.

Established in 1989, Secured by Design (SBD) is owned by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and is the corporate title for a group of national police projects focusing on the design and security for new & refurbished homes, commercial premises and car parks as well as the acknowledgement of quality security products and crime prevention projects.

… Being inherently linked to the governments planning objective of creating secure, quality places where people wish to live and work, Secured by Design has been cited as a key model in the Office of Deputy Prime Minister’s guide ‘Safer Places – The Planning System & Crime Prevention’ and in the Home Office’s ‘Crime Reduction Strategy 2008-11′.

Their guidance on new housing development [pdf] came to my attention last year, when a developer took out the paths they had proposed in a local housing development from their plans, on police advice – referencing… Secure By Design.  These paths would have connected their development to surrounding cul-de-sacs.

And it’s surfaced again recently, with Avon and Somerset Police recommending against permeability for walking and cycling in a new development in Bristol.

Picture by @JonUsher

An explicit association is made here between walking and cycling routes, and crime – indeed, between ‘excessive permeability’ and crime.

Here’s another example, found at random, from an ACPO consultation for Lincolnshire Police, in response to a planning application – again referencing Secured by Design.

‘denial of Permeability’

‘Permeability is perhaps the greatest threat as it has the capacity to facilitate both Anti-Social Behaviour and act as a classic ‘attack and escape route’ for criminals’.

Permeability as ‘threat’.

What does Secure by Design actually have to say on this issue?

There are advantages in some road layout patterns over others especially where the pattern frustrates the searching behaviour of the criminal and his need to escape. Whilst it is accepted that through routes will be included within development layouts, the designer must ensure that the security of the development is not compromise by excessive permeability, for instance by allowing the criminal legitimate access to the rear or side boundaries of dwellings or by providing too many or unnecessary segregated footpaths (Note 3.1)

And Note 3.1 states

The Design Council’s/CABE’s Case Study 6 of 2012 states that: “Permeability can be achieved in a scheme without creating separate movement paths” and notes that “paths and pavements run as part of the street to the front of dwellings. This reinforces movement in the right places to keep streets animated and does not open up rear access to properties”.

The clear implication here is that movement by people walking and cycling in new developments should not involve ‘separate movement paths’ (i.e. stand-alone walking and cycling routes), but should instead be on routes that ‘run as part of the street’. That is, alongside routes for motor vehicles. Limiting walking and cycling to these routes  apparently ‘reinforces movement in the right places’.

The guidance goes on –

Cul-de-sacs that are short in length and not linked by footpaths can be very safe environments in which residents benefit from lower crime. Research shows that features that generate crime within cul-de-sacs invariably incorporate one or more of the following undesirable features:

  • backing onto open land, railway lines, canal towpaths etc, and/or
  • are very deep (long)
  •  linked to one another by footpaths

If any of the above features are present in a development additional security measures may be required. Footpaths linking cul-de-sacs to one another can be particularly problematic

Again, permeability between cul-de-sacs, exclusively for walking and cycling, is disparaged as ‘particularly problematic’.

From the perspective of anyone interested in reducing car dependence and in making walking and cycling attractive and obvious ways of getting about, this is really dreadful advice. Actually recommending cul-de-sacs without permeability is just about the worst kind of design imaginable, if you want to discourage walking and cycling.

To take an example, plucked at random. Here’s a residential area in the east of Horsham, composed of bog-standard 80s-90s detached housing, with one of the paths that is disparaged by Secured by Design.

This one – of course – has zig-zag barriers.

From this location, it’s possibly to walk to the main road, using this path – a distance of 360m.

But without this cut-through path, anyone walking or cycling would have to follow the driving route, which is nearly three times longer.

These kinds of distances are fine if you are driving – you’re not exerting any effort – but converting what should be very short walking and cycling trips into long ones is plainly bad policy.

The advantages of walking and cycling are that they are much less space-hungry modes of transport than driving; consequently trips by these modes should be made as direct as possible. Lumping them in with driving – using the design of cul-de-sacs to effectively keep walking out – is deeply unsympathetic. But that’s what this policy amounts to – keeping burglars on foot out by keeping everyone else out.

Lurking behind this ACPO advice appears to be the assumption that driving routes are used by everyone, while walking and cycling routes are used by barely no-one, meaning that they are attractive to criminals.

But a route is just as a route, whether it is carrying motor traffic, walking and cycling, or whether it caters only for walking and cycling. Limiting access to just one route in and out of developments works (or ‘works’) because it concentrates activity (and hence natural surveillance) on that route. But there’s no reason why walking and cycling routes can’t work in precisely the same way, even if motor traffic is excluded from those routes.

What matters in preventing crime is that natural surveillance and activity; that can surely be achieved, with good design, on walking and cycling routes. The answer cannot be just to block these routes off.

The Dutch new town of Houten near Utrecht has plenty of permeability for walking and cycling; walking and cycling routes go pretty much everywhere. Indeed, the spine of many of these routes runs along what might be seen by ACPO as ‘the rear’ of properties, while car access is at the front.

However, I can’t really see these routes being hotspots for crime, because they are almost certainly busier than the car access at the front. They are routes people want to use.

A route running by ‘the rear’ of properties in Houten.

It may be the case that there is a connection between design that involves acres of disconnected cul-de-sacs and lower rates of crime; and indeed a connection between higher rates of crime, and the presence paths connecting these cul-de-sacs, in Britain. But that’s almost certainly because we design permeability very badly in this country; we make these routes indirect, unattractive and/or intimidating, as I’ve written about here. Consequently they are not used in great numbers, and are seen as ‘crime hotspots’.

Not an attractive route.

But we don’t have to design like this; we can design routes that people want to use, that are naturally busy, and naturally safe, with good visibility.

More permeability in the form of a walking- and cycling-only route, in Zoetermeer

This is, seemingly, a distinction that the ACPO guidance is not picking up on, with its deeply unhelpful blanket recommendation against permeability, that doesn’t distinguish between crap routes that nobody wants to use, and busy walking and cycling routes that could actually serve to lower crime, by increasing eyes on the street. Instead, permeability is framed almost entirely as a network for criminals, with footpaths ‘generating crime’.

Is it time for a rewrite? I think so.

Categories: Views

A Superhighway that isn’t

18 February, 2015 - 10:55

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with ‘backstreets’ routes for cycling. Some of the highest quality routes I have cycled on in the Netherlands have been of this form, running away from main roads, passing through residential areas and parks.

A fietsstraat in Nijmegen

A fietsstraat in Utrecht

These routes are excellent because they are direct, continuous, and involve little or no stopping. This is, in fact, an advantage over routes on main roads, which because they will be accommodating more traffic tend to require traffic signals, which unnecessarily delay cycling. They also have filtering, either in the form of physical blocks to stop motor traffic (the street in Nijmegen is closed at the far end to motor traffic), or simple signed exclusions on motor traffic, as on the pictured section of the Utrecht fietsstraat. Motor traffic can drive on this fietsstraat up to this point, but must turn left at the junction. The purpose is to keep motor traffic levels low enough for cycling on fietsstraats to be a comfortable experience for everyone.

I haven’t had a great deal of time to look in detail at the newly-released proposals for Superhighway 1, but it is quite obviously ‘a backstreets route’, running away from the A10, the most direct, north-south route that Superhighway 1 parallels – and indeed the road that CS1 is in fact an the obvious and explicit substitute for. Some parts of it – especially in Haringey – appear to be desperately poor. Meandering through the backstreets, Superhighway 1 has to take a turn up this tiny alley to avoid the A10 –

This can’t really a route for a Superhighway, can it?

… and when it does run alongside the A10, it looks particularly shoddy, nothing more than a minor tidying of the existing (and deeply substandard) shared use arrangement on the footway.

That stuff on the western footway is apparently a ‘Superhighway’

The route in Hackney is a little better, but it is still meandering, it loses priority when it crosses major roads (a broader issue with Quietways), and, while there is some new modal filtering, it does not have a great deal of it. For instance, there is no filtering at all between the new closure where Pitfield Street meets Old Street, and Northchurch Terrace, a straight road of over a mile, open along its length to all motor traffic, in both directions. It’s not clear how quiet this route is actually going to be.

And of course there is the issue of whether this route even deserves to be called a ‘Superhighway’ at all. From the Mayor’s 2013 Vision for Cycling

We will offer two clear kinds of branded route: high capacity Superhighways, mostly on main roads, for fast commuters, and slightly slower but still direct Quietways on pleasant, low-traffic side streets for those wanting a more relaxed journey.

From this definition, Superhighway 1 is most definitely a Quietway, not a Superhighway. It runs on low-traffic side streets for almost its entire length, barring a short stretch on the footway of the A10 at Seven Sisters. It is not ‘mostly on main roads’.

I think this risks damaging the whole concept of Superhighways, and indeed opens the door to a return of the failed LCN+ approach of routing cycling onto wiggly backstreet routes that are less attractive than main roads, and (because of an absence of provision on main roads) don’t form part of a coherent network. Read this from David Arditti on the failures of LCN+, and it all starts to sound eerily familiar.

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 money for the A5 route just got spent on a few blue signs, cycle logos on the road, and speed tables on side-roads in Brent – none of which did anything to make cycling no the A5 any better.

For ‘A5′, substitute ‘A10′.

To repeat, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with routes away from main roads. High quality routes on minor roads can make sense. But they certainly should not be used as a substitute for addressing barriers to cycling on what should be more attractive, direct routes. And this appears to be precisely what is happening with Superhighway 1 – it has been shunted onto backstreets because of political opposition (and probably because of opposition from within TfL) from running it on the A10.

I don’t think the distinction between Quietways and Superhighways is particularly helpful, in general, but if these terms are going to be used, then in its current form, this route through Hackney and Haringey simply shouldn’t be labelled a Superhighway. It should be called a Quietway, because that’s what it is.

Calling it a Superhighway opens the door to other boroughs putting ‘Superhighways’ on fiddly back streets routes as a convenient way of avoiding the barriers to cycling on their main roads – a return to the LCN+ strategy of avoiding hard choices. That’s really not acceptable.

Categories: Views

In the way

16 February, 2015 - 11:39

What is it about cycling in front of motor vehicles that makes for an unpleasant experience?

This is a pertinent question in the light of a number of related issues – principally, how we should go about designing for cycling (and the design of the public realm in general), but also how we should train people to cycle, how cycling and motoring should work as distinct modes of transport, and how advances in car technology might affect cycling.

The last issue relates to driverless cars. Last week saw the release of an official Department for Transport review into this technology. This review was rumoured to contain suggestions that the Highway Code may need to be changed, rumours encapsulated by this rather strange Daily Telegraph article on Tuesday –

The Highway Code may need to be re-written to stop driverless cars from bringing Britain’s city centres to a halt, an official review will say.

Passing distances between cyclists and pedestrians may have to be changed to prevent robot vehicles clogging up roads across the country. Under the current Highway Code, drivers are expected to leave as much room as they would leave for a car when overtaking cyclists. There are fears driverless cars could be left crawling behind cyclists for miles as they wait for enough space to overtake if the rules are not changed.

The implication here being that driverless cars programmed to obey the rules set out in the Highway Code – and thus programmed to overtake in accordance with the Highway Code, moving entirely into the next lane to overtake, as per Rule 163 – will cause gridlock.

Rule 163

I’m not entirely sure whether this is true, of course. Opportunities to overtake properly do present themselves, and if they are absent (when traffic is that heavy), then issues of delay and inconvenience are probably being caused by an excess of motor traffic. In urban areas, being genuinely stuck behind someone cycling at 10-15 miles an hour might only amount to arriving at the next red light, or queue of motor traffic, slightly later.

But equally it may be true that motorists will be delayed in many instances, stuck behind people cycling – which isn’t particularly attractive for either mode, as will be discussed below.

As it turns out, the DfT Review itself didn’t contain any of this speculation, only the mild

The Highway Code may need to be updated in due course to take into account the use of highly automated vehicles on the roads. It may be necessary to wait until experience has been gained with these vehicles and possibly research has been conducted into the interactions between such vehicles and other road users.

… with no mention of gridlock, ‘clogging’, ‘crawling’, or overtaking.

Nevertheless, this issue of how driverless cars will behave does raise broader issues of policy, and about how cycling should be designed for. The discussion actually draws into focus the fact that something is already fundamentally wrong with the way our roads and streets accommodate cycling and driving, even with our current low levels of cycling. Putting cycling and driving in the same space on main roads simply makes no sense at a strategic level – both modes of transport will impede each other, in different ways.

For instance, if we are aiming for cycling to be a mode of transport accessible to anyone, this will inevitably mean that cycling will increasingly be dominated by people who are cycling more slowly than those who are cycling at present. Does it make sense to place these people in front of motor traffic, either from the perspective of the person driving, or of the person pedalling in front of them? Equally, does it make sense to place queues of motor traffic in the way of people cycling?

These are issues that are already emerging in relation to cycling in bus lanes. Tentative research suggests that with increasing cycling levels, putting buses and cycling in the same space simply won’t work, for either mode – a problem recognised by Transport for London themselves

with or without the Cycle Vision investment – population growth, increased cycling levels and increased traffic flows are likely to result in delays occurring for general traffic and buses in central London (if not mitigated). [my emphasis]

More research is obviously required, but even from a ‘common sense’ standpoint, it is plain that high cycling levels in bus lanes are incompatible with an efficient bus service. Buses should be travelling at smooth speeds between bus stops; that’s not going to be possible if bus lanes are clogged with people cycling at slower speeds. (This is to say nothing of the inconvenience and unpleasantness from the perspective of the person cycling).

I suspect that these kinds of issues – both cycling in bus lanes, and the broader issue of cycling with motor traffic – have not been addressed until now principally because cycling has been such a minority mode of transport – with so few people cycling – its impacts on other traffic didn’t need to be considered.

But equally it is likely that the issues have been ignored because our highway engineers have expected people cycling to behave like motor traffic, and also because our politicians, planners and engineers are seemingly happy to completely ignore the needs of those who are not willing or able to cycle like motor traffic – those people who aren’t cycling, but want to. Dishonesty about the fact that cycling and motoring are entirely different modes of transport is politically convenient. The ‘driverless car issue’ is exposing some of that dishonesty, even if the issues and problems are being exaggerated for journalistic effect.

I’ve already written about how the reactions to driverless car technology – both from cycling campaigners, and from those with an interest in driving – will be entirely different in the Netherlands, principally because this is a country that, sensibly, already treats cycling and driving as distinct modes of transport. Consistent application of the principles of sustainable safety – homogeneity of mass, speed and direction, in particular – means that it does not really make any difference who is driving motor vehicles, humans or computers. Cycling and driving are separated from each other where it matters, and only mixed where it doesn’t.

Cycling separated from motor traffic on through roads

… And only mixed with driving in low traffic areas, access roads where policy has limited or removed through traffic

In short, cycling is not in the way of driving, and driving is not in the way of cycling.

Consequently the issues that are provoking discussion in Britain are absent. With or without the presence of driverless cars, the Dutch system is one we should moving towards, simply because it makes sense. Not only does it make cycling (and indeed driving) considerably safer, it also makes both these modes of transport easier and more pleasant. In particular, from a cycling perspective, interactions with motor vehicles are minimised or even eliminated, and that makes a big difference to how enjoyable it is to cycle around.

The contrast with Britain could not be more stark, where something called the ‘primary position’ is official cycle training policy – a policy that explicitly involves cycling in front of motor vehicles, not because this is attractive or pleasant, but in an attempt to mitigate the consequences of bad road design.

To take just one of a million potential examples up and down the country, cycling in the ‘primary position’ on Pall Mall, below, is, thanks to a crappy new design, an absolute necessity. Failing to do so means you risk being squeezed against parked vehicles by overtaking traffic, and/or being ‘doored’. The only safe way to cycle here is to put yourself in front of drivers, deliberately stopping them from overtaking.

Cycling directly  in front of motor vehicles is the only safe strategy here.

This isn’t good for cycling, or for driving. Forcing people to cycle ‘in the way’ of people driving to keep themselves safe is not good policy.

This design on Pall Mall is probably only accidentally awful – I doubt whether the engineers seriously considered how cycling would even work on this street. Yet placing people in front of motor traffic on main roads continues to be a deliberate feature of new street design.

We have public realm designers –  in reference to designs that explicitly place motorists behind people cycling – describing those people cycling as ‘lock gates… effectively monitoring the speed of motor traffic.‘ That is – putting people in the way.

And, more recently, Urban Design London published guidance, suggesting that

Integrating cycling into narrower carriageways can encourage all road users to engage better with each other. This can also help retain a constant, but slower, traffic flow

Again, deliberately placing people in the way, to slow traffic.

There is some logic here – let’s put a slow mode of transport in front of a faster one, and attempt to prevent that faster one from overtaking the slower one, in order to slow down the faster one – but important issues appear to be being ducked completely. Mainly

  • whether this deliberate mixing approach is actually any safer than one that separates cycling from driving on main roads
  • how attractive it might be for the person cycling to be placed in front of motor traffic (and indeed what proportion of the population are even willing to cycle in this way)
  • how ethical it is to use people as a traffic calming device, rather than – say – physical measures
  • whether these kinds of designs actually foster frustration and resentment, instead of allowing people to ‘engage better’

I’ve already touched upon the Dutch approach of sustainable safety, which seeks to reduce the severity of collisions by aiming towards homogeneity (or uniformity) of mass and momentum (and direction). Fast objects, and heavy objects, should not be sharing the same road space as slower ones, or lighter ones. By contrast, ‘mixing’ cycling with objects that carry considerably greater mass and momentum can have disastrous consequences.

The unattractiveness of cycling directly in front of motor traffic rests not just with the innate uncomfortableness of being in front of a large heavy object that can do you harm. Psychologically, I don’t think anyone likes to be ‘in the way’ – causing inconvenience or delay to others. Just as it is natural to want to be able to make progress on foot, or on bike, or while driving, so the flip side of that coin, for empathetic human beings, is that it is natural to feel uncomfortable at obstructing the progress of others. Even if we could persuade the general population that it’s a good idea to cycle in front of motor traffic, it would be very hard to persuade them that it is actually enjoyable or pleasant, for these reasons.

We can already see this at play in those (allegedly) ‘shared space’ streets that function as through routes. Here, despite the obvious design intention of encouraging pedestrians to walk freely where they want, the subjective unpleasantness of walking in front of motor traffic, coupled presumably with an unwillingness to obstruct drivers, leads almost inevitably to streets that are not really shared at all – streets that function like conventional streets, albeit with pretty paving.

Not much sharing. It’s easier and more pleasant to walk where you are not in the way

People on foot, or on bike, do not take too kindly to being treated as traffic-calming devices. There are a whole host of measures we can employ to slow down motor traffic, that don’t involve placing people in the way of it, including

  • narrow carriageways;
  • removal of centre lines;
  • speed humps and speed tables;
  • cobbled or rough surfacing; 
  • small radius corners;
  • introducing corners, or bends;

And so on. Beyond these self-reinforcing measures, we can even employ enforcement of existing speed limits. These measures involve physical objects and design (and potential conflict with other motor vehicles) to slow drivers down, rather than potential conflict with soft, squishy and unprotected human beings.

Finally, there is the question of whether this kind of approach – deliberately placing people in the way – actually achieves the kind of harmony and good feeling it is purported to. Rather than creating a calm environment, having to trundle behind someone cycling ‘in the way’ could actually foster resentment and frustration, leading to hostile (and potentially dangerous) driving.

So for all these reasons, we should be endeavouring to treat cycling as a distinct mode of transport, with its own network, separate from a driving network, to reduce the extent to which these two modes of transport are ‘in the way’ of each other.

But unfortunately Britain has something of a problematic legacy among cycle campaigners, in that measures to separate out conflict between driving and cycling are framed as getting cycling out of the way of driving, or a ‘surrender’ of the road network. These issues have been covered before at length in that post, and also in this one by David Arditti. At root is an almost umbilical tethering of cycling as a mode of transport with the convenience of motoring; every kind of policy with regard to cycling is viewed through the prism of how it might affect driving.

But this is actually really quite unhelpful, especially when it results in a failure to focus clearly on the kinds of policies that would actually make cycling more attractive to ordinary people. Being ‘in the way’ of motoring is not attractive.

Nor does this kind of attitude make any kind of sense. We don’t think this way in relation to other modes of transport, beyond cycling. We don’t consider how to design for walking through the prism of how it might affect driving; we simply go about creating good routes that feel safe, are convenient, and attractive. The potential impacts on driving of these walking environments are neither here nor there, nor should they be. We don’t think about the fact that walking might be ‘out of the way’ of motoring, because that’s a nonsensical way of looking at things. Walking can be prioritised, even if it is ‘out of the way’.

And precisely the same is true of cycling. We are seeing, with the tremendous political battles to get the first major cycling routes built on main roads in central London, that separating cycling from driving on these roads is itself a way of prioritising cycling, even if this mode is ‘out of the way’ of driving. Not only is capacity for motor vehicles being reduced, but also cycling will become a smoother and more direct mode of transport, absent from conflict with motor traffic, and with reduced delay. No longer being ‘in the way’ is actually beneficial, even if we don’t consider the added benefits of greatly improved safety, and comfort.

The tremendous breakthrough represented by these routes in London is an emergence of designing for cycling in its own right; considering what intervention is required for cycling on each and every road or street to make cycling a viable mode of transport for everyone. On many streets (perhaps the great majority) this will involve changing their nature; turning them into access roads, rather than through roads. But on others – the roads that remain as through routes – it will inevitably involve separating cycling from driving. Treating cycling a distinct mode of transport isn’t anything to do with being in, or out of, the way.

Categories: Views

A timely reminder from Thames Valley Police

13 February, 2015 - 11:30

The tired stereotype that ‘cyclists’ are especially prone to lawbreaking really isn’t going to go away if public bodies like police forces persist in employing it.

Take this today from Thames Valley Police’s Roads Policing Twitter account –

Remember cyclists must obey all traffic signs and traffic lights just as other road users must #itsnotworththerisk P4031

— TVP Roads Policing (@tvprp) February 13, 2015

Would the same Twitter account post this (equivalent) piece of ‘public information’?

Remember motorists must obey all traffic signs and traffic lights just as other road users must #itsnotworththerisk P4031

No, because that would be nonsense. Someone driving doesn’t stand out from ‘other road users’  in failing to realise they must obey traffic signs and lights. They already know they have to obey them, and when they break speed limits, or jump red lights, or ignore parking restrictions, or talk on their mobile phone, they do so knowing that they are breaking rules, while hoping that they can get away with it. They are not breaking rules because they think they have some kind of special exemption as a ‘motorist’, a misconception upon which they need correcting by Thames Valley Police.

‘Ha! Those other road users are saps! They have to obey laws while I, as a motorist, have liberty to pick and choose which rules I obey!’ 

That, however, is the implication of  the tweet that @tvprp actually posted. That ‘cyclists’ think they have some kind of special exemption to break rules – that they believe themselves to be above the law, and that consequently they needed to be ‘reminded’ of their obligation to obey rules.

It’s total bollocks, of course, but nevertheless a revealing insight into the mindset of a copper who has obviously just seen someone trundling on the pavement, or through a red light, or up a one-way street, and then instead of thinking to themselves –

Oh look, there’s someone breaking the law, who happens to be on a bike. I’ll take a considered, rational assessment of the danger they were posing to themselves and other road users, and have a quiet word.

… instead thought –

Oh look, there’s another typical cyclist who thinks they are above the law, and doesn’t need to obey the rules, because they’re on two wheels. I’m going to post a sermon on Twitter about the behaviour of this entire group of road users.

As I’ve argued before, it’s preposterous to attribute characteristics to ‘cyclists’, because a ‘cyclist’ is an ordinary human being who happens to be using a particular mode of transport, at a given moment. At another moment, that same person could be a pedestrian, a motorist, a ‘train-ist’ or a ‘bus-ist’. Any propensity to lawbreaking, or a belief to be above road rules, cannot be an innate characteristic of ‘cyclists’, because such a group simply doesn’t exist, any more than ‘plane passengers’ can be described as having particular characteristics that distinguish themselves from other human beings.

The individual behind the Thames Valley Police Twitter account evidently thinks differently – that ‘cyclists’, unlike ‘other road users’, need to be reminded that laws must be obeyed.

Not only is this drivel, I think it’s actually very dangerous drivel, because it reinforces in the public mind the (stereotyped) notion that ‘cyclists’ are somehow less worthy of consideration because they are lawbreakers, because they are ‘self-righteous’ and consider themselves to be above rules. On a number of occasions I have had poor, inconsiderate and even dangerous driving around me justified (or ‘justified’) on the basis that ‘you’ (or ‘you lot’) jump red lights, or terrorise grannies on pavements (see the opening paragraphs here for just one of these instances).

I think it’s pretty shameful that a public body which should be aiming to keep all road users safe is actually serving to endorse these harmful attitudes.

Categories: Views

Total inconsistency from the Royal Parks

11 February, 2015 - 11:19

I can’t really add much to Cyclists in the City’s excellent and thorough analysis of the problems facing the East-West Superhighway route through the Royal Parks – problems, it seems, that are entirely being caused by the Royal Parks themselves, as the Evening Standard reports.

But I would like to examine the apparent rationale the Royal Parks are advancing for blocking a separated route for cycling, on the existing carriageway – a route that would look like this, in the visualisation that Transport for London have already prepared.

How the route would look, if it wasn’t being blocked by the Royal Parks

As is clear from this visualisation, the route would run on existing road space, separated from motor traffic by what look like removable wands, visible on the right of the image.

It is very important to note here that the Royal Parks are not actually objecting to the principle of a Superhighway running through this area; their objection is specifically about the form cycling provision should take.

As the Superhighway comes down Constitution Hill, instead of running it on the road, the Royal Parks want the route to pass directly through this area of shared use, shown below, at the foot of Green Park.

The existing area of shared use at the south side of Green Park. This is where the Royal Parks want the Superhighway to go.

This is already a very busy area, heaving with pedestrians who are coming to and from the Palace, or making their way from Hyde Park into central London. I don’t think mixing cycling and walking here works at all, even at present – the numbers of people walking and cycling here are just too high.

Yet the Royal Parks are apparently proposing that this shared footway is appropriate for what will likely be one the busiest cycle routes in London, pushing more people cycling into this area.

It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, especially when – just over that wall, visible in the picture above – there is an ocean of road space that could quite easily be used for a protected cycle route, without having any effect on motor traffic, while simultaneously keeping cycling and walking separated from each other at this very busy location.

The 2014 Parliamentary Bike Ride, passing along TfL’s preferred route for the Superhighway. As you can see, there is a vast expanse of tarmac here that can easily accommodate a cycling route.

Locating the cycling route here would therefore actually represent a considerable improvement for pedestrians, because cycling would no longer be mixed in with walking on the existing shared use footway. These issues are summarised very well by Andrew Gilligan in the early part of this BBC report from Tom Edwards.

So what is the reasoning the Royal Parks are employing for blocking a segregated track on the road, and insisting that the crap status quo should be maintained (and indeed worsened, through the addition of more cycle traffic into a shared use area)?

All we have to go on at present are the minutes of their Board meeting back in December, at which Andrew Gilligan and Transport for London representatives are present (thanks to Jon Stone, for uploading them) –

TfL set out the consultation concept designs for the east-west cycle superhighway within the Royal Parks. The Board agreed that TfL could undertake public consultation on the proposed road based scheme through Hyde Park. The proposals for St James and Green Parks were not satisfactory for safety, operational and aesthetic reasons. The Board asked TfL to look again at the concept design and come back with revisions and mitigations.

Unspecified ‘safety, operational and aesthetic reasons’.

I have to say is not especially clear why an expanse of tarmac is more aesthetically pleasing if it is entirely used for motor traffic – perhaps the Royal Parks could provide more explanation. The ‘operational’ reasons don’t make a great deal of sense either, as we’ve known for some time that the segregation at this location would have to be removable, for events.

As for ‘safety’, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to pretend that running a busy cycle route directly through an area of footway used by huge numbers of pedestrians is safer than separating that cycle route from those pedestrians, by using excess carriageway space.

The total inconsistency of the Royal Parks on this issue is betrayed by the fact that they are simultaneously insisting that it is not safe for the Superhighway to run along Rotten Row –

In response to Royal Parks Agency concerns about pedestrians, the superhighway will not run on Rotten Row

Because of… concerns about pedestrians!

How can the Royal Parks profess concern for conflict between walking and cycling in Hyde Park, while simultaneously blocking a Superhighway route by Buckingham Palace that would serve to remove that conflict?

Categories: Views

Marginal gains

9 February, 2015 - 14:28

There was a anair bit of discussion last week about the value – or lack of value – of promotional marketing campaigns related to cycling. On the one hand, we had the view that any kind of policy, promotional or otherwise, that purports to increase cycling levels is a good thing. On the other, we had the view that these policies are largely pointless without the kinds of conditions on the ground to enable cycling; safe, convenient, attractive and direct routes.

Those who take the former view argue that every little thing helps. Therefore every little thing is good. The phrase ‘marginal gains’ is even employed, echoing Team Sky’s strategy of improving in all areas of performance, to extract maximum benefit. By this logic, glossy promotion is a ‘marginal gain’, a boost to cycling, alongside cycleways. This view, I think, is summarised below, in the words of Carlton Reid

Sir Dave Brailsford’s system of aggregating marginal gain is an example from cycle sport that demonstrates that great things can come from lots of little tweaks. I want brilliant, Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in the UK. I don’t want yet more ‘crap cycle lanes’. I’m not holding my breath. Nevertheless I will campaign long and hard for such infrastructure, as I have been doing for the best part of 30 years.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor was Amsterdam’s cycle infrastructure. Before we get a UK version of the wonderful Dutch National Cycling Plan there are many smaller fixes that the UK Government and local authorities could do tomorrow.

By all means aim for the big stuff, but let’s not ignore lots and lots of the little stuff. That’s why I’ve started the Twitter hashtag #nudges4cycling Some great, simple fixes have already started arriving and I’ll compile a list of these to give to the Department for Transport and other relevant Departments.

Marketing presumably being one of these ‘nudges’.

However this ‘marginal gains’ analogy is deeply flawed. Team Sky are applying the aggregation of ‘marginal gains’ while their riders are using extremely expensive Pinarello bikes, honed in wind tunnel testing, and fitted with top-of-the-range components. It makes sense to apply ‘marginal gains’ when you already have fantastic equipment.

However, it would make very little sense for Team Sky to do so if they were equipped with secondhand 1990s Halfords Apollo ‘full suspension’ mountain bikes, with flat tyres and rusty chains.

Wear a skinsuit on this beast

You can hire the best sports psychologists and nutritionists; you can ferry your team about in the fanciest tour buses; put them up in the most expensive hotels; manage their sleep patterns; religiously organise their training programmes; clothe them in the lightest, most aerodynamic skinsuits.

But really, if your riders are bouncing around on creaky £90 specials while the rest of the peloton vanishes over the horizon, is there any point? Indeed, it could justifiably be argued that – while the equipment your riders are forced to use is so deeply sub-optimal – employing Steve Peters to help your riders find their ‘inner chimp’ is a total waste of money.

This is, unfortunately, analogous to the role of promotion with current conditions for cycling in Britain. The equivalent of the rusty mountain bikes is the conditions we expect people to ride in; and the equivalent of Steve Peters is the promotional activity that attempts to persuade people to ride in those conditions.

Go on. You know you want to. Will this picture of a pretty girl standing beside a bike help?

How about a picture of a granny in a park?

The very reason cycling has such a poor image in Britain is due to these hostile conditions. It is a marginal, fringe activity precisely because so few people are willing to cycle on our roads and streets, and those that are prepared to do so choose to wear equipment that they feel – rightly or wrongly – will mitigate that danger and hostility. The image problem flows from the physical environment.

This is why marketing has failed – and will continue to fail – as a strategy to enable cycling in Britain. The conditions need to come first, then promotion needs to follow, just as you need to go out and buy the Pinarellos, before employing Steve Peters. Don’t waste your money employing sports psychologists, when your equipment is so desperately below par.

Meanwhile, marketing remains a very convenient outlet for cycle spending for those authorities who don’t wish to address the unattractive conditions for cycling on their roads. I’m thinking here particularly of Kensington and Chelsea’s Bikeminded, a glossy EU-funded promotional scheme from a borough that continues to block cycleways on its main roads.

‘Always be at the front of the queue’, says RBKC promotional activity. That’s if you can squeeze your way through all the motor traffic clogging the borough’s roads.

Spending cycling money on marketing is uncontroversial, and allows many councils to pretend they’re actually doing something while failing to address the largest and most significant barrier to cycling; the unwillingness of the general public to share roadspace with motor traffic. Marketing needs to be employed when you have a product that’s actually worth selling; otherwise it amounts to polishing a turd.

Indeed, this essential point appears to have got lost in all the back-and-forth last week. Nobody is knocking the principle of marketing, any more than critics are knocking the principle of employing sports psychologists. There’s nothing wrong with either. The issue many campaigners have is one of ordering.

Just as you wouldn’t waste money on sports psychologists when your team is equipped with embarrassingly crap bikes, don’t waste money attempting to market a product you already know the public doesn’t want to buy. Develop a good one, then market that.



See also Joe Dunckley on the logic – or otherwise – of campaigning for marginal gains

Categories: Views

Sharing and caring

2 February, 2015 - 10:40

The website The American Conservative has published a deeply, deeply confused piece about road design, apparently inspired by the announcement the cycle ‘Superhighways’ in London will be going ahead.

The tone is set in the opening paragraphs.

toIt is perhaps the most iconic moment in urbanism: Robert Moses, the greatest power broker and central planner the American city had ever seen, squaring off against Jane Jacobs, the champion of the city’s community and author of the greatest book on urbanism ever written, over whether Jacobs’s beloved neighborhood of Greenwich Village would have one of Moses’s favored highways carved through it.

Jacobs eventually prevailed, protecting her community and signaling a shift against the city central planners who had dug up or flattened large swaths of American cities in the name of progress, urban renewal, and the automobile age. Jacobs’s victory against the urban highway is still spoken of in almost reverential tones by many committed to healthy cities and strong communities.

Until, that is, they were offered a highway for bikes.

… the effusive praise heaped on these cycle superhighways is strangely reminiscent of the rhetoric of 50 years ago used to coax cities into building the original highways urbanists so lament today.

The superficial logic here appears to be that – because highways were bad when Robert Moses attempted to drive them through Manhattan, knocking down buildings and any other structures that were in their way, any other kind of ‘highway’ must also be bad.

This is so silly it shouldn’t really merit discussion at all, but for the sake of argument let’s examine why. Moses’ highway plans involved destruction on a vast scale – it did, literally, involve flattening, along with community severance, noise, danger, sprawl, and the myriad other problems detailed in Jane Jacobs’ book.

Image from here.

But the ‘highways’ being planned in London don’t involve any destruction, whatsoever. They are merely a reallocation of existing road space, away from motor traffic, and towards the bicycle (and, to a lesser, extent, towards walking).

Stopping this project wouldn’t be any kind victory against ‘the highway’, because ‘the highway’ would still exist. It would be composed of four lanes of motor traffic, as it is now, instead of the proposed two or three, with more space for cycling and walking. To suggest that this kind of intervention has to be opposed by those ‘committed to healthy cities and strong communities’ on the grounds of consistency is utterly ludicrous.

Lurking behind this incoherent introduction, however, is a marginally more substantive argument – namely, that the way to get everyone to behave better, and to increase safety, is to mix everything up – to push all modes together, into the same space.

This is the broad brush argument against ‘segregation’, which makes little or no distinction between the kind of segregation employed by the motor traffic-fixated highway engineers and city planners, of the mid-20th century, and the kinds of segregation represented by London’s proposed cycle Superhighways – and indeed the Dutch and Danish national approach to urban design. (I’ve commented before on this tendency to lump in progressive attempts to separate motor traffic away from people with the ugly, hard and unpleasant designs that got people out of the way of motor traffic).

It is almost as simplistic as the argument that bicycle ‘highways’ must be bad in urban areas, because motorways in urban areas are bad. It suggests that separating walking, cycling and driving from each other is intrinsically bad, for much the same reason – because this was the philosophy of planners like Moses. 

So we find the author of this American Conservative piece, Jonathan Coppage, opining that

Urbanists rightly, and often, decry [the] auto-centric legacy that yielded the streets to one mode of traffic alone. But many are also fond of their bicycle, and can’t help but be tempted by the idea of cruising along smoothly, with no cars, no pedestrians, no dangers to worry about on their commute. That is exactly what is wrong with putting highways in cities in the first place.

City streets should be in a continual conversation with the buildings surrounding them, with the people flowing in and out.

To be consistent, anyone taking this position should oppose footways, as these are, of course, a yielding of the street to ‘one mode of traffic alone’. But this isn’t what is being argued. 

Instead a concurrent argument is made about ‘segregation’ being unsafe -

Segregated travel lanes make people feel comfortable by separating them. They make them feel safe. And that can make them especially dangerous… Exposure to all the dynamism around them can in fact keep them aware of their surroundings, and keep all the users of a street honest

Likewise, consistency here would involve arguing that footways make people feel safe, and that people walking should be exposed to the ‘dynamism around them’, to ‘keep them honest.’ But no. Apparently it is only bicycle traffic that doesn’t merit its own dedicated space on busy roads.

No sane author would attempt to suggest mingling pedestrians in with motor traffic on a road like the Embankment is appropriate, either on grounds of aesthetics or safety. Because it is a thunderous road carrying tens of thousands of motor vehicles a day, including coaches and lorries. Yet this is apparently the place for people on bicycles. 

People flowing in and out here?

This is the confused world of the ‘shared space’ advocate, who insists that the ‘correct’ approach is to mix cycle traffic with motor traffic, citing ‘powerful examples’ of shared space that aren’t in the least bit shared –

London already has powerful examples of the power of “shared space” on its busy Kensington High Street, which ripped out many of the protective barriers and warning signs as an aesthetic renovation that was subsequently followed by a drop in accidents. To give bicyclists their own carve-out would be a step backwards in the revitalization of the city, not forwards.

Unfortunately Kensington High Street has footways for pedestrians, kerbs, and a highly distinct road, for motor traffic.

Not shared.

And despite all the bleating about keeping people ‘alert’, and ensuring they don’t drift into complacency on busy streets, there is apparently is no consideration of how attractive it is to cycle on these roads mixed in with motor traffic, not just for the tiny minority people currently willing to do so, but (more importantly) for the vast majority of people who wouldn’t dream of doing so.

Would this family really be better off mixed in with motor traffic?

The ‘vision’ – such as it is – has no conception of broadening out cycling beyond the current 1-2% share of trips in cities like London. Instead it involves using existing cyclists as a form of sacrificial lamb, in a deluded attempt to keep drivers in check by putting hazards in their way.

It’s an approach to road safety and road design completely divorced from reality.

Categories: Views


30 January, 2015 - 14:37

Last year, Stop the Killing held a protest at Elephant and Castle following the death of Abdelkhalak Lahyani, who had been killed in a collision with a left-turning HGV at the junction shown in the photograph below. Both he and the lorry were emerging from the junction at the bottom of the picture, and turning left.

The purpose of the demonstration was to illustrate that this collision need not have happened; a cycle track could have been constructed across the apex of the corner, allowing left turns to be made by people without coming anywhere near HGVs.

But the curious thing is that left turns by bike are already possible like this, at this junction – which remember is relatively new, only a few years old.

The short strip of cycle lane (or track) visible in the photograph above, which appears to end at the traffic signals, actually merges, ambiguously, into a large area of shared use, right around the corner. Of course, the only indication that this is ‘shared use’ is a small blue sign on a lamp column, as well as some tactile paving. That blue sign can just about be seen above; it’s clearer on Streetview.
This shared use ends around the corner. No cycling is allowed on the footway beyond this point. There’s a dropped kerb to allow people to rejoin the carriageway, and tactile paving, again, to denote the end of the area of shared use.

So it is entirely possible, and legal, to bypass the signals at this junction to turn left, and to avoid ‘hooking’ conflicts with HGVs.

However this is not entirely obvious to anyone waiting at the signals – the area just looks like a pavement, and not the sort of place someone should be cycling. Likewise, the entry point to the ‘shared use’ is via the short strip of cycle track on the footway; not particularly intuitive to enter, and once you remain on the carriageway, you can’t mount the kerb easily.

How obvious and/or accessible is that entry point?

This could have been designed properly; cycling legally around the corner could have been an explicit part of the design for this junction, rather than a vague bodge which isn’t easy to enter and exit, and puts people walking and cycling into conflict. Perhaps something like this arrangement in the city of Gouda, which I’ve flipped to a British left hand turn –

Notice there is a small child turning here,, at this busy junction.

If the Elephant and Castle junction had looked something like this, Abdelkhalak Lahyani would have been using this cycle bypass, and would not have come anywhere near the HGV that killed him. He could – of course – have used the pavement ‘bodge’, but if it doesn’t like somewhere people should be cycling, or cutting through, he – like many other people – waited at the lights, on the road, with fatal consequences.

It doesn’t make any sense to allow people cycling to behave in a way that will keep them safe, but then not make that option explicit. Why bodge it?

Categories: Views

Do you have a problem with ‘fast’ cyclists, or with bad design?

23 January, 2015 - 09:57

Fast cyclists, eh.

Whizzing around; speeding through; belting around corners; appearing out of nowhere; tearing along.

At twenty miles an hour, even. Sometimes.

Twenty miles an hour.

Hang on. Twenty miles an hour? Twenty miles an hour? Isn’t that the kind of speed society conventionally considers to be quite slow, at least when it comes to motor vehicles? Witness the frothing that presents itself any time a borough, town or city wants to lower a speed limit from 30mph to 20mph.

30mph is seen (rightly or wrongly) as a reasonable, normal urban speed; yet this is the kind of speed that ‘cyclists’ – even the fittest and most powerful – will struggle to attain under normal circumstances. Equally, 20mph for motor vehicles is seen as an acceptably slow speed, yet 20mph on the flat requires serious effort from someone cycling.

So is there really such a thing as a ‘fast cyclist’? How can it be the case that cyclists are considered ‘fast’, when they will almost always be travelling through areas dominated by motor vehicles travelling within the speed limit, yet at greater speed? (Sometimes much greater). What’s going on? Does it even make sense to refer to cyclists as ‘fast’ in this context? If cycling on the road at well under 20mph isn’t ‘too fast’, why should it be ‘too fast’ on cycle-specific infrastructure?

One of the most recent examples of the employment of ‘fast cyclists’ was in this press release from Sustrans about a new bridge in Bristol.

The project will coincide with the first installation of new lighting technology which is used in Copenhagen to encourage faster cyclists to slow their pace. The “green wave” lights will coordinate with the signals at the crossroads on Coronation Road so that cyclists flow more smoothly through the junction.

It turns out that the purpose of the lights is really just to pace people to the traffic signals (at what speed, it is not stated) rather than, specifically, to slow down ‘faster cyclists’ – so this is a poorly-phrased paragraph (and misleading about the purpose of this lighting in Copenhagen). But it fits with a general atmosphere in Britain of blaming people for cycling ‘too fast’ for a situation, attempting to slow them down, without any apparent assessment of why it makes objective sense, in urban areas, to slow down anyone cycling to a speed far below 20mph, when 20mph is the minimum speed limit for motor traffic.

What is really the issue is not speed; it’s poor design. It’s paths that are too narrow to safely accommodate pedestrians and cyclists, in the numbers that are using them. Witness the attempts to get people to ‘behave’ on the Bristol-Bath railway path – ‘anti-social’ issues that simply would not arise if the path was wide enough, and had a separate footway.

It’s poor sightlines, and pinch points, and sharp corners, that bring people into conflict, and necessitate the use of awful barriers and chicanes in an attempt to get people to moderate their speed.

A sadly all-too-typical example.

Rather than designing paths to accommodate a range of cycling speeds, paths in Britain are, sadly, often designed for walking speed, and then impediments and obstacles are put in people’s way once it turns out that the natural cycling speed of most people is much higher, and consequently problematic.

It’s awful, and it’s still happening. As I type this, a brand-new walking and cycling bridge is being installed over the A24, the bypass around Horsham. It will have TWO sets of slalom zig-zag gates on the ramp.

I am not going to enjoy cycling on this ramp.

Why is this? Simply because the bridge has not been designed properly; designed to accommodate people’s natural cycling speed. It will have a ridiculously tight, Alpe d-Huez series of mini hairpin bends at the bottom of the ramp.

Horsham has gained some hairpin bends. But not the exciting kind.

This ramp has come ready-made with obstacles attached to it, to slow people down, all because it has not been designed to accommodate normal cycling speeds in the first place. It’s as simple as that.

The vast majority of the people cycling in the Netherlands will not be getting near speeds of 20mph for everyday cycling. However, a minority will be (and may exceed that speed), and the infrastructure is designed in such a way as to accommodate those higher speeds, and to mitigate potential problems. I’ve set out in a previous post how this works; designing for the bicycle as a vehicle capable of speed.

More broadly, this is the kind of design that is good for cycling regardless of the speed at which people are travelling. The corners will be smooth, with sufficiently large radii, to make turns a pleasure, rather than an inconvenience. And conflict will be avoided, even at higher speeds.

Fast cycling down this ramp won’t be a problem, because there’s a footway, and the path is wide and open enough to make fast cycling safe.

It makes cycling a pleasurable experience; there aren’t obstacles in your way, corners are not sharp, and momentum is not lost. Journeys are smooth and easy, be they on the flat, uphill, or downhill.

By contrast, cycling in Britain  appears to continue being accommodated within pedestrian-specific infrastructure, and is then hobbled to reduce the speed of people cycling to walking speeds.

The problem, therefore, is not with ‘fast cyclists’, but with completely inadequate design.

Categories: Views

Taking responsibility for social safety

20 January, 2015 - 13:06

Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, Michael Dugher, gave an interview with the Mirror in December, which attracted a fair bit of attention, principally because it resembles a transparent attempt to court the ‘motorist vote’ (whatever that may be) – presenting Labour as being on the side of ‘the motorist’. It included all the usual antique soundbites – ‘cash cows’, ‘war on the motorist’, and so on – as well as the miserably unambitious suggestion

If car drivers switched just one car journey a month

Switched not to walking or cycling, but to buses or coaches. Walking and cycling were entirely absent in this interview, as Caroline Russell pointed out in this excellent response piece.

But there was one detail in this piece that I confess I missed when it first appeared, and I’m grateful to Katja Leyendecker for pointing it out. Dugher argued -

When people demonise the motorist it’s ­offensive. Look at the huge increase in women drivers. That’s been a great thing. It’s about women’s independence and it’s about safety. Often women choose to drive when it’s dark because they feel safer.”

Now it is true that many women will opt for the car to make trips when it is dark, because they feel safer within a motor vehicle, than outside it. (Indeed, I suspect this is true for a number of men too).

But absent from this analysis is the role of government in designing, building, maintaining (and policing) environments in which people feel safe when they travel. The role of ministers like Michael Dugher. I don’t think it’s a ‘great thing’ that women who may not even want to drive are forced to do so because the streets on which they should be able to walk or cycle are socially unsafe. In fact I think that’s a pretty appalling thing.

To take an example, is it a surprise that many women might drive to and from Dorking railway station, when the pedestrian underpass beneath the A24 – connecting the station to the town – looks like this?

I wouldn’t go in there at night.

Is it a surprise that people might not want to cycle or walk through badly-designed underpasses like this one in Stevenage?

I’m sure there are countless examples across the towns and cities of Britain of walking and cycling routes like this – poorly-designed, barely used, not overlooked, and frankly scary. Not to mention the standard stingy walking paths between British housing developments, that almost seem an invitation to a mugging.

If people feel the need to drive because they don’t feel socially safe walking and cycling, that is a very bad thing, and certainly not something to be welcomed, especially by the people who should be responsible taking responsibility for addressing those issues. The social safety of the environments we walk and cycle in – how safe they feel to us is the responsibility of councils and government.

Social safety is recognised in the Netherlands as being an important element of whether or not people choose to walk or cycle, as this excellent post from David Hembrow explains.

For social safety:

  • You should always be able to see out of any tunnel as you enter it
  • Blind corners on paths are not acceptable
  • Cycle paths should be wide to allow cyclists to move out of the way of others
  • A low crime rate and a good conviction rate are needed. Cyclists should not feel that the police do not take their complaints seriously.
  • Cycle paths should be lit at night so that you can see potential muggers, obstacles on the path etc.
  • Areas that are clean, litter free, graffiti free, where grass is mowed and plants are not allowed to overhang the cycle path have a better feeling of social safety.

So the walking and cycling environment in the Netherlands is designed to feel safe. ‘Attractiveness’ – which covers social safety – is one of the five main elements considered in designing cycling infrastructure. That means that cycling infrastructure is built to a high standard, to ensure that wherever people are walking and cycling about, they feel safe, regardless of the context.

That means underpasses that are open and wide.

It also means that cycle routes should be well-lit, overlooked and (perhaps most importantly) good enough to be used in sufficiently high numbers.

If there are issues of social safety at night, enough to force people into driving cars for short trips, is that really something to be welcomed?

I’d like to think our Secretary of State for Transport would take action to address the root cause of the problem, not applaud people having to resort to a mode of transport that will often make absolutely no sense in urban areas, in order to ensure their own safety.

Categories: Views

Space for cycling, Dutch-style

14 January, 2015 - 09:38

I follow the Amsterdam-based photographer Thomas Schlijper on Twitter, mainly for his excellent photographs of street life, and cycling in particular. He’s well worth a follow.

This photograph of his, from a few weeks ago, caught my attention.

Photograph of Haarlemerplein from the air, by Thomas Schlijper

It shows the Haarlemerplein, a square to the north west of the city centre, with highly visible (and very new) cycle infrastructure, just completed. The name rang a bell – it’s the same square where the same photographer took this beautiful picture, back in May.

Slightly intrigued, I thought I’d see what this area looked like, before these improvements. Thanks to Google Streetview’s archive feature, we can see the state of  roads and streets here, prior to the changes being put in place.

Looking southwest on Korte Marnixstraat (the street at the bottom right of the aerial view above), there was a poor cycle lane and ASL on the east side of the road, and nothing at all, on the west side -

This has been replaced by fully protected cycle tracks, on both sides of the road. The parking also appears to have been removed.

The north-west approach (over the bridge in the bottom left) had poor (by Dutch standards) cycle tracks.

These have been replaced by a wide bi-directional track on the south side, and an improved track on the north side. This has come at the expense of two motor traffic lanes.

Approaching the junction from the north-east, a cycle lane, merging into protection at the junction -

Has become a wider, kerb-separated cycle track. Again, at the expense of a motor traffic lane.Perhaps the most remarkable change has come on the south-eastern arm, in the square itself, where a fairly grotty narrow road, shared with motor traffic (note the token British-style ASL) -

Has become a lovely, bicycle-only route through the square.

You can clearly see this ‘bicycle road’ running across the square on the aerial photograph at the top of this post.

These kinds of changes aren’t particularly exciting – certainly not as eye-catching or newsworthy as a fancy bridge, or a solar cycle path. But they encapsulate the way Dutch cycling success is built upon continual improvement, and maximising the safety, comfort and convenience of cycling as a mode of transport.

This junction wasn’t even particularly bad before – certainly many junctions in the UK would benefit hugely from the kind of physical separation, with separate signalling, that was already present. But it’s been substantially improved, regardless. Indeed, every time I visit the Netherlands, I am struck by how quickly many of the paths, routes and tracks that I had used on my previous visit have been upgraded. This path to the university area – the Uithof – had been widened and resurfaced, with lighting, when I visited last year. Given the numbers of people using it, it really does need to be this wide.


The Dutch aren’t standing still – they are continually refining and enhancing (and adding to) their already excellent network. Meanwhile British towns and cities don’t even have a network at all, or, at best, a piecemeal one.

It’s profoundly depressing. The one glimmer of hope is that we have a living, breathing example of the benefits of this kind of design, right on our doorstep, and a template for how to do it.

Categories: Views

Thinking outside the box

8 January, 2015 - 17:25

Urban Design London have recently released some new guidance (in draft form), entitled the ‘Slow Streets Sourcebook: designing for 20mph streets’. This manual – like other ones I have commented on recently – has revealing design recommendations for ‘cyclists’.

These are the kinds of recommendations that show the authors are only really thinking about ‘cyclists’ as the people who are cycling already, not anyone who might want to ride a bike – from a very young child, to someone in old age.

To take just some examples from this guidance -

Carriageway widths below 3m encourage cyclists to take up the ‘primary’ position in the middle of the carriageway, making it more difficult for vehicles to overtake cyclists. [my emphasis]

Whether being used as a mobile roadblock is something the person cycling would actually enjoy is, it seems, not considered. Likewise, I doubt the authors of this passage reflected on whether it is reasonable to expect, say, a young child to take up a position in the middle of the carriageway in response to it being 3 metres wide.

A young child cycling beside a bus, in her own space, in the city of Utrecht. Should we be expecting children like her to cycle in the middle of the road, in front of that bus?

And, in a longer passage -

There are a variety of ways to indicate that the priority lies with cyclists and/or pedestrians and that drivers should slow down. Segregating or separating suchusers from vehicles may dilute their influence on driver behaviour. Therefore when thinking about designing for sub-20mph behaviours, integration may be the optimum choice. However, when designing with cyclists in mind, their needs should be fully considered to ensure that they are not put at risk.

Integrating cycling into narrower carriageways can encourage all road users to engage better with each other. This can also help retain a constant, but slower, traffic flow. This treatment is shown with a bicycle sign painted on the carriageway. Care is needed when designing junctions to ensure cyclists are visible and not ‘squeezed’ by turning vehicles.

There are some photographic illustrations of these kinds of designs.

Unfortunately the narrow carriageways which ‘integrate’ cycling in this example – note the helpful bicycle symbols ‘encouraging’ people to take up the primary position – also appear to be rather busy in this particular location.

TfL run five or six bus routes along this road, in addition to the seemingly copious private motor traffic. Is ‘integration’ here really something we should be aspiring to? Is this the kind of environment that will appeal to people who currently don’t feel willing or able to cycle in Britain?

I doubt it. In truth these kinds of designs are a way of integrating existing cyclists into the road network; they are not conceived with the needs of those people who aren’t cycling in mind. Consequently they will do little or nothing to address the problem of Britain’s cripplingly low levels of cycling.

Of course, it’s hard to think outside the box; to think in terms of the people we need to get cycling, rather than the tiny minority of people who are currently bold enough to venture onto our hostile roads. We still tend to think of ‘cyclists’ and ‘cycling’ in terms of the people already doing it.

Without wishing to single any particular comment out, there was a delicious recent example of this way of thinking below Diamond Geezer’s detailed blogpost about the proposed Superhighway 2 upgrade between Aldgate and Bow roundabout.

‘John’ wrote

A busy cycle route yet I did not see any cyclists in your photos.

Well…. duh! The reason there aren’t ‘any cyclists’ is because the road in question is, well, atrocious.


This upgrade is needed precisely because there aren’t any cyclists; because it’s a hostile, scary and actually lethal road, even for those few who are brave enough to cycle on it. Yet ‘John’ appears to believe that proposals to build cycling infrastructure along this road are unjustified, because very few people are cycling there at present.

This kind of thinking is understandable from members of the public, who simply don’t see cycling as a potentially universal mode of transport, because they are not surrounded by evidence that it is. They need to be persuaded otherwise, to be shown how cycling could work for everyone, if we invested in changes to our roads and streets.

But a failure to ‘think outside the box’ is far less acceptable from politicians, councillors, engineers and transport planners – the people we are relying on to bring about the changes in cycling levels that they all say they want to see. This broader failure is displayed in a hostility to cycling that only makes sense when you appreciate that the objector is thinking in terms of ‘cycling’ as it is now in British towns and cities; something for fast (usually male) adults, or for anti-social yobs.

The town where I live has an unspoken policy of keeping cycling out of the town centre as much as is humanly possible, apparently on the grounds of it introducing danger and uncertainty to ‘pedestrians’. Their attitude betrays that they plainly aren’t thinking about these kinds of Horsham residents when they consider cycling -

Instead they are thinking only in terms of the cyclists they encounter when they are driving around the town’s roads – people striving to travel at the speeds of the motor traffic that surrounds them. The councillors are not thinking outside the box.

The Royal Parks in London appear to be exhibiting a similarly close-minded view of cycling; in their response to the East-West Superhighway consultation (see this more detailed post from Cyclists in the City), they argue that Serpentine Road (among other roads and routes in Hyde Park) is

not suitable for larger volumes of cyclists because of the scale of other use such as including event activity and vast pedestrian movements

Given that the Serpentine Road looks like this

A very wide road.

this objection really shows that the Royal Parks are thinking of ‘cyclists’ in terms of a stereotypical lycra-clad horde, tearing through the park, rather than as the kinds of people you see cycling on very similar routes in Amsterdam’s equivalent park, the Vondelpark.

Would these kinds of ‘cyclists’ be so objectionable on Serpentine Road?

Finally, here’s an example from New Zealand of a new ‘cycling’ scheme, built around catering for existing demand, rather than for the people we need to reach.

… let’s put it this way. I always know if a cycleway has been designed right. The #NinjaPrincess is my expert in such matters. She is one of the customers whose needs should be considered most highly when such infrastructure is being designed and built.

… It is certain that every box in the performance specifications, set by the traffic engineers, has been ticked. But that is no guarantee that it will be a design that is conducive to the wider range of the 8-80 demographic. There is a difference between surviving and flourishing.

So while I don’t pretend to have the expertise of the traffic engineers who have installed this new infrastructure, nor do traffic engineers have the same valuable world view that the #NinjaPrincess possesses. It would be nice to think that her view has some value in the process of designing and building cycleways.

Well, exactly. I have my own ‘Ninja Princess’ – my own barometer of whether a scheme that purports to ‘encourage cycling’ will actually do so. My partner. She can’t drive, so cycling can and should fit her like a glove for the short trips she makes in urban areas. But she doesn’t cycle where we live. When we go on holiday to Dutch cities, she’ll leap on a bike; likewise, when we find traffic-free trails in places like Bath or Bristol, she’ll pedal for ten, even twenty miles, without even realising it.

But please don’t try to ‘integrate’ her into carriageway like this. You will fail.

As with the previous example of Hornchurch, this is not somewhere she is going to be happy cycling. At all.


She doesn’t want to be ‘integrated’ – she just wants to feel safe and comfortable.

If we’re serious about increasing cycling levels in Britain, shouldn’t we listen to people like her? Think outside the box of existing demand.


Categories: Views

An avoidable tragedy

5 January, 2015 - 11:24

The appalling story of Victoria Lebrec – the young woman who was seriously injured by a left-turning lorry at the junction of St John Street and Clerkenwell in Islington in December last year – features in the Evening Standard today. She has lost her left leg, but as the article describes, she is very lucky to be alive. As Tom Konig states in the article -

Had she suffered her injuries two years ago, she wouldn’t have made it to hospital, which is a testament to the pre-hospital team that went to her.

What is remarkable is that if Victoria had been cycling through this junction at the same time last year, or even as late as July 2014, this collision would in all probability have not occurred.

Why is this? From September 26th 2013 until August 2014, St John Street was closed so that water mains could be repaired before the Crossrail machines tunnelled through the area. For nearly a year, in other words, St John Street had a form of ‘filtered permeability’, with no through traffic.

This was the state of affairs at the junction where Victoria was seriously injured in August 2014, just three months before her collision -

Streetview has captured a woman cycling westbound across the junction, towards Farringdon, just as Victoria was. The road into which the lorry turned left across her was, at this time, closed to through traffic, and had no HGV access.

Some argued that this closure should be retained once the works were completed, but the street was reopened to motor traffic in early August, meaning that people cycling were, once again, exposed to the danger of left-turning HGVs, on what is one of London’s busiest cycling routes. It’s not as if this kind of incident is exceptional – another woman was killed by a left-turning HGV at precisely the same location, just nine years ago. As the Evening Standard article describes, it is only advances in medical care that avoided the same outcome last December.

I’m not quite sure what rationale Islington employed in returning to the status quo after a whole eleven months with the road closed, but I wonder if they accounted for the likelihood of near-fatal collisions like this one, and their devastating consequences. Is it a price worth paying?

Categories: Views

Natural character

17 December, 2014 - 00:25

What is ‘natural’?

The word, formally, means something that is not made, or caused, by humans. But this strict definition is very rarely employed. We use the word ‘natural’ to describe all kinds of things that are not ‘natural’ at all. Indeed, Britain has a very confused sense of what is actually genuine ‘nature'; very little of the landscape of this country is ‘natural’ at all.

Places like the Lake District – perhaps the archetype of ‘natural beauty’ – really aren’t very natural, in the conventional sense of the word. The Newlands Valley, pictured below, was extensively mined from Elizabethan times until the 19th century, and the current landscape is essentially the product of sheep grazing; human intervention writ large.

Stunningly beautiful, but there are no trees here. Hardly ‘natural’.

And our impressions of the value of ‘natural’ have changed over time. Genuine wilderness was seen as something terrible; scary and forbidding. Upland areas like the Lake District were not valued at all by societies that relied upon productive land. It was only with the advent of the romantic movement, arising in response to growing industrialisation, that the British public began to value landscapes that had little apparent sign of human intervention, although in truth these were landscapes largely created by humans. The romantic movement attached value to the pre-industrial, in the context of their concerns about the spread of industry and urbanisation across Britain, and we are still living with this attitude to ‘nature’ today.

So we have a confused, and evolving, sense of what is ‘natural’. What this word really means, in practice, is a landscape that has been formed by human activity, but human activity of a certain kind. Implicitly, this is human activity that is ‘rural’, not involving features associated with the urban environment, or industry.

This has particular pertinence for cycling infrastructure, and the forms of it we are seemingly prepared to tolerate in ‘rural’ areas. Muddy paths, or tracks formed of rough or loose stone, are acceptable. They look ‘natural’, despite the fact they are clearly a human intervention on the landscape.

A ‘natural’ path in the New Forest – yet clearly a distinct and obvious human-made intervention in the landscape

But providing tarmac paths, properly surfaced with good drainage, is something that is still anathema in many parts of Britain, almost certainly because it falls under the description of something that is not ‘natural’. This is the legacy of the early 19th century Romantic movement, and its revolt against industrialisation – that only certain forms of human activity are acceptable in an ill-defined ‘countryside’. Muddy paths – while as obviously anthropogenic as tarmac ones – fit into our ‘natural’ template, while tarmac paths don’t.

For whatever reason, these attitudes do not seem to bedevil the Netherlands. To speculate, this might be because so much of their country is engineered, and reclaimed – a selfmade land, built by humans, for humans. But even in areas that look, to British eyes, ‘natural’, smooth tarmac paths are always provided. If it is a route that serves a useful transport function, then the surfacing reflects that, rather than preconceived ideas about fitting it in with a hypothetical ‘natural’ character.

Earlier this year, I cycled from west to east across the country, predominantly through rural areas, and not once was I ever cycling on anything other than tarmac or concrete.

A Dutch path in a rural location. A smooth, well-drained surface means it is suitable for use by anyone, in ordinary clothes, all year round.

Another ‘rural’ path. This woman has stopped to take pictures of wildlife.

Yet in most parts of Britain I suspect this kind of provision would be met with resistance. This is especially true in West Sussex, which I think has a particular problem, probably worse than other parts of the country.

To glimpse why, we need only look at the Downs Link. This is the former railway line, that used to run between Guildford and the English channel, at Shoreham, until the railways running on it – the Cranleigh Line between Guildford and Horsham, and the Steyning Line, between Horsham and Steyning – were closed in the late 1960s following ‘the Beeching Axe’. In hindsight, this was obviously a huge mistake, as a railway link between Horsham and Guildford in particular would be tremendously valuable today.

But even without the railway returning, the Downs Link has great potential as a transport link between the villages and towns it connects. With shallow gradients and direct routes into the centres of these places, it’san open goal to open up mobility in these rural areas, blighted by dwindling public transport. Even as it stands today, it’s tremendously popular as a leisure route, mainly because it’s one of the few areas where families can easily cycle long distances in West Sussex without being menaced by motor traffic.

A typical summer scene on the Downs Link.

But there is – of course – a problem here, namely that the Downs Link does not have a suitable surface. It is mostly composed of mud, interspersed with large chunks of gravel (at best!); just about acceptable in summer, but come the autumn, it becomes very muddy, and unsuitable for use by anyone who does not have a mountain bike, or who is not willing to get covered in mud.

That means that it does not form part of the National Cycle Network, despite being a direct, traffic-free link between some pretty major towns and villages. On the Sustrans’ website, it even comes with a health warning.

‘Recommended only for Mountain bikes. Very poor surface in wet’

This is because West Sussex County Council refuse to provide a tarmac surface on the Downs Link. Which – let’s remember – was a railway line until 1966, so hardly ‘rural’ in origin. It passes through cuttings and tunnels, and along embankments, and in form is plainly a human intervention in the landscape, albeit one that West Sussex County Council continue to insist should have a mud and gravel surface, rather than one of tarmac.

Below is an excerpt from an email sent by a West Sussex County Council Transport Planner, in response to requests to provide tarmac surfacing on this route.

tarmac creates an urbanising effect for recreational walkers and creates more surface water run-off and drainage issues. Many off-road leisure cyclists with mountain bikes (myself included) also prefer non-tarmac surfaces. Cyclists with road bikes do, of course , have alternatives to the Downslink… It is therefore, unlikely that WSCC will be seeking a tarmac surface for the Downslink, except where it crosses any new roads [my emphasis]

New roads (of which there are many now being built around Horsham) will, of course, have tarmac surfaces, so where the Downslink crosses these new roads – hey, you’ll get some tarmac! For free! Because that’s a new road! Enjoy that tarmac as you momentarily cross it!

Elsewhere, you’ll just have to carry on with the mud and gravel, because laying tarmac ‘creates an urbanising effect’. Which is fine if we’re building lots of new roads through the countryside, but plainly not for cycling, which West Sussex County Council persist in seeing as some kind of leisure pursuit, a ‘keep fit’ activity for mountain bikers, rather than as a viable mode of transport. Witness the implication that the preferences of ‘off-road leisure cyclists’ should be considered ahead of people who don’t want to get covered in mud, or people with pushchairs, or people using wheelchairs, or mobility scooters.

Indeed, this isn’t really just about ‘cycling’, at all. The refusal to provide high quality surfaces on these kinds of paths means that they are a no-go area for many people with mobility problems. This was an issue picked up (believe it or not) by Prince Charles when he guest-edited the BBC CountryFile programme last year. Muddy paths and tracks, in combination with poorly-designed gates, mean that these routes are not usable by these groups, as well as by anyone who wants to use a bike for practical, utility purposes, not just for leisure, or mucking around. This is to say nothing of the relative attractiveness of these routes as an alternative to the car if they are surfaced in mud and gravel, compared to the tarmac you will obviously find on the equivalent route for motor traffic.

By contrast a properly surfaced route is something anyone can enjoy.

A former railway line in Weymouth, with a tarmac surface.

This refusal to upgrade bridleways and footpaths in allegedly ‘rural’ areas on the grounds of having an ‘urbanising effect’ is sometimes ridiculously myopic, and counterproductive in policy terms.

To take an example. The large village to the west of Horsham, Broadbridge Heath, is currently being greatly expanded by a new housing and shopping development, adding many thousands of people to the area. You can see the scale of this development in the satellite view on Google.

The yellow areas are the new (greenfield) development, approximately doubling the size of the village above it.

A new dual carriageway is being built through this development (you can just about see the route on the view above), running east west and connecting with the existing bypass of Horsham (running north-south) at a gigantic new grade-separated junction, near the bottom of the image above.

This is what it looked like during construction in October.

Image via A24 Horsham

And then being surfaced (with tarmac, naturally) in November.

Image courtesy of Pictures from Above.

Plainly, this is a large, ‘urban’ (if you like) intervention in the landscape.

The Horsham Cycling Forum had spotted – in the context of all this development – that there was some potential for this new area (and indeed the village of Broadbridge Heath as a whole) to be connected up to Christs Hospital railway station, which sits on a main line into London Victoria, which also carries trains to the south coast, including Portsmouth and Southampton. From Christs Hospital you can be at Victoria in around an hour.

In context. The railway station is roughly 1 mile, as the crow flies, from the centre of Broadbridge Heath, and only 1000m from the edge of the new development.

Such a route would have significant distance advantage over the driving route, which is circuitous, and involves country lanes as well as A-roads.

There is an existing path that runs approximately along the line of the red arrow; but (unsurprisingly) it is not suitable for anyone who doesn’t have a mountain bike, or a pair of wellies. The picture below was taken in June.

Not good enough as a transport link, but sufficiently ‘rural’ to resist being upgraded.

At Christs’ Hospital station itself, this path uses a pre-existing bridge under the railway line, which hints at a slightly more functional route, at some point in the past, than the current muddy bog would suggest.

Closer to the new development, to the north, the path skirts around the edge of these fields.

This could quite easily be a beautiful, safe and attractive walking and cycling route to a mainline railway station, reducing the current amount of driving to the station, and future demand created by the development. In the context of the amount of money being spent on the development here, it would cost peanuts, and in the context of the intrusion into the landscape of the whole development, a 2-3m tarmac path running through this landscape would pale into insignificance.

But this is West Sussex, and of course our suggestions have been rejected, due to – guess what – such a surface having an ‘urbanising effect.’

So sadly many more people will be driving this short distance to Christ’s Hospital station, needlessly clogging up local roads, and exacerbating the existing parking problems at the station itself.

If there’s a spare bit of verge near Christs Hospital station, someone will be parking on it. This is 200m from the station.

More motor traffic on the roads; more pollution, more noise, more queues, and (probably) a much bigger car park required here. Ironically, all because tarmac is ‘urban’ rather than ‘rural’.

The final example also involves Horsham and a different satellite village, this one a couple of miles to the south – Southwater. Below is the current state of Horsham District Council’s official designated ‘Cycling Route’ – grandly entitled ‘Pedlars Way’ – between these two large settlements, of around 55,000 and 10,000 people, respectively.

I had to wear wellies to even take this picture.

As you can see, it is effectively unusable for anyone who does not want to get muddy between September and April, and pretty uncomfortable for the remaining part of the year. Once again, this official ‘route’ is nothing more than a muddy track, composed of mostly of slippery clay and leaves, as well as bog.

Yet with a little bit of willingness and imagination, it could be transformed into a really attractive link between the two settlements, suitable for use all year round, by anyone. With some clearing of foliage and minor excavation at points, the path is easily wide enough to accommodate both a 2m wide tarmac strip and a muddy track alongside, for use by horse riders or mountain bikes.

There’s plenty of width here that could be used more effectively.

Perhaps something like this.

Is this really so unacceptable? Does mud have to be retained everywhere?

The issue of a safe and attractive route between Horsham and Southwater was brought into sharp focus by the death last week of a man cycling on the road (which naturally has a tarmac surface) which runs parallel to the official muddy ‘Pedlars Way’ route – killed in what appears to be a head-on collision with a motor vehicle.

Kerves Lane – where the collision occurred – lies only a few hundred metres to the east of this track, but if you have not got a bike capable of handling mud, or you simply don’t fancy getting muddy yourself, it is (currently) the best available option for cycling between Horsham and Southwater. (The most direct route – the main road south out of Horsham – carries tens of thousands of motor vehicles a day, and also involves negotiating an insanely dangerous 70mph roundabout on a bike).

In context, again. The blue line is the ‘road’ route on Kerves Lane, with the collision site circled in red. The ‘muddy’ route is indicated by the red arrows.

Despite being a rural road, Kerves Lane carries a significant volume of motor traffic, principally because it is a much more direct route to Southwater for drivers travelling from the east side of Horsham than the main A24, and also because it avoids the need to negotiate the aforementioned large roundabout on the bypass that passes between Horsham and Southwater. It is unattractive, so much so that I have stopped using it myself, opting instead for a lane even further east (just visible on the map above).

How many people are cycling on Kerves Lane (which is clearly less direct), because of the conditions on the muddy ‘Pedlars Way’ route? In principle, it should be much more attractive, because it is more direct, and also traffic-free, but I suspect many are opting for the road because of the poor conditions on the official route.

I think these examples (doubtless there are many, many more, across Britain) point to the desperately poor outcomes that result from a refusal to consider high quality surfaces in an allegedly rural context. Our strange ideas about what is apparently ‘natural’, and therefore valuable – informed by a centuries-old romantic movement – are actually inhibiting good policy outcomes, in terms of transport, health and environment. It is more than likely that the refusal to tarmac the kinds of routes outlined in the post here is, at a national level, creating huge environmental problems in terms of car dependence, and needless car use for short trips. Ironically, it is this, if anything, that is doing most to erode what we perceive as ‘natural’ – not good surfaces for walking and cycling in rural areas.

To summarise, this obsession with ‘natural character’

  •  restricts the use of functional routes to the fit, and those willing to get muddy, and prevents access by other groups, particularly those who rely on mobility aids;
  • results in bad policy at several levels, particularly in the way it needlessly creates extra car trips;
  • and, finally, exposes people to danger on busy country roads and lanes, where they have to mix with high levels of motor traffic (often travelling at speed), because the alternatives are not suitably surfaced.

For all these reasons, isn’t it time we jumped forward two hundred years to 2014, and engaged seriously with the benefits of properly designed infrastructure for walking and cycling, wherever it happens to be, and wherever it needs to go?

Categories: Views

‘It could have been a pedestrian.’

12 December, 2014 - 04:06

If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to read Martin Porter’s cool and neutral summary of a case he was involved in – the inquest into the death of Michael Mason, hit by a car on Regent Street in London in February this year, dying a few weeks later.

The facts speak for themselves. Mr Mason was cycling north on Regent Street, and was hit from behind by a Nissan whose driver, by her own admission, completely failed to spot him ahead of her, despite him having a bright rear light, rear reflectors, and travelling on a road well lit by street lights (the collision occurred at 6:20pm). She did not brake before the impact, and was travelling at between 20 and 30 mph.

Regent Street is – as anyone who has walked or travelled along it will know – a busy shopping environment, with pedestrians thronging the pavements, and (frequently) crossing the road, informally. The point at which the collision occurred is maybe slightly less busy than the areas further south, but still a place that is dominated by pedestrians, especially at rush hour. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the driver made this remark at the inquest, about what she did after the collision occurred -

I stopped and ran back, it could have been a pedestrian.

Unaware of what, or who, she had hit – having failed to see it, or him, or her – quite rightly, she reasoned that it could have been a pedestrian. Someone innocently crossing the road. As it turns out, it was someone on a bike.

Why should that matter? What difference does it make, when you are hit by a motor vehicle whose driver has completely failed to see you in the road, whether you were on foot, or astride a bicycle?

Well, apparently it does – if you are on a bike, then you should come to expect comments about the kind of ‘safety equipment’ you should probably have been wearing. A hi-visibilty jacket, and a helmet.

The Court News UK report of the inquest is entitled (rather crassly, given the circumstances of the case)


If Michael Mason – a safety campaigner – had been crossing the road on foot when he was killed, would such a headline have been employed?

Mr Mason, who was not wearing a helmet, was rushed to St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, immediately after the accident at about 6.25pm on 25 February, but slipped into a coma caused by catastrophic head trauma.

Again, would a pedestrian killed in an identical fashion on Regent Street be subject to this editorialising?

Martin Porter does point out that the Coroner – while commenting on the lack of hi-visibility clothing and helmet – did not go so far as to suggest that the wearing of a helmet, or a hi-viz jacket, would have made any difference whatsoever. However, he did have this to say -

Recording a verdict of accidental death, coroner Dr William Dolman said: ‘Mr Mason was clearly a very fit 70-year-old man who had been cycling for many years, cycling was his preferred mode of transport… Mr Mason was not wearing a helmet, and while this may not be a legal requirement his most severe injuries were head injuries both inside and outside the skull.’

Which does carry an implication that his injuries may have been lessened, or indeed that he may have survived, had he been wearing a helmet.

Again, it is worth observing here that comments of this ilk would not have been made had Mr Mason simply been crossing Regent Street on foot, rather than travelling along it by bike, when he was fatally struck.

There is a good reason for this.

We simply don’t expect the millions of people who use Regent Street and Oxford Street, on foot, to look like builders. We do not expect them to wear helmets and hi-visibility clothing; we do not expect them to don personal protective equipment to visit the shops, cafes and restaurants in this area, or to get to work. That would – rightly – be seen as a very silly proposition indeed.

By contrast, there is a subtle and insidious expectation that people using Regent Street and Oxford Street on a bike should be wearing this kind of equipment. This despite the fact that someone like Mr Mason was killed in a way that a pedestrian could very easily have been killed, by an inattentive driver. Indeed, it was nothing more than chance that meant that it was him in the way of that driver, at that moment, and not someone else, probably wearing darkish clothing, crossing the road on foot.

If we were to be more consistent, as a society, we would acknowledge this similarity, and appreciate that people in the act of crossing urban roads and streets on foot are just as at risk (perhaps even at more risk, given that they are not accompanied by bikes with reflectors and lights) as people navigating those same roads and streets by bike. It seems to me that it is nothing more than prejudice about a minority mode of transport that is stopping us from doing so.

Categories: Views

A ‘shared space’ vision

10 December, 2014 - 13:42

Last year I wrote about how Ben Hamilton-Baillie – one of the foremost proponents of the ‘shared space’ philosophy – does not appear to be all that concerned about addressing motor traffic in urban areas. His designs are mere rearrangements of the way motor traffic moves down a street. In his talks and presentations, his vision of ‘urban realm improvement’ tends to involve removal of the physical manifestations of our attempts to control motor traffic, without reducing or removing that motor traffic itself.

Yesterday Matt Turner spotted an interview with Hamilton-Baillie that provides a remarkable insight into the mindset of ‘leading international expert on the development of “Shared Space”’, as he is described.

It’s a relatively old interview – dating from 2010. However, it appears to confirm not only that Hamilton-Baillie doesn’t really care about motor traffic reduction in urban areas or (more specifically) prioritising more efficient and safer mode of transport within them, but, more than that, he actually seems to think existing levels of motor traffic in British towns and cities should be maintained.

It starts with some odd explanations from Hamilton-Baillie for the apparently rising popularity of ‘shared space’, and its philosophy of ‘integrating’ human beings and motor traffic in urban areas.

The Genome Project, understanding our DNA, and the remarkable intricacies of our interconnections, has allowed us to question many of the assumptions that gave rise to conventional traffic engineering and the principle of segregating traffic from other civic and social aspects of cities.

Because we’ve sequenced the base pairs in the human genome, we’ve understood that motor traffic shouldn’t be separated from civic life in cities? If you are not convinced by this ‘DNA’ explanation, maybe a change in the nature of political philosophy over the twentieth century could tempt you.

During the last century, governments of both the left and right tended to assume that the state should assume responsibility for resolving all potential conflicts and interaction through increasingly complex regulation and control. The evolution of the traffic signal illustrates this tendency perfectly, removing the need to think and respond from the driver, and attempting to control behaviour through technology and legislation. We now understand more about the downside of states over-regulating and over-planning.

Or maybe it’s just that traffic control is expensive, and shared space is cheap.

In addition, the fiscal realities of the European Union are having an effect. Even if they wished to, governments can now no longer afford the huge costs of regulating, controlling and enforcing every aspect of traffic behaviour. Traffic lights, signs, markings, barriers and bollards cost a fortune, and the recent public spending crises have highlighted the need to question the role of the state in many areas. The idea of streets and spaces being left to informal negotiation and local social protocols chimes with initiatives such as the new “Localism Agenda” in Britain, or what David Cameron refers to as “The Big Society”.

It’s worth reminding ourselves here that one of the most widely-known and prominent ‘shared space’ schemes in Britain, Exhibition Road (which is lauded in this interview) weighs in at a cost of around £35,000 per metre - £29m for 820m of road. But clearly it’s ‘conventional’ street engineering – tarmac, kerbs and so on – that is expensive. Or so we are led to believe.

We then move on to Hamilton-Baillie’s philosophy, which is quite explicitly argued.

I think shared space represents a fundamental rethink of the principles of segregation espoused by Colin Buchanan and his team when he wrote the influential “Traffic in Towns” in 1963. In contrast to Buchanan, I see no need to separate or segregate urban traffic from other aspects of civic space. [my emphasis]

Well, on the contrary, I see plenty of reasons to keep urban traffic (in this context, clearly motor traffic) away from civic space. Noise, pollution, danger, amenity, to name just a few. If you continue to allow motor traffic to flow, unrestrained, through urban areas, and the civic space within them, you will end up with a low quality environment.

This is pretty shit.

The same civic space, separated from motor traffic. Not shit.

This is what Colin Buchanan, and the ‘Traffic in Towns’ report, appreciated, even if the solution it prescribed was misguided. Streets full of motor traffic are fundamentally pretty awful. We don’t need to ‘rethink’ the principles of segregation – we just need to apply them in a more humane way, a way that puts people walking, cycling and using public transport first, and segregates the car away from them, rather than segregating human beings away from motor traffic. This is something I’ve argued at length before.

Curiously, however, Hamilton-Baillie doesn’t appear to believe in putting efficient, safe, urban-scale modes of transport like walking and cycling first, and prioritising those modes of motor traffic.

… Shared space is all about integration, and that means avoiding over-attention on any one factor or group… We are asked to support groups campaigning for motorists, and groups campaigning against the car – all sorts. But shared space is not about promoting the interests of one particular group or user over another, but merely about setting the stage for different activities to interact.

Shared space is ‘all about integration’, and when different modes are ‘integrated’, it is of course impossible to prioritise one over another, because such prioritisation requires separation.

All we are left with is some cod nonsense about a blank slate – a ‘stage’ on which ‘different activities’ can ‘interact’.

‘The stage for different activities to interact’. Enjoy!

Having already stated that

Traffic and movement is the life-blood of cities

(again, a reference to motor traffic), the interview concludes with a curious pean to the virtues of motor traffic in urban areas, juxtaposed against Jan Gehl’s philosophy of creating people-centred urban areas -

I am a great admirer of Jan Gehl and his colleagues, and they’ve done absolutely wonderful work. Copenhagen is a phenomenal success story. But I feel that that generation has run its course in the sense of that there’s only so far you can go with exclusion [of the car]. For them the removal of the car is an overriding theme. At times, of course, it’s appropriate. But reality is that the car is with us, for better or worse, for at least a couple of generations. It’s a wonderful liberating technology. For all its downside it has transformed most of our economic and social lives. And shared space offers the opportunity to welcome and exploit the good side of motor traffic, as it were. It needn’t be a destructive force for streets, for cities. [my emphasis]

It would be interesting to know what the ‘good side of motor traffic’ in urban areas actually involves. My personal opinion is that we should be doing everything we can to make the alternatives to travel by car in urban areas as attractive and as easy as possible, because doing so would make our towns and cities vastly safer and more pleasant. This isn’t about engaging in a ‘war’ on the car, but more about opening up choice, and prioritising the alternatives.

But it seems that Hamilton-Baillie doesn’t share this approach. The status quo – with a huge percentage of short urban trips made inefficiently, inconveniently and expensively by motor car – is something he apparently wants to preserve, albeit with that motor traffic travelling around on fancy paving, rather than conventional tarmac. No mode of transport should be prioritised; we should all be ‘equal’ on the stage of ‘shared space’.

It’s not a hugely enticing vision.

Categories: Views

When will design guides start thinking about cycling as a mode of transport for all?

5 December, 2014 - 12:24

This week saw the launch of ‘Street Design for All’ [pdf], spotted by KatsDekker. It’s been produced by PRIAN (the Public Realm Information and Advice Network), with advice from the Charted Institute of Highways and Transportation, and carries the official DfT stamp of approval.

There it is.

The title is a curious one as far as cycling is concerned, because while the advice inside includes footways and carriageways that are undoubtedly suitable for all kinds of pedestrians and drivers (although with perhaps some question marks over the suitability for partially-sighted or blind pedestrians) it certainly does not include designs suitable for all potential users of bicycles. Quite the opposite – this guidance only appears to include designs that are suitable for existing cyclists, those people currently using the road network by bike. This isn’t ‘Design for All’, by any means, when it comes to this particular mode of transport.

The cover itself is startling.

Is this really an ablvironment ‘for All’, when it comes to cycling?

As Kat herself said in relation to this picture, this is not an environment that many people would be happy to cycle in; nor is it even that attractive for people currently cycling.

Roundabouts can, of course, be genuinely inclusive when it comes to cycling.

Children cycling on a roundabout, with physical separation from HGVs, Wageningen, NL

The background issue here appears to be the now familiar confusion over ‘place’ and ‘movement’ function, whereby street designers, councils and highway engineers want to emphasise more of the ‘placiness’ (if that’s a word) of their roads and streets, while downplaying the movement function. Unfortunately this is accompanied by an unwillingness to do anything about the actual movement of motor vehicles through these environments.

The end result is the kind of placefaking I’ve talked about before; streets and roads that have been prettified, yet still have similar volumes of motor traffic flowing through them.  And cycle-specific design tends to get squeezed in these arrangements. As I wrote in that piece -

cycle-specific design tends to get squeezed out by placefaking. For instance, I am not aware of any new ‘placemaking’ scheme on a road in Britain that incorporates cycle tracks where they should reasonably be provided…

Presumably this is because they reinforce the impression of a ‘movement’ function, interrupting the ‘placeishness’ of the new design. But there’s a degree of sticking heads in the sand here; cycle tracks are required because of the volume of motor traffic, and if that volume is high enough to demand cycle tracks, then it is fanciful to imagine you are creating a place – there is still too much motor traffic thundering through.

And this new guidance – ‘Street Design for All’ – continues in this trend. Streets look nice and pretty, and the intention is to get drivers to play more nicely, but there is very little, or no, attention being paid to

  • a) whether these streets should even be continuing to carry anything like the volume of motor traffic they are currently carrying
  • b) whether cycling should be separated from motor traffic on streets that are being designed with high volumes of motor traffic in mind.

This is a huge oversight, not just in terms of opening up cycling as a potential mode of transport, but also on a broader level, about the actual purpose and function of our roads and streets in urban areas. Unlike the Netherlands, where there is clarity over what the role of a particular street or road is, with regard to access, or as a through-route, in Britain we seem to be converging on a muddled mess of place and movement simultaneously, accommodating motor traffic movement on all our streets, and attempting to make them places at the same time. (This dichotomy between place and movement also fails to take into account that some kinds of movement – walking and cycling – are considerably more benign than motor traffic movement, and actually contribute to place, as Rachel Aldred argues).

Typifying this approach are the opening paragraphs of ‘Street Design for All’ -

Most streets have been designed, or adapted, over the last fifty years or so primarily for the movement of motor traffic. This function continues to be important but it should no longer dominate in the way it used to – it needs to be balanced with the street’s place function.

Enhancing the sense of the place and maintaining efficient and safe movement of traffic can be achieved by careful design. [my emphasis]

Note here how it is assumed that streets will continue carry the movement of motor traffic; any ‘placemaking’ that will occur is in the context of that continuing motor traffic movement, attempting to reduce its dominance through design, rather than actually addressing the problem at source. This is the template, or the foundation, on which improvements must be made – accommodating motor traffic.

How many people would want to cycle in this kind of environment?

This same junction – complete with traffic signals – is, with the buildings added, and the motor traffic removed, labelled as ‘a place to meet friends’.

If it’s got buses and lorries thundering through it, you can meet your friends here – but would you want to stay here for any significant length of time?

It’s noteworthy here that the ‘movement’ elements of the street in the previous diagram include motor vehicles and people cycling – yet the ‘place’ elements just include people walking. Cycling is – unconsciously perhaps – lumped in with motor traffic, as associated with movement. Is this fair? As Rachel argues in the post I’ve just linked to -

Separating ‘movement’ from ‘place’ is inherently problematic. Different types of movement have different impacts on ‘place’. It depends on speed and mass. In city streets mass is critical: London’s slow-moving HGVs regularly cause catastrophic injury.

Non-motorised movement has relatively benign mass-speed combinations. Although cycling and walking can have negative impacts on others, they often instead enhance place. When I walk to the high street I chat to neighbours en route; cycling, I smile at strangers while letting them pass.

So active modes can positively contribute and form part of a place. The same can’t be said for rat-running through motor traffic. So again – in casting movement and place as opposed, or at least separate – the movement/place dichotomy implicitly casts movement as motorised.

A failure to address the real problem of movement on our town and city streets, and lumping in cycling together with that motor traffic movement, unfortunately means that the attitude to cycling – or ‘encouraging cycling’ – in this guidance is really very weak.

‘Encourage cycling through attractive, safe, direct routes’

If we really want to encourage cycling (or more properly, enable cycling) then we really need to stop pretending that narrow cycle lanes on roads shared with buses are going to cut it. The only people ‘encouraged’ onto roads like this are the people who are already cycling; making a genuine difference requires genuinely different design, not preaching about the cardiovascular benefits of cycling.

And yet the only tangible piece of advice this guidance has on cycling is the following -


There are advantages for cyclists in areas where traffic speeds are 20 mph or lower. Low speed roads are more comfortable for cyclists and allow them more freedom to use the full width of the street.

This does not necessarily require a formal 20mph speed limit. Lower vehicle speed can be achieved by subtle traffic calming, see page 11.

Permitting cyclists to use streets and other places where motor vehicles are prohibited, allows them to take convenient short cuts. Providing convenient and secure cycle parking is also important.

Lower motor vehicle speeds, and cycling in pedestrianised areas. That’s it. No serious engagement with the actual policies we now know are required to get people cycling in serious numbers; principally, separating people from motor traffic through a variety of interventions.

The Cut in Lambeth is cited here as an example of good practice, yet as far as I know it is detested by people who are currently cycling on it, because it combines an intimidatingly narrow carriageway with relatively high volumes of motor traffic. Likewise Poynton is also referenced, which whatever the benefits in terms of public realm and safety specifically excludes cycling as a mode of transport. This isn’t ‘Design for All'; it’s only ‘Design for All’ with reference to particular modes of transport.

Unfortunately Sustrans – who really should know better – also appear to fall into this trap. The entire third chapter of their brand new (currently out to consultation!) Cycle-Friendly Design Manual is devoted to… Placemaking.

It begins -

Many urban streets are not wide enough to provide separate cycle facilities or have frontage activity that makes such provision impractical. Design for such environments needs to think beyond standard highway design, defining a slow speed highway environment where cycles, pedestrians and motorised traffic can safely integrate.

There is no reference here to whether motor traffic should properly continue to be accommodated in these volumes on these kinds of narrow streets. If they are genuinely too narrow, then rather than attempting to ‘safely integrate’ cycling with motor traffic, measures should surely be taken to reduce or remove that motor traffic, as a first priority, rather than delving straight into the ‘Placemaking’ toolbox.

This approach means that this chapter – which, remember, is from a cycling manual! - is littered with examples of roads and streets where cycling is ‘integrated’, falling far short of the conditions required to make cycling a viable mode of transport for everyone. Poynton, Kensington High Street, Oxford High Street, Ashford, and so on.

Pretty schemes, I’m sure, but how many of these are genuinely suitable for cycling, for all, rather than just placemaking bodges that attempt to ameliorate motor traffic-dominated environments?

Nice paving, removal of markings and attractive street features simply aren’t good enough; physical separation is required for motor traffic volumes above 2000 PCU. If that can’t be achieved then steps should be taken to remove that motor trafficc.

What’s required in these design manuals is some honesty about the attractiveness of ‘integrating’ cycling on roads and streets that retain a significant through-motor traffic function. It’s no longer acceptable to pretend that we are ‘Designing for All’ without addressing this fundamental issue.

Categories: Views

What is most offensive about the Garden Bridge?

2 December, 2014 - 10:48

It looks like Westminster Council will today follow Lambeth Council in approving planning permission for the Garden Bridge.

I’ve been wondering what constitutes the most offensive thing about this project. Is it the way £30m of transport funding (and an additional £30m from the Treasury) is being used fund a scheme that quite explicitly has no transport function at all?

This isn’t just to do with cycling not being included – or even considered – as a mode of transport. Everything about this bridge suggests that it is a place to visit – a garden – and not something to move through. It’s not even a park. Westminster – tellingly – refer to it as ‘a popular visitor attraction’.

This huge amount of public funding comes despite claims last year that Transport for London’s contribution would be limited to £4m, with the Garden Bridge Trust itself raising the funding for construction.

From Transport for London’s 2013 consultation on the Garden Bridge

And to be clear this is a ‘bridge’ in name only. It will be closed to the public between 12am-6am every day, and closed once a month for ‘fundraising events’. Parties of eight people or more are ‘required to contact the Garden Bridge Trust to request a formal visit to the bridge’, in advance, apparently because groups of eight people or more constitute a ‘protest risk’.

You are, of course, free to use other London bridges 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and indeed to protest on them – because they are public space. This Garden Bridge is not really public space at all, but a privately-managed garden, a ‘visitor attraction’, to be built at vast expense, in the middle of a river.

And yet, ironically, it seems Westminster Council would refuse planning permission outright for this development if it was entirely private, due to the harm to views up and down the Thames.

It is also clear that if this proposal was for a private commercial development of this height and size, the harm to these views would be considered unacceptable and the application refused

The Garden Bridge manages to skip around these objections by teasingly positioning itself on the line between public and private space.

All this is bad enough, but I think the most offensive thing about the Garden Bridge is something else entirely. It lies in one of the main justifications for its construction; namely, that it will create a much-needed area of peace and calm in the centre of London.

Take this, for instance, from Transport for London -

Inspired by the actress Joanna Lumley, the proposed bridge would be covered with trees and plants, offering an oasis of calm in the heart of the capital.

Or in this video, where Joanna Lumley claims she ‘longs for a haven, away from the noise and rush’.

Now of course there is nothing wrong with peace and tranquility. But what is offensive about the Garden Bridge is the unspoken assumption that peace, calm and tranquility can only be created in London by building it at vast expense in the middle of the river. 

This isn’t true at all. We could create peace, calm and tranquility on the existing roads and streets of London, if we wanted to – and at a cost considerably lower than £180 million. For instance, we could pedestrianise and ‘green’ Soho, very easily. This is an area where people on foot vastly outnumber the numbers of people getting around by car, and yet for some perverse reason motor traffic continues to dominate.

Hi, @CityWestminster? THIS IS INSANITY. #PedestrianiseSoho — Nick Kocharhook (@k9) November 15, 2014

Want some peace, calm and tranquility here? Limit motor traffic to deliveries only, in the morning. We don’t need to look too hard for how to do this. Waltham Forest managed to create ‘an oasis of calm’ in October, through the simple expedient of… using a plastic barrier to close a road.

Orford Road, during the Mini Holland trial.

Picture courtesy of Waltham Forest Cycling Campaign

A huge number of streets in the boroughs surrounding the Garden Bridge – I’m thinking here particularly of Westminster and the City – could become calm and pleasant places, at very little cost, if a concerted effort was made to remove through-traffic from them.  Westminster seems to have a damaging policy of accommodating through-traffic on every single one of its roads and streets.

I think our streets, especially ones with a predominantly residential function, can and should function as calm and pleasant places, in their own right. We don’t need to build green space at huge expense in the river; we just need to reclaim it from the existing road network.

A street in Utrecht. Believe it or not this is only half a mile from the centre of a bustling city of 330,000 people.

Another Dutch city-centre street, this time in Gouda. A calm oasis for children to play in.

To me, the Garden Bridge project appears to completely overlook the enormous potential of our streets and roads to be different; to be safer, calmer and more pleasant places. It buys into the stale assumption that London is, by default, a noisy, dangerous and fume-filled place that can’t possibly be changed, and that can only be escaped by retreating onto an expensive vanity project in the middle of the river.

That’s what’s most offensive about it.

Categories: Views