The promotion and advancement of cycling in the United Kingdom is filled with cycles;
Pitiful amounts of money are given to cycling projects across the land. Sometimes these are Big Headline Figures which look mighty and impressive until they are shown against the budgets normally given to transport projects, or it’s shown that the spending period for this sum is over the same time frame as the existence of the Dinosaurs – which is when the figures suddenly have the impact of Bertand Russell on the life of Justin Beiber. ‘But why is the bicycle getting such pitiful amounts?’, ask the cycle campaigners as, although most other people in Britain have access to a bicycle, they have been brainwashed into thinking it is a child’s plaything or something to do in a pastel coloured polo shirt around a Centre Parcs or in a sponsored event with lots of marshalls, high viz tabards and helmets. From Marples to Thatcher, the country has been informed that the car is the aspirational mode of transport and can also be mentioned alongside words such as ‘growth’ or ‘jobs’, particularly by local politicians, to really polarise a public already with recession paranoia. If the money is truly pitiful, it will normally go to promotion schemes and training, but the promotion materials reflect the bleak picture which has existed in Britain until now; Children with helmets cycling on a Sustrans leisure route or with twenty first century levels of traffic driven by people who can’t understand why people persist with the bicycle as it’s not aspirational or within a societal norm. These people are often parents that won’t let their children ride on the road, even if they were trained to laugh in the face of a Red Bull Downhill Challenge because the roads are regarded as dangerous by people who would never admit that they are part of this problem. So the hard work put in by cycle trainers is often tragically wasted as bikes get returned to sheds to collect dust until the next trip to Centre Parcs or Charity Ride. If the money is higher, it gets spent on Infrastructure. British Infrastructure. British Infrastructure designed by non-cyclists for people contemplating suicide or are entertaining a persecution complex. This, in turn suppresses cycling numbers and antagonises non-cyclists who think that those cyclists should be using it. Which attracts pitiful amounts of money for cycling projects across the land. Sometimes these are Big Headline Figures….and so it goes on.
This triggers other little cycles as well; the cyclists that have doggedly stuck it out on British road conditions quite often are in full cycling kit because they are mitigating for the circumstances they ride in and they often cover long distances. They know all too well the British Infrastructure that has been laid on for them. British Infrastructure designed by non-cyclists for people contemplating suicide or are entertaining a persecution complex. Which, in turn suppresses cycling numbers and antagonises non-cyclists who think that those cyclists should be using it. Which understandably makes cyclists and non-cyclists alike deeply sceptical when new Infrastructure is suggested. Experienced cyclists also feel that they will lose their right to the road as they have become so battle hardened with all the kit (and surveillance measures on their cycle helmets) that they not only classify themselves as ‘fast commuters’ but often as cycling experts on local cycling forums speaking out against Infrastructure. To an adult with an errand or deadline, the roads offer far more directness and speed than a typical piece of British Infrastructure ever could. All the kit however puts them outside a societal norm on the British streetscape. It makes the art of riding a bicycle to work look like a specialist activity and, subjectively, a dangerous one at that. Which in turn suppresses cycling numbers. Which attracts pitiful amounts of money for cycling projects across the land. Meaning that the cyclists that have doggedly stuck it out on British road conditions quite often are in full cycling kit because they are mitigating for the circumstances they ride in and often cover long distances. They know all too well the British Infrastructure that has been laid on for them…and so it goes on.
Meanwhile, Bike Week is held once a year, primarily in the public’s eyes to give Bill Turnbull on BBC Breakfast a chance to repeat the same utter drivel about how all cyclists break red lights thereby sullying the preceding report that tries to be optimistic and local newspapers write about ‘cyclists’ in the same way they would describe a terrorist cell. With typo’s.
One of the arguments leveled against cycling infrastructure in the United Kingdom is that there is no political will. Well, that’s certainly true but political will develops as a mandate from the people and how can that mandate arrive if the people don’t know that there is a way to break these cycles. That better worlds exist for in transport terms, tried and tested and advanced by other nations not dissimilar to ours with wonderful knock on effects for society. And that there are designers out there who would love to create a cycle scheme that doesn’t look or feel like the Oxford English Dictionary definition of words like ‘hatred’ or ‘brain spasm’. If the answer is ‘losing our right to the road’ then we are asking the wrong questions.
It’s not all total doom and gloom. Where I currently live in Brighton & Hove, there have been definite moves to create decent infrastructure as new cycle tracks on Old Shoreham Road and Lewes Road will testify. We still can’t seem to do junctions as a nation for some reason, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was built a damn sight quicker than the London Cycle Superhighways – which, coincidentally offer the same thrills, excitement and tragedy as chariot racing at the Circus Maximus.
This week marks the third anniversary of me founding the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Some amazing people where with me at the beginning and it’s being run by incredible and able people now. Its mission; to highlight what has been done overseas and point out that to do something correctly is cheaper and building something unfit for purpose and unused. To show that it can be done in a way that benefits everyone be they motorists, bicycle riders, wheelchair users, the elderly, the partially sighted, schoolchildren, commuters, shoppers and any combination of the above and more. For all the bluster in Britain, and London in particular, it is clear that there is far, far more to be done.
Also in this series….
Taken from The Book of Boardman, Chapters 1-2014
And lo, the bicycle had traveled through the valley of darkness. Its riders treated as lepers, the poor and the self-righteous, who’s only sin was to get to work or school or a stable in BethnalGreen.
..And so it came to pass that a writer of scriptures for the Bloomberg Press was dispatched to chronicle yet further wisdom from the man now simply known as ‘The Messiah’ (formerly The Professor’). Although a blessed event called The Tour had been bestowed upon the land of Britain, nothing had been learned, particularly that which would benefit the women of the Islands.
The man now known as The Messiah had already gained popularity with his wisdom, speaking out against the rulers of the land whom reside at the Palace of Westminster in their luxury and ignorance.
“The MPs that sit on the transport select committee should be embarrassed by their performance yesterday in an inquiry that was meant to be about why six people died riding bicycles on London’s roads in the space of two weeks.
“In front of them sat experts from campaigning bodies, transport research and the police – all ready to get into a proper discussion – and yet the MPs demonstrated that they didn’t even know the most basic of facts. Evidence and statistics were bypassed in favour of opinions and anecdotes on sideline topics.
“Such a clear demonstration of lack of research and understanding at this level of seniority would, in any other business, be classed as negligent.
“This was an opportunity to discuss how we can make our roads fit for people to get around by bicycle, improving our nation’s health, the environment and cutting emissions. This will deliver benefits for everyone, not just cyclists, and to do it we need to transform infrastructure, tackle dangerous junctions and encourage people to use bikes to get around.
“I’d like to see a proper, fruitful evidence session, rather than opinion-based discussion, on how to protect and encourage cycling as a mode of transport. To that end I am going to write to the MPs on the committee asking them to meet with British Cycling representatives to get to work discussing the real issues that can lead to the transformation of not just cycling, but the environments that we live in.”
And there was much procrastination at the Palace of Westminster as one Parliamentary Forum begat another and another with empty words and shallow promises. For it is easier for a cyclist to enter an Advanced Stop Line via the inside of an HGV than it is for a Politician to enter a reasoned cycling debate.
The Messiah spoke unto the Bloomberg Chronicler stating that these Blessed Islands need better cycle paths, especially in urban areas with more junctions instead of circuitous routes around Lake Galilee.
“The government has a difficult choice. There is a finite amount of space so to make better cycle lanes you are going to alienate others. It’s a scary change and it could lose votes.”
“In New York there was the political will for change. In the U.K. it’s more like positive apathy…Prime Minister David Cameron says he wants to make Britain a cycling nation, but what good is that if you have no participation target, no strategy and no funding commitment”.
And The Messiah spoke more wisdom unto a Chronicler from Road.cc against the money lenders saying..
“There’s a £5.6 billion annual Highways Agencies budget for roads with a continuous revenue stream versus £128 million allocated for cycling and only committed for two years,” he said. He also pointed out that there’s no monitoring of local authority activities, even though they are the agencies that often deliver local routes.
“I think you’ll struggle to find any business that says it can achieve its goals with that kind of strategy/commitment backing it up, you’d be laughed out of the bank.
“For any business to succeed, you define your target; where you want to get to. You then define how you are going to achieve that target in great detail and then you measure your progress closely, adjusting your strategy accordingly when you meet unforeseen circumstance. It’s that simple. Hence I said ‘positive apathy’.”
and The Messiah bestow upon the land Four Commandments to deliver us from Evil.
“A statement from the government saying ‘we want cycling and walking to be our preferred means of transport in the UK. We will legislate, design infrastructure and spend accordingly’.
“A nationally set of defined targets and timescale to define what that will look like.
“A dedicated and consistent part of the budget to achieve this. £10 a head (half that of the Kingdom of the Netherlands) would be a start.
“A national monitoring scheme to assess progress.
“Or put even more simply: commitment.”
And all eyes turned to Patrick McLoughlin and Robert Goodwill.
And God wept.
The post Dear Government, He is the Messiah, and you’re Very Naughty Boys. appeared first on Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club.
London should be a wonderful place to get around by bicycle allowing tourist, resident and commuter alike the chance to enjoy its sumptuous mixture of architecture, culture and heritage at a civilised pace. The bicycle should reduce the pace of city life to a level that people can actually compute, and be able to hear their own thoughts. Lord Foster thinks the same way too, but a solution that he has come up with along with Landscape Consultants, Exterior Architecture Ltd and Transport Consultants, Space Syntax seems to misunderstand the problem somewhat and then come up with an extreme solution that manages to completely disengage bicycle riders from London by elevating them above it.
Here is Lord Foster’s quote from their Press Release..
“Cycling is one of my great passions – particularly with a group of friends. And I believe that cities where you can walk or cycle, rather than drive, are more congenial places in which to live. To improve the quality of life for all in London and to encourage a new generation of cyclists, we have to make it safe. However, the greatest barrier to segregating cars and cyclists is the physical constraint of London’s streets, where space is already at a premium. SkyCycle is a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city. By using the corridors above the suburban railways, we could create a world-class network of safe, car free cycle routes that are ideally located for commuters”.
There’s already a slight contradiction his statement. Cities are certainly more congenial places in which to live without as much motor traffic. But then, like an expert conjurer, he pulls out the old ‘but space is at a premium’ nugget from his sleeve and with the wave of his wand (or rendering) promptly makes bicycles vanish from the streetscape.
Here is a statement from Sam Martin & Oli Clark of Exterior Architecture Ltd, also from the Press Release..
“SkyCycle is an urban cycling solution for London. A cycling utopia, with no buses, no cars and no stress. We are incredibly excited at how together with Foster + Partners our idea has been developed and now more recently turned into a truly world changing scenario by Space Syntax for revolutionising cycling in London and possibly the world”.
The original idea to which they allude is when they originally touted it in 2012. Below is the original video.
Anyway, back to last month. Here is an image depicting the latest iteration
It certainly looks like the cycling Utopia that they describe, but two things immediately elevated into my mind on stilts when I saw this striking image;
Firstly, one must bear in mind that this is an architectural realisation. When the shared space scheme for Exhibition Road was first touted, there were equally Utopian images put forward such as this one..
To be fair to the designer, they are trying to sell a positive concept and I’d be even more alarmed if they had presented to their client an image of a still traffic clogged street with some people huddled outside a new Wetherspoons whilst snouting a packet of Superkings.
My second thought was one of the 1950′s-1970′s when architecture was brutilising it’s cold concrete tentacles into the public realm through such luminaries as Sir Denys Lasdun, Basil Spence and Richard Siefert. Planners invisioned specific schemes for specific transport modes to be elevated for comfort and convenience, be it the [thankfully aborted] Pedways in Central London with the hoi polloi of smooth flowing traffic on dual carriageways below to elevated roads such as the Westway, part of the [thankfully aborted] Ringways Project, which is brilliantly covered in this short film by Jay Foreman..
I certainly get what they are trying to achieve and I like the fact that designers are trying to think laterally – indeed think about the bicycle at all. But the bicycle doesn’t need lateral or ‘out of the box’ thinking. It needs simple dedicated space as, along with walking, the bicycle doesn’t get simpler as a transport mode, which is why it is potentially such a great key to unlocking British towns and cities. Maybe that’s why this country has a fairly appalling record of dealing with it. We consistently make the complicated modes of transport simple and the simple modes more complicated. Another thing to consider is that the bicycle should never be treated in isolation with the urban realm. It is part of a far bigger and complex societal jigsaw and all the the other pieces stand to benefit.
On the plus side, the SkyCycle scheme could offer fast, continuous, direct routes from suburb to centre, it would indeed unlock space in the centre of London in an innovative way and could indeed be a prototype for other cities. It even allows cyclists to feel, not only the ‘Bradley Wiggins Effect’ but also the added advantage of ‘The Mary Poppins Effect’, as they waft through London. However it’s when I started to think of the negatives that it starts to stumble off its stilts. I started a rough list and please feel free to chip in with your own positives and negatives:
The land grab necessary for the 200 entrances and getting people up to that height.
Access/egress for emergency services should an accident/incident occur
You still have to get all the way up to the deck and that is going to take effort, and I am built more like Chris Biggins as opposed to Chris Hoy.
Local/Metropolitan/National Transport Authorities will be tempted push cycling even further down the pecking order (if that’s possible) in streetscape design as they can now point schemes such as this.
It reaffirms the nonsense of ‘Dual Network’ where there’s different types of infrastructure for different types and abilities of rider, instead of just creating a decent coherent standard for all.
It will (whether the Designers deny it or not) divert precious funds from schemes that can work at ground level.
The Police will need resourcing to patrol this new form of infrastructure (and does this fall under the jurisdiction of the British Transport Police?)
Security, particularly for more vulnerable sections of society and especially in the off-peak.
On the Street:
Motorists will pay even less attention as they now expect cyclists to be a couple of storeys up in the air.
Anyone getting hit by an HGV in the shadow of this scheme will only have themselves to blame, in the eyes of a society that would see this as conveniently tidying cyclists away.
Local business on the street will not feel the benefits of the bicycle as this is in essence a massive bypass and, as a result, will probably scream for more car parking.
The British Weather:
The trains below will enjoy better protection from precipitation than the cyclists above who will also be particularly exposed to the wind,
In short, this really is a country that will do ANYTHING and pay any price to avoid designing a decent sodding junction.
I have a confession to make, Dear Reader.
Last night whilst cycling, I went through a red light.
There is a simple reason why I did it and I would just like to state my case.
You see, I broke the law because………………I’m almost too embarrassed to admit this…………………………….because I don’t weigh a ton.
I know, I know and, although my home nation would prefer it if I did weigh a ton, I’m very sorry for not weighing a ton. Despite my love of traditional hand drawn ales.
I rode over the ‘pad’ before the stop line at a junction in Worthing, West Sussex, and I was just too light to trigger a green light or Channel 5 documentary team or cause any damage to the precious highway whatsoever.
Apparently, to trigger a green light at many junctions on the highways of Britain, one must be shaped like a one ton metal box or actually weigh somewhere upwards of a quarter of a ton to roll over a pad to trigger a green light. Otherwise one has to wait for about two or three phases at best before being allowed to continue on one’s journey, which I think beautifully sums up the British cycling experience of being treated like a mild but treatable rash or Celebrity Big Brother.
However, the South Coast at this particular moment in time was being buffeted by 50-70 mph gusts, the rain was lashing down and something in me finally snapped. I personally believe that if there is a painting in the world that best sums up the British cyclist and campaigner, it is ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch – the inspiration for his compositions came from a sunset walk he was taking with friends. The blood red sky and the screams from the asylum below culminated in a physical and natural scream. After years of observing the local and national powers that be in a first world country such as ours fail to understand something so simple as a bicycle, combined with that blood red light in the driving Worthing rain drumming against my body, I started to understand what Munch might have been getting at.
If anyone was watching from the surrounding flats late last night, no doubt they have probably written to the Worthing Herald (because, you know, I might have killed someone) as they saw one of those irritating cyclists, without a helmet no less, and attempting to dress like a normal person, say ‘f*** this’ very loudly to himself after getting drenched for 5 minutes and proceed through a static red light to cycle across a 30 mph urban dual carriageway.
Another example of this hotbed of crime can be found on the cycle network of Brighton & Hove.
At the bottom of the segregated path of Grand Avenue, bicycle riders have to cross to the right hand lane to then continue over the road to pick up the east west seafront path as shown on this Google streetview. However, if a heavy motorised vehicle doesn’t pull up behind you, triggering the lights, then you can be stood there for quite a while. I always enjoy a sea view, but sometimes I would actually like to get to work. Many cyclists either dismount or ride to the nearby pedestrian/northbound cycle crossing and use that. I’ve done it myself as I actually enjoy seeing my son grow up, but that to me kind of defeats the object of cycle infrastructure.
It’s not all doom and gloom – apparently, all one has to do is notify their local Council Highways Department and they can and will adjust the pressure pad so a bicycle can trigger it. It’s just the fact that we have to do this – to remind councils that we do exist and don’t weigh the sort of volumes that even damage roads.
Anyway, I have broken the law and am now a fugitive. I guess I’ll have to flee to another country. One that can actually design for a bicycle. Please.
In the run up to my visit to Amsterdam three weeks ago, I read In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan. I always thought that my first reference of this excellent book would be in relation to my excellent trip. I was wrong.
After Amsterdam’s Three large-scale bike demonstrations in 1974, in the summers of 1975 and 1976 bike demos became annual events that drew ever bigger crowds – 3,000 participants in 1975, 4,000 in 1976. Then in June 1977, an even larger bike demo took place. Nine thousand Amsterdammers – including a great many senior citizens and families with children – rode on a route that originated on Beursplein and ended in Vondelpark. The dense procession of cyclists stretched for two thirds of a mile.
A flyer was distributed to the cyclists at the outset of the 1977 ride. The flyer outlined the planned route and also advised how to handle anyone irritated by the demonstrations “Avoid getting into a wrangle with motorists. You don’t need to come to blows with loudmouths. There are already enough [traffic] casualties. Maybe, due to your dignified demeanour, they’ll join us next time – on a bike”. A number of obstructed motorists did bombard the cyclists with abuse. “Bastards!” shouted one motorist. “Tonight you’ll be asking for a ride again!”
A feature of the 1977 demo was a carefully coordinated stop on Museumplein, where thousands of cyclists lay down with their bikes to commemorate the 3,000 traffic fatalities suffered annually in Holland. After a moment of silence and a short eulogy, the cyclists then arose and rang thousands of bicycle bells. Then they “cycled for their lives” to the closing festivities in Vondelpark”
The above image is from the events just described and in the sublime film ‘How the Dutch got their Cycle Paths’ by Mark Wagenbuur. I had the pleasure of riding through the newly reopened bicycle path through the newly refurbished Rijksmuseum with my not so reopened or refurbished host, Marc van Woudenberg. I was already familiar with the post war years of struggle in Amsterdam and the Netherlands generally and as I coasted through this glorious piece of infrastructure looking out across Museumplein it felt deeply fulfilling that such protest and anger were not in vain. However, my experiences will have to wait.
Let’s fast forward to London, November 2013.
To say it had been a macabre month for the nations capital city would be reckless understatement. In the space of two weeks, six cyclists had lost their lives taking the death toll in London up to 14.
Although an initial vigil was held at Bow Roundabout organised by London Cycling Campaign following yet another tragedy involving a left turning HGV, sadly events even overtook that resulting in a ‘Die-In’ vigil, organised outside the headquarters of TfL by a new ‘grass roots’ campaign called Stop the Killing of Cyclists, I assume based on Stop de Kindermoord (‘Stop the Child Murders’). By the way, here is an excellent BBC World Service Podcast on how the 1973 Dutch grassroots movement got underway.
The demands [in London] are as follows:
1.The Mayor and Boroughs to spend at least the same per person on cycling provision as The Netherlands (the UK spends about £1.25 per person – the Netherlands spends about £33 per person)
2. A ban on vehicles whose drivers cannot see adjacent road-users.
3. A full London-wide segregated network to be built urgently
It got some coverage from news channels and all involved thought it to be a great success. The picture above was actually taken from the point of view of the TfL offices so it much have looked quite dramatic.
All stirring stuff.
I was therefore a little bit taken unawares when Mikael Colville-Andersen, leading bicycle and urbanism advocate, writer of Copenhagenize and direct influence for me founding the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain started writing the following tweets:
Lack of intelligent, modern advocacy is just another reason why London and UK languish in the basement of the urban cycling league.
8:03pm · 29 Nov 13
In the UK today, a couple thousand people convinced tens of thousands of their fellow citizens never to ride a bicycle again. Well done.
9:36pm · 29 Nov 13
Sub-cultural peacocking – based on protest styles hailing from early 70s – are hopefully ineffective in 2013.
9:41pm · 29 Nov 13
If you look at the two photos, you will notice that, in the Amsterdam picture, not one of the protesters is wearing a helmet, or anything reflective – just ordinary people wanting to get around by bicycle, highlighting the carnage occurring on Dutch roads affecting every citizen at the time whether they rode a bicycle or not as well as taking a stand against the city of Amsterdam being smashed up further to make more space for the motor car.
The more recent photo, of London, tells a different story. Tragic, emotive and thought provoking but for different reasons – it shows what happens when private and commercial motor vehicle dependence continues for a further 40 years unchecked at the expense of everything else from transport equality to social inclusion to health. Those that remain within the Church of Cycling become increasingly radicalised from the rest of society – a society that thinks nothing is wrong in terms of safety because the UK has an alright road safety record from the inside of a motor car and would even see cyclist and pedestrian injury and death as collateral damage in the name of ‘progress’. To the vast majority outside the world of cycle campaigning, the scene outside the TfL headquarters was of an out group, many in the expected uniform of hi visibility jackets, helmets and lycra easily picked out by car headlamp or a journalists camera flash. That picture of London allows cycling commissioners such as Andrew Gilligan to dismiss the protesters and make them look as radical as, say for example, the Republican Tea Party.
But that doesn’t make Andrew Gilligan right, and I have to respectfully agree to disagree with Mikael Colville-Andersen. In fact, had I still been living in London, I would have attended the event myself.
This is because we come onto yet another battleground in the wonderful, trippy wasteland of British bicycle advocacy – ‘Dangerising’. Apparently, by drawing attention to the fact that six people have died in two weeks and the death toll has already matched the previous year, it is in some way going to make cycling look dangerous, and put people off. It also, apparently, undermines the hard work that Boris Johnson, Andrew Gilligan and TfL have been putting in. Statistically, it may be a safe activity, but that only paints part of the picture.
I used to cycle to work every day in my younger years from Morden in deepest, darkest South London, to Camden Town – to be more precise, less than 50 metres from where a young woman faced ‘life changing’ injuries after being hit by an HGV last October. My commute took in such gems as the multi-lane gyratory at Vauxhall Cross. At the time it was an adventure. But I was a fit[ish], confident[ish] young male. Now I am a father and watching the age of 40 fade as it waves me slowly goodbye from the harbour edge, the thought of carrying out the same commute fills me with horror. The thought of carrying out the same ride with my 3 and a half year old boy doesn’t fill me with anything because it simply won’t happen. When I unfold my Brompton at Victoria Station to head to a meeting, I do it with the same look these days as a pensioner being cajoled onto a ride at Alton Towers, being told to stop whining as it won’t last long and might be quite fun. The facilities provided for cycling in London [and the rest of the UK] are the infrastructure equivalent of the riddles and jokes one finds in a box of Christmas crackers. Whenever I see tourists on Boris Bikes at Parliament Square and Embankment (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, no less), they are always on the pavement and for good reason. If they wanted the level of subjective danger presented to them on the roads, they might as well have holidayed in Syria. This is because any plans for the future are anchored to the past - the incessant need to push as much motorised traffic through a given area under the deluded belief that it means prosperity and individuality.
The people that participated in the Die-In last Friday probably had better things to do on a Friday evening and there are better ways of campaigning but it has all come down to this. Desperate times call for desperate measures. If many were wearing cycle clothing and body armour with all the reflective bits, it is because the prevailing conditions have made them do so. These are people that have had to look grateful for every poorly designed, underfunded and compromised facility that has been set before them, and then take the flak when they ignore them. 40 years of neglect at the transport table has resulted in that photograph taken from the TfL offices. Most importantly, the remainder of people in the UK regard cycling as a dangerous activity regardless of protests like this.
If things are ever going to move forward, there needs to be greater liaison with elderly groups, disabled groups, pedestrian groups and even, dare I say it, motoring groups. They need to be shown examples of what does work, and why. This goes way beyond ‘space for cycling’ but creating more liveable neighbourhoods and quality networks for all. Otherwise bicycle advocacy will continue to be framed and then discarded with ease.