On a Dutch Cycling High

BicycleDutch - 19 June, 2017 - 23:01
“Everyone is on a Dutch cycling high after VeloCity 2017” tweeted Australian cyclist/journalist Michael O’Reilly yesterday. If you could see my Twitter Timeline you would understand he hit the nail … Continue reading →
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Weeks of cycling related activities

BicycleDutch - 12 June, 2017 - 23:01
Now that was quite a week of cycling related business I just experienced! I am glad this is a week without a normal post, because I would not have had … Continue reading →
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The busiest cycleway in the Netherlands

BicycleDutch - 5 June, 2017 - 23:01
The guided tour season is at its peak right now. With Velo-City 2017 rapidly approaching the first groups are already arriving in the country. The associate professor from Platteville-Wisconsin, whose … Continue reading →
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The Freedom of Cycling

BicycleDutch - 29 May, 2017 - 23:01
This week I have guided two cycle tours in and around Utrecht. One group with policy makers and politicians from Bavaria and one with students from the university of Platteville-Wisconsin. … Continue reading →
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Flo, your guide to the green light

BicycleDutch - 22 May, 2017 - 23:01
An extra cherry on an already delicious cake. That is possibly how you could best describe Flo; a new system in the Netherlands that informs people whether they can catch … Continue reading →
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Driverless Cars and the Trolley Problem

John Adams - 18 May, 2017 - 09:50

The “Trolley Problem” is a long pondered ethical thought experiment; it is an intellectual exercise devised to highlight the moral conflicts that can arise in the making of decisions involving inescapable loss of life. Here is how Wikipedia presents it:

“A runaway trolley is barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person (in some versions, a friend or family member).

Which is the most ethical choice?”

This thought experiment created by moral philosophers, now features frequently as a real problem in discussions about driverless cars. In its new form the trolley becomes a driverless car and the role of the man at the switch is assigned to the programmer of the algorithm that governs the car.

This modern version is presented in an MIT Technology Review article on driverless cars and reads like this:

“How should the [driverless] car be programmed to act in the event of an unavoidable accident? Should it minimize the loss of life, even if it means sacrificing the occupants, or should it protect the occupants at all costs? Should it choose between these extremes at random?”

In “The social dilemma of autonomous vehicles” Bonnefon et al subject these questions to questionnaire analysis. “Distributing harm” they explain, “is a decision that is universally considered to fall within the moral domain. Accordingly, the algorithms that control AVs will need to embed moral principles guiding their decisions in situations of unavoidable harm.” These guiding principles, in a democracy, should reflect societal values – otherwise known as public opinion. To find these values they conducted six questionnaire surveys. Here is what they found:

“Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) should reduce traffic accidents, but they will sometimes have to choose between two evils – for example, running over pedestrians or sacrificing itself and its passenger to save them. Defining the algorithms that will help AVs make these moral decisions is a formidable challenge. We found that participants to six studies approved of utilitarian AVs (that sacrifice their passengers for the greater good), and would like others to buy them, but they would, themselves, prefer to ride in AVs that protect their passengers at all costs. They would disapprove of enforcing utilitarian AVs, and would be less willing to buy such a regulated AV. Accordingly, regulating for utilitarian algorithms may paradoxically increase casualties by postponing the adoption of a safer technology.”

Two problems with the Trolley Problem

  1. The interviewees in the Bonnefon study were offered an unrealistic choice. They were presented with the Trolley Problem as a real problem – one in which they, as car occupants, had to decide which road user should die. But as Andrew Chatham , a principal engineer on the Google driverless project observed: “The main thing to keep in mind is that we have yet to encounter one of these problems,” he said. “In all of our journeys, we have never been in a situation where you have to pick between the baby stroller or the grandmother. … It takes some of the intellectual intrigue out of the problem, but the answer is almost always ‘slam on the brakes … So it would need to be a pretty extreme situation before that becomes anything other than the correct answer.”
  2. But more importantly, the Bonefon study, and all other invocations of the Trolley Problem that I can find, reveal a profoundly biased view of the role that driverless cars might play in future urban transport systems.

In my last post  I looked at the influential role played by public opinion in determining who should have priority on the road. The book I was reviewing, Fighting Traffic, explored how “public” opinion on this issue was formed, and how the triumph of “Motordom” secured dominance for the motorist over vulnerable road users – pedestrians and cyclists – with whom they had previously shared the road. This battle, between cars and vulnerable road users, is about to be reignited by driverless cars – or maybe it’s been already lost.

The MIT review and the Bonnefon study referred to above are representative of everything I can find on the Internet about the problems that driverless cars might have in sharing the road with pedestrians and cyclists. All of the questions put to the survey groups in the Bonefort study invited them to assume they were answering the survey questions as drivers or car passengers. For example: “Participants did not think that AVs should sacrifice their passenger when only one pedestrian could be saved.” The views of the singular pedestrian, or cyclist were not solicited.

It was presumed that the societal values that should be programmed into the algorithms of driverless cars would be exclusively the values of the people in the cars. I can find no examples of the application of the Trolley Problem that acknowledge the existence of the concerns of vulnerable road users, or of policies and programmes being pursued to encourage more walking and cycling.

At present Google advertises the extreme deference with which its cars can respond to vulnerable road users. The most famous example is in this TED Talk video of a woman in an electric wheelchair trying to chase a duck off the road in Mountain View California; this can be seen in the video about 11 minutes in. All the impressive examples of deference to vulnerable road users shown in the video are displayed on roads with very few of them. How will the Google car address the problem of deferential paralysis  [1] in dense urban areas with large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists? This is a question yet to be answered.

[1] Driverless Cars and the Sacred Cow Problem, published in mangled version in City Metric, 5 September 2016.

Categories: Views

King to open Velo-City and other news

BicycleDutch - 15 May, 2017 - 23:01
Three short news items in this no-post week. Royal Opening of Velo-City 2017 The King of the Netherlands will open the Velo-City cycling conference on Tuesday 13th June next, in … Continue reading →
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Fighting Traffic: the next battle

John Adams - 13 May, 2017 - 13:30
Amazon Review Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, by Peter D Norton 5 out of 5 stars      9 May 2017

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

Fighting traffic is an instructive account of the social reconstruction of American cities that led to their domination by motordom – the powerful collective of interests dedicated clearing a path for the car. The most important period in the rise of motordom was the 1920s. Norton charts this transformation in terms of the insults that the competitors for road space traded with each other: motorists became “joy riders”, “road hogs” and “speed demons”, and their machines “juggernauts” and “death cars”, while pedestrians became “jaywalkers” and street cars became “traffic obstructions”. Norton explains how the road hogs won, how roads that were previously shared spaces were taken over by the car.
He attributes this victory to motordom’s awareness of the importance of shaping attitudes, the impressive resources that they had available to apply to this task, and their ultimate success in establishing that urban roads were, almost exclusively, for cars. By 1930 the battle had been won: “most street users agreed that most streets were chiefly motor thoroughfares.”
“Motordom”, Norton notes, “had effective rhetorical weapons, growing national organization, a favourable political climate, substantial wealth, and the sympathy of a growing minority of city motorists. By 1930, with these assets, motordom had redefined city streets.”
This is how he accounts for the dramatic change in attitudes, over a short space of time, about who should have the right of way on American streets: “From American ideals of political and economic freedom, motordom fashioned the rhetorical lever it needed. In these terms, motorists, though a minority, had rights that protected their choice of mode from intrusive restrictions. Their driving also constituted a demand for street space, which, like other demands in a free market, was not a matter for expert scrutiny.”
Norton’s account is not of mere historical interest. Today the five most valuable companies in the world – Apple, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook – plus Tesla and Uber and all the major traditional car manufacturers, are promoting driverless cars. And they promise to reopen the argument over who should have the right of way on city streets.
They boast that their cars will able to respond with extreme deference to all pedestrians, cyclists and children encountered in the street, thereby liberating them to enjoy their pre-motordom freedom to venture safely into the road. But they concede that if this freedom were widely exercised in dense urban areas motor traffic would grind to a halt. So, who will command the streets in dense urban areas? The promoters of driverless cars are also the world’s preeminent shapers of public opinion.
PS A sixth star for clear and persuasive writing.
Categories: Views

A continuum of mobility

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 10 May, 2017 - 10:49

The way debates around the division of space in urban areas are framed – how much space we should allocate to private motor traffic, to public transport, to walking, and to cycling – presents walking as an ‘essential’ mode, one that all of us engage in, while by contrast cycling is almost always an optional extra, something that’s nice to have, but not all that important.

For example, we wouldn’t dream of building a new road scheme without footways that are suitable for the children or the elderly to use – or without footways altogether – yet it’s extraordinarily common for new schemes not to bother including any cycling infrastructure at all, even in places where cycling is already a relatively established mode of transport, despite the conditions.

A brand new road scheme in Westminster, London. No cycle space included.

What this means in practical terms is that cycling as a practical transport option is limited to the small proportion of the population willing to cycle in motor traffic-dominated environments, further reinforcing the impression that cycling is something that does not need to be designed for, because very few people are using cycles to get about. It’s a vicious circle.

Depressingly these assumptions are built into Transport for London’s latest Healthy Streets guidance – it is only ‘walking’ that needs diverse representation, and needs to include people with disabilities, without any mention of cycling under ‘all walks of life’.

From TfL’s Healthy Streets

But when we look at places where cycling has been designed for, where it is as just as much an integral part of highway design as footways, we see that, in reality, cycling infrastructure coexists alongside walking infrastructure as part of a continuum of mobility.

The combined ‘walking and cycling’ space in the Netherlands is really just one space – a space for human-scale transport, conveniently subdivided according to speed, with humans travelling at under 4mph using one part of it, and humans travelling faster than 4mph using the other part of it.

Footway and cycleway combined is just space for human-scale mobility, divided according to speed

In Britain, save for a handful of locations, we don’t have this ‘expanded’ space. We have slow, footway space, and we have fast, motor traffic-dominated space. People in wheelchairs and on mobility scooters, and people with mobility issues in general, face a stark choice – they either have to adapt to traveling like pedestrians, or they have to try and cope in motor traffic-dominated environments. Their options have been limited.

We also lumber what little cycling infrastructure we have with what I would call ‘able-bodied’ barriers – impediments designed to slow fast, able-bodied cyclists, but that disproportionately impede (or thwart entirely) people with disabilities, or who are less able-bodied. This includes things like the vicious speed humps appearing in the Royal Parks in London, as well as zig-zag barriers and gates – both things that don’t do a great deal to slow down your average, able-bodied cyclist, but represent serious obstacles to those with disabilities.

Able-bodied people can easily slalom through bollard forests like this, without losing much speed. But they are a serious obstacle – even a total barrier – to many other people

So rather than seeing walking as something innate, that everyone does, with cycling just as a hobby or an optional extra – a mode of transport that people don’t have to use, and from which they could switch to other modes if they find it too difficult – we should start removing the distinction between those two modes altogether, and treating them with equal importance.

To British ears this might sound ridiculous – how on earth could you suggest ‘cyclists’ should be treated with equal importance to frail, elderly people, or disabled people, who can’t possibly cycle!  We even see letters written to newspapers claiming that the interests of the elderly and the disabled are being trampled over by ‘the cycling lobby’. But ‘cycling’ is only seen as impossible or impractical to British people because we have designed it out of our roads and streets, and because we have a very limited view of who can actually benefit from cycling, and from cycling infrastructure. As Isabelle Clement points out, this is entirely backward.

Take the Alinker – a Dutch vehicle designed to assist people who have difficulty walking.

Is this cycling? Is it walking? I’m not really sure. In reality it’s a bit of a combination of the two, a wheeled vehicle that allows people to ‘walk’ along at cycling speeds. It’s really quite wonderful to watch, but it’s hard to imagine where this kind of vehicle would work in Britain. It’s probably a bit too fast for use on the pavement, yet at the same time I can’t really imagine many elderly or disabled people venturing onto British roads on an Alinker. Yet in the Netherlands it’s quite obvious where it would go; on the cycling infrastructure. This is just one example of why we should accord equal importance to ‘cycling’ infrastructure as to walking infrastructure.

It’s also very easy to forget that cycling itself is actually a mobility aid, much the same as an Alinker.

The idea that for some cycling is easier than walking is going to be a big mental leap for some opponents. #E17

— We Support WF MH (@WeSupportWFMH) September 17, 2016

My grandmother – who has had both her hip joints replaced, in her late 70s – was cycling until she was 89, making the one mile trip to the farm shop down the road, a distance she would struggle to cover on foot. (She has unfortunately now had to give up cycling because she can’t dismount quickly enough when she encounters a difficult situation). Cycling made her life easier, and this is undoubtedly the case for countless other frail, elderly people in Britain – cycling could be making their lives easier too, but we haven’t designed our environment to allow it, resting on lazy and tired assumptions that cycling is only for the fit and able-bodied. Yet spend just a couple of days in the Netherlands and you will see elderly people – who are often carrying with them visual evidence of how they might struggle to walk – happily cycling about, still retaining independent mobility into old age.

And this isn’t just true for the elderly – it’s true for people who have illnesses, like Parkinson’s Disease.

Or people with other kinds of physical impairment.

This disabled Dutch government minister cycles. Her walking aid strapped on to the back: @StripyMoggie

— Borghert Borghmans (@StripyMoggie) February 22, 2017

The only reason we believe that cycling is simply not possible for disabled people is because we have designed that kind of cycling out of our roads and streets. In reality cycling is just as possible – if not more possible – than other forms of active travel for disabled people. Cycling is easier than walking for many people, and ‘cycles’ for them are a mobility aid, just as much as a wheelchair, or a mobility scooter, or a strollers. We just have a narrow view of their potential, basing it only the kinds of cycling that we see on a day-to-day basis, not on the kind of cycling that is possible.

Great vols induction session today @BritishCycling @Eng_Dis_Sport @lakedistrictnpa @GetYrselfActive @SuperheroTri

— Cycling Projects (@CyclingProjects) April 24, 2017

Here's a rather wonderful sight; one I saw yesterday, while strolling around @noordinarypark with @RantyHighwayman

— John Dales (@johnstreetdales) April 19, 2017

And even for those people who apparently look like ‘normal ‘cyclists, their disability may not even be apparent. Cycling – wonderfully – allows them to travel around like everyone else.

The moment finally came, the one I dreaded, the one where someone saw me taking my bike off my bike rack, parked in a handicapped spot, and assumed I was faking to reap special benefits.

“That’s disabled parking,” a dry stick of a man whined, keeping the world safe from miscreants one comment at a time. “I know,” I answered, although I wish I had said, “you would make a lousy detective.”

From time to time stories of people scamming handicapped parking privileges make the news. Law enforcement checks permit numbers against records, and levy hefty fines.

Born with a congenital spinal defect, but looking and feeling more or less able-bodied until a few years ago, age and mileage have conspired to make me what I think of as ably-disabled.

Disabled enough to have lost my ability to walk or stand without provoking nerve compression, but able enough to ride a bike. Go figure. It has to do with shifting the load off lower lumbar vertebrae. My bike, unbeknownst to most people, serves as an assistive device. I ride, but also use the bike as a rolling cane — a fancy two-wheeled walker.

Already, 15% of disabled Londoners cycle, only slightly less than the 18% of non-disabled Londoners who cycle. And in the UK’s most cycle-friendly city, 25% of disabled people are cycling to work. But this could obviously be higher. The potential for cycling to assist in helping disabled people gain more mobility is huge. 19% of UK people have a disability, and mobility impairment is most commonly experienced impairment – 57% of all disabled people. We should be designing environments that work for these people, whether their preferred mobility aid is a cycle of some form, or a mobility scooter or powered wheelchair, or even an Alinker. And that means building what is conventionally called ‘cycling infrastructure’ but in reality is just human-scale mobility space, separated from slower-moving space.

This definitely is not about walking vs. cycling, but about creating space for a variety of forms of mobility that transcends that distinction, separating only according to speed. Rather than seeing walking as innate, and cycling as just a hobby, we have a continuum of mobility – just different forms of human-powered mobility that should all be accorded equal importance, and designed for appropriately.

A still from Enjoy the View’s Tweed Run 2017 video



Categories: Views

Arrogance of Space - Copenhagen - Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard

Copenhagenize - 9 May, 2017 - 14:28

The City of Copenhagen released its latest mode share data yesterday and the numbers look fantastic.
62% of residents in the City ride a bicycle daily to work or education. 21% take public transport, be it bus, metro or train. Only 9% drive a car - even though car ownership is around 25%. Basically, 91% of our citizens DON'T drive a car - here in one of the richest countries in the world. All good, right?

You would think so, but even Copenhagen suffers from a serious case of Arrogance of Space. We took a section of Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard - the 1950s urban planning travesty that carves the Danish capital in two - and did a quick arrogance of space analysis.

It's the busiest street in the Kingdom with between 50,000 - 60,000 cars a day roaring past, most of them firmly in the "parasite" category. These are not people who live in the municipality and who therefore do not pay for the road space that we provide them. There has been talk for years of burying this street and reclaiming the space it occupies. While not a bad idea - albeit an expensive one - it wouldn't remove the cars from the city, since they would pop up out of the tunnel at some point.

As you can see on the graph, a whopping 64% of the transport space in Copenhagen is allocated to cars - both car lanes and curb parking. This is most apparent at the location we are looking at here.

When we map out the space allocated for cyclists, it looks like this. There are 26,400 cyclists along the boulevard on weekdays, according to the latest count in September 2016. Add to that around 10,000 who merely cross the boulevard from the side streets. Certainly not one of the busiest bicycle streets in Copenhagen but the numbers are respectable. On the map you can see how the infrastructure is part of a cohesive network.

Here is a snapshot of one light cycle in the morning rush hour from this location.

Here are the maps for the space occupied by bus lanes or trains, at left, and the space allocated to pedestrians, including squares. The trains are not relevant for this exercise, as they disappear underground, but buses are a key transport form on this corridor. 360 of them roll past between 7 AM and 7 PM. With an average capacity of 50 passengers, that would add 18,000 people moving back and forth along this stretch. And yet there is a severe lack of dedicated space for them.

Out of interest, here is a map of the "shared space". Not the classic and cute "shared space" that works in small, rural towns and residential neighbourhoods but merely parts of the transport area without separation.

What IS relevant is this. The amount of urban space given over to motorised vehicles. Most of it handed free to motorists who do not pay taxes in this municipality. Motorists, it is worth mentioning, already have it easy in Denmark. It's cheaper to buy a car today than during the oil crises in the 1970s and the same applies to gas, rendering the tax on cars here rather irrelevant. In addition, a resident's parking permit only costs around 750 DKK (€100) per year - despite the fact that a parking costs the city - and the taxpayers - around 50,000 DKK (€6,600).

Here is the complete map with all the transport forms together. The Arrogance of Space is clearly visible.

There is a total disconnect between how Copenhageners get around and how the space is divided up. This is not urban democracy on this boulevard at all. It is the same car-centric dictatorship that so many other cities in the world suffer under. Yes, it is safe to cycle along this stretch, on separated cycle tracks. But this is not transport democracy. This is not the Copenhagen that inspires so many people around the world.

If we valued public space in an economic sense as much as we value real estate value - instead of a massive majority subsidizing the transport habits of the few, we would be much better off. Here is just one idea of how to reallocate the space more intelligently.

We would be more rational and this city would be not only healthier and more dynamic - it would be the leader that it should be.

See more articles about Arrogance of Space with this tag.Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

Improving Active Travel in Canberra

BicycleDutch - 8 May, 2017 - 23:01
During my recent trip to Australia I stayed all of 30 hours in Canberra. A short, but at the same time very rich visit. I met many interesting people from … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

In favour of cycling

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 4 May, 2017 - 14:51

It is very easy to be ‘in favour of cycling’ or ‘in favour of more cycling’ in some form or another. We can all make statements about how wonderful cycling is for health, for the environment, for congestion, for reducing pollution, and how we would all like to see more of it. Nice, non-contentious words.

However, it is much less easy to translate these kinds of blanket statements of endorsement into action – being in support of specific policy to enable cycling. Very often when you scratch a ‘cycling endorser’ who only talks in generalities you will find someone who isn’t actually all that bothered about cycling at all, especially when it conflicts with their preconceived ideas about how roads and streets should be designed, and should function.

Perhaps one of the most extreme and obvious examples of this phenomenon is the curious ‘StopCS11’ campaign. Committed to preventing the building of any meaningful cycling infrastructure as part of ‘Superhighway 11’ in London, StopCS11 simultaneously maintained they were ‘in favour of cycling’.

In favour of cycling; just not in favour of doing anything to make it a viable mode of transport.

Naturally, this is precisely the kind of rhetoric that is attractive to politicians who are actually opposed to cycling infrastructure. SNP politicians in Bearsden, for instance. Magnatom has done a great job dissecting their statement on the Bearsway cycle route. The SNP is of course supportive of ‘policies and measures to get people across the whole local authority getting more active’ and wants to ‘encourage walking and cycling to school by identifying safe routes’ while ‘encouraging motorists to use other forms of transport’. Who wouldn’t be in favour of that!

But will all that support and encouragement translate into getting behind a scheme that will actually enable active travel – allowing kids to cycle to school, and making cycling a viable alternative for people who are currently using their car?

“The SNP overwhelmingly supports residents cycling, but rather across the whole of East Dunbartonshire, instead of one single route, which looks doomed to fail at significant cost to the public.”

No. The SNP is in favour of ‘supporting’ cycling everywhere in East Dunbartonshire, except – by sheer, unfortunate coincidence – for the one road where meaningful cycling infrastructure is actually being proposed.

To be clear, you can’t be ‘in favour of cycling’ if you stand opposed to schemes that will actually enable it. No amount of positive noise about encouragement, training, persuasion, ‘identifying routes’ somewhere else, or ‘considering other options’ can mask that. If you can’t back specific schemes, and can only talk in generalities, then it’s pretty obvious what your support actually amounts to.

Much the same applies to people who resort to talk of favouring ‘incremental change’ when they make their opposition to road space reallocation in favour of cycling. Whether it’s a complaint about boldness, or about small, allegedly more cost-effective measures being better, or the usefulness of other initiatives, none of these vague endorsements of different kinds of interventions or approaches will alter the fact that you don’t particularly like cycling infrastructure, and indeed that you don’t think schemes like the new protected cycleways in central London should have been built in the first place.

In an on-line discussion with a journalist who has a particular stock in trade writing about how cycling in London is dominated by middle-class men, I found a curious reluctance to actually endorse the new cycling infrastructure in London that is actually enabling cycling for everyone. Indeed, pointing out how cycling is a minority pursuit while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that cycling infrastructure is the best way of addressing that inequality of use is perverse, especially when you can’t come up with any answers about how you would enable women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities to cycle on hostile roads in the absence of that new cycling infrastructure.

Young kids cycling back to Tower Hamlets on Upper Thames Street. They would not be doing this without cycling infrastructure that separates them from the HGVs in the background.

The real test of being ‘in favour’ of cycling isn’t words, or pointing to other initiatives, or arguing that enabling cycling is ‘complex’ – it is supporting on-the-ground changes that make cycling an attractive, safe and easy option for everyone. If you can’t do that, and talk in generalities instead of endorsing specific physical interventions, then you’re not ‘in favour’ at all.

Categories: Views

A week of national holidays

BicycleDutch - 1 May, 2017 - 23:01
This is the week of national holidays in the Netherlands. Last Thursday it was King’s Day and later this week, on Friday the 5th May, we celebrate Liberation Day, with … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

The Pathway to Driverless Cars and the Sacred Cow Problem

John Adams - 29 April, 2017 - 16:21

The Pathway to Driverless Cars and the Sacred Cow Problem

Last Thursday (April 27, 2017) I was one of two speakers invited to lead the discussion at a National Infrastructure Commission roundtable on Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. The first speaker discussed the “Readiness of the road network for connected and autonomous vehicles”. My presentation was subtitled “Some behavioural challenges to think about.” The PowerPoint notes version of my presentation can be found here. What follows is a brief synopsis of the presentation.


In the Pathway to driverless cars the Government sets out its vision of what lies at the end of the pathway in rather deterministic terms:

     “Automated vehicle technology will profoundly change the way we travel … fully automated vehicles will transport people and goods to their destination without any need for a driver.”

The Government evinces no doubt that we will get there.   Further, the Government wants to get us there as soon as possible: “The Government wants to secure the UK’s position at the forefront of this change for the development, construction, and use of automated vehicle technologies.”

Two (possibly insurmountable) obstacles lie in the path of this vision: driver distraction and sacred cows. The Pathway to the driverless future envisioned by the Government depends on the development of Advance Driver Assistance Systems. These systems will take over more and more of the driving task until, finally, it takes over all of it and we can all be transported to our destinations without any need for a driver. The closer we get to this end state the greater the problem of distracted driving becomes. Why pay attention when the car is doing everything for you? The difficulty (impossibility?) of overcoming this problem is why Google removed the steering wheel.

This recent piece in the Guardian (27 April, 2017) illustrates the point: “In a little more than two years, a fleet of driverless cars will make its way from Oxford to London, with the entire journey, on urban streets and motorways, conducted automatically.” It then adds “The Government backed project, announced yesterday, expects to have a human in the driving seat, ready to take over if necessary.” Why should one stay alert for the whole of a journey from Oxford to London to respond to an incident that you have been persuaded is highly unlikely to happen?

The best answer that the Pathway can provide is Rule 150 of the Highway Code, which both acknowledges the problem of distracted driving and provides the solution. The acknowledgement: “There is a danger of driver distraction being caused by in-vehicle systems such as satellite navigation systems, congestion warning systems, PCs, multi-media, etc. And the solution: You MUST (sic) exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times. Do not rely on driver assistance systems such as cruise control or lane departure warnings.”

Most of the 307 rules in the Highway Code are merely advisory, but when a rule uses capitalized MUST it has the force of law. If you disobey the rule “you are committing a criminal offence.” The best solution to the distracted driving problem offered thus far is to declare that distracted driving is against the law.

Assuming we get past the distracted driving problem and arrive at the Pathway’s destination we encounter the sacred cow problem.

One can find innumerable demonstrations by the promoters of driverless cars of their ability to programme their cars to respond with extreme deference to any pedestrians or cyclists who might wander into their path – and numerous acknowledgements of the necessity of this programming if driverless cars are to be permitted on public highways. Their cars, they boast, will respond with extreme deference to all vulnerable road users. One can find numerous illustrations of the ability of real sacred cows to cause traffic paralysis in Indian cities. Why would sacred humans, aware that the algorithms of the driverless cars that they encounter have been programmed to defer to them, not take advantage of their sacred status in ways that would lead to deferential paralysis in cities with lots of pedestrians and cyclists, and perhaps newly liberated free-range children?

One looks in vain for an answer to this question. One can find a few acknowledgements that it a real problem:

“Driving in cities would be unacceptably slow if autonomously-operating cars were required to assume that every pedestrian might jump into traffic as fast as humanly possible. But if pedestrians came to learn that cars would always avoid them then they would likely act in much less controlled ways on streets and pavements.”

But solutions have yet to be found:

“Studies are underway using driving simulators to determine the optimal ways to design the human-machine interactions, but there are no clear answers today regarding design principles or standards.”

More commonly one finds a complete lack of awareness of the existence of such a problem. Here from Autoexpress:

“the Highway Code will need to change to get the most out of them. The tech will allow more accurate driving so, for example, cars could overtake cyclists more closely… “



I ended my presentation with a question. I noted that the Department of Transport, in addition to its driverless car initiative also had a well-funded project promoting walking and cycling. I asked the roundtable “Are these two initiatives talking to each other?” The answer was an implicit “NO”. Although I had been invited as one of two Round Table discussion leaders to talk about behavioural challenges confronting the driverless car project, neither of my two behavioral challenges to the feasibility of a driverless future was discussed. Not surprisingly perhaps for a National Infrastructure Commission Round Table, the discussion focused entirely on the infrastructure problems that needed to be overcome to make the driverless future a reality. There was no serious challenge to the assumption that the nation was on the Pathway to a driverless future. The guiding assumption of the discussion was that the nation was on The Pathway, and the job of those concerned with its infrastructure was to help “secure the UK’s position at the forefront of this change”.


The impending competition for road space between driverless cars and pedestrians and cyclists looks like being an unequal contest. In terms of money, political influence and friendly media coverage the driverless car project starts with an enormous advantage.


If I have wrongly characterized the discussion that took place at the Roundtable I hope those who took part will feel free to correct me in the comment section below.


PS   For a highly readable account of how the earlier battle for road space was won by the car in America see Fighting Traffic: the dawn of the motor age in the American city, by peter Norton.

And for a view from the financial sector of the problem of sacred cows click here – Sacred cows in the road



Categories: Views

A small section of the Central London Grid

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 27 April, 2017 - 15:29

Hackney Cyclist has just drawn attention to Whiston Road, a ‘Quietway’ the forms part of the Central London Grid. As it happens I cycled this morning on another ‘Quietway’ the forms part of the same network, this time in the City of London. It’s a short section that runs from Farringdon Road (where it meets, or will meet, the North-South Superhighway, CS6) and then runs east through the Barbican into the City of London.

I have to say, it is not very good, and as poor a use of money as the Whiston Road scheme, at least as far as enabling cycling (which is what cycling schemes should be doing). Here’s the section I cycled, with the red arrow indicating the obvious desire line.

The first problem is actually getting onto it, at the western end. At the moment there isn’t any help at all; you have to ‘negotiate’ out into a stream of heavy motor traffic as you pass under Holborn Viaduct.

Once the extension of CS6 is built here, there will be an ‘informal’ crossing here, with an island offering some (but not a lot of) protection in the middle of the road.

I was in a small ‘peloton’ of around 20-30 people, and the first thing I noticed is that not a single person opted for the ‘Quietway’ route – everyone else cycled straight ahead, through Smithfield Market, rather than turning right to join the Quietway.

Almost immediately we meet our first ‘Give Way’ – having to yield to traffic heading down the hill from the Market to Farringdon Road. The geometry of the road here means the traffic is travelling pretty fast.

We’re then onto Hosier Lane, across the road, which is actually a filtered street – usually with bollards at approximately the halfway point, but (currently) thanks to some construction work at the end of the lane, where cycle access has (just about) been retained. But again, we have to give way at the end.

And then give way again.

The markings here appear to be wrong – if you are following the Quietway, at least, you should turn left.

You then have to meander your way through this area – not too bad, but far from clear and obvious, and again, you have to give way to traffic which is crossing your path, and then give way again to rejoin the road on the far side.

Then another give way.

Before having to yield to oncoming traffic to turn right into Cloth Fair.

Which is very narrow, and not particularly brilliant if you meet motor traffic coming the other way.

It really doesn’t make sense to me to route an (allegedly) major cycle route in central London down these kinds of tiny streets. This isn’t going to work.

What’s that at the end? Another give way.

And another.

And then we’re finally back on the road that we were on initially.

This is a dead straight line from where the road meets Farringdon Road, in the first photograph, but instead of following that alignment, the Quietway has meandered all around the houses (literally!). This wouldn’t be so bad if you could make uninterrupted progress, but not when there are so many give ways, and turns, and points at which you get could lost.

What is doubly baffling is that the ‘Quietway’ then becomes a pretty hostile road, once you have passed through the Barbican.

This is the kind of environment that only a fairly hardened cyclist will be willing to tackle, so I can’t quite see the point of meandering around on tiny little lanes to avoid busy roads, when you end up having to cycle on those kinds of roads anyway.The faded painted symbols are telling – give it six months and there will be nothing to indicate this was ever a supposed ‘cycling route’. Which just about sums up the usefulness of this entire intervention. It’s a waste of money.

Categories: Views

Arnhem, the other host of Velo-city 2017

BicycleDutch - 24 April, 2017 - 23:01
Arnhem is one of the two host cities of Velo-City 2017. I have written quite a lot about Nijmegen, the other host city, on my blog in the past, but … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

The Fall Guy

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 20 April, 2017 - 15:35

The concept of the fall guy is a familiar one in television, film and literature, and indeed in real life. A person, entirely innocent or partially complicit, who is blamed in order to deflect blame or responsibility from another party, or to obscure wider failings.

In many respects your average person cycling around in Britain falls into this category. They are blamed for being in the way; blamed for being on the pavement; blamed for cycling through parks; blamed for not using cycle lanes; blamed for coming into conflict with other modes of transport. Yet these kinds of incidents – often when the person cycling isn’t breaking any rules at all – will result from a basic failure to design properly.

The person cycling, attracting the anger, is the fall guy. It is straightforward and easy to blame them for their behaviour, without examining how and why they are coming into conflict with other people in the first place. All too often they will simply be attempting to get from A to B as best as they can. Yet because their mode of transport has not been considered, or because they are forced to compromise, even adopting the path of least resistance will still bring them into conflict.

It’s highly unlikely that the person cycling in ‘the middle of the road’ in front of you actually wants to be in your way. I certainly don’t want drivers to be stuck behind me when I’m cycling around; I’d much rather have my own space that allowed me to go at my own pace, and removed these kinds of unpleasant interactions altogether. Or, alternatively, I’d like to see these busy roads ‘converted’ into low motor traffic environments where it is easy for drivers to overtake, even when there are many people cycling.

In low motor traffic environments, it is very easy for drivers to overtake, even when these streets are busy with people cycling.

Equally, when I am driving, I don’t particularly want people cycling in front me either. The failure to provide separate space, or to structurally separate walking and driving, is what is causing this conflict.

Likewise, if a person cycling isn’t using a ‘cycle lane’, there’s almost certainly a very good reason. It’s not because they want to be in your way – it’s because that ‘cycle lane’ is inadequate, one that imposes a large amount of inconvenience, or even danger, in exchange for very little benefit. Avoiding it – and attracting the ire of angry motorists – isn’t something someone cycling is actually seeking to do. I’d much rather have cycling infrastructure that worked, and made sense. I certainly don’t want to be in your way, but avoiding that lane, or painted stripe on a footway, is my least worst option.

I will be cycling on the road here. Because this is dire.

Likewise I don’t want to ‘share’ footways with pedestrians. It’s slow and inconvenient. People walking on footways don’t want the uncertainty of people cycling past them, and those people cycling don’t want the uncertainty of interactions with pedestrians.

Yet these kinds of arrangements are frequently legal; a compromise arrangement imposed by local authorities.

Legal footway cycling

The conflict being created by shared use footways is, in effect, the outcome of their policies, and their responsibility; yet it is the people cycling who get the blame, just as they get blamed for impeding drivers on the road. They are either in the way of faster drivers, or they are negotiating their way around slower pedestrians, yet neither of these situations is in any way desirable for the person cycling. 

It’s entirely possible to design environments where people cycling aren’t coming into conflict with either drivers or pedestrians

It’s also important to look at places where people are cycling on the footway illegally. In most cases these will be footways that are indistinguishable from footways in the same area where cycling has been legalised, but even so we continue to recognise that cycling on the footway – legally or illegally – is not attractive. It’s an option of last resort, the least worst alternative. Blaming the people doing it – especially when, as in my area, the vast majority doing so are children, families, and teenagers – really isn’t going to get us anywhere.

This isn’t legal.

And nor is this.

It’s so, so easy to blame these people, because most of us can’t identify with them. The great majority of Britons do not cycle in urban areas, and certainly not with any regularity.

But blaming these kinds of conflicts on our alleged personal failings – our alleged lack of courtesy, our alleged irresponsibility, our alleged aggression – gets us nowhere. We are all just people getting around as best we can, and lumping the blame onto ‘cyclists’ will not solve any of these problems. Tomorrow, the roads will be just as hostile, the pavements will be just as unsuitable, and exactly the same conflict-generating environments will still be there. It might be satisfying to moan and whinge about ‘cyclists’ but it certainly isn’t constructive. And this is especially true for many journalists and broadcasters, who seem to take particular delight in antagonistic phone-ins about ‘them’. Today being no exception.

The usual ‘them’/’they’ antagonism.

If there genuinely is widespread conflict between walking and cycling, or indeed between motorists and people cycling, that’s not a personal failing on the part of ‘them’ (whoever ‘they’ actually are) but instead a failure to design environments that prevent that kind of conflict from occurring in the first place. Cycling on the footway is not attractive; nor is cycling on motor-traffic dominated roads. These problems are a symptom. The person on the bike is just the fall guy.

Categories: Views

Riding on a bicycle overpass

BicycleDutch - 17 April, 2017 - 23:01
Watch some people cycling on the big cycle overpass between ʼs-Hertogenbosch and Rosmalen, which opened exactly two years ago in April 2015. These images were filmed on an ordinary Sunday … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

A question of perception: some thoughts on the Michael Mason case

Vole O'Speed - 14 April, 2017 - 22:56
(Disclaimer: I am in no way connected with this case, except that my partner was a Trustee of the Cyclists Defence Fund, the charity that took this case to court.)

I have covered the Michael Mason case before. I wrote two years ago of this case that:
If this is allowed to stand without further legal or political challenge, the position seems to be that any good and responsible cyclist cycling in every way within the law can just expect to be be killed by a driver running them over from behind, there need be no rational explanation of the incident, and the driver may just walk away from such a killing with no legal procedure following and a blameless record. The implications are quite horrific for all who cycle on our roads.As I anticipated then, a private prosecution did take place, funded by donations to the Cyclists Defence Fund (CDF). And, as I acknowledged might happen, the jury did take the same view as the police, who did not want to prosecute this case, and acquitted the driver of the charge of causing death by careless driving.

Nevertheless, I am absolutely certain that this case should have been brought to court. The CDF doing this brought to light a mass of evidence that was not available when I wrote then. This eye-opening evidence would not have come to light otherwise. It is described in Duncan Dollimore's long blog post for Cycling UK, and this is essential reading as background to the rest of what I write here, or certainly the first nine sections (down to There to be seen).

I'm going to set aside here any deficiencies in the police investigation of the case, which may be regarded as serious, and just base what I write on that report of what happened in court, on the evidence that was gathered and presented. In doing this, I am assuming that the account referenced is a fair, accurate and complete one, as I was not present in court.

The key points, it seems to me, are that:

  • Michael Mason cycling in Regent Street pulled out into the right-hand lane to overtake a stopping bus (as cyclists have to do constantly in UK towns and cities)
  • After he did that he was hit squarely from behind by Gail Purcell's (the defendant's) car, so hard that he was thrown into the air, a large dent was made in the front right-hand bonnet of the car, and he subsequently died from head injuries.
  • Purcell claimed never to have seen him, though she said she heard an impact
  • Purcell did not stop until made to do so by a witness who ran after her and caught her at traffic lights.
These are my reflections:
'Seeing' is an internal fact of a person's consciousness, a product of eye, brain and mind (if these are considered separate entities). No-one other than Gail Purcell can really know whether she saw Michael Mason on his bike before or during the collision, or whether she saw anything that might indicate to her she had been involved in a collision. Whether she saw anything or not is fundamentally unprovable in a court case. I daresay the jury took this view, and acquitted her, choosing to believe her account that she did not see anything, or to give her the benefit of the doubt, given that it could never be proved whether or not she was telling the truth about what she saw. They may even have considered that the fact that she did not stop after the crash tended to corroborate the view that she was telling the truth in claiming not to have seen anything. (An alternative interpretation, of course, is that she was aware of what had happened, and was fleeing the scene.)
However, that a driver should remain on the road when their perception of what is going on around them has been, on one tragic occasion, and could be again, so appallingly inadequate as to allow them to kill a human being right in front of their car who should have been plainly visible, that they should remain on the road, driving, with no sanction, is deeply worrying. Can driving with such deficient awareness be regarded as, by definition, 'careless' driving in the meaning of the law? This jury, and juries in many other comparable cases, have answered this question: 'no'. But are they competent to make this judgement, and where does that leave the protection of vulnerable road users?
I'm no fan of jury trials in general, not just in road traffic cases, but in normal criminal cases. I've been on a few juries, and not been impressed with how the system works. I don't think the British 'trial by jury' system leads to an honest, dispassionate search for the truth. I think jury trials tend to be a kind of costumed masque, a theatrical put-on, where a selection of the general public somewhat selected for their lower than average educational or professional attainments are attempted to be cajoled, or tricked, by slick professional actors into believing stories that are not true, or into believing that true accounts are a pack of lies. The side with the better, more convincing actors has a good chance of winning, whether it is in the right or not.

Juries are not a cross-section of the population. Too many people are able to get out of serving on juries, one way and another, and they tend to be the more intelligent part of the population. Anyone connected with the justice system or the police is barred from being on a jury, as are teachers, doctors and members of the armed forces: together, a very significant slice of the higher-attaining segment of the population. Other professionals seem to be able to argue easily they have responsibilities that absolve them from the duty. Others just refuse to go, and nothing seems to happen to them. So juries tend to be composed mostly of lower-skilled employees, housewives and tradespeople.
In cases of cycling deaths caused by bad driving, this is a particularly problematic situation. It amounts to a motorist being tried by other motorists, by, most likely, rat-running school-run mothers and white van men, who probably do believe that cyclists should not really be on the road, and are responsible for the perilous position in which they put themselves. Such jurors likely put themselves in the position of the driver who, though an 'understandable' lapse of attention, has managed to do fatal damage. Drivers who never cycle just perceive the situation on the roads in a very different way to people who do cycle on the roads, those who do cycle on the roads are a small minority of the population, and it really looks like this affects justice in cases of cycle fatalities. As Mark Treasure has pointed out, of 276 drivers involved in fatal cycling collisions between 2007-14, only 80 received a disqualification. 71% were left free to carry on driving. Just imagine it if all cases of personal harm occurring in the course of robberies were tried by juries of thieves. They would obviously tend to let the defendants off, sympathising with them, feeling that 'Theft is just a thing that you do, a way of making a living, and sometimes thing go wrong, and people get hurt, but we can't help that'. This is the tendency in cases of cycling death.

Clearly mine is a deeply cynical view, but I am supported in the idea that in these cases jury trials are not the best way to get justice by Martin Porter QC, who writes with an inside-knowledge of the system (and a background of course as a cyclist, with involvement in many cases of death and injury to cyclists):Often these juries acquit after less than an hour of deliberation, even when the evidence against the driver seems very strong. Why? One reason appears to be that driving offences seem far more likely than other serious crimes to invoke empathy and compassion from a jury. “There but for the grace of God go I” is not a thought likely to cross many jurors’ minds with murder, rape, terrorism or knife crime. But surveys show that a majority of drivers admit to breaking speed limits, and almost all can probably remember a lapse in concentration or worse when in a car.
The jury in the Michel Mason case took only 17 minutes to reach their 'Not Guilty' verdict.
I can't know what the family of Michael Mason have gone through; I have no connection with them. Nothing will bring Michel Mason back, and nothing will bring back all the other cyclists, pedestrians  drivers and car passengers killed by bad, inattentive drivers. I have no great interest in seeing severe punishment of incompetent drivers like Gail Purcell: what I do have a great interest in is in moving to a situation, where, one way or another, they don't have such common opportunity to kill me when I am on my bike.
I'm not so naive as to believe any campaigning by cycling or road victims' organisations is likely to get the time-honoured British system of trial by jury changed. I also believe general social attitudes to these questions are very unlikely to change in the short-term (by which I mean in my lifetime). Democracy is never going to be on my side. I therefore tend to attack the problem from a different direction, as readers of this blog will by now know. I want cyclists out of harm's way. We shouldn't have to constantly do the manoeuvre on busy, dangerous streets that Michael Mason was doing when he was killed, pulling out into the path of drivers who may well be so deficient in their perception of their environment that they fail to see us, and they kill us. There are better systems.
A better system, under construction in Enfield (Photo: Brian Deegan)A bretter system, under construction in Brent (My photo)A better system, in use in Lambeth (My photo)The part of Regent Street on which Michael Mason was killed is but yards from the junction where the current design for Cycle Superhighway 11 would terminate its segregated cycling provision, like that shown above, were that scheme to be built. That scheme is currently one of the many cycling schemes put on hold by Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, over the last year, where construction could already have started. If CS11 were to be built according to current plans, of course it would then be highly desirable, and eminently possible, for it to be extended from Portland Place all the way down Regent Street.
My jury is still out on Sadiq Khan and his Cycling and Walking Commissioner Will Norman. If their lengthy period of stasis on new cycle schemes is being used to gestate a grand new strategy of cycle infrastructure provision that will allow the Mayor to spend effectively the substantial sum he has promised to cycling, then the wait will have been worth it. If, however, their delay is due to political timidity, as Andrew Gilligan seems to suspect, then their honeymoon period will soon have run out, and campaigners will have to start shouting loud against them.
In one of my most popular (or notorious) posts in this blog, Cycling is dangerous, I wrote the following paragraph, which, six years on, and after quite a lot of positive developments for cycling in London, I still feel has much relevance:People who get on bikes in traffic quickly realise they have no protection other than their own physical capabilities and wits. They discover that they are totally on their own. Nobody and nothing will protect them, not the Highway Code, not the police, not the Crown Prosecution Service, not the courts. And the roads are often designed to make things as dangerous as possible for them. This utterly uncontrolled, socially anomalous danger of cycling is what makes it unique as a legal activity. Being a pedestrian can sometimes have a similar character, but not for so long, as pedestrians are mostly segregated from traffic. Cycling, for a normal activity, that we would hope would be an everyday one, as opposed to a special one like mountaineering or skydiving, is tolerated by our society as uniquely dangerous.As seeing is an internal, personal perception, which cannot be proved or disproved, by anyone else, so is the subjective feeling of safety or danger. I started this post by referencing Duncan Dollimore's article on the Cycling UK website. How did reading that yesterday make me feel when I went out on my bike today, on my regular journey on one of London's major roads, the A5, which has all the hazards a major UK urban road can have? It made me more worried about my safety, about cycling. I found myself checking my mirror even more than usual (and I usually do it a lot), wondering, as I pulled out into the outside lane to overtake parked cars or stopped buses, as I must, if that motorist behind me is that one in million who has my number (or that of another hapless person on a bike), that one whose perception of the what is on the road in front of them, in plain view, is so appallingly deficient that they might just continue on the same course and at the same speed to kill me.

That was just my perception, but perceptions matter.
Categories: Views

Polluted thinking

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 13 April, 2017 - 13:04

In the summer of last year, Professor Robert Winston made this claim –

He has a moustache. And is a professor. He must know what he is talking about.

Despite repeated requests, Professor Winston has consistently failed to provide any evidence that new cycling infrastructure in London – which amounts to only a small reallocation of road space on some 12 miles of roads in the entirety of London – has been been responsible for such a pollution increase, or to provide any kind of causal connection whatsoever. His comment has been retweeted 424 times, and doubtless has been linked to many more, including this endorsement from the Street Policy Officer of London Travelwatch.

If we look at streets where cycling infrastructure has been built, there is no distinguishable pattern of increase in pollutants following completion in May 2016.

PM10 monitoring on Upper Thames Street, for the last three years. Graph produced via the LondonAir website.

There are fluctuations, but nothing out of the ordinary – the spike in January 2017 corresponds approximately to a spike in January 2015, long before construction had even started, and matches a period of London-wide air pollution that (oddly enough) affected London boroughs where there is no cycling infrastructure at all, including Kensington and Chelsea.

I’m sure ‘the eminent professor’ wasn’t the first person to make these kinds of outlandish claims, but as the Professor of Science and Society at Imperial College, he may well have been the first one to give them some serious credibility. Claiming that ‘cycling infrastructure causes pollution’ – something that had once been met with derision – has now passed into mainstream debate, coinciding (entirely unsurprisingly) with the first genuinely significant reallocation of road space for cycling, anywhere in the UK.

On 14th December 2015, the Conservative peer Lord Higgins (in the same debate in which Lord Lawson described cycling infrastructure as doing more damage to London than ‘almost anything since the Blitz’) made this contribution –

My Lords, in view of the success of the conference on climate change over the weekend, will my noble friend have urgent discussions with Transport for London about the appalling increases in congestion and pollution caused by the introduction  ​of bicycle lanes, which are in use in large numbers only in the peak period? Will he at least ensure that other traffic can use those lanes during the course of the day? In the present situation on Lower Thames Street, for example, they are likely to die from carbon monoxide or other poisoning from pollution any moment now.

On the 21st February, Lord Tebbit – a man who had already claimed that the Parliamentary Bike Ride ‘increases pollution’ – argued that

a principal cause of the excess nitrogen dioxide in the air of Westminster and along the Embankment is those wretched barricades that were put up by the former mayor.

On the 6th March, MP Sir Greg Knight chimed in, suggesting that pollution in London is going up because ‘road space is being turned over to cycle lanes’ –

Is there not a case—I say this with respect—for making local authorities take into account the congestion effects of their crusade to remove road space in favour of wider pavements and more cycle lanes? Someone said to me the other day that there are fewer cars entering central London but that pollution is going up. Well, obviously it is going up because pavements have got wider and road space is being turned over to cycle lanes. The Mayor of London cannot have it both ways. If he wishes to reduce air pollution, he and others need to take care when they are seeking to remove highway lanes.

On the 15th March, Michael Gove suggested that air quality targets could be met more easily if the provision of cycling infrastructure on main roads was ‘revisited’ –

I just wanted to ask briefly about air quality as well.  Over the last few years there has been more than a 200% increase in the number of roadworks on London’s roads.  At the same time, we have bike lanes on our principal highways, which are administered by TfL, rather than the subsidiary roads, which are the province of the individual boroughs.  Looking at these issues overall, do you think that we might more easily be able to meet the very welcome rules on air quality if we were to revisit exactly how the provision of bike lanes had been implemented and revisit the regime that allows so many roadworks to operate in London at the moment?

Disappointingly Sadiq Khan did not challenge this connection, and indeed reinforced it, emphasising that he is indeed looking into how cycling infrastructure is implemented, and how it operates.

And one of the foremost proponents of the ‘cycling infrastructure causes pollution’ theory is Labour MP Rob Flello, who sits on the House of Commons Transport Committee.

In the first session of that committee’s Urban Congestion inquiry on the 9th January, he argued that removing cycling infrastructure in London would ‘speed up the traffic’ and therefore reduce pollution.

surely one of the answers is to reinstate some of the tarmac that has been removed. It speeds up the traffic and perhaps does more for air pollution in places such as London than getting people on to pushbikes.

In the second session on the 30th January, his argument became less nuanced

Anything that slows traffic creates more pollution


When an argument is that reductive, it wasn’t surprising that, by the fourth session, it wasn’t just cycle lanes that were ‘causing’ pollution – it was bus lanes too.

Robert Flello: On the point about bus lanes—I nearly said cycle lanes for some reason—and other forms of restricted lane use, it always makes me smile that a lot of these were introduced, and indeed continue to be introduced, seemingly without any evidence. It just seems that they are a great idea and therefore we must do them. It was reassuring to hear from a couple of people on the panel that evidence is now being gained as to whether they are a good idea or not. It does not seem necessarily to have stopped the flow of restricted use lanes across the country or in central London. Is that correct?

Val Shawcross: I cannot answer for every decision that the previous Mayor took, except that we are totally in agreement that, as the population of London intensifies in the future, we need to transform the city. The most efficient way of moving people around, as well as the healthiest and lowest emission way, is walking, and then cycling and then public transport. We need to be pushing this.

Robert Flello: I hear what you say, but the reality is that if traffic is now moving more slowly as a result, that is surely creating more pollution and is therefore unhealthier.

And this argument was repeated in the fifth session, where the same points were made to the Under Secretary of State for Transport, Andrew Jones.

Robert Flello: We have also had evidence that, even though, for example, bus and cycle lanes create congestion, Val Shawcross is still keen to go ahead and put more of those types of schemes in London under TfL. Do you not think there is a contradiction between gathering evidence that shows that something does or does not work and then perhaps funding schemes to just do more of the same that does not work, in terms of tackling congestion?

Andrew Jones: I am not sure that is right. I do not really agree with that, to be honest. We should be gathering information and sharing good practice. I see that as a developing role for the Department in lots of different ways, but that does not mean to say that we should cut across local decision making.

I am aware that the cycle lanes in London have caused a degree of controversy. TfL can come and speak for themselves, but I would suggest that they are thinking a long way ahead in relation to how they can encourage modal shift. They are trying to provide the infrastructure, looking way into the future.

Robert Flello: But if that is creating congestion, which it is seen to be doing, that is not controversial; it is evidence based. Traffic levels have fallen, yet congestion and pollution have got worse.

(There’s a good summary of this session on the LastNotLost blog).

To these claims of bus and cycle lanes (what Flello calls ‘restricted access lanes’) ‘causing’ pollution it is straightforward to add the argument that pedestrian infrastructure also ’causes’ pollution. The aforementioned Greg Knight claimed that

pollution is going up. Well, obviously it is going up because pavements have got wider.

To this can be added statements by the Environment Minister Therese Coffey to the effect that crossings prioritising the movement of pedestrians are ‘causing’ pollution –

Yeah, it's definitely the zebra crossings that are the problem causing all that air pollution… 🤔
(From latest Local Transport Today)

— Alex Ingram (@nuttyxander) January 9, 2017

And of course we also have the claim – apparently being taken seriously by government – that speed humps should be removed to improve air quality.

What all these contributions have in common is an extraordinary belief that making walking, cycling and public transport less convenient, more dangerous and more unpleasant will reduce pollution. It is a belief that the only way to reduce pollution is to prioritise the flow of the vehicles that are actually causing the pollution, at the expense of those modes of transport that aren’t polluting at all.

Put like this, it is utterly absurd, yet it is now repeated constantly. Its logical conclusion is that if we massively expanded the amount of road space available to private motor traffic in UK towns and cities – removing bus lanes, reducing the width of pavements, ‘re-motorising’ pedestrianised streets and squares, even building roads across parks and demolishing buildings, or constructing gigantic flyovers right into the heart of our cities – air pollution would fall dramatically. But some of the most polluted cities on earth are the ones that have employed precisely this strategy. Building seven ring roads has not solved Beijing’s air pollution problems – it has caused them.

Increasing the amount of space for motor traffic – attempting to ease the flow of congested motor traffic – simply draws in more and more of that motor traffic, and more and more pollution. Expanding space for polluting private motor traffic, or attempting to smooth the flow of it, is the exact opposite of sensible policy. If we’re serious about tackling pollution (and congestion), we have to prioritise the modes of transport that solve the problem, not prioritise the ones that are responsible for it in the first place.


Categories: Views


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