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London’s enormous cycling potential

20 July, 2017 - 12:53

Back in 2010, Transport for London published an Analysis of Cycling Potential. – an assessment of many trips could be cycled by Londoners, but weren’t being cycled now. It was quite a conservative analysis (as will be described below) but even so it found that 4.3 million trips per day were potentially cyclable by Londoners, which amounted to 23% of all trips, and 35% of all trips by ‘mechanised modes’ (cars, taxis or public transport).

Now that report has been updated, released in March this year with a less restrictive assessment of what kinds of trips can’t be cycled. This new report has found that 8.17 million daily trips could be cycled by Londoners – that’s 41% of all trips, and 62% of all trips  made by motorised modes.

It should also be noted that this figure doesn’t include those trips that are already cycled, and those trips that are currently being walked.

On the left we see the total number of daily trips made by Londoners; the red bars are ‘deducted’ from that total, and are formed of ‘already cycled’ trips, trips that are walked, and some 5 million trips made by mechanised modes that, according to this analysis, can’t be cycled.

How has this 8.17 million figure been arrived at? It’s worth looking first at which trips were excluded under the 2010 analysis.

Significantly, any night-time trip was completely excluded, as was any trip by a person with a disability, any person under five or over 64, and any trips longer than about 5 miles, or that involved a heavy or bulky load, or any trip that took 20% longer to travel by cycle than by the previous mode.

Quite properly, these filters have been completely changed for the 2016 analysis; those changes account for the enormous increase in the number of potentially cyclable trips.

Notably –

  • The ‘encumbrance’ filter has been adjusted – bulky or heavy loads can now be cycled, with only ‘heavy work equipment’ or pushchairs excluded.
  • The ‘trip length’ filter stays the same, but has been increased from 8km to 10km for commuting trips
  • The ‘journey time’ filter has been removed altogether, mainly on the grounds that cycling journey time is reliable, so the potential extra time required to cycle can be deducted.
  • The age filter has been adapted to be distance-based; age no longer excludes trips altogether, but there is a recognition that older and younger people will not be so willing or able to cycle longer distances. It’s notable that trips by under 5s are still completely excluded though.
  • The ‘time of travel’ filter has been removed completely – trips at any time of day should properly be cyclable.
  • Likewise the ‘disability’ filter has also been removed completely – disability should not be a barrier to cycling.
  • Finally, a ‘trip chaining’ filter has been added– to include cycle stages forming part of longer trips.

There’s an acknowledgement these filters may still actually underestimate potential, particularly the distance filter. But it’s worth observing that the majority of ‘potentially cyclable’ trips are not very long, in any case.

More than half (55%) of all potentially cyclable trips are less than 3km (1.9 miles). 80% are less than 5km (3 miles), which the analysis says could be cycled in less than 20 minutes by most people. This amounts to 6.47 million trips, which is a third of all the trips Londoners make. To repeat, these figures don’t even include all the walking trips Londoners make; add those in and we find that 64% of all trips Londoners make are either already walked, or could be easily cycled in twenty minutes. London might be a large city, but a large proportion of the trips its residents make are relatively short and easily walkable and cyclable.


But what does all this ‘potential’ amount to in practice? What difference could it make? There’s a good amount of detail in the report on where ‘potentially cyclable’ trips are being made, who is making them, and how they are making them.

58% of these potential trips are trips that are currently made by car – this is 4.7 million daily trips, or around a quarter of all the trips Londoners make every day.

The rest is mainly composed of bus trips – 29% of the potentially cyclable trips are made by bus. The report also looks at these modes from the opposite perspective – how many trips by each mode are potentially cyclable.

A full two-thirds of all car trips Londoners make are potentially cyclable under the terms of this analysis – there is clearly enormous scope for reducing the amount of pollution, congestion, and improving public health, across the capital, provided cycling is designed and planned for, to enable these trips. In addition over 80% of current bus trips are cyclable. Given that 40% of London bus trips are completely free for the user – that is to say, subsidised – there is clear potential for reducing both costs and pressure on the London bus network too.

How about where these potentially cyclable trips are located? The report reveals, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the most potential is in outer London. 54.7% of all the ‘potentially cyclable’ trips are made within outer London.

But there are still enormous numbers of trips within inner London alone – 24.4% of all the potentially cyclable trips. There are well over a million daily trips by private motor traffic in inner London that could be cycled, and the report also notes that

While the overall number of potentially cyclable trips across central London and parts of inner London is lower than in outer London, there is a high density of trips in these areas. Combined with the number of potentially cyclable stages, this shows why interventions in the heart of the city are important to increase cycling.

To give some indication of the importance of inner London, even if we just look at Westminster alone, there are 600,000 daily trips that either start or end in that borough that could potentially be cycled.

While inner London does perform slightly better than outer London in terms of cycling modal share, only 9% of potentially cyclable trips in inner London are actually being cycled – the figure is, of course, even worse for outer London (4%). Given the recent controversy over the desperately poor new Five Ways proposal, it’s worth flagging here that Croydon has 400,000 potentially cyclable trips by residents that aren’t being cycled at the moment – the largest potential of any London borough.


Finally, it’s worth looking at what kinds of trips would potentially be cycled, and who would be making them.

The report shows that the vast majority of potentially cyclable trips would actually be cycled by females.

This isn’t actually all that surprising, given that it aligns with the kind of cycling share we see in countries where cycling isn’t suppressed by conditions, like the Netherlands, where trips by women outnumber those by men. As for ages, this graph also shows that around one-quarter of all potentially cyclable trips are by those under 16 or over 65. The number of potentially cyclable trips by children under 16 is approximately double the number of all trips currently cycled in London.

Cycling potential is evenly distributed across ethnicity, age, gender and income – for instance, it almost exactly aligns with the current ethnic profile of London. In other words, the report shows clearly that ‘cycling’ is not something that is intrinsically limited to any particular age, gender, ethnicity or class – it is only limited by current conditions. Unlocking this enormous potential has to involve tackling these conditions, because

The most significant barrier to realising this potential is that most cyclable trips are made by people that do not cycle at all

The kinds of trips that could potentially be cycled would also be much more evenly distributed by purpose.

As can be seen from this graph, commuting is disproportionately represented among current cycling trips – a full 28% of all trips. But under potentially cyclable trips, the figure drops to 17%, just 1 in 6 of all trips. This is why we need to move on from just catering for commuting trips, and developing networks that work for all types of trips. To take just one example, 82% of all trips for education purposes are potentially cyclable.

Indeed, the report notes that

Much of the potential identified is different to current cycling behaviour – only 2.54 million of the potentially cyclable trips are similar to current cycling trips

In other words, the kinds of ordinary day-to-day trips that are seen in Dutch towns and cities are grossly underrepresented in London.

Now of course not all of these 8.17 million trips – or 41% of total London trips – will necessarily end up actually being cycled, even if London does have a Dutch-quality comprehensive network built across it overnight. This study is only a measure of potential, and even if a trip is potentially cyclable, people may opt to use other modes of transport. So this won’t translate directly into a 41% mode share.

However, there are strong reasons for thinking that London could have a mode share approaching this kind of figure. For one thing, in addition to these 8.17 million trips, there are 1.55 million ‘stages’ (parts of trips) that could be cycled as part of a longer journey by other modes. These are mostly made by bus or underground. That’s a total of 9.71 million trips and stages that could potentially be cycled. Secondly, as already mentioned, this report also (quite rightly) excludes walking trips, but it’s reasonable to assume that a reasonable amount of longer walking trips would be transferred to cycling. And finally, these figures only cover Londoner residents – they don’t cover people who travel into London – so again will likely underestimate cycling potential, particularly in inner London.

In summary, this is a fascinating report that deserves to have a serious influence on transport policy in London, and indeed across urban areas in the United Kingdom, which are of course much more car-dominated than London. If there is such enormous potential in a city that has relatively low car share (at least compared to the rest of the UK), then it is surely even greater in other UK urban areas. Indeed, the potential for the largest shifts away from driving is already acknowledged to be greater away from London.

I’ve only covered some of the highlights here, so it’s worth digging into this report yourself!

Categories: Views

Squeezing out walking and cycling for a few extra car parking spaces – local planning in action

18 July, 2017 - 09:03

Why do we want people to walk and cycle for short trips, instead of driving? One of the main reasons, of course, is public health. If we cycled as much as the Dutch and the Danes in urban areas, figures typically suggest we would trim tens of billions of pounds off the NHS budget over just two decades. Physical inactivity is a huge economic burden.

We can attempt to encourage people to exercise more, and to do more physical activity, by providing facilities that people can use to play sport, or to engage in leisure activity. But the best way to increase physical activity is simply to build it into everyday life – to make walking and cycling obvious choices for ordinary day-to-day trips. Physical activity then doesn’t require any ‘extra’ effort or planning on the part of individuals; it will happen without people even thinking about it.

Kids cycling home from an event in Amsterdam’s Westerpark. This is physical activity; but for these people it’s just everyday life.

Unfortunately this kind of strategic planning is almost entirely absent when we look at how transport decisions are actually made on the ground in Britain. We talk about boosting physical activity and getting people to exercise, but then we go right ahead and put walking and cycling last in our transport planning.

There’s an excellent example of this awful kind of decision-making brewing in Horsham, where the council is planning to expand the amount of car parking at (ironically enough) the town’s leisure centre – Pavilions in the Park – at the expense of walking and cycling, and trees and green space.

The leisure centre is located almost exactly in the centre of the town, on the edge of the town’s park – so it is, theoretically, in an ideal spot for people to walk and cycle to. Most of the town, and its tens of thousands of residents, are within just one mile of it.

Circle showing 1 mile radius from the town’s leisure centre (courtesy of freemaptools)

There is already a fairly large car park in front of the leisure centre, with 208 spaces. The council wants to add 30 or so car parking spaces to the site, while (quite literally) squeezing out walking and cycling access to the centre from the north in order to do so.

At present, there is a fairly attractive pedestrian path that runs directly towards the leisure centre from the main road. It is in the middle of the car park, but you are effectively screened from it by hedges, trees, and planting. There are zebra crossings to give you priority as you enter the site.

Looking towards the leisure centre, in the distance, from the main road. This path is the wide, direct pedestrian access.

The main element of the new plan is essentially to sacrifice this path altogether to add in extra parking spaces, along with the removal of trees and green space at the margins – again, to squeeze in more car parking. A path will still remain, but it will be just 1.2 metres wide (yes, 1.2 metres), and unpleasantly sandwiched between two rows of car parking.

The new path, running roughly horizontally across this diagram, sandwiched between car parking.

As you can see inn the diagram above, the path is explicitly the width of three tactile paving slabs, a Scrooge-like degree of consideration for pedestrian comfort, convenience and safety.

This narrow width will be compromised further by street lighting and inevitable ‘overhanging’ of the path by parked cars. I’m grateful to a member of the Horsham District Cycle Forum for supplying these photos, below, of overhanging parking in the current car park, illustrating just how much a 1.2m path would be narrowed by parking on both sides.

If anyone manages to make it down this narrow corridor between dozens of parked cars on either side, they will then have wiggle through this insulting little maze (still only 1.2 metres wide) around some more car parking, before they finally arrive at the leisure centre.

Compare this path with the existing pedestrian path, which is direct, wide, and attractive at this point – a good piece of public space, albeit one that sits in the middle of a car park.

This bit of public realm will be replaced by extra car parking spaces. This circular space is just about visible to the right on the plans above, obliterated by new parking and asphalt.

Yet this is going to be torn up and replaced with the tiny, circuitous narrow path shown above, all for the sake of squeezing in a handful of extra car parking spaces. In an attempt at justification, it is claimed that the existing central path is little used, but

  • a) no evidence has been presented that that is the case, nor does it sit with my experience, or that of people I know, and
  • b) this is, and will be, the only pedestrian access to the leisure centre from the main road. Justifying desperately low-quality provision on this basis amounts to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In short, walking is treated with complete contempt in these plans – the background assumption seems to be everybody drives to this leisure centre, and will be driving to it, and therefore won’t even bother using this bit of path. Likewise, it appears to be assumed that very few people will walk and cycle here to the centre, and those peasants that are willing to do so will just have to lump it – either walk among the cars in the car park, or wiggle along this very poor, narrow route.

As for cycling, it isn’t strictly permitted on the existing path, and will be utterly impractical on the tiny new path, so again the assumption seems to be that people will have to cycle with the cars, just as they are expected to walk with them. I only managed to pop out to take photos for about five minutes yesterday afternoon, but there were plenty of families and young children cycling to the leisure centre after school either on the existing path, or on pavements.

A child cycling to the centre on the path that will be sacrificed for car parking

A father and daughter cycling to the leisure centre on the pavement. These people exist already and their needs should be catered for, not ignored.

This may or may not be legal, but they are obviously expressing a preference for cycling away from the car park. Forcing people with young children to cycle on the road through the car park will clearly reduce the numbers of people willing to cycle to the leisure centre. A serious disincentive to active travel – all to accommodate more car parking.

The final obstacle is that, as the plan involves adding automatic barriers for drivers on entry and exit, anyone cycling will have negotiate a narrow bypass, again only a metre or so wide, and shared with motorbike users.

The cycle and motorbike entry and exit channel, indicated by the arrow. 

From the scale of these plans, this bit of path will be approximately 1.5m wide, clearly not sufficient for two-way flow. And note that, while this channel is desperately narrow, it sits alongside two exit barriers for motor traffic (in red). An extra exit has been added, with cycling squeezed (just like walking), to allow motorists to make a quick getaway.

These kinds of plans completely undo any public health benefit accruing from the leisure facilities on the site.

Sensible, joined-up planning to improve public health, to reduce congestion and pollution, to make our towns better places to live, should obviously involve planning safe and attractive routes for walking and cycling as a first priority, with space for motoring accommodated around those prioritised walking and cycling routes. Yet here the complete opposite is planned. An already large car park is set to be expanded further, pushing walking and cycling to the margins, removing any incentive people might have had to make healthy transport choices to visit the centre.

These plans are so bad that even the fairly car-centric county council, West Sussex, has flagged up both the awful design of the pedestrian access to the centre –

There is also the matter of the footpath leading through the centre of the site. This is the only segregated pedestrian access from Hurst Road into the site. At present this is generous in terms of width (over 3 metres). The proposed route however is 1.2 metres wide with pinch points due to lighting columns. A width to allow two way movements and the needs of all users should be used.

… and the narrow width (and poor design) of the cycle bypass –

Cyclists/motorcyclists would effectively have to give way to traffic emerging behind them. The narrow width would also make two way movements through this very difficult.

Councils that voice commitments to strategic planning and environmental priorities cannot be taken seriously when they are simultaneously producing awful schemes like this one, plans that stand in direct contravention of local, county and national planning policy.

This scheme simply has to be binned.

Categories: Views

Who is to blame

6 July, 2017 - 16:47

As soon as this video went viral earlier this week, it was clear it would only be a matter of time before it was picked up by tabloid newspapers, with an equally inevitable and predictable framing of the incident.

That is to say, the standard ‘who is to blame’ format.

So, so predictable

Naturally, this involves inviting readers to pass judgement on one of the parties involved, which in practice amounts to a two minutes hate on the people cycling.

Now clearly mistakes are made by the people in the video. It isn’t sensible to position yourself here.

It isn’t sensible to maintain that position, right in front of the HGV, through the junction.

It certainly isn’t sensible to drive such a large vehicle assuming that there isn’t anyone in that kind of position.

But this is all very banal. Focusing on the personal failings of the people in the video means spectacularly missing the point. Minor mistakes should not result in the scene shown in the photograph above – a person very close to death, or at the very least serious injury.

I don’t think either the man cycling, or the man behind the wheel of the HGV, are ‘to blame’ here, in any meaningful sense. The driver in the cab is clearly having to deal with motor traffic on his right hand side, as the two queuing lanes going ahead merge on the far side of the junction. Meanwhile, the (well-known) dreadfully limited direct visibility from the driver’s position means it is far too easy for him to fail to spot multiple human beings immediately in front of his vehicle. There isn’t even a mirror that would have revealed them indirectly.

The driver literally had no idea the man was there until the collision occurred.

Meanwhile the man on the bike clearly makes what, in hindsight, is a bad decision. But it’s a bad decisions that is actively encouraged by the way we paint our roads. We put painted lanes by the kerb on the run up to junctions. We paint Advanced Stop Lines in front of HGVs. It’s entirely natural, therefore, to expect human beings to cycle up to the front of a junction, both because that’s instinctive, and also because the way we paint roads promotes this kind of behaviour.

Now it turns out that this junction didn’t have an Advanced Stop Line. But how are you supposed to know that when you are approaching it?

By the time you arrive at the junction, it is too late, and you, and several other people, are effectively trapped in an extremely dangerous position, with the best option probably being to bail out onto the pavement, or to jump the lights.

Is that really something we can expect people to do? It seems to me to be as unlikely as expecting HGV drivers to never fail to spot human beings in close proximity to their vehicles. We have a dangerous situation, created by design.

So who is actually ‘to blame’ here?

It’s not the individuals – it’s the system. A system that thinks it’s acceptable to mix human beings and enormous vehicles with very limited visibility, and hopes that nobody makes a minor mistake. There simply isn’t any excuse for designing roads that create situations like the one in the photograph above. Those people should be separated from that HGV entirely at this kind of junction.

If that isn’t possible, then HGVs of this scale simply shouldn’t be permitted to use that junction. We have graphic evidence of just how dangerous it is to combine human beings and HGVs in that space.

So we know what the solutions are. Every time an incident like this happens and we blame the individuals concerned for making mistakes, rather than the system that means those mistakes are inevitable and lethal, we will fail to prevent incidents like this from happening again. It has to stop.

Categories: Views

Getting side roads right

27 June, 2017 - 15:59

A bit of a picture post this one. Below are twenty photographs of cycleways crossing side roads, all from my week in the Netherlands earlier this month. In order, they are in Delft, Gouda, Den Bosch, Nijmegen, Arnhem and Amsterdam. They are from a mix of suburban, city centre and rural locations.

They’re a mix of bi-directional and uni-directional cycleways, and some form part of raised humps, while others are flush with the road surface. But beyond that, they are all very similar.

Firstly, although it might not be clear from the photographs, all the side roads being crossed will have limited flows of motor traffic. They all run across access roads; roads that are carefully designed to only allow motor traffic for access purposes. These are not roads that people will be turning into to drive off somewhere else – they will be accessing properties on that road, or just off it. In some cases the roads are either exit-only (as in the last example) or entrance-only – all part of this system of limiting the amount of motor traffic on these kinds of streets. This is important, because it limits the number of interactions anyone using these cycleways will have with motor traffic.

Secondly, all these cycleway crossings are designed in precisely the same way. All are composed of uniform red asphalt, with absolutely no markings or ‘breaks’ across the cycleway as it passes the side road. There is absolutely clear visual continuity, and this goes for the footways that in some examples run in parallel across the side roads. This is important because it shows precisely who has right of way at these junctions, with absolutely no ambiguity.

Unfortunately this is something we aren’t quite getting right in the UK. Here are some side road examples from Mini Holland schemes in London – in Waltham Forest and in Enfield.

Side road treatment Enfield A105

— brian deegan (@bricycle) April 14, 2017

Lured onto this path while heading east I had to bunny hop to the road as I saw priority disappearing! Incomplete or by design? #miniholland

— Streets for people (@BrendaPuech) April 2, 2017

Enfield mini-Holland. The calmness of the main road compared to neighbouring streets was palpable. The modal filer is old but improved.

— Maps Man (@don_dapper) April 1, 2017

This is it in action. Slightly cautious as it had barriers obscuring sightlines.

— Hal Haines (@halhaines) May 24, 2017

Rode Enfield's new #miniholland A105 cycle tracks yesterday – could do with some some minor tweaks, but overall pretty impressive!

— Paul Gasson (@AnalogPuss) May 24, 2017

To be clear, these all look like very promising cycling schemes. But they are being let down by this minor technical detail. Namely, those kerbs across the cycleway where it meets the road, and the changes in colour, simply shouldn’t be there.

They suggest that the cycleway is temporarily ‘intruding’ on the road, instead of clearly continuing across it, and to that extent they introduce an element of dangerous ambiguity. Drivers might assume that because the cycleway ‘stops’ at the road (it changes colour, and has a line across it) they have priority, while, at the same time, someone cycling might be assuming the exact opposite, that they have priority. That’s a recipe for collisions.

Of course if we want people cycling to give way, instead of having priority, then that should be made clear too. This is more appropriate on faster and busier junctions, typically on roundabouts in rural areas in the Netherlands.

But either way, we need to make it absolutely clear who has priority. In urban areas, crossing minor side roads, that absolutely means cycleways shouldn’t have breaks or interruptions in them, at precisely the point we need to make priority clear.

Let’s get this right, so those promising schemes work for everyone.

Categories: Views

A continuum of mobility

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

In favour of cycling

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 small section of the Central London Grid

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

The Fall Guy

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

Polluted thinking

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

The quick, the cheap and the temporary

6 April, 2017 - 12:40

I think it’s worth jotting down some thoughts on ‘temporary’ cycling infrastructure interventions, given that the new (or not so new) Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has expressed an interest in them.

In response to questioning from Michael Gove during an evidence session of the Committee on Exiting the European Union, Khan had this to say –

When these lanes [the new protected Superhighways] were constructed, they were constructed in a way that caused huge upheaval and chaos in some of our streets in London.  When you look at successful segregated cycle superhighways around the world, they are not permanent structures.  They start off as temporary structures which cause less chaos during the “construction phase”, but the beautiful thing is that if they are temporary then you can suck it and see.  You can move them with minimal disruption if they are causing, what experts call pinch points.

First things first, it is simply not true to say that ‘successful’ cycleways around the world ‘are not permanent structures’. High quality cycling infrastructure is permanent, be that in the Netherlands, or Denmark, or the United States, or right here in the UK. They are designed properly, built to accommodate existing and potential demand, and are an integral element of the streetscape.

Brand-new cycling infrastructure in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Very permanent.

Khan’s statement is also perplexing in that he seems to believe building temporary structures, and then converting them into permanent ones, ’causes less chaos’ than simply building permanent infrastructure. Of course, it’s quicker to put in ‘temporary’ infrastructure than building permanent infrastructure, but you can’t simply bypass the process of building permanent structures altogether by doing so. It still has to happen. So if anything, building something temporary and subsequently converting that temporary structure to a permanent one actually increases disruption, rather than reducing it.

That said, I do think ‘temporary’ interventions do have an important role to play. They can be used to build pretty effective infrastructure fairly quickly. A case in point is the ‘temporary’ arrangement at the Blackfriars slip road, where the junction of CS3 and CS6 has been moved while the Thames Tideway Tunnel is being constructed.

This will actually be in place for several years, but I think it does (and will do) a pretty good job, despite being composed almost entirely of rubber kerbs that are simply bolted to the road, combined with wands. It only took a few weeks to implement (although it has clearly been planned just as much as the permanent cycle infrastructure that surrounds it). I’m certainly a fan of this kind of quick and cheap intervention, which closely resembles the amount of protection offered by permanent kerbs, and definitely not a fan of the ‘light segregation’ interventions that can simply be driven over, like ‘armadillos’.

In addition, temporary infrastructure can – as Khan implies – be used to test how things work, and to prove to sceptics that chaos won’t ensue once changes take place. Or to show, quickly and easily, how our streets and roads can be made safe, and more attractive, at minimal cost. This is an approach emphasised by Janette Sadik-Khan, the former transportation commissioner of New York, in this recent interview with London’s own (new) walking and cycling commissioner –

Her thoughts on how to overcome London’s challenges are straightforward: set a vision, and move quickly; trial street closures so people can see that change is possible, and know it can be reversed if they don’t like it. In New York, the administration faced legal action and claims from some residents and businesses that the city would grind to a halt if you took space away from motor traffic. As she discovered, the opposite happened. People just needed to see it to believe it, she argues.

And this approach has been employed – to a limited extent – in London, with notable examples being the fairly rapid conversion of Tavistock Place to a one-way road with two wider cycleways on each side of the road –

… and the Walthamstow Village scheme, a three week trial that closed Orford Road to motor traffic.

However, in both these cases, the respective councils – Camden, and Waltham Forest – clearly saw these ‘temporary’ approaches as a mere stepping stone towards the permanent implementation of interventions they had already thoroughly planned. In Waltham Forest, that permanent intervention is now already in place, and in Camden, the permanent changes to Tavistock Place have only been delayed as a result of some legal wrangling.

In other words, the ‘temporary’ wasn’t an end in itself, or a way of implementing changes quickly to minimise disruption. It was just a small part of a planned process of moving towards permanent change, implemented by councils who have confidence in what they are doing, and the backbone to stand up to criticism.

It’s also hard to see what advantages would accrue from building large schemes like CS3 or CS6 – in combination, several miles long – in ‘temporary’ form, given that despite all the (often justified hype) they are really the bare minimum of cycle provision we should be expecting. We certainly should not be providing anything less than 3-4m wide bi-directional cycleways on main arterial roads in cities, so what is gained by temporary implementation? They might be quicker to build, but if they are going to be turned into permanent structures at some later date, disruption is only being deferred, not avoided (and indeed being duplicated). Joe Dunckley has also explained why ‘temporary’ interventions aren’t ever really going to be appropriate for major schemes. The job has to be done properly, or not at all.

And this is what is slightly concerning about Khan’s comments  (and this is not the only time he has made reference to the downsides of ‘permanent’ cycling infrastructure, versus temporary infrastructure). They don’t strike me as being made out of enthusiasm for getting cycling infrastructure in place quickly and cheaply, as part of a clear strategy to make the intervention permanent at a later date – the approach employed in New York, and in Camden and Waltham Forest. Instead they appear to reflect a nervousness – dare I say it, a cowardice – about implementation. When Khan says that ‘the beautiful thing is that if they are temporary… You can move them with minimal disruption if they are causing, what experts call pinch points’ – that appears to be an open door for watering down, or even removal altogether, if cycling infrastructure is ‘causing congestion’.

It’s entirely understandable that organisations with a vested interest in ‘maintaining motor traffic flow’ are very keen on cycling infrastructure that can quickly be done away with. So a Mayor who seems keen on ‘temporary interventions’ for much the same reasons isn’t particularly reassuring.

Categories: Views