The Great Big Vision Thing Bike Blog Roundup

The Scottish Government set the tone for this week when it released its long term vision for active travel amid confusion over whether it offered a target, vision or aspiration - or just a way of getting rid of an inconvenient number. Either way, a quick glance at, well, any road suggests it's got a long way to go - whether or not it is brave enough to champion strict liability.

Political vision

Action-free aspirational documents aside, what's really needed is political vision - as demonstrated by the Mayor of Pittsburgh who's managed to put in segregated bike lanes in just four months - while New York's new mayor is continuing the work of his predecessor. Or even (never thought we'd say this) the Mayor of London, standing firm on the need for segregation on the East-West cycle superhighway, a position backed by nine out of ten Londoners. Pedal on Parliament hope that Scotland's new first minister Nicola Sturgeon will show a similar vision although her new transport minister doesn't bode particularly well, while in Wales the Welsh Active Travel Act will only make a real difference if cyclists organise around it. At a local level, while Newcastle apparently tops the league for political will at least according to the share councillors signing up to Space 4 Cycling, it's in Hounslow that action is already taking place on the ground, while in Lambeth the will seems to be there, but it's up to people to keep responding to consultations to keep them up to the mark (and Wandsworth manages to remove a whole gyratory and still not find any space for cycling). When it comes to building that political vision, the London campaigners' conference offers some inspiration and information, while in the US a hackathon helps generate the tools campaigners need and a McKinsey report provides yet more reasons for investing in active travel to combat the ills of society that politicians say they want to tackle.

Wrong vision?

Of course it might help if we were all chasing the right visions - Ranty Highwayman gets us off to a good (if somewhat scatalogical start) by slaying some sacred cowpats. As Easy as Riding a Bike points out that bypasses can be fine as long as they are part of a package of measures to cut through traffic - and that the cycle routes that were promised as part of them don't suddenly evaporate the minute the go-ahead is given. Cycle trainers shouldn't allow themselves to be used as a reason for not putting in infrastructure - while it's always instructive to consider your city from the perspective of a true 8-80 expert. Modelling the worst case scenarios for traffic schemes can be very misleading - perhaps architects rather than traffic engineers are better placed to model a cycling city. High line parks and trails can form a useful link in the chain of bike provision, but not if they're closed at night and definitely not if bikes are banned altogether to stop them destroying the 'peace and quiet'. The extra cost of solar paths, cool as they are shouldn't come out of the cycling budget. As part of its design manual consultation, Sustrans argue that placemaking is an increasing part of an engineer's vocabulary but however fancy the paving you can't make a major road into a 'place' if there's still heavy traffic thundering along it, something the Americans might want to bear in mind as shared space starts to get a bit of traction in places as far apart as Sacramento and Brooklyn. And while we're at it, Kennington People on Bikes objects to cycle proofing on linguistic grounds.

Vision Zero

One vision gaining increasing ground in the US is Sweden's Vision Zero approach to traffic deaths, with some collective principles emerging from the New York Symposium - and possibly even a national movement

Modest vision

Meanwhile the rest of us have to be satisfied with rather more modest ambitions - such as seven new bike routes in Manchester, now out to consultation, including the Oxford Road route which offers some separation from traffic (albiet calling it 'Dutch' might be a bit of a stretch). Plans for the Elephant and Castle show minor improvements but still not enough space for cycling. Southampton plans semi-segregation for one cycle route - and Oxford already has a semi-decent cycle path albeit a two way one. If there have to be steps on a route is it too much to ask that wheeling ramps be available on both sides? ('Yes' would appear to be the answer). And further afield, Toronto is beginning to realise that protected bike lanes raise the need for protected junctions, small changes make a bit of a difference in Calgary (and could make a difference to a bike boulevard in Minnesota), and there is now at least one bicycle friendly community in every state of the US. And even in bicycle paradise, when it comes to cycling through the winter, some of the gripes of cyclists might be familiar...

A metaphorical lack of vision...

Despite calls for a bit more vision, long memories and eagle eyes reveal a recurring lack of ambition with in the DfT which offers a chicken and egg solution to cycling - despite the fact that predict and provide for cars has had a terrible effect. Anything more ambitions - such as a cycle path with priority over a minor road - gets removed on safety grounds (which is slightly better than removing priority because it's proving too popular). Planned exemplar cycle tracks down Edinburgh's Leith Walk may never get built, while Glasgow's flagship cycle route is already holed and sinking - did the city grant its cycling award to itself? It is, after all 'miles ahead' of everywhere else - and if you've got any comment to make on that this may come in handy. Elsewhere, a shared path done with minimal disturbance to anything delivers a minimal sort of a route, Sheffield council is caught bang to rights when it claims pinchpoint money can't be spent on cycling, and a cycle lane is not a cycle lane when it's also a taxi rank

... and a literal one

This week we've been reminded to look out for each other as part of road safety week - but that's hard to do when your bike path is pitch dark - and when the sun does rise it's in the drivers' eyes, not helped by those pesky shape-shifting cyclists. Whether it's a genuine Smidsy or a punishment pass the emotional impact of a near miss can be as important as the danger - and sometimes when a driver does kill someone it can be the fault of the road as much as of the person, as a road safety petition acknowledges; nobody really wants to kill their friend.

The image thing

Moving on from visions to images, in the week we learned that the quintessential cyclist is a MAMWG (a middle-aged man with a Guardian), images are sought to help normalise cycling in Lambeth, while one woman in Egypt tries to tackle far more entrenched stereotypes especially around women cycling. More seriously, TfL's consultations show that they're continuing to treat bikes as if they were cars whereas a busy Dutch junction shows how bikes can handle multiple apparent conflicts with each other with ease; it's trying to make them share with pedestrians that causes grief unless pedestrian numbers are really low or spaces can be made completely car free and hence misleading signals removed.

A livable city (and country)...

As America starts to think about what makes an 8-80 city, elsewhere, communities are having to apply for grants even to put in sidewalks so kids can get to school, while even in a walkable and bikeable city fear of traffic puts parents off - and don't think that's just an American problem either. Safety should be about taming people but taming traffic to create healthy cities - something Manchester might be learning soon. Minneapolis is still managing to be both affordable and bike friendly, but some fears about bike lanes and gentrification reflect broader changes that simply don't get discussed elsewhere - and you can live 'here' without a car, wherever 'here' may be. A little noted point about Dutch bike tracks is how beautifully landscaped they often are - and it's not just air pollution but noise pollution that disappears in a cycling city.

But it's not just about cities - there are benefits to promoting cycling in national parks, and even in rural areas Minnesotans support cycling and walking infrastructure while businesses around Loch Lomond are to be offered free bike racks to encourage cycling visitors to spend more - one planned Chicago cafe already sees the benefit of siting itself near where the cyclists are.

Follow the money

In fact, following the money might just encourage a bit of vision among our politicians as this week saw yet more evidence on the return on investment on cycling infrastructure over road maintenance (something to add to the pile amassed here), plus a guide to leveraging health funding for active travel in the US. But if that all seems a bit remote, there are personal benefits too - from tax efficiency to an instant pay rise to becoming a millionaire. Bikes can also bring clean water to remote communities, help farmers (at least those with thighs of steel), and bring beer and coffee to the rest of us - and even the Met Police have been seeing the financial benefit of bikes, at least when their owners break the law.

Police confusion

In fact, the police seemed more than usually confused this week, stopping Jeremy Vine for speeding even though the speed limit didn't apply to bikes. Greater Manchester police seem equally confused over what constitutes safe driving, while Glasgow's finest were called to get a dangerous cyclist out of a McDonald's - he should be pleased he didn't try and go to a Taco Bell. A police chief in Alaska has come up with a novel way of making drivers look out for cyclists (just don't phone in when you're driving...), while Batman shows admirable civic responsibility when parking the Batmobile and one cyclist attempts to hold back the motorised tide in Beijing singlehandedly. And for anyone not 100% certain of the law themselves, help is at hand, whether it's your blood alcohol level or what you've got on your head (spoiler alert: it doesn't matter).

Standing up to be counted

There was more data-driven dicussion this week again, including two women who are helping to rebalance lack of representation on Bicycle advisory committees, while Hackney's app reveals a gender gap on the roads, with all the usual caveats about statistical significance obviously applying. Portland will be using the data from its greenways to try and improve its network - but is your city serious about counting skateboarders - undoubtedly one of the many ways young people in Bristol choose to get to work, seeing as they don't bother with cars.

And finally

So much to choose from - from Bikeyface on the irritations of well-meaning helmet advice guy to the spread of the sparkly bike lane (what happened to the Cambridge one though?), to the continuing mystery of the lack of bikes in disaster movies to the mad bicycle scientist of Seattle, that it was hard to choose just one. Enjoy.


Definitely a bit of "police confusion" here I think.  I know that there is a single police force in Scotland now but I doubt that it was "Glasgow's Finest" who attened the call at McDonalds on Union Street, Aberdeen at 1 am :)