Tag Archives: cycling

A seaside safari, again

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Back in August, Jim led a successful seaside safari in Worthing and Brighton, on which we looked at the good, the bad, and ugly bits of south coast infrastructure for cycling… while, of course, having a nice leisurely bicycle ride beside the beach in the sunshine.

Despite the latest easterly’s feeble attempts at bringing us one last delivery of snow and ice, it can not be too long before we have to start thinking again about days out on the south coast. I am therefore proposing a seaside safari to Britain’s sunniest town and original seaside holiday resort: Weymouth.

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Weymouth could be an interesting little case study for infrastructure: a somewhat smaller town than those we’ve visited on previous safaris, with the inter-urban Olympic cycle track on the main road into the town and, like Bristol, a growing network of away-from-road multi-user paths, including the Rodwell Trail railway path. It also has some infrastructure on hills.

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I’m proposing Saturday 18th May (while folk at the other end of the island are Pedalling on Parliament), meeting at Dorchester South at 11:52, for the (6 full-size bicycles per train) arrival from Waterloo. Folk travelling from or through Bristol would arrive five minutes earlier a couple of hundred yards away at Dorchester West. We’d spend an hour or two — depending on how fascinated everyone is by the infrastructure design — covering the 7.5 miles / 12 kms of mostly traffic-free route to the sea front for lunch, followed by options for further rides (probably the Rodwell Trail out to Portland Harbour and Chesil Beach), ending at a pub near to Weymouth station, or else the option for folk to split off for their own family afternoons with the Punch and Judy shows on the beach.

But that’s only if enough people express an interest. Is anybody interested?

Update: I have had sufficient interest here and on twitter/email/etc to give the go ahead exactly as described above. And cheap advance train tickets have just gone on sale today. If you want to reserve bicycle spaces with your ticket, I’d buy from the East Coast website. Though those with railcards (including the Network Card) might find that a flexible walkup ticket is not a bad deal on the weekend.

Condensing all this cycling stuff into eight minutes

On Wednesday afternoon I spent an hour chatting with Rachel Aldred at the University of Westminster. You might know Rachel from the likes of the Cycling Cultures research project, or from the London Cycling Campaign policy committee, for which she has just taken the chair, or from her blog.

We talked about the importance of researching cycling, Cycling Cultures, the “Get Britain Cycling” parliamentary inquiry, including what the barriers to cycling in Britain are and the infrastructural and systemic changes that are required to enable cycling, and about Rachel’s latest research into the uses and abuses of transport modelling. We also chatted about cycling campaigning: her research into it, and the great effect that the internet is having on it, plus her own work for the LCC.

Among other things, the ‘uhms’ and ‘ahs’ and ‘oh, no, lets do that bit agains’ and ‘who would have guessed radio could be difficult?s’ have been cut out, leaving eight minutes to be included in The Pod Delusion, broadcast in London at 11am tomorrow (Sunday) on Resonance 104.4, or else podcasted here. A longer half-hour cut which includes the campaigning chat should also be made available to download there, or here, or somewhere, at some point.

I fear eight minutes chat might not have been enough to discuss the entirety a topic that deserves to have a book written about it (agents and publishers can contact me on the email address in the about page if they’re looking for suggestions for the person to write it), and that we were perhaps talking a little too much to our already well-versed blog audiences rather than the general Pod Delusion audience. But if you liked it, I might consider leaving the comfort of the word processor behind again in the future.

That’s if I can find a way to get over that whole horror of hearing how your own voice really sounds thing.

“All that blogging has achieved is ‘Go Dutch’,” and other flattering criticisms

I had a most entertaining conversation after the Street Talks just past. I was ambushed by a cycling campaigner of the old school, for want of a better set of words. He helps to run a national club for cycling and cyclesport enthusiasts. You might have heard of them from their occasional forays into matters of transport policy.

This gentleman and I knew each other from previous transport policy discussions, and he was keen to pursue a particular pet issue of his — the idea that for “cyclists” to have political influence they must resolve their differences and present a united front. (Why that idea is wrong is not for this post.) Specifically, the conversation concerned whether there is any appetite amongst representatives of those campaigns which I have been involved in or support to have meetings with him and his own club, with the aim of resolving those differences and producing that united front.

I explained why I thought that any appetite was unlikely to be a large one, given our experience of such talking shops and our scepticism of that “united front” premise. The entertainment began when I suggested a far better method of achieving progress than small groups talking for a couple of hours behind closed doors (usually at length about the pet issues of whichever person can talk the longest and interrupt the most often): blogging. I hardly need to explain the merits of blogging to you. Writing is an excellent method of disciplining and clarifying thoughts and ideas, something that my brain is usually otherwise unable to do fast enough in flowing live discussion. Writing publicly doubly so, for if you are going to announce adherence to an idea in a form that attaches it to your name for all to see, potentially permanently, you make extra effort to ensure that it is not a foolish one. Blogging is primarily a means of motivating oneself to research a subject meticulously, and think the issues through thoroughly. But of course it’s much more besides. It’s a means of getting those ideas reviewed, by others who might bring facts that you missed and perspectives which were unavailable — a much wider, more diverse and more interesting group of others, in my experience, than the men (for it is they) who invite each other to discuss cycle campaigning behind closed doors.

These are, of course, just the same old centuries old processes by which ideas have been developed and spread. Blogging is simply the easiest technology with which to do it these days.

But you know all this.

This gentleman, however — this fan of monocultural behind-closed-doors cyclist talking shops — has his own ideas about what blogging is, and he started by stating very bluntly that he will never ever participate in such things, useful, as they are, only for “preaching to the converted” (show of hands who was converted by the revelations of the likes of A View From The Cycle Path. OK, order, settle down again now everybody).* All that bloggers have achieved, he said, is Go Dutch — “a failed campaign”.

I believe that the London Cycling Campaign perhaps deserve some share of this most flattering of put downs — this backhanded criticism, if you’ll allow such a phrase — but he is certainly right that the campaign would never have happened without David Hembrow and Copenhagenize having shown us what we are missing; without the years of Freewheeler chipping away at the misunderstandings and misinformation of the anti-infrastructuralists, and the received wisdom of British cycle campaigning; without i bike london and Cyclists In The City paving the way at Blackfriars Bridge, drumming up protest on a scale that clubs and campaigning organisations had been failing to do; and without Vole O’ Speed putting the case for the campaign to LCC members.

Those people and many more must each take their share of the blame for Go Dutch. They must take the blame for the most significant shift in the direction, ambition and courage of campaigning in more than half a century. They must take the blame for a coherent campaign with clear vision and simple attractive pitch. They must take the blame for a campaign that people actually thought worth campaigning for, even in the dreich and drizzle, in their thousands. They must take the blame for a protest with a cause that was capable of motivating and attracting more than just the same old crowd, including a healthier-than-usual turnout of women, families and older people. They must take the blame for full-page stories exploring their campaign goals in the Evening Standard and national newspapers. They must take the blame for all of the main mayoral candidates feeling the need to debate the issue in public, and for all of the main mayoral candidates pledging support for their demands. They must take the blame for the first signs of the TfL supertanker turning: for the latest “Cycle Superhighway” designs being a world apart from the earlier routes.

If Go Dutch is all that bloggers have achieved, then in a few short years bloggers have achieved something far more exciting, far more concrete, and far more worthwhile than his club has achieved in decades.

But Go Dutch is a failed campaign, apparently. Because Boris won’t have turned London into Amsterdam by the end of his term. Or something. Luckily, this man and his club have just launched their own campaign, for a “cycling utopia”. So we can all look forward to the great success of that.

I am being unfair. I am judging someone by the ideas they propose in the middle of flowing debate immediately after describing my own lack of comfort with this medium for developing ideas. But there is a point to all this. Go Dutch is an appealing and popular vision. In addition to the thousands of cyclist and would-be-cyclist  supporters it motivated, the LCC campaign marches in step with The Times’ and Cities Fit For Cycling; with the academic community; and with the likes of the Cycling Embassy and dozens of local campaign groups around the country. And here it is being criticised by a man who believes in the utmost necessity of cyclists presenting a united front. I wonder whether he or his club have ever thought to check who it is that’s marching out of step?

* I’ve never really understood “preaching to the converted” as a criticism anyway. The Pope preaches to the converted, and he’s way more influential than the bloke who shouts about salvation on the pavement outside Brixton tube. Preaching to the converted is what motivates the converted to action.

Some notes on the National Cycling Strategy

I wrote this on Monday, but have been so busy I didn’t notice that I hadn’t tidied it up and posted it. But I don’t have time to tidy it up, so here it is, rambling and unfinished, and probably of interest only to a rather limited audience of campaigners…

A flurry of conversation seems to have broken out looking back at the National Cycling Strategy of 1996. This is good: understanding why past policies and campaigns failed, and learning how to do things differently, is important. And the current conversation is centred on a pretty fundamental disagreement over what exactly went wrong with that policy. Freewheeler has already described the dispute over which history is correct, and expresses some scepticism regarding this version of events which was given by Roger Geffen of the CTC:

Back in 1996, the cycling lobby managed to get some ‘fine words’ on cycling written into a new National Cycling Strategy (NCS), together with some ambitious targets for increased cycle use. It had taken several years of persistent effort, led by CTC, to get that far.

However, at that stage, the Government had made no commitment either to fund the NCS, or to integrate it into wider transport policy objectives. In other words, the targets to increase cycling weren’t seen either as a way of contributing to the wider aim of traffic reduction, nor were the aims of reduced traffic or reduced speed seen as necessary for cycling to flourish.

At the very moment when we needed to focus on securing funding for the NCS, and integrating it into a wider policy framework which supported cycling, the cycling lobby instead broke into a big argument about segregation. This merely provided Whitehall with a perfect excuse to allocate no funding to cycling – “if cyclists can’t agree what they want, what’s the point of funding it?” In other words, we allowed ourselves to be divided and ruled. Hence the NCS never got anywhere near achieving its targets (which were then abandoned c8 years later), and we’ve been living with the consequences ever since.

I’ve seen Geffen make these claims before, and, like Freewheeler, I’ve looked for corroborating evidence and never been able to find any. Quite the opposite. Having researched and written about the history of cycling policies (you’ll have to wait for that), I’m having a lot of trouble reconciling Geffen’s memory of the NCS with the published history. Geffen’s account doesn’t fit with what was happening either before or after the adoption of the policy in 1996.

Firstly, Geffen’s description of the policy’s context — that it was the result of years of persistent lobbying effort — doesn’t seem quite right. One must remember that transport policy was actually a comparatively high profile issue in 1996. The third major wave of road building, launched with Thatcher’s 1989 Roads for Prosperity paper, had led to the inevitable backlash and fierce protest, with the M11 Link, Twyford Down, Newbury Bypass and with Swampy at Fairmile. Lefty environmentalists hated the road building, but so did conservatives, concerned about the shires, heritage, their homes, and their chances at the looming election. At the same time the “new realism” of transport policy and planning, which recognised that accommodating car use growth can not be a sustainable policy, was spreading beyond the academy. And so George Young, the bicycling baronet, was appointed Transport Secretary in 1995 in order to shift the department’s policy. Road building was scrapped and the NCS was developed. So if the Conservatives and Labour were falling over themselves to say nice things about cycling in 1996, I fear it was less a case of the government suddenly giving in to CTC lobbying and more to do with the fact that voters across the spectrum had united against the extremely unpopular road building policy.

Second, Geffen portrays a policy which was written and targets which were set, but which then failed to get off the starting blocks because funding was cancelled. But this is not the National Cycling Strategy that the official documents describe. Granted, official documents are themselves hardly to be considered reliable histories of policy, but the discrepancy would still seem to warrant explanation. There are discrepancies with the original NCS document itself, but the more interesting contradictions are with this House of Commons brief history of cycling policy, with the 2005 DfT NCS review document (which led to the replacement of the NCS with Cycling England), and with Golbuff and Aldred’s history of cycling policy.

The National Cycling Strategy obviously failed. But not because it failed to be implemented. Far from quietly disappearing in 1996 while cyclists argued, the incoming Labour government — with John Prescott in charge of transport — took up the policy and increased its priority and the available money. Local authorities were instructed to develop cycling plans in their Local Transport Plans (the process by which central government part funded local transport projects back then). This is what Keith Bingham refers to in the piece that Freewheeler quotes from:

Sir George told us it didn’t need any money as such, because transport planners would be required to include cycling within the budget already provided for general transport development.

The NCS was funded, by the mechanism that was (and in essence still is, with minor variations like LSTF) in place for funding such things, and things did get done. The NCS review of 2005 found that something in the region of £200,000 of the DfT’s money had been spent by local authorities implementing their cycling plans, buying enough paint for 674 advance stop lines, 3093 kilometres of gutter cycle lane/car parking bays, and 4072 kilometres of shared pavements, along with several thousand cycle parking places.

This was an era of a great proliferation in useless facilities, and all the while that this crap got built, people carried on abandoning the bicycle as a mode of transport.

(The decline in use private transport over this period is compensated for by a great increase in the use of trains and, in London at least, buses.)

£200k spread across the whole nation (well, the DfT’s jurisdiction of England excluding London, at least) and several years is obviously as good as nothing — worse than nothing when it’s paying for crap like advance stop lines and other useless lines painted on roads. But how were the government to know otherwise? The mantra of the day was that cyclists are cheap to provide for: all they need is some Sheffield stands, a bit of paint, and “improved road user courtesy“, which is easy, right?

The strategy failed not because of a lack of funding but because of a lack of any understanding in government — national and local — about what needed to be done and why. The miserly sums spent on it merely reflect the fact that nobody had any idea of the scale of the problem or of the substantial changes that are required to fix it.

The main fundamental flaw in the NCS is that which was identified by the 2005 review: that local authorities — overstretched and lacking the necessary expertise, and in some cases actively opposed to the policy — were put in charge of implementing national policy, with inadequate guidance and resources. The miserly sums spent reflect less central government’s refusal to pay, and more local authorities’ lack of clue and/or care about what they actually need to do to break down the barriers to cycling. It’s why Cycling England was created to replace the NCS in response to the 2005 review, with an annual budget soon rising to 2000 times the amount the department was spending each year on local authority delivery of the NCS, and close supervision of what the money was being spent on.

The other big flaw — the one which was only partially recognised by the review — was that guidance for what to provide for cycling was not, and (despite revision) still is not, fit for purpose. Advance stop lines and crappy cycle lanes are what authorities were told they should be painting, and advance stop lines and crappy cycle lanes are what got painted.

The lessons from the NCS episode are that local authorities shouldn’t be put in charge of delivering national transport policies, and that there’s no point in having a policy at all if the people in charge of it don’t know what works and what doesn’t and what actually needs to be done or even why they should be doing it.

The final thing to comment on is the claim that another reason for the failure of the NCS is that it was not set in a wider framework for modal shift. In fact, the history of cycling policy that I’ve given is very closely tied up with the wider transport policies, which are documented at length in Shaw and Docherty’s Traffic Jam — a review of policy in the New Labour era. I’ve already described the context of the rise of the NCS: the dramatic demonstration that public opinion was against road building, a shift in policy away from attempting to accommodate growth in car use, and the installation of a transport secretary friendly to cycling. When Labour took over in 1997, we got in John Prescott a very rare thing: a transport secretary who seemed to actually want the portfolio, and who set out a vision, the New Deal For Transport, the opening lines of which reiterate the consensus for radical change in policy at that time, and propose an “integrated” and “sustainable” transport system. Prescott promised investment across the board, including giving 25 cities tram networks.

But the government were shaken when the “consensus” for reducing car use was challenged by hauliers blockading refineries in 2000, and the new deal had the fight taken out of it when John Prescott moved on from transport in 2001. Transport policy was crippled by the fact that there was strong public opinion against accommodating growth in car and truck use, but some equally strong opinions and powerful forces against taking from the road to provide for the alternatives. And so after Prescott a succession of short tenured transport secretaries — bland career politicians hoping to avoid controversy — passed through without really doing anything much at all. Without any leadership, the the tram networks quietly died, “sustainably” and “integration” lost all meaning, and the National Cycling Strategy plodded along without anybody really noticing how ineffective it was until 2005.

I could continue and go into whether it’s really more important to have one united “cycling lobby” than to at least have a clear voice asking for the right things, either then or now, but this post is already long and rambling enough, and I’ve no time for pruning and editing.

Unskilled and unaware of it (re-post)

It was pointed out to me that I haven’t posted anything for weeks. It will be a few more before the project that has been taking up my time is out of the way. Here, then, is something I wrote way back in November 2010, which seemed relevant given the latest Department for Transport “please play nice on the roads” marketing campaign. If I were writing it today, I’d mention a million other things, and probably do away with the sarcastic transport mode tribalism that amused me so when this blog was young. But I’m not.

In the War Bulletin this week I mentioned a study that found drivers to be at fault in 87% of car/bicycle collisions.  According to the press release and coverage, the study included (but was not limited to) giving cyclists in Melbourne helmetcams, and analysing the footage of 54 “events”, including 2 collisions.  It sounds like the study has a number of limitations — it’s difficult to draw general conclusions about collisions from only 2 of them, and the results were only ever going to apply to the helmet-law and vehicular-cycling environment of Melbourne, and even then only to experienced cyclists who (presumably) were aware that that their own behaviour was being recorded.

The study was conducted by the Monash University Accident Research Centre, who I am sure did a good job.  But unfortunately nothing resembling it appears in their reports and publications, and I can find no evidence that the original research has been made public yet.  (Allowing the world’s media to uncritically churn your press release without being able to see the actual details of the work — and perhaps more importantly, before your fellow academics are allowed to review what you have done — is rather bad form.)  So there’s not really anything more we can say until we can see the study itself, and we may yet find that everything that has been said was wrong.

But the reported findings do fit with what we already know about accident causes and driver behaviour.

The Motorist attitude to their own collisions and near-collisions is a particularly interesting field.  When one suggests that speed cameras might be a good thing, for example, somebody will always pop up to declare that they have been driving at 90mph for decades and never caused a single accident, because they are a perfect driver who knows exactly when speed is appropriate. And it might be true: some people are good drivers and some people are bad drivers.  Trouble is, the driver himself can never know which he is: all drivers believe themselves to be above average.  Everybody is seeing bad driving, but nobody admits to doing it.

In Traffic, Tom Vanderbilt documents the details of the phenomenon of drivers unable to recognise their own lack of skill.  A large part of it he puts down to a lack of feedback.  For example, in the Monash helmetcam study, there were a mere 2 collisions, but there were 6 near-collisions and 46 “other incidents” (the classic Heinrich triangle).  These “other incidents” correspond to those situations where we notice people driving badly.  They occur because the driver failed to spot a hazard or failed to recognise as a hazard something that they did see.  By definition, if they did not see or did not recognise, the driver will never have been aware of the situation.  They will reach their destination assuming that they had done a great job, oblivious to the bad driving that had been recorded.  That’s probably what happened in 52 out of the Monash group’s 54 “events”.

And when the driver does finally notice that they have just been in a near collision, they can congratulate themselves for having the skill to have avoided an actual collision.

Thus reassured of their own driving skills, on the few occasions when they do get some feedback, they find ways to dismiss it.  That horn honk wasn’t aimed at me, or if it was, it must be because the other driver is an impatient egotistical bad driver who wouldn’t recognise good driving like mine.  The police pulled me over because they have a quota to fill, or because they’re anti-Motorist, not because I was driving dangerously.  After all, I already know that I am not a dangerous driver.

And then they crash, and it was an accident, bad luck, a momentary loss of concentration, beyond one’s control.  They couldn’t have caused it, because they already know from their experience and their long record of not causing accidents that they must be a good driver.

The evidence from driving simulation experiments shows that drivers can’t accurately remember what was happening in the lead up to the crash — what they saw and heard, who else was on the road and where and which order and when they appeared; what they were thinking and where they were looking and when they last checked their mirrors.  So they can unconsciously fill in these details with whatever makes them feel the least uncomfortable.

When drivers are shown videos of their driving (from helmetcams, or, as Vanderbilt discusses, Drivecam), most of them are surprised to discover that they have many more bad habits than they were aware of.  And that can create some uncomfortable cognitive dissonance for them, with attempts to deny or justify their behaviour, or, as with speeding, attempts to redefine it as safe.

It’s important to know these things about driver psychology if you’re trying to create a marketing campaign to make drivers be nice, or design ways to rehabilitate careless and dangerous drivers (how does sending a dangerous driver on their way with a £60 fine help anybody when the driver doesn’t have the skills to figure out what they are doing wrong?), or wondering whether to send your helmetcam footage to Roadsafe to be passed on to the offending driver.

And it’s important to know these things about driver psychology when deciding whether motor vehicles can ever share nicely with vulnerable road users.

Why Bristol is still failing to be a cycling city

In writing up the Cycling Embassy’s AGM infrastructure safaris, I said some nice things about Bristol. I think it’s the least worst city for getting around by bicycle in Britain. But despite the good things that Cycling England’s demonstration city project achieved, and the city council’s boasts about it, Bristol has failed to become a cycling city where it most matters.

The city was named and shamed by The Times for one of the worst junctions in the country, the St James Barton roundabout — aka The Bearpit — on the inner ring road. Four lanes of circulating traffic forming a formidable barrier to getting into the city centre from the arterial roads that terminate here. But while one wing of the city council considers new variations on the Great British shared facility — awkward kludges to work around the mistakes and omissions of the 1960s — another is independently working on “public realm improvements” just yards away, each apparently oblivious to what the other is doing. And neither of them seems to have a clue that this is a “cycling city”.

Regular readers might already be familiar with the street that they wish to improve: the A38, one of those arteries terminating at St James Barton. It’s variously Stokes Croft, Cheltenham Road, and later Gloucester Road. It’s the artery explored in this infrastructure safari, and, a few miles up, the high street that was the subject of this post on how people get to their local shops.

Heading north out of town, if you survive St James Barton, you’ll need to turn onto the bus lane, underneath 51°02, onto Stokes Croft (technically North Street for the first hundred yards or so), and then try to dodge the buses which are overtaking you on the bend ready to immediately pull into the bus stop that’s hidden just behind 51°02′s stilts…

…while on the southbound carriageway a single lane widens into four for stacking at the roundabout, much having been bulldozed out of the way for them half a century ago. Continuing northbound, a section of extra-wide footway — spare space set aside when there were ideas that this road should one day be even wider — is mostly lifeless in this land of the motor…

…and finally, the section of sprawling highway ends abruptly where the old street dimensions and frontages survived the bulldozers… but suffered the years of planning blight from threats of road widening that left them in a poor state of repair and, when occupied at all, usually occupied by the city’s less wholesome businesses.

There’s no doubt that this is a pretty foul place for pedestrians, with a cloud of fumes coming off the four lanes of stacked traffic waiting for the lights; and the cars speeding around the blind bend from the roundabout; and the acres of dead space in the non-standard road layout that encourages non-standard manoeuvres. So the city council are consulting on “public realm improvements” for this area, hoping to bring the pavements alive with people and street cafes. So what are these improvements?

Taking out the bus lane to widen the footway, leaving cyclists with that thoroughly discredited facility, the 1.5m on-carriageway cycle lane, leading cyclists into exactly the same deadly conflict with the bus stop as before, and providing the ever delightful environment of buses pulling in and out inches to the left of you, speeding cars and trucks inches to the right of you.

And acres of dead carriageway replaced with acres of dead pavement, and again, that widely tried and widely failed 1.5 metre cycle lane, a gutter sandwich between traffic and the driver-side doors of the loading and parking bays. But it’s OK, the designers have thought about the needs of cyclists: the loading bays are supposedly  “wide enough to create a safe buffer between car doors and passing cyclists”. And a raised table will apparently slow drivers down as they nudge the steering wheel slightly to turn across the cycle lane into that grossly distended side road, King Square Avenue, so that’s alright then.

No doubt the trees and fancy fashionable paving will make this a less awful place to be on foot, but I’m not sure people will be rushing to set up pavement cafes next to the totally unchanged four-lane stacked traffic. It’s treatment of symptoms without addressing the real causes of the problems here.

More to the point, it’s still useless if you’re on a bicycle, because, like everything built by the city’s highways engineers, it’s designed with Britain’s useless guidelines and rules. And that’s why Bristol’s authorities can not claim to be administering a cycling city. The great things that have been achieved in the city can be attributed to either the few excellent hard working cycling officers, or to the consultants and contractors bought in and guided by Cycling England during the demonstration city project. But the cycling office appear to have been put in a silo, able only to get paths put in where they won’t inconvenience anybody — through the parks, behind the allotment gardens, under the electricity pylons; and the hired expertise left when Cycling England and the demonstration city project went up in the bonfire of the quangos. The rest of the council seems to be as oblivious about cycling as any other authority in Britain: the highways department are as obsessed as any other with traffic flow and junction capacity; transport officers are just as obsessed with buses; parking enforcement just as powerless to keep cycle lanes clear; police just as indifferent to dangerous driving. It’s not a cycling city, it’s a city with a cycling department.

You can see it when a southern bypass is proposed with a 1.5m wide pavement cycling facility; when the flagship cycle path is suggested as the perfect location for a BRT line; when quaysides and riverside paths — crucial for linking together the network of traffic-free cycle routes in the city centre — are left impassable for years due to construction work (or lack of it); and every time the highways department puts in another 1.5m cycle lane in the gutter underneath the car parking.

All of the candidates to be Bristol’s first mayor say they want to be in charge of a cycling city (even if one of them doesn’t mean it) and all of them recognise that there’s a way to go before they can claim to be so. If they’re to get there, they need all their officers behind them, not just the few in the cycle paths office.

The crap cycle facility to the isles

Glenfinnan

In January I said some nice things about the Caledonia Way, what is shaping up to be a very nice leisure (and perhaps, for some locals, plain utility) ride between Oban and Fort William, via Glencoe. I never got around to writing the other half of the story: the road to the isles. I don’t really have any interesting point to make about it, it’s just an excuse to post pictures of pretty places and crap cycle tracks. Continue reading

Who is shopping on Leith Walk?

On The Scotsman, Grant Kavanagh, owner of a print shop on Leith Walk, pleas for space on the street to be given not to proper cycling infrastructure but to more car parking. These are Kavanagh’s arguments:

Parking on Leith Walk is a real problem for businesses at the moment and it’s really a case of motorists bringing a lot more business than cyclists.

Everyone who lives and works on Leith Walk wants it restored so that we can encourage people back into the area. If people cannot park then they will not come down to Leith Walk and that will not help us at all.

There is a vast difference between the number of vehicles that pass down Leith Walk in comparison with the number of bikes, so I don’t understand the need for dedicated lanes for minority road users.

I don’t think I need to address that last claim — about cycling infrastructure being for the minority who are Cyclists — so soon after writing about it at length. It’s the earlier ones that merit a further look.

Kavanagh clearly believes that the businesses on Leith Walk are, or are capable of, attracting customers from all over Edinburgh, who drive in and park up to shop. His belief is quite typical of small retail business owners. We have developed a national myth about the importance of motoring and car parking to urban retail. I’ve written before about how this myth was explored a few years ago on Gloucester Road in Bristol — a road which shares important characteristics with Leith Walk, namely, being an arterial ‘A’ road, running through a densely populated residential neighbourhood, and being lined with small independent businesses and a few convenience stores.

The shopkeepers of Gloucester road were asked to estimate what proportion of their customers came by car. The average answer was more than two fifths. But actually only just over a fifth drove to the shops. They greatly underestimated how many people walked, cycled, or took the bus. Their estimates of how far their customers were travelling was also way out, with business owners believing that they are able to attract customers from miles around — just as Kavanagh does — when in fact most lived a short walk away. And they found little to support the idea that motorists were good customers, with drivers likely to rush in and rush out while pedestrians hang around and visit several different establishments.

Mr Kavanagh’s business is relatively specialist. His is not the only print shop in Edinburgh, but perhaps it is the best quality or best service or best value or for whatever reason he really is able to attract customers from all over the city and beyond. But, and I hope the business owners of Leith Walk will not take this personally, very few of the shops on the street are. I don’t believe that anybody is going miles out of their way to go to a Co-op, a post office, a pharmacy, a bakery, a kebab shop, Tesco Express or their barber, accountant, or solicitor. It should not be taken as a slur on the reputation of the perfectly nice delis and coffee shops to state that almost all of their customers come from no further away than the office buildings a couple of minutes up the road and the tenement blocks around the corner, for this is the nature of delis and coffee shops everywhere.

Leith Walk succeeds as a local high street because its shops and services are mostly local shops and services — the sort of essentials that everybody needs but nobody wants to have to go out of their way to obtain. Which is why I am fairly confident that if you surveyed the people who shop there, you’d find that most live locally and walk, many combine walking with the bus, more than Mr Kavanagh would expect cycle, and a lot fewer than he would believe drive (or ever would drive, however much car parking was provided). My guess is that of those who do drive, a very large proportion are making a journey of just a couple of kilometres — for we know that a large proportion of urban car trips cover very short distances — and that Kavanagh would again be surprised at how many would consider leaving the car behind — indeed, would be relieved to be able to do so — if they were to be given a viable alternative like safe and comfortable cycle tracks. And that would mean fewer local folk clogging up the parking spaces as they stop to spend 89p on milk, and more spaces for those who are driving in from miles around to spend big at the print shop.

But we don’t have to argue over our guesses. Why not test it? The methods of the Bristol study were simple enough, and it might take one person a weekend to replicate, or a small group could do it in an afternoon.

Why do people have such strange ideas about modal choice?

Glasgow’s literacy and numeracy rates are amongst the lowest in Europe. Since it has a smaller population of readers to serve, Glasgow should invest less in schools.

Compared to the rest of Europe, a low proportion of people in Glasgow are healthy. The relatively small number of Glaswegians making use of their health indicates that Glasgow can invest less than the rest of Europe in health services.

Glasgow has the lowest employment rate in the UK. Therefore we should do less to invest in jobs in Glasgow than elsewhere.

Meanwhile, a very low proportion of Glasgow’s population is willing to use a bicycle for transport in the city. Therefore Glasgow should invest very little in providing for bicycle transport

One of my policy recommendations has been implemented by Glasgow City Council. Can you guess which one? That’s right. Glasgow City Council do not interpret a lack of healthy people as a reason not to invest in health services, but they would interpret a fall in the number of people cycling as a reason to cut funding for cycling infrastructure Glasgow.

(For some reason Glasgow City Council do not see the fact that Glasgow residents own a negligible number of electric cars, and indeed that fewer than half of all Glasgow households have access to a car of any kind, as a reason not to give those few who are rich enough to be able afford an electric car a gift of free storage space all over the city.)

It’s obvious enough that investment in literacy, health and jobs is not aimed at helping those who are already healthy educated people in employment, but at those who are not and who would benefit from being so — indeed, that low rates of literacy, health and employment are indicative of problems that politicians should be fixing. So why do people have such difficulty grasping the point of investing in enabling cycling?

I’ve written before about this bizarre idea so frequently cited by politicians (and incorporated into their absurd cost-benefit analysis model for transport infrastructure spending) and commentators these days — that somehow everybody has made a completely free choice, entirely uninformed by the environment around them, the options that have already been provided for, or the constraints imposed by the laws of physics; and that it’s the politician’s job simply to provide for what people have demonstrated is their choice. The absurdity of this position is encapsulated rather well in the fabricated Henry Ford quote beloved of management consultants and self-help book authors — “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.

Stupid though the idea is, I can understand why right-wing politicians and a libertarian government would want to pretend that everybody’s current transport use is the result of a completely free choice and so exactly reflects the modes of transport that we would most like to be using and which the government should provide for, and that therefore any government action which resulted in modal shift would be an unacceptable state intrusion into personal lifestyle choices. What really infuriates me is when campaigners — and it seems to be peculiar to cycling campaigners — hobble their own campaigns with the same stupid idea.

It is an idea that is closely tied up with those soft measures campaigns: it is the idea that there is no point in anybody asking for any kind of cycling infrastructure because there are currently too few cyclists for the request to be heard, therefore we need to focus on “more realistic” soft measures and encouraging more people to ride, until eventually there might be enough cyclists to make an effective lobby. Well if you’re designing your campaigns around policies to provide things for cyclists — to solve “the problems that cyclists face” — of course they will go unheard and ignored, just as a campaign to “solve the problems that cable car users face” would be a stupid way to go about getting a cable car built. Cyclists are “a curious, slightly nutty irrelevance“, and Cyclists campaigning on behalf of Cyclists doubly so. It’s why the Cycling Embassy was so desperately needed — a campaign for a new transport infrastructure for all, not the usual request for a bit more room for Cyclists; it’s why LCC’s Go Dutch campaign succeeds in attracting attention beyond the usual suspects; it’s why the name Cities Fit For Cycling suggests a good campaign, while the headline Save Our Cyclists didn’t.

If you think you can’t campaign for cycling infrastructure because there aren’t enough cyclists, you’re doing it wrong.

The definition of madness

On the Guardian Bike Blog, Tom Richards points out that “while we’d all love better cycling infrastructure, there is neither the money nor the political will…” Therefore we should focus on easier and more populist things — like conquering human nature and legislating to re-educate 30 million people.

Now, leaving aside the fact that the effects of changing driver education (if there are ever any effects at all, and it’s not a very robustly researched field) have long lag times — as long as street lifecycles. And leaving aside the fact that there is no evidence that this sort of intervention would ever actually have any significant effect on the sort of issues we’re concerned about, such as occurrence and severity of motor vehicle/cycle crashes (but if Richards were to propose a randomised controlled trial…). And leaving aside the fact that it could have, at best, only a small effect on the arguably more important issue of barriers to cycling, which are more about subjective assessment of the comfort of the environment than about raw injury statistics, and so can make no significant contribution to solving the wider issues which cycling is tied to. Basically, leaving aside the fact that this is, at best, a mediocre proposal. The interesting question is, why do people keep clinging to these kinds of ideas?

The idea that somehow physical engineering is difficult and expensive and unpopular, while changing human behaviour is quick, easy, cheap and effective, is one that the British are remarkably strongly attached to. It is manifested in a wide variety of rarely very effective campaigns and initiatives, from marketing the unmarketable to the bizarrely widespread belief that obscure details of insurance law are a significant influence on behaviour. One of my favourite examples of the attitude was caught by Freewheeler a couple of years ago, from “3 feet please” campaigner and now ex LCC trustee David Love:

This provoked a response from David Love in the Comments, who among things writes:

Sure, segregation would be great but in London at least there’s no room and no money so it’s not going to happen.
Campaigning for behaviour change is more realistic right now

And there you have the ‘realism’ of a man who is LCC Trustee and Vice Chair.

But the British tradition of soft measures goes far wider, deeper and further back than this. Motorists may moan about having been the victim of a “war” that restricts their freedom, polices their movements, or sends campaigns of severe punishment for accidental and unavoidable infringement of petty rules, but the reality is that right from the start, when the red flag acts were repealed, this country’s response (and that of much of the English-speaking world) to the problems that motorists create on the road has largely been light touch and libertarian, in which the children are simply asked again and again to play nice, even as they become ever greater bullies, and only if they’re really bad might they have their pocket money docked. We encourage and raise awareness, appeal to the legendary British sense of fair play, and still believe that the ideal road is within reach if only we can persuade everybody to get along through courtesy, good manners, and communicating our intentions clearly to one another.

Joe Moran has an entertaining history of this English approach to road safety in the chapter “please don’t be rude on the road” in On Roads. Amongst others he tells the story of Mervyn O’Gorman, who argued against introducing a driving test because all that a motorist should require is a natural “road sense”, and who acted on his belief that the cause of road accidents is poor communication by inventing the Highway Code, a list of mostly legally baseless customs and courtesies, explaining that “is is just as ungentlemanly to be discourteous or to play the fool on the king’s highway as it would be for a man to push his wife off her chair at the Sunday tea table and grab two pieces of cake.” Perhaps most entertaining is his coverage of the period in the 1930s when “courtesy cops” went around with megaphones politely asking errant drivers to behave themselves. He concludes:

Underneath this appeal lay an uncomfortable truth: many members of the respectable middle classes were incompetent drivers who were to blame for fatal road accidents. Rather than turning them into criminals through putative legislation, British traffic law relied on appeals to their sense of fair play. It was always better, went the mantra of the time, to cultivate good habits than propose bad bills. [Sound familiar?] So the courtesy cops did not prosecute motorists; they offered friendly advice to the careless. The Times blamed accidents on what it called ‘motorious carbarians’ — the few bad apples hidden among the vast majority of gentlemanly drivers, who could be relied upon to break the law sensibly. Motoring correspondents railed against excessive regulation in the 1930s in a way that eerily echoes today’s campaigns against speed cameras and road humps. ‘Regulation after regulation pours from the Ministry of Transport in a never-ending flood,’ complained the Daily Mirror in 1934 … but ‘courtesy and good manners may be cultivated easily enough by everyone.’

They say that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. For eighty years or more the answer to motorists playing nice has been just a little bit more education and awareness raising, and look where it has got us. It’s time to call off the search for the British sense of fair play and abandon the naive idea that meaningful and worthwhile change on the road can be achieved with a few gentle nudges.

Testing Edinburgh’s commitment

This perfect test-case for proper infrastructure is something to keep an eye on.

Leith

If the Netherlands had proper stone to build with, it would probably look a bit like Leith… but cycling there would be far less stressful.

Edinburgh, the UK’s only signatory of the Charter of Brussels and somewhere in my top 3 least worst cities for cycling in Britain, made headlines and won some praise a few months ago when, in response to local and national campaigns, lobbying, protest, and the work of a few good local politicians, it was announced that the city would devote at least 5% of its transport budget to cycling. But finding the money for cycling is only half of the struggle: even once you’ve secured it, there are people getting in the way of it happening.

Edinburgh’s cycling infrastructure has so far mostly consisted of a relatively extensive but typically disjointed network of shared-use rail trails and paths through parks, plus the usual variety of scattered crap facilities. It was supplemented this year with a “quality bike corridor” — a local take on the Superficial Cycleway, with subtle red tarmac on a secondary road instead of bright blue paint on a trunk road. But recently the hyperlocal Greener Leith has been reporting on what looks like one of Britain’s best hopes for a proper showcase of the quality that it is possible to achieve, and the numbers and diversity of people using bicycles that follows, by implementing Dutch design principles for cycling infrastructure.

Edinburgh really have no excuse at all for not getting Leith Walk right:

This is exactly the sort of road that needs cycle tracks: an ‘A’-road. Ignore all that nonsense about “well you can’t have cycle tracks everywhere, so there’s no point asking for them anywhere”. You don’t need cycle tracks everywhere. You need cycle tracks on ‘A’-roads, where the higher speeds, the larger vehicles, and the larger volumes of vehicles are big barrier to cycling. Especially so when it’s also a retail high street, a business district, and a high density residential neighbourhood, as this shop and tenement block lined street is.

It has to be rebuilt anyway. A few years ago it was ripped to shreds when preparing the ground for the new tramway that never came, and so for several years it has had a temporary layout with rubber kerbs and plastic street furniture and ever widening and deepening potholes as the authorities argued about whose fault it was that the tram project went horribly wrong. Now with the tram line terminated just short of reaching Leith Walk, the extension indefinitely mothballed, the council can get on with putting the street right. Last month £5.5m was allocated for a major overhaul of the street, so even if Edinburgh hadn’t committed to funding cycling, money shouldn’t matter when the job needs doing anyway.

Leith Walk in the rain

Leith Walk in the rain by stewartbremner, on Flickr

People want it. When asked what they wanted from their street — with a broad remit of design, services, policing, etc — the number one demand from locals was Dutch-style cycling infrastructure. And the council should not need to have great fear of opposition from the sort of outer suburban motorists passing through the inner city that politicians are traditionally keen to keep happy — for reasons that should be obvious from the map.

The route has already been surveyed by Dutch consultants Goudappel Coffeng, who reported on the vast amounts of space available for proper Dutch standard cycle tracks that there is on this street, with its acres of excess capacity, lane widths, turning lanes, stacking lanes, vehicle storage areas, and plain wasted space — and their assessment was made back when they were even expecting 8.0m of the street to have to be dedicated to a tramway which has now been shelved.

Leith Walk

Leith Walk by Chris_Malcolm, on Flickr

With council offices populated by old fashioned highways engineers following inadequate and inappropriate design manuals, excuses will no doubt be desperately sought for why providing properly for cycling on Leith Walk is really impossible, and that anyway the manual says that cyclists love sharing lanes with double deck buses really, and oh are you really sure but that would mean you would have to give way at every side road because it’s beyond our imagination to design a cycle track correctly at side roads. But there really are no excuses left here. The experts have already visited and pointed out how ludicrously easy it should be to get this one right.

We’re in the sad situation where properly designed and implemented infrastructure is so rare in Britain that things that should be boring little local technical matters become projects of national importance in our search for showcases and templates. And a situation where no high quality infrastructure has been achieved by a council without a lot of hand-holding by campaigners, quangos, and the few consultants who get it. So keep an eye on, and if needed lend a hand to, Greener Leith et al. Because Leith Walk should set an example and show off what can be done for cycling, but even if Edinburgh councillors are serious about doing it, it’s extremely unlikely that their officers know how to deliver their policy.

All those helmets posts in one place

Last year I went into some detail about why existing research into the efficacy and safety of helmets for cycling does not come close to the standard of evidence that is normally required and which we would usually demand for a medical intervention (which is what they are). Basically an application to helmets of all those things that Ben Goldacre bangs on about. But I never added an easy to link to contents page when it was complete. So here it is.

Killer Cures: a very brief introduction to why it is so important to do proper thorough research on medical interventions.

So what’s the best evidence we have on bicycle helmets?: a brief review of the research that has been performed on helmet efficacy — how it was done, what it found, and what the limitations of the methods were.

Headline figures: putting the relative risk figures reported by research papers into context of absolute risk.

What is a bicyclist?: looking at one of the major flaws in existing research on helmet efficacy — ignoring the differences between transport, leisure and sport cycling.

Would a helmet help if hit by a car?: a brief diversion into one of the side-arguments, but an important one given that most transport and leisure cycling deaths and serious injuries involve a motor vehicle.

Risk compensation and bicycle helmets: why it’s important to test for potential side-effects of interventions, some of the proposed side-effects, and why the research in this area also has too many limitations.

The BMA, the BMJ, and bicycle helmet policy: introducing the BMA’s position on helmets. Just one of several organisations with a dodgy position, but one that I think is particularly important/interesting.

How did the BMA get bicycle helmets so wrong?: a sort of conclusion piece, reiterating the importance of doing proper research on both the efficacy and the side-effects of medical interventions, and how an organisation which should know better managed to abandon this principle in favour of anecdotes for helmets.

Followed by some frivolous posts:

Cycling to the Olympics? It’s easy, and delightful, and all demographics are doing it.

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Almost a year ago I wrote about the opening of a new 5 mile cycle track, linking Dorchester and Weymouth, built alongside the busy main road that links Weymouth, and the Olympic sailing events, to Dorchester and the wider world. It was not bad — with the exception of rail trails like the Bristol to Bath Path, perhaps it’s the best inter-urban cycleway in the country. Not that this can be considered very great praise.

I thought I’d take a look and see how it’s working out for Weymouth, and I put a little of what I found in the couple of hours I spent in town in this flickr set. Continue reading

John Forester is an asshole

Despite journalists who talk of a cycling “community”, and those beneath them in the bottom half of the internet talking of cyclists and all the evil things that cyclists do, people who use bicycles are a diverse bunch with diverse styles and, as is frequently demonstrated, diverse opinions. But I hope there is one thing on which British cyclists might be able to agree.

John Forester says of The Times Cities Fit For Cycling campaign:

The whole agenda is nothing more than a mix of half-baked ideas. … Consider the emphasis on HGVs. Fit them up to prevent “cyclists from being thrown under the wheels”.

Well, the exact approach to dealing with trucks was an issue we raised with the The Times at the Street Talks brainstorming session. On entirely friendly terms, of course, and all are agreed that there were problems with trucks to solve — they are, after all, a disproportionate source of danger and contributor to the barriers to cycling. Where I think Forester can unite us is in what he says next:

Crazy, who or what is it that reaches out and throws cyclists under the wheels of HGVs? While I don’t know the statistics from detailed studies, and apparently nobody knows, I suggest that the main problem is that cyclists throw themselves under the wheels of such vehicles during turning movements.

Well the Americans might not know much about the problem with trucks, but we know plenty, both from reviews like Morgan et al, and from the cases which make all too frequent headlines.

via Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest

Eilidh Cairns, an experienced commuter cyclist, was killed in February 2009, when a tipper truck driven by Joao Lopes ploughed over her from behind. Lopes was fined £200 for driving with defective vision, but the death was ruled “accidental” and he was free to kill again.

Catriona Patel, an experienced commuter cyclist, was killed in the Monday morning rush hour in June 2009. Pulling away from the Advanced Stop Line as the lights turned green outside Oval Station, a 32-tonne tipper lorry driven by Dennis Putz accelerated into her. Witnesses had to bang on the side of the truck before the oblivious Putz stopped. Putz was a serial dangerous driver, was hung-over — 40% over the limit — and talking on his mobile phone. He denied a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, but was sentenced to 7 years for it.

Brian Dorling, an experienced commuter cyclist and motorcyclist, was killed in the morning rush hour in October last year. A tipper truck turned across his path at the Bow Intersection. They had to use his dental records to identify him.

Deep Lee was struck by a lorry from behind as the lights turned green; Svitlana Tereschenko was killed by a tipper truck whose distracted driver failed to indicate before turning and driving over her. Daniel Cox was run over by a truck which did not have the correct mirrors and whose driver had pulled into the ASL on a red light and was indicating in the opposite direction to which he turned.

Try telling Ian McNicoll that his son Andrew, well versed in cyclecraft as a road and commuter cyclist, should have known better than to throw himself under the wheels of the articulated lorry that side-swiped while overtaking him in Edinburgh. Try telling Debbie Dorling that her cycle and motorcycle-trained husband should have behaved differently at Bow. Try telling Allister Carey that the death of his daughter Eleanor under the wheels of a lorry in Tower Bridge Road was her own fault.

The cycling “community” in this country might not always agree about the most appropriate or desirable method for reducing exposure to danger and its role as a barrier to cycling, but I think at least one thing can unite us: anyone who, knowing little about the world beyond California, says that the problem here is all cyclists’ own fault for throwing themselves under the wheels of trucks, is an asshole who can keep his discredited half-baked ideas to himself.

Dual networks and unravelling routes in Bristol

Stokes Croft

I promised to write up the other infrastructure safaris that the Cycling Embassy took while in Bristol for the AGM in May. David Arditti blogging about the safaris prompted me to get on with it. Previously I showed you the Railway Path. Left to come are a couple of rough and rambling posts, accompanied by Google Earth infrastructure safaris, on Bristol’s arterial cycling infrastructure (below) and city centre streets, hopefully leading to the properly thought out post that will eventually get to the point.

So on the Sunday morning safari we looked at the options for utility cycling between the city centre and residential and commercial neighbourhoods in the north of the city.

As before, for the details, pictures (mostly Mark’s and David’s) and video, it’s recorded as a virtual tour to be taken in Google Maps or downloaded for Google Earth: here is the Google Map tour.

The basic context is that we rode from the city centre through 5km of residential neighbourhoods until we hit the outer ring road. The latter is late 20th century car territory — motorway junctions sending out tentacles of dual carriageway distributor roads to roundabouts around which car oriented commercial development grows. Much of the British aerospace industry, a major Ministry of Defence office, retail and logistics businesses, offices and R&D for tech companies, and a large university rise from a sea of car parks out here in the “North Fringe”, just outside the city boundary in South Gloucestershire, where the council allows that sort of thing. The route we were looking at was therefore one of important traffic flows: two centres of employment (and culture and retail and education) and the residential neighbourhoods they serve.

There are several different arterial routes serving this traffic: of road, rail and cycleway. We headed north on the original artery — the traditional main road, the A38 Stokes Croft/Cheltenham Road/Gloucester Road (turning off onto the lesser Filton Avenue for a shortcut). Just a normal British urban arterial ‘A’ road, 2 lanes + 2 bus lanes where room permits, dozens of buses in peak hours, car parking in the off peak hours, row upon row of shops and houses and little residential side roads. Occasional token painted 1.2m advistory cycle lanes, of no use to anybody under the parked cars.

DSC_5438

We headed back on a new Cycling City funded cycle route, Concorde Way, on about 50:50 residential backstreets and 3.0-3.5m shared paths. The route is not bad. Nowhere near modern Dutch standards, obviously. There are a couple of little fiddly bits with toucans and pavements. There’s a street that’s used by motorists as a ratrun. There are paths as narrow as 3.0m shared between pedestrians and cyclists, despite this being a densely populated urban area. There are paths even narrower than that, briefly, where they reuse the 1970s subways under a motorway junction. There’s a new home zone built on a through trunk cycle route. I wish it were better, but I congratulate its designers for doing so well against all the odds, fighting the rules of British Highways engineering all the way. Aforementioned pinch points aside, it’s not too narrow, it’s not too slow, it’s not too unsafe, it doesn’t ever abandon you. It has advantages, like avoiding all the traffic signals you get on equivalent main roads. It’s a 5km cycle route that works the whole way, and which is enabling people who would not otherwise get around by bicycle to do so, while at the same providing a route that confident and speedy cyclists won’t turn their noses up at.

In that sense, this might look a bit like a case of unravelling routes: putting the cars somewhere else, where they can’t bother the people on foot and on bicycles.

But that this is far from having been satisfactorily achieved is illustrated by the fact that that there are at least as many people on bicycles on the old main road as there are on the dedicated cycle route. Because the cycle route’s one really big flaw is that it isn’t where most people want to be. It runs through a park by a river, through allotment gardens beside the railway cutting, across the wasteground underneath the electricity transmission lines and past the rugby practice field. Politically easy to achieve and physically easy to build, in places where there is little competition for the space. Whereas the main road runs past the shops, and the offices, and all the houses.

And so it appears that this is less like unravelling routes and more like dual networks: the idea that if you just put a basic cycle route on back streets and traffic-free paths to enable children and the less confident to train themselves up, eventually they become confident enough to man up and take the lane with the trucks and buses on Cheltenham Road. The difference is that in most other cases, the quality of the cycling infrastructure is cut to a bare minimum and then cut some more (because it’s just a training network, so what do things like directness and speed and comfort and capacity and actually going somewhere matter?), whereas this one is genuinely good and useful and nice, if you happen to be going in that direction.

It’s great that Bristol has built this, and the several other similar new arterial cycle routes. I don’t blame them for going for this stuff instead of the main roads at this point in time. It’s the politically easy low-hanging fruit of paths across parks, derelict railway corridors and wasteland; and the relatively cheap quick wins of filtered permeability and little paths and bridges here and there to join up riverside paths and quiet streets into longer routes. Of course you’d do those things first.

But the lesson from the Netherlands — who did all the experiments for us, decades ago — is that routes like these will only buy you so much modal shift, and they can’t deliver a whole Cycling City. For most people, if the cycleway doesn’t go where they’re going, they won’t cycle. What really starts to deliver impressive numbers is enabling cycling for all, not just the unusually confident and tolerant few, to ride on that main road, the one where the shops and the offices are, the one with all the residential streets running off it. And what really makes a Cycling City is not routes but a network: if people are to routinely pick the bicycle over the car without thinking or planning, they need to be confident that whatever their journey, especially those to places they’ve never been by bicycle before, they’ll be able to just get on and go without fear of being dumped in traffic on a dual carriageway or multi-lane roundabout.

There is one more artery in this story: the M32 motorway. I wrote about it before — how parks were paved over, railway viaducts blown up, and inner city neighbourhoods bulldozed as it was thrust into the heart of the city. After all the destruction it brought in its path, the final tragedy was that, far from being designed to relieve the old arteries and streets of traffic, allowing the likes of Gloucester Road to be reclaimed from the passing motorist by its residents and shoppers, the motorway was designed to pump an ever greater volume of traffic onto those streets. But it would not be at all difficult to start fixing that mistake — to reclaim the space needed for cycling on the main arteries by sending motorists to the motorway. Which is the point I’ll get to in a future post.

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