Tag Archives: cycling

Bristol: this is an embarrassment, sort it out

Bristol is, I think — and have mentioned here many times — one of the top three least worst cities for cycling in the UK. They understand there that it is the danger and discomfort posed by motor traffic that prevents people from cycling, and it is their steady expansion and improvement to traffic-free routes that enabled a near doubling of cycle modal share for commuting since the 2001 census, to what is, by Britain’s risible standards, a relatively respectable 8%.

And this last week the city invoked jealous looks from the rest of the country on twitter when it opened the consultation on the latest in its long backlog of cycle network infrastructure projects: a proposal for what it describes as a “Dutch-style” bidirectional cycle track alongside a main road and the New Cut of the River Avon a little way south of the city centre. Not because the few hundred metres of cycle track are in themselves all that revolutionary, but because they saw a city quietly getting on with it, happy to replace car parking spaces with cycling infrastructure, and with little of the “Crossrail for bikes”-style hype.

So it should be a subject of great embarrassment for Bristol that at the same time as designing “Dutch-style” cycle tracks that take space from motoring on Clarence Road, it is finalising planning permission for the next Facility Of The Month alongside a big new ringway road — dressed up as a Bus Route — a couple of kilometres to the south.

The latest visuals of the South Bristol Link Road are strong contenders for the most ridiculous artist’s impression of a new road yet — and gosh does that prize have some competition.

_68808465_13.07.16reservedcorridorartisticimpressionfromnewsletter

And amongst the wildflower meadows and sylvan glades of this new paradise, where morning motorists will no doubt be serenaded by songbirds as they speed uninterrupted through the city like they were promised in the car commercials, pedestrians and cyclists will be treated with utterly contemptuous shared pavements.

brt

A nineties throwback, a footway with a white line down it, interrupted by every driveway and sprawling side-road. Straight out of the government’s Manual for Crap Facilities.

Elsewhere Bristol is learning the lesson that much of its first generation cycle infrastructure — the Railway Path, the quaysides, and many dozens of “fiddly little bits” documented in detail by Sam Saunders — is proving inadequate, victim of the city’s small success, as their insufficient capacity and lack of clarity creates conflict between users. Which is why the city is learning to build “Dutch-style” clear cycle tracks — Clarence Road being the latest of a series.

And it’s why it’s so galling to see a proposal for something not even up to standards of that first generation of infrastructure. A facility that is, at best, worthy of Birmingham or South Gloucestershire.

What do we want? Marginal gains!

When do we want them? After a statutory period of public consultation

DSC_7155

Oh, wait, no. The chant that greeted commuters on the Aldgate gyratory from the couple of thousand who turned out at short notice for the LCC “flashride” protest was:

Blue paint: not enough.

We always knew that Boris Johnson’s splashes of blue paint on big main roads were woefully inadequate and as we pause to mark the latest inevitable fatality to occur on the most lethal of the lot, CS2, the last thing we need is friends who tell us to be less ambitious in what we ask for.

The people who came to protest at Aldgate on Friday did so because they knew it was worth their time to do so: they know that what they are asking for is worth asking for. Worth fighting for. They came to ask for things that will make a real difference. A phase change.

Not marginal gains. Not splashes at the margins that “dance and dodge around motor traffic”. Nobody ever came out on a march with pickets asking for marginal gains.

Marginal gains are not enough.

But, despite decades of failing to motivate anybody with the prospect of marginal gains, marginal gains are what some would still have us campaigning for. Why? Because the cycling lobby is too weak. There aren’t enough cyclists to hold any sway.

It’s always good every now and again to have somebody new butt in, who hasn’t been paying attention, to run through and remind us of all the canards and zombie arguments. Welcome, Guy Chapman:

We can formalise the argument with a formula. The extent to which a cause is worth fighting is dependent on the magnitude of the payoff multiplied by the probability of actually getting your way. And the assumption is that there’s an inverse relationship between the magnitude of what’s being asked for and the chances of actually getting it. So we get fans of small payoff campaigns telling proponents of high payoff campaigns to “be realistic”.

Problem is, I reckon they’ve got their probabilities wrong. And they’ve got them wrong precisely because of the fact that you’ll never get people out on the street chanting for marginal gains. All except a small hardcore of campaigners will look at the payoff, shrug, and ask themselves what’s the point. Seeing nothing in it for ordinary people, the media will ignore it and politicians will dismiss it as a single issue minority pressure group asking for favours.

Whereas, if you get your strategy right, if you ask for something that is ambitious enough to motivate people to fight for it, you will have a much better chance of achieving your goal. If it’s attractive enough and inclusive enough to appeal to more than just the usual few suspects. If it has something to offer them.

The reason why we so often don’t get our strategy right all comes back to that pernicious way of thinking that is at the root of so much that is rotten in this field, and is so excellently demonstrated in the first of those tweets:

That is, the tendency towards the assumption of monomodality. In this case it causes us to think about cyclists’ issues, and ask ourselves what cycling campaigns can do for cyclists. Even when discussing the issue of what it takes to enable more people to make more of their journeys by bicycle — what we can do for people currently excluded from cycling — too many contributors to the discussion are encumbered by this idea that this must be a job for cyclists.

And there aren’t enough cyclists, therefore cyclists can’t achieve much.

Therefore there’s no point in trying.

When actually, the correct conclusion to all this is that if we are ever to achieve anything worthwhile, what we ask for has to appeal beyond cyclists: beyond those few who are happy to put that cringe-inducing cliché “keen cyclist” beside their name; beyond the hardcore who turn up to campaign meetings. Beyond the sort of weirdoes who tell to their bewildered friends that it’s fine if you “take the lane”. It has to actually have something obvious to offer to people.

Parliament Square

If you want to motivate and mobilise, your vision needs to make an obvious offer of something worth fighting for. (via Pedestrianise London)

At its finest, Go Dutch does that. It motivates and mobilises people who would just shake their heads in wonderment at the campaigns for marginal gains. It at least brings on board what are usually dismissively filed away under “occasional cyclists” — the third of the population who use their bikes on the very rare occasions when they can do so in a safe environment, but who otherwise leave them languishing in sheds, longing for the opportunity to use them more. It even brings on board a few people who aren’t even occasional cyclists, but who can see the possibilities when they are presented clearly in visualisations like those drawn up for Blackfriars and Parliament Square. Go Dutch motives and mobilises people because it has something to offer them. It gets in the Evening Standard because it’s of interest to ordinary Londoners. And it gets the attention of politicians because it’s for their electorate, not for a minority special interest group.

Marginal gains have nothing to offer to people like m’colleague opposite, who has taken Bikeability and lives on a 20mph street, but who still won’t use her bike for anything other than recreation because to do so in London is far from fun. Marginal gains have nothing to offer to people like my friend Shiv, who, if you even humorously suggest might “take the lane”, will explain that this is a “fucking terrifying” idea. Since they are not cyclists, they are at best going to ignore any campaign to make life marginally easier for cyclists as having nothing to offer them.

Go Dutch does offer something. They can see it making a difference to their lives. That could be for them. They can sign up to that.

Your country needs you

On Friday:

Join the London Cycling Campaign protest ride this Friday calling for clear space for cycling on our streets

Meet 6pm for 6.15pm start at Tower Hill (where it meets Minories) http://goo.gl/maps/8CzmeThe protest ride will last approximately 20-30 minutes, including a brief stop at the junction of A11 Whitechapel Road and A1202 Commercial Street to pay respects at the place where last week’s victim died
The ride will be marshalled by LCC staff and volunteers, and will finish at Altab Ali Park around 6.30pm

And read more about why at ibikelondon.

On Saturday:

National rally against road-building

Saturday 13 July 2013 at Crowhurst, East Sussex

Come to the Combe Haven valley to raise the alarm about Government plans for a massive programme of new roads. Join campaigners from across the UK for a rally and walk along the route of the most destructive and fiercely opposed new road being built in England – the £100 million Bexhill-Hastings Link Road.

That is all.

Stevenage is not Britain

So a dull grey 1950s new town of 85,000 people situated 25km beyond the London boundary on the far side of the Hertfordshire green belt seems to have become the unlikely topic that has dominated cycle campaigning discussion all spring. Driving this agenda is Carlton Reid, starting with his Roads Were Not Built For Cars blog describing the dense network of separated cycle paths that were built alongside the town’s big dual carriageway roads, and under the roundabout intersections, when the new town was laid out five decades ago.

Despite its network of “Dutch-style” cycle paths, Stevenage now has a modal share for cycling in the low single figures, just like its cycle track-free neighbours: it’s a typical British town, Reid points out.

The reason the cycle tracks didn’t work in Stevenage, he goes on to explain, is that car use was not restrained. The dense network of cycle paths parallels a dense network of high-speed dual carriageway motor roads linked with high-capacity roundabouts.

Others have already pointed out that the Stevenage cycle path network is ossified in its 1960s state, detached from the parts of the town that have grown since then. And others have already pointed out that the quality of the infrastructure is frequently far below modern Dutch standards, and doesn’t come close to the density of modern Dutch networks — accompanying only the biggest dual carriageway roads, with cycle users still expected to mix on through distributor roads that are much busier and faster than they would be expected to use in the Netherlands. And others have pointed out that the 14% mode share for cycling that Stevenage achieved in the 1970s — before the infrastructure had fallen so far behind the town’s expansion — is actually quite impressive for a town built for driving at a time when cycling in Britain was hitting rock bottom.

So I have no intention of discussing those things, or whether Reid is right to shrug them off. Because on the main point — that the primary reason people don’t cycle in Stevenage is because it’s a town built for easy motoring — everybody is agreed.

I’m more interested in whether Britain really has anything important to learn from Stevenage. Because Reid goes on to draw general conclusions about the UK from this town’s experience. Dutch-style infrastructure and street design, he says, would not be enough to get us on our bikes. At least as important is making it harder to use cars. Indeed, in a particularly bizarre episode that it’s probably kinder not to dwell on, he mocks the “build it and they will come” position with a weird sports analogy. It’s too easy to drive in Britain, he says, so using the car is too culturally ingrained for cycle tracks alone to get people cycling.

The problem with obsessing over the Stevenage story, then, is not that Stevenage is not the Netherlands. It’s that Stevenage is not Britain.

The Stevenage story tells us about mid-20th century new towns, which were built with dense networks of dual carriageways to keep high volumes of motor traffic flowing freely to all destinations. Traffic really is unrestrained in Stevenage. And Stevenage really does have a deeply ingrained car culture: populated by a self-selected pack of people who were attracted out of the overcrowded capital in the 1960s and up the motorway to the semi-detached countryside with the promise of a double garage and everything else that the white heat of technology could provide.

But most places are not Stevenage. It’s ironic that those who seem most fond of the Stevenage story are so often also those who like to point out that many of the streets in the City of London are medieval and so too narrow for cycle paths.

Most of us live in towns and cities that are not like Stevenage, physically or even culturally. Not to anywhere near such an extreme extent, at least. We live in cities which are, no doubt about it, car sick. Cities which have been scarred and divided by some big roads, and cities which have been disfigured by sprawling suburbias with double garage semis, certainly. They are cities where the car has done much damage, and where built-in dependence on the car still does great damage, and you wouldn’t catch me opposing car restraining policies if you were proposing them.

But though there may be little in the way of political policies to actively restrain car use in these places, the car is not, as in Stevenage, the free and fast and utterly unrestrained thing that it is in the new towns. In normal towns and cities, which don’t have the same dense network of dual carriageways joined by roundabouts, serving multistory car parks and double-garaged homes, the car must crawl down old streets narrowed by on-street parking; sit in the congestion that it inevitably creates; and on reaching a destination get waylaid by the task of finding suitable storage. Stevenage’s lesson about the need for policies of car restraint don’t matter for most of us, because in our towns and cities, there are already massive factors pushing against car use.

The problem for us is the lack of any alternatives to go to. In Stevenage the pull of the cycle path network has to compete with the much stronger pull of the road network. Supply of transport infrastructure far exceeds demand, so people opt for whatever’s most attractive. Everywhere else, the push of congested streets and insufficient public transport is met with the much stronger push of hostile cycling conditions. Here supply of transport infrastructure doesn’t meet demand, so people make do with whatever’s least painful.

So yes, of course the formula for building cycling is multifactoral. But there’s a very good reason why there is such a strong focus on campaigning for better infrastructure, and why we might even say: build it and they will come. This is the factor that has so far been missing. In London, in Bristol, in Manchester, Belfast and Glasgow, we have the push of congested roads and too many stored cars for the space available. We have the cycle training in schools and the glossy promotional campaigns. What we’re missing is the infrastructure.

If you care about growing cycling in Stevenage, by all means, go and campaign for the factor that is missing in that town: car use restraint. Good luck to you. Make it difficult to drive and I’m sure They Will Come, to coin a slogan.

I don’t really care about Stevenage. I care about enabling cycling it where it’s needed most, and I’ll carry on campaigning for the factor that is missing in those places: the infrastructure for it. In those places, when you build it, they do come — a phenomenon I’ll explore in more detail later in the week.

In case you missed it…

…I made a little video with the incoming chair of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, who you might also know as the author of As Easy As Riding A Bike

Full story here.

Collective punishment and the bottom half of the internet

Dawn Foster writes in the Guardian Bike Blog of the case of poor Emma Way, who tweeted about having driven dangerously, hit another road user, and fled the scene leaving that person in a hedge. Way has since apologised profusely for having tweeted, so that’s not what I intend to write about today. We should all forgive and forget the fact that she tweeted. I mean, all she did was send a tweet. It’s not like she almost killed someone, or anything.

No, the thing that stood out about Dawn’s article was the marvellous opening comment from “EGriff”:

Before you get too righteous, consider the cyclist on Moorgate last night who went through a red light at speed, across a pedestrian crossing on green, with people on it then turned right through another bunch of crossing pedestrians. That’s the sort of thing pedestrians and motorists see daily, which is why the sight of a cyclist raises their blood pressure.

EGriff makes the excellent point that before we get too righteous about a specific event of dangerous driving in which the perpetrator gave the appearance of absolute disregard for the victim of her actions or the seriousness of what she had done, we must first consider a completely different kind of event, entirely unconnected to it, involving completely different people, at a different time, in a different part of the country. The event EGriff asks us to consider is of course highly relevant because the perpetrator of the latter had chosen to use the same mode of transport as the victim of the former, making them practically the same person, and definitely responsible for each-other’s behaviour.

Unfortunately, EGriff’s comment, posted on a newspaper website, is rather undermined by the fact that a reader named lili posted the following comment on a different newspaper website a long time ago:

Incest is just another word for Love, why can’t people understand this and just let people be?

And by the comments of Donna from Bristol, who posted this two years ago. And Richard from Islington who expressed this sentiment. And hundreds of others.

Before EGriff gets too righteous, he or she needs to consider the sort of things that his fellow newspaper bottom-dwellers do every day. The sort hateful, racist, sexist, and just plain stupid comments that get posted. I can tell you, defending incest really doesn’t reflect very well on EGriff. It’s racist, homophobic and sexist comments like Donna’s and Richard’s that are the reason the sight of a newspaper commenter like EGriff raises my blood pressure.

And it seems that newspaper website commenters don’t even know what they want. Are they against pavement cycling or in favour of it? Make up your mind, newspaper commenters.

tumblr_lm9pr1bBKj1ql1f4oo1_500

But even leaving aside their disgusting hateful racism, frequent incitement to violence, and plain stupidity, newspaper commenters like EGriff are undermined rather by their excessive concern for pedestrians. I should mention that I myself on occasions enjoy a little perambulating (this country has some fine landscape gardens and towpaths that are a delight for a pedestrian), and it certainly sounds like the incident EGriff witnessed in Moorgate was a frightening and reprehensible crime, and I am sure that the City of London Police will give it all of the attention that it deserves. But before we pedestrians get too righteous, consider the junkie pedestrian in Brixton a few years ago who threatened me while I was waiting for the N3 night bus, or the sexist pedestrians who harassed Dawn in the street as she waited at the traffic lights. Muggings, attacks, and sexist abuse are the sort of thing that folk have to put up with from pedestrians daily, which is why the sight of pedestrians so often raises our blood pressure.

And how much can we really believe EGriff’s story about the cyclist on Moorgate? Did this really happen on the green phase of the traffic lights? Every time I try to make a journey from the office in South Kensington to Bloomsbury or the City, crossing Regents Street from Hannover to Great Marlborough Street, I encounter dozens of pedestrians stepping out into the road right in front of me as they ignore their red signal. Isn’t it more plausible that scofflaw pedestrians were jumping the lights at Moorgate that night? Presumably the cyclist would have been unaware of their presence — one sees so many pedestrians who are totally invisible, dressed all in black without even a hi-viz vest.

And every morning, as I head over Wandsworth Common to Battersea, I encounter dozens of pedestrians — dressed up in those silly “training shoes” and watching their pedometers, or whatever it is they do, oblivious to the world — walking down the middle of the cycle path, either scattering the other pedestrians at 12kmph, or else wobbling all over the place at 2kmph. Usually with those pet dogs that pedestrians have, running out of control all over the place. Isn’t it more plausible that the pedestrians on Moorgate were completely oblivious to the fact that they were doing their hiking in the middle of a road or cycleways?

I should reiterate that I am myself often a pedestrian — I even once pedestrianed up Mount Snowdon in my youth. But if pedestrians want their concerns to be taken seriously, they first need to get their own house in order. Until these hiker hooligans stop mugging people and allowing their dogs to foul the cycle path, it’s hardly surprising that folk are hostile to the demands that pedestrians make for our streets — streets which, lets remember, they do not pay for.

The same goes for bus users — of which, as I have already mentioned, and am keen to reiterate, I am very occasionally one myself. Until bus users stop playing their rap songs out loud on their mobile phones, how can they expect their calls for better bus services to be taken seriously? And as for railway train users and their demands for lower fares and £30b investment in new high-speed lines, well… the less said about railway users the better. Lets just say, railway users have a lot to make up for before they should expect that kind of investment.

EGriff is far from alone in recognising that people should be held collectively responsible for the actions of others who happen to use the same mode of transport as themselves. And it’s hardly a new idea. Indeed, it is not only in those newspaper comment threads that it is recognised that investment in a transport mode should be conditional on the way that users of the transport mode behave.

So it’s good to see cyclists themselves doing the right thing and taking responsibility for the behaviour of total strangers — as Christian Wolmar and the Campaign for Considerate Cycling do. It would surely be wrong for them to instead put their efforts into, say, ridiculing the principle of collective punishment as absurd and illegitimate, and mocking the newspaper bottom-dwellers and occasional Tory councillors who propose such a dangerous idea.

You can find a more constructive look at this issue, from a very different angle, at As Easy As Riding A Bike.

An armchair seaside safari

As usual, for those who missed out on the latest infrastructure safari, here it all is in an armchair edition that you can ride through in Google Maps in the unlikely event that you’ve got nothing better to do:

http://goo.gl/maps/oD2di

DSC_0910