Crap cycleways are the Franklinists’ legacy

Over at Transport Retort, clayliesstill covers the case of a death on a badly designed cycle track in Montreal, and extrapolates to a lesson on British cycle campaign strategy:

Advocates of quality facilities must acknowledge that a poorly designed cycle path can be more objectively dangerous, even if it is, in the long-term, beneficial because it increases the number of people using the route.

Isn’t that an odd thing to say? Like telling advocates of evidence-based medicine that they must acknowledge that pseudoscience can kill. Or like telling Nick Davies that advocates of good quality investigative journalism must acknowledge that tabloid rags can be harmful. The implication being that if you ask for one, you’ll probably get the other instead, so it would be better just to shut up about the whole thing.

Meanwhile, on a different subject, David says:

Yes, we all know about those “white line on pavement” cycle facilities, or, worse still, no white line on pavement “shared facilities”, but those are not what the campaign for proper cycle facilities is about. They are completely irrelevant. Nobody is asking for those, and talking about them is a diversionary tactic. The trouble is, in asking for nothing in terms of infrastructure, CTC actually contributes to the vacuum that allows these to come into being.

Hacks and quacks step in when there is a demand that can not be met by good journalism or good medicine, and when there are insufficient defences against the frauds. There is a great demand for a cycling environment which does not require mixing with large volumes of fast moving motor vehicles, and authorities are told in documents like The Way Ahead For Towns and Cities that they should be meeting that demand. To meet that demand, towns and cities have built crap cycleways, because the defences haven’t been there: the design standards are inadequate and there was little pressure to toughen them up; councillors and council officers don’t know how to do infrastructure properly, or lack the will to do it properly; and the few cyclists who were still left to join cycling organisations have been too busy talking amongst themselves about “effective cycling” and “right to the road” to hold anybody to account, leaving the few who recognised the need to get infrastructure right powerless.

Britain has not just been lacking an organised campaign for good cycling infrastructure, it has been lacking an organised campaign against bad cycling infrastructure. The mission of the new generation organisations like the Cycling Embassy is not merely to build up the will to construct infrastructure, but to develop the standards and the legislation that would ensure that only good infrastructure gets built — and that the crap cycleways, the legacy of the old era, get replaced.

For three decades cycle campaigning has been dominated by the vehicular cycling dogma epitomised by John Franklin, while calls for good infrastructure have been suppressed and sabotaged. It was under the anti-infrastructuralists’ watch that the crap got built. Anti-infrastructuralists must acknowledge that their strategy has failed to get people cycling, failed to defend the right to the road, and failed to prevent crap cycle lanes being built.

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19 responses to “Crap cycleways are the Franklinists’ legacy

  1. UK ‘infrastructuralists’ will also have to acknowledge that their strategy will not get people cycling – because lack of infrastructure is not the main reason why people don’t cycle. However, they would probably only acknowledge that, after a large quantity of high-quality cycle infrastructure has been built, and the modal split stayed as it was.

    But given that the UK (or the US or Australia) probably will not build a large amount of high-quality cycle infrastructure anyway, the UK ‘infrastructuralists’ can probably hold to their faith for some time yet.

    • Pail, what’s your evidence for this? So far all the research I’ve seen shows that even poor infrastructure (cycling superhighways in London for example) can increase cycling and where a concerted effort is made to put in lanes (such as in New York) then the results can be dramatic.

    • Lack of good infrastructure is the reason that all attempts to get people cycling fail. Infrastructure might not be a magic bullet, but it’s the solid foundation without which any attempt to build mass cycling will fall flat.

  2. As I said last week, the existence of bad infrastructure is not a reason for demanding good infrastructure, despite what certain CTC members might claim. Building bad infrastructure waste money and should be condemned loudly as such and better demand!

    • Ops that should read:

      As I said last week, the existence of bad infrastructure is a reason for demanding good infrastructure and not the other way round, despite what certain CTC members might claim. Building bad infrastructure waste money and should be condemned loudly as such and better demand!

  3. Martin Parkinson

    I expect Pail might be thinking of Milton Keynes? So building it isn’t perhaps *quite* enough – you’d have to “build it as if you mean it” so to speak. And the ask has to be *not* just “good infrastructure please” because that can be easily misunderstood, but “good, thought-through, integrated infrastrucure, *like they have in the Netherlands*”.

    I mentioned MK because I’ve visited it for the first time recently. Strange place. The whole place is misconceived – though kind of interestingly so IMHO – but it will be brought up as a counter-example to “build it and they will come” so best to deal with it now?

  4. Normally love your blog but I think you are repeating material here. This is like so last autumn…

    Bashing Franklin is easy… and pointless. He simply says its better to build nothing rather then crap. In fact he favours Dutch style lanes if you are going to build lanes. I agree with him on that. As do you, I think….

    “The Dutch example on the right shows how cycle tracks
    should be.” – Principles of cycle planning for Gloucestershire
    John Franklin Gloucester, 14th January 2009 (I can email the pdf if anyone is interested – a good critique of bad cycle lanes)

    The failure is with government not with cycling groups. The failure is in not planning for the future of our country. The failure is in not safeguarding the NHS/air/children/society… i could go on.

    You can’t make anyone do anything… they need to want to. This constant infighting around segregation vs. integration is nonsense and should be shunned as the energy suck it is.

    -L

    • Of course our time would be better spent campaigning than arguing amongst ourselves. Which I why I am attempting to move people beyond the time-wasting canards like “we shouldn’t campaign for good infrastructure because look at this crap cycleway”. If this canard wasn’t raised so infuriatingly frequently, we wouldn’t have to waste our time responding to it every bloody time.

      • But Jo… I’v been listening to these arguments for well over 35 years. Round and round it goes as if there IS some sort of “right” answer that will deliver “mass cycling”. UK cycling is a terrible talking shop. It’s lack of political will that is at issue. You may recall Thatcher and the “great car economy” amongst other things. Bike groups are the smallest players by far.

        In my experience no one has ever asked for anything other than good Dutch style infrastructure (including Franklin). It’s the lack of will and the marginal position of cycling that is the stumbling block. Best practice is well understood and not in question. We get crap because the powers that be are not serious about promoting cycling, not because no one has told that what to build. When our lords and masters decide that we need to be cycling more (really decide not just the lip service we now get – watch that oil price!) then we will get the lovely lanes we want. They WANT us to drive so it’s made easy and cheap.

        All the cycle trainers I know (myself included) are in favour of well implemented cycle lanes. All are well versed VC riders. I really feel that there is no conflict so we shouldn’t be making one. Look at Primal Tuna’s comment… people just love to bicker and “take sides”. For what?

  5. Well said. The VC lovers love rubbish infrastructure as it helps feed their fetish of ‘taking control of the road’… Only 2% of the population will ever be interested in that nonsense…

    They then use it as ammunition against ALL infrastructure. Perhaps it’s time for Franklin to go on a study tour with David Hembrow? He might learn something…

  6. ‘Pail’ was a typo. If there is evidence of a causal relationship (not just correlation) between infrastructure and high cycling rates, then why not quote it? No further comment from me here, I cycled into a parked car yesterday, and must avoid the computer for a few days, doctor’s orders. The issue will come up again, undoubtedly.

  7. I suspect New York might be a good place to identify whether there is in fact a causal relationship. You couldn’t identify it for sure (because there’s no control group) – but my impression, visiting this summer, is that the 200 or so miles of cycle lanes installed by Janette Sadik-Khan over the last couple of years have led to a very significant increase in numbers of cyclists. Does anyone have any figures?

  8. Sorry for the delay in responding and thanks for initiating this. As you can see, I have ‘retorted’ your comment on the blog, but I will repeat it here.

    “No, I would say that advocates of “quality” facilities are not always the opposite of advocates of crap facilities. The problem is that advocates of “quality” facilities often end up accepting the crap that gets built (even in the teeth of their opposition) because they think it is better than nothing and is a fabian step to some sort of cycling utopia.

    There is plenty of this in Camden. Facilities that are objectively piss-poor yet are still held up as “quality” because they are (supposedly) better than nothing at all. Sustrans have supervised a whole nationwide network of crap facilities on this basis.

    However, I do accept that there is a virtue in this position and that, in certain cases, crap can help boost numbers. This is the point I am making above: that Montreal facility is clearly better than nothing. It provides a pleasant link through green spaces and is far preferable to the Rue Notre Dame. But the design of the cycle crossings is very poor and appears now to be linked to the death of a cyclist.

    I disagree with your view that it is cyclists who are “too busy talking amongst themselves about the right to the road” that are the reason why crap gets built. The stuff gets built whether or not cyclists want it: evidence exhibit A – Blackfriars.

    Incidentally, if campaigning against poor facilities is a bad thing to be doing, why are the diplomats launching their embassy with a tour of ‘London’s worst cycle lane’?

  9. I love this stuff – it’s like when the Maoists took over and suddenly everything you knew was wrong, or when Punk arrived and you had to throw away all the music you’d enjoyed for the previous fifteen years, Anyway, let’s not try to re-write history too much. John Franklin’s great crime, it seems, was to write a book called Cyclecraft which explained how to ride on the road safely in traffic.At the time this was the only place you could ride a bike. However he did also kick off the “Campaign for High Standards” – http://www.cyclenation.org.uk/documents/high.pdf which laid out what was required for Dutch-style infrastructure in the UK. When I pointed this out to JIm Davis of the UK Cycling Embassy he said it was “boring”. However, I now see he is giving talks which include detail on what is required of quality infrastructure which is equally boring – sadly, a lot of cycle campaigning in the UK is quite boring, and does involve discussions of this nature. That another blogger is jumping on the bandwagon and denying all that has gone before doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. There is actually a lot of goodwill for the segregationists from “traditional” cycle campaigners, or at least there was before they decided to start acting like the Revolutionary Guard. 1984 anyone? Oh, and by the way I do thing a bicycle is a vehicle – I also think a High Speed Train is a vehicle, but I don’t expect it to have to travel on the road.

    • John Franklin’s crime was to spawn a movement that believes that Cyclecraft is an aspiration rather than a coping strategy, that believes resources should be pumped into pressing Cyclecraft on the public rather than calling for the solutions that work, and that it is impossible to build good infrastructure and that the solution is therefore to ignore infrastructure. Perhaps he really didn’t intend for that to happen that way, in which case my sympathies to the man for having such a following.

  10. Wha…? So if cycle campaigning switches to segregation as the ultimate aim, fails to gain traction in the corridors of power, and more shit gets built, it will then be the segregationists fault?

    Behave yourselves, honestly. This is beneath you Joe.

    • Yes, “fault” right. Not blame so much — blame always lies with those who built the crap, and have no intention to suggest otherwise. But if the crap continues to get built then it indicates a fault in cyclists’ strategy.

      The aim of cycle campaigning should be to ensure that the correct solutions — that interventions that work — get built, that crap stops getting built, and that the crap that has been built gets replaced with the good stuff. Failure to achieve that would be indicative of some sort of fault in the strategy.

      We are repeatedly told, however, that we should not adopt such an aim and strategy because it will definitely result in crap getting built, therefore we should stick with the status quo. I want advocates of the status quo to acknowledge that the existing crap is indicative of faults in their own strategy.

  11. Pingback: Cycling’s image problem | At War With The Motorist

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