On rural main roads

This post is part of a series, starting at “So what would you do here?”, on making cycling an attractive mode of transport in rural Britain.

The Dutch model of making cycling attractive and popular is known for the policy of providing high quality dedicated cycle tracks alongside roads. What, all roads? Yes. Pretty much all roads.

But the crucial detail is that the Dutch make a clear distinction between roads, country lanes, and town streets. The roads — equivalent to Britain’s ‘A’ roads and some ‘B’ roads — have cycle tracks. The country lanes and town streets are treated differently — the subject of posts later in the week.

The Dutch concede that roads (roads, not lanes or streets) are for motor vehicles: for getting people and goods from one place to another quickly. That concession is a great bogeyman to many British cyclists, but the reality is that most British people have also conceded that roads are also for vehicles: they will never cycle on them, just as they long ago gave up walking on them, riding horses on them, and letting their children play on these roads. To solve that problem, we could either build high-quality dedicated cycling infrastructure, so that there would be no need to mix with the fast cars and big trucks, or we could calm, slow, and the reduce the numbers of cars and size of trucks, reclaiming the main roads. I think I know which one of those is more achievable and politically acceptable.

Here’s a rural British main road not so far from the case study area, linking the market towns of Blandford Forum and Wimborne Minster, 14km apart, via a few small villages:

And here’s a Dutch main road between the small cities Assen and Groningen, 25km apart, via a few small villages:

It has a pair of lovely smooth flat concrete cycle tracks, one each side, wide enough to very comfortably ride in a social pack, at speed if that’s your thing, and still have space for overtakers when it’s needed:

Or this single bidirectional track on a quieter route, still plenty wide enough for riding sociably:

Bidirectional track beside main road in small village, with “children playing” warning:

Pair of tracks on edge of village where space gets constrained:

Or a bidirectional track in rural Belgium:

Absolutely rural main roads need these — wide, fast, prioritised cycle superhighways — and they would be worth it. There’s nothing to say about the design and benefits of these tracks that hasn’t already been said many times already by David Hembrow.

Main roads full of fast moving cars and big trucks are the main barriers that prevent any other attempt to “encourage” cycling from working. But country lanes and village streets have become barriers too, taken over by and conceded to fast cars and big trucks. Fixing those is the interesting bit, and the subject of posts later this week.

16 thoughts on “On rural main roads”

  1. This is part of my commute: http://g.co/maps/rek7z
    Whilst not properly a main road, it is fast (there’s a fair number of cars that are exceeding the 60 limit) and quite busy at rush hour.

    Those wide verges extend most of the way between Shelford and Whittlesford.

    This parallels an awful section of NCN 11. It is an opportunity, frankly.

    Mindyou, I’m not sure what could be done about this section: http://g.co/maps/rdan9

  2. Having toured by cycle extensively in N Europe, I already know what Utopia looks like, but that does not get us any closer to building it here, where there is less existing demand and the costs will be greater. MUCH greater. Construction of these paths will entail the compulsory purchase of agricultural property from landowners, who will not want to part with it, will not appreciate the improved access afforded to themselves by the resulting de-facto service roads and will lobby along the lines of “urbanisation of the countryside” (which is why so much of the NCN has such shitty surfaces) and the destruction of walls and hedges.

    Do not forget the hedges. The field hedge or wall is a peculiarly British thing. Holland, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria… simply do not have them. Not at all. But we British, we love our hedges and treasure our dry-stone walls. Rarely is there space between them for cycleways in addition to the carriageway. Most cycleway(s) will have to be the other side of the hedge, which is all the better for the view and the peace and quiet of the cyclist, but certainly entails land acquisition and the destruction of a short section of every perpendicular hedge and wall. Never mind the crazy roadies (more scared of losing their right to the road than being killed on it) wealthy and influential landowners will soon have English Nature, RSPB, National Trust, etc. all lined up beside them in opposition to this supposed wholesale destruction of the countryside.

    I’m not saying it isn’t the right thing to do, but when it comes to the forces of opposition: it’ll be WIND TURBINES WITH BELLS ON!

  3. They certainly do have field hedges in the Netherlands, but they have moved them where necessary to accommodate the cycle paths. That’s the thing about the Netherlands: they are prepared to actually alter things to achieve the infrastructure they want.

    In the UK, we are prepared to make such alterations as well, and do it all the time: for making wider roads for cars.

    So somehow we have to get a change in attitudes so that such alterations to the environment to benefit environmentally-friendly travel and reduce car-dependence become acceptable.

    I think the first stage is for cycling organisations, such as the one Chris is influential in, to start asking clearly for these changes, rather than being over-compromising and unclear about what is required.

  4. In the interests of strict accuracy, I think the roads without centre lines wouldn’t be considered main roads (they need to be below a certain volume of traffic for that to work – need to check the CROW manual)

    Regarding hedges & walls, we also saw examples of the separated bike track being on the other side of a hedge, which obviously would require a bit of land purchase – but if the road is so narrow that there’s no room for a bike track within the original road profile (as with some of the Scottish rural single track roads) then it should be suited to traffic reduction and calming by narrowing the carriageway & removing centre lines, so that traffic has to negotiate its place on the road, keeping speeds down below 60km/h.

  5. Their is no serious disagreement over what cyclists want. CTC campaigners are trying to get exactly that, and failing because we simply don’t have the clout. I’ve been involved at local level with several projects along the A3. It’s a long, sad story of refusals, broken promises and the occasional piss-poor bit of path, at no time ever given any seal of approval by CTC – not because we don’t want cyclepaths, but because they always fall below our standards – which are the same as yours. At this moment we have people in Sussex demanding a better deal alongside the A23 “improvement” than the awfully narrow two-way path proposed by the Highways Agency. As it is not a motorway HA has no legal obligation to provide anything, and we cannot make them. Were we to promise not to object to being banned from the road it would not strengthen our negotiating position. They know they can do that anyway if they want to, just like the A90.

    “The first stage” is for those who have the independence and literary ability to write preachy blogs, to desist from insulting the intelligence of their friends and turn their skills to tackling our mutual enemies.

  6. I don’t agree with everything Steinsky says and nor do I agree with everything Chris Juden says, but that last sentence from Chris strikes a chord.

    There’s very much a common enemy. Or quite a few of them, actually. Piss-poor planners and politicos; thoughtless engineers; dangerous motorists.

    Fellow cyclists are not the enemy. CTC is not responsible for the UK’s car-centrism. Lack of Dutch-style infrastructure is not because “but nobody even asked.”

    There are far too many cycling blogs sniping at fellow cyclists. It’s very wearing, not all productive and the motor lobby must be pissing themselves laughing.

    Cycling bloggers who aim their ire at fellow cyclists (for wearing cycle-specific clothing, or daring to cycle before Utopia is achieved, or riding faster than 15mph, or allowing kids to ride on roads or any number of other thought-crimes) are causing discord where none need exist.

    BTW – this isn’t aimed Steinsky, it’s aimed at a number of bloggers. Let’s campaign against crap conditions for cyclists together. When has infighting ever done any cause any good?

  7. Chris, right now there is a perception, right or wrong, that the CTC has not campaigned for decent national standards for provision of separate cycle infrastructure on major rural routes that binds bodies like the HA or LA’s. Right now when I talk to local politicians I do not get the impression that they are aware that cyclist’s groups are asking for a rethink of road design everytime a road is resurfaced.

  8. +1 for Chris Juden and ipayroadtax.

    There does seem to have been a recent trend in attacking ordinary cyclists from blogs purporting to speak for cyclists. This is often in fairly vicious and personal terms. Sadly I have grown used to this sort of dismissal of any voice seeking to make the roads safer from highway engineers and the motor lobby, but it is very disheartenning when the attacks appear to come from your own side.

    There is one particular blogger who has spent years documenting examples of useless cycle infrastructure, but who seems to be directing his rage not against the idiots who implemented it, but those of us who have opposed it and have been demanding high standards for a very long time.

    As for rural A roads.
    I don’t think that there is anyone who disagrees that high quality segregated cycle paths are the appropriate treatment for high speed roads with few junctions (certainly not the CTC) – and I speak as one at the more sceptical end of opinion with regards to the merits of segregation in general.

    However, it should also be pointed out that this sort of road should not be a priority. They are intended for long distance journeys of the sort cyclists tend not to make. The vast majority of cycling and potential cycling is for short local trips within towns – and even when we do go further the A roads tend not to follow our desire lines which tend to radiate from towns – while the A roads are now built to bypass them (and usually new bypasses do come with separate – and virtually unused – cyclepaths) Our problem is more the severance these roads cause when we try to cross them rather than the difficulty of riding along them.

    1. “this sort of road should not be a priority…”

      That’s a very urbanocentric comment. This series was specifically supposed to be about rural mobility — a case study of a typical lowland British rural area of medium to low population density dispersed in villages and small market towns — because enough is already being written about larger towns and cities, and because mobility is becoming a big political issue in these areas, as they have been built into a car dependency that people are now discovering is unsustainable. The potential for cycling within settlements in areas like this is actually small and irrelevant, because they’re small enough for walking. The potential is on the roads between the villages and towns, because from most of the villages the big shop and the high school and the railway station are >1 and <10 km away, and the main roads are usually the flattest and most direct routes to those services.

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