“So what would you do here?”

Chris Beazer says:

I do a lot of cycling on B roads, C roads and unclassified roads because that is where the most enjoyable routes are. Will somebody explain how “cycling infrastructure” is going to make my riding safer (and I have been knocked off my bike several times when riding on the aforementioned roads which I think are as dangerous as roads in cities and towns) as I don’t seem to see designs which are applicable to other than cities and towns? My understanding is that the “cycling infrastructure’s” objective is to segregate motorised traffic from non-motorised traffic. I am interested to find out how this will be implemented across the many hundreds of thousands of miles of minor roads throughout the country.

A lot of blogs that look at cycling provision and policy have been focusing on cities — especially London — probably because most people in the UK live in towns and cities. It’s where there’s most to be gained. But there are people out in the country, where car dependency is an even bigger problem than in the cities. And the situation, the consequences of car dependency, and the solutions to it, are not the same in the country as in the city.

But once again, this is a problem that the Dutch have largely solved. They have people out in the country too, they get places by bicycle, and we could learn from that.

I’ve picked a typical British rural area, a place of scattered farms and villages with the occasional market town amongst them, in which to explore the sort of treatments that would allow people to comfortably cut car dependency. Rural Britain is not uniform — there are places with higher and lower population densities, steeper and flatter terrains, and all sorts of different needs — but most of the rural population lives in places not unlike this. I picked this example simply because I grew up under the blue pin, in a very small town called Stalbridge:

Stylised map of a few of the relevant features: Towns, villages, ‘A’ roads, ‘B’ roads, railways, county boundary.

The population of Stalbridge is about 3,000. It is very lucky to still has its own primary school, GP, and half a dozen independent shops, including a small supermarket, post office, and a bicycle shop. There is some light industry — we pack fudge and do things with wires — and a lot of agriculture. Centres of employment, culture, and retail in the region are Yeovil (18km), Dorchester (30km), Weymouth (40km), Poole/Bournemouth (40km), and Salisbury (40km).

High schools — particular targets for increasing cycling — are marked on the map by green pins. Most kids go to Sturminster, 6km south-east, on council-funded school buses. The nearest railway station is in a village, Templecombe, 5km north. There is one not very convenient bus, which goes to Sherborne and Yeovil. The A303 (10km), motorway in all but name, links to the rest of the road network

All of the towns lie on ‘A’ and/or ‘B’ roads, but some villages and many scattered dwellings are connected only by the extensive network of little old lanes, most of which are barely wide enough for vehicles to pass. To complicate issues, the Dorset/Somerset administrative county boundary (the faint line) cuts through several of the transport routes close to the town.

The area is set up for car dependency. The market towns in which one can find retail, services, employment and education, and the railway stations from which one can get to the major cities, are all within a very comfortable cycling distance, but cycling here, as in all of the UK, has been made difficult and frequently unpleasant, giving most people little alternative to the expense of running a car.

How would I go about fixing that? I’d change the main roads and I’d change the minor roads — but not the same way. I’d make it quick and easy to ride to ride to school and to work. I’d pave over some of the countryside — but with a significant net gain in unpaved tranquil rurality. It would cost a bit of money — but less than the cost of not doing it. Posts all this week.

Updated to add:

On rural main roads

On the village high street

On country lanes

Getting to school in the countryside

8 thoughts on ““So what would you do here?””

  1. I live in Holland until recently. Unfortunately, cyclists will be second class citizens in the UK until there is a moment of great leadership.

    The cycle lanes here are a joke. In Holland, the cycle lanes are purpose built, well-maintained, regularly upgraded and, most importantly, segregated from road traffic by an almost foot-high row of concrete.

    This could also be done anywhere in the UK but would require some hefty investment. Still, I think it’s probably the best green investment that could ever be made. Plus, all roads need to have the tarmac relaid at some point, every few years. So why not just do it then?

    There is no political will to do it in the UK. A great shame.

    I also think that the UK needs commuter bikes. Dutch-style bike (similar bikes are used in the Far-East, Germany, Denmark and elsewhere) are much more comfortable than belly-aching mountain bikes. I would like to see every household in the country issued a free such bike. The government could probably buy a job-lot for £25 each which is nothing compared to the cost of bank bailouts. This alone, even without digging up the roads, would cause a change in attitude in motorists who would drive much more carefully and always be on the lookout for bikes, much as happens in Amsterdam.

    Sadly, I am not very optimistic. I even avoid the terrible green lanes here and prefer to take the quiet side streets instead. Cycling from A to B and for pleasure simply cannot be done at the same time in the UK. What a shame.

  2. To me, the lack of bus facilities in your above scenario is an (even) greater problem than the lack of cycle facilities. Even in an ideal world, not everyone can cycle all the time. 18KM is fine for me, but a 36KM roundtrip is asking rather a lot of normal folk.

    I know rural bus services have traditionally needed considerable subsidies to stay afloat, but I wonder if that has to be the case.. specifically thinking about ride-sharing and minibuses with semi planned routes (some flexibility to divert from route and/or schedule). These kind of bus-taxis already work well, and have done for many years, in relatively population dense countries where a lot of active people simply can’t afford cars.. I wonder whether with the internet & gps tech such services could be viable in rural parts of the UK, where many journeys aren’t particularly time-critical. Perhaps taxi firms could be persuaded to run them – I suspect they are rather more efficient than many bus companies. It won’t contribute to more people getting out on their bikes, and it won’t make the roads any safer initially (although a smaller fleet of more modern vehicles, and a higher proportion of drivers being trained professionals, can’t hurt), but it will enable more people to go car-free, and for already car-free people to go more places.

  3. One of the things we need to do is more the subsidy from private motoring to public transport. This is critical given that we have an ageing population for whom car dependence is a serious problem as they loose the ability to drive with declining health.

    As for integrating cycling and buses, here in Scotland we starting (all be it slowly) to more toward rural bus services carrying bicycles. In Austria they already routinely bikes on buses (certainly in the Innsbruck area and surrounding).

    However, it must not be forgotten that the high levels of car dependence we suffer from in the UK is due to deliberate policy be successive Governments over the last 40 years. So maybe our first move should be to campaign for Transport Minsters to be banned from using ministerial cars, to help focus their minds…

  4. @Kim – the cynic in me says that today’s society is so car-dependent that, faced with an ageing population, officialdom will sooner find some spurious reason to relax the medical requirements for being allowed on the roads rather than provide decent alternatives (already, the requirements are frighteningly lax – unless you want to drive a minibus or lorry it’s entirely a self-certification – hence the occasional tragic stories of pensioners driving the wrong way up the M6 with fatal consequences).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: