Pick and mix and the Hierarchy of Provision

The marvellous Mad Cycle Lanes of Greater Manchester has posted an extract from a history of provision for cycling in the Netherlands:

the government decided to develop a large array of measures to promote cycling, walking and traffic calming, such as:

– Reducing car access to city-centres and create car-free areas;
– Making parking in city-centres more expensive;
– Constructing cycle paths and reducing road space for cars;
– Facilitating cycling through cycle network planning, road design, signalling, parking and enforcement;
– Reducing maximum speed on the majority of urban roads to 30 km/h or less;
– Promoting cycling to encourage the use of bikes and discourage car-use.

But MCLGM draw a rather odd conclusion from this, which is not supported by the quoted text:

Note how most of the measures are about reducing and removing access by motor vehicles.

The key to increasing cycling is reducing motor traffic, the cycle tracks are the follow-up measures.

I tried to post a comment, but of course because MCLGM is hosted on Blogspot it disappeared with a server error page somewhere in the gazillion-step commenting processes. (Seriously Blogspot bloggers, it is way past time you came and joined us on a platform that works.)

I’m going to post the comment here, because it seems to be a very common mistake, and one that needs to be laid to rest.

Er. Not quite. All of the measures are “key”; none of them are “follow-ups”. They are the different solutions that apply to different situations. The British seem desperate to put things in a hierarchy. It’s completely the wrong approach, and it’s certainly not the Dutch approach.

In some places — residential streets and city centres — we need to reduce traffic speed and remove vehicular access. In other places — main arterial roads and other places with high traffic volumes and/or large vehicles — we need to reallocate space for cycle tracks. You start from the specific problem, not the preferred solution.

That is the key to increasing cycling. Knowing what needs to be done in each situation.

I’ll use this opportunity to expand on this point about putting solutions into hierarchies a little.

In Britain we have a “Hierarchy of Provision”, which recommends some types of cycling provision as preferable to other types. It was developed by the DfT and CTC in 1997, is still endorsed by many cyclists (sometimes enthusiastically so) as well as officials, and is part of the design guidance for cycling infrastructure — Local Transport Note 2/08 — upon which the nation’s Crap Cycle Facilities are modelled.

Specifically, the Hierarchy of Provision states that one should “consider first” reducing the speed and volume of motor traffic, and “consider last” shared use footways. (Note, not: “never ever consider”, the Hierarchy of Provision thinks shared footways should be “considered last”.)

This is, as my lost comment says, approaching things the wrong way around: bringing a set of pre-ranked preferred solutions to a road and trying each one in turn to see which one fits. The correct approach — the one that the Dutch apply — is to start with the purpose and properties of a road: whether it is the main A-to-B road, or a little residential or access street; whether it needs to carry big dangerous trucks and buses; and so on. Once you’ve answered those questions, there is no need to try different solutions on for size: when you understand the problem, the appropriate solution follows.

For many years in the UK there was a Hierarchy of Provision way of thinking, which led, and still leads, to some absurdities, such as the idea that in the Netherlands cycle tracks are a “follow-up measure”. When the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain came along and made the then heretical statement that, actually, for some kinds of roads, we should be asking straight-up for Dutch-style cycle tracks instead of trying to apply one preferred top-of-the-hierarchy solution to every road in the country, this entirely sensible position was often misunderstood. Unable to think outside The Hierarchy, the embrace of cycle tracks was interpreted as an attempt on the crown: to put cycle tracks at the top of The Hierarchy and to campaign exclusively for the construction of segregated cycle paths alongside every inch of road, lane, street and cul-de-sac in the country.

It seems that this misunderstanding is still spread, and by those who should know better:

Carlton Reid @carltonreid Carlton Reid
135,575 km of roads in Netherlands. 29,000km of segregated tracks. So, in UK, there’s a need for separation on *every* road? #cyclesafe
7 hours ago

Jon Smalldon @jonsmalldon Jon Smalldon
@carltonreid Nobody has said or is saying that though?
7 hours ago  Favorite Retweet Reply

Mark @AsEasyAsRiding Mark
@carltonreid Who’s saying that?
7 hours ago Favorite Retweet Reply

Carlton Reid @carltonreid Carlton Reid
@jonsmalldon @AsEasyAsRiding David Arditti coming very close. http://bit.ly/yf7JwZ
6 hours ago  Favorite Retweet Reply

(Readers can follow Carlton Reid’s link that to the essay in which David Arditti explains very clearly and at length, in 3,000 words and two diagrams, his ideas on the interventions which might be appropriate solutions the problems that cyclists face in different situations, placing it in the context of David’s other articles, and can draw their own conclusions about whether Reid is right to sum up David’s argument as a call for segregated cycle tracks on every public road and street in Britain.)

Campaigners seem to be growing more comfortable advocating the full breadth of solutions in the Dutch “Sustainable Safety” package, but even when doing so in the Xmas edition of their magazine, the London Cycling Campaign can’t stop thinking in hierarchies: “the Dutch mantra is mix if possible, separate when necessary,” they say, as if the Dutch have a hierarchy of “consider first: mix”, “consider last: separate”. But as the LCC magazine says elsewhere, the Dutch “start by deciding the function of a road, and from this flows the design.” On a busy trunk road they don’t first consider mixed traffic.

But not everybody has quite come to terms with it all yet, and in attempting to reconcile the comprehensive and detailed Dutch solution with the crude and uncomplicated British hierarchy approach, it seems that many have had to resort to what MCRcycling calls the Dutch pick and mix: we’ll pick the filtered permeability to put at the top of our hierarchy, and campaign for that one, thanks.

Over the past couple of years, the breadth of the successful Dutch approach to street design and cycling has begun to be explained and appreciated in this country, thanks initially to the likes of David Hembrow’s blog, Mark Wagenbuur’s videos, and occasional articles like this, and recently spread even further by the Dutch Cycling Embassy and London’s Go Dutch campaign. The activity stirred up by The Times CycleSafe campaign will, I hope and expect, lead to its much wider dissemination. I imagine that attempts to arrange the continent’s engineering into a hierarchy of provision will keep people occupied for a while yet.

16 thoughts on “Pick and mix and the Hierarchy of Provision”

  1. There’s a group of roads between ones that are clearly “estate access” or “district access” (to use the Dutch terms). The Dutch call them “grey” roads, and their guidance is sketchy about what you do. If you can push such roads towards one of the clear categories, and you’ve got space to implement the appropriate design, then all well and good, but if you can’t, you’re a bit stuck.

    And for various reasons, an awful lot of UK urban main roads are “grey”.

  2. “And for various reasons, an awful lot of UK urban main roads are “grey”.”

    Yes, that’s the problem in the UK. These “grey” UK roads are so appalling to use, whatever your chosen mode of transport. There’s no strategic planning done!

    I wonder how on earth the Dutch manage to minimise “grey” roads. They seem to have the same cars, bicycles, and number of legs and arms that UK people have…

    A typical UK road only “doesn’t have enough space” because it’s trying to be a major through route, a parking area, a space for pedestrians to visit shops, somewhere for cyclists to ride, a route for buses, a place that maximises motor traffic throughput, and a place where people will choose to go shopping. The worst thing is that we get this EVEN WHEN a bypass has been built to handle the through traffic.

    The main reason UK urban roads are “grey” is because of the fictitious “war on the motorist” and the resulting complete lack of any will to restrict motor vehicles to roads that are suitable for them. We in the UK have roads just like the Dutch had in the 1970s. We’re stuck in the past!

  3. There is an awful lot of nonsense spouted about how UK road network is uniquely adapted to car use and nothing can be done to change this. All that is really lacking is the political will to change. There is no reason why we can’t have the same levels of cycling provision as they have in an increasing number of places on mainland Europe.

    We just need to make a clear case for it. The benefits of active travel are clear, as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion in towns and cities, it can boost local economic activity, and it is healthy (active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer). In addition, people who use active ways of travel are more productive at work, take fewer sick days. Supporting active travel is relatively cheap and therefore has great potential to save everybody money (the future savings in health costs alone make worthwhile). Looked at realistically, we can afford not to make the changes…

    1. “All that is really lacking is the political will to change.”


      “There is no reason why we can’t have the same levels of cycling provision as they have in an increasing number of places on mainland Europe.”


      As you’ve just explained, we don’t have the political will. That is not a small problem.

      Politics has been called “the science of the possible”. Without the political will, a Dutch-style transport policy is as possible here as joining the Euro.

  4. It’s a pity, but probably the only thing on which cycling advocates agree is that Blogger is a pile of sh*te. (I draft my comments in a word-processor and then cut&paste – at least that way I can quickly recover hem when Blogger crashes out)

    Sadly, I suspect that the momentum generated by the Times campaign will dissipate as worthies sign up to their own very specific version of the eight demands – no doubt Boris for example has only really noticed the bits about training and education, and more sensors on HGVs – in other words, all things he has absolutely no control over and so can safely say “not me guv” when nothing happens.

    In our modern capitalist society, the classic definition of marketing is not to find a need, then devise a means of satisfying it, but to design a product, and then search for the need which it satisfies. That pretty much summarises the hierarchy of provision approach as well. Let’s hope the Dutch can knock our heads together and make us see sense – it is not that we should have the same solutions as them, but that we should find our own – possibly very similar – solutions by adopting their rational methodology.

  5. “Local Transport Note 2/08 — upon which the nation’s Crap Cycle Facilities are modelled”

    This is not entirely accurate. The badly designed facilities are built despite the LTN 2/08, not because of it. You’d be hard pressed to find anything built even to the feeble standards of that document. Indeed, since very little construction of facilities has taken place since 2008, the guidance note ignored was in fact Cycle Friendly Infrastructure (a CTC/IHT document), not LTN 2/08.

    I think there is considerable confusion about how the Hierarchy should be implemented. It should, of course, be read with a speed/flow diagram (ie – how currently the road is being used and therefore what steps you should take), as TfL guidance suggests on p63 of the LCDS (http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/businessandpartners/lcds_chapter4.pdf).

    A feeble version of a speed/flow diagram also appears in LTN 2/08 (table 1.3, on page 13). This is how the Dutch CROW guidance (and Danish) works and the approach has been lifted directly from it. The main problem remains acquiring the political will to implement good design in the right places.

    Let’s not forget that the Hierarchy is there in part to try and prevent engineers opting for poor quality facilities where they are unsuitable. There are many locations where good quality cycle paths are clearly the best option. I know that many feel that good facilities could be built if activists simply lobbied for them but the evidence is completely the opposite – where activists have tried to achieve good quality facilities (Cycle Superhighways?) their efforts have fallen flat in the face of the lack of decent standards and political will.

    It’s all very well to say, as Kim does, that “All that is really lacking is the political will to change” and “We just need to make a clear case for it” – that’s exactly what organisations like Sustrans, CTC and Cycling England have been doing, so far with only morsels to show for it! No doubt growing public anger and the single-issue campaigning on the subject will help somewhat, but let’s not pretend it’s as simple as saying, “I want”.

  6. Chris, you say the Hierarchy of Provision should be ‘read with’ a speed flow diagram. How, in principle, would this work when we come to look at the treatment for, say, an arterial road with heavy vehicle flows?

    The speed/flow diagram would recommend segregated tracks.

    The Hierarch of Provision, on other hand, would suggest considering traffic reduction, then speed reduction, then junction treatment, then wider nearside lanes or bus lanes, and then – finally – segregated tracks.

    That is, the road treatment suggested by the speed/flow diagram is pretty much the last to be considered by the Hierarchy of Provision.

    How compatible are these two approaches?

  7. Yes there’s tension between table 1.1 and table 1.2 in LTN2/08. And some paras discussing how to work with that.

    Maybe there ought to be more distinction between low-quality pavement tracks and high-quality pavement tracks.

  8. Agreed – the use of the hierarchy could be made clearer in the text. The speed/flow diagram used by TfL is pretty sensible (wish they followed it more often!). It shows that above certain limits of traffic speed or volume the only solution is cycle tracks while at lower speeds/volumes it may be more sensible to try and reduce those speeds or volumes further.

    In the case of an arterial road with heavy vehicle flows the designer would be likely to rule out lowering speeds and volumes immediately and very quickly get down to cycle facilities. Remember, however, that items on the hierarchy are not mutually exlusive.

    I recall attending the ‘cycle route inspection meeting’ for CS8 where both the LCC and CTC reps there agreed that 20 mph limit along the Embankment would be ideal, but since the space was available a high quality segregated lane would also be appropriate. That was ditched in favour of 2m wide cycle lanes without segregation, presumably for cost and maintenance reasons. Of course the reason TfL was able to remove a lane from Millbank for the 2m wide cycle lane was because traffic volumes were relatively low – ie, measures at the top of the Hierarchy had already been implemented (congestion charging).

    Of course, none of this deals with the real problem which is that even where segregation is required the quality of facilities provided often falls well below the standards in the guidance, let alone the standard we would want to see. Richard Mann is right – I fear that the lack of distinction between the two is based on the pessimistic view that decent cycle tracks are never going to be built. Current regulations make it hard, but not impossible.

  9. Cycling increased significantly in London when the Congestion Charge was introduced, and again after the bus and tube bombings. Nothing to do with cycle provision and massively to do with making other modes of transport less atractive. In Manchester the recent increase in cycling appears to have coinsided with a reduction in the availability of city centre car parking

    We need to agressively drive motor vehicles out of our towns and cities to make cycling attractive to many more people. Cycle tracks and other interventions won’t work unless they take space, time and convenience away from the alternatives.

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