The cycle lobby: Andrew Gilligan messes it up

Andrew Gilligan accuses “the cycle lobby” of thinking only of themselves and not “putting themselves in the heads” of non-cyclists. In-fact, failure to think as a non-cyclist is exactly why the policies of Boris Johnson are such failures.

Despite the “cycling mayor” image he encouraged early on, after four years in City Hall, Boris has been getting a beating from folk who cycle in London. His flagship scheme for cycling was meant to be the Cycle Superhighways, intended to “transform” London, “boost safety” and — independently of all other initiatives — contribute to modal shift to the tune of 120,000 more daily journeys:

“I’m not kidding when I say that I’m militant about cycling, and these Superhighways are central to the cycling revolution I’m determined to bring about. No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power – on these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them. That should transform the experience of cycling – boosting safety and confidence of everyone using the routes and reinforcing my view that the bike is the best way to travel in this wonderful city of ours.”

Kulveer Ranger, said: “Cycle Superhighways form a key part of the Mayor and TfL’s target to increase cycling in London by 400 per cent by 2025, compared to 2000 levels. From cycling the proposed routes myself, and speaking to a whole range of cyclists, I’m sure that these routes will prove a hugely welcome addition to London’s cycling infrastructure – giving many more people the confidence to ride”.

But this hyperbole soon backfired on Boris when it turned out that the Superficial Cycleways were, except for sections of existing dedicated infrastructure taken over on CS3, little more than £100 million paint on the road — paint that dances and dodges around petrol power, does nothing to transform the experience of cycling on the capital’s busy arterial roads, and does nothing to boost the confidence of the would-be and wanna-be cyclists that Boris claimed would be attracted by the novel hued bike lanes. Although TfL have been able to claim that there has been a large increase in bike traffic on the Superhighways, they don’t really appear to be doing much to enable or encourage non-cyclists: at most, some existing cyclists have been tempted out of the backstreets and onto the main roads; few new cyclists have been created. The most common question Londoners have about the Superhighways is: are they joke?

Since people started dying on his Superhighway at the Bow junction on the East Cross Motorway, Boris has taken the emphasis off the dozen radial routes which were once “central” to his cycling revolution, and when he does talk about them these days he will tell you that the blue paint is a navigational aid — no mention of excluding “petrol power”, boosting safety, or transforming experience. What were originally sold as part of a cycling revolution which would enable and encourage people to take to their bikes have turned out to be, at best, something to help existing cyclists find their way to the square mile.

This is why Boris has failed on cycling: he’s trying to drive a cycling revolution — more people cycling for more of their journeys — by providing for existing cyclists. Hilariously, Gilligan is so clueless about the substance of the disagreement between Boris and “the cycling lobby” that he attributes this problem exactly backwards:

“Cycle lobbyists need to put themselves in the heads of a non-cyclist or politician most of whose voters aren’t cyclists, asking why we should arrange the streets for the 2 per cent who cycle rather than the 98 per cent who drive or take the bus.”

Go Dutch, and The Big Ride, are precisely the product of the London Cycling Campaign “putting themselves in the heads of non-cyclists”, and calling for streets to be arranged for the 98 per cent who currently would never dare to cycle on them. The Go Dutch campaign was squarely pitched at the non-cyclist, showing everybody how, with a determined leader, London’s busy roads could be transformed into places where anybody and everybody can use a bicycle, and share in all the benefits that come with cycling. Gilligan seems to think that the campaign and ride was a demand by existing cyclists that they must be pampered and privileged in their niche activity. Far from it. The point that The Big Ride made was that the “cycling revolution” that Boris Johnson promised will not be delivered so long as he continues designing cycling policies and “Superhighways” for the 2 per cent who already cycle. Indeed, many of those who rode with us on Saturday are, on any normal weekday, part of the 98% themselves.

As part of the two per cent willing to — no, no, as part of the one per cent happy to — cycle on the streets of London as they are, Boris is the last person who should be appointed to lead a “cycling revolution” aimed at enabling the 98 who don’t cycle to take it up. He boasts that “scooting down Euston underpass” and around Hyde Park Corner are “no problem” when you’re “used to it”, and his now infamous comments about the Elephant and Castle being “fine if you keep your wits about you” tell you everything about how far he has penetrated the minds of ordinary non-cycling folk.

Boris’s “cycling revolution” seems to be designed around the premise that there is a large population of Londoners who are just on the cusp of taking up cycling and who just need lessons in “keeping their wits about them”, or blue paint and hire bikes to help them to “get used to it”. Boris understands how his 2% cycle so he designs policies for more of it. But the conclusion of last year’s Understanding Walking and Cycling project (admittedly primarily based on research in England outside of London) was that there is no such substantial section of the population just waiting to take up cycling in traffic, ready to be nudged in by one cheap and simple little thing. The Understanding Walking and Cycling project — which has informed and given urgency to infrastructure campaigns like Go Dutch — “put themselves in the heads of non-cyclists” and found that the 98% will not cycle so long as they expected to keep their wits about them and get used to the Euston underpass. There are very few waiting to join the 2% cycling in heavy and fast traffic: if you want a cycling revolution, you have to try something new and different. The 98% look at the policies of the Cycling Mayor and see irrelevant “Superhighways” which they presume must be good for Cyclists but on which they would never dare to cycle themselves. They look at Go Dutch and see civilised dedicated space on which they might. And Gilligoon thinks it’s the latter who are out of touch and appealing to the minority on cycling.

Boris even came close to showing signs of understanding all this when he talked of not having to “dance and dodge around petrol power”. But like so much about Boris, that turned out to be all waffle and no substance.

The problem with Boris and his cycling revolution, and the many reasons why he has messed it up on cycling, obviously go far far wider and deeper than his inability, as a contented member of the 2%, to understand why the 98% are so reluctant to join him. But I’m not sure I can bring myself to write about, or even think about, it any more. Please, just make it stop.

On the origins of shared use

Continuing from last month

It should be noted, in case any confusion remains — and I’ve seen plenty — that despite the superficial similarities, “shared use” and “shared space” are quite different things. “Shared space” is a road with a less than the traditional amount of delineation between pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles, as at Exhibition Road. “Shared use” is an off carriageway or away from road facility — a pavement or path — shared between cyclists and pedestrians.

I noticed a slightly different kind of “shared space”/”shared use” conflation when skimming through the Living Heart campaign’s reply to the Bristol Central Area Action Plan. Obviously the Living Heart folk know the difference between them — one of them being an academic expert on the misuse of shared space — but they do suggest that the enthusiasm for shared use in local authority highways departments and in documents like LTN 2/08 is related to the ideology behind shared space:

The [shared space] ideology discussed in Section 4.2 has also led to a strange belief in the UK that compelling pedestrians and cyclists to share space is better than providing separate space for each (as is now normal practice in larger cities in the Netherlands and Denmark). In circumstances where space is constrained (in some cases unnecessarily, on paths which are too narrow) or flows of pedestrians (e.g. Broadmead) or cyclists (Bristol to Bath cycle path) are high, this is causing significant conflicts.

I don’t believe this. The evangelism for the extreme Exhibition Road variety of shared space is inspired by a libertarian ideology which makes the claim, against all evidence and experience, that if we remove all regulation and restriction from road users then the optimal order will naturally arise through lots of little interactions and subtle negotiations. Obviously order does form from the chaos of this form of shared space, but it’s an order in which motorists rule and pedestrians huddle at the edges out of the way.

Shared use, on the other hand, is cheap and easy. I’ve been looking at the history of it and I don’t think the reason, logic or ideology behind it is really much more complicated than that.

There are two types of shared use, with slightly different histories: pavements, and away-from-road paths. The big driving force behind away-from-road paths has been Sustrans. They tend to build ~3 metre wide shared paths — most of their surfaced rail trails are of this design — their reasoning being that “shared” is “flexible”: when numbers of one type of user or the other are high, and the other low, you’re not trying to deny the crowds use of a perfectly good empty bit of path. Sustrans correctly reasons that it is best for them to build ~3 metre shared paths, rather than trying to segregate users into two pieces of ~1.5 metre path separated with a white line as is sometimes the case, and as Sustrans tried on the Bristol Railway Path for a while. But only because Sustrans is an overstretched charity trying to get the most for their money, and who therefore don’t want to buy asphalt for more than 3 metre wide paths. Their choice is therefore shared or segregated 3 metre paths, and shared is the best of those options.

Passing
(cc) Edinburgh Cycle Chic, by-nc-sa

Better still is a 5 metre segregated path, like the route through Edinburgh University and the Meadows, but Sustrans are going for the cheap option and most councils have copied them.

Shared pavements have a slightly different history. So far as I can see, they are an invention of the early 1980s, with authority to construct/convert what it rather optimistically calls “cycle tracks” being introduced by the Highways Act 1980 (Cycling England had a document explaining it (PDF)). The 1980 Highways Act was a little before my time, so I tried to look up the original intention of the “cycle tracks” through the parliamentary debates. We know, of course, that Thatcher’s was an extreme pro-car and pro-road expansion government, famous for The Great Car Economy and Roads For Prosperity. My guess was that, if the government of the time even noticed that cycling existed, it probably saw it as a form of transport in terminal decline — something backward and even irresponsible. I was expecting to find that the purpose of shared pavements was not to enable or encourage the irresponsible act of cycling, but that they were a quick and cheap road safety measure intended to get bicycle users out of harms way for as long as it took the poor things to save up and buy a car of their own.

It was an impression partly supported by the BMA’s 1992 book on cycling, but I haven’t found much in which the Thatcher government puts its hostility to cycling into words — though it did slip out in this astonishing 1989 exchange in which Transport Secretary Paul Channon tells an Oxford MP that enabling cycling would be a bad thing for Oxford, given that the town has a car factory.

Rather, it seems that the government of the early 1980s had much the same attitude to cycling as the government now, and did much the same thing as the Labour government of the late 1970s, the Major government in the mid 1990s and the Blair government at the turn of the century. They saw that “cycling is booming“, paid lip service to it, published a statement of policy and then failed to devote anything near adequate resources to implementing the policy, relied almost entirely on local authorities to implement the policy and failed to ensure that the resources that had been allocated to LAs were actually going to be spent on interventions that work, until eventually everybody simply forgot that the policy had ever been declared. As the British Medical Journal put it, “The Government should stop its delaying tactics, with its stream of vapid consultative documents, and act to ensure that its citizens can travel safely and freely without hindrance by others.” To be fair, they did at least try to focus what little effort and funding they did devote to cycling specifically into better routes.

So the government and our representatives were probably no more and no less hostile to cycling than today’s. Perhaps, then, shared pavements weren’t meant as a simple get-them-out-of-the-way measure?

The 1980 Highways Act was very wide ranging — cycling was a tiny little bit, Section 65 of 345, and so cycling was only a tiny little bit of a debate and discussion. Part of that debate actually took place under the predecessor Labour government, in 1978, and the comments of under-secretary for Transport, John Horam, illustrate how that government was imagining the cycle tracks, mocking Dennis Skinner for suggesting that we should need or want to spend money on anything more than a white line on a footway:

Mr John Horam (Labour, Gateshead West)
On the question of cycle tracks and the clarity of the legislation, I again give the commitment that we shall make perfectly plain what is the law on this matter. It is within the powers of local authorities simply to draw a white line on a footway and turn at least part of it into a cycle track. We shall spell out all these details in the technical note.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Labour, Bolsover)
Worse than skateboarding.

Mr John Horam
I fear that we may be getting some dissension from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, but I do not think that I shall draw him into the debate, because I know that he is strongly in support of this broad principle.

Mr Dennis Skinner
I support these principles, as one who owns a Raleigh with five gears. … I am intrigued about the business of having a white line down a footpath, with cyclists on one side. I can visualise myself travelling at 35 mph—when I am at my best—and a poor old lady walking down the other side of the white line. It seems to me that we need to look back a bit. Before the war, when we had other job creation schemes in hand not far from Clay Cross, the Government of the day—they were not of the present type, though I suppose that they were not all that much different—put forward a scheme for a cycle track between Clay Cross and Chesterfield, which stood on its own. If we are to launch out, I, as one who is not afraid to talk about public expenditure and mopping up some of the unemployed, am happy about advancing the case for proper cycle tracks at the side of the pavement, or somewhat removed from it, with none of this white line nonsense.

Mr John Horam
I take it that Clay Cross will be building large, expensive kerbs between cycle tracks and pedestrian facilities when it gets round to this, as no doubt it will. Everything happens in Clay Cross. No doubt the council will notice this new legislation and be eager to implement it at the first opportunity, so that the hon. Member for Acton and my hon. Friend can use the cycle track at Clay Cross when it comes into being.

So, again, the point of shared pavements was that they were cheap and easy — features that were especially important in 1978. The chair of the All Party Friends of Cycling Group agreed that cyclists were cheap and easy.

The new Conservative government didn’t debate cycling again before the Highways Bill became the Highways Act, but it did come up again in 1984 with the Cycle Tracks Act, which sought to simplify the bureaucracy for converting public footpaths to shared paths. It was primarily intended for urban alleyways, passageways and paths through parks and allotments — things like this and this. The story of the Act perhaps illustrates the attitudes and intentions for shared paths and pavements.

The Cycle Tracks Bill was introduced as a private member’s bill by the newly elected Conservative MP Barrow and Furness, Cecil Franks, though it was picked up and backed by the government. Franks, a local council man who was probably surprised to find himself in parliament representing a traditionally Labour seat, explained his motivation for introducing the bill: as a local councillor he had sincerely wanted to introduce more away-from-roads cycle routes, but the bureaucracy of seeking permission to “close” the footpath and then planning permission to “construct” the new cycle track — when in fact no physical works at all would be required — had been too great.

The Bill received cross-party support, and the stated intentions for all who spoke in the debates was to enable and encourage cycling. As Simon Hughes (Liberal, Bermondsey) said:

Liberal Members welcome the Bill. I feel confident, as I think do all hon. Members who have participated in the debate, that one result will be a reduction in the number of accidents, many of which can debilitate people and reduce their mobility for life, which are occasioned at present by cycle users, pedestrians and motorised transport users taking the same routes and getting in each other’s way. It is my belief that it should also result in an increased use of the bicycle throughout the country…

…His Bill is greatly welcomed by the Liberal party, as it is by all parties and by a large number of present cyclists and those who, as a result of it, will become cyclists. It is to the advantage of all.

If they thought that cycling was a means of transport in terminal decline that should be cleared out of the way for as long as it takes to die out, they certainly didn’t say so. Quite the opposite: starting from about 1979, it has been obligatory to start such speeches with “cycling has been booming in recent years…“.

There were only a couple of critical remarks.  Colin Moynihan (Conservative, Lewisham East) was critical of the narrow scope of the Bill, mentioning lack of design standards — and the lack of understanding from MPs of the need for them — for the shared pavements which had been introduced previously:

These questions are central to the consultation proposals behind the Bill and the importance that it gives to the safety of cyclists. The difficulties involved have in many ways been underestimated in the debate. The Cyclists Touring Club document on the Bill states that in the past cycle tracks have been extremely dangerous as well as unsatisfactory in other ways. It states: “There is neither priority nor protection for the cyclist at junctions from other traffic turning across his path or leaving minor roads, work entrances and private drives across the track. The majority of motorists, even if they notice the existence of the tracks, assume that they have priority over cyclists using them. It is usually difficult for a cyclist approaching a junction to ascertain the intentions of following motorists and inconvenient for a cyclist to stop and give way at every junction, no matter how minor, in order to be assured of no conflict. Queues of vehicles waiting to enter the major road from a minor one also invariably block the cycle track.” I have discovered that from my own experience. “Indeed, it is seldom possible to leave a cycle track sufficiently in advance of a junction in order to safely execute a right turn.” The greatest danger to cyclists certainly occurs at major junctions, especially roundabouts, where it is crucial that the highway code be observed. Other examples are bottlenecks such as bridges. Yet at these points cycle tracks often cease to exist. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Lilley) spoke of the difficulty of matching a completed cycle track with a similar stretch on the other side of the road. Cycle tracks may suddenly cease to exist, pitching the cyclist into a maelstrom of traffic at the most dangerous places. The Bill seeks to tackle those problems….

…Furthermore, the Cyclists Touring Club states: “Cycle tracks are frequently illegally obstructed and enforcement of parking restrictions has a low priority with the police. Defective vehicles are often moved on to a cycle track in order to clear the main carriageway even by the police themselves.” The maintenance of cycle tracks is given a low priority by local authorities. I hope that the bill will encourage local authorities to become more actively involved in the development of cycle tracks, and that there will be a move to greater local involvement in the development of cycle tracks….

…The Bill will achieve many of the CTC’s aims, including the banning of mopeds from cycle tracks and the banning of parking on cycle tracks, which has concerned many people for a long time. It will now be an offence to drive or park partly or wholly on a cycle track….

…The most important part of the process is the construction of the cycle track. There is no point in having cycle tracks that are a mass of potholes and inefficiently built, as they might serve only to add to the risks faced by cyclists.

and criticism of shared use from Gerry Bermingham (Labour, St Helens South) — albeit only from the “danger and discomfort for pedestrians” point of view and not also from the “not attractive for cycling” point of view:

As it is proposed that there should in some cases be tracks containing cyclists and pedestrians, I have reservations about the Bill. On my way to the House on Wednesday I was nearly mown down by cyclists coming up on the pavement behind me. That reminded me of the dangers of intermingling pedestrians and cyclists. There is much point, therefore, in the argument of the Royal National Institute for the Blind. If we allow the two to be near each other, there must be a segregating feature, not only for the blind but especially for small children using the footpaths.

It has been suggested that there might be a curb to sector the area. In my view, that would be the minimum solution, and I should not be happy simply with white lines, which are meaningless to the blind and are ignored to a large extent by young children who have not yet acquired the safety techniques, so to speak, of being with traffic.

But otherwise, members from all parties agreed that shared paths and pavements would be a good cheap and easy way to encourage and enable cycling, and didn’t see any need to bother themselves thinking about standards of design and maintenance.

And I don’t think that local authorities today think about shared use any differently: I don’t think there is any widespread idea that pedestrians and cyclists should be mixed — that it is an inherently good thing. Councils think of shared use, if they spend any time thinking about it at all, exactly as the MPs of the early 1980s did: it’s cheap and easy.

But even “cheap” is expensive when it’s money wasted on things that don’t work. So, while the intentions of thirty years ago might have been all good, the same can’t be said now that we have thirty years of experience with unattractive and ineffective shared pavements. If MPs today are serious about enabling and encouraging cycling they must retire these crap facilities in favour of infrastructure that actually works.

Crap facilities in LTN 2/08

Some folk think that things would be better — or less bad, at least — for cycling in this country if only LTN 2/08 “Cycle Infrastructure Design” were strictly followed. They see some good recommendations in the guidance, and perhaps a solution to the more bizarre makeshift crap facilities. A few go further, thinking that the document could actually be the basis for the better, safer, more attractive streets that would support a mass cycling culture.

I’ve explained why I think LTN 2/08 is not fit for the purpose of guiding cyling infrastructure design, but I don’t blame people for seeing the contents of LTN 2/08 as an improvement on the cars-only street designs and crap facilities that we have now. There really are good things in the guidance. Instructions for filtered permeability are given — though sadly at the level of individual streets rather than whole neighbourhoods. There are strong words about the use of “cyclists dismount” signs — though perhaps they could be even stronger. Replacing centre lines with wide advisory cycle lanes, tightening junction geometry, and other cycle-friendly traffic-calming solutions are suggested. The streets and cycle facilities in LTN 2/08 generally look more attractive than those that most of us are used to.

But at the same time, the document clearly encourages certain kinds of crap. There are two in particular that I feel like discussing: bus lanes and shared pavements.

On bus lanes, LTN 2/08 says:

6.1.1 Bus lanes are generally popular with cyclists (Reid and Guthrie, 2004).

A chapter is then devoted to bus lanes, giving, for example, guidance on designing out close overtakes by specifying lane widths, and specifying that cycle lanes can not continue through bus stops.

The cited source for the claim that bus lanes are popular with cyclists, Reid and Guthrie, is behind a paywall. But the abstract says:

Surveys and interviews carried out in Edinburgh, Hull, Derby and London found that riding in bus lanes (including contra-flows) was generally very popular with cyclists because it appeared safer and more direct than cycling in general traffic.

That is, lanes from which all motor vehicles except buses are banned are more popular than lanes which are full of trucks and fast cars. Bus lanes on busy roads are something that cyclists use to get by, they are not an aspiration and they do little to reduce the barriers to would-be cyclists switching their travel mode. In fact there are many problems with bus lanes: they’re shared with some of the biggest, most intimidating and most polluting vehicles on the road, constantly stopping and starting; they’re shared with impatient and frequently hostile taxi drivers (though there is no good reason why they should be, and this could easily be remedied with a change to the rules if only politicians were willing to make it); they do nothing to solve the junctions problem; they don’t solve any problems outside of their hours of operation or the hours of parking restrictions; and they suffer from much the same left-hook problem as cycle tracks — and one that is far more difficult to solve with engineering than that of cycle tracks.

More important are the things that LTN 2/08 has to say on “off-road cycle routes”. Off-road cycle routes should mean cycle tracks and paths. But little in LTN 2/08 comes anywhere close to resembling proper cycle tracks. It’s all shared paths — the basic unit of the crap facility. Indeed, the first line of the chapter on off-road cycle routes prescribes these shared pavements:

8.1.1  Off-road cycle routes almost invariably accommodate pedestrians too.

(The switch from prescriptive to descriptive language is a bit bizarre. Perhaps the authors knew of the problems with shared pavements and couldn’t quite bring themselves to explicitly endorse it, but were prevented from recommending anything better? The document could equally state that cycle routes are almost invariably blocked by ridiculous obstacles and “cyclists dismount” signs. But it doesn’t, it strongly discourages such things. This is a prescriptive document therefore this is a de facto prescription for shared pavements: that is how engineers are going to use it.)

I’ve already discussed the damaging endorsement of “dual networks”, and the idea that standards can be compromised on cycle routes because Real Cyclists will naturally always prefer to ride on the roads. It shows up right from the start, in the introduction:

1.3.8: inexperienced and/or leisure cyclist – may be willing to sacrifice directness, in terms of both distance and time, for a route with less traffic and more places to stop and rest;

And it can be found again, in the section on off-road routes. After a good start on design speed, it explicitly recommends compromising on quality, all because it can’t imagine a cycle route having a separate footway:

8.2.1 On commuter routes, cyclists usually want to be able to travel at speeds of between 12 mph and 20 mph, preferably without having to lose momentum…

8.2.2 A design speed of 20 mph is preferred for off­road routes intended predominantly for utility cycling…

8.2.3 Where cyclists share a route with pedestrians, a lower design speed may be required. Routes with design speeds significantly below 20 mph are unlikely to be attractive to regular commuter cyclists, and it may be necessary to ensure there is an alternative on­carriageway route for this user category.

There are certain situations where a shared path may be acceptable. Outside of urban areas, where usage is low, for example. And shared use can be appropriate if applied not as a route but at destinations, to help get the final few yards to the parking. It is rarely the right way to build a through route in urban areas where usage both on foot and on bicycles will be high, leading to conflict. A manual should be explaining such things. This one isn’t, it’s just endorsing low quality shared paths — for that’s how it will be, and has been, interpreted — whether it intends to or not.

The formula for crap facilities continues where width is discussed:

8.5.2 A minimum width of 1.5 metres is recommended for a one-way cycle track. The minimum recommended width for a two-way cycle track is 3 metres

8.5.3 Where there is no segregation between pedestrians and cyclists, a route width of 3 metres should generally be regarded as the minimum acceptable, although in areas with few cyclists or pedestrians a narrower route might suffice.

These are, of course, minimum widths, and they are indeed acceptable minimum widths where, say, there is a short section where a pre-existing, immovable and unworkaroundable building or geographical feature makes the desirable width impossible. But they’re rarely appropriate over sustained distances, except perhaps, depending on the exact circumstances, on the lowest trafficked rural routes — and even then, routes that are predicted to be low usage do not always turn out to be so. That these are merely the minimum widths for low usage routes is mentioned in the document, and the authors can not be blamed for their misuse — though I would like more to have been said about what the actual desirable widths are.

But misused the widths are. Every new relief road and shopping centre distributer and every big new road submitted to the DfT for funding last year — even those in so-called “cycling cities” — has a 3.0 metre bidirectional shared pavement on one side.

Obviously the problem here goes far wider than just this document alone. The way that at least some local authority engineers and consultants approach this stuff is revealed in this delightful discussion on those other crap facilities — Advance Stop Lines:

My colleagues and I have been looking through LTN2 /98 and its more of a compendium of How Not To Do Traffic Engineering than anything else. I would hope that Figure 9.4 was swiftly removed from street – in fact I have to wonder why DfT even published the picture in the first place! Another one is Figure 7.2 which invalidates the double yellow lines – and thats given as a good example? Come on!

These are figs 9.4 and 7.2:

There are other marvelous comments in that thread…

I have NEVER seen the point of ASL across full width when a R/T is NOT permitted (and some even show this across three lane approaches.

I agree re the suggestion that 5 metres max depth is excessive. This measurement is applied as a standard in Edinburgh and I have queried the use of such a distance in a city where under 1% of daily commuters are cyclists.

Obviously the content of LTN 2/08 itself is not even half of the problem when highways departments are populated almost exclusively by non-cyclists who think that the worst thing about the cycling infrastructure guidance is a non-standard bicycle-shaped red traffic light and that advance stop boxes don’t need to be deeper than a truck’s blind spot, and when politicians are reinforcing that cars-first culture by pursuing fanciful programmes of “smoothing traffic flow”. But fixing the guidance looks to me like the easiest step in the change that is needed. If things are going to continue to be built by a formula with no understanding of the theory, we should at least make sure that the formula is right.

(Thanks to Mark and Paul, who helped to annotate the good and bad in LTN 2/08 a few months ago — though I don’t claim to speak for anybody other than myself in this post.)

People die of cancer and heart disease, therefore we don’t require oxygen to stay alive

AmCamBike seems to be frustrated with all these folk claiming that a necessary prerequisite for mass cycling is good infrastructure that doesn’t require bicycle users to mix with lots of busy fast traffic. He looks at a survey of people in the Netherlands who both drive and cycle for some of their journeys, and which asks those people why they choose to make journeys by bicycle and why they choose to make journeys by car. It turns out that they do not cite infrastructure as a reason to make a journey by bicycle, and they do not cite a lack of infrastructure on the occasions that they choose not to make a journey by bicycle. Dutch folk just never say: I would have made that journey by bicycle today if only they had built another cycle path. So I take it all back. Fixing our infrastructure is not necessary for cycling. Apparently we just need to shout loud and clear that cycling is healthy, fun and good for the environment. Why had nobody thought to do that before in this country?

AmCamBike may just have made an important breakthrough in transport planning. I just went to my local station, you see, and asked the folk waiting on the platform why they had chosen to make their journey by train. Not one of them mentioned the tracks. This opens up exciting money-saving opportunities for High Speed 2. Folk in the Chilterns will be relieved.

AmCamBike also notes how strange it is that, in the UK, a survey found that dangerous roads and lack of cycling infrastructure is cited as a reason not to make journeys by bicycle. What a strange result that is, that in a country that lacks cycling infrastructure, a lack of cycling infrastructure is cited as a reason for not cycling. And in a country which doesn’t lack cycling infrastructure, it isn’t. What could possibly explain why it is cited as a reason for not cycling in one, but not the other? It’s a right conundrum, isn’t it?

AmCamBike thinks it would be interesting to see whether that result — from the recent Sustrans research — which found lack of cycling infrastructure to be a reason for not cycling in the UK, could be replicated in other surveys. Well, I suppose there’s the DfT’s 2011 “Climate change and transport choices” report. And the 2001 Scottish “Sharing Road Space” report (PDF). And Southampton’s 1997 “Barriers to cycling” survey (PDF). And Manchester’s 2011 cycle survey. There were Tim Ryley’s 2004 surveys in Edinburgh, I guess. And TRL’s 1997 “Attitudes to cycling” focus groups, 1998 “Cycling for a healthier nation” surveys, and 1998 “Transport implications of leisure cycling” surveys are often cited, though I’ve never obtained the full reports. And obviously there’s the very in-depth Understanding Walking and Cycling project, about which Dave Horton writes lay summaries. But perhaps they all just prompted the participants to give those responses?

I think it would be far more interesting to survey ex-pat Dutch folk to find out what affects their everyday transport mode decisions in their adopted countries. It shouldn’t be difficult: I find that Dutch people are very willing to tell you why they don’t cycle in the UK, before you’ve even asked. Like the Dutch chap on a hillwalking holiday who I met in Torridon last year — jealous of my cycle touring, he volunteered, but unwilling to join me because of the lack of safe places to cycle in Scotland. Or the retired gentleman who had struck up a conversation (wondering why I was photographing roundabouts) on the cycle path at Ernst when I was riding to Arnhem — a fan of my native West Country as a holiday destination, but he has only ever taken a car to Devon and Cornwall because “you’d have to cycle on the road, with 100kmph cars, it’s crazy”. Or the Dutch student I met at the lights on the Bloomsbury cycle tracks, who rides on a carefully planned quiet route to UCL, but to no other destinations, because she couldn’t be sure there would be a cycle route. Isn’t it really odd how, when they’re in the Netherlands, which has cycle paths, they don’t cite lack of cycle paths as a reason for not cycling, but when they’re in the UK, which doesn’t have cycle paths, they cite lack of cycle paths as a reason for not cycling? Why is that? Why won’t they listen to AmCamBike when he tells them that they don’t cycle because of the infrastructure?

The DfT’s crap cycling manual

No sooner had I posted a list of things for Norman Baker and his colleagues to be doing — to prove that they were doing things that will actually make a difference, rather than just passing the buck to under-resourced and poorly supported local authorities — than they acted. Baker and road safety minister Mike “Petrolhead” Penning have written a letter to local authorities, encouraging them to, er, look at their junctions and invite businesses to sponsor cycle lanes.

I don’t think many people have fallen for this charade. There is little point in simply suggesting that local authorities rebuild junctions. If they did — and they’re not going to on any significant scale unless and until they find the money from somewhere (and that’s unlikely to be from sponsorship), but suppose they did… — they would go through the normal design process and, er, the instructions would tell them to build the same cycling hostile crap as before.

There are reasons why we have atrocious junctions and crap cycle facilities. Our engineers and lowest-bidder contractors have been trained to build these things. They are also told explicitly not to build the sort of high quality infrastructure that we need. If we are ever going to make any significant advance, the government — central government — needs to do something to help our engineers into the 21st century. The first and most obvious step is to revise the guidance — the manual — that makes local authorities build crap.

The Department for Transport have, over the years, produced a number of guidance documents that tell council officers and consultants how to build roads and streets. Things like the “Design Manual for Roads and Bridges”, which tells you how to build a motorway… or city streets, if you like your streets to look and be used like a motorway. Better streets are built according to the principles of the more modern and civilised “Manual for Streets 2”.

“Cycle Infrastructure Design” (PDF) — commonly known by its serial number, “Local Transport Note (LTN) 2/08” — is the document which sets out the principles for building for cycling, and all the technical details of the government’s recommended facilities. The devolved administrations in Scotland and London have produced their own manuals which vary slightly from LTN 2/08.

Some cycle campaigners are fans of LTN 2/08 and think that if only it were strictly followed things would be better. In their briefing to The Times last week (PDF), for example, cyclenation say:

DfT publication LTN 2/08 (Local transport note no. 2, 2008) is generally good at setting out guidance for cycling provisions, but frequently goes unheeded.

I understand where cyclenation are coming from, and I think no ill of them for writing this. Because most British main roads and cycle facilities are even worse for cycling than LTN 2/08 recommends. Following the manual would be an improvement. But not much of an improvement. Saying that LTN 2/08 is good shows just how abysmally low our expectations have sunk.

The manual largely consists of guidelines rather than strict rules, and the guidelines are frequently broken. Certainly there are, as the cyclenation briefing says, cases where the guidance has gone unheeded and we have ended up with crap cycle facilities. But there are also cases where the guidance has gone unheeded and we have ended up with something far better than would have be provided had it been followed: some of the best (and yes, in this country “best” is hardly “great”) examples of on-street infrastructure — the tracks on Camden’s Royal College Street, for example — break all of the rules of LTN 2/08. And all too often — through a combination of poor training in how to use the guidance, competing political demands like “smoothing traffic flow”, and the many fundamental failings of the guidelines themselves — the guidance is heeded, and the result is still a crap cycle facility.

Because LTN 2/08 isn’t good. It frequently endorses the wrong things. It recommends against international best practice infrastructure and omits almost every detail of it. And it fails right from its first fundamental principles, which is why anybody can “heed” the guidance and still build whatever crap they like. I think that LTN 2/08 is a greater hindrance than help for cycling and that replacing it is a necessary step.

The introductory section of LTN 2/08 is the most widely endorsed. It contains a series of underlying principles for designing for cycling. Some of it is very good — the need for “convenient, accessible, safe, comfortable and attractive” space for cycling, for example, and the need to think at the level of the network, not just streets and routes. There is something of a disconnect between these principles and the rest of the guidance, and the good principles rarely shine through in the built designs. But it is also far from the case that the underlying principles are all good.

The first problem that leaps out while reading the introduction is the Hierarchy of Provision. I’ve written before about why the Hierarchy is the wrong approach to the problem, so I won’t here, except to reiterate that the Hierarchy is not fit for the role that it has been given — that of central formula for deciding which solution is appropriate — which is one reason why so many inappropriate solutions have been implemented.

The second fundamental problem is that LTN 2/08 endorses “dual networks”. It correctly identifies that different cyclists have different needs and abilities, but from this fact it draws some very wrong and damaging conclusions. “Some cyclists are more able and willing to mix with motor traffic than others. In order to accommodate the sometimes conflicting needs of various user types and functions, it may be necessary to create dual networks offering different levels of provision, with one network offering greater segregation from motor traffic at the expense of directness and/or priority.” That is, new, nervous and child cyclists will be grateful for a crap facility that gives way to every side road, or a winding backstreet route, while confident cyclists will want to be in their natural place — on the road, with the traffic, riding in the vehicular style. Indeed, the former category are expected to eventually cast off their training wheels and graduate into the latter  category.

I would have hoped that “dual networks” could have been the one thing that might be able to unite cyclists in opposition. As cyclenation say in their briefing to The Times, crap cycle facilities can do more harm than good when other road users get indignant at your refusing to use them. But I know there is one cycling campaigner and consultant who is proud of his dual network, and just in the past few weeks LCC’s Go Dutch campaign has also taken a turn down the dual network path. I think this is the wrong path: when you stop designing infrastructure that’s good enough for everybody, you tend to end up with stuff that’s good for nobody.

The effect of the “dual networks” principle in LTN 2/08 is that neither “network” is satisfactorily designed. The low-traffic “network” can be designed down: it can concede priority, take circuitous routes, share busy pedestrian spaces, and even advise dismounting — yes, LTN 2/08 says elsewhere that those solutions are undesirable, but, hey, this is just the training network, they’ll soon graduate onto the road so what does it matter? And when it then comes to fixing the main roads and busy junctions, engineers will “take into account the type(s) of cyclist expected to use it”, conclude that the inexperienced and nervous cyclists will be usingthe other “network”, and design the roads and junctions accordingly. You can see the wretched result of the dual networks principle all over our cities — famously on the Euston Road, where the cycle route leads you along “a sort of fiddly thing”, while Real Men like Boris Johnson prefer to “scoot down the underpass“.

Theoretically the dual networks don’t have to be substandard, of course. But if you design infrastructure that isn’t substandard, there’s just no need to think in dual networks. The Dutch also recognise the variety of cyclists. Their engineering manual recommends designs of sufficient quality to accommodate that variety. Their designs work. The idea that cyclists will want to graduate on to vehicular cycling — that it is aspiration rather than a survival strategy — is perhaps one of the reasons why LTN 2/08 entirely omits quality separated infrastructure… except where it gives spurious reasons not to consider it.

The authors of LTN 2/08 have obviously not looked at Dutch solutions or the Dutch manual. There are a total of three references to the Netherlands and three further references to the continent in the document. Three of those references are about cycle parking. One is in an aside about roundabout geometry. A Dutch study measuring overtaking distances — probably irrelevant to current British conditions — is mentioned. Finally, the authors have this to say about modern European cycle track design:

“As a result of concerns over the safety of parallel cycle tracks crossing side roads, it is becoming common European pratice to reintroduce cyclists to the main road in advance of a junction. Cyclists pass the junction on the carriageway and then rejoin the cycle track.”

It’s just bonkers.

The final fundamental conceptual problem with LTN 2/08 is not explicitly stated, but is written right through the guidance. Despite being the cycling-for-transport infrastructure guidance, despite being introduced with a reminder of why cycling should be supported, the document just doesn’t treat cycling as a serious form of transport. That’s not a problem specific to LTN 2/08, obviously, and it will take more than just revisions to a document to change the entrenched culture of the nation’s highways departments. But it’s especially dissapointing to find the document so riddled with it. It is clear that the authors are stuck in the car-centric paradigm and lack imagination for how things could be.

“Advisory cycle lanes,” for example, “are not recommended where they are likely to be blocked by parked vehicles.” Not, “car parking should be restricted in cycle lanes.” We’re told that we like cycling in bus lanes: “They are preferred over off-road facilities as a result of the advantage of remaining in the carriageway and therefore having priority at side roads” [my emphasis]. This is the guidance for providing for bicycles and it can not even imagine a world in which bicycles might have priority over turning vehicles. This is especially bizarre given that, technically, pedestrians have priority over turning vehicles — though pedestrians bold and brave enough to take it are ever rarer. To me it seems so blindingly obvious that the natural arrangement would be that anybody continuing straight would have priority over those turning, regardless of the means of travel of either party. The authors of LTN 2/08 can’t imagine that world — can’t imagine that there could be any alternative to our might makes right of way world.

What of that top-of-the-hierarchy solution, “reducing traffic volume”, if highways authorities can’t even imagine a cyclist having priority over car parking or motorists leaving their driveways? This is a problem that obviously goes far wider and deeper than this one document — Karl’s experience of the LTN 2/08 in practice illustrates the cultural problem we face. But replacing this document has to be one of the first steps to changing that culture. This is the document that Norman Baker says “provides comprehensive good practice advice on a range of practical infrastructure measures to help cyclists,” when he tries to shrug off the Cities Fit For Cycling campaign. It doesn’t. It’s part of the problem, and it’s his problem.

These are just the problems with the fundamental underlying principles. Just wait ’till I get around to listing the ridiculous details — the crap facilities it recommends and the almost complete absence of of best practice solutions from this “comprehensive good practice” guide…

Caledonia Way

Another quick update on a Scottish cycle route, before I post my conclusions about them. This is the Caledonia Way, NCN78, a 350km route from Campbeltown and the Mull of Kintyre up the Argyll coast to Oban, alongside the sea lochs to Fort William, and up the Great Glen to Inverness. The Caledonia Way is being developed primarily to be a great all abilities tourist trail (though with uses as a serious local transport route), linking some great Highland landscape to the railway towns via a relatively flat route.

The intention is for the route to be on dedicated cycle paths and tracks throughout, except a few short sections where existing suitable very quiet lanes and streets exist. This is, of course, a similar aspiration to that of the National Cycle Network, but one that sadly hasn’t always worked out quite as intended.

But the Oban to Glencoe section shows how the Caledonia Way is doing. Here, the cycle route runs alongside sea lochs, going the same way as the A828, a non-trunk primary route which is not very busy but is in many places engineered for very high speeds. Over the past few years the road has been acquiring cycle tracks. The organisations involved have not compromised on acquiring the amount of land that is required to build something on which you can pass, overtake and ride three-abreast:

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Nor do they seem to have compromised on building all of the foundations, drainage and other structures that the route needs:

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Here, where the road went into an existing wood, the path has been threaded further back from the road, hiding the traffic a little…

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…but for much of the route cyclists don’t have to follow the road at all. The old Oban to Ballachulish railway also ran along here, and the cycle route has taken over the trackbed for several miles in a couple of different places:

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Sometimes it doesn’t follow road or railway, but takes its own paths of least resistance:

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There are a couple of places where the cycle tracks briefly get nasty. But the designers have at least proved that they understand what “minimum standard” means: the bare minimum which can be acceptable for those few yards where the expense of engineering out the geography would be unreasonable, not the sustained standard at which to build the whole route.

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Sadly there have been a couple of really embarrassing  prioritisation decisions, involving a (disused?) gated quarry road and one really very unfortunate little mess at a driveway (I’m hoping that this mess, which is next to the pinch-point above left and is only a short section of poor quality tracks between good quality railway paths, is just an interim link before something better can be done using the railway).

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But, on the new tracks and paths, those are the most notable issues in the 50kms between Oban and Glencoe. That is, on the new tracks. There are some at the Oban end that are several years older, and are your typical 2.0m pavement construction. I hope it’s not too late for those to be revisited by the new designers, who clearly have a better idea what they’re doing…

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But it’s not too late for everything to go wrong. Only a little over two thirds of the tracks and paths to bypass the A828 have been built so far, often leaving you back on the main road:

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Though Irish Navvies (no really, the contractor’s trucks had IRL plates) are out there right now building more of it (and the progress since I rode it in the spring almost two years is immense):

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And Oban to Glencoe is so far the only section of the Caledonia Way to have been built. Which brings me to my point — or will, when I get around to posting it.

Return to Glasgow again

A quick update on this post, which was in turn an update on this one. Briefly: when I passed through Glasgow in the spring there were some cycle tracks under construction (and on streets that the Mayor of London, and many cycle campaigners even, would no doubt describe as “too narrow”), and, while they looked pretty good, the markings were not yet down, so there were some ambiguities about how it might work.

I will make a wider point about these tracks and more in a future post, but for now, this post is just some photos showing off what Glasgow has been getting — not just here, but at several similar routes in the city.

The good news: the crossing of side-roads has been done pretty much exactly right: the priority is clear, and if the markings weren’t enough, the contrasting colour should be:

It’s not quite 100% perfect: as the coloured surface shows, there is still a rather generous sweeping curve for vehicles turning left onto the minor road to race across the tracks. But it’s plenty enough to make it one of the best examples of on-street cycle tracks in the UK… not that this is a great boast.

The not so good news is where the tracks switch from one side of the road to the other, at the same time as the road is intersected by another minor road. When I was last here, it wasn’t year clear how crossing to the opposite corner of the crossroads was going to work.

Well it’s a two stage crossing. The minor road is another cycle track priority crossing, with coloured surface to make it obvious, though this time the track first briefly jumps up and down kerbs (and slippery ridged paving that’s potentially dangerously aligned) over a wee patch of shared use footway.

Then comes the crazy bit, a toucan crossing:

I’ve only passed this way a couple of times — at the tail end of the evening and morning rush hours — so perhaps I’m not the best person to judge, but a signal controlled crossing seems like overkill. Signals are expensive to install and power, so you’d expect authorities to be cautious about using them. But I just can’t work out why they’re needed here. The two obvious simpler solutions would be to have a non-signaled crossing with cyclist priority (and a zebra), as has been done with the minor side-roads, or a non-signaled crossing with motor priority. My impression of the motor traffic volume was such that the latter would not hold up cyclists any longer than the signals do. The former would obviously be preferred, and my impression of cycle and foot traffic volume was that cycle priority and a zebra would not hold up motor traffic much — though it would hopefully contribute to slow speeds on a street lined with shops, flats, and a playing field. I don’t know… perhaps at the height of rush hour it’s required.

My suspicion is that there is a toucan here simply because the old fashioned engineering rule book can’t accommodate the more obvious alternative.

That’s the only real issue with this new section of the tracks. The width, though perhaps not generous, is certainly sufficient. It would be nice if we were in a position where all those bollards were not necessary, but we’re not. Further on at the traffic lights, the tracks have their own dedicated phase (sadly without a detector that lets cyclists go first, as the Dutch might have):

But the full route isn’t yet complete up to this standard. To reach the city centre you are still directed on an ad hoc route along old footways-turned-shared-paths (signed as cycle routes but still without drop kerbs or toucan crossings) across the tangle of motorway slip roads and into the foreboding poorly-lit motorway underpass. And that leads me to my point…

…which I’ll post when I get the time.

Shared-use facility of the month

Riding up to Waterloo recently, I spotted a wonderful collection of pavement obstructions — roadworks signs, a fast food kiosk that takes most of the width of the footway, and A-board advertising the fast food kiosk just in case you hadn’t spotted the kiosk itself, and a fixed shared-use cycle/footway sign, designating this pavement as a place to ride your bike.

It’s not entirely clear from the sign’s position and jaunty angle whether the shared-use applies to the narrowed pavement outside the kiosk, or the even narrower pavement alongside the Charing Cross railway arches.

(distorted by ultra-wideangle lens)

The latter could be a useful route up to Waterloo (up the ramp in the distance on the left) avoiding having to go through the roundabout and bus station (beyond the traffic lights on the right), though it would make a lot more sense just to add “except cycles” to the “no entry” sign on this little-used one-way street.

But I realised later that it’s probably to take you up to those traffic lights, which control a toucan crossing allowing one to make the right turn into a quiet side-streets route without having to pull across two lanes and wait in the middle of the road for the oncoming traffic.

There are dozens of ways this could be improved, by moving the kiosk out of the way, moving stop-lines back on the oncoming carriageway and on the no-entry side-street, and having a proper bit of cycle track leading into the crossing. Just as Haarlem patched the ugliest bits of this ugly road, one can imagine a great many far superior ways to deal with this crossing.

But anything you build to serve this crossing is always going to be far from satisfactory because the entire concept is wrong. There should be no need to cross here at all because the recommended cycle route shouldn’t be meandering down little side-streets like Exton Street. If you want people to cycle, you need to give them an attractive, direct, easy to follow route, that doesn’t waste their time with constant changes of direction and checking of signs. Main roads like this need a complete rebuild — as they tend to get every few decades anyway — but with proper thought and planning. It’s not difficult to see where the space can be taken from vehicles (and kiosks) on this road of bloated traffic lanes to provide high quality dedicated space for cycling.

Until that happens, trying to route cyclists through cramped and crowded bits of pavement kinda makes TfL and Lambeth look like a bunch of idiots.

On country lanes

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

I was sent a CPRE book last week. It reminded me of these lines from Betjeman:

Let’s say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes;
Let all things travel faster
Where motor car is master
Till only Speed remains.

A common objection to dedicated cycling infrastructure is the size of the British road network. You can’t put cycling infrastructure on every road in the country, therefore you shouldn’t put it on any. I disagree, not just with the conclusion, but with the premise too. We can put cycling infrastructure on every road in the country. It just depends on the definition of “road”.

Country lanes like the one below, a narrow 4km long link between the north-south A357 and the east-west A30, are currently “roads” — used primarily to get motor vehicles from one place to another. How could you separate bicycles and motor vehicles here without demolishing buildings, cutting down hedges and paving over the countryside?

It starts as a little street squeezed between two old shops in a tiny town centre:

Continue reading “On country lanes”

On the village high street

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

Big busy fast main roads are the major barrier to making journeys by bicycle for most of the rural British population, and proper high-quality cycle tracks are the most plausible solution to that problem. It would be nice to be able to reclaim all the roads from the fast cars and big trucks, make them places where people can happily ride bicycles again, but that doesn’t seem likely for a long time. At the moment, providing dedicated inviting space for bicycles alongside them is the only proven solution.

In some cases the same solution could be applied to rural settlements: enabling cycling by reallocating some of the roadspace from general traffic to bicycles, as in this village on a busy road and intercity bicycle route between Arnhem and Nijmegen in the Netherlands:

But more often the reverse is true of rural villages. Not only is it difficult to provide cycling space because of the constraints of very old streets, but the political will is the opposite within villages than without: speed is unpopular and most residents want the cars tamed and the streets reclaimed for people. It is just about possible to calm these streets, with the right engineering, and the will to do it exists — not because of anything to do with cycling, but because people live and work and shop and raise their kids in these places.

That’s part of the Dutch model, where they recognise that roads, whether we like it or not, have become routes for motor vehicles, while streets must be places for people but where, with the right engineering, a limited number of motor vehicles can be accommodated.

On this country road near Assen the speed limit drops to 20mph when it enters a village… Continue reading “On the village high street”

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:

Continue reading “On rural main roads”

“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

A death in Hucknall

A funeral takes place in Nottinghamshire today. The Hucknall Dispatch reported on Sunday:

A LARGE congregation is expected to pay its respects at the funeral of a well-known Hucknall grandad who was killed in a tragic road-accident.

Cyclist Alan Davies (58), of Polperro Way, died after he and an articulated lorry collided on Watnall Road, Hucknall, near the Rolls-Royce site on Tuesday September 27 at 7 am.

His funeral is scheduled for Hucknall Parish Church on Market Place at 2.45 pm next Thursday (October 13). Cremation will follow at Mansfield Crematorium before a get-together at The Hucknall Empire pub and restaurant on Morven Avenue, off Beardall Street, from 4 pm.

As well as his wife, Dorothy, Mr Davies leaves three children — Danny (38), who now lives in Huddersfield, Kimberley (29) and Charlotte (28). He also leaves five grandchildren.

His family and friends have been devastated by the tragedy.

A man with strong connections to local football, Mr Davies was well known in Hucknall. He stood as an Independent candidate in the Hucknall West ward at the Ashfield District Council elections earlier this year.

A former fitter at the now-closed Linby Colliery, Mr Davies was also an avid writer of poetry and an expert on Lord Byron.

His family say he “had Hucknall at his heart”.

An inquest into Mr Davies’s death was opened and adjourned at Nottingham Coroner’s Court on Tuesday.

As reported in the Dispatch, Mr Davies died 30 years after his five-year-old son, Julian, was killed in a road accident on Annesley Road in Hucknall.

It was the top Google News report when I was looking for coverage of the Hucknall “Town Centre Improvement Scheme”, a Development Pool project seeking £8.5 million to pedestrianise the town’s High Street… by demolishing eighteen houses to make way for a bloated new “inner relief road” linking the two streets named in this news item. I have never been to Hucknall, but Nottinghamshire must have a pretty low opinion of the town if they think that this an “improvement”.

It’s another of those roads that council officers have been drawing and re-drawing for fifty years — and it wouldn’t look out of place in the 1970s. Perhaps the current head of highways drew it himself, as a lad, in a junior position decades ago?

Hucknall already has a bypass, the A611, built in the early 1990s. It only has a High Street traffic problem now because it failed then to do anything to prevent the town centre being used as a ratrun.

Like all these Development Pool plans, it all sounds very nice in the sales pitch — all this new walking and cycling and public transport provision:

1.2 What are/were the primary objectives of the scheme? Please limit this to the primary objectives (ideally no more than 3) the problems to which this scheme is the solution.

• To promote the renewal and regeneration of Hucknall town centre and create an attractive and prosperous retail centre;

• To improve the quality of life in and around the town centre by enhancing the quality of environment for pedestrians, whilst providing cycle facilities in the vicinity of the town centre, and improving links between different parts of the town and achieving greater integration with the tram/rail interchange;

• To make best use of highway assets by reducing levels of traffic congestion through Hucknall town centre and enhancing the status of public transport in order to encourage a modal shift away from the private car and improve bus service

You wouldn’t even guess that most of the money will be spent on demolishing 18 houses and building a big new town centre road, to the most walking and cycling unfriendly design possible for a road of its class.

“Enhanced pedestrian and cycle facilities together with environmental improvements throughout the town centre will be provided.”

What are those “enhanced” pedestrian and cycle facilities? A 3.0 metre shared pavement has been specified. A new source for the Facility Of The Month, perhaps. Maybe there will be a while line down the middle, giving pedestrians and cyclists each their 1.5m share of the pavement.

Three metres is the bare minimum for an adequate dedicated bidirectional cycle track. Anybody who proposes in an official document that cyclists and pedestrians share a 3.0m pavement in a busy town centre should have their bid laughed out of the Pool. There should be legislation stating exactly that: setting proper standards and disqualifying the bids of councils and agencies who don’t meet those standards. But what’s this?

Are you proposing any changes of scope from the scheme as described in Section 1? If yes, please describe in detail the changes you are proposing. Please also attach explanatory maps, diagrams etc. as appropriate.

• Localised narrowing of the 3m cycleway/ footway. This would deliver a cost saving of £100,000 as a result of reduced land take and retaining wall construction

I don’t take the linking of a personal tragedy to a political campaigning issue lightly. But tragedies like these are entirely predictable. When you build big roads and unusable “facilities”, and send articulated lorries through town centres and residential neighbourhoods, people are going to die. Nottinghamshire have killed a man and they plan to kill again — with £8.5 million of our money, if they can get their hands on it.

The DfT are accepting comments on Development Pool proposals until the end of tomorrow, Friday, on development.pool@dft.gsi.gov.uk.

Big roads, crap cycling and bendy buses in the Development Pool

While London’s attention is turned to Blackfriars Bridge, those blissfully unaffected by the bumbling buffoon Boris* might like to take a look at the 45 proposals that councils around England have submitted to the DfT’s Development Pool in the hope of being picked for a share of the current £630 million available for local transport projects.

Heads of council transport departments and engineering consultancies have dusted off the bypasses, relief roads, distributors and links that they have been drawing and re-drawing, submitting and resubmitting for funding for fifty years.

Look at your local area in the Development Pool and you’ll find them all there. They’ll be called something like “town centre improvement”, “bus rapid transit”, or “cycle route enhancement and congestion relief package.”

Things like the Weston-super-Mare package, which will provide better bus services and enhanced cycle routes, by, erm, widening town centre roads and ensuring that they have substandard and probably unusable shared pavements alongside.

Of the Cross Airfield Link Road, proposed to open a large brownfield site to light industrial and retail developments,** the Weston package says:

The approval is for a single carriageway road 2.4km in length, four roundabout junctions and parallel shared-use foot and cycle ways. The proposed road is 7.3m wide single carriageway. A 3.0m wide segregated shared pedestrian and cycleway will be provided along the northern side of the new road with a 3.0m footway along its southern edge. Both the cycleway and the footway will be segregated from the carriageway by 5.0m verges which are to be planted with trees to create a boulevard along the road’s length. The scheme design includes Toucan crossings in strategic locations.

This sort of stuff should be illegal — I mean that, actually legislated against. Proposing a shared pavement as a transport route in a built-up area should mean automatic rejection from the Pool, pending a suitable revised design. Three metres should be the bare minimum width requirement for a two-way dedicated cycle track on busy roads like these, where large trucks are expected, and even then the council/agency should have to provide a very good explanation for why a 4.0m track or a pair of 2.5m unidirectional tracks would be unreasonable. Weston are proposing to spend our money on a future facility of the month, and that should be against the law.

There is a pattern to the Development Pool proposals. Another Westcountry project is the “South Bristol Link”. It’s a Bus Rapid Transit route, and definitely not the South Bristol Link Road, the extension to Bristol’s southern bypass that the council has been drawing and re-drawing, submitting and re-submitting for funding since the sixties. It just happens to be a road, and to follow the route of the South Bristol Link Road. But it has bus lanes, which makes this a Bus Rapid Transit project, and definitely not the same old bypass. Bristol has grown since the road was first proposed, but the route was set aside, leaving a strip of undeveloped land surrounded by housing. Here’s the artist’s impression of the Bus Rapid Transit system:

Look at that lovely 3.0m shared pavement — in this case divided into equal shares of 1.5m footway and 1.5m bidirectional cycle track. Doesn’t it look so inviting, riding against traffic, alongside the car parking bays, in a space barely wide enough for one bicycle. One bicycle is presumably all that the council are expecting: there is no provision for two bicycles travelling in opposite directions, or travelling in the same direction at different speeds. The council will no doubt seek a solution to that problem if and when it ever arises.

It’s a classic British road mockup. Hide all the cars and clutter and put unnaturally large pedestrians and cyclists in the foreground. The road would be carrying thousands of vehicles per day, swelling with induced demand, but here it’s all free flowing, and just a single homeowner parks a car in their neat free parking bay, gift from the council. Perhaps all the other cars are parked in the city centre because neither a 1.5m bicycle track nor a bendy bus to an edge-of-town park and ride interchange are attractive methods of getting to work?

A 1.5 metre bicycle track will be of no use to anybody. The parking bays will, if you let them, fill with second and third cars, and spill out over the drop kerbs and green spaces. Within a few years the city will discover, to everybody’s surprise, I’m sure, that there is limited demand for a bus between suburban housing and an edge-of-town park and ride interchange, and the bus lanes will quietly be turned into general traffic lanes.

I’m really quite embarrassed for Bristol, having praised them for exceeding our (low) British expectations on Redcliffe Bridge. Seriously, what the fuck, Bristol? “The country’s premier national and international showcase for promoting cycling as a safe, healthy and practical alternative to the private car for commuting, education and leisure journeys.” Bristol’s “cycling city” status clearly hasn’t really sunk in for the highways engineers, who plainly have no experience of cycling or how to provide for it, but who confidently give it a go anyway having read something once in an instruction book.

The city council are cutting hundreds of jobs, and I think I’ve spotted where a few of them of them could go.

While cutting those jobs, the city is seeking £43 million for this bypass Bus Rapid Transit line. I think the Cycling City team could use the money far more profitably, retrofitting the city’s existing big roads with wide, fast, direct, prioritised, attractive tracks, and could never support Bristol throwing the money away on the South Bristol Link. But even for an urban road project, and even leaving aside the contemptible crap cycle facilities, this is an especially bad scheme. The one potential benefit of a bypass is to have a designated road on which to push traffic from city streets. But to capture that benefit you have to reclaim those city streets immediately — make it unattractive to drive on them for anything other than essential property access and loading — otherwise people will just find new ways to fill the old streets with more ridiculous car journeys. With a southern bypass Bristol could close ratruns through the southern suburbs; take back space on the main southern arterial roads — the A38 through Bedminster, for example — for the pedestrians and cyclists who spend more money in the shops along them; it could even close some more of the inner ring road. Bristol failed to capture those benefits when it previously built big bypass roads, on the northern and eastern fringes, and it would fail to capture any potential benefits of a southern bypass, proposing to make it a little bit less attractive to drive only on a couple of residential streets and a country lane:

Take a look at your local schemes on the map. There are potentially worthwhile projects in the pool too, like rail upgrades and even reversing railway closures. More has been written about the bids by Sian Berry and George Monbiot. The DfT are soliciting comments on development.pool@dft.gsi.gov.uk, deadline TOMORROW, Friday — though I’m not sure why, and whether anybody will ever read them.

* but we’re all affected, sadly, due to London’s unfortunate influence over the nation.

** it’s actually one of the least indefensible of the new roads, and one of the least bad sites for such developments, being on brownfield located alongside a railway and within walking and cycling distance of the town’s population and railway stations. I’m sure they will fail to make good use of all that potential, but it’s still progress over road-only out-of-town greenfield sprawl.

Hogesluisbrug

Here’s another bascule bridge undergoing a transformation, Hogesluisbrug, one of many crossing the canals of central Amsterdam. The city is currently rebuilding it, with modern foundations and electric lifting mechanism but with the original exterior design and decorations.

In the meantime, they’ve put a temporary bridge alongside the old one. A temporary lifting bridge. A temporary lifting tramway bridge:

A temporary lifting tramway bridge that gives priority to cyclists:

When the space gets narrow, no “cyclists dismount” signs here: the trams and vans must take turns on the remaining available space.

I didn’t go looking for this bridge, I had no idea these works were going on — it’s just the sort of thing you stumble upon when vaguely and unhurriedly navigating by instinct through a Dutch city…