Tag Archives: history

Updated: That Cycling Revolution

A couple of years ago, when I had some time to waste flicking through the four decade history of stalled and deliberately ineffective “pro-cycling” transport policies, I created one of my simplest but most enduringly popular posts: a graph of That Cycling Revolution we keep hearing about.

The concept was simple (and crudely implemented) but I think must have made the point strikingly: taking quotes celebrating a “bike boom”, a renaissance of cycling, a grand new policy, or, most absurdly of all, a golden age of cycling and overlaying them on a graph of cycling’s great decline and stagnation in this country.

But of course, we were in the midst of a cycling revolution at the very time! The Olympics were coming! We were going to ride the wave! Sadly, at the time, the Department for Transport traffic survey data that was used as the basis of the graph only reached as far as 2010, when we were merely in the midst of a cycling revolution. So how did 2012’s cycling revolution work out? Last year’s numbers are in and it’s time to look at an updated picture.

(This time, to avoid faffing with crudely adding the annotations in PS, I’ve found the Google Docs annotations functionality, which unfortunately is very limited in the control it gives you over display style (and doesn’t give quite the right feel to the different types of data that crude PS labels gave), so click to embiggen and get the quotes…)

bikeboom

(Edited to add, thanks to @johnstevensonx, here’s a fancier one you can hover over to get the quotes.)

Oh what a change.

As ever, I’ll repeat Dave Horton’s warning here:

there are two clear and present problems which bedevil UK cycling advocacy: one is the requirement to trumpet any and all gains, however minor or potentially imaginary, in order for us to legitimate and reproduce ourselves as advocates; the other is a rush to interpret any sign of growth in cycling as both ‘good’ and a clear sign that investments in cycling are paying dividends, when a wider and more critical analysis might concur with neither.

And as before there are caveats to consider, besides the (pretty much irrelevant to the final results) fact that I adjusted GB distances to UK population change. The two in particular that occurred to me being:

Firstly, the annual traffic estimates are based on manual traffic counts for a (large) sample of roads. They don’t include off-road routes like railway paths, which have been slowly appearing over the past three decades. Unfortunately I doubt there are anywhere near enough such routes to make any relevant difference to the national numbers. Of course, in a few places they might make a difference to the local numbers, which brings us to…

Secondly, they are national numbers, and I’m sure people will still want to argue that cycling in their city is booming. In London, for example, there genuinely has been growth in the numbers of people on bikes in inner and central London over the past couple of decades. But at the same time, cycling in outer London plummeted, stabilising only in recent years.

A caveat to the caveat, though. When the CTC put together a map showing changes in cycling commuter share between the 2001 and 2011 census, people were keen to find meaning in the numbers. Why was there an apparent bike boom over here? Why did cycling rates crash over there? But in most of the country, all that the map really showed is the same thing that the DfT’s distance estimates show: that cycling hit rock bottom long ago and the tiny numbers continue to fluctuate — mostly by fractions of mode share percentage points — randomly.

If you did the stats properly, perhaps you could pin a robust narrative to the data — small but significant rural declines to small but significant inner urban gains seems to be one of the more attractive hypotheses*. But you couldn’t make the stories of the cycling revolution — or the policies that were supposedly to make one come about — stick.

(For the data and info on sources, see the Google Doc.)

* but equally you can find evidence that suggests the exact opposite and evidence that recently there’s no nationwide urban/rural trend at all; none of the evidence is all that good, and all it really says is that rates are fluctuating at low levels.

Some notes on the National Cycling Strategy

I wrote this on Monday, but have been so busy I didn’t notice that I hadn’t tidied it up and posted it. But I don’t have time to tidy it up, so here it is, rambling and unfinished, and probably of interest only to a rather limited audience of campaigners…

A flurry of conversation seems to have broken out looking back at the National Cycling Strategy of 1996. This is good: understanding why past policies and campaigns failed, and learning how to do things differently, is important. And the current conversation is centred on a pretty fundamental disagreement over what exactly went wrong with that policy. Freewheeler has already described the dispute over which history is correct, and expresses some scepticism regarding this version of events which was given by Roger Geffen of the CTC:

Back in 1996, the cycling lobby managed to get some ‘fine words’ on cycling written into a new National Cycling Strategy (NCS), together with some ambitious targets for increased cycle use. It had taken several years of persistent effort, led by CTC, to get that far.

However, at that stage, the Government had made no commitment either to fund the NCS, or to integrate it into wider transport policy objectives. In other words, the targets to increase cycling weren’t seen either as a way of contributing to the wider aim of traffic reduction, nor were the aims of reduced traffic or reduced speed seen as necessary for cycling to flourish.

At the very moment when we needed to focus on securing funding for the NCS, and integrating it into a wider policy framework which supported cycling, the cycling lobby instead broke into a big argument about segregation. This merely provided Whitehall with a perfect excuse to allocate no funding to cycling – “if cyclists can’t agree what they want, what’s the point of funding it?” In other words, we allowed ourselves to be divided and ruled. Hence the NCS never got anywhere near achieving its targets (which were then abandoned c8 years later), and we’ve been living with the consequences ever since.

I’ve seen Geffen make these claims before, and, like Freewheeler, I’ve looked for corroborating evidence and never been able to find any. Quite the opposite. Having researched and written about the history of cycling policies (you’ll have to wait for that), I’m having a lot of trouble reconciling Geffen’s memory of the NCS with the published history. Geffen’s account doesn’t fit with what was happening either before or after the adoption of the policy in 1996.

Firstly, Geffen’s description of the policy’s context — that it was the result of years of persistent lobbying effort — doesn’t seem quite right. One must remember that transport policy was actually a comparatively high profile issue in 1996. The third major wave of road building, launched with Thatcher’s 1989 Roads for Prosperity paper, had led to the inevitable backlash and fierce protest, with the M11 Link, Twyford Down, Newbury Bypass and with Swampy at Fairmile. Lefty environmentalists hated the road building, but so did conservatives, concerned about the shires, heritage, their homes, and their chances at the looming election. At the same time the “new realism” of transport policy and planning, which recognised that accommodating car use growth can not be a sustainable policy, was spreading beyond the academy. And so George Young, the bicycling baronet, was appointed Transport Secretary in 1995 in order to shift the department’s policy. Road building was scrapped and the NCS was developed. So if the Conservatives and Labour were falling over themselves to say nice things about cycling in 1996, I fear it was less a case of the government suddenly giving in to CTC lobbying and more to do with the fact that voters across the spectrum had united against the extremely unpopular road building policy.

Second, Geffen portrays a policy which was written and targets which were set, but which then failed to get off the starting blocks because funding was cancelled. But this is not the National Cycling Strategy that the official documents describe. Granted, official documents are themselves hardly to be considered reliable histories of policy, but the discrepancy would still seem to warrant explanation. There are discrepancies with the original NCS document itself, but the more interesting contradictions are with this House of Commons brief history of cycling policy, with the 2005 DfT NCS review document (which led to the replacement of the NCS with Cycling England), and with Golbuff and Aldred’s history of cycling policy.

The National Cycling Strategy obviously failed. But not because it failed to be implemented. Far from quietly disappearing in 1996 while cyclists argued, the incoming Labour government — with John Prescott in charge of transport — took up the policy and increased its priority and the available money. Local authorities were instructed to develop cycling plans in their Local Transport Plans (the process by which central government part funded local transport projects back then). This is what Keith Bingham refers to in the piece that Freewheeler quotes from:

Sir George told us it didn’t need any money as such, because transport planners would be required to include cycling within the budget already provided for general transport development.

The NCS was funded, by the mechanism that was (and in essence still is, with minor variations like LSTF) in place for funding such things, and things did get done. The NCS review of 2005 found that something in the region of £200,000 of the DfT’s money had been spent by local authorities implementing their cycling plans, buying enough paint for 674 advance stop lines, 3093 kilometres of gutter cycle lane/car parking bays, and 4072 kilometres of shared pavements, along with several thousand cycle parking places.

This was an era of a great proliferation in useless facilities, and all the while that this crap got built, people carried on abandoning the bicycle as a mode of transport.

(The decline in use private transport over this period is compensated for by a great increase in the use of trains and, in London at least, buses.)

£200k spread across the whole nation (well, the DfT’s jurisdiction of England excluding London, at least) and several years is obviously as good as nothing — worse than nothing when it’s paying for crap like advance stop lines and other useless lines painted on roads. But how were the government to know otherwise? The mantra of the day was that cyclists are cheap to provide for: all they need is some Sheffield stands, a bit of paint, and “improved road user courtesy“, which is easy, right?

The strategy failed not because of a lack of funding but because of a lack of any understanding in government — national and local — about what needed to be done and why. The miserly sums spent on it merely reflect the fact that nobody had any idea of the scale of the problem or of the substantial changes that are required to fix it.

The main fundamental flaw in the NCS is that which was identified by the 2005 review: that local authorities — overstretched and lacking the necessary expertise, and in some cases actively opposed to the policy — were put in charge of implementing national policy, with inadequate guidance and resources. The miserly sums spent reflect less central government’s refusal to pay, and more local authorities’ lack of clue and/or care about what they actually need to do to break down the barriers to cycling. It’s why Cycling England was created to replace the NCS in response to the 2005 review, with an annual budget soon rising to 2000 times the amount the department was spending each year on local authority delivery of the NCS, and close supervision of what the money was being spent on.

The other big flaw — the one which was only partially recognised by the review — was that guidance for what to provide for cycling was not, and (despite revision) still is not, fit for purpose. Advance stop lines and crappy cycle lanes are what authorities were told they should be painting, and advance stop lines and crappy cycle lanes are what got painted.

The lessons from the NCS episode are that local authorities shouldn’t be put in charge of delivering national transport policies, and that there’s no point in having a policy at all if the people in charge of it don’t know what works and what doesn’t and what actually needs to be done or even why they should be doing it.

The final thing to comment on is the claim that another reason for the failure of the NCS is that it was not set in a wider framework for modal shift. In fact, the history of cycling policy that I’ve given is very closely tied up with the wider transport policies, which are documented at length in Shaw and Docherty’s Traffic Jam — a review of policy in the New Labour era. I’ve already described the context of the rise of the NCS: the dramatic demonstration that public opinion was against road building, a shift in policy away from attempting to accommodate growth in car use, and the installation of a transport secretary friendly to cycling. When Labour took over in 1997, we got in John Prescott a very rare thing: a transport secretary who seemed to actually want the portfolio, and who set out a vision, the New Deal For Transport, the opening lines of which reiterate the consensus for radical change in policy at that time, and propose an “integrated” and “sustainable” transport system. Prescott promised investment across the board, including giving 25 cities tram networks.

But the government were shaken when the “consensus” for reducing car use was challenged by hauliers blockading refineries in 2000, and the new deal had the fight taken out of it when John Prescott moved on from transport in 2001. Transport policy was crippled by the fact that there was strong public opinion against accommodating growth in car and truck use, but some equally strong opinions and powerful forces against taking from the road to provide for the alternatives. And so after Prescott a succession of short tenured transport secretaries — bland career politicians hoping to avoid controversy — passed through without really doing anything much at all. Without any leadership, the the tram networks quietly died, “sustainably” and “integration” lost all meaning, and the National Cycling Strategy plodded along without anybody really noticing how ineffective it was until 2005.

I could continue and go into whether it’s really more important to have one united “cycling lobby” than to at least have a clear voice asking for the right things, either then or now, but this post is already long and rambling enough, and I’ve no time for pruning and editing.

What the ministers will say today

I’ve mentioned before that parliamentary select committees tend to be pretty good. Slightly less of the absurd archaic jargon and formality and front-bench pantomime of the House of Commons and slightly more incisive discussion and in-depth inquiry. At their best, they will ask all the right questions and won’t accept evasive non-answers. This morning, the House of Commons Transport Committee will be putting their questions on cycling to junior ministers — Mike Penning, Roads Minister, and Norman Baker, Under-Secretary for The Bits Of Transport The Government Doesn’t Really Care About. I don’t know whether it is a good or a bad sign that they are [choosing to / have run out of ideas and been forced to] turn to twitter for inspiration on what to ask. I’ll choose to interpret it as an acknowledgement of the extent to which online discussion has moved the cycling argument and campaigning forward over the past couple of years.

Lots of great questions have been tweeted. A few of them are spot on. A few of them are completely bonkers. Most of them are nice, but completely wrong for this forum. “How do we make this an 8-80 cycling country?” Right question, wrong situation. This should be a proper forceful cross examination. Given their record, the ministers should feel like they’re on trial.

The exact questions that come up are not the most important things about the session. Whatever opening questions are thrown at them, we know that the ministers will bring out their stock evasive statements. We know that they will say these things because it’s what the ministers always say when questioned about cycling, and because it’s what so many of their predecessors have said for thirty years or more. The only thing that could stop the ministers from saying these things is if a member on the committee has been so taken in by the evasive statements that they say it themselves before the ministers have a chance to. I have already judged the ministers for the fact that will be saying these things. I will judge the committee by whether they let the ministers get away with it.

The ministers will say:

1. “Cycling is booming.” Mike Penning said it just last week in questions in the house: “Cycling is very popular in this country, and becoming even more so.” As we’ve seen, at a national level, there is little more cycling now than there was when cycling hit rock bottom in the early 1970s. Cycling has seen small fluctuations and localised booms and busts, largely unrelated to cycling-specific policy, for three decades. If government policies and actions are responsible for the current levels of cycling, then that does not reflect well on the government. Even if it were true that “cycling is booming” now — as politicians have claimed so many times before — the ministers should have to explain how they are going to capture and build upon the boom this time around and avoid, as in previous “booms”, the bubble bursting.

2. “We’re funding Bikeability.” Despite pantomime bad guy John Griffin’s recent claims that cycling proficiency is “not on the agenda any more”, cycle training is one of the few things that the current government has a relatively good record on — as it never passes up on an opportunity to remind us. There are several interesting problems with cycle training (which I’ll probably get around to discussing on the blog one day), but on balance, it’s probably a good thing that the government are funding it. Governments have been boasting about “promoting” cycle training and “encouraging local authorities” to fund it for at least as long as they’ve been talking about the “boom” in cycling, but it wasn’t until 2006 that central government (through Cycling England) finally gave up prodding reluctant local authorities and started paying for it themselves (Scotland, as usual, beat England to it by a few years; London still hasn’t caught up with England: the mayor continues to rely on the patchy coverage of the boroughs). It’s a good thing that this government decided to save the Bikeability training programme from the ruins of Cycling England, but it’s time they stopped using this fact to distract from the still gaping policy, strategy, expertise and funding gap left in Cycling England’s place. Bikeability on its own does nothing to deliver a cycling policy. The government promised very early on to fund Bikeability for the duration at a rate of £11 million per year, and they confirmed this in the local transport policy paper in January last year. That’s it. Job done for the term of this government. It’s time they stopped putting out new press releases “announcing” the funding every few months, and stopped citing it as evidence that they are working hard and making progress.

3. “Local authorities can bid for LSTF funds: it is right that local authorities decide what to do in their area, we can only encourage them.”  The we’ll-scrap-everything-and-call-it-localism thing. We’ve tried this approach to delivering on cycling policy before. For quarter of a century, in fact. In 1982 the Thatcher government had a policy for growing cycling. They “encouraged” local authorities to include cycling projects in amongst all the big road projects that they submitted for central funding. In 1995 the Major government went much further and created the National Cycling Strategy, which set a target of quadrupling the cycling rates by 2012, and they “encouraged” local authorities to implement it. These policies came and went, failing to make the slightest difference to the national cycling rates because they relied entirely on reluctant local authorities to implement national policy. Authorities took the grants, generated plenty of work for their highways departments, but rarely managed to generate any cycling. The same thing can be seen now with grants for sustainable transport, a large part of which seem to be cleverly diverted into road schemes disguised as things like “bus rapid transit routes” or “town centre pedestrianisation (with diversionary routes)”. Few local authorities have the vision or the expertise to do really great things for cycling with the grants on offer. That is itself a problem, but especially so when local authorities are expected to deliver national policy on cycling. It is, after all, why the ministers don’t rely on “localism” in the delivery of cycle training.

The Blair government, after eight years of continuing this course while repeatedly revising down the targets of the National Cycling Strategy as the deadlines flew past without a hint of any real “cycling boom”, finally acknowledged that this doesn’t work:

The Government are committed to encouraging more cycling in England, given the benefits in terms of transport, public health and the environment. Today the Department for Transport is publishing a review of the 1996 National Cycling Strategy… The key findings of the review are that:

  1. whilst investment in cycling has increased substantially in recent years, there has been no commensurate increase in cycling levels;
  2. The Government need to get a better return on their collective investment in cycling—for transport, sport, leisure and tourism;
  3. cycling is not sufficient a priority for local authorities that we can rely on them as exclusively as we have to date to deliver an increase in cycling.

And so Cycling England was set up — not to ride roughshod over local councils and local people, but to lend to them expertise and oversight to ensure that what little money the government did give to cycling would be spent efficiently and effectively. It was the first sign of progress after 25 years of trying the same things over and over without any growth in cycling, and during its tragically short lifetime it managed to do more with the little resources it was given than the sum of local authority achievement from the previous quarter of a century of “encouragement”.

As Earl Howe, Conservative minister at the Department of Health, described the very much not “booming” cycling rates in 2008 when still in opposition:

How the Government have allowed that dismal situation to come about is not particularly difficult to diagnose; they took their eye off the ball. They did not manage to hold local authorities properly to account for delivering on the targets. The ball was picked up again in 2005, when Cycling England was created…

The present coalition government burned Cycling England on the bonfire of the quangos. It was one single sentence buried in a gesture to briefly placate right-wing newspaper editors. They didn’t just drop the ball, they kicked it into the long grass. And so we are back in the same position as 1982, 1995, 2005, and every year in-between: a national policy ostensibly to enable and encourage cycling, but which relies on usually underfunded, often unwilling, not infrequently incompetent, and always misadvised local authorities for implementation. When the ministers admit that, yes, their government abolished Cycling England, they will point to the LSTF and claim that the money is still there. But the point is not that the funding was taken away. It is that the ministers have deliberately opted for, in the words of the 2005 report, a worse return on their investment. If, that is, local authorities consider it a priority to put in bids for cycling projects at all.

If the ministers don’t say these things, or use any of the other tired stock distractions and excuses of thirty years of failing to deliver, I can at least be consoled in my embarrassment of being wrong in public by the pleasant surprise that the stuck record has been changed. But I think they will say these things. They always say these things, and these things have always been said, since the policy to “encourage” cycling was set more than three decades ago. I hope that the select committee don’t let them get away with it. The ministers should feel like they’re on trial for what their government has done.

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.

Cycling abuse

I stumbled upon an article in The Lancet, volume 138, issue 3554, of the 10th October 1891, which it seems has been overlooked by the internet so far. It celebrates the rise of the bicycle, but warns against its abuse — addiction, even. It has a message that James Cracknell might like to ponder before getting too carried away with the fabulous medicinal properties of bicycle helmets: cycling isn’t dangerous, it’s those sick addicts who like to race themselves to exhaustion who are dangerous.

Those who believe in the necessity of physical exercise, and we belong to their number, have need also to remember that even so good a thing as this is in excess an evil. The use of the cycle is a form of bodily recreation in itself doubtless wholesome; none the less is it open to the mischievous effects of undue indulgence. Tempted by the ease of movement, combined as a rule with attractive scenery, everyone tries it. Everyone too, finds he can do something with it, and considerations of weather, constitution, age, and health are apt to be dismissed with summary imprudence. One fruitful source of injury is competition. In this matter not even the strongest rider can afford to ignore his limit of endurance. The record-breaker, who sinks exhausted at his journey’s end, has gone a point beyond this. The septuagenarian who tries to rival his juniors by doing and repeating his twenty or thirty miles, perhaps against time, is even less wise. Lady cyclists, too, may bear in mind that their sex is somewhat the weaker. So likewise amongst men the power of endurance varies greatly, and is is better for some to admit this and be moderate than to labour after the achievements of far more muscular neighbours. In short, whenever prostration beyond mere transient fatigue follows the exercise, or when digestion suffers and weight is markedly lessened, and a pastime which ought to exhilarate becomes an anxious labour, we may be sure that it is being overdone. He that would reap its best results must content himself with much less that this; but unless he can observe such moderation, he had better abstain from it altogether.

From here, The Lancet moves on to a fascinating case series of three patients with gastric ulcers cured by a diet of ice cream. (Perhaps the placebo effect of ice cream will turn out to be more powerful than four sugar pills.)

Friday photo: Ribblehead

Princess Elizabeth

As in so many of the things that the Europeans do better than us, the model by which our railways came about is shared with the Americans rather than our continent. When the railways arrived in the middle of the 19th century, most European governments saw the need for their own guidance in planning the railway network, to ensure that it was rational and efficient. But in Britain and America, anybody who could raise the capital could build any railway they liked. Our railway network is the bizarre product of mad Victorian capitalists fighting over real and imaged markets. For the first hundred years, three railways competed for the London-Scotland market — the routes that are now the East and West Coast Main Lines, plus a third, the Midland from St Pancras. Extending the Midland Mainline from Leeds to Settle, the third railway then climbs up the 16 mile long drag to the top of the Yorkshire Dales, the highest point of the mainline network, and down the other side to Carlisle, through 14 tunnels and over 22 viaducts along the way — amongst them the 24 arches of Ribblehead, 100 ft above the boggy valley.

In the 1950s, the future of transport was the motor car and the truck — or so the car and road haulage lobbies told us. The civil servants and politicians — especially the ones who owned road construction companies — knew that railways were the past and there was no point drawing out their death. When the line and station closure notices went up in the 1950s and 1960s there was opposition — from the by then falling numbers who relied on the trains, and from the unions. But the fight for many was a half-hearted gesture. Harold Wilson’s Labour government stopped the closures short of the Tories’ plans, but it was only the extent, not the principle, of the closures that Labour opposed, and much of the closures happened on their watch. Only the core lines of the railway could be saved by their white heat of technology. The Settle to Carlisle line scraped through, but without its trains to London and Scotland.

From there the railways trundled along, neglected, run-down, and resented, while road transport erupted and then settled into the mundane and equally resented mess that we’ve had for the past thirty years. Cars were still the future — even more so having transformed from exciting to mundane, liberatory to burdensome. And the British Railways still operated under those 1960s terms. The Settle-Carlisle line, wasn’t part of the future. The new “advanced” trains would use the West Coast line, and local traffic already went by road. It was ignored during the 1970s, carrying a token few passenger trains each day. By 1984, BR couldn’t ignore the maintenance of those tunnels and viaducts any longer. The neglect had damaged Ribblehead, and the repair bill was huge. They applied to close the line.

But BR had missed the change in mood that came with the reality of the future.

Like the closure of Mail Rail, the run down of the Settle to Carlisle was essentially closure by stealth: the deliberate under-use and dampening of demand — no accommodation of freight trains, no marketing of the passenger services — that cut income, and the deliberate lack of maintenance that clocked up the repair bill. BR wanted to close the Settle to Carlisle because the theory of the day stated that it shouldn’t be useful. They simply had to make reality match the theory first.

The Friends of the Settle to Carlisle formed in 1981 — three years before the closures were announced — because the closure by stealth project was not all that stealthy. It was obvious that the railway was being mistreated, and the Friends could guess why. Alongside exposing the dirty tricks, they did BR’s marketing for them — the spectacular engineering and views of the national park make it an obvious tourist attraction if nothing else — and patronage quadrupled. The justification for closure that had been carefully manufactured disappeared, though it took eight years before the government finally stepped in prevented closure.

Today the line takes several freight trains a day between the Clyde ports and Yorkshire, and passenger numbers have now more than recovered from the neglect. Everyone recognises that the received wisdom of the 1950s-1980s, that the railways were not the future, was at best short sighted. The powers of that time were stuck in a mass delusion about the sustainability of road transport growth, and it took some effort to pull them out of it. But it can be done.

The friday photo theme is an excuse for plugging my photography stuff.

Ringways explained

By Jay Foreman.

A particularly marvellous portrayal of Abercrombie. A couple of notes/queries though:

  • I’m not sure that it’s true that the ringways were dropped because the planners were shocked by the destruction they would cause.  It was surely only public opinion — the outrage of the people — that stopped them?
  • The video does finally and very briefly touch on induced demand near the end, but fails to note that for that reason, not only would the ringways themselves have ground to a halt (as the M25 does), but we would have ended up with at least as much traffic on streets like the South Circular streets, and certainly not less.

If you start at the Wikipedia article, you can continue onto a couple of very nerdy sites about the Ringways.  The fact that they weren’t all built is just more evidence of The War On The Poor Motorist.

(Oh and you should also go and watch Foreman’s previous video, about the Northern Line.)