‘There is not the width available’

Like the villain in a bad horror film, the myth that ‘our roads are just too narrow’ for Dutch-style cycling infrastructure refuses to die, despite repeated attempts to kill it off.

Here it is, spawning again.

Having his [Hembrow's] way is fine but his way is to install Dutch style segregated infrastructure in the UK where there is not the width available to install Dutch style segregated infrastructure. So we get people here like CEGB nailing their colours to his mast and when the planners respond with the inevitable logic of what will actually fit in the width available they accept it rather than have to accept they were wrong to ask for it in the first place. Which is how we end up with http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pete.meg/wcc/facility-of-the-month/

We have several related claims contained here -

  • There is not the width available on our roads for Dutch-style segregated infrastructure.
  • Our planners, nevertheless, try to squeeze in Dutch-style infrastructure on these constricted roads, with terrible, poorly-designed results, like those found on the Facility of the Month site.
  • The planners have put in these inevitably-compromised facilities in response to the demands of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (it’s news to me we had planners acting so readily on our wishes)
  • The Cycling Embassy accepts this crap, rather than accepting they were wrong to ask for it in the first place.

Every single one of these claims is bollocks, of course, and I won’t waste my time our yours responding to them in much detail, beyond firstly drawing your attention to the current Facility of the Month – the type of facility it is claimed we ‘end up with’ if we attempt to follow the heathen path of the Dutch, here in the UK, and the one you will see if you click the link in the quoted passage.

Quite obviously a desperately narrow road, with no width available for Dutch-style segregated infrastructure, on which a poor, tormented planner has, against his better judgement, been forced to paint some ‘Dutch-style’ infrastructure on the pavement, apparently at the behest of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. I blame that David Hembrow.

And secondly, showing you some pictures of some distributor roads from the UK town of Horsham.


It is frankly laughable to pretend that ‘there isn’t the width’ on our roads for Dutch-style infrastructure, setting aside the strange idea that the narrow cycle lanes seen in some of these pictures are the direct result of attempts to ‘squeeze in’ Dutch-style infrastructure on our ‘narrow’ roads.

A good number of our roads and streets are genuinely narrow, of course – too narrow for segregated infrastructure. But just as many streets in Dutch towns and cities are just as narrow, if not narrower. This hasn’t stopped them building infrastructure on the roads that are wide enough, and nor has it stopped them coming up with solutions on their streets that are too narrow.

Measures such as one-way streets for cars, with two-way cycle lanes -

Restricted access for motor vehicles -

Filtered permeability -

Or indeed roads that are have become cycle paths, in entirety -

Whose streets are ‘too narrow’?

Dutch streets, of all widths, are carefully engineered to ensure a high level of subjective safety for cyclists. The notion that our streets are universally ‘lacking the width’ to do the same is a myth, one which its adherents should, by now, really start to be embarrassed about presenting. I doubt they even believe it themselves.

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20 Responses to ‘There is not the width available’

  1. Richard Mann says:

    Whether or not there’s space is something that has to be determined on a case by case basis, to bring function, form and use into balance. People who have tried to do it in the UK (it’s a process called Cycle Review) have found that it’s quite often difficult (and even the Dutch say it’s sometimes difficult – see pp33-5 of CROW).

    If you’ve measured vehicle flows, speed, widths and use, resolved your design, and proper cycle tracks fit, then you are lucky: just get on with it. If it doesn’t then you’ll need to develop a consensus about what to do instead.

  2. Greg Collins says:

    “There is not the width” is the first order excuse, used, in town like Horsham, to avoid/mask the real issues; there is not the money, there is not the will, cycling is not a priority and “the majority of my electorate drive cars”. At least my district councillor is pro-cycling!

  3. I think it should be phrased as there isn’t the width to still allow cars AND Dutch style bike infrastructure. Suggesting people here in the UK DON’T use their cars is pretty much political suicide, hence we don’t see the infrastructure they have in Holland that encourages people to use their cars by making it difficult or even impossible to get around in a car all the time.

  4. Quite agree with southlondoncyclist. The problem in the UK is NOT that there’s not enough width for cycle facilities, it’s that the UK planners completely fail to realise that it’s the motor vehicles that need the width, and not the bikes! Of course the possibility that motor vehicles might be restricted in narrow streets is not an option in the UK, although that’s exactly what the Dutch do to great effect.

    The CEoGB is not asking for crap facilities to be shoe-horned into tight spaces with near-zero budgets. The CEoGB is asking for our planning to properly cater for non-motorised road users, and to heavily restrict the use of motor vehicles on our streets, for the benefit of everyone. The CEoGB is also calling for significant (but still relatively small) budgets to do this: perhaps £20 per person per annum. Transport planning for UK streets needs to be turned completely upside down, putting motor vehicles last, instead of first, in all decision-making.

    UK planners simply need to realise that allowing fast-moving heavy motor vehicles, usually one occupant in each, along just about all our streets without any disincentive or hindrance is total madness. The daft thing is that we do have pedestrianised streets in our towns, and motor-vehicle-free shopping malls out-of-town are extremely popular with shoppers: removing motor vehicles from our shopping streets is proven to be popular, and yet we still are too frightened to significantly reduce motor vehicle traffic in our streets.

  5. OldGreyBeard says:

    The thing is that as far as I am aware proper Dutch style infrastructure doesn’t seem to have been tried in the UK.
    I do wish that a town in the UK could have Dutch style infrastructure built, with design input from Dutch traffic engineers, and then just stand back and see what happens. If roads generate car traffic why wouldn’t cycle paths generate cycling?

  6. Paul M says:

    A truly staggering result for the CEoGB – for an organisation which was launched a mere nine months ago and which was barely a germinating seed a year ago to have got tarmac laid, when lesser mortals would count themselves lucky to have got a preliminary proposal and request for a consulting engineer’s report in front of the highways committee in that time.

    If you leave aside arguments about whether you could have used some of the available pavement width, or parts of the wide grass verges, the 2nd (pelican crossing) and 4th pictures above show a significant amount of road width cross-hatched and with kerbed traffic islands with bollards. The sixth shows a central hatched area albeit without a traffic island. Why? All three roads have the appearance of being 30 or possibly 40 mph zones, and given that many A roads with a 60mph limit separate opposing traffic with nothing more than a white line, why do these need any more than that? It’s almost as though the engineers felt they needed to fill the space but didn’t have the imagination to fill it with something useful.

    On the other hand, notwithstanding Hembrow’s recent hissy-fit about plagiarism, I assume he doesn’t have copyrights or patents on Dutch road designs so presumably our own roads engineers could borrow the concepts (actually, you can’t copyright a concept, only the expression of it) and apply them here. Sounds to me like the Times cyclesafe campaign has perhaps flushed out a handful of such engineers who perhaps were afraid to speak out before but made themselves known at the recent Labour parliamentary meeting, and maybe they will be able to reclaim the streets for shanks’ pony.

  7. Mick Mack says:

    “,,,we still are too frightened to significantly reduce motor vehicle traffic in our streets.” Let’s be clear who the “we” are. It’s vested interests – i.e. the automotive and petro-chemical industries, represented by the likes of the AA, and the spineless politicians local and national up and down the country. Whilst there are exceptions to this, these people have a competing agenda and don’t have the wherewithal to take this to the streets, which, I believe, is the only way this government listens.

    • Greg Collins says:

      30 million voters in the UK own and operate motor vehicles. They seem happy to continue to do so. We live in a democracy. The politicians have no wish to alienate the very voters who put them into power. The cycling lobby has never elected anyone. Realpolitik.

      • But this really could be the case of chicken and the egg. Just because we have 30 million car owners it doesn’t mean they have to use their cars for all journeys. With a rather large percentage of journeys being under 5 miles and a good portion under 2 mile cycling could be a viable alternative for so many people *IF* our towns and cities where designed to encourage/enable people to use bikes without having such a fear of road danger.

        Although having said this I often do wonder what the overlap between the drivers who say they would ride but think it’s too dangerous and those who think nothing of buzzing past cyclist with little/no room? Guess the answer to that is if your not part of the solution then clearly you are the part of the problem :-)

      • Mick Mack says:

        Well Greg if you think we, “live in a democracy”, then there obviously is not much point in trying to offer rational arguments to show you otherwise. Suffice it to say that you believe that voting is why the politicians are continuing to be reluctant to do anything to change the status quo in favour of the pedestrian, which are all of us, and the cyclist, who are often motorists as well, this is idealised thinking and in no way correlates with reality, which you mention is the perspective you believe is in operation here. As I state earlier, which you make no reference to, in fact what’s taking place; it’s the economy stupid. It’s the economic imperative in play here. If you can’t see that, then carry on believing that parliamentary democracy is the solution to the problem rather than the problem to the solution.

  8. Richard Mann says:

    There does appear to be majority support for slowing the traffic. There’s probably enough support for taming to make most roads pretty civilised without wholescale rebuilding. Or at least, a lot more civilised than now.

    • Karl says:

      I agree. I think the first thing is to remove the cycling vs motoring debate, head for safer roads. Part of this would be to highlight the number of deaths from motorised transport, the benefit of alternative transport on health and child safety. If you also highlight the benefit to local shops from a reported higher consumer spend by cyclists then you have local business on your side (not the large supermarkets though.)

      We also need a pilot town or city where real changes are made that can demonstrate both economic and cultural benefits to the community.

      Where I live there are at least 5 large car parks where people drive under 3 miles. It could be a fantastic place to ride with a family but it is way too dangerous on the main roads as the speed of most cars is between 40-50 mph. Not to mention the one-way racing circuit.

      • Mick Mack says:

        The problem with “heading for safer roads” is Karl, who’s listening and more to the point, doing anything about it. We have had ample time for this to change and cycling campaigns up and down the country for half a century or more have brought this to the attention of the politicians and even the likes of David Hembrow showing in detail how it can be done – so they don’t even have to think about it – and still lit doesn’t happen. The state and the law need a complete overhauling and if you think you can persuade the automotive industry lobbying and the petro-chemical industry lobbying to work with society through the political process to create an intelligent infrastructure that prioritises pedestrians and cyclists or at least treats them as equals, this stems from an unwillingness to acknowledge the economic imperative and that we are dealing with an irrational phenomenon here that can’t be dissuaded from its course by rational argument.

        • Karl says:

          Fair points. The cycling industry and interest groups need to form a broader coalition with schools, and health bodies. That is possibly why The Times has struck something with its campaign. Apart from having some access to political figures. Although I would draw the line at tapping phones :o)

          I know there is a coalition of sorts but it needs to be broader than just the cycling interests.

          Totally agree on the irrational. Only the other day I heard something about people moaning about the price of petrol, like a long term solution is to cut tax to keep the price level.

          So what I’m trying to say is the net needs to be cast wider to include a larger group of people that get something out of having towns and cities that are nicer and safer to live in.

          • Mick Mack says:

            “So what I’m trying to say is the net needs to be cast wider to include a larger group of people that get something out of having towns and cities that are nicer and safer to live in.” Karl, surely the move towards a nicer and safer towns and cities already includes everybody; how much wider can the net possibly go?

            • Karl says:

              But it’s not organised as such – it’s mostly a bunch of different groups shouting a bunch of different things. This is where Occupy got lost. The motor manufactures have a trade association (SMMT) to look after their interests.

    • I’d also agree. Our streets can become pretty civilised, relatively easily – lower speed limits and more zebra crossings would help a great deal.

      However, that shouldn’t preclude making them even more civilised, by future redesigning and rebuilding incorporated into the natural repair cycle of our roads.

    • OldGreyBeard says:

      Thirty years ago no one was talking about 20mph speed limits. Now they have general support. The fact the wider population isn’t talking to any great degree about a cyclepath network doesn’t mean they wouldn’t welcome it.

      Every survey I’ve read on attitudes to cycling and the majority of people I’ve spoken to when campaigning for cycle infrastructure say that the reason they don’t cycle or let their children cycle is that its too dangerous.

      Where I live there is ample Bikeability training for children but do they cycle on the roads? No. When asked why they cycle on the pavement they say their parents won’t let them on the roads. There are some cyclepaths, some well used, but it is a very fragmentary network and it is necessary to cycle on the roads for most journeys.

      Whatever the stats may say people judge is it unpleasant and dangerous. In my view any network has to be suiatble for children, if only becuase they are such a large group of willing potential cyclists.

      Perhaps what people should be asked should include:
      1. Would you like your children to be able to get around on their own instead of via the parental taxi?

      2. Would you like to save money by only running one car?

      3. Would you like to get fitter without spending the time & money on the gym?

      and so on.

      Cycling has a lot to offer but not with the current infrastructure. In too many places it takes on aspects of an extreme sport. Fancy taking a dinghy out on the rowing pond? Well you can but you have to cross the white water rapids first.

  9. Don says:

    “If you also highlight the benefit to local shops from a reported higher consumer spend by cyclists then you have local business on your side (not the large supermarkets though.)”

    All the large supermarkets on the outskirts of my town would be easily reachable by bicycle. One is right next to a dedicated cycle/footpath (an old railway line). I was amazed and delighted to meet a lady on an 8-Freight there recently. I think that even these large supermarkets could benefit from increased cycle visits, if only there was better infrastructure leading to them. They wouldn’t need to lose too many car parking spaces for additional cycle racks.

    Add to that the increasing use of on-line grocery shopping and I think the number of car visits to these places will drop over time. Perhaps these larger supermarkets will eventually give way completely to smaller town centre venues (like Tesco metro), combined with out of town hubs for distributing online shopping goods.

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