An argument that has been heard before

Mark Wagenbuur, of Bicycle Dutch, has provided us with an excellent translation of a Dutch newspaper article from 1935 on cycle paths and their construction. It’s very much worth reading in full, but one of the arguments made in that article – written 77 years ago – is how cost-effective it is to construct cycle paths alongside new roads, or on roads that are being widened or reconfigured.

Here, for cyclists, the benefits will always outweigh the costs, because cycle paths can be constructed for a relatively low and justifiable increase in the costs, that has to be added to the costs for the construction of a new road.

By way of contrast, I have an extract from an article from The Timeof the 1st August, 1934 – only about 6 months before the Dutch newspaper article appeared. It summarises a statement issued by the Cyclists’ Touring Club on ‘Road Safety’, and has this to say -

PATHS FOR CYCLISTS. The club cannot support the suggestion of special paths for cyclists, the cost of which would in any case be enormous, whether their use be compulsory or optional. Cyclists claim the right, which they have always enjoyed, to use the public highway.

The Dutch understood how the costs of cycle path construction were minimal when considered alongside the cost of the construction of new roads, and the repair and maintenance of existing roads. The Cyclists’ Touring Club didn’t (or – if one wishes to be cynical about their motives – chose to use this ‘cost’ argument against the construction of cycle paths while not fully believing it).

What is tremendously sad is that this argument hasn’t ever disappeared – the cost of construction of cycle paths has continued to be considered ‘enormous’ ever since, despite the vast expenditure on new roads, and road maintenance, after 1934.

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5 Responses to An argument that has been heard before

  1. Downfader says:

    It does make me wonder if there is something to be said for how our pavements are laid and how that has influenced both countries development on the debate. In the UK low grade tarmac has been used for many, many years – this is thin and prone to warping and degrading compared to some of the practices seemingly used abroad.

    It makes me wonder if, having seen this “quality” of paving in the UK, the CTC have based their decision mostly upon that? Off-road routes in the UK tend to be mostly the same as a pavement, the systems I have seen over the web of the Dutch scheme tend to be treated as a road in construct and quality.

    The Dutch have also given rights for cyclists to cross safely at side roads (with added liability laws), but the British have failed to do this. This too would be a step in the right direction for the CTC potentially supporting such a scheme imo.

  2. Koen says:

    Downfader: I have to say that priority for cyclists crossing side roads in the Netherlands is often misunderstood. You see, the cycle paths alongside main roads are treated as a part of that road. So if the main road has priority, then the cyclepaths alongside have it as well. Any traffic changing direction has to yield to ongoing traffic, including bicycles and pedestrians. Any traffic approching the main road has to give way to the traffic on the road with priority, including cycle paths. So for Dutch cyclists it is just normal to get priority in many cases -but certainly not everywhere! It does however tend to happen that drivers give the weaker party an unsollicited advantage, out of courtesy, out of habit and because most of them often ride a bike themselves.

    So it all stems from cyclists being treated as equal road partners, not necessarily because they’re given special treatment, and because cycle paths are seen as part of the road.

  3. No, I don’t think so Downfader. Pavement in London has never been “low grade tarmac”, but often expensive material like Portland stone slabs. Pavement materials across the UK have varied widely, and the same is true in continental countries I have seen. The Dutch have continuously improved the quality of their cycle path surfacing over the years. It did not start as uniformly excellent, and it is not uniform today. Some of the early cycle paths in London built in the 1930s are reported to have had excellent concrete surfaces.

    No, the old argument of CTC always appears to have been one of absolute, “religious” principle rather than practicality. Roads were poorly surfaced before the invention of the bicycle. They were made smooth for cyclists. Then cyclists in the UK saw them getting invaded by motor cars, and started a fight back, claiming they wanted the roads back, not separate paths. That thinking has continued to this day in many quarters. In the Netherlands, however, the separation of cyclists from other traffic started before the invention of the motor car. Quality paths started to be provided in the 1880s and 1890s with better surfaces than those provided for horse-drawn traffic. There was not therefore there ever a popular desire amongst cyclists to be integrated with other traffic.

    And, by the way, can we knock this old chestnut about priority across side roads on the head please? It is perfectly possible for UK highway authorities to build bike paths with priority over side roads, just as good as they have them in the Netherlands, and it has often been done. Where it has been done it has not been legally challenged. While many engineers and councillors seem to believe it can’t be done, it can. We don’t need changes in the law, and we don’t need altered liability, we just need the right design guidelines for local authorities to follow.

  4. fonant says:

    Back of a fag packet calculation: normal roads apparently cost around £10 million per mile to build, round numbers. Brand new off-road cycle tracks with decent surfaces perhaps as much as £500,000 per mile (Sustrans figures). Roads for motor cars are around twenty times more expensive to build than cycle tracks. But many more times more expensive to build if the cycle tracks are built at marginal additional cost when the road is first built.

    Cycle tracks are also significantly cheaper to maintain once built, as bicycles do almost zero damage to the road surface, unlike motor vehicles and especially heavy lorries.

    If you look at everything, including health and environmental benefits, a first-world country cannot afford NOT to build decent cycle tracks.

    • fonant says:

      The government are currently widening the A23 at Handcross Hill from twisty steep dual carriageway (speed limit 70mph) to straight less-steep motorway (speed limit 70mph). Financial cost for the 2.5 miles of widening is £76.9m, or £30 million per mile. The final total cost will certainly include a dramatic increase in congestion at Brighton and Worthing as traffic pours down the new road to the next bottleneck.

      (I wonder if they’ll then build the Worthing Bypass, tunnelled through the chalk Downs at a cost of more than a £1,000 million … our local MP, Tim Laughton (a rude man who doesn’t seem to like cyclists), is keen to get this built, but I can’t see where they’d get the money from. Of course they’ll also need to build the Arundel bypass bypass, upgrade the Chichester bypass, and probably widen the Chichester – Emsworth stretch too. Fixing one bottleneck just makes congestion at the next one worse…)

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