Much as I am loath to take issue with Martin Porter – his blog is ever-excellent on the matter of the seriousness with which road crime is treated (see especially his recent post on the inadequacy of the police attitude exhibited in the BBC’s War on Britain’s Roads programme) – I feel that some aspects of his response to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s Inquiry, ‘Get Britain Cycling’, merit a response.
Martin writes that
Segregation has a place (particularly on routes to schools) to encourage the large number of potential cyclists fearful of cycling on the roads.
I’m not sure the Dutch would recognise this description of ‘segregation’. A policy of constructing cycle tracks and paths, and minimising interactions with motor vehicles in general, is not about ‘encouraging’ the more nervous, and those who are reluctant to cycle on the roads. Dutch policy is specifically about making the cycling experience of everyone - children getting onto a bike for the first time, as well as ‘hardened’ cyclists like David Hembrow – more pleasant. In that context, cycle paths are not some kind of stop-gap compromise measure to get people onto bikes, but part of a holistic approach to prioritising cycling. It is more enjoyable and relaxing to cycle on a path away from lorries, buses and vans. This is why the Dutch build them.
Martin then argues
However segregation is no panacea and it certainly is no quick fix solution. It is often overlooked that even the Dutch do not just do segregation and that they do integration better we do.
Regarding the first two points, I don’t know of anyone who has suggested that segregation is a ‘panacea’, or indeed that is a ‘quick fix’ solution. The point about segregation, rather, is that it is specifically a necessary treatment on certain categories of roads. Currently, we have a serious problem, in that we do not segregate on roads and junctions that carry high volumes of motor traffic, or motor traffic travelling at speed (or at least, we don’t do so competently). And it is these roads and junctions that are the most significant barrier to cycling.
This is what I and many other campaigners and bloggers are so exercised about. We are not calling for cycle paths everywhere; we want them as a solution to a specific problem. Nor are we suggesting that this would be a ‘quick fix’. It is our contention that you simply cannot solve the problem of decades of stagnation in cycling levels without high-quality infrastructure that creates a high level of subjective safety; the fact that this won’t happen immediately (and why would it?) is somewhat immaterial.
When it comes to the claim the Dutch do ‘integration’ better than us, well this is certainly true too, but only because the Dutch are very careful to minimise interactions between motor vehicles and bicycles in the locations where they do indeed ‘integrate’. This is, as David Hembrow has argued, the result of a policy that aims at 100% separation. It is pleasant to cycle on roads and streets in the Netherlands where you are not physically segregated specifically because the Dutch have carefully made sure that only a small number of vehicles will ever be sharing that space with you. To repeat a point from earlier, this is about making the cycling experience of everyone more pleasant.
Next Martin writes
Potential cyclists are not fearful of the roads per se but of the badly driven motor vehicles on the roads.
I’m afraid that here Martin is confusing his own, personal experience – what makes him fearful to cycle on the roads – with the attitudes of ‘potential cyclists’. Potential cyclists do not want to cycle amongst lorries and buses, however well driven they may be. That is what they say, in survey after survey, and report after report. It is an unpleasant and intimidating experience. Indeed, this is precisely why they remain ‘potential cyclists’. Quite obviously, they have not had experience of badly driven motor vehicles while cycling, because… they are not cycling. The issue is motor traffic in general, not badly driven motor traffic.
Finally – and this is perhaps the claim I take most issue with – Martin says
Unfortunately some cycling advocates regard the calling for improved conditions for cycling on roads as heretical since it is seen to detract from their goal of segregation. [my emphasis]
Who are these people? Where are they saying this? Answers welcome.