Cycling needs a backlash

Almost all of what passes for ‘cycling infrastructure’ in Britain has never generated a backlash, for one simple reason. It has never represented a direct challenge to the way our roads and streets are designed to prioritise motor traffic flow, without giving time or space to cycling in a way that might impinge on that prioritisation of motor traffic. That ‘infrastructure’ has never reallocated road space in any meaningful sense.

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The cycle lane in the picture above did not generate any controversy when it was painted, because it gives up at the point when things get a bit difficult. A decision was made to allocate the fixed amount of carriageway space on the approach to the roundabout in the distance entirely to motor traffic – two queuing lanes – and so the ‘cycling infrastructure’ had to end. There was no backlash against this painted bicycle symbol, because it didn’t impinge on motoring in the way a protected cycleway, replacing one of those lanes of motor traffic, would.

In much the same way, the old painted lanes on Tavistock Place in London, captured in this photograph from Paul Gannon, generated no backlash – meaningless blobs of paint at the side of the road are not something anyone is going to excited about.


This contrasts starkly with the situation today. Camden Council have reduced the amount of space for motor traffic on this street to just one lane, allocating the rest of it to cycling. The two-way protected track on the north side of the street is now a one-way track, with the westbound motor traffic lane converted to a mandatory cycle lane. This has generated a furious backlash from taxi drivers, in particular.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 09.50.18In places where there is competing demand for the use of road space – in urban areas currently dominated by motor traffic flow – these kinds of decisions about what that space should be used for are inherently political. Reallocating road space, or re-directing motor traffic away from what we think should be access roads onto  main roads, are effectively  statements about what modes of transport we think people should be using for certain kinds of trips, and about what our roads and streets should be for.

David Arditti has astutely observed that in these places of competing demand, effective measures to enable cycling should be generating a backlash. If there is no backlash, then whatever it is you are doing is unlikely to make any significant difference. If you are designing a Quietway, for instance, and nobody is moaning about it – that probably means you aren’t doing anything to reduce motor traffic levels on the route so that it is genuinely ‘quiet’, or, alternatively, it means you are sending it on a circuitous and indirect route in order to avoid difficult decisions.

If you are designing a route on a main road and there is no backlash, again, something has probably gone wrong. You aren’t reallocating space and time at junctions; you aren’t moving parking bays where they get in the way of your infrastructure; you aren’t dealing with bus stops; you aren’t repurposing motor traffic lanes for cycle traffic.

London is experiencing a significant backlash against cycling infrastructure because, for the very first time, that cycling infrastructure is itself significant. It is a visible and clear statement that cycling should play a role in the transport mix of the city, rather than being completely ignored – it is a challenge to the status quo, rather than being an accommodation with it, in the form of shared use footways, or discontinuous painted lanes. Or (most often) nothing at all.

Of course this backlash is using all the tired, contradictory and even downright confused arguments about cycling infrastructure.

  • that it will ’cause’ congestion;
  • that this isn’t the Netherlands, people won’t cycle because of winter/hills/culture;
  • that ‘cyclists’ are a minority who don’t deserve special treatment;
  • that nobody will use the cycling infrastructure

In London, LBC radio seems to have emerged as a mouthpiece for these kinds of arguments, getting particularly excited (for some reason) about the fact that some people aren’t using Superhighway 5.

One of their reporters, Theo Usherwood, stood by the road for half an hour on the bridge, apparently in an attempt to demonstrate that the new infrastructure is pointless because a majority of people cycling northbound aren’t using it.

This is not hard to explain. Heading north across Vauxhall Bridge from the western approach on the gyratory, you would have to bump up onto a shared use footway, then wait for a crossing to get across the road to enter the Superhighway –

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… and then deal with a slightly confusing junction on the north side of the river to get back to the left hand side of the road, where you were originally, just a few hundred metres down the road.

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Given that there is also a bus lane northbound on the bridge (which the LBC reporter himself mentions someone using), it’s not hard to explain why a good number of people are choosing not to add this inconvenience to their journey. If Usherwood had bothered to ask anyone why they were not using CS5, he would have found this out for himself. But instead he was happy to parrot his statistics in isolation, as they fit into a pre-constructed narrative about how apparently pointless cycling infrastructure is.

Really, the problem here is the discontinuous nature of the infrastructure. It’s only ‘pointless’ for some users because so little of it has been built, meaning that, from some directions, people have to go out their way, pointlessly crossing the road twice (to go to the other side, and back again) to use it for a few hundred metres. The people using the cycling infrastructure will have been arriving from the Oval direction; those not using it will have arrived from the south. It’s that simple.

Equally, if there was a northbound cycleway on the western side of the bridge, linking up with cycling infrastructure on Vauxhall gyratory (plans for which have just been announced today) then I guarantee everyone would be using it. Indeed, statistics for southbound use of the CS5 (which doesn’t add any inconvenience to journeys) would show that nearly everyone is using it. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Andrew Gilligan comes to, in reference to an earlier ‘count’ Usherwood made –

I personally counted 750 cyclists using the Vauxhall Bridge track, more than 12 a minute, a figure which appeared in our press release. That, by the way, as the press release also stated, is a nearly 30% rise on the figure crossing the bridge before the track opened.

Why do you think Mr Usherwood made no mention of this, or of his earlier visit to the superhighway? Why, I wonder, did he hang around for several hours, until “just after lunch,” and until it had started raining, to begin his count and do his report? Could it be because he was trying to make the facts fit a pre-cooked agenda that there are no cyclists using the facility?

Usherwood also demonstrated a troubling willingness to strip passages from the emergency services’ responses to the Superhighways to imply they are opposed to them, when in fact they support them.

I’ve just dug out the the responses of all three emergency services to the Cycle Superhighway. The London Ambulance Service says the narrowing of the road could affect their – and I’m quoting here – ‘time critical lifesaving journeys’.

The Metropolitan Police is even more scathing Nick. It lists 14 separate concerns with the North-South route linking Elephant & Castle to Kings Cross. It says it will impact on response times, starting – and again I’m quoting – ‘increased congestion will result in longer travelling times for MPS officers coming into central London which will have an operational impact at times of prolonged public order demand.’ And it says that when it comes to transporting VVIPs like members of the royal family, or for that matter high risk suspects that need an armed guard – think terrorists here – it will have to close the opposite carriageway so that there is an escape route at all times for the Metropolitan Police convoy.

Clear enough, you might think – the emergency services are plainly up in arms about these schemes.

Except that if you refer to the document from which Usherwood stripped these quotes, it turns out that the Metropolitan Police, far from being ‘scathing’, actually support the North-South and East-West Superhighways.

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Likewise the London Fire Brigade (not mentioned by Usherwood) also support this both Superhighways, and the City of London Police. The London Ambulance Service make no comment either in support or opposition of the Superhighway schemes, only voicing concerns about how it might affect their response times. Against this, all four of London’s major trauma centres; hospitals; and the London Air Ambulance service, have all voiced strong support for the Superhighway schemes.

So, far from being ‘scathing’, London’s emergency services actually support the Superhighways – but a listener to LBC would have gained precisely the opposite impression.

Of course, this kind of response – however misleading and incoherent it might be – is actually a sign that Transport for London is building cycling infrastructure that is effective, and that matters. It is making a statement that highway space shouldn’t just be solely for the flow of motor traffic; that cycling can and should be accommodated, for sound strategic reasons, set out by the Mayor himself.

With London’s population growing by 10,000 a month, there are only two ways to keep traffic moving – build more roads, which is for the most part physically impossible, or encourage the use of vehicles, such as bikes, which better use the space on the roads we’ve already got.

London – and other British cities – are starting to build something that people feel the need to oppose. That means something. Bring on the backlash.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Against shared use

One of the most baffling aspects of British cycling policy is the contrast between the periodic clampdowns on ‘pavement cycling’ (and the intolerance to this kind of activity in general) and the way cycling is actually designed for by most councils across the country – namely, with shared use footways, and shared paths.

Footway cycling is simultaneously something that people hate, and that the police expend resources on dealing with, while at exactly the same time councils are putting cycling on footways, and lumping cycling with walking on new paths, bridges and underpasses.

To take just one example – there are undoubtedly many – Reading’s cycling strategy has this to say.

… we recognise that cyclists have varying abilities and needs. As a result, we will consider providing off-carriageway facilities by officially re-designating a footway to permit cycling when there is a high proportion of inexperienced cyclists and children to cater for, and the alternative is a busy traffic distributor route or to improve route continuity.

What this really amounts to is a lack of willingness to design cycle-specific facilities that would be suitable for any user, whatever their abilities and needs. Shared use footways are the lazy, tick-box option; roads and streets already have footways alongside them, so just punting cycling onto the footway is an easy way of dealing with the problem of hostile roads that are too hostile to cycle on for the majority of the population.

This, of course, puts cycling into conflict with walking – which is annoying for pedestrians, and for people cycling, whether it is legal, or not, and which of course provokes the periodic ‘clampdowns’ on those stretches of footway where cycling isn’t legal. Meanwhile telling the difference between footways that allow cycling, and that don’t, is often rather difficult – this case is a typical example.

If we’re allowing cycling on some footways, it is completely incoherent that it should be illegal on identical footways a few hundred metres away, or even on the same stretch of footway. The incoherence exists because the footway is a convenient place to put cycling if you can’t be bothered to do a proper job where it gets difficult; blobs of footway cycling on an overall network of footways where cycling isn’t allowed are a natural result of a policy building ‘cycle routes’ that take the path of least resistance, from point A to point B. Councils are against footway cycling; except when it’s a convenient way of dealing with a problem.

Illegal here

Legal here

Legal here

Cycling and walking are different modes of transport, and should be catered for separately.  Indeed, as Brian Deegan of Transport for London has rightly said, we should be building ‘roads for bikes’ – an excellent way of capturing the broad design philosophy required.

Designed and marked like a road - but for cycles.

A ‘junction’ on Superhighway 5 in London, with a footway. Designed and marked like a road for motor vehicles would be – but for cycles.

When we drive around in motor vehicles, we don’t ever drive on footways (except to cross them to access private properties, or to cross in to minor side streets, in those rare places continuous footways exist). And precisely the same should be true for cycling. In the Netherlands you will never be cycling on a footway. You will cycling on roads for bikes, designed everywhere for this specific vehicular mode of transport.

A road for motor vehicles, with a road for cycles alongside it.

A road for motor vehicles, with a road for cycles alongside it.

Naturally where people are walking in significant numbers, a footway, separated from the cycleway in much the same way you would build a footway alongside a road – is provided. This limits conflict between these two modes of transport. People walking can travel at their own pace, not worrying about possibly coming into conflict with people travelling faster on bicycles.

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Footways aren’t provided everywhere, of course. In places where very few people are walking – out in the countryside, for instance – it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to build them alongside a cycleway.
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People can walk on this ‘road’ for cycles; the volumes of people walking are low enough that conflict will not be a problem. Indeed, there is guidance in the Dutch CROW manual that states explicitly when footways should be provided. Above around 160-200 pedestrians per hour, per metre of width – which would mean, for instance, a 3m bi-directional cycleway like this one should have a footway for pedestrians if there are more than eight pedestrians, per minute, crossing a hypothetical perpendicular line across the cycleway.


By analogy, this is the same kind of situation as on a country lane, where we don’t build footways for pedestrians, because there aren’t very many of them to justify it, nor is motor traffic fast enough, or large enough in volume, to do so. This situation above amounts to a 3m ‘country lane’, used only by people cycling and walking – albeit one alongside a road for motor traffic.

This is a crucial distinction; the Dutch don’t cycle on ‘shared use footways’, but instead on roads for bikes, that people can walk on, where there wasn’t a need for a footway. This means that junctions are designed for cycling, not for walking, avoiding these kinds of ambiguous bodges you encounter on shared use footways in Britain.

A smooth and reasonably wide path - but look what happens at junctions.

A smooth and reasonably wide path – but what happens at junctions? Footway-style design.

Priorities clear with roads for bikes. (Notice how footway appears alongside 'cycle road' within town limits)

Priorities clear with roads for bikes. (Notice how footway appears alongside ‘cycle road’ within town limits)

Lumping cycling in with walking ducks these crucial issues of cycle-specific design. It’s easy to put cycling on footways, but it presents significant design and safety problems at junctions, as well as storing up trouble for the future – shared use footways are not a place where large numbers of people cycling will mix easily with walking. They are a ‘solution’ (if they are even that) only for the current low-cycling status quo.

This issue extends beyond footways to paths, bridges, routes and tunnels. If we were starting from scratch, we wouldn’t combine walking and cycling on a busy 3-4m footway alongside a road – so it baffles me why we design the two modes together on brand new bridges and paths in areas that will have high footfall. The new shared bridge in Reading seems to me to be a recipe for conflict, especially if cycling levels increase.


‘Sharing’ in this kind of context makes cycling slow, and walking uncertain and less comfortable; precisely the same kind of difficulties we might expect on a shared use footway with equivalent numbers of pedestrians using it.

Problematically, some councils even see lumping walking and cycling together as a way of slowing cycling down. This effectively amounts to using pedestrians as mobile speed bumps, in much the same way people cycling are used as traffic calming on new road layouts with deliberately narrowed lanes, and it’s bad policy for much the same reasons. If you’re using humans to slow down other modes of transport, that means discomfort.

It’s far better for both modes to separate; to provide clear, dedicated space for walking and for cycling. That doesn’t mean dividing up inadequate space, of course, but providing adequate, separated, width for both parties. Two examples from Rotterdam, below – the first a small bridge on a path to a suburban hospital –

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The second the main tunnel under the (enormous) Rotterdam Centraal train station.Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 12.28.09

In each case, conflict is removed – people walking can amble at their own pace, while people cycling have clear passage, travelling along with people moving at roughly the same speed as them.

Lumping cycling in with walking might be easy, and not require much thought, but it’s a bad solution for both modes of transport, and will become increasingly bad if cycling levels increase.

Posted in Infrastructure, shared use, Uncategorized | 48 Comments

Traffic lights have to make sense

There is a set of traffic lights in Utrecht that must be amongst the most widely ignored in the city. They are located on Vredenburg, a new road layout right in the centre.

You can stand at this junction, and the people who stop at a red light will be in a definite minority.

Yet on the opposite side of the road – literally, only a few feet away – I managed to take this picture of about 60 people waiting patiently at a red light. The difference in behaviour could not be more stark.

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What accounts for this difference? It can’t be the people – they are all residents in the same city, making the same journeys on this same road. People stopping at the red light when heading west along Vredenburg – as in the photograph above – will often cycle through the red light in the opposite direction when they make the return journey.

The most likely explanation is that the red signal people are ignoring doesn’t make a great deal of sense. The side street that is being crossed is a dead end; a place where taxis wait in the evening, and that is barely used during the day. People cycling along here know that the chance of a motor vehicle entering or exiting this area on the right is very small indeed.

Traffic signals are designed to manage interactions that wouldn’t work as well if they weren’t there; pedestrians crossing a busy road, for instance, or allowing two opposing streams of motor traffic to cross each other’s path when traffic volumes are too high for this to work informally at a normal ‘priority’ junction.

But the interactions at the junction in the video are rarely happening; no motor vehicles are coming in and out of the side road, and it just feels pointless to wait at this red signal.

The queue on the other side, however, does make sense. It does feel right to wait there, because you have to cross a relatively busy junction, with lots of buses coming in and out of it. I’m sure a small minority of people might take a chance and skip across when the signals are red, but the great majority won’t. And many will be crossing diagonally across the junction once the lights go green, which of course isn’t something that you would attempt to do when the signals are red. You are having to deal with multiple potential risks – the two lanes going in and out of the side road, and the two lanes on the main road, and pedestrians crossing the road. It’s much better to wait for the green.

People cycling across this junction with a green signal - diagonally, and straight ahead. No interactions with motor traffic, so this feels very safe.

People cycling across this junction with a green signal – diagonally, and straight ahead. No interactions with motor traffic, so this feels very safe.

So what I am driving at here is that compliance with traffic signals largely flows from whether they make sense or not. Signals that can be seen to be easily ignored without risk will be ignored by a larger proportion of people than those waiting at signals where the lights are obviously serving some useful purpose – where the traffic lights are actually on your side.

This is something that was touched upon in BicycleDutch’s latest post on technology that might potentially help people cycling to arrive at green signal more often. Mark quotes the city’s alderman for traffic and the environment –

“Utrecht is growing and we try to let the growth happen within the boundaries of the current city. That means it gets busier. It is a challenge for the traffic light guys… to guide all road users safely through the intersection in a time that also makes them a bit happy, at least happy enough to keep obeying these lights.”

Here an explicit link is made between compliance and the way traffic signals work. ‘Happiness’ means not keeping people waiting; if people find that a particular junction has a ridiculously long wait for the next green, then they will get restless, and be more likely to chance a red, especially if there are minimal risks involved in doing so.

We can see this connection between happiness and compliance at another junction in Utrecht, a much bigger one. As I arrive at the junction, people are already waiting to cross. After the lights have been red for at least 90 seconds, a man on a scooter jumps the signals. Everyone else waits.

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After the lights have been red for over two minutes, the man on the scooter (who had been obeying the red light, all this time) also jumps the lights, while a woman cycling does so from the opposite direction.

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After the lights have been red over three minutes, a woman cycling also gives up, and jumps the red light.

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The full video is below; I’ve kept it in real time so you can see how frustrating it is to be waiting for so long. I could almost feel the annoyance and incomprehension rising around me; people looking at each other, people pushing the button repeatedly, and others just giving up and using common sense to cross in the gaps of traffic.

People who were law-abiding (nobody just blasted through the red signals without waiting) were converted into law breakers, simply because they felt the traffic signals no longer made sense, and in the absence of those traffic signals making sense, the balance shifted in favour of their own judgement. Precisely the same is true of the (much smaller) junction in the video at the start of the post; the traffic signals don’t make sense, so people exercise their own judgement.

And we can apply these lessons to Britain. The main reason traffic signals are perceived to be obeyed by drivers of motor vehicles is because they make sense. They work in your favour, stopping flows of large vehicles that you would otherwise have to negotiate your way through.

And of course (as I’ve observed before) it’s actually quite hard to jump lights in a motor vehicle. More often than not, you will stuck in a queue, surrounded by other motor vehicles – you couldn’t jump the lights even if you wanted to. And of course trying to sneak through the junction when lights have been red for some time (I’m not talking about ‘amber gambling’, or even ‘red gambling’, which I would argue is endemic) carries big risks, if you are in a large, bulky vehicle.

People cycling engage in a form of jumping that you rarely see drivers engaging in; creeping into the junction, looking around, seeing if it is clear, and progressing carefully across in stages.

It’s quite obvious why drivers don’t engage in this kind of behaviour, and again, it’s not because of number plates (because, again, that fails to explain why they’re jumping lights in vast numbers already). It’s because it’s risky to get yourself into the middle of a junction in a big bulky object, leaving yourself nowhere to retreat to, if things go wrong. You’re going to end up causing an obstruction.

It really doesn’t make sense to jump lights in this way when you are in a car, unless there’s a genuine emergency. You will get stuck, or come to grief. But on a bicycle it will often make a great deal of sense to jump a light, even if it is illegal, because your mode of transport is small, and flexible, you are more connected with your surroundings, and you can bail out a of problematic situation quite easily.

So the kind of red light jumping by people cycling in Britain actually takes the form of ‘red light jumping’ that is accommodated, both through design and law, in the Netherlands. Going ahead across a T-junction, where you won’t come into conflict with motor traffic, for instance. Or Just turning left, around the corner.

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Motor vehicles can’t turn right, but it doesn’t make sense to stop people cycling from turning right. So they can, at all times, thanks to the design of the junction.

These are the kinds of manoeuvres that it doesn’t make sense to stop people cycling from performing, and so the Dutch design for it. We shouldn’t be surprised that these are the kinds of things people cycling do in Britain, regardless of law, just like we shouldn’t be surprised when people jump lights in Utrecht.

The difference is that the Dutch appear to recognise human behaviour, and adapt junctions in accordance with it, to minimise law breaking. The response to my second video would be to realise that there is something clearly wrong with the signals. The waits are so long that law-breaking is occurring.

In other words, law-breaking represents a failure of design, not of human behaviour. Sadly, I don’t think this is true in Britain, where law-breaking by people cycling is bizarrely seen as some innate condition of being a ‘cyclist’, rather than as a symptom of road system that very often doesn’t make sense to those who happen to be behind handlebars, instead of behind a steering wheel.

Posted in Uncategorized | 46 Comments

Sharing the road

‘Sharing the road’ sounds like an unobjectionable and friendly concept – what’s so bad about sharing? But in practice, the message is ambiguous and unhelpful, and might actually stand in the way of genuine improvements to our roads and streets.

A large part of the problem is captured by this Bikeyface drawing.

People cycling see the ‘sharing’ message as a way of getting drivers to be nice to them; to be patient and to overtake properly. Meanwhile drivers – by complete contrast – interpret the message through the prism of people cycling ‘hogging’ the road, and not letting them past. For them, ‘sharing’ means being accommodating and getting out of the way of motor traffic.

This interpretation isn’t perhaps all that surprising, given the history of the ‘share the road’ message. The motor lobby promoted ‘share the road’ in what amounts to an early form of ‘smoothing the flow’ of motor traffic.

Of course, a commenter on the blog (justifiably) observes that

as far as i can tell the meaning of the phrase hasn’t changed….

In that ‘share the road’ today means ‘don’t take more than what I consider to be your fair share of it’ – effectively, a polite version of ‘get out of my way’.

‘Share the road’ also lives on in official road safety campaign messages in Britain –

Here ‘share the road’ manifests itself as insipid guff about how it would be nice if everyone could just get along and not lose their tempers, with the added implication of equal responsibility between people who pose very little risk, and those who pose a great deal of risk.

Our driver and cyclist tips and Share the Road adverts are also helping to give people the information they need to stay safe… By working together, we can make London’s roads safer for everyone.

This logic is made explicit by Brighton and Hove’s woeful Share the Road, Share the Responsibility campaign. Hey – if we’re asking people to share the road, we might as well pretend they share responsibility, right?

As Bez of Beyond the Kerb has astutely observed (with regard to Northern Ireland’s similarly woeful ‘share the road’ messaging) –

… “share the road” campaigns always fall into the same trap: the belief that if you’re sending a set of messages to one set of road users, you have to send an equivalent set of messages to another.

This campaign clearly implies that the journeys – made by the combination of the person and the vehicle – are equivalent, and thus by extension it implies that person-plus-car and person-plus-bicycle are equivalent. They are not. And this is, once more, the crucial failing. The authors of the messages wilfully blind themselves to the fundamental inequality of danger due to people’s choice of kinetic energy and base the whole campaign not on danger, but on diplomacy.

So, in the case of Brighton and Hove’s campaign, the set of messages sent to drivers have to be ‘balanced’ with another set of messages sent to people cycling. The end result is a campaign that tells people using a mode of transport that poses little risk to other users not to listen to music because it impairs hearing, while simultaneously having nothing to say about music reducing hearing for the users of modes of transport that pose much greater risk to others.

It’s almost as if ‘Don’t use headphones’ has been plucked out as a message in an attempt to balance out the ‘don’t squash pedestrians under your car’ message that has to be sent to drivers.

But perhaps what’s most problematic about ‘share the road’ isn’t the mixed message it sends out, or the way it gets misinterpreted and misused in road safety campaigns. It’s the low ambition of the message itself; that space for cycling can’t be provided, and that the only way cycling can be catered for on roads is by ‘sharing’, as an allegedly equal partner with motor traffic.

People don’t want to share roads with motor traffic. They want their own space, where they can cycle in comfort and safety; an environment where that comfort and safety isn’t conditional on the willingness (or otherwise) of motorists to ‘share’ with them.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 16.35.06‘Sharing’ really doesn’t work because fundamentally motor vehicles and cycles are very different modes of transport, with different requirements. This is why ‘share the road’ messages are doomed to failure; not because of any latent unwillingness, uncooperativeness, or hostility on the part of people driving or cycling, but because these two modes of transport don’t fit together at all well, something captured brilliantly by the Alternative Department for Transport’s series of photoshopped images. Cycling only seems to go well with driving because the cycling demographic has been eroded to a point where the only people ‘sharing’ are those who are able to attempt to cycle like motor vehicles.

In the absence of footways alongside roads, a ‘share the road’ message aimed at pedestrians and drivers would be hopelessly ineffective. Why should we expect any different outcomes for cycling and driving?

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Bus lanes are not cycling infrastructure

A fairly self-explanatory post, this one. Bus lanes are not cycling ndeednfrastructure.

There are lots of reasons why they shouldn’t be, which we’ll come to, but it might be worthwhile looking first at how we’ve ended up thinking that they are cycling infrastructure.

The main reason seems to be, in no particular order;

They’re better than nothing. Better than not being allowed in bus lanes at all, which is (bizarrely) the case in Crawley –

No cycling in this bus lane. Gatwick Road, Crawley

No cycling in this bus lane. Gatwick Road, Crawley

Better than cycling in general traffic lanes – rather than having to deal with buses, taxis and general traffic, you ‘only’ have to deal with buses and taxis.

And better than crap cycling infrastructure (for those people confident enough to cycle in bus lanes). This is indeed the position taken in LTN 2/08, Cycling Infrastructure Design –

Bus lanes form an important part of cycle route networks. They are often placed on primary transport routes, providing cyclists with direct routes to town centres and other important destinations. Bus lanes are generally popular with cyclists (Reid and Guthrie, 2004). They are often preferred over off­road facilities as a result of the advantage of remaining in the carriageway and therefore having priority at side roads (Pedler and Davies, 2000). Cyclists in bus lanes are able to avoid queues, and they value the separation from general traffic that these lanes afford

As Joe Dunckley has written about this passage

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… 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.

Bus lanes are only ‘an important part of cycle networks’ if you have very low horizons; that you can’t imagine any kind of ‘provision’ for cycling beyond a choice between crap off-road provision, general traffic lanes, and bus lanes.

It turns out – if you read the Reid and Guthrie report quoted in the passage in LTN 2/08 – that bus lanes are only ‘popular with cyclists’ because they’re less crap than the alternative of… ‘no bus lanes’.

The principle finding was that cycling in bus lanes was very popular with cyclists, compared with cycling in the typical traffic conditions of the area. [my emphasis]

This is a very weak basis for claiming that bus lanes are actually ‘popular’ – by analogy, it would be like suggesting swimming across a fast-flowing river is ‘popular’, because it’s less unpleasant than swimming across a fast-flowing river with crocodiles in it.

Indeed, this report – which attempts to make the case for cycling in bus lanes – actually reveals some rather fundamental problems with putting cycling in bus lanes –

On the negative side, bus drivers and cyclists appeared to have a generally low opinion of each other and it is recommended that efforts be made to address their mutual concerns. This may be achieved by reducing the opportunity for conflict, which appeared to be directly related to the narrowness of the bus lane, and by educating both classes of users as to each others’ needs.

Cycling in bus lanes creates antagonism, which is unsurprising given the different needs and requirements of these two modes of transport. Note that the only solutions proposed for reducing this antagonism are education, and widening the bus lane.


Buses are not usually as fast as other motorised traffic, although at times, they exceed what cyclists might consider to be a desirable speed.

Again, this is the ‘desirable speed’ in the opinion of cyclists, not the general public. A bus travelling at 20-30mph isn’t at all ‘desirable’ for the people who aren’t already willing to cycle with motor traffic.


cyclists feel more threatened by buses than they do by cars, probably because of their greater size… The acceptable passing distance for overtaking buses on the highway is, therefore, likely to be larger than the acceptable distance of overtaking cars.

The report considers that an in-lane overtake by a bus, within a 4.2m wide bus lane, ‘might be considered safe by 100%’ of cyclists, based on 1970s research about acceptable passing distances. Again, digging out that research reveals that this is based on a sample of just 25 cyclists, ‘most representative of the national cycling population’ – i.e. drawn from people already cycling on the roads in 1978, who were likely to have a much lower threshold of ‘acceptability’ in overtaking compared to people not cycling.

Acceptable for 'cyclists'? Or for anyone else?

Acceptable for ‘cyclists’? Or for anyone else?

So the research and recommendations examined here are based around the preferences and value judgements of existing cyclists – not of the people who aren’t cycling at all, but might like to – and also framed around the relative benefits of cycling in bus lanes compared to general traffic lanes, not compared to the benefits of cycling in dedicated cycleways, separated from both buses and general traffic.

The report also reveals some fairly obvious problems with bus lanes – namely, bus stops.

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 11.37.24

From page 11 of the TRL report.

Most negative comments focused on problems at the bus stops, e.g. ‘bus stops in cycle lanes are dangerous for cyclists’, ‘They’re fine except for buses pulling into stops’ and ‘Dodgy at bus stops’. Other negative comments included, ‘They’re very unsafe as buses are inconsiderate and don’t heed cyclists’, ‘They are dangerous – a contest between cyclist and bus driver’.

Other revealing comments from users include the need for some form of separation of cycles from buses, for instance by means of a cycle lane –

Other comments included, ‘Saves buses and cyclists time, stops leapfrogging’… ‘Not logistically possible, would need to go round bus stops’ [not possible?] … ‘Need a kerb between buses and bikes’, ‘Wouldn’t feel under pressure to go faster if buses were behind’ … ‘I don’t like holding buses up, don’t like feeling buses behind me.’

And to be fair, the report does take this feedback on board, but only by suggesting bus lanes should be wide, and that advisory cycle lanes ‘should’ be provided inside 4m+ bus lanes, and that ‘more research is necessary into the optimum methods of resolving conflicts and delay to cyclists at bus stops’.

Overall, this is a very weak basis for trumpeting the benefits of bus lanes for cycling, and indeed for suggesting that they are an ‘important part of cycle route networks’, as LTN 2/08 goes on to do. This claim is only really justified on the basis of the alternatives being even more dismal; the research used actually shows that buses and cycling sharing the same space does not work well, at all, for either party.

This isn’t just about cycling; if we’re interested in greatly increasing cycling levels, and broadening the cycle demographic beyond the existing ‘traffic tolerant’ group, then that’s going to create serious problems for bus journeys. Putting young children and the elderly in bus lanes just means that buses will be trundling at very slow speeds.

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.35.34

Of course, even if we do theoretically manage to achieve this level of cycling in bus lanes, more generally putting large numbers of people cycling in them just won’t work. Buses would be swamped with people cycling swarming around them; journeys by bus would be painfully slow.Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.36.14

This is one of the main reasons cycling is not accommodated in bus lanes in the Netherlands. Buses are treated almost as more of a light rail mode of transport, with stops less close together, along high speed direct bus corridors, free from things that might slow the buses down.

And of course the other substantive reason why cycling is separated from bus lanes is safety. Buses are large, heavy objects that travel faster than people cycling, and have the potential to seriously injure, or kill. Sustainable Safety demands that these two modes of transport should be separated as much as is possible.

With all this in mind, it’s pretty disappointing that the message doesn’t seem to be coming across clearly and simply in UK cycle campaigning. Hearteningly, the London Cycling Campaign has adopted policy – described here by Rachel Aldred – making it fairly explicit that bus lanes are not cycling infrastructure.

Bus lanes are not ‘protected space’ so, regardless of their presence, we use our normal assessment of when protected space is needed. This threshold is over 20mph speeds or over 2000 Passenger Car Units, PCUs – for total two-way motor traffic flow, in all lanes. According to TfL a standard (non-bendy) bus is 2 Passenger Car Units.

… Too often decision-makers assume zero-sum trade-offs between sustainable modes. But separating buses and cycles at network or street level may provide benefits for both, such as time benefits. We believe decision-makers should consider wider benefits of providing well for cycling, such as better public realm, improved health, and increased mode choice.

And some of this clarity has started to filter through to road designs in London. The higher standard Superhighways now being in the capital do not (for the most part) lump cycling in with buses, but provide protected space for cycling, separated from general motor traffic and from bus flows.

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.49.55

But it seems that there is some unfortunate inertia in other areas of cycle campaigning. Sustrans’ recent Bike Life survey had this unhelpful graph included within it.

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.52.57Not only are ‘bus lanes’ (along with shared pavements) described as ‘measures to encourage cycling’, but it is possible to draw the mistaken implication from this graph that 61% of people who do not ride bikes (but would like to) would be happy or willing to cycle in bus lanes. This isn’t the case; 61% of this group have merely said that bus lanes might help them start cycling, which is quite a vague statement.

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.56.58 Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.57.41 Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 12.58.15

And unfortunately the CTC aren’t particularly clear on bus lanes either. This December 2014 Cycling and Local Transport briefing is useful, but is unhelpfully woolly on whether bus lanes are acceptable –

On both residential streets and rural lanes, low traffic speeds should preferably be achieved through quality design, to make the street or lane feel like it is primarily for people not motor vehicles. Cruder forms of traffic calming, such as road humps and narrowings can be unpleasant and unsafe for cyclists. On busier urban roads, some form of dedicated space for cyclists should be provided. Alternatively, this may include use of decent width bus lanes or on carriageway cycle lanes, preferably with coloured surfacing. It may also include cycle lanes created from carriageway space involving physical segregation both from motor vehicles and pedestrians, where the relevant highway authority has the will to do this to a high standard. Where there is insufficient space for this, the aim must be to reduce traffic volumes and/or speeds, so that cyclists can share the road safely with the other traffic using it. [my emphasis]

Bus lanes might be okay for ‘cyclists’ – they’re marginally better than the alternative of cycling in general traffic lanes, and I must admit I do feel a slight easing of tension once one appears, knowing that I have slightly less to deal with.

But they’re not acceptable if we’re designing for all ages and abilities. Nor is putting cycling and buses in the same space acceptable for bus passengers, in the long term. There needs to be clarity that these are two very different kinds of transport, and that while fudging them together might be acceptable in the absence of any other alternatives, bus lanes are most definitely not cycling infrastructure, nor should they form any part of a serious modern cycle network.

Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Just how contemptuously bad can cycling infrastructure get?

Earlier this year ago I wrote about the Northgate gyratory in Chichester. This is a horrible roundabout, with very high motor traffic speeds, and risible, dangerous cycle ‘infrastructure’ around the perimeter; cycle lanes that put people cycling in hazardous positions and actually make it more difficult to negotiate the roundabout than by actually cycling with the flow of motor traffic.

This year £210,000 has been spent ‘improving’ this roundabout for cycling – an improvement that involved merely repainting the existing rubbish around the edge of the roundabout, and adding ‘innovative’ flashing signs that state THINK BIKE.

Last week I managed to pay a visit to this ‘completed’ scheme, to see just how well this turd has been polished.

It’s still a turd.

It’s hard to convey in words just how angry it makes me to see cycling infrastructure of such an appallingly low quality being superficially dressed up with a fresh coating of lumpy green paint and some stupid signs – a dressing up that the Council are, amazingly, actually proud of.

Posing in front of the sign shown in the video -

West Sussex County Council leader Louise Goldsmith posing in front of the sign shown in the video.

COUNCIL leaders claim the road network in Chichester has been boosted by a ‘Mexican wave’ of new signs at the Northgate roundabout.

New cycling technology has been placed around the gyratory, which the county council said made it safer for cyclists and drivers. The warning technology has been introduced to make motorists aware of the presence of cyclists in the cycle lane.

Rejoice! The driver of that thunderous HGV will now be aware of your presence – evidently he wasn’t before, which is reassuring.

“The new system is an excellent way of making sure motorists know when a cyclist is approaching a junction,” said Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council, the authority responsible for the roundabout.

An ‘excellent way of making sure a a motorist knows you’re approaching a junction’ that somehow differs from just using their eyes to see someone cycling in front of them.

“I found it really useful to see for myself how the technology works and I hope cyclists will find it improves their journey.”

You won’t find anyone who thinks that. Because it’s nothing more than an ineffectual sign.

She was given the chance to cycle the route herself along with the newly-appointed cabinet member for highways and transport, John O’Brien. He echoed the leader’s praise of the new warning system.

“This is a really clever use of technology,” he said. “The sensors are normally used to detect cars and trigger traffic signals. But we’ve specially adapted them at Northgate to detect bicycles in the cycle lane. I hope the improvements will encourage more people to get out of their car and on to their bike.”

‘Hope’. We can always rely on ‘hope’ in the face of overwhelming certainty that this crap isn’t going to make the slightest bit of difference.

The project has cost £210,000 for the signs as well as ‘updating the cycle lane and painting it green’, according to the county council. The council described the sensors and flashing signs as ‘state-of-the-art’.

‘State-of-the-art’. Jesus wept.

Of course the signs aren’t even the problem; the problem is the dreadful layout. Adding some flashing signs here is like attempting to save a house that’s about to collapse by putting up some fresh wallpaper in the living room.

As you cycle around the edge of this gyratory, at every exit slip you have to crane your neck back through 180° to see whether motor traffic is about to swerve left across your path at 30 to 40mph.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 23.00.25

I was trying to think of how this might equate to designing for driving; perhaps it’s like expecting drivers who have no wing mirrors to set off from a stationary position parallel to a high speed lane of motor traffic, to cross that lane.

We would never design for motoring like this.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 22.36.02

People have been seriously injured on this roundabout – and will continue to be seriously injured – not because drivers are failing to ‘think bike’, but because this layout is fundamentally shit. It’s that simple.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 22.39.56

As I hope the photograph above makes plain, anyone cycling here really has to make sure that no motor traffic is coming at all, before venturing across the exit slip. You cannot rely on drivers signalling their exits, nor on where you think they might be going. You cannot take that kind of chance. That means you have to wait for the roundabout to be clear. At every exit. Even at the entrance to a car park.

Stop. Look back over your shoulder. Check.

Stop. Look back over your shoulder. Check.

It is so stressful, hazardous and unpleasant negotiating this roundabout on a bike I found myself involuntarily swearing at the stupidity and complacency of the people who think this is worth issuing self-congratulatory press releases about. It is a million miles away from acceptable.


Ive uploaded the road safety audit for this sign scheme – the documents can be read here and here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 36 Comments

Three journalists

One would think that serious, high-minded journalists and broadcasters, with national audiences, would never willingly display ignorance, prejudice and stupidity on any topic they choose to investigate. Yet on the subject of cycling, a basic expectation that the subject is understood and presented in a rational, impartial and fair-minded way by journalists of this calibre is, it seems, too much to hope for.

To take just three recent examples.

Nick Ferrari is an award-winning journalist, the kind serious enough to interview prime ministers on his show, on a national radio station. Yet on the subject of cycling, all that seriousness and high-minded scrutiny disappears out the window. One particular line of the questioning he put to Labour’s London Mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, was embarrassingly woeful.

He was pressing Khan on whether he would ‘mandate cyclists to use the cycle lanes that have been provided.’ Khan attempted to duck the question, pointing out that this was more reasonably a matter for national legislation, but Ferrari was having none of it, belligerently repeating the question, before producing what he obviously felt was his unanswerable argument

Would you mandate [cyclists to use lanes]? Because at the moment – and I’ve asked the Mayor about this, and I’ve asked Zac Goldsmith about this – you could have the ludicrous situation that £160m has been spent, and the one lane that buses and coaches and trucks and taxis are allowed to use, will have a little old lady on a bicycle in the middle and we’ll all be behind her. Unless she’s mandated to use that cycle lane.

This is a bit like asking whether the use of pavements should be made compulsory, because otherwise a little old lady will walk in ‘the one lane’ that trucks and coaches can use, and we’ll all be stuck behind her. Unless, of course, little old ladies are mandated to walk on footways.

That question would never be asked, of course – because it’s utterly brainless. Nobody is going to choose to walk in front of lorries when there’s a footway. And precisely the same is true for cycling – why would any ‘little old lady’ choose to cycle in front of coaches and HGVs when there’s a cycleway?

'Young children should be mandated to use cycling infrastructure - otherwise they'll be using the motor traffic lanes, holding us all up!'

‘Young children should be mandated to use cycling infrastructure – otherwise they’ll be using the motor traffic lanes, holding us all up!’ [Picture from here]

Ferrari’s question reveals total stupidity on the matter of cycling infrastructure and behaviour – never stopping to consider why a ‘little old lady’ (or indeed anyone else) might choose to cycle in a horrible environment if the alternative was reasonable. What’s his explanation? Does he think people who use bicycles are masochists?

It's apparently only legislation that will keep grannies in that bit of road on the left.

It’s apparently only legislation that will stop grannies from cycling in front of that HGV.

This is the view from behind the windscreen – small-minded, betraying a total lack of understanding and empathy, proudly on display on national radio.

Bridget Kendall is another award-winning journalist. Last week she hosted a programme on the BBC world service, devoted to the subject of the bicycle and the role it has played (and is playing) in human freedom – in female emancipation, as mobility in poorer parts of the world, and as ideal city transport, everywhere. A high-minded programme, but again, like Ferrari, Kendall didn’t appear to have done a great deal of research, and allowed her prejudices to interrupt serious consideration of policy.

For a start, Kendall didn’t seem able to grasp how space for cycling could be allocated at ground level. 

Kendall: There’s always a problem with making a city more bicycle-friendly – how do you actually find the space for cyclists, to keep them safe, and give them room to operate, so that they don’t get in the way of the non-pedallers, which are either the car drivers, or else the pedestrians?

Posed this question, Dr Sheila Hanlon responded –

Hanlon: I do quite like the idea of some of the Cycling Superhighways, and having separated spaces for cyclists, to insulate them from traffic.

Kendall: So you’d have different levels. Cyclists way up high, and the cars down below. Or vice versa.

Given that this was a programme specifically about cycling as ‘ideal city transport’, this was a dreadful response, demonstrating a total failure to engage with the actual ways in which cycling has been, and is being, separated from motor traffic in urban areas around the world. This includes high-profile infrastructure being built right now in London, where the programme was being recorded, and broadcast.

But it got worse. Presumably in an attempt to educate Kendall about current practice (not putting ‘cyclists way up high’), Hanlon went on to describe how junctions are now using separate traffic signalling for cycling, to keep people cycling separate from motor traffic. But rather than engaging seriously with design issues, at the mention of the words ‘traffic lights’ Kendall couldn’t help herself, actually talking over Hanlon to vent some tired prejudice.

Kendall: Well that would be great if the bicyclists would actually look at the traffic lights. Very often they just cycle straight through them. So that’s all about more maybe cycling training.

What relevance does this have for designing cycle safety into our cities? Would we interrupt someone describing how to make cities more pedestrian-friendly with nonsense about how ‘pedestrians don’t actually look at traffic lights’ and how ‘they’ (and it’s always ‘they’ when it comes to cycling, not ‘us’, or ‘we’) just walk straight out into the road?

Finally, another award-winning journalist, the Times’ Janice Turner. As with Ferrari and Kendall, cycling is evidently a topic where impartial and considered opinion can be discarded, replaced instead by tired cliches and stereotypes.

In London, cycling has ceased to be a mode of transport and become a religion. “Cyclist” — rather like “feminist” to some — is now a political identity whose absolute righteousness excuses every deed.

To the zealots, no car journey is justifiable and drivers must be erased from streets. And so, in my ’hood, the council has shut a triangle of residential roads to cars. No warning, no diversion signs, just concrete blocks in the road: deliveries, ambulances, police, tradespeople, funnelled on to choked main roads.

Businesses within the triangle are stranded; homeowners feel “kettled”. Huge, furious public meetings have been been held. And in frustration residents have moved aside some barriers — only to have cyclists re-block the streets with paint-cans and rubbish bags.

Why must every debate now be so angry and polarised? Many of us are, at various times, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. Why can we not, with safety adaptations and mutual respect, share the streets? My correspondent may be interested in a Transport for London report that a cyclist is “typically white, under 40, male, with medium to high household income”. Boris with his super-highways is spending £1 billion on these guys.

This is clearly little more than a whinge motivated by the Loughborough Junction scheme, a scheme Turner has plainly failed to bother attempting to understand.

Motor vehicles haven’t been ‘erased’ from the streets, nor have businesses or homeowners ‘kettled’ or ‘stranded’. All the roads and streets in the trial area are still accessible for drivers; the purpose of the scheme is to divert through motor traffic onto Coldharbour Lane, and away from Loughborough Road. Loughborough Road remains accessible for residents and businesses; you just can’t drive all the way along it. The intention is to the ‘residential roads’ (the clue is even there in the word Turner uses) safer for residents, and for ordinary people to cycle on.

This ignorance about the scheme is served up with tedious dog-whistle drivel about cycling being a ‘religion’ [it really isn’t – it’s just a mode of transport] ‘a political identity whose absolute righteousness excuses every deed’ [Good grief, no – think for a second about what you are writing] and then concluded with a (deliberately?) divisive and mistaken interpretation of the purpose of the Transport for London’s investment in cycling –

My correspondent may be interested in a Transport for London report that a cyclist is “typically white, under 40, male, with medium to high household income”. Boris with his super-highways is spending £1 billion on these guys.

A quick glance at the actual motivation for Boris’ decision to invest in cycling reveals this to be utterly mistaken. The Mayor himself states in the document which announced this investment

I want cycling to be normal, a part of everyday life. I want it to be something you feel comfortable doing in your ordinary clothes, something you hardly think about. I want more women cycling, more older people cycling, more black and minority ethnic Londoners cycling, more cyclists of all social backgrounds – without which truly mass participation can never come.

As well as the admirable Lycra-wearers, and the enviable east Londoners on their fixed-gear bikes, I want more of the kind of cyclists you see in Holland, going at a leisurely pace on often clunky steeds. I will do all this by creating a variety of routes for the variety of cyclists I seek.

In other words, rather than spending £1bn on rich white men, the purpose of the investment is to enable anyone to cycle; to make this simple mode of transport attractive and easy for all Londoners.

The Loughborough Junction scheme falls into this template; by calming the ‘residential roads’ Turner refers to, the intention is at least partly to make these roads a viable proposition for children and elderly people to cycle on, broadening the appeal of cycling beyond the rich white men Turner refers too.

But of course this same column loudly trumpets her opposition to this scheme. Who needs consistency, let alone fair-minded, objective and rational scrutiny, when it comes to discussing cycling? Not journalists, it seems.

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments

A visit to Superhighway 2

The upgrade of Superhighway 2 has been generating some publicity (bad publicity), and this week I managed to head out to Whitechapel (and indeed along the route to Bow roundabout, and back again) to have a look at it.

The first, and probably most important, thing that has to be said is that virtually none of this route is complete. Given the publicity, I was honestly quite shocked at how little of this route has actually been finished. I was expecting a relatively serene cycle up to Bow roundabout and back (or at least pockets of sereneness) but for most of the time I was cycling along this road I was mixing it with buses, coaches and HGVs. This is a rough guess, but at best only 10% or so of the distance between Aldgate and Bow Roundabout currently has cycling infrastructure that is actually available for use. The rest of it is still cordoned off –

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 14.34.32 or still under construction –

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 14.36.32

or somewhere where work hasn’t even started.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 14.40.33That means that this is still a very unpleasant road to cycle on; in fact, probably more unpleasant than before any of this work started, given that in areas where construction is taking place you are forced into narrow areas with motor traffic; impatient motor traffic.

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It shouldn’t be at all surprising, therefore, that the people cycling along this road will be disproportionately composed of the types of people who are more suited to coping with these conditions – namely, young and middle-aged men. Children and grannies will be absent, for pretty obvious reasons.

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Nor should it be at all surprising that the people cycling here – and dipping in and out of the small pockets of infrastructure that have recently been completed – will not all be pootling along serenely, like someone trundling through a park on a Dutch bike. It’s hopeless to expect that. Many will be going fast, almost certainly faster than they want to, because that’s what you have to do when road conditions are this hostile. They will be in that mindset even for the short stretches of cycling infrastructure they are using, and it’s totally unrealistic to expect otherwise.

It’s also premature, in general, to leap to conclusions about this route when so little of it is even complete.

As for the bits that have been completed, two elements have been attracting attention. The first are the (two) junctions with signal separation, to prevent left hooks. Observing these junctions in action, and using them, I think they are a qualified success. Travelling along CS2 in an east-west direction, they do ensure completely conflict-free passage through the junctions.

Left-turning motor traffic is held, while cycle traffic progresses through the junction, along with motor traffic progressing ahead.

Left-turning motor traffic is held, while cycle traffic progresses through the junction, along with motor traffic progressing ahead.

Conversely, when motor traffic is turning left, cycle traffic is held.

Conversely, when motor traffic is turning left, cycle traffic is held.

But there are some problems – perhaps the most obvious is the way that motor traffic is still privileged. For large parts of the cycle, motor traffic has a green to turn left, and a green to go ahead, which just doesn’t feel right while you are sat there at a red.

Green for left turning motor traffic, and for traffic going ahead. Except cycle traffic.

Green for left turning motor traffic, and for traffic going ahead. Except cycle traffic.

I didn’t capture it on camera, but this arrangement ‘provoked’ a number of people to cycle straight ahead through the junction, but from the left turning motor traffic lane. Doubtless others will be tempted to jump the lights here from where the above picture was taken, in the cycle lane, which could potentially be quite dangerous. I don’t think it’s helpful to blame people who might break the rules like this; it would be more constructive to examine why they are doing it, and then adapt the junction and the way it is signalled to prevent it. Clearly, the problem is that, when motor traffic is travelling ahead through the junction, it feels wrong to be held while you want to progress in the same direction. Equivalent Dutch junctions would never operate like this, for much this reason.

More controversial (or ‘controversial’) perhaps are the bus stop bypasses, particularly the one close to Aldgate, heading east. The footway here is really too narrow to be comfortable.

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This isn’t good for cycling, or for walking, because at busier times it is likely that people will walk in the cycleway.

But to my eyes there is a potential (and relatively easy) fix. It’s a little hard to tell from the photograph above, but the motor traffic lane on the opposite side of the road from this bus stop is enormous.

Wide enough to park two taxis side-by-side.

Wide enough to park two taxis side-by-side.

This lane must be around five metres wide – right opposite the bus stop. You can see this on Google Streetview, and indeed on the plans for this stretch of CS2.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 15.52.30This is a ‘merging area’ for where the westbound bus lane ends, but does it need to be this long? Buses could be given priority over the motor traffic lane as soon as the bus lane ends, meaning this large lane could be narrowed down to three metres, and the narrow footway by the bus stop bypass could be two metres wider. (This would also make the road easier to cross informally).

As for the bypass itself – I’ve already made points about the nature of the people cycling through it, and the skewed behaviour that might be expected as a result.

The approach to this bus stop bypass. Good luck expecting kids, grannies, pretty ladies in floral dresses to appear from this environment.

The approach to this bus stop bypass. Good luck expecting kids, grannies, pretty ladies in floral dresses to appear from this environment.

But even so, for the short period I watched this bus stop, I didn’t exactly witness carnage.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 20.50.47The woman in this photograph walked along the cycle bypass, quite slowly (she couldn’t get around the shelter) while the man on the hire bike followed her. No tempers fraying; no angry dinging of bells – he just waited for her to step onto the island, then merrily pedalled on his way.

This is how most human beings will behave. Few of us have an innate desire to crash into other people, or to bully them out of our way, on a bike, any more than we do on foot, and we’ll adjust our behaviour accordingly. Of course there will be always be dicks, but as more and more infrastructure that allows more people to cycle in London gets finished, and starts to spread across the capital, these dicks will increasingly be diluted by the mass of ‘ordinary’ people cycling.

It’s finally worth mentioning that, despite some heavy-handed attempts to insinuate that this infrastructure is ‘for’ posh or middle-class white men, the people cycling along this road and its environs during the day (admittedly, not during rush hour, which I didn’t witness) don’t fit quite so easily into this stereotype.

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Maybe they are under-represented, but people who aren’t white, posh or male are cycling here already, and they need a safe and attractive cycling environment just as much as anyone else. The infrastructure on the A11 isn’t perfect by any means, but it will be a huge step towards achieving that, and towards converting cycling into a simple mode of transport, rather than something resembling an extreme sport, fit only for a tiny section of the population.

And it’s not finished yet. Did I already say that?

Posted in Cycle Superhighways, Infrastructure, London, Subjective safety, Transport for London | 18 Comments

Road design and the Nirvana Fallacy

Does idealism, rather than pragmatic realism, inhibit good policy outcomes?

That was the subject of a thoughtful post in the New Statesman by Ian Leslie, published in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s statement that he would refuse to use Britain’s nuclear deterrent (and indeed get rid of it).

I’m wary of attempting to précis the argument made powerfully by Leslie (in fact you should just read the piece yourself), but in essence it is this:

It is mistaken, and unhelpful, to assume there is some kind of simple choice between a nuclear-free world, and a world with nuclear weapons.

Because the choice is not this simple. In reality, we live in a world in which nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented, and even if we we did manage to eliminate all weapons from all countries, we would still be living in a state of constant readiness, with what Leslie terms ‘latent’ nuclear powers able to produce and arm nuclear weapons at very short notice, even if they don’t actually physically possess them – a state of affairs that, pragmatically, isn’t actually all that different from the world today. Refusing to use nuclear weapons, and destroying our arsenals, does not solve the essential root problem of humanity’s basic ability to produce these weapons. Policy must deal with that reality, rather than clinging to an idealistic position which pretends getting rid of physical nuclear weapons would remove the potential for nuclear conflict.

I don’t really want to get into a discussion about the merits of this argument about nuclear weapons (which admittedly I find persuasive); but I do want to discuss the striking parallels with some aspects of cycle campaigning and road design, and how that campaigning should respond to arguments about the function of roads and streets, and cycling’s place in them. It might seem to be a bit of leap to jump from nuclear policy and cycle campaigning (!) but bear with me – the link here is something called the Nirvana Fallacy.

This particular passage from Leslie’s piece is worth quoting in full –

In a paper from 1969, the American economist Harold Demsetz distinguished between two approaches to public policy: the “nirvana” approach, and the “comparative institution” approach. The former presents the choice as between an ideal norm and the imperfect existing arrangement; the latter as between alternative, real world arrangements, imperfect and less imperfect.

This is colloquially known as the “nirvana fallacy”: the tendency to assume that there is a perfect solution to a problem. A politician who uses the nirvana fallacy gains an easy rhetorical advantage. He can paint inspiring pictures of his perfect world, and attack the existing state of affairs for not living up to it. He can accuse anyone who doesn’t accept its plausibility as cynical, lacking in vision, or principle.

But this advantage comes at a cost, because the nirvana fallacy makes you stupid. It stops you from doing the hard, gritty thinking about how to improve the world we have, since, faced with a series of complex, imperfect options, you overleap them to reach the sunlit uplands of an ideal scenario. Soon, you forget how to think about the real world at all.

How does this relate to road design?

Well, the ‘Nirvana Fallacy’ is really a pitch-perfect description of an attitude to road and street design that is aimed at some distant (and almost certainly unattainable) ideal, while disparaging other forms of road design for failing to live up to that hypothetical ideal.

There are different forms of this position; one of them is the ‘No Surrender’ ideology that has problematically dogged British cycle campaigning since the 1930s; an attitude that maintains motor vehicles are interlopers on Britain’s roads, and that separate provision for cycling alongside those roads or streets represents a ‘surrender’ of that environment to motor vehicle dominance. Here, a choice is presented between the current state of affairs, and a Nirvana in which the roads are somehow ‘reclaimed’ for cycling, a Nirvana that can never realistically be attained, and that inhibits sensible and constructive thinking about how to design cycling as a mode of transport, available to all, into the modern street environment.

Another form – and perhaps more prominent today – is a street design philosophy that objects to the presence of cycling infrastructure on roads, on the grounds that it diminishes the value of ‘place’. This might take the form of ‘placefaking’ – alleging that your road is now a ‘place’ because it has beautiful paving, even though it carries the same large volume of motor traffic as it did before, and that because it is a ‘place’, cycling infrastructure is unnecessary. The implication is that cycling infrastructure interferes with ‘place function’; that the very idea of providing a specific portion of road space for cycling is against ‘place’.

A moment’s examination reveals that this is actually a deeply strange position to hold – consider how it is never aimed at roads and streets that have designated areas for pedestrians (that is to say, pretty much everywhere).

Walking infrastructure destroying the sense of place?

Does ‘carving up’ street space, and reserving it for the specific use of walkists,  destroy a sense of place?

An equivalent street in Rotterdam

An equivalent street in Rotterdam, with designated space for cycling as well as walking. No ‘place function’?

Despite its strangeness, this incoherent ‘place’ argument features prominently in Guardian blogger Dave Hill’s recent ‘recycling’ of a blog by Hackney councillor Vincent Stops.

Should London’s streets be designed for facilitating traffic movement, or enhancing them as attractive places? The right answer is generally some variant of both, and takes different forms according to the type of street and the priorities of the people making the decisions.

…. Stops is a strong believer in street design meeting a multiplicity of needs including those of cyclists, bus users and pedestrians, and with the “place function” to the fore. … He argues that cycling campaigners have successfully shifted London’s street management policies away from measures that simultaneously assist all “sustainable modes” and foster truly living streets towards favouring a certain sort of London cyclist at the expense of everyone else

Running implicitly through the piece (which of course borrows its logic from Stops’ blog) is an assumption that ‘place function’, ‘attractive places’, ‘truly living streets’ – whatever we want to call it, is incompatible with cycle-specific design. Building cycling infrastructure somehow converts roads and streets into being all about ‘movement’, rather than being all about ‘place’, even if space is being taken away from motor traffic and reallocated for cycle transport.

Witness how Stops glowingly describes Kensington High Street – a four lane conduit for motor traffic, polluted and choked, with (crucially) no cycling infrastructure – as an ‘exemplar street scheme’, that emphasises ‘place’.

The regeneration of Kensington High Street changed how we looked at our streets – ‘place’ became as important as movement. The more progressive local authorities followed the example of Kensington High Street. They cleared the clutter on the streets and footways, so that pedestrians did not have to dodge around obstructions of all sorts, they widened pavements, introduced single-stage pedestrian crossings and used high quality paving. They recognised that creating streets and places where people wanted to be was as important as seeking ever more effective movement corridors.

These exemplars of ‘place’ are apparently under threat from cycling infrastructure –

However, creating movement corridors for cycling has emerged as a new priority and we are at risk of forgetting how important great streets are. The cycle bloggers, cycle safety campaigners and friendly cycling journos have promoted a world view in which liveability has come to mean cycleability.

Stops’ position is effectively that reclaiming road space on, for instance, Kensington High Street from motor traffic, and reallocating it for cycling, would actually diminish the place function of this road. Indeed, the visualisation below (which reduces four lanes of motor traffic to two, and adds two-way cycling infrastructure in its place) has been ridiculed by Stops.

A TfL-produced visualisation of what Kensington High Street could have looked like.

A TfL-produced visualisation of what Kensington High Street could have looked like.

The implication is clear – roads that carry large amounts of motor traffic can be ‘places’, but the moment some of that motor vehicle space is repurposed for cycling, suddenly the road is all about ‘movement’, rather than ‘place’.

Put this simply, it’s hard to take such a strange argument at face value. In fact, it is so incoherent that there is almost certainly something else going on behind it. And it’s the Nirvana Fallacy.

‘Nirvana’ in this context obviously isn’t the nuclear-free world of the example we started with; instead, it is a world in which all roads and streets, everywhere, don’t require any of that pesky cycling infrastructure, because they have all been turned into idylls of ‘place’. ‘Places’ where there is next to no motor traffic, and what motor traffic there is trundles along slowly, driven respectfully and cheerfully.

Cycling infrastructure doesn’t fit in with this vision; it carries with it the implication that this Nirvana will never be achieved. Roads with cycling infrastructure are less than perfect.

To return to Leslie at this point –

false dichotomies of perfect versus good shut down serious thought.

The problem here is that the choice is not between the current state of affairs in British towns and cities, and those same towns and cities with ‘perfect’ streets with low levels of slow motor traffic  – ‘Nirvana’ streets where everyone gets along with everyone else, regardless of their mode of transport. Instead, it is between the present reality, and a workable and achievable vision of the future.

That workable future is the system that is currently in place in the Netherlands, and which London has started, very slowly, to inch towards. A system in which motor traffic is largely displaced from access roads, but that crucially involves physical separation for cycling on those main roads that still function (and have to function) as through-routes for motor traffic.

The borough of Hackney – quite rightly – places a great deal of emphasis on the filtered permeability technique. It’s a simple and easy way of creating a comfortable cycling environment. The only motor traffic remaining on streets that have been ‘filtered’ is that which is accessing properties in the ‘filtered’ area. Not only is motor traffic greatly reduced, but what remains is not in a hurry to get anywhere else. Filtering turns streets into genuine places.

But unfortunately (and importantly in the context of this discussion) this technique has a limit. You can’t apply filtered permeability on every single street, because that would mean that motor vehicles wouldn’t be able to get anywhere. Cities and towns would be entirely free of motor vehicles – perhaps a genuine Nirvana.

But this is never going to happen. Buses need to move through towns and cities. Deliveries need to be made (for those essentials that can’t be delivered by cargo bike, or that are impractical to deliver by cargo bike). And trips by private motor vehicle are in many cases ‘essential’; or more specifically, not so inappropriate that they should be completely outlawed. Picking up furniture, or large amounts of shopping. A family trip to the seaside. Taking someone to hospital. And so on. Cars make sense for many types of journeys, and indeed, more generally, I don’t think any particular trip by motor vehicle should be wholly restricted. That’s just bad policy. We should instead concentrate our efforts on making the alternatives (in particular, cycling) much more attractive than they are now; a positive approach to attaining the same outcome.

The routes for this kind of motor traffic that is never likely to be eroded – buses, deliveries, ordinary car trips – will have to follow a ‘Motoring Grid’, main roads that will at the same time require cycling infrastructure in order to make cycling a safe, comfortable and attractive experience for ordinary people. Without it, anyone who wishes to cycle will have to mix with buses, lorries and the general motor traffic that would still exist, even at very low levels.

And we know that most people don’t want to cycle in these conditions. Observation of the real world shows that bus lanes are not chock-full of children or elderly people cycling; bus lanes are only tolerable as as a cycling environment for a pretty narrow demographic. And research is confirming that what had until quite recently been considered as ‘cycle provision’ really isn’t attractive or safe enough for most people.

Less ambitious interventions, such as shared bus and cycle lanes, or mandatory cycle lanes, may encourage an adult minority to try cycling, yet not have similar impacts on cycling with and by children. Arguably this approach has been tried in contexts such as Inner London, with an increase in bus lane provision, seen as substantially inferior by users to full segregation (Steer Davies Gleave 2012)

We know the kinds of conditions under which people will consider sharing the carriageway with motor vehicles while cycling, and it involves genuinely low motor traffic levels, below 200 vehicles per hour at peak, combined with a (designed) low speed environment. These are not conditions that are likely to be achieved on main roads in urban areas; the flow of motor traffic will be too high, and even if it is very low, it really doesn’t make sense from a strategic point of view to lump bus transport into the same space as people cycling.

Buses separated from cycling in Utrecht. Running buses in the same space

Buses separated from cycling in the Dutch city Utrecht, on a road where private motor traffic has been eliminated. Mixing buses in with dense cycle flows, travelling at around 10-15mph, does not make for a sensible bus network – to say nothing of the effects on the quality of the cycling environment.

Of course, it’s very easy to criticise roads that have cycling infrastructure for being less than perfect than some mythical Nirvana where ‘place and movement are in balance’, or some other guff. (To repeat, this objection isn’t ever levelled at streets that have pedestrian infrastructure).

But the choice isn’t between perfection, and roads with cycling infrastructure. Instead the choice is between busy main roads that are designed in a way that enables cycling for all, and busy main roads that do not. It’s that simple.

Talking about ‘shifting the balance in favour of place rather than movement’ on these kinds of roads, by failing to provide cycling infrastructure and opposing it where it is being constructed, really amounts to empty rhetoric, an airy wafting in the direction of Nirvana, but without any concrete strategy on how to attain it. It avoids dealing with reality.

The nirvana fallacy makes you stupid. It stops you from doing the hard, gritty thinking about how to improve the world we have, since, faced with a series of complex, imperfect options, you overleap them to reach the sunlit uplands of an ideal scenario. Soon, you forget how to think about the real world at all.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Different standards

A few weeks ago the City of London held a cycling safety event, aimed in particular at women, following an astonishing 30 serious injuries to female cyclists in the Square Mile since 2010, and three deaths.

And this week a haulage company was running a similar event in Cambridge, with a familiar-looking shape on the ground in front of an HGV.

That’s the area you shouldn’t be in; definitely not an Advanced Stop Line,.

It’s hard to criticise these events – they are, after all, well-meaning, and for the people who attend them they may learn something about the potentially lethal dangers posed by cycling on the carriageway with HGVs, and with motor vehicles in general.

The City of London Corporation wants to encourage more women to ride to work as part of a target of having 10 per cent of journeys made by bike. Today’s events include a conference and an “Exchanging Places” event until 4pm in Guildhall Yard that will enable women to experience the “blind spots” that limit the view of cyclists and pedestrians from the cab of a HGV.

But of course these events are only scratching the surface of the problem. They can’t possibly reach everyone who cycles on Britain’s roads, and even the tiny minority of people that do attend will still make mistakes, or errors, that could result in death or serious injury.

These certainly aren’t the kinds of events that you could imagine being run by any other branch of transportation. Because the message is effectively –

find out just how dangerous your transport environment is, thanks to our indifference and/or negligence.

It’s like the airline industry running an event publicising the dangers of sitting in particular seats on the plane.

Yes, those are the seats to avoid. Unfortunately they do have a tendency to fall out of the plane.

Or – to parallel the way these ‘Exchanging Places’ advise you not to use exact same painted markings that have been applied on the road ‘for cycling’ –

Low-level lighting will guide you to the nearest exit. Except that under certain circumstances that lighting should be completely ignored, as it may lead you to an extremely dangerous area of the plane.

Or – to parallel ‘educating’ people to cycle away from parked cars – perhaps a bus company advising you on how to safely use their buses.

Please be aware that, although we have provided seats at the side of the bus, these are in places where panels can suddenly swing out and hit you. Stay out of the ‘panel zone’.

Events like these, warning of these kinds of dangers, would be laughable, scandalous even, but they’re completely standard fare when it comes to cycle transportation. The only reason we’re not rolling around laughing, or gasping with horror, is that they come against a background of decades of inertia; decades of assuming that it’s completely fine to mix human beings on bicycles with very large vehicles, or vehicles moving at high speed. Decades of assuming it’s fine to paint stuff on the road under the pretence it might achieve something, even if that paint should selectively be ignored. Decades of assuming that if you don’t fancy riding a bike in that environment, then… tough. Have you tried some cycle training?

This is only normal because, well, we’ve just grown to accept it.

Meanwhile there’s a country just a few hundred miles away which doesn’t accept this. Which attempts to apply the same rigour about safety for people cycling that we rightly expect from other modes of transportation.

A country that keeps you separated from lorries when they are turning across your path.Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 15.58.34

… That prevents HGVs from turning, when you are moving through a junction.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 22.55.22

… That provides separate roads for cycling, alongside roads where vehicles are travelling at 50mph or more.Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 22.58.07

… That ensures minimal interactions with motor traffic, whatever the road or street, whatever the location.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 23.09.34

It’s actually quite shocking when you come across evidence that the country hasn’t always been like this; when you find those roads and junctions that remain unaddressed, relics from the past, when (like in Britain today) the country just expected people to get on with it, to mix with large vehicles and hazardous situations as best they can.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 23.03.08 Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 23.03.55

The country was changed; principally by consistently applying the same kinds of standards that we expect when we travel by other modes of transport, to cycling.

Why should we tolerate different standards in Britain?

Posted in Exchanging places, Promotion, Safety, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands | 23 Comments