Service roads – an easy win for cycling

Cycling infrastructure isn’t just about the ‘conventional’ design of protected tracks alongside main roads. Good cycling conditions can also be achieved with other measures, particularly through the use of roads that have very low motor traffic levels.

Typically this will take the form of access roads in residential areas, away from main roads, designed in a way that ensures motor traffic is only accessing these streets, rather than passing through to somewhere else. But there’s another form of this kind of ‘low traffic street’, one that runs parallel to main roads – the service road. While protected cycleways and filtered streets are now part of the cycle campaigning vocabulary in Britain, the service road really hasn’t featured much, at all. Which I think is a pity, as they really are an ‘easy win’ for cycling; they already exist alongside many main roads that aren’t suitable for cycling, and would only need a small amount of work to adapt them as good cycling environments.

I was reminded of this as I was sat on a (rail replacement) coach from Harwich into London, having coming back on the ferry from a visit to the Netherlands. The coach essentially followed the A12 into central London, and for stretches of the A12 in Dagenham, there are service roads alongside it.

They would be perfect for cycling infrastructure, a way to travel along this pretty horrible main road in relative peace and security. Unfortunately they look like this.

The service roads are blocked off – which is the right thing to do, in general terms, because you don’t want people buzzing along them in motor vehicles, instead of using the main road. A service road should only be used by a small number of motor vehicles, accessing a small number of properties along it – that’s why it’s called a ‘service road’, after all.

But they’ve been blocked off in a way that blocks off cycling too. The barrier should go, and be replaced with something that allows the easy passage of walking, cycling (and other mobility aids) while still preventing motor traffic from passing through.

This would really be an easy win – there’s no need for a huge amount of re-engineering of the street, and it wouldn’t present a great deal of political difficulty, because the service road is already blocked off, so motorists aren’t losing anything. And I imagine much the same is true for many, many other service roads across Britain.

We were shown a good example on an Infrastructure Safari during the Cycling Embassy AGM in Newcastle a few years back. The Great North Road (the old A1, before it became bypassed) north of Gosforth was built with a service road.

As is clear from the photograph, this is a very relaxed, comfortable cycling environment, alongside a fast (40mph) dual carriageway, composed of four lanes. Only a small number of properties (those on the left) are accessible by this road. It’s in a better condition for cycling than the Dagenham example, with better transitions between the sections of closed off service roads, although at the end it does die a death, without considering cycling. The plan was (or is!) to make it part of a cycle route running north out of Newcastle – I confess I’m not up to speed on what’s happened since we visited but, just like the Dagenham example, this would be another easy win. The cycle route is effectively already built – it just needs a little tidying.

Perhaps the best example of a service road I’ve encountered, however, is of course in the Netherlands, in the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. It’s the one described in this post by Bicycle Dutch, with an accompanying video.

Note that the ‘upgrade’ that has taken place is really just an improvement of the surface, and with a change in colour to make it more explicit that this is a cycle route. The basic building blocks of a good service street for cycling – smooth transitions between the sections of service road and cycle path, and filters to stop people driving all the way along the main road in parallel – were already in place.

This particular service road featured as a Good Facility of the Week. Because service roads don’t touch main roads, it’s also easy to convert them into good walking environments, with continuous footways across the side roads.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 16.58.57

This service road transitions easily into cycle path, and back into service road again (my one very minor criticism here is that the post may not be not be necessary, given the width of the path – it’s unlikely drivers will attempt to drive down here, although I could be wrong).

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Where the service road meets a major junction, drivers are prevented from continuing along the main road. The two sections of service road on either side of the junction are only ‘joined up’ for walking and cycling, which helps to keep motor traffic levels low on the service road.

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The final advantage of service roads is that – because they are relatively wide – they can easily be used for two-way cycling, on either side of the road (or both sides, if there are service roads on each side). Here’s an example in Assen – two-way cycling is allowed on this service road. Note that there is also some (fairly old) ‘light segregation’ on the other side of the road, in the form of concrete blocks, which allows (one-way) cycling on that side too.

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Of course the Dutch still get things wrong (or haven’t got around to putting things right yet). Here’s a fairly strange example of cycle lanes on a fairly busy road in Zwolle, when there’s a good service road on either side, going unused.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 17.12.04It would be better to take cycling off the main road, removing conflict with motor traffic, and placing the cycle route on the service road, which has a bumpy service at present, but could be upgraded to smooth asphalt.

I’m sure I’ve seen this same mistake being made in new UK cycling schemes – painted lanes being proposed on main roads, when there is a service road alongside – although I can’t quite remember where! Perhaps you can remind me in the comments, along with other examples of service roads that could be easily ‘upgraded’.

Service roads certainly shouldn’t be overlooked as cycling infrastructure. They are much better cycling environments than painted lanes alongside motor traffic, and most of the physical engineering – the separation from the main road – is already in place. They only require a small amount of adjustment to make the transitions easy, and as I’ve already said the ‘political’ cost is minimal, given that driving isn’t made any worse (and arguably better if encounters with people cycling on the main road are removed).

Posted in Infrastructure, Service road, The Netherlands, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Journey times, and re-thinking filtered permeability

On a recent trip to the supermarket I happened to notice a driver turning into the car park at roughly the same time as me. Obviously this isn’t something you would normally dwell on, but in this particular instance I happened to notice the same driver entering the supermarket building itself some time later – when I already done a good deal of my own shopping.

What had happened? Well, I can park my ‘vehicle’ right by the entrance of the supermarket, something the driver wasn’t able to do.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 11.24.42

They had obviously had to circulate around the car park, looking for a space, parking their car, and then walking all the way back to the supermarket entrance.

This set me to pondering on a bit of maths in an attempt to establish just how quick a car is at short trips, compared to cycling. You might think a car will ‘obviously’ be quicker at getting from A to B – after all, it just goes faster. But as my anecdote hints at, the basic problem this straightforward analysis overlooks is… parking.

Cars are big, and difficult to store. That means when you get to where you actually want to go to, you won’t actually be able to get there. By that I mean, it is very, very unlikely that you will be able to park your car right where you want to go to, either because someone else has got there first, or because there’s so much (induced) demand for parking where you are going to it has to be spread out over a large area (or on multiple levels), or because the area you are going to is somewhere that restricts parking altogether, because it’s not very nice when streets you want to visit are clogged up with cars that are either parked, or being driven around in search of parking spaces.

This isn’t the case with cycling; you will almost certainly be able to park exactly where you want to, especially if you have the kind of bike that has a built-in lock (the convenience of which I’ve written about before). So we have to factor in something ‘extra’ into the time taken to get from A to B by car – the time you are walking to or from your car, once you have parked it, to actually get to or from ‘B’.

So I came up with this rough little equation to establish the distances at which cycling time is approximately equal to driving time, adding in the extra walking time involved with driving. It equates cycling time (on the left) with driving + walking time (on the right).

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 23.42.11

  • is the actual distance from A to B;
  • SB is cycling speed;
  • SC is car (driving) speed;
  • DW is the walking distance, from parking stop to final destination; and
  • SW is walking speed.

Now we can plug in some values. If we take cycling speed to be 10mph, walking speed to be 3mph, and driving speed to be 20mph, we get the following –

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 23.53.38

And with a bit of rearranging, we arrive at –

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 23.55.19

What does this mean?

Well, it tells us that for our starting assumptions of speed (20 for driving, 10 for cycling, 3 for walking), cycling time is equal to driving (+ walking) time when the walking distances is 0.15 of the distance from A to B.

So – to take an example – let’s say I had to choose between cycling or driving for a short trip from A to B of 1 mile. In this case, if the walking distance from the parking to the destination is 240 metres (0.15 of 1 mile), then I can expect to arrive at the destination at exactly same time if I cycled or drove. If the walking distance is greater than 240m metres, then obviously the bike will be quicker.

For shorter trips the equation obviously tilts further in favour of cycling – for a trip of half a mile from A to B, you’d have to be able to park within about 100m of the actual destination for driving to match cycling.

How realistic is this? I think it’s fairly accurate, and if anything a little generous towards driving, for a couple of reasons –

  • 20mph is probably quite an optimistic average speed for driving in urban areas – it assumes no queues or congestion, and no traffic lights.
  • the equation doesn’t account for the extra driving time spent driving around looking for a parking space near the destination.
  • nor does it account for the actual ‘parking’ time; time spent shuffling your car in and out of a space.

To return to my supermarket example, I think the driver who entered car park at the same time as me probably had a walking trip of around 100m – a reasonable assumption based on the size of the car park. I’ve shown a typical ‘walk’ below, from the mid-point of the car park.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 11.28.20

Of course the driver would have to have driven to this spot, and maybe a bit further, circulating around to look for it. That means if we both had to travel half a mile to get here, he would have gained nothing (in time, at least) by driving.

The equation tips further in favour of cycling when we examine ‘as the crow flies’ distance, rather than the actual travel distance, because driving – even somewhere as car-friendly and cycling-hostile as this town, Horsham – tends to involves longer routes than cycling. To take just one example –

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 11.42.02Here a short car trip to Sainsbury’s of nearly one mile is significantly longer than one by bike, principally because someone on a bike can use the short cut indicated by the red arrow, but someone driving can’t. The ‘crow flies’ distance here is around 600m; the cycling distance approximates to 900m, while the driving distance is a far less favourable 1400m.

The red arrow is actually an example of filtered permeability – a residential area which drivers can access with their motor vehicles, but can’t drive through. This makes it a pleasant area to live in, and has the side benefit of making cycling and walking trips more closely aligned with ‘crow flies’ distances, compared to driving.

This whole mathematical exercise got me thinking about filtered permeability in a different way. Essentially –

Filtered permeability only ‘punishes’ the kind of car trips that weren’t worth making in the first place.

Yes, filtered permeability will make your 0.5 mile car trip significantly longer, perhaps even twice as long. But that’s the kind of car trip it really doesn’t make sense to drive, because cycling will almost certainly be quicker over that distance, once we factor in the kind of details considered in the maths here. This is, in fact, precisely the case with the example I’ve used above. A car trip from A to B (Middleton Road to Sainsbury’s) would actually be costly in time terms, compared to cycling, even without any filtered permeability in place.

For longer car trips, however, of say 2-3 miles, the effect of filtered permeability is more negligible, perhaps adding only 5-10% to the overall journey time. So filtered permeability is only really a ‘problem’ for driving for those trips that are actually more time-consuming to make than going by bike, or even walking.

Now of course I fully acknowledge that cycling isn’t an option for most people in urban areas because of the hostility of road conditions – indeed, that’s pretty much what this blog is all about. So the kinds of comparisons here won’t work for most people, simply because they have to choose between walking and driving, and the equation here isn’t anything like as favourable as a cycling/driving comparison, because of the lower speed of walking.

This might explain why new ‘filtering’ schemes attract such a great deal of opposition in Britain; it’s because people are driving short trips of under a mile, and because the only realistic alternative is walking. Cycling is the missing piece of the puzzle, one that will unlock the benefits of ‘filtering’ and demonstrate just how inefficient short car trips in urban areas actually are, compared to the alternatives.

Of course to unlock that potential cycling has to enabled, and that means constructing environments that work for all users – protected routes on main roads, and genuinely quiet routes on residential streets, which will involve (ironically enough) filtered permeability. So this is something of a chicken and egg situation – the arguments in favour of filtered permeability rely partly on the benefits of a mode of transport that people aren’t currently prepared to use, and won’t be using until these kinds of schemes are in place.

But I think it is certainly helpful to consider just how painful driving is, in time terms, for short trips, when arguments and discussions about ‘filtered permeability’ are happening.

Posted in Horsham, Infrastructure | 35 Comments

The role for surfacing in rural areas

Every time I write something like this, or tweet something like this,

… I tend to get replies or responses that fall into the following categories –

  • ‘I like mud, mud is fun to cycle on, smooth paths are boring’
  • ‘you can’t possibly be arguing that all paths in rural areas should be covered in asphalt’
  • ‘not everyone rides road bikes – some of us ride mountain bikes’

I think I covered most of these objections in that previous (long-ish) post, but it’s probably worth clarifying here exactly what types of routes should be surfaced properly, and which ones shouldn’t be, because I obviously don’t think all rural paths should have a smooth tarmac surface, and I also think people should have fun places to ride mountain bikes (guess what – I have a mountain bike myself).

The distinction is between routes that some have kind of utility function, and those that are pure leisure routes.

What do I mean by this? Perhaps the best way to describe it would be that utility cycling involves using cycling as a tool, a means to get from one place to another, to perform activities unrelated to cycling. By contrast, leisure cycling means that riding a bike itself is the goal.

Two types of leisure riding, but on a path built to accommodate utility cycling.

Two types of leisure riding (that happen to be taking place on a path built to accommodate utility cycling)

An example of a utility route would be a path that connects a village directly with the nearest town. This kind of path would be used by people doing shopping by bike, instead of by car, or by kids cycling to school, instead of being driven. It might, alternatively, be a path between an industrial estate on a ring road, and a town centre, or a new housing estate and a shopping centre. I’m sure there are countless other examples, but the essential point is that these are routes that will be used by people for whom cycling is a means to an end (getting from A to B) rather than as an activity, in and of itself.

Leisure routes don’t fit into this category – they are routes that might not go from anywhere in particular to anywhere else in particular. They might, for instance, arbitrarily join up between two country lanes, or wind through a forest. Or – to pick a really obvious example – they might wind along a mountainside ridge. Somewhere people will only be riding for ‘leisure’, and certainly not for ‘utility’.

Now of course utility routes will obviously also serve a ‘leisure’ function, because they will inevitably connect up with ‘leisure’ paths, and riding a bike is, in and of itself, fun. People will ride along paths that are utility routes simply for the pleasure of riding a bike, in just the same way that they will ride along roads for fun, roads that have a ‘utility’ function. And likewise people performing tasks by bike will also be engaging in leisure cycling when they do so – these are not hard and fast categories.

These might be utility trips, or leisure trips - or a bit of both.

These might be utility trips, or leisure trips – or a bit of both.

The essential point, however, is that a route that has an obvious utility function should be designed for utility, even if it is used by people for leisure. 

So a path that forms a direct connection between two towns, or two large villages, should be designed in a way that allows people to get from A to B along it without having to dress up in special cycling clothes, or without buying a special all-terrain mobility scooter (which someone seriously suggested in the comments below my last piece). These kinds of paths should be designed for the destinations at either end of it. Utility should trump leisure, even if the path in question is currently a muddy bog that people enjoy using on mountain bikes. We don’t design roads between villages and towns like this –

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 12.11.09

simply because people who own Landrovers enjoy mudplugging along them. We design them to allow people to drive from A to B along them without even thinking about buying a special car, or taking special clothes and equipment with them in case they need to dig their car out of some deep mud.

If you don’t think utility routes should be surfaced properly, that is precisely what you are demanding of other people. That they should get overalls and wellies on, and hose off their bikes afterwards (assuming they have a mountain bike in the first place), just to go the library, or visit the doctor, or go to school, or get to the train station. Or that they should somehow drive around the supermarket in a mobility scooter covered in crud.

These are all hypotheticals, of course, because it’s pretty much inevitable that these people won’t be cycling at all, even if they wanted to. That’s the outcome. Imagine this mother cycling like this –

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 12.01.49

Along here.

Downs Link Southwater

She simply won’t be there – she’s not going to go and buy and mountain bike, wellies and overalls. She’ll be in the car instead.

Although it might not be obvious, the path in the photo above is a screamingly obvious utility route. It’s an old railway line that connects a series of towns and villages, and used to join the (still-existing) mainline railway to London.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 12.25.47

Partridge Green, which is at the southern end of the section I’ve marked, has a population of around 3,000 people, and (of course) used to have a railway station. Likewise, Southwater, roughly where the white box is, has a population of over 10,000 people, and no railway station. From Southwater to the railway station at Christ’s Hospital (an hour from London, and a settlement in its own right) is around 2 miles, a flat, easy trip by bike, with minimal interaction with motor traffic.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 12.30.51Perfect for commuters, families going for a day out by train, people visiting the leisure facilities at Christ’s Hospital, and vice versa. Except the route looks like this.

Downs Link Southwater

Now to repeat, that doesn’t mean all paths in rural areas should be surfaced in this way. The Netherlands does not do this. There are paths all over the place, winding through forests across downland, alongside beaches, through fields, which are perfect for charging around on, with mountain bikes or cyclocross bikes.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 10.41.56

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 10.43.20These are the paths that don’t really go anywhere, or that have a very good parallel alternative in ‘utility’ form. Often these leisure routes will have an asphalt path in parallel.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 10.48.11 Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 10.51.01

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To be clear however, these are not ‘utility routes’, or part of any region’s cycle network. The asphalt strip simply allows people on ‘ordinary’ bikes (and indeed on mobility scooters, and other types of cycles) to use these some of these leisure routes, alongside mountain bikers.

The overall point is that the Netherlands has not ‘lost’ anything by surfacing utility routes properly. The extensive leisure route network sits alongside the main utility network, and the distinction between the two is not blurred. The quality of routes that people need to use to get from A to B is never sacrificed.

Yet in Britain there’s a startling parallel with those tired arguments that claim we don’t need cycling infrastructure in urban areas, because we hardly ever see anyone cycling in urban areas. In precisely the same way, we seem to believe that useful, obvious routes between destinations should continue to effectively deter almost the entirety of their potential users, simply because that route is dominated by the type of cycling that its current state will only ever allow.


Posted in Uncategorized | 33 Comments


People drive around in dark coloured cars. There’s no stigma if you happen to use a car that’s black, or dark blue, or dark grey. It’s normal.

Acceptable and unacceptable blackness

Acceptable and unacceptable blackness

Likewise people walk around in dark clothes without even thinking about it. Campaigns to get pedestrians (i.e. people) to wear hi-visibility clothing will always fail, because donning special uniforms just to walk about is frankly absurd.

People walking, cycling, and driving, in black

People walking, cycling, and driving, in black. And one person in a yellow jacket.

Yet the common refrain is that anyone cycling around in ordinary clothing is ‘invisible’. This ‘invisibility’ opinion was even voiced, yesterday, by the Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, Meg Hillier – enthusiastically endorsing Robert Goodwill’s call for people to wear hi-viz clothing.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 11.13.39

It’s highly unlikely that Hillier would argue that too many pedestrians are ‘invisible’ simply because they aren’t wearing special safety jackets. We expect to be able to cross roads, and to use zebra crossings, wearing the clothes we wear on a daily basis, and we expect to be seen, by other people walking or cycling about, or driving about. Likewise it’s unlikely she would argue that dark cars are ‘invisible’ because they aren’t dayglo yellow, or because they don’t have reflective strips plastered all over them.

What the ‘invisibility’ claim amounts to, therefore, is an assertion that anyone riding a bike should make some kind of special effort to be seen, an effort above what we expect people walking or driving to make. But why? What is is special about riding a bike, compared to walking about or driving, that necessitates this extra effort?

Certainly you could argue that people cycling are vulnerable, not having the extra protection afforded by the metal cage that surrounds car occupants – but precisely the same is true of pedestrians, who are struck with appalling regularity by people driving cars.

You might – alternatively – argue that a person on a bike is less visible than a (dark) car. But is this really true? There is the notorious problem of ‘look, but failed to see’ – this is where drivers look, but simply don’t perceive someone on a bike, or a motorbike, because they failed to fit into the template of objects the driver is expecting to look for.

And there is good evidence to suggest that making the objects people fail to see more ‘conspicuous’ has no effect on whether they would fail to continue to see them in future. Here, for instance, is an intriguing study which suggests police vehicles parked at the side of roads shouldn’t use their lights – and should park sideways – to make them appear less like a moving vehicle, and more like a stationary one.

results suggest that ‘looked but failed to see’ accidents may arise not because the parked vehicle is di􏰚fficult to see, but for more cognitive reasons, such as vigilance failure, or possession by the driver of a `false hypothesis’ about the road conditions ahead. An emergency vehicle parked in the direction of travel, with only its blue lights flashing, may encourage drivers to believe that the vehicle is moving rather than stationary. Parking at an angle in the road, and avoiding the use of blue lights alone while parked, are two steps that drivers of parked emergency vehicles should consider taking in order to alert approaching drivers to the fact that a stationary vehicle is ahead.

The issue is one of perception, not of ‘visibility’ – making things more ‘visible’, even a police car, simply won’t work. Likewise a Department for Transport study found that ‘failure to see’ errors occur more frequently during the day – 

suggesting that they derive from failures of attention, perception and cognition, rather than being of sensory origin.

In other words, drivers are simply not looking for things they are not expecting – the actual conspicuity of the object they fail to see is immaterial. We shouldn’t therefore expect these particular kinds of problems to be resolved by making people more yellow, or more reflective, because drivers will still be looking past them, looking for different things. (Genuine solutions to these kinds of problems should involve reducing the visual and task load on drivers).

If someone is actually looking, then, is someone on a bike any less visible than a car that is equivalently dark?Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 11.48.19

To me, at least, the people cycling on the right – even with the fairly weak lights on the London hire bikes – are effectively just as ‘visible’ as the dark car on the left.

And modern Dutch bikes (and presumably many other types of cycles) come equipped with a range of lights and reflective elements that push their ‘visibility’ higher than that of a car. My bike has reflective sidewall tyres.

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Viewed from the rear, it has a white mudguard, two rear reflectors, as well as a rear light, and the standard orange pedal reflectors.

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And the front obviously has a bright white light, surrounded by a reflector. Note also how the reflective sidewall tyres stand out in this shot, as well as the pedal reflectors.

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All of this equipment is built into the bike; the lights are powered by a dynamo, so they’re on as soon as I start moving, and stay on for around five minutes when I’m stationary, thanks to a capacitor. The lights themselves actually have a sensor which means they come on automatically when it gets a bit gloomy, but I personally have the lights ‘on’ permanently, because it doesn’t cost me anything in perceptible effort pushing the dynamo.

How much of a difference is a dayglo jacket going to make on top of all this built-in visibility? I’d suggest next to none. If a driver doesn’t seem me with all this equipment, he or she just isn’t going to see me, full stop, and I’m not going to engage in a pointless arms race in an attempt to change that, any more than I would paint my car yellow, or add reflective strips to it, in an attempt to stop people crashing into it, or don a ‘pedestrian safety jacket’ to use a zebra crossing. We just don’t do this, and for good reason – there’s a reasonable baseline expectation of visibility, and one that should obviously be applied to anyone riding a bike in precisely the same way.

For what it’s worth, I’m fully in favour of the kind of equipment my bike has being ‘standard issue’ because it doesn’t add any difficulty or inconvenience to everyday life. It’s part of the bike, and I don’t even have to think about it – I don’t need to bring any equipment with me, because the bike does the job for me. But wearing special clothing to counter spurious accusations of ‘invisibility’? That’s just bullshit, frankly.

Posted in Uncategorized | 125 Comments

Zwolle to Assen by bike (part 2)

So, as promised here is the second and final part of my cycling trip between the Dutch cities of Zwolle and Assen, in July last year – part one here. As already mentioned this was about 45 miles, and done at a steady and relaxed pace on a heavy Dutch bike.

In the ‘first half’ post I’d got as far as the town of Meppel. This is in fact only about one-third of the way to Assen from Zwolle –

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 10.57.52– but this part of the route contained most of the ‘interest’ of the day’s journey, because (as we shall see) there wasn’t a great deal that was remarkable between Meppel and Assen, given that my plotted route consisted entirely of a beautiful cycleway running parallel to a fast and (mostly very straight) main road.

Meppel was effectively bypassed again on a small main road that skirted the town centre; a road with industrial units that might have been quite unpleasant to cycle on. As it was I had quite an old ’tiled’ style path; definitely not as good as smooth asphalt, but still preferable to the road, especially given the type of traffic on it. (Incidentally the van parked on the cycleway in the photo appears to be a ‘path inspection’ vehicle).

Meppel cycleway tiles

Leaving Meppel I was quickly onto the infrastructure that would carry me all the way to Assen – a cycle path fully separated from the main road that speeds north, the N371. Cycle path Meppel to Assen

As with all Dutch cycle paths alongside main roads, this was essentially designed like a road for cycles; 3m wide (or more), but with no separate pedestrian provision. There aren’t many people walking here, given the rural nature of this area, and any pedestrians simply use this ‘bicycle road’. Where pedestrian numbers are higher, the Dutch will of course provide a separate footway.

As had been the case throughout the day, there were plenty of HGVs on the main roads, and on this one like the others. To give some indication of the level of comfort Dutch infrastructure provides, this situation in the photograph below felt like a ‘close pass’, given the way the HGV seemed almost to be coming towards me as it came around the bend, at 80kph.'Close' HGVThis despite the presence of a reasonable large verge separating me from the vehicle. Most likely in the UK I would have actually been on the road in this situation, or at best on a shared use footway directly adjacent to it.

Typically the separation from the fast main road itself was much greater. In the photograph below, the road is actually on the other side of the canal (which ran in parallel with it all the way to Assen)  you can just about see an HGV directly above the boat. Note here that there is also a service road for properties on the left, entirely separate from the cycle path.

Cycle path separated from main road by canal

While there was obviously priority over private properties and minor roads and tracks, at more major roads the cycleway lost priority. Side road treatment, N371

This didn’t feel like a particular problem to me; I might actually have felt quite exposed venturing out across the road, having to assume drivers would yield, especially on such a straight, fast main road. It was easy enough for me to gauge for myself when it was safest and easiest to cross these few interruptions. (All roundabouts in the north of the Netherlands are treated in this way – with no priority for cycling).

N371 cycle path

Mostly, however, tedium was beginning to set in. This was by no means arduous or hazardous cycling, using such well-designed infrastructure on a beautiful day. But unfortunately this was mile after mile with only the occasional bend or junction to divert my interest – I even found myself counting trees to keep myself occupied, working on the assumption that counting one hundred trees would equate to roughly a kilometre or so, ticking off the tens of kilometres remaining to Assen.

Happily, as planned, I soon met David Hembrow coming the other way to meet me, and we immediately diverted away from the main road, taking a winding scenic route through the countryside before heading into Assen.

We used a variety of types of path, but all of them were wonderful to cycle on. The example below is a new strip of farm access road, complete with tractor tyre marks in the mud to the sides. The strips either side of the brick paving in the middle are (of course) billiard-table-smooth concrete.Farm track near Assen

As on the earlier part of the journey from Zwolle, even tiny recreational paths also have a smooth concrete or tarmac surface. You will occasionally have to ‘single up’ as you meet people coming the other way, but these are not utility routes, so the amount of cycle traffic is very low.

Rural path, Assen

And again, as with earlier in the day, there were plenty of people out cycling in the afternoon, enjoying the Drenthe countryside – mostly elderly couples, and kids.

Recreational cycle route Assen

Kids cycling Drenthe

Another swerving close pass into uncoming traffic for the ‘Dutch driver’ collection…

The connection between these rural areas and Assen itself is painless; both the motorway skirting Assen, and the city’s ring road, were negotiated with underpasses.

Assen ring road underpassAnd in the blink of an eye I was in the centre of Assen.

Bi-directional cycleway Assen

If I had to do this route again I would probably avoid cycling along the N371 for so long; not because it was difficult or hazardous (far from it), but because it did get quite boring. It was certainly the quickest way, but it might be worth venturing cross country, just to make the route a little more lively. That said this second half of the trip was almost entirely free of interactions with drivers, given most of it was on fully separated paths, either alongside the main road, or through forests and fields. It was a lot of fun!

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Zwolle to Assen, by bike – Part 1

Hackney Cyclist has recently put up a series of blogs on his experience of cycling between Dutch cities. They’re well worth reading in detail, and they’ve inspired me to do the same for a ride I made last summer between the cities of Zwolle and Assen, in the north of the Netherlands.

This is a distance of around 45 miles, or 70 kilometres. I did it on my omafiets, shown below during a ‘rest stop’ on this ride.

Omafiets on the way to Assen

As you can see it has two full panniers carrying everything I needed for a week’s worth of cycling (this was part of a trip that included visits to Rotterdam, Utrecht, and a three days in Assen and Groningen on a David Hembrow study tour). I was wearing ordinary clothes; I’ve never felt the need for special equipment or special bikes when doing these kinds of distances in the Netherlands because the environment allows me to go at a smooth, relaxed and consistent pace, never really exerting myself. Indeed, part of the fun of these trips is covering large distances as a ‘wheeled pedestrian’, hopping on my heavy machine straight after breakfast without even really thinking about it, and heading off over the horizon.

l left the centre of Zwolle on one of its ubiquitous bi-directional cycleways. Zwolle itself is very much a mixed bag; some really high quality new stuff, mixed with some low-quality infrastructure – just paint, essentially – that is very dated and often left me feeling quite exposed.

Bi-directional cycleway Zwolle

Heading north, I turned off this path onto an access road, with no centre line, and cycle markings at the edges.Access road ZwolleThese kinds of markings have recently hit the headlines, so to speak, having been employed on a main road in the north of England. That’s a very different context from this street, which only serves a handful of properties, and is very quiet.

My route then took me onto a temporary path, and the crossing of the main road that has been upgraded, as described here, and shown in the video below.

On the other side of the road the cycle path climbed gradually, reaching a high bridge that took me over a large canal. There was a fast, busy road alongside me here, but cycling was comfortably separated from it.

Zwolle Ijsselkanaal bridge

In the distance in the photograph above is the impressive cycling suspension bridge shown in this Good Facility of the Week. You can cross a large junction on this bridge to enter the suburb of Westenholte, or you can veer around underneath the bridge to head north out of the city, as I did. Note the two very different types of cycling!Zwolle two types of cycling

The path continued on seamlessly, bypassing a roundabout without me having to go anywhere near it…

Roundabout bypass Zwolle … before leading me onto another access road, this time in a new development.

Access road Zwolle

Again, just as with the example before, these markings are only appropriate on these kinds of quiet streets. Motor traffic (as can be seen) stays out of the lanes, because there is rarely oncoming motor traffic. This particular street only serves the dwellings on the left here; it is closed at the far end with a bollard (which retracts, only to allow buses to pass).

From here I left the city completely, moving onto a beautiful access-only road running beside a branch of the Ijssel river.

Zwarte Water path ZwolleMotor traffic can use this road, but again, only around a handful of houses along here (a white one can be seen in the background) and I didn’t encounter any drivers along it. At this point, in fact, I still haven’t had any encounters with motor traffic, at all, nor have I even had to stop. My journey out of the city has been blissfully smooth and painless.

Checking my directions carefully on my phone, I eventually find the correct country lane I need to take to head towards the town of Hasselt. Even this quiet little lane has had a smooth concrete cycleway added alongside it, within the last few years. This concrete is actually smoother than the tarmac of the road.

Ruimzichtweg Zwolle

This lane took me to the busy N331 road (‘N’ is the Dutch equivalent of a UK ‘A’ road), which was carrying plenty of fast, intimidating HGVs. Naturally enough, however, I had some parallel provision in the form of a service road, some distance from the main road itself.

Service road alongside N331 ZwolleIn this agricultural part of the country these service roads are used by farm traffic, too slow for the fast main road – and obviously by any residents who live along the service road as well. This led to my very first shock of the day, an overtake from a large tractor pulling a vicious-looking piece of equipment, perhaps only a foot away from my left elbow. (The farmer had obviously momentarily forgotten about strict liability, which makes everyone play nice in the Netherlands).

Tractor overtake Hasselt

Happily this service road ended as I arrived on the outskirts of the town of Hasselt, and I was back on a cycleway, which followed the N331 as it bypassed the town.

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 22.44.20

I was treated to a lovely, almost stereotypically ‘Dutch’ view of Hasselt as I crossed the river, and here I made my first (entirely voluntary) stop of the day. I’d made great progress – not with any great speed while cycling, but without ever having to have stopped moving.

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 22.45.40

Leaving Hasselt I was back on a service road again, parallel to the main road, and this one was definitely uncomfortable by Dutch standards, with what seemed like a large number of vehicles turning in and out of it at a busy junction which I had to cross, feeling quite exposed. Just like the overtake from the tractor driver, this was another bump back to earth, and it felt distinctly ‘British’. Note how the drivers are driving on the cycle markings – a clue that they aren’t appropriate.

Busy service road Hasselt

From here, though, I was rewarded with perhaps the best cycling of the day, winding my way towards the next town of Meppel along a combination of tiny, tiny little tracks through the countryside, and broader farm roads, again only used by farmers to get to and from their properties, and not used by people cutting through, avoiding main roads.

These little tracks were surfaced with beautifully smooth concrete – this might be the ‘countryside’, but the surface was wonderful to cycle on.

Country cyclepath Meppel

It’s important to note that paths like these are merely ‘recreational’ routes, and are definitely not part of any formal or official utility cycle network. That’s why they are often not particularly wide, because they aren’t being used heavily – only by people like me taking the scenic route, or people cycling around for leisure. (The width isn’t a problem because you are unlikely to encounter someone coming the other way). In essence they are a nice ‘extra’ on top of the dense grid of utility routes.

Indeed, as I got closer to Meppel I joined one of these ‘proper’ routes, a much wider concrete path, with lighting – even though I was still in the countryside,

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 22.57.44… cycling past herons…

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 22.59.23

… distinctive cattle…

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 22.59.53… all on gloriously smooth paths, even the farm roads themselves, composed of wide concrete that I just rolled along on.

Farm road MeppelThese little lanes had no motor traffic at all on them, but I still managed to suffer a close pass from a lady in a battered old Ford Fiesta, who then immediately turned left, right in the midst of her attempted overtake, into the farm where she evidently lived. Again, that hallowed ‘strict liability’ effect was evidently only intermittently effective…

On the outskirts of Meppel these tracks and paths joined a tarmac road, busy with leisure cyclists of two distinct types – elderly couples, and people whizzing past them in lycra, both groups enjoying the morning sunshine.

Two types of cyclist, Meppel

I’d reached Meppel – about 30km from Zwolle – having only had four or five direct encounters with motor vehicles (unfortunately, most of them quite bad!), and with only having had to stop a handful of times, whisked along on a combination of genuinely impressive cycle engineering on a grand scale, right down to modest, tiny paths in the middle of nowhere.

Part 2 – in which I cycle from Meppel on to Assen, with a diversion along the way – to come!

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Transport tribalism (part 2)

Last week I wrote about Transport Tribalism, the curious habit of parcelling people up according to the mode of transport they are using – even defining them by that mode of transport. It was prompted by articles from Linda Grant and from David Aaronovitch, the latter a plea that polarised viewpoints should be avoided. I attempted to argue that Grant’s article itself was itself an example of just that kind of polarising, simplistic, black-and-white moralising that Aaronovitch was objecting to, in that it presented ‘cyclists’ as a unique kind of human being, without ever appearing to realise that human beings are multi-modal, and that they carry their characteristics with them as they switch their mode of transport. An ‘angry cyclist’ is really just an angry human being, who might have an ‘angry busist’ the day before – except of course we don’t ever describe people who get the bus in this way, because it’s faintly absurd.

At the end of the post, I said I would explain why this way of looking at the world is problematic, and why so many ‘cyclists’ (really, people who happen to feel strongly about using a bike for certain kinds of trips) objected to Grant’s article.

Mainly, it’s because it has consequences. Aaronovitch was fairly dismissive of any potential negative outcomes from Grant’s piece. He wrote

Some accused her of inciting attacks on cyclists as though maddened drivers would mow down anything in lycra while shouting “THIS IS FOR LINDA!!!” One man compared what she had done to the hate-articles which accompanied gay-bashing in his native Ireland back in the old days.

Now I can’t imagine any driver choosing to attack someone on a bike specifically because of an article in the Guardian – one by Linda Grant, or otherwise. Nor can I imagine some kind of strange vengeance attack, getting retribution ‘FOR LINDA’. But that wasn’t really the objection. It’s not that an article like this would lead to any specific incident. Rather that it, and the countless others like it, contribute to an already fairly poisonous background climate surrounding cycling, that reinforces prejudice.

We live in a world where people are apparently willing to use their cars to bully people on bicycles, even using their cars as a weapon to attack them, and undoubtedly many will do so because of their general attitude to ‘cyclists’ – an attitude that will be framed and shaped by the things people read, and see.

A recent trial provides a case in point. Last week a delivery driver was found guilty of careless driving, following an incident in which he knocked a woman off her bike at the Bank Junction in the City of London. The evidence presented – which included onboard video camera in the van) – is strongly suggestive that this was quite deliberate, even if the driver himself was only found guilty of careless driving.

The onboard CCTV camera in Baker’s van captured the delivery driver saying ‘Oh God’ as she moved in front of his vehicle. As she moved off and signalled to turn right, Baker was heard to say: ‘Come on get out of the bloody way’ and beeped his horn.

Mrs Kempster told jurors: ‘I got a beep which I regarded as an angry beep which I was rather annoyed about because it was a hugely busy day and I knew I was cycling impeccably. I am afraid I made an unsuitable gesture and stuck two fingers up. I continued and heard a roar of the van coming up my side. Then he slowed to my speed and came closer and closer getting towards the edge of his lane, then he must have been in my lane.’

… Baker carried on driving until a motorcyclist caught up with him and tapped on his window to tell him he had knocked a cyclist off her bike. The delivery driver allegedly replied: ‘Really, did I? Did she not run into me?’

In the context of discussion about attitudes towards people riding bikes, this particular passage is instructive –

In interview Baker admitted cursing at the cyclist and spoke ‘disparagingly’ about cyclists in general, the court heard. He also admitted hearing a bang but claimed he thought he had driven over a manhole and didn’t realise he had knocked the cyclist off. Prosecutor Martin Hooper said Baker was ‘rather irritated by this cyclist in particular but also cyclists generally.

How much did Baker’s general dislike of ‘cyclists’ (note, any person moving around London who happens to be on a bike at the time Baker encounters them) contribute to this incident? It’s obviously impossible to say, but it’s more than plausible that a person harbouring an intense dislike of users of a particular mode of transport is more likely to be involved in this kind of incident than someone who is more equanimous.

What is certain is that people behind the wheel of a motor vehicle will yell at you, or abuse you, or bully you with their vehicle, simply because you happen to be on a bike. I know this, because it has happened to me. I have been going about my business quite blamelessly, when someone decides to punish me with their vehicle – and when I ask them why, the justification is almost always along the lines of the general behaviour of ‘cyclists’, not anything that I myself had done. Whether it’s ‘you all go through red lights’, or ‘you mow down grannies on the pavement’, their behaviour towards me is rationalised by the bad behaviour of complete strangers, who simply happened to be using the same mode of transport as me. To these particular drivers, I am an embodiment of ‘cyclists’ and all their ills. It’s similar to the kind of ‘outgroup’ thinking that leads to abuse and attacks on innocent, but visible, members of a particular minority group following an atrocity committed by a member of that minority group – even if the outgroup identity of ‘cyclist’ can be shed at a moment’s notice simply by stepping off the bike.

To be clear, Grant’s piece – despite the fact it contained well-worn tropes like ‘lycra-clad cult’ – wasn’t particularly bad, as least as far these kinds of articles go. I’ve seen much worse. But as I’ve mentioned earlier, it all adds up to a kind of toxic soup, one that serves to reinforce hostile attitudes, and even to inflame them.

My personal view is that hostility towards people cycling, of the kind that Dennis Baker displayed, is almost entirely a symptom of a crap road environment that fails to take account of cycling as a mode of transport. It’s an environment that pushes cycling and motoring into the same space, two modes of transport with disparate requirements that are not suited to being treated in the same way. It’s an environment that pushes cycling onto the pavement when things get a bit too tricky, lumping it in with pedestrians in a way that again creates needless conflict. It’s an environment that inevitably restricts cycling to a small minority of the population, fertile grounds for outgroup thinking – phrasing like ‘them’, ‘they’, as opposed to ‘us’ and ‘we’. To me it’s not the least bit surprising that people walking and driving hate ‘cyclists’, because the needs of anyone choosing to use a bike are rarely catered for in a sensible way.

But newspaper articles that present ‘cyclists’  as some kind of uniquely awful species on our streets certainly do nothing to ameliorate that hostility, and just as problematically, they make attempts to improve our streets, so that they work for all users, even harder. Witness the way improvements in London are being presented as ‘for cyclists’, particularly by hostile parties on social media, but also by journalists on mainstream newspapers.

The battleground for the clash of commuters is Victoria Embankment, where the two-wheeled Utopia of a Cycle Superhighway is being built, and it is causing all manner of discord.

On one side are the high achievers reliant on Porsches and petrol to glide between engagements. Pitted against them are their cycling evangelist colleagues, Lycra-clad executives who splurge their bonuses on 1,000-pound Brompton bikes or fixie racers, pedalling their stress away by turning the city’s roads into race tracks.

Of course,  current users of the Embankment are probably disproportionately composed of males, on faster bikes, principally because this was a very hostile road to cycle on. But the Superhighway isn’t really ‘for’ these users. It’s for everyone, for anyone who might want to ride a bike, whether they are a City type on an expensive carbon racing bike, or families with children.

The potential users of cycling infrastructure like the ones shown in the photograph above disappear from view when the debate is narrowly focused on current users of bicycles in London, and their apparently unique mode-specific ills. Debate framed in this way not only contributes to a more hostile environment for existing users, but also makes the struggle to open up our streets to anyone who wants to ride a bike even harder. That’s why it’s problematic.

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Transport tribalism

There’s an interesting and thoughtful post from David Aaronovitch in the Jewish Chronicle, examining the fallout from a recent piece written about cycling by a friend of his. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to state that the article was this one, written by Linda Grant.

The thrust of Aaronovitch’s piece is – quite reasonably – that polarisation is bad. That seeing things in black and white terms is deeply unhelpful. The example given at the end of his article is a discussion – chaired by Aaronovitch – of a film on Zionism at a film festival. Constructive discussion about any merits the documentary possessed became impossible, simply because a large portion audience became swayed by an argument that the film was too anti-Zionist. The audience had became polarised and blinkered, too fixated on whether the film was pro- or anti-, when in reality being pro- or anti- anything might not even have been that relevant to the film itself.

By analogy, the debate about behaviour on the roads is apparently also polarised. As Aaronovitch argues –

…. even the “more in sorrow than in anger” critics of [Grant’s] piece could not admit, even for a second, that she might have a point. To do so would simply be to concede too much to the other side, to the enemy, to the four-wheeled cyclophobes and their allies. A line had been drawn: all virtue on this side, all sin on the other. To blur the line was to betray the cause.

Indeed, that would be unhelpful; just as unhelpful as those in the audience at the film festival who refused to consider a film on its own terms, but instead through an ideological prism of whether it was ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

But hang on. What was the point that Grant was making, that apparently critics refused to concede? Aaronovitch says

The point was that she had been frightened [by someone cycling], and many pedestrians in London could tell a similar story.

Is that really something that the people who responded to Grant would refuse to concede? I doubt it. There are something like 600,000 trips made every day by bike in London. That means it’s simply inevitable that people walking and cycling are going to come into conflict with one another, and that there will be collisions and near misses, and that a good number of these collisions and near misses will have been caused by people making misjudgements, and even behaving badly.

Because that’s what people do. 

People make mistakes, and people behave badly – and they do this regardless of the mode of transport they are employing, whether they are on foot, on a bus, on a train, behind a steering wheel, or behind some handlebars. To use Peter Walker’s memorable phrase, there are multi-modal arseholes, people who just don’t show consideration for others, whether they are barging to get the last seat on a train, pushing on to a crowded tube carriage before people disembark, running to get a bus, cycling home, or driving to work.

It’s totally unreasonable to expect people to behave well when they are using one particular mode of transport, because, frankly, humanity is imperfect, and the inner fallibility, or worse, loutishness, of some people will inevitably manifest itself, to a greater or lesser extent (depending on the person) as they travel around a city, whatever the mode of transport they are employing – bus, train, tube, car, bicycle, or shoe. So the idea that critics of Grant’s piece were upset because they refused to accept the notion that anyone on a bike could behave badly is pretty untenable.

The real issue with the piece (at least for me) was not that it pointed out that people can behave badly while using a bicycle. To deny that would be absurd, as absurd as maintaining that nobody from a particular city could possibly commit a crime, or that nobody with the name ‘Linda’ could ever behave badly. Instead it was one of curious framing, and context. For instance –

  • People behind the wheel of a car slow to let her cross the road; someone on a bike comes ‘barreling’ out of nowhere, ‘hunched’.
  • People behind the wheel of a car get out to help; the person on the bike is uncaring, and disappears.
  • People behind the wheel of a car ‘overwhelming’ obey traffic signals; people behind handlebars ‘repeatedly’ disobey them, and ‘scatter’ ‘screaming’ pedestrians.
  • ‘Arsehole cyclists’ are a minority; but no mention is made that there might even by a minority of arseholes behind the wheel of a car.
  • All road users transgress; but apparently the transgressions of people behind handlebars are hypocritical, because ‘only cyclists proclaim themselves to be standard-bearers for an ethical higher calling and mode of being, more suited to a Lycra-clad cult than simply a mode of transportation.’ (Really).

With a bit of reflection, is it sensible to pigeonhole people in this way, given that all of us will quite happily slip from one of transport to another without really thinking about our behaviour, let alone adopting any kind of transport-related identity as we do so?1

At what point does this family’s outlook on the world change as they move from being people on foot, to being people on bicycles?
Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 13.22.48Here? As they touch their bicycles?

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 13.25.50

Here, as they sit astride them?

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 13.26.26Or is it only here, once they are pedalling away, that they suddenly become ‘standard-bearers for an ethical higher calling and mode of being’? Are they suddenly more aggressive and unpredictable, compared to how they were seconds ago, as mere pedestrians? Are they more likely to ‘barrel’ somewhere, ‘scattering screaming pedestrians’, than would be the case if they were behind the wheel of a car?

It seems highly unlikely to me. Frankly, it just doesn’t make sense to look at the world in this way, to define people by the mode of transport they happen to be using at a particular moment in time. To talk of a ‘cycling community’ is as meaningless as talking about a ‘hatchback community’, but to read Grant’s piece again it’s almost like reading about a different species, and an invasive one at that, a new, unpredictable and even incomprehensible threat to London’s pedestrians, as if people cycling could never themselves be pedestrians at any point in time.

In fact, it’s as clear an example of polarising debate as anything that appears in Aaronovitch’s article. And in a follow-up piece, I’m going to explain why this matters.

1. Just to give a little bit of context here, around 1/5th of inner London residents ride a bike at least once a month. It’s as meaningless to generalise about such a large swathe of the population as it would be to generalise about tube users.


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Audis in houses

Note This piece really isn’t intended to make the case that drivers of Audis are worse than drivers of any other vehicle. That may or may not be the case; I wouldn’t like to jump to that kind of assumption without any evidence. Instead, it’s really intended to demonstrate that just one make of motor vehicle is involved in tremendous damage to our urban environment, and indeed to human beings; damage that people travelling around on bicycles are simply not capable of causing, despite the steady stream of articles by journalists about an apparent ‘cyclist menace’.

I did look – briefly – for any kind of opinion piece by journalists on the amount of destruction and death and serious injury caused by motor vehicles in urban areas, but they are apparently very scarce, even in a week when such destruction has featured prominently in the news.

I could, of course, have included motor vehicles of all manufacturers embedded in houses, destroying property, and so on, but that would have been a lengthy picture post, much much longer than the one here. Audis were chosen arbitrarily, mainly because a sequence of crashes involving Audis appeared nearly simultaneously in my timeline a while back. And also because ‘Audis in houses’ has phonetic appeal. But nothing more than that.

Continue reading

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The Gummer Test

A brand new section of road in Horsham – widened and rebuilt at the location of a new development – tells you everything you need to know about how ‘the highway design machine’ across the vast majority of this country still trundles along in its complacent way, taking no account of the needs of people who might want to cycle, or even those who are currently cycling.

The site of this development – Parsonage Road – has dreadful cycle lanes along it, barely 70cm wide.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 23.20.11

Industrial units along this road mean that there is plenty of HGV traffic on it. The photograph above is a typical reflection of traffic levels at busier periods of the day.

The new development – which has seen the road being widened, at the expense of the greenery seen on the left in the photograph – should have been a perfect opportunity to build-in high quality cycling infrastructure for at least the short stretch of road being improved.

But evidently that was too difficult. The new road has cycle lanes that are exactly the same width as the dreadful pre-existing ones. 70cm wide.

The zig-zags are more generous.

The zig-zags are more generous.

A new verge has been created; the implication here is that grass is more important than the safety or comfort of anyone attempting to ride a bicycle down this road.

The road has been widened by around 50% – but only to make space for a turning lane for motor traffic, so that nobody is held up while driving. The cycle lanes are exactly the same width as they were before.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 23.38.40

How this location looked back in 2012, courtesy of Google Streetview.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 23.44.27All the trees on the right have gone. The 2015 equivalent of those kids cycling on the footway will still be cycling on the footway today, rather than attempting to use a paltry 70cm strip right at the edge of a thunderous road.

Prior to this development going in, the local cycle forum had asked for protected cycleways as part of the highway changes, and subsequent to that had been promised 1.5m lanes.

Plainly, cycle campaigns and cycle forums shouldn’t even have to be doing this job. They shouldn’t have to chase up highway engineers and developers in their spare time in an attempt to persuade them not to build total crap. It just shouldn’t happen. Doing a proper job, in this instance, would have cost nothing extra, but institutional inertia within West Sussex County Council – that essentially amounts to not giving a toss about cycling as a mode of transport – means that the pre-existing crap is simply reinstated.

I’m not even jumping to conclusions here. Here is the actual defence that West Sussex County Council have produced in response to complaints about these cycle lanes.

A West Sussex County Council spokesman said: “These highway works are associated with a new residential development of 160 dwellings on the former Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Limited site.

“The works are not yet fully complete. They involve adjusting the existing kerb lines to improve pedestrian facilities and refuge islands, and a new right turn lane access into the site.

“The designer has had to manage competing demands for road space. The advisory lanes are below the desirable 1.5m – however they were like that before the scheme was implemented and this is not out keeping with the advisory lines on the remainder of the marked advisory route (beyond the scope of these works).

The ‘competing demands for roadspace’ explanation is both glib and bogus. Glib because the finished product tells us plainly that the designer weighed up the ‘competing demand’ of removing potential minor inconvenience to motorists against the ‘competing demand’ of the safety and comfort of anyone cycling, and plumped for the former. And it’s bogus because high-standard cycle provision could have been included in this design anyway; it’s just that nobody bothered to do so.

More telling, however, is the spokesman’s comforting explanation that the cycle lanes ‘were like that before’.

Well, yes. They were. They were crap before, and they’re crap afterwards. (In fact, in context, they are slightly worse, given that pinch points in the form of crossing refuges have  now been added to the road). Quite plainly, West Sussex do not even think that this is a problem. They think that pre-existing crap cycle lanes, or crap cycle lanes elsewhere, mean it is perfectly acceptable to keep on doing the same terrible job.

So here’s what I’m proposing. I’m going to call it The Gummer Test, named in honour of the Minister of Agriculture who, at the height of the BSE crisis, attempted to feed a beef burger to his daughter.

The Gummer Test would involve highway engineers, council officers or developers involved in these kinds of decisions to put their young child on a bike, and letting them cycle independently on the ‘infrastructure’ they think it’s acceptable for ‘cyclists’ to use.

Not only would this quickly bring into sharp focus the shortcomings of a bit of paint 70cm from the kerb line on a main road, it would also change the mindset of these people before any design decisions are made. Complacent shrugs about something tokenistic for ‘cyclists’ would necessarily have to be replaced by hard thinking about genuine, safe, comfortable and inclusive design for all potential users.

Highway engineers, councillors and planners in the Netherlands would, I suspect, happily sit this kind of test – because they build cycling infrastructure that is suitable for all ages and abilities.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 10.18.11The failings of dreadful infrastructure like 70cm cycle lanes, bus lanes ‘for cyclists’, narrowed carriageways on busy roads, Advanced Stop Lines, ‘Quietways’ that really aren’t anything more than a bicycle symbol painted on the road, and so on, would quickly be exposed by The Gummer Test.

Is what you've designed 'for cyclists' also suitable for your daughter? Take The Gummer Test.

Is what you’ve designed ‘for cyclists’ also suitable for your daughter? Take The Gummer Test.

These various forms of rubbish are only tolerated because those responsible are not exposed to the consequences of their designs. They can put a bit of paint at the side of the road, safe in the knowledge that it’s exactly the same as it was before, and besides, isn’t this kind of thing that gets splashed down everywhere else?

A Gummer Test – or something like it – would rapidly change that attitude.

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