Plotting a Dutch network onto a British town

An exercise I’ve been planning for a while is to categorise all the streets and roads of the town of Horsham. Some of this work had been started by Paul James of Pedestrianise London. A while back we had discussed a Sustainable Safety categorisation of the town, deciding which streets and roads should fall into which category of through, distributor, or access road, and Paul had started a base map of distributor roads.

With some free time over the weekend, I’ve managed to bite into this exercise even more, starting at the opposite end of the scale, and I’ll discuss my method and the outcomes here. I think it’s a useful thing to do for towns and cities in Britain, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it gets us thinking about which roads and streets require more expensive interventions like cycleways; which streets might require some kind of filtering; and which streets (actually the vast majority, in the case of Horsham) that don’t require any action at all. Secondly, it also helps to identify the ‘problem’ areas, those roads and streets that don’t fall immediately into an obvious distributor road category, but that will require some action.

The first step was to plot all the cul-de-sacs in the town. By my definiton ‘cul-de-sac’ I included every single road or street that has a single entry and exit point for motor traffic, regardless of length – in other words, every driver using one of these streets will have to leave via the point they entered.

This includes the obvious short cul-de-sacs –

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… as well as some much longer sections of road.

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I think it’s a reasonable assumption that all these cul-de-sacs are by definition ‘cycle friendly’, without any adaptation, or addition of cycling infrastructure. Even the largest – like the one above – will only include a hundred or so dwellings, meaning that traffic levels will still be reasonably low. The key point is that cul-de-sacs will have no ‘extraneous’ traffic, i.e. drivers going somewhere else. The only drivers on them will be using them to access dwellings or properties within the cul-de-sac itself, meaning even the largest ones will not have a great deal of motor traffic.

Once I’d finished plotting all of these streets, I could then take a look at the town overall. To my slight surprise, a very large percentage of  the town is composed of cul-de-sacs.

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All the streets in green are essentially safe enough for anyone to cycle on – they will be quiet, low traffic streets, requiring little or no modification.

The map also shows a clear distinction between housing age. Houses built in the period before mass motoring tend to be on ‘open’ streets, like this late Victoria housing area to the east of the town centre.

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This contrasts strongly with the areas of post-war housing – particularly that built from the 1960s and 1970s onwards – in the northern parts of the town, where nearly every single residential street is a cul-de-sac.

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This is perhaps a consequence of the influence of Traffic in Towns, but it’s most likely a rational response to the increasingly pervasive influence of the motor car on society. In the Victorian era, there wasn’t any need to build ‘closed’ roads, because there wasn’t really a ‘traffic problem’. The cul-de-sac emerged as a design solution to that problem, allowing people to live on streets that were safe and quiet, not dominated by people driving somewhere else. The challenge, of course, is ‘converting’ the streets of the pre-motor car age into ‘virtual’ cul-de-sacs, creating those pleasant and safe residential environments that the majority of the town already enjoys, and this exercise reveals which particular streets will be an issue – something we will come to.

I then chose to ‘add on’ to this cul-de-sac layer those residential streets that have more than one entry and exit point, but will realistically still only be used for access. For instance, this network of residential streets to the east of the town.

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Clearly, it’s possible to drive through and around these streets, but there’s no real reason to do this unless you are accessing properties on them – so they fall neatly into another category of streets that require little or no remedial action to make them ‘cycle friendly’. Some of this requires a degree of local judgement, and knowledge about the routes drivers might be taking as short cuts, but I’ve been quite conservative in the ‘open’ streets I added to this category.

Add these two layers together, and we can see that even more of the town becomes ‘green’.

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I then wiped the slate clean, removing both these layers, and approached the town from the opposite end of the scale, adding the obvious through road (the town’s bypass), and what I consider to be the distributor roads – the roads that will remain ‘open’ to drivers, and that will therefore require cycling infrastructure to separate people cycling from these higher volumes of motor traffic.

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There might be a case for adding more roads to this category, or removing some from it –  again, this is a matter for local judgement, and there is one road on this map that probably shouldn’t be in this category. (I’ll leave you to spot it!)

We can then add all the layers together to reveal the streets and the roads that haven’t fallen into any of these categories.

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The good news is that there aren’t very many of them. Given the discussion above, they mostly lie, as expected, in the areas of the town built before the middle of the twentieth century – the 1930s housing to the west, and housing of similar age (or earlier) to the east).

Early 20th century housing to the west of the town centre. A fair number of 'unclassified' streets that will require some kind of action.

Early 20th century housing to the west of the town centre. A fair number of ‘unclassified’ streets that will require some kind of action.

What kind of intervention is required is obviously a matter for local discussion – there might be an obvious (but naturally controversial) filter that could be applied in many of these locations, but on slightly wider streets painted lanes might suffice, given that motor traffic levels are not exceptionally high on any of these streets. Or there might be no need for action at all.

The final step – and one I haven’t started on yet! – is to add on the existing walking and cycling connections between these areas, and to highlight obvious connections for cycling that are not legal or need to be upgraded, or that simply don’t exist at present. One particular problem that has emerged from this exercise is railway line severance in the north east of the town – it would be good (albeit expensive) to get a walking and cycling underpass, under the railway line, connecting these large, otherwise isolated, residential areas.

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Clearly, doing this kind of Google Map is only a first step. It’s easy enough to draw lines on a map; the harder part is actually getting the interventions in place. But it’s very helpful in focusing attention on precisely where those interventions are required. The main roads jump out; but also the more problematic roads in-between the obvious main roads and the quiet access streets, that remain white on my map, and will need some discussion at a local level.

The finished map is here.

Posted in Horsham, Sustainable Safety | 41 Comments

The myth of the blameless cyclist

One thing shown into sharp relief by the news that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling ‘doored’ someone cycling back in October is that there is simply nothing you can do to make yourself blameless when you are riding a bike.

From the video it is clear that the victim wasn’t riding fast; he was wearing a hi-visibility jacket; he was wearing a helmet. And, in moving between the kerb and stationary traffic, he simply wasn’t doing anything wrong. The blame lies entirely with the person who opened the car door without checking, and with the driver of that vehicle, for failing to check it was safe for the passenger to open his door (and for failing to move to the kerb to safely allow his passenger to exit the vehicle).

Yet this incident has led to the predictable ‘whose side are you on?’, ‘whose fault is it?’ media nonsense that inevitably follows video footage of this form going viral.

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The inevitable Daily Mail

Even the BBC – who really should be above this kind of behaviour – are apparently happy to wallow in the same swamp of antagonism.

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… And the sadly just-as-inevitable BBC take

This follows a similar incident that made the national press a few days ago, in which a man cycling on a marked cycleway (albeit one just painted on a footway) was taken out by a driver who simply failed to look as he turned into his own driveway. Again, this particular cyclist had a helmet on, had bright lights, but of course he slipped up by not wearing yellow clothes, leaving the door open for blame –

Tony is now warning other motorists to be vigilant when it comes to the ‘hidden’ cycle lane. He said the biker was not wearing high visibility clothing and he did not see him due to the darkness and bright lights of on coming traffic.

We have, apparently, similar blame-shifting from Grayling, who seems to have claimed that the cyclist he injured was ‘going too fast’. We only have the victim’s word on this, but it seems entirely plausible. Many years ago I was sent flying over the bonnet of a driver’s car as he pulled out of a side road onto Oxford High Street when I was only a few feet away from him. He drove away without even getting out of his car, only muttering that I was ‘going too fast’, that familiar refrain from someone who simply failed to look.

The point is that there is simply nothing you can do to avoid this blame-shifting. Your blamelessness is irrelevant. Some minor fault will be found with your behaviour, and even if it isn’t, facts don’t matter. The law will be interpreted according to the rule that the cyclist must have been something wrong, it stands to reason, doesn’t it, bloody undertakers, going up the inside, going up the outside, hogging the middle of the lane in front of me, going too fast, going too slow, suicidal maniacs, all of them.

Why do we have these curious attitudes? The most plausible answer is that ‘cyclists’ are of course an outgroup.  See these comments from Dr Ian Walker, worth quoting in full –

… there’s some classic social psychology at work here – cyclists represent an outgroup such that the usual outgroup effects are seen, particularly overgeneralisation of negative behaviour and attributes – ‘They all ride through red lights all the time’. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that something of this sort is going on.

However, there has to be more to it than just this. For a long time I wondered if the outgroup status of cyclists was compounded by two other known social psychological factors: norms and majority vs. minority groups. Not only are cyclists an outgroup, they’re also a minority outgroup. Moreover, they are engaging in an activity that is deemed slightly inappropriate in a culture that views driving as normative and desirable and, arguably, views cycling as anti-conventional and possibly even infantile.

But even adding these factors into the mix does not explain all the anger that cyclists experience. It’s easy to identify other minority outgroups whose behaviour similarly challenges social norms but who do not get verbally and physically attacked like cyclists do: vegetarians, for example. So there’s clearly one or more important variables that we’ve not identified yet. Any social psychologists looking for a challenge are very welcome to wade into this.

Amazingly, we have a textbook example of this kind of outgroup thinking from Grayling himself.

Mr Grayling, a non-cyclist, said too many riders ignored red traffic lights on their journeys in the capital. “Motorists in London have got to be immensely careful of cyclists,” he said.  “At the same time, cyclists in London are too often unwilling to obey the road signs. I’ve seen regular examples of people who just bolt through red lights. The growth of cycling is a good thing. But good cycling is responsible cycling.”

He is a non-cyclist; he is a motorist; he is immensely careful. They are irresponsible; they ignore red lights; they are unwilling to obey road signs.

A statement made barely a month after this immensely careful non-cyclist was entirely to blame for injuring one of those irresponsible, road sign- and light-disobeying cyclists. You might think that kind of incident would have challenged some of his background assumptions, but evidently not. Given his subsequent comments it’s entirely possible to imagine Grayling walking away from this incident with all his stereotypes reinforced.

Of course, added to background societal generalisations about ‘cyclists’ and their behaviour, we have a person – ‘the cyclist’ – engaging in an activity that very few people will actually engage in, indeed, one that very few people would regard as normal. That is to say, cycling on roads in the centre of a city. And engaging not just in a mere minority pursuit, but one that is seen as odd and unconventional.

The vast majority of the public has absolutely no experience of cycling on busy roads full of stationary or slow motor traffic. They will not identify with anyone doing this. They will not understand or empathise with the problems and dangers they are facing, even to the extent of blaming them for even having the temerity to enter such a dangerous environment in the first place.  They won’t understand undertaking versus overtaking, or even the concept of filtering altogether, because it is something that they simply cannot even imagine doing themselves. It is incomprehensible altogether.

Conversely, the vast majority of the public has plenty of experience of driving, or being driven, in these kinds of situations, and of opening car doors. This means they will find it very easy to identify with the door opener, and not with the person being hit by the door. The blame-shifting reasoning is consequently easy to understand.

‘The person being hit with the door should have been more careful’. ‘They should have been expecting me to open my car door’. ‘They shouldn’t be cycling past my stationary car’. ‘They shouldn’t have been passing my car on that side’. ‘They were going too fast’. ‘They came out of nowhere’. ‘They were in the blind spot’. ‘They weren’t wearing enough hi-viz’. ‘Their hi-viz was the wrong colour’. ‘They weren’t using lights’. ‘They shouldn’t even be on these kinds of roads in the first place’. ‘They are irresponsible, full stop’.

The list of potential faults is essentially endless; all flowing from a background assumption that the victim must be in the wrong somehow, because he is not like me, he is doing something that I would never do and can’t ever imagine doing.

I suspect the only realistic way of challenging these attitudes is to create environments that allow anyone to cycle; safe, attractive and comfortable environments that remove antagonism between different modes of transport, and more pertinently will convert cycling – particularly cycling in urban environments – from an odd, minority pursuit into an ordinary activity that the vast majority of the public will engage in themselves. Or to put it another way, these attitudes will disappear only when cycling is something that we do, and not what they do.

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Posted in Uncategorized | 47 Comments

Negotiating a large Dutch motorway junction

The Dutch are of course famous for their cycling, but this does not mean they don’t build roads. Far from it – the Dutch build roads on a vast scale, and seem just as addicted to it, if not more so, than the British. If you cycle between Dutch towns and cities you will frequently encounter enormous motorways and roads. Although the crucial difference is how you encounter them.

One example I have cycled through a couple of times now is a very large motorway/main road junction between the New Town of Zoetermeer and the city of Gouda. The most prominent aspect of it is this distinctive, open, cycling/walking underpass.

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However, we can see from an aerial view that this is actually only one small part of the way cycling has been designed for at this junction. Circled in red, it is only one of a series of underpasses here, in this (huge) roadbuilding scheme.

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The main underpass is just the middle one of three, passing under a slip road off the A12 motorway. There is an underpass under the motorway itself, to the north, and under the intercity railway line to the south. The photograph below shows this a little more clearly, with a train in view, and the motorway underpass just visible in the background.

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The only reason the underpass is so large is because the road that sits on it has to climb up and over the motorway. All the cycleways remain flat, at ground level. And of course there are underpasses running in all directions at this location, allowing people making everyday walking and cycling trips to pass painlessly through and across this area, without interacting with motor traffic at all.

To illustrate this, I shot a video of me cycling the route shown below, from top middle, through the junction, then east towards the city of Gouda.

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This is a route through the junction that I suspect only a few hundred people might make a day, if that – this is a sparsely populated area, dominated by farming. Yet these underpasses are an integral part of the junction design, and allow anyone to serenely negotiate this very hostile environment.

As you can see, I only meet one other person on this short trip. These are not high-volume cycle paths. But they are essential. Whatever your views on large-scale roadbuilding, the presence of these paths maintains directness and safety for people walking and cycling; it is effectively as if the motorway and its assorted paraphernalia is not there. This even extends to insulating people from the road and the motorway, especially where people live close to it – for instance, the noise barrier that can be seen at the start of the video.

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-13-16-22I could clearly hear people talking to each other in the yard of the house to the right as I took this photograph, thanks to the clear barrier that separated me (and the house) from the road visible in the background.

The Dutch have these kinds of massive roads and motorways across the country, but, crucially, they do not form barriers to people walking and cycling, nor do they even have to be engaged with. They will almost always be crossed in this way, either through underpasses, or over bridges, all part of the design process.

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-13-22-51I don’t particularly like big roads, but it is certainly impressive to see how cycling has been integrated into these large engineering schemes, and how people of all kinds can go about their daily business in comfort and safety.

 

Posted in Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands, Underpass | 12 Comments

Right and wrong solutions to urban congestion

When I arrived in St Albans on a Saturday morning earlier this month, I encountered a long, completely static queue of motor vehicles. It turned out they were all waiting to enter the Christopher Place car park in the city centre, which has 180 spaces, but was already full.

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-21-28-51The queue snaked around the corner, winding for several hundred metres around the city centre streets.

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-21-32-53As far as I could tell, this was completely normal for the drivers and passengers inside – nobody was getting angry, they were just patiently waiting for other people to leave the car park so they could move up one slot in the queue. The sort of thing that probably happens every Saturday. And of course they are paying for the privilege.

I rarely drive, but when I do what immediately hits me is the frustration of being ‘caught’ in this kind of situation – having to queue, having to wait, often so far back in the queue you have no idea what’s causing the hold up, and with no way of finding out. Driving in urban areas is frequently a dispiriting, painful experience, made so because everyone else is doing it.

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, these kinds of problems are going to get worse. More and more of us are going to be living in towns and cities, a function of increasing population, and a continuing trend away from rural dwelling to urban dwelling. 53 million of us already live in urban areas. That is going to increase pressure on the existing road network, if we continue to travel around as we do now.

There are two long-term solutions to this pressure – the first is to ‘spread out’, to redesign our towns and cities to accommodate even more motoring. What could be called the ‘Milton Keynes’ solution, or perhaps the Lord Wolfson ‘flyover’ solution.

What designing a town for mass motoring looks like - Crawley town centre

What designing a town for mass motoring looks like – Crawley town centre

If you don’t like the look of that, the only other solution is to change the way we move about in urban areas, to reduce pressure, by maximising the efficient use of road space. That means prioritising walking, cycling and public transport, policy that will require sustained investment in redesigning the way our existing roads are laid out, to make them safe and attractive enough for people to switch away from car travel for short urban trips.

Road space reorganised. This streets carries around 60,000 people a day, cycling and on public transport.

Road space reorganised. This streets carries around 60,000 people a day, cycling and on public transport.

The reason I say our problems are going to get worse is that we aren’t prioritising these kinds of sensible solutions. The vast majority of the ‘investment’ announced by government continues to be spent on major road schemes that will worsen congestion in urban areas, by pumping more and more motor vehicles into them, instead of focusing that investment on solutions within them. Towns and cities will not cope, and congestion will be worsened, as a direct consequence of these policies.

Amazingly these kinds of announcements are presented as ‘benefiting’ ‘towns and cities across the country’, when quite the opposite is true. Building a massive road scheme between Oxford and Cambridge is not going to be helpful for congestion in either city, because it really isn’t very easy to drive around within these cities already – funnelling more cars into them is completely counterproductive.

In a nutshell. From here.

In a nutshell. From here.

Energy and investment should instead be focused on enabling space-efficient alternatives within both of these cities, and on prioritising rail links between them, which can deliver large numbers of people right into the city centres in an efficient way. And these solutions are far more cost-effective than massive road building schemes.

We seem locked into repeating the mistakes of the past fifty years, assuming that people want to drive in vast numbers because so many of them are doing so already, when in fact these individual decisions are largely a function of the poor quality of the alternatives, and of the way that motoring has been prioritised by the way we have designed, built (and rebuilt) road space in urban areas. But worse than that, there is a curious failure to recognise that these ‘solutions’ will no longer work, not without urban rebuilding on a massive scale.

The people queueing to enter that car park in St Albans certainly do not need major road schemes pumping more cars into their city centre. They need sane alternatives within the towns they are travelling, alternatives that will allow them to make the same short trips they are making, but in a way that is more efficient, and that actually frees up road space for the people who will still need (or want) to drive.

A typical Dutch town

A typical Dutch town – the kind of mobility we should be enabling

We need the kind of engagement on the actual issues shown by Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Minister, Chris Hazzard

When looking at the economy… we continue to talk in the House and on the public airwaves about moving cars. We need to talk about moving people. Moving people in and out of Belfast city is good for business; moving cars is not.

What are we to do after York Street? Are we to bulldoze half of Great Victoria Street because we need two extra lanes in Great Victoria Street? Are we to demolish Belfast City Hall because we need a bigger roundabout at Belfast City Hall? We need to talk about moving people, not cars, in and out of Belfast.”

Exactly right – we aren’t going to solve our problems any other way.

 

Posted in Car dependence, Congestion, Department for Transport | 19 Comments

The importance of centre line markings on two-way cycleways

As a general rule, cycleways in urban areas in the Netherlands are marked distinctively. If they are two-way, they will have a dashed centre line. If they are one-way, that centre line will obviously be absent.

Two-way cycleway, with clear dashed centre line

Two-way cycleway, with clear dashed centre line

One-way cycleway. No markings required.

One-way cycleway. No markings required.

I think this is actually tremendously important – it lets you know exactly what to expect when you are cycling along a piece of infrastructure. You will know, from looking at it, whether to expect ‘traffic’ coming in an opposing direction. It also tells other people navigating these environments exactly what to expect – a dashed centre line will tell people walking that they should expect cycles from two directions. And the same is true for drivers, when they cross this infrastructure.

Unfortunately (and it is early days) we don’t seem to have the same level of consistency in Britain, as yet. While plenty of new two-way cycleways do have clear centre line markings –

The cycleway past the Houses of Parliament. Clearly marked as two-way.

The cycleway past the Houses of Parliament. Clearly marked as two-way.

Others don’t – even the on the same ‘route’.

Two-way cycleway on the Embankment. Markings are intermittent, or absent

Two-way cycleway on the Embankment. Markings are intermittent, or absent

I think this can cause problems for pedestrians in particular. The photograph above just looks like a one-way stretch of path, heading away from the camera. There isn’t anything to tell someone wanting to cross to expect cycling in an ‘unconventional’ direction, on the right hand side of the road. I suspect this lies behind the small number of minor collisions between people walking and cycling on this stretch of road – people are crossing without looking in the ‘wrong’ direction. This has nearly happened to me on a few occasions – I can clearly see pedestrians not looking for me as I approach.

Nothing to tell this pedestrian to expect cycles from her left as she crosses

No indication here for this  pedestrian to expect cycles from her left as she crosses.

No indication for people crossing to and from this bus stop island to expect people cycling from this direction.

No indication for people crossing to and from this bus stop island to expect people cycling from this direction.

A centre line marking would make it clear that this is two-way ‘road’, for cycles, and make it more likely that people will look in both directions. It won’t eliminate this inherent problem with two-way cycleways, but it will at least mitigate it.

I think the lack of centre line marking is also a problem for people cycling. There are no centre line markings in Blackfriars underpass, despite this being one of the narrower sections of new two-way cycling infrastructure in London, narrow enough to resemble a one-way cycleway.

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-41-30This lack of marking may have been a contributory factor in the largest (and most serious) pile-up seen so far on new cycling infrastructure, captured on video by 4ChordsNoNet.

Just before the collision occurs we can see people overtaking well over onto the ‘wrong’ side of the cycleway. Because there is no centre line, there is no clear, constant visual reminder that, if you are overtaking, you may well be in a section of ‘cycle road’ where you should expect oncoming cycle traffic, which will result in complacency and the kind of incident seen in the video above; especially when people are cycling in the ‘conventional’ direction, on the left hand side of the road.

I suspect consistent centre line marking will also mitigate the problems experienced by people cycling against heavy tidal flow, where (without a centre line) people tend to spill well across the cycleway in the dominant direction. This can be intimidating for people heading in the opposite direction. A centre line would reduce this problem – people can still cross it to overtake, of course, but they would be reminded more clearly that they are going against the flow, rather than simply claiming more space for their direction of flow.

It’s not clear to me why centre lines are absent on so much of London’s new cycle infrastructure, but I think it’s an obvious mistake that is resulting in problems of understanding and (at the moment) minor collisions. The good news is that it would be very cheap and easy to remedy!

Posted in Infrastructure, London, The Netherlands | 21 Comments

Asking the wrong questions

At the weekend I went along to the Cyclenation/Cycling UK Campaigners Conference in St Albans, where I was one of many people making presentations to a large audience. My one was on Sustainable Safety, and afterwards I chatted briefly to TfL’s Brian Deegan about the Dutch approach to road and street design. He mentioned in passing how he gets complaints about people cycling jumping lights, at certain junctions – the implication being that these ‘bad’ users need to start behaving, and need to be punished more, to make them behave.

But Brian’s response to the problem was, and is, completely different – he told me that he replies

‘If so many are jumping lights, what is wrong with the junction?’

This is a core element of Sustainable Safety – it seeks to tackle ‘bad behaviour’ not at a personal or individual level, but by seeking to understand what actually lies behind so many people breaking the rules, and then examining how the environment can be changed to reduce rule-breaking, or to eliminate it altogether. To take a ‘red light jumping’ example, it might be that people are having to wait two minutes to cross a simple junction. A sensible way to solve that problem would be to reduce wait times. It might also be the case that people are jumping lights to turn left, because they know they can do so safely. Again, a sensible solution to that ‘problem’ is to formalise and legalise this behaviour through design.

This doesn’t just apply to people cycling; it applies to all modes of transport. For instance, if lots of people are breaking a 20mph speed limit, then the long-term answer isn’t enforcement and punishment, but, instead, addressing the design of the road so that 20mph becomes the natural speed for the vast majority of drivers to travel at.

I don’t think this kind of approach has really taken hold in Britain, at all. We remain focused on individual actions and behaviour, and on ‘personal responsibility’, rather than taking a more systematic approach, one that is centred on the role of authorities in designing environments that keep us safe in the first place, even when some of us continue to behave badly. Just last week, the Secretary of State for Transport responded to a question about the rising toll of road deaths in Britain as follows

 A trend in the wrong direction is an unwelcome one. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, who is in his place alongside me, has responsibility for road safety. He is actively engaged, and will continue to be actively engaged, in looking at measures we could take that will improve things. We will look at different investment measures and different ways of educating motorists and those using the roads

And, more explicitly from the junior Minister –

This is what a primary focus on ‘education’ is really about – a shifting of responsibility for safety onto the people negotiating unsafe environments, by those responsible for the design and functioning of those environments. Simply looking at ‘different ways of educating’ all the people using the roads (which seems to carry with it an admission that current ‘education’ isn’t really working) avoids this fundamental responsibility to build safety into our road and street environment, by making them forgiving, predictable, and without exposing human beings to large differences in mass, speed and direction. ‘Education’ is not, and cannot ever be, a substitute for safe environments.

Safety built into the physical environment.

Safety built into the physical environment. Not much personal responsibility required here.

An unsafe cycling environment. Humans mixed with heavy vehicles travelling at high speed.

An unsafe cycling environment. Humans mixed with heavy vehicles travelling at high speed. Personal responsibility is not a solution here.

This failure to ask the right questions, and come up with the right solutions, is epitomised not just by a focus on ‘education’ but also on what I would call ‘trinkets’ – things like helmets, lights, reflectives, clothing, and so on. In much the same way as with ‘education’, the process involves shifting responsibility onto the user, and ignoring basic environmental problems. Instead of examining why Road X is unsafe to walk along in dark clothing, we urge people to wear  reflectives. Instead of examining why pedestrians wearing ordinary clothes can’t negotiate the streets in your urban area safely, we hand out lights to them.

Perhaps the most powerful example of trinket-based logic is the paper helmet which has recently hit the headlines, because it has won an award.

paper-helmet

The man who awarded the award – James Dyson – says that this helmet

solves an “obvious problem in an incredibly elegant way”.

If the problem is ‘how do we make something that looks a bit like a cycling helmet, but is really cheap, folds down completely flat so it goes in your bag, and can then be thrown away’, then yes, this is a solution to that ‘obvious problem’.

But it clearly isn’t a solution to the actual problem of prevent people riding bikes from coming to harm or being seriously injured. How can it be? It’s some folded paper, loosely attached to the top third of the head.

If we really care about keeping people riding hire bikes safe ‘anywhere they go’, we need environmental solutions, infrastructure that keeps those people separated from fast and/or heavy moving motor traffic, wherever they choose to cycle. Not paper hats. And the same goes for handing out tiny reflective bits of plastic to children.

These are not structural solutions; they are not even actual solutions. They are a distraction. The wrong questions are being asked, and the wrong answers are being given.

Posted in Absurd transport solutions, Helmets, Infrastructure, Sustainable Safety | 24 Comments

Network

Imagine if your town or city had just one suitable driving route across it, or just one suitable walking route – a line drawn on a map from A to B.

horsham-east-west-lstf-route-editHow many trips would be driven, or walked, in your town if this was the extent of the driving or walking network?

The answer is clearly ‘not very many’ – only those trips that happen to start or finish at some point along the line of the route, or reasonably close to it. A very small proportion of the overall number of existing or potential trips.

So we shouldn’t be at all surprised that that cycling levels remain low when the full extent of a ‘cycle network’ in a town or a city is this kind of line, drawn on a map. Even if the quality of the route is high (and very often it isn’t) the use of cycles will be limited because the vast majority of people simply can’t get anywhere near that route in safety, or in comfortable conditions.

So as impressive as the initial amount of use of the new cycling superhighways in London might appear, especially at peak times, the use of this cycling infrastructure is undoubtedly suppressed because there is so little of it. The people using it will mostly be the small minority of people already willing to cycle on the hostile roads and streets across the rest of the city, that need to be cycled on to access the superhighways.

This partly explains why use is relatively low outside of peak times. Non-commuting trips like, amongst others,

  • children cycling independently;
  • retired people cycling independently;
  • people going shopping;
  • cycling to social activity

will all rely to a much greater extent on a dense network that takes people from A to B in comfort and safety, and not on a specific commuter-focused route. In addition, these kinds of users – particularly, children and the elderly – are of course much more sensitive to hostile road conditions, the kind of conditions that will have to be tolerated to get onto ‘the superhighway’.

This explains the marked contrast in cycle use during the daytime on a typical cycleway in a Dutch city centre, compared to the superhighways in London.

1pm, in the centre of Gouda. The cycleways are still busy, but use is dominated by children, the elderly, and women. People who are are not at work.

1pm, in the centre of Gouda. The cycleways are still busy, but use is dominated by children, the elderly, and women. In short, by people who are are not at work.

Unlike London, Dutch cycleways will still see heavy use during the day. However, that use is dominated not by commuters, but instead (unsurprisingly) by all the people who aren’t at work. The reason for this is not some difference in Dutch character or behaviour; it’s because a typical Dutch city has a high quality network that connects up all the start and finish points of the journeys these people are making, not just one ‘route’ that goes from A to B.

This is why it is so important not get bogged down on drawing ‘a cycle route’ and agonising in great detail over where that ‘route’ should go, because the long-term goal has to be a dense network of routes that go everywhere.

I was reminded of this by some of the reaction to the news yesterday of the cancellation by Mayor Khan of the proposed route for the ‘East-West Superhighway’ extension, along the Westway, into west London. Much of the discussion focused on whether the Westway was actually the appropriate location for such a ‘route’; whether there might be better alternatives at ground level nearby; whether Kensington and Chelsea might be persuaded to allow protected cycleways to be built on parallel main roads within their borough.

My own view is that, if we are indeed focused on building ‘a route’, the Westway is (or was)  the best option, given Kensington and Chelsea’s intransigence in refusing to allow cycling infrastructure on its roads, and the generally poor quality of back-street ‘Quietway’ routes that have been delivered in London so far.

But this kind of discussion is really missing the bigger picture. There should be a ‘cycle route’ on the Westway and cycle routes everywhere else. Not one or the other.

Why should there just be one route into west London from central London? To take just one example, how many people will cycle from Hammersmith (in the bottom left of the map above) into central London if there are no cycle routes in Kensington and Chelsea apart from one on the Westway, some 2km or more north of the direct route? Quite plainly, there needs to be a cycle route on the Westway, and on Kensington High Street, and on Holland Park Avenue; and on all the roads that people will use to get from A to B.

This is why the logic of cancelling the Westway scheme, and coming up with an alternative somewhere else, is flawed. Not just because the Westway scheme had been consulted on, and was ready to go, and because devising an alternative route will inevitably result in years of delay. It’s because the Westway scheme is needed alongside many other east-west routes in Kensington and Chelsea, and alongside north-south routes. Everywhere.

The original plan for Delft's cycle network. Routes that go everywhere. Not just one line.

The original plan for Delft’s cycle network. Routes that go everywhere. Not just one line on a map. Source.

So, regrettably, it appears that the Westway decision betrays a failure to understand how cycling should be planned for. Cycling doesn’t just require ‘a route’; it requires a network, of which the Westway should have been just one component.

Posted in Delft, Infrastructure, London | 7 Comments

Sustainable Safety in action

The N470 is a main road that runs east from the Dutch city of Delft, connecting it with the city of Zoetermeer. It is 12 kilometres long between the junctions with the A13 motorway (bypassing Delft) and the A12 motorway (which runs between The Hague and Utrecht).

From Google Maps

From Google Maps

As can be seen from the map above, it is, effectively, a bypass of the town of Pijnacker, bending south around it. Before this road was opened in 2007, a large proportion of the motor traffic running between Delft and Zoetermeer would have passed through the town. Now all that motor traffic is far away from human beings. This applies both at the large large scale – the way the road is built away from urban areas – and also at the scale of the road itself, where, as well shall see in this post, human beings are kept completely separated from it.

This modern road has been built according to the principles of Sustainable Safety, or Duurzaam Veiling – the Dutch approach to road safety. This programme was only developed in the mid 1990s, so it is relatively recent, but it completely underpins the way roads and streets in the Netherlands, both old and new, are designed and built to maximise the safety of human beings. The N470 is an excellent example of these principles in action, and this post will look at them in turn.

Functionality

Perhaps one of the most important principles of Sustainable Safety, ‘Functionality’ means that every road and street in the Netherlands should have a single function – mono-functionality – and that every region should classify their roads and streets accordingly, either as a

  • Through road – for fast traffic, travelling longer distances, in large volumes. Motorways, trunk roads, bypasses, and so on. Roads humans won’t ‘engage with’, by design.
  • Access road – the ‘end destination’ for journeys – places where people live, work, shop, relax, and so on.
  • Distributor road – the roads that connect up the through roads and access roads.

Quite clearly the N470 falls into the ‘through road’ category. It is a road for transporting people from A to B; it is most definitely not a road that people will be exposed to in any form. There are only three junctions between the outskirts of Delft and Zoetermeer, all  turbo roundabouts around Pijnacker, which human beings cannot go anywhere near. It is effectively hermetically sealed away from the environment it is travelling through – walking and cycling are entirely separated, via underpasses, and even other roads are again grade-separated.

Here the N470 goes into an underpass to avoid any connection with a rural access road. From Streetview

Here the N470 goes into an underpass to avoid any connection with a rural access road at ground level. From Streetview.

Homogeneity

This principle applies to the mass, speed and direction of road users. Heavy objects should not share space with light ones; fast objects should not share space with slow ones; and objects should be travelling in the same direction. Differences in mass, speed and direction should be minimised as much as possible.

We can see these principles clearly in operation in the design of the N470 road. Perhaps the most obvious application of homogeneity is that light objects – human beings – are completely designed out of this road. They go nowhere near it. In fact the photograph below is about the closest you can get.

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The three junctions on this stretch of road – two at the end, and one in the middle – are all turbo roundabouts, and all have total separation between human beings and motor traffic.

The roundabout at the Delft end of the N470 has signs explicitly banning walking and cycling from the roundabout – but really nobody would choose to negotiate the roundabout at surface level on foot, because of a fast, convenient cycle road to the side, that bypasses it completely.

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The roundabout in the middle is another turbo roundabout, again negotiated by an underpass – or, perhaps more specifically, where the road has been built up on an embankment with a bridge.

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And the final roundabout at the Zoetermeer end is exactly the same, with two underpasses allowing people to negotiate the arms of the the roundabout, complete with noise barriers. As with the previous example the roads and roundabout have been built up high so that cycling remains at ground level, at the same level as buildings in the neighbourhood. These are bridges, more than underpasses.

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I did manage to scramble up the bank here to take a photo of the roundabout – narrow lanes with hard physical dividers, combined with heavy, fast traffic, means that this is not somewhere you would want to be on a bike.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-00-49-48Especially when you can bypass it, completely oblivious to the traffic overhead.

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But of course Sustainable Safety applies to all users of the road network, not just people cycling. The road is designed in a way to keep motorists safe too.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-00-57-49Perhaps most notable is the median between the two lanes, that prevents any attempts at overtaking. The speed limit on this road is 80kph (about 50mph) and that applies uniformly to all vehicles, from HGVs right down to small cars. Quite sensibly, if everyone is travelling at the same speed, there can be no justification for overtaking, and the design prevents people from even attempting to do so.

A couple of years ago the DfT raised the speed limit for HGVs on single carriageway roads from 40mph to 50mph, partially on the grounds that it would (allegedly) reduce the temptation on the part of some drivers to indulge in dangerous overtakes. But the Netherlands has solved this problem at a stroke by equalising the limit for all users at 80kph, and by simply banning overtaking altogether on this category of road (and physically preventing overtaking in new road design).

All Dutch roads of this type have a continuous solid line, forbidding overtaking, and an equalised 80kph speed limit

All Dutch roads of this type have a continuous solid line, forbidding overtaking, even if a median is not present – along with an equalised 80kph speed limit.

Overtaking presents an unacceptably high level of danger – it involves vehicles occupying the same space but travelling in completely the opposite direction, at great speed. The opposite of homogeneity! It is much safer to ban it, and to simply design it out of these roads altogether. On the N470 all vehicles are travelling in the same direction at all times, and at approximately the same speed. Overtaking conflicts have been removed, as have any turning conflicts, with no motor vehicles crossing the paths of other motor vehicles – because there are no junctions.

Another implication of the principle of homogeneity is that mopeds (which aren’t capable of travelling at 80kph in any case) are banned from these roads, and instead placed on the cycle path, alongside people walking, cycling and jogging. This makes sense according to the principle of homogeneity – their mass and speed is much closer to that of pedestrians and cyclists than it is to the vehicles on the road.

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Forgivingness

Another principle of Sustainable Safety is ‘forgivingness’, which implies pretty much what you would expect from the title. Essentially, mistakes by road users should not result in death or serious injury. Road and street design should account for the fact that human beings are fallible, and will inevitably make mistakes.

We see this principle reflected in a number of aspects of the design of the N470 road. The road lanes themselves are narrow, to help ensure that people do not exceed the 80kph limit, but there are large overrun areas on either side of the road, composed of a concrete mesh.

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Probably not very enjoyable to drive over, but if you do drift off the road, you won’t die.

Naturally, forgivingness also applies to people cycling. It lies behind the systematic removal of bollards from Dutch cycle paths, where at all possible. Bollards are not good things to crash into, and can cause serious injury and death. It is definitely preferable to have the occasional driver venturing (either mistakenly or deliberately) onto a cycle path than it is to have a permanent hazard on it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also means that kerbs and other elements of cycling infrastructure should allow mistakes to happen, without serious consequences.

New cycle infrastructure in the city of Delft, with a forgiving, essentially crash-proof kerb

New cycle infrastructure in the city of Delft, with a forgiving, essentially crash-proof, kerb

And, of course, at a higher level, the fact that there aren’t any human beings outside of motor vehicles on the N470 road, or even near it, means that cycling is very safe. The fact that Britain persists with accommodating cycling on busy 60 or even 70mph roads is extraordinary by objective comparison – the consequences of errors and mistakes when you have such enormous differences in mass and speed in the same space will be deadly.

Trucks travelling at 80kph on the right; a father with children in a cargo bike, far to the left. These two should not be combined, for very obvious reasons

Trucks travelling at 80kph on the right; a father with children in a cargo bike, far to the left. These two should not be combined, for very obvious reasons

Predictability

A better way of expressing ‘predictability’ would be ‘instantly recognisable road design’. The users of a road or a street should understand how they are expected to behave, from the appearance of that road or street. The design should be unambiguous. For instance, if you want motor vehicle users to travel at 20mph, the road or street should look like that, and it should make the majority of users travel at no more than that speed.

From the photographs in this post you won’t need me to tell you that the appearance of the N470 will obviously inform its users that it is a through road! There are no junctions; no interactions with non-motorised users; a median; and a design that suggests a speed of 50mph or so. As already mentioned, the design of the N470 should make users travel at or around this speed – the speed limit should be self-enforcing. Design should lead behaviour – we should not expect people to do unnatural things.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, Sustainable Safety is really about a strategic separation of fast, heavy objects from slower moving, lighter ones, across an entire country, both along roads like the N470, passing through rural areas, but also in urban areas. It is universal.

It is noteworthy that there are multiple cycle routes between Delft and Zoetermeer, all of them completely separate from the road network. Some parts of these are shown below. These cycle routes pass through the places where people actually live and work, while the motor traffic is shielded away from human beings. All these routes are more direct than the N470, or alternative driving routes on the motorways.

The cycle route in and out of Delft

One of the cycle routes between Zoetermeer and Delft – this one the closest to the N470, as it passes through a Delft suburb. The path runs directly through, and is connected to, this residential area, providing quick and easy access to housing, and on into the city centre.

Another route between Delft and Zoetermeer, as it passes under the A12 motorway.

Another route between Delft and Zoetermeer, further to the north, as it passes under the A13 motorway. This is an access road for motor traffic for the properties along it, but it becomes cycle-only as it goes under the motorway. Note the noise barrier. This is a peaceful, safe neighbourhood, with a cycle route running through it.

And another route between Delft and Zoetermeer - this one an access road (connecting to a small number of properties) that only permits driving in one direction.

And another route between Delft and Zoetermeer – this one an access road (connecting to a small number of properties) that only permits driving in one direction.

So despite the name, Sustainable Safety is not just about safety, but also about creating more attractive and more pleasant places for people to live, work, shop, and relax. People can still drive, of course, and with great ease, but their journeys will be separated to the greatest possible extent from human beings. It is a bold and ambitious project, but one that, despite only being a few decades old, has had dramatic and impressive consequences. We should be paying close attention.

 

You can read more about Sustainable Safety in a number of places –

Posted in Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands | 18 Comments

The Dutch supermarket

Pedalling into the Dutch city of Delft last Tuesday I went past a branch of Albert Heijn, which is (approximately) the Dutch version of Waitrose – or at least, a supermarket at the slightly higher end of the Dutch price scale.

Albert

The branch of Albert Heijn on Ruys de Beerenbrouckstraat, Delft – with the city centre Oude Kerk in the distance, about 1km away.

Naturally enough I stopped to have a look at was occurring, an easy thing to do given that the cycleway along this road runs right the supermarket entrance.

At about 10:30 in the morning, the front entrance was heaving with bikes – people shopping in ways that they would do in the UK, but loading their goods onto those bikes.

There was a mum loading a trolley full of goods (and her children) into her cargo bike.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-22-41-22And other people loading the contents of trolleys and baskets into their panniers.

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What was fascinating to me was how all the space in front of the supermarket was completely dedicated to people arriving on foot, and by cycle. There was no parking for motor vehicles anywhere in sight.

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But that, of course, isn’t quite the whole story! There is car parking at this supermarket. It’s just that it is hidden from view, on top of it, with an entrance around the back.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-22-48-48And it’s free, all day long.

Interestingly, the location of this supermarket is given as the minor road the car parking entrance is on, not the main road where the entrance is!

Interestingly, the location of this supermarket is given as the minor road the car parking entrance is on, not the main road where people walking and cycling will gain access from.

This is despite this supermarket being in a city-centre location. There isn’t anything to stop you driving to it and parking above it, at no cost (save for your fuel).

So in many ways this supermarket is actually a microcosm of the Netherlands in general. You can still drive to the supermarket, with ease. There probably won’t be a queue to get in and out of the car park, because so many other people will be cycling to it. The parking itself will be free, even at peak times. In these respects driving in the Netherlands is actually easier and more ‘available’ than in Britain. If you wish to drive your car, your journey will be more attractive, and cheaper, simply because so many other people aren’t driving.

What does make the difference is the way that cycling to the supermarket is extremely painless. The people arriving here by bike will have started their journey on quiet, access-only streets, and then pedalled along the main road in comfort, safely separated from motor traffic.

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Planning is also a factor here, in that the Dutch does not really have out of town supermarket shopping, which would clearly make cycling more inconvenient, adding distance to ordinary shopping trips, and making the car relatively more attractive. It also makes smaller (more cycle-friendly) shopping loads an easier prospect, if your supermarket is close at hand. Daily shopping, for instance, is much easier when your supermarket is not out of town. Dutch supermarkets have to be within urban areas – but at the same time that doesn’t stop them from offering free car parking to their customers.

Mainly, however, people choose to cycle in the Netherlands not because driving has been made inordinately difficult – it certainly hasn’t in the case of this supermarket – but because cycling has been designed for, has been made a safe and easy mode of transport, so much so that it naturally becomes an obvious choice. It’s simply easier and more convenient than driving, right down to the way you can arrive at the front door and park, rather than having to take your car around the back, and upstairs. It’s very much carrot, rather than stick.

Posted in Delft, Infrastructure, Supermarkets, The Netherlands, Town planning | 40 Comments

Plumbing the tabloid depths

In the wake of the Daily Mail publishing a series of photographs of cycleways with nobody using them at the moment the photograph was taken, and asserting that those cycleways are therefore ‘lunacy’ (apparently in the belief that doing so is any more meaningful than publishing a photograph of an empty road or footway and making conclusions about lunacy) the Guardian’s Dave Hill has evidently decided to join in the fun, publishing his own photograph of an empty cycle lane above an article that applies a thin veneer of earnest, chin-stroking consideration to precisely the same tabloid arguments.

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Go on. Look at it. It’s empty.

This is at the same level of intellectual endeavour as publishing a photograph of an empty bus lane on the same road, before making questioning noises about how much bus lanes are being used, and whether the new mayor ought to consider using all that valuable road space for other modes of transport.

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A quiet time of day for Super Busway 2 at Mile End.

Newsflash – a photograph of an empty bit of infrastructure is absolutely meaningless, and it remains meaningless if you attempt to garnish it – as Dave Hill does – with some anecdotes about how you hardly ever see anyone using that bit of infrastructure.

'You can stand on the bridge

‘It is possible to look down at the east-west super roadway from the footbridge by Embankment station and never have more than one four-wheeled traveller, if that, within view.’

You might wonder at this point why any journalist who takes himself seriously is so eager to recycle the arguments of the Daily Mail.

Of course what actually matters is numbers and efficiency, and unfortunately for Dave Hill, all the evidence is pointing in the opposite direction. In his article he is happy to quote Transport for London’s Director of Road Space Management, Alan Bristow, when he commented that the speed of implementation of the latest superhighways was ‘suboptimal’, during the latest London Assembly Transport Committee session on congestion. But if Hill had listened to the session from the start, he would have heard Bristow saying this

‘we are committed to sustainable transport, and walking and cycling are one of the key parts of the mix that any city must have, for moving people around. And it’s actually a very efficient way of moving people. We’re seeing a lot of activity on the cycle superhighways, and we’re getting about 3,000 people an hour in the peaks, moving along the Embankment. We’re moving five percent more people.’

Get that? Bristow is quite explicitly stating that, even at current usage levels, the superhighways have made roads like the Embankment more efficient than they were before at moving people. This is hardly surprising – 3,000 people per hour in the equivalent of a single motor vehicle lane far exceeds the ability of such a lane to carry people in private motor vehicles.

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You simply will not be able to move this many people through a junction in one go in motor vehicles. This is why cycling infrastructure makes so much sense.

So when it comes to ‘the matter of how much they are being used’, as Hill phrases it – well, let’s put it like this. If you think cycling infrastructure is a bad idea because the numbers of users fall away, outside of peak times, you are effectively arguing that roads should be made less efficient at times when that efficiency is most needed. No amount of anecdotes about how few people cycling you see outside peak times will change that blunt reality.

None of this should be surprising given Hill’s eagerness to distribute a discredited statistic about how much road space has been reallocated to cycling in London. Nor should it be surprising that Hill’s article also covers, again, other familiar territory, claiming that the new Deputy Mayor for Transport Val Shawcross believes ‘cycling policy should not only be about servicing the existing (and rather narrow) commuter and otherwise committed cyclist demographic but properly recognising others’ interests too’ – interpreting this to mean a

pointer to a broad, consensual approach, seeking to harmonise and give equal weight to the needs of cyclists and pedestrians and to introducing new infrastructure with the greatest possible consent.

But unfortunately this is a misreading of what Shawcross actually said.

“I’m really keen the cycling work we do isn’t just about the commuter cyclists, it’s about the little short journeys, not necessarily for work. It might be mums, it might be the retired, so the local communities get the benefits of this.”

In other words, designing for cycling shouldn’t just be about commuting, it should be about designing for all other kinds of cycling trips – cycling trips by mothers, and by elderly people, for instance. When Shawcross refers to policy ‘not just being about commuter cyclists’ she is explicitly talking about making cycling itself more inclusive, and not about watering down cycling policy to create ‘equal weight with pedestrians’, a spin Hill has added himself. (Note – ‘equal weight’ with pedestrians would actually mean cycling infrastructure on every main road, lowering the level of danger people cycling have to safe to an equivalent level to those who choose to walk).

Hill has evidently leapt on the ‘commuting cyclist’ term without pausing to look at what Shawcross actually said, which is unsuprising given his evident obsession with a desire to paint cycling in London as dominated by white middle class, middle-aged men, speeding to work, a conclusion not borne out by actual statistics.

The problem for Hill is that the very best way to enable cycling beyond the allegedly narrow demographic he repeatedly refers to – to enable cycling by women, by kids, by the elderly – is to build precisely the kind of infrastructure his own articles keep denigrating. This is the conclusion of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine report he keeps tediously linking to –

In cities where cycling uptake is low, the challenge for healthy public policy is perhaps to de-couple cycling from the rather narrow range of healthy associations it currently has, and provide an infrastructure in which anyone can cycle, rather than just those whose social identities are commensurate with being ‘a cyclist’.

Building cycleways is the very best way of achieving inclusivity. Not building them limits cycling to the people who are only prepared to cycle in hostile conditions on the road network.

Young asian kids cycling from the centre of London to Tower Hamlets on new cycling infrastructure

Young asian kids cycling from the centre of London to Tower Hamlets on new cycling infrastructure

You might argue Hill’s position on cycling infrastructure is disingenuous. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Posted in Infrastructure, Journalism, London | 13 Comments