Five minutes in Utrecht

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, I was taking pictures outside a supermarket on Biltstraat in Utrecht – watching people coming and going by bike.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 11.59.53I’d estimate there are around forty to fifty bicycles parked outside the shop here; a steady turnover of people arriving and departing, mingling with those travelling past on the cycle track.

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 20.41.58Then this pair appeared.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.02.51
A dad, with his young daughter standing on the rear rack. Kids do this, rather than sitting down on the rack, because they can see where they’re going.

At the supermarket, they slowed, and stopped.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.04.55But just so the daughter could put some rubbish in the bin. They were quickly on their way again.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.06.04Looking down on some other children.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.07.40It’s a little hard to see, but I realised at this point that the Dad was now talking on his mobile phone (you can see his right elbow is bent, his hand off the handlebars).

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.09.54

This is all perfectly normal behaviour, if the environment is safe and attractive.

At the next side road, I spotted some children playing in the road, with water pistols.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.12.27It looked like they had just cycled home from sport, after school, and were now cooling off. They also cooled off the delivery driver who stopped to chat.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.14.00Back on the main road, a young boy is carrying a large box.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.15.39

Followed by a lady in a wheelchair.Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.16.03A five minute window into street life in Utrecht.

 

Posted in Infrastructure, Subjective safety, The Netherlands, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Not everything the Dutch do is transferable

Way back in 2011, I cycled out of the city of Utrecht with my partner, who was riding a bike for the first time in well over a decade. The trip was almost entirely painless, with no interactions with motor traffic, except on short stretches. One of these stretches was Prins Hendriklaan, to the east of the city,  where she felt the most nervous.

At that time, that street looked like this.

DSCN9290Wide (by British standards) cycle lanes, combined with humps and no centre line markings. This is not an especially busy road for motor traffic, but it is one of the main routes in and out of the city for people cycling, with over 14,000 people cycling along here every day. For me – used to British conditions – it was absolutely fine, or even good. But not so good for the more nervous.

Over the last year this street (and Platolaan – the eastern end of this same street) have been redesigned. The cycle lanes have gone, replaced with a fietsstraat (bicycle street) arrangement.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 19.02.29

Essentially, the whole street now forms a cycle route, upon which motor vehicles can be driven ‘as guests’, in theory (although not necessarily in practice).

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 19.04.36

One of the essential characteristics of a fietsstraat is the dominance of cycle traffic. Fietsstraats will form main cycle routes, and motor traffic should be relatively low. As the CROW manual states

An important condition for designating a road section as a cycle street is that the bicycle traffic really has to dominate the streetscape. Although little experience has been gained with cycle streets, the dominant position of bicycle traffic appears to be sufficiently evident when there are twice as many cyclists as motorists on a road section. If this requirement is not met… the road authorities may try to reduce the intensity of motorised traffic to ensure that the intensity ratio is achieved.

A large number of cyclists have to be present – not only relatively speaking but also in absolute terms – to qualify the road as a main cycle route. … In order for a road section to qualify as a cycle street, it must carry at least 1,000 cyclists a day.

With 14,000 cyclists per day, Prins Hendriklaan quite obviously passes this threshold with ease. I am not aware of the figures for motor traffic along here, but on my visits to the street, motor traffic was clearly greatly outnumbered by cycle traffic.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 19.07.48However, an important issue, I think, is whether motor traffic is low enough along this street. Even with sky-high cycling intensities like those found here, the CROW manual recommends an absolute upper limit of 2000 PCUs (Passenger Car Units) per day. I suspect this limit might be broken on Prins Hendriklaan. At times, there were plenty of motor vehicles on the street, amongst the people cycling. [Update - the PCU figure has kindly been supplied by Ria Glas - around 2,700-3,300 PCUs per day in 2011. This appears to correspond with the traffic figures supplied for 2012, via bz2 in the comments.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 19.10.08 Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 19.12.40This is because, unlike many other fietsstraats I have seen, Prins Hendriklaan does not have any measures to cut out motor traffic travelling along it. It appears to form an access road for quite a large area of side streets.

The length of the new fietsstraat, in context. It is possible to drive 'through' this fietsstraat.

The length of the new fietsstraat, in context. It is possible to drive ‘through’ this fietsstraat.

The whole bicycle street is about 1km long, and has no closures at either end, or diversions for motor traffic. This is quite different from those fietsstraats which are access-only for only a relatively small amount of properties.

So this kind of treatment is almost certainly not transferrable to Britain. It only ‘works’ because it has an extraordinarily large number of people cycling along this street already – it relies on good conditions elsewhere on the rest of the network, to generate these numbers, and to drown out the motor traffic using the street.

Indeed, to that extent, it is disputable how much of an improvement for cycling in Utrecht this kind of arrangement actually amounts to. The new surface is nice and smooth, and the way motor traffic is forced to cycle ‘in’ the cycle lanes seemed to have a distinct calming effect on traffic speeds. But beyond that, the fundamental issue of interaction with a relatively significant volume of motor traffic (by Dutch standards) has not been addressed.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 19.42.11

What is absolutely clear is that simply relaying a street in red tarmac, and putting up signs, on a route carrying thousands of motor vehicles a day will not make a jot of difference to the quality of the cycling environment, when cycling levels are low, as they are in most places in Britain. The street will remain hostile and unattractive to the vast majority of people. Prins Hendriklaan cannot simply be transferred to Britain.

 

Posted in Fietsstraat, Infrastructure, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands | 16 Comments

The joy of cycling in the Netherlands

Last week I posted, quite deliberately, about the bad bits of my cycling experience around the Netherlands. The purpose there was to show that the Dutch still have difficulties to overcome, in particular locations, to make cycling attractive and safe, and also that many parts of the network simply haven’t been dealt with yet.

But those bad bits were, of course, the exception. In over 300 miles of cycling, those tens of examples are the only ones that stand out. 99% of my cycling experience was blissful – utterly stress-free. Everywhere I went, I was wafted along, on deliriously good infrastructure.

Across fields.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 19.40.32Through city centres.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 19.42.19
Through towns.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 19.43.27
Under motorways.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 19.44.45
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 19.47.09
Across rivers.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 19.49.19
Beside canals.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 19.52.29
Under ring roads.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 19.53.44
Through forests.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 19.54.48
Alongside main roads.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 19.56.38
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 20.47.25
Alongside country roads.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 19.57.56
Under railways.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 20.00.09
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 20.02.03
Through residential areas.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 20.15.11
Through industrial areas.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 20.16.58
Over bridges.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 20.18.51
Around roundabouts.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 21.00.18
Past junctions.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 20.40.29
Past roundabouts (turbo ones).
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 20.58.35
Along main roads in cities.
Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 20.41.58Complete comfort, ease and safety, everywhere I went.

I didn’t seek this stuff out. This is simply what I saw as I cycled around, from city centre to city centre. To Dutch people, this is just background – utterly mundane. These photographs give a fair impression of my day-to-day experience.

This comfort and safety covers all routes; wherever you choose to cycle. In urban areas it can be created in different ways. Every single city and major town that I visited either excluded private motor traffic completely from its centre, or limited it to access only. Gouda -
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 10.09.13
Delft -
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 09.59.19
‘s-Hertogenbosch -
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 10.00.05
Nijmegen -
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 10.02.12
Wageningen -
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 10.05.11
Veenendaal -
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 10.06.43
And Utrecht.
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 10.07.31

Not one of these examples is ‘shared space’. They are all places where motor traffic is largely (or totally) excluded, with walking and cycling utterly dominant as a result. And that means the attractiveness of cycling on routes between towns and cities extends right to their very centres.

On a single day, travelling from one city centre to another city centre, I estimate that I had to deal with around 10-20 direct interactions with motor vehicles. That’s all. The quality of the Dutch cycling environment rests on this complete modal separation, wherever you cycle. It’s what makes it such a joyous experience.
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 10.18.36

Posted in Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands | 7 Comments

Nothing useful to say

Some comment on a detail from the recent inquest into the death of Venera Minakhmetova at Bow roundabout last November.

Coroner Mary Hassell

said she had “nothing useful” to say to Transport for London as the roundabout had since “been altered to such an extent that it’s very significantly safer for cyclists”.

Do I need to point out here that ‘significantly safer’ is not the same as safe enough?

It is true that the approach to the roundabout where Venera died has ‘been altered’, but only because prior to the arrival of the Superhighway Extension there was nothing in the way of cycle infrastructure at this location.

Westbound at Bow roundabout, 2012. Courtesy of Google Streetview

Westbound at Bow roundabout, 2012. Courtesy of Google Streetview. It was on this layout that Lana Tereschenko died in 2011.

But the central issue shouldn’t be whether improvements have been made, or whether the junction is a bit safer than the death trap it was before. Rather than a relative standard of safety, surely we should be looking at whether Bow roundabout meets objective criteria, good enough to ensure that the risk of further deaths, or serious injuries, at this location is as low as possible. ‘A bit better’ isn’t good enough, if what was there before was lethal.

The reported comment from the coroner may, of course, have been stripped from context, but taking it at face value, it appears that this issue has been ducked. Because the new layout at Bow roundabout is not good enough. It is a bad bodge. Effectively it amounts to nothing more than an Advanced Stop Line, with a confusing array of signals that attempt to stop people from entering it at the wrong time.

This video from @sw19cam – shot just two weeks before Venera died – shows just how confusing it can be. Because people cycling have to deal with two sets of lights simply to enter the junction, this chap appears to have interpreted the green signal to enter the ASL as a green signal to progress through the entire junction, with nearly disastrous results, as two lorries bear down on him.

Now the inquest appears to have established that the lorry that killed Venera passed through two green signals before turning left, and on that basis the ‘most likely’ explanation for the collision was that she had passed a red light to enter the ASL. Even if we accept this explanation, questions need to be asked about how easy it is end up doing this, in innocence. This picture from Charlie Lloyd shows the problem.

The red signal to stop people from entering the ASL (to the left) is drowned out by a sea of green signals which, combined with motor vehicles flowing through the junction, could all contribute to this signal being jumped inadvertently. Low-level cycle-specific signals have subsequently been added here, but the overall arrangement is still extraordinarily ambiguous.

What is desperately, desperately needed is clarity. No multiple lights just to enter an ASL, before waiting again – the ‘always stop’ junction. Instead, just one signal for cycles; one signal for left turning motor traffic; and one signal for straight ahead motor traffic.

A standard junction arrangement in the Netherlands. Absolutely clear who can go, and should stop.

A standard junction arrangement in the Netherlands (flipped). Absolutely clear who can go, and should stop.

This kind of arrangement would also allow pedestrians to cross Bow roundabout, on a green signal, at the same time that cycles and straight ahead motor traffic have a green signal. There are still no pedestrian crossings at this roundabout.

All the fiddles and bodges that have been implemented at Bow are a flawed compromise, intended to fit cycling in around the margins of motor traffic flow, rather than coherent design. It’s a great pity the inquest seems to have ignored the issue of whether it could be substantially better – good enough to eliminate future tragedies.

Posted in Bow Roundabout, Infrastructure, London, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands | 15 Comments

Why can’t we get visualisations right?

Last night I was discussing plans for the centre of Enfield, as part of that borough’s ‘mini-Holland’ bid, during a London Cycling Campaign seminar on designing well for walking and cycling.

The plans themselves – if they are not watered down – actually look pretty good, and we were mainly discussing the best way of facilitating cycling and walking movement without causing conflict in a high street environment.

The visualisations of the scheme, however, struck me (and others) as problematic.

A burly man going mountain biking, apparently

A burly man going mountain biking, apparently

Not just the garish, intrusive colour scheme, but also the type of people cycling. Very much ‘cyclists’ – a man in full sporting gear, hunched over, stomping on the pedals of his mountain bike.

If these plans are trying to be sold to the public – and indeed to convince shopkeepers that the removal of the road outside their shops is a good idea – then this is frankly a disastrous kind of person to be showing. Someone who looks like they are going somewhere else, and who won’t be stopping. And who also looks like a bit of a menace.

It would surely have made much more sense to use a different kind of person on a bike.

Take your pic

Take your pick

Or just something that has a bit of joy in it.

Isn't riding a bike supposed to be fun?

Isn’t riding a bike supposed to be fun?

Enfield aren’t the only people to have got this wrong. Notable examples included TfL’s ‘bus stop bypass’ visualisations, showing someone who resembles Monkey Dust’s ‘The Cyclists’ -

The Superhighway 2 visualitions

The Superhighway 2 visualisations, showing lycra clad, fast-looking men

And Peterborough Council’s laughable, laughable decision to use what looks like Fabian Cancellara in their visualisation of a walking and cycling route in their town centre.

A vision for the type of cycling Peterborough want in their town centre

A vision for the type of cycling Peterborough want in their town centre

I’m sure there are many other examples like this.

We were told that there was ‘limited time’ to prepare the bid, and the visualisations, but really, how much more time does it take to choose a suitable image of someone cycling? If you are thinking about doing a visualisation – please, please contact me and I will be happy to supply a photograph!

Posted in Uncategorized | 39 Comments

The bad bits

I’m just back from a week-long tour of the Netherlands, cycling between (and across) a number of cities and towns I hadn’t visited before. I travelled around 300 miles, across the entire country. I will obviously come to the good bits in due course, but I thought I would start by writing about the bad bits, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, they demonstrate that the Netherlands has not had perfect infrastructure magically parachuted in from the sky. The country had (and in many places still has) a very British-looking road network, that has been improved and adapted over recent decades. The bad bits I encountered are either old – streets and roads where nothing has been done (or the bare minimum has been done) – or simply places where compromised designs have been put in place, because the Netherlands has exactly the same conflicts for space between motor vehicles and cycling as Britain does.

Secondly, these are the parts of my journey that actually really jumped out at me. I could cycle for four to five hours a day, completely relaxed, apart from at these locations, where I suddenly had to concentrate, and start worrying. As well shall see, many of these examples actually look pretty good from a British perspective; but in the Netherlands, they were the places were I felt most stressed, and the least relaxed.

Starting at the beginning. On my way from the Hook of Holland to Delft, a good cycle path alongside a major road just stops, and switches to being bi-directional on the other side of the road.

DSC_0065_2

Oranjesluisweg, De Lier

Not a huge problem, but quite jarring to suddenly have to deal with crossing two lanes of motor traffic, without any assistance. This was early on a Saturday morning, and I can imagine this road being much busier.

Further on, and as I approached the city of Delft, another good cycle path just tapered down to nothing, dumping me on the road on the approach to a busy junction.

Woudseweg, Delft

Woudseweg, Delft

In Gouda I came across this ‘always stop’ junction for cyclists.

Spoorstraat, Gouda

Spoorstraat, Gouda

The cycle track under the railway line meets a stop line, where cyclists are held while motor traffic progresses from their left, up to and through the junction (the green signal in the distance).

Then, the motor traffic is held, and cyclists get a green light, to move up to the stop line at the junction.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 11.10.34Quite safe, but this arrangement, combined with long waits (well over a minute) at the junction itself, made for a bad situation for cycling. Plenty of people were jumping the lights here, frustrated at having to wait for so long.

The town of Vlijmen, in the municipality of Heusden, was very poor, with no infrastructure at all to speak of, on quite busy roads and streets. It felt uncomfortable, even on a Sunday afternoon. But normal for Britain.

Mommersteeg, Vlijmen

Mommersteeg, Vlijmen

While Nijmegen was in general very good for cycling, it did have a number of roads and streets which were inadequate, and indeed poor. Some examples.

A British-looking ASL at a major junction

A British-looking ASL at a major junction

A three-lane, one-way road, with no contraflow for cycling, and only a 'feeder' cycle lane in the middle of the road

A three-lane, one-way road, with no contraflow for cycling, and only a ‘feeder’ cycle lane in the middle of the road

An old street which has not been improved (although it looks like it will be, with development at the other end)

An old street which has not been improved (although it looks like it will be, with development at the other end)

Nijmegen was the city I felt the least comfortable on my trip; but it vastly outstrips anywhere I have cycled in Britain. And remember; these are just the bad bits I am showing here.

In rural areas, my most uncomfortable cycling was on roads with ‘advisory’ cycle lanes at the sides of the road, and with no centre line.

Near Veenendaal

Near Veenendaal

Generally I encountered very little motor traffic on these roads (certainly by British standards), so these pictures are unrepresentative of my trip as a whole. But I was travelling in the middle of the day, not at peak times, and situations like those pictured here could, I suspect, be quite common.

Access road near Breukelen

Access road near Breukelen

Quite often ‘bunching’ of motor traffic occurs, and (in my experience) Dutch drivers tend to give you very little passing distance on these kinds of roads, on the assumption that you know what you are doing.

It was unpleasant to have to start worrying about whether drivers would give you enough passing distance, or whether they were going to attempt a stupid overtake – compared to the serenity of the rest of my trip. And in some places these treatments are very obviously inappropriate.

The N836, Wageningenstraat, just south of the A15 motorway

The N836, Wageningenstraat, just south of the A15 motorway

This is an ‘N’ category road, the equivalent of our ‘A’ roads, only a kilometre or so from a motorway junction. This just didn’t cut it, as far as comfort was concerned, with large lorries and tractors passing in both directions. It was a relief to get back on the cycle tracks that ran along this road for the rest of its length. Why this section has not been upgraded yet, I don’t know.

Other ‘N’ category roads were interesting, in that for the most part they had extraordinarily good provision running alongside them, but sometimes, in towns, they just gave up. In particular Doorn, near Utrecht, was exceptionally bad.

'No space for cycling' at this junction in Doorn

‘No space for cycling’ at this junction in Doorn

The same problem British towns and cities face – multiple queuing lanes for vehicles means there’s not much space left over for proper cycling provision (or indeed for walking). Further on in the town -

'Watch out for bikes!'

‘Watch out for bikes!’

Here an (old) cycle track simply peters out, spitting you out onto a trunk road through the town, carrying heavy traffic. That is a lady carrying her family by cargo bike.

And because there is no cycle track in the opposite direction, you get children doing this – ‘salmoning’ up the road to get to the safety of the cycle track.

Hostile

Hostile

Cycle lanes like this on this kind of road would, I think, be considered quite good in Britain, but this was definitely the most exposed I felt on my entire trip.

Leaving Doorn, and glad that military convoy is going the other way

Leaving Doorn, and glad that military convoy is going the other way

Even very wide cycle lanes could suddenly create a feeling of discomfort. Here in Nijmegen this exceptional (by British standards) cycle lane was unsettling, compared to the cycle track I had been on moments before, as traffic came past me.

Good by British standards, but not very good compared to what is around it

Good by British standards, but not very good compared to what is around it

And there were problems in Utrecht too. This cycle lane has been put on the wrong side of the parked vehicles. The parking and the cycle provision should obviously be switched.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 12.16.25A fantastic superhighway from Breukelen into Utrecht sends you into an industrial park, where you have to fend for yourself amongst HGV movements, on tiny cycle lanes.

This wasn't much fun

This wasn’t much fun

And some junctions in the centre of the city are in desperate need of an upgrade, like here at Nachtegaalstraat, where huge numbers of people are squashed into an inadequate central queuing lane which separates bus traffic from private motor traffic, only able to turn right. By British standards, entirely comfortable, but not really good enough in the context of the rest of Utrecht.

Not good enough

Not good enough

So by no means is it perfect everywhere. The Dutch have plenty of old roads and streets that need to be upgraded; they just haven’t got around to doing them yet. And in other places it looks like battles still need to be fought to get proper provision installed, at the expense of motor traffic.

But I should stress that these examples – in total about twenty or thirty places – are the only times I felt uncomfortable, or inconvenienced, on my entire trip of around 300 miles. The vast, vast majority of my trip was gloriously pleasant, easy and safe. More of that to come.

Posted in Subjective safety, The Netherlands | 23 Comments

As if we didn’t already know, a cycling revolution won’t happen by itself

There is a curious opinion that often manifests itself in government and in councils – that a serious commitment to cycling as a mode of transport in its own right can’t be made, precisely because very few journeys are currently made by bike in Britain.*

One of the latest examples of this kind of thinking comes from Reading, where councillor Tony Page has recently argued

We have to balance the interests of all road users and I particularly draw colleagues’ attention to figures which indicate the huge reliance on buses for journeys into the town centre. At the moment, cyclists only constitute three per cent and even if you double that it’s still only six per cent. The dominant and most popular mode of transport is our public transport.

That is – we can’t justify doing anything to improve cycling, because it is a deeply unpopular minority mode of transport, and anyway doing so would probably impinge on much more popular modes of transport.

The problem is that these kinds of opinions are predicated on an assumption that the people of Reading – or wherever – have a free choice about what mode of transport they wish to use. That cycling in Reading is just as ‘available’ to its citizens as bus travel, and the relatively high demand for buses compared to cycling just reflects the fact that people prefer ‘busing’ to ‘cycling’.

But there is of course another way of looking at this situation. It is entirely possible – in fact it is quite likely – that the ‘huge reliance’ on buses for journeys in Reading simply reflects the uncomfortable reality that the form of cycling on offer in the town is very unattractive – unpalatable – to the vast majority of people.

Indeed, it’s a bit like serving mouldy food, and when people decline it, assuming they prefer to go hungry, rather than eat.

We found that nobody wanted to eat this. So obviously people prefer gruel to bread.

We found that nobody wanted to eat this. So obviously people prefer going hungry, to eating bread.

The town of Reading is offering crap cycling, and when people choose a less worse alternative, its councillors appear to be assuming that means people don’t like to cycle, full stop.

Yet we know that people do like to cycle, and that there is enormous suppressed demand for it – demand suppressed largely by traffic danger and road conditions.

British people enjoy cycling in huge numbers when the conditions are right.

British people enjoy cycling in huge numbers when the conditions are right.

Waiting for cycling to materialise out of nowhere before you actually decide to start catering for it is, frankly, idiotic.

There is no clearer demonstration of this than the latest Office for National Statistics analysis of cycling to work patterns in the 2011 census, released yesterday [pdf]. It shows that cycling in Britain is largely stagnant or declining, except for increases in a small number of places (mostly cities) where small steps have been taken to improve conditions.

Before taking a look at that ONS analysis, it’s worth remembering that these are figures only for cycling to work, which will almost certainly paint a better picture than figures for cycling as a whole, for a number of reasons. Children are not included in cycling to work figures; we know that cycling rates amongst British children are lower than average. Likewise, the elderly are largely not included in cycling to work figures, and again cycling rates for this age group are below average. Both these age groups are much less likely to cycle than people of commuting age.

Equally, as Rachel Aldred has recently explained, even unpleasant cycling routes to work can be tolerated, or accepted, more than equivalent conditions for other kinds of trips – because these routes become familiar, and dangers can be anticipated and mitigated.

It seems like people are fussier about cycling environments when they’re not commuting. This makes intuitive sense if you think about it. When I’m riding to work, I know my route extremely well as I ride it most working days. I’m travelling on my own, so I only have to worry about my own safety, not that of any companions. I know where the dodgy bits are, where I need to concentrate super hard. I know the timing of the traffic lights – whether I have lots of time to get through or not. I know the hidden cut-throughs I can take to make the journey nicer. As I’m travelling with the peak commuting flows there’s often plenty of other cyclists around, creating a greater sense of subjective safety.

This certainly rings true for my commute across Westminster that I used to make for several years – I knew what kind of traffic to expect on which sections of the route, what kind of driving I was likely to encounter, where I needed to position myself on the road to avoid hazardous situations, and so on. My route got refined over time, and I became conditioned to dealing with what were initially very intimidating roads and junctions.So the picture for cycling as a whole is likely to be far, far worse than these census figures for commuting. (Indeed, we already know that cycling to work rates far outstrip modal share figures in London boroughs, usually being about three times higher).

The ONS tells us that

In 2011, 741,000 working residents aged 16 to 74 cycled to work in England and Wales. This was an increase of 90,000 compared with 2001. As a proportion of working residents, the share cycling to work was unchanged at 2.8%.

The small increase in the number of people cycling to work in England and Wales was matched by the increase in the number of people working, meaning that there was no proportional change in cycling to work since between 2001 and 2011.

The number of all trips being made to work increased by around 14% between 2001 and 2011, yet for England and Wales (excluding London) the number of trips to work being cycled increased by only 2.2%. That means that cycling to work levels outside of London have fallen from 2.8% to 2.6% over this period. The increase in London masks decline in cycling across the rest of England and Wales.

 The picture is just as gloomy when we look at a local authority level -

Of the 348 local authorities in England and Wales, 146 had an absolute increase in the number of people cycling to work between 2001 and 2011. As a proportion of resident workers in the local authority, however, only 87 of the 348 local authorities witnessed an increase.

That means 261 out of 348 local authorities – 75% – saw a proportional decline in cycling to work levels over this period. Cycling to work (reminder – much more resilient than other types of cycling) actually went backwards in most areas in Britain. And these are almost all areas that had next to no cycling in the first place. Bleak in the extreme.

Even places where there was a non-negligible amount of cycling to work went backwards too – among the most striking is (flat) north Norfolk, which had 4.8% of workers cycling to work in 2001. This fell dramatically to 2.8% in 2011. Indeed, it is quite extraordinary how the areas seeing the largest percentage points decline are grouped together in the flattish areas of eastern England.

The flatness problem  cycling going backwards in East Anglia

The flatness problem – cycling going backwards in East Anglia and Lincolnshire

And the same areas show up among those where short cycling to work trips (less than 2km) have declined the most.

No, not that Holland. The Holland in Essex.

No, not that Holland. The Holland in Lincolnshire.

Plainly, no ‘cycling revolution’ is happening in England and Wales. Sporting glory is not persuading people to cycle for everyday trips; nor is marketing – advice, bike breakfasts, or exhortation about how fantastically green and good for your health cycling can be.

Cycling will not grow all by itself, and most likely it will continue to disappear in those areas where it is not being catered for. The idea that these trends can be bucked by expecting people to choose to cycle under current conditions, before we then start to take cycling seriously as a mode of transport, is nonsensical. The investment – serious investment – has to come first, along with proper design guidance to ensure that money is not poured down the drain on inadequate schemes of negligible benefit.

Without this kind of long-term strategic thinking, talk of cycling ‘booming’ in the UK will continue to ring hollow.

 

*A variant is that the Netherlands and Denmark only spend so much money on cycling because they have to cater for so many people cycling.

Posted in Cycling policy, Department for Transport, Infrastructure, London, Subjective safety, The Netherlands, Transport policy | 36 Comments

A small example of rural car dependence

This video was doing the rounds on Twitter last week.

It’s really quite well done, and a bit depressing that it dates from 2011. It convincingly shows how a B-road has effectively become a no-go area for anyone not in a motor vehicle, or confident enough to walk or cycle in the carriageway on a fast and busy road. That means short trips have to be made by car; all because a path suitable for walking and cycling has not been provided.

I was reminded of the video while I was out cycling at the weekend, on one of my usual leisure routes. The worst section of it is a B-road that runs into the village of Coolham. It’s a fast, straight section of road with a 60mph speed limit, where for some reason I always seem to encounter lunatic overtakes. Maybe it’s just coincidence, but this stretch of road always fills me with dread, and I exhale with relief a little as I progress through the village, and onto the quieter roads to the north.

What is most alarming is that, just like the B4044, there isn’t even a footpath on this stretch of road.

Hmm

Watch out drivers – no footway. Oh, and please drive carefully.

Here we have the curiously British approach to road safety – put up a sign warning drivers that there isn’t a footway, instead of just actually supplying one. And, equally, asking them to drive carefully, rather than forcing them to.

As the houses of the village come into sight, we have a ‘SLOW’ warning. But no reduction in speed limit – still 60mph. With no footway.

Slow

‘SLOW’

The houses appear. Still 60mph, and no footway.

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Reflective bollards. That’s nice

It is only as the centre of the village appears that the speed limit drops to 30mph, and still there is no footway.

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The centre of Coolham

Coolham isn’t a big village, but it does have a primary school, with just over a hundred pupils – William Penn School (named, incidentally, after the founder of Pennsylvania, who lived and worshipped only a mile or so from the village).

Out of interest, I took a quick look at the mode share data from the 2011 School Census, which reveals that 85% of the pupils of William Penn were driven to school. None cycled.

Now of course some of these pupils may have come a distance to the school, from outside Coolham – this is a low-density rural area. But none more than a few miles; the surrounding villages all have their own primary schools. And surely the majority of the pupils will have come from within the village itself, perhaps even from those houses in the pictures above.

If they did, then their parents will, undoubtedly, have driven them to the school, which is less than half a mile away – about 700 metres, door to door, from the house at the very edge of the village. I certainly don’t blame them. They have no choice, forced into car dependency because of a total lack of safe and attractive alternatives.

What was once a quiet country lane has become a fast and busy road, and seemingly at no point during that evolution did anyone stop to think about the consequences for the people who don’t, or can’t, drive.

Posted in Car dependence, Infrastructure, Subjective safety | 34 Comments

Yellow peril – our over-painted streets

By way of a follow-up to last week’s post about Zebra crossings, and how we manage to mess them up, I thought I’d address a similar common design feature of our streets that is hopelessly confusing – double (and single) yellow lines. And single and double red lines.  And double and single yellow kerb markings.

Yes, when it comes to road markings, we’ve managed to create a welter of different ways of permitting waiting, loading and stopping (each subtly different), at different times.

The humble single yellow line prohibits waiting, at certain times of the day.

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The double yellow prohibits waiting at all times, when that period is at least four consecutive months.

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These double yellow markings no longer need to accompanied by the yellow sign if there is no period of restriction. So feel free to modify the signs, when you see them.

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Drivers are permitted to stop to pick up, or set down, passengers on these lines, or to load and unload (where it is not prohibited) – but they are not allowed to ‘wait’.

Simple enough so far, but then it gets more complicated. Holders of disabled blue badges can park (‘wait’) for up to three hours on double yellows, providing they are not causing an obstruction.

Then there are specific loading restrictions that rule out loading on single and double yellow lines. These are marked on the kerb. The single yellow line prohibits loading (either on a single or double yellow line) at the times on accompanying sign.

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 17.18.21The double yellow kerb marking prohibits loading on a double yellow at any time.

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Hmm

Street art

Already we have a large number of permutations, but if you weren’t confused already, we then have no stopping (as opposed to no waiting) markings, in the form of single red lines, which are time-dependent -

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And double red lines, prohibiting stopping at any time.

 Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 18.52.21Phew! And all this without even touching on the fact that cycle lanes will require forms these additional markings within them, to prevent them being obstructed.

But do things really have to be this complicated? (Things might even get more complicated if Eric Pickles has his way and allows anyone to park on double yellow lines for 15 minutes.)

Somehow European countries manage to get away without marking their streets with all this clutter, even in the centres of their cities. Paris -

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Strasbourg -DSCN0083

Berlin -DSCN0719

Köln -
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And of course any Dutch city.

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So there must be a simpler way!

The principle in these European cities seems be that, rather than using an excess of signs and paint markings to show what you can’t do, it is easier just to mark out only the places where you can park, and leave the rest of the street unmarked.

Can we do this already in the UK?

Perhaps a traffic engineer could supply a definitive answer, but there does seem to be a precedent. ‘Shared space’ streets (to use the catch-all term) are increasingly common, and usually free of unsightly double yellows.

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These streets come with signs, on entry, prohibiting waiting, except in marked bays.

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Here’s a similar sign, on entry to New Road in Brighton, which again doesn’t have any painted markings. You can’t park anywhere here, except in the marked bays.DSCN9640

And of course Exhibition Road – which I have criticised for other reasons – also sets a useful precedent, in this regard. No need for double yellows, when you have this sign on entry. No waiting – except in signed bays.

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Could this principle be extended to our town or city centres as a whole? That is – simply using ‘restricted zone’ signs on all entry routes, prohibiting any waiting, except in marked bays? That would allow us to remove all the unsightly yellow markings and clutter from our streets. It would also simplify the way we mark up roads for cycling.

I don’t see why not, given that this method is already being employed. Just like the humble zebra crossing, we seem to have over-legislated our way into an awful way of doing things – could we find a sensible way out?

Posted in Uncategorized | 28 Comments

Continual improvement

We often hear that we are ‘forty years behind’ the Netherlands – for instance, Andrew Gilligan stated last year that

It took 40 years to turn even Amsterdam into Amsterdam, with the kind of cycle facilities it has now

This statistic tends to gloss over just how quickly the Netherlands changed the roads and streets that matter. It certainly didn’t take ’40 years’, and the danger is that such a long timescale provides a justification for inaction.

More importantly, rather than closing that gap, we are falling further behind, as David Hembrow has set out – not just because there has been little or no substantive action in London and elsewhere, but also because the Netherlands is pulling further and further ahead, with constant upgrades and improvements to its network. I came across just one of these examples this week.

I’m planning a bicycle tour of some Dutch cities I haven’t visited before, using the Fietserbond (the Dutch Cycling Union)  planner to work out my routes. This is part of the route it suggests, between Delft and Gouda – the straight blue line on the map.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 21.13.03Examining what it looks like on Streetview, I found that this section… apparently runs across a field.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 21.15.02The wood on the right here is the dark green rectangle in the middle of the map above. The blue line of the route cuts straight where the sheep are. This was slightly concerning – I didn’t want to find myself taking a lengthy detour, or struggling across a field.

I don’t doubt the Fietsersbond planner, so did a bit of looking around. It seems that a huge new bicycle route has been built since the Streetview vehicle passed through. Here’s the junction in 2009 – the bicycle path just ends as it meets the road.

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A year later, and construction has started on an underpass. For bikes.

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You can just about see the bicycle path extending off across the field in the distance (if you want to take a look for yourself, the location is here).

This doesn’t even appear to be a particularly major road, which could have been crossed at surface level – but an underpass is less dangerous, and involves less delay. Just better, even if it costs a huge amount more. The cycle route now forms a nice straight uninterrupted line between the cities of Delft and Zoetermeer.

Here’s a local news item from October 2011, announcing the opening of this new ‘fast cycle route’, with tunnels under this road (the Noordweg) and a railway line. There’s also a pdf showing the new and improved routes.

I will enjoy riding along it!

Posted in Infrastructure, The Netherlands | 6 Comments