Dynamo lighting on a Dutch bike

The end of October – and the clocks going back – is the traditional time for ‘road safety campaigns’ to start reminding people to get lights for their bike, or to make sure they’re fitted.

In my view a large part of the problem is that the vast majority of bikes sold in Britain for everyday use – not for sport, or leisure – do not come fitted with lights as standard. Lights are an optional extra that people have to go and out choose for themselves, and then fit to their bikes. It’s hardly surprising that lots of people don’t bother to do this, or that – come the autumn – the (cheap) lights they have bought have disappeared, or have flat batteries, or have stopped working altogether.

So the problem of people cycling around with lights could be fixed at source if bikes that were aimed at ‘commuters’, or for daily transport cycling, actually came with lights fitted as standard.

With that in mind, I’ve made a short (and hopefully not too rambling) video about the dynamo lighting set-up on my Dutch bike, and how convenient it is.

As I say in the video, what’s great about these lights is that I’ve never once had to think about them since I got the bike. They’re a permanent part of it, so I don’t have to worry about taking them on and off. More than that, because they’re powered by a dynamo in the front hub, I don’t even have to worry about charging batteries. The lights will work every time I come to use the bike, guaranteed. The lighting set-up is entirely hassle-free.

When I make this point about ease of use – and it’s usually at this time of year – a consistent objection is that ‘UK cycling consumers’ don’t want lights forced on them. Apparently they all want to buy a bike without lights (which is pretty much the standard option in UK bike shops) and then buy some additional lights (which will almost certainly be battery-powered, given that fitting dynamo lights after purchase is much more arduous, expensive and technical) which they have to fit themselves.

I don’t find this explanation very convincing. While it is true that ‘cycling enthusiasts’ – people interested in cycling already – may want to customise their bike and add things to it after purchase, your average consumer will want something that is convenient, and that just works, without any extra hassle. By analogy, people don’t go to a car dealership and expect to buy cars without headlights, and then having to go and buy lights separately and add them to their cars.

Lighting systems for utility cycling should work in precisely the same way – they should be an integral part of the bike that requires no extra effort on the part of the user. Since I bought my Dutch bike five years ago, I’ve always had lights that worked, without the risk of losing them, or worrying about charging them. The lights just work when the bike moves. It should be this easy for everyone else who steps into a British bike shop and wants a bike for everyday use.

Posted in Dutch bike, Lights, Omafiets | 39 Comments

An open letter to Lord Adonis

Dear Lord Adonis,

I write regarding your recent comments on social media regarding the cycling infrastructure around Parliament Square.

You have asserted that more people are choosing to use the road instead of the cycling infrastructure, and in doing so imply that, as a consequence, there was little point in building that cycling infrastructure in the first place.

I fear that – regardless of the numbers involved – your comments might betray a failure to understand the reasons behind people avoiding that infrastructure, and that in turn could lead you to erroneously dismiss the utility of separating cycling from general traffic at this location, and indeed at other locations across British towns and cities.

Given the importance of your role as Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, I hope you will forgive me if I seek to explain to you why cycling infrastructure of the kind in question remains essential even if some choose not to use it, and also what we can learn from a minority of people failing to use a specific piece of infrastructure as intended.

In the last decade, there have been sixteen KSI (killed or seriously injured) incidents involving people cycling in Parliament Square, and along the section of road running past the Houses of Parliament, alone.

Every single one of those incidents is a personal tragedy that could have been avoided by separating those people from the motor traffic running through the Square.

The new cycling infrastructure achieves this. It greatly increases the safety of people cycling here by removing entirely any interactions with motor traffic. To take just one example, I have seen families with young children cycling through the Square in complete safety; something that would have been totally unthinkable before this infrastructure was built.

I hope you will agree with me that the failure of some people to use this infrastructure should not – in any way – be used as a reason to take those safe conditions away. There is a great deal of point to this infrastructure in safety terms alone, without even considering its importance in enabling cycling as a mode of transport for people unwilling to cycle at present, with all the concomitant (and significant) benefits in terms of public health, congestion mitigation, and pollution reduction.

When it comes to the matter of a minority of people choosing to use the road instead of the cycling infrastructure through the Square, I’m afraid the explanation is rather obvious, so again forgive me if I am telling you something you already know. (I’m prepared to take that risk to ensure that someone in your influential position is fully appraised of the facts).

If one is cycling in an eastbound direction across the Square, there is, unfortunately, a significant amount of delay at each set of traffic lights on the cycleway – typically it will take two or three times as long to negotiate the Square compared to using the road, a delay of several minutes. I don’t think it should be very surprising, therefore, that some people will naturally choose to avoid that delay by using the road instead, especially given that many of these people will have cycled on equivalently hostile roads as part of their daily journey. (As I hope you know, cycling infrastructure in London is far from ubiquitous). These people are not wilfully choosing danger over safety – they have merely chosen to save time.

By analogy, if we see people choosing to dash across a busy road instead of walking several hundred metres out of their way to use a pedestrian crossing, I trust you will agree with me that we shouldn’t respond by questioning whether pedestrian crossings are useful, or whether there is any point building them. No – an appropriate response is to build pedestrian crossings where people actually want to cross, so they aren’t forced to choose between danger, and inconvenience.

In precisely the same way, if you are concerned about the safety of people cycling (and indeed concerned with enabling more people to cycle), an appropriate response to the issue you raise in Parliament Square has to involve increasing the convenience of the cycling infrastructure there, rather than questioning whether it should even exist at all. Nor should we attempt to pass new laws compelling people to use inconvenient walking and cycling infrastructure. If we are serious about enabling these modes, we should be designing environments where convenience and safety directly, and naturally, align, rather than attempting to compensate for poor design with regressive laws.

In this context, I must emphasise that the new cycling infrastructure built by Transport for London in recent years is of a high standard and does, in general, pass this test. Over 90% of users are indeed naturally choosing to use the cycling infrastructure in preference to the road, because it offers them both convenience and safety. I would be interested to see your figures for Parliament Square, not least because it will be a useful way of identifying the degree of inconvenience there.

I will be more than happy to offer any further clarification,

Yours sincerely,

Mark

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Superhighway users dodging infrastructure to avoid traffic lights

There’s a problem on the Superhighway in central London.

Users are dodging the infrastructure that was created specifically from them (and to keep them safe), simply in order to avoid traffic lights. It’s an all too common problem – should we even allow these people to do this? Do we need to pass a new law to force them to use their own infrastructure?

You won’t need me to tell you that I am of course talking about walkists. Or – to use the more conventional term – ‘pedestrians‘.

Near the Charing Cross bridge, the Walking Superfootway that runs along the Embankment – created specifically for pedestrians, and at great expense – crosses from the Thames side of the road, over to the pavement on the other side of the road. There’s even a detailed plan showing pedestrians exactly how this works. (So there’s no excuse for them not to use it).

Pedestrians should simply follow the yellow line, using the three pedestrian crossings – built specifically for them, for their own safety – to cross the road on one side, before using three pedestrian crossings to cross back again. Simple! They only have to wait several minutes to do so, hardly a great inconvenience compared to just walking along the river without any delay at all.

Yet despite this clear, obvious route for pedestrians to follow, many of them simply refuse to use the walking infrastructure provided for them, and instead choose to dangerously mix with cycling, on the cycle road.

Pedestrians are using this bit of cycle road, instead of using the specific Pedestrian Superfootway walking infrastructure.

What is wrong with these pedestrians?

Some people have argued that they are dodging the infrastructure built specifically for them because they want to avoid a lengthy series of traffic lights and a route that takes them out of their way.

But that can’t possibly be the explanation. These people are simply irrational. Either that, or they are making some kind of point – they’re militant, self-righteous pedestrians, deliberately trying to hold up cycle traffic, instead of using the perfectly good walking path that has been provided for them. Specifically. And at great expense.

Now here’s the thing. In an intriguing parallel, it seems that cyclists themselves are also dodging the infrastructure built for them at great expense – a Cycling Superhighway, if you will – simply in order to avoid some traffic lights. Just like the militant walkists.

Again, these people must be simply irrational. Or if not, they are self-righteous, militant cyclists, making some point or other, or deliberately holding up motor traffic because they derive some sadistic kind of personal satisfaction from doing so.

Clearly, the only way to deal with these problem walkists and cyclists is to pass a law to force them to behave rationally, instead of irrationally.

What we definitely shouldn’t do is –

  • attempt to understand their behaviour;
  • talk to them about what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it, to facilitate that understanding;
  • design our road environments so that convenience and safety is aligned, rather than forcing people to make a choice between convenience and safety.

All that would far too longwinded and time-consuming. Much, much easier to just create a new law to force all these irrational human beings to behave in the ways we want them to behave!

 

…. Naturally if Lord Adonis does want to talk to me about understanding behaviour and responding to it in a productive way, I’m more than happy to engage with him!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The problematic philosophy of ‘shared use’ footways

An old post from Joe Dunkley that resurfaced yesterday in the wake of some comments about Christopher Chope – a former transport minister in the Thatcher government and helmet law enthusiast – has prompted me to reflect on some of the intrinsic problems with ‘shared use’ footways.

The history of ‘shared use’ is itself rather murky, as that post from Joe Dunckley explains.

I understand the “cycle tracks” — that is, crappy shared pavements — that [the Thatcher government] introduced in the 1980 Highways Act were not intended to encourage and enable cycling, but to improve road safety by getting cyclists out of harm’s way while the poor things saved up to buy a car of their own.

This is a good explanation of the background assumption behind the Act – namely, an assumption that cycling was an insignificant mode of transport, one that would either remain insignificant, or disappear completely. The intention of this 1980 Act – which allowed footways to be converted to ‘shared use’ – was clearly not to improve conditions for walking and cycling. Instead it rested on the belief that cycling was so negligible it didn’t deserve its own space, and could just be ‘added’ to the walking environment, presumably until it vanished out of existence.

Of course this brings us to the basic problem with ‘shared use’. It’s a design philosophy that is based around an assumption that cycling is, and will remain, a tiny mode of transport.

‘Shared use’ isn’t future-proof. Anywhere it is implemented in urban areas, in preference to designing for cycling in a space separated from walking (be that cycleways, or low-motor traffic streets) amounts to a prediction that negligible, current, cycling levels will remain negligible.

And indeed, it’s largely a self-fulfilling prophecy. The inconvenience of using shared use footways, coupled with the conflict with people walking that results, serves to actually suppress cycling levels – a point made in this post from New Zealand.

Shared paths are The Hunger Games of urban transport. Pedestrians and cyclists are thrown together in a hostile environment to fight over the breadcrumbs left by cars and see who survives. They are effectively a self-sabotaging form of infrastructure. The more popular shared paths become the worse the level of service gets for both modes, which then undermines uptake.

There’s – quite literally – no space for growth in cycling on shared use footways. To illustrate this, we can look at environments where cycling was formerly accommodated on a shared use footway, but now has its own space. For instance, on Lower Thames Street.

There ins’t a huge number of pedestrians walking here, but combining the current levels of cycle traffic – greatly increased following the construction of CS3 – and the current levels of walking on that footway would clearly be a recipe for enormous conflict. Only with sufficiently wide, separated space for each of these modes will we see any growth in cycling. ‘Shared use’, in an urban context, is self-suppressing.

In choosing to employ ‘shared use’, highway engineers and planners are assuming that cycling will remain a tiny mode of transport. It represents a continuation of that 1980s belief that cycling wasn’t worth bothering with, and indeed that 1980s hope that it actually disappears. Cycling needs its own space if suppressed demand for it is to be unlocked – ‘shared use’ certainly isn’t that space.

Posted in shared use, Transport policy | 7 Comments

Removing separation between walking and cycling does not reduce conflict

The Royal Parks agency in London has a bit of an issue with cycling. The actions it takes – whether it’s adding cobbled speed humps to popular cycling routes in Hyde Park, or attempting to remove a popular cycle route from that same park, or chasing after a cycle taxi service – give the impression of an organisation that views cycling as something a bit… undesirable. For the Royal Parks, cycling is a problem to be managed, rather than an opportunity, and it appears to be actively trying to discourage it.

What’s even more unfortunate is that the policies the Royal Parks are implementing to manage this ‘problem’ are actually making the Parks worse for everyone, whether they are cycling or not.

A sensible strategy for managing cycling on the existing routes in Hyde Park would be to separate walking and cycling from each other, and to give each mode plenty of space, so they are not coming into conflict with one another. Indeed, we can see this policy working well on a number of routes in and around Hyde Park, already.

We can see it on South Carriage Drive, where the new cycle ‘Superhighway’ runs alongside a footway.

Here people can walk and cycle, without getting in each other’s way. They have their own clear, distinct space.

Likewise on West Carriage Drive, where the same ‘Superhighway’ runs in parallel to walking provision.

People walking on the left; people cycling on the right. People walking can do so at leisure, knowing that anyone cycling will not be anywhere near them.

The situation is similar on Rotten Row, with separate walking and cycling space.

This is the route that the Royal Parks want to ban cycling on, following the construction of the ‘Superhighway’, but the evidence suggests – as in the photograph – that this is still a popular route for cycling, despite that new route.

There isn’t a great deal of conflict between walking and cycling here, but if there is, it should be addressed by creating wider, separate space for each mode, not by banning cycling altogether (which at the very least creates issues for people who use cycles as a mobility aid, depriving them of access).

We also see separation of walking and cycling on the (newly widened) Constitution Hill route.

Formerly, cycling and walking were crammed together (albeit separated by markings) on the path to the right. With the new path on the left, both modes have adequate space, and do not come into conflict with each other.

It’s notable that despite absolutely minimal distinction between these two paths, either in terms of signs, or markings (perhaps a deliberate Royal Parks policy), people are naturally opting to walk where other people are walking, and to cycle where other people are cycling. In other words, the natural choice of human beings is to avoid conflict, and to seek out space that is being used by people that are travelling in a similar way to them.

Yet the policy on the Broad Walk in Hyde Park stands directly in opposition to the way people naturally behave, and what they actually want. This path used to have a painted cycle route on one side of it – dating back to the 1980s – with a solid white line, and intermittent cycle symbols.

Broad Walk – image via Streetview

Far from perfect, certainly, but enough to make it reasonably clear to users that cycling and walking should be expected to use distinct parts of this path. If you are walking on the right hand side, you should be able to do so in peace, free from interactions with faster-moving people who are cycling.

All this has been undone, however, as a result of the Royal Parks’ misguided interventions. The distinction between walking and cycling has been removed, and on the remains of the cycle path, ‘Pedestrian Priority’ symbols have been added.

The result – an entirely predictable result – is that people are now cycling across the entire width of the Broad Walk.

By removing distinction between walking and cycling, the Royal Parks have converted what used to be cycle-free walking space into a space that has people cycling in it, entirely innocently.

Presumably the Royal Parks’ intention, with these measures, was to make walking more pleasant, by attempting to ‘control’ cycling. But, in my view, the exact opposite has been achieved. By removing distinctions between walking and cycling, they have created paths where pedestrians are having to deal with people cycling around them, in unpredictable ways. It’s surely the exact opposite of what anyone walking here would actually want.

I dearly hope the Royal Parks start paying attention to how cycling is designed for in some of the photographs at the start of this post; with wide paths, clearly separated from walking, to remove conflict. It simply doesn’t make sense to push the two modes together.

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Punishment

A few days ago, I was descending a hill towards a t-junction – a hill steep enough for me to be cycling at over 20mph. I could see a queue of ten or so cars already waiting at the junction ahead of me, waiting to join the busy main road – a habitual queue at this particular junction. Just as I begin to think about applying the brakes as the tail-end of the queue approaches, a dark, large BMW SUV appears on my right hand side. I shake my head slightly at this pointless overtake, and tuck in behind it. But before I even have a chance to dwell on this irritating bit of driving, another car appears on my right hand side – a grey-ish VW Golf this time – and as well as being pointless, this overtake is actually dangerous, into overcoming traffic, so close that the driver is forced to chop sharply back to the left, before immediately applying the brakes to join the queue.

This kind of behaviour is so familiar, it even has a name, and an abbreviation – Must Get In Front, or MGIF, tunnel-vision on the part of drivers who feel they simply have to overtake regardless of the road context, and despite the fact the overtake actually serves no purpose at all.

Naturally enough, a matter of seconds later, I am sailing past these drivers on their right, filtering to the front of the queue. I slow slightly as I pass the driver of the Golf’s open window – a driver who turns out be a young man – to say ‘well, that was pointless.’ I know that comments like this are rarely constructive, and so it proved in this case. Almost without missing a beat, the driver yelled after me

‘You should be wearing a helmet!’

By this point I was approaching the main road, some distance away, and the stupidity of the comment really didn’t suggest it was worthwhile ‘engaging’ further. I went merrily on my way, dwelling on the thought process behind such an outburst, and a response I could have made. As is always the way, the perfect response arrived a few minutes later, on a quiet lane a mile away.

‘Oh? So you care about my safety?’

Laden with sarcasm, because of course this driver didn’t care about my safety – if he did, he wouldn’t have engaged in a lunatic piece of driving that put him, the oncoming driver and most of all me in danger, yet gained him absolutely nothing at all. So why did he tell me to wear a helmet?

Because I was in his way. Because he was fuming about me, and because he was angry at me, and when you don’t like someone and what they’re doing – in this case, riding a bike on a road, in front of a driver who wants to ‘make progress’ – you look for reasons to object to them, and what they are doing. A lack of helmet was the most obviously objectionable thing about me.

Doubtless if I had been wearing a helmet, this driver would have told me to ‘pay road tax’, or to have a number plate, or to wear a bright yellow tabard. But none of these demands is actually about safety. It’s about punishing people cycling around, in the hope that they’ll get out the way, or go away completely. However much safety equipment I wear, however much tax I pay, however trained and competent I am – even if I’m displaying a massive identification plate with my name and address on my back – I will still be a source of irritation, and people will still look for that next restriction or rule to lumber me with, in the hope that I eventually disappear.

I was already coming to this conclusion – this post was already half-formed in my drafts the day after this incident – when the deluge of reaction to the Charlie Alliston case arrived. Note that this prosecution hinged fairly straightforwardly on the absence of a front brake. The prosecution case was that (rightly or wrongly) Alliston would have been to avoid the collision with a front brake. But the absence of a front brake is something which is already illegal, and will remain illegal. There’s no need to pass a new law requiring the riders of fixed wheel bikes to have a front brake, because… that law already exists.

So, to put it charitably, this doesn’t immediately strike me as fertile ground for launching a whole series of new restrictions and rules on cycling. Yet that has been the reaction from many quarters, an unseemly pile-on to legislate against ‘them’ (and it is always ‘them’, never ‘us’). In the words of CityCyclists – opportunistic grandstanding.

Whether it’s compulsory training, compulsory insurance, compulsory hi-viz jackets, or compulsory helmets, the Alliston case has been the trigger for an outpouring of of grievance, all aimed at punishing cycling in general.

To be clear, this isn’t about safety at all. There has been no indication that any of these things would have prevented the fatal collision last year – instead they rest on a stereotype that cycling is ‘out of control’ and that, by loading it with restrictions, it can somehow be brought back under control, or better yet, restricted out of existence.

Although he is perhaps the most extreme example of this mindset, it’s instructive to look at the writings of Nick ‘Mr Loophole’ Freeman in the wake of the Alliston case.

 

 

Freeman has – consciously or otherwise – given the game away here in his choice of words. If we look up ‘epidemic’ we find –

Ah.

It’s therefore no surprise that if we examine Freeman’s witterings, they all involve loading restrictions onto cycling; restrictions that have absolutely nothing to do with the Alliston case.

Mr Freeman said due to widespread initiatives aimed at getting people out of their cars and using other forms of transport – coupled with rising fuel costs – there needs to be a change in legislation for cyclists.

In addition to abiding by all traffic signals, he said it should be made law for all cyclists to wear helmets and hi-visibility clothing.

Note that this is explicitly (and bizarrely) framed as a trade off – ‘my fuel costs are rising, therefore you should be punished too’. If we apply this to any other mode of transport the ludicrousness is transparent. Perhaps due to the rising cost of bus fares, there needs to be change in the law for motorists – that in addition to abiding by all traffic signals [hello ‘Mr Loophole’] it should be made law for all motorists to wear five-point safety harness and to coat their cars in hi-viz panelling.

These calls for ‘legislation’ make sense only in these terms – it’s an attempt to penalise someone else’s mode of transport, a mode of transport that is a source of resentment and jealousy (indeed, it’s notable that banning people from cycling past stationary traffic frequently crops up in these kinds of calls for legislation). It’s the crab mentality writ large – my mode of transport is frustrating, so your mode of transport should be too. Your mode of transport is increasingly taking up road space used by my mode of transport, so if we make it more onerous and unpleasant, that might even up the scales.

Just need to add some compulsory insurance, compulsory training, compulsory helmets and compulsory hi-viz jackets to even things up

These calls for legislation aren’t about safety at all. They’re about resentment and punishment, punishing a mode of transport that is unorthodox, that gets in the way of other modes of transport and is in conflict with them. We should see those calls for what they are.

Posted in Uncategorized | 39 Comments

The makings of a successful cycle street

The ‘cycle street’ concept is a familiar one to cycle campaigners – a street where, it is claimed, cycling has priority, and ‘cars are guests’, sometimes with added rules about ‘no overtaking’.

I think it’s easy for British campaigners to get excited about ‘cycle streets’ primarily because the concept corresponds largely to existing cycling behaviour on busy British roads. Wouldn’t it be great – they might think – to cycle along this road without drivers attempting to overtake, and with those drivers knowing that they are ‘guests’ on it.

But the most successful ‘cycle streets’ don’t have any of these kinds of rules. The key ingredient is simply ensuring that the street in question isn’t a through-route for motor traffic. Markings, rules and signs are largely superfluous – indeed unnecessary – when this key condition is met. In fact they often aren’t even ‘cycle streets’ in any formal sense.

This is Buitenwatersloot in Delft.

It’s a busy route in and out of the city centre, running westwards from it. From this photo it might look like a ‘cycle street’, but it is in fact just an ordinary Dutch street, with no specific road design – just a blank asphalt surface – and with no ‘cycle street’ related signs.

All we have here is a sign telling drivers it is a dead end after 200m, and telling people cycling it isn’t a dead end for them. It isn’t a dead end for buses either – there is a bus gate, which forms the barrier for private motor traffic after 200m.

Drivers can obviously still use this street – there’s one doing so in this photograph below – but they will only be accessing properties along it, and on the handful of side streets, not going anywhere else.

This road is just part of a small ‘cell’ for driving, shown in red, while forming a direct route for cycling in an east-west direction. The green arrows also show that this cell is permeable for cycling to the south.

This street forms a high-quality cycling environment not because of any road markings, signs, or instructions to drivers, but because it will only ever have very small numbers of drivers using it. It might be nice to mark this street as a ‘cycle street’, but it’s not necessary.

And indeed we should be wary of emphasising markings, signs or instructions to drivers, because they are very easy to implement without changing anything else. It’s very tempting for highway authorities to stick up signs and splash down some paint without addressing through-traffic problems (hello the Quietway programme). ‘Cycle streets’ and ‘Quietways’ can be created with signs and paint, but in reality, it’s the through-traffic issue alone that defines whether ‘cycle streets’ are comfortable, safe and attractive cycling environments.

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Fighting over scraps

This week, it’s evidently the turn of ‘the joggists’ to be the folk devil in the media, helpfully standing in for ‘the cyclists’ who traditionally take on this popular and coveted role.

One isolated incident, in which a man committed what appears to be an unnecessary and unprovoked assault, has proven fertile territory for journalists and opinion columnists to veer off into stereotypes and ludicrous commentary, in much the same way they do following an incident involving someone on a bike. (It’s perhaps no surprise that it’s some familiar faces making precisely same kinds of arguments).

There was rich competition for the most absurd take, but a strong contender surely has to be Sky’s Adam Boulton, who weighed in with this gem –

With an inevitable dig at cyclists

Closely followed by Julie Bindel, who, on Radio 4’s Today Programme, implied that jogging on pavements in cities should be banned entirely, again with an inevitable dig at cyclists –

Webb: Julie Bindel, what’s your solution?

Bindel: Running tracks are great. I like watching runners on tracks, it makes me feel envious about how fit they are.

Webb: What, ban jogging on the pavements?

Bindel: Jogging on the pavements… It’s very different in the city, I think, to runners I’ve seen in the countryside, and of course not all runners are aggressive. But when people are out walking and somebody’s coming at you, at a speed, and showing their clear irritation that you’re in their way, it’s not right. It’s exactly like pedestrians on the pavement when cyclists decide that they’re going to take their bicycle off the road, where they should be. So I think that runners should have their designated spots, and we should give priority to that, and that we shouldn’t be pushed out of the way under any circumstances.

And finally Michelle Hanson, with an extended whinge about joggers in general –

Most joggers do seem mad keen to jog in a straight line and not stop for anyone or anything… most joggers tend to look rather miserable and tormented, as if beset by personal problems, which perhaps stops them from giving a toss about the other people passing by.

Oh, with an inevitable dig at cyclists too, before rambling on about how apparently ill-mannered we are on pavements nowadays, getting in each other’s way.

Not one of these opinions actually engages specifically with the incident in question. They’ve just used that incident as an opportunity to veer off into a moan about joggers in general, crowbarring in cycling at the same time for good measure.

And worse than that, they all deal in the easy currency of blaming individuals for conflict on our streets, rather than examining why people are coming into conflict in the first place, and how we might stop that conflict from occurring at all. (This is a familiar theme, as you might expect…)

A clue is provided in one of the Radio 4 ‘vox pops’ in the piece preceding the interview with Bindel, as a man describes how a jogger annoyed him –

There was a lorry parked on the pavement, and they were digging up the pavement, and there was only a narrow strip. And he kept running towards me. I’m visually impaired, registered blind. He bumped me. But he came off worse. I shoved him back.

The easy option is of course to blame the jogger. But hang on a second. The pavement is being dug up. There’s also a lorry parked on it. Human beings only left with a narrow strip. Would these two people have even collided in the first place if we didn’t treat pedestrians with such contempt?

Bloody joggists running directly towards me, no manners. It’s obviously their attitude that’s the problem, not minuscule pavements.

Might it be the case that joggers are annoying not because of who they are – some inevitable ‘joggist’ tendency – but because pavements are desperately narrow?

And by the same token, might it equally be the case that cyclists are annoying not because of who they are – insert some guff here about ‘lycra louts’, or ‘smug, or ‘self-righteous’ – but because cycling is legalised on these pavements by councils unwilling to reallocate road space, and happy for cycling and walking to come into conflict as a result?

Legal cycling

Or because hostile roads leave ordinary people withnowhere else to go?

Illegal cycling

In reality, all this bickering about cyclists and joggers being annoying and ill-mannered is spectacular point-missing. It’s utterly ludicrous to say that cycling and jogging ‘doesn’t fit’ in our cities and towns. You could only arrive at that conclusion if you think tiny pavements and roads without any cycling infrastructure are somehow god-given and immutable, rather than the product of decades of car-centric planning. Jogging and cycling can obviously fit in cities, and the only reason they come into conflict with walking is because of a failure to give appropriate space to these modes of transport.

How annoying would joggers be in the entirely pedestrianised city centre of ‘s-Hertogenbosch?

Complaining about joggers and cyclists amounts to nothing more than fighting over tiny scraps, the crumbs from the feast on the table. If you’re coming into conflict with them, try looking at the tiny pavement you’re forced to share with them, rather than instinctively stereotyping them.

Just for once, just for once, I’d like to see some engagement with these issues, some constructive criticism of the way our urban environment engenders conflict between human beings, rather than just lazy criticism of them.

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Tackling some Westway misconceptions

The routing of the extension of Superhighway 3 along the Westway has now been formally cancelled, as reported by Ross Lydall, confirming what had already appeared to be a certainty as long ago as last year.

The news has been greeted with the re-hashing of some misconceptions about that Westway route. Given this bit of (potential) cycling infrastructure is now destined to never appear, there is an element of ‘flogging a dead horse’ in tackling those misconceptions – but despite the cancellation, I think it’s valuable to look at them in turn, because they have relevance for cycling infrastructure in general. So here we go.

‘Cycling on the Westway would be unpleasant’

The Westway is undeniably a very busy road, and cycling in close proximity to dense flows of motor traffic on an overpass sounds, at face value, like a pretty unpromising experience. Indeed, the initial visualisations for this route were problematic, with people cycling on this section of CS3 separated from motor traffic by an armco barrier, and nothing else.

But later visualisations – and indeed design details – showed that the separation would be much more substantial, consisting of a concrete base and glass noise screen.

From the cross-section design detail, this barrier would have been higher than the height of someone cycling, as described in this post from last year, by Alex Ingram.

As it happens, I have some experience of cycling along an almost directly analogous cycle path – a relatively exposed cycleway, on a bridge over the Waal river, beside a very busy road, with precisely this kind of barrier between me and motor traffic.

I can report that it was definitely not an unpleasant or horrible experience. You are certainly aware of motor vehicles (including HGVs) whizzing towards you on the other side of the screen, and can hear them, but the noise is enormously reduced. You are essentially insulated from them, and I was free to enjoy the views across the river to the city of Nijmegen as I pedalled across. If the Westway route had been built like this, then it would have been absolutely fine, at least in terms of separation from motor traffic – certainly much more pleasant than, to take an example, the existing separation on CS3 along Upper Thames Street and Blackfriars Underpass.

A related criticism of the Westway route is that it would be socially unsafe due to the length of route without any entry or exit points – just under 2 miles between Westbourne Terrace and Wood Lane, all on the overpass. Again, the bridge shown in the above photograph is almost directly analogous, running for 2.7 km without any entry or exit points, with the exception of one pedestrian step access point, to a man-made island in the middle of the river.

I am, of course, a man, so not best placed to judge social safety, but on the times I’ve cycle across this bridge – including late in the evening, as in the photograph, it was far from my mind. The bridge was relatively busy with people cycling in both directions, and I suspect the same would be true for the Westway cycle route, had it ever been built. Given the total lack of safe routes into and out of central London from the north-west of the city, it would have been in demand, and I doubt it would have felt as isolated (and therefore as unsafe) as critics have implied.

‘The Westway isn’t the best route for CS3’

This is a slightly better objection – if we want to enable people to cycle from the Lancaster Gate area north of Hyde Park, over to White City, then surely there must be a better route – one on the surface – compared to sticking people up on a 1960s flyover?

Indeed, I’m inclined to agree – I would in all likelihood prefer to cycle on a genuine high-quality, Dutch-style cycleway (of the quality of CS3 and CS6) through Kensington and Chelsea. Likewise, I’m sure Transport for London were inclined to agree too – so why did this route end up on the Westway in the first place?

The simple answer is that the ‘Westway route’ runs entirely along roads controlled by Transport for London. They would therefore have had control over implementation, and wouldn’t be at the mercy of recalcitrant boroughs and their potential objections. The Westway route was chosen specifically because it allowed the cycleway to completely bypass the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and roads controlled by that borough.

For context we should recall that Superhighway 9 – also running west, but on RBKC roads, has been completely canned in that borough because the council objected to protected cycleways of any form running along Kensington High Street. This doesn’t inspire confidence for any potential East-West superhighway route running through Kensington and Chelsea on borough-controlled roads, and largely explains why TfL opted to take an easier path and avoid the borough completely. This is confirmed by Andrew Gilligan.

Now, of course, it turns out that the newly-proposed alternative to the ‘Westway route’ is precisely on those RBKC roads – past Notting Hill Gate (where a recent ‘vision’ consultation failed to consider cycling altogether) and down Holland Park Avenue, before heading across the Shepherd’s Bush gyratory and up Wood Lane.

It is entirely possible that a high-quality scheme can be delivered along this route – these are, for the most part, very wide roads – but the history of RBKC and cycling infrastructure doesn’t do much to foster optimism.

The other problem with this objection – that the Westway isn’t the best route – is that the Westway clearly shouldn’t be the only ‘route’ in this part of London. Discussing where ‘the route’ should go misses the point that enabling cycling involves delivering networks, not just isolated routes from A to B. To that extent, the Westway should be just one route among many. All the main roads in this part of London should also have cycling infrastructure on them, and we shouldn’t be forced to choose between them. Putting a cycle route on the Westway doesn’t mean giving up on all other roads in the area. It should complement other ways of getting around this area, not be the sole way of doing so, and should therefore be considered on its own merits.

For instance, for people who live in and around White City, and who might want to head east towards Regents Park, Euston, and Bloomsbury, the Westway would obviously be a useful cycle route (and likewise for people heading in the opposite direction).

The new proposed ‘Superhighway’ route would be rather less convenient for these kids of trips, taking people south towards Shepherds Bush, before leaving this new ‘Superhighway’ route at a point of their choosing to head north again. There also remains the awkward question of what happens to people cycling north from Lancaster Gate on the existing stub of CS3, who will now arrive at a motorway-style junction with nowhere else to go.

So in answer to the objection that ‘the Westway isn’t the best route’, perhaps the best answer is that ‘the Westway should simply be one route among many, not the sole route’.

Or, given it isn’t going to be built now, would have been one route among many.

‘The Westway should be torn down, not have a cycleway put on it’

Maybe it should – it’s a ridiculous stub of motorway-centric planning, one of the small bits that actually ended up being built in central London. But as ‘tearing down’ doesn’t appear to be on the cards any time soon, the most immediate short-term choice is not between tearing the Westway down and keeping it up, it’s between having a Westway as it is now, or a Westway with less capacity for motor traffic and a useful cycle route on it.

Or, at least, that would have been the choice. In any case, the notion that putting a cycle route on the Westway is ‘bad’ because the Westway shouldn’t even exist in the first place is, frankly, deeply silly. (If anything, putting a cycle route on the Westway would partially strengthen a case for removal, by permanently reducing traffic capacity on it).

‘This was a route driven by ego, not by practicalities’

This is an objection that is almost entirely addressed by the ‘route-based’ point above.

The East-West Superhighway didn’t end up on the Westway because of ‘ego’, but because it was a route of last resort. While it did generate headlines, partly because of the symbolism of putting cycling infrastructure on central London’s most car-centric piece of infrastructure, this was actually the path of least resistance, the one least likely to generate difficulties and opposition. Indeed, almost the complete opposite of an ego-driven choice. By contrast, attempting to create a high-quality cycleway route on roads controlled by the London borough that – until now – has proven extremely hostile to high-quality cycleways on main roads is, on the face of it, extremely impractical.


I remain hopeful, of course, and I would absolutely love to see excellent cycling infrastructure come to fruition along these roads in Kensington and Chelsea (and in Hammersmith and Fulham). The Westway, however, would have formed a useful route in its own right, and could already have been under construction, in parallel to any proposed plans for roads in these boroughs.

Posted in London, Superhighways, Transport for London | 10 Comments

A curious kind of safety

Recently I found myself digging for some statistics on the relative risks of modes of transport in Britain. It turns out that (according to Department for Transport statistics) cycling is approximately twice as ‘dangerous’ as walking, if we are looking at the casualty rate per distance travelled.

Table RAS30070, showing relative risks of different forms of transport, based on NTS data

I use ‘dangerous’ in inverted commas because neither walking or cycling are, by themselves, intrinsically dangerous modes of transport – the risk involved comes almost entirely from exposure to motor traffic, rather than from just walking or cycling about in isolation.

Of course, by this metric, cycling (and walking) are both considerably more ‘dangerous’ than being a car driver, but to a large extent that’s because – to illustrate – it takes a very long time to walk 100 miles, and relatively little time to drive that distance. In the time it takes you to walk 100 miles, you will be exposed to many, many more hazards and dangers than you would be in the time it takes you to drive it. So it’s probably better to express the casualty rate as a function of time, rather than of distance, because then it would show more how much risk you were exposed to over that fixed period. In doing so we would find that being a car driver is less obviously ‘safe’ relative to walking and cycling, if we were considering casualty rates by time spent travelling – but the DfT doesn’t measure casualties like this.

However, whichever measure we choose to use, these statistics are still a very misleading measure of actual safety.

Why? Because they fail to account for the fact that the vast majority of the population simply won’t be cycling anywhere near Britain’s roads. They are too intimidating, hostile and dangerous for most of the population to even consider using cycling as a mode of transport. The ‘safety’ of cycling in Britain is therefore of a particularly curious form; much of it simply results from the fact that our roads are simply too terrifying for most people to cycle on. Our cycling safety statistics don’t account for the fact that the most dangerous roads and streets – which will in many cases be useful routes for ordinary journeys – are complete no-go areas for cycling. Nor do they account for the fact that what cycling that is taking place in Britain is heavily skewed away from children and the elderly in particular, both groups that are more vulnerable in different ways. Children are inexperienced, less able to judge speeds and distances, more likely to make mistakes, while the elderly are less able to react and avoid collisions, and more prone to suffering injury when they occur.

If we had a ‘neutral’ distribution of cycling, across all age ranges, combined with all these people cycling on the most direct routes – be that busy urban roads, or fast intra-urban routes, then our cycling casualty statistics would be appalling.

What would our cycle safety statistics look like if young children, and elderly people, were cycling on our busiest roads, mixing with motor traffic?

We can frame this another way. Let’s imagine a town with a bus service. All the buses in this town are fitted with shiny wooden bench seats, so well polished that they’re extremely slippery, and hard to stay seated on as the bus goes around sharp corners. There aren’t any seatbelts. And while these buses do have roofs to keep the sun and rain off…

… they don’t have any sides.

Obviously a tricky prospect, what with those slippery bench seats with no seat belts, and the twisty roads in the town.

For some reason, it turns out that only a very small number of people are prepared to use the town’s buses as they zoom around, from stop to stop. Maybe that’s because at least once a year someone gets killed or seriously injured as they fly sideways off the bus as it negotiates a corner. In any case, the elderly – who find it hard to cling onto the bus seats, to balance their weight and brace themselves – simply don’t get the bus. They use other modes of transport.

Likewise children – who most likely aren’t very aware of the risks of these kinds of buses, and find it hard to concentrate and stay focused on staying on the bus at all times – are also a rarity on the buses. Sadly, despite all the town’s primary schools offering free Busability lessons – including Busability Level 3! – only a handful of parents are prepared to let their children take the bus.

If our public transport was like this – too dangerous a prospect for most people to even consider using – I doubt we would even begin to think it was ‘safe’, or even use language like ‘statistically safe’. We wouldn’t be convinced that buses are safe to use, even if statistics showed that bus passengers were only slightly more likely to die than car drivers. We would say that that is a ridiculous metric, because so many potential bus passengers are simply too scared to use that mode of transport in the first place.

It doesn’t even have to be public transport. We could imagine a different town, one where all the pedestrian crossings only gave people walking a couple of seconds to cross the road, before motor traffic started speeding through again. Footways are also intermittent, giving up at random, forcing people to walk out into streams of heavy motor traffic.

Once again, as with the bus example, it turns out that in this town, only a small, fit and able minority are actually able to walk anywhere, those people who can sprint across the road in the short amount of time allocated to them, and are prepared to negotiate with motor traffic. Everyone else – again, most likely the elderly, people with disabilities, children – will either stay at home, or get ferried around by other modes of transport. Walking is simply too dangerous an option for them.

Under these circumstances, would we say that walking in the town is ‘safe’?

But I think the situation with cycling in Britain is almost directly analogous. We have a mode of transport that simply isn’t viable for most people – not for any intrinsic reason, but because of hostile conditions. Cycling in Britain is the equivalent of the bus that you’ll slide off of if you don’t keep paying attention, or have the strength and ability to cling onto. It’s the pedestrian crossing that only the fastest and the fittest are able to use (and even then with some degree of risk). And because these hostile conditions have existed for a very long time now – since the advent of mass motoring – we’ve grown extraordinarily complacent about them. Danger and risk are seen as almost innate elements of making journeys by bike. Yet if we introduced the level of hazard and risk involved in cycling for ordinary journeys in Britain onto public transport – the kind of hazard and risk that simply prevented most people from even using public transport in the first place – there would be a justifiable outcry.

This outcry is almost entirely absent when it comes to cycling because we’ve become completely accustomed to our road network being totally unfit for ordinary people to use. We even acknowledge this when we boast about a mere eight miles of ‘family-friendly’ cycling conditions, for just one day. 

By direct implication, the other 364 days of the year, and the near totality of the capital’s road network, is entirely family-hostile.

Perhaps cycling is ‘safe’, but it’s certainly a very curious kind of safety.

Posted in Uncategorized | 34 Comments