John Franklin in action

I mentioned in a recent post that John Franklin – the author of Cyclecraft, and prominent U.K. advisor on cycling policy and design – appears to have one governing principle, which is that cyclists should be on the roads, and cycling with traffic. What seems to lie behind this principle is his belief that designing off-road facilities for cyclists, of whatever standard, would erode cyclists’ right to use the vehicular road network. This ‘right’ is Franklin’s shibboleth. In his words 

Maintaining our right to cycle on any road (other than motorways) must always be a top priority, for if we lose that right we can have no expectation of being treated any better elsewhere.

I’m not sure the conclusion necessarily follows – but the message is clear, and the outcome obvious. Franklin is more concerned with keeping cyclists’ right to use the road network, than with constructing good off-road facilities that might encourage novice cyclists, or those who do not like mixing it with traffic. It means telling these novices, or nervous cyclists, to ‘train themselves’ to use the more hostile parts of the road network, rather than advocating the adaptation of that road network to allow them to get from A to B without negotiating with fast, heavy traffic.

There are a great many roads that are not suitable for Level I [nervous] cyclists but it would be impractical to correct this in most instances and some of the changes could be detrimental to Level II and Level III riders. The most practical way forward to improve conditions for Level I cyclists is through cycle training, to give these people the skills to cycle more confidently and thus more widely.

Franklin is arguing that adapting the road network to make it more friendly for nervous cyclists will quite often be to the detriment of Level II and III cyclists (this need not be the case, of course – but Franklin has a track record of ignoring how the Dutch consistently build high-quality infrastructure that is fast and convenient for all cyclists). So his somewhat selfish solution is to tell the grannies and the kids to ‘man up’ and cycle like him, presumably by increasing their ‘sprint speed’ to 20 mph.

Here’s an example of how Franklin’s principles translate into the real world. Last year, Stroud District Council commissioned him to produce a report, assessing the options for encouraging cycling in the District. The above quote from Franklin is from p.16 of the report, and it gives a rather obvious clue as to the type of solutions that will be proposed within it.

Pages 99-100 deal with a short stretch of the A38 road, between Eastington and Whitminster. The section of this road, just south of Whitminster, looks like this –

A cycling campaigner’s wet dream. It’s perfect –  an existing dual carriageway, that has been restricted to one lane in both directions. The road space is already there. All we need to do is shuffle it around slightly. Move the traffic lane across to the right lane, and paint in a good dollop of separation. Easy. If we were feeling more ambitious, we could provide some physical separation, some kerbing, along the length of this road. The motorists wouldn’t even be affected.

This is an open goal, in other words. We just need to stub the ball across the line.

What does Franklin think?

A bit unambitious, to put it mildly.

Of the two options he suggests, the first simply involves increasing the width of the motor vehicle lane by 1.5m, which is frankly a little pointless. The second, presented in brackets, is slightly better, removing more of the hatching, to give a 2.0m cycle lane, with a 0.5m divider.

Curiously, the option of removing the hatching entirely and allocating the whole of the left-hand lane to a cycle lane, and a divider, is not even presented. Given that this would be just as easy to implement as the two options in Franklin’s report, its absence is odd, to say the least.

Just as interesting is that of the two options Franklin does give, the latter – superior, to my mind, given that it moves the vehicle lane further over to the right, and provides a wide-ish cycle lane with some separation – is included almost as an afterthought (in brackets!) behind his apparently chosen option of no cycle lane at all.

I find it almost perverse that Franklin presents, preferentially, the option that barely amelioriates a deeply hostile environment for cycling, while simultaneously ignoring an obvious option that would give, at no extra cost or difficulty, the greatest possible space, and separation, for a cycle lane.

Franklin thinks ‘training’ is the best way of getting nervous cyclists to use roads like this. I don’t know whether that belief  lies behind his choice of ‘improvement’ to this stretch of the A38, but I think he’s wrong. No amount of training is ever going to make cycling here, with or without slightly less hatching, feel safe or pleasant.

This entry was posted in Cyclecraft, Cycling policy, Infrastructure, John Franklin, Road safety. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to John Franklin in action

  1. Edward says:

    While I’ve heard the name John Franklin before, I did not realise that local councils commissioned him to provide advice on cycling infrastructure. How does that come about? I had a quick look at the Cyclecraft website and some of the testimonials from people who have read his book. The first said:

    “This book opened my eyes and explained that often the safest place
    to ride is in the path of cars simply because you are more visible to

    That does concern me. If I told my 8 year old daughter to pull out into the path of cars so she could be seen better, I think my wife would probably leave me.

    • OldGreyBeard says:

      “If I told my 8 year old daughter to pull out into the path of cars so she could be seen better, I think my wife would probably leave me.”

  2. livinginabox says:

    Franklin may know about positive cycling for confident cyclists, but his expertise clearly does not extend to understanding about cycling infrastructure suitable for all abilities. He is clearly deluded into believing that everyone can achieve and maintain 238 Watts (Racing bicycle on tops), 285 Watts (MTB), or 365 Watts (Roadster) for sprints.

    I can cycle a lot farther than many, but as an old fart with a heart condition who can happily cycle 55+ miles. However, after hours in the saddle, I might be able to ‘sprint’ at maybe 12-15 mph, but only briefly. The power just isn’t there. Franklin’s a deluded idiot.

    Cycling needs to be made safer, not by making cyclists faster, but by slowing down motor-vehicles in towns and residential areas, and separating cyclists with dedicated infrastructure, as appropriate (see the Dutch model).

    Franklin should STFU and stop damaging British Cycling, which is exactly what he’s doing. His flawed incompetent and ludicrous opinion, versus the evidence of carefully and progressively tuned infrastructure, tried and tested over decades.

    Franklin is deluded, expertise in one field confers no expertise whatsoever in other fields. Belief in personal expertise is common among those that possess little or none. It is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  3. Mr Colostomy says:

    It is frustrating to have someone like John Franklin acting as a consultant on cycling to local authorities and government. Let’s remember that this man’s career depends entirely on maintaining a road network so hostile to cycling that people feel the need to accept training to psychologically manipulate drivers into not killing them, training which comes from a book which he authors. It almost seems as if Franklin has a vested interest in restricting cycling to only and elite who are most physically fit, technically proficient and possess nerves of steel.

    John Franklin has lost all connection to the reality of cycling for the everyday person. The fact that his influence remains strong and that he possesses a cult of deluded followers is helping to stifle the potential for cycling to grow in the UK.

    • stabiliser says:

      The ‘vested interest’ angle had not occurred to me – but maybe I am not as cynical as you!

      I’m not sure it’s justified though – I think Franklin would like to see everyone cycling confidently on the roads, with or without training. The trouble is it’s a pipe dream.

  4. Alex Taylor says:

    With regard to his ideas of training to boost confidence levels, and modifying such a road layout as above to slightly widen the existing motor traffic lane but not include a cycle lane, I wonder how effective such measures are against an inattentive lorry driver sending a text while speeding? Does he think that training cyclists to be more confident is some kind of magic bullet that will make them impervious to being crushed by drivers of heavy, fast moving vehicles who aren’t paying the slightest bit of attention to the road ahead?

  5. Alex Taylor’s point above is a very good one. The problem with “Cyclecraft” style cycling is that, though it teaches the cyclist to “take control of the road”, ultimately he or she is not really in control. I have known a number of people thoroughly schooled in Franklin’s “assertive riding”, with years of experience and top skills in vehicular cycling, some of them even instructors in it, who have come to grief and ended up severely injured or dead.

    The problem, I believe, is that it is possible to push assertive cycling beyond the point of prudence, and Franklin’s “method” encourages this. Very assertive vehicular cyclists can cycle for years “taking the lane” and “controlling the traffic” behind them, but eventually the day comes when the driver behind them is the one-in-a-million, or maybe only one in 100,000, psychopath who will deliberately/ run down the cyclist who is “in their way”, and all the assertive cycling and high cadence capability will not save them from him – whereas a more compromising cycling style, recognising that sometimes the risk from opening car doors is less than that from the aggressive driver behind, just might.

    I have long thought that one of the problems with getting good conditions for cycling in the UK is that we now have a small “industry” of Franklinesque cycle training which depends for its existence on the maintenance of pretty much the existing cycling conditions. Yes, we would still need cycle training if we had continental-style safe cycling infrastructure, but it would be a different type of cycle training, one that is not yet understood in the UK.

    • Having sat in local meetings with Bikeability type trainers I can confirm this attitude, I quote “why are we wasting time and money on infrastructure when we just need to train more people?” During a discussion on improving facilities at a hostile roundabout.

  6. OldGreyBeard says:

    Having just spent the day in Oxford having driven through Aylesbury to get there, all I can say is that there are places in the UK which ignore the vehicular cycling approach and do build quite a bit of segregated facilties.

  7. Donk says:

    I’ve never heard of JF before but assertive cycling is definitley important. I do think JFs comments about the A38 are wrong, on long stretches of road like this some mild segregation would be advisable. The problem with seperate cycle lanes is that at some point you will have to come onto the road network and the cycle lane users will (probably) be unused to traffic and/or be lulled into false sense of security. If the government suddenly decided cycling was good and gave over 50% of the road networks for cycling wahey fill your boots with segregated cycling, but as it is no ta, bad move.
    Alex taylor’s lorry driver will wipe out a family in a car (it’s happened) that’s not a cycling problem that’s a retarded lorry driver problem. On urban roads you need to use assertive cycling, I was reminded this morning as I saw a cyclist 2″ from the kerb almost get left hooked as he went across a roundabout. On out of town A roads a decent cycle lane which merges properly with traffic again before junctions without disadvantaging the cyclist is a good move I reckon.

    • stabiliser says:

      Donk, I don’t disagree that assertive cycling is important – I certainly think that it’s the safest way of using the UK road network.

      But firstly, this isn’t about a choice between assertive cycling, and segregation. And secondly, and more importantly, I think segregation goes a long way towards solving the problems that assertive cycling tries to counteract.

      Take a look at this video of an unsegregated Dutch street –

      No segregation. But everyone is confident enough on a bike to ‘own the road’. I think there are two reasons for this – a) if cycling is made easier, people will do it more, and confidence comes naturally, without training, and b) most Dutch people cycle, so when they are in their car, they are fully aware of the respect cyclists require.

      Making cycling more easy and convenient, the Dutch way, solves – at a stroke – the problem of having to train cyclists to be more assertive.

      • Donk says:

        My comments were mainly aimed at some previous posts. The dutch model sounds good but as I said it would mean the government getting serious and giving over a shedload of roads (not just road space) to cyclists, therefore seriously gimping the cars and their drivers movements. Tantamount to political suicide at the moment so not going to happen soon. But we can hope.

      • stabiliser says:

        I am also pessimistic – but I’d like to think there is an appetite out there for change. It certainly won’t happen if no-one asks for it, which is what has been happening for the last thirty+ years.

      • Multi Grooves says:

        Then you are talking about legal issues; It’s a fact that in the UK, (in my mind at least) if you want to get away with murder, you get in your car and claim SMIDSY. Then you’ll get a paltry 6month sentence with your licence back after a year.

        People need to be compelled where it hurts, in the wallet that and via proper sentencing if you drive like it’s mario kart then you will pay the FULL consequence of your actions.

        Instead we are seeing these crazy jail terms for looters yet those who’ve sanctioned this in Westminster who stole far more than a pair of Nike Air Max still walk free while paying lip service to their ‘belief’ in the benefits of cycling. (I know it’s slightly off point)

      • Cussy says:

        Sorry to say I lost interest after 5 minutes of the video. How many motor vehicles used the junction? Maybe half a dozen? What does that tell us?

        • That the Dutch structurally separate cyclists and motor vehicles.

          • Cussy says:

            Ahhh – is it just a typo error in the preceding sentence then that reads “Take a look at this video of an unsegregated Dutch street”. I’ve just started researching this and was expecting to see how they have improved unsegregated streets. But this actually is a segregated street is it?

            • No, not a typo. There are no cycle tracks on this street. However the only motor vehicles you see here are accessing local roads; that’s why there are so few of them. The Dutch keep motor vehicles apart from cyclists on busy roads with cycle tracks; on residential streets separation is achieved through removal of motor traffic. Fairly simple stuff.

  8. Donk says:

    In response to David Arditti, I’ve been cycling in traffic a long time and since learning to ride assertivley the amount of abuse (beeps, shouting etc) I get from drivers who percieve* that I am slowing them down has risen BUT the amount of near misses I have has reduced. A trade off I am happy with. I think there’s a fair amount of luck in it as with all things in life. I regularly see riders get away with atrocious riding, eg hugging the kerb then swerving violently out into traffic to avoid a parked car, they live on seemingly oblivious to the risk, some won’t, some assertive riders will ride on (in traffic) into their 90s some won’t.

    Mind you people who bimble along at slow speeds hugging the kerbs are going slower so can stop quicker and can probably manage oblivious drivers cutting them up or pulling out in front of them. Their faster cycling brethren can’t/won’t. Just a thought.

    *I normally ride in rush hour so chances are they will only be delayed a few seconds joining the queue/tailback at the next junction

    • OldGreyBeard says:

      How is assertive cycling appropriate for children cycling to school? It isn’t is the simple answer. Children are one of the biggest groups who would cycle if there were better facilities.

      In Leighton Buzzard, which received a lot of Cycle Town funding, practically all children have been taught Bikeability. The result? They cycle on the pavements as their parents will not let them cycle on the roads.

      Pavement cycling is a bad solution to the conditions for cycling found on our roads but I find that increasingly I cannot argue against it.

      A proper i.e. Dutch standard, cyclepath network would be of more use to more people and probably cost less than HS2 and have less environmental impact. It’s not about money, its about choices.

  9. Donk says:

    “How is assertive cycling appropriate for children cycling to school?” how is it not appropriate? Kids should be able to use the roads (I’m not suggesting they start out riding down the A38) The dutch style would be better, less cars more cyclists, but as stabiliser says no-one is asking for it, not even CTC as far as I know.

    • OldGreyBeard says:

      I don’t know any parent who would allow their children to cycle on the main roads in Leighton Buzzard which by London standards are pretty tame. I want my daughter to be able to cycle to school next year but my wife says it is too dangerous even if I accompany her. This is for a route which is 2/3 off road.

      As for the CTC, it is so out of touch it’s beyond a joke. Lots of individuals and local campaign groups are asking for Dutch style, but the CTC and similar national groups are ignoring this. The one that stands out as the exception is Sustrans which in my view has done more for increasing cycling in the last few years than the CTC. This is certainly true in Leighton Buzzard where our cycling renaissance started with the surfacing of the towpath for NCR6.

      What I think is actually happening is that Dutch Lite style infrastructure is being put in, often due to a more enlightened Highways dept in an area or effective campaigning.

      Take a look at Aylesbury for example.

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  11. It’s interesting to see the rather poor proposals as well as people’s reactions to them. One option which doesn’t seem to have been discussed is to shift the cars over onto what was one side of the dual carriageway and give the other side to bikes. After all, there’s a perfectly good motorway paralleling the A38 at this point.

    There is precedent for this in the UK. I found it and photographed it on the A74 South of Glasgow when I rode LEJOG in 2006. Given that it is so easy to achieve, this is surely what any consultant should have asked for.

    IMO, suggesting that no segregation at all, or even an on-road cycle lane, on a busy fast road like this is crazy. Doubly so when it’s so easy in this example to do something much better.

    Anyway, on to some of the other points made. Edward’s 8 year old really should be able to cycle to school safely without anyone suggesting “the primary position” alonge the way. Eight and a half is the average age at which Dutch children travel independently to school.

    People sometimes get the wrong end of the stick regarding segregation in the Netherlands. It’s true that there are a mere 29000 km of cycle path vs. 130000 km of road, however that doesn’t mean that cyclists spend most of the their time riding on “roads” as you’d know them. Rather, all the busy roads have segregated cycle paths, many of the minor ones too, and the bulk of the “shared” roads have been quite aggressively tamed for cyclists such that you rarely see a car on them, and so that they don’t provide a through route by car to tempt drivers to rat-run (rat-running is nearly unheard of due to it being designed out). Quite frequently now, cyclists are officially given priority over drivers. This even applies on small roads in the countryside.

    That all these things are counted as “roads” often misleads people into thinking they are the same as their “roads”.

  12. I know I’m over a year late in pitching in on this one, but I’d like to point out that both of Franklin’s solutions involve moving the cat’s eyes, which would be more difficult and more expensive than simply leaving them where they are and marking out the left lane for bikes (with a buffer, of course) and the (currently hatched) right lane for cars.

    I can’t believe transport authorities turn to him for cycling advice! It must be because he makes such small demands on their budget by only tinkering around the edges, but still enables the council to say “hey, we’re cycling-friendly!”

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  14. Andy Dayton says:

    In the example you gave of the hatched road, the hatching doesn’t actually do much, because due to its broken line, it can be used – well that’s my understanding. So making it thinner will actually do nothing anyway, it will still be used by small cars to fly past slower cars, thus tending to push cars to the left. It beggars belief that any adviser would actually say ‘don’t put a cycle lane on it’.

    Although John Franklin’s book has useful advice in it, it also has uninformed advice in it, such as saying that cycle helmets are often smashed in accidents (which he has assumed to mean the helmet did nothing) – actually it absorbed a load of energy, giving the rider a chance,

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