18 Responses to The Understanding Walking and Cycling report – an assessment

  1. Chris says:

    Thanks for your take on this. It is reassuring to read a commentary of this report with the hysteria taken out.

  2. The “headline” synopsis of the report, from Prof. Pooley himself (as I understand it) was incredibly irresponsible – especially with a DfT that is hostile both to cycling, and to any suggestion of curbing the motor car in and around cities.

    Given the focus on PR and “common sense” in politics, I think the outcry over such a poorly worded release is entirely understandable. I can’t speak for Mr. Geffen, but I wonder if he’s taking the sort of approach “Drawing Rings Around the World”‘s author has suggested, i.e. that “soft” measures expand the numbers of those currently cycling, which creates a population of voters more favourably disposed to “hard” measures.

    Or it may just be about protecting people as they dash between the disconnected bits of infrastructure.

  3. Carlton Reid says:

    The report makes some excellent, common-sense suggestions and ought to be read more widely. Which is why it was such a shame more care wasn’t taken over the paragraph regarding existing cyclists. The European Cyclists’ Federation – a pro separation org – called this paragraph a “terrible mistake”. The crap infrastructure we get in the UK is very much because cyclists are rarely consulted. If policy makers keep on allowing car-fixated engineers create cycle infrastructure, we’ll keep getting the crap.

    I am not suggesting ‘vehement vehicular cyclists’ do the designing. If Professor Pooley’s recommendations ever went native it could mean cyclists from the GB Cycle Embassy and other seperation groups never get a look-in either. The paragraph could have been easily edited to include existing cyclists as well as would-ride-a-bike-if-it-was-safer folks.

    I didn’t drag the quote from an inaccessible part of the study. It was prominent and it was also highlighted in the official press release. Why is highlighting this fact “hysterical”?

    In the piece I also linked to Dr Dave Horton’s excellent piece on separation.


    This doesn’t make the same kind of mistakes as the study, even though Dr Horton was part of the study.

    Get this. I want what you want. So, I despair when academics who ought to know better write stuff that I know will be damaging.

    I’ve spent 25 years of my career promoting everyday cycling in the UK. I created On Your Bike, a non Lycra magazine for family cycling; I created a smartphone app to get new people out on their bikes, after being shown bike-friendly routes; as part of the Bike Hub levy committee I was responsible for recommending funding for projects such as Darlovelo’s Beauty and the Bike project (getting teen girls on Dutch bikes in Darlington). Like the old Cycling England mantra, I want more people riding, more often.

    My sin, it seems, is to want people to ride now, even if there’s no perfect cycling infrastructure. Of course more people will ride when we get better infrastructure, and I’ve always championed quality infrastructure, but if policy makers are encouraged to ignore my kind of views, my kind of experience – and yours, too – we’ll end up with botched jobs. As usual.

    I suspect that in the Netherlands, engineers ask what existing users of the infrastructure want in the future and also ask what it will take to get non-users to use the infrastructure. It would be ludicrous not to involve the existing users. All must be involved. Why is this so heretical?

    • Carlton –

      Maybe ‘hysterical’ was unfair, but my point is that this is not about the design. If we hypothetically accept that the report does indeed suggest that current cyclists should be ignored – the ‘ignoring’ has nothing to do with consultation about the specific design of infrastructure. It is instead about the broad policy approach.

      For instance – what kind of junction treatment might we need to apply to say, busy London junctions, to get more people cycling. If you ask current cyclists, I suspect a lot of them might say they are fine – perhaps we need a bit of reduction in traffic speed and volume, but nothing more than that. If you ask non-cyclists, however, they are probably going to want separation from traffic before they tackle these junctions.

      That’s the kind of shift of approach that the report is proposing, and what it means by ‘do not base policies on the views and experiences of current cyclists’. It is not saying anything about ignoring the views of current cyclists when it comes to what that infrastructure should actually look like.

      So in a sense I can agree that the passage is a ‘terrible mistake’ because it has allowed a lot of cycling campaigners to get hot under the collar about something that isn’t actually meant at all. Of course, we should all think about whether writing headlines about what we know the report isn’t actually suggesting, or even meaning to suggest, is helpful, given that it reinforces a mistaken impression of what you admit is good research.

  4. Carlton Reid says:

    SInce the wrote the above, Professor Pooley has replied to an earlier email of mine (my email given below):

    “I am glad that you have found much of our research useful, and I am sorry if we caused unintended offence. I do agree that, on reflection, it would have been better to include the word only in the statement that you object to. It was certainly not our intention to ignore or sideline the work of cycling organizations. But, I would stand by our view that it is essential also to embrace the views of non-cyclists and that these views may differ from those of existing cyclists. I don’t think that our views differ very much in this respect.”

    My email to Professor Pooley:

    So much of this report is excellent, but this line – “Our message for policy makers is, do not base policies about walking and cycling on the views and experiences of existing committed cyclists and pedestrians.” – is not helpful. For a start it’s what happens already. And it’s why we get crap cycling lanes.

    The health professional quoted in my piece gets it right. We have to listen to all users and non-users. Non-experts can bring much to the table, but sidelining experts is folly. The doctor I quoted was hopping mad about the line above. She sees this sort of thing in the NHS all the time. Outside designers create consulting rooms without asking doctors what they want: and then the consulting rooms have to be changed at great expense when they don’t work. Obstetric equipment has been designed to work from a certain direction without consultation with obstetricians who, in the UK, work from the opposite direction. Equipment all trashed: millions of pounds wasted, all for the want of including the views of experts.

  5. Very well written post.
    Perhaps that sentence could be formulated better, but the point is – comitted cyclists had been consulted on many occassions about cycling infrastructure and usually they said they didn’t want any. So I do think it’s time to ask people who are not cyclists. Ask them about what would get them on a bike. They won’t be asked about design details, I am sure of it. And then again I doubt very much that just being a commited cyclist makes you an expert on road design. Highly doubt it. Oh and if they ever do consult committed cyclists I’d rather they consulted those from Netherlands instead of UK.
    I think that the cycling world has had enough of committed cyclists who know better what’s best for everybody. For past 30 years those people denied access to normalized cycling to people by being afraid of loosing their right to the road and other nonsense. Most of current cyclists will cycle anyway – let’s focus on those that need encouragement, on those who have to traverse huge gyratories to get their kids to school.

    • “I think that the cycling world has had enough of committed cyclists who know better what’s best for everybody. For past 30 years those people denied access to normalized cycling to people by being afraid of loosing their right to the road and other nonsense.”

      What an astonishing strawman this is. “Hard” all road, all the time vehicularists don’t comprise all committed cyclists, or all cycling campaigners. Pretending that they do will just further divide a small group of people who basically, want the same outcome.

  6. els76uk says:

    thanks for an excellent summary.

    now, will anyone important pay any attention? sadly, i doubt it.

    the lower lea crossing in newham, near ExCeL London, has an example of a big long segregated cycle lane which is almost worthless. Going west, it’s only obvious that it’s there at all when you’re on the wrong side of the barrier (I had to hunt for the entrance using google street view); and it’s covered with litter, bits of tree, and sand. Travelling east, you’d have to go round a busy roundabout to access it (it’s here http://g.co/maps/fvahj in case you’re interested)

  7. Richard Mann says:

    And now back to the business of trying to find an effective solution that is politically, financially and spatially practical…

    I suggest we might make more progress if we don’t treat “traffic” and “arterial roads” as immutable. Slowing traffic “creates space” because slow traffic needs less width. Reducing traffic “creates space” because you can get rid of multiple lanes at junctions.

    In the first instance that creates enough space for cycle lanes, and if you keep at it, it provides enough space for a variety of things (which might include cycle tracks, but would also include wider pavements or bus lanes).

    It’s important to be clear where the battleground is. There are a lot of roads which would be very useful for everyday short-distance cycling (what I call “main” roads – roads that have a lot of traffic but don’t really need more than a single lane in each direction). Those are the ones where space can gradually be won from the motorists.

    • I suggest we might make more progress if we don’t treat “traffic” and “arterial roads” as immutable. Slowing traffic “creates space” because slow traffic needs less width. Reducing traffic “creates space” because you can get rid of multiple lanes at junctions.

      Forgive me, but traffic and arterial roads are immutable, at least for the foreseeable future. These roads are busy precisely because they lead where people want to go, and they (usually) present the most direct route to and from those destinations.

      The issue is about what mode of transport that traffic is using. If we treat ‘traffic’ simply as ‘people making journeys’, then getting people cycling won’t reduce the ‘traffic’ along these arterial roads (in fact it may even increase it) because they have simply switched mode.

      As for your comments about reducing (motor) traffic speed and volume – well, this is a direct repeat of the Roger Geffen approach. The challenge, of course, is how to reduce that (motor) traffic volume on these arterial roads. My proposal is to create the paths and infrastructure on these roads, that make it safe and convenient enough to use a bicycle for people who might otherwise be using a car.

      Your approach is?

      • Richard Mann says:

        I guess I’m just imagining the traffic speed and volume reduction that’s been achieved in Oxford over the years.

        My approach is squeeze in cycle lanes (so that the space remaining for cars is no more than 3m each way), tighten up junction geometry, make separate back street routes for families, prioritise bikes & buses so the motorists accept they have an alternative, and last-but-not-least restrict parking/access so that motorists use the alternatives.

  8. If they had only said: “do not base policies about walking and cycling SOLELY on the views and experiences of existing committed cyclists and pedestrians”, then there might not have been such a problem. In the absence of “SOLELY”, it is understandable that the default is taken to be “AT ALL”.

  9. els76uk says:

    absolutely agree with MrHappyCyclist. It’s an Andrew Gilligan moment. The absence of a single word completely changes the meaning – for those wishing to draw conclusions that the authors didn’t intend to be drawn, at least.

  10. Simon Parker says:

    Thank you for this excellent summary. I agree with almost every word that you say.

    My dealings with CTC are limited to just one person, Jeremy Parker, who explained in 1997 (http://www.jfparker.demon.co.uk/why_LCN_bad.html) why it was a bad idea to think in terms of a network. He does make some very good points, I have to say, but his central theme – that the entire street network effectively serves as a cycling network – ignores the fact that there are certain routes which are more useful to cyclists than others.

    If CTC have now accepted the value of a comprehensive, city-wide cycling network developed, where necessary, to European standards, as the LCC appear to have done, then more strength to their elbow. But I think Professor Pooley is right to insist that it is essential to embrace the views of non-cyclists. ‘Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities’ explained: ‘Ideally, one should start by studying a cycle network which, as a priority, is designed for beginners and hesitant cyclists (‘tortoises’), but which must, if possible, also be able to satisfy the requirements of swift and experienced cyclists (hares).’

    I said that I agreed with almost every word that you said, but not quite. You said: ‘It is not at all clear to me why a policy that aims to construct [segregated] paths along our arterial networks should have to wait for, in Geffen’s words, ‘space to be created’ by lowering traffic speeds and volumes. You simply take that space away by building the paths in the first place.’

    This might seem a touch semantic, but to my more mind, it’s more about redistributing that space, rather than taking it away. The space is there; it’s just not very often being used as best it might.

    I keep being drawn back to the Blackfriars Junction. Very obviously the space is there. I don’t know how wide segregated two-way cycling tracks need to be, but it ain’t going to be considerably much more than the three metres that TfL have already given over to cycling. Obviously if there was a segregated two-way cycle track over the bridge, then TfL would have to deal with it at either end, which might be more problematic, but my guess would be that they have not even looked at it.

  11. Pingback: The stigma of cycling | As Easy As Riding A Bike

  12. Clive Durdle says:

    There are other groups 🙂 disabled cycling sets, older cyclists, parents with h children cycling, kindergatens. :what is that phrase? Nothing about us without bout us.?

    Just show everyone’s views have been considered

    Ok n this network discussion, isn’t the issue how might we best live together, one of the points of solving this is not hissing networks towards certain groups, but the core issue is about land use? Where are our ballets of the streets? Has anyone actually read Jane Jacobs?

  13. Clive Durdle says:

    Sorry spellcheck has completely mangled above

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