69 Responses to They built it, and they didn’t come – the lesson of Milton Keynes

  1. Luke says:

    I don’t know Milton Keynes well, but my one experience of driving through it was that there was no traffic. It’s easy to drive around and you can park easily. What’s unusual for a British and probably European town is not really the bike lanes, it’s the ease of driving. If you own a car, that’s the sensible and pleasant way to get around (I’m ignoring health, environment, whether all towns could be like that). A paradise has been created for cars and, lo and behold, people drive rather than ride bikes. Who would have guessed it?

    • Luke says:

      PS Having seen a post below, can I make clear that I am not in any way criticising your excellent explanation of why the bike lanes aren’t inviting. And I agree that without the (uninviting) bike lanes, the proportion of bike trips would be about 0%. I just thought that there is another reason why MK is not really a good basis for argument.

    • I know Milton Keynes pretty well as an obstacle to my journey too and from Bedford. It’s an obstacle on a bike, it’s a lesser obstacle in a car. There’s a lot of traffic, at any time of day, and the grid system ALWAYS spews you onto a extended tailback by the M1. The driving style witnessed between roundabouts on the way to the traffic jam is pretty unpleasant, and with the filtering at gyratories and roundabouts this is one place where you feel you ought to be wearing a helmet, as a driver. On a bike, I’ve not tried to cross, because navigation looks to be a nightmare, in all the ways Mark has pointed out, even from my attempts to consult a map of the system. I’ve skirted it. By contrast, Fietspad navigation around Rotterdam/Delft/Hague/Amsterdam I found pretty easy, even without detailed maps – and the only big underpass I immediately recall was the Maas tunnel. Not comparable systems At All.

    • Toni says:

      Having recently moved to Milton Keynes from London with every intention of cycling to work if possible, I have to agree with Luke’s view on the situation. The ‘problem’ is not that the cycle routes in MK arent good enough, it is simply that driving in Milton Keynes is (mostly) easy compared to other cities. Where as rush hour through the center of London can take hours to struggle through and you can often walk faster than cars, even at MK’s worst times of the day for traffic you might be waiting 5mins to get through a difficult roundabout than invariably be free for the rest of your journey

  2. davidhembrow says:

    I’ve been meaning to write about MK for some time. You’ve done a good job. When I cycled there, I also found a cycle-path which ended with stairs and hopeless junction design.

    Remember who designed the place. Derek Walker was the first Chief Architect. He designed the city on an American style grid because he was influenced by the Californian Melvin M Webber who he called “the father of the city”. Melvin M Webber was known for pioneering “thinking about cities of the future, adapted for the age of telecommunications and mass automotive mobility” and the “Non-Place Urban Realm”. It was only later in his career that he came to regret “the car-focussed implications of his early work”.

    Milton Keynes was designed for mass motoring, not to enable mass cycling. It should be no surprise to anyone that the result matches the aims of the architects.

    Unfortunately, it is yet another example of the UK looking across the Atlantic for inspiration which could better have come from across the North Sea. Back in the early 1970s, the Netherlands was already experimenting with woonerven and other forms of filtered permeability . Even forty years later, when the relative success of such policies is so obvious, it is still difficult to explain these concepts to people from Britain, and even now I still read examples of British people thinking that the US is the place to look to for inspiration.

  3. monchberter says:

    I think you nailed it at the end. Milton Keynes, despite rationale that it should be adequately structured with off road cycle paths is even more in thrall to the car than anywhere else. I’d imagine that when people move there they bring with them their own preconceptions about the place that it is somewhere where car use is facilitated and expected to get anywhere. Why would they then choose to cycle when it’s even easier to use the car than anywhere else?

  4. amcambike says:

    Here’s David Arditti, with the position that people in the Netherlands cycle because of cycle paths. A long quote, but worth it – because he does seem to exemplify those cycle advocates in English-speaking countries, who look to the Netherlands as a model for an infrastructure-oriented cycling policy.

    “I don’t quite see why some people invest so much intellectual effort in trying to show that the Dutch cycling success is due to anything but the obvious factor. The key difference between the Netherlands and the UK is not planning, it is not distances, it is not need to travel, it is not ease of motoring, it is not motorist behaviour, it is not law, it is not culture, it is not history. … It is the cycle infrastructure: the vast and comprehensive network of paths, tracks, lanes, bridges and tunnels, that makes everywhere accessible by bike, easily, smoothly and safely. Doubting this is like questioning why Venice has boats rather than cars.”

    “Far from there being “no evidence” that the construction of cycle tracks ever increased cycling, it seems to me that every single video ever placed on YouTube of cycling in the Netherlands in traffic-free space is evidence of this. …

    “If you still doubt all this, you need to go and experience it. Saddle up in Holland, and feel it. … Experience how safe it feels, how stress-free it feels, how relaxed and wonderful it feels, after cycling in other, less-enlightened nations, and think about how it would affect your travel choices if you lived in that environment, and how you promoted the travel choices of others – your relatives, friends, above all, your children. Think about those mothers and fathers allowing their 8-year old and even younger children to go to school by bike by themselves. Do you really believe they would do that if it were not for the cycle paths? Do you really believe they would do that if it were not for the almost total separation from threatening motor-traffic interactions that Dutch cyclists enjoy wherever they choose to go? I don’t. I think the position that the Dutch 28% cycling mode share is not very largely the result of the construction of the segregated cycle infrastructure is manifestly absurd.

    • Do you think David Arditti is saying that cycle paths, and segregation more generally, make cycling more likely, or do you think he is saying that cycle paths ’cause’ cycling?

      • amcambike says:

        It certainly sounds like the last, since he attributes the high cycling rate to the segregated infrastructure. More relevantly, he is convinced that cycle infrastructure to Dutch standards would result in ‘mass cycling’ in Britain, by which he seems to mean a comparable trip share (26% in NL).

    • Grahammer says:

      Everything stated by amcambike is pretty well spot on. I regularly cycling a short distance to my work place, usually around 2am . It’s dark and usually cold with poor lighting. Most of the cycle paths have very poor surfaces due to tree rootes and covered in debris which often contains thorns… Puctures! The architect obviously gave no thought to cyclists needing to get to destination ASAP! We cyclists don’t want to being taken on a meandering route with tight blind bends in the pouring rain. I have driven across Holland many times in the early 1970s and remember the wonderfully laid out cycle lanes, so different too the caricature dumped on Milton Keynes!

  5. Great post! It brings up a bunch of great points.

    I would stay away from any American city models right now. We are trying our best to pull from the best European models to help fix what the car model style of development has done.

  6. OldGreyBeard says:

    I have cycled on the Redways and as I live near MK I do visit by car for shopping, theatre & OU tutorials. The only deterent to using the car is the cost of parking in the centre and the ease with which it is possible to get lost. Everywhere looks the same! It is vital to remember which Horizinatl & Vertical roads you need.

    The Redways do suffer all the problems you identify: they are shared with pedestrians, they go up and down alot, they usually mimic the grid system rather than taking direct routes and the signage is awful. Usually it only signs to close places rather than destinations such as the station or shopping centre. It is absolutely vital to have a Redway map!

    Not all the Redways give way at every side road. In fact it seemed to me that it was the older ones that didn’t.

    The biggest problem is that the distances you have to cover to get anywhere are much larger than for an older city that wasn’t designed with the car in mind.

    I’ve never been cycling in Stevenage but its something I intend to do.

  7. Charley says:

    I live in Milton Keynes, and I think very differently to some of the venom spouted. One of the reasons I decided to move here was because of the segregated cyclepath network. Cycling here is not considered ‘weird’ or ‘sport’, but something that everyday people do. Throughout CMK, bicycle parking is the nearest to the building access, ahead of disabled or general-need car parking, rather than ‘hidden’ somewhere near the bins or round the back as an inconvenience. In the middle of the CBD (CMK) we have ‘Gear Change’ – storage, repairs, changing/shower facilities, route information) for a number of years.

    From my home to Central Station takes 12mins, just under 2 miles, without crossing any major roads, and only giving way to two estate distributors (30mph) and one cul-de-sac (10mph) roads. There is a north-south redway through CMK (following the V6 Grafton Street), and funding will come forward before 2014 for a segregated east-west redway along Midsummer Boulevard (NCN Route 51, currently using a mix of calmed parking access roads and bus lanes). One only has to visit the Station Square, which has masses of well used open and covered cycle parking, as well as ‘fly-parking’.

    Modal share for journeys to school is actually 6% (cycling) against 57% (walking). That data comes from the 2009 MKC School Census. We need to convert some of those walking into the cyclists of the future. We have a higher than national average of cycle ownership. 10% of residents walk or cycle to work, but this rises to 13% for those also working in MK.

    The route featured in this article was to be upgraded as part of a failed LSTF bid into an ‘Priority Express Route’ with more visible, direct routing, surface and lighting improvements, wider and straighter paths, and priority over side roads (through revised road markings). Despite DfT turning these proposals down, MKC has benefitted from bringing forward Infrastructure Tariff receipts (due to the amount of housebuilding – highest receipts in the South East) and going ahead with these improvements earlier.

    It isn’t perfect, but it is a damn sight better than elsewhere. You can even take a (self-guided) integrated bike-hotel holiday here.

    • OldGreyBeard says:

      “It isn’t perfect, but it is a damn sight better than elsewhere.”
      I’d agree with that. But why such low numbers cycling with such facilities? Why don’t people cycle?

    • Thanks for commenting, Charley.

      I think it’s good to get things in perspective – I suppose I have been a little harsher than I need to be on Milton Keynes, mainly because I was responding to arguments that suggest it is perfect, or at least as good as anything in the Netherlands, and that consequently it ‘proves’ that off-carriageway infrastructure does not enable (and might even discourage) cycling.

      Milton Keynes is not perfect, but it is true that I was able to cycle around the town without (much) engagement with motor traffic. As I said, that could explain why the level of cycling there is higher than might be the case if the network of paths was not there at all. Other new towns, like Crawley near me, have nothing like such an extensive network, and the bicycle modal share there is substantially lower than Milton Keynes.

      However, it is difficult to navigate unless you know what you are doing, many of the routes I came across were needlessly arduous or dangerous (although it is undoubtedly good that attempts are being made to improve them), and there is the added problem of ease of driving. The impression I got was that, unlike in the Netherlands, where infrastructure is designed to privilege and facilitate bicycle use, the network was fitted around car use.

  8. charlie_lcc says:

    Great post, getting at the real substance rather than the polarised ranting.

    I agree MK is a planned disaster zone, public transport doesn’t work well with 9% travel to work share. Despite the comments above, cycling to work share is only 4%, lower than in neighbouring areas without Redways (eg. 16.6% in Central Bedfordshire). Part of the risk comes from the sharp contrast between segregated paths and a few hazardous junctions.. The mode share for car travel to work is around 73% one of the highest in the area. MK also has a poor health record with one of the highest levels of lung disease and trauma.

    Stevenage is somewhat better, the segregation is more complete, except in the new areas of town. However wayfinding is difficult and confusing and the cycle network has very poor linkages to the shopping areas and station. The network is less hazardous than MK but not really useful. Driving is very easy, when I was there many people drove to work, drove home for lunch and then back again!

    Going Dutch is not really about segregation. It is about planning for people to have easy, safe access to wherever they want to go. Most injuries happen at junctions so the Dutch concentrate on getting the junctions right – the opposite to standard UK cycle provision.

    Dutch junctions are designed to be low speed, to separate cyclists and pedestrians from motors by signals, or lanes where the speeds cannot be kept safe enough for sharing. The main roads are faster and have great segregated cycle lanes as so often shown by Hembrow and amcambike but often the photos show few cyclists. Most of the cycling happens in the denser areas where there is a mix of provision. Filtered permeability with safe junctions is as important as the segregated lanes.

    The growth in cycling in Hackney has been stunning. Filtered permeability has opened up cycling access to huge areas but it is still constrained by the failure to make many main road junctions safer. Car use for travel to work is well under 20% with 39% of residents using public transport and 44% walking or cycling.

    What is truly encouraging is that the areas of the borough with good cycle access are thriving while those with good car access are as miserable as ever. Hackney’s rating on the index of multiple deprivation is second worst in the UK yet many people who cycle find that it is a great place to live.

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  10. Mike Chalkley - Chair Bournemouth Cycling Forum says:

    It’s only when people get out of bed in the morning and think “shall I cycle or drive” and the answer is an obvious “drive because it’s easier/faster/nicer” that things will change. Cycling infrastructure is an essential part of this but so is planning that reduces the ease of driving (as David Hembrow has so eloquently illustrated… (http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/03/cycling-vs-driving.html)
    We have so far to go in our country. In the local paper 2 days ago – a story of a child crossing the road to catch a bus, run over by a car (fortunately only a broken leg) spawned hideous online comments (“if he runs into the road it’s his own fault”, “just be responsible for your own actions and learn how to cross a road without getting hit by a car” etc). Just up the road from me there’s a ‘Lollipop Lady’ on the main road at school time, 20 yards before there are big flashing signs pre-warning drivers (?!?) – why have we let our roads become such a dangerous place for children that even a manned crossing is a hazard?

  11. OldGreyBeard says:

    Interesting how the debate about cycling facilities is becoming more sophisticated i.e. a toolbox of approaches from filtered permeability to total segregation.

  12. PaulM says:

    Blimey – are you going into competition with Vole-o-speed?

    Reading down the first half, I was thinking “yes, yes, but – what countervailiing factors are there to explain why the red paths don’t produce more cycling?” I was thinking about Oxford and Cambridge, both cities I used to know well, where it is fairly obvious why bicycles are popular despite relative paucity of cycling infrastructure, of the segregated variety at any rate – street plans which were not designed for cars, lack of car parking for all potential car users in the cities, and large student populations which, by and large, can’t afford to own a car.

    The answer is interesting – if I understand it right – that you need also to make cycling *relatively* attractive, as well as absolutely so. Shorter distances for walkers and cyclists than for cars, easier availability of parking for bikes than for cars, car-parking charges, etc. I assume that MK is now beyond redemption, but if we assume (I hope) that the era of the Le Corbusier-inspired “new town” is firmly in the past, and that we have reached, or will soon reach “peak retail-park”, so we can start to focus again on traditional towns and suburbs, maybe there is still hope.

  13. Simon Parker says:

    Hi Mark, great post, as always.

    The key to safe cycling – as the CEoGB policy bash recently affirmed – is in the way that junctions are made to work. However, the bits in between are also important as well. Alongside roads with high volumes of traffic, or with high speed limits, the Dutch favour the provision of segregated cycle paths. In residential areas they apply the concept of filtered permeability – “where it is used to keep the number of motor vehicle journeys to an absolute minimum.” Done properly, this means that “certain (short) car journeys become progressively more difficult, but not necessarily impossible”.

    By all accounts, in Milton Keynes they have done the first but not the second – OldGreyBeard suggested that the only deterrent to using the car in the centre is the cost of parking and the ease with which it is possible to get lost – whereas in Hackney they are doing the second but not the first.

    It is significant that 50% of all car / bus / cycle journeys in London are under two miles. Where there is filtered permeability, the bicycle is by far the best and easiest way to make these sorts of journeys.

    Also significant is that 30% of all car / bus / cycle journeys are between two and five miles. Reading your account and the subsequent comments, I was struck by how difficult wayfinding is in both Stevenage and Milton Keynes. TfL research has shown that “not knowing where to cycle” is as much of an obstacle as a “lack of cycle lanes”, and a bigger obstacle than a “fear of being knocked off one’s bike”.

    The one thing the Dutch didn’t do when they set about removing the hegemony of the car was wave a magic wand. It takes time, money, and a lot of political will to develop the cycling environment to a standard where eight year-old children can ride to school unaccompanied, especially in a city the size of London, and for this reason doing as much as possible at least cost first has much to commend it.

    Charlie Lloyd says that Going Dutch “is about planning for people to have easy, safe access to wherever they want to go.” The seminal work on the development of cycling in the urban environment, ‘Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities’, calls this the ‘voluntarist policy’. It involves just three stages:

    1. Analyse journeys—origin/destination;

    2. Plan the network; and,

    3. Implement the network on the basis of priority interventions and a timetable.

    “The network can be introduced on the basis of an overall plan (preliminary plan). Ideally, such a plan ought to be based specifically on cycle routes that have been studied […]. If it is not possible to systematically remodel the entire network to better meet the needs of cyclists, specific action can be taken on each occasion that works need to be done. Most of the time, the additional expenditure needed to meet the requirements of cyclists is comparatively minimal.”

  14. I’d like to add in your example of 10mile un-interrupted journey I’d plonk for my bike – it would be like a dream TT course! Personally I think wind direction would be the big decider for me 😉

    Great post, finally got to reading it through after starting at work the other day during lunch and running out of time.

    Attending The Big Ride and taking my eldest up to town via one of the feeder rides has been a real eye-openner for me in regards to cycle routes for “normal” people vs. the routes I use (predomiantly main roads and CSH’s) as an experienced rider. I think the fact that I felt a) so damn scared of taking an 11 year old out on non-CSH main roads (not that I’m sure I’d be 100% happy on the CSH’s….) and b) so much more relaxed on the back roads it’s given me a new view on cycling as a mode of transport. it doesn’t have to be about racing around, taking the lane and worrying what the car behind is doing.

    I may try and get a blog post together myself to try and better explain the idea as I tried to explain to Isobel (the eldest!) on the way home how the Dutch use filtered permeability when I found some fairly good examples right on my doorstep (ironically on roads I don’t normally use as I stick to the main road!) which would serve to demonstrate how you can ease the passage for bikes whilst effectively blocking the route for cars. Instead of yelling instructions of “wait there/don’t do that” I was actually able to chat with her in relative peace and quiet.

  15. simon amner says:

    Hi thanks for a really interesting discussion. I moved to Milton Keynes three and a half years ago from Walthamstow in East London, and I thought my own experiences might be a useful contribution to the article. I have two kids, 5 and 7, so the youngest doesn’t feature in discussions about travel to pre-school in Walthamstow, but myself or the wife used to take our eldest to pre-school in her pram walking through the back streets before crossing a very busy main road to the pre-school. The entire journey was dominated by cars themselves, the noise of passing cars and the exhaust from vans etc. Amazing how a smoky exhaust you may not have noticed before kids becomes extremely frustrating when your darling daughter is in her pram at the same height as it…anyway I wouldn’t have dreamt of riding that route, even though most of it was relatively quiet back roads because the cars could move fast along them and every single road had cars parked all the way along each side, so you were always leaning out from between two cars to see what was coming. If a car chose to be intolerant of a cyclist on these roads then the cyclist really had little room for manoeuvre.

    So three and a half years later we are in Milton Keynes with both kids at the same primary school around two miles away. If the weather is ok we can cross one busy road (wheeling the bikes) and then use a mixture of footpath/redway/redundant railway route/parkland (with hard surface paths throughout it) to take us to within 30m of the school gate. In short it is an almost traffic free route and one on which the biggest danger to my kids is high speed cyclists who don’t have or use a bell to warn my wobbly kids that they are coming past them.

    I agree that the redroutes are poorly signed, I’ve spent many a journey swearing even with a redroute map in my hand, and they can be frustrating the way they chop around, but with a bit of fortitude and an extra time allowance for unfamiliar routes, we’ve found that MK is quite good fun to cycle around.

    For us so far the relative ease of cycling has enabled us to remain a one car family, where the norm here is two. I should also add that after living in very central London and then slightly less central London for twenty odd years MK is an ABSOLUTE delight to drive around, as many of the posts testify it is built for the car and you can commute across the entire city very quickly, not green but when in Rome I’m afraid…I am also sorry to say that roadside shrines are commonplace as well, the fast roads here are regularly lethal to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike.

    Just to finish it’s worth mentioning that in MK anyway the canal network gives even more scope for movement around the city as they’ve all got clear paths along one side at least.

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  18. Alan says:

    I used to work and cycle in London. Journeys I made in London on a usual basis include Canada Water (Rotherhithe) to Roman Road, E3 (both via Tower Bridge and Rotherhithe Tunnel), Canada Water to Fulham Broadway (uasually via Vauxhall Roundabout then Battersea Bridge), Canada Water to Hoxton Square (via Tower Bridge and Bishopsgate), Canada Water to Victoria (via Waterloo Bridge or Westminster Bridge). All these routes passed through major roundabouts and/or one way systems with multiple lanes and feeder roads from both directions of the road. Then I moved to Milton Keynes.

    I read about the red way routes and then tried them. Most of the main roads in Milton Keynes have 40-60mph speed limits, and as a previous poster mentioned, compared to London Traffic is almost non-existent: eg Central London to Hampstead by car (depending on time of day) about 40 minutes to 1 hour (distance about 6 miles) in comparison to North Milton Keynes (Bradwell) to South Milton Keynes (Bletchley) any time of day, 10-15 minutes. Anyway back to the red routes, they are poorly signed, stop abruptly with no indication which direction you should take and have breaks en-route (like the stairs) that make no sense. Coupled with the fact the red ways are next to pedestrian paths means that at several points during your journey by bike there are people walking on the red ways and not giving way to the cyclist. Also the red ways usually add anything from a quarter to half a mile to a typical 4 mile trip.

    At this point I must also point out the even with the many potholes and irregular surfaces in the London road network, it is like riding on glass compared to the MK red route system.

    With my previous list of London routes by bike, a similar route by bike commutes in MK reads something like this: Bradwell to Centre MK (3-4 miles) about 20-25 minutes; Bradwell to Bletchley (about 7 miles) about 45 minutes. Compare this to Canada Water to Fulham Broadway (7.5 miles) about 35 to 40 minutes. Incidentally the route taken in MK were using the red route cycle paths. Despite having the experience of riding in and around Central London, I’m not inclined to try the main roads that criss cross MK. Incidentally I also drive and note that the drivers in MK are slightly crazier than those in London, as hard as it maybe to believe.

    So In summary the Milton Keynes “solution” is not really that, its a “tack on” that is ill thought out, poorly executed and extremely badly maintained. The MK thing should never be used as an example of what is available in the UK compared to the Dutch system.

  19. Matt Hodges says:

    I visited MK once staying overnight at the Youth hostel. With no map of the redways and only a regional road map I found it necessary to use the main roads initially then to follow my nose. Pedestrians I asked didn’t seem to know there was a YH. The next day after studying the local map on the hostel wall I tried to use the Redways heading out of town in the Newport Pagnell direction. It was pretty hopeless with signs only for local, to me unknown, names and in the end I resorted to the main roads and a compass.

    Having said that, I don’t think cycle routes anywhere in Britain are much better. I have given up on segregated cycle routes in most counties from Cornwall to Inverness. The signing is usually hopeless and they often have barriers that are difficult or impossible to negotiate with a loaded recumbent tandem trike though that wasn’t the problem with the redways.

    Despite the above I do see potential for good segregated cycle routes. In nearby Lancaster we have some excellent railway and canal paths which are well used by both pedestrians and cyclists mainly because the road system is diabolically congested. This is the driving force behind the increase in cycling in Lancaster. It is by far the fastest way to travel between Morecambe and Lancaster and is competitive on any route where the car would have to negotiate the Lancaster Giratory traffic jam.

    So do I think we should have more segregated cycle routes in Lancaster? Yes, but very few are possible in an old city. We can’t knock down listed buildings to push through cycleways. But we can and should increase the permeability of the city centre for cycles by allowing cycling on what are now pedestrianised streets and by blocking motor rat running in the surrounding minor roads. Segregated routes are not THE answer to increasing cycling but they can be a very useful part of the answer particularly when combined with motor vehicle congestion and high parking charges.

  20. steve bliss says:

    Some great comments on MK here. I work in the city but mostly commute by car. The redways are a fantastic way of getting around even if they aren’t anywhere neasv as good gas Holland.

    I think its too late to do anything regarding gradients but certainly junctions and local signs could be improved – I still get lost and make wrong turnings to bus stops etc!

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  22. Phil says:

    I’ve just found this article and a great one it is. I’ve lived in Milton Keynes for around 20 years and have cycled around the town quite a lot accepting its faults. While commuting to London I cycled 4 miles to the railway station in my trustee Brompton and didn’t realty have any issues … Until the winter. The redways aren’t treated for ice or snow so I always used the roads then. I won’t take my road bike on the redways though for 3 reasons
    1. Surface quality is poor and I was forever truing the wheels
    2. Pedestrians walking dogs are a major hazard especially with those fancy extending leads – the dog owner is on one side of the redway and the dog way over the other side with lead in between.
    3. Pedestrians are unable to walk straight and regularly swing from side to side even when sober and lost of them do not know cycles can ride on them.

    But the reason I love the town is the ease of car use and because of the contrastes between road and redway design this will never be a major cycle town.

  23. OldGreyBeard says:

    Stevenage is more of a conundrum than MK in many ways. It has properly segregated cycleways with grade separated junctions with gentle inclines. Even the later extensions to the core network are no worse than many places, yet cycle use is no higher than anywhere else. The question is why? I would really like to know.

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  25. Steph says:

    I think no-one has mentioned the fear of crime that poorly designed segregated cycle paths can generate yet. Not entirely unjustified either if ‘redway crimes’ reported in the MK local press and TVP league tables are anything to go by. Being within sight of passing motor traffic paradoxically perhaps makes me feel less likely to be a victim of day light robbery.

  26. Chris says:

    Milton Keynes is the easiest place to drive. Without the redway system I would rarely use a bike. The main problem is the lack of a secure place to leave your bike at your destination. By size Milton Keynes is large, 10 miles across, making it a challenge for most people on a bike. I am sure that without redways cycle use would be much less than the average town or city. They are a good recreational resource.

  27. Mark says:

    Tried cycling in MK for a while but carrying too much stuff made it too much of an effort.
    The red ways are a good idea and you can cover a few miles without coming across much traffic. However whenever you have to cross a road it always appears to be at the bottom of a hill so you can never use your momentum. 5.5 miles drive to work about 4 on the bike, take 10 mins in the car 20 on the bike. Biggest fear is being wiped out by other cyclists you fly round blind corners without regard for anyone else and no one uses the ride on the left logic.
    In winter a skating rink best avoided

  28. Notak says:

    Just found this old post. It seems to my mind to touch upon something quite simple and fundamental – namely, making cycling easier, faster, more convenient and safer, is not in itself enough to tempt people out of cars. Human laziness (we could discuss whether it is indeed inherently human or cultural, but if cultural, it’s certainly shared at a very basic level) will push most people to take the easier option, and that still remains the car. Driving in MK is undoubtedly easier than in almost any other town in the UK (or most of Europe!) and in fact the advantage of driving over cycling – in terms of speed etc – is increased compared to most places. We need measures to disincentivise driving, both in terms of local convenience (eg filtered permeability and parking controls) and nationally (eg costlier fuel and taxes, stricter technical and licencing regs). And some of my quite conventional friends (drivers all) have been saying this since the ’80s. Oh, how we do not hold our breath!

    • making cycling easier, faster, more convenient and safer, is not in itself enough to tempt people out of cars

      But measures to disincentivise driving amount to the same thing – making cycling easier than driving.

      • Dan B says:

        Sort of – but there’s the issue of ‘how much’. How much easier does cycling need to be? How much harder does driving have to be? How much more costly does motoring have to be?

        It’s important to remember there isn’t 1 simple answer to this. Taking London (where I live and work) as an example – the congestion charge made driving into the centre of town more expensive, but obviously not expensive enough to stop more people from doing so.

        There’s some great modal filtering where I live that means on specific routes cycling is faster than driving, but only by a few minutes. Is the loss of a couple of minutes ‘enough’ to get people out of their cars? Probably not.

        There are a couple of good (for here!) cycle paths I use regularly, including one that avoids a busy junction and allows bikes to continue when motor traffic has to stop for traffic lights. They feel safe to use, but is it enough? No.

        We need a combination of joined up measures to reduce road traffic, increase cycle permeability and subjective safety and create a modal shift away from motor vehicles. I feel this is unlikely until there are nationwide design standards for cycle infrastructure, which needs to be part of the #space4cycling campaign. After all, the CROW manual’s in English too now…

      • Notak says:

        To an extent, yes. But that’s what hasn’t happened in MK – cycling has been made easier (than in most UK towns) but driving has also been made easier. If a journey by bike is cut from say 30 minutes to 25 but the same journey by car remains at 15 – or even 25 – most people will remain in their cars because there has been no change to most people’s default journey.

        Where a system like MK’s could work would be by getting kids into cycling (or even walking) to school, friends, etc. This might work by persuading parents that it’s ok for their sprogs to ride, because the traffic danger has been removed. That this doesn’t seem to have happened might be for three reasons: the parents are still driving to work, supermarket, etc, so it’s “natural” for them to give the kids a lift; cars retain their status (both as symbols and practical tools) which kids and especially teens grow into; MK is a town that attracts a lot of newcomers from elsewhere.

        I really think we need nationwide (or wider) measures to eg increase fuel duty, but as I said, I’m not expecting them.

  29. Pingback: Copenhagen is a paradise for cyclists • Average Joe Cyclist

  30. Bob Hoskins says:

    You obviously haven’t got a clue where you’re going in MK, most of the captions accompanying photos are incorrect in regards to the redways, speed limits on roads, and the difference between a cycle route and a footpath.

  31. Great post! We will be linking to this particularly great article
    on our website. Keep up the great writing.

  32. As someone who has just started commuting to Milton Keynes by bike after commuting for 3 years by car I wanted to add my thoughts as cycling on the road has never appealed to me. (I appreciate this article is a few years old now).

    – The figures suggesting not many people in MK cycle are from 2001… It would be very interesting to see a recent survey and I’m sure the numbers would be higher. The UK has experienced a “cycling boom” over the last 10 years and it seems to be increasing in popularity and affordability.

    – MK are getting their own version of the “Borris bike” this year, which can only encourage people to cycle more to cycle for shorter journeys

    – I don’t find the redways hard to navigate if you plan your journey, they are incorporated into google maps now too so you can plot a route along them.

    – I work for large company near the station and the bike shed is always full of bikes. we are lucky to have shower and changing facilities which has prompted more of my colleagues to commute by bike.

    – My personal journey is from Towcester, which is 13 miles from my workplace, the first half of my journey is on the busy single carriageway section of the A5, I have to say I breathe a sigh of relief when I get to the outskirts of MK and jump on the redway which takes me right to my workplace.

    I don’t cycle to work to reduce my journey time, or for convenience but because I want to. if the redways didn’t exist then I probably wouldn’t have taken the plunge to get off my arse and give it a try, and I’m glad I did.

    • pm says:

      More up-to-date stats would be interesting and just possibly could be encouraging. But on what are you basing that reference to a ‘UK cycling boom’?

      These figures are only up to 2010, but are you saying there’s been a dramatic upswing in the last 5 years?

    • pm says:

      Another graph google comes up with
      Not saying I have great data either, but I just suspect ‘cycle boom’ talk is all rather hyped and based on very low expectations to begin with

  33. NPM says:

    I have lived in London, New York, Tokyo (for a bit ) and spent long spells abroad (including the Netherlands and Denmark.

    Getting knocked off my bike was a fact of life in London and I have had several bikes stolen in London.

    I live in Milton Keynes and although the redways are not perfect, they are great. Milton Keynes is outstanding for cyclists.

    Instead of whining about how good life is in other countries, we should celebrate what great facilities we have in MK. It’s better here than anywhere I have been to,

    And – by the way – cycling is increasing massively every year in MK and a few years ago I rarely saw a cyclist en route to work, now there are dozens. All using the redways.

    The OP s is obviously not very pragmatic and is looking for a Utopia which doesn’t exist.

    • pm says:

      “The OP s is obviously not very pragmatic and is looking for a Utopia which doesn’t exist.”

      In all honesty, you don’t seem to have read the article you are commenting on. You’ve entirely missed the point of it..

      (Also, pretty much by definition, all change involves wanting something that doesn’t presently exist – by ‘pragmatism’ you seem to mean ‘not wanting anything to improve’ – that’s not what the word actually means)

  34. Chris n says:

    Having cycled around Milton Keynes for 16 years I feel qualified to say its not all that bad and miles better than some town cycle schemes. I have not encountered redways ending in stairs but they must be in the 10% I have not used yet. From wolverton to Bletchley and from Newport Pagnell to the Shenleys I’ve had some great cycling adventures. Yes the signage could do with a rethink and overhaul and some redways sections need flattening due to tree roots but a great asset nonetheless. You cannot force people to cycle but the facilities are there if they do.

    • Mark Williams says:

      I used to cycle through MK along Watling Street (V4?), figuring shortest and straightest would be best. I was vaguely aware that there was supposed to be a Redway near some of it, but never managed to work out where it was or how to get on it. Judging by the photo’s above, I would have been deeply unimpressed and not used it if I had found it—almost entirely unlike NL infra. Same for other new towns which theoretically have ‘facilities’ such as Harlow and Telford. I’ve since discovered that it’s quicker to just stay on the A5 bypass unless going to e.g. Bletchley Park: better surface, negligible gradients and no stopping. Build crap and you’ll get crap cycling levels…

      • Ironbuket says:

        OMG are you one of the nutters that rides on the A5 section that goes past MK? Everytime I see someone on there on a bike I wonder if they are doing it because they want to commit suicide. The majority of cars travel well over 70mph. You would be safer riding on the M1 where the speed cameras at least keep the speed a bit lower. When I say safer I actually still mean dead, just less seperate pieces to pickup perhaps

        • Mark Williams says:

          Exactly. Killer motorists ubiquitous and venerated—cue sarcastic flashbacks to DFT’s insulting ‘share the road’ campaign. MK is not the worst section of the A5 to cycle, IME. We’re merely going about our business, possibly. Wave next time and I shall wave back 🐸🏳 👋🚴.

          • John Meaden says:

            Apparently it is safe visit Chernobyl, but I wouldnt want to risk it myself. My theory about cyclists that chose to ride on obviously dangerous roads is that they are either A) Blisfully ignorant of the risks they are putting themselves in and what the police and your family will have to deal with after you have killed yourself. B) Have an agenda and are out to prove a point. Often secretly hoping to be involved in an inccident so they can then shout about how said road is unsafe for cyclists

            I was once passing a cyclist who hit a pot hole and shot 90 degrees right and hit the side of my car. (no i wasnt passing to close). Had I been a few seconds slower I might have ran straight over him because their change of direction was instant.

            Many cyclist would focus on the pot hole and the speed of the car, Fix all potholes everywhere or get the cars to slow down so much that having a horse and cart would be faster. Personaly I look on incidents like this as a wakeup call to cyclists on how fragile they are and through no fault of the car/truck or the cyclist can the cyclist end up getting squished. If you want to travel on a road where cars are doing +30mph get a car. Since the first cars started going faster than a bicycle we have had air bags, crumple zones, seat belts and many other bits of kit designed to protect the driver. There is a reason cars have these things – accidents happen! What has changed in terms of protecting the cyclist in the last 100 years? And you still want to ride along side cars travelling at 70+?

            By all means campaign for cycle routes as they have in the netherlands. Im all for that. But dont ride on roads clearly not designed to accomodate cyclists and then complain about the safety. (to me) There is no difference to going skydiving and then complaining about the risks. By all means go skydiving and make yourself as safe as you can, but dont complain to gravity about the risks being unfair.

            • Mark Williams says:

              Ironbuket has already covered most of that, less anecdotally and with fewer menacing overtones ☠. I’ll complain about whatever I like, but you’ll search in vain for me complaining about cycling on the A5. Others shall complain about whatever they like, too. Including my cycling on the A5, if they want: form a queue behind CEOGB. Trying to tell anyone what they cannot complain about really is not your place.

              But don’t worry, we get your joint central thrust. You’d prefer everyone to stop cycling on public highways [of your choosing] until protected cycleways are everywhere (except MK, which seemingly doesn’t want them), motoring is confined to motorways or the sun goes supernova; whichever is the later. So that you can endanger other motorists exclusively with a clear conscience. That’s a message which also hasn’t changed for ‘the last 100 years’ or so. Most readers here will already be very familiar with it in its various forms.

              • John Meaden says:

                ‘You’d prefer everyone to stop cycling on public highways’. No Mark you have it all wrong.

                Please carry on cycling wherever you like, just stop complaining about the safety and treat cycling on the road for what it realy is: An extreme sport with consequencies

              • Mark Williams says:

                Same answer as last time, as the rest doesn’t seem to have penetrated. I shall, haven’t started and won’t; respectively. It’s still never going to be your place to try telling me what I cannot complain about, no matter how many times you posit this.

              • John Meaden says:

                I see, you are free to tell others what they cant do if you think they are wrong, but if others think you are wrong they are not allowed to say that kind of thing to you. Now I understand …

              • Mark Williams says:

                Clearly you do not understand much—you are now falsely attributing two stances to me which I haven’t taken and I love being proven wrong (if you ‘think’ you can).

  35. Sid says:

    I do agree with you about MK. One of MK’s residents told me once ‘It’s the city of the car’ owing to the ease of flow of cars there. Cars move at 60-70 mph; it’s a piece of cake for cars
    On cycling there I noticed:
    01. Low no. of signposts, Redways have numbers on Googlemaps which do not exist on the roads, so the way to learn it is to imagine it; let alone explaining a route to a friend or youngster; or else depend on your GPS
    02. Though MK is flat for cars, it’s either flyovers or underpasses for bikes, so it is hilly journey that’s far from flat
    03. The Redways are too complex from one place to the other, loads of intersections with sideways and streets, loads of changing sides of Redways, there’s always a dip or a sideway to use, or an intersection to get lost at.
    04. Redways are shared between pedestrians and bikes, one can never speed knowing that there could be a dog around with a leash spreading across the way
    05. Many parts of the Redways are made of tiles which are not stable and can just cause a puncture
    06. Not every road has a parallel cycle path e.g. Buckingham road is not completely segregated, H5 Portway does not have a path next to it, it rather goes between houses in a serpentine manner, V4 Watling Street has a partial route then it diverts somewhere else. CMK does not have segregated paths

  36. Freddy says:

    For families wanting to take their children on bike rides Milton Keynes is ideal with its network of redways linking every part of the city. I have not seen anywhere else like this in the UK.
    As a keen cyclist I do favour leaving Milton Keynes and heading out into the local countryside for rides as I find the redway system to ‘stop,start’ for my liking, however if I do need to cycle in Milton Keynes I do use them as they are safer than riding on the local roads which are much too fast in my opinion, and in some areas have too many places where a car and bike cannot fit together on the road (traffic calming measures) although some drivers don’t care about this!

    • Mark Williams says:

      So; ‘ideal’ for families but less than favourable for ‘a keen cyclist’¡ A bit of a contortion there and a nice swerve around the elephant in the room 😔. Sid’s [non-exhaustive?] list of flaws above and Alan’s (2013-05-24 23:32) rings closer to my non-experience of them, having never been able to work out where they are or go. Are you John Franklin writing under a pseudonym, by any chance 😉?

      Smaller Stevenage at ~30 % of the area is objectively better—designed for second-rate cycling from the outset with walking segregated rather than renamed Pedways—and IMO subjectively more complete even now, but still very far from ideal. The message of this ‘blog is often that the UK ain’t all that w.r.t. setting the aspirational horizons for cycling infrastructure 🇳‍🇱…

  37. Freddy says:

    Of course the Redway system in Milton Keynes could be better.
    But is Milton Keynes better with it, or would Milton Keynes be better without it?
    My own view is that Milton Keynes, with the Redway system and the often overlooked bridleway system (often used by cyclist, pedestrians and of course by horses) is better with it, as it does offer a choice. And is that a bad thing?

    • simon amner says:

      Agree that the redways are difficult to navigate, once you’ve learnt the route you need they’re fine though, I don’t think the odd incline bothers most cyclists at all…as well as bridleways there are canals and a disused railway line…and excellent paths alongside the rivers…maybe the redways don’t appear to be well used is because MK has a rich mix of alternative cycle routes that are simply overlooked by non-residents…

    • John says:

      I would like to respond to Freddy’s question (probably rhetorical) of whether MK would be better with or without the red routes.
      Well, firstly you have to specify better for who. For car drivers the red routes are brilliant, but if we consider bicycles I would argue (probably quite controversially) that without the red routes cycling would be better in MK. WTF… ?
      Think about it, with no red routes, the foot paths would have to run down the sides of the main roads like in other cities and as a result the roads could not be national speed limit applies. Instead of having 50+ mph roads all over MK many main roads would be limited to 30 or 40. As a result it would actually be relatively safe for bicycles to use the main roads, it might even be possible to widen the roads slightly and fit in cycle lanes. As things stand today, if you put in cycle lanes vehicles would be blasting past you at 70(+) which is about as safe as riding down the A5 on the left of the solid white line
      With 30mph roads in MK, cycles could travel directly to and from destinations without having to travel up to 50% further. Cyclists would be much less likely to get mugged or pushed of their bikes by bored thugs in the darker months. Also, when it snows in winter you are more likely to find a main road clear than a red route.
      I don’t have the magic answers, but I think it would have been a better plan from the beginning for MK to have a few 4 lane national speed limit grid roads and the rest of the grid roads as 30-40. As a cyclist it wouldn’t be that hard to avoid the few 60s without making your journey massively longer. Having more 30 roads would also have given the opportunity for small highstreets to exist along some of the grid roads outside the city centre.
      In my MK, housing estates would only exit on to the slower roads and you would have to travel in the slower roads and could only join the 60 roads at a roundabout. Kids, cyclists and old people exiting their estate wouldnt have to go from 20-30 directly in to traffic traveling at 60 + which I find insane. Nor would they be segregated and confined to the red route if they don’t have or don’t choose to use a car

  38. Pingback: April 2012) They built it, and they didn’t come – the lesson of Milton Keynes | As Eas y As Riding A Bike

  39. Paul Baird says:

    Great article. I live, and commute via bicycle (10k each way) , in Milton Keynes. The issue seems to be that, as you point out, redways are not always the most intuitive routes to use. Also, the quality of the redways is patchy. Some are almost unusable due to the rutting. Equally, some of the best routes are a mixture of redway and quieter suburban roads. My route is from Bradwell to Tilbrook via Ye Olde Swan in Woolstone.

    The real solution, I suggest, is to maintain segregated cycleways, but also to take the fear out of cycling by introducing a hierarchy of responsibility for highway users. UK motor vehicle drivers hate cyclists (understandably so, we’re in front of them and travelling more slowly), but do not have the same levels of respect or even fear of collision with cyclists that I’ve seen with German drivers in Munich (consequently cycling in Munich is magnitudes higher than in Milton Keynes).

  40. Karen Cooper says:

    The Redway as of Milton Keynes are fantastic for walking, cycling & in my case for skating .. those steep gradients you dismiss in your article are a skaters dream! There are endless routes to skate around the ‘city’ – through urban & rural area’s, past lakes & through fields .. there’s nowhere else like it! These days the Redways are filled with delivery robots & electric scooters & remain an integral part of our neighbourhood. Not so much a failed project as a future proofed city network & I got one am a fan..

    • Mark Williams says:

      Surely skating is only a slightly less squalid form of transport than walking; you can’t carry any more shopping/ luggage or go much further/ faster? How often do you skate from one end of Milton Keynes to the other, or to nearby cities for that matter? If the surface is anything like other bits of footway that I suspect to be Redway, your fellow skating ‘fan(s)’ probably do regard ‘endless routes’ as a ‘dream’/ ‘fantastic’.

      Your [unpersuasive] advocacy would probably find a more appreciative audience on the AsEasyAsRidingA Board…

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