A simple test

Slightly lost, perhaps understandably, amongst the kerfuffle over the deeply strange ‘Share the Road’ campaign endorsed (and then hastily unendorsed) by Bike Radar, was a tweet by David Arditti, who objected to the entire principle of encouraging greater ‘sharing’ (or what Joe Dunckley might call getting people to play nicely).

Basic flaw with campaign @bikeradar: I & probably most other cyclists don’t want to #sharetheroadUK. We want separation

This prompted a small, steady stream of objections from young to middle-aged athletic male cyclists, who are of course perfectly happy cycling on roads alongside motor vehicles, and stated this as their own personal preference. But one respondent went further, claiming that ‘most cyclists want to share the road.’

@VoleOSpeed @bikeradar Disagree. Most cyclists want to share the road. Separation is a nonsensical and dangerous idea.

That is, the majority of cyclists don’t want to be separated from motor vehicles; they want to ride on the roads with them.

That sounds completely reasonable. But just to be sure, there is a simple way of putting this assertion to the test.

We run two ‘Sky Rides’ in central London, on the same day, for precisely 2 hours each, consecutively. The first involves a standard loop on closed roads, free from motor traffic. The only interactions will be with other cyclists and pedestrians.

The second ‘Sky Ride’ will then take place, on exactly the same loop, under exactly the same conditions (hopefully the weather won’t have changed too much). But with one difference. The roads will now be open to motor vehicles.

We should then expect to see the floodgates open. All those cyclists who prefer to ride on roads shared with motor vehicles will then suddenly appear – probably having decided to stay at home until the more enjoyable cycling conditions materialised.

Of course an objection presents itself – the numbers riding around the circuit on the second ‘Sky Ride’ might have been artificially suppressed. Some of the cyclists who, for some bizarre reason, chose to take part in the earlier ‘Sky Ride’ will be tired, and consequently might not wish to take part in the later, more enjoyable, ‘Sky Ride’. So to be scrupulously fair, and to eliminate this bias, we could reverse the order of the ‘Sky Rides’ in a subsequent test.

We then count up the total number of riders choosing to cycle on the ‘closed loops’ and of those choosing to cycle on the ‘open loops’, and you have your results.

Indeed the test could be repeated elsewhere across the country, in any city or town that has ‘Sky Rides’. The two ‘Sky Rides’ will be marketed in precisely the same way, and run consecutively on the same roads. We just have to count the numbers choosing to cycle under the different conditions, and compare.

I am sure you will agree, as would every reasonable person who finds the idea of separation ‘nonsensical’, that such a test would be a complete waste of time. The numbers of people choosing to ride on the closed loop, separated from motor traffic, will obviously be much, much lower than the numbers of people choosing to share the loop with motor traffic. This is because most cyclists want to share the road.

In fact this conclusion is so obvious I don’t think we even need to bother. We have plenty of evidence already, in the familiar form of the tiny, insignificant dribble of people who choose to cycle, separated from motor vehicles, on those rare occasions when they are foolishly offered the chance.

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21 Responses to A simple test

  1. Chris says:

    Although your skyride experiment is idiotically flawed (perhaps it was intended to be taken in jest), I agree with your sentiment.

    The difference here is one that you have highlighted before – between sport riding and functional riding, and the fact that we Brits seem to be unable to distinguish between the two. Advocates of the former will always be happiest where they can ride the fastest. The latter is served better by segregation, and is the area that must be grown in order to yield the greatest benefit for the country through health, traffic congestion etc.

    At home in London I am a keen road racer, and the thought of being forced onto narrow lanes horrifies me. But I’ve spent the last few months on a project in Austria with the loan of a dutch-style upright bike, and the network of segregated cycle lanes has been a pleasure to negotiate, as it has always been for the young and old that use it every day for their daily business.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      If sport riding is not best served by separation (unlike ‘functional’ riding) then the Dutch would surely have a very impoverished ‘sport cycling’ culture. But the complete opposite is the case. Sport cycling is very popular in the Netherlands, much more so than here. This is despite Dutch cyclists – including those wearing lycra and wishing to go fast – being separated from motor traffic, and being banned from certain roads.

      I’m not sure, in other words, that it’s helpful to make a distinction between the types of people served by a principle of separation. It should be acceptable for all, just as it is in the Netherlands.

    • Tim says:

      OK, so it looks to me like there’s an element of the tongue-in-cheek about this post But if you’re going to be as offensive as calling something idiotic, you could at least give a clue as to what those huge flaws are because maybe I’m an idiot but they aren’t obvious to me.

      In fact, as an idea, I think this has huge advantages over the method @VoleOSpeed inadvertently used, i.e. to canvas the opinions of the most vocal current cyclists. This experiment gauges the attitudes of the who-know-how-many people would cycle, but don’t because they don’t like the traffic. It’s hugely important to consider not only cyclists, but potential cyclists, but it’s really hard to do, because they aren’t the ones who attend user group meetings and the like.

      Of course the current cyclists aren’t petrified of the traffic. If they were they wouldn’t be current cyclists.

      While I agree with you about the sport-riding and functional-riding, in a country where so many people commute in lycra, riding a “racer”, the line is rather blurred, and so the distinction somewhat less helpful as a starting point.

    • I think your binary classification is far too simplistic, though. Yes, slowly cycling a few miles to the supermarket to return heavily loaded with shopping is at the opposite end of the spectrum to the Sunday peleton out on their carbon road bikes in team kit. But most of my cycling is commuting the 25 miles round trip to work and back, with loaded panniers, using the quickest route I can find, and it is my time “in the gym”. I would love a safe, fast, motor-free route, and hope that such things will be available for my grandchildren. I gave up cycling to work when someone was killed on the road near us. It was 15 years before I started again, and the situation is no better; I expect to retire in 5 years time.

      By all means, let’s keep campaigning for better, cycle-centric designs, but in the meantime, let’s not forget that we current have no choice other than to share the road with motor traffic. Yes, the #sharetheroadUK campaign is cynical and stupid, but to stop campaigning in general for better behaviour from motorists just because we would like to look forward to some cycling utopia several decades hence would also be rather silly.

  2. This exact test was carried out last year. On the Saturday before the Skyride several hundred cyclists were spotted in central London. Alas they were slightly out-gunned the next day by the 60,000 who came for no other reason than because the roads were closed. Maybe the Sunday gang just wanted to check that they really didn’t like cycling without cars flying past. Who knows what goes through the minds of extremists?

  3. Tim says:

    Reblogged this on peoplesfrontofrichmond and commented:
    Do cyclists want to share the road, or would they prefer some space of their own? Mark gives it some (slightly sarcastic) thought

  4. I’d class myself as a young athletic cyclists and whilst I enjoy my city centre riding for the excitement bloody hell can it be stressful. I don’t always WANT to have to feel I need to cycle at 17-20mph with a constant niggling concern that I might be taken out by the driver behind me.

    The problem might come from them not realizing how good separation could be, without reading up on blogs like this one or David Hembrows they might only be aware of separation done from the deeply flawed British standpoint which is rarely of adequate quality.

    Separation also makes logical sense once you take into account the Dutch Sustainable Safety principles, I mean we don’t expect pedestrians to mix with motorised traffic however it’s expected cyclists should (except for those wonderful shared use paths…) mix with much faster & heavier vehicles.

    As for your tests I can say hand on heart I wouldn’t even consider taking on the open roads circuit with my kids, it was stressful enough negotiating south London with my 11 yr old enroute to the Big Ride earlier this year. However when we did the Skyride last year I took 5 kids along (3 of mine + 2 of their cousins) and on the closed road circuit I was quite happy for the eldest 3 to ride off ahead while I rode round with the 2 younger ones.

  5. Mike Stead says:

    Other people suitably countered the Twitter argument WRT ‘utilitarian’ cycling, especially with/by children, but it’s maybe too blunt to label this view as ‘vehicular’ and therefore deserving of ridicule.

    Last night I did an hours ride at 30kph average, at 6pm. Now I think even the most ardent Dutch infrastructure advocate wouldn’t suggest the it’s possible – let alone economically sensible – to safely provide separate infrastructure that caters for utilitarian commuter cyclists as well as whippets on roadbikes going for a PR, at the same time, safely. I’d rate the chance of a roadie on a blast colliding with an errant child on a cyclepath as about the same as a car doing likewise with a roadie on the road. In this case the 100KG adult doing 30kph has a massive delta in energy WRT the slow child, in the same order of magnitude that a 1000kg car does WRT the same adult on the road. We’d be just as right to heap opprobrium on someone racing on a bike amongst dense commuters/kids, as we would a driver doing likewise among fast adult cyclists.

    If you look at separation as a LAW, where cyclists are *banned* from using roads because there’s a proper Dutch-grade separate lane nearby, I’d agree with the Twitter commenter – bad idea. I’d hate to have to stick to a bikepath where I had to continually watch out for slower cyclists. But I don’t think that’s the case in the Netherlands, right? If someone wants to use the road, they can?

    I fully acknowledge that there are many paths in NL/DK where a roadie can go very fast on a nice flat smooth separated surface, but that’s not the point. It’s that they have a choice where the path or other users dictate quicker, safer progress on the road.

    Clearly enunciating that in calling for separate infrastructure we don’t want enforced use thereof, is key. And disarming the motorists who will inevitably call for same.

    • Mike, I think you will find that Dutch infrastructure advocates will suggest it is possible to safely provide infrastructure that caters for utilitarian commuter cyclists as well as whippets on road bikes. Because that is what the Dutch do!

      We encountered plenty of roadies on the Embassy study tour, and all of them were using the infrastructure alongside roads, instead of the roads themselves. I also spent an evening on Biltstraat in Utrecht earlier in 2011, having a meal on the street, and I was struck by the numbers of ‘serious’ lycra cyclists heading out of the city, going out for recreational evening rides, all of them using the cycle tracks, instead of the road. Of course, on a track near a city centre, where there are more people about full stop, both pedestrians on the pavement and other cyclists on the tracks, you might not be able to go at full gas. But this is only for a matter of a half a mile to a mile, until the population density drops and the paths become more sparsely populated.

      Naturally a heavy cyclist hitting another cyclist at speed will be a serious matter, but I think the analogy is slightly different from a car driver doing the same thing, because the heavy cyclist has a vested interest in avoiding the collision – it will be very serious for them too! So in practice caution should be naturally built in.

      There are roads that cyclists are banned from in the Netherlands – cyclists of all speeds and abilities. However these bans will only be in place where the alternatives for cyclists are much, much better than the experience of actually cycling on the road.

      On a final note, have a look at this video of two chaps riding their Mangos, at some speed, across the city of Groningen.

    • davidhembrow says:

      Mike, you’ve erected a straw man to attack, of cycle-paths too narrow on which to pass safely, and supported it will a call to popular support for safety of children. However, your assertion simply isn’t true. There is no problem at all with riding at high speeds on well designed cycle-paths in the right places.

      I live in the Netherlands and regularly ride at average speeds somewhat higher than your 30 km/h, on routes consisting almost entirely of cycle-paths, sometimes next to roads which are illegal to use by bike. In fact, in my experience it is often possible to average higher speeds on cycle-paths in the Netherlands than on roads in the UK.

      The highest speeds attained by cyclists are always on segregated infrastructure, not only in the Netherlands but also everywhere else. For competition, riding is on velodromes which don’t admit cars, car free circuits (like this) or roads which are closed to cars for the duration of the race. The cycle-paths where I live have excellent surfaces and offer direct routes with very few traffic lights provide something akin to a linear velodrome to any destination of my choosing and that is why such speeds are possible.

      Now of course there are places where you can’t do this. Cycle-paths immediately outside primary schools, for instance. However, these are not on the main routes and not where anyone is going to go in order to try to set a personal best. That would be similar to trying to set your personal best in a culdesac in a residential area. i.e. not sensible either with or without a cycle-path.

      The problem that you describe simply does not occur.

      BTW, your physics is wrong. Kinetic energy in Joules is calculated using the formula 1/2 * m * v^2 (mass in kg, velocity in m/s). A 100 kg cyclist at 30 km/h has 3472 J of kinetic energy, while a car of 1000 kg at 50 km/h has kinetic energy of 96450 J. The potential for harm from the car exceeds that of the cyclist by far more than one order of magnitude. The kinetic energy of the hypothetical cyclist has no protective effect at all against the car and cannot be subtracted from the energy of the car so there is no point in talking about a delta in this example.

    • davidhembrow says:

      Mike, you’ve erected a straw man to attack, of cycle-paths too narrow on which to pass safely, and supported it will a call to popular support for safety of children. However, your assertion simply isn’t true. There is no problem at all with riding at high speeds on well designed cycle-paths in the right places.

      I live in the Netherlands and regularly ride at average speeds somewhat higher than your 30 km/h, on routes consisting almost entirely of cycle-paths, sometimes next to roads which are illegal to use by bike. In fact, in my experience it is often possible to average higher speeds on cycle-paths in the Netherlands than on roads in the UK.

      The highest speeds attained by cyclists are always on segregated infrastructure, not only in the Netherlands but also everywhere else. For competition, riding is on velodromes which don’t admit cars, car free circuits (like this) or roads which are closed to cars for the duration of the race. The cycle-paths where I live have excellent surfaces and offer direct routes with very few traffic lights provide something akin to a linear velodrome to any destination of my choosing and that is why such speeds are possible.

      Now of course there are places where you can’t do this. Cycle-paths immediately outside primary schools, for instance. However, these are not on the main routes and not where anyone is going to go in order to try to set a personal best. That would be similar to trying to set your personal best in a culdesac in a residential area. i.e. not sensible either with or without a cycle-path.

      The problem that you describe simply does not occur.

      BTW, your physics is wrong. Kinetic energy in Joules is calculated using the formula 1/2 * m * v^2 (mass in kg, velocity in m/s). A 100 kg cyclist at 30 km/h has 3472 J of kinetic energy, while a car of 1000 kg at 50 km/h has kinetic energy of 96450 J. The potential for harm from the car exceeds that of the cyclist by far more than one order of magnitude. The kinetic energy of the hypothetical cyclist has no protective effect at all against the car and cannot be subtracted from the energy of the car so there is no point in talking about a delta in this example.

      Geogre: It doesn’t really make sense even for “agressive, athletic, male cyclists” to oppose segregation. They’re simply ignorant of how good they could have it.

    • Paul Jakma says:

      It is unlawful to cycle on autowegen (i.e. faster arterial roads) in the Netherlands, certain outsized bicycles excepted. Use of the cycle-paths is mandatory along such roads. It is always forbidden to cycle on a snelweg (motorway), as in most places. Additionally, some other, slower, roads may still have a verplichte fietspad – mandatory cycle-path. See https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fietspad for the different signs for paths which are “verplicht” (mandatory) and “onverplicht” (discretionary / non-mandatory). Generally in the Netherlands, cyclists should assume they are required to use any cycle-paths provided.

      Belgium has similar rules, however it does have an exception to allow pelotons to still use certain roads. Some organisations in the Netherlands are lobbying to have similar rules brought in there.

      Note that cycle-paths in the Netherlands can be quite wide. Particularly outside of urban areas. They will often compare favourable with country lanes, even full roads, in the UK, as they often have a double-function to act as access roads (e.g. for tractors and other agricultural equipment). They are more than capable of supporting high-speeds – many cycle-paths are also used by 40+ km/h mopeds – and large groups. Indeed, I was once overtaken by a large peloton of roadie cyclists while I was doing an indicated 60 km/h on a moped.😉

      Yes, roadies may have to contend with cycling through annoying slower cycle traffic to get out of the urban area to the nice roads, but compare that to the situation in the UK, where they have to cycle with *dangerous* – motorised traffic in order to get out to the nice roads.

      Also, they clean the cycle-paths regularly in the Netherlands.

      I do both the lycra-roadie and the ordinary cycling things here in the UK – there really is nothing any UK cyclist should fear from *proper* dutch infrastructure.

  6. There is confusion because no one really knows what they are fighting for! There is the battle hardened cyclist prepared to keep up with traffic, prepared to negotiate with it for 20 or so miles each way and arrive at work quicker and fitter… The other is a mass of fit, relatively unfit, possibly fat people, in normal clothes, probably moving slowly, perhaps with shopping on a rack, certainly a bag hung on over handlebars and whose ride for that day will be about 3 miles max..Its not about facilitating those that already cycle but those that don’t! Its a world that is so alien to most people that they cannot conceive that the bicycle was designed to facilitate the poorer people (ie those that could not afford a horse) to move about. The biggest change in peoples way of living since fire changed they way we cook. The bicycle is a machine for cheap mass transport…If people were facilitated to use them as such, it would make a huge difference to their lives and the lives of those around them, with a knock on effect for local businesses, air quality and of course less traffic for the experienced road sharing cyclist to battle against…win win..
    With the experienced cycle groups arguing for their version of cycle provision it is not surprising that there is conflict with the actual needs of the future bike using public.The future of bicycle use within our towns and cities is all tied up with the future of the high street, our communities, our quality of life for our grandchildren. Its not a cycling issue, its a social issue…
    I don’t think some ‘cyclists’ really want to lose the niche they have made for themselves, a little like supporting a pop band as a kid and being slightly annoyed when they get famous… ,cycling as a sport is is not threatened by fat people riding slowly on a separate path, but i get the feeling that ‘modern’ cyclists really don’t want that, cannot comprehend that. Cyclists are not the folk to be pushing for change, our leaders in government should be planning for a petrol free future, one with a busy local shopping centre,with bikes outside, with children cycling to school, parents cycling to work, restaurants and nightclubs with bicycles parked outside.. This is not the world of a cyclist but a world for everyone. A world that the bicycle is a part of….a world where the bicycle is enabled once again to change the way we live…to enable us to live locally without access to a car. That seems a scary incomprehensible prospect to some, and an impossible dream for others.

  7. This article is spot on! Only a tiny fraction of agressive, athletic, male cyclists could possibly opposed segregation. And that in itself is a completely selfish viewpoint to take because what if you’re wife/child/mother/grandmother fancies cycling on the roads?

  8. Is it possible to be both a daily London commuter cyclist, a keen sport road cyclist and a mountain biker (who links off road trails with road trails) AND to be terrified of traffic?

    Yesterday’s video viral was http://youtu.be/dZCS3FLgYWM . I can’t protect myself from the sort of driving of either the truck or the people carrier. They’d both have made those moves even if you took the lane (when at that junction you get close passes, tail gating and use of the horn).

    We rode the Tour of Flanders sportive in Belgium at the start of the summer. A proper, fast, mass road ride. Parts on closed roads, parts on open roads, and significant sections on cycle path (with the Police/marshalls giving people using the road on those sections a good telling off).

    • Tim says:

      Exactly what he said.

      I consider myself a careful urban cyclist. Like most people I drive as well so I’m aware of potential risks. I look ahead, and behind, wait at the lights, and take the lane, and so on. But how can I protect myself (and my daughter in her bike seat for that matter) from the kind of driving in that video? Or consider this report of a woman with no license, insurance, etc drunk driving with three kids in the car – http://bit.ly/SqpZNj . Who really wants to risk sharing roads with this kind of driver?

      I know cyclists make mistakes or cycle irresponsibly sometimes, but at least I know that other cyclists are as fragile as I am…

      Sorry for venting to the converted… but this stuff really bothers me.

  9. the biggest issue i have with bike radars stance..(the original article is not now available) is the statement “But we at BikeRadar are absolutely focused on the two core principles of safety for all road users and responsible use of the roads”. This simple statement is all anyone needs to digest and act upon if we are to move toward protected cycleways or a separate cycle network.

    Is it safe for unprotected people moving at 5mph to share a 30-40-50 mph road with lorries and cars that are almost as wide as the road itself?.
    Traffic has increased by 80% between 1980 and 2005 whilst road capacity has increased by 10% but there has been no effort to protect the more venerable users.

    I ascertain that it is not safe!, lets do a risk assessment H&S style and see if its safe for all of the ‘road users’. not just people on bikes…people on feet too…perhaps even safe for the lorry drivers driving in an environment so perilous and provides so much potential angst that it must stress them terribly. I think that people make their own assessment without even thinking and that is why cars are being used for those small journeys, why roadside paths are empty of pedestrians and why masses of people are not using bicycles for local trips even though petrol is becoming unaffordable for many.

    But unlike when governments spend millions building motorways and car infrastructure, making the city centres attractive to bicycles is not in the interests of businessmen or politicians. Bicycles cannot carry as much from the supermarket, so why encourage them over cars, bicycles don’t support a massive industry like the car, there is no obvious big business money in encouraging the bicycle as a form of transport. the bicycle is about the person, about the local, about the little business. Its anti establishment in nature, in the 1880’s women cycled away from menfolk and it caused uproar and consternation..the bicycle was rebellious and anti establishment.
    The bicycles success is the bicycles downfall…Its too good at mobilizing people cheaply…
    It will take a brave visionary to bring the power back to the local people and facilitate them to move safely again…Bike radar had it right,..lets make the roads safe for everyone…and that means taking the risk away…that means remove the massive volume of cars and lorries on our narrow fast streets …or remove the vulnerable from the risk…. Hands up politicians who will take it on board..there’s no money in it, but you could give a once great nation its soul and community back.

    • monchberter says:

      “I think that people make their own assessment without even thinking and that is why cars are being used for those small journeys, why roadside paths are empty of pedestrians and why masses of people are not using bicycles for local trips even though petrol is becoming unaffordable for many.”

      The IIPR today released a report saying motorists need to put up and shut up about the so called ‘war on the motorist’ saying that public transport users have been squeezed even harder and that driving in in fact still affordable. They call for much more to be done to promote walking and cycling:

      http://www.ippr.org/images/media/files/publication/2012/08/war-on-motoring-myth_Aug2012_9542.pdf

  10. monchberter says:

    Although I could probably be pigeon-holed as one, I agree with the perspective that fit young men who through sheer Darwinian effort have mastered the inhospitable road are perhaps the worst ambassadors for cycling, in that the image presented is not one that most people who perhaps would want to cycle would ever subscribe to.

    We can argue endlessly over the need for people to be more realistic in either direction; roadies/fit blokes need to accept that not everyone has the confidence to mix it up with motorists on the roads, or the inclination to want to be on the road. The cycling enthused but \’normal\’ punter needs to be aware enough to take responsibility for themselves and not just insist that cycling should just be effortless.

    A mixed approach is needed. It’s never been and never will be a binary choice.

  11. Paul M says:

    I think it is a pertinent question to ask, if you want to change cycling conditions in some way, what it is that you want to change them FOR. No doubt there is a wide and continuous spectrum of views here, but you could identify two components as those current cyclists who want improvements for themselves, and those people – not necessarily cyclists, they could be politicians trying to stretch budgets, health bosses trying to promote healthier living, or environmental campaigners – who want improvements for other people, probably people who don’t currently ride bikes.

    My guess is that, while there will obviously be exceptions, the former group is largely made up of sports cyclists, tourers (the principal constituency of the CTC, hence its name) and long-distance commuters, who want cycling conditions to be “objectively” safe, but also FAST. As such, they are probably already persuaded that statistically speaking cycling in traffic is relatively safe, but could be made safer with some soft measures like training, speed limits and HGV mirrors etc.

    Ditto exceptions, the latter group is largely made up of people who want for other people, (and possibly also themselves), to be able to cycle free from the fear and discomfort engendered by close proximity to fast, heavy traffic. They might, as a motive, point to the fact that more than half of all car journeys are less than five miles outside cities, or three miles inside, and that even journeys as short as a mile or two can make up perhaps a quarter of all car journeys. If you set aside the elderly, disabled, or heavily laden, and allow for difficult geography, bad weather etc, surely you must be able to convert half of all those to journeys on foot or by bike, and cleaner air and lower road maintenance costs passed on to us as taxpayers and less noise and less road danger all favour that.

    Once you take into account the time taken to find a parking space, manoeuvre into it, collect a parking ticket etc, a bike ride takes hardly any more time, and it doesn’t have to be fast – sprinting like Bradley over three miles might save a few minutes but this would be lost in showering and changing afterwards. If Danny’s cycle-stroll through Japan tells us anything, it is that we actually don’t need a “velo-freeway”, a “velo-road” will do nicely. We don’t have to impose impossible standards on it – we just want it to be safe, smooth, clean, continuous and as uninterrupted as possible. Some of that can be achieved on-road, some needs to be separate.

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