When people demonstrate they don’t want to cycle with traffic, why don’t we listen?

Over the recent bank holiday weekend I went out for a brief ride up and down the Downs Link in Sussex. This is the old railway line that used to run between Guildford and Shoreham, and now – like so many other lines removed in the late 1960s – a ‘rail trail’, a combined walking and cycling leisure route.

I was struck not just by the numbers of people out on bikes in the Bank Holiday weather, but by the demographics – the young, the elderly, families, couples cycling with dogs. I even saw a boy on a unicycle.

DSCN9679 DSCN9680
DSCN9675 DSCN9676These are precisely the same kinds of people you would encounter on similar leisure rides in the Netherlands; Dutch riders might not be on mountain bikes, or wearing as many helmets, but the resemblance was striking.

A Dutch leisure ride

A Dutch leisure ride

The pub car parks along the Downs Link served to demonstrate vividly the demand for this kind of cycling.

DSCN9678There are cycle racks here, but they are completely swamped by the huge numbers of bikes, both of adults and children.

The thesis that Britons just don’t like to ride bikes, or don’t like the idea of cycling, doesn’t strike me as being particularly plausible. Not only are there periods in our history when the bicycle was used to an incredible extent – in 1949 more miles were travelled by bicycle in Britain than by car – but there’s plenty of current evidence to suggest that, if conditions are right, there’s nothing stopping people from riding bikes. Skyrides up and down the country prove to be incredibly popular.

Picture courtesy of Crap Waltham Forest

Picture courtesy of Crap Waltham Forest

As Joe Dunckley has written

The high turnout at Skyrides can not be explained by fantastic advertising alone: the advertising merely alerts people to the existence of an event for which there is already vast but stifled demand. A day of conspicuously safe, quiet, unintimidating and unpolluted car-free streets almost advertises itself.

Rail trails, and seafront paths, are the everyday equivalent of Skyrides; places where people can ride bikes in comfort, away from traffic. Demand is high for these routes, even if their quality is sometimes dubious.DSCN9905

People like riding bikes; they just need the right conditions, and at present, very few places in Britain provide those conditions.

The pavement is, of course, a place where people can cycle away from motor traffic, and we should not be surprised that people opt for it in such great numbers. In one of the villages along the Downs Link route, I saw this scene –


A family of four had just exited a pub on the left, heading back towards the old railway line. The father is happy to cycle on the road through the village, but the mother and the two children went straight across onto the pavement, going out of their way to access it. Longer, slower, and more inconvenient, but – unlike the father – they just didn’t want to ride on the road.

On the recent Cycling Embassy trip to Newcastle, we saw plenty of people riding bikes, but on the pavement, just like the family above.

DSCN9806 DSCN9813 DSCN9812 DSCN9807

Even on roads largely free of motor traffic, we still saw families opting for the pavement, because they didn’t feel comfortable cycling with it. In this example, it was the pinchpoint that seemed to push the child onto the pavement –

Screen shot 2013-06-03 at 22.51.07

And in the case below – despite this being a bus- and cycle-only road – the family opted for the pavement. The cycle lanes did not offer them the comfort they needed from approaching buses.Screen shot 2013-06-03 at 22.51.45

We have mountains of evidence, beyond this kind of  anecdote, to demonstrate that  people do not like cycling with motor traffic. If we are to build mass cycling in this country, to achieve a situation where cycling is the norm for short urban trips, and not the exception, we have to start recognising this evidence, and building policy around it.

Yet there is a strange and persistent attitude in cycle campaigning that ‘sharing’ and ‘integration’ remains the way forward; that we just need to tame and reduce traffic, and people will be happy to cycle with it. Guidance for cycle provision, encapsulated in the Hierarchy of Provision, epitomises this inverted thinking, that somehow it is better to integrate than to separate. This ignores both the reasons people repeatedly give for their refusal to ride bicycles, and also the behaviour of people when they do ride bikes, as we can see in the photographs above. Reduced and tamed traffic is not enough to convince people to ‘share’.

This preference for cycling in isolation from motor traffic is confirmed not just by the people who only ride on rail trails, or on seafront paths, but even by the behaviour of the ‘hardened’ cyclist like me, who will always seek out a quieter, traffic-free route in preference to a busier one, if it is not too compromised on either directness or time grounds.

I attended a lecture two weeks ago given by Philip Darnton (the former chair of Cycling England) as part of the excellent Cycling for Transport lecture series. Some of his slides were slightly worrying, to me, because they seemed to demonstrate the same willingness to ignore how people behave, and what they prefer. The slide pictured below went so far as to suggest that ‘sharing the road’ is an ‘ideal solution’.

Screen shot 2013-05-29 at 15.57.19

I’m at a loss to ascertain how sharing the road can possibly be ‘ideal’ when nobody wants to share; when children coming out of a pub car park will head straight across the road onto a pavement; when the greatest demand for cycling is on traffic-free routes; when on a bus-only road, a family will still opt for the pavement, in preference to the road; when countries which have the highest levels of cycling have the least amount of sharing.

The following slide was also presented for discussion –

Screen shot 2013-05-29 at 16.01.08

Darnton went on to say that, obviously, we can’t possibly build segregated lanes everywhere; we can’t build a path directly from your home, to your bank, he said, so what people really mean when they say they won’t cycle without cycle paths is that they don’t really want to cycle at all.

I didn’t get a chance to respond to this argument after the lecture – there were lots of questions, and I didn’t get a go – but I think it is misguided. When people say they don’t want to cycle because it is dangerous, or because it feels dangerous, or because they’re scared of traffic, they really mean itThey’re not coming up with excuses, and I wish we would stop disparaging them, and actually start listening to them.

Now of course we can’t build cycle paths everywhere. But to use this fact (or canard) to suggest that people need to overcome their perceptions of danger about cycling with motor traffic demonstrates a failure to understand the totality of the Dutch cycling experience. The Dutch couldn’t build cycle paths everywhere – they only form a relatively small percentage of their overall road network – and yet the emphasis in Dutch cycle infrastructure planning is placed overwhelmingly on separation, not on sharing.

DSCN9264This road in Assen is ‘shared’ with motor traffic in a conventional sense – what motor traffic there is shares the same space as any cyclist – but the whole network is configured in such a way that there is practically no motor traffic on this road at all. It is a dead end, and serves only as an access road for the properties along it. By contrast, it is a direct, continuous route for bicycles out of the city. It is separation, not integration, that governs the design of this road, because separation is what cyclists prefer. Dutch planning for cycling starts, entirely sensibly, from the preferences of the end user. That’s precisely why it is so incredibly successful – it listens to the customer.

On the road on the other side of this canal, which carries substantially more motor traffic, there is separation of a more conventional kind.

Screen shot 2013-05-07 at 09.37.07Both routes are pleasant, safe and easy to use by bike, and involve next to no interaction with motor traffic.

Separation, not integration, is the key to Dutch success in fostering such high cycling levels. As Dutch human beings are in almost all probability very similar to British human beings, we should adopt precisely the same strategies if we wish to increase our cycling levels. We should use the evidence, not just from the Netherlands, but from the way we can see people in Britain behaving already. Focus on separation – however you wish to achieve it – not on integration.

This entry was posted in Cycling Embassy Of Great Britain, Cycling policy, David Hembrow, Hierarchy of Provision, Infrastructure, Subjective safety, The Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink.

92 Responses to When people demonstrate they don’t want to cycle with traffic, why don’t we listen?

  1. I would say, in my small area of Dorset 75% of those that ride bicycles ride on the pavements. All risk £60 fines because even on quiet roads with only the odd car or two passing people just don’t feel safe.

    I was speaking to a woman only yesterday, when i stopped off in her cafe for a cup of tea, that was telling me her friend was fined a couple of weeks ago for riding on the pavement. I wish I had thought to ask if her friend will continue to ride on the pavement, ride only on the road, or whether she would just not ride anymore. It would be interesting to know.

    I know I am prepared to get caught one day and fined, but it won’t stop me because I simply don’t feel safe on those roads of ours that are fast.

    • Chris says:

      Does that not strike you as rather hypocritical? You’ll cycle on the pavement because you’re intimidated by the possibility of encountering the occasional car on the roads, but never mind that pedestrians might feel intimidated by cyclists on pavements?

      • fonant says:

        No, not at all. If you’re on a bike and you’re hit by a car or run over by a lorry, you can expect to spend some time in hospital, or worse. The fear is very valid, even though the likelihood is low.

        In a motor-vehicle-cyclist collision the cyclist always suffers, and the driver of the motor vehicle almost never suffers. Motorists don’t need to worry about crashing much: their seatbelts and crumple zones and reinforcement bars and air bags will protect them. So motorists are quite comfortable charge along country lanes, they have nothing to lose.

        Pedestrians fear cyclists on pavements, but in a cyclist-pedestrian collision both parties end up slightly hurt. The cyclist is as likely to be hurt as the pedestrian is, so they take care to avoid collisions at all costs.

        As with all risk, humans are quite good at estimating the potential harm, but terrible at judging the likelihood of harm occurring. Which is why people are reasonably happy crossing the road (statistically dangerous), but are frightened of flying in aeroplanes or sky diving or rock climbing or cycling amongst motor vehicles (statistically safe).

        The only solution is to switch from providing just two ways, carriageways and footways, to providing three ways: carriageways, footways, cycleways. For proof, see the Netherlands.

        • Chris says:

          What you say is fine in theory, right up to the point where the cyclist on the pavement knocks a pedestrian into the road, at which point all those heavy boxes the cyclist is looking to avoid come into the equation again.

          I’ve been hit myself by a cyclist whilst on a pavement. He was coming downhill with the sun behind him, and the first I knew about it was a split second before he hit me. As it happened, between him being outside me, only catching me a glancing blow and me being a hefty fully grown bloke, he was the one who ended up in the road, not me, but if I’d been a child it would’ve been a very different matter. His bike hit the back end of a car, scratching the car but not otherwise causing any damage. A second or two earlier and he would’ve gone straight under the front wheels of the car, the driver of which would’ve been completely powerless to take any avoiding action at all.

          I can understand people’s concerns about cycling on roads. Whilst I generally feel comfortable there on my own, any times where I have to take my kids on roads takes matters to a totally different level of paranoia and fear.

          That doesn’t, however, make it acceptable to cycle on pavements under any circumstances. If we all chose to break the law just because we don’t like the status quo, where would that get us?

          Quite apart from being illegal, cycling on pavements pisses off pedestrians and undermines the moral position of cyclists trying to lobby for change.

          • Tim says:

            “If we all chose to break the law just because we don’t like the status quo, where would that get us?”
            Are you familiar with the Kinder Scout trepass?

            Which isn’t to say ignore the law in all cases as you please, but the powers-that-be already clumsily acknowledge that pavement cycling isn’t the great evil that some try to make out with their anecdotal “evidence”. Shared use pavements and toucan crossings are relatively common. Cycling is allowed on the paths in all our local parks (in Manchester) and I’ve never witnessed any problems. And then there’s that home office guidance. Yes, it sounds like the guy in the story you relate was a reckless idiot with little consideration for himself or anyone else, but you almost illustrate fonant’s point – seems like he came off worse.

            It could be argued that the relatively low numbers of cyclists around fail to justify dedicated cycling space, but the obvious counter-argument is that the numbers are mainly limited by the lack of safe space for cycling. Catch 22. High numbers of pavement cyclists are the visible sign that we’re getting it wrong. Rather than undermining the cycling lobby – an irrational argument which panders to ugly prejudice – pavement cycling demonstrates that people do want to cycle, but not on the roads as they are. Obviously most cyclists would infinitely prefer to ride on a dedicated facility than to share a bumpy pavement with pedestrians, but for me with the kids on-board, busy roads come a poor third place.

            • Andy R says:

              What might be interesting is a campaign of civil disobedience, whereby all cyclists who could used footways for all their journeys for a single week – obviously difficult in London or Bristol due to sheer numbers, but (sadly) doable in other large cities. This would probably go either of two ways; either get pedestrians backs up and have them complaining so much that there’s a subsequent politically inspired police crackdown, or open everyone’s eyes to the need for separate, safe infrastructure.

          • fonant says:

            You seem to be constructing a straw man argument, by suggesting that cycling on the pavement is highly likely to knock a pedestrian into the road where a motor vehicle will then run them over. While possible, this must be an extremely uncommon thing to occur! In practice many people, perhaps even a majority of people cycling, cycle on footways on a daily basis with no problem at all. That includes my twins and me on our way to and from school.

            The government, and the police, consider that cycling on the footway is acceptable: when Fixed Penalty Notices were introduced for the offence, the Home Secretary specifically stated that FPNs should not be issued to people cycling on the footway for their own safety. As I’ve said elsewhere, the reason cycling is illegal on the footway dates to 1888, some decades before motor vehicles become common on our roads. It’s more by historical accident than by conscious legal process.

            On breaking the law, a majority of motorists break the legal maximum speed limit, if only by a small amount. This blatant law-breaking is tolerated by society, just as people cycling on the footway is. Legally wrong, morally suspect, socially accepted.

            On the “moral position of cyclists”, I wonder who you think “cyclists” are? And why these “cyclists” need to have some “moral position”. Would you expect “motorists” to have some high moral position before we build any new roads? I ride a bicycle for local trips in ordinary clothes. Am I a “cyclist”, to be lumped together in some sort of community along with lycra-clad racing cyclists and teenage yoof riding bikes with no brakes?

            In actual fact “pissing people off” is a very good way to get change. Change is very unlikely if everyone is happy except a tiny minority. Recent changes in London have only come about because hundreds of people who use bicycles have been on protest rides, making enough of an annoyance of themselves that they were featured in the news, and so that they become a political issue.

            • Chris says:

              I’m not creating a straw man argument. I’m merely providing my personal experience. I have been hit by a cyclist riding illegally on a pavement, and do not wish to repeat the experience.

              As a result of this experience, if I’m on a pavement with my kids and I see someone cycling towards us, I’ll position myself on the pavement to ensure that they have to stop, rather than trying to squeeze past. No different to taking the lane when approaching a pinch point or parked cars on the road, except for the fact that I’ve got a legal right to be on the road on my bike, whereas cyclists on the pavement don’t, and hopefully if it happens frequently enough, they’ll stop cycling on pavements.

              Why do I think it damages the moral position of cyclists lobbying for change? Because if, as you suggest, it becomes socially acceptable to cycle on pavements, then it becomes socially acceptable for opponents of segregated cycle facilities to say “we don’t need separate cycle paths because the cyclists just cycle on the pavement anyway”. The net result of this is unsuitable facilities for cyclists (pavements), and significantly impeded facilities for pedestrians, just so that motorists can continue unimpeded!

              You’re correct in saying that pissing people off is often the best way to secure change, but pissing pedestrians off isn’t the answer, as nobody in power is going to listen to them, and you’re just reducing their goodwill towards cyclists and handing opponents of cycling proof of another cliché about why cyclists shouldn’t be pandered to. If you want to piss people off, piss people off where it matters.

              • fonant says:

                It is already socially acceptable to cycle on pavements, in fact if you ask most people they’d say that pavements are the only place they’d ever consider riding their bicycles! it is already the case that local highway authorities push cyclists onto pavements with “shared use” and narrow discontinuous cycle paths. This is where we already are!

                We need decent protected cycleways for the people who aren’t “cyclists” but who would find it really useful to be able to use their bicycles for local trips. Like parents and children getting to and from school. Also because, as you have correctly pointed out, cycling on pavements is both technically illegal and also unsatisfactory for the people on the bicycles and any pedestrians they might pass.

                Does the existence of a problem (people cycling on pavements and frightening pedestrians) mean that the problem shouldn’t be solved, because the somehow the people causing the problem don’t have enough moral standing? Surely the problem requires money invested to eliminate the problem by providing safe cycleways for people to use, so they don’t need to ride on the footway?

                If a rail passenger dodges paying their fare, does that mean all rail passengers are bad, and public subsidy of railways should stop? Surely it means that money should be invested in stopping the problem of fare dodging?


                I still don’t understand who you think “cyclists” are, as a group with some shared moral standing. Do you mean everyone who owns a bicycle? Or people who belong to a cycling club? Are “cyclists” temporary beings, only in existence when astride a bicycle?

                If a hooligan riding a mountain bike on a pavement nearly knocks over an old lady, does that mean that I’m a bad person when I’m riding my bicycle, because we’re both from the group of people called “cyclists”? Of course not!

              • Will says:

                Fortunately, when FPNs were introduced for pavement cycling in 1999, Home Office Minister Paul Boateng issued guidance saying that: “The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so. Chief Police Officers who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required”.

                The Home Office guidance was re-affirmed in 2014 by the then Cycling Minister Robert Goodwill, who agreed that the police should use discretion in enforcing the law and recommended that the matter be taken up with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). ACPO welcomed the renewed guidance, circulated it to all forces, and issued a statement referring to “discretion in taking a reasonable and proportionate approach, with safety being a guiding principle”.

                To summarise, cycling on the pavement is still an offence, but there is clear guidance that the police are supposed to exercise discretion.

            • Chris says:

              It seems we can only reply to each other a certain number of times before it won’t let us go any further steps in, so this is actually in response to your later post…..

              1. I can only assume we live in different areas, as whilst I do see some people cycling on pavements, I see infinitely more cycling on the road. Most of my cycling is commuting into Central London, with the remainder being leisure cycling in the Surrey Hills and family outings. The latter is generally off road paths, but I don’t typically see people cycling on the pavement anywhere.

              2. Shared use paths and pavements are not the same thing. Obviously I have no issue with people legally using shared use paths.

              3. What I think a cyclist is, or whether I think support should be given or withheld from cyclists’ needs based on the activities of a minority is irrelevant. I already am a cyclist, so I know that there is a vast range of different people with different needs, all of whom can be grouped together as cyclists, despite those differing needs. What is important is that non-cyclists do tend to group all users of pushbikes as an absolute and inseparable group, and then tar all of us with the same brush. There are few things more surreal than being sat on your bike next to a van driver at a red light moaning at you about the fact that “all the f***ing cyclists jump the red lights”. Pointing out to them that they’re sat next to a couple of dozen cyclists who haven’t jumped the lights just goes in through one ear and out of the other. Those are the people that need persuading, and if they see one person riding like an arse on the pavement, then all cyclists become idiots who ride like arses on pavements.

              • fonant says:

                1. We do. It sounds like where you are there isn’t a pavement cycling problem, which probably means few ordinary people ride bicycles for local trips to the shops or to school.

                2. They are physically exactly the same thing, apart from the legal status of the person riding the bicycle. They are discontinuous, giving away priority at every side road, they are usually too narrow for bicycles to safely pass pedestrians, and they have a multitude of posts and poles in the way. A cyclist on a shared use path is exactly the same danger to a pedestrian as a cyclist on a footway is.

                3. “What is important is that non-cyclists do tend to group all users of pushbikes as an absolute and inseparable group, and then tar all of us with the same brush. ”

                Exactly, and this is completely illogical. This is a viewpoint that must be challenged, not agreed with.

                If we can’t overcome this illogical grouping of anyone who has ridden a bicycle into a “cycling community”, and if we accept that the actions of the few must prevent changes to benefit everyone, what hope do we have? There’s no way I can stop all teenage hooligans riding on the pavements, especially since my family ride on the pavements twice a day ourselves.

              • Tim says:

                ( basically agreeing with fonant)

                2) Is this a shared use path or a pavement? Because it looks like both to me.

                3) If a shopkeeper banned from her shop because of a perception that they were all muggers and thieves, would you pander to that perception and accept the argument, that the relevant group should all behave better before they’re allowed back in shops. Or would you call her out as the racist she is? Because your current attitude appears to make you complicit in prejudice against a group you are a member of, which is weird.

                There are two arguments here which we should be careful not to conflate:
                a) We shouldn’t judge a group (ie “people who cycle”) based on the behaviour of some people in that group (and we shouldn’t accept that judgement from others either).
                b) Pavement cycling is understandable. And perhaps even acceptable under certain circumstances (including low density of pedestrians/cyclists, courtesy on both sides( particularly the cyclists’), etc).

                You can agree with either argument without agreeing with the other. Obviously I agree with both. I think it’s hard to argue with (a) without sounding like a bigot, and the authorities seem to feel that there’s some weight in (b) although that’s partly because it lets them get away with being lazy.

              • Chris says:

                I’m neither accepting nor pandering to the argument. I’m merely pointing out that the argument exists. Many non-cyclists do tar us all with the same brush, and blog comments such as these condoning cycling on pavements does nothing to dispel the “bloody cyclists” mentality.

                Is it fair and reasonable for non cyclists to tar me with the same brush as someone who thinks it’s acceptable to jump a red light or ride on a pavement? No, as I wouldn’t do either (and many who do jump red lights claim they’re only doing that for their safety as well), but enough other cyclists do it to allow the tar brush to come out. It’s not fair, but it’s a fact of life, and one which will be perpetuated for as long as cyclists – even a small minority of us – do continue to ride on pavements or jump lights.

              • Tim says:

                “I’m neither accepting nor pandering to the argument.”

                And yet previously you used that same argument yourself?
                “cycling on the pavement…undermines the moral position of cyclists trying to lobby for change”.

                “Many non-cyclists do tar us all with the same brush”
                Yes, but as you point out yourself they’re plainly wrong to do so, so I don’t intend to dignify that behaviour by taking it seriously or adjusting my own conduct based on it.

              • Chris says:

                In the view of the people who need persuading, every person who rides on pavements does undermine the moral position of the rest of us.

              • fonant says:

                That’s impossible: there is no group called “cyclists” that could be assigned a moral position. In any case, why should such an illogical rule apply to “cyclists” but not to “motorists”, many of whom drive extremely dangerously and illegally? It would be like blaming “pedestrians” because some pedestrians are muggers!

              • Tim says:

                …should have said “If a shopkeeper banned [insert racial minority] from her shop…”. but wordpress messed it up.

              • pm says:

                Indeed. And their view is irrational, not to mention morally flawed.

                The way to deal with morally and intellectually flawed views is to consistently reject them and point out why they are wrong, not to adopt them as your own and collude with them!

                Especially when if you do accept them it puts you in a hopeless position (as it is simply an impossible task to ever get everyone who ever uses a bike to never do anything wrong).

  2. Quite agree. I can’t understand why people involved with trying to get more people cycling have this amazing blind spot, apart from that fact that the majority of “cycle campaigners” are blinkered by decades of their own vehicular cycling and have never tried riding bicycles anywhere with children.

    We cycle a short stretch on the pavements twice daily on the route to and from school. It causes no-one any harm or inconvenience or even any worry, in fact we chat happily to other parents and children walking to school. We were challenged on the legality by the local PCSO once, some years ago, but on pointing out the alternatives he agreed that careful cycling on the pavement was sensible and acceptable. Should we ever be “offered” a fixed penalty notice I think I’d be very tempted to contest it in court.

    The reason cycling on the pavement is illegal under the Highways Act is really an accident of history. Cyclists were deemed to be “carriages” way back in the late 1800s before cars even existed. At the time this made sense, cyclists and horse-drawn carriages travelled at similar speeds, and therefore shared the (deserted by today’s standards!) carriageways of our roads. Pedestrians were the only ones allowed to use the footways, where they were provided. These days it is abundantly clear that cycling and motoring don’t mix safely or pleasantly, while cyclists do indeed mix quite safely (if not always happily) with pedestrians. Until we get decent Dutch-style transport planning and provision, cycling on the pavements is inherently the sensible thing to do.

    • tom says:

      while cyclists do indeed mix quite safely (if not always happily) with pedestrians.

      I disagree with this somewhat. I have seen and been involved in small accidents with bikes while walking. Once my fault, others not so much.

      If someone is travelling at speed on a racer and someone steps or jumps in front of them its pain o’clock for both.

      • fonant says:

        Yes, indeed, but the crucial thing is that it’s “pain o’clock” for both in roughly equal proportions. The pedestrian really doesn’t want to be hit by a cyclist, and the cyclist really doesn’t want to hit a pedestrian. The amounts of energy involved are “natural” too, so collisions are almost always survivable for both parties: it hurst, but doesn’t kill. Having said that, keeping the two groups separate, as they do in the Netherlands, is certainly much preferable for both sets of people.

        Sadly here in the UK we require cyclists to mix with heavy motor vehicles. In a collision between a motor vehicle and a car it’s only ever “pain o’clock” for the cyclist, and never for the car driver. The energies involved are orders of magnitude larger than those that would be naturally survivable, and car crashes kill people in quite terrible numbers. Again, keeping the two groups of travellers apart is by far the best solution to this.

  3. Charlie Bigspuds says:

    What a fantastic post and very much in line with my own observations over the last few weeks of half decent weather.

    My other half and her friends are quite a good barometer for “Joe Public’s” feelings on cycling. Her friends have a 1 year old toddler and have recently bought a bike seat for the young chap to use on the back of their cycle to work MTBs (bought 3 years ago, but used less than 5 times, and never to cycle to work 12 miles from their home). For a day out last weekend we planned a leisurely cycle taking in a couple of country pubs. What was clear from the outset, was that none of the group aside from myself were comfortable cycling on the roads, so we planned a trip up the River Wey Towpath from Guildford north to West Byfleet.

    The River Wey Towpath cannot be described as a satisfactory cycle path in any way, it is narrow, hugely bumpy, hardly continuous and unpaved. It’s not really possible to pass walkers or cyclists without one group stopping and moving aside to let the other pass. However, on a sunny Sunday afternoon I was amazed how busy it was and full of people off all ages and levels of fitness, huge smiles on faces simply out enjoying their rides. The pubs along the route were rammed with those out on their bikes, a similar scene to that described in your picture.

    A fantastic day was had by all and as we arrived home we stopped off for a beer in our garden before going our separate ways. I asked whether as everyone had enjoyed the ride, would they be up for joining me on a ride on the roads next weekend.

    Immediately the eyes narrowed and cheeks puffed out – “No, it’s far too dangerous” “Too many cars” “I’m too slow” “I’d feel like I was holding up traffic”. One member of the group mentioned how inconvenient he found overtaking the cyclists he found on the road during his drive to work. Suddenly everyone had gone from “cyclist” to “motorist” (we all drive). Everyone but myself agreed.

    I was left feeling how much of a missed opportunity there is for cycling in the UK. While there will always be a small percentage of riders confident, brave, (stupid?) enough to use the road, the vast majority of the population will never feel comfortable cycling in the heavy traffic which is e. On a slightly more depressing note, I was left noting that this was the first exercise anyone in the group had got so far in 2013, aside from myself. If able to feel safe on two wheels, I do not doubt that activity levels in the UK would significantly increase and we would begin to make inroads into the 60% of adults who are obese.

    I was also left pondering that the weather has a huge impact upon the amount using their bikes. We have experienced over the last year some of the worst weather seen in the UK since records began. Last night’s commute home saw huge numbers of people out on their bikes. A decent summer might see a few more converts – and interestingly the roads were correspondingly quieter with motor traffic…coincidence? I think not.

    • pm says:

      I’m afraid your account reinforces my belief that you can’t be both a cyclist and a motorist. Or even both a motorist and a pedestrian. “Motorist” as an identity much of the time trumps the others. Being both a cyclist and a motorist is a bit like being both a meat eater and a vegetarian (on the grounds you don’t eat meat between meals). If your main form of transport is a car, that’s the interest that’s going to concern you most.

      Personally, while I sympathise with the Go Dutch viewpoint (certainly more than the macho Vehicular cyclist types) I think the fundamental problem is that motoring is hugely subsidised. If motorists had to pay the true cost of it most would give it up. But politically there is simply no way to challenge that subsidy. So its all feels a bit hopeless.

      • Har Davids says:

        Well, in Holland we are both, so I guess it makes us flexitarians; you choose your mode of transport and adjust your behaviour accordingly. I drive about 2.500 km a month for my job, mostly in the city and I know how to behave when it comes to cyclists and pedestrians, as most drivers do. I can’t remember ever having felt unsafe while riding my bike, not even on the 50 km/h stretches we still have. If people managed to use their common sense, they would know it’s a simple of matter of getting from A to B and the easiest way to achieve it. Sometimes you walk or ride, sometimes you drive or use public transportation, as the car is hardly ever the ideal in urban areas. But last I visited London, most people there seemed to disagree with me: cars everywhere, even in what used to be front-gardens, as there’s no more room left to park in the streets.

        As long as people think there’s a war going on in traffic, nobody will really feel safe. Bicycle-use makes perfect sense: less congestion, less pollution, less obesity, less time wasted, so local authorities should invest in infrastructure, it will even benefit the motorists.

  4. Chris. says:

    In an ideal world, it would be lovely to have separate cycle lanes everywhere, but I do have some significant worries about this too…

    1. That last photo of the Netherlands is my idea of a potential nightmare. Lovely when there are only a couple of cyclists around, but how would you make any sort of reasonable progress along it if it was packed full of families and other slow-moving cyclists? I take my own kids (10, 7 & 5) out riding on forest fire trails and the like, but would feel far more selfish taking them on a segregated cycle path such as the one pictured, because I know from my own experience (30 mile round trip commute) that not everybody is only cycling short distances.

    2. How would the surfaces be cleaned? At least vehicle tyres tend to get rid of broken glass fairly rapidly. A sliver lining, maybe, but one worth having!

    3. What happens when Utopia breaks down? In the South East in particular, we’re a fairly crowded place, so there are always going to be moments when you simply can’t fit a segregated cycle lane in. Are we going to see crowds of confidence-lacking cyclists just stopping at the end of a segregated path wondering what to do next?

    Maybe I’m just extremely lucky in having CS7 as my commute to work? There are certainly a couple of points along the route which could be more cycle friendly, but by and large it makes commuting a pleasure. I’ve been riding this route for a couple of years now, and the number of cyclists riding it seems to be increasing all the time. I’m particularly surprised at the rise in female cyclists, which would suggest (although maybe I’m being unfair to ladies here) that people generally don’t find this sort of shared infrastructure route a particularly scary experience? As a rule, the nerviest part is having to pull into traffic to overtake slower-moving cyclists when it gets really busy, and that just brings me back to point 1 above.

    Thanks for the article though! I didn’t know about the Downs Link, so am pleased to have somewhere new to take the family for a ride.

    • 1. The Netherlands must indeed be a nightmare for cyclists. I can’t think why 40% of the population use bicycles for daily trips, nor why racing cyclists use the properly-designed segregated cycle tracks there 😉

      You are comparing UK cycling (where we have mostly keen cyclists cycling long distances) with Dutch cycling (where the people on bikes aren’t “cyclists” at all, they’re just ordinary people). Most trips in both countries are the same lengths, more than half less than 2 miles long and most less than 5 miles long. It’s just that in the UK we mostly drive those distances, while the Dutch cycle.

      We have National Cycle Network Route 2 along the coast here. It’s too narrow in places, and poorly surfaced in others, but still several hundred people cycle-commute along it daily, and on a sunny day it sees well over 1,000 cycle counts per day. You wouldn’t want to race along it, but for commuting it’s OK and preferable for almost everyone than cycling along the congested A259 road. If it was as wide as Dutch cycle tracks are, and as wide as the UK design guidelines say it should be, there would be no problem at all passing other cyclists.

      I Suggest you read David Hembrow’s blog to find out what cycling in the Netherlands is like, and how fast you can go when you have decent cycling provision that means that you almost never have to stop! Also remember that the Dutch don’t use cycle tracks on all roads, in most residential streets they use “filtered permeability” and 30kmh limits to tame motor vehicles and to block all “rat runs” so you’re only sharing with a few motorists visiting that particular street.

      2. With street cleaners, as they do in the Netherlands.

      3. Good point. They do now have some “problems” with congestion and parking for the millions of cyclists in some of their towns. But these “problems” are tiny compared to the problems of the motor dependency we suffer from in the UK, and the Dutch have massively better mobility than we do here in the UK. They also have the safest roads for cyclists in Europe.

      • Chris. says:

        You may well be right. I’m commenting purely from my own personal perspective, which is that when you get 40+ cyclists at each set of traffic lights in the morning commute (and whatever happens, the nature of London is that even a segregated cycle route would still have to cross major arterial routes along the way), it would be a nightmare to try and get everyone moving at the speed they want to move at if they’re trying to funnel in to a small segregated lane.

        The other problem with comparing the UK with the Netherlands is that there’s no real way of knowing how different our cycling figures might be if the UK was as flat as the Netherlands?

        • The Netherlands road system works perfectly well, and extremely safely, with 40% of trips made by bicycle. Just because London’s facilities are crap and can’t handle a mere 40 cyclists doesn’t mean there aren’t well-proven solutions that do work. Obviously a “small segregated lane” isn’t enough, which is why the Dutch wouldn’t dream of using such a thing. They build facilities that work for the millions of ordinary people who use bicycles for local transport. We can build the same facilities very easily too. In fact we already are starting to.

          London is as flat as the Netherlands. Switzerland, not known for being a particularly “flat” country, has much higher levels of cycling than we do in the UK. Flatness is not the problem: ever-present danger from having to cycle amongst heavy motor vehicles is the problem – even expert cycle enthusiasts are killed by cars and lorries in the UK every year, and there’s no way ordinary people can be expected to put their lives in the hands of drivers like us keen cyclists do.

          • Chris. says:

            Every time I ride from Worcester Park up to Stoneleigh, or from Colliers Wood up to Clapham I would question whether London is as flat as the Netherlands! It’s not much if you’re fit and on a decent bike, but I doubt your average mum on a heavy bike with a kid on the back would consider it to be flat!

            I’d be interested to see more about Switzerland though. It may well be that flatness does have little or nothing to do with things, but whenever I see a comparison with the Netherlands, that’s always the first thing which springs to mind. As I recall, Denmark has the second highest rate of cycling in the EU after the Netherlands, and is on average the second flattest country after the Netherlands.

            I’m not sure about your view on “there’s no way ordinary people can be expected to put their lives in the hands of drivers like us keen cyclists do”, though. I hadn’t touched a road bike in years before I started commuting a couple of years ago! It was hating the train, my father having a quadruple heart bypass and CS7 being announced which turned me into a keen cyclist (albeit still with a good few stone to shed) rather than being a keen cyclist that made me start cycle commuting.

            How many other people who say “oh, it’s too dangerous” are just making an assumption, without ever having tried it? Maybe guided beginner groups on major London cycling routes would be a good starting point to getting more people cycling? The thing which makes me feel safest on CS7 is the thought that it’s far harder to have a SMIDSY incident when there’s dozens of cyclists on the same route!

            • The Netherlands has hills (and bridges) too. Round here is dead flat on the coastal plain, but the railway bridges are steep and very hard work! Don’t forget the wind too, much nastier than hills as it can make the entire trip “uphill”…

              Oh, yes, the fear of motor traffic is mostly subjective (although people are killed too often by lorries in London). But it’s a very real fear, and it’s reinforced by organisations calling for cycle training, introductory rides, compulsory helmets, high-viz clothing, etc. all things which really shouldn’t be needed (and aren’t needed in civilised cycling countries).

              There is no need to hold introductory rides where cycling is visibly safe: hence all those people herding onto motor-traffic-free routes – there’s huge suppressed demand. But ask anyone in the street why they don’t ride a bicycle for local journeys, and I can tell you what the number one reason will be. Even as an experienced cyclist with tens of thousands of miles under my belt, my friends still think I’m a “bit mad” and “being dangerous” riding my bicycle locally.

              I’m quite happy “taking the lane” and riding amongst motor traffic. In fact I quite enjoy the risks of riding in amongst cars and lorries on my own. But there’s no way I’d comfortable with my eight-year old twins, or my mother, doing the same.

              People cycle in the UK despite the road conditions, people cycle in the Netherlands because of the road conditions. Which is why the UK has around 5% modal share for cycling, and the Dutch have 40%.

        • Looking at that last picture of NL, I’d estimate the bike lanes to be approximately 1.5m wide in each direction. That’s not huge, and I could understand why you’d think that lots of bikes would mean that would be slow going, but generally, people flow into cities in the morning, and out in the evenings. So it’s not like you’d be struggling to overtake against a flow of 40 cyclists coming in the opposite direction – you should have space to overtake if you pass in the opposite lane. And even if you did find that it was so heavily used that you couldn’t make progress, it’s likely that the parallel car routes would be just as congested.

          • I think it might be a little more, maybe 2m in each direction, but you’re right – you’re very unlikely to be genuinely held up on this path. And this is actually the “secondary” route – most of the east-west bicycle traffic will be on the road in the previous picture. If Dutch bicycle routes get congested, they get widened, or rebuilt, or the network is reconfigured

            • Actually Liz is more or less right. The cycle-path on the south side of the canal is only just over 3 m in width. However, that’s just a secondary cycle-route in a small town (67000 people live in Assen) and it’s not a very heavily used cycle-path. The primary route, which takes most of the cycle traffic, is on the other side of the canal and is 5.5 m wide.

              BTW, just because it’s a secondary route, that doesn’t mean it’s not considered to be important. When the cycle-path was dug up for works last year, a lane was taken from the road to preserve the secondary bicycle route. People were not even asked to make the minor detour of crossing the canal and riding on the primary route.

          • Chris. says:

            I really would love to be convinced, but I’m still not sure. It’s not unusual to have 3 or even occasionally 4 cyclists side by side on busier parts of CS7, with each overtaking the progressively slower ones inside them. This works fine when you’ve got the full width of a bus lane in which to do it, but would you actually get that on a segregated path? Yes, traffic flows into and out of cities as you say, but there’s a large area of Central London where people are commuting in from every point of the compass and overlapping with people coming in from other directions, limiting the ability to use the opposite side.

            • Pete says:

              Perhaps you’re over estimating how fast you ride a bike. As has been mentioned many times the Dutch don’t just have a cycle tracks that are 2m wide, but also consists of roads with little-to-no motor traffic on it which would enable you to ride fast.

              But it’s not just about making space avaliable but also making it a smooth journey. How many times do you stop and start at lights? How long do you wait for at roundabouts? How long are you left stationary at road junctions waiting for a gap in the traffic? The Dutch network runs smooth by giving priority to bike users so they’re moving as much as is possible.

              • Chris says:

                My route is 15 miles each way. In those 15 miles I have 1 roundabout where I almost always have to wait for a gap, and one where I do sometimes, but never for long.

                I also have one junction where I have to turn right onto a busy road on the way in, but as this is close to a set of traffic lights, it’s a case of waiting rather than taking a risk. I have no such junctions on the way home.

                Lastly, I have roughly 80 sets of traffic lights. The one time I counted, I counted 81, but I can’t guarantee the accuracy!

                My average speed for the whole journey is typically between 12-14mph. Elapsed time is typically between 62 and 70 minutes, with around 7-12 minutes stationary at lights or junctions. I’m not particularly fit, and definitely weigh too much, so even without anything to get in my way, I’d be riding at around 18-21mph on the flat, and 8-12mph on a 5 degree climb. Gravity is a bitch!

                Given that I do respect every red light on the route, I’m really not actually losing all that much time to the route itself, and considering that it takes me right from the outskirts to dead centre of the largest city in Europe, I think it’s pretty amazing!

                These sorts of speeds mean that I’m probably passing two other bikes for every one that passes me on CS7. I really can’t justify taking more than 2.5 hours for my round trip commute, hence my extreme concern about any changes to the route which might conceivably lead to more of the two thirds holding me up! I do understand that it won’t be right for everyone as it stands, but if the price of keeping my commute viable is others not being willing to cycle on the route, then I’m afraid I’m going to be selfish and hope for the status quo to be preserved.

              • Chris says:

                Just read back my previous post and realised I should’ve said moving time was 62-70 minutes, not elapsed time. I’d love to do the route in an elapsed time of 62 minutes!!!

            • Mark, an excellent blog post that I’d somehow overlooked until now.

              Chris, I’m replying to you because of your reply to Pete’s suggestion that perhaps you overestimate your speed, and your reply about covering 15 miles: “moving time was 62-70 minutes, not elapsed time. I’d love to do the route in an elapsed time of 62 minutes!!!”

              I live in the Netherlands and a couple of years ago I had a commute of 30 km, 18 miles, each way. It took on average a little over 50 minutes elapsed time to cover that distance. The rolling time was virtually the same as the elapsed time because I usually didn’t have to stop even once in that distance. On good days with few other people on the cycle-path it would take less, sometimes as little as 47 minutes from door to door. This was possible _because_ of the cycle-paths. I had priority over very nearly every junction in this distance, a smoother surface than the road, could take a shorter distance route than was possible on the roads, and met just one traffic light in 30 km – which defaults to green for bikes.

              If I had chosen to make the journey by car I would have passed far more traffic lights, travelled a longer distance and spent much more time stationary. Actually, I tried it once and it took about 35 minutes – this lower time being the result covering the bulk of the distance at 120 km/h on the motorway. I can’t match that speed by bike.

              None of this was remotely like my experience of shorter cycle-commutes in the UK. It’s more like having been provided with a linear velodrome from home to work. Believe me, you have absolutely nothing to fear from decent infrastructure.

    • I’m puzzled you find CS7 pleasant. I’ve cycled parts of CS7 regularly for the last 15 years or more and the blue paint has made very little difference at all. In fact, the only junction i can think of that has been improved to any extent at all is near Stockwell tube and even that’s not great. The rest of the section I use between Clapham South and Elephant is, scary even for an experienced cyclist. Moreover, weekends and evenings you don’t even have the “benefit” of using a bus lane as it can be parked in and used by other vehicles.

      There are a lot of cyclists on it but would you allow a 12 year old?

      • Chris. says:

        Ok, I should probably quantify “pleasant”!!! Yes, I’d rather be riding down a leafy byway in the Surrey Hills, but living in Epsom and commuting to Waterloo means I’m fairly stuck on that route as a commute, and as much as I think one could enjoy commuting into Central London, I do enjoy it.

        It beats the hell out of driving or catching a bus, train or tube, and I can generally move at the speed I choose to move at and have a viable commute as a result. Yes, the road surface is pretty dodgy in lots of places, but then again I’ve only had 3 punctures in the last 4,000 miles. Yes, there are places where I have to share the road with buses and trucks, but we live in a city of millions, and it’s not going to kill me to hang back a bit and let them negotiate a pinch point or turning.

        With regards to whether it has changed much since CS7 was implemented, I don’t know. It was the implementation of CS7 which encouraged me to get off the train and onto a bike in the first place.

        Sure, it could be improved – and the first and easiest change would be to make it active 24/7, as you’re quite right in saying that it’s a nightmare if you’re not off it by 7pm – but that doesn’t change the fact that most days, the 2.5 hours I spend commuting is one of my favourite parts of the day, and that’s certainly not something I could ever have said before!

        • pm says:

          Perhaps it depends on the time of day, but I’ve found CS7 to be fairly useless – its just ‘car-superparking 7’. It has plenty of parking bays built into it, and even where its seems to officially not allow parking (where it has a solid white line delimiter) cars park there anyway and nothing is done about it.

          Actually I really wish it would be more clearly explained what the rules on parking are (e.g. what times parking is in fact allowed). Most mandatory cycle lanes I am aware of are most of the time when I try and use them full of parked cars (e.g. the bit of the Thames cycle route that goes through Woolwich, just east of the Thames barrier, which is _always_ blocked with cars in the same spot. Plus several others I could list)
          The whole concept of mandatory cycle lanes (yet alone advisory ones) seems a complete waste of time to me, given how commonplace it is for cars to park in them.

        • Maybe you’re still in the first flush of cycle commuting joy. It *is* way better than any other way of travelling and, like you the 90 minutes a day I spend on the bike are something I’d struggle to do without and I’d resist taking a job i couldn’t ride to.

          However, the regular ‘near misses’ and the battle to be allowed to use the road (with drivers who think they can bully you out of the way) I now find exhausting after 15 years of cycle commuting in London. For leisure I’m currently only riding off road as I can’t face the downside of riding on the road come the weekend.

          I can easily see how other people would be put off. Will I stop? Probably not. Do I think about moving out of London – no, as the rest of the UK is even worse. I have started wondering whether emigration to the Netherlands is actually the way to go…..

          • Chris says:

            I’m really starting to wonder whether I’m abnormal!

            I’ve been commuting for the last 26 months, so I don’t think I’m in the first blush of commuting by bike, but from the posts on here I am starting to wonder if there’s something wrong with me for not being petrified whenever I ride on CS7?

            • I don’t think I would be petrified – not the same way I would be cycling on, say, parts of the North Circular. I just regard the initial batch of Smurfways (as they were known on LFGSS) as a missed opportunity in terms of improvements – a win in terms of route selection and marketing, but a loss for actual engineering.

            • congokid says:

              At least you’re honest when you say above you’re selfish for not wanting cycling conditions on your route to improve for everyone in case it impinges on your own commute, but you must see it’s pretty much what motorists are afraid of when their road space (whether for driving or parking) is in danger of being altered or taken away.

  5. Simon Parker says:

    “Focus on separation – however you wish to achieve it – not on integration.”

    Would you care to expand on this idea a little more, please? The subject for a new blog, perhaps?

  6. I cycled 8-10 miles each way between home and work for about 25 years. I’m pretty used to sharing with motor vehicles. Nevertheless, I think the drift of this blog is irrefutable. It’s not me, or people like me, that need improvements. We (the 3%) have learned to cope.

    The argument that we can’t have a segregated route for every journey is irrelevant. We have more than enough readily-created routes to absorb all the available resources for 20 or 30 years and should just get on with it. The new Bristol Cycling Manifesto has marked out a city-wide network of practical suggestions (cunningly in line with some Council thinking) that could transform transport use, one link at a time if necessary. Old-school vehicular cyclists will still have plenty of awkward traffic to deal with if they get nostalgic.

    • Tim says:

      Despite having a much shorter commute than the one you describe I cycle every day and therefore consider myself one of that 3%, and as far as I’m concerned cycle infrastructure physically separated from motor vehicles (at least on fast or busy roads) can’t come soon enough. This is especially true for me when transporting my kids around, but even on my own I would rather be occasionally in a queue of cyclists than in a traffic jam of buses and cars as often happens at present.

  7. Pingback: When people demonstrate they don’t want to cycle with traffic, why don’t we listen? | bicycletasmaniablog

  8. Once again, part of the issue is that people are seeking to achieve conditions which are adequate for themselves. As much as it is possible to moan that politicians don’t cycle, and thus don’t understand; the opposite situation of a politician (or worse, a campaigner) who is content with current conditions and seems oblivious as to why anybody else should be put off from cycling (eg with Boris a while ago with his “keep your wits about you” remarks) is possibly even more harmful.

    I hear cyclists who should know better say things like “the people who use Gloucester Road don’t mind it too much” – well I bloody *do* mind Gloucester Road [an A road in Bristol], and only use it because so many shops and businesses I need to use are situated on this road, which isn’t the case with some of the quieter alternate routes (a key flaw with pretty much every “cycle network” ever seen in the UK). This assumption of knowing best can often manifest itself as mansplaining.

    • Jim Moore says:

      Exactly. Where I live we have cycling public service administrators who approve schemes wherein cyclist have to share bus lanes, simply because *they* feel comfortable to do so. Basically they are only interested in improving conditions for those who are already cycling, who are the same people that will cycle regardless of the road conditions. Anybody else i.e. the 99% who don’t cycle, just doesn’t seem to count.

  9. My morning commute uses this road – http://goo.gl/maps/VjwvQ

    There’s a cycle contraflow, marked with a solid white line, on a one way street with traffic calming. By the standards of the slide above this should be pretty much ‘ideal’

    However, this doesn’t mean I don’t get regular ‘near misses’ here. Only this morning I had a BMW driver whose wheels were over the solid line who refused to move over – giving less space to me than he was giving to the parked cars on the other side. That’s not uncommon.

    • pm says:

      “Only this morning I had a BMW driver whose wheels were over the solid line who refused to move over – giving less space to me than he was giving to the parked cars on the other side. That’s not uncommon.”

      Also, it looks rather tricky to avoid the doorzone when using that contraflow lane.

      And what you describe seems almost universal behaviour on narrow side streets. Again-and-again I have to swerve out of the way of an oncoming car which refuses to even slow down to the speed limit – despite the fact _they_ are the ones on the wrong side of the road. I also wonder why drivers are so prone to give more clearance to the parked cars on their left than they do to the oncoming cyclist on their right.

      I think the main problem is having roads that both allow parking _and_ motorised through-traffic. It really should be one or the other. Either don’t allow parking, and so leave two lanes for vehicles to pass each other (and motorists to overtake cyclists safely) _or_ bollard the road off at one end. Having roads with parking (plus the door zone) and then allowing drivers to zoom down the middle of the remaining obstructed lane at high speed seems ridiculous to me.

      • The back streets of Clapham, (an LCN route not less) have centrally positioned speed cushions to make things even worse. If the traffic coming the other way doesn’t move over early I now take the centre of the road, down the middle of the cushions and stop and put a foot down if they continue to come towards me.

  10. Tim says:

    To add another example to those of old loop lines*, seafronts and skyrides, I would suggest Center Parcs. They have a strict policy of allowing motor vehicles to be used only to transfer luggage to the accommodation, after which all cars must be left in the carpark on the edge of the site, away from the main accommodation and recreational areas. Of course you can take your own bike, but they also have bike hire facilities.

    As these resorts are purely a commercial venture, it strikes me that the owners have probably not chosen to set them up this way out of some environmental motive, or to get their customers fitter. Rather they know that visitors – often families – enjoy walking and cycling around (and cycling despite the relatively short distances) but they wouldn’t enjoy it if there were cars coming and going all the time. People are willing to pay to spend time in this kind of car free environment.

    *Two weeks ago the family and I rode the Monsal Trail from Bakewell and back. Lovely weather and gorgeous scenery, but we were glad we made an early start because by the time we left at midday it was absolutely rammed!

  11. juliusbeezer says:

    Contrary to what be imagined from my remarks elsewhere about the Dutch experience, I am not at all against cycle lanes and routes. Indeed I am strongly in favour, and especially for the young, the old, and the infirm. But if the quid pro quo for the installation of such facilities results in a loss of cyclists’ right to ride on the road, then forget it—and anyone proposes that, will, quite rightly, have a fight on their hands.
    The road is the road for good historical reason, generally following the flattest and most direct route from village to village (and inheriting town centres). UK-style segregation (and indeed Dutch) tends to send cyclists onto minor routes that are generally 10-20% longer. Add in a poor surface—be that tiled or cobbled à la flamande, the dusty bantustans installed by Sustrans, broken glass, everywhere—together with narrow pinch points to jam or topple your trailer, black-painted bollards to kneecap you in poor light, and I think I’ll exercise my right to first class travel—on the aptly named crown of the road— dank u weel.
    As for all the poor deluded fools who think it’s safer to cycle on the pavement, they are wrong: it is twice as dangerous as riding in the primary position on the carriageway. This inconvenient fact (for the segregationists) may seem somewhat counter-intuitive until one considers that pavement riders tend to enter carriagement at acute angles at higher speeds that one would normally anticipate from the average pedestrian. Think about it.
    Yes, British motorists need to learn their place, and show some respect to the cyclists. No, fencing cyclists off—until they are obliged to enter the next junction at a peculiar angle—is not the answer.

    • Chris Juden says:

      UK segregation is (usually) just as you describe it, but Dutch does NOT “send cyclists onto minor routes that are generally 10-20% longer”. In general, Dutch cycling networks follow the old main road which, as you say for good historical reasons, takes the most direct route from A to B. The lower two pictures illustrate just such a road in Assen, which I recognise as the main road west. The space for traffic has been reduced, drastically, to make room for a wide two-way bikepath that leads directly to the town centre.

      They can do that in Assen, because Assen has a complete ring road: the Europaweg. So only traffic that needs the city centre, needs to use the old main roads. Any driver en route to some other part of Assen or some other town, uses the Europaweg or one of the several other new roads (or the motorway) that the Dutch have built around this and every other large-to-middling town.

      I live near Guildford. It’s the same size as Assen, population about 70 thousand. But like most other British towns, it doesn’t even have a ring road. So there’s no chance of putting that kind of bikepath on any of the congested main roads leading in and out of town because there is no other way to drive from one part of Guildford to another than through the middle.

      • Chris. says:

        Would a ring road have much effect on Guildford?

        Given that the A3 bypasses it, surely most of the the traffic going into the centre of Guildford is doing so because that’s its destination, rather than because it’s going somewhere else?

        Is there really that much traffic on journeys which start and finish inside Guildford, and would it really make sense for them to go out to a ring road, round and back in again?

        Also, where would you put it? If you were building Guildford from scratch, fair enough, but I’m not sure where you’d add it in to the existing town?

        • What Guildford does have is LOTS of space on its town centre roads: many urban dual carriageways with multiple lanes and lots of space for decent cycle tracks. There are also many “rat runs” that could easily provide filtered permeability for non-motor-vehicles. The occasional “floating cycle bridge” could also be provided, named after some suitably important local dignitary if required.

          Guildford is a horrible motor-infested city, just like the Dutch cities were in the 1970s. It could be so much better!

          • Chris. says:

            I fully agree Guildford is foul! I just don’t think a ring road is the solution.

            Faster train links from surrounding stations would help. Ewell West (my local station) to Guildford takes 43 minutes. I can drive it in 30. It really shouldn’t be possible to do that, especially in the South East!

            • Jitensha Oni says:

              Another Surrey cyclist here. Scattered around Guildford, there are signs of what could be. There is a cycle path (albeit narrow) here on the Parkway in Guildford: http://goo.gl/maps/FrzXkA and a big grass verge it could be expanded into/along; and there are lots of cycle lanes out towards Burpham and Merrow eastwards on the main roads. Combined (plus maybe one half to whole meter extra width or so) they could be made into decent cycle paths. Similarly to the N of the A3. The A31 in Guildford E of the A3 and the A3100 are a bit more problematical but for the A31 at least there are other roads parallel to the Hog’s Back that could serve as cycle routes. And once you’ve done all that the really difficult bits besome fairly short sections. Added to Andrew Cartmells comment, I think that’s Guildford sorted. Next.

          • Guildford has so many glaringly obvious opportunities for improving cycling access, but they are continually and systematically squandered; and it would be perfectly possible to change things without building a ring road. Bristol, for example, once had an inner ring road, but the dual carriageway across Queen Square closed years ago, and most of the changes in favour of cycling have occurred since the inner circuit road was “broken” this way. Although Guildford is a historic city, many roads such as Millbrook and York Road were only built in the post war era. The one way streets in Guildford serve to funnel everybody, cyclists included, around an unpleasant and congested gyratory which also serves as one of the main nightlife areas.

            I would concur that the River Wey and railways act as barriers to re-routing traffic, but most of Guildford is to the north of the town centre, which is quite well served in terms of roads, seeing as the A25, although often congested, was the original route of the A3 bypass, and for the most part has ample space for cycle tracks alongside. The same is true of the A320 Woking Road, especially north of the A25 junction. The A322 Worplesdon Road, A31 Farnham Road, and A322 Woodbridge Road all offer opportunities for – at the least, consistent, wide, cycle lanes. The town centre could be opened up with contraflow lanes and exceptions to road blocks and turning restrictions, and subways replaced with separate cycle and pedestrian crossings (outside the Boiler Room, across York Road would be a good place to start). All of this would improve convenience for existing cyclists, subjective safety for potential cyclists, and give an alternative to driving in one of the country’s most congested towns.

            Improved train links would help, but pavement widening along Bridge Street would also be beneficial for train passengers, (if improvements for cyclists can also be implemented) as this is the main walking route from the Station to the High Street, and yet is hopelessly crowded because providing three lanes for motor traffic is seen as a higher priority.

      • Chris, there’s not need to guess about Assen, why don’t you come and visit us and I’ll show you exactly how it all works.

        Actually the road alongside that cycle-path wasn’t narrowed at all. If anything, it became wider. The distance between the existing buildings and the south side of the canal was widened so that the road could remain of a good width while also making room for this secondary route cycle-path. This was achieved by shifting 1.5 km of the canal sideways by 2 metres. It’s fully documented on my blog. The result is that there is less room on the North side of the canal, but as that is now a bicycle road it’s not an issue. The resulting cycling facility on the North side of the canal, the primary route, is 5.5 m wide.

        Assen doesn’t really have a complete ring-road. It’s good on the western side of the city, but not on the eastern side, where traffic still comes a bit too close to the centre. There are plans to improve this situation by digging a tunnel to take the through traffic underground and keep it out of the way of the bikes. This will be the subject of a future blog post, but we’ve already discussed it on the study tours.

        On the western side, the ring-road has already been moved for the benefit of cyclists. In 2007 a bridge was constructed which lifts the cars out of the way of a main cycling route so that cyclists don’t have to cross a busy road which was otherwise in the way of making a direct route between a new suburb outside the ring road and the city centre.

        These sorts of things could be done in Guildford as well if there was the desire to do so.

        But actually the ring-road is in itself a red-herring. Not all British towns lack a ring-road and not all Dutch towns have one. However, all Dutch towns have better conditions for cyclists than all British towns. The ring-road isn’t the issue.

    • David Cohen says:

      I can possibly see the following situation: When London gets its cycle paths, as promised by the mayor, or the Get Britain Cycling report is implemented, people who _don’;t_ want to use cycle infrastructure, will still be on the road. However, I think then there could be more contention with vehicular cyclists as instead of some motorists that now say “oy, you should be riding on the pavement”, they’ll just swap this for “get of the road and ride on the cycle path”.

      • No, that will not happen. It doesn’t in the Netherlands and it doesn’t in Denmark. If we implemented similar-quality infrastructure, it wouldn’t happen here either.

        Turns out there is not a cadre of hardened road cyclists who will stick to the roads no matter what cycle path alternatives are provided, just out of principle. If you provide superior cycling alternatives to the roads, with enough capacity, all cyclists will go over to using them. It makes no sense to carry on using a less pleasant, less direct, less prioritised, slower option when a better option is provided, whether you are a 7 year old kid or Bradley Wiggins.

        We can already demonstrate this effect on some of the better cycle tracks that have been built in the UK recently, e.g. at Lewes Road, Brighton.

  12. Peter says:

    You’re absolutely right. I too was cycling the Downs Link on the Bank Holiday weekend and was struck by the hordes of people on bikes, more even than usual.
    What you fail to mention is all the happy, smiling faces! It takes that amount of separation from motorised traffic to allow parents to relax enough to smile at oncoming cyclists.
    The surfacing of the route I think plays a part. It varies from so-so to pretty awful. In the winter months parts of it resemble a WWI re-enactment, whilst in the summer the ruts shake you to bits and coat your bike in a layer of gritty dust.
    In these last few weeks the surface has however been ideal: the soil wet enough to dampen down the dust and smooth out the bumps. It’s high time the entire route was given a proper 3m (minimum) tarmac surface.

  13. Tom says:

    I think there are lots of strands which mean that you arrive in a situation where people are on the pavement.

    When we were in Newcastle Great Park we found some places where there seemed to be a lot of confusion on where cyclists were supposed to be. If on and off road infrastructure is mixed and muddled, its not surprising that many gravitate towards the footway.

    Lack of trust in the road network and infrastructure is another factor. I saw dozens of parents with kids on bikes on the way to my sons school today for bikeability. On roads where my 9 year old rides home by himself these people were on the pavements. They have no confidence that there is any sort of consistent standard of safety on any road, even quiet estate roads, so they err on the side of caution. These are 20mph roads with no through traffic, not really any diferent than what you’d find on a dutch housing estate.

    Finally technical skills do come into it a bit. Dutch people can generally ride a bike, a lot of english people can make a bike go roughly the direction they want to but level of skill is very low. Ask the average englishman to make a right turn across an estate distributor road and they will get nervous, whilst a dutch 12 year old would get on with it. Do we design our infrastructure for this level of ability or aim it at where we want to be in a few years time?

    • We design our infrastructure so that it’s safe an easy and pleasant to use for anyone aged 8 to 80. Dutch 8-year-olds cycle to school on their own, in complete safety. When our 8 year-olds can do the same I’ll be happy. The Dutch call is “sustainable safety” – their road system is designed to safely allow for occasional mistakes that all human beings make from time to time. Cyclists sharing the road with heavy motor vehicles does not fit this, and people in the UK get killed and injured in large numbers because of that.

      You’re right to some extent, though, we are so terrorised by motor traffic in the UK (because there’s precious little alternative) that we forget that cycling is even an option for local transport. Individual roads may be safe enough, but there’s no connected network of safe routes so you almost always end up on a nasty main road where a small mistake could result in serious injury or death.

      Riding a bike is as easy as riding a bike. It only gets difficult when you have to do it amongst inattentive motorists.

    • Your point about ‘lack of trust’ is a good one; because there’s no real consistency of provision, people don’t really know what to expect about cycling in the road, so the pavement is always a safer option, even when the road is probably calm enough for anyone (I see this often in Horsham on cul-de-sacs). In the Netherlands, by contrast, you can cycle pretty much anywhere in the confidence that you won’t suddenly find yourself in a scary situation; where the road is the only option available, you will know that it is suitable for cycling on.

      (And thanks again for the tour on Sunday!)

  14. Fred says:

    Another good example are the canal tow paths in London, the sheer volume of cyclists at peak times causes congestion and various issues with sharing the space. They find despite it not being particularly well set up for bikes (narrow, water one one side and low bridges in places), cyyclists will still go out of their way to use these very busy paths.

    The assertions made by Philip Darnton at the lecture you went to are just plain wrong and to try to justify it with ‘well if we can’t build cycle paths everywhere…’ is shocking nonsense.

    The second slide also makes no sense – if cycling was dangerous what good would cycle lanes do? They’d be accident hot spots : traffic is dangerous, cycling is pretty safe!

    The evidence says these guys are wrong, I totally agree with your post.

    • Tim says:

      So the Netherlands has loads of cyclists, so surely anyone with half a brain who thinks cycling has merit (socially, personally, economically, etc) would see the wisdom in trying to copy the best of their policy, right? Maybe a little tinkering around the edges to make it ours but the basic idea must have something going for it?

      Also, I was under the impression that Cycling England was a “good thing” and I’ve occasionally complained about its abolition.

      So to hear someone like Darnton, who should be familiar with the issues, peddling this kind nonsense is rather depressing. It stinks of the hierarchy. Driver liability means little to me if I’m lying in the gutter; I want to just enjoy my ride without being buzzed by buses and lorries, bracing myself against every approaching engine sound behind me.

  15. Up here on South Tyneside between the Wear and the Tyne, we have NCN1 along the coast as well as the C2C though sunderland. Even in bad weather there are always people cycling along them. On sunny weekends the paths are crowded, Away from those areas, it’s the same, and lots of people cycle along the pavement (where there’s no parked cars).

    Some of the pavement cycling is for linking quieter sections of roads, some is due to the proliferation of shared and separated paths by councils which have for a lot of converts to cycling have normalised the concept of riding along the path.

    A route along a dual carriageway which I mentally dismissed as I couldn’t reason for it, now sees a steady trickle of people riding bikes.

    These are the people that want and need high capacity, high quality, infrastructure specific for cycling, and local and national government need to see the latent demand and plan/build for levels in 10, 20 years time.

    We need other measures etc to prevent the UK becoming a large version of Stevenage, but Infra is a large piece of the jigsaw

    • Mark Hewitt says:

      You make a good point that off road provision is very useful for linking quieter sections of roads. There’s so much of the country cut off from other parts by busy roads (as mentioned in another blog post).

      South Shields as at least making an effort, e.g. you can get from the town centre to the cycle tunnel and Monkton cycleway along a shared use path which would have otherwise meant it was inaccessible due to it being dual.

  16. Anoop says:

    In Stevenage, houses are arranged in cul-de-sacs linked by dual carriageways, with the only walking routes along these dual carriageways. There is a network of segregated cycle paths but the dual carriageways make it quick and easy to drive everywhere and there is little congestion. There is therefore little incentive to walk or cycle.

    However most UK towns do not have such generous road provision, and excessive car use causes congestion and parking problems. The Dutch-style system of high-quality segregated cycle paths along main roads and restriction of through motor traffic on minor roads does enable most people to cycle. It simultaneously makes short car journeys less convenient (encouraging people to make these journeys by other means, thus reducing congestion) and makes walking and cycling safe, pleasant and convenient. It makes sense in terms of transport, accessibility, the environment, the economy, health, personal mobility, social equiality and general happiness.

  17. Ken Barker says:

    I’m quite annoyed by the ignorance here of Dutch design guidance [CROW] for cycling infrastructure, that the level of separation is related to the road / traffic conditions including volume and speed, and that separation is not general to all road conditions: indeed, in town and city centres, shared space is the norm.

    As for cycling on pavements – other than designated shared paths – who do you think you are, that you can use pavements intended for pedestrians rather than the road?

    • I suspect you are confusing ‘shared space’ with autoluwe. Shared space is very rarely employed in Dutch towns and cities; the policy is very much focused on removing as much motor traffic from these areas as possible. What ‘sharing’ you see is a result of this low traffic environment.

      As for your other points, I don’t think you have really engaged with, or understood, the post. It might be constructive if you could quote something I have written, and suggest what is wrong with it.

    • Dan says:

      I don’t think he does ride on pavemts, merely seeking to explain why people do. Anyway I think I have met as easy riding around Horsham (quite a distinctive Dutch bike) and he very courteously stopped to let me and the kids cross the road (he was riding on it at the time)

  18. Ken Barker says:

    Yes, we are talking about a low traffic environment: this is described in Dutch practice & guidance. I have engaged with your post but I don’t agree with the selective responses to it, which you encourage.

    • I’m not “encouraging” anything. People are free to post whatever they want below my posts, within reason. I’m not quite sure why you view those responses as “selective”.

      I suggested you respond to something I’ve actually written because you’ve jumped to the erroneous conclusion that I cycle on pavements.

  19. radwagon1 says:

    I can add my story to this.

    I’ve been cycling for over 40 years and now do it to get out of the home office at lunchtime to get some exercise, have fun, and make myself feel fantastic.

    I’ve started slowing down a bit, as happens as you get older. Not much, I still push it when I want. I was never a fast super rider, I’m happy at around 15mph.

    Connected with this, I found myself resenting being endangered on the roads more and more. And simply wanting a quiet and enjoyable life rather than a feeling-scared-and-ranting-at-idiotic-driving-behaviour I moved onto the shared-use pavements. I’ve since worked out routes of 10 miles, 15 miles, 18 miles, that consist of ~60% off-road shared-use/cyclespace, ~35% quiet residential roads, and a few hundred yards at most of busy road. Inevitably, my average speeds have dropped. Because of where I am in life, that doesn’t bother me too much, but that certainly shouldn’t happen with proper segragated space. And certainly, without a good segregated grid, this couldn’t help someone commuting or going about their daily business.

    Luckily I live in the cyclo-utopia of Cambridge, although I say that with some tongue in cheek, there’s still loads wrong here.

    And then, visiting other parts of the country gives you simply horrible and dangerous experiences as shown here.

    All part of issues described here.


  20. And posted today on Twitter –

    One of the few bits of segregated cycle infrastructure in London. Too narrow, obviously, but people still finding it a lot more pleasant than vehicular cycling for this stretch

  21. Completely agree with this article. Bang on the money.

  22. My commute is a lot shorter than many of you at about 3.5 miles – half on a fair TfL shared track next to a dual carriageway, half on borough road with cycle lanes. The cycle track is not perfect, but it feels so much safer – separated and prioritised tracks is the way to go in the UK. Oh, and I do sometimes cycle on the dual carriageway at 7am on a Sunday!

  23. Jitin says:

    I would also like to go for bicycling ride on my coming holidays. But I prefer the locations to cycle in hill stations.

  24. PaulC says:

    Thoroughly agree with this. I’ve been commuting (about 5 miles each way) for many years. I’ll happily ride 30 or 40 miles just for the hell of it on my thoroughly unsporty single speed clunker. I can ride in traffic, take the lane etc, all the usual vehicular cycling stuff. But even after all these years, sharing a road with anything but inconsequential amounts of traffic I find to be deeply unpleasant, even if 99% of motorists are fine around me. I’ll happily go well out of my way to find a relaxing route away from traffic. I no longer believe that any amount of cycle training and ‘share the road’ style initiatives are going to persuade anyone other than the highly motivated to cycle regularly without largely segregated facilities.

  25. 2468motorway says:

    Do you know what would be nice? A cycle path on the A1 between Highgate tube and the North Circular.

    I ride that every day and it’s bloody terrifying.

  26. Pingback: A third place – a place for cyclists | Cycling in Dublin

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