On training

Some back-and-forth on Twitter throughout this week about, allegedly, ‘training versus infrastructure’ (an imagined opposition which I hope this piece will set to rest) has prompted me to attempt to formalise the thoughts on training that have been floating around in my head for the past year or so.

I live quite close to a primary school. Every summer, towards the end of the school year, the pupils are taken out onto my road – a fairly quiet residential street, although still open to through traffic – and are given what looks like Bikeability Level 2 training. About thirty of them – one of the later years in the school, by the looks of it – on their mountain bikes, in the obligatory fluorescent vests, practising turns in and out of side streets.

What effect this has on cycling levels to and from the school is not immediately apparent to me. It is rare indeed that I see a child cycling to it. Perhaps one child, once or twice a week, either on the pavement with a parent riding opposite them on the road, or on the road itself, with a parent acting as a ‘guard’. There are – naturally – a huge number of car trips to the school, at least fifty both in the morning and the afternoon, although plenty of children are walking, or using scooters on the pavement. Cycling, however, is pretty much non-existent.

This is not all that surprising. To get to the school, you will have to cycle on busy main roads, at around half past eight in the morning. These roads are not pleasant, even for me, especially at this time of day, with dense streams of motor traffic and awkward junctions to be negotiated, so expecting children to cycle on them is pretty unimaginable. The natural alternative is to use the pavement, but this is inconvenient, and the option of pavement cycling seems to have been replaced by scooters, which are slower, and seem to allow parents to keep pace, on foot.

So the cycle training the children are receiving is a bit like teaching them how to paddle a canoe on a river, while the river itself remains subjectively hazardous – perhaps it has nasty sections of rapids, or some crocodiles in it. Very few parents are going to be willing to let their children loose on these kinds of rivers – with rocks and crocodiles – regardless of how much canoe skill they have, or how well trained they are in dealing with rapids and crocodiles. They might be highly adept at splashing through the wilder sections, or staring down the crocs, and their parents might be fully aware that paddling to school down the rapids past the crocodiles is statistically very safe, and that the children are actually adding years to their life, but it is simply unattractive (I’m not the only person making these kinds of observations).

Another anecdote.

My partner is not trained. She can ride a bike, but not very well, having essentially not ridden one since she was a child. She would almost certainly struggle with some of the basic elements of Bikeability 1, like riding with one hand, or riding ahead while looking behind.  Yet on both the visits we have made together to Utrecht in the last few years, she has been able to ride straight across this large and busy city, almost anywhere she wanted to, with only a little encouragement from me. Her lack of ability was no barrier to riding on any kind of street, because she was separated and insulated from motor traffic everywhere we went. This is despite only two days’ worth of riding in the last twenty years. It is this quality of the environment that explains why you see thousands of very young children riding around this city, independently.


Screen shot 2013-10-04 at 00.26.45I don’t think willingness to ride without any training whatsoever is limited to my partner. On both of the ‘Skyride’ events I went to this year, in Southampton and in London, I saw very young, wobbly children riding around with everyone else. Their parents were happy to let them ride in these kinds of environments because they were safe, despite their evident lack of competence.

Screen shot 2013-10-04 at 00.29.15Indeed, I expect many thousands of people on these rides were ‘incompetent’ (in the sense of not having the training or ability to ride with motor traffic) yet were still happily cycling around without incident.

What does this tell us about the relative importance of training, versus the quality of the physical environment? (Please note – as will become clear – that I am not attempting to put the two into opposition). Well, no amount of training is ever going to persuade a considerable proportion of the British population to share roads with motor traffic, whereas, by contrast, a safe environment enables people to cycle anywhere they want to, without training.

In making this kind of comparison, it is certainly not my intention to disparage training. It serves many useful functions, one of the foremost being a ‘coping strategy’ for riding on British roads, and for keeping people who currently ride safe. To give just one example, despite believing myself to be fairly ‘advanced’, I picked up a useful tip when I did Bikeability. I had fallen into the habit of waiting close to the centre line when I was waiting to turn right at junctions, and this gave drivers (bad drivers) an opportunity to turn right alongside me, potentially causing a collision. My instructor told me to wait more centrally to prevent this kind of driving.

That’s not all. Training is also an important way of keeping children ‘in contact’ with the concept of cycling, even if they never venture out onto the roads. Their parents may in all probability have given up cycling, but training in schools will keep cycling on the children’s radar.

In addition, the (admittedly very limited) research on cycle training in Britain seems to suggest that it is effective, at least for those people who are already minded to volunteer for it. And, long-term, it is quite easy to see that training should form part of the school curriculum as it does in the Netherlands. Dutch children are all given essential instruction in how to use their roads, and even have to sit an exam. There is a Dutch Fietsschool.

When people like me make negative-sounding noises about training, they are not arguing against the concept. They are arguing that training, as things currently stand, is not likely to do much to address the current extinction of bicycle use in Britain, and that a focus on training, at the expense of infrastructure that would make certain styles of cycling redundant, is damaging. While cycle training helps people who are already confident, or already inclined towards cycling on roads, it is almost certainly not going to overcome the fundamental barrier of subjective safety that stops the vast majority of British people from cycling on a day-to-day basis. We should be adjusting the physical environment so that the kind of assertiveness and negotiation that forms much of the training undertaken in Britain should not even be necessary.

I know that many people involved in cycle training hold precisely this view. However, it is undeniable that cycle training in Britain is unfortunately bound up, to a greater or lesser extent, with the ideology of Vehicular Cycling. I don’t mean the practice of vehicular cycling, by which people like me quite sensibly mitigate the risk posed to them by drivers, through positioning and technique. I mean the ideology that asserts that cyclists are traffic, and that they belong amongst motor vehicles, and should not be separated from them on infrastructure like cycle tracks, which would represent a ‘surrender’.

The cycle training manual, Cyclecraft, is, of course, written by Britain’s most prominent Vehicular Cyclist, John Franklin. It contains plenty of useful advice, but that does not alter the fact that Franklin is hostile to the concept of cycle tracks and paths, and the separation of cycling from motor traffic. Franklin’s ideology – that the right to continue cycling on all of Britain’s roads should be a top priority – stands in direct opposition to the kind of environment and training that you find in the Netherlands, one where many of the skills taught through Bikeability are redundant. Cyclecraft itself contains the remarkable assertion

no alternative to the general road network has yet been devised which is as safe or advantageous overall for cycling

which even a cursory visit to the Netherlands will show to be complete nonsense. (I have also mentioned before how Franklin – and similarly-minded campaigners – think Dutch riders are somehow incompetent because they choose not to ride in British conditions.)

Franklin’s views are, in turn, remarkably closely mirrored by some in the upper echelons of cycle training in Britain, who – like him – believe that Dutch-style infrastructure will lead to a ‘de-skilling’ of people cycling; who believe that the road network is universally the best place for cycling and should not be ‘surrendered’; and who also subscribe to the more general view that cycle training – along with other interventions such as 20mph limits and better driver behaviour – will render Dutch-style separation from motor traffic unnecessary.

I suspect that there is a good deal of projection going on here. Because these individuals see training (combined with other interventions) as a way of actually avoiding the need for cycle tracks, when they see discussion of Dutch-style infrastructure, and how people can use it without necessarily needing to be trained, they are naturally inclined to think that it is training itself that it is under attack. This is because they themselves have set up training as a way of rendering cycle tracks unnecessary; their gut reaction is therefore to imagine that promotion of segregation is, conversely, an assault on training.

But this is a mistaken opposition. The country that separates the most, trains the most. The actual dispute here is about the kinds of roads we want to see, and how we design them for people who ride bikes.

It’s not about training.

This entry was posted in Skyride, Subjective safety, The Netherlands, Training. Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to On training

  1. Buffalo Bill says:

    A very fair summary, in my opinion. Thanks for trying to smooth the waters. (As opposed to smoothing the traffic flow).

  2. Chris says:

    One point you don’t touch upon in your anecdote about the school is how many of the kids would actually choose to cycle to school even if they did have a segregated bike route?

    My two eldest kids are 10 and 8. There are two days a week where they go to school (exactly a mile away) under their own steam. Both have bikes, both have ridden the route and are confident in doing so. I’m happy to see them cycle off together on the route, safe in the knowledge that they are on quiet back roads (and they do cycle on the road, not the pavement) the whole way.

    But they don’t cycle. Not because they’re afraid to cycle, but simply because they view it as an inconvenience! When they were taking the bikes, they generally got as far as their first friend walking in, then found themselves pushing the bike along the pavement chatting to them. Why would they want to go through the hassle of pushing a bike along, then having to spend time taking it to the bike shed and locking it up when they’d rather be with their mates in the playground?

    The simple answer is that they wouldn’t. It’s not a lack of training or a lack of infrastructure which means they walk or scoot to school. It’s an informed preference to walk, because it’s close enough to mean there are more downsides to the bike than there are benefits. I suspect the same could be said for many of the kids going to your local school. Even if you get the best infrastructure in the world, don’t automatically assume that just because you’d want to use it for short journeys that everyone else would too.

    My other thought is that any sort of debate concerning infrastructure vs training – at least inside the M25 where I live – is that it’s purely academic.

    Even assuming for one minute we could rip up the streets of London and start again with dedicated bike lanes wide enough to allow all cyclists to progress at their own desired speed (and considering that every morning, the volume of cyclists on my route up CS7 is sufficient that there are times when cyclists are filling the entire bus lane with 3 or even 4 people all moving at different speeds overtaking the people inside them, I don’t believe this will ever be remotely possible), you’ve still got to get people on and off the infrastructure in the first place.

    There are roughly 70 sets of traffic lights between Colliers Wood and the Elephant & Castle on CS7, plus countless other side roads on both sides of the road which aren’t signal controlled. Short of making the whole of the A24 and A3 into a segregated cycle path with no vehicles allowed, or building some sort of overhead cycle route with entrance and exit ramps for every road, how are you going to ensure that people can get to where they need to go without having to leave this segregated traffic infrastructure? Indeed, once people are off the arterial segregated cycle lane, how are they going to cope on the smaller streets?

    Even if you do believe the ultimate nirvana is a world of segregated cycle lanes everywhere you go (and I remain concerned that it would slow cycle traffic down to the point where my 15 mile each way commute becomes unsustainable, forcing me back off my bike and onto the train), the only way that is ever going to happen is as a result of increasing pressure from increasing numbers of cyclists riding as vehicular traffic on the road with other vehicles, and that, in turn, is only going to happen through increased training. There’s no point tilting at windmills until you’ve got enough other riders alongside you to stand a chance of knocking the thing over.

    • They have managed in the Netherlands. It took time but they did it in their cities and ultimately in their countryside as well.

      London is the easy one – there’s the density that means there are already sufficient cyclists to justify it, Long sections of rural A road will be more of a challenge.

      15 miles is a long commute – it may well slow your peak and even your average moving speed down – but it’s making it possible for the >50% of London journeys that are less than 2 miles to be done by bike instead of car than will free up the space on the roads. However, if you also give cyclists priority at junctions you’ll spend much less time waiting at traffic lights and your overall journey time shouldn’t change. I have a 10 mile commute and the difference in journey time between a fast trip in cycle kit on a road bike and a relaxed ride in normal clothes on a Brompton is negligible since so much time is spent waiting at lights.

      Regardless, we’ve got to be bigger than just thinking of ourselves. Cycle campaiging in the UK has been hamstrung for years by being dominated by “cyclists” and not by “people”. Things that would be for the general good are discouraged by current cyclists who see a risk to the Sunday club run. Just remember that all these European countries the produce the leading TdF riders have embraced segregated infrastructure without damaging the “sport” aspect. We can too

      • Chris says:

        What I don’t understand is why people would actually want to cycle for journeys under 2 miles?

        By the time you’ve got your bike out of wherever you keep it locked up, cycled to wherever you’re going, found somewhere to lock it up and removed your pump, spare tube and other bits and pieces (I wouldn’t expect to find them still on the bike when I got back in London if I didn’t), it’s probably just as quick to walk, and you don’t have the hassle of a bike to worry about.

        I can see the benefit when you’re going shopping and will be carrying heavy bags back, but other than that there seems to be lots of asking how we get people to cycle these short journeys, but very little asking why they would want to in the first place?

        I love my commute – and at 18 stone and 5’10”, I’m not your stereotypical weekend racer Mamil – because it gives me an opportunity to exercise on at least a couple of days a week which I wouldn’t otherwise get, but once I’m at work (in Central London), if I’m going to visit a customer within a couple of miles of the office, it would never occur to me to take my bike. If it’s raining, I’ll get a taxi, but if it’s not, then I’ll walk. The last thing I want is the hassle of not knowing if I’ll be able to find a secure place to lock my bike when I get there, or the worry during the meeting of whether the saddle (or potentially the bike itself) will still be there when I get out!

        • I can understand your reluctance if you have to fiddle lots before riding and after riding, and if theft is a real worry. I have a Dutch bike, with integral lights, lock, stand, full chaincase, hub gears, hub brakes, mudguards: whatever I’m wearing I can just jump on and ride. Just like the Dutch do. Walking seems so slow in comparison!

          I’ll always get my bike out of the garage to cycle to the local shops, about a mile each way, because it takes me ten minutes of travelling time instead of half an hour.

        • Bill says:

          I’m very surprised that you ride 30 miles aday and still weigh 18 stone!

          In town I use a Brompton, which saves the worry of leaving a bike outside. None of my customers have refused to have it indoors yet.

          • Chris says:

            I set out to save money and lose weight…. Two years later, I’ve just about broken even compared to the train fare (but having a couple of nice bikes vs nothing makes that fine) but seem to have unfortunately upped my pizza intake accordingly!!!!

            Having said that, I’m not in the London office every day – I probably average a couple of days a week.

          • scsmith4 says:

            I’ve been riding my bike anything from 50-100 miles a week for more than three years now and haven’t lost any weight or dropped a dress size. It’s partly because, like Chris, I’ve upped my food intake (cake and chocolate are the ever-so-lovely villains here), but also because my composition has changed. I’m still robust, but I’m much less wobbly – some of the fat’s gone but it’s been replaced by muscle. And muscle is heavier than fat.
            That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.

        • Mutli says:

          Surely you should be asking what kind of person drives ≥ 2miles.
          I’m delivering a cycle course in a primary school where their teacher told me that she drives about 8 minutes!!!

    • Mark Hughes says:

      I share your concerns to a degree about how you could conceivably fit the cyclists already using CS7 into a segregated cycle lane – it’s certainly not all that rare for the entire width of the bus lane to not be wide enough, even the most nirvana-like segregated provision isn’t going to be wider than the current bus lanes. I expect the numbers using it would increase greatly if it were segregated along its length too, which would be great to see but makes the potential width even more of an issue. Maybe people would bunch less if it was segregated? Don’t know!

      That aside though, I don’t really agree with your final point about training being essential or useful to grow cycling numbers. Everyone I know who has done training has done it because they had already decided to start cycling and wanted to skill up a bit as a reaction to the current state of the roads; I don’t know anyone who took up cycling because they did training. Training arguably makes cycling on our awful roads somewhat safer, and is certainly a sensible thing for anyone cycling today to do in my opinion, but I don’t see how it can be argued that training will grow the numbers. Perhaps I’ve missed something though.

      • Imogen says:

        But assuming Dutch-style segregation across the whole of London, surely the volume of people using the current route of CS7 would actually decrease somewhat, because cyclists would no longer all be crammed onto one “safe route”- people would be free to take whatever route they wanted to their destination, rather than adapting their route to take advantage of the meagre facilities the “superhighways” offer.

        I’m not a Londoner but I know that I and many other cyclists in my city behave similarly, adapting our journeys to fit what infrastructure we’re given rather than just taking the route that is most straightforward and convenient.

        • Mark Hughes says:

          In general I would agree that would likely happen, particularly with more local journeys, but on key commuting transport corridors with very few alternatives like CS7 (AKA the A3, AKA the Northern Line, all three essentially follow the same route) there are no other sensibly direct routes available for the majority of the commuting users, there are back street routes you could improve some but they are much much longer than CS7 which is, at least, reasonably direct, so they’re unlikely to attract many users.

          It’s an interesting one, it may be fairly unique even within London as the northern line corridor is so incredibly overloaded with huge demand beyond what the public transport provision or private cars could possibly supply; this may explain why despite CS7 being almost entirely useless in terms of infrastructure it still attracts an ever increasing number of people to cycle on it.

        • Chris says:

          As Mark says, CS7 is an almost dead straight line through Merton, Tooting, Balham, Clapham and then up into the City.

          I’ve looked for alternatives time and again, for no reason other than to try and give myself a bit of variety in my commute, but for myself and much of South West London, I can’t find anything which even gives so much as a remote experience of being a sensible alternative. If anyone did have decent alternative routes from Epsom to Waterloo up to 20 miles in length, I’d love to know where they are!

          This is exactly why I fear the introduction of segregated bike lanes on this route. They might be ideal for other places, but for CS7 I fear the infrastructure would be overloaded to the point of breakdown from day one, which would then have exactly the opposite of the desired effect and force me and others riding longer distance commutes onto more dangerous routes if we want to keep commuting within a reasonable amount of time.

          I can justify 75 minutes each way, as this is only 10 minutes or so slower than the train, but what if it starts creeping up to 90, 100 or more? Then I’d have to be back on the train on days where I have to take the kids to Cubs and the like. I don’t mind thinking of others as well as has been suggested above, but if doing so prevents me from riding my own bike, then I’m afraid I’m going to be as selfish as possible!

          • Mark Hughes says:

            I don’t think segregation along a lot of CS7 is viable because of the constraints discussed and the sheer number of cyclists, however there are places where there are long stretches with easily enough space for a 2-3m wide segregated lane in both directions, and I think the major junctions should ALL have segregated cycle treatments applied, with space allocated to cycling based on the huge numbers already using it. Personally, I would particularly like to see the Oval double junction hell given a proper Dutch style cycle make over – after nearly 5,000 miles of London cycling in the last two years, I still detest going through that junction (especially southbound), a horrible experience.

            I do think CS7 might be a bit of an odd case though – it’s an unusual transport corridor all round, with good but massively overloaded public transport and very heavy traffic causing cycling to be a very attractive option for the commute because of how bad the alternatives are.

    • SirVelo says:

      I expect you’re partially right. However,being forced to cycle on the pavements, which are already congested, means that kids don’t get the benefit of speed which the bicycle brings. Give them proper cycle paths without pedestrians impeding their progress and a great many more kids will see that cycling brings a whole lot more freedom to them.

  3. Excellent. We too have annual Bikeability training, and masses of children riding scooters to school at our Primary school (in fact they have dedicated boxes to keep the scooters in, and it’s encouraged, while cycling is actively discouraged). In a school of 400 pupils only two or three travel to and from school by bicycle, even though 99% within 1.5 miles of school. Quite a few walk, which is good, but far too many unnecessarily clog up the streets and local pub car park with their cars twice a day.

    I wonder why we still train our children to ride bicycles on our roads when most people think that cycling on our roads, at any age, is just too dangerous to contemplate? It would seem to me that scooter training would be more relevant and useful than cycle training. Or, obviously, decent cycleways that are safe and easy to use for anyone aged 8 to 80.

    Do we want children in the UK to cycle, or not? It’s currently very unclear.

    • Terry says:

      I think it is very clear. No we don’t, even less than we want adults to cycle. There is the cost of infrastructure, the risk that a school that encourages cycling would be criticised after an accident to a child, and above all the political flak from the car lobby. Cycle training and the so-called active travel plans that councils and schools develop are just lip service. At present, anyone who cycles on the road is seen as asking for trouble and deserving it when it comes. This country has a long way to go.

  4. Andre Engels says:

    One more point: cycle training could actually aid getting more infrastructure. The Netherlands have many people cycling because there is good cycling infrastructure, but it’s just as true the other way around: The Netherlands has its excellent cycling infrastructure because there are so many people cycling. You and I may want good infrastructure to get people cycling, but it’s much easier to sell it politicians and infrastructure designers if it is useful for people who are already cycling. If cycle training does get more people to cycle (and I think it does, although much less so than its proponents are hoping), then those people are also part of the critical mass necessary to get decent cycling infrastructure off the ground.

    • A nice idea, but we’ve been training children to ride bicycles on roads for decades now. I still don’t see any “critical mass” of cyclists. In fact such a tiny percentage of the electorate ride bicycles it’s very easy for politicians to completely ignore “cyclists”.

      Everyone knows that cycling is fun, healthy, and potentially an ideal way to travel around locally (no parking problems, no traffic jams, very cheap, complete route freedom), but everyone also knows that it’s dangerous. The ONLY way to get ordinary people travelling by bicycle is to build cycleways.

      Here we have a traffic free cycleway along the south coast. It is packed with ordinary people using bicycles for local transport, sometimes more than a thousand bikes counted per day in the summer. None of those people needed to be trained to use the cycleway, it’s available for use by anyone of any age, and there is almost zero ongoing cost involved to the authorities.

      Compare that with Bikeability, which, although good, costs money every year, only reaches a proportion of children in Year Six at school, and does nothing at all to provide safe and pleasant cycling conditions. In fact why should cyclists need expensive facilities if they can be trained to ride on the roads that are already there?

      We might perhaps assume that 25% of the adult population have had Bikeability or Cycling Proficiency training in their school years: where are they now? Why aren’t they all cycling? Because the roads are too dangerous.

  5. It’s not about training or infrastructure, it’s about culture.

    We can wait for that cultural change to happen, we can pave (no pun intended) the way with some infrastructure changes, which may help. We can provide cycle training, particularly for all kids but also I think for anyone who applies for a provisional driving license and for anyone who exceeds 13 points on their license.

    But at the end of the day, we need to end victim blaming, end the prioritisation of funding for cars and basing our towns and cities on driving as a means of transport of preference. We should start this with schools and all housing developments. It is easy to do, it is funded by developers not tax and makes a real difference.

    We also need a radical overhaul of legislation relating to how driver / cycle interfaces are handled in law. I am not a fan of presumed liability, although I appreciate the apparent simplicity of it. I do think however that the current situation in law is a mockery of justice and endorses poor driving and abdication of responsibility in public places in a manner which has been deemed unacceptable in environments like construction sites and factories for a long time.

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  7. Jitensha Oni says:

    Exactly. I like what I’m reading here and (mostly) below the line: “”we’ve got to be bigger than just thinking of ourselves” – well said that man. In my view the reason that it is necessary to have some infrastructure is because, despite training, cyclists and drivers (and the hghly trained freight truck drivers are not immune from this) have to take time to reach a specific level, and at any given time you have people with all kinds of degrees of competence sharing the road, and new users are always coming in. Mistakes are inevitable, even without aggressive selfishness, and even with the best training aviailble. The Dutch and Danish experiences show that training, infra. and 20 mph zones judiciously applied could bring the current UK KSI rate down by an order of magnitude. The fact that this also creates subjectively safe space for cycling by 8-80 year olds and encourages its uptake is a welcome bonus. “All” it now needs is for the the government departments and their advisors in the traditional cycle campaign organizations to get the message and we’re home and dry. Given that the massive support for PoP and space4cycling which are predicated on creating safe environments seems to be largely falling on deaf ears, based on recent DfT announcements and the steady stream of street regeneration consultations that completly marginalise cycling, that could be a problem, I fear.

    @Chris though,

    On your first point, this is simply because more kids walk – reverse the share and the walkers would soon be using bikes (there are a few schools in the UK like that, I believe: http://goo.gl/maps/NYhma).

    • Chris says:

      Yes, you’re right. The reason my kids prefer to walk is because most of the other kids walk. That doesn’t change the fact that the majority of kids attending the school live within a mile or at most 1.5 miles from it, and many are even closer than that, so they have absolutely no need to cycle,

      I agree that the numbers being dropped off by car are a problem, but for those who are getting to school in a healthy fashion (walking, scooting or cycling), why should anyone worry? It seems daft to think we should be trying to force kids to cycle to school just to make a political point.

      Personally I’m far more concerned about the number of people who drive their kids to school on their way to work because they’re afraid to let their kids make their own way to school (regardless of whether they walk, cycle or scoot) at the age of 8 or more, and that’s not an infrastructure problem to be addressed so much as a societal fear of the bogeyman being stoked by the tabloids every (fortunately extremely rare) time a child suffers at the hands of a stranger.

  8. I agree with what you say about Franklin.
    Cyclecraft is a survival guide, not a utopian ideal.

  9. We will never train all cyclists, nor can we achieve total segregation. There will always be young/old/slow/disabled/drunk/daft people riding bikes – and walking – erratically. It is our right to do so, we don’t need to be licensed because we are no threat to the safety of other road users.

    So the one thing I hope we can all agree on is that above all else we need to tame the motor traffic. Road Danger Reduction must be our joint and prime focus, whether we are in the training or the segregation camp. We need to tackle the danger at source, any other approach is fundamentally flawed, looking down the wrong end of the telescope, sticking plasters on a broken neck, moving deckchairs etc.

    In practice what does than mean? Above all else 20mph limits in all urban areas, enforced by ISA. Night time lorry bans. New safer urban lorries with low cabs and glass all round. All drivers re-tested every 3? years for eyesight and competence to continue driving. Raise the driving age to 25. Liability in crashes with VRUs automatically with the motorist. Triple the price of petrol and diesel to end the scandal of subsidised driving. Much longer (lifetime?) driving bans for drivers who kill. I could go on but I’m getting ready for an audax ride tomorrow, I hope you get the idea… All of these things are far more important than either segregation or training, both of which of course we will continue to need, hopefully just short to medium-term, until we wake up, smell the coffee and start to deal with our current deeply uncivilized urban condition.

    • Phew, that’s a long and politically-challenging wish list. I think doing what the Dutch have already done would be much easier, both physically and politically. They HAVE achieved total segregation of cyclists from motor traffic, where it matters (where there is heavy traffic or the speeds are > 20mph).

      The problem is, though, that people don’t generally aim to kill cyclists and pedestrians when driving. Drivers are almost all nice people, but they make mistakes or take risks, as human beings always do. This is why the HSE put huge emphasis on physically preventing people from making mistakes, and much less emphasis on training and protective clothing (the last in the list – http://www.cycling-embassy.org.uk/document/essentials-health-and-safety-work). This is why liability laws and increases in fines make little difference: almost all drivers think they’re the best drivers on the roads, and that they’ll never crash their cars.

      The Dutch call their system “sustainable safety” – they accept that whatever we do, drivers will make mistakes. To reduce the chance of those mistakes being fatal, they keep motor vehicles well away from non-motorised road users. They separate them both in space (segregated cycleways) and in time (dedicated cycle phases at traffic lights).

      We’ve done the same sort of thing, and it works, but only for motorists. Cars now have air bags, side impact bars, and roads are increasingly tolerant of people crashing – people crash motor vehicles all the time, but motor vehicle safety means they no longer kill themselves as often.

      • platinum says:

        And it’s just so freaking obvious – it is really beyond my powers to see what politicians and other parties have against the Dutch system.

        Regarding walking, in the Netherlands outside of city centres you just don’t see that many people walking around – because they can go faster by bike. Most of the time pavements are not provided, but because of the low footfall it’s generally ok for people to walk along the cycle path when they need to. On the other hand here in Fife we have miles of underused pavement running alongside rural A-roads that nobody uses simply because distances are too far to walk, but we’re not legally allowed to cycle on them for safer journeys. So everyone drives. It makes no sense at all. Such a waste of space and money.

        • Terry says:

          I don’t suppose they do object in principle. But they are afraid of the backlash from the bike haters and driving lobby, whipped up by the poisonous press we have in this country. So I think it will be a long wait.

    • surprised no-one spotted my deliberate error… I meant peak-time lorry bans, not night time!

      • Mutli says:

        Why should shift workers and those that have to cycle at night have to use roads with huge numbers of HGVs all around them in poorly lit conditions?

  10. Christine Jones says:

    I just cycled home from school with a 2 year old on the back, a 4 and a 5 year old in the trailer and my eldest, who is nearly 7 riding his own bike. We ride on a shared path cut through that takes the majority of the journey, it’s a great asset. Then we come to the main road, we have to cross a busy main road out of Ely, there his a huge drop down from the curb onto the road, we scurry across then Leon rides on the pavement or in front of me and me on the road while being overtaken by one of the many 40tonners that use our road as a cut through from Prickwillow back to the A10 going north.
    Leon said to me just as we got home,” you know what Mum? I’ve just realised I’m really looking forward to moving to Holland, so I can go on the bike roads again”
    Leon will become a skilled cyclist, just like I am, No amount of training makes crossing a busy road with a trailer with no drop curb easier. You need patience and balls is all!
    I just want to get around without feeling that my choice of transportation makes me a maverick rebel. That was all fine and good back in the day. Now I just want to get my kids home safe.

  11. rdrf says:

    Sorry to disagree here, but:

    1. “Training” can actually be counter-productive with some supposed “training” being about inculcating the idea that cycling is inherently hazardous (compulsory hi-viz and helmets) and teaching deference to motor traffic. This in turns leads to a sense of motorist entitlement when the “trained” become motorists some years later. Such is the legacy of “road safety” ideology.

    2. The right kind of training can be part of the Road Danger Reduction approach which Richard Evans outlines. It breeds confidence and supports people who wish to cycle now. Where I disagree is the idea that it necessarily accepts the status quo – what is missed out on is the effect on motorists by the presence of more (and more assertive) cyclists.

    Which brings us back to Safety in Numbers, about which I have argued here a few times already,

    Of course, there need to be additional controls on what motorists can get up to as part of RDR, and engineering roads may be part of that.

  12. Peter Clinch says:

    A few things, from a Cycling Scotland “Cycle Trainer Plus”…

    The Dutch have total segregation, except for where they don’t. It’s pretty damn good overall but you’re doing nobody any favours by over-egging the pudding, e.g. http://goo.gl/maps/hjsdh around the corner from my brother in law is in no way, shape or form segregated even before a tram comes down the street, it’s clearly quite busy and I think it’s a standard urban speed limit there and there is no attempt to separate bikes from other vehicles. And that doesn’t seem exceptional in the Zeeheldenkwarter of Den Haag, so is it really exceptional across the rest of NL?

    Cyclecraft and John Franklin: the “roads are best” thing is more pudding over-egging, this time from vehicular cycling, though even if he’s wrong about roads being the best (for a small number of people they may well be, but I’d rather have lots of people on bikes than a 2% share for enthusiasts) doesn’t alter the fact that roads are what we’ve got at the moment and if you are going to get out and travel by bike they are currently what you have to use and vehicular cycling is probably the best way to go about it. In short, I think it’s good for what it does (enabling enthusiasts to use the roads effectively), but it shouldn’t have to exist. Someone described it as a survival manual, which is fair comment, but at present the roads in the UK are hostile enough that we need one.

    Training: pretty much agree with you. Training as it stands deserves at most two cheers. All it does is help a small subset of those taking part become the next generation of enthusiasts who are happy mixing it with the motors on UK roads, but as with Cyclecraft, if the roads are what you’ve got then training that a few people take to heart to use them is better than nothing.
    As far as getting more bikes out there goes training is not much use on its own, and it needs to be part of a whole, complete system to really come in to its own (a bit like NL, then, and as you say quite rightly not an alternative to infrastructure). I think the main reason it is so well liked in the UK is it costs roughly bugger all (especially in Scotland, almost entirely volunteer driven) and by shouting about it politicians can pretend they’re doing something significant. It is better than re-arranging the Titanic’s deck chairs, but isn’t enough by itself to make us miss the berg.

    Vehicular cycling does work pretty well, as those of us that have been forced to do it can attest, but it’s not a welcoming thing to get in to, so people don’t. There are very few children at my kids’ school that genuinely get about by bike. I can’t imagine anyone else at their primary school riding in to the city centre to go to the central library on the roads all by themselves, but it’s no problem for mine. But having a committed cyclist who happens to be a cycling instructor giving them several years of escorted tuition first is a luxury few children have! The training I give at the school is enough for them to get round their suburban village, but not really more (after all, longer trips are level 3). And if you can’t go beyond a few quiet streets you’re not really independent, and that’s not good enough.

    • I didn’t meant over-egg!

      I’m certainly wouldn’t argue that there is separation absolutely everywhere, but I think it’s important to stress that Dutch policy is aimed directly at achieving that separation. Busy streets like your example in the Hague, and other places in Utrecht and Amsterdam I have visited, where you have to share with relatively high volumes of motor traffic, are gaps in the network that haven’t been addressed yet. The Netherlands isn’t perfect, but these problems are being ironed out. It still takes time.

      • Peter Clinch says:

        I would suggest there are places that it just doesn’t really fit and a pragmatic, empirical approach has shown that if you have enough coverage to generate critical mass of cyclists and cycle-aware drivers then it doesn’t actually matter that in some places it doesn’t fit.
        There’s no shortage of cyclists on these roads and they don’t seem to have any great trouble using them.

        And that such places not only exist /but work quite reasonably well/ is very important, because they show the positive point that you don’t need 100% total separation to have a decent, workable scheme. So all those people mewling that you can’t have that in the UK because we don’t have the space everywhere can have a trundle round Dutch roads where it doesn’t fit either and still find that thanks to all the places it *does* fit that their cycling experience is considerably better.

        There is not total segregation of bikes and motor traffic in NL. But actually that’s not a bug, it’s a feature. You said “separation where it matters” and I agree, though we perhaps differ a little on what constitutes mattering. Zoutmanstraat is a simple example to show that you can have dense motor traffic, a normal speed limit and bikes all mixing because it’s a small enough pinch that the system as a whole can take it in its stride. Tour a bit more around Zeeheldenkwarter and you’ll find busy streets with a fietspad on one side but not the other, and cyclists going in the direction of the right side of the road will use the road rather than the segregated track. They choose to do this, the traffic accommodates that choice, everyone gets where they’re going, and all of those places where there isn’t full separation makes places like these work because the drivers are aware of how to mix with bikes.

  13. Sarah says:

    I suscribe to the “ideology that asserts that cyclists are traffic”, but I much prefer to call it “the sheer unbounded joy of the open road.” As somebody who goes practically everywhere by bike, I would be truly devastated if my radius of free, easy and independent movement (currently 100 miles in every direction from my flat on big roads, little roads, and cycle tracks, farm tracks, and forestry tracks) was suddenly confined to the “official” cycle routes that some faceless bureaucrat of a network planner had deemed suitable for me to use.

    Would that network planner leave me my favourite hills and hairpins and landscapes and destinations, or would he declare them off-limits to bikes, or send me on cumbersome detours? On a practical level, does he know which routes are muddy, potholed, not cleared of snow, freshly resurfaced with a deep layer of uncompacted gravel, flooded, usable at night, socially safe, subjectively safe, objectively safe? Does he know my local area as well as I do? Has he cycled all the routes that I use? Does he know which ones put a silly grin on my face and which ones scare the hell out of me? Is he better equipped to make decisions about where I should go than I am?

    Probably not.

    So: No surrender!

    • Mark Hughes says:

      I really don’t understand this concern that infrastructure will equal cyclists being banned from other roads. No one is suggesting that, and if they even tried the political fall out would be so immediate and noisy that it would be squashed faster than you could say Sir Bradley Wiggins.

    • Separation from motor traffic does not imply a limiting of cycling freedom. In my experience of cycling in the Netherlands I have more options, routes and choices open to me than I do here in the UK.

      (I’m curious why you might think this would involve banning cycling from little roads or tracks)

      • Chris says:

        For myself, I don’t for one moment think bikes would be officially banned, but tolerance from motorists towards cyclists would, I fear, drop (from already paltry levels) in direct parallel to the increase in segregated infrastructure.

        The more you can ride in a segregated infrastructure, the more motorists will expect you to only ride there. This is already seen by the frequent shouts of “get in the **** cycle lane” from London cabbies in particular, even if you’re moving faster than they are!

        • Peter Clinch says:

          If one travels through the Dutch countryside then one is typically either on a small road, or next to a big road on your own road which is just as well maintained and just as direct and no more subject to rights of way conflicts. The only thing “missing” is wondering how much space the truck coming up behind will decide to give you when it overtakes.

          The Dutch system expands the options for bikes, it doesn’t reduce them. Yes, there are places I should use the fietspad instead of the road, but if the fietspad is just as good (and I really mean just as good) as the road then how is that a problem? For example, near my sister-in-law’s farm, http://goo.gl/maps/mcikD you’d be expected to use the fietspad there, the excellently surfaced, direct, less crowded fietspad without the no overtaking lines…

          A telling and annoying feature of Dutch infrastructure is its use by mopeds and scoots that ought to be on the road instead. They would be using the road if it was easier, but they choose to illegally use the cycling infrastructure instead.

      • Sarah says:

        A few weeks ago I took a wrong turn towards the end of a long cycle that I planned to shorten by getting the train home. I was still going in more or less the right direction, but not on precisely the road that I had intended to take, so I came out on a trunk road about 10 miles from the train station. I knew I would miss the last train home if I started faffing around with a map and looking for alternatives to the trunk road. That would have added thirty-five miles to my cycle, and I wasn’t sure whether I would have a full moon. A few weeks beforehand, I had missed the last train home after stopping to fix a puncture and ended up cycling instead and not getting home until nearly 4 in the morning. I didn’t want to repeat that, so I just stuck with the trunk road (Bundesstraße 89), and it was absolutely fine. It was a beautiful evening, traffic was light, motorists all gave me acres of space, the surface was perfect, and I was able to pull back the time my minor navigational glitch had cost me and make my train.

        If the drivers on the trunk road had not accepted that I was as entitled to be there as they were, my cycling freedom would have been severely curtailed.

        Sometimes only a proper road will do; Dave Horton describes it more evocatively than I can: http://thinkingaboutcycling.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/wide-open-road

        The beauty of cycling, for me, is that it allows me to freely combine transport network elements ranging from A roads to singletrack trails in one and the same journey. I go from sharing space with trucks to sharing with hares to sharing with buses to sharing with deer to sharing with tractors to sharing with cars to sharing with joggers, nordic walkers and dogs. I’m pretty much always sharing space with somebody or something. Even when my “cycle track” is nominally just for bicycles, I’ll expect to encounter pedestrians and mopeds, and just when when I think I’m all on my own, some large animal will crash across the path just ahead of me. So it’s important to me that the cycling lobby expends time and resources to defend the rights of cyclists to share existing transport and recreation resources safely with other modes. Those rights need to be upheld in the face of objections from drivers who want us off “their” roads and pedestrians who want us off “their” off-road routes. Is it really so terrible to say that the right to share existing transport resources with various other modes is one of our BIG priorities and something we will defend? Doing so doesn’t exclude campaigning for cycling-only routes free of cars and pedestrians; surely a climate of respectful sharing and shared infrastructure can exist alongside and complement infrastructure designed around the specific needs of individual modes?

        I do most of my cycling in places that are not very densely populated: the rather empty part of Ireland from which I hail, and the relatively empty part of Germany where I currently live. Places, in other words, with roads often as empty as the roads described by Dave Horton. I have no expectation that much money is ever going to be found behind the sofa for building dedicated cycle facilities in these places. The money and manpower required to keep a comprehensive Dutch-style network usable year-round would be hard to justify. So I’m quite reconciled to sharing space with people who are not on bikes. I want, however, to make my own decisions about which categories of people-not-on-bikes I opt to share with on any given day. If I opt for paths, I will treat walkers etc. considerately and with respect even if delays me briefly, and if I opt for the road, I want motorists to treat me with the same consideration and respect even if it delays them briefly.

        This brings me back to the topic of training. I agree that training CYCLISTS versus building cycle infrastructure is a false opposition; of course the Dutch do both. However, in places which are too lightly populated to build and maintain enough Dutch-style cycling infrastructure to get all cyclists from A to B safely, training MOTORISTS is what is required in order to give cyclists the confidence to venture out onto the only infrastructure they have.

        • Mark Hughes says:

          Again, no one is arguing that cyclists right to use the road be reduced from what it is now, so you’re arguing against a false position. There are also roads which by their design you are effectively banned from cycling even if legally you have the right to (the A3 out from New Malden onwards, the North Circular, etc), what of those?

          The key issue though is this: name me a country which has achieved a high cycling mode share without decent separated infrastructure playing a key part of the solution. You are, of course, entitled to campaign for some notion of persuading drivers to be nice and share, but empirically this does not work for increasing cycling rates or making existing cyclists safer or widening their routes. So as far as I’m concerned, the campaigning should all be about infrastructure because training and trying to persuade drivers to be nice has failed to make any appreciable difference to anything for so many years.

          My position is built-up area centric, as that’s where most people live, and what I’m most concerned about. But the idea of places too sparsely populated for separate infrastructure is also a false one, in those places it is usually very cheap to do a decent job as there is plenty of land (again, you see this in the Netherlands outside the cities, into the countryside, glorious cycle paths filled with speedy recreational cyclists and people cycling for transport alike). Training should play a part, particularly in reaction to the awful state of our roads currently, but the campaigning needs to be loudly and clearly about infrastructure.

        • fonant says:

          We already train MOTORISTS, the current driving test has a lot in it about vulnerable road users. It clearly doesn’t work, motorists still behave terribly towards people on bicycles.

          No-one is saying that Dutch-style infrastructure will mean we’re no longer allowed to cycle on roads (for the small percentage of the population who are brave enough to). Dutch-style infrastructure ADDS the option of cycling for everyone, not just the tiny percentage of the population who are keen enough to brave the danger. It makes cycling an option more often, for more people, and doesn’t affect “keen cyclists” at all: Dutch racing cyclists use Dutch segregated facilities quite happily!

          Motorists already think cyclists should be banned from the roads, and quite often deliver too-close “punishment passes” to make that view known. If we don’t build Dutch-style infrastructure then cycling will remain a niche activity for a hated “out-group” called “cyclists”. If we do follow the Dutch example, then almost everyone will use bicycles for local transport, and people on bicycles will be ordinary and no longer a hated out-group: motorists will have cycled too, and will know what it’s like.

          It’s no use thinking like an existing committed cyclist. You have to put yourself in the shoes of the majority of the population who would really like to ride their bicycles for local transport but who are quite genuinely frightened of being killed by a motor vehicle. This is why most motorists pass cyclists too closely: they have no idea what it’s like.

    • michael says:

      I don’t understand your point at all. I find it totally baffling.

      I also go everywhere by bike (have never learned to drive, used to use public transport, now use the bike). But I don’t see many ‘open roads’ round here. What I see are major A roads with cars going up to 60mph (and regular crashes due to drivers not in control of their speeding vehicles) and side roads full of parked cars with rat-runners whizzing down the centre towards me.

      Where are these “open roads” of which you speak? None of them round my way. They are all full of cars. And consequently most potential cyclists are effectively banned from them. And existing cyclists are regularly killed on them.

      What I want to see are restrictions on the use of cars, not on bikes. In my view you have the whole thing back-to-front.

      (To be honest, in my ideal, fantasy world, cars would be banned entirely from urban roads, but I’ll settle for significant restrictions on them)

  14. I am very impressed that some people have managed to cycle in the Netherlands and get from A to B, where A is the place they are and B is a place not on the specific cycle route they’re following, without getting stuck, and then in order to get where you want to go, having to ride on a road where people think the cyclists should be off the road and getting shouted at. Well done to all of you.

    • sorry, that was appalling grammar

    • Sorry, I really can’t understand what point you’re trying to make. If you are making one.

    • Mark Hughes says:

      There’s no such thing as a specific cycle route in the Netherlands in my experience, other than for way-finding and touring purposes (even then mostly it’s not routes like you’d see here, just signs pointing you in directions for places).

      If you want to get anywhere, you just ride along streets as you would drive in a car until you get there, fully in the confidence that you won’t be thrown into mixing with high volumes of fast traffic at any point. Having ridden 70+ miles around Utrecht over a weekend a few weeks back it just works – both in the city and in the countryside and the suburbs in between. It works beautifully, and wherever there is a road which you can’t cycle on (of which I came across very few indeed) there is a brilliant wide cycle track just for you at the side of it, often better maintained than the road itself.

      • fonant says:

        Of course we should all remember the facts:

        Dutch cycle facilities are generally crap, and they rarely go where people want to go. Almost always the cycle routes, where they even exist, disappear at junctions, leaving people on bicycles to put their lives in the hands of unfriendly motorists. Cycling in the Netherlands is therefore a specialist pursuit, generally reckoned to require training, helmets, high-viz and CycleCraft vehicular cycling techniques. While Dutch children receive BikeAbility training at school, few schools or parents are actually willing to let the children ride their bicycles, even on local residential streets. As a result many parents are forced to drive their children to and from school twice a day, causing additional congestion on the roads. Some councils have implemented adult cycle training, and while reported success rates are apparently high, this has not led to any noticeable increase in the numbers of ordinary people riding bicycles. Dutch children have limited personal freedom, and score poorly on comparisons of child happiness with other nations.

        Cycling in the UK however is easy, safe, and popular as a local mode of transport for almost the entire population. The UK government and local authorities take cycling seriously as one of the most efficient and cost-effective modes of transport for local trips, and invest accordingly in top-quality cycling infrastructure. People aged 8 to 80 routinely use bicycles for local trips, and the majority of children aged 8 and above cycle on their own to and from school, meaning that their parents can get on with other things, and the roads are much less congested for people who really have to drive their cars. You can generally expect every street in the UK to be very cycle-friendly, so it is easy to cycle everywhere with confidence that you won’t have to mix with motor traffic much, if at all. The British have even been known to move an entire canal sideways by several metres to make space for cycle paths on both sides! British children have much personal freedom, being able to cycle on their own safely and conveniently, and they score very highly on comparisons of child happiness with other nations.

        Hmmm… did I get that the wrong way round?

    • Andre Engels says:

      I have made many cycling trips in the Netherlands to many different places, and I’ve never been on a “road where people think the cyclists should be off the road and getting shouted at”. Either I was on a cyclepath, or on a normal road where people were fully expecting and accepting to see cyclists. If you have that experience, you probably should have looked 20 meter in either direction to see the other cyclists cycling on a smaller road or cycleway that goes between exactly the same places but with much less heavy traffic.

  15. rdrf says:

    I think Sarah makes a valid point.

    If you go on and on about the need for cyclists being separated from motor traffic, then naturally – particularly in a car-centric, anti-cyclist society – you back up the idea that cyclists don’t belong on the vast majority of roads we have to share with motors.

    That’s not the intention of “Going Dutch/Danish/German”, but it – in my opinion – is a likely adverse consequence. That is whether or not you make it clear that cyclists have the right to be there, the segregation is good quality with space taken away from motor traffic and with good quality treatments at all junctions, and there is loads and loads of it.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever segregate. it just means that there is this problem with it.

    That’s all.

    • Peter Clinch says:

      I’m only inclined to fight for my right to be on a road if it’s a road there’s any point on me being on. If it’s a fast, busy A road with enough bends and traffic to make overtaking an issue, and if there’s a nicer, better, equally direct, equally prioritised, well maintained broad track beside just for me there’s no point me being on the road. So it’s not so much the rights issue of can I belong on the road as the pragmatic issue of why the hell would I want to be there?
      Over much of the UK you have roads next to separated pavements for pedestrians. You have the right to ignore the pavements and walk on the roads instead, but people generally don’t. It isn’t actually an issue.
      Rejecting the sort of setup which could expand modal share of cycling, reduce pollution, improve public health, make our towns nicer places to live on the grounds of it might weaken our rights to ride on any road we want to is a bit like rejecting the installation of usefully fast public data infrastructure on the grounds it diminishes personal privacy: there are issues, but you really need to shift focus to the bigger picture.

    • fonant says:

      Ah, the good old “right to ride” argument.

      People are already effectively banned from using bicycles for transport in the UK, because of the real dangers of having to ride amongst fast and heavy motor vehicles. Even experienced cyclists are being killed, so what hope does the ordinary man or woman or child in the street have? Our society clearly does not value cyclists, we invest almost nothing in facilities for this mode of transport. Cyclists are hated because they’re a tiny minority of apparently-fearless often-lycra-clad road warriors who seem to delight in cycling right in front of motor vehicles (taking the lane, being assertive, as per CycleCraft and BikeAbility). The vast majority of people are not cyclists, and they would never consider cycling as an attractive mode of transport.

      There isn’t a major cycling campaign that I’m aware of in the Netherlands, crying out for cyclists to be allowed to ride on the roads. Because for any cyclist the cycleway is almost always a better, quicker, safer, more pleasant option to the carriageway. Cycleways are, and should be, designed to be used by anyone riding a bicycle, old or young, fast or slow. Just as carriageways are designed to be used by all types of motor vehicle and driver.

  16. Pingback: Short bike trips | As Easy As Riding A Bike

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