Why can’t we get visualisations right?

Last night I was discussing plans for the centre of Enfield, as part of that borough’s ‘mini-Holland’ bid, during a London Cycling Campaign seminar on designing well for walking and cycling.

The plans themselves – if they are not watered down – actually look pretty good, and we were mainly discussing the best way of facilitating cycling and walking movement without causing conflict in a high street environment.

The visualisations of the scheme, however, struck me (and others) as problematic.

A burly man going mountain biking, apparently

A burly man going mountain biking, apparently

Not just the garish, intrusive colour scheme, but also the type of people cycling. Very much ‘cyclists’ – a man in full sporting gear, hunched over, stomping on the pedals of his mountain bike.

If these plans are trying to be sold to the public – and indeed to convince shopkeepers that the removal of the road outside their shops is a good idea – then this is frankly a disastrous kind of person to be showing. Someone who looks like they are going somewhere else, and who won’t be stopping. And who also looks like a bit of a menace.

It would surely have made much more sense to use a different kind of person on a bike.

Take your pic

Take your pick

Or just something that has a bit of joy in it.

Isn't riding a bike supposed to be fun?

Isn’t riding a bike supposed to be fun?

Enfield aren’t the only people to have got this wrong. Notable examples included TfL’s ‘bus stop bypass’ visualisations, showing someone who resembles Monkey Dust’s ‘The Cyclists’ –

The Superhighway 2 visualitions

The Superhighway 2 visualisations, showing lycra clad, fast-looking men

And Peterborough Council’s laughable, laughable decision to use what looks like Fabian Cancellara in their visualisation of a walking and cycling route in their town centre.

A vision for the type of cycling Peterborough want in their town centre

A vision for the type of cycling Peterborough want in their town centre

I’m sure there are many other examples like this.

We were told that there was ‘limited time’ to prepare the bid, and the visualisations, but really, how much more time does it take to choose a suitable image of someone cycling? If you are thinking about doing a visualisation – please, please contact me and I will be happy to supply a photograph!

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41 Responses to Why can’t we get visualisations right?

  1. Chris says:

    Surely far more worrying than the clothing the cyclists are wearing in that first photo is the fact that in any sort of busy period with cyclists moving in both directions, it would be near enough impossible to overtake slower-moving cyclists?

    Paths like this are all well and good for a quick pootle to the shops when you’ve got no time pressure on you, but what exactly are they supposed to give to people commuting a few miles to work who haven’t got the time to pootle along, other than forcing them out onto the presumably now narrower roads to try and move at a decent pace?

  2. inge says:

    Go on tour with David Hembrow f.f.s. You’ll see how it works with real infrastructure for ALL road users.

    • Chris says:

      So I give up my holiday, leave my wife and kids to do their own thing and pay to go to the Netherlands and I’ll be magically shown how cyclists can overtake each other without delays during rush hour on a two-way path which is only wide enough for a single cyclist in each direction? If they really can show me how to overtake people when there isn’t any space to overtake, then I’ll jump at it, but I’m not convinced.

      From what I can see, the average cycle ride is 3kms. At that distance, getting held up behind a slower cyclist isn’t much of a problem, but how many people working in Central London, Canary Wharf and the like can actually afford to live 3kms from work???

      I know I can’t – and frankly I wouldn’t want to even if I could – which is why my cycle to work isn’t 3kms each way. It’s 24kms each way. Do you really think that distance would be viable on a route such as that illustrated where I wouldn’t be able to overtake?

        • Chris says:

          Now THAT would indeed be a dream scenario! It’s not what we’re seeing in the above visualisation though!

          • paulc says:

            well lodge complaints when you see rubbish proposals… don’t let them get away with fobbing us off with this rubbish and especially claiming that it’s to continental style…

        • highwayman says:

          1000 words in ONE ! (1) ! single image. Point Well Made!

          I was on a study tour with David Hembrow. I saw the details for myself –and then some.

          That is a true picture.

          Take the Study Tour, Chris, and see for yourself.

      • Dan B says:

        I commute 12km into central London. Sometimes I ride fast on a road bike, other times not so fast on a utility bike. The difference in time between ‘as fast as I can’ and ‘nice and easy’ is 5 minutes. Not being able to overtake safely is likely to cost you about 10 seconds – if your journey is THAT time-critical put your lights and siren on. Otherwise, chill out.

      • Har Davids says:

        Chris, the average bike trip in Holland is a bit more than 3 Kms, and I guess your commute is exeptional. I regularly cycle from Rotterdam to The Hague, which is about 25 Kms and I share the road and use cycle-paths in under all kinds of circumstances. Yes, sometimes I can’t overtake, but when driving a car it happens too. So I just take it easy and wait for the space I need.

      • Paul M says:

        Chris – you have to accept that 24km is not a normal cycle commute, even by London standards – it is herculean. The fact that our pitifully low cycle mode share by journey length doesn’t tail off the way it does in the Netherlands (where beyond about 10km almost no-one cycles) tells a story in itself. The UK cycling environment is one for “none but the brave” – 25-45 year old, fit, males who are cycling as much for exercise or the adrenalin rush as for the simple utility of it.

        The people who just want to be able to make short trips more efficiently and cheaply by bike, and get the bus/use their cars for longer trips, as they don the Netherlands, are so far being offered almost nothing and the complaints of the road-warriors if anything perpetuate that problem – just look at the position taken by CTC.

        I was happy enough with the status quo once, but now I have fallen off the back of that current UK cycling demographic, I feel the inadequacies of our current cycle provision more keenly every day.

        • “I don’t want the majority of people benefiting from a thing, as it may slightly alter the way I do that thing. I want to prevent changes which will help nearly everyone, so that only myself and those few who are like me can benefit!”

      • Why, on such a long cycle commute, would you insist on travelling through such an obvious bottleneck in the first place?

  3. Perhaps we should do a series of visualisations in similar contexts but not just from the point of view of a person who never walks or cycles, maybe even never leaves his office during the day.
    I’ve heard stories about Highways engineers, and town planners, they don’t like sunlight. They can’t understand how public space is meant to work because they have never seen it in real life.
    How about from the view point of a six year old? Or someone who likes 19th Century art or thinks all women men should wear cravats and all women should wear hats and gloves. How about an 80’s colour scheme for the paint on the road? I personally would like to see it done in 60’s orange and brown.

  4. rdrf says:

    Very good point about the images of “a cyclist”.

  5. paulc says:

    The kerbs are a very big problem, clip those and you’ll be off, not to mention the fact that it is difficult to get in and out of the path from the pavement for those on mobility scooters

    • Yes, this was something raised last night. We were quite clear that kerbs need to be shallow and forgiving, to allow easy movement on and off the track (this goes for the bus lane too).

  6. Jitensha Oni says:

    Limited time or not, presumably this reveals what the visualisers think of as “cyclists”. And I presume the council, and whoever edits this kind of stuff, are “blind” , in a gorilla-among-basketball-players way, to this kind of representation simply because that’s not a significant concern for them. paulc’s comment about kerbs is spot on in this respect. Basically, they talk the talk but don’t think the thought. But you have to ask why, with all the campaigning that is supposed to be bringing about a cycling revolution, they have not been educated out of their peculiar “visions”. Personally I’d have put in a few kids in hoodies on BMXes on the footway giving the finger to pensioners; and people walking their dogs and pushing their buggies on the cycle path while a crowd of people on bikes queues up behind shaking their fists just to keep it real.

    An aside on “facilitating cycling and walking movement without causing conflict in a high street environment’. How about facilitating walking in different directions without causing conflict in a high street environment? Seems a bit of a silly concern with the elephant of motor vehicles in the room. I’ve cycled and walked in and around Kingston-upon-Thames for years with its veritable kaleidoscope of transport infrastructure of all types from pedestrian only to urban motorway style gyratory with even (gasp) some segregated cycle paths of the kind shown and you know what – a tiny antisocial element aside, active travellers get on just fine. But if you’re worried, you could argue that the paths should be narrow enough to keep the “road warriors” away.

    • Tim says:

      It is weird that planning departments spend so much on getting these plans together, and then pay to get these promotional mockups done, and pay so little attention to important details. Even if the “artist” bodges it, surely other people have to approve it?

      That Cancellara one is hilarious. 🙂

  7. pm says:

    Good post.
    The Peterborough one is just beyond ridiculous. Is it a conscious satire? Or a sign of just how little transport-planning departments actually know or care about cycling?

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  9. Busker92 says:

    Forgive me, but it seems that everyone is missing the point here. I don’t know Enfield at all so I may be missing something obvious myself, but surely if this is the main shopping street there should be no through traffic.

    Cars, buses and through cyclists (if there are any) should be diverted. (as the cars presumably have been in this illustration). The main shopping street should be a haven for pedestrians and people who chose to cycle into town in order to shop, or have a coffee or a meal or just hang out with friends, or whatever, (perhaps I should just say a haven for people!).

    This illustration seems to be an example of a massive conflict between, buses and cyclists, who are prioritised, and pedestrians who are marginalised at the edges. This is surely the exact opposite of Living Streets. Lets have a zone where there is no motorised traffic (except for deliveries within certain time boundaries) and no incentive to blast through on a bicycle (because there is a quicker alternative route close by). The more I look at this picture the more wrong it seems to be.

    • paulc says:

      they have a hard time selling pedestrianised streets to the shop owners who cannot get hold of the concept of their customers walking into their shops from the car parks, bus stops or after securing their bikes.

      They seem to think that all of their customers arrive by car after having parked up in that street after seeing their shop while driving by (referred to as “Passing Trade”).

    • Dan B says:

      Diverting cyclists away from high streets is counter-productive as it removes the incentive of convenience. There’s also no way of actually differentiating between ‘through bike traffic’ and ‘local bike traffic’ by any kind of physical means without making cycling harder for the local journey (the exact opposite of what we should be doing!).

      • paulc says:

        The central “Gate” streets of Gloucester are fully pedestrianised with cyclists and motor vehicles allowed in only before 7am and after 5pm… pedestrians only after 7am and up til 5pm… as a result, cyclists have to get off and walk if they want to get to the other side of the center or else go the long way round which is not cycle friendly at all 😦

  10. euan says:

    It strikes me as misunderstanding a crucial part of the design brief: your target users. There are not any children or elderly people cycling in the image and so it’s unlikely that the infrastructure is being designed with them in mind.

  11. Sarah says:

    The point about types of cyclists/people on bikes is very valid and surely can’t be stressed enough, but these visualisations also de-normalize cycling (and fail to give any kind of decent impression of the user experience of cyclists on the infrastructure shown) by depicting very small overall numbers of cyclists – sometimes no more than one in otherwise crowded street scenes. We need to see what happens when a besuited office worker travelling to work on an electric bike at a steady 15 mph catches up with somebody doing a shorter and more sedate commute on a Boris bike at 10 mph, or with an adult cyclist accompanying a small child on a balance bike to nursery school at 5 mph. If designs facilitate safe overtaking, this should be very clear from the visualization. If designs don’t facilitate safe overtaking, this is a problem not merely because it will test the patience of faster cyclists like Chris to breaking point, but because it will make junctions more complicated for all cyclists. If overtaking is only possible at junctions, those overtakes will inevitably add to the complexity of negotiating those junctions.

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  13. Rachel M says:

    The Aberdeen Cycle Forum just commissioned a couple of visualisations and it was important to me to be inclusive and show people using the bike paths that you wouldn’t normally see. I think they turned out well. We have only released one so far but you can see it here:


    The only thing I wish I’d included is a cargo bike.

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