Designing for existing mode share

There’s been plenty of discussion already about Camden’s West End Project – on Cyclescape, and in detailed blog form on Fitzrovia NewsCity CyclistsI Bike LondonVoleOSpeed and Rachel Aldred, as well as this open letter from the Movement for Liveable London. A summary can also be found on the Cycling Embassy forum.

So I won’t bore you by writing a long post to go with these detailed analyses, principally because my position is virtually identical to that of Rachel’s and David’s – namely, that whatever the merits of the scheme, and the good intentions of Camden as a borough (both of which are undeniable) it falls short on cycling, and to such an extent that it really has to be improved.

I also think it might be more worthwhile to summarise some of the central issues, both with this scheme, and more generally for cycling in London (and Britain as a whole).

It seems that there is broad agreement, from pretty much everybody, that this scheme is inadequate for cycling, whatever its wider benefits. Even Camden Cycling Campaign – who support the proposals currently on the table from Camden – state that

we feel that it will not do much to encourage new people to cycle

So the debate centres on whether the broader scheme objectives should be supported by cycling campaigners, despite that failure, and, relatedly, how the scheme should be approached by them, either in terms of ‘engagement’ or ‘criticism’ (although it’s not entirely clear where the boundary between the two lies; when ‘engagement’ becomes ‘criticism’, and vice-versa).

What is quite fascinating to me is how cycling campaigners – people who think that cycling can and should play a significant role in making our towns and cities more attractive places – are often happy to sacrifice the quality of the transport mode they want to see more of, in the interests of wider scheme objectives. This isn’t necessarily a comment about the Camden scheme in particular; it’s more an observation about how cycling campaigners almost expect themselves to be selfless.

I can’t imagine pedestrian user groups arguing something along the lines of ‘well, the pavements in this scheme are a bit awful, and not suitable for children. But bus users get a great deal – let’s support it!’

But effectively that’s what’s happening with this scheme, and has happened many times in the past. It’s almost expected. People wanting to see more cycling will defer to those wanting to see improvements in the bus network (for instance) in a way that would never happen in reverse.

Of course a large part of this is due to existing mode shares in London, and other British towns and cities. It seems unreasonable to demand more for a mode of transport that, while increasingly visible, and on the agenda, doesn’t really exist, at least compared to bus travel and walking.

I also get the impression that the fact cycling is very much a minority mode has informed how the West End Project scheme has developed. Cycling is an afterthought, and is fitted in around other modes. If it’s too difficult to accommodate, then sharing with a relatively large volume of motor traffic will just have to do. This is completely understandable, even if it is unacceptable from a strategic, long-term point of view, one where we are aiming for a cycling modal share well into double figures, in percent.

Conversely, in a city like Utrecht, where something like 50% of all trips in the city centre are made by bike, a scheme that neglected the quality of the cycling environment would be completely unthinkable.

This mode of transport can't be ignored here

A serious mode of transport that can’t be ignored

This gets us to the nub of the issue, and a Catch-22 that bedevils cycle campaigning in Britain. Namely, it’s politically difficult to allocate space for cycling, and to prioritise it as a mode of transport, when so very few people cycle, and so many people are excluded from it. But to get us to a position where it is politically easy to prioritise cycling requires those changes to the street environment that open up cycling to everyone. Which won’t happen while nobody cycles. And round we go.

Seeing a child cycling in central London is incredibly rare, outside of a closed road event. Children get driven, or they walk, or they take the bus. So why should we create conditions that would allow children to cycle, when they don’t cycle now? Again, we’re stuck in a vicious circle.

How do we get out of this rut? The answer has to lie, somewhere, with the advantages cycling would bring at an individual level – the ease of making short trips without having to worry about parking, independence of children under 17, and so on – combined with the economic, social, health, transport and environmental benefits that would come with much greater levels of cycling, at a general level.

But it’s not going to be easy, and the West End Project scheme points to the level of difficulty. It is being developed by a borough that, to my mind, probably ‘gets’ cycling more than any other authority in Britain – on streets they control. It’s an area that already has (for Britain) relatively high levels of cycling use, declining private motor traffic, very good public transport below ground level (and soon to get even better with the arrival of Crossrail), and wide building-to-building widths (although obviously with many competing demands on that space).

Yet apparently the best that can be achieved for cycling, with all these factors in play, won’t be good enough to make any significant difference.

That’s profoundly depressing. If the surface can barely be scratched here, with all the good intentions, and opportunities, then the prospects for the rest of the country are grim. It suggests a glacial pace of change.

Is there a way forward? David and Rachel both have a number of good suggestions about possible alternative arrangements on the two main N-S streets that form the central part of this scheme. As Rachel writes

surely one of them should be good for mass, inclusive cycling. That shouldn’t be an unreasonable thing to hope to see, in 2018, which is when it’ll be built, surely?

It’s hard to disagree. The proposed scheme involves two inadequate approaches on both streets; one with with no separation at all from plenty of buses and a fair amount of traffic passing through (and of course open to all in the evening), the other with inadequate separation on what will likely prove to be a busy road.

At the very worst, we should consider the space required for just one good approach, on either of the streets in question. They are only around 200 feet apart, so as long as the connections between the two are good enough (and they should be) it won’t be too arduous to divert to the other to make a north or south journey by bike.

It’s up for discussion what form that ‘good route’ could take, but it’s worth bearing in mind the dimensions of these streets at worst. The smallest building-to-building width on Tottenham Court Road is 17 metres. The smallest building-to-building width on Gower Street is 15 metres.*

So if we consider these two streets together, as a whole (this is reasonable enough as the layout of both is being completely altered by this scheme) there is a total of 32m of width available, even at the very narrowest points of both of these streets, within which to create a high quality cycling route, suitable for all potential users.

‘High quality’ means 4m of width, either in the form of a bi-directional track, or two 2m tracks, properly constructed. That leaves 28m of width for footways, bus lanes and motor traffic, at – to repeat – the very narrowest combined point of both of these streets.

Now of course this will be complex, and there will have to be discussion about how this could be achieved. The point, in quite general terms, is that if 32m of space, at minimum, can’t be imaginatively arranged to allocate just 4m of it to proper cycling provision, in a sympathetic borough with all the opportunities detailed above, then we are really in a tremendous pickle.

Even if we accept the difficulties at these narrowest points, the quality of the cycle provision could, at worst, be compromised or abandoned at these ‘pinches’; there’s no reason to jettison the potential to implement high-quality cycling infrastructure in places where it is easily achievable, simply because it’s difficult in other places.

Making the case for the value of designing well for cycling shouldn’t mean trashing Camden’s scheme, or trampling all over it. It should be about improving it, and ensuring that it has cycling provision within it that will enable cycling for all, rather than making things slightly better for the tiny minority of existing users. Doing so would make this scheme considerably better.

I think this is tremendously important; we have to break out of the current model of incremental changes that do little or nothing for the people excluded from cycling. So – as everyone else is saying – get involved, constructively!


*These are the very narrowest points; the average width of Tottenham Court Road is about 23m (it gets as wide as 28m, but for the great majority of its length it is wider than 20m). The average width of Gower Street is 16m (the street width here is more uniform, hovering at a shade over 15m for the great majority of its length).

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34 Responses to Designing for existing mode share

  1. So now we just need to get the cycling organisations so just stop supporting this kind of crap. Otherwise we have to fight against the entrenched car culture in society and politicians as well as a rear guard action against the likes of CTC and LCC.

    • MJ Ray says:

      Well, what are you doing about it?

      I’ve rejoined a Cyclenation group, basically my local equivalent of LCC (LCC is also a Cyclenation member), and it’s willingly adopting Making Space for Cycling and all the other good stuff, while also supporting my calls to Cyclenation to stop supporting substandard things. CTC have committed the occasional blooper but also seem to be coming round to fundamental redesigns as the way forwards. I think the bigger problem to take aim at is Sustrans, who seem rather limited by the current manuals and frameworks, and British Cycling which seems a bit confused lately, with its ambassador Chris Boardman saying good things while BC policy still requires bad things. Anyway, I think joining and helping to make the democratic groups (CN, CTC, BC) reflect wider cyclists views would be good.

  2. fred says:

    Seems also that the Cycling Commissioner isn’t too happy with the scheme, but is waiting to see what cycling groups think of it. (from 46.20) . All the more reason to make sure our (constructive!) opinion is heard.

  3. “Namely, it’s politically difficult to allocate space for cycling, and to prioritise it as a mode of transport, when so very few people cycle, and so many people are excluded from it. But to get us to a position where it is politically easy to prioritise cycling requires those changes to the street environment that open up cycling to everyone. Which won’t happen while nobody cycles. And round we go.”

    At yet where we do have high cycling levels, I find the same problems. 58% of the adult population of Cambridge cycle, and 30% of commuters. Still every scheme to re-allocate roadspace is a huge political fight, albeit partly because our transport authority is the whole of Cambridgeshire, including all the representatives of rural communities who drive into Cambridge. Although we have a cycling projects team, the main highways team seem to have the same 70s legacy mindset and training about motor traffic capacity.

    On the other hand we have new developments that love to use the cycling modal share to say that their traffic impact on the area will be minimal. They’re happy to sell the vision of a couple of bikes in front of their brand new houses, and then they’ll build a multi-lane junction with two-stage pedestrian and cycling crossings to connect to the existing road network. People will cycle in Cambridge anyway, right? Why do they have to encourage something that is already happening?

    In think the problem here is Britain.

    “‘High quality’ means 4m of width, either in the form of a bi-directional track, or two 2m tracks, properly constructed.”

    Nit picky point – I don’t think 2m one-way is high quality, where as I do think 4m two-way is acceptable. 4m two-way is more flexible – you can overtake if there’s no oncoming cyclists, or work around peak flows in one direction. 2m one-way is narrow for comfortable overtaking and side-by-side cycling, especially for wider bikes. Also there’s always going to be some loss of width per track: people don’t cycle all the way to the edge, especially if there are kerbs. Also you probably need to allocate width for segregation.

    That is if you are building for high capacity. 2m is comfortable separation from traffic for a single rider.

    But as I say, nit-picky. I wouldn’t put the minimum for high quality much higher.

    • Sarah says:

      My first thoughts as well, 2 m tracks are frankly horrible and I am startled to see somebody suggest them in the context of cycle campaigners not asking for enough! Once something with a 20 year life-cycle has been built it’s not easily gotten rid of again.

      The other day I had an elderly cyclist in front of me on a track nearly 3 m wide – just the two of us, out in the sticks, not in the middle of London – and I had to wait before I could overtake her safely. She was cycling right in the middle of the track and was completely oblivious to my presence as she weaved and wobbled slowly along. She clearly couldn’t hear my bell and I thought I would probably startle her if I shouted from distance or passed her closely, so I had to cycle up behind her, brake, say hello and excuse me, and then overtake.

      But I understand the catch-22 – how do you get funding for a higher modal share and a more inclusive version of cycling than is currently out there.

      There’s no magic bullet but I think the emphasis Rachel Aldred has placed on inclusive cycling makes a lot of sense, for two reasons:

      1) It is truly horrible for frail cyclists to be passed closely by stressed-out people who are in a massive hurry somewhere and forget their manners. Dutch widths (as well as common sense and courtesy) are needed for safe overtaking. It’s also more reassuring for frail or elderly cyclists to be passed in a wide lane between junctions, rather than right at junctions where there are a lot of things to pay attention to.

      2) Cycling as serious transport has to be efficient and able to compete on time with other modes. That doesn’t mean everybody will be able to sustain their top speed, but it should mean that bike traffic won’t move at the speed of the slowest users all the time (putting them under pressure) because overtaking is near-impossible. The person who doesn’t want to get up ten minutes earlier so they will still be on time for work if they get stuck behind an un-overtakeable wobbly five year old or a Boris bike user may not be a lycra-ed up office worker who does sportives or races at the weekend – they could be a disabled person or an elderly person on an electric bike.

  4. paulc says:

    2 metres is way too narrow. There’s no way to overtake someone who is poodling along or slowing to stop… nowhere to go if a pedestrian invades it either… especially if the kerbs are not forgiving.

    • Not sure about that. A standard bike is about 60cm across handlebars, and handlebars can overhang the lane edge. I’ve had people overtake me in 1.5m lanes! It wasn’t advisable, though.

      I’ll stick with what I said above: it’s uncomfortable: it leaves little room for error, especially at speed. It’s far from impossible.

    • Mark Hewitt says:

      It’s less than ideal but much better than most provision, around here we have the likes of 1.5 metre wide paths alongside 70mph dual carriageways, and these are meant to cater for both directions.

    • Well, I was kind of making the point that this is the minimum we should be aiming for. Wider would definitely be better.

      But I wouldn’t go so far as to say two metres is way too narrow. Most Dutch city centre (one-way) tracks are this width, and they carry tens of thousands of cyclists a day. Of course they are designed properly, with correct kerbing, so the full width of the track can be used. I haven’t encountered any problems on a path of this width.

      • Proper kerbs can make such a huge difference to effective width. I made some diagrams when discussing Royal College Street:

        A shallow, angled kerb means that the effective width of the cycleway is wider than the actual width, because it’s safe and comfortable for pedals and handlebars to be outside the cycleway, with the wheel very close to the edge, as there’s little to no risk of danger in hitting the kerb.

      • Sarah says:

        My mind drifted back to this as I cycled home just now (on relaxing, inner-city and suburban roads where I could let it wander aimlessly, at least at this off-peak time) and I realized that I see 2 m-wide tracks in exactly the same way as I see helmets – I think the potential discomfort probably outweighs the potential safety benefits in the context of pootling around inner-city streets with effective, cyclist-friendly traffic calming and 20 mph speed limits that should feel safe, relaxing and inviting with or without segregation.

        But I absolutely take the point about proper kerbs making 2 m feel more like 3, or at least 2.5. I used a 2.5 m wide two-way track on Friday that had a twelve-foot drop on one side and a ten-foot drop on the other side (it’s new, barriers are probably planned) and once I had noticed the drop-off my perception of the usable width shrank to about half a metre.

    • Danny Yee says:

      Oxford has 1.1 metre lanes separated from 30mph (or high density 20mph) traffic by painted lines. There’s a reason we’re stuck at 15% modal share.

  5. Pingback: Camden’s West End Project consultation | Fitzrovia News

  6. Mark Hewitt says:

    “There isn’t enough space”, is always the cry. But then look at the entire road, from property frontage to property frontage, not just the existing tarmac. Do motor vehicles really need more than one lane in each direction? Is that parking ‘lane’ really needed? What about that extra wide pedestrian path? As the article says, most streets even through city centres could accommodate cycling quite easily.

    But of course there’s a problem, all this costs a lot of money, so there’s no point having an excellent network say in the city centre, but nobody can get to it as the suburbs are hostile to cycling. So it means the city centre network doesn’t get built because councils don’t want to be accused of wasting money.

  7. I’m think perhaps Camden Council are getting too many pats on the head.

    Sure, they say their intention is to create a nice environment, but have they? No. So why should what is clearly political spin on a massive road project be applauded?

    If I came home and Camden Council were pissing through my letterbox, while saying “we think that pissing through people’s letterboxes is wrong, and it is our intention to prevent this from happening, and create a piss-proof letterbox”, should I applaud them for their lovely vision? Whatever their claimed intentions are, my hallway is still full of piss.

    Back in the real world, Camden Council are claiming they want fresh air and trees and lovers strolling hand-in-hand across Tottenham Court Road, while actually presenting to us a sewer for huge numbers of motor vehicles, with some crap excuses for cycling infrastructure tacked on as an afterthought.

    I’m not sure what the point of Camden Cycling Campaign is, if they are happy to support a scheme which they themselves admit is pretty poor. They might as well disband if that’s their attitude.

    • chris says:

      “I’m not sure what the point of Camden Cycling Campaign is, if they are happy to support a scheme which they themselves admit is pretty poor. They might as well disband if that’s their attitude.”

      There are so many ‘cycling campaign organisations’ that claim to be aiming to get the best infrastructure provisions pushed through yet sign up to the shittiest, worst half arsed schemes that they should all quit in complete shame.

      If we want decent infrastructure in this country that eventually creates liveable cities, then there can be absolutely no compromise with accepting, or even supporting fucking crap like this.

      • MJ Ray says:

        1. I think most cycling campaign organisations are so short of volunteers (they’re a subgroup of the subgroup that is cycling) that they’ve rarely got the best people doing each task and sometimes things either don’t get done, or don’t get done as well as we’d like. I think most would welcome more volunteers, so why not join, help recruit more like-minded riders, educate the campaign and then educate the councils?

        2. I think “cycling campaign groups” often get tarred with the same brush. Sometimes not all of them support a project (unsurprising, given a rough split between general-purpose, leisure and competitive cycling between the groups), but the groups who abstain or condemn are relying on the same overstretched volunteers (see previous point) to get their message out, while the groups which Bend Over and Grease Up get the full weight of council publicity machines behind them, loudly trumpeting the support of “the cycling fraternity” and other bogus phrases I’ve seen used. Social media and so on is helping make this information battle fairer, but it’s not quite fair yet.

  8. @angus_fx says:

    I think you’ve kind of answered your own question – we believe that cycling is part of making towns and cities more attractive, and we should recognise that those designing these schemes have, in very broad terms, the same objective.

    I’d suggest that selflessness comes from a need to advance our cause from a moral high ground. That means demonstrating consideration for others’ needs – at least those groups who we see as potential allies (not the LTDA). In relation to surface transport, this means we can’t ignore the fact that buses are roughly half as expensive as the Tube, and that the accessibility of the Tube system to less mobile people still leaves an awful lot to be desired. Not forgetting that we are all pedestrians at least some of the time.

    It’s important to remember that not only is cycling a minority mode, it’s a mode that a sizeable chunk of the population – and their elected representatives – believe they can never, or would never use. (The Dutch experience would of course prove them completely wrong, but they’re not interested). Most cycling advocates see the value of a bus lane, rail link or motorway, but the same is not true in reverse – many of the people you’ll find on the bus perceive almost no value at all in a cycle lane.

    But you’re absolutely right about future modal share, and that’s all the more reason to build flexibly. Realistically, while Camden might build for something greater than today’s cycle modal share, they can’t build for the share that we’d all like to see in 10 years time.

    This suggests that scheme should be designed so that it can, at relatively low cost, accommodate more bikes and fewer cars in the future. The easiest way to do that is the Gower Street armadillos – passive provision for, five years after initial construction, rearranging Gower as a series of one-way access roads for cars, while doubling the width of the cycle lanes. Only possible, of course, if and when daytime traffic evaporates to such a degree that a through route on the A400 alignment is no longer needed, with the 4200 taking up the slack.

    The other opportunity I can see along similar lines – too far out of reach now, but perhaps in five years under a different Mayor and with a better economy – is partial or total conversion of the proposed TCR busway (and, ahem, Oxford Street) to trams. All the more reason to give cyclists their own bit of carriageway separate from the buses – as a quick trip to Croydon will confirm, tram tracks and bikes do not mix well at all.

    • “they can’t build for the share that we’d all like to see in 10 years time.”

      That’s what we should be building for at minimum, or in 10 years time we’ll be no further along. After large and expensive changes they’re not going to re-visit the area any time soon.

      Good provision can also draw existing cyclists from their usual routes, so that in the short-term the provision gets used and demonstrates the demand.

      • @angus_fx says:

        In ten years we could comfortably have enough cyclists to support Rachel Aldred’s suggestion of closing Gower Street to through motor traffic.

        But, as of right now, it seems hard to square Rachel’s proposal with Camden’s apparent primary objective of making TCR better for pedestrians – because in order to do so, they need to get through motors off TCR and on to Gower.

        Which leaves two ways forward – convince the powers-that-be that removing both links for motors is, in fact, politically acceptable; or build something closer to the plan, but with a view to reducing Gower to one, and perhaps eventually zero traffic lanes over a longer period.

    • fred says:

      Traffic doesn’t just ‘evaporate’ like that. People make choices. If it’s easier to drive or take the bus, they’ll do that. If it suddenly becomes more difficult to drive, and much easier or safer to choose to cycle, they’ll do that. We need to design to make the best choices (socially and individually) much easier – not just to enable the same set of choices people are making already.

      • Chris says:

        This is the pivotal thought that has to be behind all redesign of current infrastructure: Not “how can we accomodate all modes of transport” but “how can we make desired modes the most convenient way to travel”.

        It happened in 1982 when the GLC capped transport fares (under the “Fares Fair” scheme), which saw a huge drop in car usage and consequently, a matching drop in RTA’s & KSI’s, with a huge uptake in using public transport.

        If you want London to be a liveable city where premature deaths from pollution fall, and children cycle to school, then you have to make the car the least convenient form of transport to take.

    • Paul M says:

      I was thinking of saying something similar, but you got there before me. I don’t see that we should tit-for-tat by disregarding other legitimate interests just because, at the moment, they disregard us.

      If we want bus user. disabled, or pedestrian groups to give us the same consideration which I, for one, believe we should give to them regardless, we need to show them why. The reasons are fairly obvious when you have them laid out before you. As I said in a conversation recently with one of the CEoGB awayday attendees, perhaps the role for a small technical group, without the resources for direct campaigning, is to “leverage”, by recruiting support from natural (but as yet not consciously so) allies through presenting them with evidence and rebuttal evidence to show how their interests align with ours. It may seem an uphill struggle to convince the RNIB that cyclists are not a threat to blind people but if we believe that, we ought also to believe that reason can bring them to believe the same. If we can get to that point then we have much larger and, let’s face it, much more powerful interests fighting the same corner.

      By the way, I don’t think the Dutch experience does prove them wrong, as you say. While unquestionably cycling modal share for all journey purposes massively outstrips the UK, there remain large minorities, perhaps majorities, of Dutch people who do not cycle. Mode share for bikes in some Dutch administrative areas is as “low” as 20%. That sounds Everest-high to us, but it does imply 80% are not using a bike in those areas.

      • @angus_fx says:

        Just to nit pick, 20% mode share implies 80% _of trips_ are not made by bike.

        I don’t know enough about the Dutch to say, but in the UK, even people who cycle fairly frequently probably only make half their trips by bike. If you cycle but not for your most common weekday utility trip (work, school run, etc.), you’re probably only making 10-20% of trips by bike. The natural upper limit for mode share is dependent on geography (less in very dense areas where walking is strong; less in very sparse areas where driving is strong; less where public transport is excellent) but does it ever gets much past 50%?

        So to put it another way, 20% may be low for the Netherlands, but it may still mean that two-thirds or so of trips best suited are cycled – and more than two-thirds of the population using a bike regularly enough, or having a close relative cycling regularly enough, to see the benefit in decent infra.

        In some communities in Hackney, that same threshold is probably breached, but London-wide it’s a different story. In big pockets there will be extended families where nobody cycles to work, for example.

      • USbike says:

        I think, at least in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, the modal share can be a little misleading on the actual extent of cycling in those countries. That 20% probably includes only the people who commute by bicycle everyday. The actual percentage of the population that rides a bike (sometimes) is probably much higher than that.

        Now, I’d speculate that in many places in the US, for instance, the percentage of people who commute everyday is probably much more similar to the percentage of people that do any commuting at all on a bicycle. This is at least true where I’m living. People who do commute by bike are overwhelmingly hardcore (young and fit) cyclists who do it almost everyday. I’m not including all cyclists here, since I’m talking strictly about people who commute places by bike, and not those who drive their bikes to the park to ride around the car-free paths. This is in stark contrast to stats I’ve read about the Danes and Dutch that state that the percentage that ride their bike somewhere at least once a week is around 80-90% of the population. That’s a lot higher than the percentage who ride everyday in any city from those two countries.

  9. Jitensha Oni says:

    I’m not sure how all the good pro-cycling arguments in the world can overcome the nuclear option for councils: the “must balance (any other concerns) against traffic flow”. In the Camden case, I guess that would apply largely to the 10+ buses you will able to see from any point on TCR at any given time. Campaigners have to know this will not be put on the table before they can hope to establish a fair negotiating position.

    I read something the other day (from Mustafa Arif of LCC IIRC) about a “pedestrian comfort index” that pops out of TfL models. I have yet to hear about an equivalent “bike rider comfort index” (which presumably would be functionally equivalent to subjective safety). If you wished to plan for any level of road use, comfort indices for all modes would seem to be a good parameter to have to help further the discussions, and may give the active travel campaigners more leverage.

    Otherwise, the level of information presented to the public in schemes such as this is, frankly, pathetic. I don’t remember where I saw them (except on the CEoGB weekly blog roundup) but there have been plans exhibited for road changes in Utrecht and New York where the roads were colour coded to various problems and solutions – explicity visualizing the variable streetscape they were dealing with. Where is the map of this part of Camden explicity showing this? If I missed it, others will too – it wasn’t obvious enough: “Beware the leopard” etc. Again if councils really want engagement from anyone but the enormously committed (like your good selves), the info has to be easily accessed and presented in easy-to-follow formats. For two recent proposed developments in Cambridge, and the Manchester Oxford Road project, interested parties at least had fly-through visualizations to look at, some of which were shared on sites such as YouTube. This makes it far easier for non-experts, i.e. the majority of end users, and experts alike to evaluate how a scheme might perform with them in it. London schemes seem curiously reluctant to make use of this technology, at least in the public domain, relying on artists impressions and cartoons of 2D plans, ot the eye-wateringly tedious formal plans. The UK is not only poor at providing for cyclists, it is poor at publicly presenting the information and reasoning (and “improving the public realm” is not enough in these cash-strapped times) for works that might affect them. Double whammy. Not good enough.

    • You say that “The UK is not only poor at providing for cyclists, it is poor at publicly presenting the information and reasoning for works that might affect them.”

      This is true, yet oddly put.

      The UK possesses a talent for excluding hoi polloi from matters concerning which they may have no better understanding than officials, or, more dangerous still, may have a better understanding than the officials. This talent does usually produce rubbish decisions, admittedly. But consider the excellence of the prejudice.

      Consider the talent of forethought and sheer weight of tradition, for instance, in the bypass-options manoeuvre. There being three options is enough to suggest open mindedness about everything except whether there is to be a bypass, and yet not so many that the ‘debate’ might get out of hand. It should be easy enough to run Route A through a primary school, and C through the burial site of a Saxon King, leaving only Route B, being the one you first thought of.

  10. I think that a key part of the core issue blocking change is that if local authorities or transport planners etc were even a little interested in anything other than tacking on cycle provision, then it requires a fundamental rethink of how we use road space. It requires looking at the most efficient ways of moving people not motor traffic and as those of us know who’ve read the facts from around the world, it’d suggest a complete redesign of our road system. The Camden/TCR road example is illustrative of this. Not only are we not looking at how best to move people (not motor traffic), we’re also refusing to look at and join up the the wider & key issues, of liveability, obesity, air quality, congestion, quality of life because we can’t achieve any of those under our current road system.

    If we seriously wanted to address the wider issues (and at some point we’re going to have to), it would entail a complete redesign of our road system. This is a tough message to the public – who’ve got used to sitting in their cars everyday for last 60 years and watched their waistlines etc expand according as well as their “entitlement” to drive everywhere however they please (look at the frenzies over car parking).

    If we were to suddenly start saying we’re going to close a bunch of roads to cars but build cycle lanes, the British public would think the world was ending. But if we seriously want to end obesity, pollution, congestion, lower transport costs, road deaths, increase capacity, end the school run or any of those things – we’ll have to make the leap to a high quality grid system as well as looking at driving law etc, etc. It’s much easier for the DfT/councils to keep doing what they’ve always done, knowing that it will fail everyone.

    Isn’t the definition of madness keeping doing the same things but expecting the same outcomes. I think this also applies to cycle campaigning. There are going to be towns or boroughs that become the experiments for the country in switching to bicycling as the primary urban transport – but who’s going to be a leader? Not Camden by the sounds of it. In fairness, I can’t see anyone else putting their hand up either.

    Or I could be wrong 🙂

  11. This is tangentially similar to a post I made recently about Edinburgh’s ex-railway network:

    Our council have kindly made one section of the railway into a road, but the rest of it into a tarmacked non-motoring path which makes it very easy to draw direct comparisons. You’d think it would be perfect for cycling (especially when we talk about re-allocating only part of our ‘normal’ roads for bikes and not the whole thing) but actually there is massive resistance *from other cyclists* who argue (paraphrase) that this should be a pedestrian priority zone where only the weakest and most pathetic cyclists should be tolerated, for a limited period, provided we dismount and bow for every errant dog walker.

    I must say that I think pedestrian safety is very important, but I find it immensely depressing that existing cyclists have been so f*cked up that they actually disparage the use of urban motoring expressways as cycleways instead.

  12. This blog is an excellent contribution to the debate. Stepping back and carefully defining what the problem is helps us all consider the possible solutions. I agree with others that there is a qualitative difference between a bi-directional 4m track and two one-way 2m tracks, there is also additional complexity at junctions where almost all the serious injuries occur.

    In the Netherlands a 2m track in this situation would be fine because every other parallel route would be safe and inviting for cycling. It would easier if we could consider the Camden scheme in the wider context of the Central London Cycle Grid but we have precious little information on that, it also involves at least three other highway authorities in the immediate area and complex funding.

    I am a little wary of your analysis saying: “Even if we accept the difficulties at these narrowest points, the quality of the cycle provision could, at worst, be compromised or abandoned at these ‘pinches’”. That does sound a little bit like the London Cycle Network +. We battled very hard to get the highway authorities to identify and examine the barriers that prevent those routes being a network. Once 140 high risk barriers were identified funding was cut and the authorities put them in the “too difficult” file. Two of those 140 barriers affect the Camden project. One of them, crossing Euston Rd. is outside the boundary of the current plans. That of course won’t stop us commenting on it.

    • fred says:


      Good points. I think there is a difference, though, between leaving a barrier in place, and reducing the quality of new infrastructure for a few metres (as, say, is proposed here: )

      TfL, of course, just spent a couple of million making Euston Circus no better for cycling. Part of the problem here, perhaps, was that the version of the Euston Circus scheme that LCC/CCC proposed as an alternative before construction was unambitious (in terms of mass/inclusive cycling), and little different, so difficult to campaign strongly for. Hopefully they are now considering asking for something much, much better, both at Euston Circus, and on TCR/Gower..

  13. Paul Gannon says:

    The key issue in this interesting posting is not 2m or wider, but how do we break the logjam?

    I recall when proposing the RCS version 1 & Bloomsbury cycle tracks putting the idea to the then London cycling officer (John Lee of borough of Kingston if I remember correctly) who said that he agreed with the ideas but was convinced that such cycle tracks would not attract more cyclists. To his credit it must be said that he didn’t stand in our way and funding was made available once Camden council decided to go ahead with the projects. He was proved wrong as soon as the RCS version 1 was opened – a before and after count showed an immediate threefold increase in cyclists using the route. I am the first to acknowledge that these did not represent new cyclists, but instead existing cyclists switched their route to use to the new cycle track. Since then numbers have steadily grown on that and the Bloomsbury track. Despite serious design failures* in both schemes, these tracks remain extremely popular with the vast bulk of cyclists. Critics of the Bloomsbury track, which was made too narrow contradicting our proposal, now say it is ‘overcrowded’ – to which I respond, ‘no, it’s under-resourced’. Short-sighted planning and an ingrained disbelief in the nature of the role of cycling as a mode of transport have minimised the effectiveness of the schemes, but they have proved popular all the same.

    So my answer to the question of how overcome the deadlock is to work hard to get in as effective as possible cycle facilities to demonstrate that effective dedicated space increases the numbers of cyclists. As a numbers increase, so will our political power. It’s a matter of building facilities and
    numbers in step.

    * In my opinion the biggest problem, apart from narrowness, is the use of roads, Plender St & Gordon Sq west, that cross the track as rat runs with unsignalled junctions. Both rat runs are morally indefensible abuse of back roads by the appropriate traffic authorities. Plender St is part of the Camden gyratory system and routes racing rat run traffic through the middle of a housing estate, while Gordon Sq is part of the University College London campus and directs a near continuous flow of taxis headed for Euston station through the area. There are straightforward alternatives to both rat runs that could be used with little problem and in a sensible world, that cared about where people live and study, neither would be considered suitable for rat runs for one moment.

    • I’m glad you’ve pointed out the major flaw in the thinking behind re-doing Royal College Street – the unsignalled junctions. It never seemed to occur to the scheme’s supporters that the danger was motor vehicles using those rat-runs, not that there was a two-way cycle track. Simply closing off those rat-runs as they met Royal College Street would have solved the problem of vehicles turning across the cycle track, without having to re-do anything.

  14. Pingback: Camden's West End Project - Look Around The Corner | Amble Scope

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