The new edition of Cyclecraft was published last week. I haven’t had a chance to give it a good read yet, but at first glance it appears to contain much of the same dogma previous editions contained. For instance, the obviously untrue –
No alternative to the general road network has yet been devised which is as safe or advantageous overall for cycling
There is, however, this interesting – and quite correct – observation –
In countries renowned for cycle-friendly infrastructure, such as the Netherlands, vehicular design is the norm and can be used safely and easily by a broad range of people cycling. In the UK, unfortunately, most cycling infrastructure is pedestrian in design and this can have serious consequences for both safety and easy of use at typical cycling speeds.
The word ‘vehicular’ here might send shivers down the spine of some, given its long association with ‘vehicular cycling’ – an ideology that suggests ‘cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.’
But Franklin is exactly right to point out that the success of cycling in the Netherlands (and a large part of its universal appeal) lies in vehicular design – treating bicycles as vehicles capable of speed, and designing accordingly.
It means that when they bolt a cycling bridge onto a railway bridge, it looks like something you could drive your car along.
Or, when a cycle track meets a road, it just looks like something you would ride your bike across, not a fudged compromise.
Cycle ‘infrastructure’ in Britain is so unattractive because it doesn’t achieve this. As Franklin argues, it is pedestrian in design, and people cycling are merely given permission to use it. Be it shared use pavements when things get a bit difficult –
Or toucan crossings that are obviously designed for pedestrian use, with sharp corners –
Or extraordinary turn-on-the-spot markings –
The genius of the Dutch system of bicycle provision is that it caters for vehicular cycling, while simultaneously ensuring that it is suitable for all users. It’s fast and direct, yet also provides the subjective safety needed to make cycling feel safe and pleasant, for all, however old or young. Proper cycling infrastructure should allow you to go as fast or as slow as you want, comfortably, without fear or harassment, and this is what the Dutch aim for, and usually achieve. It means that you will see fast cyclists –
using exactly the same infrastructure, while cycling at very different speeds (these two pictures were taken within about a hundred metres of each other). And both parties are comfortable – although in different ways.
‘Vehicular design’ doesn’t mean designing out other forms of use, like dawdling, or slow leisure riding, any more than well-designed pavements that allow fast walking or running design out the ability to linger. It means accommodating all forms of use; treating cycling as a serious mode of transport.
‘Vehicular’ shouldn’t be a dirty word.