The Badgertown Exception

No, not the latest Matt Damon film. The ‘Badgertown Exception’ is a debating technique which employs the following logic.*

  • Cycling infrastructure requires x amount of space.
  • Here is Badger Street, Badgertown. It has many competing demands, and cycling infrastructure won’t fit.
  • Because cycling infrastructure won’t fit on Badger Street, cycling infrastructure is pointless/won’t work, anywhere, and we should employ other techniques, everywhere.

This kind of logic is actually employed by Hackney Councillor Vincent Stops – calling it the ‘Hackney Cycling Test’.

In response to someone suggesting that ‘dedicated space on main roads‘ has to form part of the answer to making cycling more attractive in Hackney, Stops suggests

You should take the test. How would you put segregation through Dalston Kingsland?

The implication being that because cycle tracks ‘won’t fit’ on Kingsland Road, by Dalston Kingsland station, the strategy of cycle tracks on main roads is entirely flawed, anywhere in Hackney.

This section of the A10 is undoubtedly a busy area, with competing demands for the space between the buildings. It’s a through route for motor traffic, there are bus stops, the footways are busy with pedestrians, and loading needs to take place.

The A10 at Dalston Kingsland

The A10 at Dalston Kingsland

Creating cycle tracks here would not be straightforward (although certainly not impossible). But even if it were impossible to do so, that doesn’t tell us anything about anywhere else in Hackney, nor should it. Failing a ‘test’ on one particular road shouldn’t rule out that design intervention everywhere else, any more than a failure to fit bus lanes on Dalston Kingsland means that bus lanes should be ruled out everywhere in Hackney.

It might be the case that Dalston Kingsland remains a ‘gap’ for the foreseeable future; one of those bits that are just difficult to get right. Dutch cities have these kinds of roads and streets too, places they haven’t really got around to sorting out yet, because of similar competing demands. Mixed use streets where children have to cycle outside parking and loading bays, on a route shared with buses, for instance.

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 23.36.16

Importantly, however, these are the gaps, not the model itself. These gaps are only really tolerable because the rest of the network is so good – good enough to keep large numbers of people flowing through these low quality areas. The city of Utrecht did not look at the street above and think – ‘well, it’s quite hard to fit in decent cycling infrastructure here, so that rules out the principle entirely – let’s give up.’

Utrecht got on with creating good conditions everywhere else, and at some point in the future will presumably revisit this street and come up with a decent solution.

By the same token, Dalston Kingsland tells us nothing about the kind of treatments that are available, and could be employed, on other main roads in Hackney. Difficulty on one section of road should not rule out attempts to improve other parts of that road, or indeed other major roads.

DSCN0153 DSCN0147 DSCN0730 DSCN9837Equally, it would be silly to suggest that the current arrangement on Dalston Kingsland is ideal, or even ‘perfect’. It really isn’t. It’s unpleasant, and hostile, even for someone used to cycling on London’s roads.

Is this good enough?

Is this good enough?

Yet Stops is presenting this road as a perfect cycling scheme.

It’s true that putting cycle tracks here would require compromises; delaying motor traffic while making buses stop in the carriageway, for instance, or trimming some of that (wasted) footway space you can see in the picture above. But in acknowledging these compromises, we shouldn’t go so far as to suggest that the current scheme – which does very little to take cycling into consideration – is ‘perfect’ – or indeed that it should teach us anything about any other road or street.


Credit for the Badger Street, Badger Town formulation goes to Jim Davis

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13 Responses to The Badgertown Exception

  1. garriganx2 says:

    An excellent piece – I think this blog has been in really good form of late. Sadly, this argument is one that crops up again and again in London politics when discussing cycling.

  2. KristianCyc says:

    I used to think the big arguments with Vincent Stops were a bit silly. He was engaging in the cycling debate and doing good stuff for filtered permeability. Thus he seemed lightyears ahead of some of London’s other politicians.

    However, now along with some other Hackney councillors they are speaking out the loudest against quality cycle schemes on main roads like at Oval and the east/west superhighways. Hackney’s Rita Krishna has been spreading lies and misinformation by suggesting the east/west highway will adversely affect buses, despite there being hardly any buses using this route and that being the main reason for the selection of this road.

    It’s just not funny any more, supposedly pro-cycling Hackney councillors attacking cycling schemes that are well beyond their own borders and risking delay or cancellation of schemes that would put myself, my colleagues and other cyclists who use these routes at great risk of injury or death. It has to stop.

    • KristianCyc says:

      Should clarify that it’s the cancellation of the schemes that will put cyclists at risk, not the schemes themselves!

  3. Dan B says:

    There’s loads you *could* do with Kingsland Road. It’s all at least 3 lanes wide, sometimes with a bus lane, sometimes with parking on one or both sides. ALL of this could be changed to something that would easily accommodate protected cycling infrastructure. What is probably fair to say is you cannot put cycling tracks in to the current set-up. However, is the current layout what is wanted? Personally I don’t think it works well for anyone at the moment.

    Even if you decide protected infrastructure isn’t appropriate there’s a lot that should be done to make cycling better. Hackney does filtered permeability quite well, but could and should do better. It should follow Islington’s example and have a blanket 20mph speed limit (although the current 30mph one isn’t enforced…)

    The question that has to be asked is “how much space is needed for protected cycle infrastructure to be installed?”. This can force an answer that is a finite number, not a ‘well, it depends on what’s there already’.

  4. Paul M says:

    To give some credit to Vincent Stops and his colleagues, he has embraced some elements of the Dutch strategy in Hackney. Permeability schemes to reduce traffic by blocking rat-running, calming measures and 20mph limits, are broadly a major part of the Dutch approach, accounting for some 80-85% of all road kilometrage which does not have segregated cycle paths. It’s only the remaining 15-20% of roads with higher speeds and/or heavier volumes which have the physical segregation.

    It seems to me the problem with Stops, and his colleague Rita Krishnan, is that they want to play the good socialists and be cheerleaders for public transport, especially buses, as these are seen as the transport of choice (?) for lower income groups. (If they think that bicycles, despite their affordability of ownership, maintenance and storage, are not popular with low income groups and are unlikely to appeal to them any time soon, I think they might be right – Dave Horton’s Cycling Struggles suggest the same).

    I don’t really have a problem with that ambition, I just don’t think they need to approach it the way they do to achieve high quality bus services. If there is an issue over continuity of bus lane provision, compared for example with cycle lanes, it strikes me as pretty minor – any interruption to a bus lane will obviously cause some increase in journey times as buses negotiate their way back to where their lanes recommence, but – unlike a cyclist – a bus driver is not going to be put off by the sudden termination of a designated facility and being thrown back onto the main road, because no other motorists are going to try and bully or intimidate a bus!

    It does raise the question though in relation to your comments about Dalston Kingsland, what happens of you have an interruption, even a short one, in cycling facilities? One of the principal objections to most crap UK cycle infrastructure is its discontinuity, and surely even a few, short, interruptions where priorities really do lie elsewhere (if indeed that is true – as I say, does it really make much odds to the buses if they lose their bus lane for 100 metres because that short stretch can’t accommodate both bus and bike lanes?) could be sufficient disincentive to cyclists? Or does Dutch experience suggest not?

    • Frederick Guy says:

      A bus driver may not “be put off by the sudden termination of a designated facility”, but if it slows the bus down then some bus passengers will be put off, and it’s the passengers not the drivers who the concern here. Continuous bus lanes ensure that, when traffic is congested, busses go faster than cars. Without them, busses go slower than cars, which both hurts bus riders and encourages greater use of cars – with all the myriad bad environmental and social impacts of excessive private car use.
      A dense, continuous and safe network of cycle routes is one thing that would help make this a greener and fairer city. But we are more likely to get that network, and the city as a whole will be a better place, if we accept that there is more to planning a good city transport network than “get on your bike”.

      • I wouldn’t go so far as to say that bus lanes have to be ‘continuous’. The function of bus lanes is to allow them to bypass queues, and if traffic is free-flowing, there probably isn’t a need for them. The most important location for bus lanes is at traffic signals, where queues develop, yet unfortunately this is where they frequently give up.

        • Frederick Guy says:

          “unfortunately this is where they frequently give up” … yes – just like bike lanes. They give up at the same choke points, which is the nub of the problem.

          It’s not just queues, though. Pulling in & out of traffic – even ‘free flowing’ traffic – slows buses down a lot. Which is why I say ‘continuous’.

          • Right, but the absence of a bus lane doesn’t mean that a bus has to merge back into traffic. A prime example is CS2 on Stratford High Street, where buses stop in a general traffic lane. There’s no need to wait to pull back out into traffic because the bus is already in the lane.

            Indeed, I think a basic template for bus/cycle interactions in London (and elsewhere) should involve using the space that is currently employed for lay-bys as a cycle track bypass, and moving the position where the bus stops out into the carriageway, as per CS2.

            We’ve seen on CS2 that – despite the absence of bus lanes following implementation – delay along the entire bus route only amounts to around 30 seconds.

            (For the avoidance of doubt, this isn’t an argument against bus lanes, just an argument against the notion they have to be continuous to be effective.)

    • Jitensha Oni says:

      Rotterdam and the Hague infrastructure can be bitty. If, for whatever reason, a cycle path disappears, what often happens on busier streets , perhaps counterintuitively, is that no infrastructure is provided. Assen it ain’t.,4.466372&spn=0.005737,0.006362&t=m&z=17&layer=c&cbll=51.919909,4.4663&panoid=o56iT50paxQofrn5sVrfGg&cbp=12,69.14,,0,7.77

      Of course no sharrows or gutter-hugging lanes are required partly because drivers will expect riders on any road (doesn’t mean to say they won’t try to close pass though); and riders are educated and experienced from an early age in road usage; but also it must be because the Dutch have found it to be safer than poor infrastructure.

      But these Dutch cities have trams instead of buses, and this is where London actually might have a slight advantage. A bus lane does actually make a half-decent alternative to a fully separated path, where the space for the latter is is not readily available for bicycles, under the principle that riders should be kept as far away as practicable from as many private motor vehicles as possible (including HGVs). I quite like the idea, if not the execution, in the CS2 revamp plans where bus lane and cycle lanes merge and separate according to road width (you may think this is an accident waiting to happen, but seems to work in Dutch cities for bikes and motor vehicles – with the right design). In terms of what Frederick Guy wrote, bicycles, of course, hold up buses as well, which is why separation of buses and bikes is preferable.

      In fact, Stops and his supporters are on relatively safe ground (see ‘aside’ below) *until* the infrastructure gets built that proves them wrong, so he has a vested interest in arguing against separation. If the infra is built and he’s proved right, of course, he wins. Good position to be in, but Crossrail for Bikes and the CS2 revamp may go some way to prove who’s right.

      Aside. I always thought a councillor’s main duty was to support their area’s residents. We complained about certain parking arrangements in our area, and despite the guy being Pickles-lite (in all senses); our councillor did get some double yellow lines put down. Are we to gather that many Hackney residents are also against separation? Whatever, if Hackney want to stay static, it’s no skin off my nose. It’s had some success and will be a nice museum to visit when the London Grid is taking shape around it. Maybe parts of Westminster and K&C will stay static too, for an even earlier theme park.

  5. rdrf says:

    Off topic, but Paul M says: “If they think that bicycles, despite their affordability of ownership, maintenance and storage, are not popular with low income groups and are unlikely to appeal to them any time soon, I think they might be right – Dave Horton’s Cycling Struggles suggest the same.”

    This is a key point . In London cycling is predominantly among the more affluent: lower income people are much less likely to cycle. One of the reasons (there are others to do with length of journey and cultural commitment towards the dream of car use) for this is the cost of bicycle use. For lower income people storage of a bicycle, paying for maintenance of a bike, buying even a reasonable quality second hand one, never mind accessories such as quality wet weather gear to wear over normal clothing are – IMO – a significant problem.

    the LCC and CTC have for years argued for a 25p per mile allowance to cover costs of cycling – I’d say that for the typical potential cyclist (who is not a dab hand at maintenance, sourcing legitimate second hand bikes etc.) it is now more.

    • Storing bikes is a really big one – having less money and living in a city both make it more likely that you don’t have the space to store a bike. The poorer you are, the more likely you are to live in an area where your bike might get stolen or vandalised and the more likely you are to live in a flat with no safe outdoor space. Single, fit and keen young adults can carry a bike upstairs and find space in the living room for it. It’s harder with children (extra bikes, seats, trailers etc and the kids can’t carry them), disabled or older people, babies (get hurt if a bike leant against the wall falls on them), overcrowding or simply other family members who prefer cream coloured carpets to grease stains.

      • Dan B says:

        Bike-sharing schemes can be part of the solution to this. My current favourite scheme (not in the UK – yet…) is – it’s a ‘pay what you like’ (about 50 cents a day is recommended) non-for-profit hire scheme originating in Berlin using donated bikes. It allows people to avoid the initial costs of buying a bike, maintaining it, and also some of the storage issues too.

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