In yesterday’s BBC Sunday Politics piece on the Superhighways, presenter Tim Donovan repeated, in the form of a question, the City of London’s statement that the proposals are ‘heavily biased’ towards cycling and cyclists (that comment appears three times in this City response). Donovan included Canary Wharf in his comment that the plans are
heavily biased towards the cyclists
and he then followed this up with the statement that
They [the City] are saying that when you’re looking at changes, you are being biased towards the cyclist in the changes you’re putting in.
You can see these exchanges in this video of the whole section of the programme, from the six minute mark.
Gilligan makes the obvious point that this is (predominantly) a cycling scheme. If it wasn’t ‘biased’ towards cycling, something would be seriously wrong.
Cycling in towns is here to stay, and is going to grow, and we don’t resist that, we try to accommodate it… but normally… major infrastructure, you really want years to get everybody on-side… not just one group, you want everybody on side.
In the context of 50+ years of road and street design that has utterly failed to consider cycling as a mode of transport this is, frankly, a laughable comment. To suggest that when, for pretty much the very first time, cycling is being considered in a serious way on a few major roads in London, that such a scheme amounts to a sudden departure from the normal procedure of getting ‘everybody on side’ is deeply ahistorical.
Likewise, in an interview with the Guardian’s Peter Walker, Welbank makes a similar point, this time about cycling apparently being ‘prioritised’ –
All road users should have equal opportunities. At the moment [with these plans] we believe the cyclists are having priority to the disadvantage of other users.
This isn’t what’s happening, at all. Cycling is, for the very first time, being treated as a mode of transport suitable for anyone who might want to ride a bike, rather than the usual process of making token (and often completely ineffectual) changes. The only way in which this scheme could amount to cycling being ‘prioritised’ is if you are blinkered enough to believe that the existing road network has been designed and built to equally prioritise cycling and driving – that they are impartial, and mode-neutral.
Let us, hypothetically, imagine that there is no footway along the Embankment, as shown in the picture below. Understandably, very few people are prepared to walk along here. Transport for London then propose to install a footway, to make walking attractive enough for everyone, along this road.
Would that amount to ‘bias’ in favour of pedestrians? Would it mean that Transport for London are only considering the needs of pedestrians, failing to get everybody else ‘on side’?
Let’s get one thing straight here. Roads and streets in London, and everywhere else in Britain, are almost without exception heavily biased – but heavily biased against cycling.
The changes that are being proposed to the roads like the one in the picture above aren’t some kind of ‘icing on the cake’ for the people already cycling there; a bit of extra ‘niceness’ for the existing cyclists.
These roads are extremely unsuitable for cycling, such that only a tiny percentage of the population would be willing to cycle there. The changes that will (hopefully) be implemented are really the bare minimum we should be expecting; they begin to put cycling on something approaching an equal level of consideration with motor traffic, and walking.
The only conceivable way in which these proposals could be seen as ‘biased’ is if the existing road network is taken to be equally attractive to people cycling, driving and walking. But that’s plainly a nonsense. Walking along the Superhighway route is not always pleasant, but it’s something that families can do, reasonably happily. By contrast, I have never, ever seen children cycling on these roads, except for the one day a year when they are closed to motor traffic.
So these comments about ‘bias’ and ‘too much prioritisation’ really amount to ignorance about cycling as a mode of transport, manifested as reluctance to move away from the existing state of affairs in which cycling remains the preserve of a small minority of the population. It’s perhaps forgivable that the general population continues to see ‘cycling’ and ‘cyclists’ as a minority pursuit, but the people in charge of transport – people who should be knowledgeable and informed – should really know better.